Maybe it’s starting to look like I’m beating on a dead horse, but I’m just really fucking pissed off with Sega. I’ve been a staunch champion for them going on nearly three solid decades. When the Sega Genesis Flashback was announced, I was excited. Maybe it’s just the young 16-bit Era gamer inside me, but I wanted a good Genesis classic console which would give me a chance to own and play many of the hard-to-find games that I was never able to get my scuzzy little paws on during the Golden Era proper. You know, the very thing NINTENDO IS OFFERING ON ITS MINI-CONSOLES! And what did Sega come up with? The same damned routine Genesis collection available on every other Genesis compilation ever, along with about 30 shitty shovelware games that anyone with a social life could play on their phones during a bus ride! Way to fucking go, Sega. I’m outright cheering for the Sega Genesis Flashback to bomb.
No one is even trying with Genesis collections anymore. They’re all poorly-emulated rehashes. Once in every seven blue moons or so, we get a new port of a great Genesis title, but Sega keeps giving us the same old, same old. I’ll grant that the same old for Sega can still build a hell of a classics collection, but for a mini-Genesis to reach the demand of one of Nintendo’s little brother collections, Sega needs to start eliminating its filler. And holy shit, does Sega LOVE its filler! That’s part of the problem: It loves its filler more than it loves its good games! Next mini-Genesis, it could stand to eliminate the following titles.
Yes, I get that Altered Beast was so insanely popular as an arcade game that Sega had to throw it into the original Genesis box as the pack-in. But as the people old enough to remember playing Altered Beast in the arcade got older, they started to realize something: Altered Beast just isn’t a good game. It’s a game revolving entirely around a singular gimmick – and one which isn’t inventive. The reason we all loved it was because we were all mesmerized by getting to play as the weredragon in the second level. But the game as a whole hasn’t just aged badly; it was never a good game to begin with. The character design was good, but the action was slow and clunky and marred by the fact that the game used forced scrolling to push players ahead. Also, you had limited chances to collect the power-up balls, which put you in a sticky situation because if you got to the boss without being the were-animal of the level, the boss was literally impossible to beat.
Anyone who’s gotten around to playing this on one of Sega’s earlier nostalgia packs has noticed a more-than-passing resemblance to a Sega classic which people actually loved: Golden Axe. This game is basically the exact same premise, in fact, only the fantasy setting everyone loved about Golden Axe is thrown out in favor of a modern day alien invasion motif. Although Alien Storm does add the innovation of a bunch of short sections which can be roughly described as first-person shooting scenes, you have no control of anything during them save a moving target cross. The vast majority of the game, though, is the same kind of beat-’em-up action, but without the attack variety, without a jump button, and without a few other little gimmicks the beat-’em-up genre is known for. And speaking of Golden Axe…
Golden Axe was one of Sega’s original killer apps. It’s remembered fondly as one of the early arcade conversions that helped push the Genesis. The appeal of the game was that it took hold of the traditional beat-’em-up and plopped it into a fantasy land teeming with creative attacks and weapons, excellent character design, and creative and colorful level design. It was the rebel alternative to the popular Double Dragon, and it had much smoother controls. Unfortunately, all of that was by the standards of the time. Age came and walloped Golden Axe, especially once the beat-’em-up formula was revolutionized and streamlined by the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Both of those series still play beautifully today. Now Golden Axe feels more like a popcorn game that was shoved out by a developer looking for a quick couple of million; it’s comparatively short and clunky and doesn’t even hold up well when compared to later 16-bit brawlers.
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Yes, I know Alex Kidd was the closest thing Sega had to its own version of Mario during the Master System years. But there’s a reason Sega let him go, and it’s more than just the appearance of Sonic the Hedgehog: Alex Kidd is just not a good character, his games are HARD, and a lot of that difficulty is due to fundamental gameplay issues. His only outing on the Genesis was plagued by aquaplane-like sliding, atrocious hit detection, a control interface which could never seem to decide when Alex was or wasn’t in the middle of a midair kick, and graphics which never bothered to differentiate between the foreground and background. Not everyone could relate to Alex’s sickly cutesiness, either.
