Adds a lot of fun, but nothing groundbreaking
Roughly one year ago, Sonic Origins was released on Nintendo Switch and other digital platforms. In my review, I stated that the collection was pretty comprehensive as far as Sonic’s commonly recognized “best” outings are concerned, noting that it was nice to have all of the widescreen ports of these games in one place. This was in spite of some cohesion issues, such as the features themselves and even the basic “feel” of each game in the collection.
Here we are one year later at the launch of its DLC expansion pack, aptly titled “Sonic Origins Plus.” With this, SEGA and Headcannon have made an effort to not only improve the value of the package itself alongside a physical release copy, but add brand new content that makes it all the more enticing. Without further ado, let’s take a look at what makes this version of the game so much better than the original release.
I must commend SEGA’s diligence with this product before I even look at the new features. Over the course of time leading up to this review, there have been at least two patches to Sonic Origins. The first happened a few months out from the regular release, and it addressed some of the weird blemishes I’d found while playing my review copy; largely visual and audio bugs, things like Tails’ AI not working correctly in certain games, and so on.
Alongside the release of the Plus DLC came another Origins patch. Much like Sonic Mania with its Plus upgrade, this was a free improvement to the base game that touched up a lot of things. For instance, the “roll jump lock” as it’s called by fans (a feature in which Sonic has no control after jumping out of a roll), has been universally removed from all of the games. Previously, it was not present in both Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD, but was in the other two games, making those two feel noticeably worse.
Knuckles also received a lot of improvements across all the games in this update. Previously, Knuckles only controlled how he did in the original Sonic 3 & Knuckles in ONE title, which was appropriately enough the Origins version of said title. In every other game he was featured in, he couldn’t jump out of his glide landing frames, nor could he spindash out of them. While this is a very, very minute feature in the grand scheme of things, it was a critical piece of why Knuckles’ Glide felt so good to use in the original games, and not having that made him feel a little….off. Thankfully, the latest update also addresses this and unifies how Knuckles works across all the games.
The end result of all of these polish changes is a collection that feels far more coherent and just better to play all around. This pairs really nicely with the myriad of small bug fixes, along with physics and collision detection adjustments (predominantly in Sonic 3 & Knuckles), and goes a long way in making this “Plus” update feel really definitive. With that said, let’s break down that new stuff, shall we?
Before I get to the brand new character, let’s talk about Knuckles again. As part of the Plus DLC, he’s been added to Sonic CD. If you’ll recall in my original review, I noted the omission of Knuckles in Sonic CD felt quite glaring. He wasn’t in the original Mobile or even the updated Steam port, sure, but he’s in every other game in this collection! This has been amended, and now we can finally play as Knuckles in Sonic CD, complete with all of his abilities and new sets of sprites and animations to match the others.
As you’d imagine, Knuckles feels great in Sonic CD’s very vertical level layouts. Much like Tails, his abilities have always scaled well with how much a level wants you to explore, and the way Sonic CD is designed really meshes well with this. While there are definitely some funky interactions with gliding and climbing, he feels like a perfect fit overall, and it’s just so nice to finally be able to use my favorite Sonic character in CD. From my exploration with him, there were even new level routes to explore, in the vein of how they updated Sonic 1 when Knuckles was added. About the only thing off with him are his special stage sprites. They don’t look terrible, but they definitely don’t look quite as good as his other new animations. I’m particularly fond of the animation he has in CD when he bounces off a spring and twirls around, as it looks very cool.
Knuckles isn’t the BRAND NEW character they’ve plastered the marketing with, though. That would be Amy Rose, who, as per the Plus DLC, is now playable in all four of the main games in the collection. It’s pretty historic for the character, as it’s the first time this iteration Amy has been playable in a 2D Sonic game to my knowledge. At the very least, it’s her first official playable outing in games like Sonic CD and Sonic 2. She comes with a fully featured Super (and Hyper) form across the games that have it, too! But how does she play?
If you’re looking for the take on Sonic gameplay introduced by Amy in the original Sonic Advance, you’re going to be a little disappointed. Amy in Origins Plus feels very streamlined to slot in nicely with the Classic Sonic design ethos of a relatively simple secondary ability, and speed to match Sonic’s otherwise. Amy can curl into a ball, spindash, and no longer needs to use her hammer to attack things, as her jump works just like everyone else’s. It might seem a lot less novel than her counterpart in Advance, but again, the streamlining pays off because she feels so at home in these levels as a result. The huge emphasis on physics, slopes, and playing with momentum simply wouldn’t be achievable if she played like she did in Advance.
Amy’s abilities as a result are pretty simple. The most useful one in my playtime was the Hammer Twirl, which extends the range of her jump attack considerably. This comes in handy for hitting bosses when they dip slightly out of your normal jump range, and to safely strike enemies from afar. Her other ability, a chargeable dash involving hammer swings, felt much less useful. Its application is similar to the Drop Dash, but it scales far less with her current speed, and as a result, it rarely felt worth using. The decision to make sure Amy can be played with only one button, while true to the other characters and Classic Sonic design as a whole, felt like it greatly limited what she could offer. This was despite Amy’s tools being very fun to use.
