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Sonic Origins review: Gotta go back

The Blue Blur's 30th anniversary edition is Sonic's best collection yet

Sonic Origins boxart graphic

For many fans, Sonic the Hedgehog’s brightest days remain back in 16-bit pixel form when he could just speed across 2D zones carefree. In other words Sonic Origins, a collection that brings together his definitive games before 3D’s march of progress has been a long time coming.

Not that there haven’t been re-releases or compilations before, but it’s certainly the first time you’ll get Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic the Hedgehog CD all in one package not just as a quick-buck collection but fully and lovingly remastered for a modern audience.

For such a speedy hedgehog, Sonic Origins might be arriving just at the end of the Blue Blur’s 30th anniversary celebrations (the game launching on the same date the first Sonic game released in Japan on 23 June 1991), but it also comes just as he’s riding on a high with not one but two successful and genuinely fun movie adaptations – and as we cautiously await his next 3D outing. The question is, does it provide as definitive a classic Sonic experience as it can?

Looking back and going four-ward

Sonic Origins is beautifully presented, with brand new animated sequences that provide more narrative context to each game. This exposition used to be just tucked into the game manuals, if it made the cut at all. Selecting the games isn’t through some dry menu list, either, but a kind of world map. Sega certainly put in more effort than Nintendo did for its bare-bones release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars a couple years ago.

You can experience the games in their unadulterated form, but Anniversary mode is the real draw. These are proper remasters, which not only get rid of the lives system but present everything in beautiful widescreen. That extra real estate helpfully addresses criticism that you’re often running too fast to spot spike traps in front of you. This mode also lets you play as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, the first time this is possible for the original game (although Knuckles isn’t available in Sonic CD).

Alas, while she appears in Origins’ box art, Amy Rose isn’t a playable character, although the new animations do their best to try and retcon her from just being the annoying Sonic fangirl damsel she was in Sonic CD.

While it’s fun to get different perspectives on each level with other characters, the hedgehog’s also had some welcome tweaks. He can not only use the spin dash but also the drop dash – originally planned for Sonic CD, and first implemented in Sonic Mania – across all games.

Coin operated

Sonic is best associated with the gold rings that let him survive enemy and trap hits as long as he’s holding at least one, as well as the giant rings that transport you to Chaos Emerald-holding special stages – but now Origins introduces coins into the mix. These can be earned through Anniversary mode in the same way Sonic earns lives, or by completing specially designed mini challenges, such as collecting as many sets of 100 rings within a set time limit.

These coins can be spent on unlocking the game’s museum mode, which is filled with a huge amount of music and artwork from Sonic’s vault. It contains plenty of great content unlocked from the get-go, letting you pore over the original box art and manuals from different regions (as you might expect, the Japanese ones were the best, introducing each zone with some hilarious doodles).

The video section is probably the least interesting, since it’s just a gallery of unlocked clips of the new animations, clips from last year’s Sonic’s 30th anniversary symphony orchestra, and the Sonic Mania animated mini series that’s already on YouTube. Some rarer footage, such as old commercials or footage from both American and Japanese cartoon shows certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Alternatively, you can also spend the coins to replay a special stage, which is welcome since these are often tricky and give you another chance to finish a playthrough with all Chaos Emeralds.

The ability to unlock more collectible history, as well as unlocking a Mirror mode for each game, alongside a boss rush mode, means there’s plenty of replay value in these games that can be typically raced through in a matter of hours.

Off the record

While the first two Sonic games have been widely available through various platforms and collections, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD are probably the biggest attraction in Origins. The latter is often regarded as one of the best in the series, due to its innovative time travelling mechanic. The former, and by far the largest game of the lot, however has been an elusive one for over a decade.

The reason for this has never been officially explained, but most Sonic fans theorise it’s because some of the music in Sonic 3 was produced by (albeit never officially credited to) Michael Jackson. The rights to that music were apparently stuck in a legal limbo following the King of Pop’s death.

If you thought this long wait meant Sega had finally resolved the matter, it sadly isn’t the case. That means the Carnival Night, Ice Cap, and Launch Base zones have new music instead of what you might remember from the original Mega Drive releases. We also noticed a few tweaks in the arrangement of the Super Sonic theme. That isn’t to say the new songs are bad, but they are different, and given how music can strike a chord in our memories, it has an impact on nostalgia.

The animated sequences that bookend Sonic CD are also from the US version of the game, rather than the European and Japanese versions. Although you can at least listen to these songs in the sound museum, it’s a shame there’s no option to change music based on your preferences, and frustrating there’s not a better way to listen to playlists outside of the museum mode – especially when you have to unlock them first.

Sega is undeniably squeezing its fans with this extra content. When Origins is supposed to be celebrating 30 years of Sonic, you’d expect extra difficult missions or having the characters visible on the main menu should be in the game by default, not cynically pared off as extras you need to spend a few more quid on. Considering deluxe edition, which includes all this DLC, is but a £4 difference over the base game, it’s a miserly move.

Sonic Origins verdict

Stuff Sonic Origins review - spring yard zone

Sonic Origins takes the four all-time Sonic games from his 16-bit heyday and makes those pixels fresh all over again. It adds some great modern twists, but without losing the hedgehog and friends’ signature speed and fun, which you can now experience as a whole semi-connected tetralogy.

Debate will run over which is the best, be it Sonic CD’s time travelling, the expansive level design of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, or the sheer brilliance of Sonic 2’s pacing. But you can’t deny the three playable characters and multitude of modes ensure there’s plenty of ways to re-discover each game.

Sure, it would have been even better had Sega managed to include the definitive Sonic 3 soundtrack, and we wish it had avoided rinsing its fans for petty DLC. But overall this doesn’t negate what is very much the ultimate Sonic collection for fans old and new.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

Not quite everything but as definitive a classic Sonic compilation as you can hope for

Good Stuff

Anniversary modes make each Sonic game perfectly remastered

Lot of replay value with different modes, missions and museum unlockables

New animated sequences and story mode transforms the 2D Sonic games into one cohesive saga

Bad Stuff

Sonic 3 is missing some of its original music

Penny-pinching DLC in an anniversary package not the best look