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Sonic Origins Plus (PC)

Sonic Origins Plus (PC) - Review

by Daniel Parker , posted on 24 July 2023 / 5,108 Views
One of my oldest memories is of a trip to Circuit City to get a SEGA Genesis. Along with the console, we picked up Tommy Lasorda Baseball, Quack-Shot: Starring Donald Duck, and a pack-in game called Sonic the Hedgehog. Still enjoying the Genesis today, I'll sometimes go back to those three titles, as well as the many others I've collected over the years, including the entirety of the Sonic series released on the platform. The original Sonic 16-bit titles are some of the best games to be released on the Genesis. 
Each one also had a significant place in my collection for one reason or another. Sonic the Hedgehog was the first platformer that I have significant memories playing. I never had the CD add-on, so Sonic CD was my first boxed, non-educational PC game. Sonic & Knuckles was the second Sonic title I owned, as it came packed with my new Genesis console in 1994. Borrowing Sonic 2 from my cousin, I exclusively played as Knuckles... and he never saw his copy of Sonic 2 again, now that I think about it. For various reasons, it took a while to track down Sonic 3. Although I'd rented it from Blockbuster when it was new, I wouldn't actually have my own copy of the game until 2002.
Needless to say, I enjoyed each one, but when the Sonic Origins collection was announced I wasn't impressed because it didn't seem to add all that much; I didn't even purchase it until recently, and to be totally honest not even the "Plus" DLC has converted me.
Until Origins, the best of the Sonic re-releases were found in the SEGA Genesis Classics Collection, as there was nothing that stuck out as being seriously wrong with the emulation. It sounded great, played great, and even included some titles I didn't already have on the Genesis originally. But now that we have Origins, SEGA is doing what many companies have done: delisting older versions of games from most online storefronts. So for people who haven't already purchased the older Sonic games, they're not really obtainable outside of Sonic Origins anymore.
With the new Plus DLC, we finally see Knuckles as a playable character in Sonic CD, as well as Amy in each of the revamped games. The upgrade also adds a dozen Game Gear titles that very few people wanted and even fewer will care about after playing. Not only do many of them have sound emulation issues, but there are superior Master System versions of them as well (it makes no sense to therefore include screen-crunched Game Gear versions). There's also a weird trend that no Genesis emulation is included in this collection. So there's no Sonic 3D Blast, while other games, such as Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and Sonic Spinball, are only available as Game Gear titles.
What's even weirder is that there are Classic modes available for most of the titles in this package, but they fail to make the games feel like their original versions. In each of them, I've noticed various small changes, like added sound effects (which tend to be annoying), or the removal of voice lines and the idle death from Sonic CD (Sonic would originally jump off the stage after impatiently waiting for the player to press a button), although if you've not played the originals before then you're unlikely to pick up on these. There are also invisible ceilings where there weren't any before, which I'm tempted to say are bugs. All Classic mode really does is restore the life counter and overlay 4x3 bars onto the screen.
The primary game mode in Sonic Origins, Anniversary mode, may also be a bit jarring for some players. Instead of having a set of dip switches, allowing people to play the games as they see fit, Anniversary forces the 16x9 aspect ratio and removes the lives counter, replacing it with coins. If you don't want to play with coins, your only option is the previously-mentioned Classic mode. It makes no sense that there's no way to play this collection in 16x9 without coins.
Certain changes are much more understandable and in some cases praise-worthy. Playing in widescreen and being able to see more of what's in front of you in these fast-moving platformers is great. And, if you take a hit, unlike in the older games, there's no slowdown. Robotnik appearing in Flying Battery when playing as Knuckles was an error in the original game, as that stage was intended to come after Angel Island and not Mushroom Hill as it does today. This has now been resolved. It's also fine for some of the Sonic 3 tracks - which originally included works from Brad Buxer and Michael Jackson - to not be included if that was what needed to be done to include Sonic 3 in the collection.
The issue is that, while some of these changes to the original games are welcome, others are poorly implemented. The tracks used in place of the Brad Buxer and Michael Jackson themes would be good - they existed before the two came on board after all - but the instrumentation used in this collection is entirely incorrect and out of place. It means the replacement tracks don't sound anything like they would have if they'd been used in the original games. I've actually modded the Brad Buxer and Michael Jackson tracks back into my copy of the game because otherwise it makes Sonic 3 almost unbearable for me. For reference, below is how it should sound versus what we have in the collection. 
