Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
When Sega launched Sonic the Hedgehog to Sonic 3 & Knuckles on the Sega Genesis, they became so critically and commercially successful that they created a mascot that visually represented the company. So, Sega decided to experiment with a few side projects and spin-offs that would expand on their current and new systems at the same time. The results were a mixed bag, to say the least.
The Sega Technical Institute created a pinball game that surprisingly performed decently, and Aspect produced a duology of Sonic Game Gear titles that carried the spirit of their 16-bit counterparts. However, a spin-off starring Knuckles for the 32X crashed and burned financially due to rushed production, and two awful Game Gear titles proved why you shouldn't separate two different gameplay elements.
Sega eventually discovered that consumers were no longer interested in 2D games, and sales for their Genesis and Game Gear systems declined. This occurred during the time when home consoles put emphasis on 3D polygon graphics and started revolutionizing video games. Sony launched the Playstation while Nintendo crushed the competition yet again with the Nintendo 64. With one or two new consoles in development, it was Sega's turn to ensure they would reach a similar accomplishment as its competitors. Yet, transitioning Sonic into 3D turned out to be more challenging and longer than they envisioned. Even so, that change would eventually redefine Sonic into the hedgehog he is today.
But before the big jump, Sega needed to test the hedgehog's 3D capabilities on a couple of side games with help from an outsider studio. The first was Sonic 3D Blast, with no relation to Sonic Blast whatsoever.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. Please do not harass anyone associated with Sega mentioned in this article, and please respect their privacy, especially if anything mentioned here is something they do not wish to talk about.
Sonic 3D Blast (1996)
When Dr. Robotnik captures mysterious birds known as "Flickies" and turns them into robots in searching for Chaos Emeralds, Sonic must rescue the birds and stop the doctor's dastardly plan.
The idea originated back during Sonic the Hedgehog 3's development when Sonic Team originally wanted to make a 3D polygon Sonic game at an isometric viewpoint using the Sega Virtua Processor chip. However, it was rejected due to the game's rushed schedule. The isometric perspective was previously used on the SegaSonic the Hedgehog arcade game and later Sonic Labyrinth for the Game Gear. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and, ironically, Sonic Labyrinth were the major influences for the isometric view.
Around that time, Sega launched its first 3D console, the Sega Saturn. It was designed with a new CPU from the Hitachi company and of course, compete with the Playstation. Its functionalities included CD-ROM formatted games, improved video and audio quality, and a library of both original game and arcade ports. Another interesting fact about the Sega Saturn was unlike the company itself, the system had a series of Japanese commercials starring a martial artist named Segata Sanshiro as its mascot. He is a lampoon of Sugata Sanshiro, based on the titular character from Akira Kurosawa's 1943 film Sanshiro Sugata.
Though the system was selling decently in Japan, sales in North America were the complete opposite. Despite the Sega Genesis being discontinued, Sega decided to release the new isometric game for the system as its swan song because game consoles tend to release one or two games after their end. Since Sonic Team was busy working on Nights into Dreams, the game had to be outsourced by another game studio known as Traveller's Tales. The primary reason that this British studio was chosen was that Sega was impressed by their works on Toy Story and Mickey Mania. Traveller's Tales founder Jon Burton initially declined since they wanted to focus on making games for the Playstation and Sega Saturn. But, when Sega revealed their project to be a Sonic game, Jon accepted the offer. Even though Traveller's Tales did most of the programming, Sonic Team's Hirokazu Yasuhara, Takashi Iizuka, and Takao Miyushi were in charge of game design and level maps.
In a retrospect interview with VentureBeat, Jon recalled:
We’d just finished Toy Story, we were keen to get on with the new consoles, the Saturn and the PlayStation. Sega came to us and wanted a meeting. Well, of course, we’ll take a meeting with Sega. They said, we want you to make a Genesis game. We really wanted to do the next-gen stuff. But then they said, it's Sonic the Hedgehog. Oh, that 16-bit game? Yeah, we can do that 16-bit game.
— Jon Burton, Lead Programmer
Production started from scratch in late 1995 under its original title "Sonic Spindrift." Another visual aspect of 3D Blast was the use of pre-rendered 3D graphics into sprites, produced by the Traveller's Tales' own Silicon Graphics computer system from their previous works. Jon Burton was tasked as a leading programmer and installed an exception handler into the game (i.e. greeting players with a secret level screen) in order to pass Sega's approval process easily. He also included a full motion video (FMV) intro sequence and compressed it to fittingly run on the system's cartridge. A two-player mode was planned but got scrapped after having difficulties with the isometric view.
As for the bird species themselves, the Flickies came from the 1984 arcade platformer of the same name. In that game, players had to guide a blue Flicky gathering smaller birds to safety in each level. It was simply Sega's answer to Namco's Mappy at the time. The concept of item collecting and saving Flickies was inspired by both Flicky and Donkey Kong Country. Jun Senoue and Tatsuyuki Maeda provided the majority of the soundtrack while Masaru Setsumaru and Seirou Okamoto composed the final boss and staff roll themes respectively.
However, when the planned Sonic project got canceled, Sega commissioned Traveller's Tales to make a Sega Saturn version of Sonic 3D Blast in order to take its place. The Saturn version was ported in seven weeks during the Genesis version's development. Although the game mainly plays the same as the original, there were some differences. For starters, it had a higher quality intro sequence and better graphics, like weather effects and more detailed backgrounds. For the special stages, Sonic Team took the helm and rendered them into polygonic graphics as opposed to the main game's sprites. A bonus round playing Sonic billiard style was slated to be included in the Saturn version but got dismissed in favor of being structured more like the Special Stages from Sonic 2. As for the music, it was given a hardcore techno style exclusively composed by Traveller's Tales in-house composer Richard Jacques, along with an ending vocal theme "You're My Hero", performed by Debbie Morris.
Reception & Legacy
With everything done in time for the holidays, Sonic 3D Blast for the Sega Genesis was released in both North America and Europe (under the title "Sonic 3D: Flickies' Island) in November 1996. The Saturn version was launched later that same year in North America, Europe in February 1997, and Japan on October 14, 1999.
As Sonic's first 3D game on Genesis, the reception was mixed. Critics enjoyed its visuals and music yet found the controls frustrating and slow-paced. The Saturn version was, too, mixed for being too similar but found it to be an improvement in terms of its production values and using the system analog controller.
Both ended up as commercial successes with the Genesis version selling over 700, 000 copies, and the Saturn version was the second best-selling Saturn title behind Nights into Dreams. The only accolade that 3D Blast earned was runner-up for Electronic Gaming Monthy's Genesis Game of Year with Vectorman 2 winning the title.
For years, the Genesis version has been re-released in numerous Sonic compilations while the Saturn version hasn't. There was a Windows port of the Saturn version but was criticized for having slower effects whenever the camera moves.
The Flickies have made countless cameos in several Sega properties, especially in the Sonic franchise as captured animals inside the Badniks. A few of the music tracks that were either present or removed were later reused for later Sonic titles.
Today, most players do not favor the Genesis version as much as it received originally. They still enjoy the presentation but find the controls hard and the isometric level design to be repetitive. Some would go as far as calling it the "black sheep" of the franchise. Even so, they prefer the Saturn version as the definitive version.
For those that critiqued the game, there is good news. Jon Burton remembered having a great time partnering with Sega and working on Sonic 3D Blast helped Traveller's Tales expand its scope in producing more games. In 2017, Burton released an unofficial director's cut patch with several adjusted controls and gameplay improvements. These include Sonic moving faster, a level editor, a password save system, time attack mode, and the ability to transform into Super Sonic. That patch alone demonstrates that there is passion and effort thrown into making a game worth playing, especially being made by the same programmer.
Making another isometric Sonic game was a challenge, but thanks to a healthy collaboration with an outsider studio, it not only help evolve the latter into making more console games but allowed its main programmer into making a game that would give players more satisfying experiences. Sure, the Genesis version isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it was only the first noble attempt of Sonic's jump into 3D.
The second side game that Traveller's Tales worked on was a racing game for the Sega Saturn. In fact, not counting Sonic 3D Blast, the Sonic Jam compilation, and the canceled Saturn title, it was the only original Sonic Saturn game. This was Sonic R.
Sonic R (1997)
Sonic and his friends must compete against Dr. Robotnik and his specialized robot minions in the "World Grand Prix" to find the hidden Chaos Emeralds on each racetrack.
Technically speaking, this wasn't the first Sonic racing game. The idea began back in 1994 with Sonic Drift for the Game Gear. Simply put: it was Sega's attempt on capitalizing Super Mario Kart's success and a Japanese-exclusive game. Despite receiving mixed-to-negative reviews, the game was a commercial hit and spawned a sequel Sonic Drift 2 the following year internationally. Even with a slightly expanded character roster and levels having environmental hazards, the sequel suffered the same reactions as its predecessor.
In actuality, the project began as an original Formula One game that Sega wanted to compete against the Playstation's Formula 1 game and asked Traveller's Tales to work on it after Sonic 3D Blast was completed. Similarly, Sonic Team would handle the game design and racetracks while Traveller's Tales does the programming. After the studio spent a few months building a game engine, Sega abandoned the Formula One concept and changed it into a Sonic racing game (originally called "Sonic T.T.") instead due to the failure of their planned project.
Sonic Team sent Traveler's Tales 2-D character sketches which they would convert into 3D models and animations using Softimage 3D software. The character models initially had a higher polygon count to convey more detail. Yet, they had to be adjusted and simplified in order for the hardware to render the models properly. For example, Amy's vehicle originally had a giant circular saw in the front of her car that would attack her opponents. While the main and recurring characters appeared as playable characters, two more exclusive characters were added to the roster as unlockables. Background artist Yoshitaka Miura created a doll character resembling Tails that was later used as a shootable gimmick for an upcoming game made around the same time as Sonic R. Newcomer character designer Yuji Uekawa also conceived a robotic version of Knuckles.
Each track and look presented in the game was inspired by stages from earlier Sonic titles, including Sonic 3D Blast. The game also incorporated secret areas and multiple pathways, in order to be closer to the series' traditions, or in Sonic Team's case: a "cross between a racing game and a platformer." With their custom-built game engine, Burton and his team wanted to take full advantage of the Sega Saturn's hardware and maintain a consistent 30 frames per second frame rate. Burton also believed that Sonic R wouldn't be made for other consoles due to its "12-layer transparency" graphical technique created specifically for the system.
The music was, once again, composed by Richard Jacques. To find the musical approach for the game, Jacques visited and consulted Yuji Naka in Japan. The first song written was "Super Sonic Racing" and British singer Teresa Jane (T.J.) Davis was onboard performing the vocals. Naka enjoyed Davis' singing so much that he requested her to perform the rest of the track songs. These songs include: "Can You Feel the Sunshine?", "Living in the City", "Back in Time", "Work It Out" and "Diamond in the Sky."
Unlike Sonic 3D Blast, production for Sonic R was under a tight schedule since development began in February and was scheduled for a holiday 1997 release. Even though Traveller's Tales requested to have more freedom, many elements had to be changed and/or removed to meet the deadline. The number of the racetracks was cut down to five, both relay and mirror modes were removed due to coding issues, and implementing a split-screen two-player mode was more difficult to ensure cheating isn't too easy. On top of that, there was a lack of time for communication between Sonic Team and Traveler's Tales since Sega of Europe producer Kats Sato was the only handler speaking both English and Japanese. Because of this, Sato wanted to change the game design, which led to a dispute with Naka, and Sato's name was removed from the credits. Hirokazu Yasuhara would then visit England and fine-tuned the game.
Reception & Legacy
Sonic and his friends raced over to stores on November 18 in North America, a few days later in Europe, and on December 4th in Japan. After all that squeezed time, Sonic's first 3D racing game turned out to be...alright. The visuals and exploration level design were appraised for presenting that familiar Sonic touch into the third dimension. However, the controls were too loose and awkward for players to make accurate and sharp turns, and the game felt too short to complete. Surprisingly, the soundtrack was divisive where many found the songs to be catchy while others found them "out-of-place" in a racing game.
Sonic R was later released on the Windows PC a year later and it was ported onto the Sonic Gems Collection in 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube. Unlike the Saturn version, players were more retrospectively critical of it due to the aforementioned controls. Since then, there hasn't been another re-release.
