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Sonic and his wonderful friends - talking about Sonic Adventure

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Just this week I acquired a Dreamcast, and have finally begun making some headway into a corner of video game history that I briefly intersected with when I was younger and only observed from afar thereafter, until now. Then as now, Sonic Adventure appears as the natural choice in learning the initial personality and feel of the system, and while my impressions of the game as a whole were very glowing--in fact, let's rewind for a moment here:

Years ago I'd played some of the game through one of the various ports, and mostly dismissed it as an awkward relic. The difference now is that my tastes in video games have changed much over time, and the contextual appraisal and appreciation of such comes more naturally these days. As a piece of media seen in its original context, this might as well be a faultless game--I've rarely seen anything be this excited to exist in 3D; it's exploding in every direction at all times, and carries with it the sort of setpiece thrill mentality that presaged years or decades of showpiece game development, but here expressed through the loose, colourful abstractions and impossibilities of its makeshift world instead of the dull would-be plausibilities and fake realisms of future industry tentpoles. There is a lightness to everything the game does, because it's interested in everything all at once but not too exhaustively; any odd idea that exchanged minds and hands that day among the developers seemingly found a place in the game, and creates a toybox-like quality of always being surprised by the diversions that come to represent much more than intimated by the designation: all the status quo-breaking segments and interludes become integral to what the game is because they grant it its sense of liveliness that comes to define it. The ambition at play in the stage layouts similarly speak to a game existing beyond its seeming borders for the scale suggested and presented, and how it all congeals despite appearing at times to be held together by prayers and gumption. It's a reckless game, and it's a daring game, and it's representational of its home system more than mere default mascot status suggests.

... right, as I was saying, the game is good; exceptionally so. I don't doubt that people are aware of the longstanding memetic reputation the extended playable cast in this game possess that the thread title is riffing on, but I wanted to talk a little about what makes each of them interesting and worthwhile presences in Sonic Adventure, the video game, speaking as someone who doesn't play or know the series well and has no particular attachment nor revulsion towards its myriad entries. Most assessments still read too cynical by half even to a neophyte's eyes and ears, and well contrary to how delightful I found this first foray into 3D especially because of its ensemble approach. Some thoughts per character and the play experience therein, in the order the game presents them through its interface:



Sonic

The above blurb was written after having completed Sonic's scenario, so the overall impressions mostly pertain to his particular niche and rhythm of play. Every player begins Adventure as Sonic, and his role as the center from which all other types of movement and playstyles branch out is key to his identity as he is the initial lens through which the rules of the game are internalized and taught to the player, through a scenario that is double the length of even the most sizable of the other characters's stories. The extended duration serves multiple purposes in being so frenetic and setpiece-filled that it may be all that one desires to see of the game after it's concluded--and if not, having provided a valuable baseline in the nuances of character control and the quirks of the game's wildly unpredictable level design concepts, ready to be filtered through the unique perspectives of characters with different movesets and priorities than the speed-and-adrenaline blue blur.

When the final leg of the story unlocks, and Sonic returns to the role of player character, the game creates its own bookend not only narratively, but mechanically in the purely experiental way video games as an interactive medium can: Sonic has no new abilities that he's gained in the interim, but he feels like a whole new character as the player now returns to his set of verbs with hours of additional experience that transform the once reckless and wild bursts of speed and explosive dashes into maneuvers of second-nature precision and efficiency.



Tails

Adventure utilizes an interwoven storytelling approach where the same basic events are told from multiple perspectives across characters, and with this inevitably comes overlap both in the narrative of the story and the narrative of the play sequence, the wheres and the hows of what happens. The character affected most by this is Tails, and considering how thematically--should you deign to earnestly consider that Adventure does possess such notions, whatever the thoughts are regarding the execution--his tale is one of following in Sonic's footsteps aspirationally while being swept away by the force of his personality on an individual basis, this might not be accidental or at the very least provides ample resources for such a reading. The narrative is literalized very directly through the game mechanics themselves, as Tails chases Sonic through veritable proving grounds that the elder stateshog of running real fast has already charted in his own telling, and so the overcoming of Sonic is accomplished by making use of the abilities that are unique to Tails as a person--his flight and the shortcut opportunities it provides--and not simply mimicking his role model to a tee. The least interesting of the secondary scenarios for its redundancy is thus contextualized as a cute little story of self-actualization for the perpetual sidekick figure in dire need of such.



(knock knock it's) Knuckles

This was the point at which I truly fell head over heels for Adventure's multi-character design. As a game pumped out in ten months or so, working with completely new technology still in the process of being developed itself, and as a more or less first venture into the intimidating realm of 3D for the people involved, concessions would need to be made and the realities of game development acknowledged as the project expanded in scale and ambition. It's surely why the game has the structure it does, and why characters intersect with one another so regularly, so as to limit the assets needed to contain just all this sheer Game within the boundaries of the depicted world and scenario.

Knuckles as a protagonist sees very little environmentally new or unique to him on a base level, as he exists in the stages Sonic or Tails previously raced through. The difference comes in the objective of his play, in seeking out the hidden fragments of the Master Emerald he's tasked with guarding, in a sort of investigative sandbox challenge for each locale he winds up in. This is a style of interacting with the environment and surroundings totally unfamiliar and contrary to the previous two characters; a slower, more curious experience as the out of the way corners need to be poked into and the weird hidden objects prodded with oversized knuckle spikes. It allows for the sense of place about each location to shine in ways they cannot in the breakneck pace encouraged if not enforced by the expectations of how a Sonic game "should" play, and highlights the dense geometric construction of them all in ways that might pass one by if one is blazing through them without stopping to look around. Knuckles's individual style of movement--dimensionally enrichening climbing and gliding maneuvers--differs from the main duo in the grounded heft he possesses even as his unique maneuverability opens up the world design in spectacular ways: flying over and across practically the entire jungle map after having climbed a tree above forest level, knowing all of the environment tactilely exists below even as it's circumvented... that's a moment etched into my mind when it comes to the sheer scale Adventure imbues its environments with, and how it allows one to test their borders of interaction.



Amy

The simplest way to put it is probably the most evocative one: Amy's scenario is a slice of survival horror game design. The absurdities inherent in framing a game so deliberately and inadvertently goofy as this as a tense thriller in the making are clear for all to see, but here they stand, equally as evident and real. Each of Amy's three stages (the lowest amount in the game) involves an extended chase sequence where the implacable Eggman mech Zero slowly and not-so-slowly closes in on her, attempting to capture Amy and the bird under her protection. Escaping Zero would not be an issue for any of the preceding protagonists, but Amy is notably slower than all of them, and builds momentum more gradually as well, leaving last-ditch swings with her oversized but lightweight hammer as a frequent last line of defense against the encroaching robot. For all that these limitations exist to provide a source of tension for the particular needs of the level design, Amy does have advanced maneuvers that distinguish her capabilities in the running-momentum hammer vault--the largest vertical clearance in the game under standard circumstances--as well as the ability to bounce off enemies with airborne swings of her weapon; a more directed way to rebound and maintain momentum that the preceding characters come by effortlessly.

Amy's movement reads as more technical and limited to maintain the careful balance between a capable platformer lead and a vulnerable stalker escapee, and to the surrounding design's credit that balance is usually preserved. The superficial length of her scenario and its stages may also mislead, because for their slim count Amy's stages are some of the lengthiest and most involved in the game, in how they place her in dangerous and claustrophobic gauntlets full of traps and obstacles as she navigates them while being constantly pressured by the trailing Zero. It is a great joy at the end to have the opportunity to finally square off with the would-be assailant, in a move that further roots her play narrative in that seemingly incompatible but contextually most fascinating of genres.