Revenge of Shinobi
Another one of the early Genesis pushers, Revenge of Shinobi continues to eke out a life as the defining title of its series. But the trouble with this one is that it doesn’t even feel as modern as the other games in its own series. Shinobi has long been a series where the developers have torn down their work and rebuilt everything from scratch with every new sequel, and so Revenge of Shinobi comes off as slow and stilted compared to the two games that came afterward. Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master both offer better level design and more gameplay depth. They also both offer better gameplay mechanics, which don’t necessitate resource sacrifice against your better interests in order to see anything beyond the first two levels.
This was supposed to be Sega’s response to the timeless Tetris, but from the smaller playing field to the sudden speed and difficulty surge that hits once you’ve been playing long enough, it comes off as nothing more than a pale wannabe. More to the point is that Tetris is now the most-downloaded and most-played video game of all time, so Columns is out of selling points with the real thing so readily available.
Sonic the Hedgehog going into a pinball-style fortress to act as the pinball. It’s not quite as good in practice as it is in theory, which is saying something because it doesn’t sound like a great idea in theory. Sonic Spinball took everything we loved about the Blue Blur and yanked it out of the game. So here we are, left with a Sonic game in which Sonic can’t get a good run going, set in a closed environment which leaves no room for any exploration, and that’s without even bringing up the worst pinball physics on Earth, floaty gameplay, and clunky controls. Sonic has endured one of the hardest falls from grace ever seen in video games. We like to keep saying his transition to 3D is the culprit, but it can be traced all the way back to this game, which just preceded Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
Sonic 3D Blast
This was the game that technically made Sonic into a 3D hero. It was made under a different developer than Sonic Team, and you have to give them credit where it’s due: Sonic 3D Blast is REALLY well-made. It also recognized the fact that a lot of Sonic’s appeal was in exploring the expansive levels in the core series. But it was also a combination of a fetch quest and an escort mission, which is sin enough as it is, and the isometric presentation made all of Sonic’s signature abilities nearly useless. Even the loops Sonic runs through were forced into the game.
Super Thunder Blade
This sucker goes WAY back – it was one of the Genesis’s launch titles, but that’s about the only thing that warrants its continued posterity. It was there to show off the console’s wonder technology and that’s it. There are only four levels in Super Thunder Blade, presented in a third-person behind-the-chopper view. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Genesis never did mode-7 scaling as well as the Super NES, so this game’s fast pace is betrayed by its clunkiness. It’s too hard to move, too hard to get a straight shot at anything, too hard to avoid crashing into the scenery, and battered by its age to boot. It can’t even be written off as a relic of its era, because Space Harrier II was also out there.
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Well, okay, Sonic’s spinoff puzzle game is more original than Dr. Mario. It’s also deeply frustrating and unfair if you’re trying to go through the story mode.
Virtua Fighter 2
Yes, I get that this was where the 3D fighter really caught on, and I aso get that it was Sega’s baby. The Super NES got a scaled-down version of Killer Instinct, and it was a lot of fun. This was meant to be a response to that. But where Killer Instinct and Virtua Fighter differed was in the fact that Killer Instinct’s primary strength was in its over-the-top dark humor, its accessible gameplay interface, and its easy Street Fighter II-like control scheme. Killer Instinct was still a 2D fighter no matter how much power it was packing, so the Super NES scaleback didn’t deprive the little version of its big personality. Virtua Fighter 2 Genesis took the godfather of 3D fighters and axed one of the defining features of the game, as well as the two new characters introduced in the game, Shun and Lion. So what the Genesis version of Virtua Fighter 2 was left with was an uninteresting block fighter with zero identifying markers are ways to stand out from the crowd – or ways to stand apart from the original Virtua Fighter. Why did Sega place this on its nostalgia packs instead of Eternal Champions?