Sonic Advance 1 is so by the books that it’s actually sort of boring. Dimps took the established Sega Genesis cliches and copied/pasted them in to a new game. Nothing evolved, nothing changed. Just more of the same, tweaked ever so slightly to incorporate a couple elements from Sonic Adventure 2 (nearly worthless grind rails and the elimination of all elemental shields except the magnet shield) and the ability to play as Amy Rose for the first time.
That’s “fine”, in a sense. It’s playable. Enjoyable. It’s just not interesting. Copies are never as good as the originals, and Dimps hardly knocked it out of the park on their level design. It can’t be defined any other way than just “a clone”.
Sonic Advance 2 was Dimps trying something new: a Sonic game about maintaining speed. Sonic games were kinda sorta about this in the past, but they were still primarily platformers. Sonic Advance 2 laid the blueprints for the concept of “Sonic the Hedgehog as a racing game”. Sonic Generations, Colors, Unleashed and Sonic Rush would not exist without Sonic Advance 2 laying the groundwork.
It’s a tough, frustrating game, I’ll admit. But so was Sonic Rush, at least for me. I’ve always told people that Sonic Rush doesn’t actually “get good” until after you’ve finished the game and gone back through everything a second time. You need to learn the levels a little bit.
The same is true of Sonic Advance 2. it’s a game you have to practice and get good at. But once you’ve practiced, and can sufficiently prepare for what’s coming, it’s incredibly rewarding. “Memorization” might be a dirty word to some, but that’s racing games for you. In a real race, you need to know the track to have any chance at winning.
It’s also like skateboarding, you know? Real skateboarding takes immense amounts of practice just to pull of something as simple as a kickflip. For most skateboarders, pulling off a single grind is an accomplishment. But they’re still out there screwing around for hours, days, weeks, months, years.
There’s something to be said for that feeling of mastery. Sonic Advance 2 was one of the first Sonic games to do that. If Sonic Rush was the dawn of “Modern Sonic”, then Sonic Advance 2 was 5:45am when it’s just barely starting to get light outside.
In that context, Sonic Advance 1 looks all the more generic.
Similarly, it makes Sonic Advance 3 look confused. It doesn’t know whether to be Sonic Advance 1 or Sonic Advance 2, so it tries to be both, and then it crams in this awful team system because it was released in close proximity to Sonic Heroes. Its levels feel like the stinky leftovers that have been left in the fridge too long. It is a bad game.