Regardless, a couple of elements from the game led to two interesting impacts. One is that the soundtrack's songs "Can You Feel the Sunshine?" and "Super Sonic Racing" were frequently re-used and remixed for several Sonic racing games and later Super Smash Bros. installments. The second is one of the exclusive characters, Tails Doll. True, this character and Metal Knuckles have only appeared in Sonic R and made minor appearances in Sonic comics. However, because of the doll's creepy nature, Tails Doll became an Internet meme and an antagonist for several Creepypasta stories. Who knew that a doll composed as a shootable target would end up as one of the scariest figures in the Sonic community?
Looking back at the game's development, Hirokazu Yasuhara found the finalized version to be good yet admittedly found the basis of Sonic characters' foot racing not great. Criticisms aside, Game Informer found the game to be "decent, but unmemorable" and GamesRadar included Sonic R in the Top 50 Best Saturn Games of All Time.
Today, players are polarized on the game's quality and legacy. While some good came out of it whether how the game looked, sounded, and gave a sense of that Sonic spirit, controlling these characters was more cumbersome and lacked much content. Whatever people have to say about it, developer Takashi Yuda mentioned that fans requesting more racing games would become an inspiration for Sonic Team to revisit the genre in the future. That led to many different racing games that will be covered later. The closest games that carried the style of Sonic R were the Sonic Rivals games for the Playstation Portable (PSP) and the mobile racing game Sonic Forces: Speed Battle. But for now, deep within the game's flaws, there's still a bit of sunshine left that helped Sonic's jump into 3D more revolutionary.
Let's turn back the clock to 1994. After Sonic & Knuckles was completed, Yuji Naka and the Japanese staff of the Sega Technical Institute (STI) returned to Japan. Once he reunited with Naoto Ohshima, the two redeveloped the Sonic Team and discussed new ideas for future titles whether it was Sonic or new franchises. With the Sega Saturn being around the corner, Sonic Team decided to create an original game for the system called Nights into Dreams. Meanwhile, the American staff of STI had experimented with several ideas that would keep the Sonic name alive. But, one ambitious Sega Saturn project that the Americans constantly worked on was so troublesome and dangerous, that it never saw the light of day. That game was known as Sonic X-Treme.
Sonic X-Treme was intended to bring Sonic into the modern era. The gameplay would feature controlling Sonic in any direction through a fisheye camera called the "Reflex Lens", gravity-rotating level design, new abilities, and a story involving Sonic defending six magical rings from Dr. Robotnik.
The game was originally planned as a 32X title where developer Mike Wallis, designer Chris Senn, and programmer Chris Coffin were the key people in charge. But, when the 32X failed commercially, they decided to shift focus on the Sega Saturn in hopes of competing with the upcoming Nintendo 64. Sonic X-Treme was made by two teams with two different game engines. One engine, led by Coffin and STI director Robert Morgan, focused on free-roaming boss fights, while another engine, led by Chris Senn and co-programmer Ofer Alon, was made for level designing. Rendering 3D polygons and combining 2D side-scrolling turned out to be more difficult than they thought.
Things got tough when Sega's Japanese representatives visited STI and were not impressed with how Senn's engine was running yet enjoyed Coffin's engine and requested to rework it. Because of that notion, a concerned Wallis isolated Coffin's team where they worked between sixteen and twenty hours a day to reach the 1996 deadline. There was one instance where the team had a spark of hope using Sonic Team's game engine from their Nights game to finish Sonic X-Treme. After two weeks, they were ordered to stop using the engine because Yuji Naka threatens to quit if their technology was used by outsiders. Giving up their chance costs their weeks of development.
The final straw struck when both Senn and Coffin became ill from overworking on the game. Coffin had walking pneumonia and Senn was so sick that he was told that had six months to live! Fortunately, he survived. For the sake of their health and with two months left before the deadline, Wallis pulled the plug on Sonic X-Treme. Did I forget to mention that there was going to be a movie tie-in as well?
After the game's cancellation, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic R, and the Sonic Jam compilation took their place on the Sega Saturn lineup. Even so, the Nintendo 64 still buried Saturn in the competition. In fact, the Nintendo 64's launch title Super Mario 64 gave the console its identity and purpose to be sold worldwide. True, there were Sonic games for the system but none of them represent Sonic's fully first 3D experience. With 9.26 million units sold and the cancellation of Sonic X-Treme together, the Sega Saturn was discontinued.
It was now Sonic Team's turn on this endeavor. Nights Into Dreams was a massive success, despite the console's shortcomings, and Sega would put their trust in Naka and his team. This is where the real story of Sonic's 3D adventure begins. As a matter of fact, the title of the game was called Sonic Adventure.
Sonic Adventure (1998)
When Dr. Eggman awakens an ancient liquid creature called Chaos, Sonic and his friends must stop it from absorbing all the Chaos Emeralds, or else the entire world will be flooded.
After completing Nights into Dreams, game designer Takashi Iizuka proposed an idea for a Sonic RPG game with more emphasis on storytelling. The game's prototype was first built for the Sega Saturn under the same engine they used for Nights. But, of course, the limited hardware was difficult for them. But suddenly, the team learned that a new successor to the Sega Saturn was near completion known as the Sega Dreamcast.
The Sega Dreamcast was historically the first of the sixth-generation video game consoles where it was designed to reduce "off-the-shelf" costs with a stronger CPU, more RAM, and a VPU. Naka and his team were intrigued by the console's capabilities and decided to shift focus to the Dreamcast instead. To ensure their earlier Saturn build doesn't go to waste, the team reassigned it as a bonus 3D hub world feature on the Sonic Jam compilation where players let Sonic freely roam around, visit an interactive museum, and perform missions. That feature alone foreshadows how big Sonic's next adventure will be.
With development officially beginning in July 1997, Iizuka was tasked as director and Naka as producer. Aiming for a December 1998 deadline, the staff grew to 60 after ten months and eventually over 100, making it one of the largest video games to be made at the time.
At first, the character designs from the Genesis era were planned but found their big heads and short, round bodies hard to process with the new technology. Sonic Team also took notice that some iconic video game characters, like Pac-Man, were "urbanized" for new consoles at the time. The team was so jealous that they felt that the classic designs were becoming outdated.
