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Sonic CD: A maze of confusion

Robert Akio

Sayaka Miki
May 30, 2018
Reaction score
Hello everyone. With Sonic Origins being only a week away, and me having covered Sonic 1 and Sonic 4 already, so I decided I'm going to cover my next Sonic game. This one being the Sega CDs own Sonic CD. For those of you who don't know, at the time of Sonic CDs creation, Sonic Team was split into two divisions. Sega of Japan which is obviously in Japan, and Sega Technical Institute which was in the United States. So, what is the Sega CD?


The Sega CD was an add-on for the Sega Genesis or Megadrive in countries that aren't the U.S. Aside from the obvious improvement of having more storage due to using CDs instead of cartridges, the Sega CD had other improvements to it, from the ability to showcase more colors, to being able to run FMVs. So it only made sense that with Sega and the world on a Sonic craze that Sega would release a Sonic game for it. Enter Sonic CD.


For context, while I myself did not have a Sega CD, I did have a Gamecube, and Sonic Gems collection. A compilation game that featured not only Sonic CD, but several game gear games, Sonic R, and Sonic the fighters. There is a better way of playing Sonic CD though, however the current version of it on Steam has been discontinued at the moment for it to be in Sonic Origins.


So, what story does Sonic CD have? According to the instruction manual, on the last month of the year, a rather tiny planet called Little Planet arrives at Sonics world and hovers over Never Lake. Not much is known about this planet, aside from the fact it has time travel capabilities, and 7 stones called the Time Stones. Sonic decided to check the planet out only to find it turned into a metallic sphere chained to a mountain that has none other than Dr. Eggmans face on it. Dr. Eggman is up to his old tricks again, and Sonic isn't going to let that stand. He's going to drive the mad doctor off the planet and avert its bad future, travelling through time in the process. Along the way, Sonic meets up with a pink hedgehog by the name of Amy Rose. The best way I can sum her up is a fan girl who followed Sonic to the Little Planet, wanting his attention. However her want for Sonics attention is gonna need a rain check as she gets abducted by Eggmans newest creation, Metal Sonic. A robot doppelganger Eggman made to try and match Sonic in both speed and power.



Now, when talking about the gameplay, Sonic CD follows the same formula Sonic 1 and 2 have, although Sonic CD follows a bit more in Sonic 1s footsteps than Sonic 2s. Each zone is compromised of 3 acts, with act 3 being a small one that has the boss in it. You beat Eggman in it, then go off to the next zone. In addition to the ring system, and power-ups returning, Sonic has two new moves. The first, and technically returning move is the spindash. Hold down and the jump button and Sonic will rev up. However, it isn't as simple as it is in Sonic 2. While the spindash in Sonic 2 can be revved for how long the player wants and start at any time, the spindash in Sonic CD will only work when fully charged. This makes the spindash feel much more clunky and awkward to use compared to how it has and will work in future Sonic games. The other move Sonic has is the Super Peelout. This move works the same as the spindash, only with you holding up instead of down to charge it. Sonic does do this cool run with a figure 8 animation when he's doing it and the same happens when he reaches his top speed normally in game.

Now this is all good and all, but Sonic CD is different. While you can play it on a level by level basis, that isn't where the meat of Sonic CD is. As I had mentioned prior, Little Planet has time travel capabilities. So in each zone for the first two acts, you'll find signposts that read past and future.


So the game has time travel. How do you use it? Well, by touching one of those signposts I mentioned, a icon for the signpost will appear on the bottom left, just above the life counter. When Sonic reaches his normal running speed, stars will appear behind him and the icon will start to flash. If you maintain this speed then, Sonic will warp to the past or future. However, if you stop for any reason, then if the icon was blinking, you will have wasted a chance for time travel. The past shows a more naturalistic version of the zone, while the future shows it in a mechanical dystopia. That is, unless you went back in time and destroyed the acts robot generator. If you do so, then the future will be a fusion of nature and technology that prospers together, instead of being against each other. This sounds good on paper, however, that is a major problem here. What do I mean?

Here's a level map for Green hill in Sonic Mania.

And now, here is Mushroom hill from Sonic and Knuckles. You notice how the levels have a flow with how the level design is?

Here's a map for a Sonic CD level.
I'm sorry for the resolution, however, you can tell one thing from this. Sonic CDs levels are big. Really big. Especially when looked at for verticality. However, unlike in a game like Sonic 3 and Knuckles, there isn't a flow to the level design. It's just a massive mash of stuff like a person placing things randomly around like they're playing Mario Maker or some other level builder. This presents a problem when one of the core tenets of Sonic is speed. It especially makes things challenging when trying to travel through time. Like I said, you have to maintain a set speed. However, the maze-like layout of these levels makes finding the right spot to build up to said speed difficult. You're better off looking for a set of two springs lined up together, bouncing back and forth between them most of the time. Because if not, then you'll be tip-toeing around the level, trying to find the best place to do a time warp.

The next issue naturally comes from the level design as well. The main objective you have at each level is to find the robot generator and destroy it in the past. This is part of what I mean with tip-toeing as well. Because if you reach the end of the level, that's it. You can't go back from the end of the stage. So instead, you're painstakingly combing over every nook and cranny, not only trying to find the spot to time travel, but to find the robot generator in the past. However, there is another way you could do so. The special stage.


Just like in Sonic 1, you access the special stage by gathering a minimum of 50 rings in act 1 or act 2. If you do, a giant ring will be at the end of the level, and jumping through it will let you try out the special stage. In these, Sonic moves around a pseudo-3d area, hitting UFOs and avoiding water. You have to destroy the UFOs before time runs out, and jumping into the water causes the timer to decrease faster. However, when around 20 seconds remain, a blue UFO appears and destroying it grants 30 seconds. If you manage to get all the Time Stones, then congratulations. You'll never have to worry about the robot generators again. Even if you missed any before, having all the Time Stones grants the good ending.

So, if Sonic CD is this strange, what is it that people love about this game? Well, the soundtracks are a good example of this. Yes, I said soundtracks. Unlike every other Sonic game, Sonic CD has two different soundtracks. One in the U.S, and one in Japan. It actually made a bit of a debate by people over which soundtrack is the better one. Here are some examples of tracks I love from both for a listen.

Another thing that people like about the game is the recurring rival that was introduced in it. Metal Sonic.


Metal Sonic works in much the same way that Sonic himself works in a design sense. Not to mention, he leaves a pretty big first impression. He was created by Eggman to act as Sonics ultimate rival at the time, being able to match him in both power and speed. And he would have to, as he has what is by far the best boss in the game. If you ask anyone who played the game what they remember about it, I'm sure they would say the Stardust Speedway race.


Unlike every other boss, which uses some kind of odd gimmick, from Collision Chaos being pinball, Tidal Tempest being about inhaling air bubbles, or Quartz Quadrants conveyor belt, this takes advantage of the gameplay that Sonic is known for. Sonic has to avoid obstacles on the track as well as Metal Sonics attacks. All the while Eggman chases him with an instant death laser. This is the moment that always comes to mind for me when I think of the game.

Now if I were to recommend this game, what version would I say you should play? Well, I wouldn't say to go for the Sega CD original due to how much a Genesis, a Sega CD, and a copy of the game would cost that way. Neither would I for the Gems collection. Instead, you should go for the 2011 mobile port of the game. It not only fixes various collision issues the game had, but it has the game in widescreen, an option to play as Tails, complete with his flying intact, and the option to toggle between the U.S and Japanese soundtracks. However, there's a problem here. As I said earlier, the game was delisted on steam just for Sonic Origins, and while I don't know about the original mobile port, it might as well. So I guess the only thing we can do to play the definitive Sonic CD again is wait for the 23rd.