The Sonic Second: Sonic CD vs Sonic 1

Sonic 1 was groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, and a bestseller. Crafting a direct sequel to follow such a title is a pretty tall order, but Sega actually did it twice, simultaneously – Sonic 2 and Sonic CD‘s development overlapped, with each game handled by a separate team, working on opposite sides of the ocean. Sonic 2 was headed up by two of Sonic’s three co-creators, programmer Yuji Naka and game planner Hirokazu Yasuhara, working with the Sega Technical Institute in America. Sonic’s designer, Naoto Ohshima, remained in Japan and oversaw the creation of Sonic CD.

According to Ohshima, although the teams did communicate with each other, discussing game design and the aims of their projects, the games were intentionally two very different beasts.

Sonic CD was made in Japan, while Sonic 2 was made by (Yuji) Naka’s team over in the U.S. We exchanged information, of course, talking about the sort of game design each of us was aiming for. But Sonic CD wasn’t Sonic 2; it was really meant to be more of a CD version of the original Sonic. I can’t help but wonder, therefore, if we had more fun making CD than they did making Sonic 2 [because we didn’t have the pressure of making a “numbered sequel”].

– Naoto Ohshima (Gamasutra, 2009)

Because of this, we can see two distinct takes on the task of succeeding Sonic 1. While Sonic 2 took Sonic to a new island and expanded the capabilities of the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic CD sent Sonic to another planet, and replaced the Chaos Emeralds with another set of powerful gems, the Time Stones. Where Sonic 2 was brighter and more cartoony, Sonic CD went for an edgier, anime style. Sonic 2 gave Sonic a young admirer who became his sidekick – his “Luigi” – but Sonic CD gave Sonic a young admirer in need of rescue – his “Princess Peach”. Sonic 2 introduced 2-player gameplay, allowing Sonic and Tails to cooperate or go head-to-head, but Sonic CD introduced Time Attack, allowing players to compete by taking turns, trying to shave a few centiseconds off the timer and immortalise their name – or at least three letters of it – in the Sega CD BRAM.

Probably the most obvious and overriding stylistic difference between the two games is how they approach the level tropes. Sonic 2 has a new take on the classic Green Hill Zone, and a couple of spiritual successors – for example, Metropolis Zone’s nods to Scrap Brain Zone – but largely covers new territory, inspiration for the environments fueled by Sonic Team’s travels in America. Sonic CD‘s zones, however, despite taking place on a literal alien world, are noticeably rooted in the tropes of the original Sonic, opting to refine and polish familiar ground.

Astute players of Sonic CD can notice similarities between its zones and Sonic 1‘s that run far deeper than just the visuals. With Ohshima’s words above, “[Sonic CD] was really meant to be more of a CD version of the original Sonic“, it’s tempting to speculate that this is evidence that the game began as a literal “Special Edition” of Sonic’s debut outing. Whether that’s the case or not, Sonic CD‘s conservatism in level tropes winds up being appropriate – with Sonic’s ability to time travel and see multiple variations on each level’s theme, the use of familiar themes helps anchor the “Present” versions of the levels. The game can go as wild as it wants with atavistic pasts and dystopic futures, but each one remains recognisable, as though the traditional zones of the original Sonic itself are being reinterpreted.

I’ll now, with a liberal smattering of screenshots, list the similarities. I’ll hardly be exhaustive, because there’s so many I’ve probably missed some, but this will be an illustrative sample.

Green Hill Zone / Palmtree Panic

Emerald Hill Zone from Sonic 2 is also clearly harking back to Green Hill Zone, but Palmtree Panic revisits quite a few more elements. The rocks, the crumbling walls and ledges, the swinging platforms, the twisting chutes, and the mountainous background with waterfalls.

