With the news that a downloadable version of Sonic CD would soon be making it’s way to LIVE/PSN, I figured it was as good a time as any to review this “classic” Sonic game. Now, I say classic in quotation marks because frankly, I believe a lot of the praise of this game comes mainly from it’s nostalgia. Most folks remember Sonic CD because of several things. The anime intro/ending, the incredible music and of course, the battle with Metal Sonic. But does anyone remember it for it’s level design? No? There might be a good reason for that. Continue Reading to see why.
Sonic CD came out on the Sega CD console back in the fall of 1993. The story consisted of Sonic and the gal of his nightmares Amy Rose checking out Never Lake where they can view the Little Planet (not to be confused with LittleBigPlanet. There are no sackboys in this game.). Of course, chaos happens as Amy is kidnapped by Metal Sonic and Robotnik chains the little planet to the earth so he can conquer it. It’s up to Sonic to save Little Planet by collecting time stones and traveling in the past to stop Robotnik from taking over and save Amy from his Evil Metal doppelganger.
The game consists of seven zones with two acts each and a boss level. In between are bonus levels where you must run around a flat “mode 7” like plane (think Mario Kart on Super Nintendo) and must destroy some robotic blimps in order to get the time stones to save the planet. The other way to save the planet is to get a good future in each level. this is done by using signposts to go into the past and destroy a machine. Doing so can be very problematic which I’ll explain later.
Graphics and A Tale of Two Soundtracks
I honestly don’t know why Sega did two different soundtracks for Sonic, but they did. One was the Japanese/Euro soundtrack composed by Naofumi Hataya & Masafumi Ogata. The second one was done just for Northern America by Spencer Nilsen who did a lot of American soundtracks for Sega CD and Saturn games back in the day. Both have high quality music, but for me personally the Japanese soundtrack just has more energy and funk. Then again, it has Bootsy Collins and George Clinton in some samples and it doesn’t get more funky than that. I will say as far as theme songs go, I think Sonic Boom is a better song than Sonic Warrior just because the latter is so ridiculously goofy.
As far as graphics go, I feel a little history is needed. A good portion of Sonic Team including Yuji Naka left for the U.S. to work with Sega Technical Institute on Sonic 2. This just left Natoto Oshima and about half of the old Sonic Team to work on Sonic CD. This may explain why Sonic still looks the same as Sonic 1 but with some new animations. This includes some cool poses off springs and the awesome super peel-out. Sadly, it also shows that the spin-dash was more of an afterthought after Sonic 2 arrived since the spindash just has his rolling ball animation. The graphics are just as crisp and imaginative as Sonic 1 was, but with levels that are much larger. Because of this, it looks a step down from Sonic 2 which had a new model and a better overall look to it, but that’s more of a nitpick than anything. Really, the only miss in the graphics department was the bonus level. The flat, scaling terrain made it hard to see where the bumpers were located and the blimps always dodged you just as you were going to hit them because the way they moved in 3-D space made them hard to get a bead on.
This is where the game really falls apart for me. Sonic CD’s levels are quite wide and large with a love of vertical heights. problem is, the designs of the levels seem like they were made by amateurs with almost no rhyme or reason to it. It completely kills the normal Sonic level design making it hard to keep up a decent speed run. Instead, the designers decided to make it so getting a decent amount of speed is actually challenging. Why? To annoy you of course!
Nah. The main reason is the game’s main gimmick, time travel. In order to save Little Planet and add 5 precious seconds of anime to the ending, Sonic has to travel to the past of each level. If you travel into the future without destroying the machine, you can see the devastation Robotnik has done to the planet. If you travel in the future after the machine is destroyed, you’ll get a very happy world with upbeat music. The problem is that the time traveling mechanic is very frustrating in it’s design. For example, when you go by a “past” post, you have only a few opportunities and a short time to find enough running space to go into the past thanks to the poor level design that makes it hard to find any good place for a short speed run. This often leads to a frustrating mess as you are trying to get to your destination. On many occasions, there’s not enough room to build speed, but if you accidentally hit a future post by mistake, you always seem to have enough speed to jump ahead even if you didn’t mean to. The only exception to the poor level design is the entirety of Stardust Speedway (which sounds like a 70’s band). It’s actually the best designed zone in the whole game. Also on a positive note, the boss fights are really well done and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Especially the nail-biting, Metal Sonic race.
Then there’s the bonus level. As I mentioned before. The scaling graphics don’t really help it and hitting one of those blimps is tough when the scaling fools you and the damn thing veers off. It can be fairly easy once you get used to it, but it’s definitely one of my least favorite bonus levels in a Sonic game. Also, I’d like to mention the controls. While the super peel-out is a very cool feature that I miss in other Sonic games, the spindash in Sonic CD is very poorly implemented. Instead of holding down and tapping the jump button to rev your spindash, you have to hold down and then just hold the button for at least a second for it to work. It feels awful and it’s obvious it was put in late after seeing the results from Sonic 2. Fortunately, that problem seems like it will be resolved in the forthcoming Sonic CD re-release on downloadable platforms.
If you’re gonna play Sonic CD just to play through the levels and not harp on getting everything in the game, you’ll probably have a good time with it. It’s definitely not the best Sonic game, but there’s still plenty of good stuff there. Especially things like the music, the anime intro/ending, Metal Sonic and the super peel-out. However, if you’re a completionist who won’t be happy until you see the good future in every level and save Little Planet so you can watch a few extra seconds of anime, you’ll be throwing your controller in frustration at this game. Had they made going into the past or future not such a chore, I would have enjoyed it much more than I do.
But fret not! All is not lost. There is an updated re-release of the game coming late this year that seems will have some great improvements. Most notable improvements being discussed includes an improved spindash based on Sonic 2/3 physics, a widescreen mode that doesn’t stretch the image but lets you see more of the level ahead, an HD mode that doesn’t just splotch up the image and more! Because of this, this won’t be the final Sonic CD review. I’ll be doing another review when the new and improved version comes out to see if the improvements warrant a higher score.
– A great soundtrack no matter which version you have.
– The Super Peel-Out.
– The anime.
– Metal Sonic.
– Great boss battles.
– Poor, amateur level design.
– Time travel gimmick meant for exploration leads only to frustration.
– Poorly implemented spindash feels really off.