Impressions from Sonic's Premiere
If you weren't able to be at the Sonic Adventure premiere, read our eyewitness account.
TOKYO - As you may already know, we attended the Sonic Adventure rollout that took place early Saturday morning US time. In short, it was a big, noisy, exciting show.
The show itself proceeded as follows: After Irimajiri's speech and introduction of the Dreamcast, Sega's well-known game designer Yuji Naka popped in (literally) from inside a big balloon. Although he seemed a little nervous in front of the big crowd, he completed the task at hand and impressed the crowds with his creation - giving a brief background on the creation of the new game. Those of us in the audience then looked on as Takashi Iizuka, the game's director, played through a few areas of the game.
After the game demonstration, we were thrilled with the Sonic Chant (hey, my own voice may be featured in the game!) and a live performance of the game's main theme by Sega's sound team, which was actually lip synched, not live…go figure.
When Naka raised the Dreamcast console for us to see and put the disc on it, he actually said the console was a "prototype," (making an "oops" face right after). So we couldn't tell if it's really a final one (it seems like it wasn't) that the game was running on.
The demonstration got me thinking about Mario: When first hearing about Mario going to 3D, some thought it was a bad idea, but after playing the game, you realized that it's still the classic Mario-style gameplay, but in 3D - and you loved it. While I was only able to watch this game in action, I have the feeling that Sonic Adventure still has that classic Sonic-style gameplay, only in 3D - and I think that gamers may love it.
In Japan, we haven't had any real 32-bit Sonic games and Sonic 3D Blast never materialized. We only had Sonic Jam and Sonic R. So this is the first time in four years that the gaming press was able to see a new Sonic game. But we have no jealousy over American gamers anymore (Japanese gamers will get to play it long before it's available in the US).
The game has six playable characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big and E-102 Gamma. Each character has its own story and objectives. The difficulty of the gameplay may vary from character to character - which Naka hinted at when he said that the game can be enjoyed by both children and older people.
For the purpose of creating a much deeper storyline, each character has its own voice actors (we didn't have a Sonic TV cartoon show in Japan - maybe that's a good thing…Urkel as Sonic?). So you can expect many cut scenes between and throughout the stages.
Sonic Adventure is first played with Sonic as your only option. As you play, somewhere along the way you'll meet up with the other characters and then you can play as them in addition to Sonic. For those who are a little anxious about the game's control scheme, don't worry. It will only use the analog pad and two buttons but the actions will be varied between the characters.
There are three main areas - Station Square, Mystique Ruin and Egg Carrier (FYI: Dr. Robotnik is called Dr. Eggman in Japan). According to Naka, the Ruin area is the main part of the game. The Sonic Team actually flew to South America just to document the look and feel of the Inca's lost city.
The stages we were shown being played were Speed Highway and Red Mountain. There are two kinds of stages: the "Adventure Field" and the "Action Field." While you can explore the 3D worlds in the Adventure Fields, Action Fields are more about speed and excitement (which is what Sonic is all about, right?). Speed Highway is the former and Red Mountain is the latter. Depending on which character you play as, the same stage is played differently with each.
In the case of Speed Highway, Sonic the speed freak is the best character to play. Since the demo was shown on a projection screen, we couldn't tell how this will actually look on a TV at home but it's safe to say it's the best-looking 3D-action game to date. In the Speed Highway stage, the game plays much like a 2D game within a 3D environment. The camera was set and not controllable much like it is in NiGHTS (Sonic Team's main Saturn game) and Namco's Klonoa on the PlayStation. Sonic speeds towards the goal, collecting rings and squashing enemies in a mostly pre-determined path. That's not a bad thing for Sonic by any means. During the stage Sonic runs towards the goal, defying gravity on the side of a building - it's quite a unique setting.
In the Red Mountain stage, Knuckles took the screen to explore. The stage didn't look large enough to fully explore and there was some pop-up with obstacles, but Knuckles' own gliding, climbing, and digging moves were done nicely. His objective is to find three pieces of emeralds. The positions of the emeralds will be different as you play.
Of course, the Sonic Team has not forgotten about mini-games. Within Sonic Adventure, we saw a whack-a-mole type game, a level with Sonic and Tails riding a biplane called Tornado (which will be a some sort of 3D shooting game), an Air Car racing game and a few others when the title is complete.
Another interesting feature of the game is the way that Sonic Adventure will utilize the Dreamcast's Visual Memory System (VMS). How will it be used? There are creatures, called Chaos, in the Adventure Field, the "A-Life" system that first appeared in NiGHTS. When Sonic plays with them and teaches them things, the Chaos will learn and retain those skills. Then you bring the Chaos outside the game via the VMS and you'll have the option of trading them with friends.
Last we have to mention the computer generated (CG) movies. During the presentation, no one mentioned anything specifically about CG movies. Does the high capability of Dreamcast remove the need for CG movies? The booklet we got at the show credits personnel with working on CG movies. So there are CG movies in the game but we just aren't exactly sure where. But "The Perfect Chaos," a water-covered monster and the biggest enemy of Sonic's has ever faced, appears to contain at least one CG movie. Although it may not be a playable, it's possible to produce a real-time polygon movie. Whether this is the case, that remains to be seen.
As for the mysterious monster, Sega promises an interesting story behind Perfect Chaos (although the Sonic Team is keeping it a big secret). Apparently, the story will be a key part of Sonic Adventure. And according to the booklet we received at the show, Perfect Chaos even has something to do with the Sonic series itself. When we find out the whole story, we'll tell you more.
All in all, Sonic Adventure sure got people's attention. It looks really promising. The game alone shows us the beginnings of what the Dreamcast can really do. We just hope the game will be done by the system's launch.
For a videogame lover, it was an honor to be in attendance at Sega's giant Sonic Adventure party. Boy, I love being in this business.
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