Spring Yard Zone / Collision Chaos

Collision Chaos is quite a bit brighter than Spring Yard Zone, but its “Present” version shares the latter’s purple, brown, and green colour scheme (complete with cyan metal lattices), as well as the star bumpers, floating neon signs, and lower interior paths with rotating sets of spiked balls. Most interesting is the presence of two signs and exits in the second zone, a distinction it shares only with Spring Yard Act 2. It’s hard to chalk this up to coincidence.

Note also that Collision Chaos was originally going to be the third round before the infamous “Round 2” was cut, which would put it at the same position as Spring Yard Zone in the level order.

(Find the full maps at Zone: 0)

Labyrinth Zone / Tidal Tempest

Tidal Tempest’s pink corals strongly recall the crystal clusters from Labyrinth Zone, and the type of blocks in both the background and foreground are incredibly similar in style. They also share many of the same gimmicks and hazards, and their bosses both involve chasing Robotnik through vertical watery shafts (although only one of them culminates in a fight). Furthermore, they both wrap vertically, allowing Sonic to fall down endless waterfalls.

Of course, these are also the water levels in their respective games.

The original idea for Labyrinth Zone’s background, with rocks and crystals, could have been recycled for this cool introductory background for Tidal Tempest’s first zone.

Wacky Workbench and Quartz Quadrant have no direct analogs in Sonic 1, but the final two levels match up quite well.

Star Light Zone / Stardust Speedway

In addition to sharing starry skies (and names), these levels are both made of twisting, looping metal roads suspended over a beautiful city at night. They both make use of the cool effect of having tall structures pass intermittently in front of the scene, although in Stardust Speedway’s case the effect is limited to the third zone instead of all throughout the level.

Scrap Brain Zone / Metallic Madness

Unique amongst the levels of their respective games, these both have unique backgrounds for each of their three stages. There are also many gimmicks and hazards in common.

Special Stage

Finally, Sonic CD originally had a bonus stage (perhaps an early form of its special stage), that looked very similar to Sonic 1‘s. Note the “R” block, and the “U” block, which might have been the same as the “Up” blocks from the original.


Yes, most Sonic games have similarities, but I think that in this case of Sonic CD and Sonic 1, the sheer number of them, their odd specificity, and especially the order in which they appear, are definitely compelling. I don’t think they make a conclusive case for anything in particular, but they are interesting to consider from the perspective of Sonic CD as glimpse of where the franchise might have gone if Sonic 2 had never existed.


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The Sonic Second: Sonic 1’s Secret Credits

In gaming’s early days, the practice of crediting a game’s developers using only pseudonyms made things needlessly mysterious. When I beat Sonic 1 or Phantasy Star II for the first time and saw alphabet soup like YU2, BIGISLAND, STRESTELESS and MUUUU YUJI, it was anticlimactically jarring. What was with all the fake names, and who were these talented folks really?

Fortunately, games like Sonic 2 and Sonic CD, released later as Sega’s habit of obfuscating the identities of their talent started to fall away, would finally reveal full names, with their old pseudonyms helpfully provided as a parenthetical.

Sonic 2 [U]_003

Long before this revolution, however, good old YU2 himself provided a full and proper list of credits for Sonic 1, hidden in the game itself. Way to stick it to the man!

But where is this secret list, you ask? Well, you look right at it every time you boot up the game, on the “SONIC TEAM PRESENTS” screen. Like the purloined letter, it’s hidden in plain sight. Sort of.

You see, the names are written in the same colour as the background, rendering them invisible. But with a little palette trickery, like magic they appear.

Sonic 1 [U]_000

If you’re using hardware, you can do the above by using a Game Genie and the code TD79-86AC. If you’re using an emulator like Gens, the patch code is FFFB02:0E80.

That’s not the only way to access them. According to Sonic Retro, there’s a cheat code built right into the game that will make them show up, and even remove the “SONIC TEAM PRESENTS” text that’s in the way.

In either ROM, with the region set to Japan, press C, C, C, C, C, C, Up, Down, Down, Down, Left, Right; you should hear a sound confirming this. Then, when the demo starts, hold Down + A + B + C and either press Start or wait for the demo to end.

