It’s always hard to judge games like SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection in a review, because the only thing you can really gauge is the offering itself and whether the presentation offers value for money. With the Wii’s Virtual Console providing a lot of classic entertainment at varying prices each, and the Xbox Live Arcade doing the same for certain cult favourites, it seems fitting that SEGA would jump in and provide an outlet for gamers to experience all of their past titles as well.
Of course, a Mega Drive Collection is nothing new; the publisher has been supporting the console on Nintendo’s hardware for the longest time, and as recent as 2006 we all saw a Mega Drive Collection released for the PlayStation 2 and PSP. There’s also the idea that, well, the Mega Drive certainly wasn’t the only console that SEGA developed, so why all the hardcore love for it, when a Saturn or Dreamcast compilation would have proved a bit more refreshing?
The answer is quite simple; given the PlayStation 3′s dubious backwards compatibility, the fact that the Xbox never saw the original 2006 release, and that out of all of SEGA's past efforts the Mega Drive is the one that everyone fondly remembers most, it only makes sense that gamers are given the chance to see once more just why the company was known as an industry powerhouse in the 1990s.
Now, sing it with me… “Seeeeeee-gaaaaaaaaaaa”…
The collection is being handled by Backbone Entertainment, a studio that is no stranger to console emulation, with their track record including numerous Xbox Live Arcade titles and the original Sega Mega Drive Collection on PS2. This release has the same classy interface that we have come to expect from the team, with games being presented in a menu that represents a Mega Drive console.
With around 40 games to play, there's an option to filter the list so that it’s easier to get to the games you like better. A personal scoring system allows you to rate games out of five - of which the highest scorers will emerge at the top of the list when the collection boots up. It's little touches like that which help make a collection like this helpful, rather than a hindrance.
Game presentation is as you would expect from a PC emulator – as this is what Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection really is, at its core. While it might sound reasonable at first to expect Backbone to have offered a little more than this, it's really hard to complain when you're playing each of the ‘ROMs’ on a big screen. There’s an option to add a 2xSAI style filter on the graphics, but it really fudges things up with blurry, smudgy sprites so it’s best you turn it off.
Seeing Phantasy Star IV or Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in upscaled digital glory really does give you a blast to the past. On top of this, the games used are 60Hz without borders – which is a godsend for games like Streets of Rage 3, which really suffered in its original PAL cartridge release for being way too slow and border-heavy.
In terms of extras, we get a gallery of box art and cartridge scans for every game, although sadly we only get US NTSC artwork in our PAL release. Would have been nice to have seen European boxes, along with US and Japanese to complete the set. There are bonus interviews, but they’re lifted straight from the 2006 PS2 release and don’t provide any extra insight to those who have seen them before (although it’s always nice to see the Ristar creator wax lyrical, we could listen to him all day).
With some additional information and ‘Did You Know’s for each title on the collection, there’s not an awful lot Backbone could have added to have made this perfect. It’s an expertly packaged compilation.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
While there are many curious omissions – there’s no lock-on capability with Sonic & Knuckles, and games that have been released before on Virtual Console (including Gunstar Heroes and ToeJam & Earl) are no-shows – Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection still impresses with its game lineup.
No amount of games would have made every Sega fan truly happy, but in this Backbone has compiled a list that spans the history of the console perfectly, from the original pack-in Altered Beast to the entire Sonic the Hedgehog series and even cult hits like Dynamite Headdy and Ristar. Even the fabulously bad Alien Storm makes an appearance - worthy of playing simply to see the robot’s head explode.
The games that will most likely have you hugging your HDTV as it drowns you in 16-bit gameplay goodness include:
- Comix Zone, a platform-beat-em-up set in a comic book;
- Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, a despicably addictive puzzle game where you match coloured beans to beat your opponent;
- Dynamite Headdy, a truly insane platformer from Treasure;
- the Golden Axe series, which needs no introduction;
- the entire Phantasy Star collection of RPGs, with the unforgettable fourth instalment providing the ultimate blend of speed-based battle and compelling manga premise;
- Ristar, quite possibly one of the greatest platforming games Sega has created, starring a shooting star that uses elasticated arms to swing and grapple himself around the game world;
- Shining Force II, a fantastic tactical RPG that is as engaging as it is cerebral;
- Shinobi III, with fast-paced shuriken-chucking action featuring Joe Musashi;
- the complete Sonic the Hedgehog series, which today still provide some of the best gaming experiences you can find;
- the Streets of Rage trilogy, which has you fighting countless armies of street thugs as ex-cop Axel Stone and Blaze Fielding;
- and Vectorman, a groovy 2.3D shooting platformer that features a hip-hopping green robot… thing.
Although one could be disappointed about the lack of their favourite Mega Drive game in this collection, what is included is a really big deal for the older gamer - and there’s more than enough essential 90s material for younger players to find out just what all the fuss was about in Phantasy Star IV, or take on Zeon for the very first time in Shining Force II.
It really is hard to complain about the offering here when it all translates to about 50p per game, and for that you’re getting real essential gameplay. There are even arcade games that can be unlocked, including Alien Syndrome, Shinobi and Fantasy Zone. It’s a real treat for the thumbs.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
Make no mistake, you will be playing these games long after you first put the disc in your PS3 or Xbox 360. The games are old enough to be considered casual material, wherein you and a mate can get a few rounds of Streets of Rage 2 in before you head to the pub for a drink. Each game allows you to have three save states, so you can pick up on the action right where you left off.
In most other cases, RPGs such as Shining Force and Phantasy Star provide absolute hours of fun entertainment, and for someone like me who’s never played the Phantasy Star series, going through IV is proving to be an enriching experience.
The only gripe I could possibly bring up is the potential short-sightedness of the collection – we hear of Backbone being pressured to finish this collection on time, and as a result the lock-on connectivity of Sonic & Knuckles and the inclusion of other games suffered.
It would have been a good plan to have allowed for either future patching or set up a small Sega Store, where additional games could be purchased one by one to add to the collection over time. With something like the Wii Virtual Console already offering this capability out of the box, it would have made Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection truly future-proof.
JUDGEMENT: Thumbs Up
+ Many of these classic games.
+ Finding that the games are as fun as they were back in the 90s.
+ Discovering Mega Drive titles that you may have missed as a kid, like Shining Force.
+ The slick presentation of the collection.
- The graphics filter. Don’t use it.
- The lack of new bonus material in the interviews.
- The omission of a few choice Mega Drive titles.
- The potential the game could have had to add more games over time.
NOTE: A score was not given at time of original publication. To align with our 5-star rating system (introduced in 2022), we have given it a posthumous grade that best represents the original intent and sentiment of the overall article. This is not a re-scoring of this review.