Tracker’s SEGA Retrospectives #2: Sonic Adventure
Hello there, and welcome back to Tracker’s SEGA Retrospectives, where a 14 year old kid rambles on about old SEGA games and the like, in attempt to bring a unique spin on the whole “SEGA Retrospective” genre. Rather than bore you with a longer introduction such as last time, let’s dive straight in, shall we?
But a warning, as with last time strong language is ahead.
So anyway, onwards!
About the Sonic Adventure Series…
The SEGA Saturn was badly beaten in the market, and it was generally considered it was down to one major factor-it didn’t have a major Sonic game to call it’s own. The one it was supposed to get, Sonic Xtreme, got canned, Sonic 3D Flickies Island was just a port of the mediocre Mega Drive title 3D Blast, and Sonic R… was Sonic R. So things weren’t going well in the Sonic department. That being said, along with Xtreme, a prototype game had been developed for Saturn-this prototype was named Sonic World, and stuck on Sonic Jam as an extra. Well, Sonic World was actually the an engine test for a much bigger game-Sonic Adventure, for SEGA’s upcoming Dreamcast.
With the Dreamcast on the horizon, SEGA knew they couldn’t make the same mistakes they did with the Saturn, and so Sonic Adventure entered development in April 1997, with an aim of making bigger levels and worlds, in full 3D, whilst retaining the gameplay of the classics but keeping it fresh. In addition, this game acted as a massive tech demo for the Dreamcast, as it was set to be a launch title for the system, and damn, did it go well. In fact, it went well enough to spawn a sequel, and a remake!
But anyway, let’s get on with it.
Sonic’s first fully 3D Game!
A warning, this is a tad long. Hold on to your seats!
Sonic Adventure was a launch title for the SEGA Dreamcast, what would become SEGA’s final system, and damn, was it good. Although some people say it hasn’t aged well, others, such as myself, still maintain to this day it has silky smooth controls, fantastic graphics, and a phenomenal soundtrack to boot. It was released in Europe on October 14 1999, along with the Dreamcast-Japan got it a whole year earlier, however the original version contained quite a few glitches and oddities, such as a somewhat suggestive sign in the stage Casinopolis-therefore, similar to Daytona USA from last time, it was re-released as Sonic Adventure International Edition. True to the aims of the development team, it featured levels that ranged from short and easy 2 minute levels to 5 minute long, more expansive levels.
In short, the story ran like this-Dr. Robotnik releases an ancient god sealed in the Master Emerald, Chaos, from his shiny green prison to wreak havoc on the world. It just so happens that Chaos essentially eats Chaos Emeralds, hence his name, and with each emerald, he becomes stronger-getting all seven would cause him to become the god he once was. When Chaos 0, basically Chao’s weakest state, arrives in the city of Station Square to terrorise it’s inhabitants for no good reason, and the coppers prove just as useless as you’d expect them to be when fighting a god, a certain blue hedgehog drops down from the rooftops, and the game opens with a short battle between Sonic and his watery foe-on one hand, this sets the stage for an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, but being launched straight into battle leaves no time to become accustomed to the controls-a questionable move on SEGA’s behalf. Anyhow, Sonic eventually discovers Robotnik’s plot, and he and Tails set out to get the emeralds before Chaos turns them into a Sunday Roast and goes insane.
Also, a the name would suggest, the game took adventuring well and truly into account, offering the most open worlds in a Sonic game yet, even in the decidedly linear action stages, and incorporating the Adventure Field system, where you would have to travel across a vast set of overworlds in order to get to the next stage. These Adventure Fields received mixed reactions-on one hand, it was fun to have a free world to run around in, but it was somewhat irritating having to navigate areas like the Mystic Ruin’s maze-like jungle area just to reach a certain area, only to find out you’d forgotten a key or something and had to backtrack again.
