9/9/99: Did Sonic Do For Dreamcast What Mario Did For The N64?
Ah...September 9th, 1999. The launch of Final Fantasy VIII...err, I mean the Dreamcast. It was a glorious day ten years ago when Sega rose from the dead and breathed new life into a console. On that day, the Saturn, an epic failure (in the U.S. at least), was replaced by a smaller, white system.
Instead of surprising us with a sneak attack, Sega actually announced the Dreamcast's release date, and sent a legion of retail games to accompany it. Two of these titles blew away Dreamcast fans: One featured a bipedal hedgehog with a 'tude and the other was a gorgeous 3D fighter. I may have missed both of these popular launch titles upon their release, but ten years later, I finally purchased a Dreamcast. This time, the blue blur wouldn't evade me.
In 1999, I actually did get to demo Sonic Adventure at a retail store, but I walked away unimpressed. The graphics were amazing, as was the frame rate, but I couldn't figure out where to go with the walking carpet known as Big The Cat. It's bad enough that I was introduced to Sonic Adventure with its worst character, but I was also misfortunate in that I had to start in Station Square (Sonic Adventure's overworld).
Despite starting in the game's lousiest location with the worst possible character, I had always wanted to play Sonic Adventure. Well, my dream finally came true--ten years later.
When I first booted up my Dreamcast, I immediately knew who I'd choose. Of course it'd be none other than the hedgehog with an attitude. Sega's mascot was a hero of mine as a kid, so I had to stick with him (brand loyalty folks).
Back in Sonic 2, I was also introduced to Tails, who I quickly learned to leave in the dust. He continually got in my way in Sonic 2, so I decided to pass him over for the blue blur.
There was also Knuckles, but I was never a fan of the angry Echidna (and I'd witnessed his "action" levels in a friend's copy of Sonic Adventure 2), so I decided to stick with the speed demon, Sonic.
Upon entering Sonic's Adventure, I was thrust into an urban environment with a hint of familiarity. This familiar environment didn't appear in Sonic's past adventures; rather, this city looked like it belonged in sunny Florida. Even though this environment felt strangely out of place, I paid it no heed, and zoomed on to save my friend Tails, who had crash landed while testing his plane.
While pursuing Tails, I entered the game's first level or "Action Zone." This 3D course was reminiscent of the levels in Sonic's Genesis adventures. I bopped enemies, jumped off springs, and ran until my lungs collapsed. In this level, I witnessed one of Sonic Adventure's most memorable scenes: An enormous whale chases Sonic across a collapsing bridge. This scene was particularly cool, and I loved the amazing sense of speed throughout the entire level.
During the first level, the Dreamcast's power was immediately made apparent: Sonic Adventure featured smooth textures, character models with no visible polygons, and a blisteringly fast frame rate. A frame rate of 60fps accompanying Sonic's insanely high speeds truly made Sonic Adventure feel like a Sonic title.
Sonic Adventure would continue to be a blast throughout most of his other levels. There would be the occasional cheap death, camera issue, or the hedgehog poking through a solid object, but it was generally an enjoyable experience. Sadly, Sonic's rollercoaster ride was hampered by a few other minor details: the lackluster boss fights and occasional loss of control.
In Sonic games, boss fights were never anything special, but I expected better from Sonic Adventure. Most major encounters consist of Sonic performing a homing attack on a boss, or an object it spews. It would have been nice if more variety was included, but then again, Sonic is limited when it comes to abilities.
Unfortunately, Sonic is not the only one lacking abilities. The player who controls Sonic sometimes has little influence over his actions. What I mean by this is once you build up your speed, it feels like the game takes over. On-rails experiences don't bother me that much, but it'd increase a player's sense of wonderment if a person actually performed Sonic's amazing stunts himself.
These issues aren't a huge deal, as it'd be difficult to have precise control over Sonic at high speeds, but they definitely highlight that Sonic Adventure doesn't control as well as Nintendo's masterpiece, Mario 64.
Once I finished Sonic's quest, I immediately began Tails' journey. As I stated earlier, I never really liked the flying fox, but his missions actually managed to be pretty fun, since he controlled similarly to Sonic.
Like Sonic, Tails can breeze past enemies at high speeds, but instead of being able to spin dash, he can whack enemies with his bushy tail. If Tails would prefer to avoid confrontations, however, he can simply glide over enemies with his helicopter-like flight ability.
Occasionally Tails does have to fight, but most of his mission time is spent racing through courses. He'll travel to similar locations as Sonic, but the difference here is that he often has to race an opponent (usually Sonic). This can be somewhat more difficult, so it's useful to have had experience with Sonic's levels. Still, paths will occasionally diverge.
For example, Sonic and Tails both had courses at the Casino Zone, but Sonic's level involved pinball simulators (including a Nights cameo), while Tails' level featured a high-speed race. These divergent paths allow you to play some new levels, but unfortunately, Tails' quest mostly feels like a regurgitation of Sonic's Adventure. Still, I'd rather have that than the other four adventures.
Unfortunately, Sonic Adventure started to go downhill after I selected Knuckles. It's not that Knuckles is a bad guy--he does have some interesting abilities, but gliding and climbing walls is only fun for so long. Occasionally, you'll get to punch opponents, but much of your time is spent climbing cliffs searching for treasure.
Instead of blazing through levels, Knuckles has to seek out pieces of the broken Chaos Emerald. Each stage is home to three pieces that are hidden underground, on cliff-tops, and inside enemy paws. Occasionally, you'll have to bash skulls to obtain emerald pieces, but usually, you'll have to climb steep cliffs or dig wherever the radar indicates there's a treasure.
