On June 23rd, 2022, Sonic the Hedgehog’s legally recognized birthday was celebrated by releasing a game compilation featuring some of his greatest adventures. Called Sonic Origins, it was a collection that many considered a no-brainer to put together. After all, people had been asking for the 2013 mobile versions of Sonic 1 and 2 on consoles and PCs for years, with the added hope that Sega could finally clear up the legal issues that were preventing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (and/or Knuckles) to get the same widescreen, Retro Engine treatment. At a point when it was extremely unclear how Sonic Frontiers would turn out (spoilers: Frontiers ended up being pretty good!), Origins seemed the safe bet of having one solid, if not fantastic, release featuring our favorite hedgehog.
Then the game came out. And. Well. It was fine.
To preface: Sonic Retro was sent a review code for the game. I had intended on writing a review months ago, yet when I sat down, nothing came. After some false starts, I just sat there going “what do I actually want to say about this game?” So I kept on sitting. And thinking. And sitting. Got up to get some coffee. Played the game a bit more. Then gave up.
I know, I know. Exciting story.
It’s been over eight months since Origins came out. And with news that a physical version has been given a rating, it’s made me think once more about Origins. What worked, what didn’t, and why I couldn’t bring myself to write a review.
I don’t know if what follows is a review or not, but here we go.
When Sonic Jam came out in 1997, I was super excited. It’s not like I hadn’t played the main Genesis games a million times prior, but there was something special about having Sonic on the Sega Saturn. In an era where we were desperate for the Next Sonic Game, having the previous entries all together, plus an interactive museum giving us our first real taste of a 3D Sonic adventure? That was neat. “Sonic World” was a taste of things to come, with simple missions to occupy our time between exploring the treasure trove of a museum. Character art, television commercials, unseen animation, and a “Hall of Fame” detailing the history of the series.
The first official entry in “Project Sonic,” Sonic Team clearly put a lot of thought and effort into Jam. It would have been easy to throw the games on a disc, add a time attack mode, and call it a day. At this stage in their history, however, Sonic Team was becoming acutely aware of their own legacy, and the desire to chronicle their story. A taste of this was in Christmas NiGHTS, having its own mini museum with trade show trailers, images of merchandise, and promotional artwork. Sonic Jam was the natural extension, members of Sonic Team being tasked to do research on a franchise they helped create. They specifically went out of their way to find out about Sonic games they had nothing to do with – and had never heard of – just to include a brief mention of them in the Hall of Fame. A step above and beyond to celebrate a franchise they helped create, but one that had been touched by multiple other creators.
Sonic Jam became the gold standard of not just what a Sonic the Hedgehog collection could be, but of video game collections in general. Part of the reason it came into existence was because of Sonic Team’s success with NiGHTS Into Dreams, receiving fan letters asking just what the heck a Sonic was. To me, Sonic Jam was an exciting look back full of things I had never seen before. For others, especially in Japan, it was an introduction to the entire world of Sonic. It worked for newcomers, it worked for longtime fans, it worked to honor the past and preview what the future had in store. “Sonic World” was the demo to Sonic Adventure we desperately needed in a Sonic X-treme-less world. The only thing that would have made that collection better is if Sonic CD could have been crammed in there, but alas, it was not meant to be.
Even without CD, Sonic Jam never felt lacking. The games themselves had some fancy new additions, with a “Normal” and “Easy” mode complimenting the original level layouts. The spin dash could be turned on in the original Sonic. Not a fan of the timer? Turn it off! Since the games were not emulated but ported over, it allowed toggles that would have been a headache to implement otherwise.
With such a strong first outing, it’s been impossible not to compare Sonic Jam to every Sonic compilation that’s come since. Sonic Mega Collection had more games, but was severely lacking in bonus material. Gems Collection was better in the extras category, and gave us the first home release of Sonic the Fighters, but had a lackluster Sonic CD port, not to mention less games overall. Gluing Mega and Gems together brings you a collection that could almost rival Sonic Jam, but it’s still missing an important part of the puzzle – context. Something I was hoping Sonic Origins would bring back.
