Seven precious emeralds with a mysterious and compelling power
Relics from an ancient warrior land
An epic tale full of joy and sorrow
Now fate has opened up a new chapter
Destiny repeats itself as the new adventure unfolds...
Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and its expansion pack Sonic & Knuckles, had been released for the aging Sega Mega Drive in 1994, and were widely hailed as the best games that had been released in the series up to that point. It was quite remarkable, however, that Sonic Team, headed by the famous Yuji Naka, did not release a follow-up for either the Mega Drive or Sega's next console, the Saturn. Apart from the disappointing, isometric Sonic 3D on both the Mega Drive and Saturn, the (fun, it must be said, though decidedly traditional) racing game Sonic R on the Saturn, and a compilation for the Saturn of previous Sonic games, named Sonic Jam, gamers were starved of high-speed platforming with everybody's favourite blue hedgehog.
Truth be told, Sega and Sonic Team had been working on sequels; a ROM dump of a fourth Sonic game, going by the title of 'Sonic Crackers', is easily available on the web, with a few playable (but quite severely unfinished) levels playable. Gameplay here revolves around both Sonic and Tails, joined to one another via a pair of linked rings. This would evolve into the 32X game, Knuckles Chaotix. Later, the Sega Technical Institute (STI) had been working on a fully-3D Sonic title for the Saturn, known as Sonic X-treme; this, too, never saw release, although elements were certainly looked favourably upon and placed on the "recycle this" list.
Sonic Team's classic release for the Saturn, NiGHTS into Dreams..., put the development team back on the map. A sprawling, 3D game with many innovative ideas, and very lush graphics, many took it as a sign that a 3D Sonic game could only be a matter of time.
In 1998, Sega released the Dreamcast in Japan, and at long last, Sonic returned to our screens in an all-new affair. A launch title for the first 128-bit console, it soon became one of the most popular games for the system, and is still regarded as being an ambitious, if not perfect, platform release. Forget the sub-standard likes of Pandemonium that had appeared under the reign of the Playstation. Sonic's back, baby.
Like any good Sonic title, Sonic Adventure concerns the never-ending battle between our hero and his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (known as Eggman in Japan). From the Master Emerald, Robotnik has released a creature known as 'Chaos', which he hopes to feed the Chaos Emeralds in order to make Chaos stronger. Eggman hopes to use Chaos to conquer Station Square, the main city in the Sonic world.
Obviously, this would be A Bad Thing, and so Sonic and company must set out to gather the seven Chaos Emeralds first, preventing Robotnik's plans from coming to fruition. Until the next sequel, at least.
Throughout Sonic Adventure, the player gets the chance to play as seven characters, unlocked as the story progresses:
- Sonic The Hedgehog: Unlocked from the very beginning of the game, our hero leads the attempt to stop Robotnik from taking control. His story is central to the game, and therefore one can claim to have beaten it without needing to have played the other stories. Sonic plays fast, running and jumping-based stages, reminiscent of the classic 16-bit games of before.
- Miles "Tails" Prower: Tails begins the story in crisis, his custom aeroplane having severe control difficulties due to a rather unique power supply. He can be unlocked by rescuing him as Sonic. His missions are like Sonic's, and revolve around racing against the blue blur.
- Knuckles The Echidna: Knuckles' stages are unique, and introduce a treasure-hunting element into the game. You must, in each stage, track down three shards of the shattered Master Emerald, guided only by a hot-cold 'radar'. Knuckles is unlocked after the fight against Chaos 4.
- Amy Rose: The self-proclaimed girlfriend, and kidnap-fodder, of Sonic. Amy's stages are all about running softly, and carrying a big hammer. Amy can be unlocked by rescuing her in Sonic's quest.
- E-102 gamma: A robot created by Robotnik to aid him in his goal of collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds. Gamma's stages are another new addition to the series, where the player must target and shoot down the enemy. Gamma is unlocked after his and Sonic's battle aboard the Egg Carrier.
- Big The Cat: A fat purple cat, who spends his days relaxing and fishing with his friend, 'Froggy'. Big has to venture out into the world when his friend disappears, having swallowed a mysterious stone... Big is unlockable after completing Sky Chase, Act II, and his stages revolve around fishing.
- Super Sonic: For the final showdown against Perfect Chaos, Sonic must utilise the power of the Chaos Emeralds in order to transform into his all-powerful alternate form, able to float, resist damage, and drain rings like a madman. Super Sonic is only unlockable once all six other stories are completed to 100%; he doesn't even show up on the character selection screen until this condition is met.
Sonic Adventure makes a departure from the traditional structure of games of its ilk, splitting into two types of stage. The Adventure Field is where a large part of the game is spent, and is a free-form 3D environment in which the player can explore, travel, and talk to other characters. The adventure field acts as a hub for the Action Stages; these are traditional, goal-based levels. Of these, Sonic has the most, whilst Amy has the least, while Super Sonic is effectively one boss battle. Sonic Adventure 2 completely did away with the adventure field, restoring the game to a series of missions, as well as drastically limiting the player's choice of character.
Another novel introduction into the genre is the concept of artificial life. Small creatures, known as 'Chao', can be bred by the player, and will grow and evolve over time. The player can even download their Chao to a VMU, and play with it on the move. While Chao are completely unnecessary to complete the game, for 100% completeness they will be needed. Chao were expanded upon immensely for the game's sequel.
Sonic Adventure was an ambitious launch title, but certainly managed to do the trick; the Dreamcast set new records for having the biggest first-day sales of a games console. Sonic Adventure looked gorgeous, and was great fun to play, despite one or two bugs and a horrible camera. It has recently been ported, as Sonic Adventure DX, to systems such as the Nintendo Gamecube and the PC, but the original Dreamcast version remains entertaining, and a relative bargain on the second-hand market.
The opening (italicised) lines were taken from the Sonic Adventure manual, and are copyright Sonic Team/Sega 1998. The rest is entirely my own work.