A full disclaimer here: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. I respect the contribution that the series has made to the history and development of video games, but I do find the characters aggravating, and the aesthetics garish. More simply, I just prefer slower-paced platformers that allow me the freedom to explore and discover. I’ve never been a speedrun guy, so I’ve never been a Sonic guy.
But, as I said, I respect the series well enough. After playing Sonic Origins Plus – now with a Sonic Game Gear collection! – I wonder if I actually have more respect for this series than the development team. Perhaps the best case-in-point here is that the Game Gear version of Sonic Spinball, included in this package, is totally unplayable. Why? Because thanks to the control mapping, on the Switch the left bumper is controlled by the right button, and vice versa. And there’s no way to re-map buttons.
Those 12 Game Gear games were the key selling point of Sonic Origins Plus, and they are the sorriest excuse for ROM dumps I’ve seen on any of the many retro compilations that have been released in recent years. The result is an official product that is outdone by, say, Anbernic devices, which at least have the buttons in the right places.
So, to back up a little here. Sonic Origins is itself the first four Mega Drive Sonic games. Sonic Origins Plus is a DLC for that base game that adds the 12 Game Gear titles and some other bonuses. The base package is a relatively thin “retro collection,” but they are classic games and there is a good reason to go back to them for another play from time to time. With Sonic Origins Plus, the developers have added an extra character – Amy – that gives you a slightly different experience while playing them, too, and that’s a nice touch. She has a hammer that she can swing around while jumping for extra offensive capabilities.
These base games are all presented nicely enough and will tap into your nostalgia. It’s when you get to the Game Gear stuff that you’re going to be reminded of something: The Game Gear just wasn’t that great of a console. I’m sorry to the people that I’ve inevitably upset by saying this, but it was every bit as underpowered as the Game Boy and yet SEGA tried to do some incredibly ambitious things with it. Sonic Drift and Sonic Blast are just far too grand for the Game Gear’s capabilities. Other titles in the collection work – such as the port of Sonic the Hedgehog – but it’s vastly inferior to playing the Mega Drive titles. And so a good chunk of those 12 games aren’t going to occupy you for more than a few minutes.
The good ones, meanwhile, such as Tails Adventure or Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, are plagued by the cheapness of the ports. You’ll hear odd issues with the sound and framerates, and it’s just sad to see in comparison to the impeccable presentation of, say, the Game Boy titles on the Nintendo Switch Online service.
The Sonic Origins package is mundane, too. The Game Gear games are buried deep in the game’s “Mission” menu, which also features a “Story mode” (allowing you to play all the games in order), as well as a challenge mode where you’re given specific tasks to clear over the course of a level. These features are fine, but the rewards are a little too anaemic. Some of the video and art unlockables were nice, but in comparison to some of the retro compilations (such as the incredible Atari package), Origins comes across as minimum effort.
I know Sonic has his enduring fans, but I really wonder whether the Sonic games “age” as gracefully as, say, the Mario titles. After all, they rely almost entirely on the sensation of speed, and yet they just don’t feel “fast” to play these days. So you do need to wonder – is it purely nostalgia that fuels a package like Sonic Origins… and if so, are fans really going to accept such a poor effort to preserve these games?
I might not be much of a Sonic fan, but I know that if Square Enix had done the equivalent of this to that Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster collection, I would have blown my top. I did give the lazy effort to bring the mobile ports of Dragon Quest 1 – 3 to Switch a piece of my mind, and I don’t see that SEGA’s done any better with the Game Gear games here. The good news is that if you’ve already got Sonic Origins, then you’ve got all the bits of Sonic Origins Plus worth playing.