Back in the heady days of the 16-bit console wars, the Sonic games were the only ones that made me waver slightly in my steadfast support of Nintendo. I reveled in every chance I got to visit one of my Genesis-owning friends and experience the gaudy loops and insane speeds of the Sonic series. Eventually, I even broke down and bought a used Genesis just to play Sonic games.
Now that the fog of war has lifted and Sonic is firmly in the Nintendo camp, I play Sonic Advance and wonder what the heck I was thinking.
Jon is right in saying that Sonic Advance brings the series back to its 2D roots, but something seems different this time around. All the familiar elements are there: the loops, the speed, Dr. Robotnik. Yet all these elements don't seem to click as well they used to.
At first, I thought that I was just jaded in my old age; that the same game design that compelled me when I was 10 didn't have the same appeal at 20. But a quick replay of some original Sonic proved this was not the case. I still loved the feeling of racing through the loops of the Genesis originals. So what changed?
The answer is: a lot of little things. The clever level design and delicate balancing of the original series has been replaced in Sonic Advance with a messy collection of levels that have the faade of a Sonic game, but don't play nearly as smoothly. Playing the levels with Tails or Knuckles only compounds this feeling; their special abilities make completing most levels ridiculously easy. It's as if the designers made levels for Sonic, then threw in the other characters as an afterthought.
Call me old fashioned, but I don't believe Sonic games should have strict time limits. Sonic games should not have Tamagotchi-style mini-games. Sonic games should not have characters that can't run fast and have a special attack button. These little things change the feel of the game, almost imperceptibly at first, but snowballing later on to create a game that just doesn't feel like it belongs in the series.
THQ captured the surface elements of the series without really capturing the essence of the games; the Sega magic that made the series the secret envy of every Super Nintendo owner. As Jon said, new gamers won't care much about this, but those who remember the joy the original series brought will be longing for the olden days.