It possessed silky smooth controls, as I’ve said, though this factor is somewhat arguable. From playing the Dreamcast version, I’ve noticed bizarrely that 50hz mode seems to control better than 60hz mode, as the slightly slower game speed gives you more control over the character you’re controlling. It’s a minor note, but one worth making. One aspect of the controls that is far from silky smooth, however, is the camera controls-or more the camera itself. Too often, the camera gets stuck in an area, or sticks against a wall and refuses to move no matter how hard you press the shoulder buttons on the DC’s controller-it’s a frustrating system, that puts a nasty dent in a brilliant game.
In addition to the obvious 3D gameplay environment, a brand new experience for Sonic, the game also introduced an A-Life system.
…wait, what the hell is an A-Life?
Well, the A-Life in this game take the form of Chao, cute little critters that you raise, and race and such. This feature is pretty decent, and is fully optional-although if you intend to 100% complete the game, Chao raising is essential. This is somewhat irritating, as Chao raising can become tedious fast-and this was just the first Adventure’s Chao system, because if you thought it was tedious here… just wait until the Sonic Adventure 2 Chao system.
A new roster of friends for Sonic was introduced for this game too. The already existing characters, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy and Eggman were given huge facelifts for the eve of the 21st century. For many people, these new designs were slanderous to the old ones-but that said, these complaints generally boil down to the infamous “baww green eyes!” argument, unfortunately. Sonic was redesigned with longer spikes, a more streamlined physique to reflect the the Dreamcast’s sleek new technology, a slightly different set of footwear, absolutely massive gloves, and of course green eyes. The other characters received similar changes-although for some reason Tails picked up a beer gut. Also, new characters were introduced, such as E-102 Gamma, and everyone’s favourite character of all time, Big the Cat, that brought the unique new gameplay of… fishing.
Speaking of which, Sonic Adventure’s gameplay was fast paced, and full of action. It kept the action-packed feel of the classics with genre defining style, packing all the loop-de-loops and crazy level designs of the classics, but rendering it in 3D, and making it even faster. However, despite maintaining the zany level designs of old, on the whole it went for a more realistic approach, basing places off of real-life areas-for example, old Mayan temples were used as the basis for the Lost World jungle temple. The real world locations had obviously been tweaked though, so Sonic could dash through them in the traditional Sonic sense. Each level feels varied in design, both aesthetically and gameplay wise too, making each stage a fresh experience.
However, some enjoyment is lost when you venture from Sonic’s story into the other character’s stories. Tails is effectively a clone of Sonic, but with flying and a different gimmick-you must beat Sonic, or in one case, Dr. Robotnik (newly nicknamed Dr. Eggman in this game-and this would later go on to form the controversial topic of the scientist’s name) to the goal. That said, Tails’ retain’s Sonic’s speedy gameplay for a fun experience-even if the AI’s difficulty in the races is pathetic to say the least. Knuckles’ gameplay involved finding 3 pieces of the shattered Master Emerald, by exploring every nook and cranny of the level-which whilst pretty fun the first time around, as it gives you a chance to explore levels properly, get’s somewhat old quite quick. That said, you have a radar to help locate the emeralds at least-and hey, at least it works, unlike in a certain sequel-but hey, we’ll come to that hurdle when we reach it. Amy’s gameplay involves running away from the E-Series robot Zero, who is so terrible in combat situations, he’s actually programmed to become invincible should you attack him to much, seeing as otherwise the daft git wouldn’t get a chance to move given how weak he is.
The two new characters, Gamma and Big, bring entirely different gameplay styles. Gamma is a shoot-em-up, although it’s fun value is somewhat marred by the time limit employed. The basic gist of Gamma is he’s an Eggman Robot gone good, and sets out to liberate his brothers of Dr. Robotnik’s control.
By shooting the ever-loving hell out of them.
…well alrighty then.
It’s a pretty standard shooter, and it works pretty darn well-despite being absolutely nothing like Sonic, it still achieves being pretty darn fun, regardless of the restrictive time limit-which can be extended by shooting objects anyhow. Gamma himself can actually accumulate a decent amount of speed, which makes his gameplay somewhat fast paced and action packed. Then, there’s Big.
Questions may have been raised with Gamma-for example, his gameplay is a shoot em up, for some reason. But Big’s gameplay mechanic was fishing.
Are you fucking kidding me!?
