Since I did my Sonic CD review at least two years ago, I've had some things come up since I've done that one. One complaint I've been getting is a real pain in the ass because it's not really a legitimate complaint and moreso just "you're wrong", but I'll get to that when I get to it.
However, while my other reviews have been more objective, this one will be more subjective and abrasive because I keep hearing about how "bad" this game is.
Yeah. This game is "bad" with all of it's ways of making the game harder, like future signposts. The game is "bad" with it's special stages. The game is "bad" because it used to only be open to the masses for public consumption because it was on an add-on that was "so awful" because all that kept getting put on there were Digital Pictures' games. This game is "bad" because of it's special stages. This game is "bad" because of its level design. This game is "bad" because the music doesn't fit. This game is "bad" because it has "anti-piracy" that is sooooo scary! (By the way, if you still think that the Mega CD can tell the difference between a copy and an original, stop thinking that. Whoever told you that it has anti-piracy is wrong and you should tell them as such.)
What would be considered obstacles in other games are thought to be something that people thought the game designers would be thinking "Ooh this is brilliant. People will want to go to the future when they're trying to go to the past." and not "This would be a great obstacle. Put it in." Also, in case you seriously think Sonic 2's special stages are better, no. I know they're all memory tests but in most cases I can't remember for jack shit because I don't play the game religiously like I have with Sonic CD.
Now to the meat of the review and where I will invariably go on long tangents about complaints I hear about the game.
Graphically, this game is gorgeous. The Mega CD wasn't capable of doing extra palettes like the 32X could do, but with the space you had of a CD, you could add more code to send more colors to the VDP to make your game look better. But that is just a theory, as the actual thing the Mega CD did was enhance 3 Mega Drive sprite layers. Does that have anything to do with it? Possibly. I do think that Sonic himself could have used a deeper, darker blue, however, by that time he'd probably blend in with the background, and shows that it's been worked on for a while. And that it was, seeing as Naoto Oshima did get to working on it after they finished with Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis. Yuji Naka went to make the Sonic game everyone praises to death. And no, I don't like Sonic 2. Stop asking.
The scaling effects in this game and in general pulled off with the ASIC chip Sega included were really strangled by one thing. That was the fact that the M68k read the data, sent it to the ASIC chip to piece it together, then it was sent to Work RAM, then the Genesis was told to read that part of WRAM, then it was sent to the VDP. The data bus between all of these things wasn't very big, as we're talking about late 80s technology meshed with an early 90s CD unit. The Mega CD also ended up causing the untimely demise of them, as it brought Sony into the foray because Nintendo saw what Sega was trying to do to stay ahead of the foray (though Sony was also thinking of it at the time, and the PC-Engine stole Sega's possible marketshare for the Mega Drive in Japan), and complained about it. However, unlike every other time where they sick their lawyers on it, Sony got to work with Ninty, and the rest is history.
Otherwise, the special stages might have actually ran smooth on original hardware. Everything was strangled by the bandwidth the data bus that was between the Genesis and Mega CD had, as well as the process that everything has to go through to get rendered anyways. It's probably a part of the reason why Night Striker on the Mega CD looked pretty bad, that being that the game's while look was scaled down. But not in the way you think, like taking away effects, no. Everything was scaled down pixel-size wise and the game just in general unfortunately loooks like a blocky mess. But Night Striker is not Sonic CD. Maybe another time.
The graphics of the game overall are a nice sight to see. Sonic's dull colors really do make him stick out above everything else and it looks nice. Something interesting for you is that the normal output resolution (like the initial power-on, the boot screen) of the Mega-CD (in NTSC regions) is 320x224, which the game normally runs at. However, the special stages and the title screen run at the 256x224 mode and include scaling. I'm not too sure, but that might be the resolution required *for* scaling and rotating modes with the ASIC chip.
Sound wise, the PCM music pulled off is pretty good, even if it is limited to a maximum of 32KHz for samples. The music in general is good.
