Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast) review
"See, the game isn't just about action stages. Taking a note from Mario, Sega decided to include a central hub that collects levels. This area is populated by people and wide open spaces where nothing is happening. To get from one area to the next, Sonic must traverse the extremely dull hub, and perhaps even solve a few puzzles along the way. Even if he happens to be retrieving some power-up, though, this portion of the game is downright dull."
In the beginning, there was Sonic. And life was good. He fought Dr. Robotinik after progressing through stages to collect chaos emeralds, and didn't do much of anything else. Then came the sequel, Sonic 2, which introduced us to a new character known as Tails. In Sonic 3, we next met Knuckles. For the most part, these innovations were pretty good. They added some depth to the whole Sonic mythology, something it needed to catch up to the world Nintendo had created with Mario. Unfortunately, Sega eventually encountered a problem. Its name was Sonic Adventure, and it was released as the company launched what was to be its final console, the Sega Dreamcast.
As it did in the past, Sega turned once more to the introduction of new characters as a means of providing new depth. It also turned to the third dimension. Unfortunately, both of these changes worked against the one thing that made Sonic most popular with the kids: his unfaltering speed. Kill the speed and you kill the hedgehog, it would seem. Well, that's precisely what Sega did.
To understand just where things went wrong, it's a good idea to look at the way the game is played. Essentially, there are six characters from which you may initially choose. Each has a story behind him or her. Sonic is trying to stop Dr. Robotinik from destroying the world, as always, Tails is doing pretty much the same thing, Knuckles is working to retrieve emeralds, Amy is being Amy, a rogue robot is running about doing whatever, and Big the Cat is working hard to find his missing pal, Froggie. The player may choose the order in which he wishes to tackle these alternate routes through the game. If all of them are completed properly, then a final character is unlocked for the showdown against the true boss and a glance at the game's closing credits. Doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Unfortunately, what looks good on paper plays like crap. This is true for two reasons. The first is that not all of the characters have fun missions. The worst offender is arguably the cat. He moves like a dump truck full of sand. Waddling through levels just isn't my idea of fun, and the objective for each given stage is even dumber. His only real weapon is a fishing pole, which he uses when he finds the fishing hole. From there, it's a matter of patiently fishing for Froggie. As the rest of the game suffers from bad camera angles, so does this area. Control is also spotty. The whole affair is just too darn tedious.
While most of the other characters fare better, they're still not easily recommended. The robot's stages feel like a mini-game that was stretched too far, as the main delight comes from seeing how many enemies can be shot down at once. Knuckles is more enjoyable, but hunting down emeralds can only remain engaging for a certain amount of time. In fact, the only mode fully worth playing through is Sonic's. This is the one place where speed most frequently comes into play. He'll whip through loops, along boardwalks, down winding paths, and even slide down a mountainside while an avalanche follows. Some might think, then, that it's worth playing through the game simply as Sonic, then ignoring the other characters.
Well, not really. The other of those two flaws I mentioned prevents this tactic from working. See, the game isn't just about action stages. Taking a note from Mario, Sega decided to include a central hub that collects levels. This area is populated by people and wide open spaces where nothing is happening. To get from one area to the next, Sonic must traverse the extremely dull hub, and perhaps even solve a few puzzles along the way. Even if he happens to be retrieving some power-up, though, this portion of the game is downright dull. There's no sense of speed. If you're anything like me, you'll be gritting your teeth and hoping it ends soon.
Worsening matters is that sloppy camera I mentioned. There are plenty of areas in the hub where it just won't swing into proper position, and you have to guess where you're heading, or else position yourself carefully so that you can get a good view of what's happening. The flaw isn't limited to only the hub, either; the action stages themselves are also affected. Let Sonic get too close to a cliff and he might take a hit from an enemy you didn't see, compliments of the camera. It's almost like the thing is conspiring against you, as at times it will not only be positioned in an irritating matter, but will actually swing out of focus and block the line of sight you formerly had. This means that even at times when Sonic might burst through an area, common sense prevents you from allowing him to do so because you don't want him to run into some hazard you had no way to see.
Perhaps the only place where the camera doesn't frustrate entirely is in areas where you must fight bosses. Typically, there's a lot of space in which to work, and very few obstacles other than the opponent himself. That's a relief, certainly, but there are still problems. You see, Sonic is again restricted from the quick dashes that earned him his name. There's just no reason for them when all he really needs to do is jump into the air, roll into a ball, and pelt one target or another. Speed works against him. Some boss encounters are still fun, to be sure, but they don't really feel like they belong. The only exception, the true final boss, can be seen only if you've suffered through all the levels for each of the characters. Some reward!
And there we have it, the question of rewards. Typically, gamers have played games starring the blue hedgehog because they knew they'd be rewarded with a blistering sense of speed. But this time, Sonic Team dropped the ball. It's like they had a tiny plate of speed on the side, and they wanted to extend it to an entire potluck, so they stuck in Aunt Edna's sauerkraut and hotdog dish as filler and hoped no one would notice. Well, gamers noticed. They went in expecting a thrill ride and found out that even Sonic has his bad days. Sure, there are moments that make it worth playing (the vibrant art direction, for example, remains a high point even with flashier games appearing on more recent consoles). Those moments can be truly fantastic.
Shame about the rest of the game.
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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