Classics Revisited: Sega’s CD Experiment

If you ask anyone who grew up in the 16-bit era what the best video game company was, chances are they’ll say Nintendo or Sega. The companies were rivals during the early and mid-90s, each with their distinct mascot. Nintendo had Mario, and Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sega released the first Sonic game on the Sega Genesis to much success, and went to work on a sequel. However, Sonic 1’s lead programmer, Yuki Naka, and the original creator of Sonic, Naoto Oshima, didn’t agree on a vision for the second game, so each made their own games. Naka’s game became Sonic the Hedgehog 2, released for the Genesis in 1992, and Oshima’s game became Sonic CD, released for the Sega CD in 1993. While Sonic 2 is often called the best game in the series, there is a vocal minority that says Sonic CD is the best. I recently picked up a Sega CD and a copy of Sonic CD to play.

The first thing I have to mention is the CD format. The Sega CD was one of the earliest CD-based game systems. Games for the system had CD quality audio and a higher capacity format. However, because of the CD format there are also some annoying load times, and though there is a cool opening cinematic animated by Toei, the video takes up only a small portion of the screen, is very pixilated and has a somewhat washed-out look to it.

The gameplay is about the same as other classic Sonic games. It’s a 2D side scrolling platformer where you play as Sonic, a blue hedgehog gifted with incredible speed. You need to make it to the end of each level avoiding enemies and pitfalls while collecting as many rings as possible. However, there’s a twist not present in other Sonic games. Your nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, is using the time-travelling properties of a mysterious moon-sized planet called Little Planet to create a new base for his evil machines. Because of this, Sonic will come across signs that say ‘Past’ and ‘Future’. By touching these signs and getting enough speed, Sonic will travel to the past or future, depending on what sign he touched. To get the best ending in the game, Sonic has to go back in the past in all levels and destroy a ‘robot generator’. However, this time travel system is rendered somewhat pointless by the fact that you can also get the best ending by collecting seven Time Stones. If Sonic beats a stage and has more than 50 rings, he gets transported to a bonus round where he runs around in a pseudo-3D environment and has to destroy flying robots in a certain amount of time. If he does, he earns a Time Stone. This is far less time consuming than scouring through every last inch of the Past levels trying to find a robot generator. I think it would have been better if they left out the whole time travelling component.

I’m also a little iffy on how Sonic controls at times. The way Sonic moves is based on the first game, not the second, so he doesn’t move as quickly. However, one Sonic 2 feature present in Sonic CD is the Spin Dash. By holding down and rapidly tapping the jump button, you can ‘rev up’ your speed and when you release the down button, you will blaze along at a very fast pace. Unfortunately, while this was tons of fun to do in Sonic 2, in Sonic CD I was rarely able to pull it off.

The soundtrack is where things get interesting. There are actually two different soundtracks for this game: the one used in Japan and Europe, and the one used in North America. The JP/EU soundtrack has an upbeat j-pop sound to it, whereas the North American soundtrack is more atmospheric and moody. While soundtracks that create mood and atmosphere are great (look at Donkey Kong Country, Silent Hill, and Ecco the Dolphin), for a Sonic game it doesn’t seem to fit. The North American version has an awesome song called ‘Sonic Boom’ though, which is my favourite song in the Sonic series, so it has at least has one redeeming factor.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Sonic CD. If you’re a fan of 2D platformers and Sonic games, you should definitely check it out. The game is easy to acquire. It was included in the Sonic Gems Collection for PlayStation 2 and GameCube, containing 9 of the more obscure Sonic games. Expect to pay $10-$12 for it. There’s also an HD version for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android, and Windows. This version is redone in a high definition, widescreen format, has the Spin Dash physics of Sonic 2 (hooray!) allows you to play as Tails once you beat the game, and allows you to select from either the

North American or JP/EU soundtracks. This is the best version of the game, and will only cost you around $5. If you’re a purist like me and want the original Sonic CD game, expect to pay around $10 for it.

Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!

By Nick