Yesterday, I decided to party like it was 1999 and fired up the Xbox Live Arcade release of Sonic Adventure, the re-release of Sega's flagship Dreamcast title starring the blue, attitudinal hedgehog we all at one time knew and loved. Arguably the best Sonic title ever made, Sonic Adventure featured a fully 3D, relatively (for 1999) open world paired with spurts of the high-speed Sonic gameplay that was the hallmark of the franchise. The twist in Adventure, was that the super-fast hedgehog was now moving in three dimensions, taking advantage of the Dreamcast's graphical processing power to allow you to loop and whirl in 3D spaces that felt genuinely awe-inspiring (at the time).
The story behind the game is that the seven Chaos Emeralds have been once more dispersed across the land and Sonic and his many furry friends must capture them all before the evil Eggman (AKA Dr. Robotnik) gets them first, feeding them to his pet monster, named Chaos, creating a super monster of incredible size that will then be invincible and will ... we're not sure. The story falls apart at that point, but we're talking about a hedgehog here. It doesn't have to make sense. And besides, if you're playing a Sonic game for the story, you have bigger problems.
As this translates to game play, you will walk around the open-ish "adventure" world where you will discover items or engage in conversations that will then unlock "action" stages in which you can collect rings, battle enemies and, eventually, find the Chaos emeralds. I can assure you that this was impressive 11 years ago, which is unfortunately going to be the through line for this entire review.
Sonic Adventure for XBLA is exactly the same game that was released for the Dreamcast in 1999. It looks the same, plays the same and even sounds the same, complete with cheesy late 90s aggro rock tunes and insanely dumb writing and voice acting. Playing Sonic Adventure on XBLA, it becomes mind-numbingly clear that this is the same game Sonic Team has been making for over 10 years. It's as if, while the rest of the game industry was busy advancing the art of making games, Sonic Team has been locked in a San Francisco loft, watching Baywatch, listening to Stone Temple Pilots and drinking truckloads of Jolt in some bizarre experiment to achieve Sonic game nirvana by perfecting this one Sonic game that people actually enjoyed.
Sonic Adventure does still yield some amount of fun, however. If you can forgive the dated graphics and controls, the action levels are just as exhilarating as they once were. It's no wonder Sonic Team has been worshipping at the altar of this game for a decade; it really is - in parts - a triumph of design. You may find yourself playing the action levels again and again to experience the thrill of racing like the wind - as Sonic, or some of the other characters.
Also still fun is collecting and raising Chao. Chao are tiny blue-ish creatures you can hatch from eggs, name, breed and race. They are, in effect, little pets you can tend to while you're taking a break from Sonic's adventures. So many developers have jumped on this bandwagon since 1999 that, again, it's hard to describe this as if it's something new and exciting, but Sonic Adventure was one of the first console games to offer this kind of interactivity (if not the first) and goddamn, if the little Chaos aren't still just as cute as they always were. I've hatched two so far, whom I've named Flippy and Hoppy. Flippy has penguin feet and eyebrows, and Hoppy has a bunny tail. Yes I find this adorable. Bite me.
I'm tempted to rate this game based on how much I enjoyed it and how revolutionary it was back in 1999, but that just wouldn't be fair (in which case, it would get 5 stars), but it is not 1999, and aside from a relatively small group of people who will consider this the best game ever made until they die, most gamers will be disappointed and a little frustrated by the experience of playing it today. Sadly, if anyone involved had considered giving it an update at any level whatsoever, this might be a more momentous release. As it is, however, it feels a bit sad. Like Dirk Diggler hustling in parking lots at the end of Boogie Nights.
Bottom Line: Ultimately Sonic Adventure for XBLA offers absolutely nothing but an opportunity for nostalgia. If you played it and loved it and don't have a Dreamcast around to play it on again, it might be worth the few shekels just for the walk down memory lane. If you've never played it before and are curious to know why Dreamcast devotees (and Sonic Team developers) act like this is the game that ended the Cold War, you might also want to give it a try.
Recommendation: I can't honestly recommend this game to anyone but the die-hard Sonic fan or those with more money than time.
Game: Sonic Adventure XBLA
Release Date: September 15, 2010
Platform: Xbox 360
Available from: Xbox.com