There might be 30 games crammed onto this one UMD disc but, for me, two of them alone make it an essential purchase for retro gamers on the go. Well over a decade might have past since the first pair of Sonic games helped catapult Sega's Mega Drive to stratospheric heights in players' affections but the passing years have barely dulled their appeal. While I knew I had a lot more games to test out before I could review this collection, there was always time for just one more piece of platforming nirvana courtesy of the blue speed demon.
Eventually I did manage to tear myself away from Sonic's adventures though and proceeded to uncover a veritable treasure trove of gaming classics in this first collection of Mega Drive titles for the PSP (a PlayStation 2 version is also available). While the vast array of similar compendiums on the market these days might have slightly diluted gamers' affections for retro action, this release should easily be enough to rekindle their passion for video gaming's illustrious past.
Just for starters, a few swings of your sword is enough to make you feel right at home in hack 'n slash legend Golden Axe, matching up your first trio of same-coloured gems is enough to start another Columns addiction and you can still find plenty of enjoyable pre-Sam Fisher sneaking in Bonanza Bros. Delving deeper, the three Ecco the Dolphin games offer plenty of gentle thrills (even if you get to play as a killer whale in Ecco Jr), Ristar is loaded with cutesy platforming charm, Altered Beast is just as gruelling a brawler as you remember and Shinobi III remains a tough-as-nails shuriken fest. Fans of classic RPGs will also be beside themselves with joy to discover Phantasy Star II, III and IV are all included here. They might lack the pace of modern RPGs but the strong stories and classic gameplay should quickly hook in devotees of traditional role-players. The real find in the collection though is Comix Zone, in which you have to fight through the pages of a violent comic book story. With an almost cel-shaded graphical design, it's easily the best looking game here and the combat is great too. It was almost good enough to drag me away from Sonic, almost.
As we have come to expect from any retro compendium, there are sadly a fair share of duffers thrown in for bad measure that are barely worth more than a cursory glance. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle is an agonising, one blunder equals death disaster, Decap Attack fails spectacularly to capture the spirit of Capcom's Ghouls 'N Ghosts, and Vectorman, for all its spangly graphics effects, features way too many blind leaps to doom. The real turkeys of the bunch, though, are the painfully dated platformer Flicky, which seems like a relic from the 8-bit days, and snail-paced shooter Gain Ground, a game so irredeemable I doubt anyone will be able to stomach it for more than a couple of miserable levels.
Along with the generally stellar line-up of games, where Sega Mega Drive Collection also excels is in its presentation. Depending on your preference, each game can be viewed in its original aspect ratio, stretched slightly or dragged to fill the whole of the PSP's screen. The emulation is faultless too, with pin sharp graphics that serve to remind you just how powerful Sega's console was for its day. A special nod has to go to the load times, which are virtually non-existent (take that Capcom Classics Collection), and the ability to save game data at any point - something that will be warmly welcomed by players on the move.
Just to add to the classy feel of the package, Sega has included lots of bonus content as well. Merely by playing certain titles you can unlock interviews with their creators and the Museum section (accessed by pressing triangle on the menu) is packed with entertaining facts about each and every game. They are pretty funny too, with the intro to Kid Chameleon being a personal favourite - "Back in the early '90s, people were convinced that the future of videogames involved wearing funky looking goggles and entering a virtual reality world." Obviously, the games themselves are the real stars of the show here but the extra polish Sega has added to the collection really does boost the experience.
While there are plenty of other retro compilations out there vying for your business, Sega Mega Drive Collection arguably offers the most value for money and could quickly become the ideal travel companion for your PSP, as it's a delight to dip in and out of the mostly top notch games included. Some classics, like Streets of Rage, are conspicuous by their absence though, so don't expect to wait too long for a second instalment of retro Mega Drive action.