Sonic Adventure is one of the most beloved games in the series, and has fans that rave about it at any opportunity and endless waves of Sonic fans insisting that the best thing for the franchise is a return to the Adventure formula. Having recently played through it for the first time, I cannot for the life of me understand why.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here: Sonic Adventure fucking sucks. This isn’t just a case of Sonic having a rough transition from 2D to 3D, we can’t all be Mario after all, it would be a completely separate thing if it was just rough gameplay or hilariously aged graphics. No, Sonic Adventure is flawed from concept up.
Let’s start with the story, which hilariously enough, is one of the only alright things about the game. While Sonic is walking around the city one day, he sees a small water-based monster called Chaos rise out of the ground, and— okay, I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the story here, but this is the first major gameplay issue that sets the stage for the next twelve hours of your life. This is a pretty quick boss fight, even if you’ve never played a video game in your life you can probably figure out what to do and win without dying, but the camera stays focused on Chaos no matter what you do. Meaning if Chaos jumps above you, the camera goes underground to keep it trained on him.
Anyway, Sonic defeats Chaos, and soon after sees Tails crash his plane into a nearby beach. This leads you to your first action stage, where Sonic runs as fast as he can just to make sure Tails is okay. Not only did he escape what probably should’ve been a fatal scratch completely unscathed (characters have a liberal amount of plot armor here), he has a chaos emerald! Naturally, Eggman wants the chaos emeralds, so he steals it soon after. To try to foil his plan, Sonic and Tails run around collecting the chaos emeralds so he can’t get them. Naturally, he gets them anyway.
Around the same time as the Chaos fight and Tails’s crash, Angel Island, a floating island that houses the Master Emerald, crashes into the Earth after the Emerald was damaged. Knuckles, protector of the Emerald, has to find the pieces and put the Emerald back together. He runs into Eggman, who tells him that Sonic is also collecting the pieces of the Master Emerald, so naturally Knuckles goes to fight him. This fight happens three times, once as Sonic, once as Tails, and once as Knuckles on their respective routes. Despite having to win the fight no matter who you’re playing as to continue, Knuckles will win every time.
Of course, this was just Eggman tricking Knuckles again, and when Knuckles knocks the chaos emeralds from Sonic’s hands, Eggman steals them and feeds them to Chaos. He then becomes Chaos 4, much larger and more powerful, and you have to fight him three times again. While Knuckles moves on to find the rest of the Master Emerald, Sonic and Tails instead give chase in Tails’s new plane. Once they’re shot down, Sonic and Tails are separated, and Amy ends up finding Sonic.
At this point, Amy’s been chased by the robot Zero, a creation of Eggman. Amy befriended a bird at the beginning of her story that for some reason has a chaos emerald around its neck. Zero wants the Emerald, but Amy thinks it’s trying to capture her and the bird, so she has Sonic play bodyguard for her. They become separated, however, and Amy ends up captured by Zero, and taken to his airship. Sonic and Tails reunite in time to get to the airship and save Amy, fighting another robot called Gamma in the process. Before Sonic can destroy him, Amy stops him, saying he tried to rescue her.
Eggman, having retrieved the Chaos Emerald from the bird, feeds it to Chaos, creating Chaos 6. Sonic fights him while Tails takes Amy to safety. Knuckles is here too, because part of the Master Emerald somehow ended up on Eggman’s ship, and he ends up fighting Chaos 6 as well. Because of course he does. I suppose canonically, Sonic and Knuckles are fighting him at the same time, but you’re given no indication of this, and it feels like they’re just reusing content to pad out the game.
Once Chaos is defeated, Eggman runs away, and Sonic tries to catch him. He forgets he can’t fly, however, and simply jumps off the ship and plummets to the ground. Eggman, who wanted to use Chaos to destroy the hub world (not that I blame him), doesn’t let Sonic’s apparent victory get in his way. He launches a missile at Station Square, but when it lands, it doesn’t activate. Tails has to race him through the speed highway so he can disable the missile before Eggman can activate it.
