Most everyone has played one of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. Ever since Sega went third party, the Mega Drive games have been released on every system known to man. What people did miss was bizarrely from the very same era - Sonic CD. It’s especially unfortunate, because Sonic CD is just as good as the Mega Drive games – perhaps even better.
All the standard makings of Sonic’s platforming games are here. You’ve probably already sped through loop-de-loops, nabbed a large haul of rings, explored special stages, and battled Robotnik in the past.
If you haven’t, things basically boil down to running through timed 2D stages at high speeds whilst occasionally jumping to make your way to the goal. Several nuances are littered throughout each level, such as robotic foes, pitfalls, spikes, and power-ups. Grabbing rings makes Sonic invulnerable to attacks, but getting hit just once will cause him to lose every ring in his collection. Clear two levels and a boss level and you can head to the game’s next zone, featuring a new theme.
However, Sonic CD makes all of these elements more intense and expands on the basic gameplay of the main series titles to form a more appealing package.
For starters, Sonic CD introduces a time travelling system. If you pass by a “past” sign at high velocity, you’ll be sent back to an alternate version of the level. Destroy all of Robotnik’s generators and you’ll change the outcome of the future in that area. This system helps ups the level of urgency in each stage. While potentially confusing to newcomers, you’re still able to bypass the system altogether and still achieve the true ending if you elect to instead play the special stages.
Special stages revolve around destroying a predetermined number of UFO. That’s easier said than done though, as Sonic moves forward on his own whilst in a 3D environment and you only have control over his direction. On top of that, you’ve got a time limit and running through water will rapidly drain your precious time. If you can actually manage to beat some of the tough later levels and collect all six of the time stones, you’ll be eligible to see the game’s true ending (which, by the way, is another beautiful cutscene).
Another noteworthy departure is how totally disorienting the gameplay can be at times. There are certain moments where, if you’re not paying much attention, you’ll get fly all over the place whilst retreading ground you’ve already traversed in an endless nosebleed-inducing loop. Some of the levels may confuse you even if you’re fully alert. You may consider this a nuisance, but it’s accompanied by such a strange sensation that it’s hard to refer to it as a flaw.
The presence of time attack, a save feature, and a handful of extras help solidify the game’s quality. There’s no need to cuss about losing your last life against the final foe or play through the entire game just to see that one cool level. The iPhone port even throws in the ability to play as Sonic’s friend Tails once you’ve competed the game.
You’re probably starting to get worried that, since this is such a good game, surely the process of porting it to a button-free handheld must have tarnished it. Believe it or not, though, I can play Sonic CD just as well as I could with traditional controls. Despite the qualms you may have about a virtual D-pad, the manoeuvring here is top notch even in the busiest of segments. Not a single death occurred due to sloppy controls; I would have died in the exact same spots with a trusty DualShock 3. At the risk of exaggeration, it almost feels as if this game was designed in 1993 knowing that it would one day be ported to the iPhone.
Visually, the game holds up even better than Sonic’s Mega Drive outings. While it still largely resembles said titles, you’ll appreciate the added detail and graphical trickery. In particular, the fluidly animated opening and ending cutscenes have never looked better.
Like with the graphics, the sound here is far superior thanks to the game being released on disk technology during the cartridge era. There’s been a lot of debate over whether the Japanese or American soundtrack was superior, but you’ll be ecstatic to know that both are on offer here in all their brilliance. To further distinguish CD from the numbered titles, Sonic’s attack sounds differ in a pleasant-yet-familiar way.
Sonic CD is one of those few cases where I can recommend buying both the smartphone version and the console version. It’s not due to superior console visuals or exclusive features in each, but simply because this game is too good to leave at home. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more replayable pocket platformer, even at higher price points.
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