Reviewing this in 1999 was probably really easy. “My God, look how fast it is! And oh, how it shines! Gadzooks!”
“But what about the gamep-”
“DAMN THE GAMEPLAY! Look how it shines!”
Here we are, eleven years (and a week) later, and hindsight grants us the knowledge that no matter how many games you release, Sonic the Hedgehog does not work in 3D. Nevertheless, we’re revisiting Sonic’s first foray into 3D on PSN and Xbox LIVE Arcade.
Do we start by comparing this to the Dreamcast version? It doesn’t seem relevant. Nobody’s hovering over the buy button for a Dreamcast copy on eBay, worrying whether it’s the definitive version. If you’ve played the Dreamcast version already then you know whether or not you personally need to buy the game again, in all its flawed and lazily ported (good heavens, the borders!) glory.
If you’ve never played Sonic Adventure before, what then? Well, Robotnik’s after the chaos emeralds… yes, Robotnik! Robotnik, Robotnik, Robotnik… fine, Eggman’s after the chaos emeralds and it’s up to Sonic and his merry band of freaks to stop him. Pesky kids.
The biggest positive: One thing Sonic Adventure always did brilliantly was the music, which is as excellent today as it was back then. Tails’ theme is not necessarily a favourite but boy, will it get in your head. Every song is memorable though, and if you come back to it in eleven years time you’ll still be able to hum Amy’s theme before she appears on screen. Elsewhere, the voice acting is bad, but in a `so-bad-it’s-good` kind of way. Sonic casually remarking “what am I gonna do with him?” when Tails crashes his aeroplane is excellent, the answer potentially being “bury him,” you uncaring pig. HE COULD BE DYING! RIGHT NOW!
Luckily Sonic can get to Tails, and get to him pretty damn quick, with action stages making up the bulk of Sonic’s game. In these, he generally has to run as fast as possible, collecting rings and bouncing from springs to other springs, followed by more running and more rings. Often, the game can feel like it’s playing itself but there are enough shortcuts and tricks in every level to keep things interesting, especially during later time trials. When Sonic’s not actioning it up, he’s generally partaking in an adventure stage. These work as a hub between the different action stages, and involve the teensiest amount of exploration, though the next destination is usually signposted in a way that’s so far from being subtle that it would make Brian Blessed blush.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the action right from the start. Y’see, the levels aren’t the most stable ever seen in a platformer, and Sonic does tend to go too quickly before just falling through the floor and dying. Or through a wall. Or anything, really.
Sega have assured us that this isn’t a bug and is actually an issue that’s present with all hedgehogs, but we’re not sure. David Attenborough has certainly attested to the difficulties of filming them, though. “I was following one once with a camera,” he said. “But then suddenly I lost control of my limbs and the camera disappeared through a wall! All I filmed was the inside of the wall while the hedgehog paraded around unseen.”
Even when you can see Sonic, the camera makes it difficult to do anything at the speed the game wants it done at – it simply can’t keep up. Inexplicably, the camera is still particularly bad in the sedately paced adventure stages, and the camera controls aren’t helpful in the slightest.
It’s massively flawed, then. When you’re not randomly dying or admiring the view from under a floor though, the game can still be a lot of fun. The variety in the levels is excellent. From pinball to snowboarding to dogfighting and a whole load more, there are tons of ideas crammed in here with each not being around long enough to outstay its welcome. The bosses are also excellent and when the gameplay is more focussed like that, it really comes into its own.
When Sonic’s story is complete, you can play through with five other characters, each with their own gameplay mechanics and with unique levels and bosses to play with. They’re all great, aside from the one that’s probably created more dog-loving people through sheer frustration than even the evilest of cats. If you found out that Hitler had a cat, you’d still hate it less.
Some fairly cynical DLC aside (upgrade to the directors cut for 400 Microsoft Points / £3.40), there’s a lot of content for your money. Each character has a fairly substantial story to get through, and then time trials, mini-games and having to replay levels to achieve new goals to earn emblems, adds a lot of replay value. Avatar / Home awards are included too, which are always welcome.
Sonic Adventure holds up as well today as it did eleven years ago, it’s just that it never really held up that well in the first place. Saying that, in spite of all its faults, it turns out that it’s still plenty of fun if you don’t let yourself be frustrated by it. Luckily, dying is rarely punished too greatly, and the levels speed by so quickly and with enough variety that they don’t have time to get that frustrating, or boring.
Unless you’re playing as Big the Cat.