Amongst various timeless Zelda and Mario titles, incredibly obscure PlayStation 2 and GameCube releases and some soon to be classic Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games sits a few others on our bulging dusty shelves that we wouldn’t even dream of trading-in or putting on eBay.
As the name of this article has more than likely already given away, they’re retro collections. Regular readers will know that we’ve always had a soft spot for these, and so today we’re looking at eight of the best.
Inexpensive and often containing one or two games that would cost a small fortune if purchased for their original hardware, all of these offer decent value for money as well as serving as invaluable portals back to misspent youth.
SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection – PS3 / 360
SEGA’s sublime collection from 2009 is packed with so much content that you could say that they ‘ultimately’ ended up shooting themselves in the foot. Why pay £6.75 for the likes of SEGA Vintage Collection: Golden Axe and SEGA Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage on XBLA – or even £3.39 for one of the Sonic games – when they’re all present on this collection which can usually be found for around £10? Aside a possible desire to unlock the achievements they contain, we fail to think of a valid reason.
Whereas most retro collections tend to contain just the first game in a renowned series, this compilation more than lives up to its moniker thanks to containing every single 16-bit Sonic, spin-offs and all, the entire Golden Axe and Streets of Rage trilogies and a grand total of six Shining Force and Phantasy Star RPGs.
Fellow top-down role player Beyond Oasis (aka Story of Thor) is another highlight, while platform fans are very well looked after – Ristar, Dynamite Headdy, Kid Chameleon, Decap Attack starring Chuck D. Head, Vectorman and its sequel – which was never released in Europe – all feature too. So many spinning collectables, so little time.
Unlocking achievements – which vary from stupidly easy to surprisingly creative – also unlocks interviews with key SEGA staff as well as a handful of arcade and Master System games from SEGA’s early days including the first Phantasy Star, RPG spin-off Golden Axe Warrior and the arcade versions of Altered Beast and Space Harrier.
The only real downer is that a few games from 2007’s PlayStation 2/PSP SEGA Mega Drive Collection are missing. Then again, Sword of Vermilion, Ecco Jr. and the Mega Drive’s wonky rendition of Virtua Fighter 2 were a bit rubbish to begin with and as such aren’t huge losses, leaving quality to prevail.
Taito Legends – PS2 / Xbox
We’re so incredibly fond on the two Taito Legends collections that we’re going to take a look at them both. Although a few games have a whiff of filler about them (hello, Great Swordsman, Electric Yo-Yo and Volfied) they are thankfully outnumbered by stone cold classics.
And they certainly don’t get any more classic than Space Invaders, immortalised here in three different forms – the original, Space Invaders Part 2 and Return of the Invaders. As an extra bonus there’s a video interview with creator Mr. Tomahiro Nishikado, which is well worth watching.
Operation Wolf and its often forgotten sequel Operation Thunderbolt, Rastan, Space Gun, Phoenix, Super Qix and Elevator Action likewise gobbled plenty of coins back in the day.
Then we have the ever colourful trio Bubble Bobble, New Zealand Story and Rainbow Islands. All three of these sold incredibly well when converted to home consoles in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and as such are rightly well remembered.
Fans of Konami’s licensed scrolling brawlers from the ‘90s should find solace in The Ninja Kids, a very similar side scroller to The Simpsons/TMNT with a rather distinct art direction. We found this to be the collection’s hidden gem. Puzzlers Plotting and Tube It hold up well too, made that slightly more frantic due to their tight time-limits.
As well as viewable arcade flyers, now defunct UK publisher Empire went beyond the call of duty and included one of six collectable arcade artwork postcards inside each box. It’s doubtful that anybody bought six copies just to own them all, but we do seem to recall retro collectors swapping and selling them on various gaming forums. A nice little touch on Empire’s behalf.
Taito Legends 2 – PS2 / Xbox
Whereas the original Taito Legends illustrated how Taito was a force to be reckoned with when arcades were still in their prime, Taito Legends 2 contained some somewhat newer titles from the late ‘90s. Many of these were even converted to PSone and SEGA Saturn such as the desirable Elevator Action Returns, superlative shooter RayForce and puzzlers Puzzle Bobble (aka Bust-A-Move) Puchi Carat and Cleopatra Fortune.
