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Sonic Adventure is still the benchmark for 3D Sonic games

SonicThe transition from to 3D has always been tricky. This 2D to 3D lane shift has continued to follow hedgehog releases even into modern generations (right, Sonic Forces?) while the old rival mario continued to soar beyond the galaxies, becoming more comfortable with each release.

For Sonic, these transition issues were the case even at first; while Super Mario 64 Arriving fully formed and revolutionizing 3D gaming, the Blue Blur had some false starts. Cancellation of Sonic Xtreme on Sega Saturn, and what was essentially a 3D tech demo inside the compilation version Sonic jam weren’t exactly helpful in getting Sonic and his friends out of the 3D starting block at high speed. It wasn’t until 1998 Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast that Sega’s beloved mascot would finally go full 3D, introducing Sonic – and his fans – to an exciting new dimension.

Sonic Adventure was by no means a perfect game; the original Japanese release was rushed to hit stores just two days before Christmas, after all. But when I’ve returned to replay the game in recent years, even on its original hardware, it remains the benchmark for all 3D Sonic games – and one that future entries have simply never managed to match.

Let’s start with the CG intro of the game, which perfectly understood the mission to bring the hype. It presents us with a menacing new high-stakes threat in the form of Perfect Chaos. He teases us with quick shots of each character, including new arrivals and redesigns (Dr. Eggman has never looked meaner when the camera zooms in on him standing aboard the Egg Carrier with the wind blowing). blowing against his mustache). And he does it all as the chorus of Crush 40’s “Open Your Heart” officially established Sonic as a hedgehog who loves his rock music.

The Orca is unforgettable. Even today.

It was Sonic Team still in its heyday. Sonic co-creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima were firing on all cylinders, delivering a landmark game on new 128-bit hardware that was simply not possible before, taking the hedgehog’s signature speed to new heights. dizzying with unforgettable scenery; being chased by an orca on the Emerald Coast, snowboarding down a mountain to escape an avalanche, racing along a skyscraper on Speed ​​Highway and – heck – even a pinball mini-game that launches a Nights into Dreams cameo.

The promotional art for Sonic Adventure was definitely a vibe.

And those scenes wasted no time in taking you from one inspired show to the next, so tightly crafted that most could be walked through in two or three minutes. This was a glaring problem with later Sonic titles, which were guilty of repeating the same sequences until nausea, sometimes at the same level, which made it more frustrating when you lost all your lives and had to replay the level. from zero.

That’s not to say that running through these levels was trouble-free, as the developers always had to make do with a camera that could track Sonic without letting him get stuck in the scenery or, worse, fall through the level. . The new homing spin attack also had its quirks; you might not necessarily lock an enemy the way you intended, or you might end up circling them for an indefinite amount of time.

But when it worked, it was exactly the flow and rush you wanted from a 3D Sonic. Although linear, additional challenges (like completing stages with a certain number of rings or within a set time limit) offered replayability for players who wanted to get all 130 emblems in the game. After a few false starts, it seemed that Team Sonic had finally found their feet with Sonic Adventure.

You have to go (quite) fast.

Sonic Adventure 2 arguably had a more interesting ranking system, and for a while that convinced me it was the superior game. But, in retrospect, the focus on action meant it also lacked that titular “adventure” element. The middle sections of Sonic Adventure were great for picking up the pace and spoon-feeding you the game’s story, and while it’s not there for memorable storytelling, the missions have been cleverly cross-cut so that the new characters you encounter become playable – and then you would experience the story from their point of view. Special attention was even given to NPCs (not often given the time of day in Sonic titles), the most memorable of which involved a subplot where train staff in Station Square went on strike for better working conditions. How’s that for progressive politics in games?

The character stories themselves were also well balanced, in that Sonic was mostly the headliner, getting the lion’s share of levels (crazy to think he only featured in six of the 30 levels of SA2), while the other characters added variety, often covering the same levels but with different approaches and mechanics. Think Knuckles’ exploration-based hunt for pieces of the Master Emerald, or Amy’s slower platforming while being chased by a large robot. The ex-damsel in distress may have gotten a raw deal with just three tiers, but her arc was always a personal highlight, recasting her as a heroine for a cute little bird, while changing the heart of the robot under underlying E-102 Gamma. Plus, her theme song is so irresistibly sweet.

Leave Amy alone.

Of course, I can’t talk about Sonic Adventure without mentioning its total soundtrack, whether it’s each character’s distinct theme – from Knuckles’ hip-hop to Gamma’s soulful jazz piano fused with electro – or each of the levels, which followed Sonic 3’s pattern where each act had a different variation. But Jun Senoue’s rock sound eventually took center stage, and while most fans will say SA2’s “Live & Learn” is their favorite Crush 40 song, for me it’s always been “Open Your Heart” – maybe just because it was the first one that made such an impression.

The tragedy is that Sonic Adventure isn’t considered a classic compared to, say, Super Mario 64. According to Metacritic, it’s almost as poorly rated as Sonic ’06, which I have to wonder if nostalgia has completely clouded my judgement ? But after playing it again recently, no; I must declare that it is the children who are wrong.

These Metascores you find are not for the Dreamcast version, but for the ports based on Sonic Adventure DX (first released on GameCube). This supposed ‘Director’s Cut’ improved some things – like doubling the frame rate to 60fps, updating the character models to those used in SA2 without hand mitts, and letting you skip cutscenes – but it also inadvertently added a whole bunch of glitches and glitches that didn’t exist in the original Dreamcast release. For a more detailed breakdown of everything that went wrong in the DX ports, this Cybershell YouTube video comes highly recommended.

Look at the precious baby.

Compared to the furor over Nintendo’s failed initial N64 emulation for Ocarina of Time on its Nintendo Switch Online service, it’s almost criminal not to know more widely how Sega botched Sonic’s best 3D game for posterity. To get the true Sonic Adventure experience you have to play the Dreamcast version either on original hardware or through an emulation, although a bunch of mods on the PC version apparently restore the game as close to the original as possible. original.

If you manage to play Sonic Adventure in its original form, you’ll find that much of its charm and invention still holds. Especially compared to the dragging boredom and bloat that appeared in later entries in the series, where the hedgehog suffered an identity crisis, endured questionable design decisions, and just seemed to rest on past successes. .

Critics have long written off Sonic in 3D. Most of the excitement around the hedgehog these days has to do with its 2D releases; check out the excellent fan-developed Sonic Mania and Sonic Origins (although this could be the start of Sonic’s 2D decline…again). Although Sega is aiming for high marks for Sonic Frontiers, it remains to be seen if a Sonic 3D will cut it in 2022. From what we’ve seen so far, it seems Sega is backing the proverbial bad horse. I wish I had seen past investor calls where executives said they were aiming for “a satisfying 6/10,” though.

Wasn’t an entire town destroyed, Tails?

Who knows, the highly anticipated ‘open area’ gameplay might just be a game changer, and with Sonic Team’s Takashi Iizuka stating that his goal is for this new installment to lay the groundwork for future Sonic titles, I’m going to open my heart and j hope the team has lived and learned from the best. The developer, after all, wants the new game to be as influential as Sonic Adventure. All I can say is: good luck.