I originally forgave Sonic Adventure’s (many) faults on the basis that I loved the character and the graphics were incredible; an eye candy diversion to make up for the fact it was blatantly nowhere near as good as Mario 64. A decade on, and a digital port to XBLA and PSN later, and suddenly those flaws are more apparent than ever. The hub overworld is dire. There are far too many substandard levels. Big the Cat.
Or any of the tiresome ‘friends’ levels, to be honest. Seriously, try playing through Knuckles’ ‘hide and seek’ collecting quests without harbouring a genuine desire to punch someone from Sonic Team in the face. If they were released today – which they sort of are, if you think about it – then most of these so-called adventures would be substandard mini-games on a Wii compilation disc from a Z-list developer.
Rose-tinted nostalgia aside, the common (but wrong) belief is that Sonic Adventure marked the beginning of the end for the series, but Sonic was already running with a stitch when this came out in 1999. It had been five years (and the whole SEGA Saturn) since Sonic & Knuckles, and the likes of Mario 64 and the entire Crash Bandicoot series had already arrived on the scene. Platforming had picked up a whole new dimension since Sonic had been away, and developer Sonic Team was struggling to play catch up.
But, then, there was that bit with the whale. The bit with the whale! I remember it well; a local indie games shop imported a Dreamcast from Japan and I used to go there after school to get a chance of playing their copy of Sonic Adventure. It’s those little nuggets of nostalgia this port is trying to evoke and, to its credit, it does a fairly good job at that. So does watching a video of the game’s main theme (Open Your Heart by Crush 40) on YouTube, though, and that way you don’t have to actually play the game. Which is better.
For your 800 Microsoft monies or £6.29 on PSN, you get a trimmed port of the rejiggered Sonic Adventure DX (originally released on GameCube and PC) with the aptly titled trials and Metal Sonic skin cut out – though these can be unlocked for another 400 points. But I wouldn’t bother, to be honest, and this is coming from someone who struggled to do most of them a few years ago on the GameCube.
The updated version runs at a HD resolution, and a few graphical tweaks ensure it all holds together as well as a game released in 1999 possibly can. It doesn’t run in widescreen though, so it’s another case for those obnoxious borders to make an appearance. You can’t miss them: they take up way too much of the screen.
As for the way it plays, well, it’s the first 3D Sonic game. And it shows. Compare it to the promising Sonic Colours (note: don’t let me down again, Sonic Team) and this iteration of the hedgehog with attitude feels slow, clunky and stuck wading through tedious environment after tedious environment. Sequences that look cool are often in areas where control is snatched away from the player, and any actual platforming bits are promptly ruined because of cumbersome, though eventually manageable, controls.
Even the levels don’t do much to excite anymore. There are about 10 in total, ranging from the woefully typical – Ice Cap (ice) and Red Mountain (fire) – to the staple casino zone and ‘Eggman base’ final level. You run through most of them, in different configurations, as Sonic and then the other five characters: Amy! E-102! Knuckles! Tails! BIG!
With Sonic Team coming to the conclusion that stages need to be linked together by an overarching hub world – or, more likely, because they were trying to rip off the castle in Mario 64 – we also get Station Square, the Mystic Ruins and the Egg Carrier, three lifeless environments that serve nothing other than to annoy with their fiddly camera angles, inane puzzles and the fact it’s usually far too bloody hard to find the next level.
And while the game was never a shining beacon of programming excellence, the trip to the HD era seems to have filled it with even more problems. I routinely fell through the map and, in one instance, burned through my entire supply of lives in a tragic instant death and respawn loop.
There’s still something fascinating about it, though; I was compelled to see it through despite the fact it’s not very good. And you can unlock Sonic’s sneakers as an avatar award if you play for ten hours. But Sonic Adventure doesn’t just make you realise its age, it also makes you question the world we live in: just how did this ever become the most successful Dreamcast game?
For more on Sonic Adventure check out our Extended Play video feature.