Typically, when a classic game finds its way to modern consoles, the port is quick and the extras are minimal. The recent release of Sonic CD, however, deviates from that unfortunate standard. There have been many compilations full of Sonic games over the years, but they have typically included Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic and Knuckles. (Occasionally Sonic Spinball is also included, which is a personal favorite of mine.) What all of these games have in common is that they were released for the Sega Genesis, while Sonic CD was released for the ill-fated Sega CD. If you didn’t have one, you are no longer missing out, because Sonic CD was easily the best game released for the add-on unit.
Ordinarily, Sonic games involve running fast, avoiding spikes, and hitting Dr. Robotnik eight times at the end of every stage. Sonic CD introduces time travel to the mix. It is no longer enough to make it to the end of the stage: now if you want to do it right, you need to find a time pole and then stay speedy for long enough to travel back to the past, destroy Robotnik’s environment-damaging machine, do it again in Act 2 and only then take on Robotnik because, similarly to other Sonic games, it isn’t really worth winning if you don’t collect all of the time stones (which replace Chaos Emeralds), create good futures and see the game’s real ending.
Everything else works like the Sonic games you remember and love from your childhood. Sonic has a great sense of speed, the physics remaining more like Sonic 2 and 3 than Sonic 4, and engages in the most cerebral boss fights of the entire franchise. Sonic does have one new move in his arsenal: a cousin of the spin dash, the peel-out. While a spin dash gives you the ability to quickly build up momentum and damage enemies, the peel out allows you to sacrifice offense for speed and quickly build up running momentum instead of rolling momentum.
The digital version is superior to the Sega CD version in two key ways. First: since the music is not stored on the CD, there is no wait time while the Sega CD seeks to the next needed track. As soon as you pick up invincibility, the appropriate music starts. Second: both the Japanese and US soundtracks are available. Both are worth a listen, and it is great to have the choice.
If you love Sonic and never had the proper equipment to play Sonic CD, then now is the time to rectify that. It is hard to argue with a new (for most people) classic Sonic experience for only five dollars. And for those of us who were lucky enough to play it the first time, it is finally time to retire the Sega CD, and let’s be honest: you weren’t using it for anything else anyhow.
Pros: Well-emulated version of a rarer Sonic game
Cons: Can be a bit tricky