Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut
Well, well, we all know what happened to this fellow. It looked like the start of something new for Sega and Sonic after a shocking past, with Sonic Adventure garnering positive reviews and Dreamcast sale’s making a promising start. The cancellation of Sonic X-Treme and the subsequent death of the Saturn looked firmly behind them. Alas, it was not to be. The Dreamcast lasted less than two years as competition had greater developer support, and the release of Sonic Adventure DX in 2003 failed to stand the test of time in comparison to contemporary platform games. Yet few would have predicted many more years of mediocre releases, and I wanted to see what was wrong when a hedgehog that defined my childhood went 3D.
Sonic Adventure plot sees a fight over the possession of the Chaos Emeralds. Dr Robotnil, um, Eggman, in his quest for world domination, gets his flying fortress up and running and seeks the water-based God of destruction Chaos, after destroying the Master Emerald and attempts to exploit his power by finding the Chaos Emeralds. The events spark the interests of six playable characters in the game: Sonic and Tails aim to prevent Dr Eggman from getting his way while Knuckles the Echidna attempts to restore the Master Emerald he was protecting by finding the lost shards. Eggman’s secretly compassionate sidekick E-102 actually wants to free all his fellow robots from his control, Sonic’s girlfriend Amy tries to find her bird friend and Big the Cat keeps losing his frog companion, who has swallowed his lucky yellow Chaos Emerald.
Although the excess of game characters has been one of many problems associated with the Sonic franchise, most of the other characters play quite well. Plenty of crossovers of other characters occur in the plot. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy host fast-paced levels, with a few differences. Tails can fly, Knuckles has the ability to glide and Amy has a Piko Piko hammer. E-102 takes a slower pace, sporting a few levels to wade through and blast everything with a laser gun while Big the Cat is obsessed with finding his frog companion and whose levels are extremely dull.
Sonic Adventure was so well received at the time because everyone wanted the new Sonic game to be good, and also the graphical quality was unprecedented. Rolling onto the first level, Emerald Coast, it’s easy to see how it was impressive. To see spinning rings, trampolines, item boxes and Sonic’s signature spin dash dazzling in 3D certainly had me amazed at 9 years of age. Seeing Sonic running clear of a killer whale destroying a peer was the icing on the cake. It’s still a decent enough level, with the sun shining on the beach, lots of jumping around albeit occasionally hard to land. It’s a good first impression all round.
After the first level the game’s biggest flaw emerges; relying on Adventure hub fields to find action stages. They serve no purpose other than to advance the plot and to get lost, and are littered with pointless NPC’s. There are a few of these: Station Square, Mystic Ruins and Angel Island; finding the odd clue from an orb to indicate where to be next. The plot is uninteresting thanks to appalling acting as well. Expression is limited, dialogue is sporadic rather than free-flowing and lip-synching is non-existent. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with a plot if it was acted well and didn’t need hub stages but the explorative elements shoehorn the game into something it is not, and should not be. Hub levels in the likes of Spyro the Dragon and Super Mario 64 suited the games spirit of exploring and collecting things. This does not work where core levels are fast and linear, A-B progression.
The core levels don’t get everything right either, being tricky for the wrong reasons. Irrefutably shoddy camera work, questionable design decisions and improperly assigned collision detection lead to deaths because of a design flaw rather than a flaw in the player’s skill. Sonic Adventure is actually quite a good game when thing’s work, demonstrating how Sonic could actually work in 3D. However, too many surrounding factors puncture a decent gameplay mechanic not only by level organisation but carelessness. This game is average not because it’s consistently ordinary, rather an aggregate of many good and many bad moments.
The flaws make you wonder about exploring the depths this game offers. Sonic Adventure allows you to train your own Chao creature, with the part reserved for the Dreamcast’s Visual Memory Unit ported over, almost like a virtual pet mini-game. His stats can be raised to improve his performance in races, and special Chao eggs can be found in the game. This PC DX version also features many additional unlockables such as a mission mode (which unlocks even more), hidden characters and the entire backlog of Sonic games on the Game Gear (although not on the Steam version). Missions are rather mundane though, such as collecting flags or transporting a man to the train station. A lot of the Game Gear games were initially poor and have aged badly also, and look nasty at a PC resolution. If you don’t want to get arrested for downloading and playing these Game Gear games on an alternate emulator, then this remains the only legal way to play these on the PC. But what I want to know is why the time taken to implement these needless extras wasn’t used to fix the game’s bugs?
It’s been an interesting insight into Sonic’s demise: a lack of polish in levels, badly acted plotlines and unnecessary adventure fields between core levels. Despite camera flaws action stages are generally good; levels remain fast, boss battles are challenging but fun and the linear formula has been converted rather well to three dimensions. Many aspects of the famed 2D gameplay are intact: collecting rings, busting badniks and avoiding spikes and traps. The graphics, although dated, are classic Sega-style bright and breezy, as is the somewhat cheesy soundtrack. It’s just a shame this was the start of a decade of rot for Sonic. This was certainly one of his better games in the decade and has enough good points for a Sonic fan to enjoy if you can ride out and ignore the dross, but others should take caution. A loop-de-loop experience of its own, at least it’s good to see Sonic’s showing positive signs of progress recently. 2010’s Sonic Colours scored well and the upcoming Sonic Generations looks very promising. Ignore the trolls, Sonic. I always had faith in you.