Featuring Sega's Best non-Valkyrian games
So the first 2009 release that I review is going to be a bunch of old games!
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection: A really big compilation of Sega Genesis games.
Story: Once apon a time, Sega mattered in the same way that In Living Color mattered. Names like Sonic and Golden Axe were once meaningful to a young, badditude-loving generation of aspiring Bart Simpsons and Jonathon Taylor Thomases before they were butchered, maimed and turned into werewolves, and the ratio of good to bad Sega games was closer to 2 to 1 as opposed to “Valkyria Chronicles to everything else.” The Genesis was the system of choice for cool kids, and every other kid on the block had their system plugged in with a Sonic, X-Men, Ecco and NHL game (well, here in Canada anyways) and now here’s a compilation that lets you relive half of those memories.
This is the second attempt at some kind of crazy super Sega Genesis collection, the kind of anthology you’d wish Nintendo would do with their systems instead of forking us over for more money by re-releasing every title individually. The previous Sega Genesis Collection on the PS2 and PSP were solid but incomplete sets, and this professed ULTIMATE Collection rounds out the package a bit more smoothly by, replacing such duds like Ecco Jr and the dumbed-down Virtua Fighter port with, say, all the Streets of Rage games.
If you love to beat up assorted ugly people, you’re going to enjoy this set. Finally, all the Streets of Rage games are available and they may as well be worth making the upgrade from the previous collection by themselves. All the Golden Axes are here too, plus an odd little burn-em-up called Alien Storm that I didn’t know about before, where a yellow-spandex chick, a robot and a muscular dude beat up grotesque aliens with their flamethrowers (in other words, all the things kids thought were cool in the 90s.) There’s also Altered Beast, and your opinion on Altered Beast will vary on if you played it when it first came out (if yes, you probably loved it. If no, then it’s a nuisance to play). I know that beat-em-ups aren’t as popular in this day, or at least ones not disguised with Greek mythology and shiny swinging fire blades, but getting a friend over and beating up skeletons is always a raucous fun time.
On that note, if I can make a complaint about the set, it’s that many of these games are hard and were designed for the player to die a lot and start over. Back then, we didn’t know better; dying meant our mothers won and we had to start our homework and try again another day, but in 2008 this doesn’t really fly. I would’ve loved to have seen the option to add unlimited continues added ala Metal Slug Anthology. You can sort of fake infinite lives with the Save/Load feature, akin to the feature that you’ll see in emulators where you can create a save at any point in a game, but even this is inefficient for many games.
Going back to things that make me happy, platformers! Sonic 1-3 and that Knuckles game are present in what amounts to almost every Sonic game that matters. However you can’t fake connect Sonic and Knuckles to the other games as far as I can tell like you could with the real game. There’s also the oddball pinball game Sonic Spinball and the oddball failure at being “hip” with 3D gameplay, Sonic 3D Blast. You can see a lot of Sega’s attempts at being trendy to young kids of the era here with games like Decap Attack (a platformer starring a zombie that attacks things with his face) and Kid Chameleon (a platformer starring a kid with sunglasses and hair gel who wears a helmet and becomes a samurai, or a tank, or a bunch of things). Both games are the 90s equivalent of Saint’s Row in terms of trying to be “with it”, but they’re both pretty fun, simple and tough platformers in their own right. If you haven’t played Ristar before, you’ll be in for an odd treat; a fun (albeit slow-paced) platformer with solid and creative level design and largely the same gameplay mechanics as the show-stealer of the entire compilation, Dynamite Heady. Here’s a game that I’m glad I finally get the chance to sit down and play! It’s got this whole theme of being a platformer that’s really a stage play, and the levels are creative and there’s plenty of imaginative set pieces and…well what I guess I’m trying to say is that if you haven’t played it before, now’s as good a time as any. There’s also Vectorman 1 and 2, two really tough shooters starring a collection of floating balls, and E-SWAT, a less original shooter about some guy who shoots…guys.
Oh, and Shinobi 3 is a game about a ninja that throws daggers at enemies, and it has levels where you ride a horse and a surfboard battling other ninjas.
The other treat for me is Beyond Oasis, a Zelda-like adventure that I never got to play, with some kind of funky Arabian vibe. It’s fairly solid, and definitely more accessible than the other RPGs included. To the delight of old-school RPG fans (and I mean REALLY old school), all of the Phantasy Star and Shining Force/In the Darkness games are here, for people that love to grind levels and look up strategy guides on the internet for how to finish a level. And there’s a game called “Fatal Labyrinth” that I booted up, got attacked by some dude from behind, couldn’t figure out what to do about it, and flipped the game off.
There’s a few interesting games that at least give the impression that Sega was willing to experiment and do more than just push mascots with sunglasses and hair gel. Comix Zone had a grownup with sunglasses and hair gel thrown into a virtual comic book; it was unforgiving and unintuitive (you’ll welcome that feature) but it’s a unique concept that begs to be revisited. Bonanza Bros featured what I can only describe as Mega Blocks characters robbing buildings, and you could do it with another player split-screen. Ecco 1 and 2 were these really tough side-scrollers about a dolphin, and while the art style is stunning, the games are rather frustrating and confusing to play and navigate. On the less original front, there’s the tired tile puzzle game Columns and the Puyo-Pop ripoff (albeit a sufficiently fun ripoff,) Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Gain Ground is some weird gauntlet ripoff that boasts about having 100 playable characters, but when each character is the size of a gnat, it’s hard to colour me impressed.
I also like the unlockable bonus features. There’s a slew of developer retrospective interviews, and a handful of unlockable Master System and arcade games. The requirements for unlocking them are mostly civil without being unforgiving, but the better games require playing the duds. For example, to unlock Space Harrier, you need to get a certain score on the first level of the slower, clunky Space Harrier clone Super Thunder Blade. To get the cult favorite shooter Fantasy Zone, you need to play the cult-less, Mappy-esque Flicky, a weird arcade-style game with technology that makes it seem like Kid Chameleon programmed it but has a simple, fun charm to it. You can also unlock the original Shinobi, the original Phantasy Star, the better looking and somewhat tolerable arcade version of Altered Beast, and for the sake of having name-dropped every game in this review: Zaxxon, Alien Syndrome, Golden Axe Warrior and Congo Bongo. But why no Outrun?
Now, I wouldn’t be the 16-bit fanboy I know I am if I didn’t talk about omissions from the otherwise ULTIMATE Sega Genesis Collection. The Treasure-developed Dynamite Heady is present but not their other cult-favorite shooter, Gunstar Heroes. Splatterhouse and Eternal Champions are absent, presumably because they would jack up the ESRB rating on the box. ToeJam and Earl are also absent, presumably because having Kid Chameleon in the game passes the game’s 90s badditude quota. And finally, no licensed games, meaning no X-Men or…Michael Jackson.
But if you take the package as a whole, this ULTIMATE Sega Genesis set is fantastic. It’s a beefy compilation with all the beat-em-ups, platformers and miscellaneous games you can hope for, including several multiplayer, girlfriend-friendly choices. It also makes a mighty fine time capsule, capturing all of the faux style and poser-isms that you get when a Board of Directors puts their creative juices together to piece together the next big mascot. And it’s only $40, the price getting 4 or 5 of these games on the Wii or Xbox online shops.
Pros: All of the cheat codes still work too.
Cons: Okay I forgot to mention one game. “Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle.” A game where success and failure depends on Rock, Paper, Scissors…
It’s amazing that I can type up so much more in a review about old Sega games than I can about Resistance 2.