Version tested: GameBoy Advance
GameBoy Advance games generally cost in the region of €45 / £30. This is unfortunate, particularly for 16-bit ports, which nobody can really be bothered to spend that much money on - unless they're dynamite, that is, like The Legend Of Zelda or Super Mario World. As a result, perfectly decent games are rendered totally inaccessible, because they aren't new, and they don't generally represent good value for money. Gaming has moved on. Even handheld gaming. And many games get dragged out again and left behind, their reputations tarnished as a result.
So as it stands, a three-game compendium of Mega Drive games offers better value for money and makes pretty good sense, as long as the ports are reasonably competent and the games have stood the test of time. As long as.
Ecco and Bonce
In Sega Smash Pack's case though, there are problems all over the shop. The three games are Golden Axe, Ecco The Dolphin and Sonic Spinball, and only Ecco was really that much cop back in the day, let alone now. Chuck in a handful of legal screens to sit through when you fire up the cartridge, a cheap and tacky main menu and then the individual games' respective legal screens, a lack of save functions (instead we get archaic password systems, if at all) and a half-baked multiplayer mode in Golden Axe to replace the perfectly good one that was there in the first place, and it doesn't bode well.
We do have some time for Ecco though. Forget the lacklustre Dreamcast update; the classic Ecco was simple and addictive, with less than a handful of moves to master and some clever puzzles which work well in the context of the limited design. You control the little dolphin as he scours the ocean for his folks, leaping over rocky barriers like Free Willy and solving the mysteries of the deep. It isn't brilliant by modern standards, but it's an entertaining oddity and the best-looking of the Smash Pack titles. What perhaps hurts it, again, is the quality of the GBA port - the password system remains (cheapskates), and instead of the original score we've been 'blessed' with what sounds like a looped 30-second midi file. Thanks, Sega.
Neither of the other two games does much to steady the boat, either. Golden Axe was a pretty bad early Mega Drive arcade port anyway, and Sega has stripped out the original multiplayer mode (for whatever reason), leaving a throwaway link cable mini-game, which lasted all of five minutes before we got bored. For the uninitiated, you choose from three warriors and then traipse through a handful of levels in isometric-3D (it's 2D - the combat in particular - but you can walk into and out of the screen) beating up a range of similar warriors (some small, some big, some mounted on dragons which you can then steal to wield like the metal bars and chains in Streets of Rage), before taking on the final boss. You have an attack button, a jump button and a magical option, which lets you whip out a charged attack if you have magic potions. However, the combat is very repetitive, the graphics are really crusty and 'orrible and the game is clearly weighted towards the stripped out co-operative mode. It's also one of those 'play as far as you can, then enter your initials and start again' games, because it isn't very long.
Finally, we have Sonic Spinball, which falls neatly between the other two. It's a pinball game with platform elements, basically, allowing you to twiddle the D-pad to assist Sonic's flight through the air, and jump up onto the flippers when he slips down onto the ground between them (assuming a monster doesn't chomp him while he's there), but it's a bit too fiddly, and the pinball tables aren't very interesting. As a result, the task of racking up high scores (which you can't save) quickly becomes a chore and you give up. Back to Golden Axe? Nah. Back to Ecco? Well, possibly. Now, where did we write down those passwords?
It's easy to see why Sega went for something like this, because it offers the chance to repackage three reasonable remnants of yesteryear and do the price tag a little more justice. However the ports themselves are weak, perhaps the victim of an unrealistic development deadline, and the games aren't actually all that classic. Ecco The Dolphin is probably worth playing, but we'd recommend you find some other way to do it instead of spending your hard-earned on Sega Smash Pack.
4 / 10