Sega’s favourite Mega Drive games have been repackaged and rereleased so many times it’s hard to keep up. You can get a decent disc’s worth of Mega Drive games on the PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360 and, shoot, even the Saturn and Gameboy Advance have had a go. Downloadable versions of their greatest hits are available everywhere, from XBLA to PSN to Virtual Console to iTunes to Steam to I don’t even know what’s left. You can also pop into a toy shop and get a Plug ‘n’ Play joystick or a handheld Mega Drive to play wherever you like. The approach seems to be working for them – I alone have six versions of Sonic and Knuckles now – and nobody in their right mind is saying that the compilations aren’t good quality, but do we really need another one?
This time round, the Sega Mega Drive Classic Collection has made its way to the PC retail market, starting with this, the first of four volumes. Ten games are bundled onto the disc, representing a varied and spritely mix of old school 16-bit titles. Anyone familiar with Sega’s collections so far will probably know this list already but for the sake of completion, let’s just take a look and make sure they haven’t smuggled any Game Gear games on here while we weren’t looking.
Of course, the first game on the list is Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic’s first adventure pretty much defines the attitude of the entire Mega Drive era in one fast-paced, action-packed platformer powerhouse. To this day, the run ‘n’ jump gameplay seems fresh and charismatic, the graphics still cute and the level design still enough of a fun challenge to please any gamer at all. You might not think of it as the best Sonic game to represent the little blue wonder, but it still packs a punch and, if you’ve never played it before, you owe it to your brain.
Next up is Ecco the Dolphin, a game that nobody seems to like. A lengthy, cerebral underwater challenge, you take the role of Ecco, a sweet little dolphin who’s been left all on his own. By exploring and communicating with crabs Ecco must find out exactly what’s happened to his dolphin friends, and what he can do about it. It’s a problem-solving game with an emphasis on exploring and control over Ecco’s momentum and navigation, and it is a tough test. Very much a love-or-hate kind of deal, although very few go for the former.
If side-scrolling beat ’em ups are your bag, you’ll love the next two titles. Golden Axe is an enjoyable swords ‘n’ sorcery-based hack ’em up, complete with dragon mounts, satisfying sword and axe combos, cool enemy designs and a wicked selection of magical attacks. You can also kick little pixies and steal their stuff. However, while Golden Axe plays like a dream, Altered Beast is a clunky, ugly mess. It’s not terrible exactly, but it has not aged well at all and the gameplay mechanics will get old fast. You might want to play through the first couple of levels just to see what animal your protagonist will morph into when you collect enough power-ups, but I can’t see many people lasting much longer than that.
Comix Zone is a beat ’em up-slash-platformer based on the style of comic books, meaning your hero and his pet rat will leap and fall from one comic book panel to the other while smashing holes in guys and solving puzzles. Easily one of the most creative games in the Mega Drive’s back catalogue, and a fine little gem that plays wonderfully today. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Gain Ground and Crack Down. Gain Ground is a miserable little single screen shoot ’em up with as much appeal as a wet sock, while Crack Down is a dull top-down Gauntlet-style shooter that makes a wet sock look good. How these games ever qualified as classics I’ll never know.
Shinobi III puts you in the shoes of a ninja with magical skillz and deadly throwing stars. A tough cookie of a side-scroller, this one has its roots properly in old school arcade difficulty. However, it’s packed full of excellent special effects and standout events, such as the horse-riding level, that make you want to keep on coming back. Vectorman is a big and brash run ‘n’ gun game with prerendered 3D models of robots kicking the ass of other prerendered 3D models of robots. There’s nothing special here unless you have fond memories of the Vectorman series, but it’s a bombastic game that’s well worth a few hours of your time.
We end with Space Harrier II, which belongs to a genre that is impossible to explain, or even draw. Your guy is flying into the screen, shooting as many shades as he can manage out of the most bizarre selection of enemies ever presented. This crazy fun arcade shooter is one of the oldest titles in the set, but Space Harrier’s style is timeless.
The collection does have some clunkers, but it’s mostly good stuff, and for the budget price you can’t argue much. The collection’s basic presentation has everything you need without being over-the-top or packed with useless fluff. A simple menu and navigation system helps you through the disc, and all the games allow regular saving, which is essential for a lot of them if you ever want to see the ending! It’ll take twenty seconds to get into the game of your choice, and the games play in full-screen with perfectly emulated sounds and visuals. A completely vanilla release, but hey, vanilla tastes good.
The later discs in the series will have more games per disc and might raise the curiosity of a few old school gamers – the other Sonic games, Streets of Rage and both Toejam and Earl games will be showing up – so keep your eyes open. The episodic release of these collections is an excellent approach, allowing the consumer the freedom to pick and choose which discs they want, for a very small price each time. The only negative point is that anyone who has any interest in these games will probably already own them in one of the four hundred forms they’ve been released in already. If you don’t have the complete set, or if you fancy some classic fun on the cheap, get started on this series. 7 out of 10.
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