Bennu Reflects on "SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection"
In September, I had an opportunity to revisit some classic games from the late ’80s and early ’90s. At the time, I was going through a bit of a nostalgia binge and I decided what better way to reminisce than with some of the games I played as a young kid. So, I picked up my copy of the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection and proceeded to play through some old gems.
Although I had a good time with the collection, I admit that I’ve been putting off this review as it is significantly different from my usual format. There’s not really a compelling overall narrative for the collection as a whole nor much in the way of complex character development. Instead, I’ve decided to take a brief look at the collection by way of categorizing the games according to the genre. Not only will it allow for ease of browsing but also help bring a sense of structure and order to my mind when writing up my thoughts.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection.
Originally developed by former studio Backbone Entertainment and published by SEGA in 2009, the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (also known as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection in America) went on to become a solid staple in many gamers’ PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 collections. Although considered a sequel of sorts to the previous generations’ compilation collection, the SEGA Mega Drive Collection (also known as SEGA Genesis Collection in America), the 2009 Ultimate Collection release saw the addition of even more games ported straight onto the disk. This meant that the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection now boasted over forty games available to play straight away from the main menu, with an additional nine arcade games available to unlock from the extras menu upon completing certain objectives within the collection.
Those of you looking for a relatively straightforward Platinum trophy are also in luck here as the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection comes with a nice assortment of trophies for unlocking certain extras or completing specific tasks in particular games. Granted, there are a couple of trophies that may frustrate some folks but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility for people to finish.
But alas, I digress. On to the collection.
Arcade / Shooter Games
Given the time period, a fair chunk of the games featured in the Ultimate Collection are side-scrolling arcade games. Some are more fast-paced, such as run ‘n’ gun games like Alien Storm, Bonanza Bros, Comix Zone, ESWAT, Super Thunder Blade, Space Harrier and the Vectorman series. However, there are also more melee-oriented entries such as Altered Beast, Shinobi III and the Golden Axe or the Streets of Rage series. Collectively, these games all provide varying degrees of action and entertainment with some story elements sprinkled into them.
I quite enjoyed the atmosphere of Comix Zone and Super Thunder Blade during my time with the collection, although they both provide a fairly potent degree of challenge in their levels on normal difficulty. Despite this, however, I do enjoy a challenge and I enjoyed my time with both games; with Comix Zone’s comic book graphics and Super Thunder Blade’s fast-paced shooter and aerial action.
That being said, even the Golden Axe and Streets of Rage games are good as well as they implement a similar degree of challenge in trying to anticipate enemy attacks and getting the jump on them to avoid taking damage. Not to mention they have a fairly compelling story as well, with Golden Axe taking a more traditional medieval story while Streets of Rage explores a more modern urban narrative.
Puzzle / Platform Games
In a similar fashion, the Ultimate Collection also boasts a selection of puzzle and platforming games for players to sink their teeth into. The two puzzle games that immediately spring to mind are Columns and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine which are both fun and challenging in their own right. However, there are also a few other games in the collection such as Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle that incorporate some mild puzzle elements into its gameplay with the rock-paper-scissors mini-game that the titular character can participate in.
Along with Alex Kidd, other games such as Dynamite Headdy, Flicky, Kid Chameleon and Ristar fall into the category of platform games in which players have to navigate their respective titular characters through levels while avoiding hazards. Out of the ones I’ve mentioned, I did rather enjoy Flicky a fair bit. Although it can easily become stressful being pursued by hungry cats in a locked room, the challenge and quick thinking required helped bring a sense of relief and accomplishment for each level that I completed. I also quite enjoyed Ristar, a vibrant game that focuses on the titular character’s stretchable arms that help you grab enemies and objects to navigate your way through the levels.
Adventure / Role-Playing Games
The Ultimate Collection surprisingly contains a bevy of role-playing games which initially surprised me. Games such as Fatal Labyrinth, the Phantasy Star series and Shining in the Darkness all make their return here along with more tactical games such as Gain Ground and the Shining Force series. In a similar fashion, the collection also includes a couple of adventure games such as The Story of Thor (known as Beyond Oasis in America) and the Ecco the Dolphin series.
Being a Final Fantasy fan, I found myself drawn more towards the traditional style of the Phantasy Star games which incorporate a strong narrative focus mixed with turn-based battle gameplay. That being said, the first-person view inside the first game’s dungeons made it feel more like a dungeon crawler game than what the later games do. While I’m not opposed to dungeon crawlers, I suppose I’m a bit more spoiled by today’s variety in the role-playing market which made my return to this classic a little more jarring than I anticipated. I did still enjoy it though.
I also really enjoyed Ecco the Dolphin. Despite its premise as an adventure game, I really found it to be quite a peaceful experience as well. If one opts to just hang out in the first area, one can have fun swimming around as Ecco talking to other dolphins and shooting up into the air by performing a jump out of the water. That being said, the game is also quite challenging if you’re trying to finish the story. I think the uniqueness of Ecco being an unintentional dolphin simulator is what drew my attention and kept it. It’s certainly a very memorable game and unlike anything at the time, at least to my knowledge.
Finally, we come to the main selling point of the Ultimate Collection. The Sonic games. Within this collection comes a host of Sonic’s greatest hits throughout the early-to-mid ’90s including the original trilogy, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island (known as Sonic 3D Blast in America). Most of these games are platformers, with Sonic 3D implementing a more modern 3-dimensional approach to the platforming genre. Sonic Spinball, on the other hand, plays as more of a pinball machine game with some mild platforming elements.
While none of the games are inherently bad, I do have particular preferences for certain games over others. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 & 3 are probably my favourites out of the collection followed by Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3D, Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Spinball last. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the first game in the series that I played and so it holds a special place in my heart. Particularly because I was always drawn to playing as Tails as a kid and it was the first game that introduced him as a playable character.
By today’s standards, these classic Sonic games are held in a rather curious position as being raised on a pedestal by certain sects of the Sonic fandom while others consider them suitable for the time but not as good as the modern games. I find myself sitting on the fence here as I’ve played Sonic 2 and 3 a lot more than any of the other games in the series but I also do enjoy the appeal and experimentation of some of the modern games as well. I suppose it’s just up to a matter of preference. But, within the confines of this collection, I’d say that SEGA made the right choice in including an almost full suite of popular Sonic games for players to revisit or experience for the first time.
Being from the 16-bit era of gaming, the music from each of the games in the Ultimate Collection aren’t quite as nuanced and detailed as the luxuries we have with today’s technology. That being said, however, there are quite a few samples of music that I particularly enjoyed within this collection. Of my shortlist of favourites, I’ve selected Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s "Ice Cap Zone Act 1," Ecco the Dolphin’s "Opening Theme" and Phantasy Star 2’s "Main Theme."
The "Ice Cap Zone Act 1" theme resonates well with me due to the mood that it portrays. Listening to it, you can feel that Sonic has been on an arduous journey so far and is starting to get close to his goal. This is good music to help motivate oneself when they’re in the final stretch of a task and need that last push to help them reach their goal.
In contrast to this, Ecco the Dolphin’s "Opening Theme" conveys a sense of peace and tranquillity in its music. Although I haven’t really played much of Ecco the Dolphin, the opening theme has stuck with me consistently during my time on this project and helps instill a sense of calm when I’m frustrated or stressed about something. It’s a great piece for one who wants to simply chill out with some old-school music.
Finally, there’s the Phantasy Star 2 "Main Theme." It’s hard to explain what makes it resonate in my mind. If anything, I’d say the strong opening beats instill a sense of tranquillity and mystery before shifting gears into a more upbeat and vibrant piece that showcases the full allure of J-RPG music. There’s peace, mystery, drama and liveliness all invoked in a single tune which is definitely something that a lot of games struggled to get across let alone in one song. Tokuhiko Uwabo is the composer for this song and deserves some more recognition for this fantastic piece of musical art.
Overall, I rather enjoyed my time with the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection. The compilation of over forty games from various genres means that there’s a little something for everyone to play regardless of age or familiarity. That being said, it was a little annoying that the game menu for the collection seemed to only come from one side when playing with my headphones on. I’m not sure if that was intentional or an accident on the developer’s part. Thankfully, it can be turned down or switched off in the options menu.
As a whole, it’s hard to find much fault with a compilation of games from twenty years ago. If anything, the developers should be applauded for managing to bring a good selection of content to a more recently modern system. I didn’t encounter any unique glitches or crashes with the collection which was nice.
It’s definitely worth buying if you’re a fan of older SEGA games especially these days as it’s fairly cheap. If you’re intending on going for the Platinum or finishing all the games though then be warned as some of these old-school games can be quite tough. Just a friendly bit of advice.
Rating: 8 / 10
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Bennu