TUCSON, Ariz. — Attempting to capitalize on the newfound Sonic the Hedgehog popularity following two blockbuster movies, "Sonic Origins" brings back four of the hero's first adventures.
Included in the package are retro and revamped versions of "Sonic the Hedgehog" (1991), "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" (1992), "Sonic CD" (1993), and "Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles" (1994).
The old version of the games is pixel-perfect recreations of the old CRT-friendly aspect ratios, while the new versions maintain the spirit of the old look with some modern enhancements.
Phil Villarreal: Growing up as a Nintendo fanboy who took decades to come to love the Sonic games grudgingly, it feels refreshing and vivid to experience these games for the first time on a 4K TV.
It had been years since I had played any of the classic "Sonic" games, so I came in with pretty fresh eyes. The sheer speed and joy of platforming hold up remarkably well. The difficulty ramp-up is tremendous, with the early levels going by like a breeze before your reflexes are taxed to the maximum.
While it was nice to have the classic versions available, I am all in on the new "Anniversary Mode" re-dos that make the games look and play much more smoothly. It was a joy to play through the games and collect the artwork and videos populating the museum. I also appreciated the lengthy anime-style cut scenes that introduce the games and bridge the levels.
What stood out to you, Sean?
Sean Newgent: You're talking to a man who played his fair share of the original Sonic the Hedgehog games back in the day. Sonic was a game series that a much younger, much less critical me ate up; even at one point, I enjoyed "Shadow the Hedgehog."
Getting to return to these games was a shot of nostalgia. I owned many of these on this weird CD collection I got from a Costco back in the very early 2000s and I played the heck out of them. The aforementioned cutscenes introducing each game come in that classic Sonic style, recalling the "Sonic" cartoon (most famous for Sonic Sez), as well as "Sonic Underground" from back in the Blue Blurs heyday. Those refreshing introductions don't modernize the character designs (notably Amy Rose) and instead stick to classic Sonic in a way only a studio that loves the IP can really pull off.
And then you get to the games in glorious high-def, playing just as well as ever. Getting the option to choose multiple characters for each game does offer some ways to cheese levels that weren't meant to have, say, Tails flying over everything. Still, that, along with the infinite lives if you avoid classic mode, is a great way to introduce a younger generation who may have gotten into Sonic through the latest films or even the newer games a chance to really see where this character came from.
Do you see this having enough features for kids to appreciate these three-decade-old games?
Phil Villarreal: I think this is more accessible not only to kids but beginning gamers of all ages. The ability to play as Tails in all but the first game is a godsend, with the character's flying ability springing you from jams that Sonic would have trouble scampering out of.
The devs could have gotten away with a quick-and-dirty port compilation, but they took the care of archival curators to create a package that does justice to the character's heritage. Sadly, many of the Sonic sequels over the years didn't have nearly as much respect for the source material, and that's what caused the franchise to become something of a joke before its recent renaissance. The level of quality control at play here is tremendous.
These old games somehow seem new again — likely because modern platformers lack the freewheeling speed and joyous tone that these games encapsulate. I see this package as an essential pickup for those who like classic platformers.
Final thoughts, Sean?
Sean Newgent: With the dirge of any sort of big-budget titles, this seems like the Summer of the Retro Revival. And while studios could just throw their classic games into a cheesy collection, the amount of care and love put into the presentation of "Sonic Origins" makes this well worth a purchase for fans of the character. For fans, the moment you boot up Green Hill Zone and hear that unforgettable earworm of soundtrack you'll be hooked. The inclusion of a series of challenges that allow you to collect coins to purchase items in the museum shop adds a nice amount of skill-based gameplay for those who can speedrun these classics in their sleep.
That said, the game does lock some features behind a DLC paywall, something that seems lame for a package that doesn't necessarily offer anything new but some of those items that are locked away. And add that on top of a $40 price tag — it seems like a lot of money for what is, for sure, a great collection of games, but I can't see it being a must-buy for anyone but the most die-hard of Sonic fans.
The publisher provided a review code. Phil played on Xbox Series X, and Sean played on PS4.
Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Diablo II Resurrected
NEO: The World Ends with You
Rainbow Six: Extraction
King of Fighters XV
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
TMNT: Shredder's Revenge