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Review

Review: Mega Drive Collection

Sonic brings his friends, but this time his friends are welcome. Come in, Sonic.

Everybody loved the Megadrive. Home to a massive collection of superb 16-bit games, this is a subset of some of the best titles to grace the system. Sure, it’s not complete, but as a starter for ten it’s fantastic value for money.

Premise

When we first heard about the Mega Drive Collection we were sceptical – this is something Sega have done several times in the past, and despite promises of HD graphics the screenshots looked like stretched, blurry versions of the games we used to adore. And before we got a setlist fears were running high that we’d just get the usual Sonic The Hedgehog games and a few other token gestures. Not so – this is a wonderful pick from the Mega Drive’s best, and although there’s a few classics missing, there’s sure to be enough here for everyone.

Gameplay

Most of the games still hold up, and that’s testament to the verve and style Sega had back in the day: naturally Sonic is the highlight, his adventures still contain a certain amount of innocent charm but the controls are super tight and the emulation doesn’t miss a beat. The thrill of the high speed acrobatics and the subtle but precise platforming was always a winning combination and it’s no different 18 years later, and although the package includes Sonic 2, 3 and Knuckles it’s the raw original that resonates the loudest.

The list of games on the disk is extraordinarily generous – and although the Dual Shock 3 tries its best to emulate the 3-button Mega Drive pad there’s a slight disconnection from time to time – not from any kind of lag or failure to register a press, but from instinct battling with the way your fingers are forced into hovering unnaturally over the face buttons. There isn’t really a way around this, though, and if you’re new to at least some of games it won’t be an issue anyway. If Sega brought out a third party pad, though, we’d snap it up in an instant.

So what there are here, from side scrolling platformers, through to beat-em-ups, shoot-em-ups and puzzle-em-ups, represent a golden era of gameplay where simplicity was key and the notion of completing a game was reward enough. For today’s gamers, though, raised on save points, infinite continues and easy modes so easy your Gran could finish them, Sega have incorporated a save-state option which allows you to record your exact moment in any game and re-load from there whenever you wish. This isn’t just for the weak: if you need to take a break, or your favourite game never had a battery back-up, this is a most welcome addition.

Visuals

Suprisingly, most of the 2D games still look strong in this frame-rate, pixel-counting, texture-quality obsessed current generation. It’s the games that opted for a more obvious aesthetic that look the best, those that kept it simple and within the boundaries of what the Mega Drive could realistically push. When Sega went too far, as with the likes of Super Thunder Blade with its terrible 3D scaling and blocky visuals, the package falters, but the classics: the Sonics, the Streets of Rages, the Golden Axes, they all look great. Special mention to Comix Zone, the superb animation and unique style set it out when it was released and it still stands amongst the best the DS, the current 2D powerhouse, can offer even now.

The Collection offers the player the choice of normal or widescreen aspect ratios (although because the emulation is ‘pure’ the 16:9 mode will give a stretched image) and there’s the option to apply a smoothing filter shader if the low-resolution pixels don’t agree with you. In our experience it’s best to leave it to 4:3 and with the filter off; the game adds a cute little background around the game screen on HD sets and although the games never really run in high definition the whole package is well designed, with decent menus, a wee dash of history and a smattering of packaging and cartridge art for each game, although the assets are from the US versions of the game. Not a big deal, but worth mentioning for the purists.

Sound

The Mega Drive played host to some superb music, and you can see the evolution of sound effects as you progress through the games chronologically, and with the advent of sampled speech it’s clear Sega were as much into pushing the audio as they were anything else. You’ll all have your favourite musical themes, be it Ecco’s tranquil beginnings or the panic enducing Mean Bean Machine, and they’re all here in glorious stereo. Most of the games feature a music player in their menus, a feature sadly missing from the majority of games these days.

Next Gen

We’ve had Sega compilations before, on systems much less powerful than the PlayStation 3, but with spot-on emulation, a fun set of Trophies to work through and the option to rate your favourite games this is Sega as good as it has ever been. There’s 40 games on the disk, a fine pick of Mega Drive titles, a couple of Master System ones and a few select arcade games too. The Compilation runs at 720p, for what it’s worth. 2 player modes are present and correct, but there’s no Youtube uploading and no custom music.

Conclusion

It’s an odd quandary, though, to suddenly pick faults in the disk. Yes, it’s £25 and represents fantastic value for money, but there’s a sinking feeling that this is just Sega testing the water, and readying up another compilation filled with the titles this one has missed out on. Where’s the amazing Gunstar Heroes, for example, or if we’re including arcade classics what happened to Outrun, or Super Hang On? In fact, it does feel like the games are skewed heavily towards platformers and brawlers – racing games in general are suspiciously absent, but if Sega want to throw a couple down our way via the Store then we’ll gladly take them, assuming they’re incorporated into the existing system gracefully.

But regardless, this is a cracking set of games, filled with fond memories and frustration alike, and is recommended to everyone from grizzled old fogies like us to those born into Generation PlayStation that fancy a look back on how things used to be. Brilliant stuff.

9/10

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