Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut

Video Game Review: Sonic Adventure DX for Gamecube
By Noah Diekemper

Sonic the Hedgehog’s first true 3D adventure came embellished with a cast redesign, a complex (and at times convoluted), voice-acted plot, and a new level design philosophy meant to transform the many paths and locations of Sonic’s 2D journeys into worlds.

Though the transition from 2D to 3D began with the doomed Saturn’s Sonic R, a racing game featuring courses that played like levels and tracks far more sophisticated and inventive than any other “racing” game, Adventure is the first to introduce true, point-a-to-point-b levels, occasional bosses, and all the other things that define a game, with a far more radical departure from Sonic’s roots than Sonic R dared take.

Still, many superficial elements are retained, and some make the leap beautifully. Sonic’s smooth, animate, and vocal model serves as a natural successor to his silent and charmingly vibrant 16-bit incarnation. The lone, vertical poles, sporting blue orbs atop them, which served as checkpoints in the past are transformed into mirroring poles, bent at a right angle to form a gateway for Sonic; a succinct example of one of the design crew’s more graceful redesigns. The catchy, energized chiptunes of past games are replaced with a high-audio quality, extremely modern soundtrack.

Other elements, however, suffer. The badniks, still on scale, both size- and number-wise, with Sonic, are dwarfed by the expansive world and dual axes of space to traverse. The Final Egg’s conveyor belts and saw blades, a clear homage to Sonic 1’s Scrap Brain, are alright, but unchallenging. The camera, always functional in the past, is overwhelmed by the 3D and is frequently unhelpful. The bosses are all but laughably easy.

The gist of the game, however, is New: compensating for the shortcomings of reimagination are the wonders of pure imagination. An adventure field for respite and exploration in between levels, like the labyrinthine forest in the Mystic Ruins. Upgrades that grant characters (and thus players) new abilities, like the light speed shoes, which allow Sonic to zip along a path of rings, even in mid air, at light speed. A new character, E-102 g, a robot whose gameplay revolves around blasting badniks with a laser gun.

Even the opening is fresh and startling. Sonic chases police cars in the middle of the night through a towering modern metropolis to a stately, old-fashioned town hall where a monster has appeared, and thus begins his first boss battle. The player then learns that the bipedal water creature – “Chaos, the god of destruction” – has been summoned by Robotnik to collect the seven chaos emeralds for him and allow him to rule the world.

From such classically simple beginnings launches a multi-tiered story, viewed separately and at times substantially differently through the eyes of Sonic and five other playable characters, Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose, Big the Cat, and E-102g, the robot, as they, Robotnik, Chaos, and a few others fun around Station Square, a seaside, skyscraper-laden city, Mystic Ruins, a wilderness peppered with ancient temples and mechanical bases, and the Egg Carrier, Robotnik’s massive, floating battleship from which he was to rule his empire (until Sonic and company crashed it, after which point in floats plaintively in the ocean), in a sort Caucus Race hunting for chaos emeralds, shards of the master emerald, &c (to each his own), which constitutes a quick-paced, almost Greek-like plot style ends in a nice denouement.

Each character, to supplement their different version of story, has a different play style all to themself. Sonic runs fast, gets rings, and jumps around a whole lot. These levels are many and awesome; huge worlds to explore, packed with bonuses, hidden ring caches, shortcuts, and creative scenes, though hampered by the occasional cinematic gameplay, during which the player does little to nothing.

Tails runs, flies, and races (mostly Sonic, though occasionally another); his style is much like Sonic, but with a sort of time limit. Knuckles glides, digs, and hunts for shards of the master emerald, which was shattered and released Chaos as the driving event in the game, even though, in a massive storytelling blunder, we never learn why (Knuckles himself was sleeping at the time). Amy runs (somewhat slowly) and dodges a pursuing robot (E-100 “Zero” a). Gamma shoots badniks to extend a time limit (more badniks shot in a single blast(k) = more time) and hunts for…well, it’s fun and awesome. This leaves Big the Cat.

While Sonic, Tails, and Gamma are fantastic, and Amy and Knuckles are palatable, Big is downright awful. On every level. He’s a cat: a big cat, as the name so subtly implies. A huge one, striped and purple, who ambles slowly and leisurely any- and every-where. Right here is our first problem: no Sonic game should ever feature a slow-moving, playable character. But it doesn’t stop there: his voice is an annoying, bibulous drawl with all the eloquence of a kindergartener. He spends his life fishing, and thus, so will you.