The fact that back in 2006 Elevator Action Returns on Saturn could sell for £50+ on eBay pretty much justified the £20 asking price for this collection alone. We’re talking phenomenal value for money here.
Scrolling beat’em up Growl (aka Runark) flies the flag for fans of the genre, while Darius Gaiden and Metal Black are both well recommended shoot’em ups. Liquid Kids meanwhile is the most adorable platformer that you’ve (probably) never played. This too was converted to the Saturn.
Like the original collection, three iterations of Space Invaders can be found here – Space Invaders ’95, Space Invaders DX and Super Space Invaders ’91. Space Invaders sells retro collections, we suppose.
Controversially, five games were exclusive to each console. Balloon Bomber, Bubble Symphony, Cadash and RayForce were Xbox-only while RayStorm, G-Darius, Pop’n Pop and Syvalion were only on PlayStation 2. Contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t to force fans into purchasing both but rather down to issues regarding emulation. This was no doubt was a tough choice for some – shoot’em ups RayStorm, RayForce and G-Darius are highly sought after, while 1994’s Bubble Symphony is also known as Bubble Bobble 2. By all accounts, it’s a very worthy sequel.
Even now, the choice may not be easy to make. The Xbox version wasn’t released in the US and can sell for a small sum in comparison to the PlayStation 2 iteration (around £10, compared to a mere £2-£3) as it’s region-free, thus an attractive proposition for importers.
Midway Arcade Origins – PS3 / 360
We wasn’t too taken with this collection when it was first released, complaining about the lack of extras and the fact that several well known games from Midway’s back catalogue – such as Klax, Paperboy and Mortal Kombat – are missing. In hindsight, we did perhaps pin our hopes too high. The intended purpose of the collection was always to focus on Midway’s early years, rather than contain the best bits from Midway Arcade Treasures 1-3 as we would have liked.
While not all of the 31 games on offer have aged well, the majority thankfully have. Oddly, Atari’s Rampart appears in the line-up too. With Atari currently on death’s door, we guess licensing doesn’t cost much nowadays.
Twin stick shooters Robotron 2048 and Smash TV remain pleasingly frantic while Root Beer Tapper and Toobin’ are still ‘twitch gaming’ at its finest. Gauntlet, Defender, Super Off Road, Spy Hunter, Sinister, Rampage and Joust meanwhile are all creditable entries into the hall of classic videogames.
Sadly we can’t say the same for Pit-Fighter and Spy Hunter 2, while the likes of Cyberball 2072 and 720 are acquired tastes. Still, Pit-Fighter is at least unintentionally amusing to play. For two minutes or so, anyway.
It’s a shame Warner Bros. never bought this collection to the Wii U – the system’s robust twin sticks would have made playing Smash TV on the GamePad an utter joy.
Midway Arcade Treasures 2 – PS2 / Xbox / GameCube
And here’s where most of the content we would have liked to have seen in Midway Arcade Origins can be found. After the surprise success of the first Midway Arcade Treasures, Midway dusted off a sizeable selection of slightly newer arcade titles and sourced TV commercials and more as extras.
Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3 are clear highlights, with Primal Rage, Rampage World Tour, Hard Drivin’ and NARC bubbling under.
The original Mortal Kombat was left out as Midway were using it as a pre-order incentive for the then upcoming Mortal Kombat: Deception. Europe never received this pre-order deal, but it was eventually included on the PSP’s Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play.
The Xbox version was cited as being the best – the PlayStation 2 had a hard time emulating Hard Drivin’ smoothly while Rampage World Tour on GameCube would randomly omit speech samples and sound-effects. Additionally, it had one exclusive feature over its PlayStation 2 and GameCube counterparts – the ability to upload scores to online leaderboards. Of course, that feature is now obsolete.
Sadly Midway was forced to scrape the barrel for Midway Arcade Treasures 3. This third collection focused on racing games, of which just eight featured. Hydro Thunder and San Francisco Rush 2049 were in fact conversions of the well-received Dreamcast iterations – which was a smooth if unexpected move – but as a whole the collection fell way short of the previous two.
