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Sonic CD – Review

Many, many moons ago, back in the days of yore when everyone dressed gawd-awful, MTV was actually about music, and watching the new Terminator 2 movie meant getting a VHS rental, there was a discolored, anthropomorphic hedgehog in shoes. And he didn’t even suck.  (Shocker, I know) Truth be told, I have gone to the mountain top and have seen it for myself. Before Sonic became an absolute laughing-stock; before he was “Sanic”; before every single one of his games became another twist of the blade in Sega’s metaphorical Seppuku, and before he was ever transformed into…

…this douchebag…

Sonic platformers actually had some charm! After playing through the HD port of the 1993 release for the Genesis add-on, the Sega CD, I came away pleasantly surprised by how fun it was. It’s one of the most pure “videogame” experiences I’ve ever had. I even felt compelled to go ahead and play it a second time over, determined to complete it faster and with more finesse. If you enjoy older games, or are just looking for something other than a first person shooter to waste a day or two on, this game is the answer. The game has some annoyingly difficult parts to it, but is nonetheless, quite possibly the best Sonic game ever made. And no, unlike my previous review, I say that with no sarcasm.Sonic’s story is exactly what it needs to be in this game: defeat Robotnik. No dumbass dialogue. No cringe-inducing relationships. No voice acting that makes you literally roll on the floor laughing at how terribad it is. Just plain and simple, beat the bad guy. After coming face to face with the game’s garishly 90’s styled main menu screen, the game begins with a short animated sequence (yes, real drawn animation!), that immediately hits you over the head with the “90’s kid” thing. The cartoon shows the somewhat childlike Sonic running through a valley and defying the laws of physics (as he should), before gazing upon what is essentially a Death Star ripoff floating in the sky. That’s it. There’s the set up. The game doesn’t bother you with trying to make the game anything more than what it’s supposed to be – just a fun game. The only notable twist is the game’s introduction of the Metal Sonic character, one of the few things I’ve ever found legitimately cool in a Sonic game. The guy will f*ck you up, and he’ll do it in cold blood. It felt oddly refreshing. Not only is his silent, malevolent presence unnerving, but it was a brilliant touch adding in a villain who could mirror the speed of the blue marsupial. Kudos from 20+ years in the future, 90’s Japanese developers! Also genuinely cool:  when Sonic is hauling so much ass that his legs turn into a goddamn infinity symbol. Getting Sonic to stay that sprite feels more badass than anything Shadow the Hedgehog ever provided. *is forced to resist including an image of him so as not to die of secondhand embarrassment*Enough about the window dressing though, how good is this game you ask? Well, I’ll tell ya, son, it’s fun. Damn fun. (Now get off my lap) The majority of the game takes the player through a series of stylistically different worlds, each one with various one-off environmental nuances, and each ending in a fight against Robotnik. The levels are a nice variety of things you’d expect, like the obligatory water levels, as well as new changes to the formula, like the insanely bouncy floors of Wacky Workbench. I was impressed by how many different things they’d managed to put into this game. Pipes, conveyor belts, a shrink ray, and a slew of other environmental doodads are littered all over the levels for Sonic to interact with. If you’re one of those people who carry the misconception that Sonic is all about moving from the left side of the screen to the right as fast as you possibly can, then you may want to curb that notion before playing this the first time around. Not only are the levels incredibly dense with varying paths and areas to explore, but the game will punt you in the rear end for trying to  blaze through it willy-nilly. Older videogames are notorious for being generally more difficult than games of today, and it’s true. Sega gave those 90’s kids no mercy. There are parts in this game (like the race against Metal Sonic) that will have you calling BS twenty to thirty times before realizing that the only way to get through it is to get better. This isn’t to say that it isn’t annoying sometimes. I mean, I can deal with the piles of spikes, or the spring board placed right at the end of a level with the sole purpose of shooting you backwards and messing up your time, but certain gameplay designs are frustrating. For instance, if Sonic lands on the middle section of a walkway angled at 45 degrees, for God knows what reason, he simply can NOT walk up the ramp. Seriously?? You have the legs of the Flash and yet you can’t muster the momentum required to walk up a tiny slope? It’s irritating and a cause for lost immersion. *Poof.* Gone. Fortunately, only a couple levels had areas where this could happen. Two features differentiate CD from its counterparts. The first and most obvious one is the inclusion of time travel. Yes, time travel is a thing that Sonic is capable of, apparently. When going through story mode, certain posts labeled past or future can be ran past. At which point, assuming you can keep traveling at a consistently fast pace for a few seconds, Sonic will literally run through time. In this case, into one of two alternate versions of the level. These levels have a unique look and soundtrack to them, and occasionally contain entirely different level layouts. The feeling of accomplishment derived from warping space-time was enough  exhilaration to entertain me every time (because I’m 7 years old and easily entertained), but there is a purpose for the gimmick besides simply being awesome. The game includes in both the past and future, statues of Robotnik and Metal Sonic generators, which the player is encouraged to find and destroy. However, the reward for your diligence is utterly disappointing. The game features two different endings. One in which Sonic manages to destroy all statues and generators, and one where he doesn’t. Literally, the only significant difference in the ending is that the “good” ending has flowers in the final shot… Needless to say, when I figured that out, I didn’t see the reason to bother. But if you’re into collecting achievements, I suppose there’s that too. The other aspect of the game worth talking about is the bonus levels. (pictured above) Wow. So apparently after ending a level with 60 or more rings in his wallet, Sonic drops acid like nobody’s business and is teleported (through a giant ring no less) to a 3D world in which you must run around and destroy… UFO’s?? It’s easily the strangest bonus stage set-up in any Sonic game, but collecting the Chaos Emera-… err… “time stones” in CD is the most fun I had out of any of them. The bizarre Mode 7 graphics, coupled with trippy backdrops that’ll have you swearing he’s cross-faded, had me trying my hardest to not lose any rings just so I could see what the next one looked like. I only managed to beat a couple of them (they’re pretty difficult and you only get one shot at them), but they were an excellent inclusion to the game, nevertheless.

Back in the early 90’s, the words “sonic” and “game” were met with praise and excitement (or bitter trash talk if you only played Super Nintendo), rather than the outbursts of laughter it has since earned. As adamantly as it seems that Sega is trying to get the last few diehards to stop liking their current Sonic games (seriously, who are these people?), there was a time when Sonic meant excellent platforming. The fact that this game has been made easily available and for dirt cheap on PSN and Xbox Arcade was a good move, and means there’s really no excuse for passing up Sonic at his peak. The inclusion of Time Trials which allow you to choose whatever level you want, the HD visuals, the inclusion of Tails as an unlockable character, and the ability to switch between the Japanese and American soundtracks (the former is more electronic-jazz fusion, the latter more 90’s rock guitar) are all worthwhile bullet points of the new remaster. Initial playthroughs can last between 2 and 3 hours depending on skill level, and repeats an hour or less, making it a quick pick-up-and-play type of game. It isn’t long, but it doesn’t need to be. It offers a (mostly) enjoyable and rewarding experience from beginning to end and doesn’t over stay its welcome. This one is getting a big and broad-reaching recommendation and should be considered a “must play before you die” game. You’d have to be a pretty soulless husk to have a bad time with Sonic CD. This is quality gaming. Obligatory Number at the End: 9/10