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Sonic Origins Plus review: the best way to play the best Sonic games

The best way to play 2D Sonic, but it should be for free

Like many kids who grew up in the ‘90s, I was obsessed with Sonic games. Our Sega Genesis took pride of place in the lounge and hours upon hours were lost running through Sonic’s levels. Back in my day, we had lives and continues, and while each Sonic game is only around one hour long, you had to play through multiple times before you even saw the ending. Then you were met with Dr Robotnik glaring at you disapprovingly, and you were motivated to play them all over again to get the ‘good’ ending.

Sonic was hard. But not because the levels in themselves were particularly difficult, but because deaths were so punishing. Die too many times, and you were sent back to the start. It was a lot of trial and error but you would eventually break through. Once you know the levels, you can often get through while holding onto your precious lives, but this of course takes a lot of practice.

Knuckles Sonic CD - Sonic Origins Plus

Knuckles in Sonic CD's Quartz Quadrant Zone.

Because I learned how to finish all of the Sonic games as a kid, lives, continues and all, I can still do so now. But the truth is I don’t want to. I don’t want to play Sonic games with the constant fear of game over. I want to enjoy all the levels, and start out with the knowledge that I will see them all. That’s where Sonic Origins comes in with distinct improvements over the old formula, for both new and long-time fans.

Lives are gone, and now in their place are coins, which can be used to try Special Stages over again. And you’ll need them. Getting the Chaos Emeralds are the hardest parts of any Sonic game, but becoming Super or even Hyper Sonic are some of the best parts. These Special Stages are also about trial and error, but if you are diligent with collecting your coins you’ll eventually be able to conquer them.

What’s so special about Sonic Origins is that Sonic & Knuckles, arguably the best Sonic game of all time, is back. While there have been many Sega compilations over the years, Sonic & Knuckles is always missing, and this is due to three licensed music tracks that officially were not but definitely are written by Michael Jackson. These have been replaced, with in my opinion quite inferior tracks, but can you really compete with music by someone who is not but also definitely is one of music’s greatest-ever legends? The important thing is that we can play Sonic & Knuckles again, and as always, it is incredibly good.

Sonic Origins Plus Game Gear games

Sonic Origins Plus adds the entire library of Game Gear Sonic games.

So now we reach the Plus part of Sonic Origins Plus. Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic CD, Sonic 2, and Sonic & Knuckles were all available in Sonic Origins released last year, as were the playable characters Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. Plus is mostly a DLC pack which adds Amy Rose as a playable character, and 12 Game Gear games from the Sonic library.

Each character has their uses. Knuckles can glide and climb up walls, Tails can fly, and Sonic runs a bit faster and jumps a bit higher. This of course means Sonic is usually the worst character because Tails can negate the jumping by simply flying wherever they need to go. Sonic does have the benefit of the shield powers in Sonic & Knuckles, the only game where he really shines.

However, Amy Rose has now bopped Sonic from his worst character throne. Her special ability is the hammer, which creates a larger hitbox for her attacks. The negative to this is that she can’t use the shield abilities. If the hammer gave her invincibility when using it, it would be an awesome and worthwhile ability and give her great use. But it doesn’t. And so it’s just not very good. The addition of Knuckles to Sonic CD is however excellent.

Amy in Sonic 1 - Sonic Origins Plus

Amy Rose is now playable in Sonic Origins Plus.

The main issue is with the Game Gear games. The big boon of purchasing Plus is that you now get 12 Sonic Game Gear games to play. However, just like on the original hardware, these are rubbish. For those who don’t know their Sonic lore, the vast majority of the Sonic Game Gear titles are ports of the Genesis games’ inferior Master System versions. As the Game Gear had a tiny square screen, these were cropped, and as such even more difficult than the originals.

Many of the Game Gear games added to Plus are true to the originals. This means they are bad. They still have the lives system, which can be negated with save scumming, but really you shouldn’t have to. They also still have the horrific lag anytime more than four sprites are on screen, which is most of the time. It makes them very difficult to play, but more so gives you no incentive to. The addition might be nice if you have no other way of playing Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, a well-known excellent Puyo Puyo game, but there are likely better ways.

The Game Gear Sonic games are true to the originals, which means they are bad.

The Game Gear Sonic games are true to the originals, which means they are bad.

It’s a classic case of the laziest way of adding more content to a game. Sega had the ROMs for these Game Gear titles and just slapped them in there. No thought was given at all to how to make them more playable. I’m playing an 8-bit game on a PS5, not on a battery-devouring handheld played via glimpses of street lights in the back of dad’s car. It should be able to run at a consistent framerate.

My main gripe with Sonic Origins Plus is how the original Sonic Origins was sold. The original had so much behind paid DLC, such as the new animated cutscenes, and ways to interact with the overworld map that simply should have been included as standard. These are all here in Sonic Origins Plus, but they should have been included in the original. I know it is all in the name of making money, but this sort of thing opens the door for the increasingly shady microtransaction business that is plaguing games. Content is being removed from games and sold separately, and this should never be the case.

My issue when writing this review is that the way that the four classic Sonic games are reworked for the modern day is undoubtedly excellent. Sonic Origins is the best way to play these games, even when compared to the original hardware. Not only that, but these are some of the best games of all time, and it is impossible not to smile with glee every time you boot them up. But Plus shouldn’t be a paid upgrade. It should be free for anyone who bought the original Sonic Origins and were conned out of basic features that rightly belonged in the main game.

Sonic 2 Amy Rose Chemical Plant Zone - Sonic Origins Plus

Amy Rose in Sonic 2's Chemical Plant Zone.

If you never bought Sonic Origins, then Sonic Origins Plus is an essential addition to your gaming library, and proof that some games are timeless. You don’t have to have nostalgia for the originals to enjoy these four games, it is almost impossible not to enjoy yourself while running through the zones. My issue is that the additions don’t give much more than the Premium Sonic Origins, and that Premium content should have been included from the start.

Score: 8/10

  • Technical performance: 6/10
  • Visuals: 8/10
  • Audio and music: 7/10
  • Mechanics and systems: 8/10

Sonic Origins Plus: Technical Breakdown

In terms of the main four games that Sonic Origins Plus offers I only found two issues. In Sonic & Knuckles there was a hitbox issue with the transporters which meant getting inside was difficult, though not impossible. Also in Sonic 2, sometimes entering a Special Stage would remove all my rings (like the originals) and other times not. I believe the latter was meant to occur in all cases. This aside it played smoothly and fluidly, and is pretty much the experience I remember from the Genesis, but with less lag.

Sonic 2 Game Gear - Sonic Origins Plus

The Game Gear games are almost unplayable due to horrific lag.

The same cannot be said for the Game Gear games. They are almost unplayable in how much lag they produce. Sonic chugs along the levels and it feels almost impossible to react to obstacles with the input delay this produces. The sound in these games is also very poor, as the music appears to vibrate out of the TV.

Version tested: PS5