Here and Back Again
Sonic CD opens with Sonic racing towards Never Lake, home of the fabled, mysterious Planet of Time: Little Planet. Much to its namesake Little Planet is a planet which quite literally hovers above Never Lake's waters. When our blue mascot arrives, he finds that the planet has been encased in a metal exterior and chained to a nearby mountain. Seems Sonic's arch rival; Dr. Robotnik has trapped the planet and is using the planet's power over time to conquer Little Planet's past, affecting the present and future, the latter of which Eggman resides in enjoying the spoils of his robot's work shaping the past. Sonic's adventure to stop the evil madman will be made all the more difficult this time as the Eggman has created a mechanical counterpart to him, the aptly named and fan-favourite: "Metal Sonic". There's also the introduction of eventually-annoying-side-character; Amy Rose in this game, though why she appears is beyond me as she does nothing to progress the plot, appears in-game a grand total of 3 times; one of which when she is kidnapped by Metal Sonic (for no reason) and another when she's saved late-on into the game. That's it. Still, for a game which was by far the least played Sonic game in the 90's, Sonic CD made a big impact on the Sonic series on the whole, mostly with the lasting design of Metal Sonic, which would be re-designed Sonic 3, with that design being completely ignored there-after.
The Gem That Time Nearly Forgot
One thing which is a bit hit-or-miss for most people is stage design. Some people like Sonic CD's somewhat convoluted stage design while others hate it. Personally, I take the game as a breath of fresh air. Stages don't make an awful lot of sense when seen at a glance and yes, there are some ridiculous moments in this game which will want to make you tear your hair out just thinking about it. Metallic Madness Zone 3, for instance, is the very last stage in the game which has an opening portion that would make a Saint curse until he was blue in the face. I can't begin to explain how frustrating that part of the stage is, you just have to experience the tedium yourself to understand the pain. Overall the game is very well constructed and isn't as cluttered and visually jarring as many parts of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and isn't as conformative to platforming norms as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is. Pretty much the entire game is based around the idea that you can back-track through the whole stage, if you wanted to, and this is where the notion of Sonic CD being a traditional Sonic game is kind-of shattered. I say kind-of, because you can blast through the whole game in about half an hour just by playing the game as it were a standard Sonic outing, in-fact you're rewarded with extra in-game goodies if you can complete the game through the Time Trial menus with a time less than 25 minutes or so. But the game offers more by having you seek out the Robot Teleporters in the past to see each world's "Good Futures" and have somewhat hilarious coloured bosses in the boss stages.
In the end, Sonic CD is created to just be fun. And it is; save for Wacky Workbench, you'll have repeated play-throughs of fun with the zany time-travel, interesting boss encounters and the ability to back-track through stages. Notable stages in the game include Palmtree Panic, the very first stage in the game, just because it's a really memorable opening stage to a Sonic game, unlike Emerald Hill Zone (Sonic 2) or Angel Island Zone (Sonic 3) which are less impressionable on you when you look back at their respective games of origin, Collision Chaos, the second stage is your traditional Sonic pinball stage, but done right for once. There's lots of traps that will still get you, but the pinball mechanics aren't over-played and the whole stage isn't as garish as Carnival Night Zone in Sonic 3. Then there's Stardust Speedway where you race-off against Metal Sonic... There's just so many memorable parts of the game, a testament to stage design done right. I mentioned in passing the game's bosses and this is yet another place where Sonic CD really got things right.
Unlike older Sonic bosses and bosses thereafter, Sonic CD didn't much care for "keep hitting the boss until it blows up" as a lasting mechanic. Instead, Sonic CD opts for an almost puzzle-like boss design. For instance, a good example of this is Tidal Tempest, the game's dedicated water level, the boss here takes place completely underwater, Sonic being Sonic can't actually breathe underwater and after not too long, he'll start to drown unless he surfaces out of the water or finds an air bubble. But, the catch here is that Robotnik's ship creates air bubbles around him, so that by jumping at Robotnik, you'll hit an air bubble and be saved from drowning, but will be pushed away from Robotnik while he shoots projectiles at you which you're vulnerable to after hitting an air bubble. You whittle away the number of air bubbles he has until you find an exposed part of the ship and a single direct hit will take it down. These sorts of boss encounters are far more engaging and clever than anything any of the Megadrive Sonic games attempted and it's one of the things I love about Sonic CD.
Mode-7", a piece of old-school trickery to give the illusion of 3D on 2D-capable hardware. Unfortunately, since the game only pretends to be 3D, there's a lot of perspective-based problems which Sonic CD falls victim to. In these Special Stages, you need to hit 7 UFOs which fly around an almost race-track-like area. You have a set given amount of time to destroy all the UFOs, successfully taking down all the UFOs nets you a Time Stone. There are other hazards though, stepping on any water rapidly drains your time, hitting black zig-zag-filled squares on the floor will make you trip, giant arrows on the ground are boost pads which may send you off in the wrong direction and there's springs and fans which will throw you high into the air. Of course, the main problem with these stages aren't so much the traps or stage design per-se, instead it's more about how Sonic drives like a tank and has the turning circle of a small planet, mix this together with the fact that to hit a UFO you have to commit to a jump well in advance else you will phase through it with your jumps. It is really frustrating. The Special Stages are a super-cool idea and impressive technology demo, but it just wasn't done right. Better controls and better compensation for poor perspective would have been much more appreciated, but then again, this was before the "3D hell" of the late 90's and early naught-ies when the industry started to get good at 3D.
Remaking the Past
One thing that irks me slightly about this new version of Sonic CD is that for the Japanese soundtrack, the vocal track has been removed from the game. I was quite upset about his, especially considering how awesome the full, lyrical versions of "Sonic: You Can Do Anything" (or "Toot Toot Sonic Warrior" as it's sometimes referred to), the opening song and "Cosmic Eternity" the ending song, really are. Sadly, it seems that some legal issue prevented the inclusion of the songs, there's some undisclosed rights issue to the song's lyrics which SEGA didn't have domain over and unfortunately, due to the fact Casey Rankin, songwriter for these tunes, is no longer with us; there may not be a whole lot of room for SEGA to do anything about this. Still, I thought I should mention it in passing as the songs' lyrics are indeed missing and replaced by a synth line... I think they should have just removed the lyrics rather than replace them with something which wasn't lyrics, but there you go. Can't expect much money to be thrown at a £1.99 downloadable title, not for licensing some lyrics at great expense, anyway.
One unfortunate note about the Android version of the game is that you'll need to download some additional assets for the game in order to play. Essentially, you only get part of the game through the Android Market and will go through SEGA's servers to get the rest of the game. These servers have been the bane of the Android version, especially near-launch as they were constantly and consistently slow and unresponsive. I'm unsure as to the state of the servers post-launch, but you'll take that gamble if you decide to opt for the Android version of the game, which is a pretty good gamble to make, as it's a very good version of the game if you want some Sonic CD to go.
A Good Future
Story holds things together and is a bit more persistant than other Sonic games, but nothing really special. Metal Sonic is perhaps the best thing to come from it.
Not your usual Sonic game, for sure, but very enjoable and rewards adventure unlike any Sonic game before or after it.
For a game released in 1993 the game still holds up in 720p, be that on your TV (even with software filters turned off) or your phone.
Well, what can I say? I love the Japanese soundtrack to Sonic CD. Not so hot on the US soundtrack, but choice of soundtrack will be made by purely nostalgic reasons, I'm sure.
1 HourA single play-through will take about an hour. You can speed through in about 25 minutes, but you're not getting everything awesome out of the game by rushing, oddly enough.