Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Review
Compilations of classic console and arcades have become a genre of their own. Everyone from Atari to Activision has been making good money re-releasing their oldies, although it seems that Nintendo has made the best deal out of it by selling single games for five, eight, and ten bucks apiece on Wii Virtual Console. It's nice to see, then, that Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection wrangles up a collection of some of their best games from the 90s (including a few from the Sega Master System and arcade eras), includes popular features like mid-game saving and loading as well as optional graphics smoothing, and packages it all for the Xbox 360 or PS3 for a very reasonable $29.99 price tag.
If you're doing the math, then you'll realize that every Genesis game you've bought for the Wii Virtual Console ran you a cool eight bucks. At that price, a thirty dollar collection wouldn't go far: a Sonic game or two, maybe Streets of Rage III, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, and one of the Phantasy Star games and you've already blown more than thirty bucks on VC titles. If you had picked up this collection instead, you'd have gotten a much more complete library of games for less. The full list of all 40 Genesis titles, plus the 9 Master System and arcade games, can be seen here at Wikipedia.
This package is an especially good buy for those who loved the Sonic, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Vectorman and Phantasy Star franchises, but for those looking for the systems' best third-party-published titles, you won't find that here. Nor are a few Sega-published games that really should have made it in: we wind up getting lesser-known titles like Super Thunder Blade and Ristar, but fantastic Genesis games like Gunstar Heroes, the Mortal Kombat series, Toe Jam and Earl, and Street Fighter 2 Special Champion Edition are not included. What's also missing is both of the Knuckles add-on cartridge games for the Sonic series. So in that respect, not many gamers who were playing back in the 16-bit days will really find this to be the "ultimate" Genesis collection, but it's about as good as we've gotten from Sega or even from that era altogether.
Technically, the games are all emulated smoothly and you can get under the hood with some interesting options. There's the screen smoothing option which should be familiar to anyone who's run a 16-bit console emulator before, and the ability to save and load state means that you can quickly pop to the menu and save your action at the exact point you're at and load it up at any time. Yes, this can be used to cheat, and it's up to you just how much you abuse it. Unfortunately, players who want to turn the feature off, to play the game in more of an iron-man mode, can't - they'll just have to control themselves. Otherwise, there are a couple of sound glitches in some games, but unless you're an absolute perfectionist, it won't bother you. And all games that supported two-player action will here as well, but only over a local console. While some will lament the lack of online play and cite the existence of it in many PC emulators, it's just not something that you'll see in retail releases that include this many games in total - especially ones that are released with a $30 price tag.
The extra features continue to pile on as you can also adjust the size and shape of the screen, and yes, the whole thing works nicely in HDTV modes with some background artwork making up the sides of a widescreen display. Note that even though the promotional materials for this collection mention that all titles are "upgraded to hi-def", they really just mean the smoothing option and the fact that yes, the game manages to work on an HDTV (big surprise there). None of the original graphics were redrawn.
At first, only Genesis games are available, but after getting certain achievements or trophies (depending on whether you're on 360 or PS3), the first Phantasy Star on the Master System as well as arcade versions of eight games can start to be unlocked. You'll have to have a friend help you with at least one, though, as you'll need to do the cooperative mode in Sonic 2 for one of them. There are also interviews with original developers that can be unlocked, but as with many of these Q&As with the developers, they don't seem to remember too much about those days so it's a mild time waster at best.
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection shines amongst some of the disappointing classic game compilations we've seen over the years (I'm looking at you, SNK Arcade Classics). Some of the game choices on this list are going to feel a little strange, seeing as there are several titles included that never made it big in the US yet there are no sports games or one-on-one fighting games (not even Eternal Champions!). Still, anyone who is a fan of Sega's biggest 16-bit franchises could do a lot worse than picking up this latest compilation.