Sega Classics Collection Hands-On
We get hands-on with no fewer than 10 classic games, courtesy of Sega's upcoming PS2 compilation.
The upcoming Sega Classics Collection is a compilation of 10 classic games that have been enhanced for the PlayStation 2. It predictably makes for something of a mixed bag in the year 2005, because some of the games play as well today as they did when they were first released, while some of them weren't terribly good even then, thus making them just as bad today. And one or two of them have become, we're sorry to say, shadows of their former selves. For that reason, we'll talk about each game individually from here on out.
First released as an arcade game in 1986, OutRun is perhaps best known for two things: its killer soundtrack and the fact that it saw you driving an open-top Ferrari with a beautiful woman beside you. This PS2 remake of OutRun is definitely one of the games in the Sega Classics Collection that we've had the most fun with thus far. And while the new 3D vehicle models certainly can't be described as cutting edge, they represent a significant improvement over the sprites of 1986. The scenery, like that in the original game, is flat and repetitive, but roadside objects race past at such speed that you'll barely have time to notice. More noticeable, unfortunately, is the pop-up the game suffers from in certain places. Despite the fact that OutRun is a "retro" game, seeing large chunks of road and scenery suddenly materializing in front of you can be quite disconcerting, so it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect more from an updated version of a game that was first released almost 20 years ago.
If you played the Golden Axe arcade machine that was first released in 1989, you'll remember it featured three playable characters: a barbarian named Ax Battler, an Amazon named Tyris Flare, and a Viking dwarf named Gilius Thunderhead. As you walked from left to right, you'd be confronted by all manner of armor-clad and undead enemies, some of whom were riding mounts that you could climb onto yourself. The game's other most memorable feature, perhaps, was the inclusion of the small thieves who appeared and ran around the screen occasionally, dropping food and magic potions from their bags every time you hit them. The PS2 remake of Golden Axe replaces the original's 2D visuals with some pretty poor 3D ones, in addition to making all three mount types useless (for the most part), introducing some annoyingly unresponsive controls, and actually making the game struggle to maintain a healthy frame rate any time there are more than five or six characters onscreen. We should also point out that while the game does feature two-player support, we were able to take a solo Gilius Thunderhead all the way to the last level using only one move, his forward roll, during which he's practically invulnerable.
This popular 3D shooter, which challenges you to run, fly, and battle your way through 18 levels filled with obstacles and enemies, first appeared in arcades in 1985. Your objectives in the game were simple: shoot as much stuff as possible, avoid stationary objects, and avoid enemy bullets, fireballs, and missiles. The PS2 remake of Space Harrier boasts improved visuals and four difficulty settings, and, unlike some of the other titles included in the Sega Classics Collection, it plays about as well as we remember.
Blocks, Bosses, And Balloons
In case you're not familiar with Columns, which Sega first released in 1990, the game is basically a lot like Tetris, except all the blocks consist of three different-colored gems that are arranged in a vertical line. You can't rotate the blocks, but you can move the gems around (within the confines of their falling rectangles) as you attempt to create lines of three identical gems or more so that they disappear. In addition to the requisite "endless" gameplay mode that you can keep playing until your screen fills up and you have nowhere else to put any gems, the PS2 version of Columns boasts a versus mode for two players and a versus-CPU mode that will see you facing off against increasingly difficult enemies that you're introduced to in what we're loathed to call 2D cutscenes. The game also presents two different graphical styles in-game. One of them features updated (but still downright ugly) graphics from the original, while the other is a little easier on the eyes, since it's taken from the new versus-CPU mode.
