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Sonic Origins Review – Great Fun, Despite Itself

Sonic Origins is the best way to play classic Sonic games. But that’s hardly surprising, because every Sonic compilation title is the best way to play the old games, until a new one takes its place a few years later.

And that's where this gets tricky. Because yes, Sonic Origins is a fantastic package containing four superb games, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. They all come with a bunch of quality-of-life improvements to make the whole experience much more modern and user-friendly. Infinite lives, more characters, widescreen – the whole shebang.

But on the other hand, these games were already great. Are they really improved with a new UI, some unnecessary DLC, and a £32.99 price tag? Admittedly, I’d have to give a tentative yes, because even with its dodgy practices in mind, it’s not enough to detract from its hours of fine-tuned, retro fun. On console at least, these games have played perfectly (results may vary, sorry PC players), and have given me the best time I’ve ever had with these early 1990s titles, despite all the platforms they’ve been on before.

Best of all, I can even recommend Sonic Origins to all of the blue blur’s fans. From the kids who just saw the movies, to weirdos like me who still get excited by this stupid series after 20 years, there’s something here for everyone.

Take the younger fans, for example. If you stuck a kid in front of a Mega Drive, odds are they’re not going to have a great time. Especially when they realize you can straight up die and be sent back to the first level. But give them Origins with its unlimited do-overs (even on Special Stages, thank god), and the ability to play as Tails and Knuckles across most of the games, and it’s suddenly a whole lot more accessible.

And for those of us who have already bought these games a ton of times, these things just add something new to try out. Like seriously, try Sonic CD as Tails. I accidentally flew over the whole story, it was wild. Best of all is the return of local multiplayer, which is by far the best way to experience all of the games that allow it. Going through Sonic 2 as Knuckles and Tails feels like sacrilege, but it’s just too much of a laugh to turn down.

There’s not really much else that could be done to these games; these are the perfect version right here. Customizable to your heart’s content, it’s great to see these four classics reach a new audience, wrapped together with the new animated intros to tie them all together.

But Origins knows that classic games like these just don’t grab our attention for as long as they used to. The new mission mode seems to be a way to try and mitigate that, and for a short time, it does work. Sure, they’re nothing too special, but being told to complete a level as mini Sonic, or try and make it through a stage in mirror mode does break things up nicely.

Even the biggest 3D Sonic fans will find it hard not to have fun here. I’ve picked up all of these compilation titles over the years, and this is the first one to grab my interest long enough for me to actually want to complete the classic games, rather than just piss about in Green Hill and tear my hair out in Marble Zone. And yes, Marble Zone is still a pain in the ass. No changes there.

In these ports, which were made by the same team that brought us Sonic Mania, you can feel the passion. So much is crammed into them that it does feel like these are the last re-releases we need. Smooth gameplay, restored cut content, new ways to play – everything that’s here is at its best.

However, the issues pile in when you look at what isn’t here. Difficulty settings could have added some replayability, but they’re gone despite being in previous releases. The only way to replay individual stages is by using cheat codes from the ‘90s, rather than an built-in level select. And perhaps most baffling is the fact that there are only four games here. Remember Sonic Gems collection? That had 11 games, including titles that are far more technologically advanced than what we get in Origins. If you coupled that with Sonic Mega Collection Plus, which had another 16 titles, you’d have everything in Origins and then some. Frankly, there’s no reason why Knuckles Chaotix, Mean Bean Machine, or hell, even Sonic the Fighters couldn’t be here. They’re all in much greater need of being preserved, else they be stuck on consoles that the next generation of Sonic fans have never owned.

And that’s because Sonic Origins isn’t really about game preservation. Just look at how its older releases were delisted before launch. No, it’s about getting us hyped to play the latest versions of these classics, while charging an extra few bucks for harder missions and character animations.

Origins’ DLC might be the worst in the series’ history. Not because it’s particularly offensive, but because it’s convoluted and pointless. To complete all of the missions in Sonic Origins, you had to either pre-order the Standard Edition, pick up the Digital Deluxe Edition, or failing that, purchase the two DLC packs separately for your Standard Edition copy of the game. Now, that's already far too complicated than any re-release of ‘90s games has any right to be. It doesn't matter how cheap the DLC packs are – no four-game compilation should gate its new additions off behind a paywall. Especially when all four games were already readily available. Plus, both packs together cost £6.60, which is more expensive than picking up Sonic Adventure on Steam. Do that instead, please. We shouldn’t have to pay for more music tracks and bloody letterbox backgrounds.

Modern grievances aside, it’s easy to forget all of this when you’re lost in the games itself. If you’re prepared to dive into the game’s campaign mode, where you’ll play remastered versions of Sonic 1, CD, 2, and 3 & Knuckles back-to-back, uninterrupted, then it’s a blast. Just don’t walk around and smell the flowers too much.

Sonic Origins didn’t need the flashy remake treatment that the likes of Crash and Spyro have had in recent years. It doesn’t need an engine change or any new assets. With the tweaks that have been added over the years, all four of these games offer more than enough to keep you entertained.

But it still needs more. Very few changes were made from their now non-existent previous releases, so it’s high time Sega dusts off some more titles from its ‘90s library. The gorgeous cartoons in Origins give me hope, as Sega seems to be establishing some kind of Classic Sonic universe completely isolated from his modern counterpart. It’s just a shame that it’s a universe consisting of four games once again.

A PlayStation 4 review code was provided by Sega for the purposes of this review.

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