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Sonic the Hedgehog CD Review – Quickies Don’t Cut It

Sonic the Hedgehog CD Review – Quickies Don’t Cut It


A little under half a year after Sonic 1 hit
the market in June of 1991, development on Sonic 2 began at roughly the same time as
when Sega of Japan was getting this fancy new add-on for the Sega Mega Drive, the Sega
Mega CD, out the doors. The company knew they had to bring Sonic to
this system, and after contemplating enhanced ports of Sonic 1 and possibly Sonic 2, they
came to a decision to create an entirely new title that would take full advantage of the
expanded hardware capabilities. Seeing as Sonic 1’s programmer/producer
Yuji Naka, and level designer Hirokazu Yasuhara, were busy working on Sonic 2 over at Sega
Technical Institute in San Francisco, however, it was evident somebody else needed to step
in. This person would be nobody else than Naoto
Oshima, the character designer of Sonic, who stayed behind in Sega of Japan after the original
game had been finished. With Oshima behind the helmet for Sonic CD,
it ended up being pretty different from its Mega Drive siblings, which has split many
fans on the quality of the game: some love it, some are more ambivalent towards it and
some dislike it period. With this retrospective, we’re going to
be analyzing the game’s design in-depth, and find out where I sit on this wide spectrum
of opinions. This video will be part 1, where we primarily
focus on the time travel mechanics and the corresponding Robot Generator quest. The experiences of Sonic 1 and 2 are hard
to describe and encompass in a few sentences, but break them down to brass tacks, are you’ve
got three main elements: platforming, speed and exploration. The core drive behind the gameplay then is
mastering the physics and mechanics, as well as memorizing layouts to blaze through the
games faster and faster. The stages have multiple branching routes
and secrets everywhere with items in them to incentivize exploration, and through this
exploration you could often even find shortcuts or other methods of getting through quicker
than normal once you gain the necessary skills. All these things combined make for highly
replayable games, and though Sonic 1 suffered from first-game syndrome with a lot of experimentation,
in Sonic 2 stuff was balanced with one another to such a degree that there was room for a
number of varying play-styles throughout: from taking your time with exploring everything
to setting record times in stages and the game as a whole. Then we jump over to Sonic CD, and they’ve
clearly prioritized one of these elements, causing another one to fall behind. The story here is — pretty basic nonsense,
as always — but nevertheless that Robotnik has invaded a mysterious planet floating in
the sky, named Little Planet, and is attempting to take it over to serve his evil ways. To achieve that goal, the maniacal doctor
has placed machines all over the surface of this otherworldly globe, which poop out hordes
of badniks programmed to reconstruct everything to their boss’ wishes. For you as the player, this means you shouldn’t
only think of Rings, Extra Lives and Power-ups to explore for throughout the adventure, but
also the total of fourteen Robot Generators. Yes, Acts 1 and 2 of each of the seven Zones
in Sonic CD have a Robot Generator to look out for, and this is quite the involved task
with a lot of potential to be a great addition to the gameplay. The stages, for one thing, are pretty large
yet just the right size. They aren’t necessarily long when going
from left to right, but they do have much verticality to them with an abundance of nooks
and crannies to investigate. This is nice because it means levels don’t
overstay their welcome when you just want to get to the end, but can become rather expansive
if you decide to explore them. It’s kind of like Sonic 1 and 2 in that
regard, but Sonic CD’s levels definitely focus much more on exploration as a core element. One of the main reasons for that is that all
of the layouts are constructed to be very backtrackable, to accommodate this heavier
emphasis on exploration. Sonic 1 and 2 also have a portion of stages
that are backtrackable, but I get the impression that was more of a happy accident whenever
it was the case. In Sonic CD, on the other hand, each and every
stage is indeed fully, or at least near fully backtrackable. Even Collision Chaos 2, where I always assumed
you cannot go back once you reach this part right before the goal… Well, if you continue to build up speed via
this slope and then jump off at the right interval, you can nudge yourself towards this
pipe on the left and travel back all the way to the start of the Act. I think Tidal Tempest 1 has a point of no
return around the halfway mark, but the Roboticizer lies beyond that, anyway, so it’s OK. It’s a good thing that the developers realized
backtrackability was an important aspect of the levels they had to get right, ‘cause
the Robot Generators could have been a pain in the ass to find otherwise. Be that as it may, I’m gonna tell you upfront
that, sadly, despite the promising concept of the Robot Generators and good backtrackability
of the stages, I think the quest is brought down by poor design choices. To begin with, a select few of these generators
are obscure to the point that finding them can completely kill the pace of your playthrough. The first one is in Wacky Workbench 1. See, there’s this hole in this crusher thing
you have to fall into to be magically transported to a locked-off section in the map containing
the Robot Generator, but the visual design really does not hint at a hole in the crusher
at all. Conventional Sonic wisdom would have you avoid
crushers, so the only way I feel you could possibly figure this out, then, is by sheer
accident or by snooping up the information online nowadays. Debatably even worse, though, is Metallic
Madness 2. This stage is a bloody fucking maze, boasting
pipes that transport you to various areas, with some of them being dead-ends while others
loop you around to earlier sections of the map. Navigation of it all is confusing and there’s
really no clue or indication of where what is and leads to, so it’s like finding a
needle in a haystack. What also doesn’t help is that you can’t
obliterate Robot Generators in the Present or Future — only in the Past. This is a whole problematic aspect on its
own that I’ll dive into in a moment, but Metallic Madness 2 has an extra issue when
in the Past. This ledge right here? That’s a cunt, because you can baaaarely
not get on top of it, unless you go back to the Present. You have to imagine aimlessly stumbling around
in the stage, looking around every inch of this perplexing maze for an exit, only to
realize you have to go to the Present for some arbitrary reason. To be completely fair, these are the only
two instances of outright bad Roboticizers I can bring up. Most of these suckers are placed in very reasonable
locations, encouraging exploration without being obtuse: Palmtree Panic, Collision Chaos,
Tidal Tempest, Quartz Quadrant, Stardust Speedway — hunting down the generators in those Zones
can be pretty fun and satisfying. Here is the first catch, though: you cannot
revisit stages you’ve finished, and you have to destory all the generators in the
game for the good ending. This means missing even one of these devices
essentially equals missing all of them, and that your ass is locked into in a level until
you find its Robot Generator. Not only that, if you do miss a Zone’s roboticizers,
you have no other option than to start over from the very beginning of the game if you
want the good ending. This is especially problematic when you consider
that the game doesn’t directly teach or inform you about the existence of the Robot
Generators. W-what? You only realized by the third Zone there
are Robot Generators to destroy? Cry some more, bitch boy! Back to square one! This is just… archaic, especially considering
it’s 1993 and that Sonic CD has a save system. A lot of contemporaries before, around and
after 1993 allow players to go back to previous levels to obtain stuff they’ve missed. Sonic CD says bugger that and it kinda sucks. Now, I’ve dropped mentions about the Past,
Present and Future just a moment ago, and how the Robot Generators can only be destroyed
in the Past. This leads us to what is likely the most defining
gimmick of Sonic CD: the time travel. The premise is that, for each Zone, there
is the Past version where Robotnik had just begun his invasion and started planting his
Robot Generators, the Present version where Sonic arrives at Little Planet with Robotnik
slowly taking over, and then the Future version can be one of two things depending on your
actions: a Bad Future where Robotnik has completely industrialized the environments, and a Good
Future where Robotnik’s machinery and influences have been wrecked, creating what seems like
a healthy balance between nature itself and human creations. Off the bat I wanna highlight that, in terms
of shaping an atmosphere, the different time periods add a ton to the overall experience. The bleak states of the Bad Futures are the
ultimate guilt trip that may motivate players to go back and fix all the damage done by
the maniacal doctor, while the happiness and peacefulness of the Good Futures should give
players a great sense of reward and fulfillment for going the extra mile and rescuing various
areas of Little Planet. Every time period of each Zone also sports
different color palettes as well as different arrangements of the same composition to fit
the mood, which means there’s lotsa art to marvel at and lotsa music to gush about. The presentation of the game is extremely
unique, varied and memorable in that regard thanks to the time travel mechanic, and it’s
safe to say Sonic CD wouldn’t be Sonic CD without it. In terms of gameplay, the time travel also
offers good promise. When you find one of the signposts in a level
that reads ‘’Past’’ or ‘’Future’’ and keep moving at or above a certain momentum
threshold for roughly three and a half seconds, you’ll warp between time periods. If you come to a stop or lose a substantial
amount of speed over these three and a half seconds, your hedgehog ass ain’t going nowhere. It’s intriguing on paper and I can see what
the developers were going for here: challenging players to learn parts of level layouts and
set up a setup to facilitate time travel. This can be pretty difficult in certain scenarios,
because you’re often cramped for space to run around in freely for long enough, forcing
you to become creative. Here in Metallic Madness 1, for instance,
I build enough momentum to hop over this area and activate the sparkly stars, yet control
my velocity in such a way that I’m still able to jump and pull back enough as to land
in between these two springs. See, I created that setup, I figured that
shit out on my own, and thus I can definitely see the beauty of activating these time travel
shenanigans. It’s also a plus that this example tapped
