If you're anything like me, then you're a sucker for compilations of games that take you back to your childhood and early gaming years. The memories of sitting in the living room during your first fight with Dr. Robotnick or pummeling baddies in Streets of Rage likely sticks with you to this day. Sega is ready to take you back to that simpler time with Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, a compilation of over 40 games that will bring back all the joys and happiness from those gaming sessions left long ago.
The first question asked when talking about a compilation of games is, "Are they any good?" That's a tough one since tastes are so subjective, but of the 49 games included on the disc, nearly all of them are at least well-known. Of course, you have every iteration of Sonic the Hedgehog to ever grace the Genesis, as well as three editions of Streets of Rage and Golden Axe. I don't know anyone who still wants to play Altered Beast, but I'm sure there's at least one person out there who still thinks it's the greatest game ever and will likely pick up the collection just to play it. What it ultimately comes down to is that nearly all the games on the disc are familiar, and if you ever missed out on high-profile Genesis titles like Ecco the Dolphin, Kid Chameleon or Vectorman, then here's your chance to make up for lost time.
All the games are running off a great emulator, and the PS3 controller stands in nicely for the old Genesis pad. Each game can be controlled via either the analog stick or d-pad, and the buttons are mapped to logical locations on the PS3 controller. Each game even pops up a window at the outset to show you the exact controller configuration before you head in. Furthermore, the new technology allows you to do things not possible in the original games, such as save whenever you want and check out extras for each title. It's ultimately a very competent system and does a great job of recreating old games while providing players with some much-appreciated modern amenities.
While the emulation is competent, however, it's not perfect. There are still some graphical glitches, and a few times during my time with the game, some horrible static and noise came through the speakers. It may just be my specific stereo setup, but be wary the first time you run across the propeller sound effects in the Sonic games; in my experience, they can be quite unpleasant.
In addition to 40 Genesis titles, the collection also features nine Master System and arcade games as well as eight developer interviews. These extras aren't just given to you, though, so you must earn them by meeting certain requirements in the already-available games. Some are simple; to unlock interviews with the Phantasy Star developers, you have to play each of the Phantasy Star games. Some are more complex; to access the arcade version of Shinobi, you'll need to complete the first level of Shinobi III without using any continues. It's ultimately a very well-paced system, and the steady trickle of unlockable content provides even more motivation to play games that don't really require much extra prodding in the first place.
The compilation also features a slick interface that is both user-friendly and provides yet another blast from the past. Games can be sorted by genre, year of release or alphabetically; there's even an option to rate each title and arrange the order in which they appear from most to least favorite. Furthermore, each game features the original cartridge and box art, as well as a museum of fun facts and trivia designed to teach gamers a little more about these forgotten gems. While compilations are often little more than cash-ins with companies throwing a bunch of titles in a box and slapping a price tag on it, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection stands as a tribute to what can be created when you treat the subject matter with the respect it deserves and show your audience that you still know how to treat them all these years later.
The trickiest thing about the collection is really trying to judge the games that have been included, but as mentioned above, it's nearly impossible to quantify personal taste. Sure, I would have preferred Alien Storm and Altered Beast get kicked to the curb in favor of titles like Earthworm Jim and Toejam and Earl, but that's just my personal preference, and it's different for each person. I'm sure if Sega asked 100 fans to give their lists of the best Genesis games, they'd get 100 totally different slips of paper, and let's not forget that licensing issues may take some titles out of the running. What's important is that regardless of which games made the cut, each of them is presented lovingly, and each has been given the attention it deserves.
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection doesn't sport fancy HD graphics and completely retooled surround sound audio, but it gives old-school gamers something they long for in a world that's increasingly focused on casual gaming: a trip back in time. These are the titles we knew and loved growing up, the games that defined who we were as fans of the industry and set us on the digital entertainment-loving path that we still follow today. I experienced an eerie moment when, while playing through the first bonus stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I found myself snagging nearly every single ring because I just remembered the patterns of where they appeared. It was an amazing feeling, that a game I haven't played in 15 years just came back to me in a flash. Sure, I can't tell you what I ate for dinner last week, but as soon as I hit that flashy half-pipe, I knew what had to be done to get the Chaos Emerald.
Games normally don't make that kind of mark on us anymore, but nearly every game included in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection does. If you remember the scream from the Sega TV ads or the days when Sonic wasn't saddled with two dozen friends and still had some attitude, you should really do yourself a favor and pick up this collection. Just remember that even though gaming tastes may differ from one person to the next, Altered Beast is still awful.
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