Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sonic Adventure (Re)Review

Surprise! Bet you didn't see this coming, did you? Sonic Generations was officially released PS3 and 360 today, so I'm sure you were expecting, if anything, a review of that. But alas, though Generations is out, I've preordered it off Amazon.com, meaning I will have to wait a few days before finally getting to immerse myself in its awesomeness. But I do have to celebrate the day somehow, so I'm giving you all something (not so) special: a redone review of Sonic Adventure! Why am I actually doing this? It's mainly because I feel like my old review of this game, written back in April of last year, is a bit...well, let's just say I feel like I've improved a lot since then and I'm a bit ashamed of some of my older work. I barely went in-depth on anything, and it just seems poorly written to me now. Besides that, there are a couple of things I didn't really bring up and my opinions on a few things have changed a bit since then. So now, INTRODUCTION!

Sonic Adventure was initially released in 1999 for SEGA's then new, now long dead Dreamcast console as a launch title. It was meant to be Sonic's big leap into the third dimension, which was a cool new thing to do way back when after Mario started the trend. It was a really ambitious, huge, even revolutionary game for its time, and as such it received widespread critical acclaim. Unfortunately, general opinion on the game has significantly cooled down as years have passed; while it's still generally considered one of the better 3-D entries in the series, opinions are split on many elements that it introduced to the series, and you will get varying answers as to how well it has aged. Bearing in mind that this is the first game I ever played - EVER - Sonic Adventure is a really important game for me, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't sugarcoated in nostalgia. I will be as unbiased as I can in writing this review, but keep in mind that I may not be able to help myself.


The storyline of Sonic Adventure is emphasized a great deal more than it was in Sonic games before it. Dr. Eggman, or Dr. Robotnik if you prefer, has released an ancient water monster called Chaos from his prison in the Master Emerald, a powerful gem that Knuckles the Echidna has been given the duty of guarding in its home on the floating Angel Island. Releasing Chaos causes the Emerald to shatter into several pieces, which in turn causes Angel Island to crash into the ocean. This also releases Tikal, an echidna girl who knows about Chaos' past and shows bits and pieces of it to Sonic and friends in the form of cryptic flashbacks throughout the story. Sonic has his own run-in with Chaos one rainy night as he watches several cops unload on it but to no effect. Because homing attacks are more effective than bullets on a water monster, Sonic defeats it without a problem. However, he and his good friend Tails soon learn that Eggman is planning on using the seven Chaos Emeralds to make Chaos more powerful, at which point he will use Chaos to destroy Station Square (a local city) and build his own city, Robotnikland, on top of it. Being the only ones capable of stopping him, Sonic and Tails set out on a quest to get the Chaos Emeralds before Eggman does. Meanwhile, Knuckles searches for the pieces of the Master Emerald, Amy tries to help a lost bird find its family while on the run from one of Eggman's robots, new character Big the Cat - inventive name, I know - searches for his lost pet frog, and new character E-102 Gamma (a robot built by Eggman) decides he must destroy the rest of the E-Series robots to release the animals trapped inside their metal frames (for those unfamiliar with the series, Eggman powers his robots using animals).

What's most interesting about Sonic Adventure's storyline isn't as much the story itself as it is the way it's told. You will see Sonic Adventure's story through the perspectives of six different playable characters, each with their own experiences and takes on the storyline. What this pretty much means is, after you play through Sonic's storyline, you can play through Tails' storyline to see what happened during the points that the two got separated or you can play through Knuckles' storyline to see what he was doing the whole time. In addition, oftentimes characters' storylines will cross paths and some events in one storyline can connect to events in another. Also, it's worth mentioning here that you will actually have to play through all six characters' storylines to unlock the final story, where you will fight the true final boss and see the real ending to the game. There are a couple of plot holes here and there, but the story is pretty entertaining overall.

