Sometimes we present the results to our polls and surveys as top 10 lists, especially when the results are somewhat equally balanced and present an interesting picture of our readers’ collective taste. This time, the winner took the prize by such a huge margin that it didn’t even seem like it was worth the trouble to give much attention to the other games that just fought it out for a very distance second place and beyond. In fact, the nearest runner up – the fantastic Midway Arcade Treasures series – only earned a meager 11% of the vote, and all the other games fought for single-digit-percentage slices of the pie.
So, without further ado, here is the game that our readers decided was the best retro game compilation of all time with almost no equal.
THE WINNER IS:
Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (aka Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection in PAL regions)
Released in 2009 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Other than Nintendo, it’s hard to think of a game company with a deeper backlog of amazing games and more beloved legacy than Sega. And although it is open to debate when Sega’s “best” singular era was, there’s no doubt that their golden era – their late 80’s arcade titles on through their first two home consoles – is the one that gamers of a certain age hold dearest to their hearts. While certainly not a complete collection by any means, UC (or “Ultimate Collection” as I’ll be abbreviating it from here on out) comes very close, and offers a very comprehensive compilation of Sega’s remarkable output during this era. Building on the also solid but comparatively lacking Sega Genesis Collection released a few years prior for PS2 and PSP, UC wisely did away with some of that release’s completely unnecessary titles – good damn riddance, Genesis version of Virtua Fighter 2! – and the frustrating decision to give each version its own five unique bonus titles, while also addressing some of its most glaring omissions (the Streets of Rage and Shining series, most notably). There are still some games that seem to be missing for no good reason, like The Revenge of Shinobi (the only Genesis Shinobi game missing from the collection), Eternal Champions, neither ToeJam & Earl game, and not a single racing game. I also would’ve liked to see a few of the Japan-only games we never got, like Rent-A-Hero and Monster World IV, but I’m just getting nitpicky now.
I don’t want to sound too down on this compilation – I mostly just wanted to get the gripes out of the way so I can focus on what makes this collection so great and why our readers love it so much. There are 40 Genesis games found on this disc, which has to be pretty close to the record for the highest number of 16-bit games ever compiled in a single collection. Among the expected – but still welcomed – titles like the four main Sonic games plus Spinball and 3D Blast, Golden Axe 1-3, Altered Beast, Columns, Vectorman 1-2, Kid Chameleon, Ecco the Dolphin and Tides of Time, two of the three Genesis Shinobi games, the afforementioned addition of the Streets of Rage series, and so on, this collection also features what may be the most 8- and 16-bit RPGs ever collected in one place. You have the first four Phantasy Star games, the three Genesis Shining games, action/RPG Beyond Oasis, the roguelike-esque Fatal Labyrinth, and the Master System Golden Axe spin-off action/RPG Golden Axe Warrior. Compare that to the Final Fantasy “collections” for PS1 that each featured a whopping two 8 and/or 16 bit RPGs, not to mention that Square and most other companies had already moved on to trying to sell us their retro RPGs individually for anywhere between $5 and $20 digitally at the time UC was released and you’ll see just what a fantastic value it was.
Did you notice how I just casually slipped two different Master System games into the above paragraph? As if including 40 Genesis games on one disc wasn’t enough, the creators of this collection went ahead and added nine additional “bonus titles” to the already bursting-at-the-seams roster. And while bonus titles in retro collections are generally nothing special, in UC they are all noteworthy. First, they gave us the original Phantasy Star, thus giving us a complete pre-PSO Phantasy Star lineup. They included the aforementioned Golden Axe Warrior, which was written off as a half-rate Zelda rip-off at the time of its release but has since earned a pretty respectable following. And finally, they gave us the arcade versions of Altered Beast, Shinobi, Space Harrier, Congo Bongo, Alien Syndrome, Fantasy Zone and Zaxxon, most of which have only ever been available for home consoles via slightly inferior ports, if at all.
Finally, and maybe most interestingly, UC even managed to include a few games that not only weren’t internally developed by Sega, but were created by some well-known developers. The Camelot-developed Shining games are included, even more interesting when you realize that they’ve been working exclusively with Nintendo for going on 15 or so years now. There is also Vic Tokai’s oddball Decap Attack and Treasure’s Dynamite Headdy. Of course, it’s tempting not to take these games’ inclusion as an excuse to complain about why Sega couldn’t take things a step further and go for a game like, say, Gunstar Heroes, but obviously the developers had to stop somewhere, and if they had all the time and resources in the world to do whatever they wanted I’m sure we’d be looking at a three-disc compilation with absolutely every game that Sega published for the Master System and Genesis that they still have the rights to. But as far as I’m concerned, until there is another compilation that even comes close to this one – and I’m hard-pressed to think of one that does – it’s a little silly to complain too much about it. If you consider yourself a “retro gamer” and you have an Xbox 360 and/or a PlayStation 3, owning this is a no-brainer. Honestly, even if you play nothing else on either of those consoles, it is worth keeping one of them around and hooked up just to have access to this collection. Just with the RPGs alone you’ll be kept busy for months – if not years – to come.
Also: save states. ‘Nuff said.