Amy has been added to each of the main games retroactively. Which, on its own, is a plus (no pun intended). But her spindash sprite is too small, so it doesn't make visual contact with the floor. Her collision detection is also smaller than the other characters, so she doesn't go through some of the stage's obstacles as smoothly as the others, and even gets crushed under spikes where another character would stop next to them. As mentioned previously, lives have been replaced by coins for Anniversary mode, and while that doesn't bother me per se, the issue is that you're awarded too many coins without needing to spend them. An extra life should really cost 10 coins at least. Restarting a special stage, which is something that can also be done in Anniversary mode, should cost 10 coins as well. Instead, both of them cost a single coin, so you end up with an overabundance of coins that you will never, ever spend.
As with many collections, a Museum mode is included, which lets you spend your coins on various different artworks, animation clips, and music. The music can sadly only be heard in the museum mode itself, but some of the artwork is intriguing - seeing what Death Egg Zone was intended to look like in Sonic 2 was very interesting, for example.
Speaking of Sonic 2, it's perhaps had the most work done to it here. The aforementioned Death Egg Zone was scrapped from the game, with the exception of the final boss battle, as were a number of other zones, for various reasons. Sonic 2 is the only game in the Origins collection to feature a scrapped zone, in the form of Hidden Palace Zone, which was another stage resurrected for Sonic 3 & Knuckles. The reason behind Hidden Palace Zone's original deletion from Sonic 2 was that it was a water level with an infinitely looping elevator in the stage, which resulted in various bugs.  However, for those who are looking forward to playing the stage, keep in mind that for reasons unknown to me, it incorrectly uses Mystic Cave's 2-Player Versus Mode theme.
The updates don't end with the addition of a new level, though. The Half-Pipe special stage has also been remade in 3D, which is another great inclusion. You'd expect the Blue Spheres special stage to be remade in 3D as well, as it was another optical illusion on the original Genesis hardware, but that proves to be yet another missed opportunity for this collection. I was actually quite confused when I first played a Blue Spheres stage here; I was certain it would be in 3D and was looking forward to playing it. It is at least 60 FPS, just as the rest of the collection is, excluding the Game Gear emulations of course.
Like Sonic 2, Sonic CD was another title with a high-profile level removed. It had been dubbed "R2," as stages in that game were originally called "Rounds." It was intended to be an ancient ruins-themed stage, much like Marble Zone in Sonic 1, or Marble Garden Zone in Sonic 3. The level didn't meet the standards of the rest of the game and was ultimately cut, however it does still exist in the animated cut scenes used in the game's credits.
But again, there are other small issues with Origins that add up to a noticeable problem, at least for me. I don't like playing classic Sonic 1 with a drop dash. Or spin dash. I also don't understand why the insta-shield from Sonic 3 is never included as a retroactive option. Sonic 2 added the spin dash and Sonic 3 added the insta-shield, but the insta-shield is included as an afterthought (if at all), just as was the case in Sonic Mania. Why not add everything to all the games? Why not add super peel-out? It's in Sonic CD. I get that the spindash is more effective, but the super peel-out still looks cool.
Another significant addition is the new animated scenes that provide transitioning between the games, and there are new in-game sprite animations for story purposes too. However, as these games have been rebuilt from the ground up on the Retro Engine (the same engine that powers Sonic Mania), these aren't the same 16-bit games from the Genesis era.  I would have loved to have seen a tile editor or a level maker included, to really shake up this collection, as there have been so many Sonic collections over the years and Origins feels as though it's lacking something.
Ultimately, the changes detailed above are fairly minor, but if you're looking for the definitive way to play these classic games then Sonic Origins Plus only meets that threshold because the other options have now been delisted. It would have fared much better had it given players more options; being forced to do one thing or another based on rigid Classic or Anniversary modes is really far from ideal. I may continue to play Sonic Origins Plus, as I do like the widescreen option and the lack of slowdown, but on the whole it doesn't really feel worth the asking price of $40.

