The Rambleast Review: Sonic CD

I spent a good part of the year waiting on Sonic CD after a set of tantalising trailers whet my appetite for the last of the supposedly classic Sonic games I’d yet to play. Before Flickies’ Island and the shame of later efforts, before the resultant, blatant backtracking of the mishandled Sonic 4 and long before the return of Fat Sonic (affectionately referred to by Blast Processor Tom as ‘little Sonic’) in this year’s Sonic Generations, Sonic CD hails from a time when the blue blur could do no wrong and despite poor sales on account of the low adoption rate of Sega’s peripheral upgrade the game remains a firm fan favourite thanks to its advancements in sound and a smattering of new gameplay ideas that separate it from its predecessors (though they wouldn’t last through the following games, oddly enough). As the year wore on the promised “late 2011” release seemed ever less likely until without a word of warning the title dropped last week on Live Arcade and the Playstation Network (as well as less desirable tabletty things I’m yet to acknowledge for gaming purposes) and within the day I was racing through the sucker.

Now, I’m a classic Sonic devotee and no mistake. Coupled, Sonic 3 and Knuckles ranks high on my list of favourite games and even the inferior Master System titles see more action on my Wii than a lot of games designed specifically for that console do. My one caveat is that I hate with a passion rivalling that of anyone’s Sega’s very first Sonic The Hedgehog from 1991. If you’d like to take a little detour (and you could do worse, it’s kinda funny) you can follow this link through to a detailed list of just why that’s the case, but at least know that I despise its every facet, from design to music and over and under every little intricacy in between. It is with heavy heart and solemn brow that I tender this ill-favoured review of Sonic CD, then, as it most often seems to me like little more than a fancying-up of Sonic 1: the material may be different, but the suit’s the same.

For those to whom STH1 isn’t quite as personal an affront as it is to me, this isn’t likely to matter much, but considering the superlative Sonic 2 had seen release ‘twixt the two titles it seems odd that Sega took such a dramatic step in the wrong direction. I’ll state (contemporaneously) right off the bat that the soundtrack for the game is fairly radical (!), and it’s hard to fault the smoothness of the gameplay (now running consistently at 60 frames per second) or the fleeting elements of inspiration that inform level traversal, but to be honest the list of negatives largely outweighs the positives. For a start (and in what I consider the most glaring instance of laziness), the levels all look the same. Each boasts a distraction of flashing lights, myriad loops and dancing platforms and in general a great deal more business than any of the Mega Drive outings, but it’s all draped in this uniform flashiness that takes away any and all sense of travel, adventure or exploration. Straight from memory (honestly) I can recount each of Sonic 2 and 3’s environments, and I don’t just mean their names, in order: Countryside, city, ruin, city at night, mountainside terrain, mine, industrial area, whatever-the-hell-Metropolis-Zone-is, the sky, the sky again, space. That’s just one list. After a conscious runthrough of Sonic CD I can confirm that after the first zone’s Green Hill cypher there’s just one great big blur of techno-fitted retreads of levels from the original game (from Labyrinth to Star Night and beyond), replete with the very same Badniks and even interactive scenery (the platforms from Scrap Brain abound). Worse still, the game’s pace dispatches you through each level at such speed that those reviewers praising the game’s explorative potential must be jonesing something fierce for those achievements because finishing any of the non-boss levels in anything over a minute takes a serious determination not to do so.On the subject of the bosses (again, little more than the first two games’ Robotnik-piloted contraptions in fancier duds) the difficulty spikes in an effort to make the game last a little longer than the hour or so it takes to finish. The chasm of challenge between the relative breeze of the main levels and the often strikingly tough Robotnik battles feels cheap, frankly, and led to more than one session postponement to calm down my precious nerves.

Other features of the game – the switching between past and future versions of the levels with negligible differences, playing as Tails, Time Attack – may serve to extend your mileage with it but you’d have to enjoy your first playthrough enough to have another go. While I’m well aware that mine is a lone voice screaming in the dense fog of independent opinion sites amidst the humbling vastness of the internet, my conviction remains that this game enjoyed hyperbolic praise and developed a general aura of mystique owing to how relatively few people played it and the power of nostalgia (not, according to one Plantagenet Evans, to be underestimated).Just to quickly address the other features of this latest and surely last edition, it boasts a selection of 12 achievementrophies (which the cynic in me can’t help but scowl at), the aforementioned new unlockability of Miles “Tails” Prower as a playable character and both sets of soundtracks from the differing American and Japanese releases, though it’s worth noting that the vocals have been removed from the (genuinely impressive) opening anime sequence presumably for reasons pertaining to something as tedious as rights, licensing or other such gubbins that so often makes the world a less lively place to live. The US opening theme (“Sonic Boom”) remains unaltered.

Would I recommend it? In the vainest of attempts to seem less curmoudgeonly, I’ll say go ahead and make your own mind up. What it all boils down to is that Sonic CD is, essentially, what it’s being sold as: a game from 1993 and nothing more. Perhaps it was unfair of me to expect any more from it, and perhaps again unfair to judge it so harshly for the relatively innocuous crime of resembling something I detest, but nostalgiastes whose bitterness at never receiving a Mega CD and the correspondent post-pubescent joy of finally playing the one that got away may want to prepare themselves for something short of revelatory because Sonic CD, for all its technical accomplishments as a 90s platformer and a faithful yet enhanced port, is no Sonic 3 and Knuckles, and you can take that to the bank.Sonic CD was first released on Sega Mega CD in 1993. The edition reviewed is available for immediate download from Xbox Live Arcade (400 Microsoft Points), Playstation Network (£3.49) and a few too many phones and tablets to mention, and was developed by The Taxman in association with Sega.

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