On December 23rd 1998, twenty years ago today, Sonic Adventure was released for the Sega Dreamcast. Just in time for Christmas, the first 3D game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series sold incredibly well, received critical acclaim, and is still regarded as one of the best Sonic games in the series.
Adventure started as a game called “Sonic X-Treme” for the Saturn, intended to be the first 3D platformer. However, it met many setbacks and was canceled, which also led to the failure of the Saturn, which never got an original Sonic platformer. Development for Adventure picked up from where X-Treme left off and was set to run on the Saturn, but the team ran into several issues with the Saturn’s performance. When the Dreamcast was in development, Adventure changed to the upcoming console, and the two heavily influenced each other, enhancing the Dreamcast’s capabilities for the game and tailoring the game to the console.
When Adventure was released, it came with a full redesign of Sonic and his friends. For the transition to 3D, Sonic was changed from his cartoony character style of the Genesis days to a larger, sleeker design that hit the pinnacle of his radical attitude that Sega wanted him to portray. Along with the characters, the stages, items, and worlds were all completely overhauled for the change to 3D. Sonic and his friends now had dedicated voice actors, new personalities, and a new world to run through and explore. Adventure completely reworked the series, and most of the changes still persist.
The game’s release was met with significant success and acclaim. The game was deemed ahead of its time in its detailed graphics, rich story, and expansive gameplay. There were six playable characters, multiple game modes, and even the Chao garden, which allowed players to raise the creatures as virtual pets. However, the transition to 3D had not been completely seamless: camera issues and glitches delayed the release of the game outside of Japan. When the US release came around, many of those flaws remained, and despite being revolutionary for its time, the significance of those glitches have not let the game age very gracefully. It may even be considered broken by today’s standards. These issues even remained in the re-releases on GameCube, PC, XBox, and PlayStation 3, and these ports did not receive the same praise as the original, as gaming had caught up to Sonic Adventure‘s technical standards, or even exceeded them, by 2003.
Even more important, though, is the legacy that Sonic Adventure had on the series at large. Adventure brought Sonic into the third dimension, completely redesigned him and his world, and was the precursor to almost every modern Sonic game. A blueprint for the course of the franchise in a way Ocarina of Time was viewed for blueprinting the 3D Zelda.
However, unlike Zelda, the results of this influence that Sonic Team were full steam ahead with had resulted in a mixed bag of titles. Some may argue the whole of that bag is incredibly bad. Whether they be Sonic Boom, Sonic and the Secret Rings, or the notorious Sonic ‘06 and Shadow the Hedgehog *Shudder*, the magic of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 had not been captured in the same way, apart from some small diamond in the rough moments like Sonic Colors, Sonic Generations and Sonic Unleashed. Even then, those games only had brief moments where they shined, and otherwise were shrouded by gaming moments that were boring at their best and broken at their worst.
Making the Blue Blur work in 3D isn’t something that seems to come easily to developers, and making the gameplay fast, but fun, has not transitioned to 3D space very well overall when the player is not chained to a set of rails. Often, Sonic is almost given too much control, reminiscent of how Mario changed with Super Mario 64 and his games onward, but the difference being that Mario’s charm is not for moving like he’s sliding on ice 100% of the time. That actually frustrates players when it happens for more than five seconds.
Of course, there are some exceptions, like the aforementioned Sonic Colors or Sonic Generations, which are definitely shining stars among these last 20 years of Sonic history. However, despite being a fun and newfound experiment in 1998, making Sonic a Three-Dimensional player didn’t work out very well for the series as a whole, and the speed that the series relies on doesn’t translate well into fun gameplay.
Of course, Adventure’s impact hasn’t been all bad. The redesign of the characters is still the standard for the series, and it captured speed in a way that every other title has been striving to reach. Adventure is a classic for a reason, and its high-octane gameplay and innovative design set the standard for all Sonic games. Those that don’t meet it usually fail, but on the rare occasion that they do, they go down as classics in their own right.
Sonic Adventure was an instant hit on its release holiday, and by many is still considered a classic. Despite some significant issues with camera, control, and glitches the game’s popularity persists to this day. No doubt this is a heavy nostalgia value, but considering the fate of Sega and the Dreamcast, there’s still something else about it that has hooked people even later on in it’s life. It often is understated just how technically revolutionary the game was. It deeply impacted the future of the series, but also the use of 3D space and control in gaming, and even with the faults of 3D Sonic, it has allowed developers to learn from the mistakes of what came before. Even if the series falls flat time and time again for as long as it has, It’s important to recognize that it’s a series that takes risks, and for a lot of kids in the 8-12 age demographic, it’s pretty cool at what it does.
That being said, Sonic Adventure, a revolutionary beast of a game for Sega’s Swan Song console, and the precursor to one of the most beloved games of all time in Sonic Adventure 2, is still remembered for the risks that it took, and despite the failures of its younger siblings, reflecting on its impact 20 years out in the year after Sonic Mania might just inspire fans and developers to consider what could make Sonic in a 3D space more fun in the future.