The lights are on
A bit late on finishing this one, I know, but I finally accomplished my goal of beating this game. After buying this on XBLA the day it released, I'd been working on it off and on in between such games as Halo Reach, Super Mario 3D Land, Chrono Trigger, and Rocksteady's Batman series. I hadn't had the chance to play this much beforehand as I had never owned the Sega CD and was thus unable to experience. But enough of hearing me prattle on, you came for the review. So, how does this almost twenty year old game hold up to a modern playthrough (albeit from a lover of old Sonic games)? Read on to discover whether this game is worth your time.
Graphics: This is a bit of an enigma to answer. Do I judge it to modern standards or do I recognize it as the developers were able to do back then? At any rate, the graphics are colorful and crisp, with the downside of the sprites not being the sharpest I've seen. It definitely holds up better than most other games of that era though. They definitely serve its purpose, and still hold that alluring element when you're speeding through the stages. I also have to talk about the animated video scenes Sega CD was able to process. Though they only amount to a few minutes long in total, they are excellent beginning and ending sequences for the game. They're animated quite well, and are comparable to the Sonic cartoons of the day without the voices. Overall, I thought the graphics worked quite well, but they're not going to turn any heads.
Sound: Something this version in particular did quite well. You have the stage music comparable to the Genesis Sonic games that was done with skill, although perhaps less memorable, and never leaves you annoyed while replaying a particularly difficult level. Also, there is the choice to opt for the North American and Japanese/European soundtracks, which is a nice option. Now, I've heard that one of the tracks in the overseas soundtrack was unable to be relicensed, I really have no clue as I opt for the NA version. I absolutely love the song paired with the animated cutscenes, named Sonic Boom (which I have looping as I type this). Definitely quality.
Story: Not really any to speak of. There is the classic trope loose storyline of damsel in distress in which Sonic must rescue a newly introduced pink hedgehog named Amy from Robotnik and destroy his base. He goes up against a creation of Robotnik's named Metal Sonic during the game. Not a lot to say here, but after seeing some of Sega's more modern attempts at giving Sonic games a story, I am immensely grateful at the simple story portrayed here. More personality than the Sonic games for Genesis, but not too much like we start when we get to voiced characters on Dreamcast. It works well.
Gameplay: It's a simple nineties platformer setup. You jump, you move left and right. That's about it. They've also added the spin dash, a move from Sonic 2 that I recall hearing wasn't in the original version. The platforming in this game is some of the best out of the heydey of the genre. Deaths rarely feel cheap, you're left feeling like you weren't vigilant enough, and the only level I had a lot of difficulty with was the final one, as well as the race with Metal Sonic. The overall gameplay is excellent and provides a lot of fun.
Design: Ahh, the design. They got this one right, keeping the core of the Sonic gameplay intact while adding their own unique features, it's a classic example of sequels done right. The time feature is the main focal point, in which if you move fast enough after hitting a signpost you can move to the past or the future. If you discover a hidden machine in the past and destroy it, you will be able to return to a utopian future in which you have no robots left to face and it makes the levels easier. If you go to the future without destroying it, the levels become dystopian with quite a bit more difficulty. It adds a lot of replay value to the game as you attempt to find all the machines and complete the entire game with good futures. The levels retain the classic Sonic design while still remaining fresh. And later in the game when you're racing against Metal Sonic it provides an intense counterpoint to the regular platforming and makes you feel great after winning. The XBLA/PSN version of the game also unlocks Tails as a playable character after beating the game. He has his signature flying technique to add even more replay value to the game. Long story short, there's quite a bit here and you'll find yourself wanting to come back several times.
Overall, it's a great game, so long as you're not the type of gamer who only enjoys modern titles. It's a testament to an age where clever platforming was the focal point of many game, and this one is a terrific example. As for a score, I come back to the enigma of classical or modern standards. Thinking on it though, especially taking in the price on XBLA and PSN (which means I'm judging it by different standards than a modern retail release), you can't go wrong with this game. I rate it a 9.25, it is well worth the $5 price of admission. Possibly the best Sonic game ever, it's a title worthy of the score.
It has been ages since I have played a Sonic title. I'll have to check this one out, great review!