Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
It’s funny. I pretty much had this review all ready in my head the first day I played this collection, but it ended up taking the standard two weeks to get it ready. Oh well, at least it’s on time.
And in case you’re wondering, I’m from the US. The website I submitted this to (Dark Zero) is mostly UK based, and since the PS3 is region free, I agreed to review this game.
My only disappointment is that I couldn’t find room to talk about Shinobi III in the review. It really is one of the best Genesis games ever made, if not the best Ninja game ever. Itadaki’s Ninja Gaiden two-parter’s got nothing on this classic.
Anyway, the reviews aren’t going to be stopping anytime soon, because I’ve got four more games I need to play. You’ll find out what those are soon enough.
I’m also working on a new, supersecret project that might interest quite a few of you. Anyone from Penny Arcade should already know what that is, but I don’t want to make an official post in this blog until I’m certain that progress is being made in a timely manner. I notice this blog is nearing 10,000 hits (thanks!), so that might be the best time to unveil it.
In the meantime, SEGA!
The Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis, as it’s called in North America) was, for a time, Nintendo’s greatest rival for most of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. What the black box lacked in horsepower, it made up for with attitude (most famously represented with the birth of their star mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog). The Super Nintendo may have had Mode 7, 256 colors, and a better sound chip, the Mega Drive had “Blast Processing”; it wasn’t a real chip, but it sure worked to sucker in people along with promotions featuring screaming heavy metal and unrestricted violence (at the time, it was the only system to have a fully uncut Mortal Kombat for purchase).
Make no mistake, Sega’s games had a style all their own, and this latest collection features the largest gathering of their classic titles yet. From the complete 16-bit iterations of popular franchises, to classic quarter draining arcade titles, to the most obscure games from Sega’s library, there’s a little bit of gaming history in each of the 40 plus titles in this collection. But how many of these relics deserve preservation, and how many should be burned from existence? Read on.
The main interface is standard fare, displaying all available games in a drop-down list, which can be sorted alphabetically, by genre, or even by a favorites list (where you can rate each game by a number from one to four, thus placing all your favorite titles on the top; a nice touch). Each title has a small “history” section that displays the original artwork for the box and cartridge, along with a brief summary of the game along with some trivia. It’s nothing that a quick Google search couldn’t pick up, but it’s an appreciated touch.
The games are presented in their original aspect ratio, with different borders for each title. Using the select menu, you can have the game automatically stretched to fit your screen, but some games may end up getting stretched too far, requiring manual adjustments. There’s also a “smoothing” option, which attempts to smooth out the dated pixels, but some games actually end up losing detail with the smoothing feature. Streets of Rage, in particular completely loses its city lights in the background, while the Shining Force series filters its character portraits to the point that their features are practically unrecognizable. This half-baked attempt to visually boost these old games can be quite disappointed, especially when less official emulators have succeeded in offering several filters and resolution boosts with little to no sacrifice on the original presentation.
A more successful feature is the ability to create save states, where every game can be saved and resumed at any time. Oldschool devotees can also stick to passwords and cheat inputs, which are also intact in each game. Controls can also be individually customized and also feature turbo inputs, but sadly lack the ability to use six-button controls, making games dependent on them (especially Comix Zone) suffer as a result.
Fortunately, the games themselves play as identically as their cartridge-based incarnations. Every game loads up instantly and features no lag or glitches whatsoever. The only minor issue is some downgraded and/or re-sampled sound effects; Some sound issues in Sonic the Hedgehog for instance, including the ‘ping’ noise from hitting the star bumpers or the metal ‘clank’ from attacking Robotnik, lack the oomph that was felt in the original games. A few older games, such as Altered Beast, feature some minor scratching in their sound effects as well. These aren’t major enough to prove annoying, but it might frustrate purists looking for 100% accuracy.
Aside from those issues, the games themselves are fully intact, and there’s enough variety to appeal to gamers of all types. For anyone who hasn’t bought any of the previous collections, Sonic fans will be delighted to know that this collection features his entire library of Mega Drive games, from the classic quadralogy (Sonic 1-3, Sonic and Knuckles) to his less-than-stellar spinoffs (Sonic Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast, Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine). Unfortunately, Sonic 3 and Knuckles, the cartridge combination of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles, is not available to play. This is unfortunate as this edition was practically a new game in itself, adding new music and events within the original levels as well as the ability to play Knuckles throughout the entire campaign.
Beat-’em-up fans will be especially delighted at the inclusion of the entire Streets of Rage trilogy. What this gang-busting games lacked in Final Fight’s (and all its clones) visuals, it made up for with more moves, more enemies, and an all around curb-stomping attitude; Police officers clean the streets with rocket launchers, broken bottles can be used as weapons, and your team consists of police girls in skivvies, urban kids with skateboards, cyborgs, and kangaroos. It also has a standout soundtrack, which is doubly impressive considering the MD’s sound chip. And then there’s the Golden Axe trilogy, which takes a Conan the Barbarian-like twist on the genre, and offers just as much entertainment.
But RPG aficionados have even greater cause to celebrate, because this collection is jam packed with Sega’s finest. All four Phantasy Star titles are included, along with Shining Force, its sequel Shining Force II, and its prequel, Shining in the Darkness. There’s also The Story of Thor (Beyond Oasis in the US), which is an interesting hybrid between Aladdin and The Legend of Zelda. Less subtle is the obscure Golden Axe Warrior, a Master System game that shamelessly rips off Nintendo’s classic title with its top/down view, overworld enemies, dungeons, music, and anything else you can think of.
For fans of classic side-scrolling games, Ultimate Collection has you covered as well. There’s cute-but-tricky classics like Ristar and Dynamite Heady, darker yet equally entertaining early ’90 throwbacks like E-Swat and Alien Syndrome, the grave-rising classic (and one of the first ever titles for the system) Altered Beast, and obscure but oddly charming entries like DeCap Attack and Chameleon Kid.
The rest of the collection is a mixed bag, both good and bad. There are games strange enough that they don’t fall under any genre, like Ecco the Dolphin, Flicky, and Bonanza Bros, along with some arcade classics like Space Harrier and Fantasy Zone. From these leftovers, however, there are some titles that haven’t aged very well, such as Alex Kidd, Zaxxon, and Super Thunder Blade. These games may have been included for nostalgic value, but the truth is that they were likely better off left as memories.
The extras in this collection include video interviews with some of Sega’s greatest minds (although some, including Sonic the Hedgehog’s creator, sound like they’ve lost the passion they once shared during Sega’s golden years), along with Trophies. The latter may disappoint achievement hounds with their easy requirements (Sonic the Hedgehog’s sole trophy requires collecting just one chaos emerald, while Ecco the Dolphin’s trophy asks players to perform the arduous task of talking to another dolphin), but doing so also unlocks the aforementioned arcade titles.
And while there are plenty of popular titles that could have been added to the collection, including Earthworm Jim, Gunstar Heroes, Splatterhouse 2 and 3, and perhaps a few games from the Sega CD and Saturn consoles, there is still more than enough bang for your buck here. It may not be the ultimate collection fans wanted, but it’s still a jam packed look into a time where the Genesis does what Nintendon’t.