Developer: Sonic Team
Platforms: XBLA (Reviewed), PSN, iOs
Release Date: December 14, 2011
Price: 400 MSP (Available HERE)
As Sonic has aged as a gaming icon, players have been offered a very large multitude of re-releases of various Sonic titles. The Megadrive/Genesis era is undoubtedly the most utilised in this respect, with Sonic 1 through to Sonic and Knuckles receiving the re-release and “classic collection” treatment more times than many fans like to count. However, despite this, there are still several Sonic games that have shone far less brightly in this regard, namely those which were released on Sega’s follow-up system to the Genesis, the Sega Mega-CD. One of the keystone titles from that particular console is still one of the most significant in Sonic history: Sonic CD.
This reviewer must admit that, although I am a huge Sonic fan and have played almost every game since inception in 1991, Sonic CD is one of the few games that I had not yet experienced. As such, I found myself quite excited at the prospect of playing through what is to me, an entirely new adventure, in what is often referred to by Sonics’ vocal fanbase as the ‘golden era’. Recently re-released for the Xbox Live arcade for all to enjoy, Sonic CD offers many fans, like myself, the chance to finally experience a very unique part of this gaming icon’s history. But how well will it stack up for a series that is all too used to compiling scrutiny?
The central plot of Sonic CD revolves around the once a year event that takes place where a small planet appears over Sonic’s world. The appearance of the planet, and in fact its very existence have has been shrouded in mystery, as the planet seems to have the ability to transcend the universe’s usual temporal dimensions. In other words, this is a planet where time travel becomes possible. Wanting to check it out for himself, Sonic arrives at the appearance site of the planet, only to see it chained and occupied by an army of killer robots. To no-one’s great surprise, Dr Robotnik (now referred to as Eggman due to the modern adaptation) is responsible and hopes to utilise the planet’s time bending abilities for his own evil ends. Naturally with a whole world to save, Sonic springs into action, ready as ever to thwart the villain’s plans.
As is classic Sonic tradition, the story hardly evolves beyond the basic plot premise, as Sonic systematically runs through and dismantles Dr Robotnik’s grip on the planet one zone at a time. However, this time, another story element has been added to the mix. The appearance of Metal Sonic and Rosey the Rascal, better known by the modern name Amy Rose. It turns out Sonic was not the only one interested in checking out the mysterious planet. Metal Sonic kidnaps Rosey, and thus adds another concern to Sonic’s list of problems. For the first time in Sonic history, Sonic CD introduces a very Mario-reminiscent character development: a damsel in distress, and potential female counterpart. It’s no secret that the fans have hugely mixed responses regarding Rosey/Amy, but for its time, the concept was treading unfamiliar, but character evolving territory for the blue blur. The addition of the evil counterpart in Metal Sonic was also a first in this regard. As a result, Sonic’s character seems all the more stronger for it. Overall the story is pretty appropriate for a classic Sonic title. Not too overwhelming on the facet of storytelling, whilst still allowing for controlled development, though not at the expense of gameplay. Retro fans of Sonic CD can rejoice in that this has hardly been altered.
The gameplay of the Sonic CD strongly emulates that of the hugely successful Genesis/Megadrive series of Sonic games, with the core gameplay being that of 2D side scroller platforming. Sonic’s overall speed, weight, momentum and abilities are identical to those of the previous games. Fans of Sonic’s other classic titles will find the controls and gameplay very easy to pick up. Many of the in game elements will also seem familiar, such as items like the 10-ring box, the speed-up, the shield and the invincibility. However, the game does deviate from standard classic Sonic gameplay in a few ways.
