Whereas Midway Arcade Treasures 3 stuck to racing games and Taito Legends 2 brought us plenty of previously import-only curios, this thirty-strong collection from Sega is pleasingly wide-ranging. Content spans from 1988’s Super Thunder Blade right up to 1996’s 2D version of Virtua Fighter II. That wasn’t the last game for the Mega Drive – there were a few released as late as 1998 – but as the graphics go from crude to still-rather-appealing, it is something of a lesson in the evolution of 16-bit visuals.
And it has no less than four RPGs: Phantasy Star II, III, IV and Yu Suzuki’s Sword of Vermilion. All four are viewed from a top-down perspective and though Phantasy Star III has poor character development and bland magic and battle systems, the other three still have their unique qualities. Like IV’s programmable battle macros and Vermilion’s platform-style boss stages.
The real beauty of this collection is that you can save progress anywhere in any game. That means you have a better chance of finishing the likes of Kid Chameleon and Decap Attack (nee Super Magical Turbo Hat Adventure) and all the others that were classed as unfairly challenging back in the day.
If you’re a fan of platformers then you’re particularly well looked after, with Sonic The Hedgehog and its sequel, both Vectorman games, Sonic Team’s Ristar, Flicky, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and Bonanza Brothers all making appearances. The Mega Drive Alex Kidds were never as good as the Master System ones, but it’s nice in a twee kind of way, while the colourful and fast paced Ristar really deserves to be played. Sonic 2 is as glitchy as ever, but just you try to get the Hill Top Zone music out of your head.
All three Ecco games have been included, although we never really ‘got’ them, to be honest. Aimlessly swimming around and trying to perform huge leaps out of the ocean is still pleasing though, and Ecco Jr was never released in the UK so it’s a nice rarity. The only other unreleased title here is Golden Axe III, which never made it outside of Japan. It features two new characters – a panther possibility related to Thundercat Panthro and a hairy barbarian type – but it’s largely the same as the first two – which are also present. Shadow Dancer we couldn’t get into – new save system or not, one hit deaths are stupid – but Shinobi III more than makes up for that.
Altered Beast has always been notoriously rubbish, but we’ve got a soft spot for it. Columns is… Columns. The superior Columns III would have been better. Or better still, Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Comix Zone is here though, and that’s another we’ve always liked. Then there’s Gain Ground, which – like Ecco – we never really ‘got’. And does anybody even remember it anyway?
Developers Digital Eclipse have done well with the presentation. The menus are nicely styled and there’s loads of extra content, including box art (both US and European variants), hints and general trivia. The best extras, though, are the four unlockable long forgotten arcade games – including isometric Donkey Kong clone Congo Bongo – and a section of FMV interviews and trailers. These can be accessed by meeting certain criteria, such as collecting a chaos emerald in Sonic or defeating an opponent in Virtua Fighter II with a ‘ring out’.
For value for money, this is hard to beat: the three Phantasy Star games alone were released as a single package on Game Boy Advance. And just think how much this lot would cost on the Wii Virtual Console. More importantly though, we actually wanted to sit down and properly play through most of the games here. It’s a shame that there aren’t any of Sega’s decent Disney licenses – clearly because of licensing issues – and we’d wager that the three Streets of Rage games are being saved for a future collection, but these are petty gripes. Yeah, there is the old ‘you can get all this stuff for free if you know where to look’ argument, but if you do that you’ll make Alex Kidd cry and punch a goat.