It was Christmas 1999, shortly after flying all the way out from the west coast to live with my dad in Chicago. Everything was covered under a thick blanket of snow, and I was on box five of... clothes. No kid likes getting clothes for Christmas, but that's all there was. Except for one, which had a copy of Sonic Adventure carefully placed on top of a sweater. I sheepishly explained that I couldn't play it because I didn't have a Dreamcast. "That's fine, we can take it back."
There was only one present left, large and boxy and wrapped in reflective red paper with a big green bow on the top. "Why don't you open it up for me?" Well alright, I do like tearing shit up so why not?
It was a Dreamcast. He got me. The son of a bitch got me.
Being terminally obsessed with Sonic was fine when all the games were coming out for a console I owned, but as the series shifted from the Genesis to the 32X, Saturn, and eventually Dreamcast, it felt like I could only enjoy the games by proxy, reading about them in magazines or occasionally getting to play them when I went over to a friend's house. It's for this very reason that Sonic CD gestated into the "perfect" Sonic game in my mind, not because it was (it's not) but because I was kept from it. When Sonic Adventure released in 1998, it was just more of the same... For about a year. Christmas 1999, that was the first time I had a new Sonic game in my hands since Sonic & Knuckles, and that felt significant.
If you asked me at the time what my favorite Sonic game was, no question it would be Sonic Adventure. That's because it was new and it was in three dee, and in my adolescent mind, being new simply meant something was better. That's not always the case, and on hindsight, Sonic Adventure is not my first, second, or even third choice when it comes to the question "what are the best Sonics?" Something one should ask if I'm ever hospitalized for a traumatic brain injury, you know, to make sure it's still me in there.
I have a lot I want to get into with this game, and I think the best place to start would be to break down each of Sonic Adventure's six playable characters and tell you what I like and what I don't like about them. Ok, number one:
big the cat is the most erotic character the series has ever ha
Sonic: The backbone of the Sonic Adventure, which every other gameplay style derives from in some way. Overall, I like Sonic's gameplay the most. It's the most polished and fleshed out by far, and takes you through the most levels, giving you a solid baseline for what Sonic Adventure is before tackling the other characters. Sonic also does some very interesting things with his mouth!
Unfortunately, Sonic's story will also give you an appreciation for how janky the game is. A lot of collision issues rear their head in later levels (Lost World especially), and the game's dogshit camera can make a few sections an absolute pain. The light speed dash is a very interesting mechanic that gets smoothed out in later games, but here it requires you to completely stop and charge it, which disrupts the flow of levels. That said, you can also break Sonic's stages in some really fun ways. Spindashing up the sharp incline near the end of Emerald Coast and using it to fling yourself past a large portion of the last act made child-me feel powerful, and it's become such a habitual part of playing the game that there's a whole chunk of that level which I have not seen since the early 2000s.
Tails: A mostly solid extension of Sonic's gameplay wherein you race Sonic through truncated versions of his levels. My only complaint here is that they're not challenging in the slightest bit and are arguably even easier than Sonic's stages thanks to the abundance of dash rings Tails can fly through. There's something to be said here about requiring the player to develop a keen understanding of the level layouts by playing Sonic's story first, but that is not at all a pre-requisite here, nor should it be given the demographic the game was designed for at the time. That's just something I - an old man who has played this game dozens of times - would like to see, if only so he can wring a little more out of the experience.
Knuckles: Well, the nicest thing I can say about this is the levels are shorter than they are in Sonic Adventure 2! I never liked emerald hunting. Nobody I knew at the time liked emerald hunting. There's so much you could do with Knuckles, and yet he's been saddled with this and Chaotix as his two breakout gameplay styles. To make matters worse, shortly after the Adventure series (I'd argue it even began in SA2) Knuckles' character devolved to the point of being an unfathomably huge dunce. Just dumb. Dog dumb. Quit disrespecting my son like this.
I love Zero's theme.
I think it perfectly fits into a genre of music that I've come to recognize as "murder robot music." Very buzzy, synthetic, and with this energy that is both weird and exaggerated in its aggression. Amy herself? Not a fan.
What if you played Sonic's levels but like, uh, really slow. No wait, hear me out, she can use a hammer! Well yeah, sure, it feels kinda wonky and it's not as fun to use as the homing attack, or Gamma's gun, or Tails' spin, or anything else in the game really -- but if you play her levels obsessively you might discover tech that makes her feel halfway as good as the other characters, and then you can go online and tell everyone they're just playing her wrong!
Kinda neat. Part of what makes Gamma's levels work, I think, is how short they are. Having to win time back by shooting enemies and creating combos gives this mode a decidedly arcadey feel, and I never felt like it overstayed its welcome. Boss battles are pretty unengaging, however, though they're really all about the emotional beat of freeing Gamma's friends. Gamma also has my favorite character theme
in the game, and E101 Mk.II
gets the best boss track in the game excluding Open Your Heart.
