Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sonic CD (PSN, XBLA) Review

Last Friday I reviewed Final Fantasy XIII-2, a game that primarily features time travel. Today I will be reviewing yet another game with a time travel mechanic. This game released in late December of last year, and I've finally gotten around to it. It's Sonic CD for PSN and XBLA (plus other platforms but I don't cover those on this site).

A Sonic Boon

The history of Sonic CD is an interesting one. After the completion of the original Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, Sega assigned two teams to create two different games for two different platforms after Yuji Naka, creator of the blue blur, grew displeased with Sega's Japan sector and left to the United States. The two platforms were the Genesis for the team behind Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (the US team) and the other was the ill-fated Sega CD for the team behind the subject of this review, Sonic CD (the Japan team). My first run-in with Sonic CD was the PC port released in 1996 and then again in 2005 on the Sonic Gems Collection compilation for the GameCube. Now released again but this time on digital platforms, is time kind to Sonic CD?

Sonic the Hedgehog arrives to find Little Planet, a legendary and once peaceful place tethered by chain to a mountain by the sinister Dr. Robotnik. The planet's special ability to flow through time has aroused the interest of the bad doctor who wishes to utilize it for his own personal gain. Not only does Robotnik possess the power of Little Planet but he also has created a robotic doppelganger of the blue hedgehog in the form of Metal Sonic who promptly kidnaps Amy Rose, a devoted follower of Sonic. Now it's up to the ultra cool hedgehog to enter the metallic madness of Little Planet, recover the Time Stones (think Chaos Emeralds) to restore Little Planet to its former glory, defeat Metal Sonic, save Amy, and kick Robotnik's butt once more. Sonic CD is the only game in the series to feature anime-styled cutscenes. These sequences which occur at the beginning and ending, appropriately acting as bookends for the game, were produced and manufactured by Toei Animation (Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball series), and they look wonderful even after all these years.

For those new to Sonic the Hedgehog (where have you been?), the goal is as easy as reaching the end of the level intact. Rings are the lifeblood of Sonic. If he is caught without a ring and is damaged, you lose a life and must start either at the beginning of the act (there are three acts per zone) or at the last reached checkpoint. Yes, I know this is all elementary stuff for fans of the series, but some of you might not be "with it" when it concerns the blue blur's gameplay.

Sonic CD changes up the formula of the franchise by introducing a time travel mechanic. It is entirely possible just to breeze through each act without ever going traveling through time, but you won't get the best ending possible. As you explore each level you will come across signposts either marked "Past" or "Future." When you pass through one of these signs and want to go to the target time destination, you must find a spot in the level to gather enough speed to break through the temporal barrier and go either back to the past or forward to the future. Most times finding enough room to speed into either the past or future is as simple as coming across two red springs that bounce you quickly back and forth like a pinball table.

Pull a Doc Brown and go back to the future.

The past is always more colorful and rich than the present or, heaven forbid, the future. Inside the past in the first two acts of every zone there are machines placed by Robotnik and projectors placed by Metal Sonic that are to be destroyed. Doing this creates a Good Future once you reach the third act of a zone. Finding these machines requires a superb sense of exploration, and exploration is the name of the game in Sonic CD.

There are plethora of pathways to venture through in this title. Some make for an easy time while others a harder one. Regardless, to say some levels are a convoluted pigsty would be an understatement. The level design is all over the place and most oftentimes it is quite messy. You could be running through a level only to be surprised by a red spring that launches you backward in the act. Occasionally you'll come across a spring that shoots you upward only to be smashed into a series of painful spikes without any way of knowing ahead of time. All of these aforementioned problems add up to a headache when attempting to go for adequate time trials.

Collision Chaos is the second zone of Sonic CD,
and it's a Spring Yard-esque environment.

Just like in Sonic the Hedgehog (the 1991 original, not the 2006 monstrosity), once Sonic has collected 50 rings and has safely reached the goal, he can enter a large golden ring that transports him to one of seven of Sonic CD's special stages. Unfortunately, these happen to be the worst special stages in Sonic's illustrious history. The premise is that you are let loose in a 3D arena where you move around in an attempt to jump into and destroy six UFOs. Not only are you timed, but any moment you land in water swiftly takes valuable time off of the clock. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that it is incredibly difficult to judge distance with 2D sprites. However, not all is bad. This edition of Sonic CD auto-saves after you enter the special stage meaning if you exit out of the game before time runs out in a given stage, you can retry it. (If you let the time run out to zero, the game auto-saves and you're SOL.) Each time you demolish all of the UFOs, you gain a precious Time Stone, the equivalent of Chaos Emeralds in other games. Acquiring all of the Time Stones affects what type of ending you get once you take down Robotnik in the final showdown.

Speaking of Robotnik, the third act of every zone is a battle with the mad doctor. Unlike other games in the series, there's a little traversing to be done before you get to the fight. Once you do reach Robotnik you will probably discover that outside of a couple of select battles, the encounters with Robotnik are quite easy to beat. One of the more interesting encounters has you running along a conveyor belt. As you continue to sprint, you cause friction which makes Robotnik's capsule-like machine fall closer and closer to the ground. Of course, the battle isn't as easy as getting the villain's machine to be destroyed once it hits the ground. You must skillfully dodge falling mines from the ceiling while avoiding moving to slow as to get hit by a series of blue flames which rest on the opposite side of the arena. Nonetheless, for every decent Robotnik battle there is an equally appalling one such as playing inside a pinball arena and struggling for minutes to reach the top where Robotnik rests.

Grind Robotnik's machine into dust.

Completing Sonic CD is not too daunting of a task. The game can be completed in just under an hour. Of course, trophy and achievement lovers will have other challenges to accomplish such as collecting 200 rings in a given act, gathering all of the Time Stones, and completing Time Attack mode in under 25 minutes, to name a few. There's even an all-new special unlockable for besting Robotnik and beating the game. While it's probably no secret to fans or people with access to the Internet, I'll leave it to you to discover it for yourself.

Sonic CD has special graphical filters which makes it look the greatest out of any version yet released. Regardless, many zones (especially Quartz Quadrant and Stardust Speedway) are oozing with way too many colors and way too much brightness. It almost becomes an eyesore to look at. Musically, there's the option in this digital iteration to choose between either the Japan/European soundtrack or what I consider to be the superior soundtrack, the North American one. I find the JPN/EU score to become rather grating on the ears as opposed to the rock-centric NA score. Nonetheless, at least you're given a choice as to which one you'd prefer to listen to as you play the game.

Some zones look especially tacky with
too much going on graphically.

Overall, Sonic CD is a worthy download to your digital arsenal of games. While the game is on the short side, the level design is convoluted, and the special stages are painful to play, the positives far outweigh the negatives this time around. From the title's desire for you to explore the multifaceted acts to the pretty pleasant presentation, Sonic CD is a colorful, creative, and charming take on the blue blur. If you've already played the game in your past, perhaps it's in your future to give it a chance with its new features on either PSN, XBLA, or on smartphones.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]


Tom Badguy said...

Would some consider this the only good Sega CD game?

Unknown said...

I have no knowledge on the Sega CD, so I'm useless to answer that question.

Reggie White Jr. said...

Good review. I like Sonic CD, but like you, I'm not oblivious to it's faults, like the screwy level design that doesn't know what it wants to be. Sonic CD has my least favorite pinball aspects of any Sonic game and they really irked me in Collision Chaos. It's amazing how many reviews fail to point this out. Again, awesome job.