SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection
It’s easy to get flustered. Just a quick glance at SMDUC and you’ll realise the depth of quality retro gaming on a single disc has never been so enticing. Hidden within over forty Sega classics are millions of childhood memories from all around the world. These games were amongst the first to evoke real emotions for many adult gamers of today, as the roller coaster ride of experiencing joy, frustration and eventual jubilation had the power to bring players to tears, such was the difficulty of many of the titles. Serving up the chance to re-taste many of their most revered gems, Sega have thrown together a line-up that pinpoints just why they were such a powerhouse through the ‘90s and into the millennium.
With such a glorious back-catalogue, it shouldn’t be a surprise that SMDUC has been released in the current climate. Downloadable titles have given classic formulas of the past a chance to strut their stuff once more, as retro gaming has become entirely more relevant than it was on the previous set of consoles. In fact, if you hunt through any of the download services from the big three, you’ll find the original Sonic The Hedgehog and its first sequel, plus Ecco the Dolphin and Streets of Rage II (amongst others) already waiting for you. While Sega-fanatics would have snapped these up in an instant, many would have brushed over each title with a nonchalant shrug before placing their latest top-of-the-chart release into the disc tray. Fortunately, SMDUC aims to teach a lesson in what it means to be top of the class, as you’re taken back to the old school in excellent style.
Firing up this collection for the first time, I experienced emotions that came as a huge surprise. Opting to tackle my long-time favourite Altered Beast first, I became engulfed in the simplistic and horrifying world once more, anxiously dabbing at the pad like an adult corpse powered by my devilish child-like fears. Within minutes, I was back into the groove of the side-scrolling universe that I left idle over ten years ago. Once again, the obscure imagery and repeating monotonic music shrouded my mind in terror. Making my way through the first level, I started to feel the difficulty ramp up, just like it had done all those years ago. In order to survive, Sega pushed players to strike the pad with the most accurate timing possible, in what becomes an addictive ‘one-more-go’ type of game. Amazingly, wide-eyed and ready for a comforting rest, Altered Beast had managed what current big-hitters Resident Evil 5 and FEAR 2: Project Origin failed to do: it had scared me.
Hiding amongst this collection is a title that will offer a stern challenge towards even the most skilful of players. Comix Zone is a superbly crafted comic book adventure that has you hopping in and out of individual panels to defeat enemies that are drawn in. Deliciously crisp and clean, you’ll be hard pushed to find a title that looks so glorious amongst the games of today.
Of course, the isolation and impending doom experienced in Altered Beast is a rare case for a collection that is made up with an abundance of over-friendly and heart-warming folk. The closest you’ll get to feeling this uncomfortable again will probably be through taking on dangerous enemies like the Mother Brain in Phantasy Star II, as her difficulty remains as punishing and relentless as before. As many RPG fans have been left jaded on the current generation, they may find some value in early genre additions such as Shining Force I and II or the aforementioned Phantasy Star series (with II, III and IV available here). Each game is still entirely playable, as their ridiculous stories and familiar gameplay serve as a fierce reminder as to how the RPG genre hasn’t made significant progress since the early days that were hugely popular.
Speaking of popularity, there’s no doubt who is the main act when it comes to a Sega show. Fans of Sonic should don their red-trainers and spike their hair once more, as you can relive the first three adventures on the same disc. What’s more, Sonic & Knuckles is also included, meaning you’ll be able to witness the era that made the blue hedgehog and friends such world-renowned characters. It’s impressive to see how Sega gained confidence through the first three games, as they continue to get more complex and varied as the series moves on. Saying that, Sonic 3D: Flickie’s Island is also ready to play, representing the poorly structured beginning of the mascot’s 3D mishaps. Carved around an isometric viewpoint, you won’t be rescuing Flicky and his friends for long, as the so-called technological advance lacks the pace and charm of its pre-1996 brothers. Judging on modern day terms, it’s sad to announce that the series has failed to progress since these seminal platform iterations, as the superstar name now features in sub-par titles such as Sonic Unleashed. It seems the only way to get Sonic on track again would be through biting the financial bullet and whizzing back to classic stages such as the Green Hill and Marble Zones for inspiration.
