Sonic the Hedgehog is in the middle of something of a renaissance. Sonic Mania was enough to restore anybody’s faith in video games starring super-fast mammals, and now of course we’ve got not one but two different Hollywood movie adaptations that are among the best video game moves ever made. So, it’s an ideal time for Sega to capitalize with some Sonic video game action.
The actual new game, Sonic Frontiers, is still a while off - so up steps Sonic Origins, a collection of the truly good Sonic games - which is to say, the 2D ones, the first four entries in the series. That’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles from the Mega Drive/Genesis, plus Sonic CD from the Sega CD. Yes, that’s five and I said four games - but the latter two Mega Drive games are really two halves of the same game, and in this collection are presented as one title, Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
All of these games have been re-released before on a shed load of platforms, but what makes this release particularly exciting is that these are ports. Which is to say, not just the original Mega Drive game files running inside an emulator. That sets it apart from most other versions of these games with a few exceptions - Sonic 1 & 2 got native ports once before, but only on mobile. Sonic CD is the only one to have received this treatment more widely before now.
So, when it was announced, I hopped right to the game’s Steam page to pre-order, and… wait, what’s this? That dreaded brown box of doom in the game information area; “Incorporates 3rd-party DRM: Denuvo Anti-tamper.”
I’m not naive. I realize that to some extent anti-piracy measures are a necessary evil in this industry for companies to get paid. But… is Sega really including a layer of this intrusive BS atop four games that have a combined age of well over 100? The youngest game in the collection is 28.
This honestly feels like some sort of bad joke. When Sonic Mania included Denuvo, I winced, but I understood: this was a new game, and needed to be protected more fiercely. Sega later dropped Denuvo from Mania, presumably because they didn’t want to keep paying the licensing fees. I’ll tell you something, though: those fees feel like a waste of money here, in a collection of games that are so readily available on the internet that slapping DRM on this collection feels like a bad joke.
I just punched “play Sonic the Hedgehog online” into google, clicked the second result, and found myself on a webpage which doesn’t even require you to download a ROM or Emulator; it runs the game in the browser! I tried the same with Sonic CD, the most advanced of this collection, and… same deal. Which makes me feel old, honestly, as I remember when Sega CD emulation was a huge deal and felt impossible.
I understand that these new versions of these Sonic classics are just that; new ports, crafted to allow players to experience both the games as they were and in a new ‘anniversary mode’ complete with widescreen presentation. But I also think there’s a sliding scale of when and where these annoying DRM applications are acceptable, and it feels totally ridiculous to attach them to games this old and this readily available online.
Even when you factor in the new features, fans have been working on and releasing free ports of these games that achieve the same goals since the dawn of the internet, with the result being fan projects like Sonic the Hedgehog Forever and Sonic 3 A.I.R. - native PC ports. All these are readily available thanks to the modding and fan game community Sega has only just stopped slightly shy of fully endorsing over the years - and it'd be a bad look to pull them down. I think these fan creations and the official remasters can coexist, but their doing so makes the heavy-handed DRM all the more strange.
I don’t get it. Between this and the fiasco of pre-order options and a version load-out that literally needs a spreadsheet to be explained, it proves one thing: when it comes to Sonic, Sega is still gonna Sega. It might even be that he’s having a renaissance practically in spite of the people making decisions, not because of them.