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Sega Classics Collection Review

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Sega Classics Collection brings together nine classic Sega arcade games into a single package (priced at $19.99). Purists will be unhappy to discover that the majority of games in this collection feature upgraded graphics and audio, as well as additional play modes that weren't in the original arcade games. The impact of these "upgrades" varies. Most of the time, they don't interfere with the nostalgia value of the original game. In a few instances, they've made a game better. In others, they've made it worse.

Games included are:

Instead of going over them in order, let's take a look at them in order of quality. This is definitely one collection that's going to appeal to fans of certain games while totally alienating the fans of others.

Virtua Racing
Many of you probably remember Virtua Racing, either because of its unique polygonal look or because the arcade game's cabinet was shaped like a F1 car. Sega blew the world away when it released this game in 1992. It was the first arcade racing game to employ true 3D graphics, thanks to Sega's inaugural Model 1 motherboard. More significant than that, though, the game's three lifelike courses ushered in the AM2 division's reputation for superlative track design, leading the way for games like Daytona USA and Ferrari F355 Challenge.

The version of Virtua Racing included on this disc is better than "arcade-perfect" It includes the three original courses from the arcade game, as well as the three courses that were later included in the critically-acclaimed 32X release, Virtua Racing Deluxe. The standard F1 car is available from the outset, but there are also four bonus vehicles to unlock by playing through the grand prix mode (which is another new addition, along with free run and two-player split-screen modes). Those extras provide additional bang for the buck without getting in the way of the original code. Same skid-happy physics; same flat-shaded polygons; only, now the frame-rate is smoother.

Without a doubt, Virtua Racing is the gem of this collection.

OutRun is a racing game that's best known for its breakneck sense of speed and for its deliciously mellow soundtrack. Its identifying feature, however, is the ability to pick from two upcoming courses on the fly when the current course ends. The multi-path setup keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering if you'll be able to reach the end in time, which is a good thing in a game where you're racing against the clock and other vehicles are only there to slow you down. The classic (1986) is here in all its sprite-based glory, along with an "arranged" version that includes longer courses and improved graphics. Unfortunately, the arranged mode suffers from a slew of problems, the worst of which are choppy graphics and teleporting CPU cars that appear out of nowhere and stop your car cold. Thankfully, the original game mode is un-molested and identical to the 1986 arcade game.

Fantasy Zone
A bug-like ship named Opa-Opa, a pastel-colored world, and cute fluffy enemies set this otherwise cookie-cutter shoot 'em up apart from all of the other side-scrolling shooters out there. Imagine R-Type or Gradius or Defender, only sickeningly cute and happy. This version of Fantasy Zone is identical to the original arcade game (same graphics, same audio, same everything). The 16-bit graphics may look dated in this day and age, but they were tops in 1985. Don't be fooled by the cute look either--the screen is constantly full of enemies and the bosses are gigantic. This is also a good "couch" game since it supports two-player simultaneous play.

Most people were addicted to Tetris back in 1990, so you shouldn't feel bad if you don't remember Columns. Whereas Tetris involves organizing the different shapes that fall from the top of the screen into lines at the bottom, Sega's take on the puzzle genre challenges players to organize and shuffle columns (each made out of three individual bricks) into like-colored groups on the game board. Clusters made up of 3-or-more matching bricks will disappear. Chain reactions are very possible since any bricks sitting atop the mass will "move down" if you clear some from the bottom. Play modes include endless, VS CPU, and VS player. The only new feature to this version of the game is the ability to choose whether the blocks are 2D sprites or three-dimensional.

Space Harrier
Space Harrier was one of the world's first "3D" shoot 'em ups. Players control a young boy with a jet pack strapped to his back and have to shoot at oncoming enemies as they appear up ahead. It doesn't get any simpler, and thanks to an onslaught of enemies, obstacles, and plasma bullets, it also doesn't get any more hectic. In 1985, the game's graphics were groundbreaking. By layering 2D sprite graphics and using a few psychedelic visual effects in the background, the masterminds at Sega managed to concoct the illusion of 3D. When the game later came out for the Sega Genesis, a pair of 3D glasses actually came packaged with it! For this version, Sega decided to replace the original sprite-based graphics with high-resolution polygon characters and 3D backgrounds. They left the checkerboard floor and certain background elements intact, however, so the changes don't subtract all that much from the retro sci-fi look that fans associate with the game. Space Harrier in the Sega Classics Collection contains two play modes: original and fractal. Both modes play identically. The fractal mode adds more enemies (and an additional level) onto the original game and replaces the retro floors and horizons with true 3D landscapes.

Alien Syndrome
If you like games such as Smash TV, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, or the recently released Neo Contra, you'll probably enjoy Alien Syndrome. It's a top-view, mission-based shoot'em up. The general goal is to search through each large space station and moonscape and rescue the children that are being held hostage by aliens. Like most games of its type, the concept behind Alien Syndrome is to shoot anything that moves. Different aliens and bosses populate each environment, and there are more than a dozen different guns that you can pick up and use against them. One or two players can play, which makes this a good multiplayer "couch" game.

