Though not quite to the degree of Nintendo’s Virtual Console, the Xbox Live Arcade has seen many old school games become offered to the game playing public. For the past couple of years, quite a few retro standouts have resurged as either modern day ports, or getting remakes such as Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Much as I like to tout the “modern games are better” flag like I’m a patriot or somesuch, I have to admit that I have been suckered a little bit by the opportunity to retread the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. However, now I find myself at an odd spot. I have been asked to review Sonic Adventure for the XBLA, and I think that I’m sort of in an odd position.
For those of you who do not remember, Sonic Adventure is considered by some to be the last truly great video game featuring everyone’s favorite hedgehog with odd quill pigmentation. However, being asked to review a port of a game such as this always puts me at an impasse. Though there are certain things out there in the world of entertainment that are truly timeless (such as Citizen Kane, Watchmen, most anything by C.S. Lewis, etc.) there are certainly things out there that do no age well. So, the real question that this game poses to me is not so much its quality in relevance to the old, but its quality in relevance to the modern day.
The big issue right out of the gate is what many would now consider to be one of the biggest issues of Team Sonic as a development team. They make an attempt at getting the player to really care about the storyline behind the franchise. However, the only time that people have ever truly been able to get behind Sonic as a multidimensional character was in the SatAm cartoon series. Though five minutes with the story will make it obvious, I’ll simply reiterate the fact that this game’s story caliber is nowhere near the aforementioned cartoon.
Fact of the matter is that the storyline is poorly written, and poorly voice acted. During the course of playing back through this game, I found myself laughing so hard I would fall off of my chair. Honestly, I have seen episodes of Teletubbies when I was drunk that had more enthusiasm and range than the voice actors from this game. The biggest offense that this game takes, however, is the attempt at trying to make the player care about Sonic’s universe. At the end of the day, what makes the series great is lightning speed platforming.
Luckily for the player, this game does in fact have that, but there is something getting in the way of it. Before each mission, you have to maneuver your way through a hub world to get to the next platforming section. Now, the hub world may be a bit arbitrary, but at the same time it isn’t incredibly difficult to maneuver. For those of you who are in the same boat as me and want to get to the next fun part, the map is incredibly handy, not to mention there are red orbs scattered about that, when jumped into, will tell you where to go next. However, one wonders if the hub world was really necessary.
However, the meat of the game is the platforming, and you will quickly find out why this is considered the best (and possibly the only) solid 3D Sonic game. Each level is incredibly well designed, with shortcuts to take, and enough loops, bends, curves, and enemies to keep you on your toes. It’s very exhilarating in the opening of the game to be speeding along a dock while killer whales destroy the area behind you, or to play as Tails and race Sonic through an underground dungeon place of sorts, avoiding deathtraps and collecting rings. This part of the gameplay is very satisfying, and keeps the game from being unbearable.
Presentation wise, it’s what you would come to expect from a port of a Dreamcast game. The music is very kiddy and fun, and the graphics are pretty for the era that they come from. Character designs are also simple, and look familiar for what they are. They’ve aged quite a bit, but aren’t to the point where they’ve become unbearable. The only true issue in the game that I’ve found (when it comes to presentation, anyway) is the voice acting, which is atrocious. However, the rest of the sound effects are familiar sounding, which is what you’d expect from a Sonic title.
Though Sonic Adventure came across as an excellent title back when I was younger, the years certainly have not been fair to it. The storyline has gone from something that could be ignored to something nearly bearable, and the hub world and all its elements come across as simply artificial game lengthening tactics. Though parts of the port have been updated with achievements, it’s essentially the familiar Dreamcast experience. Though the platforming is still great, it’s not enough to keep this title from being barely above average in this day and age.