Reviews: Sonicthe Hedgehog CD

An often overlooked, very different Sonic game, but it didn't do it for me

Sonic CD occupies a strange spot in Sonic chronology. Development began after Sonic 1 on Sega Genesis, and it was developed independently of Sonic 2, which evolved in its own direction. While Sonic 2 improved the graphics, changed the movement physics and speed and designed levels that expanded upon the concept of building up speed and stopping to engage in platforming, Sonic CD went its own route, and it clearly shows.

The graphics and animation are very Sonic 1-esque, but with a lot of unique animations such as spinning around when launching off a springboard. Sonic himself is drawn in exactly the same style as the first game, rather than the more refined look in the second. The backgrounds and foregrounds, meanwhile, are just plain ugly. The colors are garish and bright and sometimes inappropriate. This is strange, as even Sonic 1 looked more visually refined, and this game is supposed to be a natural evolution of it.

The level design is chaotic, and I don't mean that in a good way. While there are some creative ideas here and there such as one section based around tubes that propel you upwards or in a half-circle, with you getting to choose based on the direction you push, or a level with a flashing floor that bounces you into the air 30 times your own height, most of the level design annoyed me. There's a lot of stop-and-go, and not in the style of the other games, but I felt the timing was off. It's hard to describe, but the level design felt very unrefined.

The choice of both Japanese and American soundtracks in the rerelease is a great idea. I've listened to both, and I have to say that while the Japanese soundtrack is catchy, the more subdued American soundtrack tends to fit the scenery better. The Japanese soundtrack is, well, chaotic and crazy. Just listen to the music in Palmtree Panic. The JP soundtrack is a big party. The US soundtrack, while more generic, fits better with the pacing of the game and setting, I think. And I love the "past" music.

The time travel aspect is a unique idea, allowing for multiple variations on the same level, and encouraging you to get and maintain speed - unfortunately, the level design makes that more difficult than it should be.

I see the appeal of this game, and it does have creative ideas. But, I just don't like it, sadly.

The underrated Sonic CD gets a long awaited opportunity to shine with the Genesis titles

Until recently, Sonic CD is the franchise equivalent of a mainstream band's underground LP: only the most hardcore fans have found it, enjoyed it, and shouted its praises into the high heavens. Similarly, CD's an unrefined experiment that tosses many novel ideas to the Sonic formula with mixed results. Back when Sonic CD was a rare find, the flaws were easy to ignore. As a $5 downloadable in 2011, less so.

Visually, CD's a prettier, faster, Darker And Edgier version of Sonic 1. The basic gameplay retains the familiar Sonic feel, so players wishing to swiftly fly through the levels can. Time Attack mode streamlines the levels for this purpose. For those willing to time travel to destroy robot spawning devices from the past, the mechanic adds to CD's replay value. Just pass a lamppost with the appropriate time warping direction, run like mad, and off you go to the idealistic past...or the grim Bad Future if the robot machine isn't destroyed.

Sonic CD's qualities come through in other areas, for better or worse. The opening/closing FMV videos are breathtaking glimpses into a potential '90s era Sonic anime. The UFO destroying bonus stages and overall level design, though solid, are pretty strange. Some of CD's seven worlds are mirror images of Sonic 1 levels, though some suffer from dubious enemy/trap/spring/platform placement, especially Wacky Workbench. As for the boss fights, they're more gimmicky puzzle bosses than anything, which makes the iconic Metal Sonic race stand out even further. Sonic fans expecting a challenge might be disappointed, since CD is quite easy to finish.

However, one area Sonic CD rises above other Sonic games is its music. Thanks to the updated port, now everyone can enjoy the 60+(!) samples between the American and Japanese/European editions. Too bad there's no option to customize your own soundtrack, because mixed together, CD's soundtrack is peerless. But hey, at least both Ear Worm inducing soundtracks are available.

Depending on who you ask, Sonic CD either complements the Genesis era games, or feels like a poor imitation of one. For me, Sonic CD lands dead in the middle. It's superior to Sonic 1 and (to me at least) more ambitious than the erratic Sonic 2, but Sonic 3 & Knuckles trumps CD in every way, except the music.

With the most complete version of Sonic CD available at $5, what do you have to lose?