into mastering Sonic’s controls and momentum, because a game should always strive to incorporate
applications that support and put to use its core mechanics. Unfortunately, I’m only willing to defend
the concept, because the execution indeed leaves something to be desired. To begin with, there were times I felt I got
cheated out of a time travel; y’know, I’ll be rolling or racing through an automated
set piece of some kind, only for it to dick me over at the last possible moment. Here in the Quartz Quadrant Bad Future, for
example, I hit a wall just a split second before activating a warp, and here in Stardust
Speedway Present an interfering speed-up device glitched out and caused Sonic to come to a
jarring halt, which isn’t even a level design issue, but more so one of programming of collision. Another instance of that is how running up
the tiniest bit of an incline may kill your time travel. Like, really, why does this not count just
because Sonic’s sprite was very briefly at an angle? Now, I won’t imply this type of nonsense
happens all the time; in many cases, a failed time travel was simply me screwing up, and
I’m not going to disregard an entire mechanic based on some jank that occurs once every
RZ upload. I draw the line, though, when the consequence
for failing a time travel is so damn severe: if you fail to execute a time travel from
the moment those sparkly stars appear around Sonic, you lose your ability to time travel
altogether. While players should be punished for messing
up, it basically equates to a lot of extra scouring through the levels to find a new
Past or Future signpost, to earn a second shot at time travelling. Then, once you do stumble upon one of these
signposts again and are looking for a suitable place to use it, you constantly have to slow
yourself down in order to prevent missing another opportunity at warping. These processes can be a hassle if you’re
a newcomer, and form distracting, pace-breaking clutter around that core challenge of maintaining
your momentum long enough to time travel, despite it being interesting in its own vacuum. This clutter and the aforementioned jank can
compound upon one another, and frankly open the doors for frustration more than anything
else, if you ask me. I do have to mention that there are heaps
of setpieces in most to all stages that grant you a freebie time travel, with zero effort
required: think of two springs close to one another to infinitely bounce back and forth
between, or some sort of other stage gimmick you can abuse to gain infinite momentum. This can be considered a good thing, since
it relieves you of the bullshit otherwise involved with activating a time travel. Simultaneously, though, it defeats the point
of players learning to maintain their speed and flow in a level, and/or create their own
little setups to achieve that time travel. I wouldn’t have minded maybe one very difficult
to find set piece for this purpose per level, but it’s far from that in reality. Perhaps this was done to capitalize even more
on the explorative nature of the game, but couldn’t we just add more items to find
instead if we needed more incentives for exploration beyond Robot Generators and time travel posts? I dunno, man, maybe I’m missing something
here, but the more I think about this time travel mechanic, the more I feel like it wasn’t
thought about to a proper extent. To give some credit where it is due, dying
does keep you in the current time period, so if you do die, you won’t have to warp
back to the Past again from the Present when you’d already done that before in the same
stage. That’s nice. What I also appreciate is that all the time
travel signposts can be reset to the state they were in when you last crossed a Checkpoint
by committing suicide. This makes running out of Past or Future signposts
in any given stage a near-impossibility, so if you’re in Act 2 of a Zone, you don’t
have to reload your save file and redo Act 1 simply to be able to time travel in Act
2 again. The American release of Sonic CD further streamlined
this, as you can simply press A while the game is paused there to reset and restart
the current Act in exchange for an extra life. For that reason the US version of the game
is marginally superior over the Japanese version gameplay-wise. I do wish this feature was actually communicated
proper by simple text spelling ‘’press A to restart stage’’ or something, but
what are you gonna do. When it all comes together, though, I’m
not the biggest fan of this Robot Generator stuff and trying to time travel. It’s not a terrible ques, and I can definitely
see how players who really love exploration, and can take some questionable execution,
would find it entertaining. In its best moments, I even find it pretty
enjoyable, and the more experience you have with time travelling and such, the more the
jank fades. Getting used to the crap factor is not a good
excuse, though, and the quest simply falls short of being the truly worthwhile addition
it could have been. Outside of creating Good Futures for all the
areas in Little Planet, it’s also very much an intrinsically-driven quest. Seriously, flowers and a ‘’You’re too
cool!’’-message as a reward for all your effort? Get the fuck outta here! I don’t think anybody would have been opposed
to an eighth, true final Zone with a significantly different, and most importantly better, ending. I’mma drop some suggestions right now on
how the quest potentially could have been improved, and though not everybody is going
to agree with all of them, I think they’re at least interesting food for thought. First of all, the game really should have
had the option to revisit all stages already beaten at any time, which I think is self-explanatory. Secondly, I would have incorporated a better
sense of direction for where the Roboticizers are located. Maybe have areas with suspicious set pieces
or visual design that lowkey draws people’s attention, a sound effect produced by the
devices that gets softer or louder depending on distance, to guide you to the broad areas
of interest without entirely giving away the precise locations. It doesn’t have to be exactly something
like this, but in that ballpark, ya feel? Furthermore, the time travelling mechanic…
that shit needs overhauling. Beyond the wonky collision and sparkly stars
stuff that could have been smoother and less picky, I’d say get rid of many of the bits
of level design catered specifically toward effortless time travelling, and give Rings
an additional function as a type of currency. If players lose the ability to time travel
after a goofed up attempt, allow them to gain it back at any Past or Future signpost by
trading 10, 15 or 20 Rings — whatever balancing works the best with the game’s level design,
really. This way there’d still be a punishment for
failure in place, and while some trekking around is involved to the nearest Past of
Future signpost, it would at least substantially cut down on the tedious and time-consuming
clutter surrounding the mechanic. Another idea is to make transportation stars
appear above the Past and Future signposts akin to Sonic 2’s Checkpoints. The maintaining of momentum challenge would
be sacrificed altogether here, but the simplicity is arguably worth the trade-off. In that light, also not such a terrifying
prospect is one where the time travel mechanics are gone altogether, while keeping the atmosphere,
graphics and music of the various time periods. Make Act 1 the Past, Act 2 the Present, and
depending on whether you destroyed all the Robot Generators or not, Act 3 the Bad or
Good Future; most people barely ever go to either of the two Futures, anyway, because
there’s little of any value in them. In fact, the Bad Futures act more like obstacles
to be avoided, since they remove you even further from the Past. I actually don’t mind that at all, but I
also wouldn’t lose sleep over it being gone. Anyway, it’s also not unreasonable to think
that, if time travel mechanics had never come to fruition, the stage design in general would
have been more polished and fleshed out, since more development time and effort could’ve
been dedicated to that aspect. And if the time travel mechanics were to be
fully cut, maybe make each Act contain a total of three Robot Generators — or maybe make
these useless Metal Sonic holograms actually worth a damn — to compensate for the otherwise
comparative lack of exploration? To take it even further, don’t make the
challenge just the process of finding the Roboticizers, but also something that incorporates
intricate platforming and Sonic’s physics into the mix. There are so many examples throughout the
Classic series of secrets or shortcuts only reachable with clever thinking, mechanical
mastery or sometimes even a combination of the two: using the Speed Shoes in Green Hill
2 to gain enough momentum to reach the top of this loop with an extra life, using the
Speed Shoes in Spring Yard 1 for a similar purpose to be able to launch over a wall to
skip the slow moving block section… Now, picture how swell it would be if Sonic
CD took this defining aspect of the Classic Sonic gameplay and applied that to its level
design, when it comes to reaching various Robot Generators. Believe it or not, this is something the game
doesn’t actually do at all, as it’s always merely a matter of searching for the roboticizers;
never does the design do anything with them outside of that. This is an absolute shame, because not only
would implementing the physics and perhaps other general platforming challenges act as
a method of intuitively teaching players the nuances of the controls and mechanics, it
would also make the Roboticizer side quest, and thus by extension the level design itself,
more eventful and complex. And let’s be honest: that would have made
for a helluva lot more enticing Sonic CD, because… Well, you know exactly where this is going. Let’s begin with what seems to be the most
common criticism aimed at Sonic CD’s level design: how chaotic and nonsensical it can
be. This is not my main complaint, but it’s
certainly a valid one: half of the Zones or so are pretty all over the place and trigger-happy. Collision Chaos is Sonic CD’s equivalent
of the series staple casino-themed areas, jam-packed with slopes, half-pipes, bumpers,
flippers, springs and what have you, and though not all of the Zone is a hassle, there are
times where a bunch of springs and bumpers are clogged together into a set piece, which
makes it a bit of a pain to get around in properly and stop yourself from being flung
around. You’ve also got those tall stacks of breakable
glass balls in Act 2… I hate these things, ‘cause it can take
forever before you crack through enough of the pile to progress, and none of it adds
anything of value to the stage besides arbitrarily halting progress. Many of you can probably also relate to the
struggle of Wacky Workbench, where the floor is like an electric trampoline of sorts that
automatically rockets Sonic upwards upon contact. This can absolutely be avoided with careful
play, but when you are shot into the air, chances are you have to waste time running
across vertically stacked paths one after another before you make it back to the bottom
and continue. Either that, or you keep bouncing around in
a vicious cycle because the visibility is too limited to allow you to see where you’re
going to land. I’ve had that happen trying to pass through
a gap in the wall for a Robot Generator in Act 2, and let me tell ya: it was not a fun
time. For me, though, the worst offender has got
to be the total clusterfuck known as Stardust Speedway; tons of crap here that loves pushing
you in unintended directions: speed-up devices that launch you ahead at a high speed, springs
up the frickin’ wazoo — you name it. There’s nothing as grating and tiresome
as just wanting to get up a ledge but being forcefully pushed upwards out of nowhere,
or being guided through an array of connected, narrow speedways with springs often leading
to nowhere, and buggy behavior that pushes you in the wrong direction or temporarily
gets you stuck on something and thus break the flow. Then there are those goddamned flip-cards:
many of the speedways that are layered over one another can be shifted to the front or
back layer, however, jack shit changes about them visually when you do this, so it’s
never clear which track of the two is the solid one. I’m all for wacky gimmicks to make stages
as distinct as possible, but stuff like this feels like being complicated for the sake
of being complicated. There are other, smaller oddities throughout
the game that make the level design come off as sloppy, too. I’ve already mentioned how you gotta fall
through a frickin’ crusher in Wacky Workbench for a Robot Generator, but a couple times,
what appear to be solid walls must also be passed through to advance in certain Zones. Like, in Tidal Tempest, there is this set
piece where some blocks have no collision while others do, yet the visual design doesn’t
reflect that well. From what I gather there are always Rings
to hint at those openings in the walls or whatever, but it feels inconsistent and I
don’t see what this type of shit adds. The worst example relating to awkward progression,
though, is probably found in Metallic Madness 2. Here, you’re supposed to stand on this pillar
thing that shoots you up to a ledge above, but I mean… the movement speed of the pillar
is way too slow to make ya think you’ll be shot upwards a million miles an hour. All this stuff can make navigating the Zones
of Sonic CD a bit of a bitch, which, as you’d expect, is also undesirable when exploring
for the Robot Generators. It’s not something that kills the level
design for me personally, though, and thankfully not all stages are affected by this… busyness,
I guess; this hecticness: Tidal Tempest and Quartz Quadrant are very straightforward to
get around in, for example, and aren’t messy or annoying like the earlier examples. However, there’s a larger problem with the
level design that I see, namely that it doesn’t have much on offer; it feels bland and kinda
empty, even though the levels may not technically be empty. For instance, what the hell do I even tell
you about Quartz Quadrant? It’s got some completely randomly placed
enemies to take on, a minimal amount of obstacles and threats to avoid, and a lack of unique
gimmicks to interact with. There are some conveyor belts of which the
moving direction can be changed with these arrowed panels, some vertical tunnels that
suck you in and blast you through at high speed, but these don’t really accomplish
anything. All I see beyond that are a bunch of different,
yet completely uneventful pathways, or sometimes small stretches of nothing at all. Tidal Tempest is the same story: you flick
a switch to open a door here, bop a push-over enemy on the head there, get sucked through
tubes sometimes, stand on this platform carried by rising water — is this stuff even worth
mentioning at all? Sure, Tidal Tempest is the obligatory water
area in the game, but I’ve rarely ever drowned here because the design is so basic and uninvolved. Blasphemous opinion warning, but the way Labyrinth
Zone in Sonic 1 continuously has enemies and hazards in different setups to work around
— which also increases the risk of drowning, by the way — keeps me more invested in those
stages than whatever the levels in Tidal Tempest are doing. That said, even those Zones that do fall into
that messy and annoying category don’t have a good sense or purpose, either. Stardust Speedway, in spite of appearing so
intricately designed with a million different paths criss-crossing one another, lacks substance. Again, what do you actually do in this Zone
besides being blasted forward and getting nauseous? The platforming isn’t interesting and neither
do many of the gimmicks amount to anything meaningful like the launchers that switch
angles and shoot you out on command, and most of the speed is completely automated and requires
next to no effort to gain. It can be a visual spectacle to behold for
sure, which can hardly be said for any other Zone in Sonic CD. Stardust Speedway is kind of like Chemical
Plant in that regard, which was also quite automated and I criticized it as such. However, I find Chemical Plant broke that
spectacle up a bit more with some decent platforming, and shortcuts and secrets to find using said
speed — actual meaningful content, in short. Similarly, Collision Chaos has the potential
to use its bouncy gimmicks and elements to tap into the Classic Sonic physics system,
however, it is not like Casino Night in that it sports carefully thought-out challenges
that require dexterity with those physics and bumpy objects to overcome. Just think about the slot machines in Casino
Night: not only are they an addictive staple of the zone and the franchise as a whole,
for that matter, they also encourage players to interact with all the pinball shenanigans
going on, as Sonic or Tails would often have to be carefully shot into the slot machines
while dodging surrounding bumpers and hazards. The pinball-esque nature of Collision Chaos,
on the other hand, doesn’t contribute much to any sort of greater goal or idea, as it
has little in the way of engaging challenges. A lot of the terrain is either obstructive
for the sake of it, like those breakable glass balls brought up before, or random and pointless,
such as these three half-pipes next to one another in Act 2. Isn’t one of them enough? What does having three accomplish, exactly? This type of haphazard design in the stages
is something you’ll notice throughout the game; that many things were just placed to
be placed. From the level design in Sonic 1 and 2, I’ve
rarely got such an impression. Ironically, for as much as people tend to
loathe Wacky Workbench, I think it is one of the Zones with the most amount of meat
and logic to it. Though this is a Zone that greatly discourages
speed, which conflicts with how people tend to play Sonic games, and though getting shot
up tends to come with its own problems, there is a clearly defined challenge here with a
clearly defined punishment: you gotta jump from moving platform to moving platform, and
in Act 2 swing off of poles correctly here and there, in order to prevent hitting the
bottom. It’s essentially a typical, side-scrolling
platformer task, but instead of a bottomless pit beneath your ass, it’s the bouncy floor. Nevertheless, while Wacky Workbench has more
platforming challenge in it than the majority of other Zones, it’s still too repetitive
and basic for me to label it riveting gameplay; most of the platforms move at the same speed
and patterns, the spacing between them is hardly ever intimidating, and not too often
are new gimmicks or enemies interfering to spice and shake things up. Donkey Kong Country tier platforming this
certainly ain’t. The Zone with the most amount of substance,
however, is Metallic Madness. It feels more like something you’d find
in Sonic 1 or 2, where overcoming obstacles and avoiding threats are a part of the mix
next to exploration. You’ve got the platforms from Scrap Brain
that you fall through when they are spinning; those rotating. anti-gravity discs from Scrap Brain that you
must jump off of at the right time and properly to advance further; a section where you must
navigate a mini Sonic through tight tunnels with hazards and enemies; the walker thing
you have to bring to the end of a room while avoiding the falling fireballs from exploding
bombs… Little of it is spectacular stuff, but new
elements and things are continuously introduced or combined in a manner that gives the stages
variety and a sense of challenge outside of exploration. Metallic Madness has got its own problems
that could make somebody dislike it, one of them being the maze-like layout of Act 2 I’ve
talked about, but at least it doesn’t feel as random or shallow as most other Zones. Now, I’m not oblivious to how, y’know,
creating Good Futures for each area is supposed to be that which gives the levels more substance;
I’ll admit, the game was more engaging to me when tracking down Robot Generators and
time travelling instead of running through the levels, straight from point A to B. I
don’t find, however, that the implementation of this side quest is strong and substantial
enough that it can mask the shortcomings of the level design. I’ll repeat something I’ve said before:
I would have liked the roboticizers to come in larger quantities, and then with solid
as fuck platforming, physics and stage gimmick challenges behind them, in addition to locating
them — not solely the latter. Not only because players will blitz the level
once that one robot generator is found right now; not only because the joy of exploration
tends to fade on repeat playthroughs when you know where everything is, but also because
challenges like these would strengthen the level design itself. Players would actually be incentivized to
learn how a Zone’s gimmicks and mechanics work, which they usually don’t have to do
now, because a lot of said gimmicks and mechanics can be cleared or passed without giving them
much thought. How about a scenario where the player must
bounce from bumper to bumper in the air without falling down in Collision Chaos, to reach
a platform on the other side with a Robot Generator? Act 1 actually has this exact set piece, but
with a Ring box instead of a Robot Generator, so players are not at all encouraged to overcome
this task or may not even be aware it exists. How about an underwater section with obstacles
along the way in Tidal Tempest with a roboticizer at the end? It would make drowning an actual threat and
give the water a substantial purpose. How about a part in Stardust Speedway where
you gotta use those rotating launchers to time shots to the next one, all of them moving
at different speeds and patterns, and maybe even with some interfering foes? I believe such bite-sized challenges leading
to key objects, and then multiple spread around every stage, would fit Sonic CD’s overall
design marvelously. The lack of such set pieces is easily one
of the game’s biggest missteps. Now that I think about it, the stages in general