The most prominent of these features is integrated into the story regarding the time warping abilities of the planet. By passing any number of the marked ‘Past’ or ‘Future’ signs, Sonic is able to travel through time, should he pass a sign and gain enough speed. Something in this feels very nostalgic about ‘Back to the Future’, especially given that one of the first XBL achievements players are liable to receive is the ’88 miles per hour’ achievement for achieving time travel. Travelling through time on the planet dramatically changes the layout of the game level. Sonic is able to play in the past, present and future, all of which have been invaded by Dr Robotnik. The differences in each time phase shows visually, with a more lively and natural feel to the stages in the past, and a dark and machine like feel to the future. Gameplay wise, travelling to a level’s different time dramatically changes the layout of the level and provides players with access to areas that might be otherwise inaccessible in other time periods. As such, tonnes of bonus items and rings are offered as a potential reward. Players are also able to affect the final ending of the game if they are able to locate and destroy the robot transporter located somewhere in each level. Doing so corrects the time stream and creates a “good” ending at the end of each stage. This provides players with an additional challenge on top of simply reaching the goal post. This ‘good’ ending is also achievable if the player is able to obtain the chaos emerald replacements for this game: the time stones (which operate as the plot device of the day). However, unlike the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 2 and 3, the time stones don’t offer any potential for a super form. Plus, this reviewer thinks a Chrono-Sonic would just aggravate the blue hedgehog’s already volatile fanbase even more.
It must be said however that the level layout and structure seems vastly different from those of the Genesis/Megadrive titles. While in games like Sonic 3, the level design existed to flaunt Sonic’s speed and streamline the hero’s progression through each level, the design of Sonic CD’s stages are far more oriented towards the facet of exploration. Sure Sonic will have his chance to utilise his signature speed, but the opportunities with which he is offered to use it are quite limited this time around. Instead, many of the levels offer a more explorative feel, especially given the presence of zone altering time-posts, which offers more potential for secret area access than a Jazz Jackrabbit game. This is by no means a bad thing, but players who are more used to Sonic’s streamlined level progression model may develop the wrong impressions too quickly.
One major change that was made to the base Sonic CD game however, which this reviewer feels is quite apt, given the exploration orientation of the level design, is the inclusion of Tails in the game. While not playable until after the first play through as Sonic, the inclusion of his fuzzy two-tailed sidekick I think is a great bonus for the players. Areas can be more easily explored and secrets unlocked thanks to Tails’ flight abilities. Plus it’s quite interesting to see how a confrontation between Tails and Metal Sonic would pans out.
Audio and Video
One element of the game’s audio and visual segment I feel is worth mentioning straight away is the inclusion of the very unique, but hugely iconic anime opening and ending movies. Anyone who saw the original Sonic the Hedgehog OVA (Or the Movie as was allocated for western audiences) will recognise the animation style. This inclusion will appeal to the inner anime fan in us all, and it was one of the very first times a Sonic game was given an opening movie sequence outside of the character sprites. It does a great job at setting up the story with no need for words. The inclusion in the XBLA version very much works in the game’s favour.
In looking at the game’s visual design, many players will recognise the Sprite animations used for both Sonic and Tails are ported directly from Sonic 2. In fact, when comparing the items and abilities available in the game, Sonic CD seems visually, exactly like Sonic 2. While the game does offer a few new sprite animations for dashing and bouncing, the game still feels true to those classic roots.
The only real criticism I can draw from the game has to do with the visual design of the levels. The flow of the levels is often very difficult to discern, and the colour palette seems far too busy in far too many instances. The game is dominated with overly bright or florescent colours in the levels, and often it is hard to place a level element from the background. Players will find many instances where they think they are about to land on a solid platform only to plummet into a pit of spikes, or an alternate, frustrating path. Perhaps the re-release would have benefitted from better discerning background from foreground for the sake of fluid gameplay. Players are liable to find this aspect of the visuals quite annoying.
In observing the game sound, the musical scores are well adapted to the bright feel of the levels. The soundtrack is particularly well changed when Sonic makes the transition through time. The future music has a dark scratchy feel, whereas the past seems light and paced, providing and great audio aid to the notions of a natural past and a machine dominated future. Sound effects are also well adapted, though again, still heavily borrowed from Sonic 2.
Sonic CD was still a real blast to play through. Getting to experience this missing gap in my own Sonic fan repertoire was still a hugely enjoyable experience, despite some level based frustrations. As a spiritual successor to the Genesis/Megadrive titles, Sonic CD works very well, and will provide players with that ‘golden age’ classic Sonic experience that so many fans crave. Even in the modern market it stacks up. Even for its few flaws, the game is a must have addition for anyone seeking another side scrolling Sonic experience, or for those who just want a kick-ass dosage of fast-paced old-school fun.