Note: I re-reviewed this title in 2019. Please disregard this review.
Okay, backstory for me in particular involving Sonic. I was born in 1994, Sonic The Hedgehog was the first game I ever played, adored the hell out of the Gamecube Sonic games, and maintained some sort of connection to the franchise for… well, it’s still not gone as of yet, but is nothing like it used to be and is more akin to what people who got invested into something that continued well after they should have grown out of it, but can’t just stop. So here’s a review of a game that I loved at age ten, to celebrate me leaving my teenage years behind!
Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), XBLA, PSN, GCN
Developer: Sonic Team, NOW Production, Sega, and Studios Shanghai
The story of Sonic Adventure, when looking back at is, is something I consider to be admirable, but at the same time I look at the actual quality it possesses and wonder whether or not it was something whipped up in an afternoon by a bunch of people at Sega who realized that there hasn’t been a proper Sonic game in five years. The gist of it is that Dr. Robotnik awakened an ancient creature of destruction by the name of Chaos, who when merged with the Chaos emeralds becomes the bringer of the end times. But the interesting part of the game is how it handles its character campaign narratives, having the characters of Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, E-102 Gamma, and Big all go through their own paths as the story goes on, often interacting with each other, and adding interest into what each character was doing at the same time… at least debatably.
The comparison to a story written by a grade schooler, and one very good considering that fact, constantly came up as I heard the laughable writing come to life with incredibly amateur sounding voice acting. That’s before one even looks at the cutscenes the game bolsters and wonders how much the animators cared, or just how hindered they were in moving the surprisingly well designed models about, as they help to make Sonic Adventure far more humorous than it has any real right to be.
Does that same level of slapdash fun apply to the gameplay? Well, with six characters, things do get a bit mixed, plus the early 3D jank and bad camera movements are pretty notable hindrances from the outset. That said, and I will admit that muscle memory was likely a pretty major help here, these issues very rarely become much of a problem, as the game doesn’t ask for precision, just that you get to the end of the stage. There is a pretty major, or Big exception if I may use a pun, as I never did get past the second stage of Big’s story. Mostly due to how its fishing controls are so poorly explained, and so unenjoyable that I did not feel like submitting myself to them in order to see the character who always reminded me of the retarded kids I occasionally got lumped up with for having Asperger’s… What, it’s true!
Sonic’s gameplay is pretty clearly the mold that was set for about a decade of games, and while movement can be difficult, especially if one does desire to get a really good time on a lot of stages, is finicky and awkward most of the time. Homing attacks to enemies sometimes do not work properly, and there are quite a few sections where I was generally stumbling towards progress in order to reach it and end a stage. While it does have a share of frustrating elements due to how unrefined it is, I actually found them to be pretty enjoyable, excluding the eighth and ninth stages, which are simply hectic to navigate and not very fun to play through.
Tail’s involves racing against Sonic in order to inflate his own ego, and during the first stage I think I broke the game. It is buggy, glitchy, and overall flying can feel like one has the cheats on as you can float over twenty percent of the stage, only to have rubberband AI teleport ahead of them. Still, it is rather comical to fumble through, and did put an unintended smile on my face as, while unrefined, there is no sort of ranking or reward system that requires one to master the game.
Knuckles’ gameplay was far better than I recalled it being, as it has the player search around a fairly small level for shards of the Master Emerald, all of which use a radar system, but can thankfully be gotten in any order one desires, as opposed to how it worked in the title’s successor. They’re short and fun little divergences that are really only hampered by a less than stellar camera. While Amy’s stages are more akin to a stealth game as you are playing as a slow character who must avoid and flee from a robot by jumping onto a balloon that just so happened to be placed at the end of the stage. There are only three of them so things do not get that old, but needing to pick up and place objects just feels like busywork in this title, and that just so happened to be the only real puzzle her campaign has.
This leaves E-102 Gamma, who actually has the most interesting story of the bunch in my opinion, while its gameplay pretty much involves spinning around while holding X or B, letting go, and run through the rest of the stage while doing the same motion to shoot Robotnik’s robots… even though he originally works for Robotnik. It’s far from anything complicated or even all that good, but is passable and can be cleared in under and hour, like all of the stories beyond Sonic’s.
Beyond the series of 11 repurposed levels for all the characters, there are Adventure stages that tie them together, and are basically a series of three areas that I could criticize heavily if I felt like it, but were very much endearing to me as a child, and like much of the game, do have their own charm. They are still odd, especially when one views how exactly Sonic and friends exist in the same world as regular humans, how Angel Island is just a shrine, why a partially submerged airship can still transform and how… well, there are a load of questions one could ask about the minor details and be unable to gather an answer even somewhat acceptable.
Yet I would say that the game’s visuals certainly do pass the test I subconsciously do when playing older 3D games, as Sonic Adventure is a good example of a game with relatively few polygons, occasionally poor textures, and still looks pretty alright considering that. There is a lot of focus on color, and the designs of the title’s levels are as a whole appealing. True, NPCs often look like crap, and when you get in front of a low quality texture it can look really bad, but those are far from distracting. What was not subject to the scrutiny of age due to technological advances was the soundtrack, which is frequently nothing short of stellar, excluding a few tracks such as the one that plays whenever a character goes back in time… did I forget to mention that? It’s diverse, catchy, and makes some of the title’s problems, because there are a lot of them, less distracting.
From an objective point of view, I feel one would be right to say that Sonic Adventure is, well, not very good. Its story is cute in its earnest attempt at epicness, but is unintentionally humorous the majority of the time. Its gameplay, while acceptable when 3D movement was coming into its own, is incredibly janky and unrefined. With the soundtrack being the only aspect, along with the visuals considering its status as a launch title, being the only bits I feel are worth genuine compliments. Still, if I were to answer to whether or not the game was fun, I would quickly say yes, as while I can see how one would find it frustrating, as it can be, once you work around it, the title was clearly given a lot of affection and attention from the team, and it carries the title a long way.