Sonic Origins is yet another compilation of classic Sonic titles, of which there have been many over the decades, released to celebrate the hedgehog’s 31st birthday. However, this latest release is unique in a few respects, not the least of which is an apparent shift of focus from the quantity of something like Sonic Mega Collection Plus’ 20 games, to ensuring the quality of just four bona-fide classics from the beginning of Sonic’s career.
Included in Sonic Origins are the first four staple entries of the series, and what I feel most would agree to be Sonic’s best era and most consistent run of games. You get the original Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog, the Mega CD-exclusive Japanese-developed sequel Sonic CD, the fully-fledged American sequel Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and the unified form of the next two games, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Together, they form the canonical Old Testament of the Sonic bible, as their success drove the blue devil to become one of gaming’s biggest mascots, second only to Chris Pratt.
Each game is presented in two formats – the original experience, running in 4:3 but with an upgraded resolution, and a remastered ‘anniversary’ mode that runs in 16:9 and does away with lives, instead replacing them with collectible coins which can be used to re-try special stages, or hoarded to unlock bonus content in Sonic Origins‘ museum. For new players, and really most people aside from hardcore Sonic or retro fans, the anniversary mode is the way to go, as each game looks gorgeous in the new widescreen format with upscaled graphics that look a little soft in some instances compared to the original sprites, but maintain the art style and personality of the original. These are essentially modernised ports of the high definition mobile and console releases from a few years ago, with S3&K finally brought in as well. They all sound great too, although notably due to assumed legal issues with Michael Jackson’s reported involvement in development, Sonic 3 & Knuckles has several tracks missing, replaced with sadly inferior versions based on a prototype release.
These games have been around for three decades now, so there’s very little to say about them that hasn’t already been said, but for what it’s worth, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles remain standout platformers and the highlights in Sonic Origins. By this point, the team behind these games had a better sense of what traps and enemies work best for Sonic‘s unique brand of platforming, and built fun and exciting level designs around that. While Sonic 2 is probably the most iconic game, Sonic 3 & Knuckles feels like a blockbuster movie take on the series, with plenty of memorable set-pieces and boss encounters. The original Sonic by comparison feels frustratingly slow or counter-intuitive too often, outside of a couple of memorable zones, and while the follow-up Sonic CD increases Sonic’s speed substantially and has some cool boss fights, it also relies too much on a poorly executed time travel mechanic which requires a lot of faffing around trying to activate or not activate, as you try to send Sonic to the past to destroy devices that affect future versions of the level.
Some gameplay modifications have made their way into these games, with Sonic’s ‘Drop Dash’ move from Sonic Mania now a part of his default stable of abilities in Anniversary mode, along with the spin dash. Knuckles can also now be selected in Sonic 1 for the first time, and Tails in Sonic CD. There’s also a very nice ‘Story Mode’ that plays through each game back-to-back as one singular experience, punctuated by new animated cutscenes that fill in some of the story detail from the games’ manuals. A Mission Mode also has smaller bite-sized challenges for Sonic veterans, which are essentially little level-editor made chunks with simple goals, and a nice bonus.
Unfortunately, this release also seems to have introduced some bugs into the games, which are being reported across social media at the moment, and have been acknowledged by the developer. In my playthrough of the games, I had issues with the drop dash acting correctly, as well as Sonic clipping through bits of the environment, or even time-travelling into rock walls in Sonic CD. Tails also seems to have lost his ability to die off-screen in Sonic 2, instead infinitely jumping with the sound-effects coming through constantly until you finish the level. Most of these bugs are minor, but they did build up and occurred a lot more frequently than I was expecting from a release that clearly had a lot of love put into it.
That love and appreciation for Sonic is obvious in the collection’s presentation, which goes the extra mile in virtually every aspect. A brand new animated intro serves as a great showcase of the franchise for new fans who might only be familiar with the recent movies, while the main menu takes the form of animated islands that you can navigate between, with characters doing some mild antics on them. The Museum has a collection of game manuals, music, concept art and videos, including snippets from the (currently free online) 30th Anniversary concert, as well as the (also currently free online) Sonic Mania animated webisodes. It’s not as extensive as, say, the collection of Archie comic covers from Sonic Mega Collection, and there’s no bonus 8-bit games to unlock here, but what’s presented is quite nice.
Sonic Origins is a great-looking upgrade of four of Sonic’s best titles, that ties a charming presentation with some logical quality-of-life upgrades in its anniversary mode, that make it the default best versions of these games for newcomers. Older fans might be a tougher sell, especially if you have a fondness for certain tracks you remember from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, or if you were looking for even more ways to change up the very well-explored gameplay (surely adding in Amy or Metal Sonic as characters was considered?). Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said for being able to kick back and play through four classics back-to-back in remastered fashion in Story mode, and Sonic Origins is certainly a beautiful way to enter or relive the series.
-Amazing presentation, from animated cutscenes to charming menus -Four strong Sonic titles, although two are better than the others -Plenty to unlock in the Museum
-Some unexpected bugs -Not as feature-rich or full of extra content as past collections