Big the Cat: There was a period of time where I was weirdly forgiving and perhaps even defensive of Big's gameplay. "You don't get it, it's all about subverting your expectations. Sometimes you gotta take it slow!" Stupid. Terrible opinion. I like Sega Bass Fishing as much as the next guy, but I don't see any reason why that kind of gameplay needs to be shoehorned into Sonic, especially not in this state. Even by the standards of other fishing games at the time, it just feels like junk. That said, Big fishing Froggy right out of Chaos 6 and implying that this happened concurrent with Sonic's battle against him is hilarious. That's canon, and it's one of my favorite moments in the game. I figure that justifies Big's existence.
Super Sonic: oh, spoilers, you can unlock Super Sonic by beating the other story modes. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry that I ruined this for you.
Although Sonic & Knuckles was the first game in the series to introduce a Super Sonic exclusive boss, Sonic Adventure is the entry that solidified it as a staple. Almost every mainline game after this has concluded in a triumphant battle between Super Sonic and the big bad, and this one opens in a way that is downright stark compared to the rest: Sonic straight up fails. Station Square is destroyed, there's probably a lot of dead people, dead drowned people, which is really one of the worst kinds of dead people! And it's all because Sonic decided to take a nap instead of tying up loose ends. Not that game dwells on this. As Tails says, "all's well that ends well!"
It's just a shame that the fight against Perfect Chaos is kinda crap. Super Sonic doesn't control well, and the ramps and debris leading up to Chaos create a lot of collision issues. The loop of rushing into Chaos with enough force to damage him is also fairly unengaging and lacking in the kind of dynamism the set piece calls for. There's a second phase here, and nothing about it feels deserved. At least Open Your Heart
is such a banger that you'll stay hyped up for half of the fight.
I've linked to a few songs throughout this review (apologies to future generations if those videos get pulled down and the URLs start linking to like, baby sensory videos or something), and that's because the soundtrack for Sonic Adventure
has stuck with me every bit as much as the Genesis games. Makes sense, considering a number of songs are repurposed
from Sonic 3D Blast
, effectively creating a throughline between Adventure
and the Genesis. Subsequent games would push further and further away from the jazzy and energetic sounds of Sonic Adventure
, eventually settling on more orchestral music, and now generic house trance that I find completely unmemorable and flaccid. Sonic Adventure
, though? Easily in my top three favorite Sonic soundtracks
I think the story also finds a perfect balance in tone. It takes itself just seriously enough, neither up its ass with melodrama in the way Frontiers or even Sonic 2006 are, while also being a far cry from the irreverent style of Sonic Lost World and Colors. There's a genuine attempt to provide each character with their own arc, with returning character's growing in ways that feel like a natural progression of how they were depicted in the 16-bit games. The way it treats its characters and world conveys a sense permanence, like it's just one part in an ever-growing continuity that cannot be wiped clean, returning everything to a squeaky-clean state by the next adventure. Of course, that's eventually what the series would degenerate into, to the point that things like Angel Island or Tails saving Station Square (which actually mattered at one point) are only ever invoked as hollow call backs, because the canon is tangled beyond redemption. Uhhh, I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that it's my favorite narrative in a Sonic game, which isn't saying much considering... Well, you know.
The A-Life system from Knights into Dreams also makes a return in the form of Chao. Throw those fuckers against a wall, crack 'em open, make them work for you. I'll talk more about them in my review for Sonic Adventure 2, because they serve more of a function there and are significantly fleshed out. In Sonic Adventure, they're largely superfluous and easy to ignore because the emblems don't matter (not that it ever stopped me from collecting them all.) I'm also so far removed from the era of putting Chaos onto my VMU and taking them around with me to really talk about it. I just want to acknowledge that they're here, because some people are waaay into Chao. I'm not one of them, but I also feel that when people talk about Chao, they're not talking about Chao in Sonic Adventure Number One.
I knew I was going to write a lot about this game before I even knew what I was going to say about it. There was a long stretch of time where continued replays made me like it less and less. "This has aged," or rather I have aged, as tends to be the case with that sort of rhetoric. "This was never good. Even at the time, there were far more competent platformers." Yes, what a salient point you made, edgy-19-year-old me. What a smart boy you are. Counterpoint: it doesn't matter. I see all the flaws, I see the rough edges, I see Sonic vibrating atop that stone snake in Lost World, and I just don't care. I like Sonic Adventure, maybe not as much as I once did, but enough that to pretend I don't would be a lie. Perhaps a lot of my love comes from that Christmas morning, remembering how much I lit up to see a new Sonic game and still being able to feel something about that.
And that's ok. There is nothing wrong with that. My love for this series is gone, but I can always go back to the classics and remind myself what sparked that feeling in the first place, and that's
the uncontrollable need to get vored by big the c