Let’s just settle something right off the bat; I now own Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on Sega Mega Drive 2, PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, Android, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360 (and backwards compatible on Xbox One already), the fridge, hoover, kettle, egg timer, bathroom scales and at this stage I’m pretty sure it comes pre-loaded on my rabbit’s microchip as well.
And yet, when Sega announced another collection of classic Mega Drive games for the Xbox One, I still got excited. Why? Because this version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 comes with 52 other games thrown in with it.
SEGA Mega Drive Classics is primarily the same as the collections previously released on Microsoft Windows and through Steam, now rolled up into one overall package. It does however have a few notable exceptions such as Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles and the Ecco the Dolphin series that are available on the PC collections. The Sonic omissions seem inexcusable but in all seriousness, what the hell was Ecco the Dolphin even about? Out Run could also be argued as an omission, but having never seen that released in any other retro collections this isn’t a surprise.
There are also none of the classic Disney titles that many gamers will have played alongside the games that are featured, but these can be explained away simply by mentioning licensing issues.
This is one collection that does contain plenty of other classics though, such as most other Sonic games – including Sonic Spinball – the Golden Axe series, the three Shining games released on the console, Phantasy Star II-IV, the Streets of Rage trilogy, and arguably most importantly, Toejam and Earl. These are just the highlights in what is a very strong roster – the Phantasy Star games alone offer over 50 hours of gameplay.
These are all good places to start, and for anyone who has never played these before would get more than their money’s worth just from these alone. But for those who grew up virtually chained to this machine – myself included – there are a lot of hidden gems in the collection. It is at this point I’d like to introduce you to my personal favourite ‘hidden gem’, Alien Storm.
Alien Storm was a game I played regularly round my friend’s house when we younger. It invoked deeply disturbing thoughts in my head of what would happen if the world got invaded by aliens, what with its bleak presentation and piercing screams of terror. Granted, looking back now this was due to the technical limitations as the Mega Drive could only produce 61 colours and the sound chip used then is now nothing to write home about. But this was a game that played well back then and it plays just as well now.
Many of the games in this list follow suit, remaining just as playable now as they did back in the early ‘90s. That isn’t due to the porting or emulation that’s occurred either… that’s down to solid game design back when they were first being created.
Even the main menu screen is unapologetically ‘90s, displaying all the menu options and sub-menus in what would have been a 1990’s kid’s bedroom. Posters of Revenge of Shinobi, Altered Beast and Comix Zone adorn the wall, and on the right-hand side is a bookshelf crammed full of Sega games (with room to spare on the bottom shelf should more be added *fingers crossed*). Sadly though, whilst we can see the spines of the cases and the names on them, there isn’t any box art to show off on the front, nor is there any description of the game like there was back on the 360 Mega Drive collection.
Another neat feature though is the ability to change the time of day in the room and the window gives off some cool lighting effects on the various pieces of furniture in the room.
There are also various emulator settings to tailor the appearance of the games to either make them appear sharper, or as you remember them with a curved effect on the edge of the screen and scanlines to really give it the CRT look.
For the newer fans that may feel a bit overwhelmed by the difficulty on these older games, there is also a Rewind function available so that every missed jump in Wonder Boy or Vectorman can be repeated until you get it right.
One thing that feels really out of place though – and it could just be me showing my age – is the intro music. The accompanying video is all well and good, featuring classic Sega characters outlining the design of the Mega Drive, but the music sounds like it is glitchy and out of time. Like I say, this could be me not knowing what’s top of the pops, but I immediately skip it now because it sounds so bad.
There are 25 achievements found in this collection, which means some games get missed out of having a Gamerscore attached to them. Some – such as the Sonic ones and Golden Axe trilogy – have achievements for collecting a large number of items across all their entries. There are also more Gamerscore givers relating to challenges. Challenges are small sections of levels that require you to complete them under different or difficult circumstances such as nailing the third level of Crack Down with 1:50 remaining or getting 4000 points on Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine when starting halfway through a game. My favourite though is found be completing Green Hill Zone Act 2 in under a minute on Sonic the Hedgehog whilst in mirror mode (all games have this functionality). It’s crazy how different the game is when everything you know about running to the right of the screen has literally been flipped.
Finally, a few points that are well worth talking about in regards some of the other games on the compilation I have yet to mention: Fatal Labyrinth is a brilliant early day dungeon crawler but I did die at one point from eating too much. Gain Ground plays out like an American Football game where you need to defeat enemies to ‘gain ground’, whilst Landstalker has an introduction like a Hollywood movie and I highly recommend checking it out. The actual gameplay is rather excellent too.
From there, we also have Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, that both play very similar but have not aged nearly as well as some of the others, whilst Sonic Spinball is a pinball-like game but has strange controls; the left flipper is assigned to X and right to A by default and as a result is very tricky, especially when you factor in that the left and right trigger buttons control rewind and fast-forward.
In all though, the SEGA Mega Drive Classics Collection is an excellent compendium of games where the vast majority still play incredibly well. Old hands and newcomers alike will find plenty of games to keep them busy here. The bedroom layout is fun, but it would have also been nice to have a simple list with boxart and/or some concept art to look through, all of which was in the Xbox 360 Mega Drive collection. Overall though this is a better list of games – omissions included – and even as someone who grew up with many of these titles, I have found a few new games that passed me by before.
Oh, and it is Mega Drive. I won’t be having none of this ‘Genesis’ stuff. Okay?