Sonic Origins review – running out of time

A new Sonic the Hedgehog compilation recreates the four best Mega Drive games in a more modern form, but how definitive is this edition?

With the Sonic the Hedgehog movies becoming some of the most successful video game adaptations of all time you’d imagine they would’ve inspired a flood of new games and spin-offs, to celebrate the blue blur’s return to the limelight. Except, long-term fans wouldn’t expect that at all. Sega’s bumbling incompetence is all part of the charm nowadays and it’s somehow unsurprising that there hasn’t been a major new Sonic console release since Sonic Forces in 2017, three years before the release of the first film.

This year’s Sonic Frontiers is supposed to be the big comeback, but early reaction has been decidedly mixed so far. Beyond that, all Sega has managed to release in the last five years is minor update Sonic Mania Plus, the quickly forgotten Team Sonic Racing, and a remaster of Wii game Sonic Colours: Ultimate. No doubt the pandemic is largely to blame, but it was Sonic’s 30th birthday last year and he had nothing but his newfound Hollywood fame to celebrate.

At first glance, Sonic Origins appears to be merely a compilation of the original four Mega Drive games, games that have been re-released a hundred times before on every format imaginable. Clearly intended as an intro to the series for movie fans It seems peculiar that Sonic Origins has taken so long to make it to release, but these versions are more like remakes than re-issues. A surprising amount of work has gone into recreating and adding to the games, although not always successfully…

You can play Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic The Hedgehog & Knuckles exactly as they were when they were first released in the early 90s but there are also modernised versions of each, that add a widescreen display and remove the concept of a finite number of lives. (Although you can’t have widescreen but keep lives, which seems unnecessarily restrictive.)

That’s probably very appealing to anyone brand new to the series, but on top of that are a number of achievement-like ‘missions’, which try to present the games in a form that even veterans will find new and interesting. These are simple things like beating a level with no rings or defeating a certain number of enemies but it’s a welcome idea, nonetheless. Boss rush and mirror modes are just as appreciated, even if they’re equally obvious.

Beyond the removal of lives none of the new features in the ‘anniversary’ versions of the games are particularly significant in their own right, with the most notable being the addition of new playable characters, such as Tails and Knuckles in the first two games and Tails, but not Knuckles, in Sonic CD. You can also use the drop dash move from Sonic Mania, which comes in handy.

Obviously, these games were never originally designed for these characters or their move-sets but the remasters have been overseen by Christian Whitehead and the team from Headcannon, who also worked on Sonic Mania – and clearly know far more about what makes Sonic tick than Sonic Team do. They’re so dedicated, in fact, that these aren’t emulations of the original games but recreations using a dedicated new engine, which has allowed for the new tweaks and additions.

Despite that effort though the truth is these versions still aren’t that different and those hoping for a Sonic Mania style reinvention will be disappointed, which is unfortunate because that game proved that the team were perfectly capable of recreating, readjusting, and adding to the original games. Although it transpires that the team isn’t happy about the final release, given there are a few bugs, and have implied that Sega didn’t give them the chance to finish it to their satisfaction.

Ultimately, the most noticeable change, beyond widescreen, is some new animated intros and outros for each game but there’s no voice acting and they’re pretty abstract in terms of storytelling. A museum section is also included, with concept art and music being unlocked with coins you earn in-game, instead of extra lives. (These coins can also be used to retry bonus levels, which is handy.)

There’s nothing earthshattering in the museum, that hasn’t been seen before, and to be honest the most interesting recent behind the scenes revelation has been the long-awaited admission that Michael Jackson wrote the original soundtrack for Sonic 3, which is not included here. The museum is further diminished when you take into consideration all the penny-pinching DLC Sega has for it, for a compilation that is already off-puttingly expensive.

If you’ve somehow never played a Sonic The Hedgehog game, and want to see what all the fuss is about, then this is a very good place to start. These are by far the best games in the series; in fact, it’s arguable whether any of the others, except for Sonic Mania, have ever come close to the same level of quality and imagination.

That said, there’s a near infinite range of other, mostly cheaper, ways to plays the games and while the changes made here are well intentioned, they’re largely trivial. This isn’t the first Sonic compilation, and it won’t be the last, but while it comes close to being definitive it isn’t quite as polished or distinctive enough to deserve that accolade.

Sonic Origins review summary

In Short: A competent but flawed compilation of the four best Sonic the Hedgehog games, which adds a half-hearted modern twist to the classic games.

Pros: The original games are all still highly playable and a lot of love has clearly gone into the whole compilation. Decent museum feature and the widescreen mode is welcome.

Cons: Very little new content and the remakes have some minor bugs. Lots of options and yet some obvious omissions, such as lives in widescreen mode. Not cheap and with obnoxious DLC.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £32.99
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sonic Team, Christian Whitehead, and Headcannon
Release Date: 23rd June 2022
Age Rating: 3

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