Review: Sonic Adventure DX
Posted 25 Aug 2003 at 20:57 by Bas van der Burgh
On a forum I recently read a discussion on what was the best launch game for any system. Of course Super NES gem Super Mario World was mentioned quite a few times, along with Xbox classic Halo and Tetris for the Game Boy. What struck me (apart from too few votes for Super Monkey Ball) was that the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure was hardly mentioned; especially in comparison to the high praise that was still given to Super Mario 64.
Sonic had been Sega's cool answer to Mario in the 2D era and acted as such again after 3D platforming was invented with Mario 64. Now, it could be argued that Mario 64 just is a better game than Sonic Adventure (which is true), but I know I was quite impressed when racing through the action packed stages for the first time. This leads me to believe this game has gotten more out of date than others. So what to think about this port?
When speaking of liquor, port, provided that it's kept in oaken barrels, gets better over the years. But when it comes to gaming, ports have a rather bad reputation. Unfortunately, the four-year-old port subject to this review is no exception and sadly hasn't aged as well as liquid ports tend to.
1999. It doesn't seem to be very long ago, and it isn't. But computer technology continued to develop very fast and makes it seem like an eternity. That's why a (re-)acquaintance with Sonic's visuals (except for the flashy opening cinematic) may be a disappointment. The textures are not as impressive as they used to be and some objects could have used some more polygons.
Sonic Team has taken little effort to improve the graphics, which is bad news for graphics junkies but probably doesn't matter much to the rest of us. Sonic Adventure 2 (released on the GameCube before its predecessor) looks better, but the mostly imaginative levels make it still nice to look at.
In contrast to most of Nintendo's heroes, Sonic began speaking when technology allowed it. The question if main characters should speak is a matter of opinion, but in the case of Sonic Adventure, few would dispute it was not a great move. The voice acting was bad four years ago and it didn't get any better. This is not entirely the actors' fault, even if Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams had provided the voices of Sonic and Tails they would have struggled with the terrible dialog. The incoherent movement of characters mouth's while speaking makes it even more laughable.
The game's music consists mostly of eighties guitar tunes. Personally, I don't like them very much, but more than most parts of a game, this is a matter of taste. It seems to be added for a cool image, just as Sonic was designed to be cooler than Mario. Nowadays, Sonic doesn't look so cool anymore to me and the same goes for the music.
As with most 3D platform games, Sonic Adventure starts in a hub world from which action stages and sub games can be accessed. The adventure field (the hub world) also functions as the setting where much of the story takes place. There are some puzzles to solve but the adventure plot doesn't work very well. The story is boring and full of clichés and the puzzles are often prompted or it's just unclear what you should do next.
You start as Sonic, but when you progress in the game other characters become available. With these characters, which all have different abilities, you play the same story from a different perspective. It's not that the game provides six full adventures. The game is clearly based upon Sonic and other characters are added to increase the game's lasting appeal. More often than not you'll encounter areas you've already seen when playing with Sonic. Some of the characters play similar to Sonic, such as Tails and Knuckles, but some are very slow and less fun to play with (Amy, Big the Cat).
Though it says adventure in the title, the best parts of Sonic DX are the action stages. The levels are super fast and though you sometimes don't know what you're doing, the imaginative surroundings and inventive level design make up for the 'half automatic' parts. The snowboard and casino levels are great and the level inside the tornado is still unmatched.
We've come to the most important part of the review and sadly, this is the part where Sonic DX fails the most. The controls work fine, but the camera does not. Though this is supposed to be a director's cut, the camera hasn't improved a bit. The automatic camera often turns in an impossible angle causing you to run into a wall or worse, into an abyss. Manual adjustment could help fix this but selecting viewpoints manually works just as bad.
Another major complaint concerns the framerate, which is terribly unstable. In general, a low framerate is not something to be proud of, but a long as it's fairly stable and not irritating a game can still be very good (the Grand Theft Auto games on the PlayStation 2 are a good example of this). Using the power of the Cube to enhance the framerate hasn't turned out well. Though sometimes sixty frames per second are achieved, sudden drops in framrate make the game run anything but smooth. This is much more annoying than the low framerate in GTA as it takes away the sense of speed and smooth gameplay, which are essential in a Sonic game.
When reviewing a game you're supposed to be critical and I am also aware of the fact that not everyone may value a steady high framerate as much as most game journalists. You can get used to the sloppy performance and still enjoy the game, but this is one of the worst cases I've seen in recent years. Given that this is a four-year-old game that runs better on the technical inferior Dreamcast, makes Sonic's return to the Cube a huge disappointment.
If things weren't already bad enough, the game suffers from more technical flaws, such as running or falling though walls and items that can't be picked up after dropped. These are more or less minor faults, but they are there and make the game unworthy of the additive 'director's cut'.
There is also good news. Sonic Team may not have put much effort in camera and framerate, they have added several features to increase the game's lifespan. After completing the game a mission mode becomes available. In addition to this several Game Gear games can be unlocked and there is an extensive Chao garden option which makes use of the GBA link, in case there are still some people who like this Tamagotchi stuff (don't get me wrong, it's worked out well, but just doesn't appeal to me).
There are lots of extra's to earn and the game takes up quite some time to complete, especially when you haven't played it before on the Dreamcast. The lifespan can be good, unless you get bored by the less interesting later stages.
Don't let the game's name fool you; this is not much of an improvement to the Dreamcast version. The extras are nice but not worth the purchase of a game you already own, especially since the DC version runs smoother.
If you never have played this game before (and chances are you haven't, considering the number of Dreamcasts sold), then you can expect some rewarding moments but also a technically flawed game, so try before you buy.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Technical flaws prevent Sonic DX from being a great platform game
Some great action
Lots of extra's