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Sonic Adventure 2 Academic Review (Experiment)


Regen
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For part of my Master's Degree I have to write an Academic Book Review, something I've never done before, and I thought it will be fun for me to practice my first Academic review on a Sonic Game and maybe it will be interesting for you (I hope) to read it. An Academic Review is very different to a traditional review, such as on IGN, and I hope this comes across! It's pretty amateurish and I really couldn't be bothered to reference facts, so keep that in mind. I've decided on Sonic Adventure 2 because the first has been discussed to death and Adventure 2, despite maybe being more well-known with certain age demographics, has become a bit less in vogue. So I hope you enjoy, and please give feedback :)

Review

Sonic Adventure 2 is the sequel to the commercial and critical success Sonic Adventure, an exclusive title for the Dreamcast that was for many seen as a 'Killer-App', a reason to buy a Dreamcast over the other competing consoles. Sonic Adventure 2 was in many ways even more crucial than it's predecessor. The game launched in 2001 and it was clear that the Dreamcast was in a critical situation, it was threatened by other consoles, particularly the Playstation 2, and was SEGA's last real effort to compete in the Hardware Industry. For this reason, Sonic Adventure 2 was not just aimed at the Sonic fandom, but it was marketed at SEGA fans in general, both the younger and older audience, and would hopefully convert fans of the competing consoles to jump ship. 

To please this many fans Sonic Adventure 2 had to build on what the original had already successfully done and refine these elements. This caused the game to have three main play-styles compared to the six in the original Sonic Adventure. These are Speed (Sonic and Shadow), Action (Tails and Eggman), and Hunting (Knuckles and Rouge). Thus, the Flying (Sonic Adventure Tails), Stealth (Amy) and infamous Fishing (Big) play-styles were dropped. The idea of this was to make a more concise and focused product.The game features a Hero-Dark plot element, but aside from a few exclusive power-ups, characters from both allegiances play virtually identically. Whether this was a good decision falls outside the scope of this review.

Speed Stages are more traditional Sonic stages that channel the fast-paced nature of the franchise's history, a unique selling point that let the series stand out from the over-saturated platformer market during the '16-bit era'. These levels are impressive, they feature wild turns and a constant high pace, punctuated by occasional set-pieces.  They can sometimes become too linear in an effort to constantly match the game's fast tone and not become too confusing. The original Sonic Adventure was often criticised for being too confusing to navigate, whether due to the controls or the camera. In Sonic Adventure 2 this was answered with a static camera that was always fixed behind the player and level designs that could never confuse the player where to go. It's debatable whether this was entirely successful, the camera can still get stuck behind geometry occasionally, and the more straightforward level designs somewhat simplify the game. The game often uses automation as a technique to guide the player, such as with grinding. This is visually impressive but unfortunately takes the player out of the action. For the game's target audience, the Speed Levels will probably be the most popular. They are effective at capturing the speed Sonic was famous for and are visually interesting whilst being exciting to play. Perhaps the Speed Levels would have been more successful if they were more complex and with more pathways. Whilst players might become confused with more elaborate levels, there are ways of guiding the player and not simplifying the game at the same time. Clearer camera angles and more defined pathways than were featured in the original Sonic Adventure could have been a way to solve this problem. However, this may not have been possible on the Dreamcast Hardware in the development time permitted.

The Action Stages are very different to the Speed Levels. They are contrary to Sonic tradition and have a larger emphasis on exciting shooting action than the fast-paced platforming that made the series iconic. They still aim to keep the fast pace, with large swarms of enemies attacking the player quickly and frequently throughout the level. This makes the levels dynamic and fast-paced. Unfortunately, the characters in these stages control very differently to the Speed Characters and are perhaps too clunky and stiff. This is a marked difference to Gamma, who served the same purpose in Sonic Adventure and felt almost the same as the other player characters to control. This control difference was most likely made to make the player mechs feel 'robotic' and different from the organic characters. Whilst it is understandable to see why the development team made this decision it is debatable how effective this was in practice. Additionally, the levels can sometimes devolve into static shooting galleries, which goes against the pacing of the game. It is arguable that shooting levels are out of place in a Sonic game. Sonic Team claim they introduced these levels because of fan demand. Instead of featuring Sonic with a gun, a decision which they thought was against the character's nature (which they were probably wise not to follow), they introduced mech shooting. This is a perfect example of how listening to fan input can create a marketing situation that can sometimes be at odds with the artistic vision of a product. Fans of Sonic will probably like the overall high-octane nature of these stages but wish they were playing a more traditional platformer. It's possible that these levels did not even need to have been included in the game, since they play very differently to a platformer, which is what Sonic games are usually identified with. That said, action was always a part of the Sonic franchise that helped the series gain popularity. The early Sonic games encouraged players to directly attack enemy robots with its generous ring-health system. It's possible that these stages could have been more enjoyable in the final product if the controls and physics for the characters matched the other characters more closely, much like Gamma in Sonic Adventure; the play-style on which the Action Stages were based on. Additionally, if the stages were more kinetic and encouraged light platforming and more speedy movement, rather than a static level design that feels more akin to a shooting gallery, it's possible that these levels would have matched up closer with the game's overall pace.

Finally come the Hunting Levels. These feel very similarly to the Speed Stages in controls but also play very differently. These levels are primarily focused on exploration, usually in very large levels. The base speed of the characters are actually faster than the Speed Characters but this does not guarantee that the levels will be fast-paced due to the objective of these levels. Players are tasked with locating emerald shards in the maps and they only have the help of a radar and vague tips given to players from a TV Monitor. This is different to the original Sonic Adventure, where players had a Tikal Spirit Ball which literally flew in the direction of the nearest emerald shard. This was most likely replaced with the TV monitor to encourage independent exploration. Whilst the Radar returns from the original Sonic Adventure it now only displays nearby emerald shards in an artificial randomly decided sequential order, as opposed to displaying all nearby emerald shards at once as in the original Sonic Adventure. This was also probably done to encourage independent exploration but has an adverse effect of slowing down the game and making the player roam endlessly to make the radar 'ping'. When these changes are combined with the much larger levels than were found in the original Sonic Adventure, the Hunting Stages can take much of the player's time. This can be seen as somewhat of a failure, as a Sonic title is supposed to be a fast-paced affair and the Hunting Stages, despite featuring fast characters, actively encourage a slow and cautious approach. Some players might enjoy the more methodical approach and feel a sense of accomplishment in finally finding all Emerald Shards, but it's unlikely that these stages will meet the expectations of Sonic fans. It's possible that these levels could have been improved and have been more enjoyable if the levels were scaled down, the radar wasn't so strict in displaying emerald shards and another clearer way of communicating tips to the players was employed. Much like the Action Stages, it's debatable that the inclusion of the Hunting Levels were necessary at all, since the slow and careful approach is at odds with the spirit of the Sonic franchise. That said, exploration, the main theme of the Hunting Levels, was always a component of the Sonic franchise.

There are many other aspects of this game, such as bosses, music and plot, but this goes outside the scope of this review. In conclusion, Sonic Adventure 2 was a fitting swansong for SEGA's ill-faited Dreamcast. The game featured much for Sonic fans to enjoy, high-speed levels with a dose of action and exploration thrown in for good measure. Each element that makes up the overall product is flawed to some extent, but it is still possible to get much enjoyment when the game succeeds in what it sets out to do. It's debatable whether Sonic Adventure 2 is as successful as it's predeccesor, Sonic Adventure. The development team clearly took a more 'focused' approach, trimming down what they saw as unnecessary elements that were clogging up the overall experience and deepening the parts they think worked best. Yet how they built upon the elements they transferred over are somewhat problematic and it is likely that some Sonic fans could feel disappointed. Non-Sonic fans will probably appreciate the game when it is at it's best, when they are in control of the fast-paced Speed Stages but will probably become quickly disinterested when the game misfires. Overall, the game was an important hallmark for the series and it managed to succeed in at least some of the goals it set for itself to accomplish. It is recommended that if one is a Sonic fan that one at least gives Sonic Adventure 2 a look. 

 

Edited by Regen
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The game launched in 2001 and it was clear that the Dreamcast was in a critical situation, it was threatened by other consoles, particularly the Playstation 2, and was SEGA's last real effort to compete in the Hardware Industry. 

If I remember correctly this is not true. SEGA announced the discontinuation of the Dreamcast months before the release of Adventure 2.

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If I remember correctly this is not true. SEGA announced the discontinuation of the Dreamcast months before the release of Adventure 2.

True, but the game was in the development cycle it was intended to save the Dreamcast. That's what I was trying to get at anyway :)

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