The version of Alien Syndrome included with Sega Classics Collection has the same number of levels as the original game did, and the level layouts are roughly the same too. What's changed are the graphics. Sega replaced all of the old 2D flat backgrounds and sprites with 3D backgrounds and characters. The bosses are larger and more sickening (and often ooze with snot and puss), and the weapons are way more impressive--especially the flame-throwers and rocket launchers, which now spew forth streams of fire and shrapnel. Purists may not like the game's "new" look, but, considering how ugly the original game was, appreciate the improvements are justified. At least the underlying game hasn't changed.

Tant R & Bonanza Bros.
Tant R & Bonanza Bros. is actually two games combined into one. Tant R features 16 simple mini-games (things like matching shapes, navigating mazes, popping balloons with an airplane, catching convicts, or putting together robots from mismatched parts). These mini-games form the basis for the more than 40 individual "trials" that make up Tant R. Meanwhile, Bonanza Bros. is more of an action game. The basic idea is that you're a robber and have to run through properties and grab loot while avoiding the cops. The various levels include a house, a casino, a bank, a mansion, and so forth. Comedy is the game's selling point, as evidenced by the main character's pistol whip attack and all of the bizarre mishaps that you can lure the cops into within each level ("watch out for that safe!" *thwump*). Bonanza Bros. supports two-player simultaneous play. Tant R supports up to four players at once. You probably won't invest much time in either game however, since they're both very simple and repetitive.

Monaco GP
Not to be confused with Super Monaco GP, this is the "oldie" in the collection. Monaco GP isn't a racing game in the traditional sense. There are other cars out on the track, but the main goal is to drive as far as possible before the timer runs out. If you manage to score enough points (e.g. drive fast and don't crash), you'll be able to move on to the next level. The original Monaco GP came out in 1980 and used vector overlays to display its very-simplistic top-view courses. Sega kept the top-down viewpoint for this version of Monaco GP, but has completely revamped the graphics so that the courses now resemble realistic tracks complete with blacktop, fences, grandstands, grasses, and rumble strips. In addition to the "original" play mode, Monaco GP includes a new "classic" mode that throws power-ups and a jump move into the mix.

Thanks to those enhancements, this version of Monaco GP honestly does look better and offer more variety than the arcade game it's based on. Let's face it--videogames were horrifically simple back in 1980

Unfortunately, Sega screwed the whole thing up by implementing a control scheme that's counterintuitive (and, at times, physically painful). The analog stick and D-pad aren't used for steering. Instead, you have to push the L1 and R1 buttons to make 45 degree turns and the L2 and R2 buttons to make 90 degree turns. It's nearly impossible to keep those buttons straight at the breakneck pace that the game throws out turns and obstacles.

Golden Axe
Golden Axe is the most broken of all of the games included in Sega Classics Collection. Originally released in 1989, it was the precursor to numerous medieval-themed side-scrolling action games. One or two players can pick between three different characters (warrior, magician, and dwarf) and then set off to slay eight levels full of demons. Each character has two or three different basic attacks, as well as his/her own unique magic ability.

This version of Golden Axe is more of a remake than anything else. Many of the levels are longer than the originals and contain enemies taken from later Golden Axe sequels. Also, all of the graphics, sound effects, and music have been completely replaced.

Purists won't appreciate that this so-called "Golden Axe" looks and sounds different from the original arcade game. Besides that, the new graphics and audio are terrible. The characters look like the people painted onto the covers of trashy romance novels, the animation is choppy, and the backgrounds employ a mixture of 2D and 3D terrain that's not even up to PSOne standards. Meanwhile, the sound effects are muffled and the music sounds like it was composed on a 20-year-old synthesizer.

The controls and gameplay are seriously messed up too. Some of the attack combinations that were in the original arcade game were removed from this version. In an already-repetitive game, that's a bad thing. To make matters worse, the controls are extremely unresponsive, to the extent that characters will simply refuse to jump over a pit or attack an enemy even when you're mashing on the buttons. One of the game's coolest features is that you can track down fire-breathing dragons within each level and ride atop them. Due to the laggy controls, however, it's almost impossible to actually mount a dragon and, once you do, their attacks come out a second or two after you input the command.

Someone ought to be taken out back and flogged for letting this ugly and frustrating remake out the door.

To Sum Up

Ultimately, the joy you'll get out of Sega Classics Collection will depend on which games you like and how familiar you are with the originals.

The versions of Virtua Racing, OutRun, and Fantasy Zone that are included on the disc remain faithful to their arcade counterparts, despite the addition of a few bonus features. Meanwhile, Columns is virtually identical to its original incarnation.

Space Harrier, and Alien Syndrome were given graphical makeovers, but that hasn't hurt their underlying gameplay one bit.

Monaco GP and Golden Axe are broken to the point of being nearly unplayable, and the tandem of Tant R and Bonanza Bros. is a bonus that you'll rarely play because of how simple both games are.

Bottom Line

One really awesome game and 5 good games (out of 9) isn't bad for $20

Posted : 01/04/2005 12:00 am