Sonic Advance 3
Game Boy Advance – 2004
Sonic Team return with their final entry in the Sonic Advance series. Released in 2004, Sonic Advance 3 builds on its predecessors in a number of ways. The first thing you’ll notice is that now you have to select a partner. When starting off, you’ll only have Sonic and Tails to choose from but as you progress, you’ll unlock Knuckles, Amy and Cream. This team mechanic has some advantages. Certain characters can access different areas in each level and holding down the R button, you can summon your teammate to help you. These can be things like hurling you forward or picking you up and flying over. Your teammate can also collect rings, defeat enemies and get hits on the bosses. There is a downside to this. Your AI partner isn’t the smartest and, in some areas, he can activate movable platforms or mine carts before you are ready. In one instance, Tails activated a mine cart on me, which left me stranded underwater and eventually Sonic ran out of air. The other noticeable addition is hub worlds. Gone is the simple map, where you’ll select a level, replaced with an open area to explore. Here you’ll find levels, bonus areas and boss rooms. You’ll also find chao to give you hints and tips as well as some to collect. Collectable chao can be found in the levels as well. Collect all ten in a zone and you’ll unlock a key to find the Chaos Emerald bonus zones. Collect all the Emeralds to once again unlock a hidden final boss. These hubs are fun at first but after a Game Over, it can be a bit of an annoyance to retrace your steps back to the level. There are now three acts in each zone along with a boss battle. The game is more forgiving than Sonic Advance 2, with game overs merely making you replay the level and not the whole zone. The difficulty has been toned down but you can still change it from Normal to Easy in the options menu. The levels are colourful and have a range of artistic styles unique to this game. The music once again complements each level well, with a mixture of rearranged classic tracks and new ones too. Speed is still important but you’ll need to be cautious this time around, especially in the later stages that require a lot of platforming. The platforming can feel a bit ropey in places. I noticed this more in the final zones that required precision jumping. The boss battles are a healthy mix of different styles, from the usual jumping on Dr. Eggman’s head to dropping platforms on him as he chases you up the stage. Overall, it’s a great platformer for a handheld but with tighter controls, it would have been near perfect.
Sonic Advance 2
Game Boy Advance – 2002
Released one year after the first Sonic Advance, Sonic Advance 2 focuses a lot more on pure speed. As a result, the levels have been made slightly more linear but you still have different routes throughout each level. The game features five playable characters, including newcomer Cream the Rabbit. You start out as Sonic but will unlock new characters after beating certain levels. Again, each character has their own ways of progressing through the stages. The graphics look crisper than the original, with Sonic receiving a blurring effect when you hit his maximum speed. The levels range from your standard entry grass zone, to a musical zone and then the usual egg factory zone. Along the way, each level is accompanied by a wonderful score. These are probably some of the hedgehog’s finest ever tracks. Each zone has two acts with a boss stage at the end. Almost all the bosses are moving and Sonic has to chase after them. At first, it’s a novel idea compared to the standard boss arenas of old but after a while I (and my left thumb) yearned for a standard boss stage. The game does have some difficulty options, with Easy mode and turning time outs off. They make a marginal difference as you’ll be going so fast that you’ll rarely get a time out. The difficulty on the other hand has been boosted since the first game. It will start off easy enough but by Sky Paradise you will notice a significant difficulty spike. At the centre of this spike are the boss battles, with Final Zone ending in a boss rush. The game also features one of the worst looking stages I’ve ever seen, Techno Base. It’s a novel idea, with flashing lights and flickering effects but by my 5th attempt, I just wanted it gone. Since the game is built on speed, I also found myself holding right a lot as I blasted through the different stages. It’s a challenging game that encourages repeated playthroughs to unlock everything, which is helped by each character having their own special moves to help you along.
Game Boy Advance – 2001
Developed by Sonic Team and released on Nintendo’s popular handheld, Sonic Advance would be the start of the blue blurs “Advance” trilogy on the GBA. You can take control of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy as you whizz through 13 stages (and a secret one), split across 6 acts and a Final Zone. Each character has their own skills, meaning each level feels slightly different depending on who you choose. The levels are well thought out, taking full advantage of each character’s special trait. Playing as Sonic, the game feels like a blast, with the player having to slow down very little. The controls can feel a bit floaty in places but overall, the characters are easily controlled. The game introduces you nicely, before slowly cranking up the difficulty. If you do find it a bit too challenging, you can change the difficulty or even turn off “Time Up”. The camera is zoomed out far enough for you to see what’s coming next, an issue other handheld Sonic games suffered from was not being able to see far enough ahead, but there are times when the game requires you to take a leap of faith. The bonus stages, required to collect the Chaos Emeralds, can be a bit challenging due to the 3D camera. Collect all of these Emeralds and play through the game with the game with all characters and you’ll unlock the true final boss. This is something Sonic games have done previously and encourages you to experiment with the other characters, increasing replayability. The graphics look impressive, even to this day, with the sprite work running smoothly. The levels look gorgeous and there is a nice variety to them. The music is wonderful, taking full advantage of the Game Boy Advance’s sound chips. I played this one through the Game Boy Player on the GameCube and had an absolute blast.
PlayStation – 1996
Set in the decaying world of Filgaia, Wild Arms follows a trio of travellers as they adventure across the world and beyond. Developed by Media Vision and originally released in Japan in 1996, it would see a North American release in 1997 while Europe had to wait until 1998. Demons, once thought to be a myth, have returned to Filgaia to awaken a dormant evil. The three protagonists, through a series of circumstances, join together to stop this evil force from destroying the world. At the start of the game, you can choose one of the three protagonists and experience their prologue, a short introduction to each’s fighting style and story. After this, they’ll join up and help each other out with their own unique traits. Each character has a set of tools to use outside of combat, for example Rudy can use bombs to clear boulders, Jack can use a grappling hook to traverse gaps and Cecilia can use a wand to speak to animals. As you journey together, you’ll unlock more tools. In combat, the three party members have their own unique abilities too. Rudy can use Arms, a special type of gun. This uses ammo that can be replenished in towns and new Arms can be found in dungeons. Jack uses Fast Draws, sword fighting techniques he can learn along the way. Cecilia is your mage and can learn acquire news spells after obtaining a Crest Graph. Battle is your standard turn-based affair, where you’ll select your actions before a round starts and your characters (and the enemy) will play them out in turns dependant on your speed. It’s a system that is very simple to master. The game’s graphics are very reminiscent of 16-bit era JRPGs, failing to take advantage of the PlayStation’s 3D capabilities outside of battle. As a result, it looks less impressive when stacked up to some of the JRPG power-houses. However, it should be remembered that it was released before Final Fantasy VII and Grandia. The game utilises a chibi art style for both the overworld and battle maps. One issue I had was the text font. I found it to be difficult to read in places. The game’s standout moment is certainly its music. It features a fantastic soundtrack, full of emotion, and reminded me of several JRPGs from this era. It’s a bit on the short-side for a JRPG, even if you defeat the optional bosses, but it constantly keeps you moving without ever being punishingly difficult.