Sega’s mascot sure has gotten around in the last few years. There have been ups and downs, but with the mash-up of old and new in Sonic Generations and the widespread availability of Sonic’s early adventures through Steam and GamersGate, there’s never been a better time to dip into some of the classic titles from Sonic Team’s heyday.
It’s pretty clear that the first three Sonic titles are classics at this point, and the recently rereleased Sonic CD somewhat reaches those heights. However, Sega’s new Dreamcast collection includes Sonic Adventure DX, which is an altogether different title from the Genesis releases. Some praised it as an amazing next-generation leap while others panned it as being the moment Sonic games teetered from being a classic 2D series to a 3D pile of junk. But which side is correct?
In the end, we would say both sides are fairly close to the mark. Sonic Adventure DX is indeed a brilliant take on the original – the actual platforming itself is solid but a little glitchy. Normally everything is quite smooth, but Ion, the Sonic formula in 3D, is far better than any attempt before and arguably after. The graphics were absolutely mind-blowing in 1999—we still remember gawking at the whale chase scene on the demo unit at Blockbuster—but they hold up fairly well today, and are no worse than the average GameCube or Xbox title. The real draw is the set pieces; Sonic Adventure DX is liberally dosed with spectacle and “wow” moments throughout. The famous killer whale sequence is just one of dozens of moments you could pick out as being, well, awesome. The level design is solid, and aside from a few frustrating missteps, the game strikes a good balance between linear speed sections and actual platforming.
We would wager money that at some point, every person who plays this game will die due to some sort of falling-through-a-platform glitch. The camera usually behaves well and can be manually controlled with the shoulder buttons, but occasionally it gets caught behind a wall, forcing you to mash buttons to free it. Speaking of shoulder buttons, a controller is highly recommended for this game. Controlling the game with the arrow keys is way too imprecise for a full-3D platformer, and there are some questionable key-binding choices. Fortunately, the game supports Xbox controllers out of the box; unfortunately, it requires a bit of hassle to get any other brand of controller to work properly.
Unfortunately, the looming shadow of Sonic’s future still kind of hangs over this title. The first problem is the overwrought and goofy storyline. The writing is mediocre at best and hilariously bad at worst, and the voice actors really try to sell it, with varying degrees of success. The larger problem that plagued later games are Sonic’s friends, each of which takes over a sixth of the story. It’s not as bad as in Sonic Adventure 2 or Sonic Heroes, but it’s still unfortunate that you have to strap on Big the Cat’s fishing pole if you want to reach the true ending of the game.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The six characters necessitate an interesting story structure where you don’t get the complete picture until you play them all. Some of the characters are kind of fun too. Playing as Tails involves keeping up with Sonic through the levels (something anyone who’s tried being Player 2 in the Genesis Sonic games can appreciate). Amy’s levels are fairly good as well; the poor attempt to shoehorn in stealth elements falls flat, but her hammer adds a neat mechanic to the stages. The other three are less passable; Knuckles’ levels are a dull scavenger hunt, Gamma’s levels are easy third-person shooters, and Big’s levels are just awful fishing extravaganzas.
Normally the game would be a pretty solid recommendation, except that the Steam version reeks of a lazy port. The worst symptom is the configuration menu, which just does not function without a workaround. The game only runs at one resolution with a purple striped border around it. It looks horrible. Why not just black? The original release of Sonic Adventure DX included a bunch of Sonic Game Gear bonus titles as unlockables, but they’ve been stripped out of this version. It’s not a huge loss, but it did add some incentive to collect the emblems and some hard-to-find treats for collectors. In the end, it feels like playing a cheap Dreamcast emulator instead of a fully loaded re-release. We would have loved to see a HD makeover with some extra polish, a la Beyond Good and Evil HD, but obviously that’s not the direction Sega wanted to go.
But the vast majority of the experience is intact. If you’ve never played a Sonic game before but you don’t want to go too far into the back catalogue, you could do a lot worse than Sonic Adventure DX. It’s one of the two best 3D Sonic games out there, with only Sonic Adventure 2 coming close. If you’ve only played 2D Sonics but skipped the 3D ones because you heard they were bad, you should really check it out. There are plenty of references and continuity nods to keep a stalwart Genesis fan happy.
Final Verdict: It’s not the most definitive version of Sonic Adventure DX out there, but it certainly manages to keep the original experience intact, both good and bad. It’s no 2D classic, but it is a highlight of the 3D Sonic era.
[xrr rating=7/10, max_stars=10]
This review is based on a retail copy of the Steam version of Sonic Adventure DX provided by Sega Americas