Sega Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection (X360) – First Impressions (Including a rant about Sonic games)

Today, I turned 21, and this morning, I heard a parcel come through the letter box. It landed on the floor with a thud, and this is what woke me up. Of course, after hearing this, I went back to sleep. When I finally got up, and after taking care of the necessary preparations for the day, such as breakfasting and shaving (a necessary thing today, as I’m actually involved in a question-and-answer activity with second year English students at the university, in a little while) I went and picked up this package, tore it open, and an enormous grin spread across my face, which is still with me now. In the package, was the Sega Mega Drive: Ultimate Collection, which I’d ordered last week. Kind of like a birthday present to myself, which was actually enjoyable. (I have various gripes with Afro Ninja which I might blog about in the future. Suffice to say, we are not good friends.)

I jammed it in my Xbox 360, right away, and my face continued to beam. Me and the Mega Drive go back a long way. When growing up, I was always a Mega Drive kid. None of this Super Nintendo nonsense for me. I LOVED my Mega Drive. In fact, I own two of them; one PAL and one modded and region-free, which my dad bought from a man in a pub when I couldn’t have been older than ten, along with with JAP copies of the original Golden Axe and Bonanza Bros. I whiled away my younger years on a healthy diet of Sonic games, Zombies! (…Ate My Neighbours! in other territories) ToeJam and Earl, and any other Sega goodness I could get my hands on. So, I was generally pleased to see a healthy collection of titles here, including all Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Ecco the Dolphin and Golden Axe titles, thrown in with gems such as Bonanza Bros., Ristar, Comix Zone and The Story of Thor, which I have fond memories of renting numerous times while growing up. Blockbusters really loved me. In fact, the only thing that would make this package sweeter would be the inclusion of Flashback, which I wasn’t expecting, seeing as it’s one of the only licensed games I’ve played which have lived up to its on-screen counterpart. All in all, there are about 40 games included in the package, which also includes a host of extras, such as developer interviews and unlockable arcade games (SPACE HARRIER!!!) The games also can be indexed by a snazzy five star rating system, to make it easier to find your way around the kaboodle. The disk also includes the option of viewing games in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which understandably distorts (not that it bothers some, but it bothers me) and a ‘sharpening filter’ which I thought was a bit obsolete. Also, and most importantly, the game allows you three save slots for each game, which was something that always bugged me with my original Mega Drive (until they figured that out circa Sonic 3), and was probably why I never finished most of my Mega Drive games, minus a select few. The achievements in this game also stike me as well-thought-out, instead of a rushed afterthought, like you see in some games. I spent the majority of the morning playing the first Sonic the Hedgehog title, and got an achievement for collecting a chaos emerald in a bonus stage, which also unlocked a developer interview. Genius! I then had a quick flick through the achievements page, and they all seem pretty great, mostly linked to high-scores and things that would actually challenge you. Top marks.

While I was flying through Green Hill Zone, I started pondering on what has happened to Sonic games as of late. I was having masses of fun, and yet, the game dynamics are so simple. You are a blue hedgehog. You can run really fast. You run through levels, jumping on enemies (with ATTITUDE!) until you get to the end of the level. Sonic games have REALLY taken a decline in recent years. Admittedly, I did enjoy the Sonic Adventure games, which certainly retained the sense of speed that was achieved in the Mega Drive golden years. However, they mostly just involved holding forward and jumping occasionally. At this time, last year, my good buddy Kyle bought me (with good intentions, I might add) the absolutely abysmal Sonic the Hedgehog (X360). Do not get me started on that game. I might actually review it, at some point, if I’m feeling particularly angry. I still remember Kyle giving it to me, and him saying, “You can’t go wrong with Sonic.” That’s the thing. You can. You really, really can, and Sonic the Hedgehog (X360) is a prime example of this. I think there defininitely needs to be a return to grass-roots Sonic games. Sega have just complicated them so much, with the introduction of numerous hedgehogs, which have abjected Sonic from his origins, thus making the games wholly unenjoyable. Admittedly, Sonic the Hedgehog (X360) did suffer from absolutely atrocious production values, but even Sega’s attempts to redeem themselves with Sonic Unleashed have gone awry. Its attempts to return to the original Sonic formula, such as the side-on camera, was a good decision on Sega’s part. Sega’s insistence on complicating things once again, with the werewolf dynamic, were the game’s downfall. Sega just don’t seem to understand that we want the simple Sonic, of (console) generations past. Heck, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Now, I’m off to play some more Sonic, and enjoy the rest of my birthday. Adieu, dear reader. Until next time.