Character designer Yuji Uekawa redesigned each character thanks to inspiration from works of Walt Disney, the Looney Tunes, graffiti art, and comic books. For instance, Sonic was given an older and sleeker look while maintaining a hint of familiarity based on Ohshima's original design. He was also given longer quills, a darker blue color, and green irises as a reference to Green Hill Zone, the first zone from the 1991 game. While Tails and Knuckles received a similar treatment, the two characters with the most drastic changes were Amy and Dr. Eggman. Amy aged up from 8 to 12, along with a new hairstyle and dress. Eggman, on the other hand, planned to stay true to his original look but was heavily modernized in the end.
Although the main characters' gameplay styles were established, Naka felt that two more characters with completely separate gameplay styles would be added, not just to change the pace, but also to broaden the appeal to those not interested in playing as Sonic or his friends.
One was an already implemented in-game fishing rod mechanic without the context needed and would feature a character that is more "relaxed" compared to the "intense" nature of the other characters. This led to the birth of a giant, purple cat character named Big. Some would say Big's design was partially influenced by cat characters in Hayao Miyazaki anime films.
The other was from fan requests for a shooting component in a Sonic game. Since the team felt that it wouldn't be Sonic or any of the main characters' nature to wield a gun, they decided to design a robotic character that was capable of targeting and shooting. Taking the basis of the EggRobo from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, along with influence from the ED-209 from Robocop, this character was the second unit of Eggman's E-Series robots called E-102 codenamed "Gamma."
Additionally, Sonic Team wanted to create a new villain that not only had to be a bigger threat than Eggman alone but also impossible to create, up until then, in a game. Iizuka and the team came up with a liquid and transparent creature that would allow the hardware to render. When they present the design to Naka, it was approved. That villain was Chaos.
Sonic Team didn't just want to expand on the story but the world around the characters as well. With the Dreamcast's new capabilities, the team aimed to make the environments more realistic and immersive as possible. Since Sonic 3 & Knuckles, some believe that Angel Island was inspired by the lost floating city Lupata from the Hayao Miyazaki movie Castle in the Sky where its architecture had a mix of Babylonian and Gothic design. To achieve the graphics' realism, Sonic Team took a research trip to Central and South America. Outside of encountering snakes and tarantulas, many areas they visited were jungles, temples, and ancient ruins in Mesoamerican landscapes ranging from Cancun to Peru. The crew also took photographs of the areas and implemented them as the game's environmental textures, thus creating the Mystic Ruins hub area. Other levels were also based on certain spots they've seen, like Emerald Coast is based on Cancun's beaches and Sand Hill was inspired by noticing people sandboarding on dunes. The most noteworthy places that Sonic Team visited were Machu Picchu in Peru and the ancient capital ruin of Tikal in Guatemala. In fact, they've created an ancient echidna character named after the latter who serves as the player's guide for hints and provides the game's backstory. Her name was Tikal.
Keeping up with the adventure-theming, Sonic Team carried over the hub world feature from Sonic Jam and made a few open-ended fields called Adventure Fields where players can explore, interact with NPCs, and find items/keys to access each level. Besides the Mystic Ruins, the main hub world is Station Square, which was modeled after Westernized cities (i.e. New York City or Chicago) and later Dr. Eggman's flying airship, the Egg Carrier. In each character's respective story, they would also find hidden power-up items that would improve and progress their gameplay further. The concept of explorable areas and power-ups were influenced by The Legend of Zelda. Come to think of it: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64 was launched the exact same year as Sonic Adventure, a month before its release, if I may add. In fact, Tikal almost acts like Navi when you think about it. But, it's all coincidental.
As for the levels, or "Action Stages" as they were referred to, the team had a difficult time designing and rebuilding them dozens of times in order to test how a player character would make it through. This was a similar issue they had when designing levels for the first Sonic game, except this time was in 3D.
"When we built our first test level, we knew we had to test it out, just to make sure our ideas worked. It ended up only lasting about ten seconds, and we knew we couldn't build a game around this structure. We had to rebuild levels over and over again until we finally had a level length we were happy with."
— Takashi Iizuka, Director of Sonic Adventure
Another challenge included defeating the enemies since they were easy to beat in 2D games. Their solution came in a form of Sonic's new ability called the Homing Attack. Loosely based on the Gold Shield power-up from Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic could easily target enemies whether on the ground or mid-air to make a chain attack or cross over inaccessible areas. Certain levels were also referenced from previous Sonic and Sega titles, like the Ice Cap level from Sonic 3 & Knuckles and the Tornado sub-missions were based on the rail-shooter Panzer Dragoon game. A Nights into Dreams pinball game was also included in the Casinopolis level, where its characters make cameos. When the levels were completed, Iizuka and Naka felt that Sonic simply bypassing the levels would be a "waste" of all the hard work they've done. So, they decided to re-purpose them for other playable characters. For instance, Tails' levels involved racing while Knuckles' levels were about treasuring-hunting for missing Master Emerald pieces in "boxed-in" sub-areas. Amy also makes her playable platform debut where her levels involve hiding from a robot called Zero, to add "tension" that no other Sonic gameplay had to offer.
Of course, due to time constraints, there was some unused content that never made it to the final product. One example is the second Tornado sub-mission where there was originally a mechanical dragon miniboss that the Egg Carrier would summon to attack you, but was scrapped. Super Sonic was also planned to be playable in the Action Stages akin to the Genesis games, which was evident from an unused audio file of Tikal. Instead, he was only playable during the final boss fight with Perfect Chaos.
Around the time when memory cards were becoming more helpful for saving game data rather than passwords, the Sega Dreamcast had a unique memory card called the Visual Memory Unit (VMU). Besides being a removable storage device, it also featured an LCD screen where it can download minigames and can be played like a handheld game system. Sonic Team wanted to take full advantage of the VMU to appeal to casual gamers that are unfamiliar with Sonic and add replay value. Based on the "A-Life" virtual pet mechanic from Nights into Dreams, the team retooled the concept with new creatures called Chao where players would find "Chao Gardens" hidden within the hub worlds and raise them by giving them small animals found after defeating robot enemies. The VMU would also download a minigame called Chao Adventure where the player's Chao will evolve and improve its skills. Additionally, the Chao would compete in races to increase their statuses.
