Monday, November 07, 2011

Game Review: Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection

With popular classics and a few hidden gems, the “Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection” is as good a compilation of 40+ games you’ll ever see.

The Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection was released back in February 2009, nearly two years ago, for both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 and advertises 40 classic Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis, for those elsewhere in the world) titles all on one disc and for the first time, the games are compatible in HD.  It’s one of the biggest collections of video games on one bit of media available, and it contains some of the biggest and best games that were released on the fourth generation console. Also included are some unlockable games from either the Sega Master System or the arcade.

So what games are available on this compilation? How about all the main “Sonic the Hedgehog” titles, which are Sonic 1, 2, 3, “Sonic and Knuckles”, 3D and Spinball? It also has “Streets of Rage” 1, 2 and 3, “Phantasy Star” II, III and IV, “Golden Axe” I, II and III, the two “Ecco the Dolphin” titles, “Shining Force” I and II and “Vectorman” 1 and 2 amongst others. These games, back in the day, were anything from £20 to £50 each, and considering the game was £25 upon release and available now from £10 to £15. I’m pretty good at Maths and this spells out at up to £2000 in games back in the day, and all together it’s now available for anything up to 200 times less. That’s an immense statistic. There are other great games on this list too, like “Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle”, “Altered Beast”, “Columns”, “Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine”, “Flicky”, “Gain Ground” and “Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master”. I don’t really know if I really need to review this game because simply listing all of these amazing games says it all, but I’ll continue.
It's great to see such classic titles again, crisper than ever.
Having all the classic “Sonic the Hedgehog” titles in one game isn’t a new thing, it’s been done many times before, but it’s still a great way to play these games again, or for the first time if you’re too young to have played the games when they were released. The best thing about these Sonic titles, which are now up to 20 years old (Happy Anniversary Sonic!) are that the graphics still look absolutely beautiful today, with it’s amazing palette of colours and the fast action. The tightening of the graphics to HD level doesn’t make the biggest of differences but it’s a more than welcome addition.

One of the main bad points about this compilation is that it doesn’t include the “lock-on” Sonic games. Just in case you’re not familiar, the Mega Drive cartridge for “Sonic and Knuckles” had an innovative “lock-on” section at the top where you can attach a second cartridge to it. This was so you could attach another Sonic title to it; if you attached “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” to it, a game that does not feature the Knuckles as a playable character, allows you to now do so. It also allows you to play through the “Sonic 3” levels and then the “Sonic and Knuckles” levels, giving you a whopping fourteen levels of gameplay. I always maintain that these two games combined a game that’s often called “Sonic 3 and Knuckles”, is the most complete version of Sonic the Hedgehog ever. The “lock-on” feature also gave you access to “Sonic 2 and Knuckles” and the original “Sonic the Hedgehog” title locked onto “Sonic and Knuckles” gave you access to hundreds of random bonus stages that are similar to those available on “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” and “Sonic and Knuckles”. So no “lock-on” features is a major downer for me personally, and many other fans as well, due to these versions of the games being so good in the original formats. The producer of this compilation said that there were “tight development times” for the release of this game and that’s the reason they’re not included. They said that if they were to release these “lock-on” games there would be no room for other games, like the bonus “Master System” games. It’s a fair point, although personally I would have preferred the “lock-on” versions over the old Master System and arcade games. But you also have to consider, we have six Sonic titles on this compilation already, so there’s enough Sonic content on here for other games to be considered, which is fair enough.
Riding dragons in Golden Axe was so much fun, now you can do it again!
There are so many games for you to choose from in this compilation, and they cover a lot of different genres here too. Sonic, naturally is a platformer, and that along with other games like “Alex Kidd”, “Dynamite Headdy” and “Shinobi III” will keep you going in a variety of different ways. For the RPG fans you can’t look any further than the “Shining Force” series, a turn based RPG that’s as good turn based RPG ever. The “Shining Force” series stands out as some of the best RPG games ever, and most certainly on the Mega Drive, a console lacking in good quality RPGs. The three “Phantasy Star” games are also well received RPG games that are available, so you have hours and hours of fantasy role playing games to sink your teeth into here. For the side scrolling beat-em-ups, the “Streets of Rage” series set the standard and has arguably never been beat for them. The “Streets of Rage” series, the trilogy, vary in difficulty and have great looking sprites, a range of characters and some funky music, some of the best music available on the Mega Drive. Other alternative side scrollers are the “Golden Axe” series, which are all very similar in style but still are very enjoyable, the very retro “Altered Beast”, a game that has dated a little since the early nineties but is still a little but of fun to play, and is slightly harder than the other games in the genre. There are other games in other genres too, too many to put into great detail here and are all worth a look.

I told you earlier, if you bought these games back when they came out, your total bill could have possibly reached £2000 so you definitely have a vasts amount of content here. There are some popular classics here, but there are also some games here that you may have not played, and that’s a good thing. There’s a justifiable reason for each of the 40+ games to be included here. There’s the obvious, Sonic and “Streets of Rage”, but there’s the more subtle, less popular games here that are of good quality yet their lack of popularity made them almost forgotten. Take “Gain Ground” for example, my favourite game from the few games I had never played before, it’s really good. “Gain Ground” is an odd arcade strategy-shooter, where you simply have go through all the levels and beat the game. In more depth, you can either get through each level by getting your characters individually to the other side of the screen, or kill all the enemies on the screen for automatic progress. As you go through the game you can save and recruit your hostages, all which are trapped warriors and can aid you in battle. It’s easier to play this game than explain it, and it’s a lot of fun, especially as each warrior has their own ways of attacking enemies with their own weapons and special abilities. If you get this compilation give this game a go if you’ve never played it before, it’s an interesting little game that doesn’t have much recognition as a great quality game from the Mega Drive days. Another decent effort is “Ristar”, a game released in 1995 when the Mega Drive was in its dying days, which was made by the same team that made Sonic. Give that a go as well as it deserves more recognition than it has. As I said though, it’s hard to do mini reviews of all the games available on here, but if I were to choose two ‘not-so-popular’ games on the compilation to play, these two are the ones I’d choose.
Shinobi III is still so much fun all these years later.
So all in all this is a fantastic compilation. I’m not going to claim that you’ll love all the 40+ games on this CD, you won’t. But there’s something here for everyone, and chances are there are games on this disc that you’ve never played before. Seriously, give the new games a go. You might find a hidden gem or two. It’s hard to rate compilations due to the fact that not every game on these things are going to be to your taste. But as homage to one of the best video game consoles of all time and the great games that came out on it, the “Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection” is as good a compilation of 40+ games you’ll ever see.

Rating: ****1/4 stars

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