Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut Review

sonic adventure dx cover

Maybe this review will be a a thousand words. Maybe it will be ten-thousand. I don’t know. I’m going in relatively blind. The ambition is present and why let this chance slip away? I finished the game for the fourth(?) time in my life; with it, I think I can finally settle my true feelings for it once and for all. This may either be revolutionary or a mess lying in wait. Hopefully, it’ll be both and more.

Introduction

I am going to start this with a very bare-boned summary of the game, as I feel only people completely out of the loop of video games will not know a thing about this much-debated-upon title. Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut is an “enhanced” (many would argue it’s not enhanced) version of the original Sonic Adventure, which was released in late 1998 for the Sega Dreamcast. It features Sonic and five other playable characters in an interconnected story revolving around Chaos, a strange, liquefied being that has teamed up with Eggman to collect the chaos emeralds and unleash Chaos’s full power. Its “enhancements” are generally aesthetic changes, with a few extra bonuses added in for fun. Up to speed? Cool. Sonic likes going fast, or so he claims.

I first played this game around the time it released, somewhere in the mid-2000’s. I played this game after its chronological sequel, Sonic Adventure 2, so this wasn’t as much a prequel to me as “another Sonic game.” At the time, I liked the game quite a bit, though it was often overshadowed by how much I liked the Chao Garden in Sonic Adventure 2… seeing as Sonic Adventure‘s Chao Garden doesn’t even compare. Over time, I saw more and more videos on how Sonic Adventure was actually garbage and I ended up starting to believe them with all the evidence they provided. A few years ago, I played through it all for the third(?) time and rated it astounding low. “Ugh! Such filth! I can’t believe I ever liked this shit!” Ah, to be old and hate one’s youthful naivety.

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Recently, I felt the urge to play the game again, which struck me as odd seeing as I previously proclaimed the game to be “garbage” and I was above playing it. Thinking on the nice bits, I became heavily nostalgic and really wanted to give the game another shot, seeing as the me now vs. the me from three-ish years ago is kind of like comparing Michael Jackson in 1984 to Michael Jackson in 1996. (Disclaimer: I am not now black.) With this adjusted perspective, I didn’t believe I would love the series nearly as much as I did in my teenage years, but I felt it would get some further credit than simply “garbage” status.

And it did. Very slightly, though progress nonetheless.

Story

Okay, so an anthropomorphic hedgehog with blue quills that can run faster than the speed of time is facing off against a middle-aged man with a giant mustache named “Eggman” that rides around in giant spaceships that he builds with material he collects out of his ass and an ancient protector of the chao species and the chaos emeralds—all-powerful jewels that, when all collected (seven in total), can bring ultimate power to a single individual—that once destroyed a large portion of the earth because it got pissed that an echidna race wanted to use the emeralds’ power for violence. Got all that? Cool. Sonic likes going fast.

If it wasn’t apparent enough, the story is very dumb and makes zero sense, so it’s probably better to let these things kinda play out and see where they go. In general, Sonic gets the most attention within this game—most levels, most cutscenes, most screentime—and the main plot of the game mainly focuses around his fight against Eggman and Chaos. Other characters’ stories, such as Tails and Amy, revolve slightly around Sonic (especially Tails, since he’s generally by Sonic’s side at all times), so one will be seeing cutscenes a few times over throughout the course of the game. At the same time, every character has their own course of narrative significance that either focuses on developing them as characters or filling in the gaps of Sonic’s story or other characters’.

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Once again, the story is very dumb and, thanks to the aesthetic deficiencies, comes across as goofy and hard to take seriously (but more on that for that category). In terms of a fleshed-out story that grips one from the first step, the dialogue being cheesy and borderline-stock prevents it from being appealing for anything other than ironic reasoning. People can find the story of Sonic Adventure fun because it’s unfitting, uncanny, or odd, which I respect. Otherwise, it’s pretty flaccid, all things considered by the course of its writing and character dialogue.

One somewhat noteworthy exception to this is Gamma, a robot one can play as whose claim to fame is that he was made by Eggman to aid him in his search for the chaos emeralds. His story, which has little to do with the main story (ironically?), is more of a character-centric one, such that has him(?) find a path of redemption after seeing through the cruelty of Eggman’s character. It is the most successful bit of character-building and storytelling that this game has going for itself, though it still has its holes. For those interested in knowing more, I wrote a post on it.