don’t give that many applications for the physics system. I’ve mentioned that activating time travels
can potentially have players think outside the box, by using the physics and Sonic’s
handling in a clever way. This is something that still holds true, and
there are undoubtedly other examples to point to beyond the one I described in Metallic
Madness Act 1. Unlike Sonic 2 (and Sonic 1 to a lesser extent),
however, many of the level layouts here are pretty angular and blocky — not very rounded
and smooth with curves and slopes. Look up zoom-outs of all the Zones in Sonic
CD and it’s a theme you’ll surely notice. Angular and blocky levels are not inherently
a bad thing in games, but such levels don’t allow for our blue hedgehog’s physics and
mechanics to shine. It’s one of the reasons speedrunning stages
in this game really isn’t that fun, in my opinion, since timing jumps and rolls is not
as integral to setting record times here as it is in Sonic 2 and even Sonic 1. Shortcuts to skip slow or difficult areas
are also practically non-existent, there’s little speaking of tricky to clear but rewarding
in speed routes, and barring Stardust Speedway and maybe Palmtree Panic, fast set pieces
with loop-de-loops and such are pretty lacking and absent as I’ve hinted at, taking away
a part of that staple Sonic sensation. I have to stress again that this approach
of heavily emphasizing exploration over speed is not an objectively wrong direction, but
when the exploration leaves me unimpressed… Yeah, I start searching for other aspects
to compensate, and doing the stages as fast as possible didn’t cut it for me. And I’m not even saying the exploration
didn’t impress me purely on the basis of those Robot Generators and time travelling
shenanigans: it’s also the secrets in the form of Ring boxes, extra lives, invincibility
stars and shields to snoop up. These are scattered through each stage, which
is good because that means players have something else to explore and be rewarded for outside
of the time travel posts and the single roboticizer. Despite that, I find that they were more cleverly
implemented in Sonic 1 and 2, and this, once more, relates to the use of momentum and physics,
and also stage gimmicks. While there are absolutely secrets in CD that
require use of the momentum and physics or a specific stage gimmick to reach like demonstrated
here, I simply don’t remember them being as common. A lot of the items are about finding them
more so than pulling off something fancy to get to them, and that’s not to say they
cannot be well hidden — I never knew about being able to pass through this wall here
in Palmtree Panic 1 for two 1-ups, for instance — but I did miss some of that diversity you
would see in Sonic 1 and 2. There’s also the fact that Sonic CD has
significantly less punishing and dangerous levels, and that there is a save system that
boots you back to the start of the Zone instead of the entire game upon a Game Over. As such, the value of Rings and 1-ups in particular
has dropped substantially, since in Sonic 1 and 2, every life and continue could make
the difference between finishing or not finishing the game as a newcomer. Sure, they’re of little importance to experienced
players, but for Sonic CD, the lives and to a lesser extent the Rings barely serve a meaningful
purpose from the very beginning, undermining the satisfaction of obtaining them. On its own this is not the end of the world,
but combined with all the other complaints I’ve explained, it should be apparent why
I find Sonic CD’s level design to fall short compared to its predecessors. For the most part, it’s not offensive or
anything; it’s just kind of an undercooked mess and I’m never quite sure what to make
of a lot of the stages. It’s not all negative, though, because Sonic
CD being less cheap and trial-and-error based… Well, I’d say that is actually one of its
major benefits over Sonic 1 and 2. I like those games, alright, but the placement
of enemies, hazards, pits or even instant-kill obstacles in them can often be bullshit. Due to the overall speed, the lack of a panning
screen and sometimes outright bad design, it’s frequently nigh impossible for players
to avoid getting hit or dying completely, unless they play extremely carefully or memorize
the stage layouts. For both titles I could show to you examples
of spots where newcomers could easily be trapped into a pit or crusher of some kind, and I
really need not explain how much of a mess Zones likes Scrap Brain, Oil Ocean and Metropolis
are. Mix that stuff together with the aforementioned
limited continues system, and you’ve got yourself some flawed difficulty balancing
that hurts the accessibility of Sonic 1 and 2. Sonic CD, by contrast, is far more forgiving. Next to progress being saved at every new
Zone, bottomless pits are entirely absent throughout the entire adventure, Metallic
Madness 3 notwithstanding. Not to discredit bottomless pits — they can
make platforming challenges infinitely more dangerous and challenging — but when they
aren’t telegraphed well or you’re knock-backed into them or whatever, they end up feeling
harsh and unfair. Maybe removing bottomless pits altogether
in Sonic CD was a bit drastic, but at least players never have to worry about them at
all here, and similarly, the number of crushers or other instant-kill objects has been limited
drastically from my experience. The potential is still there, but I’ve suffered
maybe three crush deaths in total across six or so playthroughs — hardly offensive. Even the enemy placement is less problematic. Metallic Madness is the only place that is
bullshit incarnate, with these nutjobs roaming around that have their spikes far extended
to the sides — I never see these motherfuckers in time — and spikes in so many uncalled
for places, mostly being sneakily smacked on the ceilings. Even if you’re suspecting these spikes,
there’s no way of telling their location in advance, so you could easily be blindsided
even if you’re being careful. Outside of Metallic Madness, though, I really
wasn’t that bothered. You absolutely can still run into foes that
pop up out of nowhere, be flung into spikes by springs without much control or go somewhere
and crash into random, nonsensically placed spikes, but overall this type of jazz is not
that prevalent of a theme in Sonic CD, I found. This is hard to pinpoint and demonstrate eloquently
with examples, but the panning camera we have now is probably a good contributor: when Sonic
reaches a certain speed value, the screen shifts to the left or right depending on what
direction he’s running in. Hallelujah, it took ‘em long enough! I’ve always questioned why Sonic 1, and
2 especially, lacked a panning camera, so I’m glad to see Sonic CD finally implemented
the feature. It isn’t perfect and doesn’t always help
— it activates a little late for my tastes and doesn’t behave as organically and smoothly
as in Donkey Kong Country, for instance (I just can’t stop mentioning that game, maybe
because it’s really good) — but there have certainly been circumstances where the extra
visibility and thus time to react, has prevented me from ramming headfirst into harmful crap. I realize I’ve been very harsh on Sonic
CD for most of this retrospective so far, and I stand by all of it, but I also cannot
stress enough how all these tweaks and additions to Sonic CD in regards to difficulty balancing
make it a more accessible and relaxing game to get into than Sonic 1 and 2. Heck, it’s not even merely the main adventure
where this is a welcome improvement, but also when it comes to entering the Special Stages. Alright, so, in Sonic 1, entering Special
Stages is done by reaching the end of an Act with 50 Rings or more. It’s not a bad system on paper, because
this Ring goal makes for a decent reason to explore, and also incentivizes the player
to play a little more cautiously. One of the biggest problems with it, however,
is that the main levels have plenty instances of bad enemy and hazard placement, and some
questionable bottomless pits. As such, it’s frustrating as hell to get
hit or die by something you couldn’t foresee, especially near the end of a level. Sonic CD uses the exact same system, but surprisingly
enough, I don’t find it nearly as aggravating. You can certainly still lose your Rings by
surprise motherfucker shenanigans, but it’s not as common or devastating here. For one, we now have a panning screen, helping
you see further ahead of you, and the level design is more forgiving in general. These things self-explanatory make it easier
to hold onto all that pocketed gold. Secondly, all the stages in CD are very backtrack-friendly
as discussed with the Robot Generators, meaning you have the option to go back and collect
Rings you skipped over. Thirdly, each stage has four different time
periods, all with their own selection of Rings, so it’s hard to imagine having no Rings
left to collect. You’d have to time travel, yes, but it shouldn’t
be as time-consuming when both the Past and Future are viable to go to in this case. Furthermore, if you really screwed yourself
out of getting 50 Rings, Sonic CD’s save system allows you to retry. Granted, the save system only records progress
by Zones, not by individual Acts, so you may need to redo Act 1 of that Zone and a Special
Stage. This segues me to the final point, however:
there are seven Zones in the game, with the two main Acts giving you the opportunity to
enter a Special Stage. There are seven Time Stones to amass, meaning
that, if you wanted to and played your cards right, you could get all Time Stones from
the first Act of each Zone. All of these things are to say that earning
tickets to Special Stages is far more forgiving here than it is in Sonic 1 — probably Sonic
2, as well — and I’m happy to say that the Special Stages themselves are the best
so far in the 16-bit titles. You control Sonic in an open playfield, objective
being to chase down and destroy all the purple UFOs flying across the map before time runs
out. These Special Stages are much better designed
compared to before, if you ask me, as winning comes down to your ability to keep track of
the UFOs surrounding you, and to learn the intricacies of the gameplay mechanics. Better so, Sonic CD actually gives you the
time and chance to learn said mechanics: you can learn that touching the water drains a
lot of time quickly, you can learn that biting teeth on the ground and patches of grass slow
you down, and you can learn to use the fans and springs on the floor to your advantage
to cross larger pools of water, as well as means of soaring or launching into nearby
UFOs if that helps you. The difficulty curve is solid, with the earlier
missions allowing you to mess around a bit and get accustomed, and the later ones less
so. Yet, even in those harder Special Stages,
there is always a way to make a comeback with skillful play, as blue UFOs that restore some
time will infinitely respawn as soon as the clock goes under twenty seconds remaining. It may sound like this trivializes the entire
