A nostalgic glimpse through the games of the past. When I first heard about the games included in Sega’s Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, that is what I thought it might offer. Being fairly young throughout the Mega Drive(or Genesis to some)’s heyday, I was lucky to have experienced it. As one of my first consoles, it opened my eyes to the weird, wonderful and wild world of the video game, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart. As soon as the vibrant 16-bit graphics embroidered my eyes with patterns of joy, and the melodic MIDI audio invaded my very soul, I was taken by it. At 5 years old, sat in front of an antique television in my grandad’s chair, Mega Drive pad in hand, I decided that gaming was DEFINITELY for me.
Over a decade later, I am given the chance to revisit those times and become a young boy again, and a strong feeling of nostalgia descends, blanketing me in memories of the events of my childhood. That nostalgia, will to many people, be the key selling point about the Ultimate Collection. With these kinds of anthology games, there are very few other features that could attract consumers to make a purchase. There are no brand new features to be found here, the games are dated and use old technology, the controls feel tired and basic in the wake of today’s advancements. But even with all of these factors pushing against it, the Ultimate Collection still managed to win my heart.
So, on with the details. Stood in the shop weighing up which game would best replace my ill-fated plans this weekend, the budget price of Ultimate Collection, at £24.99, was definitely an important player in the game to win my purchase. Upon a jerky loadup from my slowly, but surely failing Xbox, I was met with an intriguing Mega Drive-styled menu, laden with game-cartridge throwbacks and sound effects reminiscent of the era. While the case boasts an “epic collection of over 40 gaming classics”, this turned out to be rather a burden to me. When confronted with the mammoth list of games, I had no idea where to start. I went with the classic, methodical method of traipsing through the veritable colony of games alphabetically. Here it is important to note a handy feature of the starting menu – the sorting function, which offers an option to sort the games shown by a range of variables including genre and release year.
From the cross section of games that I played, it became clear that the Ultimate Collection bore the characteristics of the generic compilation album. A few smash hits, some fondly remembered classics and a myriad of filler tracks. While this is always to be expected from collection-style games, I was hopeful that this iteration may play host to a greater number of gaming greats. While not disappointed with the range on offer, I was disheartened that Sega had chosen not to include some of my personal Mega Drive icons. But all was not lost, as there is still an abundance of glimmering hope to be found within the vaults of Sega history. The gems of the collection are easily picked out as the wheat from the chaff: Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, the Sonic games and Shining Force were my personal favourites.
Of course, the subjective nature of nostalgia dictates that people will most likely base their picks on the games of their past and these will vary from person to person, and that is where Ultimate Collection succeeds. By offering such a diverse array of retro games, the single disk can offer enjoyment to a vast segment of gamers, though to many, paying for games that are long past their original sell by date, and that are often available cheaply or free of charge from various sources, can be a tough gamepad to handle.
Onto the quality of the actual emulation. Much like downloaded arcade titles from the XBLA, the playing portion of the screen is not scaled up to fit the entire display, and is instead framed in a game-specific rectangle of tiled artwork relevant to whichever game you are playing. The once fluid-looking games can’t help but look slightly jerky and robotic, but that is more related to outdated animation styles than emulation problems.
Upon unlocking an achievement, a new video interview becomes available for viewing in the main menu. While this is not at all integral to the game, it is a nice touch for those who enjoy looking back over the history of gaming.
Complete with original audio, the games’ soundtracks feel very tinny and seem to have lost their resonance since the glory days of the original Mega Drive. Some games have managed to keep their gritty chiptune feel though, with the likes of Streets of Rage and The Story of Thor rising to the challenge one high note in left hand and other high note in the right.
All things considered and all the highs and lows of the Sega Mega Drive experience, Ultimate Collection is a good buy for any gamer old or new. For veterans of the gaming world, it will provide moments of nostalgia that are hard to come by in this quickly developing technological environment. For newer gamers, it offers an opportunity to glimpse into the influences behind some of today’s most impressive gaming successes, the forerunners to some of the longest running video-game series around and, if nothing else, a trip back through time that, without a pretty hefty flux capacitor, would be otherwise difficult to obtain. Don’t go buying Ultimate Collection with a purpose in mind of seeking the extents of modern gaming, but if you are chasing gaming history and are willing to let yourself open to old-school console gaming, then you may find an almost spiritual home within the vast expanse of game offered in the anthology.