So, the story is pretty good, but how does the gameplay fare? Well, as I mentioned before, Sonic Adventure features six different characters that you will control - the titular Sonic the Hedgehog, his buddy Tails, former rival Knuckles the Echidna, fangirl Amy Rose, the moronic Big the Cat, and robot E-102 Gamma. In addition to having their own perspectives on the storyline, they all have different gameplay styles that vary in how far away they shy from the core gameplay of the series. This has garnered mixed reactions, to say the least. While from one perspective this offers some nice variety, at the same time there are definitely going to be some characters you will like more than others depending on your tastes, and some you might even outright hate. Besides that, the gameplay style of one character unarguably shouldn't be in a Sonic game at all, but we'll get to that when we get to it. Fortunately, Sonic Adventure averts the problem that Unleashed and, while I consider it a better game for a few reasons, Sonic Adventure 2 had by separating the characters' play styles into their own storylines rather than forcing you to switch between them as the plot demands. Though you do have to play all characters' storylines to completion in order to see the true ending, if that doesn't matter to you then you only have to play as the characters you like. Anyway, since all of the characters play so differently, I'm going to discuss each one separately.

We'll start with Sonic, the blue blur himself, and as anyone who's played this game will tell you, Sonic's storyline is the highlight of the game. While the other characters have three to five stages, Sonic has ten to his name and they're all a lot of fun to play. I suppose Sonic's gameplay can best be described as what happens when you take the classic Genesis games and put them into 3-D. Sonic gets a few new moves this time around such as the homing attack, which allows you to blast to an enemy and destroy it if you press the "A" button in mid-air, and the Light Dash, which allows Sonic to dash along a trail of Rings. Of course, Sonic is just as fast as he ever was and Sonic Adventure features many (unequivocally satisfying, I might add) sections where you just get to watch Sonic blast ahead at high speeds during chase sequences that pretty much abuse the Rule of Cool.

Later 3-D Sonic games would take the gameplay in different directions with varying degrees of success, but Sonic Adventure's physics and level design philosophy reflect the classics by a lot. Some longtime fans complain that recent 3-D Sonic games don't have enough straight-up platforming or exploration like in the classics. This is simply not a criticism that can be leveled against Sonic Adventure. There's a lot of platforming here and levels feature a fair amount of exploration as well; there are plenty of areas where paths branch out and some areas even have hidden extra lives or other such power-ups. It's impossible not to appreciate the diversity present in Sonic's stages either; one stage will feature Sonic riding on wind currents through the sky, another will partially take place as a pinball mini-game, and yet another will have you using Sonic as a sentient bowling ball right after a section in which you take a bumper car down a racetrack. On the whole, Sonic's levels are really fast and extremely well designed, and you'll probably find yourself playing them again and again.

The next character on our list is Tails. His gameplay style isn't really that different from Sonic's except for the fact that he actually has to race another character to the end of the stage. It's...actually not as hard as it sounds. In fact, it's really easy because Tails is able to fly, giving him access to many shortcuts that Sonic can't take. Most of Tails' levels can basically thought of as shorter, easier versions of Sonic's, the exception being Speed Highway in which Tails takes a completely different path. Tails also gets his own snowboarding (or sandboarding, as it would be) mini-game - more on those later - which is pretty nice, but though it's still fast and enjoyable, Tails' storyline feels mostly like an easier, shorter retread of Sonic's.

Instead, we can rely on Knuckles to deliver a different experience from Sonic's story. Knuckles' play style is very different from Sonic's or Tails'; rather than going from point A to point B, Knuckles' stages play out somewhat like a simpler, more Sonicy take on the gameplay of games like Banjo-Kazooie. In these stages, you are meant to find three pieces of the Master Emerald in an open environment using Knuckles' abilities to glide, climb and dig. As an aid, you are given a hot-cold radar that will start beeping whenever you get close to an Emerald shard. If you need more help or get lost, you can find one of Tikal's hint balls, which will fly in the direction of the nearest Emerald shard. Opinions seem to vary on this gameplay style quite a bit. Now, I actually really enjoyed these stages. I'm a fan of the "collect-the-items" style of gameplay and I liked that it gave you a good chance to really explore some of the game's more open levels. Besides, I think that giving Knuckles this gameplay style was at least somewhat justified by the fact that they were using the same eleven levels for all of the characters; Knuckles' moveset could have been a huge game breaker in point-A-to-point-B style stages. I do, however, wish that he had been given point-A-to-point-B stages in Sonic Adventure 2.

