Sonic 1, 2, 3 & Knuckles are the games most people think of when they hear classic Sonic. Well, that and possibly Sonic Mania, or now Sonic Mania Plus. But possibly the best of the original games also happens to be the one that gets the least attention: I’m talking about Sonic CD.
Released for the undersold, quirky Sega CD, Sonic CD was a hidden gem. Its lack of attention can most likely be attributed to being released on this failed system, which is unfortunate since this is a title that really shines. Fortunately, with the advent of emulation and re-releases, the game is now accessible to a much wider audience.
Featuring one of the most famous video game intros of all time, incredibly unique yet genre compliant gameplay, and some fun takes on the classic Sonic formula, Sonic CD is, in all likelihood, the best Sonic game you’ve never played.
Gameplay-wise, it plays identically to every other 2D Sonic title, save for those quirky pseudo-classic sonic games like Forces. You can run, jump and spin dash wherever across springs, platforms and loop-de-loops to get to the goal, just like in prior entries. However, the really cool mechanics come in the form of Sonic’s ability to go forward or backward in time, and achieving your desired goal requires a bit of skill.
While entirely optional, the time travel mechanic really sets this game apart. If you touch a “Past” or “Future” checkpoint, you’ll start flashing the next time you hit max speed. Keep this speed up long enough (a la Back To The Future), and you’ll warp to a past or future version of the world you’re currently in. The past will usually be more lush and tropical, whereas the future will be more mechanical. But here’s the kicker – you can actually change the future.
In each Past iteration of the zone you’re inhabiting, there will be a cage and Metal Sonic. Destroying both of these will create a “Good Future” for the world, changing the looks, and creating a much safer future for you to explore as you work your way to the end of the level. This essentially means there are 4 variations of every level in the game.
If you manage to create a Good Future in both zones of an area, the boss battle will be easier, and also take place in the Good Future, rather than the Bad Future. Your ultimate goal is to get through the entire game and defeat the final boss. However, how you go about doing that is up to you. Do you set time right, or blaze through the levels with no regard for the fate of the future? The fate of the planet is in your hands.
There is one other way to make the future bright, though. If you end a zone with 50 rings or more, you’ll be able to access a special stage, much like in Sonic 1. Unlike Sonic 1, however, you won’t be bouncing around a rotating level for Chaos Emeralds. Instead, you’ll access a Mode7-style, 3D segment where you’ll be tasked with destroying all of the UFOs in the area within a given time limit. These minigames were recreated for use in Sonic Mania and Sonic Mania Plus.
Completing these rather tricky levels will net you Time Stones, and collecting all seven is the key to permanently creating Good Futures in all of the zones you’ll access throughout the rest of the game. This will also cause you to get the slightly altered good ending for the game.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever played a platformer with such a unique, well-executed and entirely optional gameplay mechanic, and yes, that’s including Sonic Mania and Sonic Mania Plus. People often site Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country 2 as the pinnacles of the 2D Platformer genre, but I would argue that Sonic CD deserves a place amoung those titles.
If you’re looking to try the game for yourself, it is fortunately now available on a variety of platforms, including the optimal experience, ironically enough, being mobile. This version comes with a variety of additional extras to keep you engaged long after your first playthrough, including the ability to play as Tails, and the game is entirely free (there is an option to opt-out of ads for $1.99). You can find the game on the the Apple App Store, or on Google Play.
If you’re a classic Sonic fan, or just a fan of platformers in general, this is one I recommend giving a try, especially while we wait for Sonic Mania Plus next month.