Sega Genesis Classics review: My childhood's back, but not on Switch
Ecco's gone. Toejam's back. Overall, a damn good effort.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
If my life were Ready Player One, I'd be living back in the Sega Genesis days. That's the system I grew up with in high school. Sonic, Phantasy Star, Toejam and Earl -- these were my worlds.
I take my retro Sega games seriously, and so I'm really very pleasantly surprised with the new Sega Genesis Classics compilation for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It's everything I remember.
Sega has teased old-school players over the years with compilations that come and go: Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection back in 2009 was brilliant, with 48 games and few compromises.
It took nine years, but this new collection feels every bit as good. It's also a far better Sega Genesis experience than the AtGames Sega Genesis Flashback miniconsole released last year. That console did play actual Sega cartridges and use original Genesis controllers, but games played at a lower frame rate and felt "off."
I snuggled back on my sofa and fired up this new collection on an
-- the collection, which is already on Steam for PC, has a release date of May 29 and will also be available on the PS4, but not the Nintendo Switch. It costs $30. (In the UK and Australia, where it's called Sega Mega Drive Classics, it costs £25 or AU$50 respectively.) And, so far, the games I've played have been as smooth as I remembered.
There are a massive 54 games in the collection, including a lot of gems: Sonic (1 and 2, but not 3 or Sonic and Knuckles); Phantasy Star 2, 3 and 4; Revenge of Shinobi; Streets of Rage 1 and 2; and even Toejam and Earl (both versions), which have been retro rarities and weren't on the 2009 compilation. Some new games are added, and others are left off. Which ones? I cross-checked.
New games: Alien Soldier, Bio-Hazard Battle, Columns III: Revenge of Columns, Crack Down, Galaxy Force II, Gunstar Heroes, Landstalker, Light Crusader, Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, Space Harrier 2, Sword of Vermilion, The Revenge of Shinobi, Toejam & Earl, Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron, Virtua Fighter 2, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, Wonder Boy in Monster World
Missing games that were on the 2009 version: Ecco the Dolphin, Ecco: The Tides of Time, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and the unlockable extras (arcade Alien Syndrome, Altered Beast, Congo Bongo, Fantasy Zone, Shinobi, Space Harrier and Zaxxon, and Master System versions of Phantasy Star and Golden Axe Warrior).
Do you care more about Ecco, or Wonder Boy? Do you prefer more Sonic games, or are you glad that Toejam and Earl are back? I think the new collection's better, but it's a bit sad to see trade-offs. Can't I have everything?
Still, at 55 cents a game, this is an absolute steal. I haven't even gotten into the extras: online multiplayer, instant game saves, a crazy "mirror mode" that can be turned on in any game, and a fair amount of customizing -- the emulator can be tweaked to add different visual effects and presentation. The game takes a while to load at first, and the game's interface (set in an old '80s living room with a TV and game shelf) is cute, but annoying to navigate. But it's a collection I'd buy in a heartbeat as a childhood Sega-obsessed superfan.
The biggest bummer is that this isn't on the Nintendo Switch, where I could carry these games around. I'd prefer them on the go: On a big-screen TV they feel a little less exciting than I expected... maybe revisiting childhood isn't always as great as you think it's going to be. Sega is planning to sell some of these games on the Nintendo Switch, and others, piecemeal, over the summer. I'm less than thrilled with that. While those ports sound promising, I want the whole compilation experience, not bits and chunks: I bought Sega 3D Classics one by one on the 3DS, and they're fantastic, but I'd rather not do that again.
Here's to hoping even half of these games make it over to the Switch as a compilation. But I bet they won't. In the meantime, your PS4, Xbox One and PC await.