Sonic Adventure (Xbox Live Arcade) Review

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Date Released: September 15, 2010
Date Reviewed: September 30, 2010
Players: 1 Player Mainly (Read description at the end)
Length: 15-40 Hours
Replayability: Excellent

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Introduction

Sonic Adventure is the 1998 SEGA Dreamcast platforming game that was seen as the first major 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game and was considered a relaunch of the brand, sporting a new set of themes and art while still keeping many of it’s fundamentals. The game was very ahead of it’s time, blending genres and styles in ways never before attempted in the medium, but when it was later re-released in 2003 on the PC and GameCube as Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut with no gameplay improvements (some were made worse), mostly poor changes and additions served nothing but to skew and mangle the view of the game to the media and fans. The 2010 Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network digital downloads are based on the Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut version of the title.

Concept

Sonic Adventure is a third person action platformer that gives the player six characters to choose from, all with abilities, stories and levels of their own. Many series elements return, such as collecting rings as a form of defense, small animals in the badniks, goalposts, energy sheilds and branching paths, but unlike earlier outings in the Sonic the Hedgehog series however is that all of the characters have their own specific goals that allow them to do and see different things, many in ways unexpected and highly innovative for the original release time of 1998 and 1999.

Designed as a relaunch of the Sonic the Hedgehog brand, Sonic Adventure holds a bold attitude in an attempt to impress the audience as it first did back in 1991. Many potential players may be turned off by this initially, but during the actual gameplay it is not as dark as the introduction may imply.

Dreamcast version

Story

Dr Robotnik (AKA Eggman) has discovered a liquid creature named Chaos, an ancient weapon that destroyed a large portion of the world sometime long ago. He has learned that if the creature absorbs the Chaos Emeralds that it will become more and more powerful, until eventually it can be used as the ultimate weapon, so that he may be able to create Robotnikland, a city that he may rule and force everyone else to live on. Sonic and Tails learn of this very early on and will do all that it takes to find all of the 7 Chaos Emeralds hidden throughout the world before Robotnik is able to.

Sonic Adventure has a very unique story progression, in that not every character will go to the same areas or have the same outlook on what they are doing. For instance, Knuckles the Echidna is looking for the shards of the Master Emerald that were scattered when the monster Chaos broke free from inside, while Big the Cat just wants to find his friend, a small frog named Froggy that ran away one day. Most unique of all is E-102 Gamma whom is a badnik made by Dr Robotnik designed to defeat Sonic and his friends. All of these stories connect with one another in ways along their games, but all lead up to the unlockable last story.

As unique as the story telling is, much of the writing, acting and directions the plot takes are not especially engaging or well done at all. Many older players will simply not enjoy them, but unlike the Dreamcast release, the cutscenes are all skippable and the player is always given hints as to where they need to go next, so in all the story does not really detract any enjoyment the player can have from the experience. That said, Sonic Adventure even to this day has more character development than anything else in the main series.

Gameplay

Sonic Adventure features much of what was expected from a Sonic the Hedgehog game at the time, but lost many of the most treasured aspects of the original trilogy, including momentum-based platforming, special stages and boss battles at the end of each Zone. This does not greatly impact the game as the sheer variety of gameplay modes, music and level design make up for almost everything the player could have wanted.

All of the characters have different paths in their stories that they take to fulfill their goals and will meet with some of the others along the way. Level progression is unique in that each character have different amounts of Action Stages and Sub Games they can access (Sonic having the most, Amy having the least) and when they can visit them – For instance, Gamma’s first level is Sonic’s last level. Fortunately each character’s levels are designed differently because of their different play styles and goals, so outside of some of Tails’ levels, the Sky Chase and Chaos 4 battles, nothing feels overused to stretch out gameplay. This is a bit of a double-edged sword as it would have been nice to play as some of the characters in levels they do not visit in the story. With the use of glitches it is possible to even access some, but this is just something that should not have been an issue at all and it is completely unacceptable that the second re-release of the title still does not feature this.

Sonic always has the basic goal of getting to the end of the level, only Amy and Tails share this but do not play the same way, while everyone else are significantly different. Knuckles’ levels revolve around him finding scattered pieces of the Master Emerald that are placed around the levels randomly with each play. He still has his gliding and climbing abilities, but now also has a radar that beeps faster the closer you are to a piece until you get it.

