9/9/09: What Sonic Adventure Still Means To Us

9/9/09: What Sonic Adventure Still Means To Us

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Ten years ago, Sega made their last stand in the gaming hardware market and launched the Dreamcast to a furore of positive media and rabid impulse sales. Released day and date with the console was the big comeback of the company’s blue, cool mascot – a game that was the last true product of the Sonic Team Old Guard. Sonic Adventure’s release on 9/9/99 was important, not only to sustain any sort of success for the Dreamcast, but because of the positive revitalisation of the franchise that it introduced too. Even today, it remains the best example of a Sonic the Hedgehog game in a true 3D space.

In terms of storyline, it was the perfect balance between the somewhat non-committal plotlines of the original Mega Drive classics and cutscene-heavy stories that slowly plagued the Sonic game series after SA1’s release. There were plenty of scenes to sit through, yeah, but they were largely inoffensive affairs. An event happens, Sonic goes to investigate, turns out Eggman/Robotnik’s behind it all, get the Chaos Emeralds before he does. That’s about the depth of Sonic Adventure, and that’s how deep it really should be. Keep the fight to a continuous struggle between a wannabe dictator bent on polluting the world and a small group of larger-than-life woodland creatures.

pre_004Of course, there’s the history of the Echidna race and the origins of Chaos that start to drag on after a while, but the game’s design and approach was charming enough to let you sit through it. Many Sonic titles since have taken the story-based play too heavily, throwing a cutscene after every stage, boss or event that follows almost the exact same traits of SA1. Right down to the ‘ultimate doomsday monster’ in the Final chapter that threatens the world beyond Robotnik. Even Sonic Unleashed, which had a relatively light-hearted approach, chose to bog the player down in tedious scenes and pointless dialogue.

So Sonic Adventure stands the test of time in terms of storyline, but what about design? The truth is, the blue hog’s first outing on the 128-bit console stands to be the most creative in the last ten years. Iconic level themes were reborn into 3D, with colours and graphical effects that really made you feel you were inside a Sonic the Hedgehog game. Emerald Coast gave us luscious sandy beaches, bright blue seas and fantastic loops to play around in. Windy Valley’s final segment was a fabulous rush of speed, wherein gliding around twisty corners and bends felt so natural on the Dreamcast’s analogue stick. Final Egg is still one of the best examples of a final zone yet, 3D or otherwise, and nothing needs to be said about how awesome Twinkle Park and Speed Highway are.

It was the eclectic mix of fabulous imaginative architecture, bounding robotic animals (alas, Sonic Adventure was the last Sonic title to have true ‘badniks’ that were both unique and relevant to their respective environment) and excellent level design that truly made Sonic Adventure a step ahead of the platforming game when it was released in 1999. And today, the feel of these levels more than rival anything played on a Sonic game since.

The design of the Action Stages were in fact rather clever – rather than giving players a true sense of freedom with branching pathways and different routes, SA1 was more linear than gamers realised. What Sonic Team did instead was become more aware of the space being given to users; many stages looped around themselves or had you double-backing (despite you technically always heading forwards to your goal), several optional platforms around the same area would make themselves available if you were going fast enough or achieving a certain condition (such as running up the building walls in Speed Highway), and a lot of platform negotiation was required besides your speed.

pre_007In fact, this last point is perhaps one of the key elements to Sonic Adventure’s success. Sonic the Hedgehog, as a character and in his nature, is exceptionally fast. Too fast, naturally, for the player to handle. Sonic Unleashed was proof of this. But as a game concept from a developer’s point of view, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a physics based platformer. Speed is but a symptom of the ‘rolling ball’ physics, not an overriding factor. Sonic Team understood this, all the way until Sonic Adventure where it was perhaps the last game in the franchise to focus just as much as platforming and inertia as it was about going hella fast.

Wrapping up the package for eager Sonic fans on the 9th September was the awesome score, headed by Jun Senoue and featuring jazz rock, slap bass and a hearty amount of keyboard synth pop. Hearing all of the instruments come together to produce a sound as endearing as “Windy and Ripply” brings a sense of contentment when playing the game, and that’s not to mention the sheer heart-filling sensation you get when you listen to these tracks on their own with headphones on. Soaking in the audio masterpieces made in this game is a truly great thing to experience.

