'Sonic Adventure' Was Lovably Weird

Sonic's Dreamcast debut was rough around the edges, but it had ambition to spare.

Sep 27 2017, 8:20pm

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In 1999—on 9/9/99, to be precise—Sega launched the Dreamcast in America, and it would go on to have a very short, but very bright life. Headlining the new console was Sonic Adventure, a game that hoped to do for Sonic what Super Mario 64 did for Mario: bring the colorful mascot into the new world of 3D.

It was a wildly expansive for the time, with large 3D levels full of ramps, loop-the-loops and wild obstacles, all designed to be maneuvered with the hedgehog's characteristic blazing speed. And those action stages were all situated inside a gargantuan semi-open world—called "adventure fields."

This alone was ambitious, offering much more than just an overworld—with secrets to investigate, NPCs to chat up, and little touches that evoked cities and ruins and other spaces.

But there were also 6 characters' quests to complete among these worlds. And yes, some of them varied quality. The oft-maligned Big the Cat just pretty much went fishing for… a frog. But that kind of scope is pushing it even today, and was unheard of in the late 90s.

Image courtesy Sega

There's a lot to like about Sonic Adventure—Sonic's levels are largely fun and, yep, fast as hell, with design that evokes the best of the older 2D titles and embraces greater freedom of movement. I'll not forget the tricky platforming of the Lost World, the simple joy of whooshing through Twinkle Park's amusements, or the thrilling—at the time—snowboarding section of Ice Cap.

But I also liked the open world sections, talking to strangers and puzzling out where to go next. Some of this is decidedly bizarre—NPCs have some pretty hilariously off-topic dialogue at times—but I like that about the game. There was a sense of a living world here, where Mario 64's castle just felt like an overworld, or a collection of levels.

This is not to say Sonic Adventure holds a candle to Mario's first N64 outing, particularly in terms of level design or expressive play control. Sonic Adventure feels looser and less refined in every sense, and really, the less said about the voice acting and cutscene animation, the better.

But I have a lot of fondness in my heart for this big, weird, sometimes batshit game. Sonic Adventure swung for the fences in every aspect.