Next up is Amy Rose, Sonic's pink-haired fangirl, and this time she has a stalker of her own. Eggman's robot called ZERO is after the bird she's helping and Amy has to protect said bird. This is incorporated into the gameplay by having ZERO appear at some points during the levels and try to chase you down and attack. You'd literally have to stand still for him to be able to do anything, though; his lock-on punch attack won't follow you if he manages to get a lock, and you can attack him a few times to slow him down. Because of this, he's less of a threat and more of an almost irrelevant annoyance. Aside from that, though, Amy's gameplay is pretty interesting albeit flawed. Amy can't curl up into a ball like Sonic, Tails and Knuckles; instead, her preferred method of attack is a giant hammer. In addition to bashing enemies' skulls in, this hammer is also useful for making long jumps; pick up enough speed and Amy will hold her hammer out, at which point you can do something of a pole-vault move by pressing the "B" button. Of course, Amy is slower than most of the other cast, so her stages focus more on slower-paced platforming, finding switches or turning cranks to activate things, and some mild puzzle solving. Aside from two needlessly annoying color block "puzzles" in Hot Shelter (the word is in quotes because a two-year-old could solve them), her levels are for the most part well-designed. However, the slow pace of her gameplay may turn some off. For me, it's not so much that as it is her sluggish, floaty controls. I don't have a problem with her being slower than the other characters, but she should at least control well. However, Amy only has three levels, so you don't have to spend enough time with her to really complain about it.

And then we have Big the Cat, who...fishes for his pet frog named Froggy. No, I'm not even joking; there are fishing levels in this game. Well, okay, I'll admit in spite everything I've said about them in the past that Big's stages really aren't that bad for what they are. You just find Froggy, cast the rod, wiggle the lure around until he notices it, and then reel him in without letting the tension gauge get too high or else the rod will break and you'll lose a life. It's easy and takes no longer than two minutes if you know what you're doing, and Big only has four levels. Besides that, his storyline is entertaining because of how much of a stereotypical cartoon moron he is and because he can't seem to keep hold of Froggy until his storyline finally ends. (Also, fun fact: he's voiced by the same guy who does the voice of Duke Nukem.) The problem here is that this gameplay style does not by any stretch of the imagination belong in a Sonic game. I don't find this style of gameplay particularly enjoyable, and I shouldn't have to play it in a Sonic game. What's most baffling about this is that this is a character created specifically for the game so it could have fishing levels. I'm sorry, but who thought this was a good idea? Big's stages aren't that bad, but they really shouldn't be in this game.

Not only that, but his soulless stare kills you from the inside out as he eats your babies.

Fortunately, E-102 Gamma fares quite a bit better than Amy or Big. Being a robot with a gun arm, he gets faster-paced levels focused more on shooting. By holding "B", you will be able to lock on to enemies and objects and you'll fire lasers at them upon releasing "B". Gamma actually has a time limit to his levels and you will be able to get more time by killing enemies. The more enemies you lock onto at once, the more time you will get. It's also worth noting that Gamma's last three levels each end with bosses. These stages are actually pretty fun and due to their fast pace don't even feel as out of place in the game as Knuckles' or Amy's stages. Gamma also probably has the most interesting storyline out of all the characters. Gamma isn't as much fun to control as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, but his gameplay style is still pretty good.