Big

The most infamous member of the cast, for reasons that are well-justified--a horrifically ableist vocal portrayal by one Jon St. John--and others that are less quantifiable. The pressing argument many have for Big is, well, in his name: he is so large that the speed that's synonymous with Sonic and the games that feature him do not exist in Big's vocabulary nor inform the reality of his existence. The complete remove at which Big exists relative to Adventure's fundamental design ends up forming the core of his character, again in all senses of the narrative: a peaceful woods-dweller who spends all his time fishing and enjoying life at his own pace cannot interact with the game's expressions of violence, however abstracted, in the same ways the other characters do. Big only wants to find his friend, and he has no abilities or tools for inflicting harm on others, except a rudimentary swing of the tool of his trade in a pinch. To so totally reject the principles of the series and its leading figure can then breed resentment for the character itself and all that he's seen to represent, but here again perspectives can differ in just what he's supposed to stand for. For myself, Big was the ultimate realization of the kitchen-sink smörgåsbord mentality fueling so much of the game's creative ethos, where no idea was too insignificant to leave out unelaborated, unimplemented, unloved.

If Big is seen as an intrusion upon the appeal and sanctity of the Sonic concept, then the designers also meet those inclined to that line of thought halfway: all of his stages place him practically at the goal, only requiring to cast a line and try to hook the errant Froggy. If one decides to linger in the spaces that Big inhabits, there's the growing sensation of that most precious of feelings in a creative work to be found--the "this didn't need to be here, but it is" sentiment, in all the fish that Big can try to catch for no reason or gain but his and the player's own curiosity and satisfaction; the lures hidden about facilitating even bigger catches; and the spaces accessible by swimming beneath the waves and discovering some forgotten corner simply to drowse in while letting the lure drift where it may. Perhaps Big could not sustain an adventure on his own, but for an ensemble piece emphasizing differing viewpoints and perspectives, he's invaluably positive a presence.



Gamma

Once again the breadth of the game's concepts stretches the limits of believability as at the eleventh hour a totally new way of interacting with the stages presents itself through Gamma's robotic frame. A humanoid combat machine crafted in Eggman's inimitable stylistic fashion, Gamma is built for efficiency reflected in the strict time limits that pace the missions he undertakes in his creator's, and later his own behalf. The very design of him communicates his adaptability to any situation, as legs retract to be replaced with all-terrain wheels for extended traversal, and as a propeller extends from his mid-section to keep him afloat and shy of water.

