Sonic the Hedgehog is like a 16-bit Skyrim: SEGA has re-released the Mega Drive classics on just about every platform you can think of, and it shows no sign of stopping. The latest effort is Sonic Origins, a collection that brings Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic CD to modern consoles under one banner. Even if we’ve all played these games a thousand times, there’s still value in revisiting old-school favourites — and this compilation’s extra bells and whistles present the quadrilogy in a fresh and interesting way.
To start with, the games themselves remain a mostly great selection of platformers. What’s interesting about playing them one after the other is how the series changes and improves over time. The inaugural adventure introduces Sonic’s satisfying, momentum-based movement but doesn’t fully capitalise on it, with many zones forcing you to play slowly. Sonic CD is a really interesting diversion incorporating time travel; destroy Eggman’s robot-producing contraption in the past to create a better future. Stages are consequently much more open, allowing you to search for time gates and build up enough speed to reach different time periods.
Sonic 2 gets back to traditional stages and bosses, improving on the first title with superior level design that leans into the character’s abilities far more. Finally, Sonic 3 & Knuckles builds yet again with intricate stages, more varied boss encounters, the trio of shield power-ups, and more. It’s a shame you can’t play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles separately, but hey, at least they’re here. All the games have weak spots — traps you can’t see coming are an annoyance throughout, and some Special Stages can be painful — but it remains a pleasure to blast through them.
And you’re given multiple ways to do so. Anniversary Mode presents each game in widescreen, with unlimited lives and the ability to drop-dash, cribbed from Sonic Mania. Meanwhile, Classic Mode presents the game in their original 4:3 format, finite lives, and no drop dash. You can choose either Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles in each game too, although the latter isn’t an option in CD.
While you can enjoy each game on its own, a Story Mode strings all four titles together into one long adventure. You won’t miss out on anything if you don’t play it, but it is interesting to experience all the games as though they’re one continuous saga. Whether you play this way or enjoy them piecemeal, a very neat addition sees each title bookended by brand new animated intros and outros. These are wonderful, short interludes that provide just a little extra context to Sonic’s games. Similarly, Sonic Origins itself has great opening and closing animations in the same style, making the package feel consistent.
One major addition in Origins is Coins. Earned by playing Anniversary Mode (and more we’ll get into shortly), this is a persistent currency that has a couple of uses. First and foremost, you can spend a Coin in order to retry a Special Stage, which is incredibly handy if you want to unlock Super Sonic but struggle with those inconsistently tricky challenges.
The other main use for Coins is to unlock certain items in the Museum. The Museum is where you’ll find music, artwork, and movies, and there’s lots to enjoy. Some of these will unlock automatically as you play through the games, while others require some Coins. Examples of these “premium” pieces include some Sonic Generations music tracks, original character reference sheets from back in the day, and animatics showing in-progress versions of all the new cutscenes. There’s a fair amount to delve into here that fans will enjoy picking through, although you will need hundreds of Coins if you want everything.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get Coins, one of which is Mission Mode. These are short challenges based upon each Sonic title, and they vary in type and difficulty. One might be to defeat a certain number of a particular enemy before reaching the goal, while another will see you traversing a level with zero rings. Your completion time affects your rank, and higher ranks award you more Coins. It’s a simple addition, but there’s nice variety here and the missions are set in purpose-built stages — you can’t auto-pilot through these.
Elsewhere, Boss Rush is a self-explanatory mode for each game; you have three lives to defeat all the bosses in a row, most of them with no rings. Completing Boss Rush earns you yet more Coins, as does playing Mirror Mode, which flips each game horizontally — surprisingly tough, even if you know Sonic’s 16-bit games like the back of your hand. Finally, there are even brand new Blue Spheres stages to enjoy with new mechanics, which is a great bonus.
Everything in Sonic Origins is presented nicely, with three-dimensional islands representing each game or mode. It’s a neat package that’s organised pretty well, and all the games run perfectly and look and sound as you’d expect. There is an anti-aliasing option you can switch on, but this made the picture appear blurry more than anything, so we’d stick with the clean pixels.
The only thing that really lets the collection down is the rather stingy DLC. None of the extra bonuses are particularly meaningful, but it feels almost mean to put a paywall on things like extra music tracks from related games like Sonic Spinball, additional letterbox borders when playing Classic Mode, and extra animated characters on the islands in the main menu. The most hardcore fans might also lament the lack of particular tunes from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, replaced by music that was produced in the 90s but never finalised (until now). The new tracks aren’t bad — some are actually pretty good — but they might take some getting used to if you’re nostalgic for Carnival Night, Ice Cap, and Launch Base.
Sonic Origins presents four of the hedgehog’s best games with style, and it’s a joy to revisit these iconic platformers. Presentational flourishes like the animated cutscenes, as well as a host of extra modes like Boss Rush and Missions, give fans and newcomers alike plenty to see and do, and the Museum is full of interesting artwork you might not have seen before. Some stingy DLC practices let the side down, and of course, the games themselves have some 30-year-old weaknesses, but this is by-and-large a wonderful spin down memory lane.