Sonic Adventure 2 is an interesting sequel, to say the least. Following on from Sonic Adventure, it had a lot to live up to; its predecessor was a welcome return to our screens for the blue blur, and came with one or two novel ideas that helped set the game apart from its platform brethren. Ideas such as the 'adventure field' - a hub-type world in which characters could move from one stage to another - and the ability to raise Chao were all quite welcomely received. One could even take his or her Chao with them by downloading it to a VMU.
Certainly it was a good game, but there were many things lacking about it which helped make the inevitable sequel hotly anticipated. The game's camera left much to be desired, often being positioned at awkward angles or even getting itself stuck within walls or other scenery. Some parts of the game felt unnecessary, or simply tacked on to try and add value - Amy Rose's quest being a scant three action stages long. The voice acting, whilst recorded in high quality throughout, was also unsatisfying - the English voices rather irritating, to say the least.
Sonic Team's second Sonic title for the Dreamcast is noticeably different in many ways. Released in 2001, when the Dreamcast was under full-blown assault from the Playstation 2, it was a definite improvement in many areas - and yet still not quite the perfect Sonic title.
Upon inserting the GD and powering up the Dreamcast, the first thing the player sees is a 3D rendition of the game's logo, before bursting into the VMU-selection screen. This is a marked change from the original, which featured a long and well-rendered FMV for its introduction. Proceeding to the main menu, the usual options are present - the single player quest, options, and Internet configuration. However, a two player option has also been added - a definite advantage over Sonic Adventure, which had been a strictly one-player affair.
The single player quest has been completely overhauled from Sonic Adventure. Where Sonic Adventure had the player selecting a character from those currently unlocked, SA2 presents the user with the choice of two quests. These quests allow the player to move through the game's storyline representing one of two sides:
Both sides are, for all intents and purposes, mirror images of one another. Both Sonic and Shadow play through fast, obstacle-course race levels, similar to the classic Sonic games and almost exactly like Sonic's stages from the original Sonic Adventure. Knuckles and Rouge, too, share treasure hunting stages, with the objective being to find three items (more often than not, shards of the Master Emerald. Meanwhile, Tails and Robotnik have built for themselves two-legged armed mechas, and proceed through their stages blasting everything in sight.
Gameplay consists of playing through either side's stages, culminating in the final battle between Sonic and Shadow. The storyline is essentially the same for both Hero and Dark quests - events in one are represented in the other, although from the opposite point of view. Sadly, the Adventure Field from Sonic Adventure has made its departure - stages follow on from each other, separated by an in-engine or FMV cut-scene to set the story. While the Adventure Field was an interesting addition to the series, it could be confusing - players often had to make educated guesses about where to go next, and could often find themselves lost - and Sonic Adventure 2 does not suffer from its loss. Should the player ever want to replay previous levels, then they can select them from a map-style menu in the single player options.
Indeed, replaying levels is an integral part of the game. Every stage consists of five missions, which can be played in order to earn an 'emblem'. These emblems are carried over from the first game, and show the player's progress - although in Sonic Adventure 2, a rather nice surprise awaits he who collects all 130. The missions tend to be repeated throughout the stages, with common themes such as "Collect 100 rings" and "Find the lost Chao" tending to come up often.
Other means of earning emblems are through the vastly-improved Chao system. The Chao system has been improved immensely, with more flexibility in their development, more games to play with them, and three distinct "Chao Gardens" - the normal garden, and both hero and dark gardens. Indeed, you can rear both light and dark Chao, depending on which characters you visit the gardens with.
Of course, this is all very well, but what's the storyline like? Sonic Adventure 2 is your typical Sonic game in many respects, and the storyline is no different, featuring all the elements that have been part of the series' focus ever since our spiky friend first ran onto our screens in 1991. As per usual, Dr. Robotnik - or Eggman, as he's named (even in the English version) - is attempting to take control of the world. According to his research, his grandfather, Professor Gerald Robotnik, was involved in work to attempt to create the "ultimate life", aboard the space colony ARK. Before he could release the fruits of his labour, Gerald Robotnik was killed, along with his daughter Maria. The ultimate life was sealed away, kept secure by the military force "G.U.N.".
Obviously, Robotnik would love to have control over the ultimate lifeform, and so sets out to capture it. Breaking into the secure facility, and with a Chaos Emerald to his name, he succeeds in freeing it - and is faced with what at first seems to be a second Sonic!
This duplicate hedgehog, black-spined and with a number of very interesting tricks to his name, reveals himself to be Shadow the Hedgehog. Shadow tells the Doctor that, aboard the space colony ARK, there is an all-powerful weapon known as the Eclipse Cannon. If Robotnik were to have control of it, he would be all but invincible. In order to use it, however, he first needs all seven Chaos Emeralds. Soon, it's a race against time between Sonic, Tails and company to prevent Robotnik, Shadow and the mysterious treasure-hunter, Rouge, to capture all seven Chaos Emeralds.
Eventually, Robotnik prevails, obtaining all seven of the powerful emeralds and powering up the Eclipse Cannon. However, something's not right - and suddenly, the entire space colony begins to move. Soon it becomes apparent that the colony is being hurled earthbound, and with both the heroes and villains aboard with no means of escape! Completing both Hero and Dark stories reveals a third quest, in which both sides must work together to try and prevent the death of no only themselves, but the world beneath them - not exactly looking forwards to having a space-colony-turned-weapons-platform dropping on its head.
All in all, Sonic Adventure 2 is a good update to the original, although does still lack in some areas. The graphics have been given a polish, with noticeably more polygons used, and effects such as trails of light from Sonic or Shadow's spines as they move at ever-faster speeds being a nice touch. The voice-overs are still cringe-inducing - it may be prudent to switch over to Japanese speech, with English subtitles - but are comprehensive, and the translation is fairly well done. The two-player aspect of the game was another welcome touch. If you have a Dreamcast, this is an excellent purchase - but, if you have a Nintendo Gamecube, it may well be a better choice - and cheaper - to obtain the 'Cube port, entitled Sonic Adventure 2 Battle.