This is also remarkably the first Sonic game where it featured full-on voice acting. Previously, Sega had experimented with voice acting starting with Sonic CD, and music tracks with vocals were primarily featured during their first attempted 3D titles. The idea of voice acting was an early decision made by Sonic Team to encompass the story-driven focus. Although, they had varying opinions on what Sonic would sound like. Iizuka favored having a film actor with an "over-the-top" voice rather than an anime voice actor. For the Japanese voice of Sonic, they cast Jun'ichi Kanemaru solely because he was capable of speaking English. The rest of the cast includes Chikao Otsuka as Dr. Eggman, Kazuki Hayashi as Tails, Taeko Kawata as Amy, Nobutoshi Canna as Knuckles, Shun Yashiro as Big, Joji Nakata as Gamma, and Kaori Asoh as Tikal. As of today, Kanemaru, Kawata, and Canna have continued voicing their respective characters.
When Sonic Team made their USA division, they hired English voice actors to translate the original script. The English voice cast consisted of Ryan Drummond as Sonic, Deem Bristow as Dr. Eggman, Corey Bringas as Tails, Jennifer Douillard as Amy, Michael McGaharn as Knuckles, Jon St. John (known for voicing Duke Nukem) as Big, Steve Broadie as Gamma and Tikal's father Pachacamac, and Elara Distler as Tikal.
The soundtrack was also given a boost when Jun Senoue was in charge as composer and sound director. Beforehand, Senoue started out as a rookie member of the sound team for Sonic 3 & Knuckles but gradually got promoted after working on multiple projects. Astonishingly as a Sonic fan, Jun didn't feel pressured by his newfound position and responsibilities. With additional music by Fumie Kumatani, Kenichi Tokoi, and Masaru Setsumaru, the goal of the soundtrack was "to evoke the essence of Sonic by going from 2D to 3D" and exceed fans' expectations. Unlike the previous titles, the music was given a "hot, funky, and rock 'n' roll" feel where Senoue felt more comfortable composing rock music and those that everyone can enjoy. A couple of tracks that were re-used for the game's levels WIndy Valley and Twinkle Park were from Sonic 3D Blast on the Genesis because Senoue believed that they were strong enough to be widely heard since the Genesis version never got released in Japan.
It was also the first Sonic game to have theme songs that would spotlight the characters' personalities and provided by various artists. Norwegian rock singer Tony Harnell performed Sonic's theme "It Doesn't Matter", Karen Blake for Tails' theme "Believe in Myself", Marlon Saunders for Knuckles' theme "Unknown from M.E." alongside rapper (a.k.a. the voice of PaRappa the Rapper) Dred Foxx, Nikki Gregoroff for Amy's theme "My Sweet Passion", and Ted Poley for Big's theme "Lazy Days (Livin' in Paradise)." Iizuka found both "Unknown from M.E." and "My Sweet Passion" helped flesh out Knuckles and Amy's personalities since they didn't get much character development previously.
However, history would soon change when the game needed a theme song inspired by films using main themes during dramatic events, according to Iizuka. Once Senoue finished writing an early demo of the song, he contacted vocalist Johnny Gioeli from the hard rock band Hardline to provide the vocals. The major reason why Senoue chose Gioeli is that he was a fan of Hardline and felt a connection with him via Doug Aldrich, guitarist of Whitesnake. This was not only the birth of the track "Open Your Heart" but the collaborative duo known as Crush 40.
Reception & Legacy
The world, at the time, didn't know when to expect Sonic's turn into 3D platforming, considering the last real Sonic game they've played was Sonic 3 & Knuckles. However, once Sonic marked his huge return with a new look and console in Japan on December 23, 1998, and September a year later in both North America and Europe, the wait was worth it.
Reviewers acclaimed and found Adventure to be a technical advancement for its graphics and presentation while the majority of 3D platforming was praised for maintaining the spirit of the Genesis titles and the Chao VMU helped add replay value. Some went as far as comparing how groundbreaking Adventure was to Nintendo 64's Super Mario 64. Though not as revolutionary as their rival, but felt Adventure had enough features to make it stand out on its own merit.
The audio was unexpectedly mixed among various critics. Many enjoyed the soundtrack, full-motion video cutscenes, and some of the voice acting. Though others found the lip-synching poor, characters' story cutscenes repetitive, and "unfitting" voices. Other issues include an inconsistent camera that would cause collision detection and occasional glitches. For the latter, Sonic Team was guilty in that department. When the Japanese version was released, it was filled with bugs that the team didn't have time to iron out because of their tight schedule. Thankfully, Sonic Team USA helped patch and translate the game. The localized version also featured several language audio tracks, online features, and DLC, which was later released in Japan as Sonic Adventure International.
Sonic Adventure also became the best-selling Dreamcast game with 440, 000 copies in Japan, 1.27 million in the U.S., and 86,000 in Europe. As of August 4, 2006, it sold 2.5 million copies worldwide. For accolades, the game was awarded the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for "Favorite Sega Dreamcast Game" and was runner-up for GameSpot's "Best Console Platform Game" award, with Rayman 2: The Great Escape earning the title. Computers & Video Games magazine called it called one of the greatest video games of all time" and was placed in the 1001 Video Games to Play Before You Die list.
As for the new additions to the cast, gamers and critics had varying impressions of them. The Chao became staple characters in the franchise, thanks to the Chao Garden feature. E-102 Gamma was praised for his tragic story and Complex ranked him as the 21st "coolest robot character in video games", but others criticized his shooting levels to be short and monotonous. However, ever since his debut, Big the Cat was easily ridiculed by both the press and the community as one of the worst characters in Sonic history, as well as appearing in several worst video game characters of all time lists. Many found the character pointless to the plot and his fishing gameplay to be slow and dull. Contrarily, Big became a recurring character and later gained a somewhat more positive reception as a meme of sorts.
