Thanks to AAUK for reminding us of this occasion at the Sonic City Blognik.
If there’s anything that will make me feel real old, it’s the fact that my favorite game is 17 years old today. Sonic CD debuted on this day in 1993 in Japan for the ill-fated SEGA CD. Sonic CD is revolutionary and unique for the Sonic franchise, regardless of whether you like the game or not.
Out of the blocks, the game dazzled with vibrant, loud and unique environments and unique level design and CD quality tunes. The game was the first in the Sonic franchise to allow players to save their progress and upped the presentational value of Sonic games with its heralded anime cutscenes. It introduced time travel to the previously established gameplay of Sonic 1 & 2, a time attack mode and unlockable content. Sonic CD has widely been recognized as the best in the Sonic franchise.
During development, it was widely speculated that Sonic 2 and Sonic CD were to be the same game. Early press indicated that these two games were initially one in the same. When Yuji Naka became dissatisfied with the work environment at SEGA of Japan, he and half of Sonic Team moved to the U.S. and formed the SEGA Technical Institute. Due to this move, SEGA awarded the development of Sonic 2 to this new U.S. branch. The other creator of Sonic, Naoto Oshima, was still in Japan and was allowed to pursue his vision for Sonic.
The gameplay of Sonic 2 was chosen to be the future of Sonic games after Oshima’s vision for CD took a sharp turn in another direction. Sonic CD‘s time travel mechanic elevated the importance of level exploration. While scoping the landscape for the time travel points was entirely optional, the level design with its multi-tiered, labyrinthine environments lent itself to the emphasis on exploration. Those who ignored time travel were also missing out on the beautiful transition the game makes to and from different time periods. To fully experience the game required many play-throughs to see all of the paths in all of the time periods. It was certainly different than Hirokazu Yasuhara’s “A-to-B” designs seen in the Genesis games.
The level design and time travel mechanic, coupled with the aforementioned time attack mode and bonuses, gave Sonic CD an unparalleled amount of replay value. It was the first Sonic game to provide a satisfying amount of reward for favorable outcomes and the player’s dedication to experience everything the game had to offer.
The boss encounters were ones to experience, too. Never before have players had to race one of Robotnik’s creations in order to beat a zone or use an entire pinball table to best the baneful bald one. While the final boss was a letdown for most, the creativity put behind them were not only unique to the game, but inspired bosses for future battles down the road.
All of that said, with its unique design choices and praise, Sonic CD can be equally as polarizing as the Sonic games today. People can hate it equally as much as others enjoy it. Why do I mention the negatives here on Sonic CD‘s birthday? To illustrate that making radical changes to the formula and splitting fan opinion has existed long before Sonic jumped to 3D. It’s not some new phenomenon. It’s people being people.
Sonic CD is my favorite Sonic game, but I know plenty of people who don’t like it. I can understand where they are coming from, too.
When Sonic CD hit the market, we had already seen Sonic 1 & 2. The design choices were established with these two games. There were noticeable consistencies. Sonic CD did not entirely follow the blueprint that those two games had laid down. To think that a character made successful on its speed was supposed to explore to beat the game 100%. The overall goal was no longer to get from point A to point B. Those differences were jarring to some people. While Oshima’s level designs are massive, people can construe them as confounding or not providing enough room to bust some of that signature speed.
Yes, the core of the Sonic formula is there. The physics, 16-bit graphics and basic gameplay structure exist in Sonic CD. It was built upon a foundation that was not (and still is not) showing its cracks. In a time where Sonic wields swords, turns into a werewolf, has friends who shoot guns or relies on the tilt of a controller to direct him inside a picture-book, Sonic CD‘s introduction of time travel seems pretty tame in retrospect.
For its time though, the changes Sonic CD introduced were just as deviating. As time went by, new debates over the game sprung forth, such as discussing the merits of the Japanese/European and U.S. soundtracks. It remains to be a divisive game within some circles of the Sonic community to this day, underneath all of the praise it receives from the mainstream media and folks like myself.
Its reception notwithstanding, commendations should be given to Naoto Oshima, who was not afraid to be different and fresh with Sonic. His bold decision to introduce new elements to a proven formula was groundbreaking for this franchise, especially during its infancy. Sonic CD was different from any game before it and after it. It left marks on Sonic fans, both positive and negative. Oshima had a vision and executed it to a “T,” even if not every Sonic fan was along for the ride. There was something to take away (the game’s presentation or enhancements to the Sonic formula, for example) that the player could respect or admire.
Where recent Sonic games have caused a split in fan opinion over varying reasons, ranging from legitimate complaints regarding quality to the downright inane, Sonic CD has withstood the test of time in mostly a positive light for its contributions to the Sonic franchise and for simply being a fun and creative experience.
For being solid game that dared to be different with, in my opinion, fantastic results, Sonic CD will always be the bomb.
Share us your memories of Sonic CD in the comments below. If you think it’s overrated, feel free to express that as well. Keep it cool.