Another great game with an anniversary I just couldn’t ignore; today marks the 20th anniversary of the Japanese release of the brilliant Sonic CD.
Developed by a different team at the same time as Sonic 2, Sonic CD was released in 1993 between the releases of Sonic 2 and 3. I remember as a kid pouring over the official Sega magazine as they previewed the game with art and screenshots, but as we couldn’t afford the Mega CD expansion (which the internet informs me cost over £250 at the time of release!) I never got to play it at the time so all I had to tide me over until Sonic 3 were these screenshots of a game young me thought I’d never get to play.
Of course, that never happened, and I got older and bought my own Mega CD (for £15! Thanks GameStation!) And the first game I bought for it had to be Sonic CD.
And I was blown away. The levels were enormous and colourful, especially when you made use of the time travel gimmick and went to the past of each zone. Each zone has an alliterative name like Collision Chaos or Wacky Workbench. As well as the standard continue points, each level has multiple past and future signposts, which allow Sonic to travel in time. Travelling to the past and destroying Dr. Robotnik’s Eggman’s machines creates a good future where everything is green and happy. Failing to do so causes you to fight the boss in the third act in a version of the zone where everything has been replaced by machinery.
The signature Sonic series special stages are also present, this time taking place in a Mode 3-esque 3D environment, where Sonic needs to destroy all the UFOs in the area within the time limit to collect the Time Stones (which are basically the Chaos Emeralds but with a different name, just because) and either collecting all of these or creating the good future for every zone will give you the good ending to the game.
As it was developed at the same time as Sonic 2, it lacks the spin dash that that game added (though this is added in most later ports) and instead featured a ‘peel out’ move which let Sonic speed up on the spot and giving his feet an odd ‘rubber band’ effect. It looked different but performed much the same function.
The game has one final gimmick, although this is sadly confined to the last zone, where Sonic can get zapped by a shrink ray to get through smaller areas. This doesn’t make a drastic difference to how he controls, but it’s a nice change and does give us a superb tiny sprite for him.
Two new major characters were added to the series with this game; Amy Rose, Sonic’s would be girlfriend (who was then promptly forgotten about for several years) and the Metal Sonic who has become a recurring villain in the series and has a great visual design. He’s most recently been seen in Sonic 4 Episode II, which acts as a sequel to this game... somehow. I’m not quite sure how the numbering is supposed to work.
Retrospectively, I don’t feel the level designs are as strong as the core Sonic games, with later levels becoming more of a maze than cool areas that you can speed through, and the some of the Badnik designs are a bit lacking in originality, as a lot look similar to existing enemy designs. They also are increasingly uncommon particularly in the latter stages as the environmental hazards take priority. Even so, each zone has a distinctive look, and some great music. There is some sense of familiarity with the zones too, the traps of Metallic Madness in particular very much harken back to the Scrap Brain Zone from the original game.
It’s since been re-released several times, with a late 90s PC port (which I never played, but was apparently quite broken), followed by releases on the PlayStation 2 and Gamecube as part of the Sonic Gems Collection and an excellent widescreen HD remake by Christian Whitehead on pretty much everything about at the moment (Xbox 360, PS3, Steam, Android, iOS and Windows Phone). The images here are from the Android version.
The new ports also allow for the choice of either the Japanese or American soundtracks to the game – we got the Japanese version for the original European release. The Sonic Gems release only had the American music which was my first experience of it, and I much prefer the Japanese tracks that I remember from my first playthrough, though a lot of the American soundtrack is pretty decent so that might just be nostalgia talking. Sadly Sega couldn’t sort the rights to the vocals to the Japanese intro and outro tracks that play over the fantastic anime cutscenes, so we get instrumental versions of these instead.
At this stage I’d expect everyone reading this has some device or other capable of playing the game, and if you’ve not played it and have any interest in platforming games at all I’d strongly recommend giving it a play, especially as it can be got for as little as a couple of pounds.