When Tails succeeds, Eggman gets mad and fights him as the final boss in Tails’s route. In the time it takes for Sonic to get back to the Egg Carrier, Eggman apparently loses to Tails, escapes, and returns in time to be Sonic’s final boss as well. It turns out to really not be Eggman’s day, as Sonic thrashes him as well, before finding Tails again and celebrating after saving the day.
But wait, there’s more! Chaos had six Chaos Emeralds, but there’s still one left, the one powering Tails’s plane. After beating everyone’s campaign, Chaos finds the last emerald, allowing him to become Perfect Chaos, and promptly starts devastating Station Square. Thanks to some plot convenience, Chaos only absorbed the “negative power” of the Emeralds, meaning Sonic can still turn into Super Sonic and fight him. His battle’s pretty awesome, and would help make the entire game worth it… if you couldn’t just do the entire fight in Generations, with less time wasted on the buildup and better controls.
You see how convoluted that is? It’s even worse in-game, because the story’s told through six different perspectives instead of just being laid out. On top of that, every character also sees visions of the past to help tell Chaos’s origin story, and develop the ancient tribe of Echidnas (Echidnae?) who originally protected the Master Emerald.
Now that we’re done with that, let’s move on to the actual gameplay styles. Instead of any kind of consistency, Sonic Team decided to throw six characters that all play radically differently from each other. Sonic, naturally, is fast. He runs around and has a homing attack, and if you make a mistake (or the game just decides you can go fuck yourself, that happens from time to time), you’ll fall of or at the very least slow down and have to rebuild your speed. Most of his stages are linear, or sometimes have a few branching paths, so you can reach the end.
Tails, meanwhile, can float around for a little bit. He doesn’t run as fast, but he feels better to control than Sonic. His movement is more in your control because he’s not as fast, and he can recover better because of his hover. Most of his stages are races, wherein he’s hilariously capable of beating “fastest thing alive” Sonic to the finish line each time. He attacks with a spin attack, which is a lot more reliable than the homing attack.
Amy is boring as hell. She can’t run, her hammer attack takes just a moment too long to activate to feel good, and the only fun thing to do is a cool little movement trick where you attack in midair to boost her forwards. Her stages are pretty straightforward as well, just get to the end while being chased by Zero. They suck. There’s no reason to play as her other than to see how she met the bird and to show Gamma releasing her from prison. She also has an annoying final boss to justify her having a route, but it doesn’t work. She should be a side character, not a forced route to play to beat the game.
Gamma’s kind of fun, in a mindless sort of way. He has an auto-aim gun, so you can just mash attack to destroy anything in your way. His route’s not really necessary either, after freeing Amy he goes on to fight the other robots Eggman made, all of which are laughably easy except for Beta, the last one. I guess Sonic Team just really wanted you to play six routes that they didn’t much care how pointless they were.
Knuckles… oh boy. Knuckles controls pretty nicely, he glides through the air and climbs up walls, and he had potential for pretty fun stages. Instead, he has scavenger hunts. Hidden throughout each of his stages are three pieces of the Master Emerald. That’s right, in a game about going fast, you have to wander around what could’ve been speed stages and instead comb each area for Emerald pieces. Kids who wanted a Sonic game would looove that, right?
However, that’s nothing, nothing compared to Big the Cat, who I managed to go over 1500 words without mentioning because of how pointless he is. He’s far and away the most annoying character in the game, with a voice like a sixth grader cruelly mocking a developmentally disabled kid, and as if just hearing his voice wasn’t enough to turn you away, his gameplay is outright terrible. At least Knuckles and Amy had some interesting movement, Big fumbles around the world as slowly as he can manage, and instead of some kind of actual speed stage— you know, what you play a goddamn Sonic game for— Big has a fishing minigame. If you know what you’re doing, you can finish his whole campaign in under half an hour, but it’s not intuitive in the slightest. It took me half an hour on the first stage just to figure out that you have to hold down when you get your target on the line or else he’ll leave immediately, then you have to rapidly mash between the action buttons instead of holding them or the line will break, and sometimes he’ll get away anyway because fuck you.
