Delayed Reactions – Sonic Adventure (XBLA/PSN)
+ Visual improvements, even over the 2003 PC port.
+ Fun action stages packed with speed.
+ Lots of variety, sub-games, mini-games, etc.
- Adventure stages are passable, but don’t add much.
- Bugs haven’t been fixed, no new game additions.
- Documentation is light. Doesn’t flesh out brief in-game tutorials.
As I mentioned in the last Game Attic – the topic and timing of which was selected entirely by coincidence – I haven’t been much of a fan of Sonic. Age appears to have changed my impressions of the first game, and I am looking forward to seeing if this holds true for the rest of the series. In the meantime, however, let’s jump ahead a bit to Sonic’s 3D debut.
Sonic Adventure was originally released in 1998 as a Dreamcast showcase app. While it’s not entirely fair to say this is Sega’s response to Mario 64, it’s not entirely inaccurate either. True 3D worlds were the new standard for the late 90s, and Sonic Adventure updates the blue hedgehog for this new generation.
It was well-received upon release, and fondly remembered after, so it makes some sense to offer a nostalgic downloadable version for $10. In fact, if you’re still a big Sonic Adventure fan today, you’ve probably already saved this game to your console. So this review will be more for the people in the same boat I am – those who (for whatever various reasons) never played the original or its previous ports, but are considering this release based on all the positive comments regarding Sonic’s first spin on the Dreamcast.
Sonic Adventure splits its time fairly evenly between adventure “hub” worlds linking to numbered “action” stages. The action stages are familiar Sonic brought to life in 3D. There are loops, twisting tracks, jumps, rockets, and speed boost pads aplenty. The adventure stages are the real departure for the series, and have Sonic and friends exploring a seaside resort town and its nearby areas. Sonic can interact with humans (who have no qualms speaking to a giant anthropomorphic talking hedgehog), and spends most of the time here following the plot to its next action stage.
Sonic’s adventure is fairly short, clocking maybe 5-6 hours tops. That’s why characters he meets unlock and become playable along the way. There are six in all, with separate stories (and separate completion percentages) tracked in the character select menu. None of these additional characters are required. Instead, you can pick any unlocked character from the menu and drop into points appropriate to Sonic’s story. So if Sonic is tracking down Tails’ crashing airplane, starting the game as Tails shows the interaction and the previously unseen lead-up from his perspective.
The characters get their own take on Sonic’s action stages as well. Tails does get a straight copy, but must beat Sonic to the exit by exploiting shortcuts. Other characters have distinct challenges based off of the action level environments – Knuckles climbs, digs, and flies to find emerald shards, Amy hides from a robot seen chasing her through many of Sonic’s story cutscenes, Gamma the robot races against the clock using guns and missiles, and Big the Cat fishes for his friend Froggy (which actually has more relevance to the story than it sounds).
Sonic makes the transition to 3D surprisingly well. The action stages give a wild sense of speed and rollercoaster thrills, and the adventure sections aren’t at tedious as they initially sound (a helpful red orb will guide you to the next location if you get lost). About the only complaint here is that the fastest sections tend to take control completely away from you; you’ll hold “Up” and watch the show. Trying to actually control Sonic at these points usually clips you right through the course, or causes jumps to fall far short. This naturally limits the gameplay, and you’re often just moving to the next launch point while lazily dodging some spiked balls or mechanical critters. It’s as if they took my complaint about the original Sonic (running at full blast gets you killed) and went to the other extreme (running at full blast locks you to a safe “track”).
The adventure sections are also admittedly unnecessary. The game could have easily been a linear collection of the “action” stages without them, and their inclusion seems to play more to the idea of Sonic as a franchise or cartoon universe than anything that benefits the gameplay. As said before, they’re not as annoying as they may sound, but they’re also not Adventure‘s best addition.
Considering that the Gamecube port this seems to be based on was deemed outdated by critics just four years after the original release, Sega has put themselves in the impossible position of convincing the majority of 2010 gamers that Sonic Adventure is still worth their time some 12 years later.
Complicating matters is that anyone who has really wanted to play Sonic Adventure has had ample opportunity by now, across ports to multiple systems. There may be some holdouts (like me), but it’s hard to recommend another purchase of the same game if you’ve already played it.