I was only able to get this to work with my Japanese ROM; using my USA ROM with the region set to J didn’t work. But I might have been doing something wrong.

Sonic 1 [J]_000

(Another interesting thing is that the “PRESS START BUTTON” object loads properly after you do this.)

Sonic 1 [J]_000 (2)

Okay, so this is all very well and good, but those credits are in Japanese…. Can’t an anglophone get a translation around here?

Very well:

Program

Yuji Naka (a.k.a. YU2)

Plan

Hirokazu Yasuhara (a.k.a. Carol Yas)

Design

Naoto Ohshima (a.k.a. Bigisland, a literal translation of his family name)
Jina Ishiwatari (a.k.a. Jinya)
Rieko Kataoka (a.k.a. Phenix Rie, later Rieko Kodama (through marriage, I assume))

Sound Produce

Masato Nakamura (of Dreams Come True, the only one here to get proper credit at the end of the game)

Sound Program

Hiroshi Kubota (a.k.a. Jimita)
Yukifumi Makino (a.k.a. Macky)

Sega’s efforts to conceal these folks’ identities seem ludicrous in the internet age. Now we can all look up their works and give them the credit they deserve!


Here are some bonus points of interest:

  • The pseudonyms used in the game credits apparently weren’t just hastily thrown in. In Sega Players Enjoy Club, a Japanese newsletter for Sega fans that was written and drawn largely by the developers themselves, they use the same pseudonyms, almost like nicknames or alter egos.
  • Sonic 1 isn’t the only Sonic game to have a secret credits screen. Sonic CD has one, too – it’s shown after you beat the secret 8th Special Stage.
    Sonic 3_019

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The Sonic Second: Beyond the Games – Music

Throughout all the ups and downs of the Sonic franchise’s history, one thing has remained largely constant: the quality of the tunes. A few stinkers aside (here’s looking at you, Sonic 4 and Sonic Chronicles), Sonic’s music, from its most funky or badass to its most patently absurd, has rocked the ears of fans for over two decades, inspiring countless covers, remixes, and original compositions.

And that music is not merely constrained to the Sonic games themselves. A surprising amount of music, both extensions of the game music as well as brand new content, has seen official release over the years. And this is what The Sonic Second will take a look – or listen, rather – at this week.

Sonic the Hedgehog Boom

Sonic Boom

Released on Hedgehog Day, 1994, and only available as a special treat for those who had preordered Sonic 3[1], Sonic the Hedgehog Boom illogically contains no music from that game, instead comprising extended tracks from the North American version of Sonic CD and Sonic Spinball, of which the former has the lion’s share (despite the cover art).

This soundtrack comes as a salve for those who – like me – love the Spencer Nilsen compositions from Sonic CD but find some of them criminally short as they appear in the game. Unfortunately not all of the tracks are treated with equal care. Some are great; others are practically ruined by inexplicable changes.

It’s also cool to hear the Sonic Spinball songs rendered differently than the Genesis version.

Sonic the Hedgehog – Remix

Sonic Remix

Sonic the Hedgehog – Remix is another soundtrack for Sonic CD, but the Japanese version this time. Containing only 8 tracks, it’s nonetheless full of great stuff. One of the tracks is titled “Dr. Gigglymen” – how can that not be awesome?

Though presented as an album of remixes, much of the music is so wild and far out that it winds up bearing little resemblance to the versions in the game, providing essentially new Sonic CD styled music. Case in point: the delightfully funky – and nearly incomprehensible – vocal theme “Love You Sonic”.

My favourite track is probably the 7 minute and 21 second tour de force “Techno Power Mix”, a mashup of the seven zone BGM.

Another cool thing is the artwork, the original sketches for which can be found in the bonus artwork gallery of Sonic Generations.

