Bit Treasure is about the old stuff, the games you buy when you’re strapped for cash or throw your money at Humble Bundles for, the games you come back to every now and then over the years, or have buried in your 300+ Steam games list.
And sometimes it’s about games you’ve just never heard of.
Treasure Three: Tranquility with Sonic CD
I think I’m safe in assuming that I don’t have to tell you who Sonic the Hedgehog is — 25 years of history and counting, all with the series’ ups and downs. Well, some downs. Mostly downs. Ok it was pretty much downhill after Sonic Advance 2. However, in the first ten or so years of Sonic’s run, it was golden, with a shining beacon of that golden age first coming out on a failed add-on to the Sega Genesis in 1993 a year before Sonic 3. It would then eventually release again on PC three years later and nobody would play it.
Sonic CD is the best Sonic the Hedgehog game.
Why yes I will explain myself, thank you.
Sonic CD once again pits Sonic against Robotnik, who now has the power to alter time, and it’s up to Sonic to save the world by visiting different lands through different time periods and create a good future for all once again.
My running theory about the Sonic franchise is that it’s just an elaborate, 25-year running ruse to sell soundtracks. If there’s one constant with the Sonic the Hedgehog games, it’s the amazing music, and some of the franchise’s best songs come from Sonic CD. They may not exactly be memorable like those in Sonic 2, but Sonic CD can definitely boast to have one of the most creative soundtracks in the franchise. Each Round’s songs come with four variants, and which one you hear depends on which time period you’re in. The soundtrack was also split into a US and a Japanese version, I have no idea why but the best reason most folks can come up with is “licensing issues”. Whatever the case, both soundtracks have their strong points, though I tend to favour the Japanese version because it’s more coherent and has clear intent when it comes to the time period of each round. Thankfully, you can choose between the two different soundtracks in the 2011 re-release if there’s one you prefer.
The gameplay is exactly what you would come to expect from a Sonic game in 1993, and then some. Everything is familiar yet has its own twist. You still run, jump, spin dash, and jump on robots, but Zones are now rounds, Acts are now Zones, and time travel is the new big draw. Each of the game’s Zones have their own time period variants, a Past, Present, Bad Future, and Good Future. To reach these time periods, you need only speed past a Past or Future sign post and then run for about three or four seconds praying you don’t bump into anything. This is easier said than done…it is 1993 Sonic after all.
Each Zone starts you off in the present, with the third Zone of each Round placing you only in the future to face off with Robotnik. Whether that future is good or bad depends on what you do in each Zone. If you visit the future, they will automatically be Bad Futures: nightmarish hellscapes rife with pollution and technological decadence.
If you travel to the past and destroy a robot-teleporter machine in each Zone, you’ll create Good Futures: technological utopias that are one with nature and aren’t filled with death.
Looking at those screenshots, you can tell that Sonic CD is beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous in fact. Not a single pixel is wasted and the level designs of each Zone can be regarded as some of the best in the franchise. You can see a story being told about the Zones you’re in while travelling through time, like how a great casino was once a jungle paradise, and will either go on to be a corrupt dystopia or an electronica dream rave. Aiming for a Good Future gives an incentive to explore the Zones you’re in. You’ll ultimately need to travel to the past to destroy the machine teleporters but you’ll find their remnants in future time periods, giving you a rough idea on how to get to them in the past. This kind of exploration makes Sonic CD a somewhat open world experience that only a Sonic game can offer. Boss battles are also highly varied in comparison to their predecessors. Robotnik is a crafty guy in this one, so you’ll be fighting him head-on, trying to climb up his wacky contraptions to get to him while he bombards you from above, or racing down speedways against Metal Sonic while Robotnik tries to murder you.
Did you know Sonic CD featured the first appearances of Metal Sonic and Amy? The game features a lot of firsts for the franchise. It was the first to use centiseconds in the game’s timer. It was the first to feature autosaving. It was the first Sonic game released on PC. And it was also the first to have animated cutscenes.
There’s a lot the Sonic franchise owes to Sonic CD, and it’s sad it’s been relegated to Cult Classic status but at least it isn’t forgotten. Sega at least knows its value and has released it on practically everything, despite most of the world not knowing it exists.
Sometimes the treasure is not in the thing itself, but in its legacy, and if nothing else, the legacy of Sonic CD shaped the Golden ten years of Sonic for the better.
Editor: Joseph Diskett