You’d be hard-pressed to find any games that have been re-released and rehashed as many times as Sega’s classic Sonic the Hedgehog titles. It’s difficult to name a platform they haven’t been ported to, from consoles to mobile devices, to your streaming stick, and a multitude of compilations featuring the hedgehog’s original adventures have been released over the years. Despite this, Sega is tapping into that Genesis nostalgia yet again with Sonic Origins.
Serving up the series’ 16-bit titles with a fresh shiny wrapper and some new features, Sonic Origins promises to be a love letter to fans, but, of course, Sega has hurt us before. Is this a successful Genesis rejuvenation or has Sonic Team run headlong into a spike trap of their own making yet again? Time to take this one out for a run…
If you’re hoping for an encyclopedic collection of the blue blur’s early adventures, Sonic Origins may disappoint, as it focuses strictly on Sega’s core 16-bit titles (Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic CD). But hey, it’s not like including Sonic Spinball or Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine would boost sales significantly, so may as well stick to the main eventers.
I’m not going to delve into the quality of each of the games included in Sonic Origins too deeply, but I will say, I’m definitely not in the “Sonic was never good” camp. The original Sonic the Hedgehog was the natural evolution of the physics-based platforming introduced by Super Mario Bros., featuring fast action, idiosyncratic yet consistent controls, and visuals that still hold up 30 years later. Sure, the game suffers from some iffy level design here and there, particularly in its back half, but overall, the original Sonic is a classic for a reason.
Only a year later, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took everything that worked about the original and amped it up to the nth degree. And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, which I still love, despite some folks accusing them of being overstuffed and indulgent. They were the AAA games of the day (in a good way) -- big, varied, bombastic adventures unlike anything else on the market at the time. That said, not all the games included in Sonic Origins are winners. With its cluttered level design, confusing time-travel gimmick, and muted soundtrack, I’ve just never been able to get behind Sonic CD. But 75 percent of the games on an old-school compilation being good is a pretty good ratio.
The games included in Sonic Origins aren’t mere ROM dumps – they’ve been rebuilt from the ground up in a new engine, and the results are pretty admirable, at least to my only-moderately-obsessed eye. There are some small tweaks to certain animations and graphics, the Spin Dash has been added to all games, and a long-lost Sonic 2 level has been restored, but for the most part, the focus is on remaining true to the original look and feel of these games. In this, Sonic Origins is mostly successful. Unfortunately, while the games play well, they don’t always sound right as certain Sonic 3 tracks, long-rumored to have been created in some sort of partnership with Michael Jackson, haven’t made the cut.
While Sonic Origins’ games largely look like they did 25 to 30 years ago (albeit in HD), a decent amount of effort has been put into the presentation of everything surrounding them. A charming main menu represents all of Origins’ games and modes as detailed 3D islands and each title is now proceeded and followed by 2D animated cutscenes directed by fan-favorite Sonic artist and animator Tyson Hesse. These additions are ultimately superfluous, but they’re fun and heartfelt.
Each game included in Sonic Origins can now be played in one of two ways – Classic Mode recreates the 4:3 Genesis experience, while Anniversary Mode offers widescreen play free of lives and time limits. Somewhat annoyingly, mixing and matching preferences to, for instance, play in the classic 4:3 ratio without lives, isn’t possible. Other features often offered by classic collections, such as save states, the ability to rewind gameplay, and various visual filters, also aren’t included. Sonic Origins does what it does fairly well, but it feels short on options.
In addition to the original games, Sonic Origins offers Mission and Boss Rush modes, but unfortunately, neither are particularly fun. Missions are either too easy or too frustrating, with little space in between, and if we’re being honest, boss design has never been a Sonic strong suit. The main reason to play these new modes is to collect Coins, which can be used to unlock goodies in the Museum, including concept art, animated clips, concerts, and music. It’s a decent collection of stuff, but some past Sonic and Sega collections have offered more, and very little context explaining why we ought to care about any of this material is provided.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Sonic Origins’ general lack of stability, as the game crashed on me multiple times, in one case corrupting my save file. The Sonic series has long had an issue with polish, but it’s rather galling to see the issue crop up in a limited-scope project like this, featuring games that worked perfectly well decades ago. It’s just one more area where Sega could and should have pushed a little harder with Sonic Origins. As is, what could have been a lasting tribute to the blue blur will likely end up being a short jaunt for all but the most dedicated Sonic fans.
This review was based on a PS5 copy of Sonic Origins provided by publisher Sega.