Fans of classic games have had a couple of things to look forward to this month with the releases of Sonic Origins and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. I’ve been playing both and felt it worthwhile to look at the different approaches the developers took in reviving the respective franchises.
These are projects with completely distinct angles. Sonic Origins is a bundle of the first four Sonic games spruced up in a number of ways. TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is a brand new game that shares DNA with the Turtles beat ‘em ups from the early ‘90s.
Sonic Origins is the one that’s out this week, so let’s start there. It’s an okay collection, overall. Sonic The Hedgehog and Sonic The Hedgehog 2 are unquestionably among the best games of all time. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is great too and, though I haven’t had the chance to beat it yet, I’m enjoying Sonic CD on my first time with that. When you look at how Sega has packaged these games, though, problems quickly become apparent.
It’s odd that Sega has chosen to only include these four games and no retro titles from Sonic’s long and storied history. It stinks that Sega delisted other versions of the games from digital storefronts recently as well. Sega could have included more titles to justify a $40 price tag for 30-year-old games that were often available for a few bucks each until a few weeks ago.
The museum mode has some nice nods to the history of Sonic but ultimately doesn’t amount to much. You’ll unlock certain items with coins that you collect in the Anniversary mode, but I found it more helpful to use those for replaying bonus stages. Menu navigation is a bit messy and the lack of save state and rewind functions we’ve become accustomed to with recent re-releases of classics is a little jarring.
There is a lot to like, though. The games look as good as ever (don’t come at me, CRT TV purists). I can’t say I noticed much latency on PS5 either. Having the option to play through Sonic 1 and 2 as a Knuckles and Tails duo from the jump is fun, as are a boss rush mode and animated intros for each game.
There are a couple of new features I really like that are worth highlighting. There is a mission mode that challenges you to complete objectives with certain modifiers. It might ask you to reach a goal as Super Sonic or to kill a certain number of enemies in an oil slick as quickly as possible. Boss fights have modified arenas too.
These replayable missions are very enjoyable. They alone might be enough to entice Sonic diehards to spend $40, but harder missions are only available to those who buy the $45 Digital Deluxe edition or shell out for DLC. That’s a hard pill to swallow when Sonic Origins is relatively lacking in fresh content already. In general though, the missions offer welcome spins on decades-old games.
What’s really exciting to me here is the widescreen Anniversary mode. That, more than anything, modernizes these games. It feels so much nicer to play Sonic 2 in 16:9 ratio on a 4K TV rather than having bars at the sides.
After playing NES and SNES titles on Switch Online and a few PS1 games on PlayStation Plus Premium, Sonic Origins felt a little refreshing in terms of how Sega fundamentally gussied up its classics. I don’t know what kind of work it would take to render games intended for 4:3 ratios in 16:9, but I’d like to see that in more ports and remasters (it seems like a tough ask for straight-up emulation, though). That single improvement made these versions of the Sonic games the ones I’d want to return to.
Sega has paid deference to some all-timers here, but not quite enough to the point where I can heartily recommend Sonic Origins to anyone at the current price.
On the other hand, Tribute Games and Dotemu have done a remarkable job of revitalizing the spirit of Konami’s old Turtles games for current audiences.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge does a marvelous job of encapsulating what made games like Turtles in Time so great. The team must have found the essence of those brawlers bottled up in a storeroom somewhere and poured it straight into the code.
Tribute hasn’t messed too much with the core formula. You can play as the four turtles, April O’Neil, Master Splinter or Casey Jones. You’ll battle your way through a string of stages, each of which has a boss at the end. However, the studio has elevated the format in a way that really works for the modern era.
It brings the pixel art of the older games bang up to date in gorgeous fashion. The animations are beautifully rendered and the music is right on the money. There’s co-op, of course, but this time up to six people can crunch through hundreds of Foot Soldiers together. I had no issues with online multiplayer, with latency or otherwise.
Tribute has beefed up the controls as well. You can button mash your way through the enemies if you like, or you can take advantage of dodges and special moves. I was very happy to see that the old move of throwing a Foot Soldier toward the camera is present. That never gets old. There are also a bunch of secrets to discover, challenges to encourage replayability and ways to level up each character.
In short, Tribute has done a fantastic job of bringing a classic gaming franchise into 2022 with appropriate reverence for Konami’s Turtles games and just about all the bells and whistles anyone could want from a side-scrolling brawler in this day and age. If Shredder’s Revenge has the same DNA as the older titles, it is absolutely a successful evolution of the franchise. It is the Charizard to Turtles in Time’s Charmander. With Sonic Origins, Sega put a party hat on Pikachu.
Sonic Origins and TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge are very different titles with different aims, but it’s still a little strange to see two titans of early ‘90s gaming bubbling back up within a week of each other. I hope other studios that are working on revivals, remakes, remasters or new games based on legitimate classics take note of the lessons to be learned from each, for better and worse.