Gameplay

Now, we can start having fun.

To kick the big, purple cat out of the room right now and get it over with, I think Big’s gameplay is random, unnecessary, and wholly unfitting of the “YEAH GO FAST” nature of Sonic titles. Fishing in a Sonic game was such a bold move by Sega’s part to give the game some variety, even if the specific gameplay aspect was unpolished. I could write far too much about Big’s infamy within this game as the worst part of the game, and yet I won’t—in fact, I can’t. Because I don’t agree with the sentiment.

I think Amy is worse.

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Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh…

I discovered this on my third playthrough of the game, but where Big’s missions are puzzling, boring, and don’t require much input, Amy’s stages are generally annoying. Let me put it this way: You don’t really have to move Big that much in his stages. You have to move Amy a lot during her stages. If we were speaking upon the “fun-ness” of using each character, Amy would absolutely win. Big is a fucking chore to control, what with his clunky, big stature making him run into all sorts of invisible pixels that impede his progress immediately. He’s slow and awkward, kind of the point of his design and “simple” personality. But Amy has her problems with movement, as well, and adding it all up, I think she’s a little worse of an experience overall than Big is.

Here’s another controversial statement: I don’t think Big’s stages are even that bad. One could argue they’re bad by default because they don’t match the style of the game. Fair. One could also point out that standing at a certain point while fishing will glitch the game out and not let the player catch what they’re supposed to. Also fair, as this happened with me a few times during my last run of it. Zoning out what is expected of a Sonic game, are Big’s stages really that bad? I don’t think so. It’s just fishing, and while I may be biased, I didn’t have many issues with it. Wiggle the lure in front of the fish’s face, push a shit-ton of buttons when it bites, then reel it in carefully until you get it. Okay. Four levels of this and I’m done? Cool. The worst part of Big’s campaign was actually getting him to his stages around the hub world.

Then, there’s Amy’s stages, which involve running away from some asshole robot that wants to capture Amy and her little bird friend. The sole problem with this is that Amy is not all that fun to control. One can alleviate this slightly by jumping and spinning her hammer around, but then one has to bear with her voice going “Hmm! Hah!” all the time. When she picks up enough speed, one can use her hammer to have her do some aerial acrobatics that launches her in the air and gives her extra speed. If one does it at not quite the adequate speed, she stops immediately and just thrusts her hammer forward. God, was this annoying. People complain that Big’s stages aren’t appropriate for the game, Amy’s physical capabilities aren’t much to boast about, either. She’s fairly slow and more awkward to control than everyone but Big. And she gets to be the one to have the more platform-heavy levels! Wonderful! I hated them.

So Big’s gameplay aspect is underrated (but still not good) and Amy’s gameplay aspect is awful. Got it? Cool.

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I didn’t even bother to go into a stage.

Let’s talk about Gamma next. Kind of like with Big, I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong about his levels and gameplay aspect. As Gamma, one goes through levels and shoots things, only to get to the end of a stage and either a) collect something, or b) kill a boss. Also exclusive to him, his stages have time limits, and destroying things and getting shot combos reward the player with extra time on the clock. What ends up being the core issue with him is that his levels are (almost) always two things: really short and really easy. His first two levels are almost literally as easy as walking forward and spamming one button. It’s not until his last two levels (five total) that it felt like the developers actually worked on taking advantage of his capabilities. It’s fine, but underwhelming.

Knuckles is my favorite Sonic character. The first Sonic game I ever played was Sonic & Knuckles, and I liked red more than blue, so I naturally gravitated towards him. Knuckles in Sonic Adventure, like in most cases where he’s playable, is fine. He flies around in stages using his signature gliding method to find pieces of the Master Emerald hidden in secluded areas. When one is close enough, a little indicator at the bottom of the screen will start flashing and beeping—the faster, the better. Where the enjoyment of playing as Knuckles comes in is simply flying around in the air and hunting around… unfortunately, that’s pretty much it. This can cause his stages and gameplay aspect to feel repetitive, especially if the process takes too long. Generally, I beat Knuckles’s stages in less than two minutes, so it occasionally feels like I barely play as him at all. There’s a hard balance to him that I don’t think the developers got down splendidly. Again, fine, just not great.