The final two are the most unique, as E-102 Gamma has his time running backwards and must lock onto and destroy targets to get more time, the more targets that are locked on, the more time that is awarded. Big the Cat was specifically designed to be the opposite of the attitude of the game, relaxed and laid back. What many people consider as the worst addition to the game is that his goal is fishing, his stages only end when he catches his friend Froggy. The exploration in Big’s levels are a bit too limited, the fishing controls are a bit too clunky and the extra emblems to be unlocked within the levels are a little too hard for their own good. The fishing is very easy if you know what you are doing and there are not many levels for him at all, but it does not really fit in well with the game and is just not very fun. This segment was likely added in as a tie-in to the fishing games released alongside the launch of the Dreamcast as well as a controller being made for it.

Everyone wanted in with the Tamagotchi craze around the late 90s, and SEGA was no different. The Chao Gardens are the return of the A-Life system from NiGHTS into Dreams…, but more robust and much better planned than before and with Chao, a soft light blue set of creatures. Just like in the original trilogy, when you defeat one of Robotnik’s badniks a small animal is released. If you collect these you can take them to the Chao Gardens to show a Chao so they learn some of it’s abilities and obtain some of it’s traits (giving them a bird might give them wings, and giving them a skunk might give them the same tail) which can all be used to build up their stats to race other Chao. They all have different personalities and need to be taken care of with food or just basic love whenever you are in these areas or else they will start to dislike a specific character, or eventually even die. It is completely optional to even visit the Chao Gardens at all, so unless the player wants all of the emblems and Achievements/Trophies, it does not change a single thing.

Controls

Sonic Adventure was originally designed with the SEGA Saturn console in mind, when it was moved to the Dreamcast it was apparent right away that they could make the game run just as fine if it ran twice as fast, so that is what they did. Unfortunately this was done rather late in development on the Dreamcast version so the end results are somewhat twitchy controls and collision detection. Although rare, it is possible to actually fall through solid ground or stop completely at a turn that was launching you around at full speed. This does hurt the game and can lead to frustration, but the game balances it out with very clever level design that makes every level feel completely different from the last. Outside of possibly Big’s levels, nothing draws out for too long and dying is not anywhere near as common or unfair as many of the later releases in the series.

Another problem that arises with the controls is that there are only two major buttons used to play the game. All of the characters have multiple abilities, some need to be charged, some need two buttons held down at the same time and one changes depending where you are in the water. It is all incredibly unnecessary when two more buttons are on the Dreamcast controller with far more on the GameCube, PlayStation and Xbox 360 controllers. An extra button was added for the Chao Garden, but the problem of accidentally hitting your Chao when you meant to pick it up is still there and just should not be in at all.

Sound originalreviews

Sonic Adventure is heralded for it’s vast soundtrack featuring hundreds of songs, something that to this day is still an impressive amount. It features almost every kind of genre in music and still manages to make them all stand out as excellent or at least very unique tracks, each character even gets their own theme song with full lyrics. Keeping with the bold attitude of the revival of the Sonic the Hedgehog brand, many of the the more important songs are heavy rock, while many of the songs related to the story can range anywhere from cheerful or serious. This could initially turn some players away, but the majority of the playable sections still have a very Sonic-like feel to them.

The only real issue that can come from the music is that sometimes during cutscenes the music washes out the character’s voices and actions. All of the songs available are very long, but some sections, such as the Chao Garden can get annoying as you can be in these areas for a long period of time. Regardless of these, anyone can find many things to love about the soundtrack.

Sonic Adventure is the first in the series to feature a large amount of voice work for the characters, and almost every character is not enjoyable to listen to. The writing is cheesy and designed for all audiences, nothing is inappropriate. Anyone can understand what is going on, but If you want to take this element of the game very seriously, you will be disappointed.

Visuals

Sonic Adventure‘s art design is extremely varied but very strong throughout. Many will be upset with the more realistic approach to the world and more ‘serious’ look to the characters, but it all works extremely well for the style the designers wanted. The levels all look and feel very different, but all of it works together perfectly. Nothing seems wrong, even with the different art style it all very much still feels like a Sonic game.

