Genre: 2D Platformer | Developer: Blit / Christian Whitehead | Publisher: SEGA
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Steam/iOS/Android/Windows Phone 7
Players: 1 | Rating: E (Everyone)
These conversions have been solid but often bare-boned, with the games simply being emulated, upscaled, and dumped into a lazy-looking interface. Some have been so poorly put together that on occasions their design has actually interfered with the basic controls of the games.
Sonic CD is not one of those shoddy ports.
In fact, Sonic CD is something of an eye-opener for ports. There are some important lessons here that other publishers and developers, considering the idea of reviving their own aging catalogue of games, could do well to study.
To understand why, a bit of a history lesson is in order.
Back in 2009, avid indie programmer Christian “Taxman” Whitehead essentially reversed engineered Sonic CD to run on the iOS platform, using his own programming system, the aptly named Retro Engine. Not long afterwards, the brilliantly coded proof-of-concept disappeared from the net without a trace, and not a word was heard about the project again. Until recently.
It seems that SEGA, in their recent surprise bouts of genuine wisdom, decided to hire Christian to develop a digital release version of Sonic CD, which he has apparently been busy working on for the past year and a half.
The results are impressive. This isn’t another lazily emulated re-release of an old game. Sonic CD has been rebuilt from the ground up in Christian’s engine, and the result is a flawless game that runs at 60 fps and is not only faithful to the original, but also comes with new content and features not seen before, all without sacrificing the core experience.
Sonic CD is something of a marmite title amongst the Sonic fanbase—that is, you will either love it or hate it. Without any argument, though, it is certainly unique. Sonic CD saw the introduction of a number of gameplay features which have (for better or worse) never reappeared in the franchise. Of these, the most original is undoubtedly the time travel system.
This unique mechanic, activated by passing through specific signposts and then maintaining a top speed for a certain length of time (88 miles per hour!), allows Sonic to travel to different iterations of the current zone he’s in, based on the past and the future. Discovering and destroying certain machines in the past allows you to create a “good” future, with the ultimate completionist’s goal to purify every zone in the game. Without the safety net of being able to save at any time, as seen in previously emulated SEGA games, this is actually quite the challenge.
Sonic has always been about speed, obviously, but Sonic CD is a very platform-heavy game in comparison to other titles in his 20 year long history of games. There are still plenty of moments for high speed thrills, but the game’s level designs will regularly find a way to punish you for seeking them out. While playing, this often feels counter-productive to the point of what Sonic the Hedgehog is meant to be all about, but the levels themselves are still packed with plenty of creative ideas. Stardust Speedway especially highlights the best of what Sonic CD has to offer – enough to warrant an appearance in Sonic Generations, pitted against the classic boss, Metal Sonic.
Sonic CD feels like a better game when you take time to experience it as a whole, purifying all the zones and collecting the Time Stones in the game’s special stages. Unfortunately, these special stages are the one aspect of Sonic CD that haven’t aged well at all. They feel awkwardly floaty and based far too much on based on arbitrary luck at times. Don’t expect much from them in terms of fun, as seeking out the UFOs can be more frustrating than anything.
Purists may take issue with the addition of new content, but none of them change the purity of game and come as bonuses, if nothing else. Sonic 2‘s Spin Dash physics have been added to the game, as has the option to choose between the very excellent Japanese or American soundtracks. The best of the new additions is the ability to play through the game a second time with Tails, complete with his flying abilities. This gives you a completely new way to play the game, and completely changes the feel of many of the levels.
Sonic CD is unique insight into a side of the Sonic series that many of us may not have had the chance to experience due to the relative obscurity of the format it was originally released on, but even if you’ve played it before, this digital release deserves to be supported simply because of the obvious care that has put into converting the game to modern formats, and to encourage more ports like it in the future.
It may not be what you’d traditionally expect out of a Sonic title in many ways, but it still manages to keep pace with its debatably faster brothers in the rest of the franchise. Don’t pass up the opportunity to take it for a spin-dash.
- 8 / 10
Sonic the Hedgehog CD is available through the Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, iTunes Store, and Android Marketplace for $4.99. Versions for Steam and Windows Phone 7 are coming soon in the first quarter of 2012 and will be offered for the same price.
Disclaimer: An XBLA download code was provided to The Gaming Vault by the publisher for review purposes.