“GETTA LOAD OF THIS!”
Sonic Adventure is not a good game. It’s buggy, and its graphics are at times downright ugly. Its music doesn’t fit with the game’s content. The voice acting is atrocious and the gameplay, nearly broken. This game is an out and out failure, which is especially surprising, considering it spearheaded Sega’s efforts to support the Dreamcast when it launched. I’m utterly shocked that the game came out in the state it’s in. It originally released in Japan in December 1998, almost nine months removed from when it released in America in the following September! There was definitely time to polish this game and fix the bugs. Not only that, but the amount of time in between releases should have allowed for a decent translation of the script and good quality voice acting, but Sega didn’t seem to care. At times it feels like the game never went past the beta stages before it released.
Before I start discussing the specifics about why this game fails to fire on any of its cylinders, let me talk about the part I actually enjoyed. In short, it was pinball. The reason it’s in the game is completely asinine and the idea that it’s the game’s saving grace sounds silly, I know. The thing is, these pinball tables aren’t even that great. There’s the standard one that’s just about flicking the ball around and collecting cards to get points, and a second one which is all about playing the slots. They’re easily exploitable, to the point that getting the maximum limit of 999 rings is stupidly easy. However, both tables feature many references to Sega’s classic NiGHTS franchise, including one point where the jester from the series takes Sonic on a zero gravity tour of random outdoor environments somehow linked to the tables. Still, I had fun. It was the only point in the entire game that was having a good time.
Fail to do well in pinball and Sonic gets mercilessly dumped into the obligatory gigantic sewer level
This brings up one design choice that bothered me throughout the entire game: what the hell is with the level design? Thinking about the size of the level, and where the character is supposed to be compared to what’s shown on the outside, it’s just illogical. At one point during the game, I opened a level by giving a cardkey to an elevator in an office building. When I got out, everything changed. It was nighttime. I was suddenly outside, on the tops of skyscrapers! I was running on sections of a highway floating over an abyss, over a city! I was hanging onto helicopters for a free ride! Then, I went back down to the ground, where it was suddenly daytime. I ran through some sort of downtown section of a city. Enemy cop cars were chasing me and I could hit bells to get some rings. It honestly sounds like some sort of fever dream, and a perfect example how illogical the designs are.
Ever worse than the level design, is the story. It tries to be cinematic, but falls flat on its face. The game has ancient monsters, legends of untold power, the origin of the Master and Chaos Emeralds; subplots of redemption, breaking free, and finding one’s identity…the game acts like it’s the greatest story ever told. Except, it isn’t. The script is fifth grade-quality, the plot points are overly cliched and used too heavily. Whatever little morsel of sympathy the player has for the characters is obliterated by voice acting so bad, that they make junior high school plays look professional. Another thing that ruins the drama is what I’d like to call “unnecessary animation.” During cutscenes, characters will talk with exaggerated movements, and sometimes do things, like give a shrug, that have literally nothing to do what’s going on. Perhaps it’s trying to convey some attitude or something, but the technology isn’t there to back it up.
Knuckles has perhaps the worst voice actor in the game
That all could be more overlooked maybe, if the other elements of the game were good enough to make it seem like a minor complaint. However, the gameplay is just as bad. Whether it’s walking in the dull overworld or doing one of the missions, the game simply isn’t that fun. Things are generally okay playing as Sonic when he’s running in a straight line, but it’s pretty bad beyond that. The broken camera just makes things worse. But that’s not all. Having Knuckles and Tails fly around made me feel like I was about to break the game, because the Dreamcast couldn’t keep up with the rendering.
Then, there’s Big the Cat. Oh dear god, Big the Cat. His levels aren’t about running around or finding gems. Not nothing even close to that. They’re about fishing. Yes. FISHING. While fine on its own, fishing is just boring in a game like Sonic Adventure, which is supposed to be about speed, NOT sitting around waiting to catch the same frog half a dozen times. It’s a terrible idea.
So, yeah. Sonic Adventure is not a good game in any sense of the word. It has bad voice acting, a bad story, nearly broken controls, a broken camera, graphics that aren’t even nearly on par with other Dreamcast launch titles (SoulCalibur), terrible gameplay ideas, illogical level designs, an extremely unfitting soundtrack (we’re talking about songs that would fit an RPG, not a platformer), and quite a few characters I could care less about.
But it does have fun pinball, and it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever played. Oh, and the main theme is pretty good in a cheesy sort of way. Unfortunately, only one of these factors actually matters when playing a significant amount of this game. I think which one it is, is obvious.
Controls during the flying minigame are predictably bad
The Good: Pinball’s fun. The main theme “Open Your Heart” is a nice listen for fans of cheesy rock. Other than that…it functions as a game. Barely.
The Bad: The rest of the soundtrack isn’t bad, but it doesn’t fit with the game. The graphics aren’t completely terrible, but the character models really needed some work. They don’t have rendered mouths unless they talk and then there are those unnecessary animations…
The Ugly: The voice acting, most of the gameplay, the sound effects, the story, the level designs, the level-up system, and just about everything else. Fun fact: The voice of Big the Cat is also the same actor who voices Duke Nukem. That just makes things worse.