As game development tasks go on, arguably one of the easiest tasks a major publisher can take on is remastering and republishing classic 2D games from the 16-bit era.However, somehow, with sonic origin, Sega wobbles… well, it’s not a miss. But it shouldn’t be a home run either.
In golf, I usually prefer to miss the ball completely, lose a stroke, and move on from where I am, rather than glancing and sending it into the woods and bushes. But Sonic Origins is the latter. Sega wobbles and is tied to a glorious anniversary celebration on paper…but the footage goes in an ugly, obnoxious direction. It’s not luck either – it’s execution.
Should I be surprised? I have no idea. Kind of weird. Sega’s attempt at Sonic over the past decade or so has oscillated between brilliant and terrifying, almost as predictable as a pendulum — but it’s just a re-release. It’s repackaging a bunch of old games. Also, these are old games — you could probably emulate them on the car’s infotainment screen if you wanted to (in fact, there’s a rather inconclusive version of the Sonic 1 available on the Tesla car’s screen). The point is: this should be a simple enough task.
Sega has its advantages, too: fans turned pros who dedicate a disproportionate amount of their lives to reverse engineering and understanding what makes their favorite games so good. These are some of the same names that finally delivered Sonic Mania, arguably the best game in the series – and some of those same faces were drafted to make Sonic 3 & Knuckles work for the series.
The versions of Sonic 1, 2 and CD in Origins are also based on mobile versions developed by some of them – when the packs are released, which means older Sonic fans like me are salivating over these versions – they come from really knowing people doing what they are doing.
Somewhere along the line, though, something went wrong. I’ve done some testing of the game on PC and Xbox, and while the console version feels more homely, it doesn’t make my heart burn with nostalgia either.
It’s also not about the music removed from Sonic 3 or similar crap — it’s just about the game running the way you expect it to and having the features you want. Some of this just feels like silly oversights; keyboard controls that don’t bounce, or level areas where physics isn’t as good as expected, leading to weird quirks in the level design. For some reason, Sega decided not to remaster Sonic & Knuckles’ music, which meant it sounded muddier and worse than the two Mega Drive predecessors in the same series. In fact, the sound mastering was terrible – the game was too quiet, but the animated cutscenes on the Sonic CD were too loud, etc.
Some choices are weird. The anniversary edition of the game changes the life system, and while the traditional setup is in-game and recreated in its engine, you can only play it in 4:3 – no widescreen. Again, there’s no way to play Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles alone, which is a tiny obliteration of history. I don’t understand why, especially since Sega owns and replaces the copyrighted music – it just feels mean and makes the collection feel incomplete.
Other things felt more shocking, though. The blurry rendering of pixel art looks somewhat worse than the 2013 mobile version these builds are based on, and certainly worse than Sonic Mania’s multiple graphics options. There’s also a list of bugs where you sometimes feel like the systems of these classic games, especially Sonic 3 & Knuckles, disintegrate as you play.
On PC, the most surprising thing is how the game is rendered and how it performs. These mid-90s game remakes are immediately CPU and GPU intensive, even on the opening splash screen. The reason seems to be Denuvo anti-piracy bs (a ridiculous conceit for a game with a total age of over 100 years available on every rom site under the sun) and menus running in Sega’s Hedgehog engine, same tech Powering modern 3D Sonic games.
It can be confirmed that Sonic Origins initially used over 90% of the CPU power. It then switched to GPU processing, reaching nearly 50% utilization almost immediately.
This is just to show you the static screen of the game auto-save. pic.twitter.com/4UwjGb2NCv
— MotorRoach (@MotorRoach) June 23, 2022
The menus are pretty posh and nice, but since they continue to run in the background even when you’re playing a 2D game, meaning your GPU is often skinned by this game, it should be simple enough for even an ancient PC. These games work fine on the devices I’ve tested – but in any case, this kind of game shouldn’t hammer the PC this way.
This odd PC performance oversight seems to encapsulate the Sonic Origins experience outside the game: beautiful on paper, but half-baked in execution. The quest mode feels fairly bland, and the unlockable bonus art etc. are nice, but fairly standard for this type of collection.
However, the in-game experience is what matters. And, for all the complaints, these are still playable versions of four absolute classics, including the best “modern” ones, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. But mistakes, oversights and some performance issues mean it’s a compromised experience.Even the things I understand, like the need to change the music, are not up to the standard I would have liked – there are better Mega Drive sound chip mixes
A lot of people will inevitably say that these are the little things. Games do work, and they’re as good as ever. Small mistakes and compromises aren’t that big of a difference, are they? but not. I think they do. Little things add up. In this case, they add up to disappointment and want a damn refund. This should be the final version of these games. It is not. Sometimes you can understand why this happens. Sometimes difficult situations are obvious. All I see here are hurriedly cashed packages, which is simply not good enough. Sega should be ashamed of turning in this.
Worse for Sega, there are better options out there. A Steam guide titled “How to Improve Sonic 3 in Origins” consists of four steps: go to the website for the fan-made Sonic 3 AIR, install it, and launch it instead of Sonic Origins. The problem arises when fans point to free, fan-made, years-old projects instead of your official anniversary. It all gets worse because there are so many glitters in this pack – the much-needed S3K retro engine port, the beautifully animated cutscenes that connect the game… but it’s marred by all the problems and bugs.
Worst of all was the disappointment of all the biggest fans – the team members who worked on the game, the aforementioned fans turned pros, who reverse-engineered the originals to work on remaking them for Sega. On Twitter, Headcannon, one of the most famous on the development team, speak out.
“It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie and say that what we gave Sega was fine, but what was in Origins wasn’t what we turned in,” he said. “The integration introduced some common mistakes that conventional logic would have considered our responsibility – many of which weren’t.”
“We were outsiders and created a separate project and then got sucked into something completely different. We knew there would be a major time crunch going in, and we worked hard on it so it could even be produced and released. ”
You know things are grim when even the developers are outright saying they’re not happy with the finished product. It’s sad, really. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is for me the best 2D platformer ever. Yes, better than Mario 3. And the world. What about it? It keeps calling for the final version…but the origin is tainted. And, like that chopped golf ball, it needs some repairs. It’s hard to shoot from the rough. Poor Sonic – he lives in the rough. Like a hedgehog, I thought.
If you pause Sonic 1 at the correct time, you will see the text “SONIC HAS PASSED” after the stage but before the act number. Sonic Origins is another version of Sega that feels like he actually owns it, at least for a moment. Damn. At least the movie franchise is going from strength to strength.