Playing as Sonic is like playing with fire. It can quickly grow out of control, but damn is it fun to push the boundaries. Sonic is so fast, so chaotically liberal with his capabilities that the most fun part of playing as him is making him go ultra-fast at all times, even when the stages don’t call for it. Typically, his stages complement his speed, as well as add a cinematic flair to it all, so it’s very easy for the player to experiment. I die quite often when playing as Sonic, most often because I get too cocky and try and blaze through the stage like I’m some big-shot asshole. Even running around in the hub world, I typically test the limits of the boundaries and end up having Sonic run on ceilings and clip through walls. It’s great fun playing as Sonic, whether by mistake or intentional. He would be the best part of the game, if not for…

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Tails! Look at that distance!

Tails, who is my favorite character to play as by far. Everything I say about testing the limits of Sonic’s capabilities runs double for Tails, and quadruple once in his levels. Tails’s shtick is that he has to race people within his levels, because why not? It’s typically Sonic, but one time it’s Eggman. The fun thing about Tails is that he can fly, and boy, does that break the game. He can fly super fast, and the altitude in which he can achieve can give way to massive shortcuts to the finish. Playing any of Tails’s levels is a game of “How far can I make the gap between Tails and Sonic/Eggman?” With the ability to fly, Tails is the best parts of Knuckles and Sonic combined. That’s what makes him great. I love fucking with the game to the best of my imagination.

At this point, I could likely head to the final portions of the review, but I think I need to go over some miscellaneous things to get the full experience of the game under review. This includes the hub world, which this game made me adore as a feature in almost every game possible. I adore hub worlds. Such a small feature creates gargantuan amounts of immersions that games that simply go from level to level don’t give me. It’s what makes me more nostalgic for Super Mario Galaxy to Super Mario Galaxy 2Sonic Adventure to Sonic Adventure 2, and otherwise. It’s not huge and it’s not crammed full of things to do, which is obviously a fault. Even so, going from Station Square to the Mystic Ruins to the Egg Carrier provided substantial impact to me as a kid and still does as an adult.

Another thing is level variety, which is far more notable with Sonic than any other character. Sometimes it’s fast-paced speed action and thrills. Sometimes one has to collect a shit-ton of rings by using Sonic as a pinball. Sometimes one has to snowboard away from an avalanche (because he can’t just run, I guess?). This level of differentiation adds a little zest to the memorability of the game, as well as some needed breaks from non-stop cheesing via going so fast that the game can’t handle it. And for other characters… Gamma’s later stages add some notable amount of platforming that makes them way more fun. Tails has a few boarding stages (because he can’t just fly, I guess?). And Amy has a segment in her first stage where she’s in a hall of mirrors and creepy-as-fuck music starts playing and that… is a trip. Otherwise, I can’t think of anything noteworthy in terms of gameplay variety.

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Graphics / Sound

Let’s get another huge thing out of the way. Sonic Adventure‘s cutscenes are hilarious. They’re ultra-cheesy, animated in the most peculiarly exaggerated way, and feature really bad voice acting. My little brother has a vendetta against me for stating that DX‘s graphical “enhancements” are better than the original Dreamcast version, which may or may not be an unpopular opinion otherwise. I stand by it, though. I think DX‘s models look overall better than the original Dreamcast counterparts, horrible amounts of shine and all. What don’t look better are the facial animations, which are max levels of goofiness and unintentional hilarity.

The look of the game as a whole is something I find to be commendable for the time. It is not all good, especially when looking at human models and textures along cave walls, but I really like the standout modeling of important features and characters. Chaos looks great, and I really like the design of each of his forms, no matter how nonsensical. (Why an aquatic creature? Why a scorpion?) I love how, despite the obvious break from reality, every character looks perfectly acceptable within the world they inhabit. While the cutscenes are clearly outdated and the models are ultra-shiny, I think the game, generally, looks alright for its time period.