In the lead-up to Origins release, Famitsu’s YouTube channel streamed the game for around an hour, showing off the island menu, the original TaxStealth ports, and the brand new Retro Engine version of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. What they also showed off were a handful of extras, including portions of the image gallery. When I saw it, I became very excited. There was brand new concept art, with the promise of more to come! But there was another small detail that excited me more than anyone should ever admit to – the mention of Patrick Spaziante. See, among the images were the covers to IDW’s Sonic the Hedgehog 30th Anniversary comic special, and next to each one was the artist’s name. A small detail that told me “woah, they’re paying attention.” Gems Collection gave us never-before-seen concept art, but didn’t bother to tell us who Madonna was, or that Ohshima drew it. Even Sonic Jam, with all its extras, didn’t bother to tell us what “Man of the Year” was. “This could be the one,” I thought. “The one to finally best Jam.”
Sonic Origins is the closest we’ve gotten. But I still can’t say it’s better, as a complete package, than Sonic Jam.
Yes, there’s plenty of new content in the extras menu, which I was super excited to see. We got pages from the Sonic CD design document. We got Yasuhara’s original planning for Sonic 3. Heck, we got concept art of the “rival character” before it became Knuckles, which we’ve never seen before! That’s super neat. However, the images are just dropped in, with little explanation. Seeing those images are cool, but unless you know how to read Japanese, you can only guess at the finer details. There’s a random piece of art featuring someone who might be Sonic, next to a guy who might be Knuckles with a frying pan, but the game doesn’t tell us what it is. It took months before we had Ohshima tweet it was Iizuka who drew the image. And those names I got super excited about? The fact the IDW artists were being credited? None of those names were in the English language version. Whoops!
I dunno, maybe I was just being a bit picky. After all, it still felt like a solid package. There were brand new extras. We could finally play an official version of Sonic 3 & Knuckles in widescreen. Sonic Mania Adventures found a home outside of YouTube. There were even scans of the albums released during the original classic era! This was the first time Sega acknowledged “King of the Ring” existed. But I still had to wonder why there were extras that had found home in previous compilations that were missing from Origins. No promotional art for Chaotix. No “Man of the Year.” Not even some hastily put together “History of Sonic” video.
But Sonic Origins wasn’t the only game compilation that came out in 2022.
Before there was Sonic, I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The first NES game was the second video game I ever played. Any arcade that happened to have the TMNT game? Instant quarter eater. A collection of those early Konami games was something I’d wanted for a while, and a couple months after Origins, The Cowabunga Collection was released.
Digital Eclipse has, over the last few years, stepped up what a video game compilation should be. Cowabunga Collection has the games, yes. It has multiple versions of some of them! And all sorts of options that alter your playing experience. But it’s the extras that, for me, make it truly shine. You’ve got all sorts of magazine advertisements. You don’t just have a couple pieces of concept art – you have entire game design documents, for multiple games. Anything written in Japanese? A single button gives you an English translation. You have screenshots of every single episode of Ninja Turtles. It takes that extra step to not just give you the games, but let you take a peek into how they were made, and how they were part of the greater Turtles experience. The Ninja Turtles were one of the biggest things in the world back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and you get a sense of why.
Then Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection took it another step, turning the video game compilation into a true interactive museum. You’ve got a timeline, you’ve got full documentary style interviews. The Atari 2600 was before my time, but I understand the importance of that company and the games they produced. For someone who has zero idea why? That is the perfect game to tell you. It takes any Atari collection that came before and blows it out of the water. The highs and the lows are there for everyone to see, with commentary from the people who were there, and giving you a selection of games that cover it all. It even has Atari Jaguar games. A system that most people will say had one good game!
Sonic Origins doesn’t bother to tell you when Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released.
