Back in the late 90's, with the commercial failure of the Sega Saturn, Sega was desperate to prove they were still relevant in the console market. And they decided to hedge their bets on their little blue hedgehog. Sonic Adventure was a day-one launch title for the Dreamcast. With its stellar soundtrack, impressive graphics (at the time) and trademark Sonic attitude, Sonic Adventure was the clear superstar of the Dreamcast's starting lineup, and the star of the Dreamcast itself. It's safe to say that more people bought the Dreamcast to play this game than any other game, and it later went on to spawn a successful sequel, and would eventually become the number-one best selling title for the Dreamcast.
Most people know what to expect from the story in a Sonic game. Dr. Eggman does a bad thing. Sonic and friends stop the bad thing. The end.
...OK, it's a little more involved than that.
The story takes place in the city of Station Square. Dr. Eggman has freed an ancient water monster called Chaos and released it upon the city. Chaos grows stronger each time it absorbs a Chaos Emerald, and to that end, Eggman is searching for all 7 emeralds in order to turn Chaos invincible and destroy Station Square so that he can build his own empire: Eggmanland, atop it's ruins. It's up to Sonic and his loyal sidekick Tails to find the Chaos Emeralds first and stop Eggman from making Chaos all-powerful and demolishing the city.
Along the way, Sonic encounters friends old and new, whose own adventures overlap with his. Everyone’s stories are connected by Tikal, an Echidna princess from an ancient tribe who assists the characters in their journeys. Via a series of flashbacks, we learn that Chaos was once the protector of the Master Emerald and the Chao. But when Tikal’s tribe decides to take the Master Emerald for their own selfish purposes, they enrage Chaos and it wipes out the tribe. Tikal, the lone survivor, begs the Master Emerald to stop Chaos, and is sealed inside the Master Emerald along with Chaos.
There are 6 different characters to choose from, and each one comes with its own set of moves, stages, and objectives. Sonic's story is by far the longest, and is focused on high-speed action, blazing through the stage as fast as humanly possibly (or in this case, hedgehog-ly possible?) and reaching the end of the stage. Tails' stages are similar, only this time you can fly round and you're also racing against Sonic to reach the goal before he does. Knuckles the Echidna can glide, climb walls and dig into the earth, all useful abilities for his goal of collecting the missing shards of the Master Emerald. Amy Rose is tasked with evading a large green robot in each of her stages, and can use her giant hammer to keep the bot at bay. E-102 Gamma, the rouge robot's stages are basically shooting galleries, where you destroy as many enemies as possible in order to free your compatriots from Eggman's control. Finally, there's Big the Cat, a huge purple cat looking for his best friend Froggy...by fishing for him. Yup, fishing. Needless to say, Big's stages are the least popular in the game, partly because they are so out of place in comparison to the fast pace of the game, partly because the fishing mechanic itself is broken and very frustrating, and partly because the character itself is very unpopular.
One of the things that made this game so fun was the sheer variety of different styles of gameplay. In addition to the 6 playable characters, there are also a large number of mini-games you can play. Everything from kart racing, to snowboard, to shooting down enemies from a plane, to playing pinball, there's even a whack-a-mole type game. The most involved mini-game, however, is the Chao gardens. Chao are cute little Pokemon-like creatures that you can train up by giving them various fruits and small animals and entering them in races. While it has no significance to the story, raising Chao is one of the most popular aspects of both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2. And if you're looking to complete this game 100%, you'll be spending a lot of time in the gardens raising up a perfect Chao. But more on that later.
Gameplay takes place in two different stages: Adventure stages and Action stages. Adventure stages act as a hub world, containing story events as well as the entrances to the Action stages. The Action stages are the levels themselves, where you defeat enemies, collect rings and complete the goal. Throughout the game, the characters will also receive various power-ups that allow them to perform new abilities and attacks. In fact, many of the abilities introduced in this game, such as the Homing Attack and the Light Speed Dash, have now become “modern” Sonic’s trademark abilities.
Sonic’s first foray into a truly 3D environment was a beautiful one. At the time, the Dreamcast’s cutting-edge graphics combined with the bright and colorful characters and realistic settings of the game won fans over. Needless to say, the graphics aren’t quite as impressive today, but the game still looks good, especially with the vastly improved frame rate of the digital and DX releases of the game. Combined with the awesomely composed soundtrack by Jun Senoue that combined funk, techno and rock and roll, the game has a style that’s all it’s own, and was like nothing else on the market at the time.
But, it’s not without its flaws. One of the most off-putting things about the graphics is the bizarre facial animations when the character are speaking, especially Sonic himself. It doesn't help matters that the English script and dubbing are way off-sync with the mouth animations. Since it was originally a Japanese game, you can’t really expect a one-to-one match on the lip-syncing, but they could have at least made an effort.
Once you complete all 6 characters’ stories, you can unlock the final story, where you play as the golden boy Super Sonic in one final face-off with Perfect Chaos. But that victory doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the game. In the re-released DX version, there is an entirely new mode of play: Mission Mode, which has your character exploring the Adventure and Action stages in order to complete various objectives. The missions are enjoyable, but can sometimes be a bit vague as to what you actually have to do.
There’s also emblem collecting, Each Action Stage has 3 emblems you can obtain: one for completing the stage successfully, one for beating the stage with a certain amount of rings, and one for completing the stage within a time limit. There are also emblems you can find in the Adventure Stages, emblems to earn in Mission Mode, and you can even earn emblems by winning the Chao races, which is why you’ll want to spend time raising up a winning Chao. In the DX version, collecting a certain number of emblems would unlock various full versions of classic Sonic games for the Game Gear, such as Sonic 2 and Sonic Triple Trouble. However, these extra games have been removed from later versions of the game. Altogether, there are 130 emblems to collect, and collecting all of them will earn you a nice reward: the ability to play as Metal Sonic. The downside is that Metal Sonic plays exactly the same way as Sonic, with no new abilities or story elements. Basically, you’re just playing as Sonic with a Metal Sonic skin over him, but at least it looks cool.
The Test of Time
I mentioned that, at the time, Sonic Adventure was considered one of the fastest and gorgeous games out there. But sadly, once the nostalgia blinders come off, there are a lot of problems that show just how poorly this game has aged. A wonky camera and spotty controls have always been a source of complaints in modern Sonic games, and this game is no exception. Ironically, it’s when Sonic is at his fastest that the game seems to control the worst, and during those moments, one wrong, slight little flick of the Control Stick can send our little blue pincushion careening into the abyss. (Though in all honesty, Adventure controls far better than some of the later Sonic titles.) And as I already mentioned before, the controls for Big’s levels in particular are extremely frustrating and borderline broken, and will definitely bring your fun to a screeching halt.
All of that being said, there’s still a reason this game is the best-selling Dreamcast of all time. It’s memorable, it’s got a style all it’s own and there is a lot of fun to be had with this game, despite its age and it’s flaws. If you’re a fan of 3D platformers, it’s definitely worth your time to “Open Your Heart” and check this game out. If you don’t have the original Dreamcast version, you can find the re-release Sonic Adventure DX on the Nintendo Gamecube. Sonic Adventure is also available via PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Steam.