Saturday, March 10, 2012

Multiplayer party games can provide a room full of people with hours of knock-down, drag-out competition, especially if you're playing them on the Nintendo GameCube or the Microsoft Xbox. Since both systems already have four controller ports, all you need to get a shindig going is a game like Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. Melee, or Fuzion Frenzy and one or two of your friends to bring over any additional controllers you might need. While this setup works fine on a system such as the GameCube, playing multiplayer party games isn't nearly so easy on a handheld console such as the Game Boy Advance. In order to start a game with four players, you'll need four systems, four game cartridges, and at least three link cables. Nonetheless, if you're in the mood for a melee fighting game on the go, and you can find two or three other people willing to make the investment necessary to duke it out with you, then Sega's Sonic Battle is a good choice.

The easiest way to describe Sonic Battle is to call it a portable version of Super Smash Bros. Melee, except that instead of using Nintendo's characters to fight your battles, you and your friends can choose any of 10 different characters from Sega's Sonic Adventure series. The goal in Sonic Battle, much as it is in Super Smash Bros., is to score more knockouts than your opponents by the time the match ends. This isn't a fighting game in the traditional sense, though. The combat system is remarkably simple, and the pace is lightning fast. Most attacks are performed using a combination of the directional pad and the B button, while the A button and the L trigger allow you to jump and guard. There are numerous ways to juggle an opponent in midair, and attacks generally dole out massive amounts of damage.

Besides the portability factor, there are a few other key differences that distinguish Sonic Battle from Super Smash Bros. First, each character in Sonic Battle has three different special attacks, which you can designate as airborne-, ground-, or guard-based. Sonic's spin-dash, for example, acts as a dive-bomb move if you select it as an aerial attack, but if you assign it as a ground attack, it launches a powerful gust of wind across the screen. Another of the game's unique aspects involves your ability to regain health and to store energy into a power reserve just by holding down the guard button. Once the bar is full, you can unleash a one-hit knockout using one of your character's special moves. Whereas you might go 30 seconds or more between knockouts in a game like Super Smash Bros., the typical span between points in Sonic Battle is more like 10 seconds or less. That sort of frantic, intense pace is perfect for a portable game system like the Game Boy Advance.

If you're a fan of the Super Smash Bros. games, the biggest gripe that you may have with Sonic Battle is that the layouts of the arenas don't play a strategic role in the outcome of matches. In Super Smash Bros., you need to be aware of jet cars whizzing by on the F-Zero stage or of bombs falling to the ground in front of the princess's castle. The arenas in Sonic Battle provide a great degree of three-dimensional movement, but they're generally rectangular in shape and don't offer much in the way of interactivity. You can toss opponents into walls and perch atop boxes, but the majority of combat takes place on flat ground. This shortcoming doesn't have much of an impact on the game's fun factor, though, because the combat itself is so lively and satisfying.

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