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August 2022

Sonic Origins

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: SEGA
Release Date: June 23, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Sonic Origins'

by Cody Medellin on June 21, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Sonic Origins is on a new compiled series that includes Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles as well as Sonic CD.

Since the end of the 16-bit era, the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games have shown up on just about every possible platform, from the Saturn to the Dreamcast to just about everything else. When Sega decided to become a third-party publisher, the opportunity to play the classic Sonic adventures became easy. That's been the case for Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2, as those have been released with more frequency. Sonic Origins is yet another compilation of some of the 16-bit Sonic games, and while it isn't the definitive compilation, it remains a solid one.

The four-game package starts off with Sonic the Hedgehog, a game that needs almost no introduction at this point. The game popularized the character's penchant for moving fast but does so with some thoughtful level design. For the most part, you're going as quickly as you can from the left part of the stage to the right, but there are multiple pathways to get there, so multiple runs through the same level can be different. Get at least 50 rings by the time you reach the end, and you can jump into the giant floating ring to reach the special stage, which tasks you with navigating an ever-rotating maze to reach one of seven Chaos Emeralds. To this day, the gameplay loop is solid, and it remains just as challenging as it did all those years ago.

Sonic CD is probably the one that not too many people got to play until its re-release in the Xbox 360/PS3 era, but it remains a solid platformer. While the first game emphasized speed, this one is more focused on exploration. You can now to pass through games to hit past or future versions of each stage, essentially giving you four different versions to play through, depending on your actions. Like the first game, there's more than one ending, but now it's dependent on getting the Chaos Emeralds and destroying all of the robotic elements in the past to create a non-mechanized future. Entering the special stages is the same as the first game, but now you're in an arena seeking out UFOs before the timer expires. The viewpoint is reminiscent of Super Mario Kart, and while the idea is novel, it doesn't stand out compared to other Sonic titles. You'll enjoy this if you're a fan of exploration in platformers and are fine with fewer opportunities to run fast.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is where players are introduced to both Tails and the concept of co-op play. It's also where you discover that the second player can die but never lose lives and will always fly back in shortly after getting hit by an enemy. This makes Tails a perfect playable character for those who may not be too adept at the Sonic style of platforming. This game plays much like the first one, with multiple pathways and secrets to get you to the end, but there's an emphasis on spectacle when you hit top speeds. Entering the special stage here requires you to nab 50 rings and enter the star portal that appears when you hit a checkpoint. The stage is a halfpipe that you automatically run through, obtaining ring goals before hitting checkpoints to get the Chaos Emeralds. This is also where the idea of getting all of the emeralds turns you into Super Sonic, making you essentially invincible once you get enough rings in a stage to transform.

Finally, there's Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, which not only marks the introduction of Knuckles but also of new abilities and items. Sonic can now perform a kick at the top of his spin dash that deflects some projectiles back at his enemies. Tails can fly and pick up Sonic; Knuckles can glide, climb up walls, and punch anything brittle in his way. All three of them can obtain different shields that prevent them from drowning in water, unleash fireballs, or magnetically attract rings. You'll also be doing this in double the number of stages than before, a reasonable feat considering that this combines two games in one. There are a few bonus areas to play in if you collect roughly 50 rings and enter the star portal that appears at a checkpoint. Find the large warp ring hidden in each level, and you'll enter a large spherical world where you must transform all of the blue orbs to get the Chaos Emeralds. There's a nice balance between the speed of Sonic 2 and the exploration aspects of Sonic CD, making this a good finale for the blue hedgehog's 16-bit days — if you don't count Sonic 3D Blast.

The presence of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Knuckles means that the separate Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were omitted from the collection. One can make the argument that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles is good enough, since it contains all of the stages from those titles. Still, having both distinguished as separate adventures alongside the combined one would've been a nice touch for older gamers who have fond memories of them before and after they were combined.

All four games come with different ways to play them. Boss Rush mode is exactly what it sounds like, as you'll only play the boss encounters from each of the respective games. Mirror mode takes the games and flips them, so you're mostly going from right to left. It's only present if you beat the game initially, and it's a good challenge for those who have good muscle memory of those titles. Go to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and you have an extra Blue Spheres mode, which is essentially the special Chaos Emerald-related stages from that game. This was only ever accessible if you plugged in the original Sonic the Hedgehog into the Sonic & Knuckles cart and entered a special code from the error screen, so it's nice to have this available from the get-go.

