These days, there's not much you can get for £3.29; a CD in Fopp, maybe, a Subway sandwich at a push, or 0.3 seconds with a high-class prostitute (at £35,000 per hour; I do my research). As such, the fact that Sonic CD weighs in at 400 MS points is a selling point in itself, but also a warning. Surely something so cheap must come with some cut-back, something to keep it below the usual 800 points? Thankfully, that is not the case. Sonic CD is a labour of love, an exceptionally fine port of an under-appreciated game, and one that sets new standards in the field of updating classic games.
Originally released on the doomed Sega CD in late 1993, Sonic CD has led a somewhat nomadic life, being ported to the PC, Gamecube and PlayStation 2, among others. Lauded on its original release, it is arguably the last great 'traditional' Sonic game, with only Sonic Generations coming anywhere near its class nowadays. Now, finally, it may have found its natural platform and the audience it deserves. I must admit, I never played the original (slightly before my time) and the Gems Collection it appeared on in 2005 never piqued my interest. As such, I have nothing to compare this too, but even then I don't feel any comparison would be fair to the original, such is the remarkable job that Christian Whitehead and his superb 'Retro Engine' has done in reinvigorating the ageing graphics and restoring the catchy, memorable soundtrack to its former glory.
Gameplay wise, it is typical Sonic; get from A to B across a 2D world of flips, plummets and dives, dodging or jumping on enemies on the way to your goal. In that respect little has changed, but Sonic CD has several features that make it a different and varied experience compared to the usual fare. The time-travelling innovation, though not exactly clear without instructions or a manual (virgin, remember?), makes each play-through different; each level has four different versions depending on the time period, with new music, graphics and obstacles to keep the gamer on their toes.
While interesting, the (somewhat bizarre) decision to turn off the time-travelling if Sonic is going at a certain speed means that you can often go through level upon level without so much a fleeting glimpse of another period. That said, it is often more difficult to build a decent head of speed due to the placement of obstacles, but this is not a problem; it encourages repetition and gentle cajoling without getting close to the hand-holding-hedgehog-on-rails that ruined Sonic's 3D outings. Here, necessary improvements have also been made. The notorious chopping in the bonus stages has been removed (although some obscure bugs remain) and the button-bashing spin of Sonic 2 & 3 is a welcome inclusion to the skill list. Unfortunately, the bosses are a bit on the easy side of Dark Souls, but are still an exhilarating change of pace, especially when chasing metal Sonic whilst simultaneously being pursued by Robotnik and his enormous laser. Frankly, the omission of a 2-player mode is a real oversight, whether included in the original or not; this game is crying for a second player, just like the classic Sonic 2. The fact one is not included is not only strange but also very disappointing, one of few blots on an otherwise impressive mark-sheet.
However, the real star of the new, improved Sonic CD is the port itself. As expressed earlier, Whitehead's 'Retro Engine' is a joy to behold, bringing what could have been an uninspired, mundane port kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Bright, colourful and detailed, the spit, polish and love applied to the engine is akin to the restoration of the Sistine Chapel; finally, you can experience how it was always meant to be envisaged. Sonic himself is full of character, spinning and flipping, the epitome of joie de vivre. The soundtrack, already perhaps the outstanding feature of the game, is crisp and fresh, the joyous, almost innocent tracks are wonderfully balanced with the gameplay; it is hard to play Sonic CD without a big smile across your face.
I implore all developers of potential ports to follow this example; the benchmark has been raised, and anything less than an edition as sparkling and sympathetic as this must be deemed a disappointment. At 400 MS points/£3.29, Sonic CD would be criminally cheap anyway and well worth a look, but, considering the inherent quality included in this marvellous package, it suddenly becomes nigh-on essential. Go, treat yourself, remove those January blues and allow a little loved hedgehog back into your life; you won't be disappointed.