challenge, but you’d be surprised how easily you can still run out of time. The important difference, though, is that
the difficulty now doesn’t come from trial-and-error and having to memorize what’s ahead like
in Sonic 2’s half pipes, neither does it come from confusing navigation, awkward controls
and gravity and hard-to-anticipate-on hazards that immediately kick you out like in Sonic
1’s rotating mazes. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said
Sonic CD’s Special Stages are perfect. While the controls are competent, you’re
never told you can slow Sonic down by holding down on the D-pad. This is a helpful and I’d even argue vital
tool, since your turning radius is massive at full speed, making it a pain in the ass
to line yourself up with UFOs that are zooming all over the place, as well as avoid outer
planes of water. It really would not have hurt to display a
quick overview of the controls and what everything does before the missions begin, so players
aren’t needlessly losing stages. The biggest problem, however, is the technology
itself. The Special Stages have always been about
showing off impressive, unusual graphics achieved on the Mega Drive, and in the case of Sonic
CD’s, it is the rotation and scaling of tilemaps and sprites, which is a Mega CD hardware
feature. Unfortunately, be it due to unoptimized code
or actual system limitations, the playfield only refreshes at 20 frames per second. The result is choppy and unpleasing motion,
which is further accentuated by the scaling of the UFOs, only consisting of a few steps
between distant and up close; judging the positioning of these bastards relative to
Sonic is kinda awkward, and the at times questionable collision detection can make landing hits
even trickier. It definitely feels rough and I understand
if that turns people off from these Special Stages. Me personally? I don’t think the jank is that bad, certainly
not as bad as the issues in Special Stages of previous instalments. The ones in Sonic CD present most of the information
you need to you well enough, control fine, give ample opportunities to make mistakes
and recover from them, and are the most interesting on top of that for me; there are more elements
to take into consideration here than just steering left or right in an on-going hallway,
y’know? Combine the Special Stages themselves with
the process of entering them being smoother than before, and I think you’ve actually
got a solid side quest. Unexpectedly losing all your casherino to
a surprise enemy or something still sucks, but amassing 50 Rings is free of the time
travel headaches and exhaustively scouring through the stages for one specific item. The Rings requirement provides some small
incentive to explore various nooks and crannies, and also ensures you cannot just bum rush
your way to the finish, not giving a crap about taking damage as you go. Ultimately, going for all the Time Stones
adds a bit more meat to the adventure than simply going from point A to point B in these
otherwise underwhelming and short levels, especially considering the Special Stages
themselves provide some additional variety to the core gameplay. I think this may be the most recommendable
way to play Sonic CD, honestly. Of course I’ve always got something to whine
about, though; in this case, I think the quest could have been more than ‘’solid’’
with some different ideas. Despite it being less of a struggle, I’d
still tweak how to access the Special Stage. Make it so that you have to amass a certain
cumulated amount of Rings across the three Acts of a Zone; for example, you need, say,
for the sake of argument, 600 Rings to unlock the Special Stage in Collision Chaos, and
those 600 Rings can be acquired across all the Acts; gain 300 in Act 1, 200 in Act 2
and 100 in Act 3 — whatever combination, really — and then the Special Stage opens
on a world map of sorts if you meet that Ring goal. Since there are seven Zones and seven Time
Stones, each Zone would have a Special Stage tied to it. This would then go in conjunction with the
aforementioned ability to replay any Act of any Zone you’ve already beaten, and the
ability to retry and revisit the unlocked Special Stages as much as you want. A concern could be that it would make the
stages too easy, but all they’d need to do is bump up the difficulty level to counterbalance;
after all, throwing the player a harder task is completely reasonable if they can get more
practice at it — in this case unlimited practice. The working of the Ring system would need
to be adjusted accordingly, as well, though because… High Ring requirements to unlock Special Stages… Taking a single hit and losing all Rings… Ooh, that would be horrifying… So, to circumvent this, Sonic could have a
couple of hit points or a health bar that are regenerated by collecting whatever amount
of Rings would work within the game’s difficulty balancing. More over, you wouldn’t lose any Rings upon
taking damage or losing a life, and the Rings you collect would be in your pockets forever,
kind of like Gems in Spyro the Dragon. In doing this, you’d never have to recollect
Rings you’ve already got before all over again, but more thorough exploration of the
levels would still be encouraged with these high Ring requirements. 50 Rings to the goal is fine and all, but
that’s an amount you can well reach with minimal to no exploration. It’s only when you do take damage that you’ll
have to start searching around more. And… I dunno about you, but I think a proper reward
for achieving all Time Stones would be cool, too. It’d be sick if they were Chaos Emeralds
instead and we got Super Sonic, and maybe even some bonuses like concept art and such
for every gem obtained could’ve been thrown in? Practically any other extrinsic reward would
be more fulfilling than that good ending with its ‘’You’re too cool!’’ nonsense,
which also happens when you destroy all the Robot Generators. It’s nice that players can see the good
ending through either of these side quests, allowing them to pick their favorite and get
the same outcome, but I think two separate, more worthwhile rewards would have been the
better approach. The last topic to talk about regarding gameplay
would be the boss fights. Sonic CD’s bosses tend to be commended for
having gimmicky and experimental concepts, and while I as well can appreciate the developers
trying something different, different doesn’t always equal good. Terrible is not the word I’m looking for,
it’s more that many are painfully simple. The Tidal Tempest boss, for instance, is nothing
more than Robotnik soaring from left to right while shooting a set of four diverging bullets
at you every now and then. The idea is that the mustachio man is protected
by the rotating air bubbles surrounding him, which Sonic has to inhale to gain access to
the mobile itself, but how engaging is that? Okay, what about the Palmtree Panic boss,
then? An utter joke that can be dealt with in a
split second if you stand behind it when it first lands. Palmtree Panic is the first Zone, I’ll give
it that, but the wrecking ball in Sonic 1 at least has some threat to it. I’m not gonna say the bosses in Sonic 1
and 2 are especially remarkable, either, but at least the majority can be defeated incredibly
fast with the right strategy and timing. That ability to do it fast with practice is
that one aspect of the Robotnik encounters in those games that gave them a bit of serviceable
depth. Meanwhile, the boss in Quartz Quadrant has
you repetitively running on a treadmill of sorts and jumping over dropped bombs for nearly
a minute straight, and it’s impossible to make it go by any quicker no matter what you
do. Mercifully, none of the battles are nearly
as drawn out as the shit you face in Sonic 4: Episode II, so there’s at least that. Believe it or not, I do kind of like the Collision
Chaos encounter, which is basically a pinball area with various nooks and crannies and obstacles
to get around, to reach the center top portion. A lot of people hate this boss because the
pinball physics and collision detection are pretty botched, and Robotnik tends to drop
balls on your noggin that bounce you back down. It’s certainly not great, but I dunno, at
least there is something going on here with a moderate challenge, and you can clear it
pretty fast when you git gud… and have luck on your side, admittedly. The Metal Sonic scene is worth discussing
in greater depth, though, because it is probably the most defining scene of the whole game. That said, I gotta be honest that I think
the legacy of this one stems more from the set piece, music and Metal Sonic as a character,
rather than the execution of the race itself. You’re mainly trying to outrun Robotnik’s
instant-death laser by anticipating incoming obstacles such as uphills to jump over or
run up properly, all the while racing Metal Sonic and trying to avoid his attacks. Sometimes the layout is kind of counterintuitive,
like you naturally hold down and roll to pick up speed on connected slopes, only for spikes
to put you to a stop with little time to react, but for the most part it works alright. There’s certainly some memorization required
to clear all this stuff perfectly, but a good amount of it is also based on reflexes and
handling Sonic properly. My main gripe, really, is the rubber banding:
if you’re ahead of Metal Sonic, he will soon manage to catch up to you and possibly
electrocute your scrawny butt, and if you’re behind he’ll slow down to cut you some slack… I-I guess. I understand that this was done to maintain
the tension and excitement, but the trade-off is… Well, you could suck royal dick yet nail the
home stretch and still claim the victory, or you could be rockin’ it for the majority
of the course, yet make one or two small mistakes and fall behind close to the finish as a result. I think the better approach would have been
to pre-script Metal Sonic’s movement, but give him some minimal AI to assault you whenever
you’re in his range. In my opinion, the loss of some of that tension
of having Metal Sonic near you at all times is a sacrifice worth making if it means performance
is the key to victory. And maybe it’s just me, but seeing how much
longer Metal Sonic takes than your pro ass — I think that’d be satisfying in its own
right. Now we’re just left with the final boss,
found in Metallic Madness, and he’s frankly a pushover. You can carry Rings from the stage into the
fight, which may seem like an improvement over Sonic 2’s bullshit of giving you no
Rings at all, but I think that would actually have worked better here in Sonic CD — or
at least a shield for one extra hit. The attacks and patterns are simplistic enough
that it would be more than acceptable, ‘cause now, you can cheese the boss extremely easily
by abusing the Ring system. It’s a very underwhelming conclusion to
the game, if I say so myself. I’ll take it over the Death Egg Robot any
day, but Sonic 1’s final boss reigns supreme amongst these three titles, if you ask me. Honestly, why isn’t Metal Sonic the final