Still not enough padding, you say? Well, how about we introduce a hub world! That’s right, instead of just hopping from level to level like a normal goddamn video game, you have to guide Sonic and friends through a thoroughly useless hub world between levels. There’s very little direction, and I ended up following a guide in order to get around so I didn’t waste too much time stumbling around the small handful of areas offered to us. The hub doesn’t offer much, just a few collectibles if you’re a completionist, and should 100% have been left out of the game in favor of actually fixing the already existing problems.
Even everything worked perfectly, which it doesn’t in the slightest, so many of these routes are fundamentally flawed. Sonic is about going fast, not taking a leisurely walk away from a robot, not scavenger hunts, not fishing, but going fast, and only three routes give you that: Sonic, Tails, and Gamma if we’re being generous. That means that half this game is a goddamn nightmare to slog through, more than half if you count all the times you have to replay almost whole stages because you got fucked over by the absolutely horrendous camera, and all just for one final boss fight.
Fortunately, it is a pretty damn good boss fight. The only one who can hope to defeat Perfect Chaos is Super Sonic, so Sonic absorbs the power of the Chaos Emeralds and hops into the fray. Maintaining the Super Sonic form takes rings, so you’re constantly losing health through the entire fight, and there’s a limited supply of rings. This is one of the only parts of the game where you can build up speed outside of an autorunner and lose it fairly. Sonic runs over the surface of the water, and you have to aim for sections of concrete with rings and boost pads on them to build up speed as you approach Chaos. If you’re fast enough, you’ll deal damage, but if not, you have to try it again. Every failed hit is basically a waste of rings, so it gets pretty intense, especially when you’re down to the wire and either you or him will survive this last attack. This is how you do a Sonic boss, and it’s an outright shame that the rest of the game doesn’t feel like this.
Most people, when they talk about this game, will bring up the incredibly dated graphics, and for good reason. While Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time came out before this and look a hell of a lot better, the ridiculous cutscenes were kind of a highlight for me. It was like watching a B-list sci-fi movie from the 70s, and seeing Sonic’s face bubble as he talked in every cutscene he was in was one of the only things keeping me going. I’d highly recommend looking up a cutscene compilation, it’s hilarious in all the wrong ways.
Last up, the music. Finally, finally there’s an aspect of this game that’s consistently good throughout. The music always gives you a sense of speed, even when the game fails, and while the varied gameplay just falls flat on its face, the variety in the soundtrack is aural bliss. I’d consider playing through Sonic’s whole campaign again just to hear that credit’s theme if it wasn’t on YouTube, and the instrumental track on Amy’s theme is sublime, even if the lyrics are… questionable. Best of all, the opening riff from Open Your Heart plays every time you select something on the main menu, and the full version during the boss battle is sublime. A massive shout-out goes to all the musicians who worked on this game, thank you for giving me something positive to work with.
I’ve been pretty cruel towards this game, and while I think it’s justified considering I wasted 12 hours of my life and had fun for about 20 minutes, I know there are a lot of people out there that are incredibly nostalgic for this game. I’m sure this was a lot of people’s first Dreamcast game, or maybe even the first game they ever played as a kid, and nothing can take that away from you. If this is what you play to remind you of snow days from school or the first day of summer break or staying up until midnight on New Years for the first time, then by all means, treasure it.
If you’ve never played it before, however, and you’re curious what all the hype is about… don’t. You’ll regret it. Get Generations so you can play the Perfect Chaos fight to your heart’s content, and save yourself hours of headache. This is Sonic Team’s prototype, their throwaway… their first pancake, if you will. Unfortunately, their second wasn’t much better. We’ll get to that later, though.
Max is a student at Rutgers who likes writing fantasy and playing video games such as Zelda, Mario, Undertale, Earthbound, and Stardew Valley.