sonic the hedgehog is in the midst of something of a renaissance. Sonic Mania was enough to restore anyone’s confidence in video games featuring lightning-fast mammals, and now, of course, we have not one but two different Hollywood movie adaptations that are some of the best moves video games ever made. So now is the perfect time for Sega to capitalize on the action of the Sonic video game.
The new game, Sonic Frontiers, is still a long way off – so step up the steps Sound origins, a collection of the very good Sonic games – that is, the 2D ones, the first four entries in the series. It’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles from Mega Drive/Genesis, plus Sonic CD from Sega CD. Yes, that’s five and I said four games – but the last two Mega Drive games are actually two halves of the same game, and in this collection are presented as one title, Sonic 3 & Knuckles.
All of these games have already been re-released on a slew of platforms, but what makes this release particularly exciting is that it’s ports. That is, not just the original Mega Drive game files running in an emulator. This sets it apart from most other releases of these games with a few exceptions – Sonic 1 & 2 have had native ports before, but only on mobile. Only Sonic CD has received this treatment more widely so far.
So when it was announced, I hopped straight to the game’s Steam page to pre-order, and… wait, what’s that? That dreaded brown box of doom in the game info area; “Incorporates third-party DRM: Denuvo Anti-tamper.”
I am not naive. I realize that, to some extent, anti-piracy measures are a necessary evil in this industry in order for companies to get paid. But… is Sega really including a layer of this intrusive BS on four games that have a combined age of over 100 years? The youngest game in the collection is 28 years old.
It honestly looks like some kind of bad joke. When Sonic Mania included Denuvo, I winced, but I understood: it was a new game, and it needed to be protected more fiercely. Sega then dropped Denuvo de Mania, presumably because they didn’t want to keep paying licensing fees. I’ll tell you something, though: these fees look 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 typed “play Sonic the Hedgehog online” into google, clicked on the second result, and found myself on a web page that doesn’t even require you to download a ROM or emulator; it launches the game in the browser! I tried the same thing with Sonic CD, the most advanced of this collection, and… same thing. Which makes me feel old, honestly, because I remember when Sega CD emulation was big business and seemed impossible.
I understand that these new versions of these Sonic classics are just that; new ports, designed to allow players to experience both the games as they were and in a new “Anniversary Mode” complete with a widescreen presentation. But I also think there’s a sliding scale of when and where these annoying DRM apps are acceptable, and it seems utterly ridiculous to attach them to games this old and readily available online.
Even when you factor in new features, fans have been working and releasing free ports of these games that achieve the same goals since the dawn of the internet, resulting in fan projects like Sonic the Hedgehog Forever and Sonic 3 AIR. – Native PC Ports. All of these are readily available through the modding and fan game community. Sega has only slightly shied away from fully endorsing them over the years – and it would be a bad idea to scrap them. I think these fan creations and the official remasters can co-exist, but that makes heavy DRM all the weirder.
I do not understand. Between that and the fiasco of pre-order options and a version loadout that literally needs a spreadsheet to explain, that proves one thing: when it comes to Sonic, Sega always goes Sega. It might even experience a renaissance practically in spite of people making decisions, not because of them.