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SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection – Review

Submitted by on Saturday, 7 March 20096 Comments

The Collection - VastLong before these days of dynamic lighting effects, online multiplayer and facile console wars played out on message-boards between opposing partisans, there was a different era of gaming.

A time of constraint; considering most of us only received a new game on special occasions like birthdays and the like, it was also a time of innocence, games representing our first childish vice.

With the inherent pressures of adulthood, monster mortgages and the bizarre concept of having to find time to play games decades away, companies like SEGA and Nintendo were the saviours of rainy days and the cause of lost weekends.

For many of us, the first games played as a child forge a personal bond between nascent gamer and a pastime that (especially if you’re reading this) has probably only blossomed as you’ve gotten older. But it is these early games that are so important as, not only did they set the stage for a life passion, but they became integral parts of our childhood. SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, consisting of nearly fifty of such games from the 80s and 90s, is hence, for some of us, our entire childhood on a disc.

Ironically, though many of us survivors from this pre-HD bygone epoch may have heard of the majority of these games (or have had friends who let us play them once in a while), many would have passed us by, lost in the ether of time and destined to remain unplayed.

Thank God for retro compilations then; gifting us the ability to relive not only the gems we did get to experience, but also the many others we missed due to a meagre allowance.

Reviewing a compilation of games is the ultimate contradiction. After all, the qualities of a product is the sum of its parts (and perhaps whatever extras are bundled in) but these games have already been reviewed ad nauseam. You don’t need anyone to tell you that Sonic the Hedgehog is arguably the paragon of the 2D platforming genre for example (the later editions did lose their way however).

When it comes to a “Collection”, the holistic approach must be taken. Hence, we’ll discard the process of discussing each game in isolation in favour of focusing on the bigger picture and what, collectively, SEGA have brought to the table.

Carnival games back in the 90s were somewhat more ... brutal.

Carnival games back in the 90s were somewhat more ... brutal.

Reviewing this anthology of SEGA greats could have easily taken two very different directions. The first approach would be a quixotic return to Nostalgia Lane for those of us who actually played these games the first time out, reminiscing of simpler times and how great Golden Axe was is.

The other direction would be a more scholarly angle as we attempt to convince those of you who weren’t even born when Altered Beast came out that you need a lesson in what real games are. Neither approach will truly reflect just how great this compilation is unfortunately, and both methods detract from what SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection is actually attempting to achieve.

The fact is, this compilation is an acquired taste. If you can see past the antiquated graphics, are interested in pure gameplay and like what can only be described now as “retro gaming”, then this is not only something you should pick up; it’s your Goddamn Holy Grail.

If on the other hand the thought of unforgiving gameplay mechanics and an assault from colourful (some might say even garish) graphics sounds like too much hard work; then you should probably stay away and keep playing Killzone 2, for this assembly of games is not for you.

Back in the day, Sonic was king.

Back in the day, Sonic was king.

With this collection, SEGA have practically created a portal back into a Golden Age of gaming. Gone are the trappings of this seventh console generation. You won’t be counting pixels or complaining that another console’s parent company has just purchased the exclusive rights for Sonic in Space or whatever. Absent is any form of online gaming whatsoever with the only multiplayer enjoyment you’ll be experiencing being the presence of a friend sitting next to you ploughing through bad guys as Alex Stone in Streets of Rage. And what a revitalising experience it is. There’s something for everyone here: platformers, beat ’em ups, RPGs, puzzle games. Sure, the sport and driving genres are completely overlooked but those are genres that actually do get better with age. When it comes to quirky adventures or pixel-perfect jump challenges, SEGA knew what they were doing back in the day.

The compilation is anything but abundant and with 40 16-bit games on offer, SEGA has thankfully presented a practical interface that allows players to navigate through this treasure trove. Allowing the ability to sort through the games by different criteria including alphabetical order, genre, year and, our favourite, your own personal score (you can designate each title a mark out of five), the games are easy to find and play.

