Here’s a gamer version of “guess how many gum balls are in the jar”: How many times has Sega re-released the very first Sonic the Hedgehog game?
If we don’t ignore six-in-one carts from Sega Genesis and Mega Drive in the ’90s, then the answer is somewhere near 30 launches. That count includes a port of the home version for early ’90s arcades, the Sonic Jam compilation for the Sonic-starved Saturn, versions on various mobile platforms, multiple plug-and-play TV boxes, and a version exclusively playable in Tesla automobiles. Many of these releases came with other 16-bit Sonic games, as well.
Should you have missed any of the other 30-plus ways to play the series over the years—or have kids who want as much Sonic content as possible after seeing the series’ live-action films—Sonic Origins launches later this week on PC and all console families. Sadly, I’m reviewing this $40 (or, honestly, up to $48) compilation of 16-bit Sonic games not because it’s great, but because it’s weird.
Let’s start with the price-to-content ratio, because $40 suggests an amount of Sonic content that would make series fans swoon. I don’t think they will.
The biggest issue is that Sonic Origins only includes four games: Sonic 1, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, and the “complete” version of Sonic 3 (meaning, “and Knuckles” as a locked-on combination of two cartridges). Other compilations have gone above and beyond by adding other Sonic-themed 16-bit games, along with 8-bit games from the Master System and Game Gear, but those are missing this time. Sega doesn’t make up for their absence with stuff like Sonic‘s 3D games from Dreamcast or the series’ edutainment weirdness on the Sega Pico.
Sonic Origins‘ four included games are emulated quite well, at least. This is largely thanks to Headcannon, a development team that has expertise in touching up Sonic games’ code to preserve the original games’ look and feel while adding modern perks. (Unsurprisingly, they were assisted by Christian Whitehead, a developer who helped Sega officially port Sonic CD to iOS many years ago.) Every game’s “anniversary” mode in Sonic Origins natively supports a 16:9 screen ratio, which makes the series’ high-speed exploration a lot easier to visually track. This mode also includes perks that range from obvious (infinite lives) to subtle (adding the “drop dash” maneuver to older games or supporting a “Knuckles and Tails” mode).
If you’d like to play the games as they were originally designed, you can fall back to a “classic” mode with 4:3 ratios, the original “lives” system, and other Genesis-era stuff intact. (This mode has one caveat, which I’ll get to.)
The Genesis’ unique FM synthesizer sound system is faithfully recreated for the most part, though I’ve so far noticed two odd issues in the pre-release period: Sonic CD will sometimes skip certain sound effects, and certain sound effects suffer from aggressive clipping in Sonic 2‘s bonus stages. All four games’ color calibration looks fantastic for a series that has always favored bright, cheerful palettes. Also, this compilation’s input lag is as low as I’ve measured on a PlayStation 5 game, which is good news, though I’ve yet to test the collection on any other platform.