This ten-strong nostalgic compilation of Mega Drive games is headed up by a golden oldie which needs no introduction. Or perhaps just a very short one. Sonic the Hedgehog was the fast paced platformer which consumed hour upon hour of our time as a student at the turn of the nineties, and caused much frustration with its lack of saving. Yes, those were the days when you could spend ages getting to the final level, only to make a couple of silly mistakes and have to start again from the very beginning.
It’s an oft discussed matter that the gamers of today wouldn’t put up with such harshness, and with the reprised Sonic on this PC compilation, Sega seems to agree. It has included a save option here, so you can save a good run and restart from near the end rather than having to traverse every single level over and over again. This is a much welcome addition in our opinion, and Sonic remains as addictive as ever, possibly more so now the painful death penalty has been removed.
In fact, all of the games come with five save slots built into the front end. This main menu allows you to select which of the ten titles you want to play, whether you want to boot up a previous save, and also provides access to the PDF instruction manuals for each game. It’s a crisply organised menu system which frames the compilation smartly. So what else, apart from Sonic, is available to reminisce with here?
The other big name that really stood out for us was underwater exploration epic Ecco the Dolphin. Ecco places you in the flippers of a poor dolphin who has to navigate an underwater world to find his lost pod who were swept away (rather improbably) in a whirlwind. You’ve got to watch your air levels and a host of underwater denizens, from jellyfish to squid, who are aiming to end your rescue mission as fast as possible.
Some smart detail is added with Ecco’s sonar, which can be used to talk to other dolphins and whales, pinged out to map the nearby vicinity, and even utilised as a weapon. It’s quite a tough game, with some really demanding and fiddly leaping-out-of-the-water jumps the player must make on occasion, but on the whole it still holds up fairly well even today. The graphics look just about passable, too, thanks to an enhanced filter which can be switched on in the options menu to smooth out a lot of the blockiness the original Mega Drive visuals suffered from. Good stuff.
The enhanced graphics filter is available for every game, although some of the offerings here still look comical in terms of aesthetics. Yes, it may seem a bit unfair to criticise these twenty year old offerings in that respect, but Ecco manages to look presentable, whereas Golden Axe, on the other hand, features some crude stop-start animation which most certainly isn’t kind on the eyes. We know it’s kindly thought of and fondly remembered in some circles, but we couldn’t stand its wobbly axe wielding blend of imprecise combat for long.
Similarly, Space Harrier II’s incredibly jerky 3D scrolling effect left us wishing this was one blast which had been left in the past, as the lack of frame rate just makes it really difficult to dodge incoming enemy fire. Fifteen minutes was all we could stomach, not having a plentiful supply of blood pressure tablets to hand.
Altered Beast is another 2D side scrolling beat-’em-up like Golden Axe, and again doesn’t impress much. Although transforming into a werewolf, the beast of the title, is strangely satisfying despite the clunkiness of the game’s controls. Shinobi III is also cast in the same 2D scrolling vein, although it has better graphics and much crisper fighting mechanics, and is actually a worthy diversion; for a while, anyway.
However, all three of these 2D fighters pale in comparison to the fourth side scroller included in the Mega Drive Classic Collection, a comic based fighting game. And we don’t mean it pits Eddie Izzard in fisticuffs against Paul Merton; rather, it’s based on a graphic novel. Comix Zone sees the player leaping from frame to frame of a comic book, kicking and punching enemies as they’re sketched in.
With an inventory of objects to deploy such as bombs and a killer pet rat, and different directions to take through the story, choosing which frame you leap into next, Comix Zone is actually quite cleverly done. The enemies have a variety of special attacks and you need to use a little strategy to tackle some sections, plus there are some minor puzzles thrown in for good measure. Overall, this was one of our favourites along with Sonic and Ecco, and we’d never even heard of it previously.
Rounding off this Mega Drive selection box is Gain Ground, a novel little arcade game where the player guides a party of fighters through short top-down levels packed with enemy opposition. It’s simple yet strangely playable, although the finicky collision detection doesn’t do much for the old nerves. Also included is Crack Down, a disappointing Gauntlet-esque special forces themed game for two players, and a reasonably enjoyable platformer called Vectorman, which is fast paced fun akin to Sonic, although not quite as more-ish.