Expect more retro-goodness than ever in SEGA’s biggest collection
Let’s face it – many of us like to revisit our childhood games. Whether it’s through lugging our dusty console from the attic or fiddling about with emulator programmes and doing a bit of internet-scouring…what we wouldn’t do for a trip down memory lane. The Sega Mega Drive is no exception, and back in 2007 we got the chance to play 28 of its games all on one handy disc in Sega Mega Drive Collection. This may have left you wanting a bit more, however.
Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (SMUC) follows the same principle but with a more desirable total of 49 games (9 of which are unlockable content), and it’s Sega’s most generous compilation so far.
But rather than waffle on about each and every game, I’ll say that on the whole, it’s a good offering. The majority are side-scrolling titles but the collection has been spread out well over varying genres; so you’ve got platformers such as Shinobi III and Vectorman, but then some RPGs like Beyond Oasis and puzzler Columns as well. Like Sega Genesis collection, SMUC includes the crowd-pleasers of Golden Axe I/II/III, Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2, Phantasy Star II/II/IV; once again these really steal the show and will bring in the most players. But SMUC brings a few additions to the table as well; the complete Shining Force and Streets of Rage series along with Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles to add to the ‘hog fix. The fact that we now have all four major Sonic the Hedgehog titles warrants purchase of SMUC alone; though sadly no lock-on feature to play as Knuckles in the first three games is included, so die-hard fans could be miffed.
On the same hand, the main problem with SMUC is the number of dud titles that are thrown into the mix as well; some of which you may not have heard of, let alone played. E-SWAT and Super Thunder Blade are examples of poor and forgettable titles that serve only as ‘filler material’ for the rest of the collection. I doubt these were very good in the first place, and they certainly aren’t now. The inclusion of games like these is in the minority of the rest of the disc, but their presence particularly stings when there are always going to be other Mega Drive games that we would’ve liked to have seen in the collection; Gunstar Heroes, Toejam & Earl… I can name a few. Inevitable, but considering these titles gained such popularity and acclaim among gamers, it seems downright odd that they were left out.
The emulation quality is as spot-on as you’ll find, the catchy music and visuals all preserved in their former glory. Obviously, they aren’t going to look as good as they once did on a CRT television – but when many players use a HD TV, that’s sort of a given. One thing to make clear though: the games are not actually in HD, unlike the confusing description on SMUC’s box says. This refers more to the fact that they are displayed and up scaled on a HD TV, nothings been redrawn or messed around with; a small gripe, but worth mentioning to prevent anyone getting mislead.
A pretty sweet (and slightly pixelated) cake.
They all work well with the PS3 controller, too, and choosing a game brings up a control diagram; you’re able to use the analogue sticks if you wish to do so – but for me, it was all about the d-pad. Once you actually begin a game, pressing start pauses the game in old-school Mega Drive fashion, whereas pressing select allows you to reconfigure the game’s controls, reset the game back to its title screen, exit or load or save the game. Yes, you can now save your game at any point, at any time. For anyone who remembers the challenging, ‘old-school’ difficulty of games at the time, they’ll appreciate what a Godsend this is. It’s all quick to use and switching from one game to another could not be simpler. From here you can even switch the screen ratio to range between 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen (as expected, this degrades visual quality a bit, so I’d advise leaving it where it is), or turn on a ‘graphics smoothing’ option. This gives the visuals a more paint-brushed look to them; I found this gave the visuals a blurrier look, but whether you prefer this over the more traditional pixelated look is up to you.
As expected many of SMUC’s titles offer local two-player multiplayer, but considering you could do this in their original Megadrive forms, it’s no big deal. What is disappointing is the lack of online features. Considering Mega Drive games were usually at their best when played together, online co-op for some titles is a sorely missed opportunity that could’ve pushed SMUC from good to great; I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request, either. It’s the omission of any leader boards that is particularly baffling, though – the majority of the games have score meters, but these are useless if you can’t save or compare them with friends.
It’s clear that Sega’s target audience are gamers that grew up with the classic console, but the appeal isn’t solely limited here. As a ’90s Mega Drive child, I was too young to play many of these games at the time and so had missed the majority of SMUC’s titles. But I found that SMUC is all about both the pleasure of being reunited with your child-hood titles and discovering the ones that may have gotten away or hidden gems that you may not have heard of – such as the fantastic Dynamite Headdy. Many of the collection were popular games on their own merits and still hold up well; for many people, modern iterations in the Sonic series haven’t nailed the fun factor and speed of the original Mega Drive titles, which continue to be played today. In the end though, nostalgia does play a very deciding factor and so for this reason, I would warn new gamers. Rose-tinted glasses aside, there’s nothing in SMUC that you can really get engrossed in. The simplicity of Mega Drive titles is what was part of their charm, but compared to today’s games do not come anywhere near the depth and time-consumption that we are now used to. SMUC’s titles serve as more of a quick fix when you have some time to kill and I found myself skipping between games fairly often.
The whole package is put together and presented nicely. From the catchy introduction music to the background game montages, SMUC captures the vibe of the 16-bit era. All of the games can be sorted alphabetically, by genre, year of release or through a 1-5 rating you can score each game on. You can even press circle on a title to bring up a ‘museum’ section, consisting of box-art and background history on the game, as well as some little-known nuggets of information; great if you’re a trivia nut, and it gives SMUC more of a feel reminiscent to a collector’s item. One small niggle is that all of the box-art is taken from the North America versions of the games – would localized artwork really have been so much trouble?
Plenty of unlockable content is to be had as well; in the form of video interviews with the
original game developers and extra games, which are pretty much arcade titles. You unlock these by performing certain achievements, also unlocking trophies spread out across 35 games, the majority of which are easy to obtain. These bonuses are a pleasant touch as they give the player something extra to work towards, and rather than SMUC just being a list of ported games, help to weave the entire collection together more smoothly.
Of course as stated, SMUC does include many a great game, but how it holds up as a whole is the main focus for the final verdict. Though it is still a must-have for retro fan, SMUC isn’t quite the ‘ultimate’ compilation that it boasts to be; a complete lack of any online features and a few disappointing additions to the collection, along with some omissions of more of what we had wanted to see, let it down. Plus, many of the titles have been seen before in the PSP/PS2 offering. For the most part though, SMUC does a good job of encapsulating highlights of the Mega Drive’s lifespan, with the unlockable content and trophies being the icing on a pretty sweet (and slightly pixelated) cake.
The Bad: Lack of online features is disappointing; a few poor games included; many games we would’ve liked are left out; not much longevity.