Can you think of a single platform game - old or new - that could conceivably take place in the real world? Nope? We can't either. And doesn't it seem odd that a genre born entirely out of the imagination is so unimaginative? More on that another time, but the point is that upon firing up Sonic Adventure DX, it would be nice to say that things have come a long way since we first played it. Only they haven’t, have they?
Sonic in 3D! Gasp!
Despite its appearance several years on from release, Sonic Adventure DX fits the current platform market pretty snugly. What we have here is Sega's first proper 3D interpretation of the speedy hedgehog's 2D platforming, as our hero (and up to five of his unlockable friends) battle Dr. Robotnik for control of the all-powerful chaos emeralds. The action takes place across 30 or so stages, some of which are classic races from A to B at breakneck speed, bouncing from spring to spring, racing along a wooden bridge as a killer whale rips it up in your wake, and some of which are slower paced adventure areas, demanding a little puzzle-solving and exploration.
And for a time, you can see why early adopters of Dreamcast hardware - us included - fell over themselves to unlock the next stage. It doesn't have the rigid structure of something like Mario 64 or Sunshine, often leaving you in desperate need of an 'objectives' menu or something of the sort, but once you find your task it's usually sufficiently engaging to keep your interest - and pulse - at a high. Graphically it even stands up fairly well to current opposition, with detailed central characters, crisp environments and plenty of imaginative locations, and Robotnik's increasingly deadly and elaborate contraptions put up a reasonable end of stage fight - as does his newfound protégé, the liquid-based Chaos.
Unfortunately though, after a while the headrush of sights and sounds and 3D Sonic subsides, and you start to get more of the picture. Sonic Adventure was - and remains - a nice collection of proper 3D Sonic stages sandwiched between tedious adventure segments, easily identified by the sedated elevator music, the abundance of stationary, ill-fitting NPCs and straightforward puzzles. On the sidelines - perhaps fuelling your appreciation, perhaps not - are the chao gardens, where you can rear, breed and race Tamagotchi-style pets. Nurturing the little blighters used to be the Dreamcast VMU's job, but this time we're expected to hook up our GBAs. And whereas carrying the VMU around was a nice, space-saving way of 'gaming' on the move - or, more accurately, wasting a few minutes a day prodding the infant chao - if you've got a GBA or SP in your pocket then there are much better uses for it.
Things to do and see (if you're able)
Other changes to the formula are easily spotted (largely thanks to a list on the back of the box), and these include "graphical improvements" and Game Gear Sonic titles, which can indeed be unlocked once you've successfully reared some chaos, and a new Mission mode. To unlock this section of the game and use a specific character, you have to complete that character's individual stages, and once you do you'll discover it's all about card collecting. There are 60 levels of this to complete, most of which take place in locations you'll explore during the regular single player adventure.
Other than that though we're left with a pretty basic port of the Dreamcast game. If there are graphical improvements, they aren't significant, and seem to have impacted the game's frame rate, which suffers in places. And despite touching the game up in several areas, throwing in a 60Hz mode and even Dolby Pro Logic II support, there are still far too many bugs conspiring to derail your hedgehog.
The camera, for example, is a disaster. In "auto" mode, it zooms around all over the place, lurching between positions both high and low and even circling as you pelt full steam away from danger. This is disorientating to say the least, and leaves you wondering whether you need to adjust the direction you're holding on the analogue stick, which can be disastrous. There's a "free" camera mode now, which you can toggle from the pause menu, but whenever you move to another area (not just a level, but through most doors, etc) it switches back to auto camera without warning. Things aren't greatly improved when the free cam is activated, as it often clips outside walls or sits there shuddering, unable to make its mind up where to go, but when we choose to use it, we don't expect the game to overrule us at every opportunity.
Of course this isn't the only flaw, but it's the most significant and probably the one most likely to drive you away. Getting stuck in scenery occasionally, suffering slowdown, or doing a spinball attack when you actually just want to talk to an NPC (why, with all the buttons on the Cube pad, does Sonic map totally opposing functions to the same two or three buttons?) may be annoying, but you could put up with it. Camera problems which cost your many lives and even the hairs atop your dome? Nope.
Money, money, money
Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut is a cash-in. Remember when the GameCube launched? And Sonic Adventure 2 Battle sold an inordinate amount of copies because it was the only bright and colourful platform game when everyone was yearning for Mario? This seems to be Sega's reaction: to go further back into the annals and stick the first Adventure on a disc, too. It's a straight port, with a few minor alterations, and in this day and age it just can't stand up to the competition. Whatever your feeling about Mario Sunshine and it's crazy camera, it sprays water all over this.
Then again, if you're a near-penniless Nintendo follower, in a funk over unused GameCubes, GBAs and connector cables strewn around the lounge, then Sonic Adventure DX could cure some of your ills. It's a detailed adventure with plenty to uncover via emblems, emeralds and other collectibles, and it's sure to keep you occupied if you can get past its many flaws. Given the choice though, we'd probably just play Mario, Ratchet, Jak, Sly or even Sonic Adventure 2 again.