Sonic Adventure DX Preview
We check out the GameCube version of Sonic the Hedgehog's first 3D adventure.
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When Sonic Adventure was released for the Dreamcast in September 1999, the game marked the return of Sega's popular mascot after a long absence. Until that point, the blue hedgehog who propelled Sega to the top of the console heap in the 16-bit era had yet to undergo the 3D makeover that Nintendo's Mario had received a few years earlier, despite a few appearances on Sega's Saturn console. The fully 3D adventure was a solid and fun outing that served as an effective reminder of the little guy's appeal. Following the success of last year's Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the GameCube, Sega has opted to bring the original game in the Sonic Adventure series to Nintendo's platform as well. The title is slated to make a number of graphical improvements on its Dreamcast predecessor, as well as add an array of platform-specific extras. We recently had a chance to check out a preview build of the game to see how the conversion is shaping up.
For those unfamiliar with the original Sonic Adventure, the game is a much more story-driven affair than previous Sonic titles. As usual, the drama at hand revolves around Dr. Eggman, the villain formerly known as Dr. Robotnik, and his efforts to collect the powerful Chaos emeralds. This time out, the wily one is aided by a mysterious and powerful creature that feeds on the potent gems. While the threat posed by the dastardly duo is considerable, Sonic isn't alone in his quest to set things right. You'll find a variety of playable characters in the game, each with different abilities and a unique perspective on the action: Loyal sidekick Tails, onetime nemesis Knuckles, and former kidnap victim Amy Rose are on hand to represent the old guard, and morbidly obese Big the Cat and reformed robot E-102 are the new faces in the mix.
You'll become intimately familiar with the cast thanks to the game's basic structure, which requires you to play as each of the characters to finish the game. The game will initially offer you two modes to play through: adventure and trial. Adventure is the game's story mode, and it will take you through the race to stop Dr. Eggman from collecting all the Chaos emeralds and really mucking the world up. You'll start the game as Sonic and eventually unlock the other characters as you progress through his story. The trial mode challenges you to replay the levels in the game and beat record times. As you progress through the game, you'll unlock two new modes--mission and minigame collection--that have been added specifically for the GameCube. The mission mode features 60 different missions that are divvied up among the game's roster of playable characters. You'll choose a character and explore the various levels in the game, where you'll discover cards that will provide you with assorted challenges. The challenges include tasks like wiping out a set number of weeds in a stage, popping a certain number of balloons, and collecting specific items, among other things, and they usually have a time limit. Completing the various missions will reward you with exclusive items and unlock some of the game's hidden content. Some of this content can be seen in the new minigame collection mode, which will allow you to unlock a whopping 12 classic Game Gear games, such as Sonic the Hedgehog.
The gameplay in Sonic Adventure offers quite a bit of variety, thanks to the different styles of play for each of the characters and the inclusion of the various minigames. Each character will go through the various levels in the game in his or her own way. For example, going through the levels as Sonic and Tails will emphasize both characters' speed and special abilities, such as Sonic's homing attacks and Tails' ability to fly. Knuckles' levels will challenge you to find pieces of a Chaos emerald, and Big's levels will focus on his recovering his lost frog. Amy Rose's will find you using her hammer and wits to stay one step ahead of a massive robot. Finally, E-102's stages will feature a strong emphasis on shooting. In addition to those core mechanics, you'll find various minigames, such as races and snowboarding segments, that offer a change of pace.
Another change of pace in the game is offered by the Chao sequences, which will find you raising the little creatures and using them to compete in unique races. You'll find Chao gardens in various locations in the game that will let you interact with the little critters. You'll be able to introduce them to animals you've rescued to enhance their various abilities and allow them to mature, which in turn will let them compete in the special Chao races in the game. The Chao-raising component of Sonic Adventure DX also features the functionality tweaks and extras seen in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. You'll be able to see the levels of your Chao's attributes when you're near it, and you'll be able to purchase items for the Chao with the rings you've collected in the game. The Chao-raising feature also makes good use of the GameCube's connectivity with the Game Boy Advance by allowing you to download your Chao into the GBA. If you have a GBA game that contains a "tiny Chao garden" (gardens can be found in the two Sonic Advance games that are currently available, as well as the upcoming Sonic Pinball Party), you can download a Chao into it and raise the critter on the go. You'll then be able to upload the improved Chao back into the GameCube game whenever you're ready to return to a more sedentary Chao-raising lifestyle. If you don't have a game with a tiny Chao garden, you'll still be able to download a Chao to your GBA and interact with it, but you won't be able to upload any improvements to Sonic Adventure DX. Additionally, if you have a game with a tiny Chao garden, you'll have access to a number of minigames revolving around your needy Chao. For example, your Chao will ask you to reunite it with a friend, which sends you off on a search of the surrounding area.
While the gameplay in Sonic Adventure DX is solid, the graphics are still a bit rough around the edges. At the moment, the game doesn't match the visual quality seen in Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, and it even falls a bit short of matching its Dreamcast cousin in some spots. The character models for Sonic and his pals have seen some improvement, with Sonic benefiting the most from the upgrade. The environments in the game have seen roughly the same level of improvement as well. The locales are enhanced by little flourishes such as lens flare on the beach, snow falling in the ice stages, and leaves blowing about in the windy areas. The visuals are also complemented by the game's support of 480p progressive scan, which helps sharpen the presentation some. However, the downside to the game's visual presentation lies in the number of inconsistencies that crop up. The texture quality needs to be tightened up, and the color in the game is also a bit off as well. The game's frame rate fluctuates quite a bit, which can be jarring. The game's camera system, the weak spot of the original Dreamcast game, has been brought over warts and all, which is disappointing. Hopefully Sonic Team will be able to tighten the graphical package up before the game ships.
The game's audio is perhaps its strongest aspect, with a solid assortment of voice work, music, and sound. The game features a good amount of voice work throughout the adventure, and the soundtrack is a collection of tunes that draws on a number of musical styles, ranging from tribal rhythms to fist-pumping guitar rock right out of the '80s. The game can also be set to mix English subtitles with Japanese voice work if you choose to "keep it real," and it features Dolby Pro Logic II support.
Judging from what we've seen so far, Sonic Adventure DX is poised to offer a relatively solid dose of retro gaming for those who are up for it. The game faithfully re-creates the experience of the Dreamcast version, which is still arguably the better of the two entries in the Sonic Adventure series, and tosses in some tasty extras and even a cameo--we spotted Cream, from Sonic Advance 2, floating about in Station Square. While the content is quite solid, the overall package isn't as tight as it could be, due to the inconsistent graphics. Sonic Adventure DX is currently slated to ship this June for the GameCube.