It’s clear Amy’s been very inspired by what she’ll have to offer in Sonic Superstars, and while she’s very fun, her moveset doesn’t feel quite as fleshed out as Tails or Knuckles. Amy ends up feeling like a quirky sidegrade to Sonic, and I do wish she had more unique attributes. Something like a small double jump, or even the ability to use the hammer to explore Knuckles-only routes in Sonic 3 & Knuckles would have gone a long way in making her debut a lot more impactful. Also, I can’t help but notice her name is colored the same as Sonic’s in the Sonic 3 & Knuckles ‘Act Clear’ HUD, which is a shame, as it should be pink! That said, the presentation of Amy, particularly in her sprites, I adore. They have such a wellspring of personality to them. All of her keyframes are adorable, and she’s just as expressive as the rest of the Sonic characters; perhaps even a bit more! In particular, her goal post sign and her victory animation really bring the strengths of this iteration of Amy to the forefront, and I’m happy this iteration of the character has caught on so much.
Amy’s inclusion, despite the weird shortcomings of her moveset and some really minute presentation wrinkles, is great fun. I didn’t even mention that she gets to chuck hammers in her Hyper form (a very fun, relaxing way to obliterate bosses) and that there’s a brand new unlockable art piece involving Amy that you slowly build up to by following little missions in each game. Despite that small feeling of wanting more out of her, Amy nonetheless feels like a worthy addition for the price point alongside Knuckles in CD.
The last remaining set of things you get in the Plus DLC are the twelve Game Gear titles. Right off the jump, I’m a big fan of this inclusion. Sonic’s 8-bit handheld legacy is one that deserves some recognition for the effort Sonic Team put in, and all of the best games are included in this DLC pack. Sonic 1, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Triple Trouble, and Tails Adventure are the Game Gear games I’d recommend any Sonic fan check out if they haven’t already, with particular mention to Tails Adventure for being a very unique, well-executed Sonic spin-off featuring Tails. Extra kudos must be given to including special versions that allow for local two-player. Most handheld game re-releases don’t bother trying to emulate local system linking, so for the devs to actually care this much is refreshing (even if it’ll be hard to convince someone to play Mean Bean Machine with you when there are much better Puyo Puyo rulesets you can play online by now).
Credit must also be given to the visual improvements the Game Gear games got, primarily with regards to flashing colors and possible photosensitivity-triggering effects. All of them have been toned down considerably, which finally means those who had issues playing something like Sonic Labyrinth in the past can do so on a large display and not suffer any minor to major health-related side effects.
The Game Gear titles do come with a pretty big asterisk though, and that’s the sound emulation. While it’s nothing like those old Plug n’ Play Genesis models with the horrible sound pitching and completely inaccurate sound emulation, there’s still a very glaring issue. Rather than simply outputting the sound in Mono, all of the Game Gear games have this weird pseudo-Stereo sound applied to them. To liken it to anything, if you’ve ever played the old Mega Man Anniversary Collection, it’s a lot like that. It’s not too distracting once you get used to it, and the actual SOUND of the games is emulated largely correctly, but it’s definitely an area I’d rather see patched than not, so it deserves mention.
These titles also still run like they did on the original hardware, which normally wouldn’t really be a talking point I’d feel inclined to mention, but it stands out amidst the non-Game Gear games on this collection. I really would’ve appreciated versions of these games that don’t suffer from fairly constant frame drops and lag, and think it would’ve been cool to play a version of Game Gear Sonic Triple Trouble that holds a stable framerate, but I digress.
That feeling of “man, I wish that was patched” is still a bit lingering with this version overall, too. While a lot has been changed, there’s still lots of small things in this collection I notice. The new music for Sonic 3 & Knuckles still sounds very limp, as the audio quality in that version of the game sounds odd compared to every other game here. Along with that, the Drop Dash is still not accurate in all versions beyond Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and you still can’t skip the points being added up in any game but Sonic 3 & Knuckles. I had a lot of these little gripes in my original review, and they still stand out here.
Really, the big problem I have with this DLC and the update is that it lacks a “showstopper.” Simply put, there’s nothing here that shocks me or stands out to an overwhelming degree. I feel like a re-release of say, Knuckles Chaotix alongside something else that hasn’t been re-released, like Sonic Pocket Adventure, would make me change my tune. It’s especially lamentable with Knuckles Chaotix, a game that I understand is fairly divisive and somewhat unpopular amongst Sonic fans, as it exists largely as a 32X tech demo, but its legacy feels sorely overlooked and I’d love to see it get the limelight in something like this.
Ultimately the Sonic Origins Plus DLC pack is something I’d call a good value purchase, but the lack of anything truly wild in it does make it hard to recommend to everyone. If you already loved Origins, this is a no brainer that you should certainly pick up. If you’re on the fence in either direction, this might be enough to swing you over. The polish and added content is pretty substantial, even if it’s nothing groundbreaking, and the final product has improved a lot since its launch. If you were really against the idea of Origins, however, this probably won’t do much to mend that. It’s really unfortunate, because I do think this DLC could have been something special, but as things stand, the DLC falls a little short. Sonic Origins Plus is a good update that pairs nicely with a physical release and should satisfy Sonic fans until Sonic Superstars launches, but if you weren’t convinced before, you might not be now.