Of course, the action stages aren't the only side to Sonic Adventure's gameplay. Like many platformers of its time, Sonic Adventure features hub worlds, or "Adventure Fields" as they are known here. These hub worlds are where most cutscenes and boss fights take place, as well as where you'll find the entrances to the action stages, some of which are opened by solving minor puzzles, and upgrades for the six playable characters. You'll also find NPC's to talk to here. Nothing they say really has anything to do with anything, but some of their dialogue is pretty amusing and there are a couple of funny subplots involving some of them. If you're ever unsure of where to go, you can always go to Tikal's hint ball and she will tell you where you need to go. The best thing about these hub worlds is that they don't feel like they're just there as a bridge between stages; their presence, execution and use really do help to make the game feel more like a big adventure, which I appreciate.

One interesting thing about Sonic Adventure is that it features several mini-games that you will get to play throughout the story. These include Sky Chase, two rail shooting missions on a plane; Twinkle Circuit, a mini-game version of the bumper car racetrack from Twinkle Park; Sand Hill, a desert variation of Ice Cap's snowboarding sequence; and my personal favorite, Hedgehog Hammer, a whack-a-mole-esque game played with Amy. Sonic Adventure also features a Chao Garden, in which you can raise virtual pets called Chao. You can give these Chao animals that you find in the action stages to boost their stats and then enter them in races. Personally, I don't care for the Chao Garden in this game, preferring the one in Adventure 2, but if you like it, you can put hours into it. These are really nice features that do actually add more depth and replay value to the game if you care about them.

One last thing that I would like to give praise to is Sonic Adventure's soundtrack. Sonic games generally have awesome soundtracks, and Sonic Adventure is no exception. Pretty much every BGM in the game is fantastic. Unfortunately, I can't exactly say the same thing for most of the vocal tracks aside from Open Your Heart, which is the main theme, but I suppose that's mostly subject to personal taste.

Of course, many will argue that Sonic Adventure is showing its age, and, well, in the grand scheme of things it has aged...okay. Sonic's levels are still a crapload of fun to play, the level design is still great, the soundtrack is awesome, and - in personal opinion, of course - the other characters are fun to play as save for a certain purple cat. There's plenty of replay value here, and the story, while nothing to write home about, is pretty solid and interesting. I've played plenty of games from its era that have aged far worse.

I will admit, though, that Sonic Adventure is starting to look pretty dated in a few areas. In particular, boss design really leaves a lot to be desired. Some of them are pretty fun, but they're all just way too easy. I understand that the Sonic series was never exactly known for its great boss fights, but in Sonic Adventure, it almost seems a little ridiculous at times. Special mention goes to four out of E-102 Gamma's six boss fights, which can literally be won by standing in one place and mashing the "B" button continually. The camera system of Sonic Adventure was considered flawed even at the time of its release, and while it's not game breaking, the problem is there. Finally, Sonic Adventure is a pretty unpolished game. Glitches aren't frequent if you don't seek them out, but the occasional clipping glitch or collision detection flaw will happen. Sonic Adventure is not a broken game by any means, and the frustrations caused by its camera and lack of polish are generally minor, but these flaws are worth mentioning.

There is one other thing that falls outside the realm of gameplay that is pretty dated as well: the writing and voice acting. The voice acting is...hit or miss. Some fans would say that Ryan Drummond is the best voice actor for Sonic, and while I prefer Roger Craig Smith, I have to give credit where credit is due: he's one of the better ones here. He's not great, but his tone fits Sonic well and there's some emotion behind his acting. Amy's voice is okay, too, and I suppose Big's and Gamma's voices work for the types of characters they are. Easily the best one is for Dr. Eggman, who does a great job both during his more menacing moments and when Eggman is being the slightly goofy, egotistical villain we all know him to be inside. Unfortunately, rest of the voice cast doesn't fare quite as well, to say the least. Knuckles' voice actor seems to waver constantly between "kind of okay" and "completely wooden", and the actors for Tails and the supporting cast are so fake it's almost laughable. Fortunately, this can be remedied by setting the voices to Japanese while keeping the subtitles in English. Unfortunately, that's only getting rid of half the problem. The writing of Sonic Adventure is pretty cheesy to say the least - and I mean that in the bad way. But hey, at least some lines are so bad that they're almost good.

