Publisher: Sega / Developer: Whitehead / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 400 MSP ($4.99) / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Cartoon Violence]
After Sonic Generations came out and took us back through the entirety of the blue hedgehog’s past, Sega has released the one-time Sega CD exclusive Sonic CD on the Xbox 360. Being released on the ill-fated Sega CD meant that many gamers never got their hands on one of the last great 2D Sonic titles. Now that Sega has made the game available for download nearly 20 years after its initial release, all can experience one of Sonic’s best outings.
Go figure, the maniacal Dr. Robotnik is up to his old tricks. This time he has set his sights on the magical Little Planet, which he has corrupted in order to drain it of its power. After Sonic’s friend Amy Rose gets kidnapped, the fastest thing alive has to set out yet again to foil Robotnik’s plans and save the world. Sonic CD plays almost identically to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Sega Genesis. The objective of each stage is to get to the goal as fast as possible, collecting rings and avoiding enemies, spike traps, and bottomless pits along the way. Sonic’s blistering pace is at the forefront of gameplay; sometimes he travels so fast he won’t even be on screen. It’s the sort of gameplay that made the Sonic series famous, and it is at its peak in Sonic CD.
Stages have three acts with the third serving as a boss stage. What makes Sonic CD different from other Sonic games is the ability to travel to the past and future of each stage. By hitting posts marked past or future throughout a level and then running fast for a few seconds, Sonic can travel to the past or future version of the level he is currently exploring. This mechanic can be completely looked over but must be utilized to fully complete the game. By traveling to the past of a level, Sonic can destroy a generator that is creating all sorts of mayhem and evil. After getting rid of said generator, Sonic can travel to the “good future,” which makes the level have less enemies and easier obstacles to overcome. The past/future time travel ability makes replaying each level worthwhile: you probably won’t get to the “good future” on your first playthrough and you’ll want to in order to get the best possible ending.
If you finish a stage with at least 50 rings in hand, you can enter a bonus stage. Unlike any other area in the game, bonus stages are in a 3D environment (very similar to the bonus stages in Sonic 3) where your goal is to destroy flying machines before time runs out. Completing the stage awards not Chaos Emeralds but Time Stones. Finding all the Time Stones is the final part of the puzzle in order to get the best ending, much like the Chaos Emeralds in other Sonic titles. Again though, these stages can be skipped completely as you advance further towards Robotnik’s fortress and the endgame.
The overall gameplay is easily some of the best in the entire series. Stages are difficult yet fun to rush through. Cleverly placed spike traps and enemies will make speed runs a definite challenge, but each stage’s layout and presentation will make you want to keep playing. The past/future time warping coupled with collecting Time Stones extends replay value even further. On top of all this, beating the game unlocks the ability to play as Sonic’s sidekick Tails!
Sound and Visuals
Sonic CD follows upon the heels of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which has arguably some of the best music in the franchise, so it has some big shoes to fill in the sound department. Sound effects like jumping and spin dashing will sound familiar to anyone who has played a Sonic game before. It’s the soundtrack that stands out most, and it hits the right notes for the most part. It’s hard to think of Sonic CD and not think of the intro theme entitled “Sonic Boom” and the accompanying anime video. Songs fit their respective zones, with a more uplifting beat playing during the forest themed Palmtree Panic level, and harder, electronic notes playing in the industrialized Metallic Madness zone. This port allows you to use either the North American or Japanese soundtracks during play, each being a completely different mix of music. Graphically the game looks like the Genesis titles, but with a few notable exceptions. To capitalize on the Sega CD’s power over the Genesis, the camera shifts to an overhead view as sonic blazes through loop-de-loops or runs through tunnels. The port still looks smooth nearly two decades later.
Sonic CD’s controls are easy to get used to. There are only a few buttons you have to worry about: jump and… well I guess there’s only one. If you press down and jump Sonic can charge up his dash and get some momentum to start funning fast. You’ll mostly be pressing forward the entire game, but there are some segments that will require you to slow down and overcome some tricky platforming. When you take away Sonic’s speed what’s left is an average platformer, so it is best to ironically get past these slow sections as fast as possible. Controls also get a bit sticky when in the bonus areas. The 3D layout doesn’t lend itself well to 8-way directional controls. Expect a few failures before you get your first Time Stone.
Sonic CD is Sonic at his finest: fast, fun, and challenging. The past and future versions of each stage coupled with collecting every Time Stone means a good deal of replay value in a small package. Decent controls and a good soundtrack make the game an overall solid package. At the price of just five bucks, Sonic CD is a great download that shouldn’t be missed the second time around.