It jarred the pace set by the other characters, such as Sonic and Tails, into gameplay where you move the analog stick a bit to attract the attention of a frog. Big is also pretty hard to like as a character, seeing as he’s useless essentially, and if anything was put in the game as an advertisement for SEGA Bass Fishing. It’s pathetic, has no place in a Sonic game, and puts a giant dent in a damn good game.
Finally, beating every story unlocks Super Sonic’s story, which sees Chaos finally get all 7 emeralds, and become Perfect Chaos. Sonic goes Super Sonic, and proceeds to beat the shit out of Perfect Chaos whilst “Open Your Heart” from the magnificent Crush 40 plays in the background. It works pretty damn well as a final battle, but whenever you want to play the final battle, you have to go through Super Sonic’s story, along with it’s Adventure Field sections and lengthy amount of cutscenes, which can be a bit of a chore. Overall though, it’s a pretty epic finale to an epic game.
The game also boasted an awesome soundtrack in general, with instantly memorable tracks such as “Windy and Ripply,” and “Mechanical Resonance”, not to mention the legendary “Run Through the Speed Highway” (Up and Down and All Around!) forming one of the finest videogame soundtracks of all time-all headed by Crush 40 themselves.
In addition, each level has three targets, which beating unlocks more emblems. There are 180 emblems to collect, including ones hidden in Adventure Fields. It’s a nice feature to add replayability to the game, challenging you to collect 50 rings by the end of the level, or for Tails, beat an even faster Sonic. Who’s AI is still as moronic as ever, but the extra challenge is slightly evident. That said, this is only there for those who can really give a care, because you unlock absolutely nothing by collecting all 180 emblems, unless you’re playing the remake, in which case you unlock Metal Sonic in trial mode-which, being a Metal Sonic fanboy to no end, I find quite cool.
Overall, Sonic Adventure was a fantastic experience, and a perfect example of what the Dreamcast could do. It brought Sonic into full 3D in a way not even a certain Italian plumber could match. It’s still seen as one of the greatest Sonic games of all time, and it’s easy to see why-with a plethora of modes, replayability, stages, and characters, even if one of the said characters was a fucking embarrassment to Sonic’s history, Sonic Adventure is overall a timeless classic, and well worthy of being the first full 3D Sonic game.
Given it was a launch title, the game was a huge success, becoming one of the most popular Dreamcast games amongst it’s userbase. And as a result of it’s popularity, 2001 inevitably brought a sequel at the end of the Dreamcast’s lifespan.
Sonic Adventure 2
Rolling around at the speed of sound…
Released in Europe and Japan on Sonic’s 10th Anniversary, June 23rd 2001, Sonic Adventure 2 arrived towards the end of the Dreamcast’s lifespan, when it was becoming clear that SEGA’s console business was dying quickly. As such, they decided to give the Dreamcast one last hurrah, and set to work developing the final Sonic title for the system, ending the console’s life how they started it-with a 3D Sonic game.
Right from starting the game up, the first cutscene had you excited-Sonic, having been framed for a crime he didn’t commit, has been captured by the military, GUN, and is en route to Prison Island. Suddenly, he bursts out of the helicopter with ease, rips off a panel of the helicopter, using it as an emergency snowboard, and leaps off the copter, claiming he “likes running better.” Despite this notion, the game starts with a high speed snowboard down the diagonal roads of San Francisco-and it’s only the first 5 minutes of the game! Once off the board, Sonic controls similarly to how he does in SA1-although he has a few new moves to his arsenal, such as the somersault, and of course grinding. Because of the new grinding feature, SEGA struck a licensing deal with SOAP, a company that made shoes designed for grinding, and designed special “SOAP Shoes for Sonic”. As ridiculous as they may sound from name alone, the Soaps’ design was actually pretty darn cool, and gave Sonic a more modern look over his old sneakers-which were planned to be in the game, as evidenced by early screenshots, and the Trial Version of the game-in fact, even in the opening of the final version, Sonic still has his old shoes for a few seconds, before they suddenly change to his Soap Shoes.