Each game comes with two main modes, Anniversary and Classic, and there are notable differences between them. Classic mode is essentially the games as you know them: 4:3 aspect ratio, limited lives and continues, a game over screen, etc. Every trick and secret you remember from those games applies here. However, these games have been tweaked in tiny places. The game automatically saves for you, so you don't have to defeat it all in one go. The ring animations appear smoother, and the special stages have cleaned up their effects. For example, the rotation of the special stage in Sonic 1 is smoother, and the same can be said of the tunnel scrolling on Sonic 2.

Play in Anniversary mode, and the changes are more significant. The lives system has been replaced with coins that can be used in the game's museum to retry a special stage if you complete it without getting the Chaos Emerald. Game saves are automatic like in Classic mode, and the game is displayed in a 16:9 aspect ratio. Sonic 1 lets you do a spin dash and spin drop like you could in later games — something that was added in the mobile port. You can also start off with different characters, depending on your game. Sonic 1 lets you play as either Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, with the last two potentially creating new shortcuts and making things easier since the game wasn't redesigned with them in mind. Sonic CD lets you play as either Sonic or Tails, while Sonic 2 gives you the most choices, since you can play as Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Sonic & Tails, and Knuckles & Tails (but not Sonic & Knuckles). Sonic 3 & Knuckles had those pairings (minus Knuckles & Tails) built in, so there are no changes on that front.

No matter which version you play, the presentation remains unchanged. The pixel art from the Genesis days still holds up, as you get magnificent backdrops and the animations look just as good as the characters, though it becomes a blurry mess if you use the anti-aliasing filter. The sound effects are exactly as you remember them, complete with the stereo sound separation, and the music is just as memorable. No matter which mode you play, you'll be treated to new animated cut scenes done by the same team responsible for the Sonic Mania shorts. They look gorgeous and do a good job of tying together the stories without using any written or spoken dialogue.

The exception to this semi-authentic presentation is in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, where the soundtrack is different from what you remember, depending on how you played the game. For those on the Genesis/Mega Drive, a good chunk of that soundtrack involved Michael Jackson and The Jetzons, a band associated with Jackson at the time. The portions of the soundtrack that involved them have been in contention, so future versions of the game, as sporadic as they are, use the original Sega soundtrack. This iteration contains both a mix of the original Sega soundtrack and new tracks from one of the original composers, Jun Senoue. The result is interesting. Some of the tracks sound bizarre, as the themes sound much different. Others are good, but it is difficult to grade them properly once you've heard the final game. Unless the differences are settled, this is about as good as it'll get.

Aside from the four games that you can play separately, Sonic Origins features an adventure mode that stitches together all four titles into one big game. All of the games are based on the Anniversary versions, but you're always playing as Sonic or Sonic & Tails as opposed to being able to play as other characters. You aren't missing out on the animated cinematics or the original credits per game, but you will have to play the titles in the recommended chronological order of Sonic 1, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, then Sonic 3 & Knuckles. It's a novel approach and worth it if you want to not go through the brief title sequences, but you gain nothing additional from it.

Beyond the four games and larger adventure mode, the compilation has a few things to keep you busy. All of the games feature leaderboards for everything from the Anniversary to Classic to Mirror and Boss Rush modes, broken down to specific stages. You can also use this to replay specific stages without trekking through the entire game. The Mission mode contains short challenges from all four games, ranging from killing a specific enemy type to obtaining rings from certain spots. All of them use remixed parts of the respective game specifically for these challenges, and all of them feature their own leaderboards and coin rewards for getting specific letter ranks. The aforementioned museum has lots of artwork to peruse. There are also a bevy of music tracks to listen to, and most of the movies are animatics of the animated movies at the beginning and end of each game, but it's a nice touch to include the classical portion of the Sonic 35th Anniversary concert and the animated Sonic Mania Plus shorts.

Although the price can seem steep, it is the differences between the multiple versions that still prove to be confusing today. Focusing specifically on the digital iterations, it seems like the extra $5 for the deluxe edition is being spent on superfluous things like having different characters on the main menus or having a different viewpoint of the main menu; it's a strange inclusion since you can do that with the press of a button in the standard copy. Two of the more confusing inclusions are exclusive music tracks and more difficult missions. Since it isn't specifically spelled out what those are in the store page, we have no idea if those things are unlocks to save you from spending in-game coins or new things that were removed just so they can be charged separately later on. Either way, the confusion isn't a good look.

Sonic Origins isn't a comprehensive collection of Sonic games, as some of the 16-bit entries are missing. It also isn't the definitive version of these games, especially since the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 seems to be the sticking point for re-releases. What you have are four games that add a good deal of quality-of-life changes without changing anything else that made the Sonic games classics in the first place. If you can get over the initial asking price and confusion over the versions and are a fan of the older Sonic games, this one is worth a spin.

Score: 8.0/10

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