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The Sonic Advance trilogy deserves a rerelease as much as the classics do

Complicated legal issues aside, Sonic Advance deserves a modern rerelease in some form

As the Sonic Origins collection speedily makes its way towards the latest consoles with the promise of finally giving gamers an official way to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Nintendo and PlayStation platforms for the first time in 11 years, my mind has often been drifting to the video games that I would consider to be the real sequels to the Mega Drive’s Sonic the Hedgehog releases: the Sonic Advance series for Game Boy Advance, and how they – frankly – deserve so much more love.

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Sonic Origins is – undoubtedly – one of the best games coming out this month.

To provide you with some probably much-needed context, while Sega made the rough transition towards Sonic the Hedgehog being a multi-platform action game series with the experimental Sonic Heroes, an Osaka-based contractor called Dimps was put in charge of developing cheaper 2D entries with the original gameplay style for then-upcoming handheld devices like the Game Boy Advance and the Nokia NGage.

These new releases (which stopped being on the NGage after the first one Sonic N, because well … it was the NGage) would keep fans of the blue blur interested in the brand, introduce him to new demographics, and help to steer the former console manufacturer away from bankruptcy with steady injections of new cash that could, theoretically, help to keep the ailing company afloat.

Gotta go as fast as a handheld device will let you.

Instead of following Nintendo’s lead and just porting its beloved 16-bit titles to the new handheld, the decision to create brand new titles led to a trilogy of some of the very best new platformers to ever grace a Game Boy. While each Sonic Advance entry put a unique spin on the core concept of a 2D Sonic the Hedgehog adventure, careful consideration was also regularly put into maintaining the risk-versus-reward level design and the physics and flow-based platforming concepts found in the most popular entries in the series. The games were, undoubtedly, an exercise in continuing the thing that fans loved, but also not leaning on nostalgia so much so that things would be fresh and interesting for people who had stuck with the series.

Because of that, the Sonic Advance games sort-of ended up feeling like they had stepped out of a parallel dimension where Sega had been making Sonic games for Nintendo systems all along. They featured brand new levels designed around an expanded roster of characters, and were each presented with Super Nintendo-ish music to complete the illusion. The game also boasted graphics that showed new character designs, originally introduced on the Sega Dreamcast with Sonic Adventure, that showed a distinct evolution from their forebears in the days of blast processing.

The original Sonic Advance sold 1.21 million copies in the United States alone, making it the 25th most popular game on the Game Boy Advance in the region. It was popular with fans, and definitely sold more than a few systems in its own right. Sonic, a system-seller for Nintendo? A hard pill to swallow at the time, but an undeniably valid one. So it’s odd that the game and its sequels feel rather forgotten now.

That's Doctor Eggman to you.

In many ways, the Sonic Advance trilogy was more ambitious than the critically-praised and universally-loved throwback affair, Sonic Mania, which would not come out for another 16 years. While Sonic Mania’s unique level remixes and small handful of brand-new stages are awesome — trust me, I can’t get enough of them — the Sonic Advance games were almost entirely new stuff! Within a year, Mania sold over a million copies; there's an undeniable appetite for 2D Sonic. If the Advcance games were readily available in a collection, they’d be very popular, too – it's a no-brainer. But they’re not. And it's time for that to change.

Even the boxart is crisp.

I don’t want to make it sound like a rerelease is a simple task, however, as Sega may not be able to put the GBA games out any more thanks to issues out of its control. By this point in its career, Sega had mounted up some substantial debt. As development on Sonic Advance started, Sega had recently left the home console business entirely. To even sell the games outside of Japan, it needed to find publishing partners. After some searching and negotiation, it decided to work with THQ (now THQ Nordic) for the American release, and Infogrames (now Atari SA) in Europe.

Fans had believed for quite a while that this has made future releases complicated, as Sonic Advance was later ported to Android phones in Japan (and the full Sonic Advance trilogy made its way to the Japanese Wii U Virtual Console), but those games inexplicably never saw a release in the rest of the world. Fully translated ROM files were ready to go, though, so what happened? Perhaps there’s some hefty rights issue there that is preventing the various publishers from doing a collection in non-Japanese territories?

During a 2019 AMA chat with THQ’s Reinhard Pollice, a fan asked him if they would consider giving the games’ rights back to Sega, to which he replied that “they should actually own it.”, which has only made things more of a mystery. Perhaps the issue lies with Atari SA? I can only imagine the uproar if Sega put the game out in America and then told Europeans that they weren’t allowed to play it. It would probably be easier, in that case, to not release the games in English at all. That way, you avoid the legal, PR, and brand nightmare that lies in wait.

Honestly the lack of any Sonic Advacne rerelease at all is surprising; I just wish we knew exactly what was going on with the rights to the series in general. In a world where we have expansive and well-emulated collections for most of Capcom’s Mega Man and Konami’s Castlevania – on every platform that could feasibly run those experiences – it’s a bit weird that Sega has just decided to leave money on the table. These games aren't the likes of Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog, or the dreaded Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)… they’re games that most people actually like.

Perhaps Sega is holding off on these games, as they’re set to be non-Pokémon shaped jewels in the crown of an upcoming Nintendo Switch Online: Game Boy Advance emulator, and that’s why the publisher has kept its cards close to its chest for now. Sega and Nintendo have already partnered up on an exclusive app and controllers for the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service, so it’s not like there isn’t already a little bit of precedent on them working together on something like this.

With no clear answer one way or the other as to why the games haven’t been released again to be found anywhere online, I decided to reach out to the company directly and ask them what exactly was going on. Unfortunately, Sega did not respond to my request for a comment on the rights situation for Sonic Advance, but if the games ever do manage to make their way off of the ageing GBA hardware at some point in the future, I’ll be there with my money. And I'm sure there's a legion of fans that will be, too.

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Sonic Advance

Nintendo GBA

Sonic the Hedgehog

Android, iOS, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii

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About the Author
Vince Pavey avatar

Vince Pavey

Contributor

Vince is a writer from the North-East of England who has worked on comics for The Beano and Doctor Who. He likes to play video games and eat good food. Sometimes he does both at the same time, but he probably shouldn’t.

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