Sonic Advance 3
Dimps keeps on tryin'
Fifteen years later (looks at own palms, weeping), Sonic Advance 3 remains an extremely odd game. Then again, the whole series is increasingly odd. The original Sonic Advance (2001) was a straight-up 2D throwback after the wilderness years of the Saturn, while Sonic Advance 2 (2002) put the focus on speed more than any other game in the series, largely sacrificing exploration in favour of pure exhilarating velocity. This thirdquel seems to want to be both, with slower-paced platforming poorly intersecting with intense speed in a way that always feels just a little bit off.
The big gimmick for Advance 3 is a team-up mechanic, which you can use to take any combination of the available characters out with you. Each affords different skills (rather like the contemporary and absolutely wretched Sonic Heroes), though they mostly amount to either a quick speed burst or an extremely high double jump. They're useful, however, for combing the absolutely vast levels for hidden Chao. Every Sonic Advance game locks its special stages behind a different quirk and this one utilises those cute blue babies. Find every one in a zone and you get to play for a Chaos Emerald.
If I could sum up Advance 3 in one word it'd be "bloated". The game cannot be accused of lacking in content. There are now three acts per zone like the original Sonic the Hedgehog, rather than the now-traditional two. Accessing said acts requires the traversal of a series of hub stages, each more tiresome than the last. The levels are long and not particularly varied, and I found myself feeling done with it before the end of the second zone, Sunset Hill. The bosses are pretty inspired, but in ways that ultimately make them tedious and frustrating rather than fun. There's something a little bit off about the whole game feel, in fact, with the characters seeming just a little detached from their surroundings in terms of weight and momentum in a way that the first two GBA games didn't.
Despite these complaints, it's still a 2D Sonic, so it's still fun (Sonic Blast on Game Gear notwithstanding), and it's definitely worth your time to play if you enjoy the blue boy and his roly-poly antics.