Reviewed: December 13, 2006
Released: November 16, 2006
“Genesis does…what Nintendo doesn’t!”
Anyone remember that, or am I showing my age?
If you don’t recall, that was the tag line of a very catchy TV ad jingle that aired in the early ‘90s, a very exciting time to be playing games. Sega, longtime producer of mega hits found in your local arcade, was challenging Nintendo’s dominance in the home gaming market with the Genesis system, a console that showcased a slew of new titles with bigger colors, more immersive gameplay, and 16-bit graphics that would leave the Mario brothers in the dust.
Today 16-bit graphics seem quaint, and even the name “Sega” seems more of a historical term than anything else; just another weathered plaque collecting dust in the video game Hall of Fame. But in its prime, the Genesis was one badass console – the first to deliver some of the greatest arcade hits of all time into our living rooms, and a milestone in the evolution of interactive entertainment.
Now we nostalgia freaks can relive those glorious, grainy days with the Sega Genesis Collection, an anthology of old Sega titles on one CD instead of 28 clunky cartridges. Please watch your step as you enter the time machine…
Whenever I hear about another anthology/retrospective title like this, my first and biggest question is always: “What games does it have?” So I’ll assume most folks reading this will want to know the same and will probably be familiar already with the nuts ‘n bolts of the actual gameplay, if not for all 28 games than at least for the big ones, the ones that influenced some of the titles we all have in our PS2s today. So here are the highlights (and the rest):
So there you have it. It’s a decent list, but it’s lopsided. This collection is very heavy on standard action/platform titles and RPGs and I was disappointed to see only one fighter, no first-person shooters, no sports, and no racing games. Sega had lots of these – lots of everything – so why did so many great games end up on the cutting room floor? Where’s “The Terminator” or that awesome “X-Men” game? No “Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing”? What about the eerie sci-fi adventure “Out of This World” or “Streets of Rage” for that matter? Why not include just the best “Phantasy Star” and give some other titles a shot? And do we really need THREE “Ecco the Dolphin” games? Take this into consideration before grabbing this anthology. Side-scrolling action junkies and old school role-players will love this, but it is not a well-rounded cross-section of the great variety the Genesis offered in its heyday.
There are a ton of extra features to sweeten the deal, however. Each game comes with a profile detailing its history and development and some cool trivia factoids (Jaleel White, TV’s “Urkel”, did the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in the short-lived cartoon. Did you know that? I sure didn’t). There are also some surprisingly in-depth interviews with the creators, who have some really insightful things to say about the evolution of video games. What’s great is that the interviews are all focused on the history of the Genesis itself and the impact it had both in its prime and today. It’s a terrific addition, genuinely interesting, and only adds to the appreciation you’ll feel playing these games again after so long.
Even more features are available by unlocking them through gameplay. Scoring a certain number of points in “Columns”, for example, will unlock an interview with its creator, and completing “Altered Beast” will unlock the original arcade version. Bonus games can be unearthed once you’ve played through the list, many of them pre-Genesis arcade relics like “Zaxxon” (from 1982!). It’s a good incentive to check out everything the anthology has to offer, and gives the player a reason to play hard and play well besides the arbitrary scoring of points.
All controls have been handily streamlined so the same buttons pretty much perform the same functions regardless of what you’re playing. In an age when games demand controllers that perform many dozens of separate commands, it’s refreshingly easy to only worry about one or two buttons like “Jump” and “Attack”. Plus, all your high scores and unlocked features are auto-saved on a single memory file, making it a cinch to pick up where you left off.
The titles featured in this collection span a decade and a half, so there is a serious range of visual quality, from the boxy “Bonaza Bros.” to the Atari-ish “Gain Ground” to the “Vectorman” games which still look great considering they’re ten years old. This is one area where there is definitely a benefit to having an original game AND its sequel on one disc, as history-minded gamers can compare graphics side-by-side. Some titles improved dramatically from one year to the next. Once you’ve sampled the somewhat bland visual fare of “Shinobi II”, for example, “Shinobi III” becomes a feast for the eyes with its improved depth, bigger color palate, and innovative level design.
Washed-out, 2-D, or just plain primitive…it’s all part of reminiscing. Only once or twice did my trip down memory lane become painful with the realization that the current-gen systems have spoiled me rotten: I’m sorry “Virtua Fighter 2”, but you look lousy on the Genesis!
A series of flashy DVD-style menus guide you through the collection, complete with original box cover artwork. Interface is dirt simple and pleasantly utilitarian, allowing you to pinball between titles in mere seconds. You can go even faster if you disable the auto-save function.
It’s all here: every last theme song, sound effect, and super villain cackle has been reproduced for this anthology, with nothing (so far as I can tell) omitted or replaced. They even remembered the “Seeeegaaaaa!” at the start of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Oddly enough, it’s the sound of these games, not the sights, that put me in flashback mode and make me remember things I hadn’t thought of in years. Listening to the opening theme of “Kid Chameleon”, for example, made me suddenly remember that there was a secret warp on Level 2 that took you all the way to the final boss. I could even remember the trick required to activate the warp. Weird, huh? For the best music and effects I recommend any of the Phantasy Star games and the awesome “Ristar”.
In fact, the only area where “Sega Genesis Collection” loses some sound points is in the opening menu screens, which are hindered by an annoying techno/punk/raver theme that simply does not belong. These are classic games…let’s have some classic arcade music!
I’ll admit, this disc is packed with extras, and they’re extras that are meant to please nostalgic gamers with fond memories of the Genesis system. There are lots of great, long interviews with the game makers (many of whom are still shockingly young. Watch all the interviews and you’ll unlock the Sega cheat sheet…hell yeah, old-school cheat codes!
The initial 28 games are supplemented with other unlockable titles like “Zaxxon”, “Tac/Scan”, and “Future Spy” and you’ll find trailers for new titles “Virtua Fighter 5” and “Phantasy Star Universe”. It’s fun just to do what you need to do to unlock the extras (for “Tac/Scan” you MUST find the first bonus area in “Ristar”). Even if that doesn’t interest you, the trivia section alone makes for fascinating reading.
The flipside of this, as I already mentioned, is that this is a rather lopsided collection with none of Sega’s numerous, outstanding spots titles or first-person shooters. Now I realize space is limited and you can’t please everyone, but I’m dismayed by the number of underwhelming sequels that made it on here at the expense of other, better games. I hate to repeat myself, but three “Ecco” titles are two too many and, depending on your feelings on dolphins, maybe even three too many.
Having “Sonic”, “Shinobi”, “Kid Chameleon”, “Ristar”, “Golden Axe”, and the Phantasy Star games makes it almost worth the price of admission as it is, but I would have liked a more well-rounded selection representing as many genres as possible rather than whole series of certain titles. Anyone considering this anthology should study the list and think long and hard about the titles they’re really going to play and enjoy.
It’s always hard to score anthology titles on a 1-10 scale. After all, not only are you playing old games that are held to an older, simpler standard, but you’re also playing 28 different games, each held to their own standard. So graphic and sound achievements are really not as important as the value factor, which will make or break a collection like this.
Maybe if “Sega Genesis Collection” was only the first of a multi-volume compilation I’d be more receptive to the selections presented on this disc. But I take issue with several of these titles being called “classics”. Like most collections (and like most of life), this is a case of a handful of superstars flanked by quite a few ho-hum efforts that should have been sidelined in favor of better games from a wider array of genres.