Earl Grey Reviews Sonic the Hedgehog CD

When I was growing up, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the only game I knew.  There were other Sega Genesis games sitting on my shelf during my childhood, but Sonic 2 was the only video game I played for the first few years of my life.  A couple years in, my father told me about Sonic 1 and eventually got it back from the friend of his who “borrowed” it.  It was then that I realized that there may be even more Sonic games for me to try.

I was born around the time all of these games were first being released, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to apply my present diligence to finding the newer releases – I was too busy learning to spell.  Years later, I learned about emulators and played Sonic the Hedgehog CD for the first time.  Sonic Gems Collection contained a copy of Sonic CD and I loved it so much that I eventually bought the CD Rerelease and the Taxman remastered version when that came out.

I now own six versions of the same game.

Gameplay

Sonic CD, as all Sonic games do, rewards the player’s skill at the game with a tremendous amount of speed.  In most levels, if the player prefers to breeze through a level, they can do just that in mere seconds.  That, though, is counterintuitive to the gameplay of Sonic CD.

Although the speed is amazing, exploration and platforming form a pivotal role in playing through Sonic CD in order to get the “good” ending.

(Screenshots courtesy of soniczone0.com)

Sonic CD contains a time travel feature which allows the player to explore past and future versions of every zone in the game.  Decisions in the past can affect whether a future is “good” or “bad.”  Allowing Sonic to breeze through a level without regard for roboticizer machines or Metal Sonic holograms built by Dr. Robotnik bring about a “bad” future for the boss level: the world has been industrialized and is falling to shambles as the metallic landscape falls into disrepair.  Destroying the robot generators and the Metal Sonic projectors brings about a “good” future, where Robotnik’s influence didn’t take hold in the zone and the landscape is colorful and full of life.  These machines aren’t in plain sight in many levels within the game, which is where exploration comes into play.

Additionally, the Chaos Emeralds have been replaced in Sonic CD with the Time Stones, seven gems which, when collected, will give Sonic good futures throughout the game, as Robotnik will not have been able to travel back in time to place the robot generators in the first place.  You obtain these time stones through psychedelic special stages which involve destroying a number of UFOs to earn your quarry.

There are some who would find the exploration and fetching to be a fun and exciting adventure.  There are still others who would find those features tedious.  Though I tend to find myself in the “fun” group, I must admit that the vertical exploration was a polarizing choice made by the developers of Sonic CD.

Graphics

Sonic CD features very bright and chunky graphics, featuring a wide array of neon colors and bright, organic browns and greens.  While Sonic games before this always had bright colors, they never crossed the neon threshold quite as much as Sonic CD does.  Although everything seems a little more simplified and cartoonish, the artists involved managed to pack a tremendous amount of detail in their game.

(Screenshots courtesy of soniczone0.com)

Each stage has four time periods for the player to visit, and each time period of a stage has a different aesthetic.  The past version of the stage is filled with vines and antiquated architecture.  The present is a bright middle ground between its past and future, and the future can either be bright and bold, or dilapidated and dreary.  The detail extends even to the badniks, who in the bad future are broken down: their cannons and spikes no longer work, and they’re hardly a hazard for Sonic at all.

(Screenshots courtesy of soniczone0.com)

In addition to main level graphics, the Special Stages in Sonic CD are completely new.  Sonic CD uses a sprite scaling technique resembling Mode-7 in order to create the illusion of 3D space, similar to techniques used in the Nintendo game F-Zero.  These stages are attractive at best and disorienting at worst, causing the player frustration every time Sonic passes directly through a UFO without damaging it.

Music

The same attention to detail that was put into the graphics of Sonic CD was applied to the music.  Whether you prefer the Japanese/European “House” genre of upbeat electronic music or the American “Grunge Rock” styled soundtrack, each track was perfectly crafted to create a specific mood for each level and time period.  While all of my original experiences with Sonic CD involved the American soundtrack, I came to love the Japanese version when the new Taxman version of the game was released on modern platforms.  Nowadays, I play with whichever soundtrack I feel like at the time, because they are both wonderful and interesting scores.

Besides, does there exist a Sonic game with bad music anyway?

Oh yea. (Screenshot courtesy of segabits.com)

Sonic CD can currently be found on Steam, Xbox, PS3, Ouya, Apple and Android devices.

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