|Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (reviewed), PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, PC
|June 23, 2022
This year, Sonic the Hedgehog celebrates his thirty-first birthday. In celebration, Sega has now released Sonic Origins, a single collection of the original Sonic games from the Genesis era: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. At first blush, this may seem a cynical cash grab; after all, haven’t these games been released numerous times in the past? Indeed they have. However, this comes courtesy of the same core developers who brought us Sonic Mania, developers who have proven they know the ins and outs of what makes classic Sonic games tick. Plus, this collection boasts a host of new features. So, then: how does this ambitious endeavor fare?
The classic Sonic games are squeaky clean and appropriate for all ages. There is no blood or gore of any kind. The player characters can die, but when they do so, they simply launch into the air with a surprised look on their face and fall off the bottom of the screen.
Sonic Origins contains the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. Each of these games can be played in either Classic mode or Anniversary mode. Classic mode is straightforward: the game will run in a 4:3 format and maintain a traditional lives system—that is, you have X number of lives with which to complete the game, and if you lose all of them, it’s game over, provided you also don’t accumulate any Continues, each one of which provides you with three additional lives when you run out.
Anniversary mode, however, switches things up a bit. Here, the game has been converted to a 16:9 widescreen format, giving you a larger view of the environment that is most certainly welcome in a fast-paced platformer like this (admittedly already a feature in the 2011 re-release of Sonic CD). You can also play as Tails and Knuckles in all these games, even ones in which these characters never originally appeared. Not only is it a neat touch, but it also lets you do things you never could have done in the past, such as gliding over wide swaths of Green Hill and thus skipping nearly the whole level. Furthermore, the lives system has been eliminated; you can retry as many times as you like when you die. Instead of collecting extra lives and Continues, you earn coins which are used to purchase things from Origins’ museum, such as classic artwork, remixed music tracks (mostly those which were originally created for Sonic Generations), and a handful of animatics. I appreciate this change; with the near ubiquity of autosaves and long-term progression within modern games, a lives system feels particularly antiquated today.
Speaking of autosaves, Origins implements its own autosave system for all of its games, letting you pick jump out of a game at any point and then jump right back in at the last checkpoint pole. You get an autosave for each of the characters in each of the games, so you can have multiple playthroughs ongoing at the same time. The collection contains other quality-of-life upgrades as well, such as how you get to keep all your rings after going through a special stage in Sonic 2, and the ability to use the spindash in Sonic 1. The developers even found a way to incorporate the old-school cheat codes that let you access hidden stage select screens and a debug mode.
The new features don’t stop there, either. Origins contains several other new modes, including new Blue Spheres stages (like the ones found when you would place a Sonic 1 cartridge into the lock-on port of a Sonic & Knuckles cartridge), a mirror mode for each game (which unlocks after beating a game in a normal mode), a boss rush for each game, a slew of short missions in which you navigate obstacle courses set up within classic Sonic levels, and a Story Mode which lets you play all four titles back-to-back. Each game also sports a couple of new animated cutscenes to bolster the narrative and take the place of the old backstory people read in the original games’ manuals. Sonic Origins clearly aims to be the best way to play the old Sonic games, and in many ways, it has achieved just that.
It’s not all sunshine and dancing sunflowers, though. A few things have changed for the worse. Several of the stages in Sonic 3, for example, had to have their music changed due to licensing issues, as their original tracks were composed by Michael Jackson and/or his associates and Sega failed to retain the rights; Origins’ composer Jun Senoue did an admirable job retooling the old beta music for these stages to use in this collection, but nothing can replace the unique charm and style of MJ’s work.
More importantly, however, Origins could benefit from a bit more polish in some areas. While the physics system matches that of the original titles the vast majority of the time, I did encounter a few spots where the game didn’t work quite as intended, particularly one spot in Sonic 2’s Metropolis Zone where a spring sent me into a set of spikes, something that never happened in the original and a setback that almost makes that route through the level impossible; the only way I got past it was by quickly getting back on the spring and hitting them again during the few seconds of invincibility you receive after you take a hit. My time with the game otherwise remained largely bug-free, but I’ve seen other people online complain about bugs that I haven’t found, so your mileage may vary. As of this writing, one of the game’s creators has expressed a desire to fix a number of issues that he sees in the game’s current state, so hopefully we’ll see improvements in the months to come.
Despite its issues, Sonic Origins nonetheless stands as a great way to play and enjoy the venerated Sonic titles from the early 1990s. A lot of love and effort clearly went into its creation, seen not only in its largely successful recreation of the old games’ feel, but also in all the other new features made for this collection. Whether you’re a longtime Sonic fan like me, or just someone with an appreciation for classic platformers and gaming history, should pick this up and try the games out. It’s well worth your time and money.
The Bottom Line
While there are still a few bugs to iron out, Sonic Origins delivers the old-school Sonic experience in its best form yet thanks to a host of new features and quality-of-life improvements.