Certainly one of the best games in the Sega Classics Collection, Alien Syndrome for the PS2 is an update of a game first released in 1987. Assuming the role of either Ricky or Marie (or both if you have two players), Alien Syndrome challenges you to rescue hostages aboard various spaceships that have been overrun by aliens. The game is played from a top-down perspective, and it features visuals that don't look nearly as out of place on the PS2 as most games on the compilation. Each level is played against a time limit, and as you explore each area while searching for hostages, you'll find plenty of varied weapons to try out, map screens that automatically pop up when you walk near them, and, of course, more than enough enemies to keep you busy. The dual analog control system (you use the left stick to move and the right stick to shoot in any direction) works very well, and the boss fights that we've played thus far, while not particularly challenging, have been enjoyable and varied.
This colorful side-scrolling shooter is an unchanged PS2 port of the original arcade game released in 1986, and it might very well be the result of a sordid union between R-Type and Rainbow Islands. The premise really couldn't be simpler: You fly around colorful levels in your Opa-Opa craft (which looks like a multicolored peanut M&M with wings) and shoot at everything that moves, including a number of larger enemies that you're required to kill before you can advance to the next level. Many of the enemies that you shoot will drop coins, which, when you see a red balloon with the word "Shop" written on it, you'll have the opportunity to spend on upgrading your craft's weapons and engines. Fantasy Zone proves surprisingly challenging at times, because the patterns that many of the enemies follow aren't nearly as predictable as they first appear, and the bosses are certainly a lot tougher than they look.
Power-ups, Polygons, And Puzzles
Sega first released its vertically scrolling Monaco GP arcade game in 1979. That game, like this PS2 update's "classic" mode, challenged you to race up the screen to overtake opponents while negotiating bends in the road, chicanes, ice, and suchlike. Fortunately, the classic mode in Monaco GP boasts the same all-new 3D visuals as the "original" mode, in which a number of new features have been added. For starters, you'll have to negotiate 45 degree and 90 degree turns now, which, since the analog stick is used only for swerving, can be accomplished using all four shoulder buttons. Other new features include a jump button and a number of Mario Kart-style power-ups that afford you such bonuses as a temporary speed boost or invulnerability. It's unfortunate that Sega saw fit to implement such an unintuitive control scheme for the new game (L1 and R1 are used to steer 45 degrees in each respective direction, while L2 and R2 are used for 90 degree turns), because the control scheme will inevitably be a turnoff for a lot of players who, as a result, won't get to see all the game's unlockable tracks and cars.
Virtua Racing Flat Out
First released in 1992, Virtua Racing was the first arcade game to employ full polygon graphics as we know them today. There were no textures back then, and as a result, the game possessed a very distinct look that helped to make it a hit with arcade-goers of the time. The PS2 version of Virtua Racing Flat Out plays identically to and looks more or less like the original arcade game, and it runs at a much improved 60 frames per second. However, it also suffers from quite noticeable scenery pop-up on occasion. The PS2 version of Virtua Racing Flat Out boasts arcade, grand prix (play to unlock additional cars), and free drive modes of play, and adds three new circuits to the original three from the arcade game. As arcade ports go, there really doesn't appear to be too much wrong with Virtua Racing Flat Out, so the only question really is whether or not you feel the need to play it.
Bonanza Bros & Tant R
The ninth selection, Bonanza Bros, on the Sega Classics Collection menu screen actually includes another game, Tant R, so the tenth selection technically goes hand in hand with the ninth one. Bonanza Bros, a puzzle-based action game in which you have to rob items from buildings guarded by policemen, was originally released in 1990. Tant R, a WarioWare-style collection of 40 minigames (with cutscenes starring the aforementioned robbers), arrived in arcades sometime in 1993. We've found both games to be reasonably engaging when played solo, and if you add a second player to Bonanza Bros (and up to three additional players to Tant R), things get a whole lot better. Both games are relatively simplistic by today's standards, and comparing Tant R to WarioWare is perhaps a little flattering. However, that's no reason you shouldn't have some fun with them if you're so inclined.
So there you have it, 10 Sega games that, at least according to said publisher, now qualify as classics. Sega Classics Collection is currently scheduled for release in February, so expect a full review in the near future.