When revisiting a game that is so close to the heart of many gamers, it is important that proper time and effort be put in. Unfortunately, Sonic Team’s recent release of Sonic Adventure via Live Arcade is a bit of a missed opportunity. In preparation for this review, I fired up the Dreamcast, GameCube, and PC versions of this classic. In all fairness to this re-release, those games don’t exactly hold up well either when compared to today’s standards. It is no surprise, then, that with little changed, this Live Arcade release leaves me wanting more. There’s just not enough here to warrant a fourth purchase of this title for gamers like myself.
The first thing many gamers will notice when starting this game is that it starts in 16:9 wide-screen mode. Unfortunately, after a Sonic Team logo and a few health warnings, the game reverts back to 4:3 mode and blue borders line the edges of the screen. Wide-screen support was one of the few features I expected when I first heard of this revisit. The game may have benefited quite a bit if the time were put in to make wide-screen a possibility. Shortly after your wide-screen is taken away, you’ll be brought right into the game’s first CG cutscene. The CG cutscenes have been ported, unchanged from the original Dreamcast release. That’s right, all of that dirty compression you hated back in the 90′s is even more prevalent on your massive HDTV. Perhaps recreating these scenes on the scale of 2006′s Sonic the Hedgehog would have been a better option. It just doesn’t appear the proper amount of time was taken with this port. The engine cutscenes aren’t much better, either. All of the wacky, over-the-top facial animations and non-synchronous sound can still be found, with only slightly updated models. On the topic of character models, there’s a disappointing mix of very well done characters and then some, like Chaos, that haven’t seen any updates whatsoever. You’d think the main enemy in the game deserved a little updating to differentiate from his 1998 counterpart. I feel the strange choice of updating some aspects while ignoring others should have been avoided during the development of this port. I would’ve been much happier as a player if this was a straight port, rather than seeing a half-updated release like the one we’ve been presented with. Textures suffer the same 50/50 fate. Half of the textures have been completely remade, appearing very crisp and perfectly complementing the level design. These beautiful new textures are, unfortunately, outweighed by the countless left untouched from the original release.
The visuals may be having an identity crisis, half in modern-day gaming and half stuck in the past, but the gameplay suffers no such ailment. The gameplay in this port is completely unchanged from the past three releases. If you enjoyed Sonic Adventure the last time you played it, you will be in for the same experience this time around. If you’ve never had the pleasure, allow me to quickly run through the only good feature of this port. Sonic Adventure, like its sequel Sonic Adventure 2, sports fast-paced, third-person Sonic action in perfectly designed, beautifully decorated levels. You can also play through the game as Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big, and E-102 Gamma, each with their own unique missions. Unfortunately, Sonic Adventure also has an exploration component that is far less compelling. The exploration is comprised of walking around a jungle or a city searching for the next trigger that will send you into a level — not exactly my idea of an “adventure.” The only gripes I have with the real gameplay are small but noticeable, especially if this is your first adventure with Sonic. Sonic can definitely get out of control, and his speed sometimes makes him difficult to maneuver for the player. Oftentimes he’ll end up running on the ceiling of tunnels when all you want is a nice grounded hedgehog. The game also has moments where the camera will pan out and Sonic will be sent around a massive bend or loop in the course. These would be cinematic and exciting, if it wasn’t so easy to ruin them. These moments rely on the player holding one direction, regardless of whether Sonic is actually moving in that direction or not. Stop holding that direction and you’ll find Sonic stopping dead in his tracks, running into walls, or just plummeting to his death. Sometimes you’ll be in a moment where you’re on a track and won’t even be able to tell. These are very few and far between, but they are definitely worth mentioning.
The Chao Garden is still intact and fully functional. Unfortunately, there is no handheld support in this version of the game. The Chao Transporter has been changed to the Naming Machine, but still looks strangely similar to a Game Boy Advance system. Some of the other memorable mini-games, like the cart racer and the NiGHTS pinball machine, are still in the game and a blast to play. The textures and models in the NiGHTS pinball machine really show the age of the game, more so than any other moment in my play through.
I found a few more annoyances during my time with the game that should be mentioned. First of all, the camera could definitely use some updating. It never seems to be pointing where you’d like it to. The player is still given a small amount of control with the shoulder buttons (when the camera feels like responding), but most of my deaths were caused by a poor camera angle. The game also sports random load times right in the middle of a level, something I never noticed in any other iteration of Sonic Adventure.
Overall, Sonic Adventure on Live Arcade only does one thing successfully, and it’s the same strength that every other iteration of the game has had; gameplay. The story in this game is almost non-existent. The visuals suffer too much of an identity crisis to actually be considered impressive. Everything positive to be said about this game lies in its masterfully designed, perfectly executed levels. If you own any other version of this game, you may want to think twice before downloading this re-release. That being said, the addition of the Sonic Adventure DX missions and an extra playable character as downloadable content is a huge plus for this game, and I definitely recommend checking it out if you missed this content back on the GameCube. Ultimately, Sonic Adventure was ported to Live Arcade as a service to die-hard Sonic fans. If you fall in that category, you’ll definitely enjoy revisiting this Dreamcast classic. The gameplay in Sonic’s first adventure was enough to keep me entertained, even after so many play-throughs over the years. For that reason, I will recommend this title, but caution those who already own past iterations.
Sonic Adventure is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points and on the PlayStation Network for $9.99!