With that said, platform fans are going to have a blast with this one. Alongside the various Sonic titles, you’ll be able to reminisce with the likes of Alex Kidd, Kid Chameleon, Ristar, and even the slightly outlandish Dynamite Headdy title. Although similar in gameplay, experiencing each title individually will allow many gamers to understand how current favourites such as Braid have been influenced, as the contrast of colours and constant supply of puzzles highlight what makes this formula so simple but yet so appealing. For many, one of the above will stand as a personal favourite amongst Sega’s characters, meaning each player can work their way through the memorable journeys that mean something to them with nostalgia-vision firmly in tact. The DualShock does well to keep up with the pace of the genre, as controls are responsive and easily adapted to the different button layout, meaning you won’t lose that unprecedented flow of Master Kidd as he inevitably punches his way through an assortment of cars and baddies in the blink of an eye.
Chop Me Up
Without doubt the toughest title on the disc has to be Super Thunder Blade. Offering a helicopter ‘simulation,’ it won’t be long before your hurtling towards the ground in a rampaging ball of fire, as it’s true one-hit-one-kill nature will leave you bemused and startled. Looking for a challenge? It’s right here.
If you’ve got an iron-nerve and pack a fist of steel, Sega have included some of the best brawlers from the Mega Drive era in this lovely little box of treats. Hardly needing an introduction, the fight is lead by the critically acclaimed Streets of Rage and Golden Axe series’ (let’s forgive GA’s latest instalment), in an inclusion that will have side-scrolling beat ‘em up fans dribbling from deep inside their battered cheekbones. As co-op gaming is currently the trendiest fashion going, you’ll be hard pushed to find two better retro fighting titles than Streets of Rage 2 and the original Golden Axe to take on with a friend. Representing a man who can devour an entire roast chicken (including bones) with one bite, Axel and his friends once again take to the beautifully decorated streets to eliminate the endless ginger goons that stand in their way. Wielding just about anything possible as a weapon, and aided by one of the most satisfying soundtracks ever, Streets of Rage 2 should be viewed as an addictive masterpiece on a disc that contains so much high quality and splendour. Granted, if drop-kicking bike-riding opponents off their moving throne whilst wearing roller-skates isn’t for you, there are beasts ready to be saddled upon in the slightly less-cheesy Golden Axe. Just don’t expect to take either of these games online, as Sega criminally miss a trick by leaving out what many would consider a vital evolution for all of the products on show, especially as some of the games can already be played online via Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.
For those gamers who like to tackle their enemies via gunplay and the spraying of deathly slugs, you’ll be encouraged to know that Sega have included the superb old school shooter Alien Storm within the collection. Mixing run-and-gun gameplay with FPS sections that allowed for mass-destruction, this stands as the best shooter on the disc. Blood-thirsty players may crave the darker and intense challenge of Shinobi III, as the ninja hits the screen in a title that would easily tempt us away from Ryu Hayabusa’s second coming. These quality products aren’t backed up too well, as Sega scrape the barrel by including the mundane and poorly designed E-SWAT, in a showing that won’t attract many to try more than once. It’s great to acknowledge that the controls have been produced simply to allow for smooth gameplay throughout the shooter collection: shown best in the awesomely futuristic and still impressive VectorMan games. Coming from 1995/1996, if the visual presentation in this doesn’t impress, then it’s safe to say retro gaming is not for you.
When reviewing a collection of over forty classic games, it’s difficult to come to a conclusion. How do you put a score on a product that holds the collective memories of an entire generation? How do you cover each game individually, trying to discuss what makes them so special? Admittedly, this task is by no means an easy one. Even for myself, I found brilliance in a simple title I had previously overlooked in the form of Flicky. As I round up endless amounts of baby chicks and safely escort them to the exit, I’m surprised I have found something fresh and instantly appealing about the collection. For a set of gaming premises that have since aged and become run-of-the-mill, how do you place them amongst the hardware firepower and technological advance we now calmly sit amongst? The answer is simple. Even though many of these titles can be hunted down for free online or downloaded for a small wedge of cash, Sega have rounded up their proudest moments and presented them to a willing audience who can now appreciate the glory days of the mega-company. True, since then it hasn’t all been fun and games for the team that went on to craft the underrated Dreamcast. They want you to remember what put them in a position to create a console in the first place, as they bring back the range of products that acted as a catalyst for spontaneous teenage emotion in the 1990s.