The general problem with retro gaming collections such as this is that when you first hear about them and see the long list of games, you skim through and see half a dozen titles that you used to spend countless hours on back in your misspent youth. The ensuing rush of euphoric memories make that particular collection a “must buy” title.

But when you get the collection home and start playing, you realise there’s a dozen games you’ve never heard of (and wish you never had), a dozen games with almost identical gameplay but different characters and the rest are the games which you actually got excited about in the first place – half of which turn out to be not as much fun as you remembered. That leaves about half a dozen games which you genuinely fall in love with all over again.

Does that make it worth it? Oh hell yes!

The SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection contains forty original Mega Drive games in all their 16-bit goodness plus an extra nine arcade and Master System titles thrown in as unlockables.

Before I go any further, let’s get the most important bit out of the way – the full list of games in this collection. Well, here goes…

Playable out of the box:

[list]
[*]Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle[/*]
[*]Alien Storm[/*]
[*]Altered Beast[/*]
[*]Bonanza Bros.[/*]
[*]Columns[/*]
[*]Comix Zone[/*]
[*]Decap Attack starring Chuck D. Head[/*]

[*]Dr. Robotnik's M.B.M.[/*]
[*]Dynamite Heady[/*]
[*]E-SWAT[/*]
[*]Ecco the Dolphin[/*]
[*]Ecco II: The Tides of Time[/*]
[*]Fatal Labyrinth[/*]
[*]Flicky[/*]
[*]Gain Ground[/*]
[*]Golden Axe I[/*]
[*]Golden Axe II[/*]
[*]Golden Axe III[/*]
[*]Kid Chameleon[/*]
[*]Phantasy Star II[/*]
[*]Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom[/*]
[*]Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium[/*]

[*]Ristar[/*]
[*]Shining Force[/*]
[*]Shining Force 2[/*]
[*]Shining in the Darkness[/*]
[*]Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master[/*]
[*]Sonic the Hedgehog[/*]
[*]Sonic the Hedgehog 2[/*]
[*]Sonic 3[/*]
[*]Sonic and Knuckles[/*]
[*]Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island[/*]
[*]Sonic Spinball[/*]
[*]Streets of Rage[/*]
[*]Streets of Rage II[/*]
[*]Streets of Rage III[/*]
[*]Super Thunder Blade[/*]

[*]Story of Thor[/*]
[*]Vectorman 1[/*]
[*]Vectorman 2[/*]
[/list]

Unlockable Sega Master System & Arcade games:

  • Alien Syndrome
  • Altered Beast Arcade
  • Golden Axe Warrior
  • Phantasy Star
  • Tip Top
  • Fantasy Zone
  • Shinobi
  • Space Harrier
  • Zaxxon

Zaxxon? Oh yeah baby – If I’d saved the 20c pieces I stuffed into that arcade machine back in the day, I could probably afford to send my kids to private schools.

So right about now, any avid SEGA fan will have looked through that list and be muttering “where the hell is [insert favourite game here]?” or “how could they leave out [another game]?” And rightfully so, there’s a whole heap of excellent Mega Drive titles that are conspicuous by their absence – Afterburner, Outrun and Earthworm Jim just off the top of my head.

So, SEGA, let’s call a spade a spade here; calling the SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection an “Ultimate Collection” is using a bit of poetic license. It’s by no means an “ultimate” collection, but is without a doubt an “excellent” collection and the best available without owning all the original carts.

The game is presented in a simple but effective and faithful manner, shunning any flashy introductions and menus for a basic scrolling list and brief description of the selected game – anything more would just ruin the whole vibe.
There is an extras menu which takes you to another list displaying what you have unlocked and have yet to unlock. These include the aforementioned games, interviews with designers/programmers/developers, box art and a whole heap of trivia. In truth, the extra games are the only things worth unlocking.

The graphics have been presented and adapted well for modern hardware and displays. Just throwing them on in their original 16-bitness could easily have been hideous, but tweaks have been made in all the right places to present all these games faithfully. There is an option to flick between 4:3 and 16:9, but the latter force-fits the screen leaving poor old Sonic looking like blue roadkill.

There is also a strange “smoothing” option for some games which gives the feeling of playing after half a bottle of absinthe. Not recommended.

The original sounds are all present, but some trainspotting Mega Drive fans may notice the occasional resample which ultimately doesn’t matter in the slightest. On-the-fly button mapping is a huge bonus if the default set-up doesn’t take your fancy, simply pause and change the configuration to whatever you wish – this lets you put the trigger buttons to good use which are rarely mapped by default.

Besides the games themselves, the two biggest drawcards to this collection are the ability to save your progress at any point (well, any checkpoint at least), and the local multiplayer, which takes some of these games to a whole new level.

There’s no online multiplayer, and I guess that’s understandable when you think of the logistics involved in setting it up. Leaderboards would have been nice though, but cést la vie.

As for my favourites, well I wasted a whole Sunday afternoon playing Sonic Spinball – a Sonic pinball game that I just couldn’t bring myself to turn off. The infamous Alex Kidd was on regular rotation as was Decap Attack, Streets of Rage II and Shinobi.

The plethora of 2D scrolling fighters wore thin pretty quickly, but when played as two-player co-op were great fun and an easy source of Achievements.

At the end of the day, this is a must-own title for retro gamers. But as mentioned earlier, SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection isn’t quite “ultimate” and releasing an “Ultimate Collection 2” would be somewhat of an oxymoron. So ideally some future downloadable content for this collection would be the way to go in my opinion.

Buy it, play it, and rejoice in the memories that come flooding back from a time when gameplay was genius in its simplicity, criminally addictive, and far from being easy.