No matter the quantity of garbage swimming around each Sonic title, what typically delivers is the soundtrack, and it’s no different here. I don’t think Sonic Adventure‘s soundtrack is too strong, though it has a large number of memorable tracks that resonate with me from long ago up until today. I adore Gamma’s theme. I like most of the music from Sonic’s stages. I like a lot of the atmospheric tracks that play during heavy moments (again, most during Gamma’s story). And I like the main theme to the game. It’s very high-octane, heavy rock style that speaks to me as one who grew up on rock as a majority of my auditory diet. At the same time, it has a lot of really foreboding, almost existential tracks that do one of two things: somber me and make the story way too serious for its present silliness. Perhaps that’s part of the charm.

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This is more fun than it looks.

Closing Thoughts

Jesus, this review is long.

To end this post, I wanted to minimize the finer points into smaller points, presented in a way that makes it easiest to remember (for me):

Gameplay Factor – Is it Fun?

  • Sonic – Yes
  • Tails – Yes
  • Knuckles – Sometimes
  • Amy – No
  • Big – No
  • Gamma – Sometimes

A third of the game is definitely fun. Another third is occasionally fun. The last third is not. When it all comes down to it, if only a third of the game is definitely fun, how can one really put up with all the rest of it? I feel it really depends on a few factors, most notably tolerance, immersion, and expectations. Perhaps playing as Sonic is the greatest treasure to ever grace your TV screen. You’d be able to tolerate the garbage that comes after him. How into the story are you? If it’s engrossing, a large portion of the game (cutscenes) will have you forgetting the gameplay to come. And if you’re coming into this game expecting a masterpiece, my advice is simply to hold your horses (hedgehogs?).

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Or echidnas.

This is a game, I think, one has to accept as it is. If you’re comparing this to other games on a technical level, it’s awful. Voice acting is garbage, cutscenes are choppy and weird, the story is beyond dumb, and the characters are pretty one-note. Where it gains its appeal is through the absurdity of it all and the expansion of its high-speed formula combined with a multitude of different gameplay criteria. In simpler terms, one has to just “get it.” I grew up with it, so I get it. The appeal to this game and the impact it had on me and my gaming tastes growing up. There’s a special quality to it that almost transcends its faults. Despite this, I’m a cynical guy, through and through, and the magic did not last long during my most recent playthrough.

It came more in moments rather than a continuous experience. Gamma seeing his “brother” getting upgraded. Basically every level played as Tails. Gliding through the hub world as Knuckles. Seeing the end credits for Amy and Big. And the catastrophic insanity that I put Sonic through as I continuously had him dashing over and over throughout a level. These points made my journey back worth it. It did not, however, make the game ultimately recommendable or cherished.

Final Score: 4/10

For more reviews on this topic, feel free to check out the associated archive.

The rating for all other video game titles can be found on MyVideoGameList.

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

 

3 thoughts on “Sonic Adventure DX: Director’s Cut Review

  1. This review wasn’t anywhere near as harsh as I expected it to be, and it’s refreshing to see a perspective that, while very critical, isn’t just “this game is fucking garbage and has no redeeming qualities”

    Sonic Adventure is one of my favourite games of all-time, although I’ll admit it’s been a good few years since I last gave it a shot, so maybe that opinion will change if I play it again (I’ve been meaning to since I watched ExoParadigmGamer and Ryrule Let’s Play it together).

    While I’m not a big fan of Amy or Big’s gameplay, I feel the other 4 more than make up for it. I adore Sonic and Tails’ gameplay because it’s a solid transition of 2D Sonic gameplay into 3D. Unlike Mario 64 which changed the gameplay structure to fit 3D space, Sonic Adventure keeps the design philosophies in 2D Sonic intact, with multiple routes and the potential for shortcuts. It’s really amazing what kind of shortcuts you can find using Sonic’s spin dash. I just wish there was a ranking system like there was in SA2 and onwards.

    Knuckles is also pretty fun, even if it’s quite easy to get lost. And while Gamma’s gameplay isn’t amazing, I feel he has the most interesting narrative, which more than makes up for his some what monotonous playstyle.

    Anyhow, sorry for rambling comment. Maybe I should post my own review sometime, after I give the game another shot…

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You had a very refreshing perspective on the game!

    And… You should so SA2 next! 😛

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