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Sonic CD Review

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On 01/25/2012 at 05:00 PM by Esteban Cuevas

You know you want to hear “Sonic Boom” again.

For fans of Sonic, platformers, and old school games.

I love Sonic the Hedgehog. That is probably the understatement of the year, as I’ve made my love of the blue hedgehog well known and I know all of the Sonic games front to back. Well, most of them anyway. I didn’t own a Sega CD back in the day so one of the exceptions is Sonic CD. Since its initial release in 1993, diehard fans have sworn by the game’s quality, going so far as to call it the greatest Sonic game ever. Two ports have been released on the PC and as part of the Sonic Gems Collection on the GameCube, but this latest port is the most attractive release of the title. Does it still hold up 18 years later?

The developers of this port must be part of this title’s cult following because it’s immediately apparent from the moment you start up the game that it was treated with a lot of tender love and care. Menus don’t use the generic layout from previous Sega titles and they utilized pixel graphics that also manage to look cleaned up for high definition displays. The opening and closing FMVs have been fully restored from the Sega CD version. How they were able to restore those rough, pixilated videos into full screen HD is beyond me.

The graphics and sound have been kept intact but there are options to change the graphic filters, and choose between the soundtrack used in the Japanese version of the game or the American version. Sound is very clear and crisp and the soundtrack resembles that of CD-based games in the early 90s, which isn’t too bad; it's definitely better suited to a Sonic game than the rock-based soundtracks of later titles. Load times are also much improved at only a few seconds or so, which is an improvement over the previous PC and GameCube ports as well.

The art direction resembles the first Sonic the Hedgehog. However, due to the increased space of the CD format back in those days, the levels sport more detailed graphical flourishes. Plants and machinery are much more prevalent and loop de loops now feature an alternate camera that shows Sonic from behind. Furthermore, Sonic himself was given more animations, such as twisting when jumping off a spring. As a Sonic fan that didn’t play this game back in the day, there is a sense of wonder seeing these new and improved levels. This game takes place on a different planet than Sonic titles normally do and the levels do a good job conveying a foreign yet familiar land.

If you’ve ever played a Sonic game or any platformer, you’ll be right at home, as Sonic CD plays just like classic Genesis Sonic titles. There are seven areas consisting of three acts for a total of 21 levels. At the end of every first and second act, you’ll have the opportunity to enter the special stage via a giant ring if you collected 50 rings. Every third act features a boss battle against the main antagonist Dr. Robotnik and his latest creation. After defeating him, you’ll move onto the next area. The game auto saves after each level, which is an improvement over the previous versions, which only saved after every area.

Sonic CD features the spin dash attack introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 but this new port allows you to choose from the animation and physics of the original Sonic CD, or that of Sonic 2. This does tend to slightly change how you control, but it’s mostly an aesthetic choice. A peel out move is also introduced and it allows players to rev up and take off with max speed with better traction than the spin dash attack, though Sonic is more vulnerable as a result. I found myself using this more than the spin dash attack and it does improve the gameplay for the better. The controls are responsive, and although they’re simple, it’s gratifying to spin attack an enemy, jump over some spikes, land on another enemy and peel out all in a fluid motion.

Sonic can travel through time by passing special posts labeled “Past” or “Future” and maintaining speed for a specific amount of time. When you do travel through time,  Sonic disappears from the level, an animation is shown displaying his passage through the fabric of time, and he reappears in the level, except the level now looks either more prehistoric or futuristic and the layout of the level has changed. This definitely makes the game play differently each time you go through it.

This mechanic can get frustrating though, since levels tend to have a lot of obstacles that can prevent a necessary buildup of speed. Sonic CD is definitely one of the harder Sonic titles but it’s mostly due to the levels' confusing layout or some loop de loop puzzles that constantly throw you around until you find the way out. Luckily, you could memorize the layouts using the Time Attack mode, which lets you replay levels as well as upload best times.

Some levels are also clearly inspired (read: copied) from levels in the first Sonic title and although some (like the Wacky Workbench level) are well crafted, the ones that are original aren’t as creative or memorable as those from other Sonic games. Despite this problem, the levels are never frustrating and the levels share the first game’s locale variety and charm that prevent the game from just being about going to the right.

The special stages in this game comprise of running around in a faux 3D environment, attempting to destroy all the UFOs under the time limit to earn a time stone (instead of the series staple Chaos Emeralds). The controls are solid, power-ups are available, and the novelty of the 3D is entertaining, but judging the distance between you and the UFO can sometimes be hard to see and the time limit is restrictive.

Some boss fights are memorable, fun and well done, while some are rudimentary and uninspired.  Many are quite boring like one that simply requires you to run fast on a treadmill while dodging mines. Another, which involves a race against Metal Sonic while Robotnik chases you with a death beam is probably the most appropriate boss fight ever in a Sonic game.

Needless to say, Sonic CD is a blast from the past that many players didn't get a chance to see, and this port wraps it up in a very appealing package. Some flawed design choices prevent this from being the greatest Sonic game, but it deserves a place among the best in the franchise as it's aged wonderfully. Now that it’s available to download for only $5 (400 Microsoft Points), I can’t recommend this title more.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

01/25/2012 at 05:21 PM

Nice review.  Thank you for saying Robotnik and not Eggman by the way.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

01/26/2012 at 12:29 AM

Well, in this game, he was still Robotnik. I wish Sega would go back to that name. I don't care if it originally was Eggman. Dr. Ivo Robotnik reigns supreme.


01/26/2012 at 06:41 PM

When I first played Sonic CD back when It first came out I really enjoyed the soundtrack for It except the game over music, I would literally turn my system off before It came on If I knew I was gonna die. But recently I learned about the Japanese soundtrack and It blew my mind how awesome It was. Every time I get into a boss fight I work that sucker to death! rather than being scared to death.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

01/26/2012 at 07:37 PM

I heard about the soundtrack in Sonic CD before I played it and its infamous Sonic Boom theme. Having now played it with both soundtracks, the Japanese is superior. Although I like Sonic Boom!

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

01/27/2012 at 08:22 PM

Naofumi Hataya. He's still with Sega as a composer, and he composed the Japanese soundtrack.

Bow to him.

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