First off thanks to Scary Womanizing Pig Mask, my favorite Dtoider and fellow MOTHER PKafficianado, for convincing me to finally contribute. We'll be discussing the Sonic Adventure games. I'll be talking about the first installment, and you can read Scary's part here: Something Scary this way comes...
As much as people want to attack Sonic Adventure with a "meh-cannon", we shouldn't forget how important, exciting, and epic its initial release was. Sega was still making hardware, and so it was as important as Mario Galaxy's launch was to the Wii today. They were truly trying to reinvent the series, and though its reception was mixed I believe they did just that.
First off, does anyone remember seeing the commercials or finding the Japanese character-specific spots on websites? Downloading the character music singles? There was tons of excitement and buildup for this game. Certainly nothing along the lines of your average Halo launch, comparatively, but enough to coincide with a pretty good ad campaign and magazine launch (Official Dreamcast Magazine). At the very least, Sega had full faith and effort in toe. We were finally seeing a new Sonic game after 3 years, and going from just pseudo Sonic 3D Blast-style 2.5D into full on 3D immersion in the Sonic world.
Everything about the game was exaggerated for the better. Except for the movement to Earth (the series should NEVER have left Mobius), Sonic Adventure was simply underlining in red what fans had come to love about the games, while simultaneously digging its own grave with too much self-awareness and excess. However, the production value, technical effort for the time, and overall presentation made for what I'm sure at least some of you willing to be honest Sonic fans, recall as a fun amazing experience.
They wanted to extend the simplistic world and story (of the 2D games where the focus was the gameplay) to a fleshed out, yes even RPGish, world.
Sonic makes the scene with his signature attitude at full force without treading into Jaleel White territory. He's gone from being just another mascot platformer to bearing the weight of the world's fate as a superhero basically. Now he saves the world, not just his home and friends. The storytelling upheaval is the double-edged sword of the series' new direction I feel. While simultaneously serving as the foundation for the game's new character chapter style structuring and varying styles of play, it is also the blaring disjoint to its connection with the old games. Sonic will always be more "cool" in the actual sense when he is not speaking, and the epic battle between he and Dr. Robotnik will forever be more engaging than all the "team up" stories to come. Of course I should make mention of the series' double backing by changing Dr. Robotnik to Dr. Eggman. While this is a small detail, I feel even this served as a sort of off-putting gesture to the fans of the 2D games.
Returning to the topic of highlighting the character traits in order to structure gameplay let's talk about the different styles of play Sonic Team presented. As I mentioned before, Sonic is just exaggerated with his speed and abilities used to fight but his gameplay remains the speed-platforming through enemy littered levels it always was. Tails is forever the little second banana, yearning to learn and grow up to be like his idol Sonic. For his gameplay he has to race against Sonic (sometimes other characters) and arrive at level's end first. I <3 Tails like no other, and I loved that his gameplay was done in this way. I also liked that while SA fleshed out Tail' mechanical whiz kid personality in the story scenes, it did not invade the character's gameplay as it did in SA2.
Knuckles' guardianship of the emeralds becomes his gameplay mechanic as well, as his levels consist of locating emerald shards. He must frantically, egg'd on by a time constraint, locate several shard pieces hidden around his vast levels either cleverly hidden in tough to reach spots, buried, or contained within enemies. His climbing, digging, and gliding really evolved from the breakable walls of his previous adventures.
Amy Rose, everybody's favorite Sonic stalker from Sonic CD, makes a return as the sassy but classy (she wears clothes y'all) damsel in distress-lite. In her rape prevention PSA of a storyline she somewhat haphazardly involves herself in the plot, ending up the Giant Hammer wielding guardian of a little bird and spends her stages running away from one of Dr. Eggman's (ugh, that will never feel right), from one of Robotnik's creations marked with the job of capturing her...or so we think. Her stages over slightly more puzzle solving than the other character paths, but I think her gameplay style strength stemmed from the chase mentality and, albeit a bit softcore, scare factor of being hunted by a Jason Voorhees wannabe robo. Her levels were designed with a little more visual appeal in mind. She gets the “Kool-Aid man breaking through a giant glass wall moments” and Sonic 1 throwback giant-gear-laden factory stages. So don't be so quick to judge her and her fashion sense. Now as much as I resent the overindulgence in character additions the series has seen over the years, there is one character I very greatly enjoyed...but beware the discussion of this character is a SPOILER to the game's plot if you have not played:
E-102 gamma presents us with essentially the inside look at one of Robotnik's victims. By showcasing a character that represents all of the little critters Sonic and pals have saved over the years in the series, trapped within Robotnik's mechanized monsters, Sonic Adventure really added some classic throwbacks as well as treating its fans with something special. Gamma's gameplay consists of a Sin and Punishment style shooter in which the time limit is extended by enemies defeated, time bonuses being awarded to combo kills. Gamma is also the character that receives essentially a "boss" at every stage end. His storyline is one of the more memorable parts of the game. Think Sonic meets Kill Bill divided by Memento.
