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Sonic CD (Xbox 360) artwork

Sonic CD (Xbox 360) review

"Expect to be disappointed."

I was always in awe of Sonic CD when I was younger. I didnít own a copy myself, but I remember being hugely impressed by reviews in fanatical Sega magazines, which would always praise it as a must-have title for fans of the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games. A Sony PlayStation was a more appealing prospect by the time I could afford Segaís expensive CD add-on, but Iíve always regarded Sonic CD as the great Sonic platformer that I missed out on. It certainly sounded great on paper: CD quality music, new characters, new moves, a time travel gimmick that meant around 70 different stage designs. I loved Sonic 1 and Sonic 2, but Sonic CD just seemed to promise something much bigger and even better.

When I finally had the chance to play Sonic CD a year ago, courtesy of Christian Whiteheadís ĎRetro Engineí port, I found myself making a lot of excuses for it.

Iíd tell myself that I actually liked the graphics. Iíd try and convince myself that the overwhelming use of colour was an appropriate tribute to the energy and enthusiasm of Sonic the Hedgehog, that it proved just how well Sonic Team had made use of the extra processing power. In truth, the graphics are absolutely horrendous. Sonic 1 used colour to construct a clear and distinct visual style for each zone. We all remember the Green Hill Zone, but think also of the Labyrinth Zone, the Twilight Zone, even the Scrap Brain Zone with its grim machinery and burnt sky. The seven zones in Sonic CD have been assaulted with colour and effects, making it impossible for the themes to be clear or distinct. The worst offender is Collision Chaos, which compliments a violet sky and orange mountains with garish bubblegum pink walls. Throw flowers, bumpers, springs, flashing diamonds and odd towers into the mix and you have a visually confusing mess. It looks like the Casino Night Zone has vomited all over the Spring Yard Zone.

Even after I had given up on the graphics, I would still pretend that time-travel was at least a good idea for a Sonic game. Imagine journeying to a past incarnation of the Green Hill Zone, where the plants are still growing and the loops are still being constructed, in order to save it from a bad future in which the grass has been scorched and the rivers polluted by the evil intentions of Dr. Robotnik. Unfortunately, the appeal of seeing Collision Chaos in the past, present and future is just not the same, as it looks dreadful in every time period. The pattern grows repetitive: in the present Wacky Workbench is an industrial Zone that has been constructed out of metal with warning tape plastered over it. In the past, itís being constructed and the landscape has an natural innocence to it. In the bad future, itís rusting and decaying, while in the good future the use of vibrant colours is abused to the extreme. The zones in Sonic CD have no visual appeal, so itís unlikely youíll feel the urge to visit the past and future of every stage.

In a way this is fortunate, because actually travelling into the past or future can be very frustrating. To journey in time you need to find the relevant Ďtime warpí post, touch it and then reach top speed for around 10 to 20 seconds. Level design in Sonic CD is overly-reliant on spikes, springs and dead-ends to impede your progress, so itís difficult to reach the speed required to time travel. When you do journey into the past you must smash a generator before you can jump forward in time to appreciate the good future. Accomplishing this in levels that last for around two minutes would be a challenge anyway, so itís not helpful when youíre constantly prevented from reached the required speed for long enough. Sonic CD adds the spin dash from Sonic 2 and features the Ďsuper peel outí, which allows Sonic to rev up from a standing start, but what use are these when a loop or slide is followed immediately by a wall of spikes?

I can thankfully be a little more positive about some aspects of Sonic CD. The music is excellent and most of the bosses manage to impress. These encounters do reach beyond what was achieved in Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 in scale and innovation. Fans will love the recreation of the Metropolis Zone battle with Robotnik in the Tidal Tempest zone. This time the fight occurs underwater and the orbs that revolve around Robotnik are replaced by air bubbles that are vital for Sonicís survival. The Stardust Speedway race with Metal Sonic is so thrilling that it was even recreated for Sonic Generations. I must admit, though, that even here Sonic CD disappoints because the bosses are far too easy to defeat: strip Robotnik of all his orbiting air bubbles in the Tidal Tempest zone and only one hit is required to beat him.

In truth, Sonic CD is a poor game, but no excuses need to be made for Christian Whiteheadís efforts in porting the title. He developed his ĎRetro Engineí independently for iOS devices before Sega swooped in. You might have expected them to pull the plug on a fanís attempt to bring one of their old games to a new system, but they wisely saw the sense in fostering the port and allowed him to bring it to PSN and Xbox Live as well. His achievement in getting the port to run and control so smoothly was so successful that they had him update their previous iOS Sonic games with the same engine. In addition to the impressive performance of the port on all consoles, Whiteheadís version adds a comprehensive selection of extras, including the ability to play as Tails. The best feature is the option to switch between the Japanese and American soundtracks. The PAL music delivers a brash and energetic wall of sound, while the NA music features a more layered approach to synths and effects; itís great to be able to switch between the two.

I wish I could excuse Sonic CD for its flaws because I love the music and I love the care and attention that Whitehead has invested into his port, but I just canít escape the truth. Sonic CD is a shocking experience to play: full of frustration and annoyance with awful, tasteless graphics. I do think itís at least worth a look if youíre a fan and missed out on it back in 1993, but more out of curiosity than anything else. Expect to be disappointed.


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Community review by JANUS2 (December 14, 2014)

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