Anyway, after making your way through the city, and also being killed by a building sized truck out to not only kill you, but wage war on the other vehicles lining the streets, then defeating a giant, heavily armed GUN mech, the real plot unravels-the conspirator responsible for framing Sonic is actually Shadow the Hedgehog, an artificial hedgehog created 50 years before the events of the game by Dr. Eggman’s grandfather, Gerald Robotnik. He’s out for revenge on Earth for the simple reason the GUN stormed his birthplace, the Space Colony ARK, and killed his best friend, Gerald’s niece Maria. He becomes allied with Dr. Eggman, and plans to collect the 7 Chaos Emeralds to power the Eclipse Cannon aboard the ARK, to destroy Earth entirely. As if that’s not a big enough problem for Sonic, Shadow can manipulate time and space using Chaos Control, a power granted through possession of a Chaos Emerald, is pretty darn fast, and is effectively a dark version of Sonic, effectively being Sonic’s “Shadow”. Shadow uses this power to teleport, and leave Sonic dazed enough to get sent back to Prison Island.
Suddenly, the scene changes entirely.
Knuckles the Echidna, and the newly introduced character Rouge the Bat, are bickering about who owns the Master Emerald, when it shatters thanks to Knuckles intervening when Eggman attempts to steal the emerald like back in Sonic 3. It then becomes a race between Knuckles and Rouge to collect the pieces of the emerald and get it back into a completed state. This leads into Knuckles’ gameplay, which, as in Adventure 1, involves collecting the 3 pieces of the Master Emerald. This is a lot harder here though, as I’ll explain later.
Finally, Tails is introduced as he flies to Prison Island to save Sonic, only to find Amy being stupid as usual, mistaking Shadow for Sonic in what would become the first in a long line of evidence that Amy needs fucking glasses. Tails has a short battle with Eggman, though this reveals another questionable factor about the game-whereas in Sonic Adventure 1, Tails blazed at high speeds akin to Sonic, here he’s… piloting a mech. Basically, this makes Tails this game’s Gamma, only remove the speedy elements of Gamma’s that made it a tad more sensible in a Sonic the Hedgehog game, and make it really damn slow. That said, he’s nowhere near as bad as Knuckles, and I suppose it adds some variety to the game… but eh.
In terms of gameplay and structure, the game is split into two different stories-Hero and Dark. Hero is compromised of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. Sonic’s gameplay is that of Adventure 1-make it to the goal as fast as possible, get a high score, and such. It’s one of the fastest Sonic experiences out there, and makes for an exceptionally fun game as far as Sonic games go. Grinding, the revised Spin Dash, the Light Dash, the Bounce Attack- all the moves in Sonic’s arsenal give a new way to play, and a damn fast one at that. Grinding especially gave a real burst of speed to the gameplay.
Tails’ gameplay is similar to that of Gamma in SA1, only as mentioned he feels slower and more clunky. The gameplay is less action-packed in comparison, and the stages drag on for longer, making these levels a slightly tedious process. That said, the level design is varied, and each level feels fresh and has a unique gimmick to keep things fresh. In addition, as with the other characters over the course of the game, Tails picks up upgrades that affect the power of his weapons, give him a hover ability, and other cool tweaks. That said, at the end of the day, Tails’ gameplay still doesn’t feel natural in a Sonic game, and further evidence that perhaps it was a bad idea to risk bringing variety to Sonic. Whilst I’m all for having some variety, it has to make sense in the context of Sonic-that is, running fast, collect rings, have some platforming, reach the goal. Tails’ gameplay ignores this, similar to how Big the Cat did in SA2’s predecessor-though that said, I can at least take some comfort in knowing the mech-shooting gameplay is nowhere near as bad as fucking fishing.
Finally, is Knuckles’ gameplay-and where the game effectively says “You want fun a Sonic game? Ha ha, fuck you.” It becomes slightly harder to love this game when you take this gameplay into account, because it’s so damn broken. It follows the same type of gameplay as the first Sonic Adventure-that is, collect 3 pieces of the Master Emerald. But it was fine in that game, why not here? Simple.
Because they tried too hard.
