Monday, March 2, 2009

Video Game Review: Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection

“I’ll knock you out cold, fool

I’m too young to be old school

Remember this

I keep it middle school like Reebok Pumps and Sega Genesis” 

  -Battle with Danny T. (Dan Friendly’s house Summer 2003)*

When Sega Genesis hit the market in 1989 the video game revolution started by Atari and continued by Nintendo took one giant leap forward.  For the time, the graphics were jaw-dropping, the games were sophisticated enough to keep more mature players interested and the overall vibe of the system began video games’ transition from “toys” to a legitimate form of adult entertainment (no, not that kind!).  The recent release of “Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection” for PS3 and XBOX 360 is a testament to how sick these games were because there is still a market for “Altered Beast”  20 years after its’ original release. This disk is simply one of the best values in computer entertainment, there are over 40 Genesis games available as soon as you remove the shrink wrap and a few extras that can be unlocked as you play through the main games.  Considering these games retailed for $50 each and came in large 16-bit cartridges, you would be a fool not to pick this up for 30 bucks when during Genesis' heyday this would have cost over $2,000 and taken a super market shopping cart to carry home, there was no way to get this many games at one time unless you won a Toys’R' Us shopping spree…until now.  

The entire game is fun from beginning to end and no matter what type of Genesis games you preferred you will probably find a thin slice of 16-bit heaven here (unless you liked sports games, then you're sh*t out of luck).  Here are a few highlights and some games that are conspicuously missing.


Sonic The Hedgehog: When Sega couldn’t make a BETTER Mario Brothers game, they went ahead and made a FASTER Mario Brothers game, without all the Italian plumber stereotyping.  Sonic became Sega’s mascot and went on to star in many games over the years, but it all started here.  While this game is pretty entertaining, developments made to later editions of the series may make this not as cool as you remember, but it will still give you a blast of nostalgia to play one of Sega’s first classics.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2: Like “The Score,””The Empire Strikes Back” and Fila’s second edition of Grant Hill’s signature shoe, this is one of the rare cases of a sequel trumping the original. This game is superior to the original in every way and additions like Sonic’s spin move, awesome 3D bonus levels and sidekick Miles Prower (Get it?...MPH)this is truly the best Sonic game ever and will provide hours of entertainment to any fan of retro classics. Word to Charles Hamilton. 

Sonic The Hedgehog 3:  This didn’t really add anything ground breaking to the mix, but I do remember spending  the better part of a Saturday in high school playing this game for hours and listening to Raekwon’s “Only Built For Cuban Linx…” album (the purple tape!) and somehow I remember this as one of the most enjoyable afternoons of my life.  

Sonic & Knuckles: Any real Sega fan remembers this one because not only did it introduce Knuckles the Echidna, but the cartridge actually flipped open and you could put other Sonic games in the opening and play as Knuckles in those games too.  This type of “Backwards Compatibility” obviously pales in comparison to current games like Madden 2009 that will allow you to pick the biological make-up of a child and groom him from birth to quarterback your version of the Baltimore Ravens in dynasty mode, but at the time It was pretty effin’ cool. 

Sonic Spin Ball: Sonic goes to Vegas, it’s not fun.

Sonic 3D Blast: Kind of like Mario 64 except incredibly frustrating, somewhat repetitive and not fun. 

Streets of Rage  1, 2 and 3: These games all fall into the often overlooked “Beat ‘em Up” or “Brawler” genre, which means you controlled a bad a** looking character and he walked down the street beating the living sh*t out of anyone foolish enough to get in his way until they fell to the ground, flashed for a few seconds and quickly disappeared.  There were a ton of games like this back in the day, like “Double Dragon” and “Bad Dudes,” but the Streets of Rage series stands out as one of the all time best.  Even when I was much younger I would question games like this because I was pretty sure that if every time I left my house the streets were lined with hoodlums that physically attacked me as soon as I got within a 10-foot radius and the best case scenario was one of them dropping a baseball bat or lead pipe that I could pick up (If I timed it right) and use against them, I would probably move.  