SNK Classics Vol. 1 – Wii / PSP / PS2
When the recent NeoGeo X handheld was revealed we suggested that a PSP and a copy of SNK Classics Vol. 1 would be a wiser purchase. We did go on to change our mind when it was revealed that the NeoGeo X can be docked and played on a TV, via an authentic arcade stick, but it still stands as a decent (and somewhat cheaper) alternative as the list of built-in games is pretty similar to what’s on this collection.
Unless you’re Richie Rich, it’s fair to say that most gamers never owned any of the titles present when they were first released. This may make SNK Classics seem a voyage into the great unknown, but fret not as most are from SNK’s golden era. Metal Slug is the obvious headliner; less obvious is Top Hunter: Roddy and Cathy, a brilliant and lovingly crafted platformer that’s instantly likeable. Think along the lines of a mixture of Metal Slug, Ristar and Rayman.
Sports games Baseball Stars 2, Super Sidekicks 3 and Neo Turf Masters haven’t aged very well – but to be fair, we believe that’s the case for the majority of sports sims from the past – but fans of SNK’s 2D fighters are well catered for with Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters ’94 and Samurai Shodown making an appearance. Fellow brawler King of the Monsters can’t be held in quite as high regard, but it still manages to entertain if only for the wrong reasons.
Like SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, SNK kind of shot themselves in the foot here too. It wasn’t long ago that SNK were adding their back catalogue onto the Wii’s Virtual Console at 900 points per title. That’s around £9 in real money. Nine quid.
Of all the collections featured in this article, this one will set you back the most – it can routinely sell for £20+ on Amazon and eBay, as can SNK’s likewise recommended Metal Slug Anthology.
EA Replay – PSP
Haven’t heard of this collection before? Even EA themselves forgets that they once explored their back catalogue to bring this PSP-exclusive collection of Mega Drive and SNES hits. Don’t believe us? Just try and find any reference to it on their website.
Indeed, EA doesn’t look back on their past perhaps as often as they should. Many of their early titles were incredibly innovative, such as the isometric spook’em up Haunting: Starring Polterguy.
That’s present here, along with thirteen others. Road Rash and its two sequels are bit too much of a muchness, even with Road Rash III sporting digitised sprites, but both Desert Strike and Jungle Strike are suitably different. B.O.B and Ultima: The Black Gate fill the platformer and RPG slots respectively, while Mutant League Football managed to gain a small cult following back in the day. As well the original Wing Commander, Wing Commander: The Secret Missions was included as well for good measure.
Featuring chunkier cartoon-like visuals, the console version of Syndicate wasn’t as well-received as the Amiga original but many forget that these design choices were critical to getting the game running smoothly on console.
Budokan and Virtual Pinball round the collection off. Not great choices, all told. Presumably expired licenses ruled out appearances of EA’s 16-bit sports sims.
A second collection was planned but cancelled due to poor sales. Had it included Rolo to the Rescue, Technoclash – a brilliant post-apocalyptic RPG that many never played – or the console version of Theme Park then it would have been a day one purchase by us, if nobody else.
Animal Crossing – GameCube
We were determined to include something leftfield in this round-up, and although the Saturn’s Sonic Jam was a close contender at one point – due to its 3D and fully explorable hub – it was the GameCube’s Animal Crossing that pipped it.
Unsure of what the western world would make of Animal Crossing’s open ended structure, Nintendo choose to throw in a total of 19 NES games – including Wario’s Woods, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda – to help round the package off and make it feel whole.
They were sometimes found buried in the ground (good old game logic, there) or awarded as prizes for playing the Nook Lottery. Those who owned a GameCube cheat device could also unlock them all from the outset, which was handy as some were incredibly hard to come by. We recall playing AC every day for months and only ever obtaining a few.
Now here’s the genius part. By connecting a GBA it was possible to transfer the NES games to the handheld’s flash memory where they’d then remain until the GBA was either switched off or the battery died. If memory serves – pardon the pun – the GBA could last a good few days on sleep mode, giving plenty of time to enjoy one of Nintendo’s 8-bit hits while on the move.
Some three years later, Nintendo tried to convince us that £15 a piece was a fair price to pay for the GBA NES Classics re-releases. They failed, and Animal Crossing was partly to blame.
No Animal Crossing has featured unlockable retro games since, and Nintendo would probably like us all to forget that one once did.
Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles for the site since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.