It’s nice to look after the environment, but give us back our plastic straws

Sonic CD.png

Sonic CD (1993)

I know the environment is on a collision course to apocalypse land and that we’re killing the icecaps, and wringing turtles’ necks with six pack plastic rings. But what do you want me to do about it? Vote for the Green Party?! No chance. You leave it to them, and we’d all be stuck going to work in an ass and cart. They’d make us ration the amount of times we can flush the toilet each day. And fancy a straw or two for your freshly made G&T at the end of a long week? They’ll have you hauled over the non-GM coals and set alight with free-range fire.

So take my advice – drive your car as much as you can now, and if you can afford the petrol, do it as uneconomically as you like because you’ll soon find yourself stuck in a little hydrogen-powered pod, getting overtaken by Vespas. Worse still, you might find yourself in the Tesla Cybertruck.

Make your single-use plastic just so, by swapping out your drinking straws after every mouthful. Keep all lights on, flush the toilet anytime you hear the cistern noises die down, and otherwise do as many things as you can to pull the environmental ladder up with you and doom future generations to living in Water World. You’ll be brown bread anyway, so why bother?

Alright, I’m not that much of a fossil fuel burning tyrant, but it’s no use people blaming climate change and the Great Barrier Reef getting blown to bits on me and you. I’ve read that a hundred companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, and probably the other 29% can be blamed on cows and their incessant flatulence. Obviously a whole load of these are car manufacturers, but how are Boeing going to get out of this bracket? Why don’t you do your bit and take less flights overseas, you lazy oaf? Why don’t you cycle it down to the country for two weeks a year instead? But don’t all of you buy bikes to do this, because they’ll need to be shipped in by boat and that’s another critical hit against the environment.

And please can we stop with this paper straw nonsense. I know I ought not to be an overgrown child and I shouldn’t be drinking my Guinness through a straw. but must we endure these weakling paper straws all but turning to a wet digestive after six round-trips of my mouth? I like to bite my straw when I’m doing some hard thinking, but McDonald’s plainly don’t want me thinking anymore.

But don’t worry too much about all that, because I certainly don’t worry myself when I’m getting blinded by the colourful environments in Sonic CD. Released as probably the only selling point for the oddball Sega CD besides Night Trap, it’s unlike any classic Sonic game you’ve played. Chances are, you won’t have had any kind of nostalgia with this one, and up until its release on digital stores, you may not have known a thing about it.

So here goes: it’s Sonic versus Robotnik, as expected, but this time Sonic’s got a woman admirer, the debut of Amy Rose – but she goes and gets herself snatched by another debutant, Metal Sonic. I doubt Sonic really cares, because he’ll just do his usual in plowing through 7 Zones with 3 Acts each. Sorry, that’s not right – 7 Rounds with 3 Zones each. Sounds wildly inconsistent, until you realise that they’re Timezones.

And that’s the most notable part of the game – you start each Zone in the Present, and by passing through lampposts in the level, you can travel to either the Past or the Future. Travel to the Future and you’ll find it polluted, befouled, broken down and industrialised, all as a result of Robotnik’s influence – this is the Bad Future. Head into the Past before the cow population multiplied and let rip all over the world however, and you can find and destroy the source of enemy Badniks, leading to a Good Future.

That’s the trick to the game – it ain’t just about holding right on the D-Pad, checking your phone, and occasionally getting bounced around by spiteful springs or enemies that you could never have seen. Here, it’s all about finding a lamppost, struggling to get together enough momentum to travel back in time, finding the Badnik machine and destroying it, thus guaranteeing a Good Future for that level. Which you may never see, because that’d then require travelling back to the future not once but twice, and you need a good run-up to do this.

You have more chance of finding a nice stretch of road with no traffic lights, police checkpoints or opposing pilchards in other cars. I wouldn’t mind taking the effort and ballache to save Sonic’s planet from effluence if it bore long-lasting fruit, but these are levels that last about 90 seconds when done quickly, so why would I even bother going for the Good Future here? I can’t even remember to use the correct bin for recycling, and I’m forever dumping my car’s excess battery acid in the local stream, so what makes you think I’d care enough to work for a better future that lasts less than two minutes?

The level design is a bit wild, and keep in mind that each of the seven locales have four different aesthetics and slightly different layouts, and that also means a set of four songs for each timezone – Past, Present, Bad Future and Good Future. Famously, there are two soundtracks to the game. Why on earth did that occur? More strife between Sega America and Sega Japan? Who knows, but I’ll take a double Sonic soundtrack anyday. Play the digital versions and you can choose between the two. Japanese or US? That’s up to you. PAL land gets the Japanese soundtrack, but never gets the mention. I wonder why that is?

The Special Stages are cancer. They usually are in early Sonic games, but this one is a real beauty. It’s set on what looks like it’s trying to be a rip off of the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7. Maybe if Mode 7 had a brain aneurysm. You dash about, trying to jump in the air and hit skittish, bipolar balloons before time runs out. Apparently, running through water runs the clock down, which obviously makes a lot of sense.

Either way, the balloons don’t want to know, darting this way and that and changing direction the moment you draw near. And the collision detection, previously ill-functioning up to that point, suddenly catches you on all sorts of one pixel technicalities as you run Sonic over nigh-invisible tiles that trip him up and keep him grounded for an eternity. Sonic’s speed never seems to remain constant either, so you never know where you stand.

The upshot of this is that, like usual, you’ll never get all the Chaos Emeralds or Time Stones or Rouge Rubies or whatever we’re playing for today. And keep in mind, you’re likely to be playing this on PC, PSN or XBLA. Play it on the original hardware and you’re talking slideshow frame-rate as you desperately try to bring Sonic and his Titanic turning circle away from the barriers.

I’ll say this for the Sega CD: Sonic CD feels so advanced for its time, with its colours and speed and time travel and CD-quality soundtrack and the fact that it refuses to tell you anything, so advanced that you wonder if the game is about to fall apart in front of you. It can sometimes feel a bit flimsy or unfinished, in contrast to the beautiful soundtrack in the background, a soundtrack almost too good for the graphics.

This has all made it sound like I hate the game or that I find it as boring or oppressive as those marching environment hippies, but it’s not. It’s not a classic, it doesn’t get the benefit of nostalgia, it’s not in the league of Sonic 3 and Knuckles and it probably doesn’t stack up to Sonic 2 either. But Sonic CD is a nice take on classic Sonic that you may not have seen, and it’ll let you save all the animals and depollute all the rivers you could ever want.

21 January 2020

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