by the hammer of Jim Squires!
Growing up in the early 90’s, it’s hard not to look back on the glory days of Sega with rose-colored glasses. That’s why the announcement of a compilation like Sonic’s UItimate Genesis Collection can tend to make one a little… leary. You’re bound to get excited — but is your nostalgia based more in good memories or good gameplay? Going back to older titles you once loved is often a heart-breaking experience, as you realize that they were good “for the time,” but are virtually unplayable today.
I’ll be honest. I was half expecting to loathe the games I once loved and find nothing new under the sun worth playing that was on the UGC. I’m delighted to say I couldn’t have been more wrong.
And don’t let the name fool you. This game offers a whole lot more than Sonic…
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection is filled with more than 40 first party Sega games, most of which appeared on the Sega Genesis (and a handful of of which appeared in arcades). Developed by BackBone Entertainment, a company with a proven track record of porting classic games to modern consoles, Sonic’s UGC offers an amazingly tight package with very little filler. Sure games like Gain Ground or Altered Beast don’t really offer a whole lot for today’s audiences, but when you look at the complete list (thanks Wikipedia!) you’ll be amazed at some of the inclusions. They’ve included every Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Golden Axe and Ecco game that had ever graced the console. Fan favorites like Shinobi III, Comix Zone and De-Cap Attack are on there. Under-rated and oft forgotten classics like Flicky and Ristar have made the cut. It’s literally a who’s who of Genesis classics. The only real omission I’ve noticed was the total lack of ToeJam & Earl. Strange, I know. But when you look at everything else that’s offered it’s kind of hard to complain about one series not making the cut.
But retro compilations are as much about presentation as they are about gameplay. Thankfully UGC shines here as well. The polish and love put into this game becomes readily apparent from the moment you boot it up. The menu screen is shaped to emulate the round top portion of the Genesis. The highlighted game displays a demo reel where you’d expect to see cartridge art. Each game has a museum page that provides a short history, some factoids, and the original box and cart art. You can even rate the games like in iTunes and sort based on that rating to let the cream of the crop rises to the top of your selection screen.
One of the nicest little considerations in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection is the ability to remap the controls however you’d like for each game individually. It may sound like a small thing, but why would you want to be stuck with the face buttons when playing Sonic Spinball once you’ve gotten used to using the left and right triggers for other pinball games? Few console titles give you more than a selection of preset controller schemes. It’s refreshing when one let’s you remap properly like you’d see on the PC, especially when we’re talking about 40 games that offer some distinctly different gameplay.
Speaking of different gameplay, there are a handful of Sega arcade classics available for unlocking (as well as developer interviews) in this collection as well. You can view the available games and interviews, as well as their requirements for unlocking, from the main menu. To unlock these, you’ll need to complete certain tasks in the Genesis games that ship on the disc. One game might require you to get a Chaos Emerald in Sonic to unlock it. Another might require 20,000 points in easy on Columns. The goals add another level of challenge to a compilation that needs little more.
The only real drawback of this collection is for those of us with 16:9 TV’s. Every game in the collection runs in it’s original 4:3 presentation by default. Video options exist to adjust the screen size or switch to 16:9, but there’s a catch — the only thing switching to 16:9 does is stretch the 4:3 image. I have no issue with the games only being available in their original 4:3 design, but if that’s the case why give us a 16:9 option that doesn’t actually offer 16:9 presentation? And that’s not the only video annoyance. Once you’ve set the display options to your liking they only save for the game that you’re playing — they don’t become the default video settings for all games. With more than 40 games in the collection that’s a lot of adjusting that could have just been done once.
Despite small video annoyances, the visual presentation is spectacular. Things look exactly how you remember them and you can turn on smoothing should you want to remove the jaggies that so many of us grew up with. Background imagery that fills outside of the 4:3 presentation is almost always a good fit, sometimes using imagery taken right from the game. The only thing that would have made it better would have been using cabinet art for the unlockable arcade games similar to how Namco re-releases have on Xbox Live Arcade. They’ve done a great job of delivering 16-bit games to an HD audience, lending vintage graphics from the early 90’s with the crispness and cleanliness that today’s gamers have come to expect.
It’s probably worth noting that local multiplayer is available for games that had originally featured it, but the games have not been modified in any way to incorporate online play. While understandable, it’s something of a disappointment after having enjoyed some of Sega’s Xbox Live Arcade offerings like Sonic 2 and Golden Axe. It’s also a bit surprising that online leaderboards aren’t available for each of the 40 games. I’d love to know how I’m doing globally against other Columns players, or who I’m schooling in Flicky.
It’s a shame that retro game collections like this aren’t more popular. In this day and age they’re a prime candidate for DLC updates, but with how few people actually buy them why would the publishers bother? All I know is I’d love to see new games added to collections like this via DLC one day. Who wouldn’t pay 400 points for a 5 pack of games, complete with factoids and a box art gallery?
Yes, there are a few things we can be nitpicky about, but all in all this is a collection that no old school Genesis fan should miss. The majority of titles in this collection hold up remarkably well, they offer a great amount of variety, and there’s bound to be some titles you’ve never actually played before that you’ll be glad you had the chance to discover. At less than $1 a game, how can you not?
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection is now available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $29.99. For review purposes, the Xbox 360 version was played.
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