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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Sonic Gems Collection

Sonic CD. That's about it.

Right. This is about Sonic CD. You see that bit up there, where it says "Sonic Gems Collection"? That's rubbish. This is Sonic CD. Sonic CD is Sonic, a jump button, lots of robots, Dr Robotnik, and big levels with lots of hidden bits. You can run as fast as possible from left to right trying not to run into spiky stuff, if that's what you're into, but there's also a time-travel element - this lets you pop back into the green, fluffy past and jump around there, and then see how that affects the state of play in the grey, dystopian future. Thanks to levels that are just as comfortable going miles up as they are miles-right, you can spend ages mining each one for the sake of completion.

"For the sake of completion". This is what the rest of Sonic Gems Collection is about. Anybody with a love of 2D Sonic games - basically anybody who bought Sonic Mega Collection or the cheeky "Plus" version, or any of the GBA games - will enjoy Sonic CD. The levels are ace, the music's ace; and if you're anything like me you'll go "ooh!" when you see Sonic rotate as he jumps up in the air, or when the level rotates to show you running straight up a wall.

In fact, if you like old 2D Sonic games you might as well rent Gems and do as the boxquote says and "Rejoice for Sonic CD". Cheers NOM.

Just don't rejoice for anything else, because it's mostly rubbish.

Mostly. I've got lots of words left, so let's talk about it.

Sonic CD. It's the reason you might buy this.

The other stuff on the disc is Sonic the Fighters (a simple, Virtua Fighter-style 3D beat-'em-up that, to the best of my knowledge, only ever appeared in Japanese arcades), Sonic R (one of those dreaded "on-foot racing games" with Sonic characters, which came out on the Saturn), six Game Gear games (Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble, Sonic Drift 2, Sonic Spinball, Tails' Skypatrol and Tails Adventures), and two unlockable Vectorman games. The Japanese Gems Collection also had Streets of Rage, but for some reason we don't get that. In the absence of any official explanation I'm going to assume it's SEGA's way of punishing us for killing the Dreamcast.

On the other hand, maybe what's on the disc is the punishment instead. Sonic the Fighters is quite novel - your 3D Sonic characters can punch, kick, block, jump and perform rudimentary combos - but it lacks fluidity and probably won't be much fun unless you have a proper arcade stick. In fact, I refuse to believe it's much fun compared to something like Virtua Fighter 4 even if you do have a stick. So, in conclusion: buy Virtua Fighter 4. It's cheaper than this right now because you all ignored it in the first place. Just like you hated the Dreamcast.

Sonic the Fighters. You can punch Tails, I suppose.

Sonic R, meanwhile, is really odd. Each character steers like an actual car, so despite the way some of the levels have been designed for you to quickly turn back on yourself and run down a slope, you find yourself standing in the corner banging your head against the wall. That's pretty much what the writers of the music ought to be doing by now too - it's hilariously cheesy and full of sentiments about how everything makes the lady-vocalist feel so HIGH and how she generally wants to touch the SKY and so on. It also has a brilliant track about how I'm a diamond in the SKY set to a level, in the sky, which takes place on a throbbing chaos EMERALD. The game itself doesn't take long to finish, and that'll probably be the point you give up on it, even though you can go back and try to find vaguely hidden routes through levels and collect icons in the process. It's just too awkward to play for any length of time really.

As for the rest, they're principally educational. Think about some of the stuff we whinge about these days. "Oh boo hoo, Game X's representation of the ethical divide between the democratic peoples of the Mushroom Peninsula and the more nomadic Rainbow Forest-dwelling Floral Rangers is dispiritingly inarticulate. I want my money back." In Tails Adventures, the HEALTH BAR can be obscured by the WALLS. In Sonic Spinball, the game seems to pause for breath between frames. And in Sonic Drift 2, there's only one FRAME for turning, never mind it being animated.

Sonic R. Actually has a day/night cycle on levels. Coo.

They all look awful on a proper TV too because the resolution on the Game Gear wasn't much to start with. You can shrink them down to a box, but you could also just not play them altogether. Don't get me wrong - there were moments when I found Sonic 2, Triple Trouble and the two Tails games tolerable. Then they did whatever it was that I found intolerable about them just over ten years ago when I sold them all along with my Game Gear so I could finance Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES. In Sonic 2's case, that's not showing me enough of what's going on off-screen in a game where going too fast to notice important things is pretty much the design. And so on.

So, really, it all comes down to Sonic CD. And the Vectorman games, which are fun if you can get round to unlocking them. Since you can buy this for less than twenty quid if you shop around, it's a nice way to experience a game sadly marginalised on the stillborn Mega Drive CD-ROM add-on, and it's also pleasantly rebellious in the current climate of 3D gang warfare action games with 80 billion polygons. In other words, if this sort of thing matters to you, if you still can't bear to unplug your Dreamcast, and you do own Virtua Fighter 4 and all the others and think they're brilliant, this is for you. If you're dying for another 2D Sonic game, it might be for you too. But if you genuinely want a collection, perhaps a MEGA collection, of several 2D Sonic games, and you can't really imagine spending an evening using your WaveBird as a sort of prosthetic syringe to draw the blue blood out of all the minced royalty, go for Sonic Mega Collection instead. It's much better.

7 / 10