Regardless, these characters would appear in later games and several Sonic media, including the game's story being adapted for comics and the Sonic X anime. Although Tikal made no further appearances (outside of cameos), she was a playable character in Sonic Adventure 2's multiplayer mode and in a couple of apps. Gamma returned as a secret character in Sonic Shuffle, a Badnik variant in Sonic Adventure 2, and a rebuilt version of himself known as "Chaos Gamma" in Sonic Battle. Speaking of Chaos, it was a playable character in a few games, had an enemy variant in select games known as "Artificial Chaos", appeared as Perfect Chaos in a reimagined boss battle in Sonic Generations, and was a returning antagonist in Sonic Forces.
In 2003, Sega released an enhanced port of the game called Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was mostly identical to the original version, except that the character models and textures were updated, the framerate increased up to 60, and the Chao-raising system was connected to the GameBoy Advance. Extra content (i.e. hub world missions, unlockable Sonic Game Gear titles, and Metal Sonic as a secret playable character) was added to appeal to players of the original game. While it welcomed new players and the added content was nice, many felt that the port didn't fix any of the issues that the Dreamcast version had. In 2010, an HD downloadable version of the game was released for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows a year later. Many of Sonic Adventure DX's additional content was removed, yet the mission mode and Metal Sonic had to be purchased as DLC. That version, on the other hand, was deemed inferior with a lack of widescreen support and effort.
Retrospectively, many gamers and publicists have found Sonic Adventure to be more influential than it was. While a couple of gameplay mechanics and some of the presentation may have not aged well by today's technological standards, they knew that Sonic Team created a 3D game that helped made Sonic as innovative as he was in the 2D era. The greater focus on plot and voice acting also gave the characters more personality than before. This game was the basis for a new future of 3D Sonic titles. With many platforming franchises being remastered today, fans still request a Sonic Adventure remake with Iizuka reportedly expressing interest someday.
It was indeed a difficult and secretive adventure that Sonic Team had experienced. But, after all that hard work, Sonic Adventure changed the video game industry forever where it opened our hearts and everything was all right in the end.
Now that Sonic Team finally gave Sonic the 3D transition he deserved, the franchise's tenth anniversary was coming soon and felt it was time for a sequel to commemorate the occasion. This follow-up not only brought old and new elements to the table, but it was also the last outing for the Sega Dreamcast. This was Sonic Adventure 2.
Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)
In this game, the story follows two different perspectives: the Hero story where Sonic and his friends stop Dr. Eggman from unleashing an ultimate weapon, and the Dark story where Dr. Eggman discovers his grandfather's research and the "Ultimate Life Form" known as Shadow the Hedgehog.
Development began shortly after Sonic Adventure was released in North America. Earlier, Takashi Iizuka and a portion of Sonic Team moved and established a new headquarters in San Francisco, California called "Sonic Team USA." The location was, interestingly enough, the same area where the Sega Technical Institute (STI) once thrived during the Genesis era. The primary reason for the move was that Yuji Naka and his Japanese team wanted to focus on more original games while the American staff could focus on the namesake of the production team. After patching and releasing Sonic Adventure International in Japan, Sonic Team USA started working on the sequel. Immediately, the team had to go through many objectives on keeping those that made their previous project successful and removing those that got criticized.
One of the first components that the team wanted to expand on was the story where they decided a good vs. evil scenario. In order to convey the theme, new characters, particularly on the evil side, had to be created. The first new character was an idea thought up by Iizuka of having a "Dark Sonic" who would look similar to Sonic, but not in personality and would be "as cool or better" than him. Several designs range from having long spines with a bunch of fur covering the eyes, to wearing capes, shades, and even a missing eye. Although Yuji Uekawa was tasked with drawing the final design, writer and game designer Shiro Maekawa came up with the final look and called himself the creator. Originally, the character's name was Terios, which was based on the Japanese verb "terasu" meaning " to compare" or "to shine on." But, when they noticed that the character looked more like Sonic's "shadow" than anything else, he was officially named: Shadow the Hedgehog.
Another new addition was a rival character for Knuckles. Although the character was kept secret from the public during development, it was intentional that she would be depicted as a spy, which was later confirmed. Her original name was "Nails" to mostly tie in with the naming pun that both Tails and Knuckles shared. But in actuality, this character would become part-treasure hunter, part-government agent, and part-femme fatale of the story known as Rouge the Bat.
The biggest change that Sonic Team USA incorporated was making the sequel a faster-paced and more action-oriented experience. That new direction also had to remove and alter prior gameplay features and mechanics. Beginning with gameplay, they selectively focused on three gameplay styles: high-speed platforming for Sonic, treasure hunting quests for Knuckles, and shooting stages that originated from E-102 Gamma's gameplay. Since Gamma was impractically absent, they decided to retool them with Dr. Eggman in a shooting mechanism, thanks to fan requests, as an official playable character in a mainline Sonic game. In order to keep the pacing consistent, the team also removed the Adventure Field hub worlds so players can straightforwardly play each level as traditionally as a Sonic game would. The only piece that was carried over from the abandoned feature was the power-ups that would increase and improve each character's abilities, except they are now hidden in the stages instead. Another idea involved branching storyline pathways, in which certain characters are given two options to progress. Early previews compromised a scene where Sonic was trapped in a submarine where he either chose to pilot it to safety or risk his life escaping by opening the hatch, despite being unable to swim. That scene never made it to the final product, thus the branching pathway concept was scrapped.
You're probably wondering: what about Tails? Early screenshots and trailers featured Sonic, Knuckles, and Dr. Eggman as if they appeared to be the only playable characters in the game, and fans became upset and worried regarding Tails' absence. That was because Tails, alongside Shadow and Rouge, weren't planned as playable characters, and their roles were meant for story purposes. However, with the massive outcry, these three characters would become playable characters later in development to coincide with each of their counterpart's levels: Shadow for Sonic, Rouge for Knuckles, and Tails (in his own shooting mech) for Dr. Eggman. In fact, half of the levels were recycled using other levels' assets due to this change. In other words, Tails, Shadow, and Rouge acted more like afterthoughts. Having a total of six playable characters in the story was the exact number the first Sonic Adventure had. The major difference was that having three characters on the opposing sides made it equally easier than completing the game six times with each individual character.
As for Amy and Big, both of their gameplays were omitted from the story. Amy served more of a supporting role similarly to how Tails was planned. Funnily enough, despite having no role nor purpose in the story, Big made cameos in numerous cutscenes and levels throughout the game. It's like Sonic Team's interpretation of Where's Waldo?. On the bright side, Amy and Big would eventually be unlockable playable characters in the game's multiplayer mode.