Golden Axe 1, 2 and 3:  One of the first true Genesis classics, Golden Axe entailed walking through a fantasy themed world and beating up ogres, elves, dragons and the like (a lot like “Streets of Rage” meets “Lord of the Rings”).  The coolest thing about these games was that you could choose between 3 playable characters, a lot for the time, and each had their own unique benefits, shortcomings and fighting style.  There was a big, Conan the Barbarian looking dude with a sword, an Amazon woman that was good at casting spells and an elf with a battle axe that was strangely reminiscent of any one of the Seven Dwarfs.  This game had the added bonus of being able to beat up enemies until they fell off their dragons and then commandeer the animals yourself and ride around “Smacking fire out the a**” of your enemies, this is surprisingly satisfying 20 years later.  While these games pale in comparison to current fantasy games like “World of Warcraft,” they are still a great way to entertain yourself for a few hours.  

Columns: A puzzle game that is not a good as Tetris, but not as bad a Bejeweled. This would probably be better as a download to your mobile phone than to play in your living room, but it’s not bad.  

Ecco The Dolphin 1 & 2:  Gorgeous graphics and an environment friendly message don’t change the fact that I am still completely clueless as to the point of these games. 

Shinobi 3: Despite no mention of what the eff happened to Shinobi 1 or Shinobi 2, this game is a solid ninja fighting game and about as much fun as you can have with Chinese throwing stars without going to a flea market, buying a few and ending up with holes in all of your walls or having your boy drive you to the emergency room yelling “Stop moving, the more you move it, the more it hurts!”

Altered Beast: This game came with the original version of Sega Genesis, so just about everybody has played it and anybody that is not a slobbering imbecile has finished it.  While short and not very challenging the game does have good graphics, a cool Greek mythology feel (a possible influence on today's “God of War”) and gives players the ability to turn into monsters like werewolves and dragons, which is always fun. 

There are a ton of other games I haven’t even tried out yet (sometimes real life gets in the way), but the previously mentioned games alone justify the $30 price tag, in these economic times it is hard to have this much fun for this small of a cost.  


I’m sure there are licensing and technological issues that prevented the following games from making the cut, but these are some I think they should look at for the sequel:

Michael Jackson’s Moon Walker: Dancing and brawling your way through levels as the “King of Pop” to find little kids is about ten times more fun and ten times less creepy than it sounds. 

NBA Jam: Playing 2-on-2 playground style basketball with the best NBA players of the early 90’s was a sick experience and codes for giant heads, constant “On Fire” status and Bill Clinton as a playable character only made the game that much better.  While the Genesis version was released when Michael Jordan was playing baseball and does not include Shaq, finding out who would win a 2-on-2 match-up with minimal rules between Shawn Kemp/Gary Payton and Charles Barkley/”Thunder” Dan Majerle is pretty cool.

Street Fighter 2: This game was so bada** you had to get the special 6-Button controller just to play it right.  While it wasn’t as good as the arcade game (where being an elite player could get you HJ’s from female arcade groupies), it was still pretty cool to face off against your boys as Ken, Ryu and E. Honda at your house. 

Mortal Kombat: A lot like “Street Fighter 2,” but with absurd levels of violence, realistic graphics and “Fatalities.” 

Pat Riley Basketball and Tommy Lasorda Baseball: Coming out right before games licsenced by the major sports leagues became commonplace, these two game provided solid gameplay even though the teams and players were completely fictional.  While it seems odd anyone would play a games like these, remember they are the only way you will ever know who is the superior team: the Seattle Bears or the New York Patriots.

Joe Montana Sports Talk Football: For some reason all of my friends lost their minds hearing an in-game announcer say “First Down!” 

Mickey Mouse in the Castle of Illusion: This was the game your parents bought for your little brother/sister, but you wouldn’t hand over the controller once you started playing.  

Overall “Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection” is great compilation of some of Sega’s best games and must-own for any long time video game fanatic.  

*I spit this during a particularly heated battle with Danny T. at Dan Friendly’s house/bar in the summer of 2003, I did what Joe Budden refers to as “dumbing out” and literally tore him apart for about 10 straight minutes with rhymes about B2K, Digital Underground, drinking games and working the names of every female at the bar into a rhyme.  I was “On Fire” like Scottie Pippen in “NBA Jam.”  This was not like the playful “Battles” I have had with Lyle Mead where we both slur and stumble over different ways to describe sex acts with the other’s mother, this was serious and I will battle Danny T. anytime, anywhere, anyway he wants.  If he wants it again he can holler at me in the comments section and I will make him look like the herb he really is!

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