Dreamcast in San Francisco Examiner

Dreamcast in San Francisco Examiner

by August 2, 1999

I’ll let the article speak for itself:

`Is this a dream, or is it reality?” wonders a bystander in Sega’s soon-to-be-released Dreamcast “Sonic Adventure” game. For the struggling gaming giant that’s betting all on the success of its forthcoming high-tech platform, this could be an advertising slogan on a par with those “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Creating realistic dreams is Dreamcast’s raison d’etre.

Thanks to a collaboration between Sega and Hollywood Video stores, curious gamers can rent a sneak peek of the much-anticipated Dreamcast and its inaugural game a full month before their official September 9 launch date. Though not all the components are up and running yet — no 56-K modem Internet access or Zip drive, for instance, and “Sonic” is the rush-released Japanese version — it’s still a tantalizing taste of what the new platform has to offer.

Conclusion? It offers plenty, but it’s not clear if it will be enough to fend off the competition presented by next year’s release of similarly enhanced platforms by Sony and Nintendo.

The telling factor probably will be the games themselves. The grooviest graphics on earth can’t match the thrill of going hog wild — cerebrally or emotionally — with a title

“Sonic Adventure” delivers well for a roly-poly teenage cartoon escapade and boasts, hands down, the best 3-D graphics ever to hit a home console. Images are more detailed than Nintendo 64’s and far smoother and less pixilated than the current PlayStation’s.

Unlike the clunky Sonic game for Sega’s earlier Saturn platform, the motion is seamless and fluid, boasting some intricate detail and dazzling visual effects enhanced by the game’s dizzying speed. Best of all, it’s fun.

The experience of navigating — or rather, being taken for a ride on

–the Mystic Ruin level’s vast complex of floating islands and looping bridges prompts the sort of bloodcurdling screams usually reserved for the front car of a roller coaster. The high-level graphics convey a sense of cinematic immediacy.

There’s a palpable urge to duck when Sonic has to dash down a dock while a massive killer whale takes kamikaze leaps overhead. When a tornado hits the game’s Mystic Ruins level, the atmospherics are so lovingly rendered that it’s even possible to see hazy wind effects.

On the city level, it’s possible to see the grain of the concrete, where raindrops leave damp spots on the sidewalk. Light glistens realistically; windows reflect and refract.

The game is the basic Sonic ring-gathering scenario, aided by elaborate landscapes with impressive depth. The narrative pits the blue hedgehog hero and his friends against the vile Dr. Robotnik and his transparent blob of a henchman, Chaos.

In battling Robotnik for possession of Chaos Emeralds and the future of the world, players can choose among — a collection characters: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy Rose, E-102

Gamma and Big the Cat. But they have to complete a game with one character to reach another, which can be an ordeal when one is stuck with poor Tails, whose primary appeal rests in his ability to flutter and utter odd little grunts when encountering solid objects. OK, he’s cute, but Knuckles can climb up the side of a building, batter down walls and leap farther than Tails can fly. Sonic can transform into a high-speed blur. Poor Tails.

One of Dreamcast’s cutest perks is a detachable, Tomagotchi-size VMU (Visual Memory Unit) that plugs into the controller. It downloads information from the game to create virtual pets called Chao, which resemble ambulatory blueberries with large, trusting eyes. If players take the right route — say, up the hotel elevator in the city level — they’ll be plunged into an ecstatic, hallucinatory world filled with the little things crawling and racing through a rave-fantasy landscape. It makes Teletubbies look pedestrian, and it’s insanely cute.

And cutting-edge Dreamcast technology aside, cute is an integral part of “Sonic Adventure.” It’s hard not to like a game that includes lines like, “Look! It’s a giant talking egg!” and “You’re not the only one on a wild goose chase, idiot!”

This dialogue, as well as some hilariously out-of-synch dubbing, probably will vanish in the American version of the game. Too bad, but such is the logic of commerce.