Somewhere along the way Sonic missed a step. A slew of lame spinoffs in an attempt to mimic the success Nintendo had achieved with Mario left the plucky Hedgehog with one foot in the mascot grave. But like a phoenix (corny I know) Sega came out swinging and restored some measure of respect to their venerable mascot with Sonic Adventure. And we all quickly forgave them for the numerous Saturn cock teases of the past few years.
Sonic Adventure was released in late 1998 for Japan and at the Dreamcast’s launch in the US. Dr. Robotnik (why Sega thought it was a good idea to leave it as Eggman I’ll never know) has returned after freeing Chaos, former guardian of the Master Emerald. The good doctor plans to use Chaos in an effort to collect the scattered chaos emeralds and complete his transformation into Perfect Chaos, destroy Station Square, and build his empire on its ruins. Robotnik’s actions have affected a slew of characters, each with their own reasons to want him brought to justice.
The Adventure in the title is just that as you’ll eventually have the option to control as many as 8 characters, each with their own story and gameplay. Often billed as the Sonic counterpart to Mario 64 it doesn’t quite live up to that billing but still provides the requisite thrills associated with Sonic despite its flaws.
Sonic Adventure is split into 2 parts: Adventure Fields and Action Stages. The adventure fields play out like a light RPG as you converse with townsfolk, collect items, and unlock the Action stages. Upgrades for all of the characters can be found littered around the environments and there are various minigames to pass the time. Most of the playable characters are encountered in these segments and become playable after meeting them.
The Chao garden…… you know what, I never bothered with the Chao garden because I was never interested. The tamagotchi craze completely passed me by but if you were one of the many suckered into caring for an electronic chicken I guess I can see the appeal. While I can see what they were going for it doesn’t quite pan out. Nice idea, poor execution. But we all know what the main attraction is.
The action stages are what we all dreamed of once 3d took over the market. The sense of speed is unparalleled as you rocket through the various bumpers, springs, and boosters. Now that Sonic has joined the 3rd dimension Sonic Team has used it as an opportunity to ratchet up the scenario design, taking you on a roller coaster of set pieces. Anyone who doesn’t feel their pulse race when the whale chases you on the docks needs to find a new hobby. From working your way out of a tornado to snowboarding down a mountain Sonic Adventure (for the most part) delivers.
Chink in the armor
For everything Sonic Adventure does right there are various issues that fight to bring the experience down. Finding the locations of the action stages is never quite clear and while there are stars that will give you a loose guide as to what you should be doing the clues are often obtuse. But the biggest culprit is the game’s speed. Sonic has a tendency to drift side to side the faster you go and turning and coming to a stop is never as tight as it should be. Because the game can’t keep up with Sonic the camera has a tendency to spazz out as it tries to reorient itself. The bad camera work cannot be stated enough, it really should not have been released in this state.
These instances of camera tomfoolery lead to many cheap deaths and are exacerbated by the insane number of glitches. Shit just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. It isn’t fun to bounce on a series of springs only to have Sonic fail at the last moment and fall to his death for no reason. Or to have a spring that worked a minute ago fail. Falling through the world for no apparent reason should never happen. This could have used a few more months of play testing which is sad because there was almost a one year gap between the Japanese and US release.