PS5 Review – 'Sonic Origins Plus'

by Marcos Paulo Vilela
PS5 Review - 'Sonic Origins Plus'

Buy Sonic Origins Plus

Last year, Sega released Sonic Origins to the public on just about every platform. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good collection of the mainline games from the 16-bit era, despite the relatively higher price tag. Much like it did with Sonic Mania a few years back, Sega has made some tweaks to the package and re-released it in the form of Sonic Origins Plus, a title that’s being sold both as a stand-alone game and as DLC for owners of the original.

The original four-game package starts off with Sonic the Hedgehog, a game that almost needs no introduction. It’s a game that popularized the character’s penchant for moving fast, and it features some thoughtful level design. For the most part, you’re going as fast 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 through an ever-rotating maze to reach one of 7 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 not too many people played until its re-release in the Xbox 360/PS3 era, but it is a solid platformer nonetheless. While the first game emphasized speed, this title is more focused on exploration. You can now pass through gates to hit past or future versions of each stage, essentially giving you four different versions of each stage to play through, depending on your actions in the past or present. Like the first game, there’s more than one ending, but that’s dependent upon 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 among other Sonic titles. There’s a vastly reduced number of opportunities to go fast, but fans of exploration in platformers will enjoy this title.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is where players are introduced to Tails and the concept of co-op play. It is also where you discover that the second player can die but never lose lives, and they’ll always fly back shortly after getting hit by an enemy. This makes Tails a perfect 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 more of an emphasis on spectacle when you hit top speeds. Entering the special stage requires you to nab 50 rings and enter the star portal at a checkpoint. The stage is a halfpipe you’re automatically running through, obtaining ring goals before hitting various 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 make the transformation.

Finally, there’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, which introduces Knuckles in addition to brand-new abilities and items. Sonic can perform a kick at the top of his spin dash that can deflect projectiles at his enemies. Tails can fly and pick up Sonic, and Knuckles can glide, climb up walls, and punch anything brittle. All three of them can obtain different shields that prevent them from drowning in water, unleash fireballs, or magnetically attract rings. You’ll also do 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 if you collect roughly 50 rings and enter the star portal that appears at a checkpoint; bonus areas ranges from vertically escaping a constantly moving particle beam to unlocking bonuses via a gacha machine. Find the large warp ring hidden in each level, and you’ll enter a large spherical world where you need to transform all of the blue orbs to reach 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 titles 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 games, so the other titles would be redundant. Still, having both as separate adventures alongside the combined one would’ve been a nice touch for older gamers who have fond memories of those titles.

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 is 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 the differences between them are very noticeable. Classic mode is essentially the games as you know them, with a 4:3 aspect ratio, limited lives and continues, a game over screen. etc. Every trick and secret you remember from those games applies. These titles have been tweaked in tiny places, though. The game automatically saves, so you don’t have to defeat it in one go. The ring animations appear smoother, and the special stages have cleaned-up effects, too. The rotation of the special stage in Sonic 1 is smoother, and the same can be said of the tunnel scrolling in Sonic 2.

Play in Anniversary mode, and the changes are more significant. The game no longer has a bank of lives, replaced instead with coins that you can use in the museum. You can also use the coins 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 16:9 mode. Sonic 1 lets you do a spin dash and spin drop like you could in later games; the ability was initially added with the mobile port.

You can also start off with different characters depending on your game, and this is where you see two of the major additions of Plus. 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 or Knuckles, one of the aforementioned new additions. Sonic 2 gives you the most choices, as 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.

The other major change to the Anniversary mode is the addition of Amy as a playable character in all four games. The best way to describe her play style is that she’s pretty much like Sonic for basic attacks, and she matches up with everyone else in terms of movement speed and jump height. Hit the jump button while you’re in the air, and her jumping attack range is extended due to her hammer being stuck out, but it also yields a different sound effect when you come into contact with an enemy. Perform the spin drop, and while she may not travel as far as Sonic with this attack, she will run upright and swing her hammer the entire time. Overall, she’s a nice addition to the lineup but not necessarily one that makes the older games feel radically different.

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. It does become a blurry mess if you use the anti-aliasing filter, though. The sound effects are exactly as you remember them, complete with the stereo sound separation, and the music is just as memorable. In either mode, you’re treated to new animated cut scenes, which were done by the same team responsible for the Sonic Mania shorts. They look gorgeous and do a good job of tying together the game’s stories without using any written or spoken dialogue.

The exception to this semi-authentic presentation is Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. The soundtrack is going to be 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 subsequent versions of the game use the original Sega soundtrack. This iteration contains a mix of the original Sega soundtrack and new tracks from one of the original composers, Jun Senoue. Some of the tracks sound good, but others are a tad bizarre. Unless the attribution differences get settled, this is about as good as it’ll get.

