A game like Sonic Origins is difficult to review because it’s catering to a couple different audiences, and each one only actually cares about a couple disparate aspects of the experience. Longtime hardcore fans want to know if it’s a comprehensive and high-fidelity experience. (It kind of is.) Meanwhile, newcomers, like kids and/or their parents who just enjoyed the Sonic the Hedgehog movies, will want to know if this is a good jumping-on point for the series. (It kind of is.) So, the most accurate thing I can say about Sonic Origins is that it will kind of please everyone.
Close Enough to Original
Sonic Origins comprises completely rebuilt ports of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic CD, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles from the 16-bit era. They now support a 16:9 aspect ratio at 60 FPS, and graphics and animation have been subtly touched up in smart ways to make the games overall more attractive than they already were. However, 4:3 aspect ratio is still an option as well, if you want something that more closely approximates the original experiences.
The 16:9 mode is called Anniversary, and it gives you infinite lives with which to retry levels. (You oddly cannot turn this feature off; only the “Classic” 4:3 mode gives you limited lives.) You can resume any game on whatever level you left off, so that you do not have to beat a game in one sitting, and most games give you the option to play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or even Sonic with Tails or Knuckles with Tails. It’s clear that the earliest games were designed to be played with Sonic though, as Knuckles’ gliding ability and smaller jump create more problems in exploration and battle than they solve sometimes. Tails’ ability to fly is pretty useful most of the time though.
The controls in Sonic Origins feel faithful to what I remember from decades ago, though some tweaks have been made. For instance, Sonic can Spin Dash in Sonic the Hedgehog 1 now, which was not originally possible. These are additions you can simply ignore if you want to play with the highest fidelity to the originals. What is a little harder to ignore is that some of the songs from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 have been removed and replaced, presumed to be owing to licensing issues, and the replacement songs just aren’t as good overall. Otherwise though, these soundtracks are stellar, and I realized recently that I’ve had the song for Flying Battery Zone from Sonic & Knuckles in my head for countless years.
Hazardous Game Design, Hazardous Bugs
In terms of raw game design, these games hold up pretty well. Sonic the Hedgehog is the prototype for all the “gotta go fast” that follows, and it’s ironically a bit slow in spots compared to some of its sequels. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 receives a lot of acclaim, but I blasphemously believe it is the weakest game in the collection, full of cheap enemy and obstacle placement that makes it feel particularly unfair compared to the other games. Of course, infinite lives will obviate some of the frustration.
Compared to the others, Sonic CD feels schizophrenic in its design, with tons of paths that send you in completely different directions yet somehow get you to the finish line eventually. And there is also optional time travel to the past and future, which presents different versions of stages with different obstacles. It’s a delirious amount of fun and actually not overly challenging until you hit the odd final level.
Finally, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are presented as one game, with all of & Knuckles inside of 3 and no way initially to just jump to the & Knuckles content. It’s an acceptable concession, since the games were originally conceived as one product in the first place. The level design is strong across the board, with useful power-ups and stage gimmicks that are digestible and usually fun. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is the overall strongest title in the collection.
However, all of these games were rebuilt using the Retro Engine, which was also used to create 2018’s Sonic Mania, and some bugs have found their way into Sonic Origins. Players have complained about many bugs already since the game’s release, but I personally only ran into a few while playing on PlayStation 5. Chiefly, there’s an awful bug in Tails’ design in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, where he doesn’t follow Sonic like he’s supposed to. Instead, he spends most of his time off screen, trying to literally jump back into the action, and you just hear his “jump” sound effect constantly. It is extremely annoying.
Another bug is that, while playing the original game, I somehow fell off the screen after defeating a boss, which softlocked the game and I could do nothing but completely turn it off. Issues with going out of bounds and/or dying in spots where you’re not usually supposed to die seem to be prevalent among Sonic Origins players, but personally I found the games to be utterly playable.
Sonic Origins comes with a tremendous amount of extra content to feel like a true celebration of the Sonic franchise. Firstly, new, beautiful animated cinematics accompany the intro and outro of each game. There is also a Museum full of tons of audio tracks, concept and promotional art, and video clips. You can create playlists out of the excellent music, and the variety of art is awesome, even including the entire instruction booklets for each game. The video clips mostly pertain to the new animated scenes though, in addition to some clips of Sonic orchestral events.
A lot of the Museum is unlocked just by playing the games, but many more can be completed by spending coins on them. Coins are a new currency that replaces the “extra life” items in Anniversary mode, but they can also be collected way faster by completing new “Missions.” Missions offer quick, short challenges with a variety of objectives, and each game in the collection gets its own set. Most Missions are surprisingly fun, like trying to reach an exit without getting hit, and trying to S-rank each one will add replayability (and unlock more Museum stuff along the way).
Sonic Origins retails for $39.99, but paying $5 more for the Digital Deluxe Edition adds even more Missions, more Museum music, and a few frivolous cosmetic additions to the menu not even worth mentioning. If you’re a hardcore fan, either price is probably worth the cost of admission for all of the extra content included, even accounting for the bugs and other visual or audio quirks. However, curious newcomers might want to just buy Sonic Mania instead, which retails for half the price and distills many of the best parts of these games into one game.
The Review Verdict on Sonic Origins
Ultimately, Sonic Origins is close enough to the original game experiences that new players or lapsed players probably won’t notice many of the changes, good or bad, that have been made to create these ports. That doesn’t excuse that these ports could have been more fine-tuned in spots, but the truth is I just didn’t experience a lot of the bugs on PlayStation 5 that others have reported on some platforms. These are excellent pick-up-and-play games, and they exhibited solid technical performance for me. With the added bonus of the massive Museum and fun Missions, Sonic Origins really won me over in a way I was not honestly expecting.
A PlayStation review code for Sonic Origins was provided by the publisher.