Review: Sega Classics Collection (PS2)

Title: Sega Classics Collection (PS2)
Publisher: Sega
Developer Sega
Release Date: 3/24/05

Sega has been, in a word, masterful about how they’ve handled compilations over the years. As one of the first companies to put out a compilation, the good old 6 Pack way back on the Genesis, they were ahead of the trend. Now in Japan, Sega has tapped into the whole retro craze that has been going on with their Sega Ages line. The Sega Ages games were re-releases of some of the most popular, and some of the oddest games ever to be made by Sega, updated with new game play elements, graphics, and the like, and put out as a budget title. Some games turned out much better then others.

When Sega thought of bringing this over stateside, they realized that there had to be some retooling done. They grabbed ten games that they figured would work well in the US market, bundled them together, and then shipped them at a budget price. The Sega Classics Collection had the potential to be single handedly the greatest compilation of all time. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, the gaming gods decided that serendipity was not achievable for the much-maligned Sega fanboys, myself included. So that is where we are today with this collection. It’s not bad, it’s just that… well, the review can speak for itself.


Compilation

In terms of picking games for a compilation, this is one of the most varied and genre comprehensive collections out there. The breakdown looks like this: 3 racers, 3 shooters, 2 puzzle games, a side scrolling beat’em up, and a party game. The only elements lacking here is a RPG, which is understandable since Sega is putting out another Phantasy Star collection in May, and a fighting game, which is less understandable. The compilation also has a fine mix of games people have heard of and played (Golden Axe, Outrun, Space Harrier), games that people may have missed the first time around (Alien Syndrome, Virtua Racing), and games that have not seen the light of day before in the US (Bonanza Bros, Tant R).

The biggest problem with this compilation is that too often were many of the games looked at with a, “how can we improve this” mentality. Sometimes these upgrades were almost exclusively cosmetic. Other times, you have dreck like Golden Axe. Let it be known that I have always disliked the original Golden Axe because, quite frankly, it was a poor game compared to other beat’em ups. Streets of Rage was more fun and Gauntlet was better realized, but that’s neither here nor there. What does matter though is the fact that this game ends up being the scar of the collection. Its as if some Japanese kid coked up on crystal meth got his hands on a Saturn Development kit and hit it with a hammer until the Sega Ages version of Golden Axe came out. What’s even more frustrating is that similar games that supposedly had decent remakes, like Fist of the North Star, got passed over for shit like Golden Axe.

The compilation offers far more good then bad though. Personally, I am a maniac for Columns and this is the only non-portable release that Columns has had this generation. The implementation of a new versus mode by adding in a slight variation of the original system is also extremely well done. Even with a very poor story mode, Columns still manages to be one of the best draws of the collection.

All of the shooters fair extremely well. Despite being loads easier mostly because of the screen being a lot bigger, Space Harrier is still a blast. It is as fast paced as the old game, and still, just as much fun. It plays just like you remember it. It’s just a great game.
Alien Syndrome is easily the most fast paced game of the collection. It is also probably my favorite outside of Columns. It looks great and is a ton of fun with a friend Fantasy Zone is a fantastic port also and perfectly captures the greatness of the original game. It is also balls hard, as is Alien Front. Brutally hard but fair and a whole lot of fun.

The racing games all deliver as well. Outrun, Monaco GP, and Virtua Racing all deliver in a big way, though some more then others. Outrun is as much fun and as hard as it ever was, and the new arrange mode gives it a new twist. Monaco GP also brings back fond memories of yesteryear and it is still funny to watch your car burst into flames. Virtua Racing really brings nothing to the table that will blow anyone away. It is a decent game on its own right but it has nowhere near the classic appeal of the other games in the collection.

The two other games are a fun little platform puzzle game and a party game in Bonanza Brothers and Tant R respectively. Bonanza Brothers is pretty short, but it is still pretty different from your average puzzle game so it certainly wins some points for innovations. It is understandable why the Japanese Sega Ages bundled these two games, as Bonanza Brothers can’t stand on its own. Tant R is the main draw and is one of the first party games I’ve played where the vast majority of the mini games are challenging. This is the puzzle game for people out there that are under whelmed by the difficulty of most party games. Even though the menu design is rather unintuitive, this is still one of the games that you’ll come back to with a friend to settle some arguments.

Overall the actual games for this collection are pretty fantastic. Golden Axe is the only game that completely sucks and Virtua Racing is the only mediocre game of the collection. While one could complain about there being one too many racers and how one of the Sega Ages remakes of a fighting game would have helped balance out the collection better, this is really a moot point. This is the most varied and satisfying collections on the market today.

Collection: 9 out of 10


Graphics

The graphics in this collection are a pretty mixed bag. The best way to describe the graphics is adequate for most games. Some games, particularly Alien Front, offer some pretty excellent graphics. Other games like Columns, especially in the story mode, are pretty weak. Since these were all released as budget titles in Japan, Sega never broke the bank with the graphics on any of these games.