This review is based on a digital copy of Sonic Origins Plus for the PC

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Jaicee (on 24 July 2023)

You sure are nitpickier than me! I haven't even noticed like 80% of the changes you lamented. Then again, that's the kind of attention to detail it would take for you to mod it (actually know how to, I mean), so I am humbled!

Like I said though, I didn't even notice most of the stuff you're complaining about here, like the existence of invisible ceilings in the classic modes apparently, stuff like that. The biggest change that gets on my nerves is the most blatant and painfully predictable one: the lack of the original music tracks in Sonic 3's Carnival Night, Ice Cap, and Launch Base Zones. I tend to just hit the mute button for those stages because the replacement tracks are insufferably generic and lame. There's never going to be a substitute. Still, it's a burden worth bearing simply to actually HAVE Sonic 3 & Knuckles in widescreen format for the first time. Thus ultimately I forgive. sighs Whoever it is keeping these tracks from new editions of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, PLEASE just let it go! I can only beg.

Coins are also a very welcome modern amenity to me. I never go back to the classic mode for the lives system anymore. I haven't played the special stages enough to memorize them all yet and it's so much less of a pain in the ass to just spend a coin and retry the tougher ones when I inevitably screw up my first, second, and sometimes even third and fourth attempts. That said, on my wish list for this game would've been the option to save progress at any point really. Still, there's a reasonable abundance of save places in the anniversary mode, so not a major gripe.

(I think you also neglected to mention the fact that the classic modes also reduce your character selection options back to what they originally were on the Genesis for a more strictly traditional feel.)

I also really like other anniversary mode frills like being able to use Super transformations in the original Sonic the Hedgehog and play as Amy in all the Genesis-era classics. Speaking of, you remarked about Sonic's insta-shield not being retroactively added to Sonic 1 and 2 and Sonic CD here. know, the addition of Amy in the Plus version of the game certainly makes up that deficit, does it not, since she has her own vastly superior version of the insta-shield that can actually last for the entire duration of a jump? In point of fact, that actually makes her almost objectively a superior option to Sonic in every entry now, I think, save for Sonic 3 & Knuckles. In fact it makes certain boss battles in particular feel like a breeze in comparison to the traditional experience since your attacks can now reach distinctly higher. I'm also very much a fan of all Hyper transformations excluding the ongoing lame straightforwardness of that for Knuckles.

The Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic 2 though has really been the most fun bonus for me. I'm not good with modding stuff, so I'd never gotten to play it before and loved it! Definitely the weirdest zone in Sonic 2, but there's something especially charming about it's color scheme, layout, and even that bizarre, frustrating Robotnik battle at the end where he [SPOILER!] plays a trumpet for some reason, lol! I dunno, it makes me smile. [/SPOILER] I'm glad they made it work and made it a HIDDEN zone, as the name implies, not an obligatory one you can't miss like in Sonic & Knuckles. And yes, I like the background music. It's my favorite music track from Sonic 2 and I don't have to be in two-player or sound test mode to hear it now!

And yes, the vastly improved visibility in Sonic 2's special stages (to say nothing of massively improved animation quality) are another highly welcome addition for me. Just to add that note.

Having all the Game Gear games in one place is a nice technical addition (every once in a blue moon it's possible I might think to play a little Triple Trouble if only owing to certain fond memories of surviving otherwise agonizingly long road trips with that particular title, hee!), but yeah, like you said, I'd much rather have had the superior Master System versions of those games. That would be a complaint I share.

  • +5
Burning Typhoon Jaicee (on 25 July 2023)

I don't create mods for this game. Though, I may have to, because the loop points with the ones I downloaded are incorrect. I couldn't list everything wrong with the game, or the review would be 100 paragraphs of complaints. One thing I forgot to mention: You can activate Super forms in the bonus stages of sonic 3... Like... what?.. It was the first thing I tested when I realized the activation was on the Triangle (2) button.

The songs they used in place of the Brad Buxer/Michael Jackson tracks were there before, as I stated. So, I think it's fine. But, as I'd shown with the youtube videos, the instrumentation is entirely wrong for Sonic 3.

I don't really die too often in Sonic games, so the coins don't really bother me too much either. I have no problem at all getting all the emeralds in Sonic 2, 3, and Knuckles... Sonic 1 and CD on the other hand...

I did notice that classic modes restricted the characters, as the first character I used was Amy in Sonic 3. But, then I also noticed Sonic can spindash in Sonic 1.

Amy's hammer attack isn't superior to the insta-shield. They're functionally different, and that was the first thing I tested when I picked her. She's not invincible, so she can still be hit. Sonic's insta-shield extends his hitbox as well as makes him immune to all damage. You can only die to crushing while using the insta-shield.

Amy has her same move set for the entirety of all the games, so she's technically better in all the games, except Sonic 3, because there, Sonic has the insta-shield.

  • +1
Jaicee Burning Typhoon (on 26 July 2023)

Whoa, you mean I could've been playing the gumball machine as Super Tails this whole time, lol?! That's way, way past cool!! :D Whelp, there's the next half-hour of my evening after I get done here!

Anyway, I'm glad you're contented with the replacement tracks for those zones simply because they're 'authentic to the game' in some way because I'm not. I mean those tracks got replaced for a reason, you know? ;) They're not catchy or fun at all, and I'm especially inclined to fault the absence of Michael Jackson's version of the Ice Cap Zone themes. I mean when I think of Sonic 3, the first image that enters my mind is Sonic shredding the slopes on his snowboard! That scene is my first mental association with the game. It's downright iconic. To have this tone deaf diddy in there in place of the classic rhythm is just an insult to my adolescence. I mean I get that I guess it can't be helped...but still. It detracts from my enjoyment of the game, so I reserve the right to complain.