Now, there is one last thing I feel like I should mention. Due to Sonic Adventure's popularity on the Dreamcast, SEGA rereleased it several times on different consoles following the DC's death. The most well known ports are Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut for the GameCube, released in 2003, and the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network port, which was released just last year. I've never played the GameCube version, but I have played the XBLA version, and it's...a pretty shoddy port to say the least. The fun gameplay and level design are still there, but the controls have somehow become ridiculously slippery, the camera has gotten far worse, and there are glitches everywhere. It's almost as broken as - dare I say it? - Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. The game also receives a graphical "upgrade", but in my opinion it does more harm than good; in the XBLA version, the character's look like they're made of metal and a lot of the textures they've changed or replaced just don't look as good to me, especially the rocky textures that literally look like vomit. About the only thing it has improved over the Dreamcast version is the Chao Garden, which features more of Sonic Adventure 2's innovations.

I've researched the GameCube version, and it does have a lot more extra content than either of the other ports. It includes a mission mode and, like the XBLA version, a Chao Garden more like Sonic Adventure 2's. It also includes each of Sonic's Game Gear titles as unlockables, which are completely amazing - well, not really "amazing" - okay, I guess most of them range from mediocre to utterly terrible, but Sonic 2, Chaos and Triple Trouble are fun. However, it supposedly has some of the same problems as the XBLA version albeit to a lesser extent. Most people don't own Dreamcasts these days, so I suppose that this is probably the best version you can get if you haven't played the game before. Of course, you probably shouldn't just take my word for it, since, as I mentioned before, I've never played this version.

The Good:

+ Fantastic Sonic levels
+ Six playable characters with their own perspectives on the story
+ Most of the said six characters are fun to play as
+ Great soundtrack
+ Mini-games and Chao Garden are nice
+ Solid storyline
+ Hub worlds are nice

The Bad:

- What are fishing levels doing in a Sonic game?
- Bosses are too easy
- Camera is flawed
- Occasional glitches
- English voice acting is hit or miss and the script is subpar

In the end, Sonic Adventure is still a very good game. Like I said, I do have a lot of nostalgia for this game, but I fully admit that it has some flaws and a few aspects haven't exactly aged wonderfully. However, I feel like I really don't need nostalgia goggles to enjoy Sonic Adventure. I still have a lot of fun with it when I play it - well, when I'm not playing as Big, anyway - and if you haven't played it already, I suggest you do so. The Sonic levels alone make this game at least worth a look, and its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It's not an amazing masterpiece anymore, but it's still a solid game. Just avoid the XBLA/PSN version. T-Man, out.

Score (DC): 8/10
Score (XBLA/PSN): 4.5/10

My Scoring System:
10 - Amazing game. Flaws are minor at best. If you don't own it, you should be ashamed of yourself. (Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

9(.5) - Fantastic game. Perhaps a couple of notable annoyances, but still a must-have. (Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep)

8(.5) - Very good game. Has a few flaws, but you won't be disappointed with your purchase. (Klonoa)

7(.5) - Pretty good game that either has several problems or is just too short for its price. Enjoyable to play, but you may want to wait for the price to drop a bit before picking it up. (Rayman 3D)

6(.5) - Passable game. Has its strengths, but unless you're a fan of the series or genre, you're probably better off not bothering. (Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2)

5(.5) - Mediocre game. Not a bad experience, but it's too flawed to be much fun. A bargain bin purchase at best, and only if you're a fan of the series. (Sonic Heroes)

3 or 4(.5) - Bad game. A mostly negative experience, and whatever it does right fails to save it overall. Even if you're a fan, you're probably better off not playing it. (Sonic and the Secret Rings)

1 or 2(.5) - Utter garbage. An unholy abomination that we should do all in our power to avoid playing. In other words, STAY THE HECK AWAY! (Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22)

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