I never owned a Sega CD. I’m not sure why. I had every intention of trying out any console I could get my hands on growing up, but for some reason that one slipped through my fingers. As a result, I never tried Sonic CD. Now that the game has made its way to the XBLA (and PSN, iOS, Android systems, for that matter) I’ve reveled in a brand new favorite. Sonic CD is the Sonic game I’ve always dreamt of, and it’s taken me far too long to find it. The levels? Great. The soundtrack? Rockin’. It still comes with its fair share of annoyances, and sometimes it’s completely infuriating. But it’s also the most fun I’ve had with Sonic in years.
There are no were-hogs, insipid mini games, or blind camera issues. The famous blue hedgehog’s classic antics are on display in full force here: collecting rings, traversing the environments at trademark Sonic speed, and even hitting up pinball levels…okay, maybe that isn’t one of the high points. But I’ll get to that later. Here, we see Sonic doing what he does best: zooming through each area like a bat out of hell, making us all fall in love again with the platforming classic we played as children. He’s on a mission this time around to rescue the annoyingly flirtatious Amy Rose from the clutches of Metal Sonic. Except he’s got much more than a few rounds with Eggman to contend with – he’s got to travel back and forth through time between the past, present, and future. The fate of the mysterious Little Planet is at stake, and Sonic is going to do everything he can to find Amy and free the strange planet from Dr. Robotnik’s evil clutches. It’s all pretty standard fare, true, but at least there’s no Princess Elise. For that we can all be thankful.
Time-traveling plays a major role within each level. At first glance, you’ve got the given Sonic levels. You’ve seen it all before, but never with so many splashes of color and strange set-pieces. By hitting a signpost labeled “past,” “present,” or “future” and then running at full speed for a few seconds, you have the power to travel between instances of each level at will. Entering the future will bring you to the “Bad Future,” where higher challenges and more instances of enemy encounters make things a little more frustrating, so a trip is in order to Robot Generators placed throughout the “past” level to ensure the future a player travels to takes place in the “Good Future.” The “Good” versions are usually more devoid of pitfalls and obstacles, making the journey a bit easier to digest, and often saving plenty of time.
Collecting Time Stones throughout each locale saves you the step of fighting for the future, in essence, but it’s an interesting challenge in gameplay and aesthetics that truly feels like a breath of fresh air for the series. It’s Sonic done right, with a glossy new paint job and new things to look at. New things meaning you’re not spending most of your time with lava or in Green Hill Zone or palette swap number 5 that looks a whole lot like Green Hill Zone.
Other than this gimmick it’s classic Sonic in all his glory. Though there are a few differences that you’ll note right offhand that are certainly appreciated. For example, the very first loop-de-loop Sonic hits will turn to show off a 3D view of the set, giving you a full view of the hedgehog zooming through. It caught me off guard, but it was definitely something new for me. Much more enticing than the blind jumps I had become accustomed to making in the terrible releases these days. Robotnik boss battles were intriguing, and required a little more brainpower than previous games where a few simple spins to the head took out the advancing baddie. Sometimes you needn’t make an offensive move at all. Sometimes you need to knock away a shield made of air bubbles underwater. Sometimes you need to chase old Eggman until you can get a good shot at him.
Rather than rolling my eyes upon reaching the inevitable standoffs, I found myself excited for what the game would throw at me next. Except the abhorrent pinball board that is an absolute nightmare to navigate. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to place bumpers that you can barely get away from and flippers that don’t even look like they work smack dab in the middle of an area you need to get through to the next area. It certainly isn’t necessary, or appreciated, even as an Easter egg. Make it functional, and then get back to me.
While the Jaleel White-sounding Sonic voice clips were cute enough, and the familiar Sonic sound effects held my hand on this walk through memory lane, what really grabbed my attention was the original Japanese soundtrack. While the English version has a certain charm all its own (and you can choose which one you’d like to accompany the game via options) I vastly preferred the chill grooves and breakbeats of the Japanese soundtrack, even going so far as to seek them out for listening long after I had quit the game. The boss theme, the “Bad Future” tune for the Wacky Workbench zone, and the chilling yet peaceful Tidal Tempest score is to die for. And speaking of dying, when you meet your end you’ll be subjected to one of the creepiest “game over” themes this side of Silent Hill. But you’ll revel in it. Because it’s fantastic. There’s practically no need to listen to the English soundtrack, but give it a go anyway even if it’s just to listen to “Sonic Boom,” which you’ll no doubt recognize.
Incredibly, the mobile versions (especially the iOS port) have been treated just as lovingly as their home-console counterparts that I played through, with spot-on touch control and gorgeous translation to the small screen. iOS users have achievements and even trophies through Game Center while Android users get to play with a Bluetooth controller (if their hardware supports it), but the touch controls are so responsive I can’t see why you’d want to.
Pixel for pixel Sonic CD is a fantastic remake of one of the very best games in the series, despite its rough patches and the insidious pinball boss I vow never to voluntarily play through again. If you’re a whippersnapper just consider this a return to Sonic’s glory days and pretend it’s new again – you’ll be better off. This is an incredible port of the game, with new features, perfect controls (even on the mobile versions), and even the original Japanese soundtrack available if you want it. That alone should make this a must-have for diehard fans. Sonic Generations may have stolen the show earlier in the year, but Sonic CD is certainly one of the best Sonic adventures you’ll ever play and a great way to celebrate the hog’s 20th birthday. Toot Toot Sonic Warrior!
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