You know it. I know it. Sonic the Hedgehog is dying. He’s been dying for a long time, and despite Mario’s additional Olympic life support, his condition has been getting progressively worse and worse every time he releases a new game. We cringed at 2006′s Sonic the Hedgehog, we despaired over Sonic Unleashed and Sonic and the Black Knight, and Sonic and the Secret Rings was just a complete travesty. He may have shown brief signs of recovery with Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush, but I think we all know why the recent Sonic Generations wanted to make a firm distinction between the ailing “modern” Sonic and his comparatively sprightly “classic” ancestor…
Where did it all go wrong? What happened to the glory days? Well, if you were going to name one game where it all started to go downhill, it would probably be Sonic Adventure. Despite being the best-selling game on Dreamcast when it was first released, it was also one of the first games to place our blue hedgehog in a full 3D environment. And boy was it bad. From the awful voice-acting to the ridiculous camera, we all began wishing that Sonic could remain trapped in his 2D world forever.
The DX Director’s Cut port for GameCube was even less well received than the original, but as much flack as Sonic has received over the years, I still can’t bring myself to really hate this game (or its sequel, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, for that matter). Perhaps it’s got something to do with those pesky nostalgia goggles– I first played this game with a friend on their Dreamcast back in the late ’90s and was blown away by its FMV cutscenes and absurdly labelled “adventure fields”– but trust me, I’ve tried getting into other Sonic games and every time I’ve failed miserably. None of them, not even the Sonic Mega Collection, have ever captured my attention like Sonic Adventure, and despite its many flaws, it remains one of my favourite Sonic games to date.
If Sonic had remained a silent protagonist, I have a feeling his future might have been a lot brighter…
To be honest, I’ve never really understood the Sonic universe. It didn’t really need to make much sense back in the ’80s when it was all about racing to the finish line and rescuing cute animals, but ever since Sonic and his friends started invading the human living space and
romancing their inhabitants hanging out in our towns and cities, there’s always been something that doesn’t quite compute. How is it normal for these apparently unique and therefore incredibly endangered anthropomorphic creatures to just walk around town with nobody batting an eye-lid? Who makes Amy Rose’s clothes and everyone’s giant shoes? And why, when every other human looks like Mr. Bland from Genericville, Plaintown, does Dr. Robotnik (sorry, Eggman) look like he’s from a completely different planet?
These conundrums still baffle me to this day, but one of the things I liked best about Sonic Adventure was its attempt at a multi-layered (and relatively logical) narrative. Despite having twice, and sometimes three times as many stages as everyone else, it wasn’t all about Sonic this time. You could also play as Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big the Cat, or one of Eggman’s robots, and each character had their own individual story arc. Like a dated episode of Game of Thrones, each perspective gradually overlapped with each other as the game went on, gradually filling in the bigger picture the further you progressed, and it was only by playing through everyone’s story that you could find out where Chaos had come from and why he was reaping such havoc.
The story took you from the urban sprawl of Station Square to the tropical vistas of the Mystic Ruins, and every now and again you’d even get a glimpse of the ancient Echidna city on Angel Island 3000 years in the past. I’m not sure why Sega felt the need to give everything such uninspiring labels, but these weirdly named “adventure fields” gave the world a much more tangible back-story for me to latch onto. From the mechanical oddities of Eggman’s Egg Carrier to the strange temple in the maze-like jungle, it gave me just that little bit more reason to care. They may seem paltry by comparison now, but they felt as giant as Xenoblade‘s Gaur Plain back in the day, and they were genuinely interesting environments that I wanted to explore. Even though Sonic may have snagged his feet on nearly every single polygon pebble in existence, things like discovering Big’s little jungle hut or stumbling across a Chao egg in a shop window really made me start to appreciate the finer details of the Sonic universe rather than simply rushing past them in a blur of colour. Seeking out all their little nooks and crannies also offered a pleasant change of pace from the slightly more manic “action stages”.
Forget Dr. Robotnik– I think the people of Station Square should be more concerned about that giant Orca destroying their beaches!
Moreover, despite some character’s stories overlapping more than others– Tails, for instance, spends a lot of his time following Sonic around, meaning his stages often took place in exactly the same locales– there was always something different about them to avoid repetition, whether it was an alternative route you had to take or different objectives you had to complete. Even the cut-scenes and plot devices linking each stage together were different so you didn’t have to sit through the same lines of bad dialogue over and over again (though how that makes sense within the context of the overall story, I have no idea– it rather makes me think the entire game’s been dreamt up in each character’s own fantasy land where they’re the main hero, but that’s a topic for another day).
And even though Sonic games are, and always have been, about racing round at impossible speeds, it was nice to kick back every so often with Knuckles’s treasure hunt stages or Big’s fishing odyssey. In fact, scrap Big the Cat– he was never really that fun and he’s the only character whose story I never bothered completing– but despite some characters being definitely less enjoyable than others, it comes back to the fact that Sonic Adventure was really six games in one (albeit six very short games), and this was something which made it stand out for me against more traditional Sonic games like Sonic Rush. While Rush was arguably better designed and truer to the essence of a real Sonic game, I tired of it very quickly and ended up selling it on pretty soon after I bought it. There was just nothing extra there to tempt me back in once I’d got stuck on a particular level, and the multiple acts to each themed stage only drove home the game’s repetitious monotony that much further.
I also got slightly addicted to raising Chao. While it didn’t exactly set my world on fire in Sonic Adventure, my desire to be the number one Chao champion took on a life of its own in its sequel, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. With the introduction of angel and devil chao to spice things up too, I spent countless hours in the Chao Gardens raising my strange little monsters into the fastest runners/swimmers/climbers they could possibly be. Looking back at my old save file, my favourite one had skills that averaged out at about Lv.60, and even then there were races he struggled with. They may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but those Chao races definitely hit my Pokémon sweet-spot and added yet another alternative gameplay experience to four different varieties on offer in the game’s main story mode.
In the end, I think it’s easy to rib on Sonic for what he’s become lately, whether it’s the loudmouth know-it-all or the desperate sell-out, but Sonic Adventure will always hold a special place in my heart. I know it’s not the best Sonic game in the world, and there’s no forgiving its nauseating dialogue or its bad voice-acting, but it’s a damn sight better than Sonic and the Secret Rings, that’s for sure! Call me a heretic, but I always like something a bit more than running and jumping in my platformers, and Sonic Adventure didn’t diasppoint.