Ah, nostalgia. Ever the warm reminder of our younger, more carefree days, and more than ever the easy cash-grab for opportunistic corporations with a back catalogue of otherwise dormant intellectual properties. With the recent rise in popularity of ‘mini’ retro consoles and the idea of Nintendo maybe never bringing its Virtual Console service to the Switch, it makes sense that SEGA would want to double down on its own offerings and grab a piece of that sweet, pixelated pie. Not only is the company bringing out a mini Mega Drive (or Genesis if you’re in the US) console of its own, but we now have SEGA Mega Drive Classics on the PS4 and Xbox One to feed our penchant for the past. Of course, this isn’t the first time SEGA have released a compilation of Mega Drive titles on consoles, with similar packages appearing last generation and the one prior. The key difference this time is the lengths that SEGA have gone to with the presentation and emulation options on offer.
The 90s. A time when eating cereal for dinner was a novelty and not a means to paying rent on time
Booting up the game, I was expecting to be presented with the typical slick menu screen showing me all the classic Mega Drive games available to play for five minutes before remembering how difficult they were and moving on. Instead I found myself looking at a real-time 3D bedroom environment that not only makes for a pretty convincing facsimile of an early 90s teenager’s room, but also has a very deliberate rendering style that evokes the CG imagery of the time. Panning around the featured corner of the room brings up the expected options — the desk on the left is home to the settings menu and online leaderboards, the shelves on the right house the 50-plus Mega Drive titles available to play and smack-bang in the centre is a CRT television and a SEGA Mega Drive console. It’s a novel way to both do something different to the standard menu screens and to lean even harder into the feelings of nostalgia that draw people to these types of collections in the first place. There are some great little touches that push it even further too, like the animation of the Mega Drive cartridge slotting into the system every time you select a game or the fact that the time of day in the bedroom is matched to the real-world time. What could have come across as gimmicky or unnecessary turns out to be one of the best features of the collection and actively enhances the experience.
Wonder Boy, what is the secret of your power?
The care and attention to detail continues when it comes time to boot up a game. After the aforementioned cartridge animation, the view zooms into the CRT TV and the game begins. By default the games are presented in full screen with borders on each side and standard upscaled resolution, but SEGA Mega Drive Classics turns out to be surprisingly customisable. Emulation options can be accessed at any time before or during gameplay and allow for various tweaks to the experience. There are numerous visual filters and scaling options that will be familiar to anyone that’s used emulation software on a PC, plus the controller layout can be completely customised and games can be saved and loaded at any point. There’s even an option to play in a zoomed-out view as though looking at the TV from in the bedroom, which beats the hell out of the bordered full screen view for attempting to relive the past. One of the best features is the ability to not only rewind, but also fast forward gameplay. Being able to undo a deadly mistake in Shinobi III is one thing but being able to grind experience at warp speed in Phantasy Star IV is a blessing. Add online multiplayer and leaderboards to all of that and you’ve got one hell of a comprehensive feature set.
Fast forward used to mean skipping through the trailers at the beginning of a VHS tape, now it gets me through dull JRPG dialogue in a flash
Of course, thoughtful presentation and a good suite of options are one thing but a retro game collection lives or dies by its library of titles, and for the most part Sega Mega Drive Classics is a winner. It’s hard to find fault with the 50-plus titles on offer, with the obligatory staples like Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage sitting on the virtual shelf next to underappreciated gems like Dynamite Headdy and Alien Soldier. That is, unless you wanted to play Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic & Knuckles or Ecco the Dolphin. No doubt there are a tonne of worthy games that don’t make an appearance but those are just three that come to mind for being inexplicably absent despite having been included in previous collections. Also missing from SEGA’s prior compilations is any kind of ‘museum’ feature that showcases game covers, manuals, concept art and the like. It’s strange that real effort was put into the overall experience and yet something so synonymous with these packages isn’t there. Still, there is a cool selection of extra challenges for some of the games that range from silly to obscenely difficult but are almost always fun and mercifully jump you straight into the point of the game that they’re applicable to. It just would’ve been nice if they resulted in some kind of unlockable bonuses other than achievements/trophies.
SEGA Mega Drive Classics is a very decent selection of nicely-emulated retro titles that should cater to everyone who grew up a card-carrying member of Team Sonic. The absence of a handful of key games and a lack of extraneous diversions dulls the package’s sheen ever so slightly but the quaint front-end and spate of options with which to tailor the experience still make this one of the best compilations of classic games officially available.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher