While fans often debate the merits of modern Sonic the Hedgehog video games, the consensus is that the ‘90s were the franchise’s most consistently great years. Sonic Origins gathers the four games most attributed to that notion, delivering a stellar group of classic titles at its core. But through several modernizations and updates, Sonic Origins makes a strong case for being the best official way to experience Sonic’s heyday in 2022.
Playing through the four games of this collection – Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic CD – remains astoundingly fun. Sure, some frustrating design elements of Sonic 1 and CD haven’t aged as gracefully as the other two games, but these are all bona fide classics in the 2D platforming genre. Speeding through Chemical Plant Zone is just as fun today as it was on Genesis, and I couldn’t have stopped the smile that spread across my face if I tried when the opening scene of Sonic 3 played.
Sonic Origins provides easy access to all four of these beloved titles with new, gorgeously animated, bookended cutscenes. You can play them in Classic Mode, with the original aspect ratio and limited lives system preserved, or you can play the preferred Anniversary Mode. Here, the aspect ratio natively fits widescreen monitors, Sonic can access the drop-dash move from Sonic Mania, and the limited lives system is removed. Instead of earning extra lives through play in Anniversary Mode, you earn coins, which can be traded in the museum for cool digital collectibles like old illustrations, videos, music, and even snippets from the Sonic 30th Anniversary Symphony performance. These items are likely available online, but they’re nice celebratory bonuses in the in-game museum.
However, my favorite thing to do with my coins was using them as extra tries in the tricky special stages. No matter the game, few moments in these early Sonic titles are more frustrating than failing a special stage and knowing you need to find another entry point to try again. The coin system in Anniversary Mode alleviates that frustration without taking away the tension since you still must execute a near-perfect run to claim the prize.
For those wanting new experiences, Mission Mode lets you tackle remixed experiences within stages from each of the four titles. Completing objectives like defeating a certain number of enemies or collecting a set number of rings earns you additional coins and placement on the leaderboard. While the missions start simple, they increase in difficulty as you unlock more of them, providing plenty of surprises and fun twists for long-standing fans. Also, once you complete a game for the first time, you unlock Mirror Mode, where you can play the stages from right to left. Finally, each game has a Boss Rush Mode, where you can battle the biggest baddies consecutively. Mirror Mode and Boss Rush are entertaining diversions, but I don’t see myself playing through entire games backwards or attempting the boss gauntlets more than a couple times.
While the games are faithfully represented and still largely fun to play, a few audio issues tarnish the experience. In Sonic 3 & Knuckles, a few zones use different music than the Genesis release, seemingly due to licensing issues of the original tracks. Zones like Ice Cap and Launch Base just don’t feel the same without their iconic tracks pushing the action forward. The different music removes much of the nostalgia of these stages, and the replacement songs are substantially weaker than the original tracks. Still, if the alternative was Sonic 3’s exclusion from the bundle, I’d rather lose those songs than arguably the best game in the saga.
But the most egregious audio issue comes in Sonic 2. In that game, if Tails falls behind (which happens frequently), instead of respawning and flying back to you, he constantly jumps, triggering the sound on repeat until you either enter a special stage, complete the level, or one of you dies. This issue overshadows the excellent soundtrack of that game and made me often put it on mute to make playing through it tolerable.
While the music changes and audio mishaps are disappointing, the Sonic Origins package is terrific overall. Having the best versions of the classic Sonic saga in one bundle is supremely satisfying, and Anniversary Mode’s enhancements make the experience of playing through them more enjoyable than ever before. Even in a gaming landscape where most of these games are already available to download on every platform, Sonic Origins is a worthwhile package.