As far as classic Sonic goes, Sonic CD is definitely the odd man out of the bunch. Where Sonic 2 and 3 were developed in the US under the supervision of Yuji Naka and other Japanese staff, Sonic CD was headed up back in Japan by Sonic’s creator, Naoto Ohshima. The result was a game that, despite releasing after Sonic 2, felt closer in tone and play to the first game, and which boasted an aesthetic feel seemingly inspired by late 80s/early 90s anime. It was quite an ambitious and experimental title, but because of this, Sonic CD also felt strangely divorced from the rest of the titles in the franchise. It’s this quirky, distinct feel that also makes it the favorite Sonic game of many a series fan – who are no doubt delighted to see the game getting a downloadable re-release.
The core mechanics of Sonic CD will be instantly familiar – run, jump, spin-dash, bounces amongst springs and speed boosters, you know the drill. But there’s a huge game-changer tossed into the typical Sonic mix as well: the element of time travel. The Little Planet, where the game takes place, has a strange flow of time, and Sonic is able to propel himself into one of these time periods by touching a special signpost, then building (and maintaining) sufficient speed. Each stage has up to four different variations: a present, a past, and two possible future versions, each with changes in appearance, layout, and gimmickry.
The present is pretty straightforward, while the past is slightly more difficult, as Eggman’s machines have been freshly installed there, and thus are still abundant and fully functional. The default future, meanwhile, tends to be easier, as enemies and devices have all broken down from years of wear and tear. However, the future itself looks outright depressing, filled with ruined robotics, polluted waters, and brown and gray color palettes. You do have control over the future, though – by traveling to the past and destroying some of the devices set up there, you can create a beautiful, colorful, completely enemy-free good future to zip through.
The preview build of Sonic CD at PAX only had a single level – Palmtree Panic – available to play, but it still allowed us to observe some of the various enhancements and improvements being made to the game. Fans of the title will know that Sonic actually has both his classic spin-dash and a somewhat faster “peel out” move for building up an instant burst of speed. The spin dash in the original game felt awkward and limited in functionality, as though it was hastily thrown in due to its presence in Sonic 2. This spin dash has now been replaced with something that feels and behaves more like the other classic Sonic games, which makes it far more useful – though it may have the unfortunate side effect of rendering the peel out useless. (We’ll continue to use it because it just looks cooler.) The special stages in the Sega CD original were also notorious for looking pretty awful: Sonic ran around chasing down UFOs on a field that used rotation effects similar to the SNES’s Mode 7, only running at a far choppier framerate and looking like an ugly, muddy mess of colors and patterns. This has been fixed so that the stage layout scrolls incredibly smoothly, making the stages look better than ever before but keeping their distinct 16-bit charm fully intact.
The audio and visuals are also a treat. The graphics have been improved to support widescreen display, but maintain their original pixel dimensions. Sega promises some smoothing filters down the line if the blocky pixel look isn’t your thing, but even without it, we think this game has never looked better. The sound effects are accurate to the Sega CD original, and the use of the Japanese/European soundtrack is also a first for the North American market. The North American soundtrack wasn’t present in the version we tested, and when asked about the possibility of being able to switch between the very different US and Japanese/European soundtracks for the game, the Sega representative at the show mentioned that it couldn’t be completely ruled out, but lingering rights issues were in the way.
As it stands, the new download edition of Sonic CD looks to be the best port ever of one of Sonic’s most unique adventures. We’re eager to see how the rest of the game looks post-transition, as well as what sort of extras and goodies will be included in the full release. The game is slated for download release this holiday across many major platforms, including Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam, and several popular mobile Oses (even Windows Phone). We’re eager to re-experience this classic time-shattering hyperspeed platform adventure, and with such widespread availability, you should be, too.
Aug 26, 2011