With individual emulations of old arcade and console games being served up on a somewhat regular basis via the digital distribution networks of each console, you might think that the collections and compilations that we saw during the last console generation would be obsolete. Why sell a pack of 30 or 40 games for $29.99 when you can sell one game for five bucks? On that note, it's kind of cool to see a big collection of 16-bit Sega games, with a handful of other arcade versions and interviews thrown in for good measure. If you're way into old Genesis games and don't currently have any other way to play them, this "ultimate" collection is a pretty solid choice.
But it's not just any "ultimate collection." This is Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, a particularly awful name because it makes you think this is a collection of Sonic the Hedgehog games. It isn't. In fact, despite the inclusion of Sonic & Knuckles along with the previous Sonic games, you can't use the "lock-on" feature that allowed Genesis owners to play as Knuckles in Sonic 3 or Sonic 2. Instead, this is a collection of Sega-published Genesis games with an "extras" section that has some unlockable games from arcades or the Sega Master System.
There are just under 50 games in all and they cover a good, wide set of genres. The classic action stuff is well-represented by a slew of Sonic the Hedgehog games, the complete Streets of Rage trilogy, four Golden Axe games, a few Shinobi games, and a couple of VectorMan games. You'll also find some role-playing and strategy, with four Phantasy Star games and three games from the Shining series. The emulation on the Genesis games is fine, and by default Ultimate Genesis Collection shows you the games in their original 4:3 format, drawing a themed background that will fill the rest of your screen. If you're the type of dope who likes to stretch things out, you can easily ruin the way the games look by making them take up the entire screen. You can also ugly things up with a smoothing filter that is also off by default. With these few, bad options available and the main focus of the collection being its ability to emulate games from 1989-1996, the back-of-box copy that states it has "ENHANCED HD GRAPHICS" is completely stupid and absolutely misleading.
The emulation on the arcade games is a bit spotty. The most notable issue is Space Harrier, which plays well enough but has numerous audio issues that make it sound completely different from the way the original game sounds. Considering how great the sound was in the original--and how long Space Harrier has been emulated just fine in other open-source projects--this just makes the whole thing feel a little lazy. Also, there are enough multiplayer games in this pack that the lack of online functionality is a noticeable omission.
You'll find a few extras on the disc, including a few video interviews with people who worked on the original games. So if you're interested in hearing Japanese Sega employees wax nostalgic about the development of Ristar or about... the development of Phantasy Star Universe? Yeah, that doesn't really fit.
For me, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection had me at Fatal Labyrinth. This sort-of-crappy dungeon crawler was one of my favorites back when it was new, and for whatever reason, I still enjoy it today. Chances are, if you played a lot of Genesis games, there's at least one game in this collection that you feel this way about, and at least one missing game that will seem like a horrible, glaring omission. Either way, it's hard to argue with its relatively cheap price, and 49 games for $30 is a pretty good deal... even if the Space Harrier audio is totally jacked.