Sonic Adventure International (ソニックアドベンチャーインターナショナル)

It’s kind of hard to believe that it's been over 23 years since Yuji Naka's signature creation first came into my life with its cool, edgy attitude and some of the most unforgettable moments in gaming history. My memories of it are being such a colourful, fast, and I hate to use the word but, 'cool' experience, which was so different from Mario that I couldn't help but be enthralled from my very first playthrough; although admittedly, I wasn’t very good at it at all. I will also never forget the moment my best friend showed me the now, infamous cheat to progress to the final level. It was amazing and a real novelty to be able to access every single level from the get go.

Sonic Adventure was the system's biggest selling title
 
Yet, at the time of the Dreamcast, Sega fans had had to wait an entire generation of hardware before seeing an adequate answer to the likes of Jimmy Nintendo’s Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot on the PlayStation, making Sonic Adventure one of the most anticipated titles of the time. I can still remember the fervor that this game held at the time as I stated in my “History of the Dreamcast”, it was a game that I really couldn’t wait to drop £200 plus for on launch. Sega obviously had a lot riding on the return of their saucy little mascot, as they had hoped he would help lead the Dreamcast charge into the Christmas season, and the expectations were huge, but casting nostalgia aside how does Sonic Adventure hold up today?

 
It's really a shame we do not get beautiful artwork like this anymore

Sonic Adventure was to mark a number of firsts in the Sonic franchise - the most obvious being that this game marks the blue spinney ones first outing in three dimensions and there's no denying the game has lost none of its graphical prowess, especially through a VGA cable. The textures, special effects, level design, or even just the overall appeal of the characters a great and even better is the way the game zips along in glorious 60Hz, a feat which a lot of games still fail to do. Sonic's return to console gaming completely redefined the idea of speed. This game leaves you in awe at times and is filled with more twists and turns than a roller-coaster, and thanks to the aforementioned pace, the game did, and still does give me a new-found appreciation for Naka-san's original vision.

An unforgettable opening
 
There's a distinct narrative flowing through Sonic Adventure which involves Dr Robotnik, or "Eggman" as he has been renamed for this game, attempting to locate seven Chaos Emeralds located throughout the world to awaken a monster by the name of Chaos which he intends to use to control the world. In the role if blue hedgehog your job is to stop him.
 
Sonic Adventure, is split into two distinct play styles hubs and action stages. The hub sections are a sprawling exploratory areas in the vein of the castle in Mario 64, but they feature a large number of characters who can help you unlock secrets or give you hints about your next move, or where to locate the next action stage. Personally, I loved this RPG element of the game at the time of release, and my opinion hasn’t changed since.

The hub system was Sega's attempt at a Sonic "RPG" 
 
The action stages offer a much needed change from the relaxed pace of the hub sections and feature the familiar Sonic staples of collecting rings, stomping on enemies and speeding through loop-the-loop sections at a 100mph. These sections become somewhat of a thematic racecourses with much more focus on sprinting through large courses, as opposed to the jumping nature of previous titles. More impressive, is that pop-up is minimal and fog nonexistent, a testament to Sonic Team’s programming prowess and the power of the Dreamcast. However, it’s not all good news; due to the insane speed which Sonic gets fired through there are several sections which feel somewhat "hands-off", and can make you feel like you don't quite have the control which you would expect. These are especially noticeable in the show piece sections such as the first stage, when Sonic is pursued by a giant whale and interaction is kept a minimum while the camera pans away. It is great to see these impressive sections but the removal of gameplay at the expense of a fancy scene is somewhat a disappointment and one suspects these days would be replaced by a QTE section.

   Sonic can now access a variety of items to get to even more insane speeds
 
Whenever you meet a new character such as Tails, Knuckles, Amy, or new characters to the series like E-102, or Big the Cat, you can start playing as that character in a series of separate missions. It's worth pointing out that some of these missions overlap, and some are nearly identical to the ones found in Sonic's portion of the game. However, some of them are vastly different, such as Big's missions, which have the enormous purple-and-blue-striped cat attempting to capture his pet frog. Admittedly, it takes a bit of patience to go through but I actually enjoyed the off beat play style of this one and if you do enjoy fishing games then I'm sure there is a lot of fun to be had with this one.
 
