Sonic Adventure Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Sep 27, 2010 08:23

Despite being a Dreamcast collector about five or six years back, I never got the chance to play the original Sonic Adventure so when this port was released I now had a legitimate work-related reason to play it. It was one of the Dreamcast’s launch titles about eleven years ago, offering 3D platforming with a variety of characters; it’s a formula many 3D Sonic games have since followed. So how does it hold up today? The good news is that the game’s content is quite fun and worth getting into... but the bad news is that this game has several technical problems that drag it down from being a timeless classic and instead make it just decent.

$10 USD/800 Microsoft Points nets you the main Sonic Adventure game (which this review is covering), and another $5/400 MSP gets the ’DX’ or Director’s Cut content (which this review won’t be discussing). The game itself has six characters, each with their own gimmick as they explore a 3D world: Sonic runs quickly and has homing jump attacks, while Tails can fly short distances. Knuckles can glide through the air and crawl along walls while searching for hidden emeralds, Amy is trying to elude a pursuit robot while swinging her big hammer around, E-101 is a robot with a hover-capable jet pack and homing missiles, and Big the Cat... fishes. If you’re thinking only five of those six sound much fun, you are absolutely right, but everyone except Big has a genuinely fun set of stages to play through.

The variety of stages in Sonic Adventure is probably its strongest point. While each character obviously plays very differently, some of them get special levels where you can do things like play a pinball minigame, snowboard, fly a plane through heavy anti-aircraft fire, and more. These are joined by conventional platforming stages where you run, jump, and collect stuff until you reach the end of the stage, but the special levels are sprinkled out well enough that they’re a refreshing and short break from the regular game. The only real problem with this premise is that you have to explore a 3D ’overworld’ to get to each stage, and while most of your destinations are easy to find there are a few that will have you saying "What? How was I supposed to find that without a walkthrough?" Fortunately as an eleven year old game, said walkthroughs are easily found to help you past the few rough spots.

While the main content of Sonic Adventure, its 3D platforming and wide cast of characters, are a lot of fun... they are bogged down in some serious problems. The most obvious of these is the camera, which loves to get stuck in objects, stage geometry, and so on; you can wind up having to ’play blind’ for a few seconds. It happens a lot, but mercifully it’s usually in areas where you’re in no serious danger and across several evenings of play-time I can only recall one camera-related death. The game’s physics are also pretty loose, and this is more of a problem; it’s entirely possible to walk up to an object that’s meant to launch you across the level and you instead fall through it, going out the bottom of the stage and dying. This would sink Sonic Adventure, but you get plenty of extra lives, such incidents are fairly rare (only twice in my play-through), and easily worked around once you know them; a tiny hop onto the spring may suffice if walking into it doesn’t.

That probably sounds like a lot of very serious complaints, and they are. If they were to happen more often and in more important places during play, they would definitely kill the game. As it is, they drag down what would have been a genuine classic into being merely decent yet mostly enjoyable instead. If you take anything away from this review, let it be that Sonic Adventure has significant technical problems and they are very annoying, but they usually don’t stop you from completing the game with reasonable effort. In other words, it’s a fun game that asks the player to tolerate some real flaws. I was willing to do so, but in all honesty you shouldn’t have to and the fact these problems exist a decade later shows this is a pretty straight-forward port.

Sonic Adventure’s presentation also deserves a mention. Visually, its in-stage graphics and CGI cutscenes looked amazing back in 1999 but they look pretty awful now. It’s easy to spot obvious blocky polygons in many characters and objects and the CGI is nothing amazing by today’s standards. The voice acting and sound effects match this; the best of them are tolerable, but the overwhelming majority of them delve into either ’so bad it is hilarious’ or ’so bad it hurts’. In contrast, the music is top-notch and covers a huge range of tones, though most of it focuses on ’energetic adventure’ similar to the Mario series.

Is it worth your time and money? The heart of Sonic Adventure, its varied cast and competent 3D platforming, is great. I got several hours of enjoyment out of it, but it was definitely punctuated by a lot of sighs as I struggled with the occasional physics bug, regularly had to wrestle with the camera, and even look up a walkthrough for a few spots where I genuinely had no idea what the game wanted me to do. If it cost much more than $10, I would definitely come down hard on it... but as it is, that $10/800 MSP buys you a good few evenings of fun and offers an interesting look back at the Dreamcast era. If you’re willing to live with the problems then you’ll have fun, but some people are rightly going to wonder why Sega did such a lazy port on this and why the ’DX’ content is launch-day DLC. One can only hope Sega will show any future Dreamcast ports to current systems more love and care, but this isn’t bad.

For more video game reviews on this and many others head to Game Rankings

Our Rating for Sonic Adventure Review (XBLA)
4.5 Replay
The world has several secrets to find, and an extra few stages to play if you complete every character’s quest. That depends on you being willing to slog through Big’s fishing stages; I passed on that.
3.0 Graphics
What was once jaw-dropping 3D and CGI now looks pretty blocky and low-res. That would be okay, but the camera seems purpose-built to get stuck in stage geometry and force you to wrestle with it to get to the good game underneath.
6.0 Sound
Basic but passable sound-effects are joined by some of the worst voice acting in a game to date. On the other hand, the soundtrack is absolutely incredible.
7.5 Gameplay
A fun and competent 3D platformer, but it demands patience as you put up with occasional glitches, frequent camera issues, and an annoying plot.
5.0 Multiplayer/Online Content
There are some neat hidden multiplayer ’mini-modes’, but they’re offline only and I would be surprised if anyone local takes you up on them a decade after this game’s 1999 release.
7.5 Overall
A fun 3D platformer struggles to rise above its various bugs and camera problems, and due to both its enjoyable content and low price point it succeeds. Nonetheless, Sonic Adventure is merely competent when it should have been a classic.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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