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Pixel Obscura:
Adventures in Candyland

Vol. 2, Issue 1 
November 9, 1999 

This Candylandish adventure/drama is taken a step further when there actually is a plot waiting to be unearthed by our furry or round or generally odd little friends. In the new Sega Dreamcast game Sonic Adventure, the famous, mercurial blue hedgehog undertakes such a challenge.

The scene opens on the metropolis at peace, people and traffic milling about in the rhythms of urbania. Suddenly danger rears its head in the form of water gone mad: manholes spout lethal torrents, the sewers overflow and, most troubling of all, the ocean surrounding the city is rebelling in a rather tidal way. There seems to be something at work here, some preplanned menace to home and country. We soon see what it is as a particularly sentient acting tidal wave pierces a skyscraper and begins to take hideous shape on the other side, losing its globular mass in favor of a well defined dragon beast replete with gnashing teeth. Enter our heroes. As the soundtrack swells along to the giddy heights of a rock-ish anthem, Sonic and his companions race to the rescue.

Many fine touches are sprinkled throughout the piece. The first two instances are sound based, a tool often utterly overlooked by video game cinematic designers. As the water bursts forth onto the city, the creators don’t succumb to the dreadful temptation of garishly over intense sound effects, but rather mirror the fluidity (forgive the pun) of the crisis with the hushed rippling of vaguely electronic music like drowned wind chimes.

When the dragon beast is taking shape, vibrating and shimmering, the only sound is that of a radio being tuned, the warbling tones and frenzied static that wraps itself around the ghostly voices you can hear between stations.

It may not be deeply profound art, but the fragment distinguishes itself as a thoughtful approach to something often thrown at the viewer as so much fodder. The song I mentioned earlier, an arm pumping rock-pop ditty that would feel at home in the Transformers movie, has a kind of campy charm as a roguish stab at attitude that would be terminally jokey had it not been played out with such brightly colored, furry “actors.” There are a few visual gems as well.

Intercut between flashes of the drowning city is a first person shot of moving forward at great speed, the player sharing Sonic’s world view as he races to help. By way of strict narrative drama, the trick helps build a lovely comic book tension and, in keeping with the idea that the gameplay offers a newly enhanced environmental perspective, it gives the player a view never before indulged in the Sonic canon. The city itself is nicely realized, a try for realism that sweats a beautifully cartoonish ink. The approach to editing is entirely consistent with the tone, something that in a tight little pitch like this is crucial. As is fitting with the candy striped ambiance, the “camera” cuts closer to characters rather then zooming in and refuses to linger on any one face for too long. Perhaps the single greatest cliché in all trailer type presentations is the “characters turning to face the camera” bit, and in Sonic Adventure it almost becomes reflexive. When the velutinous members of the Sonic universe play out this same old cliche, they come across as spoofy and place the viewer at an ironic distance from the material. Whether intentional or not, the humor works because it doesn’t produce a mocking laugh so much as a knowing one.

The novelty comes in watching good old Sonic having to solve a dilemma that holds challenges beyond those offered by collecting rings and dodging giant balls; it’s like putting Buster Crabbe’s 1935 Flash Gordon into Total Recall. The opening cinematics of the game highlight this by washing out the environmental colors in a realist stance and yet keeping the original Banana Splits-esque character designs: the “real” and the hyper-unreal as one. Sonic Adventure is the perfect hybrid to symbolize the recent trend in video games of bleeding together the past and the present. The old is brushed up, given a new coat of paint and hurtled into a strange new world, Like black darts thrown onto a white board, each is cast into stark relief by the another and yet that “conflict” makes the whole a much more fascinating picture.


- Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames. He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee Magazine.


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Credits: Pixel Obscura is © 1999 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.