Sonic CDlikePEGI3 Developer Christian Whitehead Publisher SEGA Genre Action Platform Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Android, iOS Release 14th December 2011 To mark the 25th Anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, I looked back at the last 10 years of SEGA's beloved mascot and found that he's hit on hard times. Sonic Colours was a bit of a "Marmite Moment" for the franchise, as it seems fans either love or hate the game, myself being in the former group. Still, there's hope. And one of the two new Sonic games released last year, released along side the new instalment to the franchise; Sonic Generations, SEGA has taken the only logical step in trying to undo some of the damage done to the reputation of their franchise... They've gone straight to the fans themselves and plucked Christian Whitehead -- developer of the "Retro Engine", a fan-made Sonic the Hedgehog game engine -- to remake a beloved fan-favourite Sonic game: Sonic CD. So is this ground-up recreation the start of something special or is it just business as usual for SEGA and modern Sonic games and just plain awful? Let's have a look.

Here and Back Again

Yep, it's Sonic CD.
It's funny that the first faithful remake of a Sonic the Hedgehog game had to be the almost "forgotten gem" of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise; Sonic the Hedgehog CD, released on the Mega CD back in 1993 and developed by a completely separate branch of SEGA that worked on any part of the Sonic franchise thereafter. Sonic CD is perhaps the most least-known major Sonic game instalment to date, which is a huge shame considering it's also one of the best, most progressive Sonic games of the 90's. Due to a whole raft of boring technical reasons, the game hasn't been released on a lot of platforms since its initial release, unlike many of the other Sonic games on the Megadrive which can be found on mobile phones and pretty much every major consoles' digital-download storefronts. Still, the game has received a much-welcomed ground-up remake for pretty much every system imaginable except the Wii. To that extent, this review will cover both Xbox 360 and Android versions of the game, the differences between the two are minor, very, very minor but we'll touch on differences in a little bit.

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

Good Future
I mentioned before that Sonic CD is an almost "forgotten gem" of the Sonic franchise and I meant it. It ranks highly on my personal "Best Platformer" rankings, with good cause. But there's a reason why I consider Sonic the Hedgehog 3 a superior game, in-fact there's several reasons. But before we linger on the negatives, let's talk positives. Sonic CD was, for its time, a radical platforming game. It introduced an almost seamless time-travel system whereby you could launch yourself into the past or future at any time by hitting "Past" or "Present" signposts dotted around stages and then run at near full-speed for around 5 seconds. Time travel was a pretty big thing in the 90's, mostly because of the influence of the "Back to the Future" films, so the concept on the whole wasn't all that novel at the time but execution of the time travel mechanic and how meaningful it was to the game without being out-of-place is perhaps one of the biggest achievements Sonic CD has. While not immediately apparent, there's a side-mission to every stage in Sonic CD which revolves around saving the future. To do so, you need to travel into the past and undo Robotnik's meddling, destroying his Robot Teleporters (causing all enemies within that stage to blow up) and destroying machines which produce holograms that scares away wildlife, however destroying the robot teleporter is the only thing which nets you a "Good Future." Get all "Good Futures" in all zones and you'll save Little Planet. Alternatively, you can collect all the Time Stones, this game's equivalent of the Chaos Emeralds, to automatically be given a "Good Future" and the best ending the game has to offer.

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.

Old School 3D, aw yeah.
Of course, there's more negatives about this game which I need to cover. Special Stages. Now, I could live with Sonic 1's Special Stages, I could cope somewhat with Sonic 2's special stages and I loved Sonic 3's special stages... But Sonic CD's Special Stages are by far the most aggravating part of this game. Showcasing the amazing power of the Mega CD at the time, Sonic CD's Special Stages utilised the buzz-word of the 90's: "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

Well that's unfortunate colouring.
Now we get to talk about the the re-release of Sonic CD itself, the 2011 remake of the game. And yes, it's a from-the-ground-up remake of the game developed by Christian Whitehead, an industrious soul who has done Sonic proud. Having logged many, many hours into Sonic CD over the years, I can tell you that the work this fine gentleman has done easily trumps any remake of a Sonic game before it. Sonic CD looks and, more importantly, feels exactly like Sonic CD. The physics are all in place, the game has both American and Japanese/European soundtracks, a choice of Spindash options and as an added bonus, the game's Special Stages run at a smooth 60 frames per second. Not to mention the whole game now takes place in native widescreen, no stretching or any other trickery. Native 16:9, joy oh joy. There's a bit of creative license going on in the game at certain points, the new, fancy in-game menus are all brand new to this version of the game, which some may lament the passing of the more simplistic menu design found in the original Sonic CD, but given all the new options and settings the game gives you, it's understandable to see why a change of menus was on the cards.

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.

Devious. So, so devious.
Still, I've played the game quite extensively on both Xbox Live Arcade and on Android, so let's talk about the differences in console and mobile versions of the game. There's not an awful lot in it. The game is pretty much Sonic CD regardless of platform. The mobile version has a slightly re-worked HUD to keep your extra life counter, time period and signpost indicator away from your thumbs at the bottom of the screen, for example. I played the game on the HTC Desire and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, while the Desire chugs a little making the game seem like Sonic was running through treacle, the Galaxy Nexus was far more accommodating of the game and ran perfectly fine, so moral of the story here: If you're hoping to get the game running on older hardware you may have to deal with a bit of lag. The touchscreen controls might be a slight turn-off for some, but they work really well. I only have a few rare instances of unresponsive controls or pressing the wrong direction by mistake. I only just wish I had semi-transparent thumbs, as sometimes my fleshy appendages can block on-coming hazards at floor-level, most noticeable during the Metal Sonic race near the end of the game. Haven't been able to play the iOS version of the game, however I will assume it's as responsive as the Android version of the game.

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

Quartz Quadrant, best zone in the game.
Sonic CD is the perfect example of remaking a game right. Other companies have made a good habit out of faithfully remaking their back-catalogue of games, Square Enix being notable for their awesome remakes of the Final Fantasy series on Gameboy Advance and DS, not to mention the more recent remake of Chrono Trigger for DS. SEGA either emulates or royally screws up any port they seem to embark on, so it's nice to see Sonic CD get the update it so desperately needed. Now let's hope SEGA takes this whatever magic is powering this remake and uses it for future games like, I don't know, the recently announced Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, which they're already talking up "improved physics" and availability on all the same platforms Sonic CD is available on... So one can only hope. Still, Sonic CD is a great Sonic game, not without its flaws but a solid game which will happily see you through repeated plays and is a perfect pick-up-and-play on your morning commute on mobiles. I'd definitely urge you to at least play the demos on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.
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 Hour
A 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.