Sonic Adventure Review
A few games are instant classics and are almost immune to the cruel passage of time. Others are great and although not elite, they have certain traits that, at the very least, hold up well over time. And there’s a whole other group: the games that were considered pretty darn good at the time but within only a few years (or in this case, 11 years), the flaws are greatly enhanced and the rosy nostalgia nearly disappears. Sadly, Sonic Adventure falls into the latter category. In short, there’s good and bad news: the good news is that this is a faithful high-definition port of the quality Dreamcast title…the bad news it’s just a port of a DC title that hasn’t aged well. That being said, due to the large number of failures associated with the blue spiky streak since 1999, Sonic Adventure might be a relative breath of fresh air. It really isn’t bad at all (just look at old review scores for the game) but by today’s standards, well…
The fresh high-def visuals are a bonus, but in all honesty, they didn’t really do it for me. We often forget how far we’ve come in the realm of graphics; this game was one of the best-looking of that generation, and I understand that. But for some reason, I had expected the new overhaul to be a bit sharper, with all that beautiful color brought to the forefront. It’s still kinda pretty and I still like some of the effects, but the overall result might not satisfy anyone but hardcore Sonic followers. Maybe it’s because the environment and animations were never designed for HD, and all HD does is make the old-fashioned drawbacks even more prominent. Some of the later levels seem to benefit more from the visual facelift but that may not be enough incentive to keep playing. At the bare minimum, though, you will remember the good ol’ days of the Dreamcast.
As for the sound, we again have to make allowances. We have to understand that laughable voiceovers, a serious lack of balance between music and effects, and a lack of professional clarity were common in those days. The voices weren’t “laughable;” it was awesome that they even existed; we almost never noticed any lack of “sound balance” because it was more than electronic ditties, and the term “professional clarity” was almost entirely alien. I recognize all that. Even so, the sound was difficult to deal with in Sonic Adventure, as too much of it is cringe-worthy, and I only found solace in the standard effects that are highlights of most any Sonic quest. Besides, there are some music tracks that are really cool, despite the somewhat annoying level of repetitiveness.
If you really don’t know what to expect from a Sonic game by now, you’re either too young or you’ve avoided many of the subpar 3D efforts. But even then, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine: a pure platformer in just about every sense, Sonic Adventure has you zipping about, collecting golden rings, bouncing off enemies, and exploring everything from simple jungle environments to mysterious caves and dungeons. This DC title also introduced a central hub, where you could get your bearings after any given level, as well as a variety of different characters. Of course, there’s always the speed factor, which is crucial for any game with “Sonic” in the title, and the game doesn’t usually stutter despite the mind-bending loop-the-loops or bouncy launch platforms. On the surface, one could only expect a fun, fulfilling platformer of AAA quality.
And some will argue it was indeed a AAA game when it released. Now, though, as I mentioned earlier, the downfalls basically smack you upside the head. Yeah, we’re spoiled; what of it? Doesn’t really help the situation. Too many of the levels fail to impress, the hub world is bland and seemingly pointless at times, the Friends levels just get boring, and what the hell is with Big the Cat? The camera goes all sorts of crazy far too often – a flaw we basically expected and accepted a decade ago – and the control is only a little better than average. Because of the latter and despite the emphasis on speed, this re-release actually feels clunky and awkward. We’re just too used to the likes of Ratchet and Clank and Super Mario Galaxy, and although some of the areas in Sonic Adventure are still appealing and appropriately challenging, time hasn’t been kind.
Also, let’s not forget there are only about 10 levels, and the differences between each of the available characters are marginal. Way back when, it was considered a great addition and opened up the gameplay; the characters with slightly different skill sets really added a huge amount of longevity. So one day, you can go through a particular level with Amy, and then the next, you can try a completely different level with Knuckles or Tails. And yes, the game does play a little differently when playing as Big the Cat (although God only knows why you would use him). And yes, you might want to replay levels in order to achieve better scores and times. But the core gameplay and mechanics just don’t hold up to scrutiny in this day and age and really, this will only appeal to the die-hard Sonic fans. Then again, if you’ve always regretted getting rid of Sega’s last piece of hardware and want to relive one of the first 128-bit experiences, than I suppose this will fit the bill.
Sonic Adventure was one of the reasons to own a Dreamcast when it first came out. The veterans still said Sonic needed to remain 2D but those were the same people who complained about Mario going 3D on the N64. Sonic Team really did do a good job with what they had at their disposal and this new release still maintains its charm. It really does. But that charm just isn’t enough for us to ignore the negatives that rear their ugly heads from the get-go, and it’s tough to recommend it with so many great PSN originals and PS1 classics. But hey, there are other DC classics that are yet to come; who wants Shenmue and Skies of Arcadia?
9/23/2010 Ben Dutka