Besides Alien Front, Space Harrier and Virtua Racing are probably the best looking games of the collection. Even in those cases though, there is nothing that will blow you away. The Sega Classic Collection relies more on its graphics being serviceable more then anything. Some games have little to no change in their appearance from the original games. When there is a change though, its built upon the classic look as it should be. The only game where the graphics look completely ugly is Golden Axe, but you probably already guessed that.

Sega tries to keep the retro look in most games while only slightly upgrading the graphics. For the most part, it works. The graphics for most of the games look serviceable and in Alien Front’s case they look great. It would have been better if Sega just did some minor graphical touch ups and included more modes for some of the shorter games like Space Harrier rather then focusing on graphical upgrades that turned out to be rather mediocre.

Graphics: 6 out of 10


Sound

Mmm. The sound is pretty awesome in this collection. All of the classic Sega tunes are in here in one form or another. There is a good variety of classic music taken straight from the original games like Columns and Outrun, slightly remixed music that is based completely on the original soundtrack like Space Harrier, and completely rescored games such as Alien Front. The music sounds great throughout the entire collection.

The sound effects are pretty much what you would expect. The biggest complaint that can be said about the sounds is a few of the games sound pretty monotonous, especially in Tant R. Tant R also has some voice work you’d expect to hear on a cartridge based game. Besides that, all I can really do is nitpick. If you treat each game as a completely new game, the sound effects are pretty mediocre, but when looking at the sound as part of collection, Sega really offers a wide variety of sound effects.

The soundtrack is great. The sound effects, while simple for each game, offer a great deal of variety when taken as a whole. The sound is easily the strongest part of the collection outside of the games itself. It offers probably the greatest soundtrack collectively for a game collection ever.

Sound: 9 out of 10


Controls

More then any other parts of the Classics Collection, the controls are really hit or miss for whatever given game you’re playing. First off, the bad. Golden Axe is really bad. Really really bad. Trying to control your muscle bound hero is a pain in the ass. Besides that, there are some other games with some weak controls. Tant R feels unresponsive in some of the mini-games and its tough to turn and shoot in Alien Front.

On the other hand, some games control great. Your ship, the Opa-Opa, moves like a bumblebee in Fantasy Zone and feels completely responsive the entire time. The same goes for you drag racer in Monaco GP. It almost seems like Sega just made sure the controls work well in the games where you have to move fast, and then phoned it in on the games where precise control is less of an issue.

There are some load time issues with a few of the games. The only game where it is really painfully bad in game is with Alien Front. Besides that, expect a small load time for most games going from the main menu to the actual game. Considering how big the collection is and the fact that it’s a budget game, its more understandable then most games, but it still is a real pain in the ass.

Most of the games have solid controls with a few games feeling really eh and Golden Axe being the only game with completely broken controls. Good control is there for the games you really need it in, but for the most part it is a very mediocre effort for the majority of the games.

Controls: 5 out of 10


Replay Value

Another shining example of what is right with this collection. While some games really don’t offer that much in the replay category, there is a lot of depth in other areas. Fantasy Zone has a challenge mode where you can buy frickin bat wings for the Opa-Opa. Trust me, nothing is cooler then having a pastel colored ship with frickin bat wings flapping to keep it afloat. Additionally, there is a very large gallery that will take quite a bit of time to unlock every little ship in.

Two of the racers, Monaco GP and Outrun, both have arranged modes that add a lot of depth to them. Monaco GP also has the classic version of itself in addition to an update one with both playing noticeably differently. Columns also has a classic mode included in addition to the new updated versus mode. Columns also benefits from having the same replay value that any other puzzle game has.

Tant R also adds to the game’s replayability by adding in the appeal of having quite few mini games to play whenever you want in addition to the single player mode. While none of them have to be unlocked, it still takes a decent amount of time to play through them all. Also, consider the fact that this is one of the few party games on the PS2 and that it has 4-player support.

Space Harrier, Virtua Racing, Alien Front, Golden Axe, and Bonanza Bros don’t have any real additional content that’s worth noting besides a few extra cars and a Retro, “one hit and you’re dead” difficulty for Alien Front, but the majority of them are still a lot of fun to play and most of them have score attack modes.

After digesting all of this, one fact stands out. This is a game collection with essentially ten full games, most of which could be considered full games by today’s standards and not by the standards of yesteryear. When taking all of this into consideration, you’ve got a deep game experience that will last you for a very long time.

Replay Value: 9 out of 10


Balance

A lot of these games are pretty unbalanced. They start out being hard and you work your way up to them for the most part. The hard games like Alien Front and Fantasy Zone never stop being challenging while the easier games like Space Harrier and Golden Axe really never overwhelm you the entire way through. Balance should not really be what you get into a classic game collection for though. The majority of the games were always hard and were meant to be always hard. I’m actually surprised that the difficulty level on any of these games was ramped down.

