Gaming has a rich history that spans multiple decades. To this end, The Last Word on Gaming Backlog is a series that looks back on titles across all generations. From the golden 8-bit era to the landscape-changing 64-bit scene and beyond, The LWOG Backlog’s aim is history. This time, we take a look at a notable 1990s mascot’s true jump into 3D gameplay with the Sega Dreamcast launch title known as Sonic Adventure.
Sonic Adventure (Sega Dreamcast) – An Overview
Open Your Heart, It’s Gonna Be Alright
To say that the mid-to-late 1990s was an interesting period for the Sega Corporation would be an understatement. The company in question saw success with many of its 16-bit titles up until this point, chief among them Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, the latter of which utilized cutting-edge lock-on technology. However, Sega encountered commercial failures as well; the 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis and the company’s latest home console at the time, the Sega Saturn, fell far below expectations. However, the company had one more trick up its sleeve from a hardware standpoint: the Sega Dreamcast.
Though seen as a commercial failure in its own right, the Dreamcast gained a strong following among avid gamers. This was in no small part due to the console’s library. From arcade-style titles such as Crazy Taxi to fighting games including Marvel vs. Capcom to more experimental outings such as Shenmue, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Sonic the Hedgehog would find his way onto the new 3D console in a major way. Released in 1998 in Japan and the year after in North America and Europe, Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast was developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega.
The nefarious Doctor Robotnik is up to his old tricks. However, in his efforts to thwart Sonic the Hedgehog and take over the world, he learns about a mysterious being known as Chaos. Thousands of years ago, Chaos used the power of the Chaos Emeralds to wipe out a group of echidnas. Tikal, who previously bonded with Chaos, sealed it, along with herself, into the Master Emerald. Years later, Robotnik was able to break the Master Emerald, setting Chaos free. This new threat not only draws the attention of Sonic but his friends as well. Can they put an end to Robotnik’s ambitions and subdue Chaos once more?
Though the story of Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast initially focuses on “The Blue Blur” himself, it also follows the events of other characters. As the game progresses, the player can follow the stories of Miles “Tails” Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose, Big the Cat, and E-102 Gamma, the latter two characters debuting in Sonic Adventure. Granted, not all stories boast the same level of excitement, as we’ll discuss in detail shortly. Nonetheless, the game’s focus on multiple characters illustrates a greater level of scope than previous Sonic titles.
Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast is broken up into six different campaigns, each one focusing on a different character. From the get-go, the only available campaign is Sonic’s, which prioritizes blazing through levels at the character’s trademark speed and attacking enemies with spin dashes and homing attacks. Tails’ campaign focuses on flight and smart navigation. Knuckles can use his “emerald radar” to recover Master Emerald fragments, digging through terrain to do so. Amy must make her way through the end of different levels while avoiding capture by evil robot ZERO. Big’s goal is to find his friend, Froggy, by fishing and recovering him. Finally, E-102 must use his series of weapons to destroy targets at the end of each course.
As one can see, each campaign possesses a different type of gameplay. The Sonic series hasn’t been shy about experimentation, as evidenced by previous titles in the series including Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast. However, not all campaigns hit the mark. Sonic’s is arguably the best, playing very much like what one would expect from a 3D entry in the series, prioritizing speed and action. Meanwhile, other campaigns, Big’s being the most infamous, are seen as low points. In fact, if not for the fact that completing all character stories unlocks the true conclusion, many players won’t bother.
Sonic Adventure isn’t without its innovations to the franchise, though. Between courses, players can explore areas collectively under the Adventure Field umbrella. Adventure Field sections are open areas that players can freely explore, either to speak to civilians or find useful Level Up item upgrades. Outside of the main game, players can spend time in the Chao Gardens, which can be used to breed and raise Chao creatures; think Tamagotchi in the third dimension. This can be a fun diversion, especially when using the Dreamcast’s unique Visual Memory Unit memory cards to keep track of the little creatures.
Presentation (Graphics and Sound)
Upon its release on the Sega Dreamcast, Sonic Adventure showed what the console could do from a graphical standpoint. Simply put, it stood out, boasting not only solid graphics for the time but a rich color palette that’s part and parcel of the franchise. Granted, it’s not uncommon for the player to encounter the occasional glitch or camera issue, especially when moving through speedier sections. However, it can’t be denied that this title helped sell the value of the Dreamcast early in the console’s life.
As has been the case with many 3D entries in the series, Sonic Adventure boasts a solid soundtrack as well. Largely composed by Jun Senoue, who’s become closely tied to the Sonic series, the soundtrack in question hits various genres. For example, while many of the tracks for Sonic’s stages are energetic and fast-paced, Knuckles’ are smoother and more relaxed by comparison. Even the lyrical tracks, as cheesy as they may sound by today’s standards, possess a level of charm that makes them difficult not to enjoy.
With Sonic Adventure being broken up into 6 character stories, in addition to a finale, not to mention the aforementioned Chao Gardens, this is among the longest-lasting games on the Sega Dreamcast. Those that simply wish to complete the game and see the end credits may be able to do so within 10 hours or so. However, the Chao Gardens add substantial replayability, especially among those that are partial to digital pet applications. Simply put, the value that one receives from Sonic Adventure will vary from person to person.
The aforementioned technical issues aside, Sonic Adventure was largely positively received by gamers and critics alike. In addition to being one of the most important Sonic games, truly taking the franchise into the third dimension, many regard it as one of the best games in the franchise, period. This would lead to a sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, released in 2001, the same year the Dreamcast was shelved. Sonic Adventure 2 was released worldwide in June of that year; the Dreamcast would be discontinued the March prior, the primary reason being diminishing hardware sales.
In 2003, Sonic Adventure was ported to the Nintendo GameCube and PC under the title of Sonic Adventure DX. This version saw updated visuals, new missions, and unlockable Sonic Game Gear games. However, this version was less positively received, often regarded as a subpar port that not only did little to address problems with the original game but seemed poorly optimized for newer hardware. Despite its own shortcomings, the Sega Dreamcast for Sonic Adventure remains the definitive version to play.