Sonic & Knuckles: Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic & Knuckles - Sonic 3

Also misleadingly named, Sonic & Knuckles: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 contains only music from Sonic & Knuckles, much of it extensively reworked and expanded.

Unfortunately, as neat as it is to hear extra parts to these classic songs, most of the tracks fare little better than crappy MIDI when it comes to instrumentation.

Virtual Sonic

Virtual Sonic

Sporting the fancy subtitle “Enhanced Music Inspired by the Worlds of Sonic”, Virtual Sonic is perhaps the most interesting album on this list. Composer Howard Drossin recalls it in an interview with Gamasutra:

I remember I did the whole thing in a month. People ask me, you know, “Was this song from this level?” I don’t know. Some of it was expanding upon the Sonic theme and the Knuckles theme, but for others I was grasping. I had a month to do an entire soundtrack because it had to be there in the Luxor Hotel, and I remember begging and pleading for more time. It had to be done for the grand opening of the Sega Store. Some of it is based on nothing but my impression of the Sonic world. Given the time that I had to do it, I think some of it is pretty cool.

Almost all of the songs are totally original, bearing no resemblance to anything from the games. Even the track “Sandopolis” is nothing like the zone BGM.

Highlights include “Metal Sonic”, a grinding rock theme with vocals in the style of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and “Sonic and Knuckles Theme”, which might surprise fans of Sonic Robo Blast 2 if they listen past the 2:00 mark. 🙂

Supersonic

Supersonic

A UK single by “H.W.A featuring Sonic the Hedgehog”, this is a dance track that partially remixes the BGM from Green Hill Zone.

According to the liner notes,

All proceeds that Sega receive from sales of this record will be donated to the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre. The charity helps children with severe learning difficulties communicate through the medium of music.

A sweet gesture, but wouldn’t it have been more effective with a better collection of music?

Super Sonic Dance Attack

Super Sonic Dance Attack

Another dance single, in my opinion somewhat better than the last, this one is derived from Sonic’s main theme from Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 but also contains some melody from Streets of Rage 2 for an odd combination.

A robotic voice intones “I killed Doctor Robotnik” and “I killed the boss” a few times throughout the track, which is somewhat unsettling but at least proves that I was not totally alone in describing the act of defeating Robotnik as “killing the boss” as a kid, though of course he never actually dies.

Wonderman

Wonderman

Wonderman is a single by Right Said Fred, the British act forever infamous for “I’m Too Sexy” (itself sounding a little reminiscent of something out of the Sonic OVA). In what could be considered a lazy and crass move, their song “Wonderman” was musically and lyrically reworked to loosely tie in with the Sonic franchise and was used to promote Sonic 3 in the UK.

It’s hugely cheesy, but I like the song regardless. The music video contains a few Sonic references and footage from Sonic 3, but nothing too special.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic Arcade

And, speaking of cheesy…

Not to be confused with the umpteen other products simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, this is the album that “They Call Me Sonic” calls home, along with its conspecifics “King of the Ring”, “Sonic & Tails”, “Sonic Electronic”, as well as a handful of forgettable instrumental rave tracks.

Also published by the same company, Arcade Music, were two volumes of Sonic Dance and three volumes of Sonic Mix, European releases that used Sonic imagery but contained pop songs that had nothing to do with the franchise. (The Jive label published eight (!) volumes of the very similar Sonic Dance Power series.) They are notable only for their covers, which depict such unhinged acts as Sonic snowboarding on his own name, Sonic and Knuckles having a spaghetti fight on a rocket, and Knuckles escaping an enormous, luminescent Robotnik while riding a snowmobile.

Sonic Dance Mix 1

Sonic Dance Mix 2

Sonic Dance Mix 3

In short, their contribution to culture is incalculable.

Rad Knuckles
What’s that? I can’t hear you over how fucking rad I am.

^ 1. Sonic the Hedgehog Boom at Sonic Retro.

images from Sonic Retro.

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