It’s been 12 years since Sonic the Hedgehog first graced Sega’s 16-bit Genesis, ushering in an age of cute animal-driven platformers and mascots with attitudes. This was the first game that could really compete against what was, at that time, considered an unstoppable force: Nintendo.
But in a dozen years, things have a funny way of changing. The industry is different, the games people play are different, heck, even the gamers themselves are different. And while games may have moved from hand –drawn sprites to 3D polygons, one thing that never changes is how popular characters are milked for everything they are worth.
A good case of this is Sonic Adventure DX, a GameCube port of a game that came out only four years ago for the Sega Dreamcast. It’s also the prequel to the extremely disappointing Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, which was released to almost unanimous scathing reviews.
If Sonic Adventure DX seems a little unnecessary, it’s because it is. Perhaps it’s a way of completing the Sonic collection, or maybe it’s just an easy way of making a few bucks and preparing everybody for the upcoming multi-platform Sonic sequel. Or perhaps Sonic Team wasn’t satisfied with the game, and felt like it needed to be done correctly, just like George Lucas, who won’t stop tinkering with his original Star Wars films.
Sonic Adventure DX does offer a number of changes over the original Dreamcast version. For starters, it’s quite a bit better looking. The game is still using simple textures for the backgrounds, but the character models, enemies, and visual effects have been beefed up considerably. It’s not until you actually revisit the original version, that you appreciate the extra attention the graphics have been given.
Many of the glitches and camera problems found in the original game have been addressed, though a few have snuck through. GameCube users will also be able to take advantage of the yellow analog stick when using the Free Camera mode, which comes in handy, but has a funny way of turning itself off whenever you leave one section of the map (or die).
All these improvements mask what is perhaps the worst part of the game. Four years after its release, Sonic Adventure just feels dated. Not dated like playing the 16-bit Sonic’s, at least that’s nostalgic, instead Sonic Adventure falls apart because it’s trying to do things that have been done far better for a number of years. Games like Jak & Daxter and Super Mario Sunshine have really pushed the envelope of 3D platformers, and by their standard, this Adventure just comes up short.
Most of Sonic’s levels involve him running at top speed, bouncing off of walls, and collecting rings, something that felt dated even when this game was first released. The backgrounds are full of detail, beautifully colored, and offer a plethora of animation … but you’d never know it, because you’re too busy flying through the stages getting to the end.
It could be argued that Sonic has always been about running at high speeds and dodging enemies, collecting the occasional ring, and so on. But I’d hate to think that these are the only elements the creators took from those classic Genesis Sonic games. When you play as Sonic, there is no real exploration, and there’s very little incentive to look for extras.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, the levels in Sonic Adventure are really well put together. They are all very unique looking, and offer different enemies and challenges. I’d even go as far as to say some of them are really a lot of fun. Unlike most platformers, you never really know what’s coming next in Sonic Adventure. In one section of a level you’ll be running through a cave, only to find yourself on a snowboard being chased by a giant snowball. But those diversions from the regular game are all too brief, and only happen a hand full of times throughout the game.
When you aren’t rushing through the stages, there is an adventure world you have to work your way through. These areas involve a small part of a city, pyramids, caves, and more. These levels simply require you to solve a puzzle, or do some kind of action, to further the story along. While most of the time it’s fairly clear what needs to get done, there are a few times where there is no help, and you simply have to figure it out trial and error style.
These adventure areas are the weakest part of this game, and are filled with invisible walls and almost no interaction with the environment. They tend to simply break up the action, and can be frustrating on more than a few occasions. They also don’t seem to fit, since they require you to picture a regular sized Sonic doing the same things a human would do in a city, like shopping or eating out.
Once done with the speedy hedgehog, Sonic Adventure offers the ability to play as a number of other characters connected to the main quest. Tails, Sonic’s annoying child sidekick, has probably the least inventive levels of the set, however, they seem to be the most fun, as well. In his five missions, Tails will have to race against Sonic in levels you’ve already played, but are fixed to make it more even (not to mention take advantage of his flying ability).
Knuckles don’t come off as well. Even though he can float about, and climb all over the walls, his quests, which involve him finding three randomly placed gems, are not fun at all. They offer a change of pace, and allow you to see areas in levels you could never reach with Sonic, but ultimately they suffer from the fact that they are frustrating and ultimately unfulfilling.
The other characters are barely worth talking about, and clearly feel thrown in at the last second, even though they’ve had ample time to fix this problem. And in the case of Big the Cat or the oddly shaped robot, E-102 Gamma, they were so uninteresting, it was hard to compel myself to even work through their adventures.
Outside of these quests with other characters, Sonic Adventure allows you to collect dozens of mini missions. Some of these missions are as simple as making it out of a level in a certain amount of time, while others have you collecting things. The missions are there to add depth to the levels, most of which you were too busy running through at top speed to pay attention.
This is actually a really interesting option, and opens the levels up quite a bit. But ultimately, the levels are designed for Sonic’s high speed. Outside of a few, most of the levels just don’t have much for you to see and do, even with the items they’ve added. It’s a nice waste of time, but doesn’t make up for the rest of the games downfalls.
The game does manage to reward you with one of the coolest hidden features in recent years. If you collect enough emblems and finish the missions, gamers will be able to open up as many as 12 classic GameGear titles. Each of these Sonic titles allows you to see Sonic in all his 8-Bit glory, and a few of the titles manage to be even more fun than Sonic Adventure itself.
Problem is, these games are awfully hard to earn, and most casual gamers will likely never find the best of the bunch. Combined with last years Sonic Mega Collection, these twelve GameGear titles go a long way to helping any GameCube owner own every single Sonic game ever made (except Sonic CD). Considering that most gamers these days never played a GameGear, let alone owned one, this is a great way of revisiting the past without investing too much money.
Even though this game is just as good, if not better, than it was on the Dreamcast, in this day and age that’s just not good enough. There’s a lot to do in this game, and some may find that to be enough to keep them playing this game, but it wasn’t enough for me. I lost interest extremely quickly, and never really found much to be excited about. If you’re looking to collect every Sonic title, or you just want those GameGear games, then this is the game for you, everybody else may want to wait for Sonic’s next outing.
Even with better graphics and sound, Sonic Adventure feels just as dated today as it did four years ago on the Dreamcast.