Gamers rightly sighed when Sonic Origins was first announced. As part of a big celebration of Sonic’s 30th anniversary, what fans really didn’t want was yet another compilation of Sonic the Hedgehog’s earliest outings. For example, this is the fourth playable version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog on Xbox: Previously playable in Sonic Generations, Sega Mega Drive Classics and until recently, as a separate purchase on the Xbox Store.
But Sonic Origins is much more than a simple emulation like those previous releases. Each title has been fully rebuilt by Headcannon and Christian Whitehead, who previously did a stellar job on Sonic Mania. And with this new build comes a suite of new features to enjoy. As controversial as it was when Sega announced that the original versions of these would be removed from the Xbox Store just prior to the release of Origins, you can see why now. They want this collection to be the definitive way to play these classic titles, and it absolutely is.
Sonic Origins gathers together Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and Sonic CD. Each game has been fully remastered with new visuals, sounds and features. The glaringly obvious means that each title is playable in 16:9 for the first time, without a border disguising the original 4:3. This new aspect ratio is called Anniversary mode, and also does away with lives in favour of a new currency called Coins. Sadly, the no lives mode cannot be played in the 4:3 ratio, but the fact that Classic Mode is still included is worth mentioning anyways.
Each title also features a Boss Rush mode where you face off again Dr. Robotnik/Eggman and his crazy contraptions. Completing each title also unlocks Mirror Mode which flips each title. This is a neat feature but unlikely to be one you spend too much time playing.
Sonic 3 also has a bonus feature where you can play the classic Bonus Stage of Blue Spheres.
Completing this bulky compilation is a museum where you can access movies, illustrations and music from many of Sonic’s previous titles across his 31 years. Premium museum content can also be purchased using the Coins you collect. There is also Mission mode where you can play through the four titles sequentially – Sonic CD comes between Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 apparently – and play through some smaller Sonic based challenges. These are short vignettes of the main levels with unique objectives and award further Coins upon completion. The challenges range in difficulty from one star to five stars, but veteran players should not have much difficulty with any of them.
The games themselves remain largely unchanged, though there are some new additions. As well as there being a general tarting up graphically, the spin dash has been retroactively added into Sonic 1. The drop dash from Sonic Mania has also been added into all four games. This feels a bit more fiddly as it is still assigned to the same singular jump button, but at least it is in keeping with the original games.
Sonic 2 is still the standout title in this compilation. Absolutely unrivalled in the 2D platformer space, it remains one of the greatest games of all-time. This new remaster only serves as a reminder as to how truly exceptional this instalment is.
Of course, Sonic 2 can only walk because Sonic 1 crawled in the first instance. Perhaps the only argument you can throw at Sonic 2 are that the boss fights were much more conventional. In the original game, there are some inventive set pieces that still feel way ahead of their time. It is also much more challenging in comparison to what came after.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles feels like SEGA’s confidence in developing a new Sonic game was sky-high. As a result, Sonic 3 plays without any real rhythm, in a good way. In Sonic 1, each area has three stages, and in Sonic 2, most stages have just two. (For what it’s worth, I am still not over the fact that Metropolis Zone has three stages – that zone broke me as a child). It throws boss fights at you willy nilly and stages that change dynamically as you progress.
Sonic CD is the odd one out. Not only did this not release on the base unit for the Mega Drive/Genesis – playable only on the peripheral add-on CD unit – but it is a bizarre outing. It introduces Amy Rose and Metal Sonic that have since become a staple part of Sonic lore, but the whole time-travelling into the past and future is still a weird design choice. That, and this is an absolute cake-walk compared to the other three titles on offer here.
Being remasters and not just straight emulations, they are not perfect conversions. There is the issue with the original soundtrack for Sonic 3 being omitted – a fact which is quickly becoming internet folklore – but there are other quirks too. There are spelling errors found within the museum jukebox, and a particularly annoying Tails glitch in Sonic 2. Everyone knows he can quickly fall behind the pace of Sonic, but in the remastered version, rather than him flying down again to join you, he tends to get stuck instead. Then, for the rest of the level all you can hear is the jumping sound effect as Tails tirelessly tries to re-join Sonic. It’s a minor issue, but one that ruins my enjoyment of this timeless soundtrack.
Audible groans were heard across the internet when Sonic Origins was first announced, as another SEGA collection was the last thing gamers needed. But these are so much more than simple emulations. Fully remastered with a lot of extras, SEGA have achieved their goal of making Sonic Origins the best way to play the classics going forward. Sonic 1, 2 and 3 are must plays, whereas the experimental Sonic CD might be of interest to those that never owned a Mega CD. But there can be no denying that Sonic’s original titles will remain head and shoulders above what came afterwards for a long time.
Sonic Origins is on the Xbox Store