The game that made Sonic what he is today – for better or worse.
Ten years can do a lot to change our perception of something. In 1999, we saw the release of Sonic Adventure, one of Sega and Sonic Team’s most ambitious games of that era. When you consider the scope of platformer games at the time, such as Crash Bandicoot or Banjo-Kazooie, the scale of Sonic Adventure was impressive. Six different characters, each with their own unique gameplay style, at least one hour of fully-voiced real-time cinematics, no fewer than eight monstrous hub-world maps, thirteen multi-part levels, a fleshed out virtual pet simulator… the list goes on. Sonic Adventure was a big deal, and its review scores for the era reflected that, with high marks from virtually all major publications.
But the ravages of time have not been kind to Sonic Adventure. By 2003′s Gamecube re-release in the form of Sonic Adventure DX, review scores were already slipping. Next to titles like Super Mario Sunshine and Sly Cooper, Sonic Adventure‘s archaic flaws stuck out like a sore thumb, and the half-hearted effort to spruce up the game’s visual fidelity did nothing to alleviate poor collision detection, bad voice acting, or dated animation. That brings us to the present: the latter half of the year 2010 – over 10 years since Sonic Adventure‘s original release. If Sonic Adventure was already looking dated in 2003, by today’s standards, it’s practically a dinosaur. In fact, by today’s standards, Sonic Adventure is almost as buggy and as broken as the legendary “Sonic 2006“. Both, not coincidentally, were the first Sonic games of a new generation; during a period where everybody was trying to figure out what, exactly, to do with all of this new technology. Both games were quite clearly rushed to market before they were fully completed. The key difference being, of course, that at the time, nobody had seen a game like Sonic Adventure before, so its faults were easier to overlook. When it came time for Sonic 2006, most were not willing to be so forgiving – and with good reason. It is with these same unforgiving eyes that we turn back to Sonic Adventure.
To put it delicately, the game has not aged gracefully. To the dedicated Sonic fan coasting on nostalgia, it’s still within the realm of what one would consider a “good game”, but to the world at large, the game is host to a myriad of problems. None will probably ever completely ruin the experience, but enough exist to gradually erode at the player’s level of enjoyment derived from the game straight out of the gate. This is Sonic Adventure, warts and all, with the atrocious camera system, poor lip-sync and at-times slippery controls. It’s not that uncommon to collide with a polygon the wrong way and fall through the floor entirely, resulting in an unfair, unpredictable death. None of this is aided by the poor job done in bringing the game to Xbox Live Arcade; the version on offer here is essentially an XBLA release of the PC port, which was a Gamecube port from the original Dreamcast version – in other words, a port of a port of a port. And while the PC version of Sonic Adventure can easily be adjusted to run at HD resolution on relatively dated hardware, the Xbox Live Arcade release is stuck in window-boxed 480p in a silly effort to remain “faithful” to the original game – despite previous Dreamcast XBLA ports, like Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram running in full 720p HD. This is to say nothing of the missing effects and environmental details afforded to the Gamecube version of the game, such as reflective water shaders – an unfortunate omission carried over from the sloppy PC port.
The good news, I guess, is if you can tolerate the dated idiosyncrasies, there’s still a relatively good game underneath it all. There’s a reason people consistently point back to the original Sonic Adventure as the “best” 3D Sonic game, and that’s primarily because of its pacing. It really nails that feeling the old Genesis games had, striking that same balance between sections where speed is a priority and sections where you have to slow down a little bit to think about your next move. There’s a variety and a rhythm to these levels that you don’t really get in later 3D Sonic games, and it’s bolstered by being one of the rare entries in the series to let you play as just Sonic, uninterrupted – unless, of course, you’re a completionist who wants to see the game’s “final ending”, in which case you have to suffer through Gamma’s target practice, Amy Rose’s Hedgehog Hammer, and Big the Cat’s excruciatingly dull fishing sections.
Sega seems content to regurgitate the same broken, rushed, under-polished game that would be better off as a nostalgic memory to most. Drawing attention to Sonic‘s old, dirty laundry is no way to make gamers hopeful for the future of this franchise. And as if just having the original, relatively-unchanged game wasn’t bad enough, it’s further marred by being a sloppy port on top of a sloppy port. Ultimately, Sonic Adventure deserves better. Sega has once again squandered an opportunity to go back and give the game a proper overhaul to match that shine it had back in rose-tinted 1999. To me, Sonic Adventure feels like it’s being held together by chewing gum and duct tape, which makes it hard to recommend to anybody but the most hardcore Sonic fans.
(This review was originally published on TSSZnews.com on September 10th, 2010)