‘Sonic Origins’ review: live and learn

Whilst an essential title for new fans, 'Sonic Origins' may leave veterans wanting more

Sonic Origins has one question it needs to answer, is classic Sonic still worth it? The short answer is: yes if you’ve never played the games, and probably not if you have.

If you know these titles like the back of your hand, it comes down to examining what Sonic Origins offers that’s new, and deciding if you feel it’s worth it. For new players, this collection is an incredible way to experience some truly excellent 2D platformers for the first time.

Sonic Origins includes Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD, and these alone are worth the price of admission for new players and those wanting to play them through all over again. As someone who’s only ever played 2D Sonic via a quick spin of the original in Sonic Generations and the retro sequel Sonic Mania, I can confidently confirm that classic Sonic hasn’t aged a day.

These games don’t just hold up either, they’re incredible fun too. The labyrinthian level design combines perfectly with Sonic’s inherent speed to make every level a delight to play. Some of the earlier game’s levels feel downright unfair in places, but this is eclipsed by how well thought out everything else is, and how great it feels to master a level to the point that you can get through it easily.

Each game offers something slightly different in terms of mechanics, level design, and music, but every single one is still a joy to play. Sonic Origins is a stark reminder of why the blue hedgehog was Mario’s rival for so many years, his 2D outings were all brilliant. So if you need an excuse to revisit 2D Sonic, or haven’t had the chance to try the games out, Sonic Origins is absolutely worth picking up.

Whilst this won’t come as a surprise to people who know classic Sonic well, I’ve been left incredibly impressed by the compilation’s sense of momentum. Every move Sonic makes flawlessly carries through to the next; you can jump whilst running at an angle for extra height, use the spin jump to bounce across enemies like they’re clouds, and almost glide throughout each level if skillful enough.

In combination with the intentionally precise level design, Sonic controls smoothly and the speed at which he’s flying around makes it feel like a game that came out last week, not 30 years ago. Everything is so well crafted that it plays with no strain, although the 16-bit visuals are sometimes squint-worthy.

Sonic Origins
Sonic Origins. Credit: Sega

The timeless nature of each game is also propped up by the presentation. Now you can play in full 16:9 widescreen with infinite lives, or 4:3 with the classic lives system. Having the foresight to offer both a truly classic and more modern alternative for each game is a little let down by the lack of customisation though. How come you can’t do 16:9 but with numbered lives, or 4:3 without?

Speaking of baffling decisions, I’ve got to address the rightly-maligned downloadable content (DLC) strategy Sega used for Sonic Origins. I’ve been playing without any of the DLC, which can be obtained from pre-ordering the game or purchasing the digital deluxe edition. At this point, I’m not even sure what on this needlessly confusing chart I can now get.

Simply put, it’s egregious. A mirror mode, hard missions, character animations and music are all locked behind what amounts to £3.99 (in the UK anyway). As I write this, I don’t even know if you’ll be able to purchase them separately, or if you need the Sonic Origins Digital Deluxe Edition. These extra bits of content should’ve absolutely just been packaged in from the start, and whilst not having them doesn’t spoil the experience, it makes me ask why Sega didn’t just account for these extras in the price, and release one version of the game.

Sonic Origins. Credit: Sega

Now, the new features that Sonic Origins does include no matter which version you buy, whilst not entirely making up for the DLC fiasco, are absolutely welcome. Having a new and crisp user interface that unites the whole collection, along with little animated islands for each game in the menu, are excellent ways to tie everything together.

Each of the four games also has entirely new animated cutscenes to open and close them. These don’t just further help consolidate each game into the collection, they’re well and truly excellent. The old aesthetics shine through the fluid and expressive animations, and each one feels right at home in Sonic Origins. It’s abundantly clear that the people who made these animations wanted them to be incredible, and they are.

Sonic Origins also includes a new “mission mode,” and here you can either play through each game as one continuous experience or pick from a series of small challenges newly developed for each title. Adapting each game into small quick-fire challenges feels like a perfect arcade-like experience, and it adds something new to the collection that feels right at home.

Each challenge varies in difficulty and repurposes the mechanics and ideas presented in the levels across the collection, remixing them into bitesize experiences that give players a ranking similar to those found in modern Sonic games. Players will also be rewarded with special coins for completing these challenges, and they very quickly add up to help players unlock a number of development materials like sounds, illustrations, and movies.

Sonic Origins. Credit: Sega

This brings us to the museum feature, which houses behind-the-scenes materials for both the classic games themselves and the new work put into Sonic Origins. On paper this is a wholesome way to see things like early character sketches, initial level layouts, box art, and animatics for the new cutscenes. In practice though, it’s mostly work presented in other Sonic collections (which there are too many at this point) that’s gated behind bizarre unlock requirements.

Some unlockables require completing milestones from each game, whilst a number of others need the coins you obtain from challenges. Not only does this make viewing these vaulted materials feel disjointed, it also gates them behind your skill in the challenges and whether or not you even want to complete them in the first place.

For people who’ve never seen these materials before (myself included) the museum is an excellent addition to Sonic Origins, but for those who’ve played any number of the classic Sonic collections released across previous generations, and anyone who doesn’t want to dive into challenges just to see them, it feels quite wasteful.

Sonic Origins isn’t quite the celebration of the hedgehog’s 2D adventures it promised to be, as comically foolish DLC practices and a lack of choice with the new options let the game down a little. That said, if you haven’t played any of these titles before, or want to come back and see the few extras available, Sonic Origins is worth your time. Every game is an absolute joy to play, and required viewing for those that enjoyed Sonic Mania as their first foray into the hedgehog’s 2D outings.

Sonic Origins is available June 23 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC

The Verdict

Despite being let down by egregious DLC and some lacking options, Sonic Origins stands tall as a collection of four absolute classics. Feeling like they haven’t aged a day, each game has its own flair and ideas, but they all still work together to form something magical, as each game’s design makes speeding through every level incredibly enjoyable. Curious new players owe it to themselves to try Origins, but series veterans won’t find nearly as much on offer.

Pros

  • Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic CD haven’t aged a day, and are still excellent momentum-based platformers
  • The new missions add some much-needed flair and arcade-based challenge that remix the game
  • The overall presentation and new animated sequences succeed in making each title feel fresh

Cons

  • Locking off content behind confusing DLC
  • A lack of choice with some new features
  • Probably not essential for long-time fans
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