SONIC ADVENTURE / Sega / Dreamcast
Sonic transitioned to 3D about 2 years later than Mario, and with significantly less grace, in this title. Look it up on Gamerankings or Metacritic, the ratings are crazy - about an 89% overall average for reviews of the original release from 1999-2000, but the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 digital releases hover closer to 50%, and on Gamerankings it has actually cracked their top list of "Worst Games Ever."
Terrible ports? They could have been better, but they also aren't nearly a 40% deviation in quality off of the original game either. Why was the game put in the rarest of air when it came out yet is now regarded as trash when re-reviewed by some of the same publications? Nerd Rage over reality's rude intrusion on nostalgic memories? Has the game really just aged that poorly?
Well, there's some element of both of those things, surely, but I think the real reason is that Sega is no longer the 800 Lb. Industry Gorilla anymore that it was in 1999. Threats to withhold advertising dollars, exclusive previews and interviews don't carry nearly as much weight now that they're Nintendo's third-party bitch and have consistently eroded fan support with a mountain of terrible Sonic games and other stinky releases.
That said, 50% is a bullshit score for the game ... but it's probably a little closer to accurate than 89%. Sonic Adventure feels like a really good game that was rushed out the door way too early, in order to be a launch title. As such you get a game that's capable of sometimes being exhilarating and a graphical spectacle, but is very rough-edged and has an incomplete, unpolished feeling to it.
The game is fully 3D, though largely on rails, so that you can do high-speed loop-de-loops in the levels and whatnot. Aside from high-speed segments in some of the levels, however, this is a very different experience from the Genesis games. The game begins in "adventure mode" in a hub world that Sonic returns to between levels, often having to talk to people or fish around for some item or another to proceed to the next "real" level. Oh, and Sega apparently arbitrarily decided here that Sonic and his furry buds live in the world of real humans, so it's a normal city that he's roaming around without anyone so much as batting an eyelash or trying to kidnap him for testing and dissection. The memorable chiptunes of the Genesis game are also gone, replaced with music that's just all over the map. At first it's generic crappy shred rock and crappy "world" music, but about halfway through the game it sounds like the guys who did the NiGHTs soundtrack got sick of this crap and kicked everyone out of the studio to take over.
You get to play as a whole shmorgasboard of characters - Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, some new romantic interest called Amy Rose, a developmentally challenged cat called Big, and eventually a gun-toting robot. You have to proceed a certain ways into Sonic's quest, however, before the ability to play as these guys is unlocked. There's an ongoing story but it's the usual incredible Derp that Sonic has come to be known for. The extra characters also mostly just re-tread the levels that Sonic went through, with some new objective or another, though there's a handful of levels that are unique to them.
The "adventure" portions are about as anti-Sonic as it gets. Your stays in them are kept mercifully fairly brief, but they can be maddening when you're fishing around for some item or another needed to open the door to the next "real" level. This is the first portion where the game feels really incomplete, as these areas are decent-looking and well-designed enough, but there's almost nothing to do in them aside from talking to a few random Playmobil people who say boring things.
The "real" levels do a fair job of translating the Sonic 2D experience into 3D, and at times can be downright awesome. Unfortunately, the best bits - getting chased by a killer whale, suddenly busting out of a high-rise window and running down the side of a skyscraper, bouncing to ludicrous heights only to be blown even higher by a tornado - only work because the game barely lets you participate beyond holding the stick upward and maybe jumping once in a while. When you're fully in control, things are slippery and the camera is often terrible. The game again seems unfinished here, like the rough edges were going to be ironed out at some later date, but Marketing said we have to get this out the door NOW NOW NOW.
Then again, maybe this was all intentional - given the beyond-cheesy story and very low difficulty level, the game was clearly aimed at young kids, who have a lot more patience for gameplay jank when adjusting to it means being treated with a visual spectacle. And at least in that sense, the game was highly impressive for its 1999 release. But if it had just partnered up the creative level design and visual sumptuosness with responsive, smooth gameplay and a camera that was consistently competent, it would have been a true classic enjoyable not just by naive chitlins but by everyone. As is, it's now just a highly flawed nostalgia trip and a rough ride.
* Gameplay Video