A decade ago Sonic Adventure represented something quite different from what it does today. Back then it was an ambitious and highly promising, if flawed, attempt at transitioning Sonic to the third dimension. Today, however, it has the unfortunate position of serving as the catalyst for all of Sonic’s problems. Most of the issues that would afflict the franchise for the next ten years can be seen in Sonic Adventure; the obsession with an ever growing cast of friends, the conjoining of dissonant gameplay elements, and, of course, an unhealthy dose of glitches. Yet Sonic Adventure still somehow managed to provide an experience that was, at the time at least, enjoyable. The worst Sonic games imaginable have since come and gone and now Sega gives us a chance to revisit the best of Sonic’s 3D excursions. But whether it’s the lack of a Dreamcast pad in our hands, a bad port, or just a growing cynicism for blue hedgehogs in general, it’s hard to retain much of the passion we once had for Sonic Adventure.
The problems come thick and fast. As with Sega’s other Dreamcast conversions, Sonic Adventure is not in widescreen, instead giving us some nice big borders to play with. But then it’s not really a Dreamcast conversion at all, is it? Sega have taken the easy route and given us a port of the PC version. This might not be a significant issue were it not for the fact that it somehow feels even more unstable than the Dreamcast original. The simple task of running quickly through linear stages is made oddly frustrating thanks to a mixture of unwieldy controls and bizarre collision detection. Sonic has the appearance of someone suffering from a seizure; he judders and jitters, bumps into walls and tumbles around the levels with neither grace nor style. Indeed, death by glitch seems to be a particular issue in Sonic’s world. Never mind the giant killer whales, world-devouring demon Chaos, or even Doctor Robotnik himself, the blue hedgehog’s worst enemy is the constant threat of falling through apparently solid structures. Furthermore the graphics have the appearance of having been been smeared with grease, as the matte character models from the Dreamcast version have been replaced by what look like an oiled up wrestlers. All of this takes place in front of a nervous and erratic camera that desperately tries – and fails – to make sense of your needs.
But what of Sonic’s friends? For those who don’t remember, Sonic Adventure is broken up into six different perspectives of the same story. By exploring the central hubs (the titular “Adventure” component) you use each character’s unique abilities to access the main meat of the game – the Action Stages. These vary in quality from character to character, but like the rest of the game they’ve aged poorly in almost every regard. Playing as Tails makes the game slightly more stable, if only because his ability to fly means you don’t need to interact with that most deadly of culprits; the ground. Knuckles’s treasure-hunting adventures are more tedious than ever after a decade of gameplay and signposting refinement. Gamma, a robot, is mildly amusing because he gets to shoot things. Amy’s three short stages are solid enough, although the fact that she is constantly pursued by a stalker-esque robot leaves us feeling somewhat cold towards Sonic Team’s gender perceptions. Big the Cat on the other hand is widely regarded as the worst thing ever, because all he does is, well, catch fish.
Is there any reason at all to own this release of Sonic Adventure then? Ironically, not for nostalgia’s sake; playing it now will simply tarnish any good memories you had of the game in the first place. Nonetheless, it constitutes a much better experience than 2006’s awful Sonic the Hedgehog. The story is fun, the integrated virtual pet system involving cuddly blue pixies called Chao is entertaining, and the containing Adventure stages give the whole thing a nice connected feel. Overall, where Sonic Adventure succeeds is in its world; far removed from the melodramatic hedgehog-on-human action of 2006’s travesty, it presents an impressive variety of visual styles and generally acceptable level design. From meticulously detailed Mayan ruins to the vibrant cloud-filled Windy Valley and dramatic Speed Highway stage, the game still throws around its share of spectacle.
If you’re expecting to reclaim your lost passion for Sonic, however, look elsewhere. At best Sonic Adventure is an amusing history lesson for the tolerant, at worst it just serves as a reminder of how long Sonic has been floundering. Even more shocking is that Sega demands further payment to unlock the “DX” content found in the GameCube re-release of the game. If you really must play Sonic Adventure, do yourself a favour and buy the decade-old Dreamcast version. It’s somewhat better, and you won’t be funding the gaming equivalent of highwaymen.