Instead, levels allow and encourage you to backtrack as you hunt for time posts and Hologram transporters, even degenerating into wide-open, multi-tiered sections linked by disappearing platforms. It’s a constant assault on your preconceptions about how a Sonic game should work, which makes it feel like a new game if you come to it fresh today.
And that’s where the best news of all comes in. The original Mega CD version suffered from some dropped frames and now-fuzzy RF connections. But the game was recently remastered from the ground up and released on PSN, Xbox 360, PC and iOS. It’s a stunning conversion, especially on handheld iDevices where it’s arguably the greatest handheld Sonic game ever.
And then there's the way the story is delivered. Fancy FMV cartoon intro and ending aside, it's all told through gameplay and in-engine set-pieces. Amy isn't annoying (being just a pink hedgehog, she's actually an obvious and likable love interest for Sonic), Metal Sonic looks deliciously evil, and Robotnik is a pure pantomime villain, especially when he turns up in his pink contraption in the Good Future of Palmtree Panic.
Completing the game doesn’t take a mammoth effort and can be achieved in a couple of hours, roughly double the time it takes to finish one of the original Sonic games. However, completing it properly will take much longer, and that's where the game's hidden depths really shine through.
The game awards you a Time Crystal for successfully completing a Special stage, which works in much the same way as the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 1. Get them all to see the true ending. But you can also get the true ending by disregarding the Time Crystals and concentrating on fixing every act of every level with the time travel mechanic.
Which ever way you do it, fact is there’s a load of content (including Tails in the new version as a playable character) that you might not see on your first playthrough thanks to the various versions of the future you can shape. And all of them have something of worth to see and do. It’s just a pity such a great game didn’t find a home on mass-market hardware until almost 20 years after its initial release.
Still, at least it’s here now. For anyone longing for a proper 'new' 2D Sonic, this is unquestionably it.
"Why _____ is one of the greatest games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.