Same game indeed, as improvements to the port are limited. Graphics show the most drastic facelift, and are obviously improved over even the Windows port from 2003. Textures are sharper, jaggies less noticeable, and even the pre-rendered cinematics seem to have been scaled up to 720p. Sonic and his cohorts have never looked cleaner, and some transparent water effects have been added that were not in the original Dreamcast release. It’s unquestionably the best Sonic Adventure has ever looked.
I had no issue with the controls on the Xbox. The stick steers Sonic, face buttons perform two basic moves per character, and the triggers rotate the camera (just like the Dreamcast). An optional “free camera” brings full camera control the right stick, but I found this clunky and unnecessary. The auto camera did a fine job of snapping behind Sonic to keep pace with the action, and any clipping or hiccups came at times that weren’t crucial to the gameplay.
Sound is clear and seems authentic to the original release, with the addition of now being mixed in surround sound. It’s a little loud compared to other games, but the placement of effects and music feels comfortable. Characters are bombastically voiced – again, making this feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon – but I have no serious complaints. The port includes the option to switch to the original Japanese voices (with optional English subtitles) if you so choose. Music is a character-appropriate selection of peppy J-Pop (translated and re-performed in English, so it now doesn’t rhyme or make sense), and while not my style, does at least fit the game.
However, bugs (like the aforementioned falling through action stages) are still present, and no attempt to clean up the game code itself appears to have been made. Lip sync still isn’t even tried, and virtual camera work remains at an awkward mid-90s stage. Also, nothing new has been added to this release, pushing it again toward the comparatively small audience of die-hard fans or Sonic neophytes.
You will, however, be rewarded with a great variety of gameplay for your purchase. Action stages themselves always seem to have something new for Sonic to do – pinball tables, snowboarding, zip lines, cart racing and whale chases, just to name a few. Sub-stages also make appearances (and can be replayed from the main menu), including a 3D rail shooter aboard Tails’ airplane, running along a shifting sandboard, and even Whack-A-Mole using Amy’s hammer on Sonic dolls.
The original’s Tamagochi-inspired “Chao” sub-game is also included. Chao are pets hatched from eggs that develop based on the attributes of animals given to them (give them foxes and they’ll run faster, penguins and they’ll swim better, etc). You raise Chao in contained “gardens” accessible from the adventure section and completely enemy-free. In these gardens, Sonic can deposit any animals he’s collected from defeating Eggman’s machines, or spend any rings carried over from the end of action stages on food to increase Chao abilities. The end-game here is to breed superior Chao that can win a series of races. The ability to move your Chao to the Dreamcast’s VMU (and pit them against other Chao) is not emulated in this port, but the rest of the sub game remains, and gives some actual purpose to all the rings you grab and animals you rescue.
One big bonus this port brings is the addition of achievements for Adventure‘s major milestones. There’s obvious ones like completing Sonic’s story and unlocking all additional characters, but ones for winning all the Chao races and completing all characters’ stories may spark replayability that would otherwise get ignored without incentive (like Big the Cat’s fishing stages). Likewise, your performance on every action stage with every character is graded, with “emblems” awarded at each rank. Emblems (and the ability to instantly replay those stages) are tracked from the main menu, and maxing out all possible emblems awards yet another achievement. Now, at least, you’ll have something to show for your work if you’re interested.
You can also buy the additions included in the “DX” edition as a separate DLC upgrade. This adds 60 new action levels and Metal Sonic as a new character. It seems a fair price for $5, and I appreciate that they didn’t just dump the entire game for a solid 1200/$15. This way you can decide if you like the game enough to pay for the additional content.
Coming from someone who isn’t a Sonic fan and who missed the game originally, I found Sonic Adventure to be pretty fun. There’s an incredible amount of content here for $10, and Sonic’s initial foray into 3D works quite well. I found it reminiscent of similar XBLA games like the Banjo-Kazooie port or Twisted Pixel’s excellent The Maw, and if this style of fun-focused 3D platformer brings a smile to your face, then Sonic Adventure will fit right in. It’s a straight gameplay port, so no additions or fixes, but not quite the lazy port of the GameCube version you might have heard it described as. Adventure plays accurately to the original Dreamcast release, and has never looked more polished. If you’re interested, you’ll find plenty of content in here to enjoy.