One particularly bright spot in Sonic’s recent history was the release of Sonic Mania. One part sequel and one part reimagining of the 2D classics, that retro revival proved to be one of the best-rated and best-selling Sonic projects in recent years. In the (frankly baffling) absence of a true follow-up to Sonic Mania, Sega has instead opted to look to that game’s inspiration for Sonic’s latest 2D release. Billed as Sonic Origins, this new collection presents all the original four Sonic games—including the rarely re-released Sonic 3 & Knuckles—in enhanced widescreen format with the new option to treat all the 2D entries as if they were all one big game. The end result is, well, exactly what you’d expect. All these classic Sonic games look better than ever with their new presentation and some light quality of life updates, but those of you who have already run through Green Hill Zone more times than you can count may be left wishing for a little more.
Clearly, the main draw of this package is the original 16-bit platformers and we’re happy to report that they each remain tremendously enjoyable in their own way. There’s good reason why so many Sonic fans remember these games so fondly (and perhaps a little longingly), and that’s because these games really got what Sonic is all about. No overwrought stories and bizarre self-insert characters here, just a blue dude with a ‘tude who fights an evil mustache man to save a bunch of animals and, eventually, the world.
There’s a clear maturation to be observed with each release here; the original Sonic the Hedgehog presented a rougher, but cohesive vision of that high-speed, momentum-based platforming and each subsequent sequel took it in a new direction with interesting new ideas. Sonic CD, for example, focused more on exploration and toyed with a time travel mechanic which saw you visiting the past to alter the future. Meanwhile, Sonic 3 & Knuckles included elemental shields that gave Sonic new moves. The level designs slowly became more refined over time, too, with Sonic 3 & Knuckles representing a near-perfect realization of that mixture of blazing fast, flowing level design and slower, more measured platforming parts.
Everyone probably has their reasons for why one game was better or worse than the other, but the point is that it’s very hard to go wrong with any of these releases. Even the first game, which feels a little simplistic by comparison, handles like a dream and provides plenty of thrills. Plus, there’s an option to experience all the games as one continuous experience—complete with some cute animated cutscenes—and this helps sidestep any issues you may have with the short length of each individual entry. None of these games last more than five hours (they’re 30-year-old 2D platformers, after all), but playing them all back-to-back as one big game makes for an interesting and surprisingly cohesive experience.
Each game can be played in either Classic Mode—where the original life system features and each title is displayed in its original aspect ratio—or Anniversary Mode, which is arguably one of the main draws here. Anniversary Mode retrofits each title with modern improvements like widescreen support, Sonic’s Drop Dash move from Sonic Mania (and the Spin Dash in the case of Sonic 1), and the option to play as other characters like Tails and Knuckles in games they didn’t originally feature in. The new embellishments don’t do much to change the core experience—these are remasters, not remakes—but we thought they do a good job of presenting these classics in the best light possible. Sonic’s Drop Dash, for example, feels like an entirely natural addition that gives you one additional tool for maintaining speed as you zoom through levels.
New to this collection is a Mission Mode, which contains a couple of dozen bite-size challenges for each game. These will have you doing things like clearing a certain portion of a stage while defeating a given number of foes or surviving a level with only one ring. Each mission has a star rating to indicate its difficulty and the speed at which you meet the objective determines what rank you get. Higher ranks will earn you more coins (coins, not rings), giving you some incentive to meet the narrow requirements of that coveted ‘S’ Rank. Though nothing revolutionary, we enjoyed the rapid-fire structure of these missions; they often cause you to think about a level in a way that you wouldn’t normally, and later ones demand you pull off some advanced tricks to finish them on time.
Additionally, there’s a Boss Mode and a Mirror Mode to fool around with. The former tasks you with running a gauntlet of bosses with no or some rings and three lives and the latter simply mirrors the levels. Both are welcome inclusions and good for mixing things up a bit, but feel a little shallow once you’ve adjusted to their gimmicks.
Using the coins earned from across all modes, you can then go into the game’s museum to spend them on soundtracks, pieces of concept art, and brief videos and animations from across Sonic’s history. Although it feels like this museum portion is a little light on content, we appreciated having something that ties together your progress across all four games. There’s a nice sense of accomplishment to slowly unlocking and filling out the museum collection; a welcome addition to the already-rewarding experience of playing each game.
One thing that we think bears mentioning is that, pleasant though it may be, Sonic Origins simply represents yet another rerelease of these classic Sonic games, and a rather expensive one at that. Aside from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, we’ve seen most of these classic Sonic games released in some form on virtually every gaming platform (and Tesla) over the last several years—some of them are even available on the Switch (multiple times, in fact) via other releases and services.
The point is, this is a great collection for anyone out there who hasn’t played any classic Sonic games and is looking for a worthwhile entry point, but we’d encourage those of you who have already played these games to death to take a beat and ask if it’s really worth it to you to rebuy them again; if the answer is yes, take a second beat to ask if it’s not worth waiting for a sale. There’s very little about this release that easily validates a double-dip; it’s simply all the old Sonic games featuring some nice, but inessential modern tweaks.
We feel it also must be said that there is a lingering sense that this collection could’ve been so much more. The four games on offer here are certainly well-presented and enjoyable, but something like Sonic Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast, or the far lesser-known Knuckles’ Chaotix might have helped justify that $40 price tag. What about save states or a rewind feature like many other classic collections? Why isn’t there the option to play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles separately? The replacement of several Sonic 3 audio tracks which infamously featured contributions from Michael Jackson is another sticking point if you adore the originals, especially when Sega is billing this as the ‘ultimate’ way to play them. The new tracks aren’t terrible (and they aren’t really new, either), but they’re not the bangers we remember from the ’90s.
Then there’s the matter that features like harder missions in Mission Mode or some screen borders in classic mode are gated behind DLC that Sega wants you to buy separately from the base release. We don’t want to be too quick to judge a release based on what it isn’t instead of what it is, but it feels like Sega is being a bit tightfisted with this; it’s fine for what it is, but what’s here feels more like a $20 game than a $40 one.
Sonic Origins is simply more of the same, which is both its greatest strength and weakness. On one hand, it’s a near-definitive way to experience four stone-cold classics that represent some of the highest peaks of Sonic’s career. On the other, most of these games are already readily available and there aren’t many new features or additions to justify buying them yet again. If you don’t already have a reliable or convenient way of playing these games now, or this is genuinely your first time playing through them, then we’d say that Sonic Origins is the go-to way to experience Sonic’s 2D heyday. Otherwise, we’d encourage you to either wait for this to go on sale or just pass on it.