Gaming has a rich history that spans multiple decades. To this end, The Last Word on Gaming Backlog is a series that looks back on titles across all generations. From the golden 8-bit era to the landscape-changing 64-bit scene and beyond, The LWOG Backlog’s aim is history. Save the planet from disaster with one of “The Blue Blur’s” most unique outings – Sonic CD for Sega CD.
Sonic CD for Sega CD – An Overview
Released in 1991 in Japan and the following year in North America, the Sega CD was an interesting experiment in gaming. This Sega Genesis add-on utilized CD technology, which was an exciting innovation in gaming at the time. What this would do, in theory, was help developers create games that boasted better graphics, sharper audio, and more refined user experiences. Though the Sega CD was seen as a commercial failure, it developed a cult following, mainly due to its catalog of software. One of the defining titles of the platform was Sonic CD, which was developed and published by Sega before seeing a 1993 release.
Early in its development, Sonic CD for Sega CD was conceptualized as an enhanced port of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Among other features, it would feature animated cutscenes and a fully orchestrated soundtrack. While Yuji Naka, the lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, developed the Genesis sequel alongside Sega Technical Institute in North America, Sonic Team in Japan worked on a title tentatively known as CD Sonic the Hedgehog; the latter would later become Sonic CD. Regarded by many fans as the best game in the series, how does Sonic CD hold up decades later? Let’s take a step back through time.
In Sonic CD, Dr. Robotnik is at his nefarious antics once again. His latest scheme consists of him chaining Little Planet, which appears on the last month of every year, to a mountain. Using Little Planet as a base, Robotnik endeavors to build his own robotic army and fortress. To make this a possibility, however, he must use the Time Stones, which are the main gimmick of this title. Always the cocky yet honorable hero, Sonic sets out to thwart the evil doctor, all the while ensuring that he doesn’t gain possession of the Time Stones.
Though its story is somewhat more nuanced than the previous two Sonic games on Genesis, Sonic CD largely boils down to the iconic blue hero returning justice to the world. Interestingly enough, this game marks the series debut of Amy Rose, a bubbly pink hedgehog that considers herself the girlfriend of Sonic, albeit to the latter’s reluctance. She would go on to become a recurring character, even being playable in such titles as Sonic Adventure and Sonic Advance.
The conventions that the previous games in the series implemented remain largely intact in Sonic CD for Sega CD. Sonic still moves at a fast pace, collects rings to not only sustain his life force but earn extra lives, and battles bosses when he reaches the end of different zones. Simply put, from a mechanical standpoint, Sonic CD should feel familiar to fans of the series. Where the game differs, however, is in its time travel mechanic, which has generated mixed reactions from players.
With each zone comes three versions to traverse: one in the past, one in the present, and the final in the future. Sonic accesses different times by traveling past signs, building enough speed so that he can either move back or forward in time. From there, Sonic can locate and destroy hidden transporters; doing so will change the zone’s future, and by proxy, the ending the player receives when they complete the game. Due to how expansive levels are, finding transporters may be easier said than done, as they are often cleverly hidden. However, this isn’t the only way to receive the best ending, which is where the special stages come into play.
Not unlike the original Sonic the Hedgehog, by finishing a level with 50 rings, the player will enter a special stage. In these areas, Sonic must locate and destroy six UFOs to receive Time Stones; think of these as Sonic CD‘s Chaos Emeralds. By collecting all seven Time Stones, each zone creates a good future. While special stages in Sonic games have been a point of contention for many, often due to their high difficulty, Sonic CD‘s special stages feel intuitive and fair. Furthermore, the 3D environments these stages boast are indicative of the Sega CD’s technical capabilities.
Presentation (Graphics and Sound)
On the surface, Sonic CD for Sega CD doesn’t look drastically different from the titles released on Genesis. Nonetheless, the series’ use of bright colors and sharp visuals remains intact, as to not feel like a noticeable deviation. However, there are instances when the Sega CD’s capabilities are more noticeable, such as when Sonic runs up a half-pipe and the camera snaps behind him. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the game’s iconic opening cinematic, the upbeat, energizing Sonic Boom song providing the perfect backdrop. Visually, Sonic CD impresses, even when the expansive levels feel overwhelming at times.
Sonic CD‘s audio is perhaps more interesting. Depending on whether you play the game in North America or Japan or Europe, you will have listened to a unique soundtrack to your region. Despite this, both soundtracks are solid, capturing the fast-paced nature of the game in question. As expected, the North American soundtrack feels more in line with American music. Meanwhile, the soundtrack Japan and Europe received songs that sound more appropriate for the Sonic series. One won’t go wrong listening to either.
In Sonic CD for Sega CD, a straight shot to the end credits doesn’t take long. In fact, a standard run may take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours. However, with two separate endings, one can potentially double their time playing the game. This is especially true given the cryptic nature of the transporters scattered about different levels, not to mention the difficulty of special stages ramping up as the game progresses. While Sonic CD may not be the longest game in the series, there is still a fair amount of meat on the proverbial bones to be seen.
Given the less-than-stellar commercial success of the Sega CD, Sonic CD punched well above its weight. Consider the fact that it sold over 1.5 million units, making it the best-selling game on the CD-based platform. Furthermore, it gained the adulation of fans, many of whom believe it to be the best title in the series. This isn’t to say that Sonic CD was the only notable title the Sega CD had to offer, as the likes of Snatcher and the Lunar series shared similarly rarefied air.
Sonic CD would see a PC release in 1996 before finding its way onto Sonic Gems Collection in 2005. Arguably the best version to play today is the Christian Whitehead remaster, which includes a widescreen presentation, access to both Sonic CD soundtracks, and the ability to play as Tails, just to name a few features. Simply put, you won’t have to dust off your old Sega CD or track down a used unit online to experience this cult classic.