If there’s one company that has fan service nailed down tight, it’s Sega. Seriously, every time some hardcore fan base has demanded a game for release on the digital front, it’s come through in spades. Guardian Heroes? Released with an HD makeover and online play. Daytona USA? Packing Xbox Live support and complete with a weird (yet hilarious) Karaoke Mode. Crazy Taxi? Well, it didn’t quite have the amazing soundtrack it once did, but it’s still reckless fun. And now it’s come through again, just in time for the holidays, with Sonic CD.
First announced back at PAX, it was a shock to see Sonic CD come back in the limelight, after the initial game had a mediocre run on the Sega CD platform, followed by a flawed, glitchy release on PC. But after running along that bumpy road, we’re happy to report that the Hedgehog has made a smooth transition on Xbox Live (PSN next week), with all of the original game’s goodness intact – and a few bonuses for good measure.
Sonic CD does stray a little bit off course from previous Sonic games. All the running and enemy bopping is still intact, and you’ll set out to collect as many rings as possible for those cherished one-ups. But some mastermind at Sega (probably Yuji Naka) added the element of time travel, where Sonic runs through specific gates and runs like hell, transporting himself to the past or the future. Most of the level build itself remains the same, but everything else – décor, music, enemies – has drastically changed. It’s a neat effect that will have you running through different gates each time through, just to see how everything turns out.
This game is also quite tougher than previous Sonics. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but you’ll be surprised how often you hit spiked walls and lose all your precious rings, or accidentally fall into a bottomless pit of death. With much more intricate level designs, there’s plenty to find in each stage, but eventually you’ll need to figure out the best way through, such as on a huge pinball grid that reminds us so much of the forgotten Sonic Spinball. Just stick with it, though, and you’ll be promptly rewarded with a rich experience as only the Hedgehog can deliver.
We mentioned extras, and Sonic CD definitely has them. The first thing worth noting is that the game features various graphic filters – Sharp, Smooth and Nostalgic. The best way to go if you’re a retro fan is obviously Nostalgic, but the other two filters aren’t half bad. While the game’s lacking the kind of HD makeover magic that Beyond Good and Evil and the upcoming Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath received, it still looks damn good for its age — in spite of the somewhat chunky 3D stages. The parallax scrolling backgrounds and beautiful sights are still worth beholding.
In addition, there’s the music. A lot of fans were miffed when the original Sonic CD was released with an all new US-made soundtrack, rather than keeping the insanely good Japanese one. But Sega delivers once again, as it gives you the option to switch between the two. This is a superb option, and both soundtracks are well worth a listen. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself switching back and forth, just to pick your favorites.
The gameplay delivers, even if the game is a little tougher than usual, and it’s humorous to see the first signs of Amy, Sonic’s inadvertent love interest, in early form. But one questionable addition is Tails, who becomes an unlockable character once you finish the game. He feels like an unnecessary add-on, though some fans will obviously enjoy his presence. We would’ve preferred the much more bad-ass Metal Sonic, though. Or hey, what about Knuckles?
Best of all, Sonic CD is delivered to us in time for the holidays at an incredibly reasonable price – five bucks. Yep, what was once released for a full retail $49.99 has been reduced to 1/10 of that price, even though all the quality remains intact. Sega could’ve easily jacked the price to $10 (as it did for Daytona and other digital releases) and still gotten buyers. But at $5? That’s beyond a steal.
Sega still appreciates its classic game library, and its digital release of Sonic CD easily proves that. They’ve taken great care of this game, including all the gameplay that made it so rewarding in the first place and throwing in various new options to cater to its fan base, including graphic tweaking, soundtrack selection and an additional character. It’s easily one of the best values you can get for your gaming dollar this year. Don’t hesitate to run wild with it.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]