It was the early ’90s, and CDs were the future of video gaming. In 1988, Nintendo entered a partnership with Sony to create CD-ROM technology for the upcoming Super Nintendo. This would ultimately lead to a curious little device called the “Play Station” to be unveiled in 1991… and DRAMA! Nintendo jumped ship to Philips, leading to… well, some of the most memorable video games ever made, for the just as memorable CD-i. And in the years to follow, the likes of Commodore’s CDTV and 3DO’s, uh, 3DO would rear their faces of evil as well.
Not wanting to be left IN THE DUST, Sega worked out an add-on for the Genesis called the Sega CD (or, in Japan, an add-on for the Megadrive called the Mega CD). On paper, it really wasn’t a terrible idea? Unfortunately brand new technology is expensive, and as it turns out developers tend to not be experts at new technology right out the gate. In the end, the Sega CD got a bunch of really weird FMV games, and not a whole lot else.
In that “not a whole lot else” bundle of games, you perhaps have heard of Sonic the Hedgehog CD. If you haven’t, well, you’re in luck, because I’m reviewing it now. While Sonic 2 was being made in America, what was left of Sonic Team in Japan was tasked to create a title for the Sega CD add-on. Sonic CD is interesting in that a lot of people really like it, and some even consider it the BEST Sonic game ever. Is it though? Is it?
I’ll go over the premise of this one, though I suppose it’d be better to call it a gimmick since it ultimately adds nothing to the gameplay in general. In this game, Sonic has the ability to travel through time. Run by a sign that says “Past” on it for example, and maintain a (relatively) high speed for a few seconds. You’ll then be treated to a “time warp” cutscene for a few seconds! And then you’re in a version of the level that looks different and has a remixed BGM, but (as far as I could ever tell) it’s still for all intents and purposes the exact same level. You can do this sort of thing with the “Future” signs as well, but again, it’s basically just a palette-swap for the background and a slightly different tune to listen to as you work your way through the same (poorly-designed) level. Suffice to say, the whole deal with jumping to the past and future really disrupts the flow of a classic Sonic game, and I always did my best to avoid the time warp signs.
The controls for this game are also unfortunately a step down from Sonic 2. Sonic’s run and roll always felt slightly “off” to me in Sonic CD, but perhaps it’s just a case of everything seeming a bit slower in general. This game also has two weird variations of the spin dash, neither of which are good. One has Sonic running in place, while the other has Sonic rolling in place–and both take a few seconds to charge up before you can blast forward (into a randomly-placed wall).
Because this game was a CD rather than a cartridge, Sonic CD had greater graphical and audio qualities than its Genesisian brethren. This turns out both a good and bad thing? The graphics are indeed better, but it all feels a bit too much in practice. Tons of colors, so much so that the backgrounds become a sort of confetti vomit. (And for Stardust Speedway Zone, add an ass-helping of flashing lights!) As for the music, there are curiously two different soundtracks you may encounter depending on the version of the game you play. I think there are good and bad tracks on both–I overall prefer the Japan/Europe soundtrack though, especially for its happy-go-lucky opening theme and funky-sauce boss theme.
Good things about Sonic CD, since I’ve mostly just been complaining:
- There was a nice variety to the bosses in this one, some of which I found rather clever. My favorite, or rather everyone’s favorite, is the one where you have to race a robot version of Sonic and get to the end before Robotnik pounds you with a laser.
- The special stages are pretty awesome. This time, you are running around a 3D environment, destroying (of all things) a bunch of UFOs. I found these bonus levels a lot of fun, decently challenging, and pretty freaking trippy. I like to imagine what could have been, had Sonic Team ever tried to make a 3D Sonic game in this style back in the Saturn days.
- The “bad future” versions of each song are pretty bawler.
- Some levels have interesting little gimmicks, such as the bouncy floor in Wacky Workbench Zone, or the times you are turned into a cute little chibi Sonic in Metallic Madness Zone.
Regardless, the core gameplay for this one is sorely lacking, so I’m going to not suggest this as a must-play classic Sonic game. If you’re a big Sonic fan, then sure, go ahead and give it a spin at some point (either on Sega CD, PC, or in one of its more recent download ports). But otherwise, there’s a lot more fun to be had in that generation’s Genesis offerings.