battle instead of this baby shit? That would have made more sense, dawgs. Following the final boss is a full motion
ending showing Sonic and Amy escaping Little Planet. This is easily one of the most memorable aspects
of Sonic CD: the two animated cutscenes — one at the start of the game, and one at the end
— created with the intention to take full advantage of the capabilities of the CD technology. If I’m not mistaken, this was the first
time the world had seen our favorite speedster in such an animated fashion, and the scenes
are awesome to watch with a great hand drawn style; after all, it was was done by the Toei
Animations studio, most famous for doing the Dragon Ball series. The way Sonic looks and how he is portrayed
is difficult not to adore: he’s silent, but a total badass nonetheless that’s always
on edge and going fast, with a ton of personality conveyed through his movement and facial expressions. He’s seen spin dashing through a bunch of
falling rocks, running up a steep cliff and rolling off of it, destroying a bunch of enemies
in style and racing against Metal Sonic along the Stardust Speedway and more, and all the
while he seems to be having a fucking cracker of a time. It’s a pleasure to watch and I’m not surprised
Tyson Hesse’s Sonic is so heavily based on this one. Sadly, the original Mega CD release of the
game displays these videos at an incredibly low frame rate, with a limited number of colors,
and in a small screen size to boot. This probably couldn’t be helped by the
programmers, but thankfully the real, unedited and uncompressed deal is readily available
for all of our bodies to enjoy these days through various means. Outside of these FMVs, however, Sonic CD is
not a very convincing upgrade on a technical level. Despite the Mega CD packing a blast processor
clocked around 63% higher than the Mega Drive, the game is hampered by performance dips more
so than Sonic 1 and 2, sometimes in instances where you wouldn’t even expect them. Research tells me that Sonic CD reuses a lot
of Naka-san’s original code from Sonic 1, but considering little of the game logic here
seems wildly more complex than before, it’s odd and also disappointing that Sonic CD has
more slow down on a faster machine. Oshima-san once actually stated that, had
Naka-san been the chief programmer for Sonic CD, he believed the game would have been more
optimized; the transition between time periods in particular is something he really wished
was more seamless. As it is now, due to the optical media, the
transitions go on for about seven seconds if you skip the mini cutscenes. This isn’t unbearable since time travel
doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s a bit of a break in the action that could
have stood to be shorter. When it comes to graphical fidelity, too,
Sonic CD could largely pass as a Mega Drive title. This was to be expected, to be fair, because
the Mega CD didn’t expand the hardware capabilities notably beyond some hardware-supported scaling
and rotating. That said, these features are hardly, if at
all employed in the main stages, and reserved for the Special Stages alone. Now, the vastly larger storage of CDs compared
to cartridges did help a lot, having more than enough capacity available for the wide
range of assets and varying color palettes for all the levels. And this is where the visuals shine: the different
looks of the four time periods. It really does lend a sense of scope and atmosphere
to this journey that you simply didn’t get in Sonic 1 or 2. The plot in Sonic CD is little more complex
than what had been done before — it’s just framed more interestingly with higher stakes,
with Amy being kidnapped and Metal Sonic being a rival equally fast as Sonic — but the environmental
changes tell an additional story, the story of Little Planet, without using cutscenes
or words. Quartz Quadrant is a stunning-looking cavern
with a large number of crystals in the background in the Past, but then fast forward to the
Present, and the crystals are in the process of being extracted by machinery. Once we reach the Bad Future, Robotnik’s
artificial creations have taken the place of the crystals entirely, whereas in the Good
Future, the mining has come to an end and glimmers of the crystals can be seen shining
through. You may not notice these details initially,
but take the time to observe Sonic’s surroundings, and you’ll be able to discover similar progressions
in all of the Zones. A few of the themes are quite imaginative
and standout in the series in general, such as Wacky Workbench. It appears to be some kind of warehouse, storing
who knows what, and the abundance of abstract mechanisms gives the area that ‘’out there’’
Sonic CD look that people enjoy. My one complaint in terms of aesthetic, though,
would have to be that many of the Zones feel somewhat derivative of Sonic 1: Palmtree Panic
and Green Hill, Tidal Tempest and Labyrinth, Stardust Speedway and Star Light… They all look distinct enough that it’s
not a dealbreaker by any means, but the comparisons can be shockingly simple to make. Following talk about the visuals is of course
talk about the soundtrack, which is composed by Naofumi Hataya and Masafumi Ogata. Similarly to the graphical assets, the music
also changes depending on the time period you’re in, which not only works in tandem
with the visuals to further enhance Little Planet as a setting, it also makes for a very
diversified selection of music to listen to. There may not be altered arrangements for
the second Acts of Zones like Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but a total of four variations for each piece
is certainly nothing to sneeze at. And thankfully, this isn’t a case where
the quantity has come at the cost of quality, because so many of the tracks are extremely
memorable and a joy to listen to. I love at least, at least one arrangement
of each of the Zone’s pieces, and You Can Do Anything, Cosmic Eternity and the Special
Stage music get the RZ seal of approval, as well, if that means anything. Not everything is great — I find most versions
of Wacky Workbench pretty forgettable, just to name something — and the boss theme is
kinda weird and unfitting. I secretly kinda like it, though. Lastly, since this is a Mega CD game, the
soundtrack was bound to be one of CD quality audio. Sonic 1 and 2 are absolutely good-sounding
by Mega Drive standards, but Sonic CD blows them out of the water with better instrument
samples and synths, and more sophisticated mixing that gives everything an extra layer
of richness. It’s the cherry on top that pushes the Japanese
soundtrack of the game to top 5 material within the franchise for me. Then we’ve got the American soundtrack. Likely because Sega of America considered
the Japanese music too alienating for their market, a new score was composed for the US
release of Sonic CD by Spencer Nilsen, with assistance from David Young and Mark Crew
here and there. The result is a soundtrack that is best described
as ‘’utterly different’’. Where the Japanese music was very energetic
and bouncy most of the time, the American music is all around considerably more toned
down and focussed on atmosphere. Notice how the Japanese track for Stardust
Shitway plays into the hectic, lively nature of the Zone with the horn instruments along
the roads. Now listen to the American counterpart, which
plays more into the starry background in the middle of the night. Both pieces fit the levels, but for their
own reasons. This goes for the majority of the game and
so it’s really up to personal preference which soundtrack you prefer. For me, while I do enjoy the American stuff
and appreciate what it brings to the table in terms of atmosphere, half of it blends
in and came out kind of drab. The American soundtrack definitely has its
gems like Palmtree Panic and the demonstrated Stardust Speedway, and I’ll take the Sonic
Boom song over the Japanese themes for the opening and ending scenes. However, stuff like Collision Chaos and Metallic
Madness is too bland for my tastes; I couldn’t even recall what they were like until looking
‘em up just now. I also find that the Good and Bad Future tracks
sometimes don’t sound much like Good or Bad Futures, and may even be a bit tricky
to distinguish from one another as such. With the Japanese counterparts this doesn’t
happen, as the Good and Bad Futures are almost always easily identifiable from the moment
they begin. Oh, and since the Past arrangements of the
Japanese compositions are sequenced with samples, rather than streamed audio from the CD, the
American compositions lack their own Past tunes. As a result, the Japanese tunes play instead,
creating a jarring mismatch with the rest of the American soundtrack. For these reasons, I wouldn’t rank the American
soundtrack nearly as high as the Japanese one. Still, two interpretations ultimately means
more music for us, and to this day it remains a pretty discussed topic amongst fans which
is better, showing that there is love for both scores. Sonic CD is an interesting beast. It’s often lauded as one of the best Sonic
titles ever made, and it’s not difficult to see why: it marked the debut of mainstay
characters Amy Rose and Metal Sonic, and it’s got a unique sense of style, atmosphere and
presentation that is to be loved and appreciated. Beyond that, it’s got some good gameplay
qualities: the Special Stages may just be some of the most competent and fun in the
franchise, and the game is more accessible than its predecessors, thanks to the significantly
reduced number of cheap, trial-and-error elements, and a save system. This makes Sonic CD a welcoming experience
to come back to every now and then; to just be taken away by; to run through mindlessly;
to relax in. And hey, if you were never a fan of Sonic’s
focus on speed, and if the concept of exploring large, sprawling stages with the character
instead sounds exciting to you, this title could be right up your alley. Ultimately, though, I find that the execution
in many key gameplay areas falls short. I say more power to the developers for wanting
to put exploration at the forefront, but the way the Robot Generators were implemented,
time travel and all included, just wasn’t thought out and elaborate enough. This would’ve been fine by me if the level
design stood tall, but I often find it underwhelming and devoid of interesting activities and challenges,
when it isn’t being a random mess. Controversial as it may be, I do believe the
stages would have come out better had the time travel mechanics been abandoned early
on, and if, additionally, the Robot Generator and Time Stones quests had been tightened
up with the various suggestions laid out in this retrospective, Sonic CD could have been
an awesome exploration platformer. What we ended up with instead is not a bad
game, in my opinion, but it’s one that struggled to flesh out its core gameplay aspects to
something remarkable; one with some serious missed potential. In spite of that, there is nothing quite like
Sonic CD, and it remains a memorable, experimental game in Sega’s history; one that I can still
have some fun with.