The fishing is broken. From casting to catching, baiting to waiting, reeling in fish to reeling in agony. Every aspect of this is fundamentally broken. On beginning missions, you must catch Big’s “friend” Froggy (a non-anthropomorphic frog), presumably by tricking him with the prospect of a tasty meal and then yanking a sharp barbed hook around in his mouth.

First you have to move Big’s slow, painfully inertial mass around to find the frog. Then, the casting is fickle, frequently just not working. Once you get a hit (the only simple part), you have to reel him in – but there’s a catch. There’s a pressure meter, which, is it exceeds its limit, will snap the line and kill you. Actively reeling will necessarily raise the frequently, almost-full-anyway (because, naturally, due to Froggy’s frantic efforts to escape) bar, making the act of actually doing anything near impossible.

In later missions, though, you will have to first catch fish of significant (1000g, 2000g) mass. This is awful, for a number of reasons. First, you have no way of knowing beforehand which fish might fit the bill – you could be stuck for an hour catching inferior fish before you land the right one. Then, once you’ve got a hit, you have to either reel it in or die – there’s no way to cut the line. And these fish are strong enough that frequently, they’ll swim and the bar will hit all but maximum – they’ll be swimming away and there will be nothing you can do about it.

Storywise, he’s a burden. He does nothing to the story except drag it down – not a thing depends on his existence, or lack thereof.

Apart from these characters, there are a number of other gameplay styles snuck in periodically, like snowboarding, kart racing, and rail shooting in Tail’s biplane, the Tornado. For their use, they’re surprisingly well developed. All feature solid gameplay cores and work well; some even take on extra layers of complexity for depth and enjoyment: the snowboarding features ramps to launch off and gates to pass through and rack up high scores. It’s too bad more wasn’t done with them, especially the kart racing.

How is all this rendered, then? Amazingly. Nowadays, Sonic games are derided for their frequent ploys of stellar cutscenes luring pedestrians into moneygrabbing shovelware featuring lackluster gameplay displayed with even more lackluster graphics (though less so since Sonic Unleashed came out). Adventure seems to have an almost allergic reaction to such a design philosophy; while the cutscenes are painfully bad in models and animation, the in-game characters, enemies, locale, and backgrounds are crisp, colorful, smooth, detailed, fanciful, and fantastical. Boy, those Sega artists know how to create some really sweet clouds.

The music for this game is simply amazing, and features quite a variety of style, too. Fast instrumental rock overtones many stages, lyrical rock provides the basis for many character themes, special game events play slower, more moving pieces, and jazzy techno fills in the gaps.

Now, unfortunately, there are a couple of other sticking points to deal with. While the sonic levels are amazing, there are a number of places where fudge programming allot for numerous glitches; while experienced players can simply avoid them 99% of the time, these are a source of complaints for some.

There was also introduced in this game a Chao Garden. Chao (also introduced) are cute little artificial pets (Tamagotchi) that your characters raise to compete in races by bringing in animals collected from destroyed badniks and buying fruit in the Chao Black Market, purchased with rings banked at the end of every stage. All in all, while not as painful as Big’s sections, the fact that the tedious, repetitive, mind-numbing, seemingly eternal raising of these little filii nulli is required to collect emblems and complete the game is inexcusable.

In addition to all this, there’s also a collection of twelve – twelve – Game Gear games, previous handheld Sonic titles, that you unlock along the way. Cumbersome to find and play on a losing system that burned through batteries, the player now has easy access to many great, obscure Sonic games (and a few sub-par ones). It’s surprising that this wasn’t played up more, as this alone is easily worth owning the game for.

There’s also a mission mode, in which each character runs around the Adventure field and action stages collecting emblem-shaped “missions,” which tell a character to do something, and then doing it. This mode is somewhat lacking in design sophistication, and I think a mode of simple action stages bound with given missions (Don’t get hit! Beat 15 badniks! &c.) would have been more enjoyable and preferable to running around aimlessly in search of mission markers.

Summary: Overall, this game is an absolute blast, bursting with quality on every level and packed with countless flavors and styles of fun. Years later, I was still discovering awesome secret paths or hidden bonuses. This game is a must-own for any Sonic or Nintendo fan, and sets a standard for the definitive 3D Sonic experience.
Rating: 9.1/10

Revewier’s Completion: All stories completed; 5/5 Chao races won; 130/130 emblems collected; 60/60 missions completed; 30/30 secret “emblems” collected

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