Like it or not, the Sega CD played a part in sculpting the gaming landscape as we know it today. It may be looked down upon as a failed add on and the start of Sega’s decline, but with games like Night Trap (which needs no introduction), the unit played a key role in the resurrection of the “violence in video games” argument in the early 90’s alongside the likes of Mortal Kombat and Doom. While its library had no shortage of FMV (full motion video) games that offered minimal interaction in comparison to most other genres, there are a few diamonds in the rough to be found in the Sega CD’s catalog.
Sonic CD was the obligatory Sonic title released for the add on and, just like the Sega CD, is considered a black sheep when it comes to retro gaming. To this day, opinions are quite mixed. Some fans consider it among the best of the classic Sonic games, and some are quick to point out the low points in the game’s level design as well as the time travel mechanic. I loved the game as a kid, having played it on Windows way back when physical computer games were still relevant. For old time’s sake, I revisited the game via the Xbox 360 remake to see if Sonic CD holds up as well as the obvious mentions in the classic Sonic series.
As mentioned earlier, the Sega CD was capable of pushing full motion video. Sonic CD kicks off with a pretty sweet animated intro showcasing this, complimented by the now well-known “Sonic Boom” song. I was always impressed by this little clip when I was younger, and it’s a treat for the eyes to this day.
The game itself handles similarly to the Genesis Sonic offerings, although Sonic’s picked up one new move here- the super Peel Out. It’s similar to the spin dash (which was absent from the original version of the game, but implemented in the 360 version), although it gives the blue blur a tad more speed than rolling along. However, it also leaves Sonic vulnerable to attack (unlike rolling or the spin-dash). I seldom used this move, scratch for an extra life I couldn’t reach without the speed and height in a later level of the game.
The biggest addition to Sonic CD (aside from Amy and Metal Sonic, who would go on to be staples in the Sonic universe) is the time travel mechanic. There are “Past” and “Future” signs scattered throughout each level, and running through one will make a sparkly aura appear as Sonic runs. Maintain your speed for long enough and Sonic will be transported to a “Past” or “Future” version of the level. In the “Past” of a level, you’ll need to find a generator and smash it in order to make a “Good Future” for the stage. This is entirely optional, even if you’re shooting for a good ending. You have the choice of going back in time to stop Robotnik’s reign of terror, or you can opt to complete the special stages (accessed by collecting at least 50 rings and hopping into a large ring at the goal, no different from the original Sonic the Hedgehog).
The Robotnik encounters aren’t nearly as difficult as they were in past Sonic games, although the bulk of them still employ the same “wait for an opening and attack” formula that had been in use for previous Sonic games up to this point. The one noteworthy battle is with Metal Sonic, which plays out more like a race than an actual boss fight. Your goal is simply to make it to the end of the course while dodging Metal Sonic’s attacks and reaching it before he does. It’s the only “boss” I had much trouble defeating, but there’s an extra life at the beginning of the level that you can opt to keep obtaining (rings and monitors respawn after every death, whether you’ve hit a checkpoint or not) if you’re worried about getting a game over or burning through your stockpile.
As mentioned earlier, some fans criticize the game’s level design. Sonic CD‘s levels are a bit more open than those in the classic trilogy, with more emphasis on exploration than speed and momentum in many cases. For the former means of obtaining the good ending, it makes sense that there would need to be more open space to get the speed necessarily to time travel. As for the layouts themselves, it truly is a mixed bag with Sonic CD. Some are fairly enjoyable with just the right amount of challenge and incentives for exploring (be it shields, extra lives, or ring monitors), but then some just feel like they were designed by some asshole who got hold of a level editor nearly a full decade before ROM hacking became popular.
Metallic Madness, Sonic CD’s last zone, provides some of the major low points as far as the game’s design is concerned. Springs, crushers, and spinning platforms are strewn haphazardly across this set of levels. In exceptionally tight spaces where there may be a couple of crushing obstacles, it can be difficult to determine at what point you need to roll or jump without being killed off instantly. In some cases, it *looked* as if I would be safe, only to be off by mere pixels and sent to my doom. Although obstacles like this existed in Sonic 2, 3 &Knuckles, they were never this obnoxiously placed. Perhaps this was all done to compensate for the game being a tad easy prior to this zone, but as a final level, I’d go as far as to say this is the weakest finale in the classic games.
Even with its flaws, I still had a lot of fun with Sonic CD. There’s more good level design than bad (although when it is bad, as is the case with Wacky Workbench and the previously mentioned Metallic Madness zones…it’s *really* bad), having two options to achieve the good ending is a nice touch, and the CD soundtrack is killer. It’s not the best classic Sonic game (that award goes to Sonic 2 in my opinion), but still worth playing through at least once.
What are your thoughts on Sonic CD? Love it? Hate it? Somewhere in the middle? Let me know over @retrorev96 on Twitter!