Picking on Sonic the Hedgehog for the quality of his recent games is not only a cliché way of starting a review on a new Sonic game, but it’s also very unfair. Give the poor little critter a break. He’s a product of his time, the original mascot “with an attitude” who stood up as one of the defining pop culture icons of the Nineties, and he’s out of his depth now, adrift in a sea of polygons and hi-res graphics. What’s he supposed to do – this isn’t his world anymore. I’m sure he was as pleased as the rest of us to hear that his next outing on the Nintendo DSi would not be another attempt at revitalising the franchise, but rather a return to the reasons why we fell in love with him. Sonic Classic Collection presents four of Sonic’s first adventures, brought back to life. Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles all here on one DS card.
Yes, you’re right, we have seen many Sonic compilations before, on the Mega Drive, Saturn, GameCube, PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, PSP and countless Plug ‘n’ Play TV games. But don’t be too hasty, this is the first time they’ve been released in full on a reputable handheld system (The PSP collection didn’t have full backwards-compatibility for Sonic & Knuckles, so it doesn’t count!). So let’s keep an open mind – it may be yet another cash-in, but at least it’s not another Sonic Unleashed.
For the completists, the games included here are the original American Genesis releases; or versions of them, at least. The first one, Sonic The Hedgehog, was the first time we saw the spiky blue ball in action, and it still stands up today as a masterpiece of classic game design wrapped up in a cartoonish, abstract aesthetic. The levels look strange and alien, yet vibrant and charming, and the simple ‘run to the end of the level’ gameplay never gets old. Sonic 2 provides yet more quality gaming, with the graphics and design being even better, providing more variety in level structure and boss battles, plus a kick-ass pseudo-3D special stage and adding Tails and Super Sonic to the character roster.
Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are the same game split into two parts (Google it), and the production values are pushed to the max here. There has been a massive graphical overhaul which is love-it-or-hate-it (this is reviewer code for ‘I don’t like it, but there’s nothing really wrong with’), and the levels are longer, more complicated, with loads more alternate paths, hazards and devices to use, even a snowboard.
This collection includes all of the backwards-compatibility that Sonic & Knuckles offered back in the day, so not only can you play a version of Sonic 2 with Knuckles as your character (his lower jumps make some boss battles easier and some a lot harder, and he can access hidden areas by climbing) but you can also play the full version of Sonic 3 with all of the Sonic & Knuckles levels, which provides the biggest and most rewarding original Sonic gameplay experience.
The collection has a functional, if unimaginative, presentation. The menu screen offers the games, a selection of artwork (classic promotional images that would have been lost to time if it wasn’t for the internet) and credits, which are as exciting as a hayride with no wheels. When playing a game, you will only use the top screen of your DS, with the bottom dedicated to a static display showing information and controls for the game, the Save and Load options and a Pause button. I’m a bit concerned about this static image burning my bottom screen, but at least it goes dark if you don’t use it for a while.
The games themselves mostly play well. There are emulation issues – backgrounds flicker strangely on occasion, and there is a lot more slowdown than there should be. The graphics are fuzzier than they would appear on the big screen too. This isn’t terrible though, and the amazing classic soundtracks are crystal-clear, but there have been changes made to the options in the games which flat-out suck. It is understandable that the original two-player modes have been removed as they relied on split-screen gameplay which is impossible on a DS, but the fact that they were not replaced by an alternative Wi-Fi multiplayer mode shows a laziness on the developer’s part. Also, for seemingly no good reason, the sound test and options have been cut out, meaning that the level selects and level editor cheats cannot be used. This seems like a slap in the face for fans of the original games.
The biggest problem of all is the broken save system. Quite frankly, it doesn’t work and it’s unacceptable that the collection got to retail release in this state. The instruction manual claims that you can save at any point, but if you attempt to and then try to load up the save later on, you will find that you have been returned to the beginning of the level, losing any continues, rings and, most importantly, chaos emeralds that you have earned. Given that collecting these things is probably the most important part of the game, the fact that you can’t preserve them is totally, totally unacceptable. Thankfully, the original save system for Sonic 3 remains, which was a great system in the first place.
What we have here are four fantastic games that have been massively let-down by shoddy emulation and terrible development choices. You really do have to raise some concerns when something as simple as a save system doesn’t work. Sonic Classic Collection was a rushed, budget job, but it is not without its graces. There is the cheap price, the pick up and play retro appeal, and the massive Sonic 3 & Knuckles adventure, which you can actually save in so you can play it properly. Had the emulation been spot-on and the presentation vastly improved, this could have been an essential product for platformer fans, retro gamers and kids with DS consoles, but as it is, it’s the definition of ‘missed opportunity’. Plus you have to press a button on the bottom screen to pause the game, which sucks.
Sonic Classic Collection earns itself a 6 out of 10, but only for the high quality of the original games.