Free Pizza Video Game Review: Sega Classics Collection (PS2)
Before these ignominious days where Sega has been relegated to dumping ports of their classic games onto the Nintendo Switch’s marketplace, back in the heyday of the PS2 (still ignominious, perhaps even more so as the corpse of the Dreamcast was still fresh), Sega released a series of updated classics, with graphics that more favored polygons than pixels. This was the Sega Ages collection and alas, did not make it to our shores, instead, like many awesome things, remained locked on Japanese shores. This Sega Ages 2500 collection (so named because each game only cost 2500 yen) ran from 2003 to 2008 consisting over 33 volumes, some of which were just remakes of individual games, others were collections of an entire series up to that point.
Okay, so my opening is just a little misleading. While the series in its entirety didn’t make it State-side, Sega did release a compilation over here called the Sega Classics Collection and offered a fair sampling of what the Ages collection had to offer. The games included are: Outrun, Golden Axe, Space Harrier, Columns, Virtua Racing, Fantasy Zone, Monaco GP, Bonanza Bros., Tant R and Alien Syndrome. Sadly, the game did not fare well with regards to both critics and sales, thus squashing the prospect for any additional entries in the Ages collections hopping the pond. Personally, I think this is likely for two reasons. First, either rightly or wrongly, I think gamers and critics might have been expecting straight up ports of the included game. While, yes, this is before the massive nostalgia market we find ourselves in, when you title something Sega Classics, well, I suspect most people had an expectation that differed from what was shown on the box. Piggy backing on that, showing only one image per game represented may not be the best way to represent what Sega was trying to do with this collection. Secondly, while Outrun, Space Harrier, Golden Axe and Fantasy Zone might reel in the hardcore old-school gamers, there isn’t anything here to grab the casual gamer…coughSONICcough.
But is this collection worth the negativity that past…and even present…reviewers visit upon it? Let’s take a look as we start the clock. Okay Sega Classics, do you deserve some free pizza?
Outrun and Virtua Racing
I’m starting with these two because for the most part, I’m not a racing game guy. There are exceptions, like F-Zero and Wipeout…or anything that wraps the racing up in some sort of futuristic wrapper…but generally, I’ll be honest, I’m just no good at them. I played Outrun first, because nostalgia, and it’s fine…it’s fun. The simple gameplay of the original is here as are the catchy tunes that the series is known for. It’s a fun little upgrade, but again, I suck at it, so I didn’t devote much time to it.
With Virtua Racing, well, I’ve got zero attachment to the game…so there’s that right off the bat. That said, again, it’s feels like a decent racer…there certainly wasn’t anything about my brief experience with it that screamed ‘this game sucks’ or ‘this is broken’ to me. But, if you’ll forgive the pun, this game is totally out of my wheelhouse…so to come away with a ‘meh’ by the end of it is probably as close to a win as this game was gonna get.
Now this series is one of Sega’s crown jewels at both arcades and at home. And while I don’t want to say it lingers in the fringes, it’s not like you can just drop its name and faces will light up. You might have to show a screen or two before you get the “oh, yeah, that was cool…I loved that game!” reaction. Personally, while it’s not one of my favorites, given its fantasy trappings, one of my favorite Genesis games, Alien Storm, was pretty much Golden Axe but Sci-Fi…so I’m at least a fan of the gameplay.
And that’s the problem. In this update, it’s just…off.
I mean, it looks great and the moves, when you can pull them off without getting hit by an enemy, are fun…but that’s just it. It’s like you’re consistently a half-second behind the computer. Every. Time. And it’s not like you’re losing massive amounts of health either. You take one slight hit, then you wail on the guy/girl/beast and they go down. But the fact that EVERY opening salvo from an opponent is a cheap shot gets to be grating after a while and really erodes away any fun that’s to be had here. Again, this this being one of Sega’s better franchises, it really is kind of a shame.
Let’s be honest, I was going to like this one no matter what. I love the Space Harrier games, flaws and all, so unless this one pulled off a cataclysmic fuck up, it was going to get a positive review. And yeah, it’s good. In fact, there’s a new smart-laser function that locks on very much like the main targeting in REZ [Now there’s a game you should review. – Ed.] and this actually helps make it a little easier. Otherwise, it’s the same old run and gun, which, honestly, is just fine…and as we just learned from Golden Axe, sometimes the best thing is simply not to break it. And Space Harrier doesn’t. Sure, this doesn’t allow for a terribly long review, but hey…I really can’t anything else other than “It’s good. I liked it.”
This one is a little weird. While I still stand by my ‘I suck at driving games’…and it certainly applies here…this one is different. First of it its more top-down view, which is the main reason I didn’t group this one in with Outrun and Virtua Racing. However, the controls here are not entirely like your standard racing game either. There’s no brake or gas pedal buttons, that’s up and down on your controller (either D-pad or analog stick). The only thing you’re using the face buttons for is to use items that you pick up or, get this, to jump. Yup, your F1 looking car jumps. And it’s really kinda fun! Where the game gets hard, like Turrican-painful-but-I-wanna-learn-anyway hard, is using the shoulder buttons, as they allow for nigh instantaneous 45 and 90 degree turns. If you time these right, you’ll be unstoppable on the track. Time these poorly, and you’ll be in all the explosions. All of them.
Guess what happened to me?
I’ll give you a hint, I still smell ‘crispy’.
