While fans often debate the merits of the modern Sonic the Hedgehog video game, there’s consensus that the ’90s were the franchise’s best years. Sonic Origins brings together four games arguably best suited to that point of view, offering an stellar group of classic titles at its core. But through several updates and modernizations, Sonic Origins has become a strong case for being the best official way to experience Sonic’s golden age in 2022.
Playing through the four games of this collection – Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic CD – remains amazingly enjoyable. Sure, some of Sonic 1 and CD’s nasty design elements don’t age as gracefully as the other two games, but these are all true classics in the 2D platforming genre. Today’s speeding through the Chemical Factory District was just as enjoyable as it was on Genesis, and I couldn’t stop the smile from creeping up my face if I tried when Sonic 3’s opening scene played.
Sonic Origins provides easy access to all four of these beloved titles with new beautifully animated, bonded cutscenes. You can play them in Classic Mode, with the original aspect ratio and network limit system preserved, or you can play your favorite Anniversary Mode. Here, the aspect ratio natively fits the widescreen, Sonic gets access to drop-in motion from Sonic Mania, and the life limiting system is removed. Instead of earning extra lives through playing in Anniversary Mode, you earn coins, which can be traded in the museum for cool digital collectibles like old illustrations, videos, music, and even even excerpts from Sonic’s 30th Anniversary Symphony performance. These items may be available online, but they are great commemorative rewards in the in-game museum.
However, my favorite thing to do with my coins is to use them to try more in particularly complex levels. Whatever the game, in these early Sonic titles, there are few moments more frustrating than failing a particular level and knowing you need to find another entry point to try again. The coin system in Anniversary Mode alleviates frustration without reducing stress as you still have to make a near-perfect run to claim the prize.
For those wanting a new experience, Mission Mode lets you tackle remixed experiences in stages of each of the four titles. Completing objectives like defeating a certain number of enemies or collecting a certain number of rounds earns you extra coins and leaderboard positions. While the missions start out simple, they increase in difficulty as you unlock more quests, providing plenty of surprises and fun for longtime fans. In addition, when you complete a game for the first time, you will unlock Mirror Mode, where you can play stages from right to left. Finally, each game has a Boss Rush Mode where you can fight the biggest bad guys in a row. Mirror mode and Boss Rush are entertaining games, but I don’t find myself playing through the entire game again or trying to get past the boss more than a few times.
While the games are faithfully rendered and remain enjoyable to play for the most part, some audio issues will detract from your experience. In Sonic 3 & Knuckles, some regions use music that differs from the Genesis release, apparently due to licensing issues with the original tracks. Zones like Ice Cap and Launch Base wouldn’t be the same without their iconic tracks to drive the action forward. The various tracks erase much of the nostalgia for these periods, and the replacement songs are fundamentally much weaker than the original songs. However, if the alternative is to exclude Sonic 3 from the pack, I’d rather lose those songs than arguably the best game in the saga.
But the most serious audio problem appeared in Sonic 2. In that game, if Tails was lagging behind (which happens often), instead of respawning and flying towards you, he was constantly falling behind. jump, trigger the sound to repeat until you enter a particular stage, complete the level, or one of you dies. This issue overshadowed that game’s excellent soundtrack and caused me to frequently put it on mute to make it tolerable to play through.
While the music changes and audio bugs are disappointing, the Sonic Origins pack is overall great. Having the best versions of the classic Sonic saga in one package is incredibly satisfying, and the Anniversary Mode enhancements make the experience of playing through them more enjoyable than ever. Even in the gaming scene where most of these games are already available for download on every platform, Sonic Origins is a worthwhile bundle.