The SEGA Mega Drive, known in America as the Genesis, was the most powerful game system available when it hit Europe in 1990; its 16-bit graphics provided a realism and depth of colour never before seen in the home. Almost 20 years later, SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection brings more than 40 of the little black box’s greatest titles to PlayStation 3 with High Definition graphics, and they’re as fun to play now as they ever were.
Platforming games are arguably what the Mega Drive is best known for, and nobody jumped over gaps of death better than Sonic the Hedgehog. The little blue mammal and his red trainers were a revelation in 1991, offering a bright world full of quirky characters and smooth animation, with incredibly fast gameplay and animation. The original three Sonic games are included in SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, as well as the fourth title, Sonic & Knuckles and spin-offs Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island and Sonic Spinball – a pinball game in which the blue spiky one acts as the ball.
Another SEGA mascot of the day, Alex Kidd, is also present in Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle; a cute title fondly remembered for, among many other things, the ability to win helicopters and pogo sticks playing paper, rock, scissors against an ogre called Janken.
Decap Attack and Dynamite Headdy are two games in which you literally throw your head at enemies to defeat them. The former features a mummy called Chuck D. Head, and the latter, a lead character who is able to swap his skull for bombs and other tools of destruction. Kid Chameleon is also of note, given the kid in question’s superb 1980s sunglasses and his ability to turn into a medieval knight and a samurai at will.
The Mega Drive was also the place to be for a good old fashioned brawl, and the Golden Axe and Streets of Rage trilogies, all six of which can be played here, are unforgettable. In Golden Axe you choose from male and female warriors and an axe-wielding dwarf, travelling across varied levels, fighting an endless cast of skeletons, dragons and colour co-ordinated gnomes that drop magic spells and joints of beef when attacked.
The Streets of Rage games still to this day feature some of the best co-operative play around. Punching and kicking your way through an atmospheric urban setting, you’ll encounter some of the most imaginative enemy design ever seen; each thug looks and behaves uniquely and the more creative include a kangaroo with boxing gloves, under the command of a sinister trainer. One of the game’s secrets is that if you dodge the Roo’s attacks and take out his evil owner, the marsupial joins your party as a playable character.
Another of SEGA’s memorable titles is Ecco The Dolphin and its sequel, Ecco: The Tides of Time. You control a dolphin forced to travel back in time after a funnel shaped cloud appears over the sea, sucking up marine life. The Ecco games are best remembered for their unique setting, unexpectedly dark tone and challenging gameplay.
A welcome addition to SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection is the ability to save your progress in any game and at any point. This certainly takes the sting out of dying on the final boss after punching your way through to the 15th level in Altered Beast.
Extra rewards have also been added and you can unlock developer interviews, artwork, Trophies and even full versions of classic SEGA arcade games by completing tasks in each title. This adds to the fun of dipping in and playing a few levels without any pressure to see it through to the end. Many of the Trophies are imaginative, playing on the nostalgic appeal of the collection and rewarding the player for figuring out each game’s forgotten secrets, such as the aforementioned unlockable kangaroo.
SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection is truly what its title claims – the definitive tribute to a classic game system. The graphics have been upgraded to look good on a modern TV, but don’t detract from the charm of the originals, and the gameplay is untouched.
If you poured hours into the originals, then this collection is a nostalgic treat. If this title is your first foray into the 16-bit world, then you might be surprised to see how charming, addictive and downright quirky these games still are, two decades after their original release.