Review: Sonic Adventure (Xbox 360)

Sonic Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Sonic Team
Genre: Adventure/Platforming
Release Date: 09/15/2010

Not too far off from the pedigree set forth by Sept. 9, 1999, I still have fond memories of owning Sonic Adventure before the SEGA Dreamcast system even released. During the week leading up to the release, all I could do was look at the manual and wonder what was on the disc, but once the Dreamcast system finally dropped, the package ended up giving me hours of entertainment.

When the DC launch title hit the Xbox LIVE Arcade service, I jumped at the chance to relive the game in order to determine just how well the title stands up 11 years later. With 15 hours of Sonic Adventure now under my belt, it is clear times really have changed. Honestly, I still had a good amount of fun with the title, it’s just now that we are into 2010, Sonic Adventure‘s weaknesses stick out like a sore thumb.

Initially, it is kind of confusing what this download package is trying to be. Even though the marketing for the title touts the title as a Dreamcast hit and harking back to SEGA’s roots on the system, it quickly became evident to me this installment is not Sonic Adventure. Rather, it is actually a port of Sonic Adventure DX: The Director’s Cut, which released on the Nintendo Gamecube and PC formats in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

What this means is a player will get a slightly refined version that smoothed over the graphics, made liberal changes to certain content, attempted to squash out a few bugs and vastly improved the A-Life system tucked away into the game. On the other hand, players will find that what truly made the DX version compelling to Sonic fans – its expansion in game content through 60 missions and the chance to unlock the evil Metal Sonic – has been trimmed from the game in order to offer the content as a paid DLC package.

So, in essence, players will pay $10 for a “Sonic Adventure 1.5″ or $15 for Sonic Adventure DX, which, in the grand scheme of things isn’t a huge deal, it just seems a slight bit misleading considering I was an active Dreamcast gamer and the general Xbox crowd will most likely not know the difference. If SEGA ever charges players to give Twinkle Park a Halloween theme, though, I’ll have to call foul on the DLC route. Yeah, that’s a pretty obscure reference to the game’s original release. Did anyone else actually log in to the dedicated Sonic Adventure Dreamcast server?

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the game’s actual content. It’s a moot point to go into huge detail about the game’s mechanics since it is a direct port of Sonic Adventure DX (sort of), which Diehard GameFAN reviewed in 2003. Sonic and his gang must still contend with Dr. Robotnik and his new “pet,” Chaos, a being made out of liquid that transforms into a more powerful form when fed one of the series’ trademark Chaos Emeralds. Back in 1999, the story was actually fairly engrossing because the title revolved around six different characters and multiple playthroughs of the game allowed you to see the story from each individual perspective. This element wasn’t executed in very many games leading up to Sonic Adventure and it made the occurrences a bit more interesting and added to the replayability and intrigue of the narrative.

However, fast forwarding to 2010, such storytelling is a bit more commonplace and because of the adjustment, it has become easy to see just how weak the basic premise is executed upon. While each voice actor is appropriate for the role, the timing of the dialogue’s delivery is too broken up and awkward thanks to pauses that allow bare-bones character animations to catch up with the scene. The scripting is also pretty hit or miss (there are actually a few subtle moments of humor to be found) and it is unlikely most players will be able to care about all of the characters, especially Big the Cat. In the end, the story is just “there.” It completely misses the bullseye, but at least it manages to hit the dart board.

Before diving into the game, the menu does provide plenty of options, but most of these outlets merely take the player directly into a segment they experienced during story progression. Once the player has seen everything, it is certainly nice to be able to directly access the mini-game segments and the game also tracks your progress in a fairly detailed manner. What will no doubt take most of the player’s time is the A-Life system which has the player raising Chao creatures and forcing them into competition for additional emblems. Unfortunately, to get anything beyond what is present in the story mode, you’ll have to shell out an additional $5, which, again, isn’t too big of a deal overall considering I spent $50 on Sonic Adventure when it released.

Looking at the technical aspects of Sonic Adventure, we’ll again see 1999 pop up as a reoccurring theme. With the Dreamcast, we essentially got what Mario 64 would have resembled had the graphics been smoothed out instead of being blocky. Back then, the jump from the 32-bit norm of the Playstation to the Dreamcast was quite a leap and it certainly impressed many with its visuals. Even so, this mentality doesn’t wholly carry over into 2010, although SEGA took some strides to shine Sonic up a tad for the new format.

Part of what made Sonic Adventure DX a deluxe package was an increase on the smoothing of the graphics, which, even on the Gamecube sharpened up the visuals considerably. Thanks to a bit more smoothing and polish, SEGA has taken the game into HD and, overall, Sonic Adventure looks good compared to other Xbox LIVE Arcade titles. Players will have a number of varying environments to speed (or, depending on your character, lumber) through and all of the main character pack plenty of detail … hey, having a character’s mouth move in real-time dialogue was a luxury back then. Tying in with each environment, Sonic Adventure makes some great use of color, featuring hot reds in the mountain terrain, flashy neons in the obligatory casino zone, and rustic metals throughout Robotnik’s turf. During the gameplay, everything holds up very well, even amid the rush to the finish line.

Unfortunately, what will stick out for most players will be the pre-rendered, flat backgrounds, muddled ground textures when standing around, a lack of detail on anything that isn’t directly related to the action, and a ton of jerky, awkward animations during cutscenes. Honestly, while playing this port, I had to jog through the memory banks to try to remember why I never found the cutscenes to be so horrendous. Watching Robotnik fumble around with the emeralds is MST3K fodder, Sonic bounces back and forth in a constant loop like he has been holding in a piss for a couple of hours and, again, the very awkward timing on actions and delivery make the cutscenes an overall mess. On rare occasions, you’ll also see a little bit of pop-in on items and collision issues in the environments while fighting with the camera. In the end, seeing as Sonic Adventure stresses the storytelling and exploration aspects of the title, it’s a shame players will spend most of their time soaking in the downsides of the visuals as there are actually a few areas where they shine.

The sound also comes in as a mixed bag. For the most part, each voice actor does a respectable job in voicing their role and any fault I would place on this aspect would be more on the scripting than anything else. Also, you’ll get a score of classic Sonic the Hedgehog -inspired sound effects, stemming from back when the mascot made the Genesis a serious competitor, which is a bonus for any gamer around at that time. Throughout the stages, you’ll also find a score of very memorable action tunes, but this is easily where the music stops being memorable for good reasons. Each character features a painfully cheesy “anthem” that rings out any time they muscle their way into the current scene and, while the majority of the gameplay keeps it simplistic, the full versions feature lyrics that just personally make me cringe. Regardless, hearing the stage themes of stages such as Red Mountain and Final Egg really brought back some good memories of Sonic Adventure and shows Sonic Team could still produce memorable tunes associated with the series.

Thankfully, the control moves over to the Xbox 360 fairly well and, thanks to the simplistic control setups for the characters, players will be running, jumping, and spin dashing before they know it. What is unfortunate about the transition is players will still be receiving the same camera.

Wow. The camera … it’s honestly hard to think of a positive thing to say about the camera in Sonic Adventure. There are some nice cinematic flares the camera takes at certain points of the stages, such as seeing Sonic zoom up a wall, run away from killer whales, or careen down a zip line, but I’ll have to end my praise there. Even with the ability to rotate the camera, it maintains a mind of its own and likes to put players in the most awkward positions it can possibly muster, and saying Sonic Adventure is 40 percent fighting enemies, 60 percent fighting the camera, is hardly an exaggeration. When entering enclosed areas, bouncing up to new heights, closing in on a wall and more, it is most likely the camera will refuse to adjust to a convenient view. While traversing wide-open environments, the camera likes to pull in tight to the front of the character, giving players a glorious view of the mass of space behind them, while making the view of where players are going completely negligible. In a game that emphasizes platforming, the camera will no doubt lead to many deaths and the utterance of four-letter words and is, by far, the biggest smudge on the game.

Thankfully, fighting the camera is only half the battle against evil, as Sonic Adventure can genuinely be fun and its variety gives it a good amount of charm and replayability. Obviously, most people opting to pick up the game are doing so because of Sonic. In this regard, players will get a small handful of hours in the game as the blue blur himself and Sonic Team really broke the gameplay up well in order to avoid repetition. Seeing as nearly all of his segments are based on pure speed, the developer actually attempted a formula that makes sense with the character. Sonic will see himself in a ton of crazy situations based off elements borrowed from earlier segments, such as hitching a ride on Tails’ Tornado biplane, snowboarding away from an avalanche, thrusting himself into pinball machines, and riding in go karts, and each of these elements are inserted at satisfying intervals. Gamers that remember the times where Sonic ran fast and tried not to run into obstacles will find a fair amount of fun out of his segment of the game, even though the “adventure” aspect of running from stage to stage gets repetitive quickly.

While the variety in characters does add to the game and replayability, not everyone will buy into what each character has to offer. Tails must beat Sonic to the end of every stage, Knuckles has to uncover three hidden Master Emerald shards in each stage, Amy is in a desperate attempt to escape an indestructible, pursuing robot through each environment, E-102 allows players to shoot anything that registers as destructible, and Big the Cat basically turns the game into SEGA Bass Fishing. Again, while the variety makes each character interesting, it won’t satisfy those picking up a Sonic title in order to control Sonic and speed through the environments. In all, progressing through each story should take a player about six to eight hours; however, players will have to know some of this time will be spent controlling a fat, waddling cat that fishes for his best friend.

Outside of the story, Sonic Adventure relies on collectible emblems to further the gameplay. Not only does a player earn an emblem for clearing a stage, but they can also return to each stage to attempt to clear it on a challenge condition for more emblems, partake in mini-games to earn a few more emblems based on beating high scores, each Chaos race awards an emblem for first place, and a handful of them are liberally spread out in the adventure environments. The emblem challenges pace the difficulty of the game and really keep players coming back for more, most likely making it the sole factor that will keep anyone interested in them playing the game beyond 10 hours (the mark at which you unlock the very cool red Sonic shoes for your avatar). Again, variety is what keeps Sonic Adventure interesting and emblems are another aspect that delivers on this.

That being said, since 2010 doesn’t see me staring at a game for a system I don’t even own and Sonic Adventure isn’t the only title I own on the Xbox 360, like it was on the Dreamcast, it was very easy to put the controller down at hour intervals. The title adds in too many travel and story elements to keep players hooked on the important gameplay elements such as speed, combat, and exploration. The fact no extra content has been added beyond the DX expansion really hurts the game’s originality, but given the increasingly obscure nature of the Dreamcast in recent times, the game certainly has appeal on the front that it is a Sonic game from an oft-talked about system.

Sonic Adventure isn’t an incredible experience and it’s hard to argue that this is where the series started its well-documented descent. In its defense, the title packs a lot of variety and a fair amount of replayability and if you can win the fight against the camera, it has a good share of fun moments. Unfortunately, this fun gets bogged down by a lot of problems and given its source material, many elements of the game just aren’t as impressive in 2010. Even so, I can honestly say this installment is the last time I derived any fun whatsoever out of a console Sonic game.

The Scores
Sound: GREAT
Control and Gameplay: ENJOYABLE
Replayability: VERY GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: DECENT
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: ENJOYABLE

Short Attention Span Summary

If you didn’t like Sonic Adventure the first time around, this high-definition downloadable will do nothing to change your mind. This title is actually the Director’s Cut version released in 2003, so there is a fair share of updates made from the Dreamcast effort, but players will have to pay a nominal fee to take full advantage of the DX expansion content. On the plus side, Sonic Adventure offers up a grand amount of variety, passable presentation, and it isn’t too shabby on replayability. However, in exchange, you’ll get a weak storyline and one of the worst cameras I’ve experienced since the days of the Playstation. Furthermore, those who just want to tear up environments at high speed as Sonic will no doubt be disappointed by the injection of other characters that can potentially bog down a player’s enjoyment of the title. With Sonic 4 on the horizon, most Sonic fans might be better suited saving their Microsoft Points for now, but there is honestly a chunk of fun to be had with Sonic Adventure as it does break mediocrity, but only by an inch.



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2 responses to “Review: Sonic Adventure (Xbox 360)”

  1. cesar Avatar

    yeah is good to have back titles like this to remember the golden days

  2. […] format last fall. So if you haven’t already, check out D.J. Tatsujin’s review of the Xbox Live Arcade version or Aaron Sirois’s breakdown of the PSN version. Like them, I also feel that time has not been […]

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