Version tested: PlayStation 2
Comparing game compilations to music compilations is quite entertaining. Just look at the fun we've had.
Atari Anthology, for example. It's like one of those horrendously packaged not-available-in-stores-and-for-good-reason 80s compilations that gets advertised in-between feature-length "Infomercials" on cable TV at three in the morning. Stuff it at the heart of little Johnny's pass-the-parcel and it'll wind up at the bottom of a pile of gaming's equivalent of Ashanti and Busted CDs when it gets home. (Need For Speed Underground 2 and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, since you ask. Those goddamn kids.)
Heck, even Daddy will have trouble placing most of the round-the-edges filler fodder from obscure artists who were number seven for one week in 1984 before plunging back into obscurity and becoming chartered accountants. Or entering Eurovision.
Sonic Mega Collection Plus, however, is your premium assembled-by-the-artist Greatest Hits package. It's not quite the definitive "Singles 90-to-95" package that guarantees a solid procession of number one hits, but it does at least feature all the prominent names in amongst the odd questionable and rather self-indulgent album track.
In fact, since we're determined to get some mileage out of this one, SMC Plus is more like the Greatest Hits package re-released a year later with all the original studio recordings intact and a bonus CD of B-sides.
For the electronic equivalent of the disc we already own, SEGA has rammed in pretty much every Mega Drive Sonic the Hedgehog game (1, 2, 3, & Knuckles, 3D Flickies' Island) and spin-off (most aptly, Spinball, and the Puyo Pop re-badge Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine) we can think of, and the liner notes (in this case stored on the disc) are a finely detailed compendium of manuals and artwork. We were pretty impressed with all that when SEGA released it on the GameCube back in 2003 without the "Plus" element.
With the B-sides in mind, however, it's more Sonic Mega Collection +/-. The Game Gear's Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Chaos are probably worthy of a plus, but Sonic Blast and Sonic Labyrinth are unlikely to stand up to repeat-listens (we certainly hit Next pretty quickly), Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine seems pretty superfluous when the Mega Drive version's already in amongst the 16-bit Greatest Hits brigade, and Sonic Drift is a terrible, terrible racing game whose flickering madness actually made me physically sick. "Never released outside Japan," the game points out. This achieves the same effect.
Elsewhere, the inclusion of unlockable Mega Drive titles like Flicky and Comix Zone is pleasing, but the mechanics for unlocking them are not. It seems in some cases you have to load up one of the other games as many as 30 times. To stretch the analogy well past breaking point, it's a bit like being asked to wait fifteen minutes for a secret track and then being told you're actually meant to wait fifteen minutes for the first 30 times you listen to the CD if you actually want to hear anything. At that point the compilation goes from exhaustive to exhausting.
Although, here's something: if you do fancy buying SMC Plus and you already own Sonic Heroes, it might be an idea to buy it for the same system, as the presence of Heroes save data apparently unlocks a couple of the games straight away.
You can at least say that it beats the comparison by appearing on one big disc instead of expecting you to play around with rubbish plastic foldout arrangements (why can't 2CD cases just pick a side? We've broken loads of them lately just by ripping cack-handedly at the flap on the side that usually opens). Everything is accessed from a neat menu system that plays faded game footage in the background and even lets you save game data at any point in each title.
Dispensing with all that compilation nonsense at long last, we're left pondering whether the best games on the disc are actually worth the asking price - around £20 if you keep your eyes open. The answer's probably yes, really, but there are still some points to be made to certain people.
For the people who already own the better of the 8/16-bit Sonic platform titles, having perhaps tucked them away under the bed or in the loft: you needn't bother with this. It doesn't have the loved/hated Sonic CD, which is the only one you probably don't already own (except for Sonic Drift Into A Coma), and otherwise these are pixel-perfect ports, right down to the slowdown, and are no replacement for the real thing. And you'll probably discover that your girlfriend's idea of having you eBay the bulky pile of ageing plastic and buying this instead leaves you with a sense of emptiness and a profit of around five quid, which doesn't seem worth the hassle of lugging it all down to the post office. Show her this paragraph. This is what you are, girlfriend: WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG.
For the people who already bought Sonic Mega Collection on the GameCube: do you really care about the B-sides? To the tune of £20? We thought not.
Otherwise, particularly considering the price and that we're in the historically glacial first few months of a year, there's a great deal to consider here. Anybody who remembers Sonic's 16-bit outings the way we do will love playing through them again and watching the series progress from its radically inventive beginnings through to the blisteringly speedy latter stages, picking up chargeable spin dash moves and layers and layers of graphical detail on the way.
And anybody who never experienced this lot in the first place will find everything they love about 2D platformers present and correct. Right from the first Sonic the Hedgehog Mega Drive game, it's a series that touches on all the hallmarks - speed, cutesy stylised 2D visuals, block-pushing puzzles, freeing animals from enslavement in robotic exoskeletons so they can scamper off (and, amusingly, scamper straight across lava pools), on-rails block-riding with platforms to jump over, instant-death spike pits, spitting lava traps, 2D chase sections, zany sound effects, increasingly ingenious level design, silly but challenging bosses, catchy music, power-ups for invincibility and shields, the archetypal 100-rings-equals-extra-life mechanic, secret bits... you name it. And just because Sonic invented half of this stuff doesn't mean it's any less entertaining.
There are some truly magic moments here that transcend nostalgia. Even now, that first time you achieve absolutely blinding speed is exhilarating. For us, it was the Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2, watching Sonic go so fast that he practically breached the right-hand side of the screen. Ten years and hundreds of other platform games have done nothing to dull the impact of the blue blur pushing the boundaries. Heck, he probably invented that turn of phrase, too.
As we said when we took a look at the GameCube version (if SEGA can recycle, why can't we?), plenty of other companies would have gone for the more lucrative option of releasing the old 16-bit titles separately on the Game Boy Advance. Most notably Nintendo, criticised back then for the Mario Advance series, but who deserve twice the bitching nowadays in light of the NES Cashcows Series. SEGA didn't, for whatever reason, decide to rip us off. And ironically, thanks to the quality of the Game Gear inclusions that make up the "Plus" (or rather the general lack of quality), there's not even any need to chide them for giving GameCube owners a poor deal.
So there you have it. Unless you own all the carts already, we'd seriously suggest you pick out the number next to your home country's flag and order now while stocks last. Hurry back though; they're about to advertise that kitchen knife that can cut through titanium and then slice an onion into sub-atomic particles...
7 / 10