The seamless transformations and moving parts on display in Gamma project an impression of an unstoppable force able to handle any situation, and the search-and-destroy rhythm of his play makes true the promise as he crashes through exploding scenery at wild, but controlled abandon, facilitated by honestly shockingly well-realized, intuitive targeting mechanics that prioritize always staying on the move even as a countermeasure is readied and deployed. As a pure adrenaline rush and a contrast to the more passive player characters, it would've sufficed admirably, but the added factor of the time limits and the extensions granted through optimized chained destruction wreaked along the way frame Gamma's exploits as a tantalizing twist on the standby score attack time trial style of play that Sonic is thought to lend itself to so naturally. To latch onto a so compatible yet distinct an expression of the fundamentals so late in the game is no small feat by any measure.

~~~

As alluded to earlier, all of these individual characters and their stories culminate at the end for an effective victory lap and last hurrah as Sonic, and ultimately Super Sonic, in a spectacle worthy of the moniker. For all the bombast, it's also a time to reflect on everything the developers accomplished with Sonic Adventure, in all its occasionally bizarre self. That's also perhaps a crucial aspect of why the game holds the appeal it does, at least for me: that it is novel, even after over twenty years have passed. So many things about it wouldn't be done the particular way they ended up being here a sequel later, a few years of game development trends later, after addressing and "fixing" the many well-documented issues that are brought up in relation to it now, in hindsight. It comes from a time of re-examining and expanding the conceptual limits of reliable video game icons that coincided with the new frontiers represented by unprecedented technology and hardware leaps that gave developers means to push those boundaries in ways that hadn't been possible before. For all that it stumbles as it's learning to run, I would not trade those tentative steps for anything, and sooner still might wish that others borrowed a turn or two from its gait.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
Yes! I love Sonic Adventure. Like you said, it's one of those games where it's clear that the developers were just so excited to be working in 3D that they let their ambition and creativity run wild. It's got six playable characters, each with their own playstyle and stages— when previous games had near-identical characters in identical stages. It's got a hub structure, and one so much larger and deeper than contemporaries, with upgrades to find, puzzles to solve, and secrets to uncover. It's got a bunch of mini-games, from the one-off plane shooter section or the pinball boards, to the entirely optional kart racer and Chao Garden. It's just mind-boggling how much is going on here; the only other game on this level that comes to mind is Final Fantasy VII.

One thing I've always found interesting is how the main trio are all different takes on the 3D platformer. Tails has linear, corridor-style mad dashes; Knuckles' stages are slower, methodical and exploration-driven; while Sonic's mode falls somewhere in-between— linking together exhilarating setpieces with bouts of light traversal and tricky platforming. And maybe this is reading into it a bit, but it always felt like a bit of a window into their development process, like they were working out just how to do Sonic in 3D, and settled on something very much their own.

Thrilled to hear you liked Knuckles' stages, by the way; he's always been my favourite to play as in the Adventure duology. His moveset is just a perfect fit for the 3D level design.
 

LBD_Nytetrayn

..and his little cat, too
(He/him)
Man, I still wish we could get a full game of Knuckles' Adventure gameplay. There's just something so chill about gliding around and climbing everywhere to find emerald pieces. They took my favorite parts of playing as Knux in 2D and built a whole new experience that emphasizes it even more in 3D.

(I could maybe do without the weird time limit imposed in one stage of SA2, though.)

I've always been ready to go to bat for Sonic Adventure, and it's little wonder why people are calling for a Sonic Adventure 3 (which Sonic '06 was functionally, but that game had other issues).

Incidentally, I'm still crossing my fingers that SEGA is seeing all the money that remakes of 3D mascot games from the time are making now, and give SA1&2 (and maybe some others) the same treatment.
 

MetManMas

DNM-123
(He, him)
Sonic Adventure has a rough spots but the game is so dang ambitious that it's still a big favorite of mine.

Just wish the camera was better. Found myself struggling with it a lot in the Knuckles and Big segments.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I always loved the story structure of having the same story effecting different characters and seeingthe stories mix.

It's ages since I played the game, but back then, I nearly beat it 100%. Only one emblem was missing, from the final Chao race, which I just couldn't beat. Annoying, but I liked the Chao. They were cute.

I got really good at finding the fastest way through the stage as sonic, including shortcuts through hard jumps. I remember really enjoying rushing through the levels.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
