The SEGA Mega Drive really marked a special time not only in SEGA’s own history, but in video gaming history as a whole. After Nintendo had resurrected the home console market and was ruling the roost in Japan and the US, SEGA finally brought some real competition to the makers of Mario and the 16-bit Genesis (or Mega Drive as it was known in PAL regions) quickly stole some of Nintendo’s market share and quite a few hearts along the way. Now nearly 30 years later, SEGA as a hardware force is simply a distant memory, but the beloved software that etched its way into the homes and minds of gamers around the world returns once again in another nostalgic compilation that not only evokes the familiar feelings through a wonderfully attentive aesthetic presentation, but thanks to some clever additions opens up some old favourites to newcomers and returning gamers alike.
Right from the cinematic introduction the Mega Drive Classics collection puts the classic games at the forefront of the experience. It continues the celebration of the past by presenting the collection within a nineties-themed bedroom complete with video game posters on the walls, an assortment of funny books on the shelf, collectable paraphernalia and VHS tapes on the floor and an epic Mega Drive game library that any fan would be proud of.
Happily, the wonderful presentation goes deeper than simple eye-candy. Select the console and you are able to play around with the visual presentation within the Emulator Settings page, modifying everything from pixel scaling to filters (retro scanlines will be a must for retro fans) to screen size, sprite sizes and even border art-styles when playing old-school 4:3 on modern 16:9 screens.
Happily, the wonderful presentation goes deeper than simple eye-candy.
The attention to detail does not end there though, with the room’s SEGA clock quickly reflecting your own time-zone, the stereo system providing options for adjusting in-game and ambient sounds just to your liking, and a Game Credits page and extra gameplay modes available simply by looking around the room. Then, select a game and watch the cartridge move into the console and the iconic SEGA logo appear. It is all rather fantastic.
Of course, the most important and prominent feature of the room is the game library. And as with almost all game collections, some of your favourites will be missing. The Disney games have not been included in this collection and I did miss Aladdin and The Lion King (the two games I probably played the most on the system growing up). Other movie and sport franchise games are also not included. While these games are likely missing due to complicated licensing issues (as is the exclusion of Sonic 3 & Knuckles apparently due to music rights), a few other classics like Ecco the Dolphin are notable in their absence across all consoles. Strangely, the Switch version is unique in also not having both Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair and Wonder Boy in Monster World. Despite this, there are still a whopping 51 games included in the collection and so there is probably something there for almost everyone. Could that extra space on the game library shelf mean we could be getting some extra games in the future? One can only hope!
There are a whopping 51 games included in the collection and so there is probably something there for almost everyone – and it all feels great!
A variety of genres are included from run-and-gun games, to beat-em-ups, puzzle games to platformers and even the odd RPG is thrown in for good measure – there is something for every taste. A few well-known classics really stand-out including Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Gunstar Heroes, Streets of Rage (1 through 3) and Comix Zone to mention but a few. Several games ‘so-bad-they’re-almost-good’ make the list too including Sonic Spinball and Alexx Kidd in the Enchanted Castle. Ristar, a great platformer that I had somehow missed out on in my youth, also made the list and you’ll likely find a few games that fall in the ‘hidden/forgotten gems’ category too.
Third time’s the charm
Ultimately though, what you want from a good retro collection is that the games feel great to play. And here is where memories can really alter your experience. Games were often a lot more unforgiving in the past. A lack of save states, options to continue and punishing difficulty spikes were part and parcel of a lot of these games. Somehow, though, after a few years, those sort of details fade. Really all you remember is how the controller felt in your hands, and how you felt while playing. The emotions that the games evoke are almost everything. And these visual and emotional cues need to be there, and they are (along with some essential up-to-date tweaks).
By including save states, quick loads, and best-of-all, the returning rewind feature — you really get the best of both worlds: old-school gaming with modern day comforts.
The games look and feel great. Add in a few scanlines and the bulge of a CRT TV and you’re right back to your childhood. Start playing the games, however, and you’ll quickly realise how much more accommodating modern games have become providing those small quality-of-life features that make replaying a level so much fun. Some of these games are tough and you’ll quickly run through your lives faster than you can yell: “SSEEGGAAAAA!!!” This is where Mega Drive Classics really shines. By including save states, quick loads, and best-of-all the returning rewind feature — you really get the best of both worlds: old-school gaming with modern day comforts. In fact, I loved playing so much that I quickly completed Sonic the Hedgehog (for the first time I’m slightly embarrassed to say) and Ristar in just a few quick sessions. Despite being available on other platforms, playing it on the Switch just felt right. Being able to alternate between TV and handheld mode with these pixelated classics is really what the Switch is all about. Just know that the rather unique disconnected D-Pad on the Joy Cons may not be ideal for some.
Additionally, the SEGA Mega Drive Classics collection includes feats and challenges modes, a leaderboard and online multiplayer. Feats are goals linked to each game that can usually be achieved simply by playing each game enough. Once you complete the feat you’ll earn yourself an in-game trophy. For Sonic the Hedgehog the feat was to collect 500 rings, for Toejam & Earl you’ll need to ‘Dance the Hula’. In the challenges mode you’ll be tasked with completing a higher difficulty mission to win trophies – everything from completing a level without losing a health bar, or beating a boss using only a sword jab. Score high enough and get your name on the leaderboard. These extras aren’t anything too special on their own, but as little extras, they do give you something new and highlight the care that the developers took in producing the collection. Unfortunately, the online multiplayer is one feature that really disappoints. First of all – it seems you can’t connect with friends to play directly and even when fellow SA Gamer Dawid and I tried logging on at the same time and entered match-making, not only did we not connect with each other, but neither of us managed to find a single player online for any game. This may be a problem exclusive to the Switch or even the Switch here in SA, but as it stands the online multiplayer was apparently non-existent.
SEGA’s golden age just got a little closer.
Go ‘fourth’, and enjoy!
The Mega Drive Classic is a wonderful nostalgic return to the games of SEGA’s triumphant past. Despite missing a few favourites, the collection includes something for almost everyone and with the addition of save states, a rewind feature and a virtually immaculate presentation everything feels amazingly familiar, while providing a more accessible and fun experience than you can remember. In short, this is what a great retro-game collection looks like and if you’re a fan of the console, or even someone that missed out on the generation completely the Switch provides an almost perfect place to experience the games that defined many a childhood. SEGA’s golden age just got a little closer.