Save the world from the machinations of a mad scientist and his pet water monster.
PC Release: September 14, 2004
By Ian Coppock
It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. To mark the occasion, I’ve decided to take a look at Sega’s flagship series, which earned critical acclaim in its early years and substantial derision later on. Sonic the Hedgehog started out his career as nothing more than a foil to Super Mario, and has since taken on a vaster, more complicated legacy of his own. Today’s game, Sonic Adventure, remains one of the high points of the Dreamcast era, and seems like a good standpoint for looking at the franchise as a whole.
Sonic Adventure was originally released for the Dreamcast console in 1998, but it has since been ported to PC, and a director’s cut edition is available on Steam. The game marked the first time Sonic had been adapted to 3D, following his wildly successful 2D debut in 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog and beyond. This game pits Sonic and friends against arch-nemesis Dr. Robotnik, who seeks to take over the world with the aid of an ancient creature.
Sonic Adventure also marks the first time that Dr. Robotnik would start being called “Dr. Eggman” in English versions of the game, which makes him impossible to take seriously as a villain. Unless the poultry industry is starting up a door-to-door delivery service, nobody should be called “Eggman”. When I was younger, stupider, and more oblivious to bad writing, I took the Eggman title in stride. Now it makes me cringe.
Anyways, to cement his chances of world domination. Dr. Eggman is out to get seven magical gems called Chaos Emeralds. His watery friend, conveniently called Chaos, grows bigger with every emerald he’s fed, and to feed him all seven emeralds would unlock a terrible power, one that the scientist seeks to wield. So, the game is basically a race against Dr. Eggman to find the seven Chaos Emeralds first. Fitting, considering Sonic’s proficiency with speed.
How does Sonic find the Chaos Emeralds? By racing at supersonic speeds through several vibrant worlds. From sandy beaches to floating islands, players can guide Sonic through these thinly disguised racetracks to the emeralds at the end. A few levels incorporate minigames, like pinball, but most are linear speedways adorned with gorgeous skyboxes and big pastel colors. For the most part, it’s an enjoyable and well-build 3D platforming experience.
Sonic isn’t the only one fighting against Eggman. You can take the reins of five additional characters, and play their story arcs as well. Sonic’s sidekick Tails gets his own high-flying missions. Knuckles the Echidna embarks upon a treasure hunt in open-world renditions of Sonic’s levels. For some reason a giant retarded cat who’s looking for his pet frog is shoehorned into the story, but the levels within the other arcs are fun to play through.
To revisit the level design for a moment, I personally feel that Sonic’s transition to 3D was not as unpleasant as many core fans believe. Maybe it’s because I was a newly minted fetus when the original Sonic games were tearing it up back in ’91. Or, maybe it’s because that while the complaints about awkward character controls are valid, the level design is tight and varied. Sonic can be expected to run linear tracks, do loop-de-loops, ride helicopters, surf lava, and blow shit up all in one level. You can also hunt for treasure and new abilities in the open-world hubs connecting these levels. It’s a confident amount of variety for a franchise’s 3D debut.
Now what are these character control complaints, you might ask? Well, to be fair, the controls in this game are pretty clunky. Sonic’s are very sensitive to the touch; one brush against the joystick at high speeds can send you careening into an abyss. Other characters’ fighting mechanics basically consist of pointing in the general direction of what you want to hit and hoping that your character’s knuckle punch or tail whip actually hits something even three feet away. The camera controls have a mind of their own and will fight your attempts at a good angle.
And don’t even get me started on the retarded cat’s fishing challenges.
And though you get to play as a half-dozen brightly colored freaks, there’s no doubt that Sonic takes center stage. You can’t even play as other characters until you happen upon them in his story arc. He also has more missions; way more. Some characters get like three missions and their arcs can be completed in an hour or so. Though some arcs are way too short, others don’t overstay their welcome. They get on with their subplots and then it’s back to the mainline action. Suits me fine.
Another subplot-mechanic-thingy running behind the scenes is the Chao Garden, where you can take a break from running and fighting to rear the eponymous baby aliens. Chao can be fed items that you collect in your missions, and evolve a la Pokemon into bigger and better creatures. There are a few Gardens scattered around the hub worlds and it makes for a diverting, if shallow, side activity. Chao even play a role in the story later on, though it doesn’t require any Chao-rearing on the player’s part.
The main story of Sonic Adventure is not difficult to follow, but the dialogue is god-awful. A combination of awkward Japanese translation and over-enunciation on the voice actors’ parts makes cutscenes almost unbearable. The game’s sound design is further rounded out with random audio cuts and music that’s played at 10x the volume of dialogue. Sonic Adventure‘s soundtrack, while catchy, was played with a band that must’ve had no less than six guitarists, three drummers, and four aspiring facsimiles of Nickelback’s Chad Kroger. Any spoken dialogue is immediately drowned out by the headbangiest suburban rock music you’ve ever heard, necessitating subtitles.
Some parts of this game’s story are also just downright silly, but we’ll cut Sonic Adventure some slack. This is a kid’s game, not a gritty crime drama or one of my awful horror games. Dr. Eggman’s plan to tear down the city and build a new one, rather than just taking over the city, is that so-bad-it’s-good type of funny. It’s not a high point that most of the humor in Sonic Adventure is unintentional, but it’s still humorous. The bad facial animations are particularly amusing.
So what’s my final say on this modern re-appraisal of a 12-year-old game? Most Sonic fans will tell you that the 2D games are good and anything 3D is bad, but that’s a claim that I contest. This game, while clunky in many respects, is a far better transition to a new style than I would’ve expected. I don’t know if the same can be said about post-Sonic Adventure games, but the big vibrant worlds and excellent level design are something any gamer can appreciate.
On the Sonic franchise as a whole, it’s hard to know. It’s no secret that the Sonic the Hedgehog series has been in the gutter for the last decade or so, though 2010’s Sonic Colors was reportedly decent. I’ve gone back and played a few of the old 2D games and found them to be enjoyable. As for this game, if you’ve got a few bucks to blow and a few hours to kill, Sonic Adventure is a good way to rev up that old-school 3D platforming nostalgia. It’s also available as part of Steam’s Dreamcast Collection. You might have to toy around with it a bit to get it to function, but I had no major problems on my PC playthrough.
Except the retarded cat.
You can buy Sonic Adventure DX here.
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