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Sega Mega Drive Classics – The Switch Island Review

Christmas Day 1991. Bohemian Rhapsody was top of the singles charts, Police Academy 4: ‘Citizens on Patrol’ was having its network premiere on ITV… and it didn’t snow.

None of this mattered to 8 year-old me.

Pulling the biggest of all the presents out from under the tree, I ripped away the wrapping paper to reveal a Sega Mega Drive with Mega Games I and Sonic The Hedgehog. I ran to my bedroom and hooked it up to my 14” Amstrad telly. All tuned in and ready to go, I planted Sonic firmly into the cartridge slot and was greeted with the Sega logo and that iconic chant.

That was 27 years ago, and although I still own a Mega Drive, I now get to relive my earliest gaming memories on the Switch.

Mega Drive Classics is a collection of the all-time greats from Sega’s 16-bit era and contains a total of 53 titles – including such classic franchises as Sonic, Streets of Rage, Shinobi, Phantasy Star and Alex Kidd.

Within a minute of launching the game, you’re whisked away to a 3D representation of the average 90s kid’s bedroom. Surrounding the CRT television that sits proudly in the centre of your room, you’ll notice other 90s artifacts – that iconic red desk lamp, that gaudy bedspread, VHS tapes littering the floor (even a classic-style Super Soaker stands propped up against your wall.)

The bedroom setting isn’t just there to make you all misty-eyed and nostalgic, it also serves as the main menu where you can access everything from audio settings, online multiplayer (represented by a home phone – bless) and even the time of day. The latter matches your local time in the real world and this is reflected in the day and night cycle visible from your bedroom window.

Console settings allow you to apply or remove video filters, including such retro delights as CRT scanlines for us oldies, or even pixel-smoothing for gamers with more modern sensibilities (but who honestly doesn’t love pixels nowadays?)

The games themselves are presented in their original 4:3 ratio with the usual pillarboxing – although these can be zhuzhed up with a choice of both classic Mega Drive gridlines and other pixel art designs. If you’re an absolute savage however then don’t despair – you also have the option to stretch the image to fill the screen.

If you really want to go old school though, you can play directly off the in-game TV screen (complete with CRT curvature and bezel.)

The games! I should probably the mention the games.

It’s quite an extensive list and includes such classic titles/series as Alex Kidd, Altered Beast, Columns, Comix Zone, Decap Attack, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Dynamite Heady, Flicky, Golden Axe, Gunstar Heroes, Kid Chameleon, Phantasy Star, Ristar, Shinobi, Sonic The Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Super Thunder Blade, ToeJam & Earl, Vectorman, Virtua Fighter and Wonder Boy.

The game library is accessed via the shelf in your bedroom – each game being represented by the spine art of the time. Although these look the part, anyone hoping for the inclusion of full cover art will come away disappointed as these are not featured. You do get a neat cartridge-into-console animation whenever you select a game though, so let that be a consolation.

There are some notable omissions however. Outrun, Super Monaco GP, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles (the original’s cartridge-swapping mechanic might have been an issue) and Ecco The Dolphin don’t go unnoticed, and whether this is because they have been featured time and time again in similar collections, or there are certain rights issues (Michael Jackson having composed music for Sonic 3 for instance) remains to be seen. Even so, this doesn’t diminish what is a fantastic selection of games.

Being a release built on emulation, the biggest question on everyone’s lips is of course how the games hold up compared to the original releases.

I’m pleased to say that they play very well indeed. Whilst not reaching the heights of M2’s Sega Ages ports, they are a world away from the AtGames flashback console abominations. Everything controls smoothly, colours are strong and the music and sound effects are how you remember. If there are audio or visual inconsistencies then they were minor enough that I failed to notice them.

Local 2 player co-op and online multiplayer are available for an impressive total of 17 games in the collection. High scores are tracked and this in turn is used to match your performance against friends online. Speaking of online, a useful feature included in the matchmaking system is the option to select titles you would be keen to play and then proceed to play single player while you wait for a suitable match to be created.

Although they are keeping things authentic, Sega and developers D3T have made sure to include a variety of features that should come as a comfort to most modern gamers. Save states, in-game achievements and even the ability to rewind gameplay (VHS wobble and all) and correct your mistakes come as very welcome additions indeed (no more rage quitting out of the Death Egg stage in Sonic 2 while on the morning commute).

Something to throw an extra challenge at even the most seasoned player however is the inclusion of Mirror Mode. This makes the oldest titles feel new again, taking every run and jump and flipping them upside down (or right to left).

Muscle memory begone.

Ultimately this collection lives or dies on whether or not you are a Sega fan, and more importantly how much you wish to relive the glory days of ‘Blast Processing’, numerous unwanted add-ons and aggressive 90s marketing. This was never going to be a review where I break down the games included and tell you whether they’re a hit or a miss. Sure some titles are more deserving of inclusion than others, and there will always be those classics notable by their absence, but this is a nostalgia piece, something for the fans and not a new triple-A title vying for your £50.

If you no longer own a Mega Drive and desperately want to recapture those memories, or you’re an active retro gamer but you’re longing to take Golden Axe on the bus, Mega Drive Classics is well worth your time and money.

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