Although it offers many games, the one game people are most interested in is the worst quality port of them all.
Sonic the Fighters, for the unaware, is an old Sega Model 2B arcade fighting game - built off of the Fighting Vipers Engine, released in 1996. It featured a limited release in the United States, primarily due to the fact the USA was still catching heat over violent videogames after the Mortal Kombat/Doom incidents earlier in the decade. Sega of America felt the game portrayed Sonic too violently, and limited it's release. It was planned to receive a home-console port for the Sega Saturn, but that never saw the light of day. The game, at a glance, is nothing more than Virtua Fighter 2 with Sonic characters. Moves have not only been simplified, but exaggerated - characters stretch and twist not unlike a Looney Tunes cartoon - a specific feature the Model 2B Hardware boasted at the time. The only way you could block was to put up a "Shield". However, shields can be broken, and once you run out of shields, you're nearly defenseless. The port, which was done by AM2 themselves (the ones who originally developed the game for the arcade) comes across perfectly - the framerate doesn't stutter once, and everything seems to be intact. Typical fighting game options have been added - difficulty selection, damage ratio adjustments, even the ability to look up move lists via the pause screen during matches. The only things missing from the port of Sonic the Fighters are Survival and Training modes, however it doesn't exactly break the game not having them included.
Both Sonic R and Sonic CD are based off of their PC ports. For Sonic R, this is a big step up - boasting an enhanced draw distance, cleaner screen resolution, a higher framerate, random weather and time-of-day changes, sharper textures, and four-player split screen. Sonic R was developed by Travelers Tales (who also did the stunningly boring Sonic 3D Blast), and can generally be considered a racing game that tries to incorporate aspects of platformer games. You chose from one of 10 racers (6 of which must be unlocked) and race around trying to find and collect all the Chaos Emeralds, Sonic Coins, and Rings you can while still finishing in first place. The game has very few tracks - only five - and most of them aren't very big (despite containing numerous alternate pathways and shortcuts to take). Also of note is it's painfully cheesy Euro-Pop Techno soundtrack by Richard Jacques - which, thankfully, gives you the option to at least disable the embarrassing lyrics, leaving decent music for racing with. Controls are another issue - Even using the L and R triggers for oversteer, most of the characters in this game have pitiful turning radiuses. Often times you will find your character slipping around the track, bouncing off of walls, rather than legitimately turning around that corner.
While Sonic R may benefit from being a PC port, Sonic CD is not so lucky. Sonic CD suffers from poor quality sound on the sound effects, for example, because the PC version utilized 11khz WAV recordings of all of Sonic CD's sounds, rather than the proper FM Synthesis provided by the Genesis sound hardware. This leaves most of Sonic CD's sound effects sounding dry, fuzzy, and crackly. Certain visual effects present both in the PC and Sega CD versions are also missing here - such as semi-transparent water in Tidal Tempest (instead, the water is now clear). Sonic CD's full motion video sequences become something of a double-edged sword, here. On one hand, the Gems port utilizes the high-resolution DVD-quality versions of the FMV from Sonic Mega Collection, meaning it looks very crisp and nice. On the other hand, the FMV for the ending has been completely butchered - instead of the original credits sequence for Sonic CD, showing who made the game, a full-screen version of Sonic CD's ending FMV is instead played. This wouldn't be quite so bad if not for the fact the framerate of the video was severely cut down in order to make it match the longer song used in the North American soundtrack. This makes the once-beautiful animation look extremely choppy and sluggish, and, when combined with the fact it completely removes the proper credits sequence, is quite frankly, completely unacceptable. Out of all the ports on this disc, Sonic CD is the worst - which is unfortunate, as Sonic CD is the game everybody will likely buy this collection for. It feels shoddy, thrown-together, and unpolished.