The one slight redeeming factor with balance is that since some of the games are in the same genre, the easier games act as a way to build up to the harder ones. The hardest game by far, Fantasy Zone, is offset by one of the easier games, Space Harrier. While these games are still pretty different, one can still say that some sort of an attempt was made by the collection to have a bit of balance. This is really grasping at straws though since most of the games in the collection are either hard or easy with no real middle ground. Most of the games are fair about their difficulty, but that doesn’t mean that they’re balanced.

Balance: 3 out of 10


Originality

Well it’s a collection, which tends to mean that it isn’t very original. On the other hand, I cannot think of another collection where every game has something new about it, whether it is just upgraded graphics or a completely new mode or two. Sega offers a completely new look at how collections can and should be handled. The Sega Ages game series in Japan pretty much set the standard for how to do retro games.

The other thing that this collection has going for it is that it offers some of the most revolutionary games of all time, which cannot go unnoted. Space Harrier is what quite a few gamers cut their arcade teeth on. Virtua Racing was one of the first 3-D games ever made. Outrun pretty much set the standard for what an arcade racer should have.

The last point is that the games collected are pretty much the only way you’ll get to play some certain game genres. How many rail shooters on the PS2 in the United States? How about just shooters in general? When was the last time you could play Columns on a non-handheld system? How many party games are really on the PS2? This game offers a lot of familiar genres, but most of these genres can’t really be found on this current console generation, let alone the PS2. Nothing is completely new here, but nothing here has been seen in quite some time.

Originality: 8 out of 10


Addictiveness

When I first picked up this game, I was pretty unimpressed. The longer that I played it though, the more I enjoyed it and the more I kept playing it. There is a lot here and most of it is a blast to play. The best game on the collection is Fantasy Zone according to Alex Williams, and I agree with him giving it the advantage by a hair mostly because of the extra modes.

Beyond that though, Columns is way up there as you can play it literally forever and it never gets old. Outrun, Monaco GP, Space Harrier, and Alien Front all offer great experiences too and are up there as potentially the best game of the collection too. The point is that when you’ve got six games in a collection competing to be the best game included, you’ve got a great collection. Even the sucky games, ok, game, are fun. I still came back to Golden Axe more then once just because it was fun to play.

Having said all of that, a lot of these games are acquired tastes, and because I love all of the genres covered my mileage will vary a lot from the norm. Still, I gave it to a few friends and they had a blast playing it too. They also cringed in frustration with some of the harder games too though. It’s a great game and I have no problem giving its addictiveness a perfect score as I can see myself playing this game until, at very earliest, the end of the PS2’s life cycle.

Addictiveness: 10 out of 10


Appeal

The flip side of the addictiveness is the appeal. This game appeals to a very specific group of gamers. Sega gamers will jump at this collection, as it is good, very good. Fans of shooters and puzzle game fans also will have quite a bit of fun with this game. Finally, gamers who need more then their hands to count the amount of consoles they’ve owned will get a kick out of this game too. This game also will appeal to anyone who wants a challenging game experience or doesn’t mind trying something new if they’re relatively new to the gaming.

This game will not appeal to practically everyone else. The game does not emphasize graphics and is pretty hard. The racing games don’t have licensed cars, and you can die in one hit in two of the games. What it boils down to is that the Sega Classics Collection has way too many odd genres that your average gamer isn’t used to. Additionally, one of the two games in the collection that Joe Q. Gamer has actually heard of, Golden Axe, has been getting some pretty grim reactions from practically everyone in the gaming community. It’s a shame too. This is such a good game if you give it a chance to grow on you, and at only 20 dollars, it’s worth a shot.

Appeal: 4 out of 10


Miscellaneous

The only real thing that hasn’t been mentioned is there are some issues with saving and loading with Virtua Racing. A lot of people have confirmed that to save and load a Virtua Racing game. To save data, you’ve got to do it on a separate memory card from all of your other Sega Classics Collection data. It’s a pretty major glitch that should have been caught before the game was released, especially considering it was delayed without warning for two months to (presumably) fix the bugs.

The one other thing that hasn’t been addressed is the actual in game menu for selecting games. The menu’s ooze Sega, as does the background music. It’s the perfectly subtlety Sega. The Sega Classics Collection is like watching an old video Christmas video and seeing how well wrapped that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Thrower was. It’s something that if you can only really appreciate if you take a step back away from what’s actually in the collection.

Miscellaneous: 5 out of 10



The Scores

Collection 9 out of 10
Graphics; 6 out of 10
Soundtrack: 9 out of 10
Controls: 5 out of 10
Replay Value: 9 out of 10
Balance: 3 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Addictiveness: 10 out of 10
Appeal Factor: 4 out of 10
Miscellaneous: 5 out of 10

Overall Score: 68 out of 100
Final Score: 7.0 (Good)