|The only blue hedgehog in the world, Sonic, is back, and what a
return it is. I remember selling Sega Genesis systems in KB Toys several years ago,
soothing parental worries that Sonic was too fast for their child. And we thought that was
fast. Billed as the fastest game in the world, and running at an eye-popping 80 frames per
second, Sonic hasn't lost his edge. If you're one of those wieners who complains about too
many buttons on the new controllers, or if you're prone to the occasional grand mal, steer
clear of this game. But if you are among the masses who look to Sonic for blearingly cool
platform action, get ready for a whole new world.
In Sonic Adventure you fight, who else, the evil Dr. Robotnic, AKA Eggman. He's enslaved the cute, fuzzy critters, and forced them to work with him in his latest plot for world domination. He has a new baddie, Chaos, and needs to collect the Chaos Emeralds to power up his monstrous creature. You, as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Big, and E-103, must try to collect the emeralds before Robotnik does. That means you play through the game as each of the characters, whereupon you can play Super Sonic to defeat Eggman once and for all (sure ). Each character plays a mix of the same and different levels, and each is engaged in a plotline that intercepts the others' and branches on individualized missions. All of the characters have unique abilities, and learn more as they progress through the game. Even when you are playing an identical level with a different character, it is a whole new experience. Each level is designed so that different talents may be used by different characters to achieve a different goal.
Sonic is as epileptic as ever, but with Sonic Adventure things get a whole lot more complicated. Lightning speeds were tough to deal with in two dimensions, but add a third and you can get straight up dizzy blazing through levels that twist, spin, loop, and defy gravity. What is truly amazing about the 3D conversion is the natural control the Sonic Team managed to build in. Levels aren't terribly picky about hitting that right point to achieve an action, and you have nice control of Sonic as he flies through the air, so hitting a mark isn't too hard. Sonic's homing attack also helps things out a lot, allowing you to zero in on a target from above.
Lest you think that the levels in Sonic aren't interactive enough, allow me to correct you. In the first level you are chased by a killer whale that basks on the boardwalk behind you, as you run straight at the camera. It's not a tough segment, but it's one that will wow your friends over and over again. The sheer number of bits of boardwalk, water, background, and character animation required to pull off a maneuver like this is a testament to the DC's superior processing power. Later you encounter air battles, tornados, cityscapes, pinball machines, and avalanches that are unlike anything ever seen in gaming. Level design is intricate and original, with unexpected flairs like zipcords and helicopters you must catch hold of to reach the next part.
When I say "levels" above, I really mean the action stages. Sonic is divided into adventure fields, action stages, and mini-games. The adventure fields are areas where you run around to gather clues, and occasionally pick up items or work through small adventures. They include Station Square, Mystic Ruins, and the Egg Carrier. Action stages and mini-games are replayable infinitely, and can be easily accessed through the Trials menu on the main screen. These levels vary greatly from airplane shooters, to old-school Sonic rollercoasters, to a fishing game and a couple of pinball levels.
To make all of this even more impressive is the quality of the graphics. While some areas fall a little short when compared to others, and objects/characters occasionally penetrate a texture or wall, the overall effect is amazing. At the fever-pitch speed of the action stages, graphical imperfections blur away, and the result is an illusion of perfect renderings, complete with lens flare, atmospheric perspective, gorgeous textures, and convincing shapes. Rocks look like rocks, not polygons, and the lighting effects are superb. In general, Sonic Adventure looks as good as it plays, even if you have to make due with occasionally flat foliage.
It's insane. Just when you think you couldn't possibly cram anything else into the game, there is still much more. So far we have six characters, who each have somewhere between seven and a dozen action stages and mini-games to complete. That alone will keep you busy for quite awhile, and in a multi-faceted, entertaining way. Add beautiful graphics and you've got a seller. But wait! There's more. To begin with, there is the internet connectivity. Through Sonic Adventure, you can dial up and connect to the Sonic internet community. There, you can get hints, maps, and interact via message boards or email with other Sonic users. You can also download level modifications to your VMU or memory card to change the game. Available on 9.9.99 was the Dreamcast Launch modification, which put banners and baloons up all around Station Square celebrating the US launch of the DC. Last year, in Japan, Sega put out seasonal holiday levels among others.
The other online components of Sonic have to do with the final major aspect of the game: the Chao gardens. Along your way you find three Chao gardens, where you can raise the bulbous little cuties known as Chao. (I think it's a non-count noun like moose, so the plural ought to be Chao. GF!, leading the way in video game grammar.) You hatch Chao from eggs in the garden. Once they're hatched you can check their stats, name them, and take them on an adventure to power them up in the VMU. Chao Adventure, the VMU game you play, is a simple little thing that is not quite a virtual pet. You can stop and start at any time, and the Chao will not die if you leave it alone. You simply help it out when it trips, falls asleep, or gets into a fight, which happens more often than you'd think it would. There is a game option in Chao Adventure that lets you play a quick round of Concentration to earn fruits and nuts to feed your Chao. Feeding them increases certain attributes, such as Swim, Run, Power, and Speed.
In addition to pumping up your Chao on the VMU, you can mutate them by showing them the animals you've saved on your adventures. After completing an action stage, if you run immediately to a Chao garden, all the animals you rescued will spring forth. You can show these to your Chao, who will play with them and acquire certain attributes. Chao will grow big ears, wings, flippers, or learn new mannerisms such as dancing and playing a trumpet. By showing them the right animals and taking them on adventures in the VMU, you can get extremely powerful Chao. Once they reach adulthood (they go through a chrysalis period to mature it's so cute!), you can breed them either in the game or on the VMU. You can also connect your VMU to a friend's to battle, mate, and exchange owner information (Name, Phone #, Secret, Likes, all the standard stuff). If your friend lives far away, you can exchange over the internet via the online capabilities. Don't want strangers to have your phone number or know that you like candy? Password protect the Chao, and only your friends can get it. And if your Chao gets sick you can take him to the online Chao doctor, a service that was not up and running at press time.
Once you've got your Chao all big and mighty and ready for a challenge, you can enter them in the Chao races. There are six different courses to race on that test different aspects of Chao performance. You'll need to be very thoughtful when raising your Chao so they will be able to win the races. The races must be won to acquire all of the Sonic emblems, the true goal of the game. After finding all the emblems you get Super Sonic and can beat the game for real. But good luck getting there. The whole Chao thing alone is enough to waylay any serious progress on the story at hand, and once these things hit the schoolyards, forget it.
So you're probably wondering what's wrong with Sonic? Well, nothing. The graphics glitches mentioned above are a little disappointing, but only because so many of the graphics are perfect. Control is truly remarkable, especially given the 3D environment. And the game's got so much variety it could have been broken up into a game and a spinoff. What will remain to be seen is how much of an impact the online aspect will have on this game. How big is big? On 9.9.99 there were already people posting on message groups (without the keyboard even!) and uploading Chao. It was probably the last day you will see Chao available with less than triple-digit stats.
If you've got a Dreamcast, you'll need Sonic Adventure. While Sega's new platform endeavor, the Floigan Brothers, gets a lot of hype over the Christmas season, Sonic is the team mascot who will be conquering America for them. With the most in-depth VMU add-on available, and the only online support, Sonic Adventure already has a place in the history of video games.