Gameplay, Story and Value:
Functionally, Sonic CD works just like another other 16-bit Sonic games. All three face buttons jump, while holding down and jump will initiate a spin dash. New to the mix is holding up and jump to run in place, with a release resulting in a huge burst of speed, good for scaling inclines. Additionally, the way levels play out if just as familiar. You’ll be running, jumping, bouncing and rolling your way to the goal post of two acts of each zone before facing off with Dr. Robotnik in the third.
It’s strange, then, that despite all the familiarity of its concepts that it draws from fairly decent games that Sonic CD seemingly fails on all fronts.
The pieces are all there, but none of it really comes together. Running and jumping feel fine, but your spin dash is completely inconsistent. There’s a bizarre charging period before you’ll actually take off from it and even when you do there’s a chance you’ll just be stuck in place. As a result, there’s a feeling of unresponsiveness in most things you do. The levels themselves aren’t laid out very well, and even visually don’t appear to be completely thought out. Any sense of speed you may start to get is immediately brought to a halt due to hidden springs or spikes, or sometimes for no reason at all! Other Sonic games have these speed traps as well, but Sonic CD seems to rely on the completely in order to break up any cohesion in its stages.
This is even more frustrating in Sonic CD, as it’s key gameplay mechanic relies on getting solid runs it. Every act has three different variations to it: past, present and future. You start in the present, but by passing by either a Future or Past signpost and getting you hedgehog to 88 miles per hour, you can travel back or forward in time! The sub-objective of the first two acts of each zone is to travel to the past to destroy an evil robot machine in order to ensure a good future. Do this on acts one and two, and act three will be free of any and all enemies! Any enemies but Robotnik of course, which is fine as the boss fights are actually pretty good here.
Bonus stages are back, of course, though this time you’re trying to destroy UFOs in a pseudo Mode 7 environment because… reasons. They’re okay, but not particularly fun or interesting.
At the very least, Sonic CD does autosave your progress, so you won’t have to suffer through a single sitting to finish it!
Presentation, Music and Sound:
Graphically, Sonic CD is pretty solid, even pretty good really. The problem lies is how these nice graphics are actually used. While the game, for the most part, aesthetically pleasing there are bizarre design elements scattered throughout the levels. These include rings floating in front of inaccessible surfaces and some questionable stitching and 3D effects. Enemies and items also have a tendency to blend in a little too much with their backgrounds on certain stages. It all just feels a bit… messy.
Stages after the first also blend together a bit visually, even when factoring in the different past and future tilesets for each zone. There are some fun exceptions such as a later zone that looks like it’s made entirely of brass instruments though.
Sound effects are exactly what you’d expect from a Sonic game, which is to say they’re familiar and distinct. That said, the game seems full of audio glitches that can result in annoyances such as the charging spin dash sound lasting several seconds after releasing. Other times, sounds just won’t play at all, or will play when they shouldn’t have.
Music ranges from passable to annoying. When you first turn on the game you’re treated to the iconic, or infamous depending on how you feel about, Sonic Boom track, made possible due to the quality CD audio capabilities of the Sega CD. After that though, it’s kind of all over the place. The introductory zone is all classic Sonic music stylings, while everything after that is a weird combination of forgettable tracks and weird voice sample filled mixes… It’s not at all up to par with other Sonic games in terms of how good the music tracks actually are.
I’m SO disappointed with a game I was so looking forward to. The whole game feels like the development team was given all the toys to make a Sega CD game, and really just didn’t know what to do with them. It’s not unplayable by any means, but between the mediocre level designs, audio and gameplay bugs and poor pacing, it’s just not a game I want to come back to any time soon. It makes me think this might have been the point where Sonic really started going downhill…
Note – My PVR crapped out after a good hour and a half of gameplay, so my session wasn’t recorded. What’s on display here is just for capturing screens and music samples. Includes the entire first zone and bits from others.