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69 thoughts on “Sonic the Hedgehog CD Review – Quickies Don’t Cut It

  1. 05:53 As soon as Sonic touches the spring DON'T press ANYTHING, lest you will reduce Sonic's momentum, and in turn keep hitting the wall.

  2. Will you be unlisting the individual parts of the videos now? It seems a tad silly to have everything on the channel twice.

  3. Great video.
    As for me, despite it's issues, I really like this Sonic title because of it's variety, graphics, soundtrack, the ability to save (which was a big issue I had with Sonic 1 & 2 of not being able to save as dying and starting over can be frustrating even if there is an incentive to get lives) and how playing the game is quite fun. Level design can be odd, but I don't find all of the level design bad or a mess. Only a few times did I see that. For the most part, I will admit that levels compared to other Sonic games don't stand out as much and how much power the Sega CD is capable of doing is just not showing in this game aside from the cutscenes

  4. I prefer the older format of your videos, honestly. Right now the parts feel so disjointed and you feel like they start in the middle of nowhere and don't really end, like if you're missing something. Full retrospectives are better in my opinion

  5. This new format for laying out the game reviews is very well done, and think that it can fit this channel very nicely. However the audience is one thing; the bigger question is how did YOU feel with this new format? If it’s still enjoyable then power to ya, keep on with it. If you think that making it into parts makes the content lose its charm, then maybe there’s another solution. The audience seems to be met with universal praise, but how did you feel when doing it this way?

    I digress a bit; I really enjoyed the review RZ. Everything is as well scripted and all the aspects well analyzed as always. I do believe there is a lot of validity in you’re idea about scrapping the time travel gimmick and having that centered around the three acts to a zone. I think what also would’ve been better is if the bad and good future bosses were different to their time periods respectively.
    Anyway, all and all a very solid review! Keep up the great work!

  6. Is Sonic 3 & Knuckles getting a Review?

    Also this review is probably one of the best Sonic cd reviews i've seen in a while

  7. Great video man I couldn't wait for you to get to CD! Got to say I like the new format it makes it easier to get to specific parts of your reviews instead of having to skip through them, and if I want to watch the whole thing then it's still available as a complete video. Can't wait too see you cover sonic 3 these videos are well worth the wait!

  8. Miss the "Quickies Don't Cut It" subtitle, but definitely LOVE the new multi-part reviews. This is DEFINITELY a good choice from what I can tell from the consumer perspective. Great work!

  9. I watched the parts each week, but I’m so happy you’re still putting them together. Thanks a bunch, RZ, you’re my favorite Youtuber!

  10. This retrospective is excellent. It really highlights the issues that CD has. Every cheap spike placement or every time an opportunity to travel to the past was taken away by some random bullshit, keeps me from wanting to beat the game again. At the same time, it highlights the music… which, most of it, IS AMAZING. Great work RZ.

  11. As someone with not a lot of time to watch the full video, I am very thankful you cut down your videos! now it is the weekend I can watch it all again In 1 video. Love the vids man! Keep up the good work.

  12. If I remember correctly, it was posible to make the Quartz Quadrant boss go by faster by using the dash/super peel out.

  13. Great review, great game imo, too bad Naka couldn't participate in develoment but at the same time it's impressive what they managaged to achieve with the Sonic 1 engine. If this game had been made nowadays and it rounded everything better, maybe make it a less vertical while keeping the insane focus on replay value (the combination of this + only 7 levels was a genius decision, really this game feels sometimes even more replayable than S3&K, likely an effect of the considerable amount of time the devs had before release) it would be game of the year candidate, there's just nothing like it and I'm not even talking about the quirky level design which I mostly like because it feels more Sonic 1 than Sonic 2 (the bottomless pits in Sonic 2 didn't added anything to the game except in a few spots).

