XBLA Review: Sonic Adventure

In 1999, my perception of video games was changed forever. The Sega Dreamcast, which was, at that time, the most powerful machine on the market, came out and featured the 3D re-imagining of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, entitled, Sonic Adventure.

The title was a pivotal title in the franchise and really set a new standard for the platforming genre. The game did a phenomenal job of taking levels that look like they are ripped straight from the 2D Sonic games, and transforming them into the 3D realm.

Despite all the innovation, in the eyes of many, the title was far less than stellar. Despite the great points, there are certainly enormous, unavoidable issues that cannot be ignored and have only become amplified with age.

Before we get into the issues that exist with the title, let's examine how the title's presentation has held up over the years. The first thing the player will be greeted with upon entering the title is a fantastic opening cutscene.

For those that are seeing it for the first time, the graphics hardly look like they've been out for 11 years. The CGI is incredibly advanced for it's time and the soundtrack featuring Crush 40 is fantastic. For those that have seen it and remember the game from it's Dreamcast days, this cutscene will act as a welcoming back with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

For how old the title is, the game really does look great. There's definite signs of aging, but the gameplay doesn't look terrible and certainly looks good for an Xbox Live Arcade title. The sense of speed has always been great and while it's definitely not as fast as newer titles like Sonic Unleashed, it's definitely faster than most titles today.

The issue with the speed is that the technology wasn't quite fine-tuned enough to keep up with Sonic's speed, as you'll notice parts of the level loading in the distance as you run through levels at top speed. The loading never causes any major hiccups in gameplay, though there will be some framerate drops from time to time.

The only real issues with the presentation lie in the actual port-job itself. The most noticeable issue is with the aspect ratio. If you have a widescreen television, blue bars will appear on either side of the screen, which is to compensate for the fact that the game was not originally made in widescreen format. The other problems are in the audio. A few minor audio glitches exist from the port, but it's mostly just an absence of background sounds in cutscenes.

Despite the terrible lip-syncing and mostly embarrassing, the presenation was never the issue of contention with Sonic Adventure. The problems that critics always pointed out were the awful camera and the awkward controls. Unfortunately, both of those issues are still present and they have only become worse with age.

The camera is pretty rough, to be perfectly honest. While players can control the camera with their right stick, it does little to remedy the issue. Players will find themselves falling to their deaths or running right into enemies due to the camera angle. If you look back at reviews from when this title came out, you'll notice that this is actually one of the only negative things pointed out.

The gameplay of Sonic Adventure is a peculiar case. The strength of the gameplay is that it is diverse, as you can choose between several different characters, each with their own abilities and style of gameplay. Sonic runs through the levels very quickly and uses various platforming elements and Tails goes through levels slower than Sonic, but can fly, which adds to the platforming fun, but the gameplay only gets more varying from them.

Knuckles has the ability to glide and climb, but rather than making it from one point to another, his missions are focussed around finding shards of the Master Emerald. Despite their fresh ideas, these treasure hunting levels are one of the main downsides of the game. The missions are overly frustrating and really serve simply to elongate the time that the players will spend on the title.

While those are the three main characters, there are three other shortened stories from some of the franchise's auxiliary characters. Amy, from Sonic CD, makes an appearance as a playable character. In her story, you are working to escape from a pursuing robot the whole time, with only a giant mallet as your weapon. E-102 Gamma is a robot designed by Dr. Robotnik, but becomes self-aware and goes on a one-bot mission against the dictator. The rogue bot's story is probably the most fun and focuses on slowly and methodically going through missions and blowing everything up on the way to the goal.

The final story is definitely the most questionable one. Big the Cat, a new character in the Sonic series, has an incredibly slow pace and has missions that are centered around... fishing. When you think of Sonic, you don't exactly think about fishing, an activity that relies on patience as it's main key to success. The story is interesting, but overall the gameplay is frustrating and very tiring after even just one mission.

After beating all of the stories, a seventh story mode unlocks that features one final, epic battle between the team and Chaos, the most well-developed boss in the Sonic franchise. The fight is laid on a bed of Crush 40's "Open Your Heart", which gives it an amazing feeling, but by the time you beat the battle, you'll be sick of it.

If playing through missions at a blistering pace isn't really your thing, there are other actviities to do in Sonic Adventure. The most notorious activity is definitely the Chao mini-game. The mini-game acts much like virtual pet game, where you adopt a Chao and raise, feed and even train it to compete in races. It's fun and can definitely pass the time if you are sick of running from Point A to Point B.

Other than that, you can spend your time collecting emblems throughout the Sonic Adventure maps and missions. Each mission consists of three sub-missions (much like Mario 64 did), so there are three emblems to get from each mission. In addition to those emblems, there are also emblems to find throughout the various maps. Some can be pretty challenging to hunt down, so those that are completionists might have their work cut out for them. If all else fails, you can always take a break and blow stuff up as E-102 or play some pinball at the casino as Sonic.

All in all, Sonic Adventure acts as the perfect introduction to the line of Dreamcast titles coming out on current generation consoles, just as it was a perfect introduction to the Dreamcast itself. There are definitely problems that are brought about from the port, as well as the game's age, but the gameplay is fun most of the time and the issues can often be circumvented.

We're actually all still wishing that Sega would just continue with the Sonic Adventure series, rather than try to revitalize the 3D Sonic games with gimmicks, as they did in Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Heroes. If you've ever been curious to check out a good 3D Sonic the Hedgehog title, Sonic Adventure might just be the one to help you check that goal off your list.