Retro compilationing: Sega Mega Drive Collection (PS2)

I’m sorry. There, I said it. Sometimes life gets in the way of regular blogging, you know? I feel bad because I’ve found the time to play lots of games recently – but games are quicker and easier to play than they are to write about in my experience!

So between lengthy play sessions with Xenoblade Chronicles X, various other Wii U games and a replay of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, I picked up Midway Arcade Treasures 3 for the original Xbox. I’m not going to discuss that here, but it set me off thinking about other compilations I own and what makes a good retro/classic game compilation. Sega, Capcom, Atari, Namco, Taito, Midway – repeated offenders during the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era, the lot of them, so there’s plenty of these out there to talk about.

Sonic Gems Collection, one day you will be mine...

There’s an *insert random retro compilation*-sized hole in this collection.

Very quickly, I want to set out what I think are the essential ingredients of a classic compilation. 1. A stone cold classic or two. 2. Good games that a large number of people have a nostalgic connection to. 3. The nostalgia-inducing games that are also terrible; these are the titles that wipeout on the waves of technical supremacy or a cheap gimmick. 4. Obscure games that are good, maybe even really good, or somehow unusual. 5. Finally, obscure games that are utterly dire. Scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Games in each of these five categories are essential. You might be asking, “why not cut out the dire-obscure or the dire-nostalgic category? Surely those aren’t essential”. But you’d be wrong – those games are essential, they’re history. Don’t sugarcoat the truth! If nothing else, the bad games make you appreciate the good games that much more. That’s the biggest compliment I can pay a piece of trash like Flicky.

Know your enemy.

Know your enemy…

Now that we’ve gotten the criteria out of the way, let’s dive right into possibly the best of the bunch: Sega Mega Drive Collection, aka Sega Genesis Collection, aka SAAAYYY GAAAA.

1. Stone cold classics: Sega have had more than a fair share of iconic classics over the years, there can be no denying it. You feel spoiled for choice, really, with a set of games like this. The cream of the crop for me are Shinobi III and Sonic 2, games which utterly define the Megadrive and capture the best of that era.

2. Nostalgic gems: I would certainly put the Golden Axe series in this group, along with Ecco the Dolphin and the Phantasy Star series (don’t shoot me for not calling them classics – I’ve hardly touched the latter two).

Ninjas simply don't get any cooler than this.

Ninjas simply don’t get any cooler than Shinobi III’s Joe Musashi.

3. Nostalgic turds: Altered Beast; Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle. The idea that Altered Beast could sell a games console is a joke. Similarly, Alex Kidd competing with Mario is a joke. Besides god-awful platforming, Alex Kidd’s unique “selling point” is that you fight bosses by playing rock paper scissors with them. Enough said.

4. Obscure gems: Ristar is a late Megadrive platformer from Sonic Team and it’s as awesome as you would expect – kind of a cross between Kirby, Dynamite Headdy and Sonic. We’ve also got Gain Ground – an arcade port which might very well be the best game in the collection, even if it isn’t the most iconic or visually appealing game. Bonanza Bros is a cool and rather unique co-op game where you sneak around thieving. Comix Zone, similarly, is a quirky beat ’em up with stylised graphics.

It's highly improbable but I would love it if Sega brought Ristar back.

Give Sega have let the likes of Streets of Rage fall by the wayside, it’s highly improbable that they’d ever bring back Ristar… but I still wish they would.

5. Obscure turds: Flicky – the most mind numbing game ever? It’s not the worst game ever, but it does absolutely nothing for me. Kid Chameleon… hmm. Talk about slippery. Decap Attack isn’t terrible but it’s nothing to shout about either. Finally, a special mention has to go to the breathtakingly redundant Megadrive/Genesis port of Virtua Fighter 2. It’s impressive how much Sega were able to get out of the Megadrive, but it was still a bizarre decision to include this, a downgraded 2D version of a 3D arcade game. They couldn’t have stretched the collection to include the far superior arcade, 32X, Saturn or PC version instead?

So that’s my quick rundown of Sega Mega Drive Collection for PS2. Really, it’s the cream of the crop as far as retro compilations go. Every category is fully represented, and there’s truly something for everyone. With games this good, it’s little wonder that the Megadrive/Genesis was able to make such inroads in the console market in the early 90s. This is a highly recommended collection for anyone feeling nostalgic and/or curious about that period in gaming.

Before I exit the stage, there’s a spiritual successor to this compilation worth mentioning: Sega’s Ultimate Mega Drive Collection for the PS3/Xbox 360. The games are all the same, but the Ultimate means you also get the Streets of Rage and Shining Force series, Sonic 3/Sonic and Knuckles, a few Sonic spin-offs, The Story of Thor (aka Beyond Oasis) and Dynamite Headdy thrown in too. Not bad at all! For more on these collections, I’d recommend checking out United We Game‘s series of videos exploring many of the games in the Ultimate version. Some of these are absolutely hilarious, especially Alex Kidd and Columns. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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13 comments

    • veryverygaming

      Too right, they’re horrible! The whole game feels and looks incredibly rough, and Alex Kidd’s character design is laughable. I was disappointed because I’ve heard quite good things about the Alex Kidd games on the Master System!

  1. Red Metal

    There are so many people who grew up with Altered Beast who still consider it one of the best games on the Mega Drive/Genesis, which is quite baffling. It’s an example of a game that I think very few would enjoy outside of its original context.

    Also, you generally don’t want to leave a life-or-death mechanic of your game to chance if you can help it, as is the case with Alex Kidd. It just means you could find yourself unable to complete the game despite being good at the parts that actually require skill simply because you got unlucky at the worst moments.

    • veryverygaming

      That’s baffling indeed – Altered Beast is clunky as hell! Absolutely too, rock paper scissors was an awful choice that completely goes against old-school gaming sensibilities which embody “tough but fair”.

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have always wondered about the market for these retro collections. As a kid, I enjoyed playing the a Sonic game, until the next one was released and I would play that instead. While players interested in retro games would play a lot of them, I suspect much of the audience played the latest games in the series’ and classic games. Although, I did complete Sonic Adventure DX because I was interested in trying out the Game Gear games. I liked the categories, although I did wonder if the classic games were the same as good nostalgia-inducing games. Despite owning both Sonic 2 and Ecco the Dolphin, I have more nostalgia for the Sonic game as I played it more (Ecco the Dolphin was too hard). I was also surprised to see Virtua Fighter 2, I remember getting this game free with the Sega Saturn.
    Do you get many games in these collections? What is Flicky? I like the way the Sonic Gems Collection is rated U, how violent can a Sonic game be?

    • veryverygaming

      You’re probably right that these collections didn’t do well because they rarely get made anymore. Instead games are now sold individually on download services like the Wii’s Virtual Console, where the developers can make more money from them. I like the bundles though because they’re usually excellent value for money, and make a good history lesson!

      This collection has 27 games, which is a healthy number I think. The biggest one I have is Taito Legends 2, which has a whopping 39 games. Some of those are fairly recent games too (PS1/Saturn era) and rare too so it’s excellent value. Be thankful you haven’t run across Flicky, it’s a boring platformer from the early 80s where you rescue chicks and avoid foxes. The Sonic games have a homage to it – the birds you save are called Flickies, after Flicky. Ha ha, yes Sonic is rated U for everyone. My favourite rating quirk is the German rating board US-K, whose lowest age rating for games is 0. Are games really suitable for foetuses?

      • moresleepneeded

        I have always wondered if virtual consoles and streaming services have destroyed the market for these games. 39 games is good value for money, it allows the player to discover games they had not played before. I had not realised games from the Playstation 1 and Saturn were on these CDs, I would have thought they only included games that could be completed in one hour. Can you save your game?
        How do these games work? Do you choose from a menu at the beginning?

        • veryverygaming

          Exactly, you start the game and there’s a menu with all the games listed. The more modern games (PS1/Saturn era) are arcade games so they save highscores but nothing else, which is fine as most of them are short. You might remember I did a Weird Video Wednesday about a really cool shooter called G-Darius in which you fight giant fish bosses. I have the PS1 version but it was an arcade game originally – that’s on Taito Legends 2, for example. There are several other similar games on the collection too.

  3. Aether

    Yeah, Altered Beast is pretty awful. I remember friends demanding that I play it and just… urgh How did it get popular?

    Same situation with Phantasy Star. I haven’t played the latter two, but I remember a lot of people demanding that I give it a try. First game was alright, as long as you have maps with you. I tried the second very recently, got an hour in, and now I’m having a really hard time willing myself to continue. That’s been one of the worst JRPGs I’ve ever played, so far.

    Never had a Genesis, but I still remember getting really excited when a friend picked up Comix Zone, good times. I got it on the Virtual Console now, and I wouldn’t call it bad or anything, but it’s very much a product of it’s time.

    • veryverygaming

      No one seems to understand why Altered Beast was popular… I guess it was a technical showcase at the time and also everyone played it, because it was a launch/pack-in title? But I agree 100%, Sonic’s release in 1991 should’ve relegated this game to the lowest depths of obscurity.

      Ouch, sorry to hear that about Phantasy Star 2. I only tried 4 as it’s supposed to be the best. Not seen enough of it to comment sadly. Comix Zone is pretty decent, I picked it up on the Virtual Console too before I got this collection. Tough as nails – I never made it past the second level! Still think it’s a worthy addition to the Mega Drive Collection if only because it looks so darn cool.

  4. cary

    On behalf of UWG, thank you for the shoutout here! I think I can safely speak for The Duck of Indeed (and myself) in that playing these older games is fun, frustrating, and more often than not, totally baffling! Can you imagine if the Internet existed in the days of these games?! I mean, people get so easily bent out of shape over the most minute things in games today, but soooooo many of these older games were complete trash upon arrival…but we played them anyway because that’s what was available. And if you didn’t like it, the only people who got an earful were your closest friends and relatives. And yet, we still played!

    I love compilations of old games because they are true reminders of just how far gaming has (and in some ways, hasn’t) come. 🙂

    • veryverygaming

      Very true! I wonder if having the internet back then would’ve forced the quality of games up? I’m inclined to think yes. The gulf in terms of quality between good games and bad games NOW is miniscule compared to what it was THEN. As someone who grew up with a Commodore Amiga, most of what I played as a young kid were cheap clones of good games. And the problem with most of those clones (as is true with the turds in this retro collection) were the controls. Most of the things you did in games back then were incredibly simple, so your avatar damn well ought to feel good to control, otherwise what’d be the point in playing? But, as you say, we still played…

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