Some Sonic fans would rather this was excluded altogether, whereas some would cry out it wasn’t placed higher. In my eyes, Sonic Adventure is a wonderful game with enough small flaws to stop it placing higher.
When I saw Sonic Adventure as a Dreamcast launch title, it blew me away. I’ll always remember staring open-mouthed as the helicopter flew through Station Square, and all the lighting effects and reflections made my spine tingle, and still do. I could recount a hundred moments that stand out in my memory – the Orca chase, Speed Highway’s corkscrews, snowboarding, the Lost World – but Sonic Adventure makes it onto this list for more than sentimental reasons.
The first proper attempt to get Sonic into 3D was always going to be difficult, and Adventure’s control and camera problems are notorious. The Gamecube remake DX: Director’s Cut actually exacerbates these, but in their original form they’re still obstacles to be overcome in order to prevent many an accidental death. When the problems behave, the gameplay is slick, fast and beautifully paced as you tear through ancient temples and enormous airships. It’s classic Sonic fare, or rather, it is when you play as Sonic or Tails.
As an attempt to vary the gameplay, and to flesh out the main narrative, you play through six character stories, each with distinct gameplay styles, from Knuckles’ treasure hunt to Gamma’s Panzer Dragoon-style shooter. Most notorious, and rightly so, are Big the Cat’s fishing levels, which while briefly enjoyable become abominably frustrating all too quickly. Unfortunately you have to sit through his levels to reach the game’s proper conclusion, a big black mark on Sonic Adventure’s name.
That’s not to say Sonic’s levels are the only reason to play. I got extremely involved in the Chao-raising minigame, rearing all kinds of freaks and sending them off to the Daycare. I used to love receiving their little emails, telling me how they were getting along, and like Sega Rally’s online leaderboards – and the Dreamcast itself – it was years and years ahead of its time.
With all the talk of Sonic Unleashed being a “proper” 3D Sonic game, I think we could have got there many years ago if Sonic Adventure had ditched a few characters and worked on its camera system. It has all Sonic’s best bits – speed, attitude, imagination, amazing music – it just introduced a few new flaws we hadn’t seen before. It isn’t perfect, but as Sonic’s first baby steps into 3D it’s an extremely impressive game.