Were you a SEGA or Nintendo kid? I don't know about you, but in my school it was all about SEGA. While I've heard stories of these legendary playground fights between rival SEGA and Nintendo fans (this was a time when fanboys stood and fought with honour and didn't hide behind internet avatars), my experience was more who owned certain games rather than who owned a certain console. We'd have been more hyper after receiving 40+ Mega Drive games than we would had we eaten a whole Woolworths store full of pick 'n' mix, and I dare say a lot of grown men would feel the same way now.
As a collection of some of the very best Mega Drive games it's almost impossible to review them all. What I'll say is that most of these are really very good, with classic series like Sonic the Hedgehog (1-3, Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic 3D and Spinball) Streets of Rage (1-3), Vectorman (1 and 2), Phantasy Star (1-4), the two Ecco the Dolphin games, Golden Axe (1-3 and Golden Axe Warrior) and Shining Force (1 and 2). Add to these the likes of Comix Zone, Kid Chameleon, Shinobi (arcade) and Shinobi III, Ristar, Decap Attack, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and Dynamite Heady, there's enough here to keep you 16-bit gaming for a very long time.
There's no doubt that you'll get plenty of fun out of this latest compilation if you're a fan of old games. Even if some haven't aged as well as you'd have liked, replaying games from your youth will bring back lots of memories. That isn't to say they have aged badly; most of the games listed above are still tremendously playable and hold up quite well visually too. If you've never played on a console that arrived at a time when bits meant everything you might struggle to see what the fuss is about, but there are few 2D games that can hold a candle to Sonic, Ristar, Dynamite Heady and Streets of Rage. There's a good reason why people always want to see remakes or sequels to these games: they were, and still are, damn good fun.
So, the games are good, but how have they been ported over to the Xbox 360 and PS3, and what exactly is the deal with SEGA's claim that they're now in HD? The ports have been handled very well with no noticeable flaws to my eyes, but the HD-ness is questionable. If you're expecting ultra sharp modern versions of your favourite games from the late 80s and early 90s think again. Developer Backbone has given you the option to use a graphics filter that smoothes out the pixel-heavy visuals, giving the games an almost hand-painted look, but this won't be for everyone. I found it to be a pretty good way to experience all these classics on a new HD TV, but some will undoubtedly prefer the original blocky presentation.
In terms of what else you get above and beyond the games, there's the ability to save your progress anywhere - something of a bonus considering some of these games had no save functionality at all - and numerous unlockable items, such as interviews with members of the dev teams and artwork. Sadly the UK release features the US artwork, which means we have to put up with the Genesis logo all over the place. It's a small thing, but these aren't the cartridges we spent all our pocket money on. Would it have been so hard to get UK artwork in the UK version of the game?
Another area which disappoints is Achievements and Trophies. It would have been great to have rewards for doing really tricky things in these games, in a way similar to how experts used to appear on the classic TV show Gamesmaster and demonstrate supreme skills on a certain game, but most of the rewards given here are for fairly trivial things. A handful will require a fair amount of effort, but some feel like they're handed out for next to nothing and some games don't even have a single associated Achievement or Trophy. A missed opportunity in our book.
For a bargain retail price of £29.99 you're getting far better value for money than any download service the modern consoles offer, but it's hard not to see areas for improvement. Completely missing is link-up between Sonic and Knuckles and Sonic 3 (one cartridge fitted on top of the other to combine the two games), and there's also the issue of Streets of Rage 3. While most people will get the same game they played, and likely enjoyed on their Mega Drive, the original Japanese release is considered superior, primarily down to its more balanced difficulty - its inclusion here would have made a few people very happy.
In terms of online functionality the collection also comes up quite short. While you can play multiplayer in supported games by using two controllers on the same console, there's no online play at all and no online leaderboards. Perhaps it is asking for too much considering what's already on the disc, but this is the so called 'Ultimate' collection. We'd have been over the moon had Backbone managed to include these features in just a handful of titles. You could also argue that there are plenty of games not included here, but we expect those will be making an appearance on the second ultimate collection, should it happen.
These quibbles are just that really - things that we would have liked, but not major flaws. SEGA Mega Drive Ultimate Collection is still well worth your money, especially if you loved these games and don't own a Mega Drive any more, or simply can't be bothered to set it up. Gamers brought up on the likes of Halo and Call of Duty might struggle to see what's so great here, but that's their loss.