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They may not be the absolute best that the series has to offer, they certainly don’t hold the same kind of fanfare and nostalgia that the Classics have, and they definitely took directions that strayed from the original Genesis gameplay, but the handheld Sonic games on the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS are, in my opinion, unsung heroes. Sonic on the Game Gear was never as popular as he was on the Genesis or Saturn, and the same can be said for the Advance and Rush series, and depending on your personal opinion, to an extent the Rivals games on the PSP. The difference however is almost inverse, as while the Genesis games were pure gold and the Game Gear games were relatively mediocre (or at the very least nowhere near up to par as their console counterparts), the following generation of post-SEGA console installments saw the opposite, where games like Heroes or Shadow were downright mediocre while the handheld games were relatively brilliant. But it’s one thing to just gush out opinions and make statements, but another to actively defend them. The reasons that I feel the Nintendo handhelds were some of the absolute best in the franchise boil down to four basic factors: Gameplay, Flow, Atmosphere and Replayability. Gameplay: So Sonic Advance is essentially, in terms of control and level design, more of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but with a melee attack and Amy added into the mix. Some think of this entry as relatively dull, and I don’t challenge that notion, however I want to say that it’s definitely solid. The next installment brought some overclocked speed into the fray, making Sonic and friends faster than ever, almost shoving platforming to the side as a sort of compliment to the speed instead of the other way around. For what it was, it wasn’t necessarily a wrong thing to experiment with. Luckily, Sonic Rush managed to harness the raw speed in a way that was fun and addicting. You still had your spin jump, you still collected rings, bounced on springs and bumpers, and throttled through shuttle loops, and the game was still Sonic. Physics issues were minimal and barely noticeable, and it provided an intense sense of speed. You can see how the games evolved the gameplay over time, and while it’s definitely something different, it’s not so different that you can’t identify it with traditional Sonic gameplay. It’s solid, fun and fast. Flow: But as important as it is, gameplay needs a fluid sense of flow. What I mean by this is that the Classics, while later incorporating short cutscenes between Zones, maintained a steady flow from one level to the next. You didn’t have to divert yourself with anything more than a bonus level or Special Stage. No alternate Genre-Roulette, no mind-bending hub worlds, just simple progression that made the game itself feel fast-paced and fluid. The handheld games capture this relatively well. While Advance 3 incorporated a hub world of sorts, it wasn’t anything like the Adventure Field in Sonic Adventure, nor was it anything that was out of line for the series. Any dialogue exchanged in Sonic Rush is quick, albeit dispensable at times, but is never presented in a way that hinders progress. You’re generally always on the move from one area to the next, ready to take on the next Zone and get back to running fast and collecting rings at Sonic speed. While not as direct as the Genesis Sonic’s, they’re still very fast-paced, and this is something that’s starting to come back into the console games, which is definitely something to be happy about. Just like the classics, you complete your acts, sometimes with a Special Stage in the mix, and finish each Zone off with an old fashioned boss battle. That hasn’t changed. Atmosphere: This may be the least important of the four, however it’s still important. These games, though they vary in gameplay and flow a little, maintained a consistent aesthetic atmosphere. Saturated colors, energetic music, fairly light-hearted stories (without being condescending) and colorful creative worlds to blast through were all present in the Advance and Rush games. While we were dealing with gray and gritty with Shadow and some incredibly dull and overused motifs in Sonic ’06, the handhelds provided those fun and fantastical environments that we got from the Genesis Classics. Replayability: These games are generally short, not unlike the Classics, and this is not a bad thing, as the handheld games have fun and addicting gameplay that lends them to be very replayable. This is something that they have in common with each-other, they are the kind of games you get length out of playing the game over and over to find multiple routes and hidden goodies. There’s also the presence of other characters that add their own variety and spice, and I think that’s one of the series’ greatest strengths. All things considered, whether you’re a fan of the speedier pace of the Nintendo handhelds or not, what is factual is that they were all well received, they’re all fluid and fun, and they’re not just good video games, they’re good SONIC games, and that’s what’s important. These games were some of the best. Not as good as the originals, but they’re definitely up there, especially in comparison to the other Sonic games that were coming out at their time. My personal favorites are generally the faster ones: Sonic Advance 2 and Sonic Rush. I love the incredibly fast-paced nature of both of them, and I get such a rush out of them every time I go through those colorful bouncing levels. I love how Advance 2 pays no mind to the notions that Tails, Knuckles and Amy are slower than Sonic, and gives them an equal amount of speed, keeping a consistent pacing while giving each of them a little something extra to let them stand out. The same goes for playing as Blaze in Rush. With that dissertation out of the way, I’d like to ask what your thoughts are on the handhelds. From Sonic Advance to Sonic Colors DS, and if you like, the Rivals games too, what are your favorites? What do you like about them? Even if you don’t, is there anything at all that you appreciate about them? Discuss!