Regardless of how rocky the road became for Sonic the Hedgehog after a certain point, its legacy stands unshakable. Back in its earlier years, when Nintendo and Sega were going head-to-head, when Mario and Sonic were the faces of video games, when sidescrolling platformers were king- back in those days, Sonic put out one excellent game after another, and did so consistently for quite some time. Over thirty years later, even with all the ups and downs that Sega’s iconic mascot has seen, Sonic the Hedgehog is still gaming royalty.
Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of a franchise as massive as that is no enviable task, but thankfully, Sega is more than up to it. Sonic Origins is a love letter to the franchise, its classic golden era, and its fans, and it pays tribute to its early days in style. Far from a simple compilation, it’s a much more comprehensive upgrade and a much more full-featured collection than many would have expected. Whether you’re a longtime fan hoping to relive Sonic’s glory days or a newcomer hoping to understand what the fuss is about, Sonic Origins does what it sets out to do in thoroughly convincing fashion by reminding everyone just how good the series was when it was still young.
"Whether you’re a longtime fan hoping to relive Sonic’s glory days or a newcomer hoping to understand what the fuss is about, Sonic Origins does what it sets out to do in thoroughly convincing fashion by reminding everyone just how good the series was when it was still young."
Sonic Origins brings together the four original 2D sidescrolling platformers of the series before it decided to start experimenting with other styles of gameplay. Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 and Knuckles are all present and accounted for here, allowing players to speed through the blue hedgehog’s classic adventures in a single package- but the collection does much more than bringing those four games together. The additional bells and whistles it bolts onto the package are a big highlight here, because there’s just so many of them.
You can play each of the four games in several ways, though the two main ways are, of course, the Classic and Anniversary modes. The former brings over the original games as is, updating them with remastered visuals and soundtracks but leaving the gameplay experience untouched (that means you have limited lives and time limits in levels), with all of it being presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The Anniversary mode, meanwhile, attempts to modernize the experience by switching to a 16:9 aspect ratio, removing time limits, and introducing unlimited lives.
No matter which of the two you pick, you can’t exactly go wrong. Sonic 1, 2, CD, and 3 are all excellent games (though CD’s time travelling gimmick has proven divisive over the years), and their inherent strengths have rendered them timeless- good game design is good game design, after all, no matter what ancillary features you may or may not have. The point of Sonic games has always been to explore their layered and complexly designed levels, learning their ins and outs and their many paths, and running through them again and again until you’ve figured out the best way possible to maintain speed and momentum from beginning to end the way the speedy hedgehog was always meant to. All four Sonic games in Sonic Origins had excellent movement and level design that facilitated that perfectly, that that, of course, remains as true now as it was all those years ago when these games first came out.
"Sonic 1, 2, CD, and 3 are all excellent games, and their inherent strengths have rendered them timeless- good game design is good game design, after all, no matter what ancillary features you may or may not have."
Visually, the games have been touched up excellently, each looking absolutely gorgeous in its own right with its classic pixel art, and purely from a visual perspective, I preferred Anniversary mode for its 16:9 resolution. It is a bit of a shame that there’s no way to mix and match the two- having the option to play with classic rules and limited lives without having to be stuck with a 4:3 resolution would have been a huge bonus, and it’s disappointing that that option is not available, especially since the letterbox backgrounds for anything beyond a black background screen in Classic mode are locked behind DLC.
Meanwhile, Sonic Origins also offers a Story mode, which allows you to play through all four games as a single, continuous experience in chronological fashion, which is another excellent addition that fans of the series will surely appreciate, not least because Story mode also comes with completely new animated cutscenes for all games in the collection. Sonic fans don’t need to be told how good these cutscenes can be when they’re at their best, and happily, they most definitely are at their best in Sonic Origins, and they elevate the Story mode experience greatly.
Other smart retrospective improvements and additions have also been made to the games in the collection. For instance, unlike the original releases, you can now play as both Tails and Knuckles in all the games (except Sonic CD, where Knuckles remains unplayable), which is a major addition. Being able to run through familiar levels as characters that play and control completely differently presents them in a totally different light, and is easily one of the best features of Sonic Origins.
"Having the option to play with classic rules and limited lives without having to be stuck with a 4:3 resolution would have been a huge bonus, and it’s disappointing that that option is not available, especially since the letterbox backgrounds for anything beyond a black background screen in Classic mode are locked behind DLC."
And there’s still so much more beyond that in the collection to round out the experience. There’s a Boss Rush mode that lets you take on a barrage of iconic Sonic bosses in sequence, a Mission mode that presents you with specific objectives in levels and ranks your performances at the end, an unlockable Mirror mode that allows you to play through mirrored versions of Sonic levels, online leaderboards to compete against players for best times on levels, and much more besides. One of the biggest attractions is the Museum, comprising of a collection of music, artwork, cutscenes, comics, and more, some of which is completely new content that had never been officially released until now.
A lot of this is automatically unlocked as you play more of Sonic Origins, but there’s also a whole section of the Museum that locks some of this stuff behind purchases, which are made using Coins that you earn from either the Anniversary mode, or the Boss Rush mode, or the Mission mode. Coins are another smart addition that add a ton of replayability to the game- running through boss fights and missions or repaying levels in Anniversary mode to seek out hidden Coins will surely keep plenty of completionists coming back for more.
All of this is presented neatly as a single package that excels in the presentation department as well. The main menu, for instance, is a huge world map that ropes in familiar and beloved elements from all four games in the collection, with the games themselves and the different modes being presented on it. Like everything else in the collection, it’s overflowing with love for the franchise.
"The main menu is a huge world map that ropes in familiar and beloved elements from all four games in the collection, with the games themselves and the different modes being presented on it. Like everything else in the collection, it’s overflowing with love for the franchise."
Sonic Origins is truly a celebration of Sega’s beloved hedgehog. The future of the franchise remains typically unclear – based on what we’ve seen of Sonic Frontiers so far, it could honestly go either way – but Sonic Origins reminds us that nothing will ever be able to diminish its past. When Sonic was good, it was better than almost anything else out there, and this collection celebrates those glory days in the best way possible.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Surprisingly full-featured; All four games still look and play amazing; A proper love letter to the series' best years.
No way to play Classic mode in 16:9 resolution; Letterbox backgrounds locked behind DLC.