Sonic Origins Plus Impressions – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Sonic Origins Plus arrived on every major platform today, bringing myriad updates to what I previously called "a potent pack of nostalgia." However, not every update lives up to expectations, and while it's still the better version of this bundle, Sonic Origins Plus' main attraction doesn't quite stick the landing.
For the uninitiated, Sonic Origins launched one year ago today, letting players speed through Sonic the Hedgehog 1, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic 3 & Knuckles from the Sega Genesis, as well as Sonic CD from Sega CD with the option to play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles in all of them (except Knuckles in Sonic CD, for some reason). You can play through them in Classic Mode, which retains the original aspect ratio and lives system of the games, or in Anniversary Mode, which adds native widescreen support, grants unlimited lives, implements Sonic's Drop Dash move from Sonic Mania, and gives you the option to retry Special Stages. I loved playing through Anniversary mode when this bundle came out a year ago, and I still adore running through the original four games today in the Sonic Origins Plus collection.
Sonic Origins further enhances these titles by adding Amy Rose, the previously imperiled pink hedgehog introduced in Sonic CD, as a playable character in all four titles. She brings the same sense of speed as the other three playable characters but also has her trusty hammer, which can be used in jumps or as a Drop Dash-style sprint when she lands. Aside from the hammer and the fact that she doesn't gain new abilities from the elemental shields in Sonic 3, she plays like Sonic (she can even take the place of Sonic in the Sonic & Tails pairings in certain games). Even though she doesn't revolutionize any of these games, she adds a slightly different experience to them, and I appreciated having her added to the growing roster.
On top of Amy's inclusion, Knuckles is also added as a playable character in Sonic CD; his exclusion in this particular title within the original compilation was always a head-scratcher, so it's nice to see that omission remedied in this upgraded version. Since the stages in Sonic CD are so vertical, Knuckles' glide can bypass large chunks of some stages (which clearly weren't designed with him in mind since he wasn't yet introduced), and the climbing ability comes in handy occasionally.
The main attraction for this bundle for many is likely the Game Gear library, which includes all 12 Sonic series Game Gear games. The library is robust and consists of some of my favorite games of that library, like Sonic Triple Trouble and Sonic Chaos, but I can't help but feel like it's a missed opportunity. Several of these games were released on the Sega Master System as well, with that version featuring less screen crunch and often better performance; the better option for Sega could have been to add an 8-bit library instead of restricting it to just Game Gear.
Firing up games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on Game Gear can be daunting given how narrow the screen k no further than the first boss battle of that game. Most Sonic games on Game Gear suffer from this; this is a series built on going from one side of the screen to the other as quickly as possible, so anything that could have been done to alleviate that would have been a blessing.
On top of that, the Game Gear games sometimes run poorly. The audio issues, which include crackling and echoey sound, stack with the frame rate dips in games like Sonic Triple Trouble to create an often less-than-ideal experience. I understand that this is what the frame-rate performance was often like on Game Gear, but it still feels bad to have an 8-bit game struggle to run on a PlayStation 5. Just like Sega did with some problems in the original Genesis games, this was the company's opportunity to correct some legacy problems of these titles to make them more playable three decades later, but they stopped short of making those improvements.
While not entirely unexpected, it's also a disappointment that the original music from Sonic 3 is still not included in this upgraded bundle. The prototype songs for Ice Cap, Carnival Night, and Launch Base are still massive downgrades, no matter how often I listen to them. I get that there are likely complicated legal problems surrounding the Genesis songs, but to truly call this the definitive edition of Sonic 3, you must have that music. Still, my original notion for this issue remains true and even applies to the Game Gear catalog: If the choice is to have the games as they are presented in the bundle or not have access to them at all, I'd choose the former over the latter any day.
Despite my criticisms and complaints, Sonic Origins Plus is an upgrade to the original Sonic Origins package in many ways. I love the inclusion of Amy and the ability to finally let Knuckles glide around in Sonic CD. The Game Gear library is also a welcome addition, even if it could be better seemingly across the board. Sonic Origins Plus is far from a home run, but it's an easy package to recommend for both longtime fans of the Blue Blur or those looking to see why these 2D games have such a passionate fan base three decades later.