That is, if you're listening to the Japanese soundtrack.
People might ask me "Why do you hate the US soundtrack so much?"
It doesn't fit.
"But the Japanese soundtrack doesn't fit either!"
Uh-huh. Which is why while the Japanese soundtrack makes the game feel more Sonic-like while the US soundtrack makes you think that you need to perform an exorcism on it. It almost sounds like something you'd hear at some halloween theme park to scare the kids. Thank you Spencer Nilsen, you caused a bunch of gullible people to make them think the devil worked on the game. Albeit it doesn't help that people were spreading that rumor like crazy because they didn't know Japanese in the slightest. Madjin in it's simplest form means "magic person", however, because it is usually paired with the kanji for "bad" or "evil", it's given the connotation of being evil, therefore it's translated as devil. Now who is it?
That image was drawn by Masato Nishimura. Stop trying to associate it with the devil, people. Just because Nilsen was trying to give off an (almost too) evil atmosphere for Eggman doesn't mean that the devil worked on it.
Besides that, the other tracks in the US soundtrack aren't really something I'd associate with Sonic. I've heard that it was meant to sound like rock, and not only do none of those songs sound like any 90s rock, or hell, even grunge I've ever heard, but they don't really sound like something that you'd really hear in a game period. The songs are either too happy or they're just not fitting in any number of other ways. The only "rock" track I could find is Quartz Quadrant Present. And that's only really because of guitars.
Palmtree Panic sounds like some sort of jungle movie or jungle themed thing for kids, Collision Chaos sounds like nothing I've really ever listened to before, just some really ear grating synth music, Tidal Tempest's Present music... sounds almost seductive, while the Good Future music sounds more electronic and the Bad Future music sounds like some stereotypical "temple" music. Quartz Quadrant sounds ok, but the Good Future and Bad Future music are the same for both, just in a major or minor key, and that is just absolutely LAZY. Inexcusable.
Wacky Workbench is funk-inspired, and I won't lie when I say that some of it is pretty enjoyable. The opening to Present sounds like the beginning to Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough by good 'ol MJ, Good Future is a bit too generic, and Bad Future really shows where it was meant to be funk-inspired. Almost verging on Disco. I can enjoy that.
Stardust Speedway is meh, aside from the Bad Future track. That's pretty enjoyable as well. Same goes for Metallic Madness. Enjoyable Bad Future themes.
I don't like Sonic Boom. The games, the cartoon or the Sonic CD song. It's not something I can bring myself to enjoy at all. It's not the "magnitude of amazing" people seem to think it is. It's really not.
Then we reach the Boss themes. You know what this was eventually used in other than Sonic? Creepypasta material. Didn't help that the boss theme was used for Nishimura's easter egg, and not to mention that they are almost the exact same. The final boss theme has a few pinches of glitter on it to make it different. That's it. Game Over music can also go burn. These three songs in particular are awful. Not only are they NOT Sonic-like, the boss themes don't fit Eggman's motif, nor the bosses. Sonic has never been that dark, and for those that want to say "B-b-but Tails dies in Sonic 2 8-bit!", no. That was a fan headcannon that was put into play because people put the pieces together when the shape of the pieces was too vague. Sure, it's open to interpretation, but it's telling you that you forgot about him. If anything, Eggman would roboticize Tails to work for him, not murder him. This is a jolly fat dude that wants to take over the world, not go on a mass-murdering rampage.
Well, what about the Japanese soundtrack?
The music doesn't really fit a Sonic game, but the songs do all feel unique while fitting the same sound for each different zone. The music is centered around remixing the present music for the current time period. With this soundtrack, the transition is not nearly as jarring, not to mention not jarring at all, as it all meshes together nicely because it's not just doing a completely different song for each time period. Something everyone's noticed is that there's a sample of Xavier's "Work That Sucker to Death" from their only album, "Point of Pleasure" in the Boss music. They weren't around for very long, ergo why not much is known about them nor was there much put out by them. But this review isn't a music history lesson. This is a Sonic CD review. Another song that uses samples of voices, is Metallic Madness Bad Future, which is thought to be from the Amiga's voice synthesis program, however that claim is unfounded. I can't find much evidence on it.
