Kickin’ It Old School – Sonic Adventure

Oh, Sonic. What happened to you? I used to envy all of my Genesis-owning friends for having the super awesome Sonic the Hedgehog series, when all I had to go home to was pussy ass Mario. But, while Mario is still going pretty strong (though some would say it’s time for a change there), Sonic must have tripped somewhere while running at Mach 5 and fell flat on his face.

New Mario games get high scores thrown at them like beads to a topless girl during Mardi Gras, while Sonic is trying to recapture the fire he once had. Now, I think I should mention that I’m one of the unfortunate mutants that liked Sonic and the Secret Rings. It was a decent platformer, and a good start for picking the franchise back up, but the mission set-up it had killed any momentum it built quite dead, since you had to go back to the title screen after every level. Lame. I have no excuse for Sonic the Hedgehog on the 360, however. Sonic Unleashed? Eh, still decent and still getting there, but what were they thinking with that “were-hog” shit? That was an awful addition to the awesomely old-school daytime levels.

With that in mind, let’s reminisce about when Sonic was cool. Now, the earlier games in the series are fun and classic, but let’s look at one that came later. We’re here to talk about what can be considered the last great Sonic game, and the beginning of the end for the franchise.

Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast, 1999)

Released on 9/9/99, Sonic Adventure sought out to prove once again why Sonic was infinitely more bad ass than Mario. For the second time in my life, a Sega system appeared on my letter to Santa, and this time, I wasn’t taking no for an answer from that fat bastard. I imagine he breathed a huge sigh of relief seeing my happiness at opening my brand new Dreamcast on Christmas morning. He knew I was coming for him if it wasn’t there.

The story of the game is pretty cool, though you have to play with every character, reflect on everything, and read a synopsis on Wikipedia for it all to sink in. Basically, there was once a race of echidnas like Knuckles who lived in a big Aztec temple who wanted to use the Chaos Emeralds and the larger Master Emerald to gain all sorts of power. They tried to take it by force but were stopped by a water monster thing called Chaos, who absorbs the Chaos Emeralds, turns into a huge dragon and kills pretty much everyone before an echidna girl named Tikal seals Chaos and herself inside the Master Emerald to stop him. Later, Dr. Robotnik hears this story and decides to set Chaos free, feed him the Chaos Emeralds again and use him to take over the world, or at least just the city of Station Square, planning to build his own city on its ruins. What a bastard. It’s up to Sonic and friends to stop him.

Oh, by the way: his name is ROBOTNIK. Not “Eggman”. I don’t care what Sega says, I don’t care about making the name uniform across all regions; Robotnik is an awesome name, while Eggman is just terrible. Would you be intimidated by an evil scientist whose name was Eggman? No, you wouldn’t. Therefore, he will be referred to as “Robotnik” for the remainder of this column. That name needs to make a comeback.

Anyway, you load the game up and you’re greeted with the HOLY SHIT FUCKING AWESOME opening cinematic. First, it’s like everything’s fine and dandy, then suddenly, bam! Flood! Then stuff exploding! And a huge spaceship thing taking off! And Sonic running! And a huge monster coming out of a building! This was all kinds of awesome. It blew away anything I’d seen on N64 at that point (though I bet my brother that EarthBound 64 would look better than that. And I still think it would have. God fucking damn it), especially when the rockin’ main theme kicked in, but more on the music later.

There are 6 characters to choose from, though some character’s levels are more fun than others. Each one’s story overlaps with the others, as well as revealing more about the overall story. The levels are connected to each other through 3 hubs, called “adventure fields”: Station Square, the Mystic Ruins (the echidna’s old kingdom) and Dr. Robotnik’s spaceship kind of thing, the “Egg Carrier” (ugh…). Sonic’s levels were rather like the 2-D games of old; you run really fast and get to the end of the level. For the first half of his section, you’re trying to find the Chaos Emeralds before Dr. Robotnik, and then taking the fight to Robotnik himself at his secret base in the Mystic Ruins (or it would be secret if there weren’t spotlights revealing its location…in the middle of a jungle. Spotlights. In the jungle. No wonder Robotnik is constantly beaten by woodland critters). There were bosses to fight, namely the various forms of Chaos as he absorbs the Chaos Emeralds and Dr. Robotnik in all sorts of robots. Robots named after eggs. For fuck’s sake, Sega, really? Anyway, Sonic defeats Chaos and Robotnik, but that’s not the end of the story.

Next up is Tails, Sonic’s plucky sidekick. Tails actually has a great, compelling storyline: he’s trying to prove, both to himself and everyone, that he can be a hero too, and doesn’t need Sonic to bail him out. It’s not surprising then that his levels are pretty much the same as Sonic’s, but racing Sonic to the end. Actually, the root of Tails’ issues is revealed through these levels, since Sonic taunts Tails throughout their entire race to catch up. Considering Sonic prides himself on running really, really fast, keeping up with him would be hard for anybody. No wonder Tails has self-esteem issues; it’s not that he can’t do it, Sonic is just a dick. Anyway, after Dr. Robotnik’s plan with Chaos fails, he decides to destroy Station Square the old fashioned way: with a nuke. When even that fails (it’s just not his day I guess), he decides to take out his frustrations on Tails, who finally grows a pair of balls and defeats him, earning the people’s adoration.

