The future ain’t what it used to be.
Here in the present, we are looking at Sonic CD. Sonic CD is the chronological sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog that was released shortly after Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It started its existence as a port of Sonic 2 for the brand-new Sega CD hardware, but evolved during development into something wholly unique in the Sonic the Hedgehog canon. But, as a result of being tied to finnicky hardware and not being rereleased nearly as often as its contemporaries, Sonic CD has become something of the black sheep of the 2-D Sonic family. While some claim Sonic CD is the pinnacle of 16(ish)-bit platformers, many more shuffle Sonic CD into the “don’t bother” pile with the Master System games and Knuckles Chaotix. In short, a lot of professed Sonic fans will tell you not to waste your time.
And that is a shame, because Sonic CD is all about time. Superficially, Sonic CD’s plot and setting are based on a magical island where the past, present, and future are a little bit more accessible than elsewhere on Mobius, and this grants the hedgehog and his most hated scientist buddy the opportunity to wage war across different epochs. Most worlds start in a pleasant present, but Sonic can easily travel to the future to see a world where Robotnik has conquered the (little) planet, or zoom back to the past to repel the egg army before it ever got going. And how does one save the world from the past? Well, it requires searching over the whole of the current zone, and finding/destroying two of Eggman’s “traps” (the animal/plant containment unit is understandable, but a projector of Metal Sonic somehow changing the shape of destiny raises questions). And the important part of that? The searching. Whereas general “secrets” have always been a part of the Sonic formula, Sonic CD dedicatedly hides two “essential” secrets in two distinct locations in every zone. This is not a situation wherein you simply push against every wall to find a giant ring transporter or two, this is an open invitation to learn the maps of these zones, and devote yourself to finding their specific minutiae. This is a “gotta go fast” Sonic the Hedgehog title, but the player is also all but told they will be more successful if they take their time.
But all is not lost if you absolutely want to play a Sonic the Hedgehog game like a hyperactive omnivore. There are two routes to the good ending: you can either explore every level and find (/destroy) every collectible, or you can conquer the special stages at the end of each level, and obtain all the Time Stones. Apparently claiming the Time Stones guarantees that Eggman will never find these precious rocks, and this will create the same eternally happy ending for everyone on Little Planet. And regardless of method, how do you know you obtained said happy ending? Well, you will see a happy little message at the end of every zone like so…
And fun fact? I am pretty sure that message triggered some kind of PTSD in my soul.
Mainly because I finally put my library back together after a year (home improvements! Oh boy!), I have been reading some “classic” comics recently. It has been mostly stuff from the 90’s heyday of the immediate aftermath of the likes of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman setting the funny papers ablaze a few years earlier. And the amusing thing about reading comics from this nebulous 90’s-or-so era? There are always excuses to peek at the far-off future of a few decades down the line, and it is not uncommon for their future to be literally now. 2015 or 2020 seems to be the exact point that a lot of authors of the time settled on for “the future”, and, while it is always fun to mock a random writer’s attempts at guessing the trends of the future (where is my jetpack fuetcha, you monsters?!), there is another pervasive trend in predicting the future: it is bad. And that is okay! Because these are fictional works starring heroes and heroines trying to make the world a better place. It is only natural that they would witness a “bad future” so they can be reminded what they are fighting for and/or against. A good future is bad! It’s boring! A future where your girlfriend has been transformed into a snake monster, and your best friend is missing all the fun appendages gives you something to struggle against. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? Keep reading to find out!
But there is a bit of an issue with the persistent use of the “bad future” trope. As someone currently living in the revolutionary future of 2022, I can confirm that we never saw half this “bad” coming. There is an international plague, and the biggest reason it spreads is the economy would be really inconvenienced if Sneezin’ Harold didn’t come in today to properly stock the Chex Mix. Our politicians are not necessarily overly corrupt ghouls, but they are almost universally old enough to base their decisions on opinions formed roughly around the fall of disco. And let’s not overlook the fact that an entire generation seems to have been brainwashed by online services initially created for the purpose of distributing silly cat pictures. Which generation am I talking about? Could be a few choices there! And the scary thing about all this? I wouldn’t even call this present-future bad. It’s not like we have to worry about dictators with alien, orange skin ascending to illegitimate power or something. Things can’t be all that bad! Nobody I know has cybernetic arms!
