Vintage Gaming: Sonic AdventureBy Dustin Mendel | October 25, 2011 | Features | 5 comments | Share
Sonic the Hedgehog has taken a lot of abuse over the past few years, but there was a time when he was one of gaming’s most beloved characters. When people talk about the glory days of Sonic, they’re usually referring to the 2D Genesis games, but looking at the upcoming Sonic Generations, which blends old school Sonic with 3D gameplay, there’s obviously some love for the new generation of games as well.
For this week’s Vintage Gamer, I made it my goal to find and play a good 3D Sonic game, in the hopes of stirring up some excitement for Sonic Generations. Immediately excluding Sonic Unleashed, the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog and those weird fairy tale games that came out for the Wii, I was left with Sonic Adventure, originally released for the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, and recently ported to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I had only casually experienced both the Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure when they first hit the market, and I was excited to play a Sonic game that had review scores in the 90s and was the best-selling Dreamcast game of all time.
Now that I’ve played through the game, I can safely say that I have yet to play a good 3D Sonic game; Sonic Adventure is a festering mess, and Sega has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of gamers in a way that would make David Copperfield jealous.
A Little Less Conversation…
I want to make it clear that my problems with the game have nothing to do with how it looks. Even now, the game’s characters look just as good in 3D as they did in the 16-bit games, and some of the levels look surprisingly good. The same can’t be said for the game’s audio, particularly the character dialogue. Unlike the first three Sonic games for the Genesis, every character in Sonic Adventure has voice acting, and the game is a perfect example of what happens when a Japanese company tries to write dialogue like Americans.
There’s a fairly significant cultural divide between the two countries, and as a result, every character speaks and sounds like Bart Simpson or the 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Another example of this is the undignified repackaging that Dr. Robotnik received, becoming Dr. Eggman instead. It may come as a surprise to younger gamers, but there was a time when Sonic the Hedgehog was the epitome of cool in video games. He was the edgy, smartass alternative to iconic characters like Mario and Link, but after Sonic Adventure, he became loud, unfunny and dumber than a bag of hammers.
The gameplay is tolerable at best, and a stinking bag of garbage at its worst, depending on who you play as or what you’re doing. I guess in an effort to impress the world with the Dreamcast’s power, Sonic Adventure consists of not one, but six playable characters, each with their own story and gameplay mechanics. Sonic and Tails play basically as you’d expect they would, with a focus on speed and basic platforming. It’s fun enough, and there are a few sequences, like the snowboarding level and when a giant killer whale chases you across a crumbling pier, that still stand up as being pretty cool. The game definitely provides an impressive sense of speed, but it also introduces an issue that has come up in every subsequent Sonic game.
The highlight of the game is the speed sequences, but they consist entirely of the player holding up on the controller and watching Sonic or Tails run. When they do allow you to control Sonic’s movement during these sections, it’s almost impossible to keep him centered on whatever track you’re supposed to be sprinting along, which makes the whole thing look terrible as you pinball off of various walls. It remains to be seen if Sonic Generations has managed to solve this problem, and hopefully they do; with a little more player interaction, this type of gameplay would be a lot of fun.
Of the remaining four characters, Knuckles is the only recognizable name, and his role in Adventure is a shell of what he was in Sonic & Knuckles. Instead of highlighting his speed alongside his unique abilities, which may have been too similar to Sonic and Tails’ gameplay, Knuckles essentially plays hide-and-seek in each of his levels, lazily floating around massive maps, looking for hidden jewel pieces. It’s a disappointing turn of events for Knuckles, but someone at Sega obviously enjoyed his treasure hunts enough that they brought it back for Sonic Adventure 2. The same can’t be said for Amy and Big the Cat, who, with any luck, are both buried under the parking lot at Sega’s headquarters.
Has Anyone Seen Froggy?
Big the Cat is everything wrong with the Sonic franchise, balled up into the shape of a bloated purple mental defective. Somewhere, someone decided that the one thing Sonic the Hedgehog needed more than anything else was a fishing mini-game, and a bloody awful one at that. The controls are never explained, and the odds of successfully catching your target are about the same as winning a rigged carnival game. Big the Cat is one of several inexplicable decisions that were made in creating Sonic Adventure; rather than worrying about improving on the formula that Sonic 2 perfected, Sonic Team was more concerned with making an enormous game, and in doing so, filled it with boring or broken extras.
Another example of this is the substantial Chao sub-game found within Sonic Adventure. The Chaos were the first and probably best use of the VMU accessory, which, in essence, was a tiny removable handheld that could be inserted into the Dreamcast’s controller. In the case of Sonic Adventure, the VMU became a Tamagotchi, allowing you to maintain and level up your Chao without the game being on. In the port I played, this obviously wasn’t included, and I can see how it would’ve been a cool feature at the time the game was released, so I’m willing to give Sonic Team a pass, but it’s just one more thing that was created specifically for a game that should’ve just been about Sonic the Hedgehog.
Hedgehog About Town
By far the most offensive part of Sonic Adventure can be found in all six characters’ games, and actually made things like fishing with Big enjoyable by comparison. Each character’s story is made up of a series of levels, and these levels are all joined together by an agonizing hub world. By skipping any of the game’s god awful cutscenes, and believe me, you will, you’ll find yourself wandering a clumsy, empty town with little to no indication of where you’re meant to go. The hub is identical for every character, meaning some buttons or switches that were only meant for one character can always be found, further complicating what should be a simple task of walking from point A to point B.
The biggest head-scratcher came when I needed a small statue to enter a cave, which I found in the town square. It occurred to me that I would need to carry it to the jungle to place it where it belonged, and the only way to get there was by train. So there I was, playing as Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest character in video games, sitting on a train with a statue in my lap, marveling at how no one else had been appalled by this.
If you think I’m being unfair to Sonic Adventure, let me give you something to think about the next time you’re fishing with Big: Super Mario 64, the first Mario game for the Nintendo 64 that revolutionized 3D gaming, came out three years before Sonic Adventure. When Sonic Team sat down to design this game, they had this masterpiece to use as a blueprint, and yet, we got fishing, Chao farming and the death of Sonic the Hedgehog as a major name in video games.
I’m not ready to write off Sonic Generations yet, as everything I’ve seen looks incredibly promising, but Sonic Adventure has left me second guessing not only the idea of a good 3D Sonic game, but dozens of other “classics” that could potentially be as bad as this game. Obviously I’m not reviewing the game here, but if I was, I would let Dean Wormer do the honors for me.