I am not rewriting this one, and seeing with my recent poll, this is going to be important, though I did make a few edits to reflect my current opinion.
I'm quite the odd one out here. There are many people that like this game, as well as many people that hate it, too. I, being one that likes it, don't still have a few issues with the game, not to mention that I'm not a big fan of the 2011 remake or the 1996 PC port.
I've played this game through and through a few times. It's a really interesting experience, and very unique, too. The maze-like levels are an interesting thing to get though, and very unique. I'm also the odd one out here and say that I like Sonic CD more than Sonic 2, but I've also played Sonic CD quite a few times. One of the advantages for me is the level design. It's very maze-like and labyrinthish, but it's quite fun. I usually ironically play a Sonic game slowly, or otherwise I'll just run off a cliff or into a pit of spikes, or something else. I usually take the experience slowly to get all of the macguffins of the game, whether it be Chaos Emeralds, Time Stones, or even Chaos Rings (but the special stages in that game are not worth it unless you just really want a good ending, outlined in my review of Chaotix), so I really like the platforming that makes you take it slowly.
Graphically, this game looks really nice. It's very vibrant, even with the Genesis's limitation of 64 colors on screen at a time. Sonic, looking like a mix between Sonic 1 and 2 sprites, looks pretty good. While he doesn't look amazing, it kind of fits. While the Sonic 2 sprite would have fit more because that was more vibrant in a very vibrant and colorful game, I don't think it impacts the game all that much. There's a misconception that it was because of the CD technology that Sonic CD looked nice, but that was just allowing so many copies of the level to be there without doing special magic for it. It was partly that, as it stored multiple palettes for every stage, but every stage file is 256KB or so, and there are 70 of those, not including the special stages. Speaking of special stages, it's very well known that they're very different here. I also liked the UFO idea, as it was something different that actually worked. While some can be fake difficult, others are oddly easy. I enjoy playing the original Mega CD versions, as the ones fro the PC version are way too fast, and the 2011 ones that run at 60fps just run too fast for me to time my jumps right, but I'll address that later. I just like the visuals of this game overall (I'm looking at you, Special Stage 6).
The sound is also something I like. While the jump sound effect from 2 could have been used, I'm fine with this too. The sound effects are very satisfying, and the Japanese soundtrack is really good. All the songs fit, and sound good. I don't know of a favorite CD track for the level songs, but the Past music for Metallic Madness is probably my favorite from the game. I also like the intro and outro songs as well. My nitpick of the soundtrack is the US soundtrack. While somebody outside of Sega owned the intro and outro songs, Sega of America didn't want to pay for the rights to it. They thought the Japanese soundtrack was also too electronic, and so they made a whole new soundtrack. I don't think the JP soundtrack is too electronic, but I sure think that the new one is too reliant on synths. The game over and boss music is just too.... not Sonic. They're supposed to invoke an evil vibe, but they invoke too much of a much different vibe than just evil. Some of the tracks just don't fit, too, like Wacky Workbench Bad Future. In the Japanese version, it sounds like the factory is falling apart, and that's what it looks like, too, but the US soundtrack sounds more like you shouldn't be worrying that the factory is falling apart around your ears than something to be worrying about.
A lot of the music just doesn't work. While both soundtracks don't sound very Sonic like, I think that the US soundtrack just didn't hit any key notes (no pun intended). The Quartz Quadrant Future songs also are just different pitches of each other, and over all, I feel like this was very rushed to meet release. I also am NOT a fan of "Sonic Boom" at all. I heard it too many times when looking at Sonic CD in the past (ha ha funny joke), and I just got sick of it. even to this day, I still don't know why people like it, but, like what you like. Doesn't mean that I will like it as well.
The game plays well, and here's where I'll be tackling what the game plays like. I really like how the game plays, as without the spindash, the Super Peel-out is useful as well, but trying to get to the Past without hitting something on your way is hard. Mostly talking about, ironically, Stardust Speedway. The enemies aren't too bad, but the spike (ball?) object placement in there is atrocious. You can't come out of a series of "tubes" without hitting one of those. It's ridiculous. The level design only got to me in two specific places though, and that's the whole of Stardust Speedway and Metallic Madness Act 2. The pipes in MM are a really bad thing, as you'll intend to go one direction and then find that you're going a whole different direction and end up in a different place as to where you were trying to go, or end up in a dead end. That's a big issue, but not too major if you keep jumping through time. Doing so will reset the timer back to 5 minutes if you're past it, and it's really useful if you're just that confused. There are also level maps on sonicretro in case you need that kind of help.
The Subject of Special Stages is also a mixed bag. I, for one, really like them, as they're unique, and if you know the UFO patterns, can hit them. With the Mega CD version, they're really easy to hit if you know what you're doing and jump just at the right time. You also have a bit of leeway in this version, as compared to others. I like this over the other Genesis ones, as the ones in Sonic 1 are confusing, the ones in Sonic 2 are too much of a pain in the rear to even be able to like, and the ones in Sonic 3 and Knuckles just go too fast as time passes. One last thing I'd like to note on the Mega CD version is that the Japanese art for the case, CD and whatnot look really cool. It looks better than the US one, for sure, and the EU art also matches it.
I'm going to make note of the other versions here. The 1996 PC port is terrible. It makes the Metal Sonic race close to impossible, as well as some jumps hard to do, verging on almost impossible that weren't hard in the original. (Quartz Quadrant Act 3 Good Future) It also makes the Special Stages run like Sonic and Knuckles Collection on a new computer without the S3K.ini trick or some other trick to fix it. They're so fast, they're near impossible to get working. I would have preferred that the PS2 and GameCube got better with Gems Collection, but at least we got Sonic CD at all that way. The only things of note in the 2011 port are the fact that you can change between soundtracks, play as tails, do a spin dash, and runs at "true" 60fps. I already expressed my feelings about the soundtracks up there, so that doesn't matter much to me, and playing as Tails doesn't change much in the scheme of the game. If you want a Spin Dash in the original, play the Sonic CD++ ROM hack. It's amazing and makes the game even better than before. The last thing to note is the 60fps. Whoopdee do. It makes the Special Stages smoother, but even harder than before, as trying to get the UFOs is just really difficult now. The UFO patterns were easy to follow in the original with the limited frames, but now they're harder than they need to be. I don't think that making the game run at 16:9 over 4:3 changes much either. you can see more in front of you, but I feel that it's not really necessary. I do have to say good job to Taxman for the port, but I just didn't really like it.
Anyways, I personally prefer the Mega CD version. I overall thought the game was really solid with the original. You can play whatever version you would like to play, but I would just recommend that you play Sonic CD++. Without the soundtrack, you can just buy it and convert it to WAV, or rip it from your game if you already have it, or even if you have Gems Collection, you can use that, but that's more complicated and for the people that don't know how to do it easily, it is a long process.
This game is one of my most favorites, without a doubt.
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