STAFF REVIEW of Sonic Adventure (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010.
by Stacy Code

Sonic Adventure Box art Back in the 1980's, when the Cold War was still good and frosty, there were two superpowers who battled for dominance of the globe. Neither of them are the intimidating figure that they were twenty years ago - but in the day, you chose a side and you were either for or against - you were Nintendo or you were Sega.

Nintendo was the dominant superpower, with the mascot figure of the red-and-blue-clad plumber. Sega, which (at the time) had the motto of "Sega does what Ninten-don't" and realized they needed a figurehead for the Sega brand. And so Sonic came to be - a blue-maned, speedy hedgehog that took advantage of cutting edge 16 bit processing power to tear up your screen, make your eyes twitch, and your hands cramp on the controller as you tried to keep up with the sheer over the top speed of the gameplay.

Fast forward to 1999. Eight years after we first met Sonic on the Sega Master System, Sega Dreamcast - a new, Playstation-killer hardware platform is out. And Sega's got a serious fight on its hands, too, because Nintendo 64 has been launched as well and there's a 3D, 64 bit version of that red suited plumber out there that everyone's playing. What's Sega to do?

Sonic Adventure takes the blue hedgehog and plunks him down into a fully 3D world that takes the original Sonic gameplay, and adds an element of exploration and puzzle solving to the original play mechanic - platform gaming with a generous amount of twitch reflexes, memorization and timing.

The game is a solid 3D translation of the original Sonic gameplay. You take control of Sonic, or several of his cast of characters (such as Miles "Tails" Prower, Amy Rose, Big the Cat, E-102 the robot, or Knuckles the Echidna) all unlockable by initially rescuing them within the game with Sonic. There are stages that feel like a solid 3D interpretation of the original Sonic games from his 2D side-scrolling days - a blisteringly fast racetrack of running, jumping, timing, and (of course) collecting rings.

Where the game initially falters is its clumsy incorporation of the 'adventure' part of the title. In between the big boss fights and the race-style levels, you are left in a large, three dimensional map to explore and figure out just where you have to go next to advance the game or find the next antagonist. There is an in-game navigational menu, but it's not terribly helpful and the in-game camera is frustrating (although you have the option of setting it to work manually from your right controller stick - but even under manual control it will still 'snap' to a preset point of view periodically).

The other critically frustrating point is that there is next to nothing within the game in the way of hints, indicators, or suggestions as to where you're suppose to go or what you're supposed to do. In the old days of 2D platformers, it was accepted as a given that you had to learn a level or a boss, get to know the lay of the land, the attack patterns of an opponent, and then you knew how to beat a level. 3D Sonic, when he showed up in Adventures, doesn't quite acknowledge that in the realm of three dimensions it's a lot easier to get lost or confused and that sometimes you need a point in the right direction.

When the gameplay is right with this game - the speedy race/chase segments, it's perfect, but when you're left to wander and stumble around a map trying to find your way or figure out where you're supposed to be, it can be bothersome.

One thing I will point out - the days of the 50 megabyte cap on the file size of Live Arcade titles is LONG gone. Sonic weighs in at a hefty 1.5 gigabytes, possibly the largest Live Arcade title I've ever downloaded. So if you're a gamer with an Arcade console and you're using an Xbox 360 memory unit, or if you're playing a classing Pro console with the 20 gigabyte hard drive, you might want to spring for an inexpensive USB flash key to store this game on, or free up a chunk of space on your hard drive.

In all, it was fun to revisit Sonic's big Dreamcast debut a decade later; the look and feel are still the same. The crisp, bright colors of the characters, the bad voice acting, that distinct Sega sound of the music (a loud Steve Vai guitar with crunchy riffs and solid drums), and the clean production values that marked a Sega game back in the day.

Sonic Adventure was the biggest selling Dreamcast title during the day of that platform, and it's plain to see why; it's a pretty game that takes that blistering 2D Sonic gameplay and sucessfully brings it into the world of 3D. If the exploration gameplay were less frustrating, I think we would have seen this game brought to present-day a lot sooner, or we would have seen our blue hedgehog friend showing up in a lot more games recently.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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