Retro compilations tend to fall into one of two camps. Some are genuine labours of love, filled to the brim with celebrated classics and a bounty of bonus features; a rare chance for long-running publishers to revel in self-indulgence and share their biggest past hits with gamers new and old.
Others, meanwhile, are little more than quick cash grabs – seemingly random assortments of vintage games lazily bundled together with little care or attention. Using a few big names and gooey nostalgia to sell, they’re hastily shoved out the door.
SEGA’s Mega Drive Ultimate Collection from 2009 lived up to its name, unquestionably put together with passion. A tough act to follow, but not impossible – due to a few omissions, it wasn’t quite a definitive package. Sadly, SEGA Mega Drive Classics doesn’t expand upon its predecessor to give long-time fans an all-encompassing collection, feeling like an attempt to make a quick buck off the current retro gaming resurgence.
This collection offers over 50 first-party titles, plus a few modern-day staples such as save states, the ability to rewind and fast-forward gameplay, online play, and a handful of bite-sized challenges. While this may sound reasonable, all these features are pretty much expected in any retro collection nowadays (save perhaps for the challenges), and most games present have been wheeled out numerous times before.
Online play is a bit of a shambles too, ruined by lag and an awkward matchmaking system. There are no lobbies or such – you’re simply paired with a random gamer and presented with a choice of two (!) games to play. If players are unable to settle on a decision, matchmaking starts over.
Considering the XBLA Vintage Collections from 2012 were able to provide a smooth online experience, this is something inexcusable in 2018.
Sadly, laziness (or ineptness, in some cases) is a reoccurring theme. The menu screen – resembling a ‘90s teenager’s bedroom – is ugly and unappealing, with games selected simply by plucking them off a shelf. Presented in a uniform fashion, they come from a world where blue spine Mega Drive games never existed. No box art, manuals, or anything of the sort – this collection is purely for those that want to play games, rather than delve into their history.
Moreover, this is a collection for those who aren’t too bothered about authenticity – emulation is a far cry from M2’s re-releases. Off-key sound-effects are the biggest offender, along with a few graphical glitches such as misplaced tiles. This is in addition to the already mentioned lag.
While the number of games on offer can be considered as generous, it’s a somewhat odd assortment. A lack of extras suggests this package is for the more ‘casual’ market, yet the most dominant genre here is, bizarrely, JRPGs with eleven in total. While some are quite easy to get into – such as Shining in the Darkness – the majority aren’t particularly conventional by today’s standards, coming across as acquired tastes. That said, the ability to save anywhere and fast-forward reams of text does make them a tad more palatable than when they were first released.
Speaking of acquired tastes, both Columns and Columns III are here. With the excellent Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (aka Puyo Puyo) present, one or the other would have sufficed. A minor quibble, but one that proves that this isn’t a carefully handpicked selection – SEGA has simply chucked in everything they currently have at hand.
Then we have the usual titles that were never really that great in the first place, such as unimpressive early releases Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair and Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, the punishing overhead shooter Crack Down, the irritatingly twee and overly simplistic Flicky, and the lacklustre launch title Super Thunder Blade. We’re tempted to throw Gain Ground in with this bad bunch too, but if memory serves, it did have its fans. The same goes for Altered Beast; a game so bad it’s good. It’s a classic, but for all the wrong reasons.
Of course, there are some outright stone-cold classics. Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel, the Streets of Rage and Golden Axe trilogies, Shinobi III, Shadow Dancer, Ristar, Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and ToeJam & Earl are almost worth the £24.99 asking price alone. These are the games that defined the Mega Drive. ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron, Wonder Boy in Monster World, Sonic 3D Blast (and Spinball, at a push), Comix Zone and Alien Storm are fun but flawed meanwhile. If you’re up for a challenge, run and gunner VectorMan – and its US-only sequel – fall into this camp too.
It’s funny, really. Years ago, we would have championed Ristar, Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Headdy as being hidden gems, but they’ve been rolled out so frequently over the past decade – and subsequently extensively covered by critics and fans – that they can’t really be called ‘hidden gems’ any more.
Fortunately for those who already own past collections, a few new games feature. Treasure’s Alien Soldier is the most notable, pushing the system to its limits, and Bio-Hazard Battle represents the horizontal shooter genre reasonably well. We would have rather seen a Thunderforce title, but that’s perhaps wishful thinking. Going back to JRPGs for a moment, both Light Crusader and Landstalker are new to this collection. They’re welcome additions, gaining praise back in the day, but they aren’t enough to compensate for those sorely missing – Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are both absent due to music licensing issues, and Ecco and Ecco II also failed to make the cut.
And after taking the time to translate Monster World IV into English back in 2012, as part of Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World, that’s weirdly absent. Instead, we get Virtua Fighter 2, which hasn’t been seen since the 2006’s SEGA Mega Drive Collection on PSP.
With almost nothing in the way of extras and an incomplete line-up, it’s painfully apparent SEGA Mega Drive Classics hasn’t been put together with a great deal of care or attention. It’s a thrill-free package that provides fundamental features, a few welcome – if overly familiar – faces and not much more, clearly aimed at gamers without any other means of experiencing SEGA’s 16-bit hits. A hugely missed opportunity.