When Sonic Team finally officially confirmed the worst-kept secret of the time - that they were to make a compilation similar to Sonic Jam on the GameCube - the world went into a collective nostalgic coma. With a 1.5GB size optical disc, you'd be able to fit all of the Mega Drive Sonic games as well as Sonic CD, Knuckles Chaotix... maybe a Saturn game... and still find room to plop in a whole treasure trove of nice little Sonic extras.
What the world actually received with Sonic Mega Collection can only be described as 'deeply disappointing' among the hardcore Sonic the Hedgehog community. However, if you consider the target audience for this release, it sort of softens the blow. This is essentially, as the name suggests, a compilation of all the Sega Mega Drive Sonic titles, and a few other bonus loosely-related games. Yawn. But Yuji Naka said that he specifically had new Sonic fans in mind here - indeed, Mega Collection is no doubt a ploy to kindly introduce long-term Nintendo fans to the gourmet Mega Drive classics they missed out on in the 90s while they were playing SNES. Crafty, SEGA, very crafty.
So, what's actually on the disk? For £40, you get seven of Sonic's 16-Bit adventures: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Flickies' Island. All of these games are running on an emulator, and it definitely shows, even though it does do the job decently enough. Really, the gameplay of each of these games is absolutely fine - each of these Sonic titles are representative of Sonic's best, and playing Sonic 2 in particular on a GameCube brings a tear to your eye... what? It doesn't? I'll shut up then.
Beyond the games, there's not an awful lot to get excited about. The only other real features come in the form of a simple options screen, outlining control methods (by default, the Gamecube's B, A and X button are laid out as A, B and C on a Mega Drive pad respectively) and other sound options. There's a Manuals section, where you can view instruction booklets for each game. Not bad, except for the fact that - like everything else about Sonic Mega Collection - it's all American. If there was room to only put one region of manuals in (which is unlikely), SEGA could have made it region-specific, so European manuals appear in the European version, etc. Sadly, this is not the case. The manuals here all belong to the boring US NTSC Sonic releases... we don't even have any of the fabulous Japanese manual scans that Sonic Jam blessed us with.
The disappointment doesn't stop there though. Sonic Jam's crowning glory was Sonic World, a fabulous 3D environment which acted like a virtual extras menu. It allowed fans to access lost media, bonus movies, an extensive history and hundreds of artwork images. Of course, we weren't exactly expecting Japan VRI (the developers of Sonic Mega Collection - Sonic Team merely supervised) to push the boat out and make a whole 3D world, but we did expect a fair amount of additional extra content to make up for that.
What does we get slapped in the face with? Archie Comic scans - again, more proof of the game's America-only focus. Sonic Mega Collection, to be fair, does offer an impressive number of these scans - covers for every Sonic book, as well as a complete copy of 'Firsts'. Although, there should have been a better choice than Firsts, which is a series compiling the first few uninspired Archie Sonic stories (such as the annoyingly pointless "Weeping Willow Trees" issue). It's a crying shame that Fleetway's Sonic the Comic was not included here, it would have been a better example of the Sonic comics. Or at the very least, a copy of any other Archie Sonic but 'Firsts'.
The "Illustrations" section found on the disc includes, quite frankly, a very meagre and uninteresting collection of Sonic artwork. If Sonic Jam could fit four Sonic games, a 3D world, several game extras, hundreds of images, movies and besides on a CD less than half a GameCube disc's size, it's astonishing how SEGA couldn't have fit much more than five bonus games (see later). The "Movies" section is almost insulting in comparison, consisting simply of Sonic CD's intro and outro (using, naturally, the American soundtrack); a Sonic Advance 2 video (the same one seen at the Tokyo Game Show, albeit with english text); a Sonic Adventure 2 Battle video (which isn't SO bad); and a half-baked attempt to outline "Sonic's History" in 2 minutes. Instead of the detailed "Hall of Fame" we got in Sonic Jam, this particular video includes nothing more than a collage of short clips from Sonic's major games. It also makes an error in featuring Sonic Adventure 2 Chao Garden clips when describing Sonic Adventure 1. It's just incredibly lazy.
However bad these flaws may be, it's only worth getting annoyed about it if you happen to be a die-hard Sonic fan, and had therefore already been acquainted with the luxuries of Sonic Jam. If you're new to Sonic and are thinking about buying this, you won't think twice about the extras contained here. Most long-time Sonic fans will be most interested in the bonus features of any given compilation though, and if you're one of them you're going to feel a little cheated.
Sonic Mega Collection does feature a few unlockables. When you first boot up the game, you get a basic list of titles to play - to get the Sonic & Knuckles lock-on games, Sonic 3D and more, you have to play each of these starting games a certain number of times. This is where the flaws of using an emulator becomes apparent. Because there's no way of actually interacting with the game (i.e. unlock a game if you, say, complete Sonic 1), the game has to make do with building a "Game Log" every time you start each game. Each time you start the same game, it adds one to the Game Log counter. So to obtain many of the games, you'll have to launch a certain game 20 times over! Of course, you can just keep launching and exiting the game and unlock the additional titles this way, but it becomes very tedious and just makes you want to dig out your old Mega Drive cartridges instead.
There are two bonus games, loosely related to Sonic or Sonic Team. The first is Flicky, which is an arcade game featuring a bird leading chicks (Pied Piper style) to the Exit, avoiding the cats along the way. The second game is something to get very excited about - Ristar. Although not a Sonic game, it definitely has the looks and feel of a Sonic Team production, and the inclusion of this in Mega Collection is testament to the character's relationship with Sonic Team.
In Ristar, you play a shooting star with elastic arms, bopping enemies to save the universe from King Greedy. The immediate charm for Ristar is its excellent level design, the moves Ristar has at his disposal and the inventive bosses that easily makes Ristar one of the best platformers ever made.
Ristar is worth it.
However, unbelievably, some of the more niche Sonic titles are missing in Sonic Mega Collection. Sonic CD and Knuckles Chaotix have reportedly not been included aside because they aren't Mega Drive games. Well... where else are you supposed to place them? They appeared on ADD-ONs for the Mega Drive. I doubt Sonic Team will bother to make a "Sonic Mega CD and 32X Collection" just for those two, so let's hope they get shoved into Sonic Heroes somehow, such is the trait these days for Sonic Team to bundle classic games with their new titles (see Sonic Adventure DX).
Final verdict? Because of the focus Japan VRI seems to have taken Sonic Mega Collection, there will evidently be two camps in the Sonic fanbase: those that have been fans since the beginning, and those that are new to Sonic and have been pre-dominantly Nintendo. Mega Collection is aimed at the latter audience, and not towards those fans who are been looking for a Sonic Jam 2.
Because The Sonic Stadium looks at games from a hardcore Sonic fan's point of view, this game loses points severely due to its lack of extras, stubborn use of an emulator and general all-round American focus of it. The last part is in no way a bad thing in and of itself, but it does seem like the whole compilation was just developed for nobody other than the US audience, which makes us feel a little cold.
The bright spot in Sonic Mega Collection is ultimately the feature that matters most in a release like this - the games. Despite losing two or three games that the Japanese version received [including Comix Zone! How!?], the Western version of Sonic Mega Collection is great if you simply want to relive those classic Sonic moments and nothing more. For newcomers to Sonic, you'll love it for introduction to the games that started it all for the blue blur. For hardcore fans of Sonic, you'll like it for its nostalgia, Ristar, but not a lot else.
NOTE: This was given a score of 6/10 at time of original publication. We have converted its score to the below 5-star rating based on this score, and adjusted to best represent the original intent and sentiment of the overall article. This is not a re-scoring of this review.