Few video game franchises have endured as long as Sonic the Hedgehog, but those that have typically haven’t had as rocky an existence as our spiky, blue friend. Where his rivals have gone from strength to strength, Sonic’s catalogue of releases has become more and more mixed over time. It makes sense then, that SEGA is keen to continue reviving and re-selling Sonic’s earliest outings. Sonic Origins is the latest example of those efforts, and it’s a surprisingly decent package overall.
Sonic Origins serves up the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis versions of the original three Sonic the Hedgehog games as well as Sonic CD, all recreated in the same “Retro Engine” used to power 2017’s Sonic Mania. On top of the games themselves, there are a handful of extra modes and a museum of unlockables spanning the blue blur’s most historic years. It’s not quite the all-encompassing collection that we’ve seen in the past, omitting games like Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast, but the trade-off is these are faithful and pristine ports. Each game also has its own animated intro and ending sequences, which look fantastic.
There are also multiple new ways to play the four included games, with everything tied into a central ecosystem of collectible coins. You can play the games in their original, 4:3 forms in Classic Mode if you like, but the new Anniversary/Story modes are where it’s at. Playing any of the titles in Anniversary Mode gets you essentially the same game, but with widescreen support and the ability to choose Sonic, Tails or Knuckles as the playable character (no Lock-On technology needed!) as well as the removal of lives. Yep, no game over screens here – with unlimited lives everything instantly becomes a lot more accessible than before.
Story Mode, on the other hand, puts all four games and the new animated sequences in chronological order (Sonic 1, Sonic CD, 2 and then 3) in one long run with Sonic as the only playable character. Then there’s also a Boss Rush option available for each game as well as a Mission Mode that offers up a series of objective-based versions of levels where you’ll need to meet goals in order to unlock harder missions and earn plenty of the all-important coins.
Those coins, which you earn across the extra modes as well as Anniversary/Story in place of life pick-ups and are carried across every game, are useful for two things. Firstly they’re used to unlock everything in the Museum, which is stacked full of a bunch of pretty cool memorabilia from covers to manuals, never-before-seen art and documents and of course a ton of music. More useful though is the ability to cash them in to restart any of the bonus stages across the games, which have always been a bit of a pain point given they’re incredibly easy to fail and crucial to seeing the true endings of each game. If you’re keen to finish all of the titles in Sonic Origins you’ll definitely want to hang onto your coins for that purpose.
All said, this is a decent little package with a few neat wrinkles to make playing these games more enjoyable than ever, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the way it’s all presented. The games themselves look razor sharp and run impeccably, though it’s a bit disappointing that there aren’t any extra visual options or filters made available given these have been rebuilt from scratch. I also really wish a “rewind” feature not unlike those included with previous emulated Sonic collections was available in at least the Classic mode to further mitigate frustration. The front end menu, which presents each game as a gorgeously-rendered 3D island, is totally unnecessary but looks great, and you can even zoom into and inspect each one – provided you paid for the privilege.
Yep, the one real blight on this whole collection is that SEGA has seen fit to nickel-and-dime fans out of a bizarre selection of extras that are locked to its “Digital Deluxe Edition”. While only $7 or so more expensive than the base version, the fact that the more expensive version contains stuff like camera controls and animations in Sonic Origins’ menus feels a bit gross. It’s also a touch jarring to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles with what’s seemingly a very early iteration of its soundtrack, included here in place of what’s long been suggested was a soundtrack composed in collaboration with Michael Jackson, but that likely couldn’t have been helped if there’s any truth to those rumours.
We’ve had plenty of retro Sonic compilations before, and the cynic in me wants so badly to see this as just another in a long line of nostalgia grabs amid the continued futile attempts at modern franchise entries. The thing is, for the first time in ages this feels like a genuine celebration of the blue blur’s beginnings, made with care and a reverence for the source material. Weird Deluxe Edition choices aside, anyway.
Sonic Origins keeps the focus on the hedgehog's early core entries, polishing them up to a fine sheen and creating an addictive ecosystem around them that breathes new life into each title. There are a few missteps and grubby mechanics to forgive, but otherwise this is well worth diving into for old-school Sonic fans.
All four games look pixel-perfect with added widescreen support
The museum is stacked full of genuinely interesting articles
Mission mode is a great way to experience these games in small chunks
Animated intros and 3D menus are a treat for the eyes
Even with coins to spend, the bonus stages are still a pain point