So anyhow, yeah brag, brag, brag about your superior gaming skills, I see how it is with you, man! ;) I hear you though on the Sonic 1 and Sonic CD special stages in particular. Oddly enough, the Sonic CD special stages are actually my favorites of the bunch owing to the fact that they're the only ones that allow you move Sonic in any direction...and I'm also just personally biased in favor of the whole otherworldly atmosphere thereof. They remind me of F-Zero. But yeah, collision detection feels ridiculously exacting to an almost unfair degree. The coin system makes my frequent failures at those a lot more bearable though. But yeah coins do seem to be rather easy to amass, but I mean I'm not gonna complain about that know, like I said before, I'd have really just preferred the option to save your progress at any point anyway, which would take the principle to the next level.

But as to this notion that, as you say, "Amy's hammer attack isn't superior to the insta-shield. They're functionally different" because she's not actually invincible in that state like Sonic is, that's another of your interesting observations that I hadn't noticed! I mean I never even try to use Sonic's insta-shield as a shield. You know why? Because, as its title suggests, it only lasts an instant! I use it to extend my attack range, which is the same purpose I reflexively use Amy's hammer spin for, only the hammer spin can last a lot longer and seems to have a wider range. The factors that make Sonic the superior choice for me in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, in contrast to Sonic 1, 2, and Sonic CD, are that 1) he also gets to use the flame dash with the fire shield, the bubble bounce with the water shield, and the spark jump with the lightning shield, unlike all the other characters, and 2) Hyper Sonic can double jump, which just outweighs any benefit that could be derived from Hyper Amy's ability to throw limitless hammers everywhere. (Although I have discovered some very practical uses for the hammer throw ability actually. Like near the end of the Death Egg Zone's second act, when you're fighting the first boss -- that flying bot that drops the spiked robots -- I've found that you can actually toss hammers into its open mouth and they seem to function as hits. That surprised me!) But like you say, between Sonic and Amy, the latter seems the more practical choice in the rest of the games.

Okay, I think I've said my peace. Gotta juice!

  • 0
Burning Typhoon Jaicee (on 28 July 2023)

Well, speaking on the Ice Cap Zone's theme, Michael Jackson had no input at all for that track. It was entirely Brad Buxer. He stated Michael had done one theme for the game. The end-credits. Meanwhile, he had done the rest.

As well as, Ice Cap Zone's theme is literally just a chiptune version of his at-the-time, unreleased song, "Hard Times," by his band, "The Jetzons." That's why I never referred to the tracks as simply, "the themes michael jackson created." Because it's untrue.

As far as the special stages go, I'm not trying to brag. I've just spent the least amount of time with Sonic 1 and CD. I must have broken my original PC version all the way back around 2000, or 2001. I didn't really play Sonic 1 all too much after I got Sonic & Knuckles, and I didn't use the lock-on for the game because it was just blue spheres.

I like playing as Knuckles because the ring requirement in the special zones are higher when you have Sonic and Tails, versus a singular Knuckles. Tails having the delayed jump often meant I'd lose rings.

Actually, If you jump on the last frame, you can explode a bomb without taking damage. I doubt this would actually work in the remake and I forgot to test it. But, even less likely, considering it's 60FPS, so it would be twice as hard to do, even if it was possible.

I can see why the trick with the boss would work. But, I would still much rather stick to Sonic or Knuckles throughout any of the classic games. Sure, Knuckles can't jump as high, or run as fast as Sonic, but being able to glide, climb walls, and explore new paths is good enough for me.

  • 0
Jaicee Burning Typhoon (on 28 July 2023)

Oh yeah, I meant that Sonic is preferable to Amy in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, not necessarily preferable to Knuckles! Though making the case that picking Sonic for that game is still the best option wouldn't be impossible, I don't think. Beyond move sets (wherein Knuckles obviously has the advantage, you're right!), Sonic gets two extra zones (both Death Egg Zone and the Doomsday Zone), plus an extended version of Sky Sanctuary Zone and a version of the Hidden Palace Zone that's more than just, you know, dashing through it. So essentially four zones that Knuckles just doesn't get. And also, in connection to that fact, if you play as Knuckles you don't really get the game's little story bits either since so many of them involved Knuckles as an NPC. There's really no storyline at all to the Knuckles version of the game. Okay, case made.

Anyway, interesting details about the Ice Cap Zone theme! I actually did not know all that about Brad Buxer's depth of involvement.

  • 0