In 1991, the idea of Sonic The Hedgehog on a Nintendo console was ludicrous. The idea of seven Sonic games on one tiny piece of at the time unheard of proprietary media, sold for Ł30 at the average games shop, was even wackier. If you'd turned to us at the time and said that in 2003 we'd be playing Sonic 1-3 on a Nintendo, we'd have said "what are you talking about, man? I don't play videogames, man - games are so uncool!" Yeah well, we all did it, didn't we?
In a way, that should tell you all you need to know. This is a Sega-developed compilation which plays host to the first three 'proper' 2D side-scrolling Sonic The Hedgehog titles, companion cart Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3D, Sonic Spinball and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine - and the youngest of these titles is from the second-to-last generation of Sega consoles. The rest date back as far as '91, and everything has been perfectly emulated, right through to the tear-jerking slowdown.
Sonics 1-3 and Sonic & Knuckles are of course traditional left-to-right, fast-as-you-can platform jaunts, and remain mostly intact (and brilliant - they're occasionally brainless but always entertaining). They dispense with the modern-day formalities of intrusive, couldn't care less storylines and instead focus on intricate platform design. Levels are grouped in 'zones', each of which usually consists of three levels, culminating in an encounter with Dr. Robotnik in some sort of corpulent mechanical monstrosity, and each zone is themed in some way. Green Hill was a regular, with its lush, bright, two-tone greenery and spots of purple flower petals and other zones would take you through Vegas-like pinball zones, underwater, through lava-soaked ruins and high up into the sky, as Sonic and companions tried to rescue the friendly animals of the world from enslavement in robotic exosuits.
Of course they aren't the biggest games in the world by modern standards, but they're all worth finishing, if only to witness the simplistic beauty of games like Sonic 2 on the big screen. Watching those simple landscapes roll past in the background, seeing for the first time in ages the chunky, inexplicably geometric, Tetris-like arrangement of blocks beneath the grass on the bottom half of the screen, and struggling against slowdown, water currents and a timer to get Sonic that vital gasp of air is fantastic. Each game built on the previous one in a sensible and enjoyable manner, with new characters, new abilities (like the chargeable spin) and new levels.
In terms of changes, we've only spotted a couple of things. First of all; Sonic The Hedgehog 2's multiplayer mode with both Sonic and Tails working in unison has been beefed up to full resolution from its cut-down original, and second; we couldn't get any cheats to work. Oh don't judge us, we just wanted to see if the old up/down/left/right/A+start level select worked. It didn't. Leave us alone.
However, as Saturn owners will be muttering under their breath, they've had this privilege before thanks to Sonic Jam, and assuming they took it up, they're wondering what's so great about this "Mega Collection" besides the Mega Drive platform throwbacks.
Well folks, the sad truth is that there isn't much. Sonic CD didn't make it onto the disc, despite being one of the best titles in the long-running series, so we're left with Sonic 3D (an extension of the Mega Drive Flicky game, which is a bit like Marble Madness with Sonic darting around an isometric world rounding up little birds and returning them home), Sonic Spinball (Sonic as a pinball game, with as much jerkiness as ever), and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (a Puyo Puyo-style puzzle game, which isn't as good as Tetris or anything like that, but warrants the odd go if you're bored of all the others).
Beyond that, there are no new games per se, but there are lots of things to do. You can unlock a number of mini-games, like Blue Sphere (collect all the blue spheres on a spherical map), and Sega has packed the disc with DVD-style extras, like each of the games' manuals, a high-res comic, various illustrations, trailers and even the 'History of Sonic' video. The fact that you can play it in 60Hz is another boon, too, but on the other hand, the menus have blimmin' load screens, which is ludicrous.
So what do we reckon overall? Well, hearing that wonderful theme tune in all its various incarnations was enough to have us frothing at the mouth in anticipation, and even the absence of Sonic CD and a few loose ends here and there weren't enough to scupper our enjoyment of Mega Collection.
If you were sceptical about this congregation of low-end platformers, which artificially preserve their own shortcomings and haven't seen the light of day for many a year, then you probably found little to sway you in this review, and should be able to find better things to spend your money on this month. We're not going to stop you.
But in our view, for most people Sonic Mega Collection will either prove to be a dewy-eyed stroll down memory lane, or a trip through some truly inspirational platformers for recent converts - and we can all marvel together at the hilariously low-res parallax scrolling backgrounds, as Sonic zooms around in glorious RGB colour, and think about how different things are now.
Whichever group you fall into though, you've got to applaud Sega for keeping its end up. It's been original Sonic content only on GBA so far, and this title is a vastly preferable alternative to a myriad Sonic Advances in the style of Nintendo's Mario rehashes. If you buy it, you can look forward to many hours of Sonic-related fun, and most places are flogging it for Ł30. Bravo, Sega.