Hurrah for Sonic Origins! The upcoming compilation looks to be a fairly definitive take on the classic Mega Drive and Mega CD Sonic games, with widescreen presentation and various quality of life features.
It’s hardly the first time that Sonic has been collected, though, is it? In fact, he’s no stranger to the world of the compilation whatsoever. We’re taking a look back through the history of Sonic compilation packages, in order to see which ones got it right, which went wrong, and what Sonic Origins could possibly learn from them.
So charge up that spin dash and let’s rocket into the history of Sonic as presented in compiled gaming library form.
Sonic Compilation (1995, Mega Drive)
This first one is a very bog-standard, what you see is what you get style Mega Drive cartridge that contains the games Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. This is not the largest compilation, but it would be difficult to argue that any of its included games are bad. Nowadays, the best thing about this cartridge is that it offers a cheaper way to get Mean Bean Machine, which tends to be quite an expensive game.
Known as Sonic Classics in North America, it's nothing special, then, but a cheap and cheerful collection of some excellent games presented on original hardware.
Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997, PC)
Formerly a bizarre little relic, the Sonic & Knuckles Collection took on something of a new aura recently. Some of the music in the game is different to the more well-known Mega Drive compositions, and it was always assumed that the changed tracks (Carnival Night Zone, Ice Cap Zone and Launch Base Zone) were cheerful replacements for songs Michael Jackson contributed to.
However, this was revealed to be untrue when a prototype version of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 from November 1993 turned up, and the supposed “replacement” songs turned out to be the originals that were later replaced by those authored (to some extent) by Jackson, Brad Buxer, and company. A seismic event, you’ll agree.
Legalities around Sonic 3's original (released) soundtrack continue to cause headaches for SEGA, with some of the "original sounds" from Sonic 3 apparently needing to be reworked for Origins. This compilation, otherwise, is a fine collection of Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, skilfully adapting the Mega Drive classic.
Sonic Jam (1997, Saturn)
Boy oh boy, where to begin with Sonic Jam. It’s got Sonic 1, 2, 3 and Knuckles, complete with the lock-on feature. There are also three modes for each game; Easy, Normal and Original; Easy is a ridiculous cut-up of the games that removes an act from every zone, but Normal is basically the 'final cut' of each Sonic game; fixing mistakes, changing things around in an almost unnoticeable way. Platforms have been added in some areas to make the game slightly less tough, but the challenge is largely retained. Original Mode is exactly as it reads; the original Mega Drive versions of the games, replete with errors and bugs.
We’d also be remiss not to mention the packed-in “Sonic World”, which puts the blue blur in a 3D world where you can tackle missions such as “collect 30 rings”, or visit one of several buildings to enjoy viewing multimedia, such as archive Sonic commercials, and a memorable pitch reel for an unproduced Sonic cartoon series.
Very good stuff, and essentially the high bar for Origins to clear.
Now, this is obviously all great; a complete set of classic Mega Drive Sonic games, all on your little Gamecube. Sadly, though, the package has one major flaw; a bunch of the games are locked on first play, including the Lock-On Sonic titles, placing Sonic 3 & Knuckles – the best Sonic game ever made – effectively in a hostage situation. Unlocking the games is mind-numbingly tedious – you need to play the other games in the package 20 or 30 times each in order to unlock them, so in the end you’ll just be booting the games, exiting them, and booting them again repeatedly until you’ve got them all unlocked.
The content is great, though! All the Mega Drive games, plus a clutch of extras. It’s a very good compilation hamstrung by an awkward, irritating, piecemeal unlock system. Acquire a clear game save from someone else with everything unlocked and you’re laughing.
Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004, Xbox, PS2, PC)
Sonic Mega Collection Plus, which never came to a Nintendo console, is extremely similar to Mega Collection, with the addition of exactly half of the Game Gear Sonic games, plus the ability to unlock the brilliant Comix Zone and the interesting The Ooze. You’re also now able to save your position mid-level and the gallery feature has been updated with art relating to games released in the interim between Mega Collection and Plus.
It’s an extremely good buy, but the ridiculous unlocking conditions return. See if you can pay a mate to do them.
“Gems” is right, because the three games on offer here are just that indeed. The fantastic Sonic CD joins the then-desirable Sonic the Fighters, and finally the Saturn/PC classic Sonic R rounds off the main package very well. Sonic CD is (deservedly) the main even, but Fighters and R are extremely enjoyable and somewhat underrated in the series.
As for Sonic Gems Collection’s bonus content, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. A brace of Game Gear games head things up, the rest of the pack that didn’t appear in Mega Collection Plus. You’re also able to unlock the Vectorman duology with extended playtime. Japan was lucky enough to get all three Bare Knuckle games – better known as Streets of Rage over here. These games and Bonanza Bros were removed from the Western release, lest it get a higher age rating from the ESRB. Totally absurd of course, but even without them this is a good, comprehensive compilation.
The Game Gear titles here are honestly only fleetingly enjoyable, but we adore this set of obscurities nonetheless. There’s an enormous image-and-video-packed gallery to explore, here, with obtuse unlock requirements for each image – some of them require you to select images on a certain page so they form a diamond shape. Bizarre!
Hmmm. This is a bijou little collection for the DS that includes Sonic 1 through 3 and Knuckles, and a little gallery as the only extra. The most notable thing about it is that the games simply don’t run well on original DS hardware at all – they’re choppy, the music is fuzzy and clips occasionally, and it all looks a bit, well, squashed.
Play it on a DSi or 3DS and it runs a little better, though the screen remains squished on those handhelds. Sonic Classic Collection has the right games, but unless you really have no other option, this isn't the way to play them.
Finally, looking to the future (and disregarding compilations like Sega Mega Drive Classics which feature Sonic games in amongst other 16-bit winners), we’ve got Sonic Origins coming up on 23rd June – and, to be perfectly honest, it’s looking pretty good.
The five 'core' games (Sonic 1, 2, 3, Knuckles and CD) are all present and correct, and all have been improved in the manner of the phone versions to present a widescreen experience, with such additions as drop dash for all games, an extra Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic 2, and the ability to play as any character in any game, it appears. There’s also a new Mission Mode that looks incredibly compulsive, and a currency system is in place to allow players to virtually buy all sorts of grubby old Sonic tat.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to go and pick up some grubby old Sonic tat we just bought for the office.
Which of these Sonic collections do you own? Which do you think is best? Let us know in the usual place.