One of my favourite things narratively about the game is the little floating, glowing orb of light that dispenses advice and directions whenever you interact with it. At first blush it appears to be a solution to a common problem faced by developers in this time, in guiding players along through new and extensive 3D spaces, and especially in contexts like Adventure's that are pointedly broader than the series precedent. The release of Ocarina of Time just a month before did related things in externalizing and personifying hint systems and 3D-accessibility functions in the form of Navi the fairy, for just one example. With that in mind, and aware of certain societal biases and phenomenons--being "helpful" is often a gendered task in reality and fiction--the feminine, disembodied voice announcing things upon request will probably read as what it superficially is: femininely-coded service to help the player along, contextualized simply by its disregard to narrative diegetics.

What the game eventually "reveals" (it's not framed as shocking) is that the voice does have a source and does have an identity, in the narratively peripheral but integral Tikal the Echidna. It's actually somewhat uncharacteristically subtle in how the game goes about this, as there's never a scene or even a line of dialogue spared to connect the two--it's just something the player does, as they hear both figures' voices, see more of the story, and witness the shared semiotics between them like the orange light orb representation. In certain intervals, I'd even note how the otherwise constant where-to-next pointers weren't available, and those instances coincided with times when Tikal in the narrative was preoccupied with something else, forbidding her presence. This is an often amateurish-seeming game in its storytelling when viewed through modern eyes as the attention is usually focused on the growing pains of 3D direction and emoting, but it's also a game with things like this that speak to its thoughtful construction and integration of concepts that industry-wide were being grappled with by all.
 

Kishi

Little Waves
(They/Them)
Staff member
Moderator


I still remember getting a good feeling the first time Sonic smiled at me in that opening. Somehow I knew they'd gotten something right with this Dreamcast thing.

It is striking how the various mini-games and Gamma's gameplay in particular speak to Sega's specialty as an arcade developer. For something that flew almost completely over my head at the time, it can't be overstated what an integral aspect of their identity that is or how consistently relevant a context it serves when reassessing their history.

It definitely stood out when Adventure 2 included a similar helper role out of the same mechanical necessity but came up short of tying it into the narrative in as clever a way as Tikal.


One thing I've always found interesting is how the main trio are all different takes on the 3D platformer. Tails has linear, corridor-style mad dashes; Knuckles' stages are slower, methodical and exploration-driven; while Sonic's mode falls somewhere in-between— linking together exhilarating setpieces with bouts of light traversal and tricky platforming. And maybe this is reading into it a bit, but it always felt like a bit of a window into their development process, like they were working out just how to do Sonic in 3D, and settled on something very much their own.

It is interesting that even with all the time that's passed, 3D Sonic games don't seem to be much closer to reproducing the synthesized appeal of the 2D games—and I don't think it's just a failure of the developers. Switching gears back and forth between speed and exploration is just easier to do in 2D, where you can easily observe the entire environment surrounding your character and sight potential secrets or alternate paths in an instant. A 3D game trying to achieve the same effect would have to sacrifice environmental detail for maximum readability, or apply a fish-eye effect to the camera, or commit to any number of potentially off-putting hacks like that in order to achieve what a 2D game can offer just by being 2D. Given all that, simply compartmentalizing the exploration like they did in 1998 still feels like a valid compromise even today.
 
I did the pre-launch Hollywood Video Dreamcast rental to be able to play this game. After I had my own Dreamcast I continued to love it, bought the soundtrack and everything.

In high school I brought this in to play on a classroom TV at lunch (I was a senior, nobody cared!), everyone always wanted to see the Super Sonic/Chaos battle. Pretty sure at least one person wrote "pick up all the rings!" in my yearbook.

Also I carried around my Chao in a VMU since that was so novel to me. I never had a Tamagatchi, but here was one I could then use in-game to do cool things!

Finally, I remember uploading my times to their competitions for various levels. A console with a modem! Crazy!
 

muteKi

say "fish don't exist" to my face, motherfucker
I had followed the game's press content closely for a long time but I was too young to have a job (I was merely 10) and my parents had no interest in buying me a console. I didn't get to play it until 2004 when the PC port hit. I eventually picked up a copy within this decade from a Hastings in Alamogordo, probably 2013 if I had to guess off the top of my head after trying to emulate the DC version.

I don't think I have much to say that wasn't said in the original post. The only thing I can think about is the context it fits into gaming at the time. Yes, all the ideas in the game -- snowboarding, pinball, cart racing, animal collecting for chao raising, etc. -- have a basis in prior entries in the series including relative rarities like Sonic the Fighters (introducing Amy's hammer in a playable context), Sonic Drift (included in the PC and gamecube ports as part of the Game Gear game collection and at least partly inspiring the bumper car controls), and Sonic Labyrinth. The implementation in the form of multiple minigames spacing out different gameplay styles of levels in a large, sprawling set of overworlds feels more in line with the nearly-contemporaneous Megaman Legends, also an action game inspired by RPG mechanics. Both owe a debt to Final Fantasy 7, which also greatly enhanced a (by then) traditional RPG experience with lots of genre-defying minigames.

