Review: Sonic CD
I suppose I should preface this review by writing that I have never played Sonic CD in the past, which means that this isn’t going to be one of those reviews. As to the porting of this 15 year-old game, it’s good. It isn’t exactly a port, even, since Christian Whitehead and Blit Software recoded the entire game so that it plays like a charm. There is an option in the settings to switch between Sharp, Smooth, and Nostalgia style graphics. I stuck with Smooth, the default, and thought the game looked great. Nostalgia doesn’t look too shabby, either; the game has aged pretty well. Perhaps it’s all the parallax scrolling. One thing that can be said about Sonic CD’s overall presentation is that it is – or was – avant-garde. The menus and time stone bonus rounds are painted with psychedelic backdrops that are at once off-putting and captivating. I had the same feeling about the music in the game. It’s not quite rap, but it’s not the same sort of fare you come to expect from earlier Sonic titles. If I had to categorize it, I’d say it’s House-no-hop, a mixture of House, Techno, and Hip-Hop music. Again, I don’t mean to say that the music is in any way un-enjoyable. On the contrary, Sonic CD boasts some of the freshest beats I’ve ever heard in a 2D platformer. Every once in a while, though, the incomprehensible lyrics became a bit unnerving, and some zones have decidedly better themes than others. There’s an option to swap between the Japanese and US soundtracks of the game. I stuck with JP (default).
Sonic CD makes a slight attempt to establish a storyline. Dr. Ivo Robotnik is trying to (surprise) take over the world, and it’s up to you to save it by defeating his creations. This time around, Eggman has created a particularly menacing creature, Metal Sonic, to aid his cause. Amy Rose, the pink, female hedgehog acts the part of the princess who’s trapped in another castle. The whole thing is a mouthful of whipped cream, as you only face off against Metal Sonic once in the entire game. Instead of spawning furries the way they have in most other Sonic games, defeated creatures turn into flowers. I’m not sure why this is the case, but I can’t argue with it either way. Sonic CD’s main schtick is a time-travelling mechanic. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but in time I learned to enjoy it.
Each stage can be played at three different times: the past, the present, and the future. There are sign posts that read “Past” and “Future”. If you run past a “Past” sign, you then need to maintain maximum speed for about 5-10 seconds. Doing so will fling you into the past (or future, depending on what post you have activated at the time). The idea is to find a way to the past, destroy Robotnik’s evil machine, then finish the stage. There are also Metal Sonic holograms to be destroyed in the past. You’re trying to “make a good future” in each stage. The whole mechanic was lost on me for most of my first playthrough for two reasons: 1, this is a game from 1993, meaning you have to read the instruction manual to learn the rules; 2, it’s a bizarre mechanic. Anyone who knows me will tell you that not much gets me going quite the way time travel does. I love time travel, especially in Rom/Coms starring Keanu Reeves, but I’m not sure Sonic, a game about racing from point A to point B, needed to add it to its formula. To its credit, each time period looks and plays differently, adding a fair amount of replayability to the game.
There are 7 zones in Sonic CD, each with 3 stages. The non-boss stages can be played in the past, present, or future, making the total number of stages exceed 30. The zones are inventive and fun to play for the most part. In the final zone you even play as a miniaturized Sonic/Tails, both of which are surprisingly cute. I strongly disliked Wacky Workbench. Besides for its ludicrous name, the many defining schticks within are less fun and more annoying to deal with. If you’ve played a Sonic game before, you know that completing a stage with at least 50 rings in tow will grant you access to a bonus stage. This time around, you aren’t collecting Chaos Emeralds. They may look exactly like the precious gems you’ve collected in so many games before this one, but don’t let your eyes deceive you. These are Time Stones. You know, because of all the time travelling business. The gameplay in the special stages of Sonic CD is a farshot from what I was used to. You run around in a 3D arena dodging traps and attempting to jump attack all of the UFOs flying around the level. I watched the demo of the game a few times before playing and saw the computer play through a couple of bonus rounds. After taking them on for myself, I learned the hard way how difficult these stages could be. With some practice I’m sure I could get a hang of it, but I found the bonus rounds to be frustrating. When you think about it, though, most of the special zones in the past have been a pain in the ass. I guess that’s the point, though, right? After playing through the story mode, you might find some enjoyment in the Time Attack mode.
Time Attack allows you to pick and choose which zone you’d like to play and keeps track of your total playtime. There are a bunch of unlockables, all but one of which are linked to the Time Attack mode. If you beat the game, you unlock Tails, who can fly and swim by tapping jump. Playing the game as Tails is fun and has its advantages (…flying), but it also disables the earning of trophies. Bringing the total time down to 25 minutes or less will unlock the special stages to be playable in Time Attack mode. It’ll also unlock a visual mode and D.A. garden, which is an interactive sound test. Other unlockables include stage select, sound test, and a debug mode.
Sonic CD is a well-crafted port whose price point alone should be an instant sell. Remember when you bought Sonic The Hedgehog back in the day for $4.99 and it was only a rom port with a few trophies tacked on? Well, for the same price you can enjoy an arguably better version of Sonic laced with a bunch of snazzy features, not the least of which being online leaderboards for every zone. The only problems I had with the game are perhaps inherent in almost every Sonic game. There are points of frustration that I can’t overlook and the time travelling mechanic, while interesting after I learned it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense or come off seamlessly during gameplay. Still, as far as remakes and Sonic games go, this is one of the best in both categories. For a minimal amount of green, it transports The Blue Blur from the past to the future in sparkling fashion.
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A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Old-school Sonic never felt so new
- Psychedelic graphical style; parallax scrolling
- Fresh beats
What I Dislike:
- Special stages
- Time travelling is confusing/unnecessary