In what's become an ongoing theme this year, I've been somewhat curbing my loose 'no replay' policy, I took another punt at a game that's been subject to much derision on my part, Sonic CD. I've been known to scoff whenever I read or hear it brought up as some semi-lost gem amid Sonic's golden-age, doomed to a relative nicheness due to the fate of its native Sega-CD. It's really not, and I forward that point having softened my opinion on it a little. It reappeared on the PlayStation Network quite cheaply last year, and with Sony adding a Paypal option to their store recently, I felt it was time I'd make certain my opinion on it. Well, either that or I'm in the middle of a Sonic marathon, whatever.
It's an okay game, it really is, but I've labelled something closer to a fan-hack in the past, and I'd stand by that mostly, for reasons clear momentarily. I was told before ever playing it that its emphasis on exploration, as opposed to the trademark speed of the series, adds a depth not present in previous entries. Where you'd have to search for a generator to destroy, in order to yield a good future, and receive the game's 'good' ending. The 'good' being open to interpretation, as in this case, all it does is modify the last two seconds of closing cut-scene. This being subject of passing posts that let you access a level's past or future, respectively, and destroying a generator. This, I was told, added more depth, but changes between time-zones of an area seem to be minimal, if not mostly scenic.
I'd consider this exploration point a flawed assertion on a couple of levels. Sonic was never just about speed, in its 16-bit days, at least. Sure, you can blitz your way through the likes Emerald Hill or Green Hill Zone of games prior, or what have you, but if you were to keep that approach throughout the subsequent levels, you're going to overly-acquainted with the death animation rather sharpish. I'd consider the bursts of speed as tech-demos initially, and short treats later on, for navigating a path between foes. Mind, Sonic games always had branching paths, no? Top, middle and bottom, with varying difficulties. I don't feel a time-travelling dynamic adds all that much to the appeal to that. Anyways, my second gripe with the idea of it being exploration focused is the fact that the explorer angle only works if the levels themselves are really fun.
So, Sonic CD doesn't really have that going for it. Don't get me wrong, its levels are fun-ish, but too many times during my playthroughs, I got the impression a lot of the level design was the product of too much thatwouldbecool-ism, where the developers took note of popular levels from Sonics previous, like the Casino Night Zone of Sonic 2, and made an uninspired offshoot of it, such as the boss-battle in Collision Chaos, which is fun for the first three seconds 'til you realize you've only got a slight chance of being able to direct Sonic's actions. Then there's the likes of Wacky Workbench, that takes the novel idea of propellant floors, and then kills it about twenty seconds in, when you're navigating as best you can, and you're still propelled toward an unforeseeable trap, like the electrified grate, or waiting spiked-mines.
Here's where my fan-hack bit comes in, as fan-hacks are generally the work of folk who've played a game to death and just add random elements to change up the formula, rarely with any rhyme or reason, just for the sake of thatwouldcoolness. I know there's a stack of fan-hacks that're as good or even better than their commercial counterparts, but you can get my drift. Sonic CD often feels like one of its Megadrive siblings, with random elements lobbed in to convince you it's fresh, and in this instance, they literally feel like obstacles to a better game than any proper part of the gameplay. I did like the brevity of the water bits though, save for the boss, and that wasn't all that arduous, really.
Overall, a fun game, sullied by its flaws. It's cheap, and if you're in want of some fresh 16-bit era Sonic, having finished the Megadrive offerings and not played this before, it's worth a punt, I just don't feel it'll be the shiniest bits of your Sonic memories.
Oh yes, I'd be remiss not to mention the oozing quality of the soundtrack, be it the Japanese or US one. Well, I'm mostly basing that on the biblically brilliant cheese-sandwich of a track that is 'Sonic Boom', with its mix of nineties 'tude and epically-minded lyrics, it serves a treat, but both soundtracks are cool jingles that set a fine mood for the game.