Back in my original review of Sonic CD, I said that I would return to this game to review it again and see if it warranted a higher grade. While the game does have some great and wonderful improvements, there are still some slightly nagging issues that just cannot be undone. Full follow-up review inside along with a bonus!
Graphics and Sound
First up, it should be noted that you can give big thanks for this port even existing thanks to Christian “Taxman” Whitehead. He created his own 2-D graphics program called the “Retro Engine” that takes the older games like Sonic CD and re-builds it from scratch instead of just porting. Making improvements not only to the levels, but the original physics as well. One great example is the graphics. To accommodate the modern HDTV’s, the game is now in full widescreen. This actually doesn’t just help the game look better, it lets you see an enemy early on and helps you find the machine’s to destroy in the past.
Also of note, I had less trouble racing Metal Sonic to the end thanks to being able to see the upper platforms in time. Also of note is the graphics filter. Unlike Backbone’s crappy HD filter which just makes everything blurry, the HD portion of the filter still keeps everything looking fairly crisp. The other two filters are “original” and “nostalgia”. “Original” is more pixelated, but just fuzzy enough to keep away the jaggedness while “nostalgia” lets you see every pixel very sharply. This is the filter I use as I love the old-school pixel look. One last thing is that the game boasts a solid 60 fps framerate throughout. This really helps smooth out the feeling of the game and helps with those annoying bonus levels.
The biggest improvement in the audio department is the ability to play either the Japanese or American soundtrack. As an American, I’ve been waiting a long time to finally play the game in it’s original Japanese soundtrack. The last time I got to play it like this was when I imported Sonic CD long, long ago. I’ll admit it. While the American soundtrack is solid, the Japanese one is sooo much better and funky. It should also be noted that the soundtrack now loops properly during gameplay. This means no odd few seconds of silence as the CD reboots the music. The only negative here is that due to licensing, the original opening/ending song to the Japanese intro has had it’s lyrics removed. However, this doesn’t affect the rest of the soundtrack and all of the funky vocal bits remain intact. Also, an ability to switch soundtracks on the fly instead of at the title screen would have been nice, but that’s just being picky.
Thanks to Taxman’s Retro Engine, there have been some improvements to the gameplay as well. The biggest being a new and improved spindash. Instead of using the poor excuse of a spindash from the original Sonic CD (which is still available in options if you’re a huge purist), you now start of with the excellent spindash from Sonic 2. This makes traversing the game feel so much better. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, the new widescreen look helps greatly with the gameplay and I don’t feel as lost as I used to before because of the extra amount of view I have. In short, the gameplay just feels tons better.
Sadly, this still doesn’t fix the main problem with the game. The level design. It’s still a haphazard mess of poorly designed levels meant to punish and frustrate you. Getting enough speed to blast into the past is still a problem and you still have instances of springs that are just there to spring you right into some spikes or a death trap. Some things like getting jammed into a wall after going through time seem to have been fixed. However, for all the improvements made, it’s still some of the poorest level design ever in a 2-D Sonic game. Also, @#$* Wacky Workbench. Seriously.
The new Sonic CD has some sweet new features added. Besides the ability to use either the Japanese or American soundtrack and the aforementioned widescreen, you now have the ability to play as Tails once you’ve beaten the game the first time around. Sadly, you won’t be able to gain trophies when playing as Tails, but this is understandable as his flying ability basically breaks the game. In some instances, he can fly above the ceiling of a level and cruise through it Super Mario Act 1-2 style. Also, his flying ability makes searching out the machines in the past that much easier. They went all out with Tails. Not only does he have sprites from Sonic 2 and 3, but they added new ones just for the special levels. All in all, while playing as Tails is a fun little treat, he’s really not the proper way to play the game IMO.
Other Extras include the usual Achievements and trophies along with time attack and leaderboards along with an extras mods that unlocks new feature such as D.A. Garden and Visual Mode depending on how you beat the game. These are all welcome additions that help greatly with replayability.
The new, downloadable Sonic CD is a massive improvement on all fronts. From the ability to use both soundtracks, to widescreen to Sonic 2 spindash to playable Tails and beyond. Everything has been re-done and fine tuned from the ground up. You’ll never find a 2-D port as well done as this one. Sadly, the poor, amateur level design of the original still remains. Still, this is not just some poor excuse of a ROM dump. This is labor of love. At only $5 American on consoles, $2 on portables, you owe it to yourself and to Sega to buy this game. Not only because of how great a port it is, but to show support for the fan community who put so much into this. Hell, I picked up the XBLA version, PSN version and iOS version and it only cost me $2 above the soundtrack on iTunes. It’s so well done, I’m giving it a full letter grade up.
Once again @#$* Wacky Workbench. Seriously. @#$* it till it bleeds.
– Both soundtracks available.
– Widescreen helps make the game a bit easier to play.
– Playable Tails
– Sonic 2 Spindash replaces broken original.
– Achievements, leaderboards and more!
– Poorly done level design of the original still remains.
– Getting a good future still a chore.
Bonus iOS Mini-Review by Barry!
While Shigs touched on everything found in the console versions of the Sonic CD rerelease, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the portable version. Many should know that way back in 2009, this all began as a fan project on the iOS. The fact that the game began as an iOS title really shows, as it is without a doubt the BEST 2D Sonic title on mobile platforms. Graphics are incredibly smooth, even on the oldest of devices, and sound is perfect. The biggest difference between the portable and console versions would have to be the digital pad.
While digital pads will never be perfect, Sonic CD’s controls come pretty damn close to a physical pad. Unlike SEGA’s Genesis Sonic ports on mobile platforms, Sonic CD is very responsive. The only times I found the controls to be slightly annoying were in the Wacky Workbench and Metallic Madness boss battles, as very small movements were necessary, but were a tad difficult to execute, in the heat of battle.
The only thing I would disagree with in Shigs review would be his assessment of the level design. After a few playthoughs I found that there is a method to the madness. It is not a “haphazard mess”, but rather a different take on the Sonic formula, with exploration taking over seamless platforming. Still, I do prefer the direction the Genesis titles took, but I don’t fault Sonic CD for trying a different approach. Given the TLC that went into this port, the bonuses, the performance on a handheld device and my own opinion on the game itself, I give Sonic CD a well deserved A.
More releases like this, SEGA!Ad: