The nostalgia train seems to have been rolling since the mid 2000s, and it shows no sign of stopping. This year alone we have the much anticipated Spyro remake, another instalment in the 2D Mega Man franchise and CRPG fans can expect another Bard’s Tale before the year is out (probably). The long-and-short of it all is that nostalgia is still a big seller, and nothing is more nostalgic than games that are actually from the recent past (relatively speaking). Sega Mega Drive Classics is a game that should be pretty familiar to any Sega fans who’ve touched a video game since the Mega Drive had its heyday. It is a collection of several of the most popular Mega Drive titles, emulated on modern-day hardware, and with just about as many bells and whistles as you can imagine being thrown your way. It has been available in more piecemeal forms on the PC since 2010, but this is the first time that it has all been brought together and made available on console…well, mostly all brought together anyway.
The new iteration of this compilation includes over 50 amazing Mega Drive games, all of which have been polished and has many options as pretty much any retro enthusiast could wish for. Some of the most famous games are included, although there are some noticeable absences, and it really gives the perfect form of most of these games for both old and young gamers alike. When you first boot up the game, you’re presented with a flashy opening animation showing off a variety of the different characters who are available. You’ve got Axel from Streets of Rage, ToeJam and Earl, Gilius Thunderhead from Golden Axe and, of course, Sonic himself, all running around a negative space spraying light out of their butts. As they run around, they eventually draw a glowing Mega Drive model one console, the perfect analogy for the classics collection.
Once you’ve gotten past this animation, or more than likely skipped it so you can just play the games, you’re dumped into the general hub from which you select the games you want to play. The hub takes the form of a gamer’s bedroom ripped straight out of the 90s. There are Sega posters on the wall, a Sega bedspread, memorabilia strewn all over the place and a whole heap of Mega Drive games on a shelf directly beneath a 90s Hi-Fi. You can navigate the room to select from various options. The Hi-Fi lets you select sound options, the desk has all of the extras and challenges on it, you can change what time it is in the room by looking at the clock and you can, of course, select a game to play by looking at the game shelf. The 3D room acting as a hub is a really nice touch and really makes a nice change from simply selecting the games from a list. The nostalgia has never been stronger as you sit in a realistic representation of your dream room as a kid (at least if you were me).
Okay, so time to move onto the games, or more specifically, the game list. As stated above, there are over 50 games available to choose from, and there are some real classics on display. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to try and individually review each and every game on the list, and that’s not really the point, anyway. What we’re going to try and do is just discuss how well the game list has encapsulated the spirit of late 80s/early 90s Sega gaming and how well the emulation works. There are a lot of true classics on offer here. All 3 of the Streets of Rage and Golden Axe titles are here. Both series are great examples of the side scrolling beat-em-up genre, and both are very necessary inclusions in a compilation celebrating Sega’s history. There is also the inclusion of 3 of the first 4 Phantasy Star games, possibly Sega’s most famous JRPG series. Unfortunately, the first Phantasy Star is missing, but since that game was only released on the Sega Master System, that is to be expected. There are also some less famous games that hold more of a cult classic status, such as Ristar, Comix Zone and Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole, all of which are welcome inclusions and should hopefully introduce these classics to more people.
So far we have avoided talking about the really obvious series, Sega’s flagship product: Sonic the Hedgehog. If you’ve already seen a list of the games that are included in the package, then you might know what is about to happen, but for the rest of you, hold onto your butts. Sonic 1, 2, Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast are all included in the compilation, which is not a surprise considering that Sega certainly wouldn’t be where they are today (for better or for worse) without the little blue ball of speed and weird fan art. The more astute amongst you may have noticed that two HUGE games are completely missing from this list: Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. Sonic 3 is debatably one of the best Sonic games ever made (the only other major contender is 2), and Sonic & Kuckles’ feature of adding Knuckles to both 2 & 3 is a fan favourite, which has had its praises sung across the world. So, as you can imagine, the lack of their inclusion here is completely baffling. This feeling only gets worse when you consider that both of these games were included in the PC versions and still are. It really seems like these games are missing for almost no good reason, and unless Sega actually do have a good reason, it simply comes across as a dumb move.
Okay, so getting over that little hiccup for the moment, let’s talk about the emulation. For possibly the first time in recent memory, Sega’s official emulation software actually works perfectly. If you play the games on the original settings, they are almost indistinguishable from the original cartridge version (trust me, I literally compared them myself). You can even emulate the effect of scan-lines and the curve of an old CRT TV as well, so if you want to get that true feeling of retro gaming, it is completely possible to take a trip back to the 90s. As well as the basic cosmetic changes, you can also select anti-aliasing and screen stretching modes, so if you fancy a modern, polished experience, it is also totally possible. The games look stunning in these modern modes, and you couldn’t wish for a better looking version of these games. On top of that, it’s a chance to be able to sit down with friends and relive your youth, or hell, even make it a part of your youth now if you’re still young enough. These games are still stunning to play to this day, and 90% of them are still better than a lot of modern games.
The three final features to discuss are the achievements, challenges and online modes. The achievements are pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from modern gaming, a bunch of little titles you get for reaching certain milestones in the different games, all pretty standard stuff. Challenges are a nice addition to the games as they give you some extra things to do in each game, and usually these come in the form of certain scenarios that you must survive/complete to gain a little medal (which is technically different from achievements). The last of those three features is the online mode, and boy, is this a mixed bag. The intention is that you can actually select a game and join a stranger online to enjoy the same 2-player action that you used to get on your sofa with your friends back in the 90s. In theory, this is pretty awesome, not needing a second controller or another person to brawl your way through the Golden Axe or Streets of Rage series, or to race against in Sonic 2, which would be completely awesome. Unfortunately, the online multiplayer is suffering from some major lagging issues as of right now. 3 out of every 5 games are unplayabley laggy, but hopefully these server issues will be rectified at some point, and when the system works, it works well.
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 29th May 2018