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TSS REVIEW: Sonic Gems Collection

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This topic was good and got turned into TSS REVIEW: Sonic Gems Collection at some point.

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If you were a jewellery shop owner, and you decided to sell to your customers a collection of your most precious Gems, what would you decide the contents would be? A diamond, perhaps? A sapphire? A ruby or two?

SEGA, lapping up the (quite justified) success of Sonic Mega Collection, decided to bung a compilation of apparently equal-value 'gems' featuring our favourite hedgehog. Sonic Gems Collection boasts an array of titles that the die-hard fan just cannot pass up. Is the press release (and indeed, the box) accurate in this claim however?


Production of Sonic Gems Collection appears near-identical to Japan VRI's 'Mega' offering - from the rather basic menus to the humdrum extras. Just like Mega Collection, this title is no doubt going to be compared to Sonic Jam in terms of just how much SEGA has offered in the bonus content department. But perhaps doing such a comparison is a little unfair - while Mega Collection was more akin to Jam in terms of its game content, the pull with Gems is less about the extras and more about being able to play long-lost esoteric classics.


However, the selection of games appears confused and inconsistent in Gems Collection. For headlining titles, you get three: Sonic Championship (or Sonic the Fighters as it was known in Japan), Sonic the Hedgehog CD and Sonic R. Sonic CD, SEGA knows, is a star title that fans have been anxiously waiting for since Mega Collection was even announced - for many, Sonic Championship and Sonic R are simply hors d'oeuvres to the main course.

And a main course it is too. Sonic CD plays every bit as well on the Gamecube and PlayStation2 as it does on the Mega CD. The difference is that you don't have the fiddly SEGA add-on console to worry about. It's refreshing to play a solid version of Sonic CD on a console that has a stable savestate and is easily accessible. There is the odd technical glitch, but it doesn't suffer too much. The Japanese version contains the glorious native soundtrack, yet the European version has been severely shot down with the unthinkable inclusion of the horrendous American soundtrack. It is sorely depressing to play this game on a European or American console - Spencer Nilsen gets you wanting to slit your own wrists come Collision Chaos Zone, the compositions are tame and unspeakably boring; the original atmosphere and 'Sonic' feeling found on the Japanese version has been lost on the US version.

Sonic R's inclusion seems strange, considering that it's age and the opinions held of it does not really justify its place in this Collection. Nonetheless, it's still as enjoyable on the Nintendo Gamecube as on SEGA Saturn. Control is only a problem for those missing fingers - effective turning using the shoulder buttons makes for expert play, even if the idea of using these buttons to turn properly seems absurd. Perhaps due to the limitations on SEGA Saturn control input and architecture. Playing on a PlayStation2 however will give you several problems - the "Run" button is bizarrely placed on the "O" button while jumping is commanded with "X" - while it's a simpler "B" and "A" button for Gamecube respectively. It is also much more difficult to turn using the PS2 shoulder buttons. Further, Sonic R is extremely limited in its offerings; Sonic fans who know their route through the game already will complete it well before even the 60 minute Sonic Museum mission.

Sonic the Fighters appears to be the only title to be truly considered a "gem" by which the collection defines; Sonic R and Sonic CD can be easily picked up on the PC for an extremely budget price. Being able to play this arcade rarity in your home is strangely satisfying, despite its extreme shortcomings. For Sonic the Fighters is indeed a very short game, and has little depth to it. One could argue that in the time of Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, there was no real 'techniques' to speak of in 3D fighters. It simply did not exist at the time of STF's conception. And being a spinoff title for quick plays at the arcade in any case, Sonic the Fighters is enjoyable in what it achieves and succeeds in providing a new, if short Sonic experience lost on a generation.

Alongside the three major titles, Sonic Gems offers a smattering of Game Gear games as well: Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Spinball, Sonic Triple Trouble, Sonic Drift 2, Tails Skypatrol and Tails Adventure. Despite the fact that Sonic 2, Sonic Triple Trouble and Tails Adventure are three extremely playable Game Gear titles, you will be hard pushed to even consider playing them. There's just something about playing games with a stretched resolution on your huge TV to compensate for the small GG screen that deters you from playing them. Those looking for a complete 'GG Collection' on PlayStation2 will be happy though, as this will complete what Mega Collection + started. Gamecube owners, and even most PS2 owners, won't see the point in their inclusion however. Especially considering all of these titles appeared on Sonic Adventure DX on GCN.

There are, however, bonus games of considerable quality. The Japanese version of Gems wins points for featuring Vectorman, Vectorman II, Bonanza Bros and the Bare Knuckle (Streets of Rage) series. Our castrated European copies leave us with the Vectorman duo - which are excellent in their own rights. The green robot dude with attitude holds two great and very playable games under his belt, but of course, for omitting Bonanza Bros and Streets of Rage (because a 2D comical cops and robbers and a simple on rails beat-em up may do the same damage to a child's psyche as a 3D bullet to someone's cranium in GTA, for some reason) SEGA have done their collection no favours.

Sonic Museum is another attempt at collating various Sonic related nik-naks to appease the fans inbetween the games. Sonic Mega Collection's extras were poor. Mega Collection + had even worse bonus features. Sonic Gems Collection is surprisingly well endowed. There are hundreds of artwork pieces - all of which we have seen before, but most aren't actually ripped from Sonic Jam for once. We have the 'Sonic the Screensaver' images that were in Sonic Jam naturally, however there are character and badnik design images for Sonic CD, track course renders for Sonic R and character poses for Sonic the Fighters, along with a bunch of random images (including, ironically, a page of Knuckles' Chaotix stills). This gallery is strangely satisfying, and yet there remains several exclusive Sonic remixes and videos - the videos are good enough, but nothing to shout about. The music remixes are quite decent. When you consider Sonic Jam's extras, the only things of note missing in Gems is a 3D explorable world, a Hall of Fame and Japanese commercials.

An assessment of a compilation must primarily focus on how the collection is presented; in this case, the extra features alongside the games it offers. However, the quality of the games themselves must also be taken into account, but on a somewhat subordinate level. On the first front, Sonic Gems Collection succeeds with its much improved Sonic Museum and its changes in unlocking such content.

On the second front, the games on their own stand up well, but their placement is misjudged in Gems. The inclusion of other 'real' gems to stand alongside Sonic the Fighters such as SEGASonic Arcade (or even Chaotix) would have been worth the wait. Instead, SEGA relied on the Sonic fighting game to help bolster a collection that was in fact just a way of selling a re-release of Sonic CD.

For £20 however, it is a good budget priced title for those missing Sonic CD. But we severely advise against purchasing the European or American version - only die-hard Sonic collectors should get Sonic Gems Collection, but having said that, only die-hard Sonic fans will have the good sense to import the Japanese version. For skipping on Streets of Rage and Bonanza Bros this collection suffers - which is a shame because if Sonic Gems offered what it advertised than the omission of these games surely wouldn't matter. But for failing to localise the game for the European market - a third time SEGA has done this - and including the god-awful SatAM-wannabe American soundtrack for Sonic CD, the US and EU versions of Sonic Gems Collection really are stinkers.

Buy it by all means if you wish, but be sure it's the Japanese version. If we were reviewing the Japanese release, we'd have given it 3.5 Stars (out of 5). But we're not. So we're giving it this.

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