So many other things helped make Sonic Adventure the fantastic game that it still is today, like online challenges, Chao raising (which, despite it being a bit more rudimentary, felt a lot more approachable and less pressured than in Sonic Adventure 2) and optional challenges. About the only black spot you could probably put against the game was the required completion of all characters to truly unlock the final story, and the fact that the story progression allowed itself to be replicated in future Sonic games ad nauseum (but that’s more down to Sonic Team’s lack of ideas since 2002 rather than a bad mark against SA1 itself).

With the Dreamcast’s North American 10th Anniversary taking place today, consider this article as a love letter to the little white box that could, but ultimately didn’t. With a truckload of games that easily gave the Dreamcast its own unique identity (Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Virtua Fighter), for Sonic fans it will always be Sonic Adventure that defined the console, from the starting blocks to the finish line. And with news today that Sega are going back to the 2D drawing board, it’s worth noting of Sonic Team’s troubles in creating a truly successful and engrossing Sonic title in a 3D space. All we have to say is, guys, you had it closest the very first time.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Sega Dreamcast. Celebrate with us and break out that old copy of Sonic Adventure, and experience a fantastic run through Windy Valley with us all over again.

Published by

Dreadknux

Founder of The Sonic Stadium and creator/co-organiser of the Summer of Sonic convention. Loves talking about Sonic the Hedgehog in his spare time. Likes Sonic Colours a little too much for his own good, apparently.

30 Comments

  1. I’m playing it right now, on an empty data file! Truly is a great game. Don’t agree with one or two points in this article but still all fair points. I still have a burning dream to work with Sonic Team one day and create the Sonic game to really bring the glory back. If you believe in your creations enough, then you won’t be afraid to make them and their world as real as you can to their audience. The games over the last few years have been going from one extreme to the other, either taking Sonic and basically putting him on Earth, or being super-cartoony about the whole thing… and then Sonic Unleashed hit the balance in all the wrong ways… by putting a cartoony Sonic in a cartoony planet that only barely derived from Earth and made use of a bunch of tired stereotypes. For me it’s about taking those worlds in the retro titles and the likes of the Sonic Adventure series and making THOSE real. That’s the way I feel the Sonic games need to go. Mario’s been doing a fine job of it ever since Super Mario 64. Why can’t Sonic?

  2. Great piece of writing Dread. I’ll never be able to write something as inspiring as this about a video game. I’m sure as hell gonna keep on trying but the lack of advanced education on the matter probably doesn’t help 😀 Here’s a man who still gets ‘it’. If Sonic Team can collectively put ‘it’ back into this new Sonic game we’ll be onto a winner. However, I’m still worried that the team will bog the finished product down with extensive fan service that will get in the way of any creative input.

  3. I seriously don’t get why this hasn’t crossed peoples minds, but the Dreamcast’s REAL 10th anniversary was LAST YEAR. It was released in Japan in 1998.

  4. Still is a great game, and I just replayed the Dreamcast version just for today, as an occasion of the 10th Anniversary of Dreamcast. Sure wished I could get me some more games, what with me only buying the console a few months ago.

  5. I never owned a SEGA Dreamcast so I know very little about the VMA and online challenges. I do, however, own a NGC and a Copy of the Director’s Cut. Very fun game. Too bad the glitches ruin stage 8.

  6. ZOMG, I thought I lost my VMUs, I’m gonna play Sonic Adventure now, (like everyone else is probably gonna do)

  7. After Sonic 3 and Knuckles there weren’t any good Sonic games for a few years. 3D blast and R were less than fun. Jam wasn’t really anything new. Chaotix had too many glitches to get through the game. Underground was weird. the only thing keeping my faith in the hedgehog was the awesome Archie comics, until one day, bum bum BUMMMMMMM!!!! Complete pay off when SOnic Adventure came out. Finally an amazing new adventure with state of the art technology and graphics. All our favorites were back, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles … that’s it. Great game, great fun, tons of replay ability. The Hedgehog was back to stay, happiest time of my life.

  8. Sonic Adventure… Truly a giant in the franchise…

    But I disagree with one aspect of the article. I mean, what’s wrong with a little extra storyline? Sonic needs a reason to be fighting off robots after all.