The 16-bit titles that make up the collection are as follows:

  1. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
  2. Alien Storm
  3. Altered Beast
  4. Beyond Oasis
  5. Bonanza Bros.
  6. Columns
  7. Comix Zone
  8. Decap Attack
  9. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  10. Dynamite Headdy
  11. ESWAT: City Under Siege
  12. Ecco the Dolphin
  13. Ecco: The Tides of Time
  14. Fatal Labyrinth
  15. Flicky
  16. Gain Ground
  17. Golden Axe
  18. Golden Axe II
  19. Golden Axe III
  20. Kid Chameleon
  21. Phantasy Star II
  22. Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
  23. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
  24. Ristar
  25. Shining in the Darkness
  26. Shining Force
  27. Shining Force II: Ancient Sealing
  28. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
  29. Sonic 3D Blast
  30. Sonic & Knuckles
  31. Sonic Spinball
  32. Sonic the Hedgehog
  33. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  34. Sonic the Hedgehog 3
  35. Streets of Rage
  36. Streets of Rage 2
  37. Streets of Rage 3
  38. Super Thunder Blade
  39. Vectorman
  40. Vectorman 2

As if that wasn’t enough, the following Master System games as also unlockable. Alien Syndrome, Altered Beast, Congo Bongo (known as Tip Top in Europe), Fantasy Zone, Golden Axe Warrior, the original Phantasy Star, Shinobi, Space Harrier and Zaxxon.

Bolstering up the copious amount of games, the compilation also has a handy museum feature that presents all of the educational and archaic information about the history of each of the titles; something we assume will be most beneficial to newcomers of these games. There are also a handful of interviews with the luminary vanguards of SEGA who breathed life into this prodigious omnibus. Though the interviews are mostly short and perfunctory, it’s interesting for instance to see Tohru Yoshida reveal that he was only in the door of the company when he was informed that he would be making Phantasy Star II.

As you can see, blue hair in RPGs is not a recent trend

As you can see, blue hair in RPGs is not a recent trend

Graphically, the games hold up surprisingly well, with SEGA assuring us that “SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection can output the games in 720p with higher resolution graphics for HD televisions, bringing a new visual richness to these classic titles.” That may be the case but, for the most part, the games basically look like Mega Drive games on your big HD TV. There are some differences of course as colourful “fill borders” are presented in favour of forcing the perspective into widescreen, something we believe would have been tragic. (Fat Sonic? No thanks.)

As a snapshot of games over a certain era, it’s also interesting to note that the evolutionary process that the current generation of consoles are experiencing is a gaming trait that has been repeated ever since the days of the Master System and the Mega Drive. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Caste (1989) for example is completely overshadowed in terms of graphical prowess and presentation when compared to the likes of Sonic 3D Blast (1996). Something we’ve seen in this (and every) generation when launch games are compared to titles from later in the console’s lifecycle.

If we are to be critical of anything about the compilation, it was always going to be personal lamentations that certain games are not present. Wonder Boy III in Monster Land or the original Earthworm Jim (though this is very much a Japan centric list) would have been nice. In fact, the original Wonder Boy, a personal favourite, would have set this particular reviewer over the edge.

It’s also vital to note that a lot of these games have already appeared in previous SEGA compilations. The old PS2 and PSP version (entitled simply SEGA Mega Drive Collection, the omission of the word “Ultimate” suggesting that they knew that this one was coming) contains over 20 of the above titles, so some of this nostalgic trip may be old hat.

Another feature that can be seen as helpful in one hand and blasphemous in the other, is the the fact that the games can now be saved at any time. Gone are the days when you had to complete Streets of Rage in one sitting. Some might see this as a modern day benefit to playing the games on offer but other purists might consider this tactic as an affront to the challenge the original games presented. We suggest trying to beat them the traditional way for ultimate bragging rights.

In terms of value for money, we can’t think of any other game out there that can compete with SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection. The gameplay on offer is vast and eclectic and will keep you busy for months. If you’re in your thirties and spent your teens wrestling with Sonic or Shinobi, it’s worthwhile picking this up just to relive some old memories or experience titles that you never got around to playing but probably wanted to at the time.

If you’re in your teens now, or perhaps your twenties, and hence your first foray into gaming might have been with Tekken on the PlayStation or with the likes of Goldeneye, then you may be interested in this almost primordial collection of gaming gems to see how it all started and just what us old guys mean when we say “They don’t make them like they used to.”