knew a friend of mine who bought himself a Sega CD soon after it
was released. I suppose he thought it would boost his popularity
or "status" with other gamers. Unfortunately, lady luck
just didn't seem to go his way. For starters, the unit cost $300,
which at the time was a rediculous amount of money to spend on a
videogame machine, especially when the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo
compund problems, the games for the Sega CD turned out to be duds.
Complete, utter flops. Despite months of endless hype, all we had
to show for it was barely enhanced versions of Genesis cartridge
games. Sure, it was kinda cool watching the cartoon intro to Sol-Feace,
but that was only good for five minutes.
suppose you could suggest the Full-Motion-Video games, but the novelty
on those, ahem, "games" wore off pretty damn quick. Sherlock
Holmes, Consulting Detective at least was fun for twenty minutes
or so, but what good is that? And the less said of Sewer Shark,
my friend ended up paying $300 for a doorstop. I eventually bought
it from him for a song, which probably wasn't the wisest decision
from me; but that's largely because I believe money should never
be exchanged between friends.
this will give you an understanding of why so many gamers from the
16-bit era will swear on a stack of holy book that Sonic CD was
the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread, perhaps even
the greatest of all the Sonic games. At the time, we were seriously
starved for anything good, and the Sega CD debut of Sonic exceeded
our wildest dreams.
game's long disappearance from future compilations and greatest-hits
packages only seemed to strenghen its status. Sonic CD achieved
the status of mythic legend.
wasn't until now, in the year 2005, that Sega finally brought its
classic back from the mists and onto a console again. What will
the average Playstation 2 owner think? There's more to overcome
than the passage of time; the two-dimensional platform game has
become all but extinct.
don't think it should be too difficult. All you need is a chance
to sit down with a controller in hand and a couple minutes. Sonic
will have sunk his claws into you by then. Anyone who isn't seriously
hooked should question their love of videogames. You know, real
games, not pre-rendered movie clips.
First Four Sonic Games - Sonic the Hedgehog,
Sonic 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic
3 & Knuckes - represented Sega at their creative and commercial
peak. I'm always reminded of the first four Ramones albums, which
wrote the book on punk rock and spawned countless imitators. Of
these four, I think the original Sonic is the weakest, but this
is how it should be. The creative talent later refined and perfected
S3K, I'd say Sonic CD is my favorite in the pack. It's different
from the others, a little off the beaten path, and it suggests another
way Sonic could have evolved it Sega CD's fortunes turned out different.
if you will, that the Sonic branches in two different directions
after the original. In one direction, Yuji Naka, the crack programmer
who left Sega Japan for work in America. He found himself working
at the Sega Technical Institute, with the independent American talent.
By a bold surprise, he was handed the Genesis sequel to Sonic, with
considerable creative freedom to mold the character in his own likeness.
took that opportunity and ran, resulting in Sonic 2, the Genesis'
most successful game and the standard for every Sonic game that
in Japan, a second branch moved away. This was led by Naoto Oshima,
the other major talent from Sonic. He was given a team to design
the Sonic sequel that would appear on the Sega CD.
contribution to Sonic was speed, but Oshima's contribution was intricate,
tightly designed platform levels. His inspiration was Super Mario,
games that rewarded exploration and depth above barreling through
as quickly as possible.
he and his team created is a marvel of game design. The worlds in
Sonic CD are vast, enormous. These are the largest levels in the
16-bit era. I want you to notice an especially striking feature.
Note how vertical these levels are. Note how long some of these
of course, can still fly at lightning speed, but that speed must
be tempered against plaftorms, ledges, towers. There's a lot of
territory to climb and explore. You could, if you wish, simply run
to the finish line as quickly as possible, and it shouldn't take
more than a minute or two. But look at how much you've missed. It's
not the destination that matters, but the journey.
brings us to Sonic CD's most famous feature: time travel. The worlds
are seperated into three time zones: past, present, and future.
Scattered about are sign posts that enable you to travel forwards
or backwards in time. In the game's story, the ever-present villain
Dr. Robotnik has corrupted the world of the future. By travelling
into the past, you can destroy his machines and set the course of
level has four parts: past, present, future, and the good future.
And this is the real genius, isn't it? We can see the steady progression
through time, in each of Sonic CD's worlds. The attention and dedication
to consistency of style is striking. And, for players, there are
more than enough variations to make you want to explore each time
zone as much as possible. The standard ten minute time limit can
get stretched thin pretty quickly.
mentioned the level design, and the architecture, but observe how
Oshima uses them to counter Sonic's speed. After hitting a sign
post, you need to run at full speed for a length of time (think
Back to the Future). The trick is that, as you progress, there are
fewer places to just barrel ahead without running into something.
You need to explore a little, and find a place where you can loop
or bounce between springs.
of the seven zones in Sonic CD carries its own style, and often
require different tactics to progress. There's the bright, green
valley that starts off every Sonic, and the industrial factory at
the end, but we see some locations that have never been revisited
in the series, like a crystalline cavern or a colossal series of
trumpet horns. One zone even features an electric floor that shoots
everything - including you! - dozens of stories high. You have to
wonder why the recent Sonic sequels always rely on the same schtick.
Where's the creativity?
thing that really strikes me about Sonic CD is the look of it all.
It's very psychedelic; not loaded with trippy visual effects, but
very heavily saturated in color. The Sega CD offered a larger palette
over Genesis, and Oshima's artists took great advantage of this.
It's one of the best examples of acid-drenched pop art seen in a
videogame. Turn me on, dead man.
gamers also happen to remember Sonic CD for another reason: the
soundtrack. In Japan, they took advantage of the then-new CD medium
and recorded a terrific musical score. It's not too loud, not too
far removed from cartridge music, but the quality is a grand improvement.
The past and future zones play variations on the main theme, and
it all gels perfectly.
some reason, Sega decided to rescore the game when bringing it to
the States. That task fell to Spencer Nilsen, who wrote a lot of
game music for Sega during the 16-bit era. I will, in his defense,
say he did a very good job. He recorded a variety of synth-pop tunes,
some with backup vocals; for some cruel reason, it reminds me of
Paula Abdul. That's just mean.
it has to be said that it doesn't match the Japanese original. More
importantly (and this is where I firmly oppose dubbing foreign movies),
Sega of America intruded upon the original vision. It's as if a
gallery owner decided a certain artist's paintings needed more green,
and then started in with a paintbrush.
fanzines back then were really upset about this. I also remember
Diehard Gamefan reminding its readers (?) every chance it could.
Does it really matter in 2005? Probably not. The internet took care
of that. It's a sort of karma; a way of bringing a sorely-overlooked
classic to modern audiences.
that I'm telling you to download the old files so you can play Sonic
CD on your emulator. Not me. There's that new Sega greatest-hits
disc. Of course, if that package doesn't include the original Japanese
audio, then screw 'em.