Because the team moved to San Francisco, they found inspiration for designing new levels. The most obvious example was the Hero Story's first stage, City Escape, which is a visual homage to their new home base and its downhill city streets help accelerate Sonic's speed. It also implemented the grinding mechanic as a staple gimmick where players traverse on rails to maintain speed, balance, and perform tricks. Other stages, like Radical Highway and Mission Street, were based on the Golden Gate Bridge area, while the racing stages, Routes 101 and 280, were named after the actual highways that run San Francisco. As you could tell, this is their way of continuing their tradition of appealing to Western audiences by giving the sequel a "more American flavor." Certain levels act as references from previous Sonic titles. One stage Pyramid Cave is based on the Sandopolis level from Sonic 3 & Knuckles where it is desert-themed, having timed switches to open doors, and ghosts as enemies.
You also probably notice Sonic's shoes looked a little different. In early demos and builds, Sonic still donned his regular shoes. But sometime later, Sega made a deal with a shoe company called Soap where they designed a new pair for Sonic, specifically made for grinding. Not only that, but the partnership was also meant to promote Soap shoes, which you could find advertisements of the company through city-based levels. Product placement in video games is a rare breed and the previous Dreamcast game that heavily used product placement at the time was Crazy Taxi.
In addition to cranking up the frame rate to 60 to give the speed a "tempo", Iizuka found production easier and streamlined than before because of their experience with the hardware and aimed to unleash the full power of the console's capabilities. The stages were given more replay value by completing additional missions, such as time attacks and finding lost Chao. On top of that, Sonic Adventure 2 was the first game to introduce the Ranking System mechanic which rewards players with a letter grade based on their performance. If the player gathers enough rings, scores many points, and makes it through the stage fast without losing a life, they earn an "A" rank. The lowest letter grade is the "E" rank. If all the emblems are collected and earned "A" ranks on every mission, a remake of Green Hill Zone will be unlocked as a secret stage, which is means of celebrating the franchise's tenth anniversary.
Returning from Sonic Adventure was the Chao Garden feature which mostly functions the same and connects with the VMU for downloadable minigames. However, there were a couple of changes and additions. Players had to access the garden by finding Chao-shaped keys hidden in stages and must complete them without getting hit. Instead of small animals, players must give Chao new objects called Chaos Drives to raise and enhance their stats. Iizuka recalled characterizing Chao as a "relative neutral entity" in the previous game, so adding socialization in the sequel would make them resemble "real artificial life forms." To reflect on the "good vs. evil" motif, the development team included an ability for Chao to change their appearance, depending on how players treat them. If a Chao is well-trained by a Hero character or abused by a Dark character, it would become a "Hero Chao." In vice versa, it would become a "Dark Chao."
Speaking of different Chao, robotic versions of Chao appeared in the last game where they would guide Chao to sporting events in the Chao Stadium. In the sequel, one, in particular, would return and take over Tikal's role giving hints for players throughout many levels. Unlike Tikal, the robot was given more of an interactive approach where the player would either ignore, throw, or shoot him, and would always make remarks. This character would become a host and announcer for not just Chao events, but for the rest of the series. This robot was called Omochao.
One distinctive feature added for the sequel was a multiplayer mode where two players compete with each other in stages via split-screen (excluding shooting stages), similarly to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Characters would either foot race to the finish or collect all the Master Emerald pieces first. For the shooting gameplay, it is a straightforward mech battle. There is also a kart racing mode based on each retrospective story's highway levels, which many assume as a reference to the Sonic Drift games.
As mentioned before, there are additional playable characters exclusively for this mode yet need to be unlocked by earning all "A" ranks in a specific character's stages. For the race battles, we have Amy and Metal Sonic, Tikal and Chaos for the treasure hunting stages, and a Chao (riding its own mech) and Big the Cat (...in Eggman's mech?) for the mech battles.
One noteworthy fact about the multiplayer mode is that the characters would also wear alternative or special costumes that, too, need to be unlocked by completing certain missions. Sonic and Shadow's outfits were heavily inspired by Sega's then-newly released RPG series, Phantasy Star, which was one of the original projects that Naka focused on during the time. Sometime later after release, seasonal costumes around both Halloween and Christmas were included as DLC.
Aside from giving the game a faster frame rate and the occasional FMVs, Sega parented another California-based developer named Visual Concepts Entertainment to provide a new technique for the character animations during cutscenes called motion capture. That company would later be known for making the NBA 2K franchise.
Nearly the entire voice cast from both versions reprised their roles while a couple of actors had to be changed. Beginning with Tails, Kazuki Hayashi was replaced by Atsuki Murata while Corey Bringas hit puberty during production and passed the torch to his younger brother Connor. After Michael McGaharn and briefly Ryan Drummond for Sonic Shuffle, Scott Dreier took over as Knuckles. New actors for the Japanese lineup that continue voicing them today are Koji Yusa as Shadow, Rumi Ochiai as Rouge, Etsuko Kozakura as Omochao, and Yuri Shiratori as Maria Robotnik. For the English version, we had David Humphrey as Shadow, Lani Minella as both Rouge and Omochao, and Moriah Angeline as Maria.
Although Chikao Otsuka provided the Japanese voice for Gerald Robotnik, Marc Biagi voiced him in the English version. On an outlandish note, while Humphrey did most of Shadow's dialogue, Drummond briefly voiced his quotes during the final boss battle. Sadly after voicing the President, this was Steve Broadie's final performance where he passed away from cancer two months after the game was launched.
With Jun Senoue sound directing and composing again, Sonic Team USA wanted the audio to stand out more. Senoue felt some of the tracks from the previous game weren't as memorable as others. So, he made an agreement with Japanese music company Wave Master to write songs that would correlate with the game's speed and tempo of each stage. After editing and mixing the tracks, Sonic Team approved the music and sent it to musicians. The soundtrack mainly consists of arena rock, with some hip-hop and orchestral tracks. Additional music was done by Fumie Kumatani, Tomoya Ohtani, and Kenichi Tokoi.