There has been some conversation about certain games missing from Origins, the most prominent one being Chaotix. Aside from a short stint on the ill-fated GameTap service, it’s never been rereleased. There’s the sense it was meant to be in Gems Collection, but didn’t make it likely due to the difficulty of 32X emulation. There’s debate on its merit as a game. The music, the visuals? Generally positive. The level design, the gameplay? That’s a topic all on its own. Because of this, there are people who argue the reason for its omission in any future compilation is clear – quality control. But for me, that’s not a fantastic argument. Sure, I wouldn’t expect it to get the Retro Engine treatment, but to be an emulated game that serves as a piece of Sonic history? Why not?
I wanted Origins to be a truly interactive museum. A celebration of the character in those primordial years, 1991 to 1997. You have the highs already there, the original games by the once and future Sonic Team remade with modern technology. But even the “lowest of the low” can be someone’s favorite game, could be what introduced them to the franchise in the first place. If Sonic Labyrinth is secretly your favorite Sonic game? Let it be a secret no longer! Give me some Game Gear games to play around with. Let me play the Saturn version of 3D Blast again. Please. It has the best special stages of the entire series!
Even the menu system of Sonic Origins feels lackluster to me. You show off these 3D representations of the original locations for the classic games, then charge people extra to populate them with models of Sonic and Tails running around on them. That DLC includes an “island camera,” but all you can do is zoom in and out. You can’t even rotate the island, which feels silly. It might be too much to ask for an interactive “Sonic World,” but even Pac-Man Museum + gave you a room to run around in, a portal to play what was in that collection, and the ability to decorate. Even seeing that simple compilation made me wish for the smallest of things, like being able to customize what badniks you see on South Island, or being able to change Sonic’s animations on each isle.
When I originally tried to write a review for this game, I spent some time going into detail regarding the Retro Engine-powered games. Dedicating space to talking about how wrong the spinning tops of Marble Garden felt, or how Sonic was outrunning the camera way too often. Some of the criticisms I could point out would be preaching to the choir, all covered in detail months ago on a thousand YouTube accounts. Some of them were fixed with the August 2022 update. Some of them are things only I’m truly bothered by, like how you now stand in a slightly different location to activate Knuckles’ hidden animation in Sky Sanctuary. But really, the focus of this piece isn’t on the differences between the original Sonic 3 & Knuckles and the Retro Engine version. For the most part, it is what you want it to be, and even the team admitted there were aspects they wished they had the time to fix.
No, the focus is on Sonic Origins as a whole. Sure, there could (and should!) be some obvious additions to a physical version, such as additional screen filters and new games to revisit. But what it should be is a true celebration of all things Sonic the Hedgehog in the classic era. Something that takes what Sonic Jam did and takes it to the next level, looking towards the recent Digital Eclipse releases for inspiration. The Retro Engine versions of these games are the crown jewel, but there’s no reason why the Mega Play version of Sonic the Hedgehog can’t be here. Heck, maybe there are times where I want to revisit the first Sonic or Sonic CD as they originally were! I shouldn’t have to buy a Mega Drive Mini 2 for that. Multiple versions of the same game help show the development of the overall Sonic franchise.
I’d love to be able to run in a brand new version of “Sonic World,” walk over to a building, watch the original Sonic the Hedgehog 2 promotional video, then hear some brand new insights from Hirokazu Yasuhara on the making of that game. Then run over to another building, and take in the entirety of the Sonic the Hedgehog CD design document, with full translations. Then run over to yet another building, soak in some tunes from Sonic the Hedgehog – Remix, then finally cap it off with a run through the Retro version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 playing as Amy Rose – until I decide I actually want to play some Sonic Triple Trouble. It should celebrate the legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog, give something to old fans and those brand new to the series. Place Sonic in the context of not just the story of Sega, but of the video game industry as a whole. Then follow it up with a collection that does the same for the Adventure era of the character…
I don’t expect to be blown away with whatever Origins Plus will do. I’d like to be surprised, but at the very least, I’m hoping they expand the scope of what the original digital release was. If all they do is add Sonic Spinball and the 16-bit version of 3D Blast, sprinkling in a couple more pieces of unseen concept art, I don’t think that’s worth double dipping. If they add Knuckles to CD? That’s a start. If they give me something worthy of the name “Museum?” I’ll be there the moment it drops.