Comparisons with Mario 64 would seem like a matter of happenstance to me if not for the fact that it was so immediately influential to the exploration systems of nearly every 3D game in its wake. Sonic Adventure definitely does feel committed to amibitious 3D design that later games (probably to improve camera systems) largely abandoned -- SA1 levels wrap around themselves, have a greater variance in heights, and even sometimes present open rooms to puzzle out navigation in; nearly all its successors build their level designs around tubular active stage collisions with few enemy closets to break up the action.

I think the worst change that SA2 made was developing unique levels for each character rather than having them explore sections of the same stages -- this required the levels to all have that sort of varied ethos, as levels had to support other styles of play beyond Sonic's -- the more methodical approaches of Knuckles and Gamma in particular leading to more varied and open level styles. Knuckles in particular benefitted from this as it meant the emerald hunts were primarily in areas the player could be familiar with playing as Sonic, and those levels also had an open design where traversal to any point was basically open from the start. Levels like Death Chamber and Aquatic Mine in SA2 were a lot more rigid in their navigation, not permitting exploration to all areas of the level from the start, making it difficult to locate individual emerald pieces as efficiently, and in levels that you couldn't already have scouted out due to their uniqueness. In comparison even the final level, Sky Deck, allows Knuckles to reach any part of the stage to identify emerald locations from the beginning, but returning to the level start tilt stick sometimes would be necessary in order to actually make contact with the emerald piece.

That said, there's still a conceptual relationship between how Mario and Sonic expressed themselves in 3D here and their 2D roots. Mario 64 levels were often designed around centerpiece level features, but the structures of each level tended to be pretty disjoint: you could get the snowman's land head-top star without entering the igloo or engaging with the ice-block maze near the start, rainbow ride had 2 or 3 diverging paths near its entrance, and Hazy Maze Cave literally separated each portion of its stage with connecting doors (likely a means by which to hide loading of areas, but again with a forking path literally at the level start). Aside from Peach's castle itself, the levels frequently wind up feeling like a series of playgrounds each with their own swingsets, seesaws, slides, etc. and thus more contrived than a plausible physical space represented as a videogame level. The ones that do this better are either boring and low on features (i.e., the water levels) or require performing the same traversal tasks for multiple stars (Tick Tock Clock's main challenges are all about reaching progressively higher portions of the stage; Tall, Tall Mountain almost exclusively revolves around reach the mountain peak). While it's more focused on exploration and treasure-hunting than the original 2D Mario games, both had an ethos of presenting spaces that weren't usually directly representational so much as they developed a platforming challenge; nothing about Mario 64 is particularly realistic, but it is regarded as a video game classic and highly influential for a clear reason, and its design was clearly built with a lot of thought about the game structure.

In comparison, Sonic builds in almost the opposite direction -- creating environments fleshed-out enough to feel less obviously like they were made with a game designer's hand in mind, and instead being spaces that feel like real-world structures that happen to have videogame challenges built into them. Here I think that's true as well; Emerald Coast opens from the back of the hotel you crossed through to enter it, goes over a series of islands and bridges (one of which gets unfortunately demolished by an orca), and eventually reaches a long strip where Tails crashed. Red Mountain is itself a climb up a rather large cliff that enters what looks like a mining operation or geothermic generator with lava forcing the player further upward. Final Egg's middle setpiece is built around descending the massive tower shown in Eggman's base from the edge of the mystic ruins. While some areas (i.e., the egg carrier) have a clear TARDIS-like structure, being much bigger in the action stages than the field from which they are taken, the only level that seems to exist as a concept more than a physical space with purpose to exist is speed highway's first section, whose corkscrew bridges to nowhere would not be safe for any car to drive on. That the levels are structures that exist to feel physically justified as much as they are to have a challenge works better here than in Mario 64 because they aren't required to be traversed for any purpose other than to, say, get a faster time in the time attack mode -- story completion only requires beating each level once per character, so supposedly novel content isn't as locked behind redundant challenges (yes, there are reasons to replay levels but they exist as challenges for their own sake and aren't really tied to game completion as a percentage number -- you can unlike metal sonic by getting all the emblems for each mission, but it's just a model swap of Sonic playable only in the trials mode).

That said, the last section of Windy Valley fares similarly to Speed Highway, unfortunately, resembling the Sonic 3D Blast special stage (Tails) more than it does a feasible level design, though in 1999 the floating platforms in the sky weren't quite as obviously a constraint of physical hardware than just an expression that, yes, all of that stuff has been strewn about in the air as a result of the tornado ripping through. The original design has been restored by derivation of a Dreamcast pre-release of the game, and it's a much stronger concept with a lot more structure in its design and a lot more openness. It's something I strongly recommend, as is the entire mod suite that it works with, as it makes the original 2004 release more consistent with the art and lighting of the Dreamcast version (which I could talk about for much longer than this but will simply leave you with what others have documented). That PC port seems playable almost by accident, as its windowed modes were broken and its fullscreen modes would crash if focus was lost; the mod manager makes it significantly more stable in addition to allowing for DLC re-enabling (such as the extra karting course). This is probably the best way to play the game today unless you specifically want to experience the chao adventure VMU minigame.

It's a little disappointing that the game has become a memetic symbol that it's now so divorced from its place in history where it was genuinely celebrated. The game managed to perform in real-time what was very nearly TV-quality CGI like you might see on Reboot or Beast Wars. Yes, these weren't Pixar-quality shows but it was without question the first step in consoles producing rendering tech that wasn't fundamentally different from modern rendering (though the Dreamcast GPU had a number of surprising leaps like order-independent transparency that even relatively modern GPUs don't support); the PS1 and Saturn both took significant shortcuts in terms of how textures were displayed, and the N64 had extremely limited GPU RAM. The Dreamcast wasn't just advertised as looking like the future -- with the benefit of hindsight we can say confidently that this is actually true. Ports of the game failed to do it justice -- the textures are recompressed and (while sometimes less garish) significantly fuzzier, and the lighting detail is all but gone. I maintain that the Dreamcast version is still a vital gaming experience, either in its native form or in the extensive PC restoration project.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I did have an extremely brief experience with the game's demo as a kid, but the first time I sat down with it was with the 2010 console HD releases based on the later ports, and there's no question that that particular context had a lot to do with a sensation of being underwhelmed by various visual aspects in the game. Having access to the original on a CRT now is of course a very exceptional luxury, but inexctricable from the experience of taking in everything the game is doing in the context of its time and how gorgeous it is. The colours pop everywhere that they appeared as dull nothings in the ports and the lighting is constantly imbuing the scenes with varying ambience, and it transforms the whole game's feel. I've tested out the PC mods too which maintain much of that aesthetic but I'm glad I got to have this initial lens to view the game through to carry forward from now on, in mind and memory.
 
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LBD_Nytetrayn

..and his little cat, too
(He/him)
I think the worst change that SA2 made was developing unique levels for each character rather than having them explore sections of the same stages -- this required the levels to all have that sort of varied ethos, as levels had to support other styles of play beyond Sonic's -- the more methodical approaches of Knuckles and Gamma in particular leading to more varied and open level styles. Knuckles in particular benefitted from this as it meant the emerald hunts were primarily in areas the player could be familiar with playing as Sonic, and those levels also had an open design where traversal to any point was basically open from the start.

Huh... I could have sworn that outside of the hubs, most of the level maps were distinct, despite being in the quote-unquote same place...
 

Beta Metroid

At peace
(he/him and such)
I have a lot of affection for this game. This thread has pretty thoroughly covered its strong points, but I'd like to chime in with a few stray points.

I love how the spin dash works! You can charge one up while still on the move, and most importantly, its momentum carries into your jump. You can launch across crazy distances with this thing, which resulted in some fun short cuts (and many clipping-related deaths, but it's a small price to pay!). Sonic in this game compared with other 3D Sonics reminds me of Samus in Super Metroid compared to subsequent Metroid titles. Just jumping with the Speed Booster gets you a ton of air time in Super Metroid, which is capped hard in the GBA titles. By letting you transfer your momentum into the air, Super Metroid and Sonic Adventure give a thrilling sensation of speed far more effectively than their successors.

Similarly, they got Tails exactly right in their first 3D outing, then never let you play like this again. He can fly just long enough to feel like cheating while still having to somewhat follow the level design (unless they decide to plunk him into a level that's a winding descent...one of my favorite parts of the game is beating Tails' Windy Valley without touching the ground). While lacking a spin dash, he's still fast, and combining his land speed with bursts of flight just feels like my favorite character was perfectly realized.