And it kind of scares me that we could be living in the exact bad future we have been warned of by fiction going back the last hundred years… and we just… got used to it? Sonic CD has a clear bad future: it is the future where Dr. Robotnik has conquered the planet. But do the happy little animals that have not been robotocized in that “future” still go about their daily lives? Are they still doing the same things they have always done, just with a few more badniks around? Sonic can save Amy Rose and “beat the game” without ever once creating a good future. Does that mean Sonic is okay with all of this? Just so long as the people close to him are safe, Sonic is totally cool with whatever the future brings? That is very zen of you, you monster.
Bah! I’m overanalyzing a game about a hedgehog trying to stop a robot hedgehog from kidnapping a pink hedgehog. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Sonic CD was never intended as a social commentary on the world that would exist three decades after its release. These are just the musings of a writer that has experience an unusual amount of trauma in the last few years (and months and weeks and days). Things feel bad, and you are now reading these anxieties given written flesh and marginally viable metaphors. No badniks are currently littering the streets.
But there is something we can learn from Sonic CD. Sonic might not have to create good futures, but he can, and it just takes a little effort. Maybe it is through careful exploration, maybe through conquering special stages, but Sonic does have the ability to change the course of history. And we do, too. Are we living in a bad future? Maybe. But there is still more future ahead of us, and we can change that. Bad things have happened. Horrible decisions have been made. But it is not all over yet, and we can still put in the effort, and fish out whatever Time Stones are going to fix the mess.
You can make a good future (at least in zone 2).
FGC #633 Sonic CD
- System: Would you believe this was initially available on the Sega CD? It’s true! It seems there was also a standalone port on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC around 2011, and it was part of the Sonic Gems Collection on Playstation 2 and Gamecube. It most recently was available as part of the Sonic Origins compilation on Playstation 4/5, Xbox X/S, and Nintendo Switch (no slash).
- Number of players: If there is a two player racing mode or something here, we are not acknowledging it.
- Port O Call: As you have likely guessed, most screenshots in this article are from the Sonic Origins version of Sonic CD. What has changed from the original release? I have no idea! I mean, it is widescreen, there is no such thing as “lives”, there is the “drop dash”, you can retry special stages repeatedly; we all know those changes are in there. But the little things? Other than the fact that they dropped Sonic’s “I’m out of here” voice, I have no clue about the little things that have been changed. Let’s assume the fact that I played this a lot more intently than the Sonic Gems version is a simple matter of the ergonomics of the Nintendo Switch, and not because they made sweeping changes.
- Favorite Boss: The Egg Conveyer is a deadly treadmill meant to trap Sonic in an endless loop of running… but the weakness of the Egg Conveyer is the very treadmill Sonic will inevitably run upon. So, basically, Robotnik built a machine that is weak to its own purpose. This is why you always fail, Ivo.
- Favorite Zone: Stardust Speedway joins Sonic the Hedgehog’s Star Light Zone as another star-themed zone that is my absolute favorite. And, hey, I dislike Tidal Tempest as much as Labyrinth Zone! This really should have been the “first” sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog!
- Goggle Bob Fact: I played through Sonic CD once before, but apparently it did not stick in my mind, as I totally forgot Sonic Mania’s Metallic Madness first appeared as the final zone of Sonic CD. I thought the shrink ray and “tetris spikes” were original to Mania!
- Watch it, Buddy: In honor of the release of Sonic Origins, BEAT was going to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles on the stream. But he get held up for a week, so I was forced to play Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) instead. I am not going to play that again for the FGC, so here is the stream:
Please enjoy watching how long it takes for me to get a ball in a hole.
- Did you know? Every bad future theme on the Japanese soundtrack has lyrics/singing except Tidal Tempest. I do not know why bad futures gets vocal tracks, and what Tidal Tempest did to avoid such a fate, but here we are.
- Would I play again: Count me as someone who finds Sonic CD to be more of a forgotten gem than a stain on Sonic’s good name. That said, I would still probably play one of the Sega Genesis CD-less titles first. Maybe I will get to this one again on its inevitable next rerelease.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Martial Champion! Never heard of it? I’m not surprised! Come back next week, and learn something new! Please look forward to it!