It's not the first time Sega has published a collection of Mega Drive titles, arguably capturing the best and most productive years of the company's history. It surely won't be the last time either. In fact, this collection is basically the same product that's available on Steam and on PS3 and Xbox 360. More than 50 games are included, a fair share of them definite classics that have aged remarkably well, and so it's hard to argue against the value proposition here, almost regardless of the number of times you may have bought these games previously. It feels great to bring them over to PS4 and Xbox One.
There are plenty of options available for how you want the emulated software presented on your unforgiving 4K screen of 2018. You can stay true to the original, add scanlines for extra authenticity, or use various effects to try and boost the meagre pixel count of the original games. Overall, we're happy with the options available. Even if we prefer not to stretch the screen from its 4:3 origins, that feature also works well.
The menu and interface have been designed as a fairly dull bedroom of an imagined teenager in the early '90s. It's basically the same as the interface on PC (which works more like a platform where you download the individual titles you want), and we would honestly much prefer a menu that's more focused on functionality over what's ultimately not a very successful attempt at immersion. It provides very little in terms of overview and flipping through the titles in the bookshelf is a feature that soon grows old as you're trying to find which one is Decap Attack and which one is Dynamite Headdy; it's been a while after all.
We've alluded to it early on, but there's certainly plenty of classics to be found in the collection and while some genres have aged better than others, there are still plenty of games well worth your time here. Treasure's Gunstar Heroes will have you cursing (in the best possible way). The brilliant Phantasy Star II and Phantasy Star IV (the first game in the series, originally on Master System but also a limited release on Mega Drive in Japan, is not included although the third isn't really a classic but is), along with a couple of great Shining titles as well as Landstalker make for a strong RPG section. Beat 'em ups are also well represented with the likes of the Streets of Rage trilogy and the Golden Axe trilogy. Altered Beast may not be a classic for all the right reasons, but the original pack-in title for Mega Drive is also there. Several great Shinobi titles are also found here, as is the brilliant Wonderboy in Monster World.
There is plenty of Sonic titles in the mix too. The first two platforming games, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Spinball and Dr. Robotnik Mean Bean Machine (Puyo Puyo) are all on the disc. The first couple of Sonic games are genuine classics, of course, and we quite like Sonic Spinball for what it is, but it feels odd not to include Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles here. It feels like a cop-out, and much like the case with the original Phantasy Star, it feels as if the collection is missing something here.
We're also missing out on games like Out Run and Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, presumably for various licensing issues (remember Sega would license the red Ferrari for more recent Out Run releases), and naturally all of Sega's excellent Disney titles (Quackshot, Castle of Illusion, etc) don't make the lineup. Some will miss a game like Ecco the Dolphin, but honestly, that's one game that's not aged all that well (though we'd love a modern reboot).
Instead, we're given some games that weren't exactly classics even at the time, but that's perfectly fine in a collection as well stocked as this one. While we would not have picked up a game like Flicky back then, it's pretty neat to spend a bit of time with a game that reminds us of the simple origins of console gaming. In fact, we're reminded of the incredible range of games on the console, from simple arcade titles like Flicky to massive RPGs like Phantasy Star IV. There's a little bit of everything.
Another game we never tried back in the day is Fatal Labyrinth, a fairly simplistic roguelike that sees you try and reach higher floors while fighting enemies (or avoiding them, that's generally better if you can) while collecting items and mystery potions. A bit too basic by today's standards perhaps, but not terrible. The harsh one-hit deaths in Shadow Dancer forced us to focus, and it's perhaps not surprising that it's this brand of precision game that holds up best against the test of time in the action genre. Far better than, say, the Golden Axe titles, but for some the gnomes of Golden Axe will hold more nostalgia. Others will claim that Altered Beast is quite excellent (it's not, by the way). What's neat here is that your old feelings towards certain games will be proven both right and wrong, and you'll discover some excellent titles you might have missed back in the day.
A couple of things have been added on top of the save functionality that was originally missing from most of these titles (the RPGs excluded). There are specific challenges, not as well designed as they are in Nintendo's retro remixes, but some rather neat things to test yourself on. Perfect if you've just got a few minutes and still want to do something meaningful. Can you beat the second boss in Golden Axe II without magic and no continues? That's just one of many interesting accomplishments to collect. There's not one for each game, but a dozen or so challenges to conquer. Secondly, there's online multiplayer for some games (like Streets of Rage), although we were never able to try it out and quite frankly the feature doesn't look very well presented or easy to access, so we'd rather invite a friend over to walk those streets once more.
At the end of the day, there's much enjoyment to be derived from Sega's collection, but it's somewhat held back by the dinky presentation and some odd omissions. Don't expect to get the full range of Sega's rich catalogue of Mega Drive titles, but what's here is well worth picking up... for the third or even fourth time. It won't beat the sense of having all of these games on the original hardware, even with the addition of save functionality, but it comes fairly close and at a fraction of the cost.