Review: Two dimensions are better than three
Boy oh boy, Sonic Advance 3
made me feel like I was back in high school. I was whisked back to high school, when I was wasting my life away pushing that little blue hedgehog through loop after loop, his feet disappearing as quickly as my chances at developing a social life. Okay, enough of that disturbing romp back through time. I enjoyed Sonic's latest Game Boy outing immensely, which is saying a lot, as I'm not much of a handheld gamer. The graphics are wonderful, from the dynamic character expressions and movements to the level designs and the sound is superb. Most importantly, the gameplay hearkens back to Sonic 3 for the Genesis, only it's available for a new generation to enjoy on Game Boy Advance.
Realize it or not, sound and music do have a major impact on the gameplay experience. I remember when I was a tester, what it was like playing an early build with no sound effects implemented. You just didn't feel the impact of the tackle if there wasn't an appropriate sound to accompany it. That being said, the sounds in this game aren't just adequate, they are really good. Even the voices at the character select screen sound surprisingly good for a GBA game. The music is good too, although not quite on the same level as the Sonic 1, 2 and 3 scores. Obviously the sound quality can't be as good as the Genesis, but I'm referring more to melodic content. Aside from the theme in Zone 2 which quotes one of the melodies from the original games, none of the Zone themes leave you humming the melody.
The graphics, however, are a different story. I was really blown away by the look of this game. Sonic Advance 3 doesn't look like a handheld game; it looks like a Sega CD game. I really enjoyed the expressions on the characters faces, as well as the beautiful drawings that you see when meeting new characters, or at the end of the game.
The gameplay, as I mentioned above, is mostly a throwback to the good old 16-bit days on the Genesis. The idea is to go through the levels as you wish; you can just put the pedal to the metal and zoom your way through the game, or you can take the time to search through these impressively big levels. Why would you want to do that? Well, because each level contains chaos (the annoying little creatures introduced in Sonic Adventure 1). When you collect all the chaos in each Zone, you get a key and a chance to play the special stage and earn an emerald. When you get all 7 emeralds you get to turn into Super Sonic and you get an alternate ending.
While explaining how to achieve an alternate ending is easy, it's incredibly difficult to actually accomplish. The game is hard and having to find all the chaos is, frankly, monumental. They are tiny, the levels are huge, and the reward for exerting all this time just doesn't offer enough motivation. Some of the other difficulties you'll encounter are the Zone bosses. Robotnik, in his various evil contraptions, as well as his partner/creation, a robotic Sonic whose name is apparently Gemerl, are unpredictable, fast, and just plain tough.
If it seems unfair that Robotnik (I will not call him "Eggman" [Editors Note: I second that]) gets to beat up on you with a teammate, have no fear: you play through the game with two characters at the same time (ala Sonic 2). Depending on which characters you choose (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy and Cream are the choices eventually unlocked), you will have certain strengths and weaknesses. For example, choosing Sonic with Amy gives you Amy's hammer attack but leaves you without Sonic's typical jump attack. You get to team up with your partner by holding down R, which allows you to do things you normally wouldn't be able to do with just the one character, like gliding, as Tails with Knuckles as your partner.
Let me take this moment to implore you, the gamer, to read the instruction manual before playing the game. I played through it the first time without using any of the nifty team attacks aforementioned because I didn't know they were possible. It would have been a lot easier. Also I was very confused by the stage select areas, and managed somehow to skip Zone 1. I went back and got it after realizing what was going on. So learn from my mistake, and save yourself some headache.