Rose-Colored Glasses

If I haven’t already destroyed your faith in my taste in video games by this point, this post should do it. Because I’m about to admit to something that’s practically heresy in the video game circles I run in.

I don’t really mind Sonic the Hedgehog’s supporting cast.

It’s crazy, I know. Common wisdom is that the Sonic games started sucking once other characters started stealing his thunder, and that the ideal Sonic game stars Sonic and maybe Tails and Knuckles, if we’re feeling generous. But really? I like Blaze more than Sonic, to be honest. Shadow’s stupid as the centerpiece of a game’s plot, but as a mysterious, independent outrider type (think Bass) he’s okay. Cream isn’t really my type of character, but I don’t begrudge her existence. And I like… and I can’t believe I’m saying this… Amy Rose.

Yeah, her.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think these characters are brilliant or have compelling personalities or anything. But really, do they need to? Sonic the Hedgehog is — should be — a cartoon, and we’ve always been able to put up with ridiculous characters in cartoons. The Sonic games really started sucking for two reasons: 1) The games themselves started sucking, primarily because they kept trying to add new gameplay modes that were horribly unfun; and 2) Sega talked themselves into believing that what Sonic really needed was a serious story with deep interpersonal relationships. But Sega can’t write serious stories, and Sonic’s universe doesn’t lend itself to serious stories, so what they produced ended up being terrible both on its own merits and as a successor to what had come before.

Really, I don’t like Amy because I’m shipping Sonic/Amy (or, more horrifyingly, Tanto/Amy), I like her because she is hella fun to play as. Playing as Amy (at least in the game I’m about to examine) changes Sonic gameplay from something I’m kind of iffy about to something I enjoy a great deal.

I don’t really like Sonic all that much. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s always kind of bothered me that the games sell themselves on their speed, but punish you for trying to go fast with cheap enemy placement and unforeseeable drops. Even exploring and taking things slow isn’t really that fun because Sonic’s physics are geared more towards momentum than precision…

…unless you pick another character. I enjoyed playing as Tails and Knuckles a hell of a lot more than the blue guy back in the day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect it was because they were more conducive to slower, more deliberate play that let me take things at my own pace instead of going balls to the wall all the time. And when I first tried Sonic Advance, I found a new love.

The funny thing is that most Sonic fans detest playing as Amy in Sonic Advance, and not just because she’s Amy. She plays much differently than the other characters do. All three of the other characters are vets from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and play much the same way here as they do there — Sonic can spin dash and do his weird mid-air shield thing, Tails can fly and swim, and Knuckles can climb and glide. At their fundamentals, though, they control similarly — they’re all fast, they can all go into Ball Mode, and they can all spin dash.

Amy doesn’t handle like any of them. She’s much slower, for one. She can’t spin dash — instead she performs the “Giant Step”, seen above, which will move her to top speed but doesn’t give her any invincibility frames. She will only go into Ball Mode when she’s forced to, like when she enters a tube.

Amy’s got her own advantages, though. She can jump much higher than the other three, for starters, even though she’s more vulnerable when she does it.

She’s also the only character who uses a weapon, her Piko Piko Hammer, which can be used both on the ground and in the air.

If you come to a complete stop, hold down, and press your hammer button, Amy can perform a super backflip, which sends her about twice as high as her already-superior normal jump.

She's also got this adorable sliding attack, which sadly isn't worth much.

The trick to playing as Amy is that you have to be willing to unlearn a lot of your preconceptions about how Sonic games should work. With Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic Advance is all about speed and forward momentum. With Tails, it’s about exploration — he’s got nearly-perfect movement and can go just about anywhere. Amy, on the other hand, is about caution. She’s the only character who doesn’t want to go fast, because she’s more vulnerable to enemies while running than at any other time (because she can’t go into Ball Mode at the press of a button like the other three). Playing as Amy is much more like a Mario game than a Sonic one, moving forward at your own pace and waiting for your moment. And really, I prefer that mode of play. Amy isn’t demanding that you try and break the speed limit and causing you to slam into untelegraphed obstacles as a result. She’s the character who cares the absolute most about which route you’re on — there are some paths through the levels that Amy has real trouble with (especially in water levels, where her lack of speed is a real hindrance), so part of her gameplay is recognizing the forks and learning how to take them. Amy likes to stay near the top of levels, where the slow-paced platforming challenges are. That’s what she excels at.

Amy is definitely the most advanced (heh) of the four characters; there’s no question about that. A player who expects her gameplay to be Sonic-derived, like Knuckles and Tails’s are, is going to be disappointed. But playing as her has its own rewards — for a certain type of player.

Amy shows up in Sonic Advance 2 as a hidden character after you’ve found everything, but her gameplay as been significantly altered there. In Advance 2, she’s essentially a re-skin of Sonic except that she still has the Piko Piko Hammer, which makes her a lot more generic. Sonic Advance 2 is the most mindless game I’ve ever encountered, though (hold right = win), so it’s probably to be expected, though.

She’s got the best idle animation in the game, though.

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