Now's also a good time to put the Past music theories to rest. No, the music is not contained in their own files in a streamed way, like the other tracks are. In what I think is a way to either save space or give off the feeling of being older than what was available with CDDA technology, the music was passed through the RICOH RF5C164 which had panning and 32KHz capabilities for PCM, not to mention 8 channels to put it up to par with the SNES. Now, what the hell does that mean with Sonic CD's Past music?
The music was sequenced, like chiptunes. Think midi+sf2 for each track. Inside each bin was the track sequence and the samples. Each hit of a drum or few notes from other rhythm instruments like a piano (see Metallic Madness Past) were played through the different channels, with one channel being empty throughout the song for the "Future", "Past" or Sonic's voice samples. This was a good use of resources, as no instrument was interrupted for a sample. This was really a genius idea, not only because then the music could just be read from RAM and you didn't need a CD to read the music.
During development, there were even pieces of music to basically patch the songs' seek times to go back to the beginning and therein there was no fade out required. However, that was taken out eventually and alas, it's not in the game anymore. One leftover in the game though was Track 2, which was used in the now-famous 712 prototype as the transition music, after 510's notoriously ear-grating time-travel sounds, but that too was nixed as that time could be used to... load in data I guess? That part never came to fruition, as the travel scenes aren't loading screens, as you can skip them and stil get the transition sound, albeit the screen goes blank during that time. See also, the Mega CD's access LEDs when that screen is on the screen.
Overall, without a doubt, I recommend the JP soundtrack. If it's not obvious. But the PCM tracks are very, very good and it was disappointing that the PCM chip was so underutilized in other games.
The gameplay. Oh boy.
Many a complaint I hear is that the level design is awful. Something I will agree is that it seems that things were sporadically placed everywhere, the point of it in this game is that it's supposed to be an obstacle. Sonic 2 had it so that way you could hold down left and reach the end of the stage without a hitch. I will also agree that Collision Chaos is a mess, but it is called COLLISION CHAOS for that same reason.
One thing about this game is that it really enjoys itself with puzzle platforming. Search out the Metal Sonic projector, optionally, but most of all, look for the Robot Makers. Usually in some sort of hidden area you need to figure out by doing platforming and trial and error. A good point people bring up is Wacky Workbench Act 1 where you have to let yourself get crushed to find it. That is stupid, undoubtedly. However, many people I hear complain about other gameplay gimmicks. Some of those being just where some of the Robot Makers are located, some being other things. Again. Where some Robot Makers are placed is stupid. But. That's the name of the game. Puzzle platforming. Like Sonic 1.
The complaints about the Future signposts I tend to hear are really dumb. "They're... what is their point? Do you want to go to the bad future?" No. They're an obstacle. That's their point. Or if you've gotten the Time Stones you can go to the good future if you want. But they're meant to be an obstacle. Again. CD is a puzzle platformer, not a "hold right to win" platformer like Sonic 2. Sonic 1 was as well, like I previously mentioned, but not nearly this convoluted, except for Labyrinth Zone.
Level design is all over the place, but there aren't too many that are that bad. Except for Wacky Workbench, but I will get there when I get there.
Palmtree Panic is Green Hill Zone with more vibrant colors, really. It's the only levels in the game that are hold right to win, and are pretty good intro levels. The boss is laughable easy, but I will talk about the bosses soon enough. Collision Chaos is a lit like Spring Yard Zone. Bouncing everywhere, bumpers everywhere, things ready to hit you if you haven't played the game a lot of times. Tidal Tempest is a much more forgiving Labyrinth Zone, but this is where the Robot Makers start getting confusing to find. Mostly in the way you're supposed to reach them. Quartz Quadrant is also sort of hold right to win, but there are a few dead-ends too for good measure.