In an attempt to show off, I suppose, SEGA increased the size of Knuckles’ levels massively, giving large, expansive environments, perfect for exploration. It might sound good, but remember, the point of the Knuckles gameplay is to collect the Master Emerald pieces, not exploration. The larger environments made finding the location of the pieces a pain, especially in later levels such as Meteor Herd, and to make it worse, the radar used to locate them only detects a specific emerald shard at a time. So you could fly past a shard, just because you haven’t collected a certain one before it! This makes gameplay tedious, causes it to lack almost any fun, and becomes the one aspect of the game that you’ll be dreading-and the one aspect that stops me from loving this game as much as I wish I could.
The Dark story follows the exact same gameplay-all that is changed are characters, Sonic’s dark side counterpart being Shadow, Tails’ being Eggman, and Knuckles’ being Rouge. Of course, each side of the story has it’s own levels as well. In addition to this, it featured the A-Life system from SA1, the Chao Gardens once again, adding new features such as new types of Chao, and the Chao Kindergarten. However, in order for 100% completion, you HAD to raise the Chao, as the races held emblems, obviously required for said completion. This is slightly bothersome-especially considering the 100% bonus for this game is a neat 3D recreation of Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog on SEGA Mega Drive-so having no choice but to dedicate vast amounts of time to these A-Life is annoying at points.
The story of the game is actually something I hold in high regard, despite how strange it is for a kids-oriented franchise such as the Sonic the Hedgehog series. I detailed the opening points earlier, but throughout the story, Dr. Eggman blows up the moon, Prison Island and everyone on it get blown up, and Sonic and co. take a space shuttle hidden in a pyramid to the ARK. It may sound like random, cheesy Sonic fare, but in the Last Story, by which point Dr. Eggman has the power he needs to use the Eclipse Cannon to destory Earth, provides the darkest story in Sonic history, in which it is revealed 50 years before the game’s events, the ARK was stormed by the military in an attempt to shut down Project Shadow, a project deemed too dangerous. However, in the end, Shadow escaped the ARK, just as he saw his best friend from the ARK, the niece of Gerald Robotnik-the grandfather of Dr. Eggman-Maria get gunned down by GUN troops-hence Shadow’s emo-esque attitude throughout the game, and his constant muttering about Maria-all of which contributes to his status, in my eyes, as the whiny git of the game. Anyway, as Eggman powers up the Eclipse Cannon, all the emerald’s power does is play a recording of Gerald about to be executed. He reveals he had one last revenge plan, and begins sending the ARK hurtling to the Earth.
And so, cue Sonic and Knuckles failing to control the situation with the Master Emerald, Shadow fighting his prototype, a giant lizard, and said giant lizard having the colony shoved up it’s… yeah. But of course, this can only mean one thing-an epic battle is to take place. Realising Maria wanted humans to be happy, not to suffer at his hands, Shadow realises he’s screwed up quite a bit, and so helps Sonic by going Super alongside him to take down the FinalHazard, the aforementioned lizard with a space station for an arse. And that battle… is pathetic, in terms of difficulty. So, one short battle later, and Shadow ends up… dead. God, all that whining, and he’s finally dead-yay!
…of course then the bloody fangirls got him brought back for the next game. Fucking fangirls…
So basically, that’s Sonic Adventure 2. Not a bad game, but not an amazing one either. Although, I say that, and I frequently cite is as one of my favourites in the franchise, though perhaps that nostalgia-it’s remake WAS my first Sonic game, after all.
So in summary…
Sonic Adventure was a pretty swell series. It may have only lasted 2 games-3, counting it’s… pretty shit spiritual sequel Sonic 06-but those two games provided more than enough memories to cement it’s place in Sonic’s golden age. Obviously, they had flaws, but for the most part, it was solid, original, and looked nice to boot. For me personally, the series holds many fond memories, and I seriously recommend the games to any Sonic fan, without a doubt. In fact, both games are conveniently out on modern platforms now, so why not go and pick them up-they’re only about a fiver each, to my recollection.
Any fond memories of the series yourself? Why not let me know in the comments?
See you next time folks! I suppose I should go dream up some ideas for the next retrospective…