Developer Sonic Team was challenged with finding a way to make the movement fun without having to worry about the rate of speed you moved in, so a dynamic camera that changed it’s positioning depending on where you were was added for cinematic effect. This can have many issues as it can lock onto something you are moving away from or not showing you exactly what you want. You can control it yourself with the triggers, but it needed a little bit of work, and added with the wonky physics it can lead to frustration. The Dreamcast release had some dips in framerate, but this version is locked at a constantly smooth 60 frames.

Something extremely unique for the time was how the characters heads and eyes would turn as they move or to look into a specific direction as to give you a hint with what to do next. Sonic Adventure was the first game to do this and the dynamic camera revelations, but is never given any acclaim for doing so.

At the original time of release in 1998, Sonic Adventure was the best looking game around, in fact it is easy to argue that no platformer looked better for years. When the game was set to be re-released as Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut five years later however, things had changed. To combat this only some of the characters had model and texture upgrades, but they are all poorly planned and do not look right and are sometimes just much uglier. Every character but Gamma gets separated and very detailed fingers now, but for some characters like Big and Dr Robotnik ONLY their fingers were changed, so not only are they much more detailed than the rest of their bodies, they actually are not even attached and have a fairly thick empty line between where the model should connect to.

The art design was slightly changed too, but in a strange way that makes all of the characters glossy, it usually makes no sense as many of them are covered in fur. None of the characters animations are improved either, in fact they are made worse with less facial animations, even simple details like their eyes getting locked into the back of their heads happen constantly. None of the levels are improved, some actually lose minor background details and even the rings completely disappear when they are too far from you. Early on it is entirely apparent that models like Sonic’s simply just do not fit in with the rest of the much less detailed world, like the humans walking around. All of the in-game models used from the Dreamcast original for art such as 1ups were never even updated. All of this leads into being potentially the worst graphical ‘improvement’ in the entire industry, completely unacceptable in every way.

Sonic Adventure DX's graphics compared to the Dreamcast release

Special Notes

Robotnik and Amy's old (1991-1998) and new (1998-Present) designs compared

Sonic Adventure is perhaps best known for entirely changing the art style of the characters in an edgier and “More modern” look. All of the characters get colored pupils and some get new outfits as well as much of the art of the world being designed to look more realistic. Many fans straight up hate this change and point to it as a major sign of the downfall of the series. Sonic Team has remained firm in that they never want to change to the old style, but other developers have shown interest at revisiting the old style once again.

Conclusion

Sonic Adventure has aged, and not all in the best ways. Regardless of any kind of issue that one could have with the game, for the asking price of 10 USD it is a must buy to fans of the series, platformers and unique game experiences in general. There could have been many additions to this digital re-release outside of a solid framerate, but even without features like widescreen and the truly horrible inclusion of the DX extras, everyone should at least give it a shot. Even if you do not have the time of your life, the amount of content is enough to make anyone want to come back for more hours later. Sonic Adventure is the total package and the perfect game for a family to play together. Open your heart, it’s gunna be alright!

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Formats: Dreamcast, PC, GameCube, Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade) and PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network).



There is extra downloadable content on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade releases. It just adds Metal Sonic as an optional playable character in Sonic’s levels and a mission mode with over 50 very basic missions to complete, both of which were in the GameCube and PC releases. This DLC is 5 USD extra, but is not worth a purchase.

The DX release on the GameCube and PC also feature the 12 Sonic games on the Game Gear as unlockable games.

There is a two player mode, but only in Sonic’s Action Stages with Tails playing the second. The second player does not have their own screen and the game is far too fast for this to be considered very playable at all.

The Dreamcast release had options to bring Chao into a VMU to play a minigame on the go, while the GameCube DX release had improvements that were later seen from Sonic Adventure 2 (such as an area to buy items for them) and allowed you to put them in a Chao Garden from any Sonic game on the Game Boy Advance while the PC and newly released digital download releases of these do not feature any of these.

The soundtrack can be purchased separately in many different forms now, and is featured in a large variety of games, such as Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, Sonic and the Black Knight and Super Smash Brothers Brawl, among others.

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2 Responses to “Sonic Adventure (Xbox Live Arcade) Review”

  1. Dreamcast Collection Formally Announced « The SEGA Source Says:

    […] Sonic Adventure and Crazy Taxi for the XBLA have previously been reviewed […]

  2. Alexander Hittel Says:

    Pretty good review there, mate.

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