REVIEW: Sonic Origins: A solid collection with some polish issues

All of the Classic Sonic titles in one place....with caveats

27 June 2022
by tttttsd 0

There’s no 2D platformer franchise I can think of more intimate with re-releases than Sonic the Hedgehog. This isn’t a knock or an insult, either! When it comes to availability, there’s a good chance no matter what console or handheld you’re playing on, you have access to a 2D Sonic game of some kind; generally either the full selection of or a partial selection of the 16-bit games that lifted up the Sonic franchise to the status it has today.

Knowing this, Sonic Origins at its base might seem a bit unimpressive. For a Sonic game collection, something that exists in many, MANY different offerings across consoles (the notable gold standard being Sonic Mega Collection), Sonic Origins only featuring the original four 2D Sonic games seems remarkably strange. However, Sonic Origins marks the first time SEGA has re-released Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic CD’s mobile ports for Android and iOS on consoles, and it even marks the first official 16:9 conversion of Sonic 3 & Knuckles ever released! This leads to the ultimate question: are these features good enough to make this collection worth your time? Did SEGA manage to port the mobile games to Switch successfully, and does Sonic 3 & Knuckles work correctly?

Your eyes do not deceive you. There it is, in native 16:9!
Your eyes do not deceive you. There it is, in native 16:9!

In reviewing this collection, it’s imperative to mention the multiple different ways to play each game. You can play them individually at any point, in any order, with an in-game save system that works on a per checkpoint basis. There are two modes of play for the standard experience: Anniversary Mode, which is considered the default, and Classic Mode. To get the Classic Mode option out of the way, it’s what you’d expect to an extent. Every game in Classic Mode still utilizes the new ports, but is locked to a 4:3 resolution, and if the game did not originally allow for additional characters, they will not be present. As an example, you can’t play as Knuckles in Sonic 1’s Classic Mode, which is a bit of a bummer.

Classic Mode feels strange as a result, as it still contains all of the changes from the original games, but with odd concessions. It’s worth noting that they do give you the option to have a border in order to fill out the screen real estate that the 4:3 letterbox effect leaves. Thankfully, this mode plays second banana to the main highlighted mode when you select each game on the menu…

Classic Mode's 4:3 doesn't make full use of the Switch's handheld screen or display resolution, but at least it has a nice border!
Classic Mode's 4:3 doesn't make full use of the Switch's handheld screen or display resolution, but at least it has a nice border!

Anniversary Mode offers what you’re most likely looking for from this collection. Here, the games all run at 16:9 resolution, with no pixels stretched, and this mode takes full advantage of the benefits provided in bringing these versions of the games to Switch. You can select multiple characters in each game, and the Drop Dash is added as a move for Sonic across all Anniversary Modes as a nice bonus. In addition, you no longer have lives! Instead, Coins take the place of the lives counter on the HUD, and are marked as a shared total across all games. You earn them the same way you do 1ups, and they’re used for a variety of things, such as spending one to retry a Special Stage if you fail.

These features make Anniversary Mode the mode of choice, and what I’d call my preferred way to play. It takes better advantage of what these versions of the games have to offer, and provides a much smoother play experience geared to what I’d want out of a Switch game, and all of the changes work to the benefit of the games. These systems work nicely in providing a great jumping-off point for newer players to easily access all of the Chaos Emeralds and see everything the games have to offer, while also being great for alleviating frustrations when it comes to veteran players (looking at you, Sonic 1 Special Stages). It’s worth pointing out that the game’s Story Mode (a marathon mode combining all four games into one playthrough with saving) uses Anniversary Mode as its gameplay template.

Enjoying the sights in Sonic CD's wonderful environments
Enjoying the sights in Sonic CD's wonderful environments

Mission Mode deserves a small mention as well. It’s a great way to earn additional Coins, and it’s reasonably fun! It essentially gives you a small, bite-sized objective and says “do it fast and well!” There’s a bunch of them for all four games, and they’re a lot like the mini-challenges in Sonic Generations, where they utilize existing levels, but alter the layouts slightly to guide you in achieving the task provided. It’s a reasonably fun side mode, and a good challenge to go for S-Ranks in all of them, no doubt. A nice little cherry on top. Mission Mode, the unlockable Mirror Modes, and the Boss Rush modes all fill that small void of wanting a little extra, but aren’t particularly remarkable on their own. A fun distraction nonetheless.