Wacky Workbench is a maze with a bouncy floor. Something I will give people credit for is the fact that the bouncy floor makes everything irritating, but again, the game is made intentionally difficult and a challenge. Unlike games of now. I'm not a huge fan of some of the puzzles, but it's still more bearable than Metropolis Zone.
Stardust Speedway is Star Light Zone. It's good, though again, confusing, and some of the platforming I hate, like trying to reach some platforms and not knowing you can go through some platforms sometimes, kind of like in Carnival Night Zone. Also, the Metal Sonic "race" is annoying and stupid. It's not a race, it's just a memory test.
Metallic Madness Zone is Scrap Brain Zone. Well, a lot like it, but if it was all indoors. I can attest that I hate the tubes in Act 2. They SUCK. You never know where you're going until it's too late, and then you have to find a way to get back up there even though you sometimes won't be able to do that. It can tend to run me about 4-6 mins., but I can still have a bit of fun with it. Granted though, Act 3 is the only level in this game with a bottomless pit. Can be annoying, especially if you didn't get all the time stones and you have to get those robot makers again. Also, a spring in the Past version of the stage isn't far enough to the left, and the platform you're supposed to reach isn't far enough to the right to reach.
Something else of note (in all zones) is that only in the Present are there checkpoints. That's irritating as well. Though, something else is that if you time travel to the future or the past from any time zone you are in, and your clock is over 5 minutes, you can go back to 5 minutes and basically keep doing the stage indefinitely.
How about those bosses then?
They're just tougher enemies. They make the Emerald Hill and Green Hill Zone bosses look like a challenge. They're innovative for sure, but they're pitifully easy. Even the final boss, what is basically a giant metal fan isn't that hard. I would have preferred the original design where he had all sorts of sharp objects coming out from everywhere, just going right at you, while going across the arena in the air. That would have been neat. But these bosses take three to four hits and they're done. It's sad, in all honesty.
It's sad that this boss is so easy.
The Special Stages are a point of contention as well. They're not that bad in all honesty, but you again have to get used to how the game plays in the 2D-3D perspective. This is the part of the game where the ASIC chip comes into play as well, so trying to pull this all off while everything else is going on is not easy. That's why the frame rates are not very good on the origina, as mentioned when talking about the graphics. I do enjoy them, but like any special stage, they have their moments where I get overly infuriated. I'm looking at the last few in particular. However, even though every time you touch the water you lose 10 seconds, the blue UFO will restore your time by 20 seconds. It can be helpful in a pinch, but your best bet for these special stages is knowing the UFOs' patterns. I do enjoy them though.
How about those ports, then?
I don't like either of them, which I know is blasphemy. Especially not liking the 2011 port. The 1996 PC port has many little issues here and there that I don't like but, look at that, it has a loading screen! Yeah, as if that makes a difference. Many things about the Mega CD version were "fixed", but not really. This version is bad, but the Special Stages run like Sonic's already Super Sonic. And with the reaction time you need, you don't have the time to pull back on the analog stick or press down on the dpad and... you're stuck going super fast. What a fix to the slow framerate.
Then comes the overly praised 2011 port. This is where I got flak in my last review especially. "It's so much better than the Mega CD version. What are you talking about? You must be crazy. It's better in every way." Yeah, I know I'm an outliar. Shut up already, everyone. I have a point to doing it. That being that while it runs in "WIDESCREEN HD", that doesn't fix the issues I have with the game, but it sure is jarring to how I'm used to it, and it just doesn't feel right. It's good for beginners, if anything.
One last thing to note is that Tails is included, and that is a point of interest for many. But the thing is, while Tails is useful for exploring, but that seems to be the point everyone hates about this game. So, why do you want Tails in this game? To fly over everything? Uh huh... It is strange that Knuckles wasn't included, but you can probably find some mod for the steam version for that.