25 Years Later, Sonic’s First Foray Into 3D Still Captures that Sonic Spirit Best

3D Sonic is much maligned, unfairly so

25 Years Later, Sonic’s First Foray Into 3D Still Captures that Sonic Spirit Best

The phrase “Sonic the Hedgehog had a rough transition to 3D” will always bug me. I’d argue that Sonic’s more problematic 3D adventures happened well after the transition took place, and that his actual transition to full 3D, Sonic Adventure, better encapsulates the Sonic spirit better than any 3D game that came after. I’d even go so far as to say it continues to hold that distinction even today, after the 25th anniversary of its release.

If anything, my love for Sonic Adventure has only grown over the decades. It’s my all-time favorite Sonic game, and ranks among my favorites period. When I first saw the mysterious silhouette of green-eyed Sonic with his now-iconic Nike smirk back in the late ‘90s, I knew Sega was onto something special. My heart raced with excitement when I saw 3D Sonic tearing through Speed Highway via blurry cam footage from the Tokyo International Forum’s preview event. When I first demoed a Japanese import of the game at a local game shop, I knew that it'd be just what I wanted from Sonic in 3D. At the same time, I readily acknowledge the game’s flaws. But, warts and all, when it comes to pure Sonic the Hedgehog fun and spirit, Sonic Adventure still reigns supreme in my eyes.

Classic Sonic gameplay was designed to be simple. Easy to pick up and play. Before the days of boosting, double jumping, stomping, punching, kicking, parkour, and other experimental elements, Sonic Adventure took a page from the classics and kept things simple. His controls were buttery smooth; he accelerated and decelerated at a natural rate while still capable of sharp bursts of speed with his famous spin dash (either omitted or tweaked beyond recognition in later games). The then-new homing attack felt like a natural extension of his abilities, allowing him to attack enemies in 3D space without sacrificing speed or accuracy. Tails and Knuckles followed in Sonic’s footsteps with gameplay styles similar to their classic counterparts, able to fly, climb and glide, respectively, in addition to gaining tail whip and punching attacks. New moves never felt out of place or jarring.

Other gameplay elements, admittedly, weren’t quite so praiseworthy. While Knuckles controlled well, many fans were turned off by the treasure hunting aspect featured in his storyline and felt it wasn’t a good fit for Sonic. Similar complaints were leveled against Amy Rose’s slower, more meticulous hammer-based acrobatic style and Eggman mech E-102 Gamma’s shooter elements. We all know the internet’s opinion of Big the Cat’s fishing gameplay. As I said, the game certainly wasn’t a home run in every respect. Still, even if these gameplay styles may not necessarily fit Sonic, I feel they were competently executed and wouldn’t be opposed to seeing them return in a potential Sonic Adventure 3.

The tone of Sonic games has varied wildly over the years, from the colorful, lighthearted, goofiness of Sonic Colors and Sonic Lost World, to more somber tales like Shadow the Hedgehog or the needlessly melodramatic Sonic Frontiers. Sonic Adventures sits comfortably in the middle, a fairly lighthearted action-adventure romp with some underlying darker, more complex elements that give it an ever-so-slightly mature air without sacrificing the classic Sonic feel.

On the surface, the plot is simple. Sonic and Tails race to hunt down the Chaos Emeralds and prevent Doctor Eggman from powering up his newest project: Chaos, a water monster that grows stronger with each emerald it absorbs. If Chaos absorbs all seven, Eggman will have the power to destroy the nearby city of Station Square and build his own city on its ruins. Other playable characters are on journeys of their own that will have them regularly crossing paths with one another throughout their respective campaigns, and it’s always interesting to see how a seemingly small element of one character’s narrative feeds into the larger story. The darker elements are sprinkled throughout as Chaos’ tragic backstory is slowly revealed, leading to a satisfying emotional climax. When it comes to tonal balance, few Sonic games have managed to pull it off quite like this one.

Sonic characters are typically no different at the end of each game than they are at the start. However, Sonic Adventure was a unique title that provided several characters, not just their own adventures, but narrative arcs. Tails’ separation from Sonic around the halfway point of his story helps foster in him the need to not rely so much on his hero, culminating in his stopping Eggman from detonating a missile in the heart of the city. Amy, who up until this point was almost exclusively a damsel in distress, also comes into her own and learns to become more independent. And who can forget the tragic tale of E-102 Gamma, who turns against his programming and sacrifices himself to save his friends in one of the franchise’s most heart-wrenching moments? Seeing the characters grow and change by the game’s end made them feel more real and evoked a stronger emotional response from me as a player.

Sonic Adventure features so many noteworthy elements that I don’t have the time to dive into them all. We haven’t even touched on the game’s iconic rock and roll/jazz fusion soundtrack that completely changed the sound of Sonic forever, the adventure fields that fleshed out the game’s world with engaging RPG elements or the chao gardens that allowed players to raise and race their own artificial life forms (and that fans are still clamoring the series bring back). With so much to love, it’s little wonder that out of all of Sonic’s 3D adventures, Sonic Adventure remains among the most fondly remembered, even a quarter century later.

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