If you couldn’t tell, I am still as impressed as I was back when these games were new with the Android and iOS ports of Sonic 1, Sonic CD, and Sonic 2. To keep it a buck: the improvements and changes they offer are vast; beyond the resolution increase, they also feature remastered in-game audio, utilizing direct audio samples from the Genesis’s sound chip without the low pass filter, giving them a higher quality sound. The framerate remains rock-solid at all times, 60 FPS for the entire experience, and even when on-screen action is flooded with rings, enemies, and background elements alike, they hold this framerate consistently, keeping the game experience smooth.

Of course, I have to mention the new features like additional characters, Hidden Palace Zone as a secret stage in Sonic 2, numerous bug-fixes and tweaks, Special Stages running at higher framerates and looking cleaner, the list goes on.

Will Knuckles in Sonic 2 ever not be such a treat?
Will Knuckles in Sonic 2 ever not be such a treat?

Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the crown jewel of this collection. All of those improvements I mentioned above aren’t new to those games, but they are to this one! Having access to Sonic 3 & Knuckles on my Switch with all of these changes feels incredible, and you really notice just how finely tuned it all is. This is the first time the game’s been available in a 16:9 format natively, and the game heavily benefits. The Drop Dash feels incredible here, working well with the level design even in hindsight, and much like how the Sonic 1 & 2 ports steer incredibly, so too does this port, and it ends up feeling the best of them!

I’d be remiss not to mention the extra features here, as they’re all wonderful and compliment the package nicely. The most immediate addition are the new animated cutscenes, provided by Powerhouse Animation Studios with the assistance of Tyson Hesse, who previously worked on Sonic Mania and other animated Sonic shorts. With a background like that, yes, they all turned out incredible. I was smiling ear to ear at every one of them, and they really liven up the package. Each game gets one new opening cutscene and one new ending cutscene, with a special ending cutscene bonus if you complete the Story Mode of the game. The Story Mode ending cutscene is simply marvelous, and made my Story playthrough worth it by the end, full stop.

I don't want to spoil these, they are such a treat and worth experiencing or at the very least watching on your own.
I don't want to spoil these, they are such a treat and worth experiencing or at the very least watching on your own.

These cutscenes are a massive highlight of the game to me, and I implore you to earn them and watch them yourself if you haven’t already. They just ooze style, love, and passion, and they have the same kind of energy as all of the animation work for Sonic Mania and Sonic Mania Adventures. I was extremely excited for them prior to playing, and I can say they absolutely delivered in full.

The other extras that are offered are great too. Coins are put to use in the Museum when you’re not using them to retry Special Stages, where they are used to buy additional concept art and even extra music to listen to in the Sound Test. The included illustrations and artwork don’t quite match the sheer scale of something like Sonic Mega Collection, but they’re decently meaty. Massive kudos to the team for including full scans of every manual for each game, across all three standard game release regions (NA, EU, and JP). Finally, Sonic fans can relive Dr. Eggman’s “diabolical traps”, and newer fans can appreciate the long-lost art of physical game manuals. How I miss my youth…

I’ve dumped praise upon praise onto this collection, but there are some definite hitches and issues I noticed in playing it, though they are thankfully very minor. Some of them will likely be patched or changed in future updates, while some of these are probably going to be persistent even down the line in the game’s lifespan.

The most immediate one is the audio. I mentioned Sonic’s iOS and Android ports having SFX and music that is not put through a noticeable low-pass filter, and that is true here as well. However, Sonic 3 & Knuckles did not get this treatment, instead opting to use direct Genesis audio recordings, low-pass filter and all. This results in a sound that isn’t bad, but it stands out in a very jarring way when playing all of the games in this collection.

