Release Date: September 9, 1999
Developer: Sonic Team
“Froggy! You swallowed my lucky charm!” – Big the Cat
Many times, nostalgia plays cruel tricks on me. Case in point: my ex-wife and I gave my son a SEGA Dreamcast for Christmas 1999. Included with the console were some extras we picked out. They included an extra controller and two games: Soul Calibur and Sonic Adventure. I have already heaped enough praise on the former title, so I won’t do so here. As for the latter title, I distinctly remember that my son and I thoroughly enjoyed our playing time with it. I even recall a few spots where we were slack-jawed in awe at what we saw.
Recently, the memories of my son and I playing Sonic Adventure made me want to play it again. I decided to load up the game on my Dreamcast and run through a few levels.
Twenty minutes later I called my son, now an adult, to vent. “Do you remember how much fun we had playing Sonic Adventure? Well, it’s all a fucking lie! That game is a tire fire with anthropomorphic legs!”
What could have skewed my memories of the game so much? Undoubtedly, the quality time spent with my son helped. The visuals, which were state-of-the-art back then, most likely contributed. But there is no way I could forget – or excuse – the gameplay, which is spotty at best and nearly unplayable at worst.
The story doesn’t really need mentioning because it’s pretty much the same as many Sonic games. It’s pretty much “blah blah blah, Dr. Robotnik or Eggman whatever, blah blah Chaos Emeralds, blah blah save the world!” This is the first game in the mainline series, however, to split the main story among Sonic and his friends. When you select a character to play as, you are dropped off in Station Square, this game’s hub world. From here, you can access the stages your character needs to play through. As the storyline progresses for the character, new areas will unlock. Finishing all their storylines unlocks a final stage that wraps up the story.
There are quest lines for Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, E102 Gamma, and Big the Cat. Each quest line is designed for that character’s abilities. Sonic’s levels are the usual running areas mixed with platforming sections. His playstyle was copied in later titles, like Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog, aka Sonic ’06. Tails’ stages are tailored to his ability to hover and mostly deal with beating someone to the level’s finish line. This is similar to the Knuckles stages because he glides, only they have more verticality to account for his ability to climb walls. Amy’s levels are all platforming and no speed. Her only attack consists of a big hammer and nothing else. E102 Gamma has tons of firepower but moves slower than a three-legged turtle through molasses. As for Big the Cat? He just fishes.
Believe me that once you unlock the final stage, you will be absolutely apoplectic. The rage is real, and it will scare your dog and loved ones.
Sonic’s levels are the most playable, but even that is relative. During the running portions, the slightest twitch will send Sonic careening off the proper path. In a way, the game encourages this, as there are many secret or side areas that contain pickups. But these are not noteworthy, and they feel like an excuse by the developers for constantly veering off course.
The best example for this is the running portions in the very first level. The path includes some 90º turns with rubber band guardrails, followed by a 90º right turn with no guardrails. For this corner, that you CANNOT touch the controller. Sonic automatically navigates this corner. If you move the analog stick right – which is instinctual and seemingly obvious – you will fall off the path and end up on the beach. Such no-hands sections are littered all over his stages, sometimes leading Sonic to his death.
A major conspirator for the lack of control is the game’s camera. You will find yourself fighting with the blasted thing at every step of your playthrough. Keep in mind that this game came out AFTER Super Mario 64, whose camera may not have been perfect but was leagues better. Between the psychotic camera and the busted controls, you will be having a bad time.
None of the other campaigns fare any better. You will learn to HATE the E102 Gamma stages because he maneuvers over platforms like a dishwasher would. Worst of all are the Big the Cat stages. He barely fights any enemies; all he does is fish. And the fishing is HORRENDOUS! TO prove just how horrendous, I offer you a YouTube clip of Arin from the Game Grumps having a for-real “China Syndrome” meltdown while attempting to fish up a frog (just go with it) on one level. This video is the only real happiness Sonic Adventure could possibly give me.
There is almost nothing about this game that is pleasing. Aurally, everything is a mess. The music is largely forgettable, and often the characters’ awful spoken dialogue is drowned out by the music blaring at you. The visuals, considered top-notch back in 1999, do not hold up well today. Everything is bright and colorful, but graphical glitches abound and some facial expressions may actually give you nightmares. The main boss for this game, Chaos, is a water-textured mess, and your battles against will test your patience. And your boss battles with Big the Cat – remember, he only has a fishing pole – should be considered a form of torture.
About the only enjoyable part of this game is the Chao raising. In Station Square, you can enter a Chao garden. This area is very Tamagotchi-like. You find Chao eggs during the course of your playthrough, and they will hatch in the Chao Garden. As you feed and pet them, they will grow. They soon develop different personalities, which affects how you care for them. While growing, they will gain points in one of five stats: swim, fly, run, power, and a fifth random stat. They also gain special abilities when you give them a small animal. And, of course, they can mate and produce eggs with more Chao.
Chao raising was easily my favorite activity back in the days. The ability to raise Chao using the Dreamcast’s VMU – essentially a save card with a screen, controller, and buttons – allowed you to keep tending to them on the go. The Game Boy Advance also later supported Chao raising. It does get repetitive after a while, but it’s the only real mode that attracts your attention.
Does the game still hold up? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Other than the Chao raising, there is no redeeming quality about Sonic Adventure. Team Sonic’s first foray into a 3D Sonic game was an unmitigated disaster, and only the most hardcore Sonic fans would want to even try playing it.
For those people, there are a few ways to play this game. In addition to the original Dreamcast release, there are PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 ports. A director’s cut version – named Sonic Adventure DX – was also released for the GameCube and Windows PCs. Those who play it may soon wish they never did. As a launch title, Sonic Adventure was a game that tried to show off the Dreamcast’s prowess and was the first for-real 3D Sonic game. Unfortunately, SoulCalibur was the tech marvel; Sonic Adventure was the also-ran that I may (or may not) have enjoyed back in 1999, but abhor today.
I should make my son play it. That way, the nostalgia for the game will disappear for him as well. He’ll thank me later. After I stop him from drinking himself comatose.
Good: Chao raising; it works; Chao raising again
Bad: Terrible controls; awful sound design; dated visuals; frustratingly bad gameplay; Big the FUCKING Cat!
Final Score: 3/10