Release Date: November 7, 2006
When most people recall their earliest gaming memories, it's usually of pouncing on green-shelled Koopas or donning a raccoon suit, of slashing shrubbery for rupees or downing ducks with a light gun. Not me. Though many gamers my age grew up on the NES, I was raised on Sega, with Sonic and Shinobi, Gunstar Heroes and Golden Axe.
Indeed, the early '90s represented Sega's shining era as a software developer; it was a time when its production of original intellectual properties was blossoming, and the company was making a distinct effort to put out more adult-friendly, action-based games alongside youthful, colorful classics like Sonic and Ecco the Dolphin. A steady stream of beat-'em-ups, platformers, and a handful of RPGs kept the console afloat and made it a success up until around 1994, when rumors of some kind of playable "station" from Sony surfaced, and people started looking forward to 32-bit technology. Even now, I like to say I'm a Sega Genesis fiend; my personal collection takes up a nice little bookshelf along the wall, and though it required some silly bidding over eBay to put together, there's something comforting about having the games with which you grew up at your disposal.
In this way, Sega Genesis Collection on PS2 provides a nice trip down memory lane for those of us who learned how to game on the Genesis. Some of the better first-party titles in the console's library are bundled together onto one disc: Alex Kidd and The Enchanted Castle, Altered Beast, Bonanza Bros. , Columns, Comix Zone, Decap Attack, Ecco the Dolphin, Ecco: The Tides of Time, Ecco Jr. , Eternal Champions, Flicky, Gain Ground, Golden Axe, along with Golden Axe II and Golden Axe III, which is available for the first time outside of Japan. There's also Phantasy Star II, III, and IV, Ristar, Shadow Dancer: Secret of Shinobi, Shinobi III, Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Super Thunderblade, Sword of Vermillion, Vectorman and Vectorman 2, and the Genesis port of Virtua Fighter 2. Four unlockable Sega arcade games are included in addition to the console releases: Tac/Scan, Future Spy, Zaxxon, and the extremely rare Zektor.
Though the 34-game compilation is tailored to gamers who grew up with the Genesis, if you're not familiar with the titles, let's highlight some of the gems and less-known games. Released very late in the console's life cycle in 1995, Comix Zone is a single-player beat-'em-up oozing with style. The early '90s garage rock MIDIs that stream through as you play are some of the best on the Genesis, and its unique design makes it a classic of the 16-bit era. Players take the role of a comic book artist inked into in the world he created, jumping and moving from (and sometimes breaking the boundaries of) frames and panels to advance through stages. Your character's limited life bar leaves little room for error, but an original story, colorful presentation, and great sprite animations make Comix Zone an excellent add to the collection.
Bonanza Bros. is a side-scrolling game of burglary from the Genesis' early days. Best played with a friend on split-screen, players platform their way through banks, jewelry stores, gold mines, and other levels littered with security guards, grabbing loot along the way and making an escape. Along with Golden Axe and Gain Ground, it's the only cooperative game on the disc, but having this little-known hit on board makes good sense, even if its graphics are fairly low standard.
Phantasy Star IV is likely the rarest title amongst the collection, and indeed, as its history entry in the game's menu suggests: "When Phantasy Star IV was first released, the retail price was almost $100. Think about how much this collection cost. You're welcome." PS IV's nearly old enough to get its driver's permit, but it holds up incredibly well. Early on in development, the game was to be designed for the Sega CD, but some of that original scope and ambition transferred into the Genesis version. A command-based battle system guides the play, along with the standard top-down exploration, random battles, and character party development we're accustomed to in most RPGs from that era. Dissimilar from games like Final Fantasy and Ogre Battle, however, is the setting, which combines futuristic and fantasy themes, with spells and guns being among your weapons, and laboratories and dungeons being some of the areas you explore. For some, Phantasy Star IV alone will warrant the purchase of the collection.
Sonic and Kid Chameleon are probably the best-known platformers on the Genesis, but Ristar rivals each in terms of quality and colorful play. In addition to the standard jumping/scrolling mechanics, Ristar also has the ability to extend his arms and grab onto enemies and objects in the environment, which adds a unique element to the gameplay in terms of moving from platforms, attacking, and beating bosses. There's also a good amount of levels to tackle, and Sega aficionados will appreciate having Ristar on hand.
Unlike some of the better games in the collection listed above, Sword of Vermillion is a title that hasn't carried over particularly well onto Sega Genesis Collection. The free-roaming RPG, though systemically similar to Phantasy Star, is set in the medieval domain, and lacks a compelling combat scheme. When the game was released in 1990, the idea of random battles every five seconds was still very fashionable, apparently, but having to hack and slash through packs of slimes and werewolves in real-time gets tedious real fast. Likewise, this old-school RPG is incredibly difficult to explore, with limited information available to you through menus and maps – Sword originally came with a 106-page hint book when it released on the Genesis, and not having the companion available amplifies the already-difficult experience and dampens the reward.
Though these titles and others make up a good blend from different genres, Genesis gurus may find themselves scratching their heads at the absence of a few very popular and well-polished games from the collection. Most notably, tactical RPG classics Shining Force and Shining Force II are much missed, as well as an entry from the Streets of Rage trilogy. The former would've brought another title with lengthy playing time, and the latter would've granted an excellent multiplayer experience for you and a friend. In this sense, the collection is less than comprehensive in representing Sega's best self-developed efforts on the Genesis.
Unlockable bonus features lessen a bit of the impact of these omissions. You'll find 10 interviews with various Sega developers and creators, along with trailers for Phantasy Star Universe and Virtua Fighter 5, and the aforementioned Sega arcade games. Box art (Mega Drive and Genesis versions) is also viewable for every game, and additional hints and tips for the titles help make the collection more than a bunch of retro titles packaged together and pushed to retail.
All the games function well on the PS2 pad as well, and added analog control is a bonus for those who prefer it. In terms of audio, using the same television, we found that the games sounded slightly more refined on the PS2 when compared to their originals, with bass tones seeming less distorted, especially. On the other hand, the color palette for some games in the collection seemed a tad saturated compared to their cartridged counterparts, but the difference was negligible overall.
Sega Genesis Collection is a nice reminder of some of Sega's best days as a first-party developer, and the lengthy list of titles on board helps chronicle the console's history as a provider of diverse games. Though there are a few classics missing from the group, the compilation is a nice mini-encyclopedia of games that still carry appeal more than a decade later, and is a good deal at $20 for Sega fans and old school gamers alike, with a few added unlockables granting it a bit more value.
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