“Sega does what Nintendon’t.”
Sonic the hedgehog isn’t the only glaring thing on The Well-Red Mage today. Anyone who has perused our pages for a length of time (as some of you darling NPCs have, thank you very much) will notice a glaring omission. Namely, Sega games. This bears some explanation, some coming clean, and some preliminary apologetics.
Heart to heart time. Though they’ve irked me often, I’ve always been a Nintendo fan. I got my start with the Nintendo Entertainment System in terms of serious gaming and collecting. Though I played video games on C64 and the like before owning an NES, the NES will always be my first baby. I will always consider it the pinnacle of classics gaming, a model and standard for the future of the entire industry, indeed the single system that saved the industry at all. I’ll never forget standing in front of those huge shelves full of cartridges at a Blockbuster or 7-11.
Isn’t this post about Sega, though? Yeah, yeah… Since the NES, I’ve owned and loved every Nintendo console and system minus the Wii U and Nintendo DS (and also the Virtual Boy, which I owned but didn’t love). Nintendo was partly responsible for my textual awakening (not a typo), since I spent many days as a child writing out stories and character bios with accompanying doodles for made up Nintendo games like “Super Mario Universe” and “Super Duper Metroid”. By the way, those names are taken, Nintendo.
I could fill up entire encyclopedias talking about Nintendo’s contributions, their sense of magic, awe, innocence, escapism, the iconic status of their IPs, their innovation that paved the way and shaped the path for gaming in every home. But I won’t do that. This article is about Sega.
I’ve never owned any Sega system except for a Game Gear for the span of a summer vacation. I didn’t play it much because I had a Nintendo Game Boy. No argument in terms of their libraries. The games that I played at friends’ houses on the Master System, the Genesis, the Saturn, the failed Dreamcast were cool and all but didn’t stay with me, weren’t compelling, had games that could be found on other systems, or felt vaguely inferior. I viewed Sega like a cool older cousin I never saw because they lived out of state, who smoked because they stole cigarettes from their parents and dyed their hair a different color every week to match their mood, but who wasn’t very good with the English language or basic maths. Sega was a slick, black, shiny-finish stranger to me that I didn’t have many huge aspirations to be with and get to know.
I of course don’t mean any of that to say “Hurr hurr Sega sukks!!!!!!!!1”, because on the contrary there were some games on their systems I liked and really wanted to play. Guardian Heroes was a game on the Saturn I adored, had a weekend fling with, and never texted again. The limited libraries, inundation of Sonic, downright crude and even petty marketing, and their attempt to come off as “mature and therefore better” (propaganda which has sadly found root in modernity) turned me away from Sega almost entirely.
Thus Alien: Isolation stands out as the only real Sega game we’ve reviewed here and it wasn’t even on a Sega console nor was it reviewed by me. Other games that received Sega Genesis versions I’ve reviewed for the Super Nintendo instead. Typically, these were superior on the SNES anyway, titles such as Sunset Riders, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the hilarious Earthworm Jim and its lame sequel Earthworm-I-don’t-really-care-if-you-disagree-with-me-Jim 2.
Not many Sega games have been reviewed here but now that’s all going to change. This is, after all, a blog with a pun for a name referring to a learnéd individual, a jack-of-all-trades, a renaissance man, a well-read mage. Expect more from Sega here because of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, a recent purchase I made for the PlayStation 3.
Okay so it was a stopgap buy until I could get my finglets on an NES Classic Edition, so Sega is still playing second fiddle to Nintendo, but hey, I’m trying. And I am excited to dive into a lot of these titles, to look at them with fresh eyes retrospectively and analytically. This is a whole realm of gaming history opened to me, even as I remain on the search of physical Sega consoles.
Except for this console. I don’t want it or its bootleg clones and crappy wireless controllers with the same old d-pad issues.
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, I’ll say right at the start, is one of the best single volume retro compilations I’ve played. It goes to great lengths to capitalize on delicious nostalgia. The main menu resembles the top of a Sega Genesis and shows a cartridge for the game on the right where you can see demo footage, cover art and read historical factoids. The collection opens with is this wonderful sequence, a wall of tv screens flash 16-bit imagery from Sega games recognizable even to this Nintendo fan. The music and the visuals builds up to this incredible crescendo that got me excited to dive right in.
But where to begin? The collection boasts an impressive 49 games from the Genesis/Mega Drive, Master System and the arcades! Other retro compendium games I’ve played in recent history include The Disney Afternoon Collection and the Mega Man Legacy Collection, both of which feature incredibly accurate and tight controls for perfect, streamlined emulation of the NES era. However, neither of those spectacular collections had more than six games apiece. Here we’re talking about one short of fifty!
With Sega’s biggest (and only?!) mascot emblazoned across the cover and with his name in the title, we shouldn’t be surprised that this library of Sega games includes lots of Sonic. There are six Sonic games here. You know, let me just list the games. For science.
- Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Beyond Oasis/The Story of Thor
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Ecco the Dolphin
Ecco: The Tides of Time
ESWAT: City Under Siege
Golden Axe II
Golden Axe III
Phantasy Star II
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention
Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal
Shining in the Darkness
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Sonic & Knuckles
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic 3D Blast/Flickies Island
Streets of Rage
Streets of Rage 2
Streets of Rage 3
Super Thunder Blade
The other games are unlockable after completing certain in-game requirements and grabbing a few trophies/achievements. These challenges include things like collecting a certain amount of points on this game or beating a boss in that game. The only one that seems unfair is beating the first boss of Sonic 2 with two players, demanding that you find a second player and have a second controller on hand. Everything else is easily accomplished. At least nothing so far has presented itself as truly teeth-grinding. Here are the unlockable titles, mainly arcade games:
- Alien Syndrome
Altered Beast (arcade)
Golden Axe Warrior
This sizable collection can be reorganized by our own ratings. You can give a personal score for each game, which is yet another unique feature among retro collections. Rest assured that the usual save states capability is included here though there are no online leaderboards or online multiplayer.
Now even with 49 games, it’s clear that this is far from an “ultimate” collection. I’m sure you can think of a few titles that might’ve made your dream wishlist. EWJ sits right at the top for me, what with that extra level, but there’s also no Virtua Fighter 2, Gunstar Heroes, or ToeJam & Earl, not to mention any Battletoads. You figure they could’ve swapped out Altered Beast for… anything else. Not that kicking zombies in the nuts isn’t entertaining but I’m sure there are better representations for the Genesis. Perhaps the biggest hole is left by the absence of Mortal Kombat games, the ones that weren’t watered down like they were by Nintendo.
I do consider any of these exclusionary and inclusionary issues to be pretty miniscule. The fact that you’re getting almost fifty games outweighs that. I plan to use this single PS3 disc for many, many reviews to come. It’s not very often as an adult I get to experience 16-bit games for the first time, knowing next to nothing about them, and that’s my personal joy with Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.
The 8-bit Review
I assume the visuals are well-represented from the original systems, complete with that flat blandness of the Sega Genesis. Long live the SNES will be my dying warcry. The crispness of the pixels are and should be the biggest draw here and its not unpleasant in its accuracy. The standard settings present each of the 49 games in 4:3 with unique borders for the different titles. There is however 16:9 for people into that sort of thing.
There’s also the smoothing option which you can thankfully toggle off. Not sure who this appeals to. Maybe homicidal psychopaths? I think smoothing is going to become such an anachronistic gimmick. Aren’t we coming back to these games for that pixelated look? If so, then why turn them into a cheap photoshop job?
This piece of original music that plays over the interface between games is gold. Gotta love that chirpy warbling. The first few thrumming seconds of this song remind me of MIKA’s “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)”, which I didn’t exactly want. Since there’s not much new material musically speaking and since a lot of these games have soundtracks that sound like nails on an electronic chalkboard, I can’t conscience giving this game a huge rating in the Audio department.
Annoyingly, the game has to take several seconds every time you get past the title screen to load and set up trophies. Why? Well, that might just be the single terrible thing about the way this collection plays, because everything else is a breeze and a beaut. Save states are helpful for those of us who aren’t too familiar with these games, especially with the ones that mercilessly murder your character with something you can’t see until you’re right on top of it thanks to the Genesis’ propensity for jittery screen movement. I’m looking at you, Sonic the Hedgehog numero one.
There’s the original in-game pause with the start button and a second pause feature set to the select button. This collection-specific pause allows you to access controls and video setup menus, saving and loading mechanisms, soft reset, and an exit that takes you back to the main menu to select a different game. Its implementation is very much unobtrusive. The focus remains on the presentation of the 49 games themselves and they play comfortably with the PS3 controller.
Before each game boots up, there’s a brief insert screen that shows you the button layout for the game at hand. Most of the time it’s just a few inputs like Jump or Attack. These were simpler times, my friends. The only thing you’ll need to worry about at this point is making sense of the inaccessible elements inside each individual game, like some of the power ups and items which occasionally make little sense or are unintuitive.
Everybody knows that retro games can be pretty unforgiving and unapologetic in their difficulty. I haven’t come across a real Mega Man II nail-biter yet but let’s just say I’m thankful for the ability to save at any point in a game.
As far as collections of classics go, this one is the biggest I’ve come across. Yeah not all of these games are stellar examples of 16-bit perfection (“Powerrrrrr up!”) but there are still 49 of them, a practically unprecedented number. The best thing about the Ultimate Genesis Collection, though, are the unlockable features. I couldn’t care less about the absence of leaderboards or online multiplayer because unlocking things by completing in-game challenges should be a staple in retro collections. Things like interviews, concept art, history, even extra games should all be the norm for unlockables and here a great many of them are. It provides just one more reason to play besides for reliving the games themselves and collecting a few trophies or achievements. Most importantly, it captures the spirit of old school games by hearkening back to a time when all secrets and additional content in a game was unlocked by completing in-game challenges and not by shelling out extra cash to download DLC.
The house that Sonic built and later watched burn down: Sega. They’ve done a lot over the years, haven’t they? As I understand it, there are more extant collections of Sega games than just this one, but of all their compendiums it seems to me that this is the one to get for its size, its presentation, its unlockables, its arcade ROMs, and its nearness to current gen technology.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
If you’ve some recommended titles on this collection, please do let me know. I was pleasantly taken aback at how much they crammed into this one PS3 collection. Other retro collections need to take some cues with this one. Include more games and more unlockables. This will keep me busy for quite a while and it works not only as a stopgap for the NES Classic but as a stopgap until I can find a working Sega Genesis and some black carts.
I guess to be this good takes AGES.
Aggregated Score: 8.4