Continuing with my Genesis-era Sonic retrospective from parts 1 and 2, Sonic CD originally began development as a portion of Sonic 2 before mechanical differences led to the game being too vastly different, causing it to later be repurposed as the marquee title for the Sega CD. Unlike the three mainline games, I’ve actually never played Sonic CD as I simply lacked access to it as a child, and as such don’t have much of a history with it. So without further ado, let’s just spin dash through a loop, bounce off a badnik, and grab a couple of rings… or whatever.
Sonic CD Review
Platforms: Sega CD, PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS, and Android
Developer: Sonic Team
Much like the games that came before it, Sonic CD amounts to another colorful adventure featuring the spiky blue anthro dude with an attitude as he fights against evil scientist Teddy Roosevelt and his army of robots. Except this one involves a miniature planet, time travel, a damsel in distress named Amy Rose, and Metal Sonic. It might make sense when going through the game, but when trying to make heads or tails of whatever story there is in this game just baffles me. Why is Sonic traveling throughout time? What is he accomplishing? Why did Robotnik/Eggman specifically decide to make Metal Sonic? How did Amy Rose get on this planet?
It doesn’t really matter that much. Like Sonic 1 and 2, what really matters is the gameplay, and how much fun the fast paced platforming it is known for can offer. How much fun is that? Well, it’s strange when I break it down. Much like with Sonic 2, there are actually quite a few stages that keep things simple, emphasize speed, and are generally a lot of fun to play through. Though, there are others where it feels as if the player needs to fumble through them several times in order to get good, which is not supported by the sequential structure of this game.
There are plenty of sour moments, annoyingly placed death traps, and just not particularly fun platforming that are spread throughout the game. Along with a large number of instances where I rocketed through a stage, barely noticing what I was doing as Sonic rocketed from locale to locale, jumping off of springs, through tubes, and spinning through the air. On one hand, they were pretty invigorating, but on the other, they were confusing, and could be unceremoniously ended by one misstep that has Sonic tumble into another route in a given stage, right onto an unseen and unpredictable enemy.
I suppose that is something of the appeal, that the game is not something you instantly master, and needs to gradually learn from every angle in order to play through it skillfully. However, it would take a lot of dedication to do that given how chaotic these levels are set up. The components of each level, the placement of obstacles, enemies, and structures, it is odd when presented at face value, and becomes only odder when traversing through the past and future versions of each levels, which is annoyingly only possible if Sonic runs at a set speed for long enough.
I have absolutely no idea what traveling to the past and future does in regards to the greater game or even in self contained levels. I just know that it changes the music, color palette, and minor bits of the level layout. Also there are things you can destroy to get a “Good Future”. Whatever that means. I would assume this had something to do with the the Chaos Emerald substitutes, the Time Stones, but no. Much like in Sonic 1, Time Stones are obtained after clearing a special stage that is accessed when clearing a level with 50 rings. Said special stages mimic Sonic 2 by being a colossal pain in the butt due to Sonic’s controls and a difficult to gauge 3D perspective.
The player is tasked with destroying 6 UFOs within 100 seconds, all while Sonic runs around the stage at a set speed, only slowing down when hitting obstacles or water, which eats away 10 seconds of your time. All of this would be manageable if Sonic’s movement did not feel slippery and unnerving due to the limited control, or if the pattern following UFOs operated in a slower or more straightforward pattern that makes the act of jumping up at them less annoying than it is. And it is incredibly annoying. Thanks to the built in save feature I was able to repeat these sections until I was met with success, and that is all I was met with because the Time Stones do nothing aside from change the ending in a minor way.
Before moving on, I should mentioned that I am playing the enhanced version of this game, developed primarily by Christian Whitehead, who also made the Smartphone versions of the first two games in the series. A version that added multiple extras, but most notably widescreen support. Which actually proved to be incredibly helpful when playing the game, as the additional 33% of horizontal screen space makes a world of difference in a game where the player is constantly running to the right. I don’t think I was ever blindsided by an obstacle because of this one seemingly minor change.
This version of the game also contains the ability to switch between the North American and Japanese versions of Sonic CD’s soundtracks, which were originally changed for marketing reasons I don’t quite understand. While I personally found myself far more captivated by the more upbeat and voice clip riddled Japanese score, listening to the pair of them revealed two notably different yet wonderful soundtracks that manage to avoid the same chiptune based MIDI category that most game soundtracks of this era fall into.
As for the visuals, Sonic CD is more reminiscent of the first game in the series, right from Sonic’s main sprite that, aside from some newly added animations, is the same one from the first game, that is to say the less rigid and more fluidly animated one. While the world is comprised of trippy levels with intricate backgrounds, bright colors, and not a whole lot of sense to their tile based construction. Yet between the time travel mechanics and the groovy soundtracks, I actually found this to work quite effectively. It’s just a shame that some enemies still blend into the background a bit too well.
As a whole, I actually found Sonic CD to be the most enjoyable game that I’ve covered in this miniature retrospective thus far. While many stages can be annoying with their attempts at providing something intricate, the total number of frustrations I encountered were kept at a low. The backdrops and soundtracks both work well to create a bizarre and eccentric world that I genuinely enjoyed going through, and… I ultimately wouldn’t mind going through the game again after playing it. But due to the lack of polish and clarity, I still cannot say that I found the final product to be much more than a fairly average platforming romp, albeit one with a really nice presentation.