It’s compounded by another issue present in Sonic 3 & Knuckles: the new music. This is the bugbear that prevented this game from ever getting re-released in this capacity, and rather than seeking out the expenses of licensing and permissions from the contracted artists that worked on Sonic 3’s soundtrack, SEGA elected to use music from the PC re-release of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, remade in the style of the Genesis soundtracks. The end result is…acceptable at best and not good at worst. The lost Sonic 3 music will absolutely be a sore spot for many players, and in spite of a new Super Sonic theme being added to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, it does NOT have this audio filter applied, and thus sounds entirely digitized and really out of place in comparison to the rest of the music.

In spite of Sonic 3  & Knuckles being what I'd call the highlight of this collection, it's also a little rough around the edges overall.
In spite of Sonic 3 & Knuckles being what I'd call the highlight of this collection, it's also a little rough around the edges overall.

There’s small pockets of other issues, too. The points roll at the end of each stage can be skipped in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but not in any of the other games. The Drop Dash is present in all of them, but the only game it works 100% correctly in is Sonic 3 & Knuckles, with the other games treating it like a one-tap Spindash upon landing. This causes strange camera movements occasionally, and also impacts how it feels. You can only influence your movement in the air when jumping after a Drop Dash in Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD. Sonic 1’s Special Stages running smoother is more a curse than a blessing, as the rotation makes even someone like myself nauseous, and I am not normally prone to motion sickness! An option to make the rotation less smooth would be great for those who don’t handle that kind of rapid motion well. Knuckles is playable in every game EXCEPT Sonic CD, which feels like a glaring omission, as this would have been a wonderful feature to tout as an additional bonus for this re-release.

Perhaps most bizarre of all of these, the Blue Spheres music in Sonic 3 & Knuckles does not speed up at all! This completely changes how those stages feel to play, and honestly after so many years of Sonic 3 it’s eerie and uncanny. Of all the issues and nitpicks I’ve mentioned, this is the one that’s likely to be addressed at some point, as it feels like a fairly large oversight in what is otherwise a completely faithful adaptation of the original.

These small issues in gameplay feel and presentation create that problem of not having a single game in this compilation that ticks every possible box. The silver lining however is that they all tick most of them, just some more than others.

Now…I’ve gone up until this point in the review without mentioning a large point of contention. The elephant in the room, so to speak. That sticking point has to be the price of Sonic Origins.

Sonic Origins will run you 40 USD on Switch as of the time of this review. In its current state it is a somewhat unpolished, but still an incredible Sonic experience that serves as a great means to play these games. That said, what I mentioned at the beginning still applies: there are TONS of re-releases of these games. While they aren’t the mobile remasters, for 40 dollars it’s easy to see why someone would look at how accessible these games are for cheaper elsewhere, even if they don’t have all of these extra features. Even for Switch owners, if you’re not dead-set on having Sonic CD or Sonic 3 & Knuckles, both Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 are available under SEGA AGES, and are fantastic ports that are endlessly faithful to their Genesis counterparts (they also feature the Drop Dash!)

It's hard to deny the appeal of having all four of these games in one place on a handheld, at least. Even in low action situations like this.
It's hard to deny the appeal of having all four of these games in one place on a handheld, at least. Even in low action situations like this.

In spite of these nitpicks, Sonic Origins is stellar. It’s a somewhat uneven collection of good ports, but the enduring quality of these games made it fun. It was surreal as a long-time fan to be able to play these versions of the games on my Switch, and all of the added bells and whistles (ESPECIALLY the cutscenes) helped a lot in smoothing out the playthroughs. This compilation has a ton of heart, but it is tough to recommend at its current price. If you love Sonic games enough, it’s possibly worth it, but it may be best to wait for a sale or a drop in price. From my time spent on it though, Sonic Origins ultimately succeeds at what it set out to do: provide a great way for new and old players alike to enjoy fantastic versions of these old games, but with some catches that make it far from absolutely definitive.

About tttttsd


TTTTTsd (you can call him Scott for short!) is a studious writer and big fan of video games of all sorts, especially Nintendo. He enjoys platformers the most, but loves JRPGs too! Ask him about Super Mario Bros. 3, you'll probably learn something new, it's his favorite game!

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