Genre: Compilation Developer: Backbone Ent. Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 11/8/06
Retro compilations are gaining steam in terms of popularity, with publishers like Capcom, Midway, and the ever-present Namco already having several releases under their respective belts. Despite some brisk sales and a generally warm reception from the gaming public, Sega has been somewhat hesitant to join the fray, offering only a select few titles on the Game Boy Advance and Dreamcast over the past few years in addition to a steady string of Sonic The Hedgehog compilations. This all changed in 2005 with the debut of the Sega Classics Collection for the Playstation 2, a set that featured several reworked arcade hits. Mixed reviews notwithstanding, the House of Sonic has once again reached into its deep catalogue of properties to bring another massive sampling of past Sega goodness with the Sega Genesis Collection for the Playstation 2 and PSP. While still not perfect, its one giant step closer to the collection we’re all waiting for.
The First of Its Kind
Weighing in with a hefty dose of 16-bit titles (twenty-eight in all), this is the largest disc of Genesis games ever offered by any publisher so far. Fans of the console are going to initially be happy, then puzzled, then happy again, and finally a bit peeved at what’s been put together here. There’s a good mix of games in terms of genres represented, but the actual titles chosen might leave some longtime Segaphiles a little more jaded than they already are. Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad, and the multitude of extras included go a long ways towards making this a worthy investment.
Everything is accessible through an intuitive menu system that’s highly reminiscent of the one found in the Capcom Classics Collection. Each game and all its content is only a button press away. The general bonus material is on a separate menu, and the whole interface is very clean and user-friendly. All the games permit their buttons to be remapped, so you can set the controls however you wish. Even better is that they all support progressive scan! Loading times are minimal, and once you’ve loaded a particular title, it runs as smoothly and load-free as the cartridge version did.
The game list itself has a crop of classics that deserve their places here, like the entire Golden Axe trilogy and both VectorMan games, the first two Ecco the Dolphins, Shinobi III & Shadow Dancer, and Ristar. There are also a few gems that haven’t been offered before at all, such as Kid Chameleon, Gain Ground, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Decap Attack and Ecco Jr.; and the set is rounded out by compilation veterans Sonic The Hedgehog 1 & 2, Flicky, Altered Beast, Bonanza Bros., Comix Zone, the Phantasy Star trio and Columns. This leaves a select few that are bound to raise a few eyebrows. For example, while I’m glad to finally see all three Ecco adventures together, I have to question the inclusion of Super Thunderblade, Virtua Fighter 2, and Sword of Vermilion. The first two are hardly the best example of their respective genres on the console, and if Sega had to give us a pseudo-3D shooter, why not the underrated Space Harrier II? I’m also sure any Genesis fan would have preferred Eternal Champions over VF2. Moreover, I would have gladly taken Shining in the Darkness or either Shining Force game over Sword of Vermilion. Sadly, several titles didn’t make the cut due to licensing issues, so that’s why we’re deprived of Castle of Illusion and Moonwalker.
Still, the twenty-eight games that have been gathered here are enough to keep you busy for hours, and if you’re wondering whether or not the Sega Genesis Collection‘s emulation is another SNAFU like the Dreamcast Smash Pack was, fear not; Backbone Ent. (specifically Digital Eclipse) has done an excellent job. Everything from the graphics to the music are spot on. There are some instances, most notably in Sonic The Hedgehog and Columns, where sounds have been altered or are missing, but it’s nothing to get excited about. Graphical glitches are few and far between, and we’ve come a long way from the butchered emulation of the Smash Pack. Plus, each game has its own history and box art. Even the classic codes you used in the actual cartridge versions have been included, though you’ll need to unlock the massive Sega Cheat Sheet to access them. A welcome touch is that virtually all the games include a rapid fire option, which gives you that added edge without having to hook up a turbo controller.
Not Necessarily A Dream Team
And that’s where the Sega Genesis Collection hits its biggest roadblock. Probably the first question to come to mind when looking at the game list is “where the heck is Streets of Rage?” Alas my friends, none of the classic Sega beat-’em-ups (along with fighter favorite Eternal Champions) made it in due to their violent content, which would have cost this release its teen rating. That’s pretty puzzling when you think about it. Hacking people to death in Golden Axe is acceptable to the ESRB, but merely beating them senseless in Streets of Rage is considered excessively violent?
The lack of more than one famous Genesis franchises causes this release to lose a bit of its luster, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t eventually see them turn up in the future. After all, Sega developed and produced more Genesis titles than any other company, so it would be foolish to think that this makes up the one and only collection of their wares. If this sells well enough, we should hopefully see another installment in the future (read: go out and buy this set!).
Some Added Value
Whereas the Sega Classics Collection offered little in the way of bonus material, the Sega Genesis Collection serves a healthy dose of goodies, most of which needs to be unlocked. Interviews, original box art, historical information and trivia, classic arcade games, and trailers are included, and some can be opened by merely trying out a particular game, while others require a specific point of level achievement before becoming available. The interviews with several Japanese developers, like Yuji Uekawa and Kazuo Wakihara, offer some keen insight into the creation of games like Ristar and Columns. My only complaint here is that there isn’t anything involving western personalities. Seeing that four of the titles included are American-made, why are there no interviews with their creators? Surely people like Roger Hector, Mark Cerny, and Steve Woita would have been available to talk to Sega about their work.
Another (small) nitpick about the interviews is that they tend to talk mostly about the current state of technology and don’t really add a lot to what’s already known. It would have been nice to see Rieko Kodama discuss the sudden end of Alex Kidd. To be fair, there is some balance, like Makoto Uchida telling a great tale about never getting to see the Genesis Altered Beast bundle in U.S. stores. Sega almost seems to be using these interviews to promote its current stuff, but at least it actually went the distance to include them.
Also in the bonus section are some classic Sega arcade games. I was initially a bit skeptical about a Genesis collection not including the original arcade versions (save for Altered Beast) considering that nine of the titles here are ports. Now, I didn’t expect Virtua Fighter 2, though it would have been a wonderful addition, but why not Shadow Dancer, which is totally different from the Genesis version? Still, there is some great fun to be had with what’s here, and Zaxxon is always a blast. My favorite by far has to be 1982’s Zektor, which is a simple Vector-based game that is wildly addictive and features a ton of speech. Someone seriously needs to update this for Xbox Live Arcade!
So in the end, what do you do? You most likely own all of these titles on your Genesis and are questioning the prospect of purchasing them again. Let me remind you that you’re getting more than two dozen games on a single disc, and you can finally play the Phantasy Star games without worrying about your battery back up going belly up. Even if you’re into emulation (which means you probably weren’t reading this review to begin with), this is still something for worth looking into. The bonus materials are great additions and really, for only $20 it’s a great value. There’s always bound to be some criticism of any compilation, and that’s what future volumes are for. The bottom line is: if you’re a Genesis fan, then this is in your Playstation 2 library.