The Game Gear ports include Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Spinball, Sonic: Triple Trouble, Sonic Drift 2, Tails' Sky Patrol, and Tails Adventures. Of them, only Tails Adventures and maybe Sonic: Triple Trouble are worth playing. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, while solid, features a wildly inconsistent difficulty level; Sonic Spinball is a poor port of what was already a pretty poor game, Sonic: Triple Trouble is pretty decent, but unfortunately loses a lot of steam near the end of the game, Sonic Drift 2 is simply far too dated to be much fun anymore, Tails' Sky Patrol is a strange on-rails shooter of sorts that's best forgotten, and Tails Adventures is actually really pretty cool - think of a Sonic-the-Hedgehog-styled version of Metroid, and you have a vague idea what to expect. You play as Tails, long before he met Sonic, as a battle ship arrives on his island and begins destroying everything. Like Metroid, the game is heavy on exploration and you discover new abilities as you progress - making Tails stronger and more agile. There isn't a whole lot of speed, nor are there any loops, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game; infact, it's one of my favorite Game Gear games ever, and certainly the best Sonic-related Game Gear offering. All the Game Gear Games have the added benefit of being able to use Savestates - which let you save and resume the games at, literally, any possible point in time.
Vectorman and Vectorman 2 fair well enough; both are ported faithfully. Vectorman was, essentially, Sega's better-late-than-never answer to Donkey Kong Country, pushing the Genesis hardware to it's very limits. Vectorman, rather than a Mario-esque platformer, was instead more of an action shooter. A unique effect was achieved by constructing Vectorman out of separate, individual "orbs" that all moved freely of one-another to form a humanoid shape. This gave Vectorman - and his enemies - extremely smooth animations and allowed for impressive tricks to simulate depth. It stands as one of the most visually impressive Genesis games of all time, and the gameplay is awesome, too. Unfortunately, Vectorman 2 is more luke-warm than anything. In the original Vectorman - every stage looked and played differently. Vectorman 2 "pads" itself out by forcing you through two or three stages in the same "theme". Gameplay and level designs aren't quite as polished as the original game's, either, and overall, the whole experience just feels lacking, compared to how outstanding the original Vectorman was on all fronts. Like the Game Gear games, Vectorman and it's sequel both allow Savestates.
I only wish all the games in the collection allowed Savestates. Sonic CD, Sonic R, and Sonic the Fighters all utilize completely separate save-game functions; which can make saving your data between the three games a chore. For example, Sonic CD auto-saves and auto-loads your data every time you start up. Sonic the Fighters auto-loads your data when you start up, and will ask you if you want to save before you quit (as well as giving you the option to save your data manually from the options menu). For Sonic R, however, you must both manually load and manually save your game data; making it easy to forget to save if you've unlocked a secret character. In addition to separate save data for each game, Sonic Gems Collection also features one universal save file that tracks how many times you've played certain games, how long you've been playing, whether or not you've beaten the games or not, and more.
All of this goes toward unlockables - the vast majority of which are simply pictures for the art gallery. Every now and then you'll unlock something with a little more meat - like an exclusive song remix, but these secrets are few and far between due to some of the more ludicrous requirements for unlocking the better content; like forcing you to play the game once a day for a week, or having a total play time over 150 hours. Even as dedicated of a Sonic fan as I am, I think these requirements are a little bit much for piddly little secrets as these. What's even worse, is that some of these secrets - specifically, the "game demos", reveal some of the lies Sega has fed us regarding these Sonic classics collections.
When questioned why Sonic CD was not present on Sonic Mega Collection, nor Sonic Mega Collection Plus, Sega's official response was simply there wasn't enough space on the disc. Included on Sonic Gems Collection are a set of "demos" of Sonic Mega Collection's games. These demos generally put you in the final stage of their respective games, presenting you with the task of beating the game before the clock runs out. The real problem comes from the fact that these "demos" are infact the full versions of each of their respective games. If you beat the games fast enough (or happen to get a game over), you are allowed to play the game from the start again. Furthermore, if you have an Action Replay or a Gameshark, you can, infact, remove the countdown timer, giving you unlimited play on each of the 11 "demos". This effectively doubles the number of games contained in Sonic Gems Collection, giving you nearly every game from Sonic Mega Collection Plus as an added bonus, and proving once and for all, that there really was enough room for Sonic CD, and then some.
Overall? Sonic Gems Collection isn't what I quite expected. The game I was most excited in having turned out to be of a lower standard than it should have been. The rest of the games don't do very much to sell the collection, and the unlockables are pretty much a joke. This collection could have, and should have, been so much better - I mean, whatever happened to Knuckles Chaotix? Or the Sonic Arcade game with the trackball? Are we going to have to wait for Sonic Gems Collection Plus, Sega? Because as it stands, Gems has already worn out it's welcome.