Never go back: that’s my gaming rule of thumb. Nostalgia brings with it cherished experiences which are often best left where they are. Games you loved then so rarely hold up now, so why sully the memories by going back?
With this in mind, I approached Sega Mega Drive Classics with some trepidation. As a child of the 80s, these titles represent the halcyon games of gaming. I explored them all with a wide-eyed innocence back then, my love for the hobby cemented by the slew of vibrant games resplendent in their 16-bit glory.
This was a truly magical time when mascots were synonymous with consoles when scrolling left to right was the norm, and games were bloody hard. No lengthy cutscenes, no long exposition or story arcs, just pure arcade-style action.
Arguments will rage for weeks about the games which made this collection, but the staples are certainly there, including the tentpole franchises such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, supported by some lesser known games like Ristar and Vectorman. Most genres are represented including platformers, brawlers and RPGs. Over 50 titles feature in total, with potentially something for everyone.
I was particularly impressed with the care and attention invested in the presentation. The menu screen, for example, is an image of a bedroom where a Mega Drive sits under an old CRT television. It’s flanked by a set of shelves from which you pick the title that takes your fancy. On selection you see the cartridge being inserted into the console. It’s a small but delightful touch that really resonates with someone who owned the console at the time.
There are plenty of nods to modern sensibilities and there’s scope to customise the experience, too. Games can be saved, a rewind function can bring you back from the brink of a mistake and there is online support and trophies, too. You can apply different filters to tailor the graphics to your taste, so you can up the pixel count to smooth things out and enjoy full widescreen, too. Purists may want to avoid these settings, but kudos for the developers for including these options. It’s a pretty comprehensive package, all told.
Now to the important question: do the games hold up today? That’s perhaps a question of perspective. Personally, despite my misgivings, I had a blast playing these games. The emulation was spot on; even the soundtracks were faithfully recreated, something that has never been achieved in the portable versions of the Mega Drive.
I tended to rely on the D-pad as it felt unnatural using the analogue sticks, although they were responsive enough should that be your preference. Streets of Rage still passes muster, with a thumping soundtrack propelling you through the stages, and you feel the punches and strikes really connect. Sonic feels familiar but still enjoyable, brimming with the vibrant Sega blue skies and collectables. I ploughed through the levels on muscle memory alone. Shadow Dancer was a particular highlight, adding some interesting mechanics to the Shinobi template, including a canine friend who can distract and disable enemies for you on command. Like me, you’ll spend time dipping in and out of the games, Netflix style, before settling on the one you connect with.
If you didn’t experience these games the first time around, then the collection is a more difficult sell. Objectively, these games will appear archaic in design and frequently uneven and unforgiving in terms of difficulty spikes. Then again, the collection does mitigate some of this with the save option.
To come full circle, should you really never go back to your favourites? In this case, I’m glad I made an exception to revisit some hugely important and influential games. For those with no history with Sega, I’d still recommend the collection. It’s a huge package at a budget-friendly price, and you might just come to appreciate what all the fuss was about.