Knuckles’ part is a bit different, but still good. He is tasked with watching over the Master Emerald on the floating Angel Island, and is kind of emo about it, but whatever. One day it shatters, freeing Chaos, who immediately joins up with Dr. Robotnik and Tikal. So wait, while Knuckles was soliloquizing about how miserable he is watching over the Master Emerald and that he doesn’t know why he’s stuck there, there’s been a female member of his species trapped in there? So he’s a pussy and a dumbass? No wonder he acts so tough. Anyway, without the Master Emerald’s power, the island falls into the ocean, and Knuckles has to find the shards of the Emerald to restore things to normal. He finds them throughout the game’s various levels with the aid of a kind of radar system, sensing when the pieces are close. He also ends up crossing paths with Sonic and Tails and participates in stopping Dr. Robotnik from succeeding in his plans with Chaos, before restoring the Mast Emerald and Angel Island to their rightful place. Like I said, his levels are different, but still fun. However, this is pretty much where the really good stuff ends, and we see where Sonic and friends first started getting run into the ground.

First, there’s E-102 Gamma, a robot made by Dr. Robotnik. He also has a compelling storyline, as he turns on Robotnik and starts destroying other robots he has created. His levels though…eh…I’m not a fan. You run through all of them blowing stuff up until you get to the boss robot, which is usually painfully easy. That might sound cool, but it’s just kind of…tacked on. The game would have been fine without it. And what really pisses me off is that in the end, after destroying the last robot and seeing that there was a bird trapped inside it, Gamma self-destructs, freeing the bird that’s inside him so the bird can join his friends/family or whoever they are. Really? What would you rather be, a missile shooting, A.I. robot, or a stupid bird?

Next is Amy, Sonic’s girlfriend (I guess, Sonic kind of hates her). She becomes the guardian of a bird, apparently of the same family/group that the birds from Gamma’s storyline are, that’s running away from one of Dr. Robotnik’s robots, Zero. She tries to enlist Sonic to be its “bodyguard”, but he flatly refuses, so she takes care of the bird herself. So it’s not just Tails; Sonic’s a prick to everyone. Anyway, Amy’s levels consist of her running from Zero to get away on a giant balloon. She wields a hammer that she uses to destroy enemies in her way, though I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on her to use the hammer against Zero (you can temporarily stun him with it, but you still need to run away after) until the final fight against him. And by the way, by “running” I don’t mean running like Sonic runs. She moves like a glacier compared to Sonic. It’s just not as fun as his and Tails’ levels. Like Gamma, this part could have been completely cut out and it wouldn’t make the game worse.

And then…ugh…Big the retarded cat. Oh boy. So, Big is a giant, bipedal, incredibly stupid sounding “cat”, though he looks like a mix between a bear and Grimace from McDonalds. He has a pet frog, Froggy, who comes into contact with Chaos, somehow absorbing Chaos’ tail which somehow causes him to go crazy and run away. But not before swallowing a Chaos Emerald that Big just happened to have lying around. So Big’s levels revolve around catching Froggy, by…oh for God’s sake…fishing for him. What the fuck does fishing have to do with Sonic? I mean, it has about as much to do with the series as…well as beating up things as a “were-hog”. He does come into contact with the other characters; one of Gamma’s missions is to capture Froggy, and Big ends up on Dr. Robotnik’s Egg Carrier where he participates with Sonic in a fight against Chaos. And by “participate” I mean fishing for Froggy, who is inside Chaos, and then running away. That is ri-God damn-diculous. To make matters worse, his voice actor decided to portray him as a bumbling idiot. It’s hard to describe, but he sounds…stupid. The game just comes to a screeching halt during his part of the story…everything about it is terrible.

After you beat the game with all six characters, you unlock one more: Super Sonic. It seems Chaos wasn’t destroyed, as he returns, absorbs all 7 Chaos Emeralds to become “Perfect Chaos”, and floods and destroys Station Square, which is where the opening cut scene came from. Sonic arrives, absorbs what little power is left in the Chaos Emeralds and pwns Chaos once and for all. Tikal and Chaos float away, and everyone lives happily ever after. Except the people in Station Square, who are now either homeless or dead because of Chaos’ attack, but no one seems to care about that.

Near the beginning of this, I mentioned the soundtrack, and though it’s chock full of some fairly cheesy stuff, it’s pretty awesome. The main theme, “Open Your Heart”, is really good, and the character’s themes represent them well. In particular, Tails’ theme “Believe in Myself” describes his desire to be a hero, although it would be better titled as “I Wish My Supposed Best Friend Wasn’t Such a Douchebag”. The tracks in each of the levels don’t really stick out, but they’re okay. The graphics, as mentioned, blew me away, not just the cinematics but the actual levels all looked great, and were a great demonstration of what the Dreamcast was capable of.

There was a cool mini game you could play on the Dreamcast’s VMU, the Visual Memory Unit (a combination memory card and gaming device thing). In each adventure field there are gardens where you can find Chao, little critters you can raise on your VMU. See, this is back when things like Tamagatchi’s were popular among the kids; this thing with the Chao was like that. Though it had no effect on the game itself, it was a cool little addition. The re-release on Gamecube, Sonic Adventure DX, added a mission mode and some Sonic Game Gear games as unlockables, which were kind of cool.

So where does this game stand in the Sonic hierarchy? Well, half of it is amazing to great, while the other half is simply good to fucking awful, so we’ll split the difference and call it thumbs right in the middle. It was a good game and a good intro for Sonic into 3-D (I’m not counting that 3-D Blast shit), but it’s easy to see where the series went wrong after this game. They just started packing in useless additions to each game, and seem to have forgotten what made them great in the first place: running really fast and being generally more bad ass than the competition.

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