The Dreamcast is the recipient of many rose-tinted remarks in the modern industry. Taken down in it’s prime though it may have been, there is no denying that on a technical level the system was an inferior console to it’s peers, the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox. The two-year head-start on the former and eventual best-seller of it’s time may have given the Dreamcast a fighting chance, but in hindsight it was surely always set to crumble under the might of Sony Computer Entertainment’s hefty market clout. Despite its shortcomings however, the Dreamcast did provide some truly original videogame concepts, and among the more commonly revered Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur and Shenmue, Sonic Adventure set a standard for the spiny mammal that has since been equalled only once.
The fact that that equal is none other than it’s own successor, Sonic Adventure 2, may well say more about the current state of Sonic Team than the industry it works in, but with a return to the 2D roots promised from the forthcoming Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1, Sonic Adventure could well represent the pinnacle of Sonic’s 3D endeavours. That – even eleven years after release – Sonic Adventure remains the template for Sonic’s 3D outing proves just how far ahead of their own game SEGA were at the launch of the Dreamcast. However, that’s not to say the formula hasn’t aged, and the likes of Super Mario Sunshine – despite many player’s misgivings – have undoubtedly renovated 3D Platform games beyond the limits of the blue hedgehog, resulting in Sonic Adventure playing as a distinctly dated yet endearing experience.
Five characters are available from the start, each with their own adventure of varying length. Sonic is of course the star of the show, with the lengthiest campaign, but even his storyline can be completed in an evening by hardened players. Others, though just as intensive in terms of variety and depth, can offer as little as three levels, and are clearly designed to serve as a compliment to Sonic’s campaign.
The game has obviously taken inspiration from Nintendo’s pioneering Super Mario 64, but has tailored the experience to better suit Sonic’s unique abilities. A hub world exists, but rather than the expansive reaches of the Princess’ castle in the aforementioned plumber’s first 3D outing, the three different territories (Station Square, City Hall and Emerald Park) each give way to smaller environments holding challenges. The challenges come under five different labels: Action Stages, Running Stages, Escaping the Hunter, Catch the Power Ring and Adventure Fields, each of which provides a different type of gameplay.
The Action Stages are what has now become the traditional 3D Sonic The Hedgehog experience, featuring flowing high-speed runs and demanding quick reflexes. The levels are mostly of immaculate design; rarely will the player feel that an unfair approach to difficult has been observed, with failure wholly their own. Such well-defined design however only lends further credence to the question as to why Sonic Team hasn’t yet been able to replicate the formula on current-generation hardware.
Players can extend the experience with the Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut downloadable content, which essentially repositions the game as a conversion of the GameCube release. Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut features an all-new Mission Mode, which offers sixty missions throughout the original stages.
Sonic Adventure’s graphics are respectable, though have obviously dated. Failing to stand-up to modern Xbox LIVE Arcade releases such as Monday Night Combat and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the majority of backgrounds during Action Stages are lifeless, though the play areas are benefit to much greater attention. During cut-scenes, which use the in-game models, the animation of some characters is near comical thanks to the significant strides made by videogames in recent years, but for some this could well be part of the nostalgic charm.
As the first of SEGA’s Dreamcast classics to be released via the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 digital distribution services, Sonic Adventure set a precedent that few titles will be able to match. Though it may not provide the same duration as more modern Platform games nor benefit from the same technical accomplishment, Sonic Adventure created a more compelling experience on SEGA’s less capable hardware than many of it’s contemporaries have accomplished a full generation later. On Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it stands aside SEGA Mega-Drive Ultimate Collection’s original Sonic The Hedgehog trilogy as the best Sonic experiences the consoles currently offer.