Every once in a while, a game comes along that redefines a genre and sends the gaming scene in a new direction for years to come. Sonic Adventure simultaneously is and is not one of these games. It keeps the linearity and structure of a 2D game and brings, for the first time, real speed to a 3D platformer. Yes - Sonic is back in classic form after an all-too-long hiatus.
Having been failed time and time again by technology, Dr. Robotnik began to look elsewhere for world-conquering gear. In his journeys he stumbled on Chaos, the water-based God of Destruction. To reach his full destructive potential, Chaos must absorb the seven Chaos Emeralds. Robotnik begins scouring the world for the elusive gems, sparking the interest of Sonic. Five additional characters also become caught up in the fight against Robotnik and Chaos, and each character has his own agenda. Tails seeks to become more than Sonic's sidekick; Knuckles searches for shards of the shattered Master Emerald; Amy protects a small bird; Big chases his amphibious friend; and Robotnik's E-102 Gamma sets out to relieve the world of his robotic kindred. Several flashbacks are interspersed throughout each of the characters' adventures to explain the back story, but the whole picture is not revealed to the player until the game has been completed with all six characters.
Sonic Adventure's levels come in two flavors - action stages and adventure fields. The action stages are, as the name implies, action oriented. Each action stage is entirely self-contained, with play mechanics varying from character to character. Sonic's levels play exactly as they did in the 2D Sonic games, but a 3D element has been added. Knuckles' levels, on the other hand, center around Knuckles' search through various levels for shards of the Master Emerald. The large adventure fields are more exploratory in nature and tie together the action stages. The field areas are inhabited by various people to talk to, and they contain no enemies other than the game's bosses. Finally, hidden throughout the field areas are items that enhance the characters' abilities, allowing them to access new areas.
While Sonic's game is roughly twice as long and a far more thrilling ride, each character's game is fun in its own way. Even with the characters' respective play differences, Sonic Adventure's design is very straightforward and linear, so the game is always fast and fun. Yes, fast - Sonic is easily the fastest 3D platformer to date, setting the game apart from the largely collection- and exploration-based games that fill the market. The game's few bosses are well done and inventive, but they only seem to whet the player's appetite for more - or at least more difficult ones.As is fashionable these days, Sonic Adventure is also chock-full of minigames. From the game's impressive snowboarding sequence in the Icecap Zone to the bumper car race in Twinkle Park, Sonic Adventure is constantly putting new spins on its speed fixation. However, the most interesting minigames center on the slow process of raising Chao. Taking a cue from the NiGHTS's Nightopian A-Life simulation, the game lets players hatch these adorable, tear-headed creatures from eggs in three breeding areas scattered throughout the game. The Chao learn from Sonic and his friends, grow, lay new eggs, and genetically diversify. Each Chao is rated in swimming, flying, running, and strength - numbers that come into play in the Chao racing game in the Station Square breeding area. You can work on your Chao's stats by downloading them into a VMU and helping them though a mini-adventure of their own. You can even mate them by linking two VMUs together. While really just a diversion, the Chao simulation is surprisingly interesting and fun to play around with, especially if you trade and compete with friends. New to the US version of Sonic Adventure is an Internet-based Chao trading system, which lets people trade Chao over the phone lines.
While its level design almost never ceases to amuse, Sonic does have a few signs of rushed production that directly affect gameplay. The game's camera is the most notable issue, but collision problems occasionally show up, as well. Most of the time, the camera doesn't get in the way of play, but it's annoyingly spastic in tight areas, and it can get caught under floors and behind walls, sometimes resulting in unnecessary deaths. Collision problems can also result in Sonic's untimely demise, sometimes causing Sonic to careen straight through a normally solid wall. Some of the worst instances of bad camerawork have been fixed for the US release, but some problems still remain. Either way, these problems don't ruin the game - they only add an occasional element of unwelcome frustration. Sometimes, Sonic will get stuck on an incline, and while this is usually remedied with just a jump, it can sap valuable seconds away from a winning run for that final emblem. But these problems are minor irritations at most.
Sonic Adventure's graphics are easily the best in a 3D platformer, surpassed only by Soul Calibur's graphics. Under the high-resolution, mip-mapping, and other graphical buzzwords lies a genuinely attractive game. The game's huge, detailed environments exude the visual style that made the Sonic games some of the best-looking on the Genesis. The textures are crisp and varied, and the midlevel load times are short and sweet. Most of the game runs at a nice frame rate, but slowdown does show up in some areas, and it is usually concentrated in a few of the game's levels. Pop-up is noticeable in many areas, as well, but usually it's far away from the player, so it doesn't affect gameplay in the least. A vast majority of the game's cinemas are done with the game engine itself, and they are nicely choreographed. The FMV-based scenes are excellent, as well, but sometimes one has to wonder why they had to be prerendered. The game's music is top-notch Sonic-style rock, sporting crystal-clear playback and nicely understated vocals. Most of the sound effects are the standard Sonic sound effects, which still work well. The game's voices, overall, are surprisingly well done, with only a few lines delving into the depths of translation mediocrity that players have come to expect from ports of this nature. While the voices are good, Sega completely ignored the lip-syncing - it looked weird enough in the Japanese version and it looks much weirder now.
Sonic Adventure is a must-have game for the Dreamcast, and it's a blast for the entire twenty-odd hours of gameplay. With the Chao-breeding simulation and the minigames, Sonic offers much more beyond the completion of its story. Fans of the Sonic series will definitely be pleased with Sonic Adventure - it truly carries and builds on the style of the original games. Even with its flaws, Sonic Team has produced a 3D experience unlike any to date.