Aside from the four games that you can play separately, Plus 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 other characters. You aren’t missing out on the animated cinematics or the original credits, but you have to play the titles in the recommended chronological order of Sonic 1, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, and then Sonic 3 & Knuckles. It’s a novel approach if you want to skip the brief title sequences, but you gain nothing else 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 all of the modes — Anniversary, Boss Rush, Classic and Mirror — broken down into their specific stages. You can also use this to replay specific stages without trekking through the whole game. The Mission mode contains short challenges from all four games, and they range from killing a specific enemy type before hitting a goal to obtaining rings from certain spots before time expires. 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. The aforementioned museum has lots of artwork to peruse. There’s also a bevy of music tracks to listen to and movies to watch. Most are the animated movies at the beginning and end of each game, but the classical portion of the Sonic 35th Anniversary concert from a few years ago and the animated Sonic Mania Plus shorts are a nice touch.

The extras section also has the last big addition from Plus: all 12 of the Sonic-related games from the Game Gear, with four of those adventure games being classics in their own right. Both iterations of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 may initially seem like scaled-down versions of the Genesis originals, but the level design for the former and the plot and levels for the latter are so different that they’re worth exploring for those who know the Genesis versions like the back of their hands. Sonic Chaos is an original creation for the Game Gear that’s notable for making Tails a playable character and introducing new powers, like rocket shoes and pogo springs. Sonic Triple Trouble is a direct sequel to Chaos, and you fight against Metal Sonic, Dr. Robotnik, and Nack the Weasel. It might not introduce new gameplay, but it feels bigger in scope compared to the aforementioned adventure titles on the system.

The games begin to get more experimental with varying results. Sonic Blast is like most adventure games on the platform but switches out Tails for Knuckles as the second playable character. It uses CG rendering for the characters in a manner similar to the Donkey Kong Country series, but it looks terrible and makes the game feel slower than earlier titles. Sonic Labyrinth tries to mimic Sonic 3D Blast with its isometric viewpoint. That wasn’t exactly a great direction for the game to take, but what makes it worse is that traversal is handled by the spin dash because you can’t run, and walking is slow. Combined with a timer and the need to constantly hunt for hourglasses while trying to find a way to open the level exit, and this is the most frustrating title in the package.

Tails’ Skypatrol is the first of two spin-offs that swap out Sonic for Tails in the starring role. This one initially feels like a classic side-scrolling shooter, as Tails spends all of his time flying while his Boomering is his main means of attacking as well as his tool to grab boxes and latch onto objects. The slow pace works, while the presence of a stamina meter can be a hit-and-miss mechanic. The relatively high difficulty level doesn’t do the game any favors. The other Tails-centered spin-off is Tails Adventure , which ditches the constant flying for a slower-paced platformer adventure with puzzle elements. It introduces item switching, which makes this wildly different from other titles, especially since you can commandeer vehicles like a sub and control a robot through tight passages. It’s better than the first game but still painful if you’re a speed freak.

Moving on to the direct ports of the Genesis games, Sonic Spinball is essentially the same pinball-inspired title as the Genesis game but with a touch less direct control over movements while in mid-air. It remains just as difficult as the Genesis title but lacks the finesse necessary to give yourself a fighting chance. It makes up for it by being a shorter overall game. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is the other port, and you can’t find much fault with it, as it is essentially a reskin of Puyo Puyo, a game that remains timeless and fun even in its most basic iteration. One piece of trivia is that both of these games seem to been inspirated by both “The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” and the “Sonic the Hedgehog” Saturday morning TV series.

Finally, there’s Sonic Drift and Sonic Drift 2, titles that benefited from the popularity of Super Mario Kart but in a handheld format. The games differed by character and track selection. They’re fine as basic 8-bit racers, but they’re tougher to get into if you’re used to modern racing games. A nice bonus for these titles and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is that the multiplayer modes are intact in local play; previous releases never took that into account. It’s a nice addition, and it gives the puzzle game more replayability.

There are a few gripes from the inclusion of the Game Gear titles, such as the fact that they didn’t get the same love and attention as the original four titles. Asking for modern tweaks might be too much to ask for, but the lack of a save system hurts, considering that almost all of these titles can be quite lengthy and require a dedicated chunk of time to defeat. There aren’t any new challenges associated with the Game Gear games, and there aren’t any related pieces of artwork or music added to the Museum. Trophy hunters also don’t get the benefit of more Trophies associated with all of this DLC. You get the games with a few considerations for multiplayer, and that’s it.

Sonic Origins Plus still can’t be considered the most comprehensive collection of the classic Sonic the Hedgehog titles. From a completionist’s standpoint, it would’ve been nice to have Sonic 3D Blast, and the Genesis version of Sonic Spinball and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Others will lament the fact that the original music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 remains missing. The inclusion of 12 Game Gear titles makes this feel like a better value, while the modified versions of the original four titles are still a great way for new players to experience these classics without dealing with the things that don’t fly in modern game design. For fans of old-school platformers, Sonic Origins Plus is well worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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