Recent Release Review : Sonic CD (PS3/XBLA)

I was debating whether to call this a current game review or a “Late to the Party” Review, where I plan to discuss older games that fall beyond a certain cutoff point, but enough changes were made to this version to call it an entirely new release.

When I was a kid, I remember getting a Sega CD when it launched — the piece of shit hardly worked when mounted to my Genesis, and even though I wanted to get into Sonic CD, faulty hardware and my lack of mechanical expertise (I was like 5 when it came out) meant that there was only one or two occasions where the system actually worked for me.  I tried a second time when that Sonic collection for the Gamecube came out, but I couldn’t get into it.  Now that all of my good games this holiday season are behind wrapping paper, I needed something short and sweet to play before Christmas flooded me with games, and look at what came out — a Re-Release of Sonic CD with some new bells and whistles.

Finally, I beat the game, muliple times : once for the normal gameplay experience, once with Tails who is a new addition to the game, then I went through every stage and boss through Time Attack mode, and finally a proper run through the game for the good ending, I chose to do it by altering the past instead of gathering those damn time stones.

Before talking about the game itself, some of the new additions are pretty cool.  For the first time I could experience the Japanese soundtrack while playing, now that they give you the option of US or Japanese soundtracks.  Playing as Tails is more of a bonus, as there are no cutscenes or any post credits messages after beating the game, meaning there is not really an incentive to play for a “good” ending.  You also have the option to use the original Sonic CD spin dash or the one from Sonic 2 which is far more comfortable to use.  Also, the game has a new main menu that I like far more than the original options that were embedded in the title screen.  The guys who ported this game really went all out with additional features and it shows.  Also the music is altered so that it plays continuously unlike the original CD version that had to briefly pause while reloading the track.

Particularly in good future levels, the use of color is beautiful in Sonic CD

As for the main attraction, it’s a very mixed bag.  The first playthrough was miserable, I played through like anybody new to the game would, hitting every time-travel sign and warping whenever a sudden obstruction wouldn’t kill my flow, without rhyme or reason but to enjoy constantly shifting through time.  Playing this way, I got pissed frequently because there are too many sudden obstructions and very few places to pick up enough speed unless you know the level well.  As a beginner just trying to have a little fun running around, more time was spent either taking a hit or running into a concealed spring/wall.  They even have springs that go backward for the unsuspecting player.  It becomes a problem when it feels like Sonic is out of your control as in Collision Chaos and Wacky Workbench, my two least favorite levels where most of my time was spent helplessly bouncing wherever the bumpers would take me.  It seems like the environment likes to force Sonic in some instances more than you have free control.

Ironically, this is one of the less annoying bumper segments in Collision Chaos...

Playing immediately after with Tails, it was pretty much the same thing except now I could fly through certain areas.  You can’t exactly fly into the bosses and expect to give them damage, so they play out the exact same way.  The only other difference was the removal of any animated cutscenes and a plain credits roll with a black background and white/orange text.  I was hoping to use the Tails run to make a couple of trophies in the game easier to obtain, but trophies were disabled, shooting down that plan.

Deciding that I didn’t like the game, perhaps because I needed to take the time to play through the levels and get to know them better, I reluctantly started a run through all levels in Time Attack mode.  Thankfully, all of the time travel signs are removed and I realized that once the big gimmicks are taken out, it becomes less confusing and feels more like a traditional Sonic game.  I never would have thought most of the levels could be completed in under a minute if done right.  My big gripe with Time Attack mode is that there is no retry button, so if you fuck up early in a level, you have to pause, go all the way back to the main menu and restart the level manually.  All of the games unlocks are done through Time Attack, so it gets really exciting when you have to shave off just a little more time to get below the cumulative time requirement.

Some of the enemies seem entirely out of place as well...

Feeling more familiar with the levels, the last playthrough was for the good ending via saving the past, and this is where all my issues come full circle.  The way you save the past is finding and smashing a cage somewhere in each level (and optionally a machine broadcasting a hologram of Metal Sonic).  Break the cage, alter the future so that it appears more vibrant in color and atmosphere than the bad future which is more mechanical in appearance and in overall terrible shape.  The problem is that you have to explore the entire level before 10 minutes hit and you die, which is a pain in the ass considering how many nooks, crannies and alternate paths each level has.  At least if you smash a cage or hologram machine and you die, that smashed object saves and the timer resets so you could just run and finish the level.

One of the cages required for the good ending. Also, the background is one of my favorite in the entire game, the building reflecting off the surface of the water really pulls me into the atmosphere of this level.

It just bugs me that when played this way, progress goes at a snails pace, and yet, to get to the slow exploration parts, you need to find a spot where you can run a certain distance with no interruption, so for me the first minute of a level would be running frantically (or taking advantage of well placed springs), while the next fifteen to thirty minutes would be a treasure hunt.  Not that treasure hunting’s bad or anything, but the running bits start to feel unnecessary after a while.

The music deserves its own article (which I just might indulge in), but even though a lot of it felt like it didn’t fit into the game, there were a lot of really atmospheric and entertaining tracks to go through, and the careful (and sometimes liberal) use of color gives the game a stronger sense of atmosphere than Sonic’s Genesis outings.  Of course to really get a grasp of the variety requires a lot of time travel and exploration.  It’s rewarding, for sure, but like the rest of Sonic CD, it’s gonna take a lot of patience to experience the finer points of this game, which is a shame, because one of the things I usually commend the Sonic series for is its accessibility to a whole spectrum of gamers, but I only see this entry appealing to a certain niche.

Of course, I’m one among that niche, even though I want to hate Sonic CD, there’s just something about it that leaves me fascinated, angry and satisfied I finally finished the game at the same time.

Grading :  (Gameplay is worth 70% and Aesthetics is worth 30%)

Aesthetics (Music, Visuals and Level Design all worth 10%, additive calculation)

  • The music for both regions is amazing when it’s atmosphere that they were shooting for.  Some of the tracks are completely inappropriate for their intended environment, however and in some cases really took me out of the game.  (7/10)
  • I remember one area with a staggering amount of blue shades used.  The use of color in this game is phenomenal, and like the music, some areas have a strong sense of atmosphere to it.  There are one or two poorly drawn objects/enemies, but overall, there is a lot of detail put into the sprites and backgrounds. (9/10)
  • Level design ranges from decent to damn near unplayable for unfamiliar players (Fuck you Wacky Workbench and Collision Chaos).  When time travelling you could find yourself in a dead end if unlucky.  I like the environments and the gimmicks for most of the zones but they could have been structured and employed in more interesting ways in many cases. (5/10)
  • Total : 21/30

Gameplay (Worth 70 points, subtractive calculation)

  • Abundance of hazards or objects that take Sonic out of player control : -12
  • Lack of a retry option makes Time Attack more of a hassle than it should be : -1
  • Future posts essentially worthless.  An incentive to use future travel would be cool : -1
  • Bonus stages play poorly and have terrible collision detection : -3
  • Total : 53/70

Grand Total : 74/100

Sonic CD is an acquired taste, but for 5 dollars on PSN/XBLA I recommend anyone not familiar with the game to give it a chance; it just might grow on you like it did me.

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