Knuckles was also handled wonderfully. As others have pointed out above, it was more the level design that let him down in SA2, rather than completely abandoning this playstyle in future 3D Sonic games (that would happen immediately after SA2). One factor that makes his SA1 stages better that I didn't see mentioned is that, for some insane reason, SA2 decided that the radar would only function for one emerald piece at a time, in order. The whole point of his levels is that they're open sandboxes to hunt in. SA2's levels being bigger and more complex isn't a bad move on paper, but forcing this linearity to an objective that was designed to be open-ended is baffling.

But yeah, it's so satisfying to glide and climb around, even in the hub areas. And like Tails, this was before they decided that Knuckles had to be drastically slower than Sonic.

E-102's story introduced some genuine pathos to a classic element of the franchise. As goofy (both intentionally and unintentionally) as much of the game comes off, this storyline lands, in my opinion.

The songs with lyrics are ridiculous, but a lot of the game's instrumental pieces are really good. This game's Robotnik theme has a bombastic quality that perfectly fits his personality, the E-102 theme is great, and Open Your Heart slaps, cheesy as it is.
 
I liked Sonic Adventure a lot. It wasn't until Sonic Adventure 2 (pop music intro and *shudder* Pumpkin Hill) that they lost me.
 

muteKi

say "fish don't exist" to my face, motherfucker
Huh... I could have sworn that outside of the hubs, most of the level maps were distinct, despite being in the quote-unquote same place...

Well, OK, technically are at least in a couple ways.

Certainly enemies, springs, etc. are placed in different places between character versions; most obvious example would be Knuckles' Casinopolis, where the entire upper area would not be available for Sonic to reach, but Knuckles can get up to the top with a couple convenient spring hops.

Extremely rarely are these built from completely different geometry; the only obvious example I can think of is Big's Emerald Coast, which replaces the bottomless pit water with swimmable areas -- ostensibly this area is the end of Sonic's first area otherwise. Stuff like Big's Ice Cap and Gamma's Hot Shelter might be unique as well but their opening areas are basically identical to others'.

Often the level differences are pretty minor -- Tails's routes big changes of Sonic's are (with the exception of Speed Highway which includes an extra section) nearly identical except for the addition of air boosters.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I liked Sonic Adventure a lot. It wasn't until Sonic Adventure 2 (pop music intro and *shudder* Pumpkin Hill) that they lost me.

Don't you want to roll around at the speed of sound?

I did play through SA2, but didn't like it that much. Except for Sonics first stage, which I replayed over and over, because I loved that song so much. I still do, it feels a lot like summer to me.
 

MetManMas

DNM-123
(He, him)
I feel like one particular strength of Sonic Adventure was that each of the playable characters had their own campaign instead of being lumped together into Hero and Dark campaigns. It's a lot easier to get into the mindset needed for a Knuckles stage when you're playing as him exclusively (and with hubs to mess about in) instead of having to dedicate like a half-hour to one after that first Sonic stage.

Also it surely helps that the Knux stages of Adventure 1 were more or less a sort of middle ground between the claustrophobic mazes and oversized sandboxes that K.T.E. and Rouge have to navigate for doodads in Adventure 2.
 

muteKi

say "fish don't exist" to my face, motherfucker
This video's extended section near the start about Sky Deck is almost exactly what I mean about the physicality of these spaces. It's not just a series of platforms in the sky -- it's meant to take Sonic along the underside and upper side of the Egg Carrier wing and cause enough damage to cause the ship to fall out of the sky.

 

Krigo

AO Tennis no Kiseki
(he/him)
The discussions of SA1 vs 2 in this thread are really fascinating to me. I've always really disliked that people seem to try and group them both together when they couldn't be anymore different.

In a lot of ways, SA1 feels like experimenting with how they envisioned a classic Sonic game would work with a 3D base. Things only drastically changed afterwards with SA2. Really have to go through SA1 again before I do an extensive writeup on it, as I last played the game in 2015, and it was the DX version. I'd like to go through either the Dreamcast or modded PC version again soon, as I last played DC SA1 in 2005 or so.
 

LBD_Nytetrayn

..and his little cat, too
(He/him)
One thing I really liked about Sonic Adventure was the new character designs, and how there was just this feeling of them having been away for awhile (read: the Saturn era, despite the games that did come out for it), and it was like you were catching up with them after a long absence.

We were a little older, and they felt a little older, too, yet still largely like the same guys 'n gals we knew before.

Of course, these days, there's all that rigmarole about Classic and Modern and being separate characters and all, but at the time, it was cool and felt like catching up after an eventful summer break of sorts.

Damn, thinking about it like that makes me all the more regretful that I have absolutely no idea where my Dreamcast copy went.
 
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