Like before, each character has its own theme song. Tony Harnell and Marlon Saunders returned with remixes of "It Doesn't Matter" and "Unknown from M.E." where rapper Hunnid-P provided co-vocals for the latter, as well as Knuckles' stages. Kaz Silver performed a new rendition of "Believe in Myself" instead of Karen Blake. The only character theme that remained unaltered was "My Sweet Passion." For the new characters, we have Everett Bradley for Shadow's theme "Throw It All Away", Paul Shortino for Eggman's theme "E.G.G.M.A.N.", and Tabitha Fair for Rouge's theme "Fly in the Freedom." Ted Poley also came back and recorded City Escape's theme, "Escape from the City."
As for the game's theme song, Crush 40 was reunited to record the track. Senoue started recording the intro, then later arranged and completed it within one day. The demo was sent to Johnny Gioeli for recording his vocals where he was initially nervous and asked Senoue multiple times if the lyrics were okay. Despite that, that song became not just became Crush 40's personal favorite song, but their most famous song of the decade. That main theme was "Live & Learn."
Reception & Legacy
It took the team eighteen months to work on this game and knew this would be a suitable celebration for Sonic's tenth anniversary. When Sonic Adventure 2 was released on June 19, 2001, in North America and a few days later worldwide, it was as historically great as before. Critics loved the diverse gameplay styles, visuals, replay value, and especially the soundtrack. The primary issue that wasn't fixed, according to many, was the inconsistent camera system, mostly when playing the treasure-hunting stages. The story was mixed among the public. Though many find the plot to be the darkest and most ambitious yet, including the good vs. evil motif, others mocked it for being "scattered" and "lackluster." The voice acting was also divisive where most of the actors' performances and lip-syncing were improved yet the sound mixing (in the English version) was intrusive either when the music plays loud or the characters sounded like they were interrupting each other's sentences before they could finish.
In terms of sales, Sonic Adventure 2 sold around 500,000 units worldwide, including 108,480 in Japan. In addition, the sequel received many accolades, such as IGN's 2001 Editor's Choice Award, ranked #5 on ScrewAttack's "Top 10 Dreamcast Games", and placed #10 on GameRadar's "25 Greatest Dreamcast Games."
Since then, Shadow the Hedgehog quickly grew into popularity among players and the community and became a recurring character in the franchise and appeared in several media. Outside his criticisms in later games, they found his gameplay in Adventure 2 as one of the highlights and his backstory about losing his friend Maria sad. Shadow was ranked as the second-best Sonic character on Sonic Channel's official character poll, with Sonic himself winning the poll, and Guinness World Records put him #25 among the "50 greatest video game characters of all time" in 2011. Comparing to Fang the Sniper, Rouge, too, became a recurring character and appeared in other media. Upon her debut, players characterized her similarly to Knuckles for her "daring attitude" and narcissism yet were mixed on her character design. Nonetheless, GamerRadar ranked her #3 on their "Sexy Lady Beasts of Gaming" list, and was voted as the tenth most popular character on the Sonic character poll, including the second most popular female character next to Amy Rose. Like before, the game's story and characters were also adapted in the anime Sonic X.
Six months later after its release, Sega launched an enhanced port of the game onto the Nintendo Gamecube called Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. It featured more detailed graphics and textures, connecting and transferring Chao to the GameBoy Advance with a "Tiny Chao Garden" featured in any GBA Sonic titles, and an updated multiplayer mode with new abilities and exclusive characters (Big being replaced with Dark Chao). Speaking of Big, all of his level and cutscene cameos were removed, with a couple of exceptions. Unlike the Dreamcast version, Battle received mixed reviews. Even though the added content and graphical tweaks were superior on their own merit, it wasn't an overall significant improvement over the original.
On the plus side, it gathered a new generation of players where it was more of a commercial success than the Dreamcast version. It sold almost 50,000 copies during its first week in Japan, 1.2 million in the U.S. by July 2006, and more than 10,000 in the U.K. As of December 2007, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle was also one of the best-selling Gamecube games with 1.44 million copies and the best-selling third-party system. Combining both sales of the Dreamcast and Gamecube, Sonic Adventure 2 generally sold a total of 2,230, 957 units worldwide.
In 2012, a downloadable HD version was released for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows. While the Battle content was included as DLC, the HD version offered widescreen support, and almost all of Big the Cat's cameos returned. According to Metacritic, reviews were about mixed-to-average, yet many found it to be an improvement over what Adventure HD offered. The only issue that hindered their experience was the sound mixing was butchered where both the music and sound effects were louder than both the Dreamcast and Gamecube ports.
As an anniversary title, players and publicists still retrospectively acclaim the sequel as one of the best Sonic games of all time. Recently, Iizuka recalled Sonic Adventure 2 to be his personal favorite. It introduced a new set of characters that took the story into a darker and more emotional turn. The retained and improved gameplay still defined what makes a Sonic game fun to play. The soundtrack has been so memorable that remixes and renditions are continued to play in further games, events, or concerts. Likewise, there are some minor issues that could've been tweaked and fans heavily request a remaster of the sequel, which Iizuka is open to. It was truly a celebration for the Blue Blur to remember...but not the Dreamcast.
You may have noticed a pattern in why certain Sonic games have been ported and re-released on several Nintendo consoles years later, especially with Adventure 2's case within the same year of its original release. It was because the Sega Dreamcast didn't sell as much as the company hoped for. Ever since Sonic Adventure was launched and became a best-seller, Sega thought they finally found the right console that would sell well as the Sega Genesis did. But, that victory didn't last long as the Sony Playstation 2 was launched in 2000 and the Nintendo Gamecube hit the markets the following year. As a result, Dreamcast sales began to decline with a total of 9.13 units sold worldwide and the company received financial losses, despite reducing prices for the console. After a new leadership change, Sega had an epiphany: it wasn't the consoles that made their company successful, it was their games themselves. It was a reminder back at the beginning that they created Sonic as the face of the company, not the Genesis itself. So, it was time to retire from making video game consoles and resurface as a third-party publisher instead. If they want to keep Sonic's legacy alive, the company had to make amends with their long-time rival. In other words, new Sonic games will now be released on Nintendo.
To cap this off, this video below couldn't be more metaphorical enough.