  14. After watching this, I watched your reviews of the first two Sonic games and at the end of your Sonic 2 review you said that you would cover the Taxman and Stealth remakes after your Sonic CD review. Does that mean your review of the remakes is coming up next?

  15. Not trying to hate or complain to much, but was there always this many ads on your videos? Other than that I love this format and watch your reviews at least 3 times (especially when its sonic related) I'm sure I can speak for all of your followers, that we appreciate all your hard work!

  16. Interesting retrospective. I'll be honest: After playing through all the old Sonic games to completion for the first time around a year ago, CD was the only one I came away truly loving. There are absolutely a few problematic generators, but I love that they're tied to the time-travel mechanic. In the Genesis titles, I don't feel there's a great incentive to really learn how to build up speed, or make use of the environments. Certainly it can allow you to go faster, but that's then running counter to the element of, say, playing conservatively enough to save rings for secret-stage entry, or to find them in the case of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. CD is the only game where I feel the physics puzzles, speed, and exploration all come together. To get the good ending, you need to find the generators, and to find the generators, you need to not only explore, but figure out how to use the environment to build up the necessary speed to travel to the past.

    It isn't perfect, but this is as close to a good marriage of all of Sonic's elements as I feel the original run ever comes.

    As a way of off-setting some of the more obtuse hiding spots, you're also able to enter standard bonus stages to gather the time gems for a good ending. Allowing these two possibilities does the game a world of good.

    It isn't perfect, but I feel this is the best outing of the lot; I'd have been interested to see the series continue closer in spirit to CD: big, explorable physics puzzles that demand mastery of Sonic's controls, rather than three-tiered racetracks at odds with other exploration-focused elements. If a sequel had cleaned up some of CD's jank, we could have gotten something truly special.

    I do wish, as you state in your recommendations, that the generators had been hidden in places that required specific manipulation of Sonic's physics.

  17. Sonic CD is actually one of my top 5 video games. (I own the Gems Collection version) My apologies your experience wasn't as smooth as my own play throughs.

  18. Great review but you made a big mistake. You reviewed the Original version instead of the Christian White port

  19. Hope this new format works out for you!!! Appreciating still being able to watch the full long format!!! And OMG, you mentioning DKC throughout the analysis, PLEASE COVER THE DKC TRILOGY!!! THAT WOULD BE A DREAM!!! 😍

  20. If you read this: Do you intend to do this kind of critical analysis to games like Freedom Planet, Sonic Mania, Sonic Rush, the Mega Man Zero series or Castlevania the Adventure ReBirth?

  21. My favourite classic game, the level design is so good. It’s fast, and yes, the game has a lot of gimmicks. But the gimmicks don’t ruin the pase.

  22. So I've noticed your new video format, where you construct a multipart review that can be turned into one flowing video, honestly I don't feel this new method is very great as it requires alot more effort and it isn't a very efficient way to gain traction. I liked you're longer videos but obviously not everyone has time for that, I get structuring it as both a multi parter and a long video pleases both but I don't think it'll increase the channel's growth, longer videos can be successful but what you need to know before making a long video on something is how relevant it is, a long video about Jak and Daxter isn't going to get many views because Jak and Daxter isn't very relevant while as something like megaman is still pretty relevant today. That 2 hour video criticising super Mario odyssey did well because when it came out super Mario odyssey was relevant. I'm not suggesting you only make videos on relevant games, I mean what if you have how relevant the topic is, play into how long the video is, now obviously that won't be the only reason but it could be one reason out of many. People will stick longer for things that are relevant and vice versa but hey that's just my suggestion.Change or not I still enjoy the content you put out!

  23. Sweet a full review! Thanks for creating once again.
    What I'm REALLY waiting for though, is X8!
    Any idea how much longer?

  24. Your reviews are perfect please don’t quit because you aren’t that popular. You’re the best reviewer on YouTube

  25. Can I just say? I love that your reviews are long. The name of your show alone caught my eye. I agree, quickies don't cut it. You've just earned a subscriber

  26. IMO this game has an extremely poorly though out level design, which is extremely crucial to this type of game. Complete failure.

  27. Sonic CD and Chaotix are like entry level sonic games, they're nice for people who are in the mood for something easier, though it can leave some bored.

  28. I feel like this video is longer than it needed to be. There's a lot of retreading points, harping on one subject long after you made your point, and the length is especially padded out by your unnecessarily long gameplay suggestions. This didn't need to be stretched to an hour from you describing an imaginary AU Sonic CD's gameplay mechanics and world map. A description of what was wrong and why would have been fine. This felt like 45 minutes worth of material stretched to an hour.

    It's not a bad video (your otherwise in-depth analysis is very well done), just a padded one.

  29. I'm glad the Internet has sort of shown Sonic CD for what it is. As a kid I'd hear it hailed as the the best Sonic game ever because only the people with a Sega CD had the privilege of enjoying it. Later in life I finally get my hands on the game and I really didn't enjoy my time with it. For a while I blamed myself for just not understanding it until I actually thought about why I didn't like it and found it to be a charming, but mediocre game.

  30. I love the Bad Future Quartz Quadrant theme from the US soundtrack, quite haunting and beautiful. Sonic CD was an interesting approach at but could have been better if the timer had been left out and if the exploration didn't conflict with the haphazard level designs.

    A good but flawed game.

  31. Cool vid man, but I was wondering if you had your hands on the Whitehead Remake. Seems to me that it’s done the game justice

  32. Thank you for this! I recently subscribed because your material is excellent! I can easily spend an hour watching such a great analysis of a Sonic game. Sonic CD is my favorite classic Sonic game (with Sonic Mania now possibly coming out ahead, but most of it is still a rehash instead of all original content). Still, many of the points you make do resonate with me and I can see where you are coming from. Particularly the time travel, while making things more interesting (and I'm glad they're in there), they could have been implemented better. I appreciate you spending so much time on this! If the end product is over one hour, I can't imagine how much time and effort went in to making it! When/If you get a chance, I'd love to see a Sonic Mania analysis in the future.

  33. Hey thanks for making my day better man! Love your reviews. You actually review sonic the right way. Not like other people who just ignore all flaws and stuff like that. And that’s coming from a huge sonic fan. Keep on grinding man. As a suggestion. Maybe review sonic mania ? Just a thought……..

  34. Trvia: Sonic CD was originally meant to be a CD version of Sonic 1. Then it became Super Sonic (a Sega CD port of S2 with additional levels, redone OST and more). But Sonic 2 kind of flopped in Japan., So, Sonic CD became a project of its own.

  35. Great review, shame it doesn't have more views. I think the game's a mess personally but hey. Also saying 'Stardust Shitway' at 57:35 seems a little out of place. I didn't get the sense that you disliked the level that much.

  36. Hey, did I miss anything about the mobile versions, which let you switch between the American or Japanese/European soundtrack?

  37. I think the time travel would work better if they worked like the special stages portals in Sonic 2. You run past a sign post, the sparkles appear over it and you can jump in if you want. That or make them like Sonic 3 with the giant ring, have 2 past portals and 2 future portals hidden somewhere the level and it's up to you to find them. Or, if you are completely married to the speed idea, allow someone to use the same post multiple times. Let them keep trying until they get it.

  38. As a man known for Sonic Mania Plus once said: Slopes are what make Sonic level design work.
    Sonic CD fails even at that fundamental level, being so blocky. That's not even talking about the mindlessly convoluted level design that downright punishes you for going fast. "Exploration THROUGH momentum, speed and physics" is what makes Sonic tick – not "exploration, and speed is punished".

  39. Sonic CD's biggest flaw in my opinion is the time limit and time travel

    Seeing as they were going for more exploration-based level design, the time limit should have been removed or at least stretched to a doable time. It gets repetitive to explore a stage only to have to start from the beginning every 10mins.

    If they had more flat terrain for sonic to move around in or just have you instantly teleport, I feel the game would be so much better.

    (Great review, I feel no one else would be able to make an hour long review on Sonic CD)

  40. The problem with Sonic CD is that unlike Sonic 2, instead of fixing the problems with Sonic 1, it just adds more content

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