The much maligned, Big the Cat

E-102 offers a slightly different pace as well, since he's a relatively slow-moving robot equipped with a cannon for destroying various types of targets. Tails' missions will have him racing against Sonic, while Knuckles will have to retrieve pieces of the chaos emeralds. In any case, the missions featuring the secondary characters aren't as entertaining as the ones that feature Sonic, but you'll have to play through them if you want to unlock the last level and the game's real ending.

 The Nights pinball table is awesome and could have been a full game in its own right
 
Lastly there are the various sub-games. You will find yourself snowboarding, piloting a plane, kart racing and even indulging in a spot of Sonic pinball. All are nicely done and provide a welcome distraction to the main adventure.
 
There is also a feature in this game that allows you to raise a creature called a ‘Chao'. Chaos can be born when your care for eggs and bring the animals to raising grounds where the eggs are located. And if you have a VMU memory card, you can bring your Chao wherever you want, resulting in a new form of gameplay. This plays just like a Tamogotchi handheld, and you can battle your friends with each other’s Chao. This was certainly an ambitious feature for Sonic Team to put in the game back in 1999, though considering so many years have passed, you'd be lucky if you could find anyone to still battle against these days.

 Tamagotchi was all the rage in the late 90s
 
It is evident that the developers put a great deal of time into creating some variety and building on “world” of Sonic but it seems that more time could have been spent on the collision detection in the game. Sonic and other characters will hitch themselves on corners fairly regularly and occasionally go into seizures when they make contact with certain objects in the environment and sometimes you’ll go right through solid objects. Similarly, the camera becomes increasingly more difficult to deal with as you progress through the game. In fact, there are points where it will get trapped behind a wall, making it completely impossible to see what's going on. It’s something which was cleared up a lot with the later release of Sonic Adventure International, but it is still an annoyance which could have been cleared up with a little more development time.
 
One aspect of Sonic Adventure that has held up quite well over the years is the music. Directed by musician Jun Senoue of Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic & Knuckles fame, I'm sure Sega fans will notice his remixes of Sonic 3D Blast themes in the bumper car segment of Sonic Twinkle Park's action stage, and the theme for Tails' Windy Valley action stage. Less said about the voice acting (despite the video game debut of Anakin Skywalker's Jake Lloyd as Tails) the better.
 
Still, there is nothing that plays like a Sonic game, the adrenaline you feel while trying to pick up as many rings, beating your score is like no other platformer and in this sense, Sonic Adventure nailed it. While, the problems with the camera, and the collision detection prevented this game from being a truly triple A quality title, it still remains as relevant an experience now as it did in 2000 and what I'm left with is a game that, despite how much it tries to make me hate it, I simply cannot help but love.

Sonic Adventure International, the best version of the game on Dreamcast?

After the game's release in Japan, Sega and Sonic Team knew the game was not as finished as they would have liked it to be, so in the year leading up to the September 1999 release of the game they established Sonic Team USA, based out of San Francisco, in order to polish and refine the game further. The American release of Sonic Adventure was later re-released in Japan as "Sonic Adventure International" fixing glitches, errors, and problems with the camera seen in the original version. Some updates were made to the visuals which is evident right on the updated title screen which includes water ripples (although earlier North American copies have the original title screen). For instance, Sonic's running animation in top speed originally had a unique blurring "wheel" effect akin to the classic games, and his victory animation did not have him giving a thumbs up. Another change was the removal of the cowgirl billboard which waved a 3D martini glass and made suggestive noises when attacked, being replaced by an inconspicuous Casinopolis decoration. The models for the Flickies were also adjusted in International, as their wings originally had an odd wing joint. Chaos' puddle in the Super Sonic story also originally included his tail, but it was removed since it looked glitchy.
 
A complete English voice track was also added, as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and German. The complete original Japanese voice track and subtitles are retained, making a total of voices in two different languages and text in five. Add to that the  internet feature that connects to the Sonic Adventure in-game website using the Sega Dreamcast modem, where you could enter World Rankings, download special features, trade Chao, or just chat. While most of the website graphics are loaded straight from the GD-ROM, all of the content was supposedly pulled from a remote server but with a little hacking can be unlocked. Most additions were just fun add-ons that changed the scenery of a level to something based on a holiday or promotion, or added a fun mini-game. Some add-ons added new options, such as changing the generic announcer voice to that of Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles. As the most updated version, Sonic Adventure International became the version which Sonic Adventure DX, for the Nintendo GameCube was built on in 2003.

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