The Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis, if you're in North America) is a console that needs no introduction, even on a site devoted to Nintendo. During the early '90s, Sega and Nintendo were mortal enemies and their respective 16-bit systems were locked in an epic struggle which has since gone down as one of the games industry's most notable console wars. Fast forward to the present and tensions have cooled to the point where these two erstwhile enemies now collaborate fully with one another on software releases. However, within every '90s gamer, there remains that vivid memory of the competition which inspired Nintendo and Sega to push things to the limit, and this feeling of nostalgia is neatly captured by Sega Mega Drive Classics.
This retro compendium features more than 50 different titles from the Mega Drive's illustrious library, a total which ensures there really is something for everyone here. It's not an entirely definitive selection and there's bound to be the odd gem you recall from your youth that isn't included for one reason or another, but on the whole, it's really hard to imagine a better array of games.
Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millenium is perhaps the finest JRPG on the platform, and it's here alongside the two other Phantasy Star entries. The entire Streets of Rage series is also present and correct, as is the Golden Axe trilogy. Light Crusader, Dynamite Headdy and Gunstar Heroes showcase the talents of the legendary Japanese studio Treasure, while Landstalker, Shining Force 1 & 2 and Shining in the Darkness are all worthy role-playing epics. Elsewhere, Beyond Oasis / Story of Thor provides an action-adventure experience that is both exciting and immersive, which is why it is considered to be one of the finest games of its type on the system.
When you throw in the likes of Revenge of Shinobi, Shinobi III, Shadow Dancer, Comix Zone, Ristar, Vectorman and both ToeJam & Earl outings, it becomes clear that this is one heck of an assortment. There are some oddities, however; Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic Spinball make the cut, but not Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (the latter perhaps due to the complexities of its cart-swapping mechanics, which, on the original hardware, required you to bolt one of the three previous games into the top of the game).
We'd also take issue with the complete omission of the Thunder Force franchise, as well as fellow Technosoft classic Herzog Zwei (Sega now owns the rights to all of Technosoft's IP, so this is rather puzzling, to say the least). Racing games are also sorely underrepresented; granted, the Mega Drive port of Out Run is a pale imitation compared to the one we got on the 3DS, but it would have been nice to have at least one entry from the franchise on offer. Super Monaco GP would have been a welcome addition too, but we'd imagine that licencing headaches have prevented that particular game from resurfacing after all these years.
Perhaps most odd of all is the omission (or, more accurately, removal) of Wonder Boy III and Wonder Boy in Monster World, both of which are included on the PS4 and Xbox One versions of this collection. Sega have confirmed to us that they are not included, even as unlockable extras, and hasn't been able to offer an explanation as to why they have been taken out.
Mercifully, the number of duff inclusions is kept to a minimum, with only Super Thunder Blade, Space Harrier 2, Altered Beast, Fatal Labyrinth and Galaxy Force 2 likely to be seen as out-and-out disappointments – and even then, we can fully appreciate that there will be many players out there who view these games through the powerful rose-tinted specs of nostalgia, so they're not entirely devoid of merit, even if they are pretty poor video games.
Performance is, as far as we can see (and we spent a lot of time with the original hardware back in the day), pretty much faultless. Everything looks great on the Switch's screen, but things are just as sharp on your TV when playing in docked mode. There are a handful of display options – including one which places the action 'inside' a 3D render of an old-school CRT television set within an authentic '90s bedroom which serves as the game's menu – but in all fairness, we found that the standard setting – with no visual trickery employed – makes the games look their best. A CRT-style scanline effect is something we'd normally die for, but its application here doesn't quite look right.
Speaking of the game's UI, the painstaking recreation of your typical Sega fan's room is faithful right down to the garish bedspread, even if it can be a little fiddly to navigate at times. Games are arranged on a shelf, while audio options are accessed by zooming in on a stereo system. Likewise, visual and emulation settings are tied to the console sitting beneath aforementioned bulky TV set, and online play (which can be turned on at any time and even allows you to play solo while a potential match is being found) can be accessed using the room's phone. In another neat touch, the time of day changes depending on your local time, so in the morning the sun will peep through the window (and move through the sky in real time) while at night, darkness descends.
Each game in the collection benefits from modern-day creature comforts such as the ability to fast-forward and rewind the action (complete with a VHS-style 'wobble' effect), as well as the chance to use save states to retain your progress. Perhaps the most welcome touch is the inclusion of special challenges which are unique to each game; these bespoke tasks usually involve getting past a certain point under special conditions or hitting a particular score. There are also online leaderboards for certain games, as well as in-game 'feats' to unlock. All of these elements combine to create an impressive amount of reply value; you may even find yourself playing titles that you've previously had no interest in, purely to ace the challenge or unlock an achievement. Online play is also something of a lifesaver when it comes to general longevity, as you're never short of someone to play with – or against.
It's a shame that no effort was made to include a 'museum' section in this collection, but it's hardly a deal-breaker; we've simply been rather spoiled by the recent SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, which, as well as offering faithful ports of some of the company's most famous titles, also crammed in an incredible amount of bonus content which fully immersed the player in the history of these games. Maybe next time, Sega?
Sega's had more than one stab at creating a comprehensive collection of its best Mega Drive titles and, as a result, Sega Mega Drive Classics does lose some of its impact due to sheer familiarity; for example, we already have an immaculately-ported version of Sonic on the Switch eShop right now. Even so, it's hard to argue with the 50-odd games that ship with this new compendium, and only a fool would contest the fact that it showcases some of the best games of the 16-bit era. The modern-day enhancements are welcome too, and while this isn't the first time many of these games have gone portable (Sega Mega Drive Collection on the Sony PSP did that over a decade ago, and let's not forget the amazing Sega 3D Classics range on 3DS, which overlaps with some entries in this selection), it's a real boon to be able to play the likes of Phantasy Star IV or Story of Thor on the bus. When you take into account how much quality there is on offer here, Sega Mega Drive Classics becomes an easy recommendation.