  9. I loved this game in the day and though playing the game today reveals it as more of a good game rather than a great game this is still one of the most memorable pieces of Dreamcast software ever written. Music was great as you have stated (though the rap was hard to swallow) the music blended old-skool music with a sense of modern tunes to create a fresh pot of awesomeness. Sonic (and to a lesser extend Tails) were great fun to play as. The other characters were not (nuff said).

    Other issues aside (cough camera) I’ll still plug in this game from time to time and dream of when the next Sonic game to rock the game industry will arrive.

  10. Open Your Heart
    It will be Alright
    Keep on moving
    And just sit back tight

    Now you got a trio
    of Sonic talent to your mind
    SA1, Sonic Shuffle
    and SA2 close behind

    It’s what we know
    It’s what we do
    Can’t you see?
    So…

    Open Your Heart It’s Gonna be Alright, yeah!
    Open your Heart!!!!

  11. Such a cool article Dread, =O. I’m just now shutting off Valkyria Chronicles to bust out some Sonic Adventure now because of this, ^_^.

    I still gotta say that I like SA2 more (being my first truly 3D Sonic game may be the sway point here, XD), but you threw some pretty great points to make me realize how much I still love SA. I haven’t played the game since 2006 probably, and I’m honestly a little excited to bust it out again. Only if I could find my memory card for my Gamecube, >=.

    -Blur

  12. Great game. I saw the Japanese version a few months before the english version came out… my jaw dropped.
    My fav lil hedgehog who jumps and collects rings in 2d stages is now 3d.. complete with story, voice acting and stunning visuals.
    Words can’t express how I felt when I saw the games opening.. it was just so Sonic.

    Played through it completely twice without saving, then many many times after that.

    Easily the best 3d Sonic out there.. (shame about the slow downed sequel 🙁 )

    Its in my top 5 games of all time

  13. Sonic Adventure: DX Director’s Cut is still (and will be) my favourite game of all time for quite a number of reasons (storyline, levels, music, ect…) but, other than those, it was actually my first Sonic game and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the intro. (Although seeing Sonic and Chaos in the front cover had me interested already.) I think SA (and SA:DX) got a lot of people hooked on Sonic (like me! ^-^) and kept long-time fans interested and pleased. All in all, happy anniversary Sonic Adventure! ♡ *Open Your Heart begins playing* ☆

  14. SA1 is definently my favorite 3D sonic game of all!Just seeing sonic for the first time in 3D made me tingle with excitement.

  15. It doen’t matter now what happen i will never give up the fight. There is no way I will run away from all of my frights. Long as the voice inside me say go I will always keep on runnin! There is no way to stop me from goin to the very top. It doesn’t matter who is wrong or who is right.

  16. sonic adventure was a hell of a game.
    i am playing all the good sonic games (and i put unleashed to it also)
    since i saw the needlemouse project trailer.

  17. THANK YOU FOR THE GAMECUBE REMAKES & the found childhood memories of the dreamcast demos at the mall.

  18. lol the cutscenes were the best

    “LOOK OUT YOUR GONNA CRASH ARRGH” * at this point sonics mouth was bigger than his actual face

  19. Sonic Adventure 1&2
    Shenmue
    Jet Set Radio
    Ready 2 Rumble
    Powerstone 1&2
    Marvel vs Capcom 1&2
    Fighting Force
    Resident Evil Code Veronica
    Crazy Taxi
    Fur Fighters
    Chu Chu Rocket
    Worms Armageddon
    Hidden &Dangerous

    Thanks for the memories SEGA may you continue to entertain us always forever.

    ”Talk about low budget flights, no free movies? Iam outta here! I like running better!’

    1998-2002
    For now Rest Easy Heroes

  20. Truly the PERFECT mix between speed and control which I have never seen since this game
    This and sonic heroes had this formula the closest to teh mark.

  21. I don’t have much to say about the game, since I never played it, besides the SADX PC demo. I like the music, especially Emerald Coast and Windy Valley. I like how Sonic could spindash back then, since he can’t do it now. He turned into a ball instead of not replacing his model, and making a spinning pose.

    I have to say that hte wall running in Unleashed is very unimaginative and dumb. If Sonic can run on walls, why can’t he run perpendicular to them? I don’t like how the game chooses your path, like when you’re running on the open of a building’s wall, and then, spontaneous and automatically, you turn. I don’t intend to insult Unleashed. I’m, just like you guys, saying how the gameplay in SA1 had stuff that didn’t have to be changed.

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