But honestly, I think exploding so much is actually kinda fun. It’s not like the other racing games where it’s kinda frustrating, but more like Joe Flaherty and John Candy on SCTV: “I done blowed up real good! Yeah, REAL good!”
So yeah, this one’s fun, but it’s one of those that I’m not sure I can actually recommend it. I guess I’ll just say this is the racing equivalent of my Turrican review. So if you dug that, you’ll dig this.
Yeah, this one’s not for me. Maybe it’s the Tetris fanboy in me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m old and my twitch responses just aren’t what they once were. Or maybe it’s the fact that the speed REALLY FRIGGIN’ PICKS UP once you finish level 1. I dunno. Whether it’s one, or the other, or both, this ends up making for a serious difficulty curve when it comes to Columns. And, let’s face it, when the premise of this compilation is to offer upgraded versions of Sega’s 8 or 16-bit classics, this feels like a wasted inclusion. I mean, really, how does one upgrade Columns visually? That’s a question that this version of the game doesn’t answer. At all. Now that I think about it, I’m kinda pissed. I mean, sure, Shinobi got his own game for the PS2…but an upgraded original? That would’ve been cool. And even if they screwed it up like Golden Axe, it would’ve still been a better inclusion than Columns here.
I think if you dropped acid while playing Defender, you might end up with Fantasy Zone. The way the game handles is pretty similar to the Williams/Midway classic. And I see why this franchise has a number of fans. While it certainly feels like the port here is handled well, again, it feels like another entry that just isn’t for me. The shooter aspects of the game are totally fine, don’t get me wrong! The issue I have is with upgrades. You see, once you kill an enemy, they drop some coin. You collect those coins to buy your upgrades at the shop. The problem is that the shop usually only has one of each item and, like any shooter, if you’re armed with that upgrade and you die…bye bye upgrade. Okay, that’s not really a fair gripe…but what really did bug me was that there’s a limited time you’re allowed to be in the shop. Can’t say I’m a fan of that. There’s also a limited time to decide on your load-out once you exit said shop. Again, not a fan. I dunno…maybe I’m being a dick here. I have the feeling if this were wrapped up in a more sci-fi veneer, I’d be more forgiving of this stuff, calling these flaws “unique aspects of game design”. Still, the fact that this is more of a cute-em-up instead of a shoot-em-up causes it to miss the mark for me. Your mileage may vary…but at least on a technical basis, this port seems fine and if you’re a fan of the series, I expect you’ll be fine with this.
Bonanza Bros. and Tant R
Yeah, you’re gonna get annoyed by that at some point. Other than that though, it feels harsh to write anything too negative about Bonanza Bros. It’s such a harmless little game…and probably why it was included. If anything, it’s an alternate take on one of my favorite Activision game for the Atari 2600 back in the day: Keystone Kapers. However, this is from the perspective of the crook and not the fuzz. What you’ve got to do here is use a combo of stealth and action to steal the items you’re assigned to without drawing the attention of the police and/or security guards. This takes place in about 2.5-D, as you can alternate between the foreground and background. It’s simple and it’s fun…but it’s not really that much of a stand-out title here, more like filler. Good filler, mind you, but ultimately disposable.
Tant R? Just…no. The first puzzle it assigned me was essentially a variation on the shell game. Keep your eyes peeled on a bank of windows and choose the one the woman’s silhouette was last in. Seems fine at first, then the goddamn thing goes into warp speed. Sigh. I ain’t got time for this shit.
Oh my fucking god…THIS is why you’re buying this game! Alien Syndrome makes perfect use of the DualShock2’s twin sticks…one is for moving, one is for shooting. And you’re gonna do a lot of both! Save the people, kill the aliens and all before time runs out. Sure, there’s a critical flaw in the game’s logic right from the get-go as you, Mr. Rescue Dude, set the goddamn self-destruct BEFORE you’ve rescued any of the hostages…but hey, whatever to get that ticking clock going, right? But holy crap is this fun. The upgraded graphics are fine for the main gameplay, but where they really stand out are during the boss battles…because these guys can get a little on the gruesome side! Once I landed on this one, Alien Syndrome EASILY consumed the majority of the time I spent playing this collection and is very seriously worth the price of admission all on its own. Sure, I love me some Space Harrier…as I already mentioned…but the way Alien Syndrome turned out in terms of presentation and playability makes me forget that Space Harrier is even in this collection. And that’s mighty fine praise indeed.
When reviewing compilations like this, sure, it could be very easy to eat up the 30-minute time frame we have here. And as I’ve tried to lay out, this collection isn’t perfect: some games are fine but not up my alley and some are a waste. But the hits hit…and they hit hard, especially in the case of Alien Syndrome. If you’ve got any fondness for Outrun, Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone and, of course, Alien Syndrome, don’t hesitate, pick up this seemingly forgotten gem. Even though I didn’t particularly care for Outrun or Fantasy Zone, I could tell that they were still done well and fans of those franchises should be okay with their representation here. And sure, I could bemoan some of the classic Sega franchises that aren’t here (After Burner, Shinobi, Galaxy Force, Altered Beast). Also, it’s definitely a shame about how Golden Axe turned out. But all in all, I think this collection has more pluses than minuses and given that it’s pretty cheap to get your mitts on, I’d say it’s worth looking into.
Good job Sega Classics Collection, thanks to Alien Syndrome, your pizza is free!
Play time: 47 minutes.