IN case you were unaware, Sonic the Hedgehog turned 30 last year.
Birthday celebrations for the Blue Blur resulted in an excellent Sonic 30th Anniversary Symphony, a remaster of Sonic Colours, and the promise of two titles to release in 2022 – a new Sonic adventure which we now know to be Sonic Frontiers, and an anniversary collection in the form of Sonic Origins, compiling remastered versions of the Mega Drive Saga of Sonic titles in a single release.
Just over a year on from its announcement, Sonic Origins has arrived, packing four enjoyable classic adventures in an enjoyable albeit somewhat shaky package.
Sonic Origins comprises Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and the Sega CD classic Sonic CD. Each game has been fully remastered in the Retro Engine, an engine developed by Sonic superfan and fellow Australian Christian Whitehead that was originally used for his fan projects, before impressing Sega enough to have ports of Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 made in his engine. Sonic Mania was also made in Whitehead’s Retro Engine, so those who have played Mania will know what to expect from this collection of games.
After witnessing what is a truly fantastic animated cinematic, you’ll have access to the game’s menu, which spreads the contents of the Sonic Origins experience across six in-menu islands. These background islands are stylish 3D dioramas referencing the games present in the collection, as well as other Sonic Mega Drive titles such as Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast, and are covered with animated models of Sonic’s friends and foes.
In what I feel is one of the more greedy DLC cash grabs in my recent memory, the character animations and island tour mode that allows you to get a closer look at these islands is locked away behind a paywall, which is a real shame and is just one example of bad DLC practices present in Sonic Origins.
Each game is playable from the get go, either in its Anniversary or Classic Mode, and feature newly animated opening and ending cutscenes that are absolutely gorgeous. Anniversary Mode offers a full screen experience and infinite lives across each title, also allowing you to collect coins, which serve as a currency across Sonic Origins that can be used to purchase retries of special stages upon failure, or content such as music tracks, illustrations and movies that you can experience in Museum Mode. Given it’s full screen appearance and friendlier nature given the removal of lives makes it the mode most will gravitate towards.
For those keener on something more evocative of the Mega Drive era, Classic Mode serves such an experience, presenting each game in their original 4:3 aspect ratio and restoring finite lives and game overs. While classic from a visual standpoint in terms of screen display, the classic mode still uses the new engine as opposed to emulating the original.
While this is likely a nitpick, it would have been nice for the “Classic mode” to have contained the true classic versions of each release, and by extension it also would’ve been ideal to have the option to toggle classic features such as lives in the anniversary mode. It’s likely something I probably wouldn’t have bothered to do anyway, but generally one would expect that level of customisation in an anniversary collection.
There are also Boss Rush modes available for each title, as well as a Mirror Mode that can be unlocked early through DLC (more unnecessary DLC…), or for free by completing each title.
In terms of gameplay, each of the four titles are a lot of fun to play, and have been updated with features such as additional playable characters and abilities, like Sonic’s iconic spin dash, which has been added to Sonic the Hedgehog despite not being present in its original rendition.
Although being able to play characters like Tails and Knuckles in the original Sonic the Hedgehog is a fun option for those that are interested, it would’ve been nice for more characters to have been made available, such as Amy Rose or perhaps Metal Sonic, especially given that Tails and Knuckles while new to experiences such as the original Sonic the Hedgehog, are otherwise normal playable characters in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
Sonic 2 is probably my favourite game in the collection given its simplicity and shorter zones, however Sonic 3 & Knuckles is arguably the most impressive title of the three given its larger zones, more involved level design, and the fact that it’s double the size of every other title present with Sonic Origins.
Although not as good as Sonic 2 and 3, the original Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic CD are still worthwhile experiences in their own right, serving as roughly two hour examples of quality Mega Drive era 2D platforming. Making your way through each game’s various zones collecting rings and freeing captive critters from Dr Eggman’s slew of Badnik robots is just as fun as I’m sure it was in the 90’s when Sonic was all the rage.
While it’s awesome to see Sonic 3 & Knuckles finally get the Retro Engine remaster treatment after all this time, the downside is that the tracks rumoured to have been originally composed by Michael Jackson have been removed, which is a huge albeit expected disappointment.
Replacing these iconic tracks with the Sonic 3 prototype tracks is a nice touch and a nod to that version of the game, but they ultimately feel out of place amongst the rest of the music present in the game. Playing Carnival Night Zone without its zany original track just doesn’t hit the same as it once did, and the same can be said about Ice Cap Zone as well. Although it’ll be a noticeable omission to fans of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the reality is that it’s better to still have access to the game than none at all.
The new mission mode is a welcome addition that sees you have to complete bite-sized tasks across each of the four titles, such as collecting a certain amount of rings or completing a stage without taking damage or killing a certain amount of a particular enemy.
While undoubtedly some welcome additional fun, pretty much all challenges feel far too easy to S rank, resulting in many challenges that just feel like “one and done” style experiences . Also present on the Mission island is a Story Mode option, which allows you to play all four titles as one experience, which is a nice option for those who are interested.
As I mentioned earlier, Museum Mode allows you to purchase items such as Illustrations, Music tracks, and Movies with coins collected throughout each game. I’m sure most of the content locked away in the Museum is a simple Google search away, however I actually had a lot of fun looking through the content in the museum, with the myriad of illustrations my favourite to look into.
Sonic Origins has plenty of content to keep players occupied, but the overall product still has its fair share of issues.
Gating away content as paid DLC in an anniversary collection feels particularly egregious and scummy, a matter that is made even worse when you realise that this additional paid content is nothing more than some additional Hard missions in the Mission mode, alongside other visual niceties such as additional letterbox designs for classic mode, character animations on the main menu, and more musical tracks available in the museum mode.
It’s content that really should be present within the game for everyone to access, and its omission to paid additional content takes away from what should be a wholesome anniversary collection celebrating Sonic and his 30 year existence as a gaming icon.
There are also some visual and audio issues present throughout each game as well, with blurrier than normal visuals and uneven audio highlighting a lack of polish. It’s not game breaking by any stretch, but it’s definitely noticeable.
There are also some gameplay bugs present too that weren’t present in these titles original releases, which vary from minor annoyance to frustrating. Tails for example insists on getting stuck and constantly jumping for help, resulting in your ears having to endure the jump sound effect constantly throughout a level.
There is also a startling lack of features one would expect to see in a collection like this, such as optional graphical filters and features such as a rewind feature and save states.
Sonic Origins is still an enjoyable package that provides a classic quartet of quality 2D platformers, however it is unfortunately hampered by a variety of issues that feel like they exist because the game was rushed to release.
Each game still plays well, but issues like uneven audio, blurry sprites, and various different bugs that range from minor annoyance to frustrating hinder what is otherwise an enjoyable experience. It also doesn’t help that the insistence to milk a few extra dollars from players resulted in content being gated behind a paywall, which is a cardinal sin in collections such as these.
Sonic Mania back in 2017 felt like a true love letter to the Sonic franchise, developed by a team of developers who had an undeniable love and reverence for the blue blur. I don’t doubt that Sonic Origins was made by a team with a similar level of love, but it’s abundantly clear that they needed just a bit more time to give this game the love it deserved, and for that, I can’t help but feel a little let down as a result.
If you’re still keen on experiencing Sonic’s original adventures, I do still believe Sonic Origins is worth picking up, however I’d suggest maybe waiting for fixes or a price drop.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron