SEGA is no stranger to compilations on the up to date consoles. As early as 1992, the SEGA CD (MEGA CD) console got the SEGA Classics Arcade Collection, which had Columns, Golden Axe, The Revenge of Shinobi and, of course, Streets of Rage. These would be mainstays for virtually every collection for the foreseeable future. From the 3DS’ SEGA 3D Classics Collection to the PlayStation 2’s SEGA Mega Drive Collection, the blue banner the hedgehog built always has managed to preserve the legacy of its 16-bit console. The last few generations had compilations that had a sizeable quantity of games included and that pattern continues with SEGA Mega Drive Classics on PlayStation 4, with the selection ballooning to over 50 Mega Drive titles. With so many Mega Drive compilations out there, is SEGA Mega Drive Classics anyway to relive the 16-bit legacy?
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There is no doubt that SEGA Mega Drive Classics has an impressive amount of games, but sometimes it feels like half of them are wasted. Did this really need to have Columns again? Some of these are not even really “classic” and were remembered for being mediocre. Altered Beast, Bonanza Bros. and Decap Attack are not SEGA’s best and they never will be no matter how many times they are stuffed into compilations. Anyone remember Crackdown? It’s the poorman’s Gain Ground. Why would anyone want to play Crackdown when this collection has Gain Ground included? Galaxy Force II is another confusing addition that sticks out due to how poorly it has aged and does not stack up with some of the other games included, like Space Harrier II.
The worthy titles, like the Streets of Rage and Golden Axe trilogies, are always welcomed. It is practically a tradition to always have some of these and a Shinobi game or two, but now SEGA is skimping on some of these mainstays. Sadly, only the first two Sonic titles, Sonic Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast, and Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine are included. Not having a complete Sonic legacy in this collection feels wrong, especially since the PlayStation 3’s SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection had all of these and both Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic 3. It is really frustrating that these two were omitted because the last time they were included on a compilation, the cartridge lock-on feature that tied these two into one epic experience could not be implemented. SEGA Mega Drive Classics was the chance for gamers to finally relive the ultimate 2D Sonic adventure, yet it is absent entirely in this latest collection. To make up for this, SEGA has included more made by Treasure and, of these additions, the most notable is Alien Soldier, the most brutal 16-bit action romp ever made. Even its only RPG, Light Crusader, made the cut.
If SEGA Mega Drive Classics is good for anything, it is the emphasis on SEGA RPGs. Between three Shining adventures, three Phantasy Star entries, Beyond Oasis, Sword of Vermilion, Fatal Labyrinth and Landstalker, expect this collection to keep adventure junkies satisfied for a long time. This is a comprehensive selection of RPGs that the SEGA Mega Drive had and the only way to make it anymore definitive is if it had Crusader of Centy. It is too bad that the Master System’s original Phantasy Star could not be included, as it was on the PlayStation 3’s SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection as an unlockable bonus. Unlockable gems have been dropped entirely in this collection, diminishing the sense of discovery and reward. There are no arcade versions or Master System ports of anything to uncover here and it only further emphasises the lack of effort. This could have been a chance to finally give some love to the SEGA CD (MEGA CD), which is tragically overlooked time and time again.
Compared to the previous compilation SEGA released, there is just too much being repeated or too many lacklustre titles. Missing classics like Castlevania: Bloodlines, Monster World IV, Contra: Hard Corps, Rocket Knight Adventure with sequel and both Splatterhouse games all should have been included since they are more a part of the Mega Drive experience than something like the dime-store Robocop rip-off ESWAT: City Under Siege or the forgettable Flicky. This could have been an opportunity to also introduce SEGA fans to hidden classics like Shadowrun, Alisia Dragoon, Pulseman, Valis III or Haunting Starring Polterguy; all worthy 16-bit gems that may be forgotten in time. The Mega Drive was so rich with variety and interesting games that it is a shame that this latest collection is reiterating so many played out titles. One thing that stands out that is particularly curious is how the virtual game shelf is designed in a way that leaves one whole shelf almost empty. It is unknown why it was designed this way and gives the impression that maybe there are plans to expand the selection with DLC or maybe that some games got deleted late in development.
As if overdoing it with the same titles over multiple releases over the years wasn’t enough, SEGA Mega Drive Classics is not exactly the ideal way to play most of these. There is an unexpected input latency that will throw off all muscle-memory and in some cases make some of them feel terrible to play. This is highly evident in the very fast-paced releases where there is tons of action, like in Alien Soldier and Gunstar Heroes. There is extra stuttering and graphical bugs that sully the experience and makes this worse to play than using original hardware. It is worse on some than others, like Bare Knuckle 3 has flickering sprites and distorted audio that makes character cries sound like they are being played underwater. Some of these issues may not be present or affect all the games. Most of the RPGs won’t have their gameplay affected too badly by these technical failings, but this is a PlayStation 4… not a 16-bit console. There should not have been any issues at all. Many of these flaws are likely tied to the 3D Unity engine that is being used to run these off a TV model in a fake room. Why this direction was chosen defies logic since Unity has always been a poorly optimised engine for consoles. Having the games be selected off a plain menu may not have been as flashy or nostalgic, but then again playing these old ‘uns with tons of bugs and glitches is not nostalgic, either.