Big the Cat (and don't forget his little buddy the frog) is the only black sheep here. He basically served, I beleive, as an RPG related addition and gimmick (what is a JRPG without a good ol' obligatory fishing minigame?) effectively serving as a harbinger of the horrors to come--by which I mean too many characters. And of course the obese feline possessed the single most traumatizing character song in the game. Even Knuckles' rap wasn't as bad. I still have nightmares about that duet to this day. I should mention that besides fishing, the series also included a super simplistic kart racing game, as well as introduced the Chaos. These little creatures were a step up from the A-life system introduced in NiGHTS: into Dreams on the Saturn. Depending on what foods, environment, and --depending on how much you want to analyze-- parenting style you provide it, the Chaos evolve into all sorts of strange forms and appearances. Many of the appearances being easter eggs, such as the Nights Chao. There was also Chao racing included which was sort of like Chocobo racing but a little more Jon Benet Ramsey than Kentucky Derby for my taste. Anyway, I honestly didn't want to touch on these aspects of the game much but decided to mention them.
The levels and designs in Sonic Adventure were really cool for back then. Say what you will about the different aspects of the game, but i think the design was there showing Sonic Team's efforts in truly capturing the spirit of the series during the leap from 2D to 3D. I mean Sky Deck Zone's catwalk section with the bridges being blown out by Robotnik's ginormous cannons of mass destruction has every bit of excitement in it that the penultimate battle in Sonic 3 does. Your first time racing through Speed Highway is a testament to both underlining the old design and updating with a fresh look. The loop de loops are still there, as well as shortcuts and pitfalls, but a lot of it more stylized as only 3D design could have allowed. The locations are as varied as previous installments though I think regretfully based more in reality now that the series was on Earth. Lush beaches and snowy mountains, epic Robotnik compounds with missiles, Casinos, theme parks, and ancient temples. I think Sonic Team really attempted to bring out the best of their series into 3D. Go back. Play again if you can. Think back and tell me you don't remember smiling as you first traversed a tornado, or ran full speed from an Orca whale taking out a pier behind you (Or from a rape-bot depending on what color hedgehog you are).
Now I didn't really want to go into the actual plot much, but I will say that the story served sort of like a summer blockbuster treatment for the series. The character commercials and trailers seem to suggest as much. The epic nature of the narrative, coupled with the character advertisements make it difficult to not compare the production style of the game to that of a summer film. The voice acting of course was something new, as was the dramatic storyline. But all served to just underscore the characteristics of the cast we had come to know. And of course allow for cutscenes.
I think Sonic Team's heads were still on straight at this point, and their hearts also in the right place about their little blue hero. I may have imagined this but I believe they recorded fans chanting the “Sonic! Sonic!” heard in the final showdown's cutscene during a fan event for the game’s upcoming release. That says something, doesn't it?
In the end I believe that while I would not trade the original, definitive, experience of Sonic the Hedgehog in 2D for its 3D entries...Sonic Adventure was a great start to what should have been an excellent revival. It had the flair and charm of the original games, slightly updated and exaggerated in such a way that it resulted in a story driven game with varied gameplay styles, excellent music, and fan service galore. True, it does not graphically hold up to this day, as the gang looks like they are willingly dislocating their little animal jaws when they talk during cutscenes. Yes, the series would soon suffer from over stimulation and stylization straying away from the core Sonic gameplay. But I believe the heart and soul of the series was last seen untainted in this entry and that its strengths outweigh its weaknesses. If you get the chance in any form whatsoever please play this game and I think you’ll see exactly what I mean.