Sonic boom, sonic boom, sonic boom
I try not to have opinions about the Sonic the Hedgehog series. It’s dangerous. What’s wrong with the series? Why does it have such a ravenous fanbase? What games are good? Which ones are bad?
Well, we certainly go back to the Sega Genesis titles a lot, which is what Sonic Origins is. I’m pretty sure I’ve accidentally bought Sonic the Hedgehog more times than I’ve intentionally bought any other game. Sonic Origins promises to be more of a remaster, but that’s a weird way to use that word. It’s widescreen now. I guess that’s something.
For the record, Sonic Origins is a compilation of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog CD, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Admittedly, there’s a lot more to Sonic Origins than just widescreen ports; the upgrades are just very granular. I could go down the list of changes, but they don’t amount to a whole lot. Some of them you have to pay extra for, which is absolutely galling.
The changes are mostly to be found in each game’s anniversary mode. Titles that couldn’t support different character configurations now do. You can play as Tails or Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog. You can play as Tails and Knuckles as a pair in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Tails is also in Sonic CD (but not Knuckles).
Notably, in anniversary mode, limited lives have been removed. While I can’t say I miss them, the games were developed around them being an obstacle. Without limited lives, the games are all a lot easier. Making progress is as simple as barrelling ahead to the next checkpoint. You can choose to play in classic mode, which restores them to their former difficulty, but then you don’t get the widescreen option, so…
The processing is just so blast!
Another big addition in Sonic Origins is animated cutscenes that bookend the games. That’s a neat idea, since the original games mostly had their stories told exclusively through the medium of instruction manual (and not all that accurately). They’re not very enlightening, as they’re short skits without dialogue, but they set the stage reasonably well. The early series narratives were basic to begin with — abstract to the point of confusing — so the added cartoons definitely do their job.
There’s the obligatory museum that I have never been capable of getting enthused over. It’s useful if you want to play the “drowning music” on loop. Because who doesn’t want to listen to the musical representation of anxiety repeatedly? Some things you need to unlock using coins, which are given to the player as a bonus instead of the lives and continues that the original Sega Genesis releases doled out. However, that’s not the best use for coins.
Coins are used to retry those horrible Chaos Emerald bonus stages when you fail at them. That way, you might be able to see the actual ending to some of these games instead of just a screen that informs you of your disappointing performance and asks you to “Try Again.” Those aren’t how bonus stages are supposed to work. That’s just how Sega prepared children for a society that provides insufficient incentive for ceaseless suffering.
Mission mode is probably what interests me the most in Sonic Origins. Playing through all four games in the collection sounds daunting. Sonic games aren’t the longest, but they certainly aren’t the shortest. However, it shows a level of cohesion you don’t get in many game collections. It wouldn’t work for every series out there, but the Sonic games are similar enough that they flow together well. I’m not sure why Sonic CD comes before Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but I guess it works.
It’s really not that there aren’t any improvements to these games. I don’t want to undersell how difficult it likely is to repurpose a Sega Genesis game into widescreen. The whole idea behind the new collection was apparently to “modernize” the games; moving them into a new engine (amusingly called the “Retro Engine”) rather than simply emulating them. If that’s the case, why stop with widescreen? Why not add new levels now that they’re in a modern engine? Couldn’t they have added Metal Sonic as a playable character to add some value? Why not add in the extra animations of Sonic Mania rather than just the drop dash mechanic? Sonic Origins just doesn’t impress.
There’s also a bit of controversy about them replacing parts of the soundtrack in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, presumably due to the wider acknowledgment that Michael Jackson was involved in their composition. Maybe. Initially, I thought this would be a small change that I wouldn’t notice because I’m daft and don’t typically notice minute alterations. However, the instant Knuckles made his introduction, it was obvious to me. It just feels wrong. I don’t even have a tonne of nostalgia for the title or its soundtrack, but it just doesn’t feel like it matches.
He’s still the fastest thing alive
I am very much behind the idea of re-releasing older games on newer hardware. The industry has only recently become forward-thinking and begun giving token consideration to the preservation of games. But the Sonic the Hedgehog games for Sega Genesis aren’t at risk of becoming unplayable. Do you know what is? The Game Gear Sonic the Hedgehog games, or Knuckles Chaotix. I would probably be a lot more polite if they were included here.
There are a few situations where you should still jump on Sonic Origins. The first is the very rare chance that you don’t already own these games somewhere. The improvements here are so minor that I wouldn’t recommend buying these games again for the sake of them. Really, my favorite new feature is being able to replay bonus levels because gathering the necessary rings can be so onerous.
Another reason would be if you want to introduce these titles to the younger generation. The removal of the rather stingy lives/continues system makes them much friendlier experiences. There’s no getting to the end boss, choking, and having to start over. While the games in Sonic Origins were obviously designed around them, the existence of lives in video games was mostly just to make sure we couldn’t rent games and beat them overnight. That’s not really a reality anymore. Corporations have new and exciting ways to make children suffer. They don’t need our dusty old methods.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]