The only way I can start this review is with a little history lesson, both for people who aren’t familiar with Sonic CD, as well as those of you who might not have been reading TouchArcade since the summer of 2009. Let’s start at the beginning, so everyone can truly appreciate just how wonderful the very existence of this game is.
Sonic CD, or Sonic the Hedgehog CD was originally released in late 1993 for the Sega CD, Sega’s CD-ROM accessory for the Genesis console. Sega CD had actually come out earlier that year, and many gamers (myself included) couldn’t wait to get their hands on one as the promise of full motion video powered gaming seemed incredible. Unfortunately, both due to the many technical limitations of the system, as well as the games themselves just not being very good, the Sega CD never really took off quite how I imagined Sega wanted it to. (There’s actually a bunch of reasons I could also get into, but I digress.)
Sonic CD represented a blazing torch of promise that I had hoped was going to give the Sega CD the boost it needed, serving as that ever-important position as “system seller." Again, unfortunately, the relative low popularity of the Sega CD accessory made Sonic CD a commercial failure, even though it was a critical success. In fact, I’d still say Sonic CD is the best Sonic game ever released. It was a particularly great Sega CD game, as it played to the strengths of the Genesis with familiar Sonic-style gameplay enhanced through a few tasteful full motion video scenes and some fantastic CD audio.
Fast forward nearly 16 years to a curious question that Sega posted to the iOS community. Previously, Sega’s efforts on the App Store were limited to decidedly mediocre games, centralizing almost entirely around emulated Genesis games wrapped in an emulator that really wasn’t that great, and still isn’t that great. They asked gamers what they’d like to see on the iPhone next, and literally a day later Christian Whitehead revealed his idea. Check out the video from 2009:
While that video might not be that entirely impressive now, remember at the time we were busy wagging our finger at Sega for continuing to release emulated Genesis ports that played poorly, performed even worse, and just weren’t any fun. Then Christian Whitehead comes along with not only a port of the best Sonic game, but also running at 60fps? The emulated Genesis games barely ran at a quarter of that. Our minds were beyond blown, but like all cool things utilizing IP of a larger company, we didn’t expect this fan-made Sonic CD project to wind up anywhere other than in a cease and desist letter fired off from Sega’s legal department.
We quickly got together with Whitehead, and conducted a fascinating interview where one thing started to become crystal clear: This is a project motivated solely by love for the game. Christian built an entire game engine specifically for porting retro classics, and he had aspirations of working with Sega to actually get his version of Sonic CD in gamers’ hands. Following that, things went dark. The fan-made Sonic CD web site vanished and the above video disappeared from YouTube. We assumed the worst, as it seemed reasonable that Sega’s legal hammer came down on the project.
Jump ahead another two years, and out of nowhere that Sonic CD was coming to iOS. We quickly confirmed that this was in fact Christian Whitehead’s Sonic CD, and we couldn’t have been happier. Sure, the particulars such as release date and other things like that weren’t in the open yet, but it was coming, and that was enough.
Tonight, Sonic CD is released to the world, based on the very same demonstration we saw back in 2009, which I suppose brings us to the actual “review" portion of this review. Sonic CD plays like every other Sonic game in that you run from the start to the finish, collecting rings, and fighting bosses every few levels. One radical addition to Sonic CD is the addition of the “Past" and “Future" system. Running past either a “Past" or “Future" sign sends Sonic time traveling to a slightly different version of the level. Initially, the future will be a “bad" future, overrun by robots. However, if you go into the past first, and destroy the robot generator, you’ll be able to enjoy the “good" future which significantly fewer enemies. Alternatively, you can just ignore time traveling all together, although I believe (If my memory serves me.) getting the best ending requires unlocking every “good" future.
In a word, Sonic CD is incredible. It redefines what gamers can expect out of retro iOS ports, while simultaneously making all of Sega’s existing ports look absolutely horrid in comparison. The on-screen controls work great, the game performs even better than the original, and they’ve included not only the Japanese soundtrack, but also the American one. (Note: It defaults to the Japanese soundtrack, so if you’re wondering where the familiar “Sonic Boom" song is, you’ll need to toggle it in the options.) It’s even Universal. I can’t think of a single thing that’s missing or lacking in any way, in fact, they’ve even added Tails, who wasn’t even present in the original.
I’m not sure what else to say. Here we have the best installment of one of the greatest gaming franchises, which received both flawless review scores and game of the year awards when it was originally released ported with complete perfection to iOS. This is a game you flat out need to buy if you even vaguely consider yourself an iOS gamer. Not only because it’s such an impeccable port of an important piece of gaming history, but because we need to vote with our wallets to tell Sega (and anyone else who might be watching) that this is the quality we demand out of retro games brought to the App Store.
International App Store Link: Sonic CD, $1.99
Note: Sonic CD will be available in the USA at 11:00 PM Eastern, it should be available everywhere else in the world right now though.