Can an old hedgehog learn new tricks? The answer is no.
Sonic Adventure made its North American debut alongside the Sega’s Dreamcast on 9/9/99. The first fully 3D Sonic title reinvented everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog and his friends, promising new gameplay twists while still retaining Sonic’s ferocious velocity. The final product was entertaining, but its numerous flaws left many Sonic fans disappointed. While Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut is slightly better than its Dreamcast sibling, the GameCube port neglects to amend most of Sonic Adventure’s unappealing imperfections.
Those familiar with Sonic Adventure 2 will have no trouble grasping Sonic Adventure DX. Starting as the blazing fast Sonic, players face off against a mysterious water creature, Chaos, whom Eggman (Dr. Robotnik) has taken a mischievous interest in. What ensues is an adventure told from six converging perspectives as players control Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, a rogue hench-robot designated E-102 Gamma, and a laid-back feline fisherman named Big. As players proceed through the plot, new playable characters are unlocked.
Sonic Adventure DX is divided into two vastly different stages. Action stages are similar to those found in Sonic Adventure 2, with different gameplay and level layouts for each character. Sonic naturally focuses on his speed and mid-air homing attack. Knuckles is tasked with the same emerald shard-hunting quest found in Sonic Adventure 2. Gamma storms through levels, using his laser targeting system to lock on and shoot down multiple enemies. Meanwhile, Tails takes on a more traditional role of racing against Sonic to show his skill, making full use of his flying ability. Amy Rose relies on her oversized hammer to waltz her way through levels, evading one of Robotnik’s ever-persistent metallic minions, and Big…well…Big just likes fishing. Adventure stages are connected hubs that bring the different action stages together while providing a backdrop for the dubious story elements and cut-scenes (which are discussed further down). Adventure stages also contain most of the characters’ power-ups, special Chao eggs and mini-games.
Many will appreciate Sonic Adventure’s well-distributed gameplay. Whereas Sonic Adventure 2 contained equal parts shooting, platforming and hunting, Sonic Adventure keeps Sonic in the spotlight with levels longer and more plentiful than those of the supporting cast. Most will become frustrated by Amy and Big’s slow pace at times, but their stories are relatively short and players are never forced to suffer through one of their levels just to unlock a new Sonic stage.
SA:DX’s replay value comes in the form of additional challenges and rewards. Players earn emblems by clearing action stages or mini-games and revisiting them to complete subsequent goals. These established tasks are supplemented by SA:DX’s all-new Mission mode, which was designed to encourage exploration in both the Action and Adventure stages. After discovering a mission card in one of the adventure fields, players may embark on that card’s mission, which is revealed in a sometimes-cryptic two line hint. Missions usually involve locating and touching balloons or flags, though Sonic Team has included a few, more inspired goals as well. Mission mode is sometimes monotonous or tedious, but overall it is a pleasant extra, providing old gameplay in new clothes.
Collecting emblems did very little in the Dreamcast version, but Sonic Adventure DX addresses this quibble with twelve perfectly emulated Game Gear games unlocked through SA:DX’s emblems and missions. The emulated handheld library is (supposedly) a complete collection of Sonic’s 8-bit handheld outings. Unlocking everything isn't worth the effort though, as many of the GG games are unimaginably horrible and only included for comprehensiveness and marketability. Some of the games fare better: Sonic Triple Trouble and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine are entertaining if you ever acquire them. One unexpected bonus is the inclusion of two-player support for GG titles. Pushing start on the second controller will cause another Game Gear screen running the same ROM to appear, reducing each screen to half size. While this was designed for multiplayer games, the emulator is just as capable of maintaining two independent instances without a performance hit.
Not all is well with Sonic Adventure; the game is largely a failure. While well-conceived, Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast was swamped with inexcusable bugs, pitfalls, and annoyances. Since Sonic Adventure DX reuses most of the original game’s code, the GameCube port inherited every single one of these nasty “features”. The game is most infamous for its clumsy graphics. While the models themselves have been somewhat upgraded, almost everything else has remained untouched. Blurry textures and pop-up are found throughout the environments. The camera system is among the most stubborn ever used -- even with its newly-added Free Camera mode for the C-stick. The framerate, while improved over the original in most areas, is even worse in more complex environments, dropping under 10 frames per second at times. Sonic Adventure DX also struggles with horrible collision detection and many subtle control issues usually invoked by the camera. The pet Chao are also a disappointment in Sonic Adventure DX. Although fully compatible with the GBA games and Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, the gardens themselves are much less engaging. What’s more, after presenting a very polished Chao racing engine in Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Team returned to the original’s disorienting content for Sonic Adventure DX. Including some elements that are clearly borrowed from Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, Sonic Team obviously wasn't attempting to preserve the original Chao system. They just didn’t bother to commit to the task.
The gameplay has serious setbacks, but possibly the worst part of Sonic Adventure DX is its cut-scenes. Featuring an atrocious English translation and mind-numbingly horrible voice acting, Sonic Adventure will, at best, leave many players embarrassed for Sega, and at worst, leave them disgusted with the game. In an attempt to be more cartoonish, the poor voice acting is combined with some of the worst cut-scene animation seen in a video game. Inexplicable facial twitches, ridiculous mouth movement, and characters walking in place are always present in Sonic Adventure’s real-time movies. Musical transitions are non-existent during these scenes as well, often abusing the first ten seconds of the same poor songs repeatedly in a shamelessly choppy manner. Also, while the use of parallel storylines is an interesting approach, the overall plot is thin and inadequately pretends that Sonic Adventure’s world is actually larger than Disneyland.
One aspect of Sonic Adventure does stand out: its music. Presented in Pro Logic II, Jun Senoue and his co-creators have produced a soundtrack greater than the game deserves. Sure, some of the lyrics are cheesy, and not every song is a hit, but whether relaxing with Big, exploring the casino with Knuckles, or blazing through the highway with Sonic, the game’s music is fitting and fun. The brass section, East 4th Horns, makes a praiseworthy performance. The guitar work is similarly enjoyable, be it a rendition of a classic Sonic 3D Blast tune or something entirely new.
Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut is a kind gesture for GameCube owners, but not one worth honoring. Sonic Team did a decent job of adding new content to an old game, but neglected to clean up the original’s very rough edges. Sonic fans only familiar with Sonic Adventure 2 will enjoy SA:DX as a prequel of sorts, but $40 is just too much for a game this sloppy.