"If you're strong, you can fly, you can reach the other side..."
I was weaned on games in the 16-bit era, and the few games I played will always stick in my head and have a place in my heart. I was a SNES fan but I always liked a few games on the Sega Genesis, especially the Sonic the Hedgehog games, and I'd always make good on the few chances I got to play any of them. About a decade later, after many shifts in the video game landscape, Sega packed numerous Sonic games together and the resulting Sonic Mega Collection is a both a fantastic piece of nostalgia and a collection of some games that still hold up rather well today.
Playing all of these old Sega Genesis games does not feel as strange on the GameCube controller as one might think. You can use either the stick or the D-pad to move Sonic directionally. He can still move left and right, and down still makes him spin. The A-button, B-button and X-button are mapped as the Genesis’ A-B-C respectively and all used for jumping in the majority of the games. The most important part is that is doesn’t feel wrong. I remember the Genesis controller feeling awfully large for it’s time, but the Cube controller is around the same size and feels comfortable to play with. If you’re a former Sega purist and feel wrong and icky about playing Sonic on a Nintendo system, the controls should make you feel right at home.
There are 7 games available at the start. They are Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Spinball, and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. The only reason I bought this game was because it has Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on it; that was all I wanted or cared about. Sonic 2 was the Sonic game that made me fall in love with Sonic. All these years later it is still fun to play. The basic premise of the first Sonic games was to run from one end of the stage to the other while collecting rings, bouncing on enemies and avoiding spikes that pop out of the ground for no reason, and all while going faster than you can even keep your eye on. Sonic the Hedgehog 1 is almost as good as Sonic 2. The game is just as fun, the music is just as catchy and the speed is just as eye-rippling, but the absence of the spin-dash is often quite glaring. I know that's not the game's fault, but after so much Sonic 2 one does get used to it and so when I try to spin-dash up a wall and Sonic just curls up and jumps, after a while it gets annoying.
The rest of the games are a mixed bag. Sonic 3 plays much like 1 and 2, but there are a number of oddities that make it my least favourite of the original trilogy. Sonic 3 was the first stop in Sonic’s eventual downfall, because Sega took out some of the elements of speed and replaced it with puzzles that just don’t fit, maybe to make Sonic more like other games at the time rather than continuing to forge their own path. The new character Knuckles was cool at the time, but again, it signaled the beginning of the over-emphasis on all of Sonic’s friends and shifted focus away from Sonic and speed, the two things that made the first two games so memorable. Sonic & Knuckles, the direct sequel to Sonic 3, has the same problems, but that isn’t to say they are both bad games. No, rather they just don’t shine as brightly next to their two predecessors.
And then you have the weird additions that may or may not have been included just to fill a quota. Sonic 3D Blast, as experimental, ahead of its time and oddly-controlling as it may be, is probably the best of the remaining games. It felt strange to play on the Genesis, but on the GameCube controller with a control stick it feels much better. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine was Puyo Puyo until it had the Sonic moniker slapped on it to make it more marketable, but it is a fun puzzle game that shouldn’t be overlooked. Sonic Spinball is another situation of Sonic being put in a game he doesn’t really belong in, but it’s no slouch and a decent pinball game. These games are there and they’re fun to play so play them.
In addition to the seven games available from the start, there are five unlockable games: Flicky, Ristar, Blue Sphere, Knuckles in Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Flicky is a 1984 arcade game in which you rescue tiny birds, and it seems to be aimed at 3-year-olds. Blue Sphere is the Sonic bonus mini-game that requires you to touch all the blue spheres on a grid without touching any red ones. Ristar is a fun late-life-cycle Genesis platformer that I had never played until unlocking it. Ristar is a humanoid star with extendable arms that help him on his journey to save the solar system from the grasp of the evil Kaiser Greedy. It’s pretty fun.
And Sega would have been nuts to include Sonic & Knuckles and not its most awesome feature: to play as Knuckles in Sonic 2 and 3. To play “Sonic 3 & Knuckles” back in the day wasn’t a big deal because Sonic & Knuckles essentially does that already, but “Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2” was absolutely mind-blowing at the time and still is. The idea that you could patch Knuckles into an existing game and have it work was too much for my little pre-teen mind to handle. Playing as Knuckles in Sonic 2 is almost as much fun as regular Sonic 2. There are a few gameplay differences, such as Knuckles’ ability to glide and clutch walls remaining intact and the fact that your ring count remains intact if you enter and return from a special stage.
The extras are hardly worth a mention, but they’re still there. In addition to the unlockable games, there are several other things on the disc that fall under “I didn’t want them but I’ll look anyway.” There are manuals for all included games, official character art, dozens of comic book covers and several trailers and video clips. Nothing too mind-blowing; the manuals are the most interesting of this bunch.
All the games run perfectly, which is something that shouldn’t have been too difficult on the GameCube hardware but is still commendable. Save for the fact that you can press the Z-button to return to the game-select menu, you will actually think you are playing the Sega Genesis when you look at all the games in the collection. If you’re having trouble keeping up with Sonic that isn’t the system’s fault; Sonic was so fast the Genesis almost couldn’t handle him. Also, the replayability in this collection is a no-brainer; in a collection of twelve games you are bound to find a few you like and can bounce between.
Overall, Sonic Mega Collection is a very competent compilation. It puts twelve games of varying quality onto one disc, which is a bargain no one can argue against. It gives younger gamers a chance to see Sonic’s beginnings, and older gamers a chance to replay the games from their childhood memories and to (arguably) see Sonic at his peak. Do yourself a favor: go out there and find the Sonic Mega Collection, because you will not regret it if you do.