Sometimes, these levels can be quite frustrating, because of the piss-poor radar. Instead of actually having a full-sized radar or map, you have three crystals on-screen that emit different colors of light and beep whenever you're close to an emerald. Sometimes, these indicators will blink even when you're not near the crystal, so you'll spend twenty minutes searching an area far from where the buried treasure is actually located. As a result, Knuckles' bland missions were frustrating and forgettable, but my next selected character was even worse.
The next character I chose was a newcomer named Amy. She may have been in previous Sonic games (I know that she was in Japan-only Sonic The Fighters), but by the release of Sonic Adventure, she was probably new to most American gamers.
Sadly, the folks at Sega decided to include Sonic's pesky female pal, Amy. Amy is even more obsessed with woodland creatures than Sonic, so she just had to tag along. This pink-haired gal who fell head-over-heels for the man-hunk that is Sonic, wields a deadly hammer that emits the power of love (at least that's what I think those hearts coming out of the hammer are for).
During her missions, Amy is tasked with escaping a robot pursuer, and she has to evade several traps in the process. When the robot kidnapper gets too close, she has to bop him on the head with her giant mallet to temporarily paralyze him, but most of the time, she'll be crossing over nearly invisible pits and making blind corners. Her missions are incredibly frustrating, and the clumsy hammer controls and camera don't help any.
By the end of Amy's journey, her levels had me pondering what I hated more: Amy's annoying voice, or her death-trap courses. Still, Amy's poorly-designed courses were heaven compared to what came next.
Has your cat ever coughed up a hairball? Well, get ready to watch the hairballs rain when she sees Sonic Adventure's worst character: Big The Cat. Big, is one of the worst characters to ever grace a video game. Hell, I might even like Bubsy more. There's just not a single thing to like about the guy. Between his ridiculous voice and his weapon of choice--the fishing rod, I'm not sure what's worse.
In Big's levels, you'll travel to many familiar environments and fish for a frog. Yes, I said, "frog." What makes this frog special? He has a Chaos Emerald, so of course Dr. Robotnik's army is out in full force. Instead of ramming into Eggman with his bulky frame, Big would prefer to spend his days fishing.
Even though Big enjoys fishing, I'm not sure how he can stand the horrible controls. With Big, players have to search for the frog in various massive lakes, and then they have to cast their line and reel him in. This is easier said than done.
First of all, players have to comb entire bodies of water for a tiny frog. Once they're done with this, they'll spend several minutes waiting with their line in the water. After they've finally caught the frog, they'll spend a couple minutes struggling with uncooperative controls. Long story short, I'd rather get tangled up in a fishing line than play with Big The Cat again.
Luckily, Sonic Adventure didn't end on a negative note. It would have if I chose Big last, but luckily, I saved E-102, the emotional robot, for that purpose.
Surprisingly, E-102 is actually a decent character. Sure, he may be your stereotypical robot that speaks in a monotone voice, but at least he performs well on the battlefield.
E-102 packs an infinite amount of homing missiles, so he can easily make enemies scatter as he ploughs through half-a-dozen or so levels. His levels are mostly an on-rails experience, but at least you'll rarely find yourself struggling with the controls, since all you can do is aim and fly through the air. E-102's missions may be repetitive, but I'd gladly take a dozen more of those in place of Big's or Amy's levels.
After completing each of the game's six stories, I was treated to a final story featuring Super Sonic and a "surprising" boss. Was this ultimate confrontation worth it? Not really, but it was one of the better boss fights in the game, mainly because it made use of Sonic's speed.
Sonic Adventure may be a mixed bag when it comes to gameplay, but the story was just plain horrible, even when complained to simple stories like those found in Mario. It wasn't the cartoony antics that bothered me; rather, it was the nonsensical story and terrible dialogue.
If you thought your standard NES game dialogue was bad, wait until you play Sonic Adventure. Sometimes, NES game dialogue managed to be unintentionally funny, but Sonic can't even pull that off.
Sure, you'll get a few laughs from Sonic's cocky attitude, but certain character dialogue is atrocious. It's pretty sad that a flagship Sega title has characters repeating the same sentence three times in a row with slightly different words. Even with that much repetition, what they say usually doesn't make sense. Even worse than the dialogue however, is the adventure mode.
I couldn't stand running around in Station Square and the Mystic Ruins. Between missions, you'll spend at least a dozen minutes wandering around looking for your next destination. Sometimes, helpful hints are provided via a pink floating ball, but more often than not, you'll be wandering aimlessly looking for some stupid key that fell out of the sky. I'd expect this in an NES game, but there's no reason that this rudimentary gameplay had to be grafted on to Sonic.
Even with the additional furry helpers and an adventure mode, Sonic Adventure managed to be a decent experience. Sonic Adventure didn't do for Sonic what Mario 64 did for Super Mario Bros., but it still felt somewhat like Sonic. If Sega had axed the characters other than Sonic and Tails, and had spent more time with quality control, this could have been a classic. The sad truth though, is that Sonic Adventure has aged poorly. I'd still recommend it to those who love the blue blur, but everyone else would be better off celebrating the Dreamcast's anniversary with a higher quality title like, Soul Calibur.
· Sonic's levels will remind you of the days when the Genesis did what Nintendon't
· Tails also has a fun set of levels
· E-102 controls well
· One level features a Nights cameo
· Sonic still has plenty of 'tude
· Some songs are catchy
· Features an incredible sense of speed accompanied by a smooth frame rate
· Certain level textures look bland
· Three characters' missions are horrible
· Poor camera
· Frequent cheap deaths and glitches
· Horrible voice acting and dialogue
· The storyline makes that paper you wrote in Kindergarten look like a masterpiece
· Why didn't Sonic throw Amy off Eggman's ship?
Looking for a good laugh? Listen to this Knuckles song that gives the DK rap a run for its money: