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Sega Genesis Classics Review: The Mega Drive Survives


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Another console generation means another Sega Genesis collection, and most players looking to pick up Sega Genesis Classics for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, or Mac probably have an idea of what they’re looking for. The major, inescapable problems with this release will arguably be familiar to owners of similar bundles, like Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, which came out for the previous console generation: game selection.

While here we have the most pack-in games for a release like this one yet — 53 titles in total are featured in Sega Genesis Classics — there are significant omissions, but the surprises might smooth out most player gripes. There are a few other sore spots, like the unusual approach to challenges and trophies, a bland-yet-functional overlay, and the somewhat unreliable (but at least existent) online multiplayer features.

For buyers looking to fill out their gaming den with the sounds and sights of Nintendo’s cutthroat 16-bit competitor, Sega Genesis Classics should fulfill most of your needs. You’ve got some Sonic games, the Streets of Rage series, Altered Beast (useful to load up once, remind yourself how incomparably awful it is, and never load it up again), the two Toejam & Earl games, the two Column games, predictable entries from Shinobi and Golden Axe — pretty standard stuff. The surprises include a nice showing from legendary games studio Treasure, with Dynamite Headdy, Alien Soldier, Light Crusader, and Gunstar Heroes, as well as Westone’s Wonder Boy in Monster World, a memorable action-RPG platformer which has appeared on Virtual Console before, but never in a boxed collection.

Still, no Ecco The Dolphin, no Sonic 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, and no head-turning unexpected titles like the Valis series or Shadowrun. It’s a lot of games, but probably nothing that will make a buyer fall out of their chair, and many have seen repeated release before.

Emulation options allow players some control over the visual output, like pixel-smoothing and stretching to full-screen, both of which look fine in their own ways, though most gamers will probably opt for something as close to the original experience as possible. There’s a scan-lines option to help out with that, which is more obtrusive than you might predict, and even an option to just play the game on a boxy old-school television set, which is oddly comforting.

You also get the whole bedroom around that TV, though, as immediately upon loading the game up and watching a flashy intro video you’re deposited into a room meant to inspire memories of 90s adolescent gaming. That room looks genuinely awful, though, making you think of a collection of art assets lazily downloaded from the Unity store, jazzed up with a few Sega posters and knickknacks. To select options like online multiplayer, a trophy list, or the games themselves, you highlight different sections of the room. It’s all ungainly and unimaginative, and it’s disappointing that you’re not allowed to turn off this clunker of a presentation and opt for even just a standard menu screen instead. For some reason, you can even adjust what time of day is presented in the room or set it the system clock, a weirdly specific and meaningless detail, but you can’t change the vapid décor, swap posters, or anything to that effect.

The good news is that selecting games from their neatly organized alphabetical order on the shelf does work fine, even allowing you to save your favorites, which are then automatically sorted on the top-left. Pick the one you want and you’re treated to an animation of the relevant cartridge being inserted into your Genesis as the camera slides up to the TV.

The emulation featured in Sega Genesis Classics is also serviceable, although you will experience the occasional stutter, especially in the sound. While that recognizably crunchy Genesis sound here never seems exactly the same as what comes out of a flesh-and-blood console, it’s relatively well-emulated and will set off those nostalgia receptors.

What’s unfortunate is that the extras here are so sorely lacking. The challenge and achievement systems are a brilliant bonus, and they range from accessible to devious; Streets of Rage 2 has one where you have to beat the second stage with no item pickups, while Beyond Oasis expects you to defeat the Crab Nabber boss using only your dagger (I found this next-to-impossible). It’s not only a fun way to breathe new life into these old games, but it will compel trophy-hunters to play titles they normally would avoid, and might end up enjoying.

It’s smart that these challenges are available both when selecting a game to play or from their own isolated list, so you can task yourself with completing them all. The problem remains that there are precious few of them in total, and they don’t exist for every game. Some games have leaderboards, challenges, and related trophies, and others don’t. Why? Why not create a challenge, or at the very least a leaderboard and trophy, for every game in the set? Won’t there exist players whose own favorites will feel completely ignored? It’s a shame, because the ones that are here are fun and inspired tweaks to the norm that shake the dust off of something like ESWAT: City Under Siege.

Now, the aforementioned online multiplayer will probably be a strong draw, and going online with Sega Classics Collection is a functional but curious process. You can choose to see who’s playing any of the 21 online-accessible games, agree to join their session, mark a checkbox for voice chat, and then let them take the reins. You can also set matchmaking filters so that you’re only connected with people who are playing the specific game(s) you prefer. The surprising fun (or annoyance) you’ll next encounter depends on a number of factors: will you fight them for the menu options? Will they cancel the game you were playing out of frustration and load up another? Will they spend the entire time trolling you, punching you in the face repeatedly in a co-op Streets of Rage session? All of these things might happen and, while they were indeed reminiscent of living room couch scraps in the 90s, there’s sadly no way to punch these players in the arm.

Beyond that, the netcode for these games ranges from decent to unplayable. In Streets of Rage, the sessions I joined invariably had a 1-2 second input lag, which made continued play more or less untenable. Crack Down, on the other hand, fared much better, except that game would routinely run into a bug where actions were canceled or undone.

Speaking of being undone, there is another unique inclusion in the Sega Classics Collection: fast-forward and rewind. Using the trigger buttons you can speed up time or undo your actions, as if being in control of the Prince of Persia’s dagger. This is a boon for correcting a poorly-timed jump, making your way through especially challenging levels, or skipping through lengthy intros and battle animations.

Most gamers are going to find something to enjoy here, with literally hundreds if not thousands of hours in these 53 titles, but hardcore purists will be put off at the absence of arcade ports, unlockable curiosities, game box art, and other fun bonuses that they’ve come to expect with these types of packages. While Sega Genesis Classics is one of the largest of its kind, it’s lacking in fan-service and convenience in some conspicuous ways. Then again, it’s the most cost-effective solution to getting this many classic games on your modern console, including some of the best arcade action experiences ever made.

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