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Sonic Origins Review: Classic Game Collection Put Me in a Better Mood

It's too expensive, but these four 2D Sonic games have never looked better, and this collection includes some excellent bells and whistles that'll delight longtime fans.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
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Sean Keane
5 min read
Sonic the Hedgehog runs directly at the camera, his legs and the background a blur, in the Sonic Origins intro animation

Sonic Origins has several beautifully animated new cutscenes for the collection's games.


After three decades of playing Sonic the Hedgehog games, I really should be immune to the speedy blue Sega hero's charms. Sonic Origins proved me wrong. Slightly irritable after a busy day, I loaded up this collection of classic '90s platforming games on my PS5 and all the tension melted away as soon as I heard that iconic title music.

Sonic Origins, which hit PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on Thursday, includes the original Sonic, Sonic CD, Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. It also costs $40, which is a bit pricey for four retro games that have been released countless times over the years. 

However, it's beautifully presented, with plenty of twists and modern additions to spice up these old games and offer new ways to experience them. I spent most of my time playing in the Anniversary Mode, which gives you slightly enhanced visuals, full screen display and infinite lives, because it's new for this collection and I have no patience for game-over screens any more. I saw enough of those as a kid, thanks.

For the purists, Classic Mode lets you play with retro visuals, a 4:3 aspect ratio (with bars on the sides of the screen) and limited lives. I'm glad it's possible to recreate the old style of play, but it hardly feels like the ideal way to experience these games in 2022.

Diving into the original Sonic the Hedgehog, which first came out Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive, as most regions outside the US knew it) in 1991, was as fun as it has been the last 31 years. There's a satisfying sense of speed as you zip through the more open levels, while the more labyrinthine ones are fun to explore.

Tails in Sonic 1 in Sonic Origins

Playing as Tails in the original Sonic is one of the fun elements of Sonic Origins.


It's also harder than I remember -- the chase sequence Labyrinth Zone Act 3 took me far too many attempts to get through (infinite lives, phew). Hearing Starlight Zone's absolute belter of a theme made it all worthwhile though.

The first game feels relatively simple compared with its more sophisticated sequels but remains an essential piece of gaming canon everyone should play at least once. This is also the console version where you can play as Tails and Knuckles (who were added in a 2013 remaster on iOS and Android), which lets you explore the levels in whole new ways with their flying, gliding and climbing abilities.

Sonic CD is likely the game that the fewest people have played since you needed the expensive Sega CD Genesis add-on to do so back in 1993. I'd never completed it before because the level design always felt like a step down from the Genesis games and I struggled to wrap my head around the time travel mechanic. (I just wanted to go fast!)

Sonic CD in Sonic Origins

Sonic CD is the quirkiest game in the collection.


It has incredible music and animation though -- the super cool anime-style cut scenes are included in all their glory. Good luck getting the theme song, Sonic Boom, out of your head too. Having finally completed it in this collection, it's certainly a game I've come to appreciate and look forward to exploring more, especially completing it lets you play through again as Tails. (Knuckles isn't playable in Sonic CD, unfortunately.)

Sonic 2 is my sentimental favorite, having spent countless hours on it since it came to Genesis in 1992. This game is the perfect sequel, adding layers of sophistication through more colorful levels -- Chemical Plant and Casino Night Zones are a particular favorites -- whose more open design lets Sonic, Tails or Knuckles rip through. I encountered one glitch where Tails (as the computer-controlled secondary character) got caught on some scenery and kept trying to jump out, resulting an irritating bouncing sound until I finished the level. Not game-breaking, but still annoying.

Sonic 2 plane (with Tails) against a blue sky with birds following

Sonic and Tails take to the sky in Sonic 2, an image you might have seen in the 2022 movie sequel.


The final boss (a design the second movie mirrored closely earlier this year) is much easier than I realized as a kid, but it still took me a whole bunch of attempts and several increasingly irate rants to my partner about invincibility frames before I beat him. I loved every second of replaying this incredible game.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles -- presented for the first time in widescreen in this collection -- is kinda two games in one, since it fuses Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. They were originally intended to be one game, but Sega opted to release them separately in 1994 due to time constraints and cartridge size limitations (and presumably the opportunity to make a boatload more money).

Robotnik's flying machine explodes after being defeated in Sonic 3 and Knuckles

Sonic 3 and Knuckles has the collection's most satisfying boss fights.


This game oozes confidence from the opening moments to the epic finale; stunning character animations -- seeing Sonic snowboard at the start of Ice Cap Zone is still awesome -- more levels than any of the others, compelling transitions between stages, loads of memorable bosses and moments of intense speed. Some of the music has been altered for this release due to the late Michael Jackson's oft-reported involvement with the original soundtrack, but it didn't take too much away from the experience for me.

I'm not as nostalgic about this game as I am the second one, but playing one after another highlights Sonic 3 & Knuckles' superiority. Choosing Knuckles offers a significantly different experience to doing so as Sonic or Tails too, encouraging multiple play-throughs.

There's plenty of additional replay value in this collection too. Once you complete each game, you can access a mirror mode that lets you go through each level from right to left (which feels a bit wrong initially), a boss rush mode that lets you challenge all the big baddies in succession, and smaller missions that task you with beating a certain number of enemies or getting through a challenging obstacle course. 

I encountered a few glitches in the missions, including one that caused Knuckles to vanish if I jumped to a certain area of the level -- this caused the game to crash, forcing me to restart.

Sonic Origins missions

The missions offer new challenges to Sonic veterans.


You can also play through all four games in a seamless story mode, linked by beautiful animated cut scenes created for Sonic Origins. Across every mode, you collect coins that let you unlock music and art in the in-game museum -- this element of the game feels a bit light, given Sonic's 31-year-old history -- or retry each game's special stages if you're trying to collect all the Chaos Emeralds (which you need to get the true endings).

A set of hard missions, extra music tracks and some aesthetic menu options are exclusive to a $45 digital deluxe edition, but only the missions matter from a gameplay perspective and I found the deluxe additions made the menus a little too busy.

Knuckles battles Robotnik with a pipe organ in the background in Sonic Origins

This collection's version of Sonic 2 includes the Hidden Palace Zone, which wasn't available in the original version.


Regardless of which edition you want, $40 is still a lot to ask for decades-old games -- Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack subscribers can play a no-frills version of Sonic 2 at no extra cost right now. You could also play Sonic Mania, which paid glorious homage to all four of these games in 2017.

Despite the high price, the Genesis Sonic games are some of the best platformers ever made, and Sonic Origins presents them in the most visually stunning compilation yet. If you're looking to revisit classic 2D Sonic games or want to introduce them to a new generation of players who've discovered Sonic through the recent movies, this collection is the slickest, most accessible way to experience them. And it still puts me in a better mood whenever I load it up.