Upon inception in 1988, the Mega Drive (or Genesis in the US) had a somewhat muted response. While the graphical prowess was certainly a huge improvement over its predecessor, the Master System, Nintendo still attained a vice-like grip over the market with its third-party exclusivity (which bullied developers to make games specifically for Nintendo systems) and iconic gaming brands. In fact, Super Mario Bros. 3 still had a behemoth launch release despite its inferiority to Sega’s impressive specifications – Nintendo were still able convince consumers that it was worth waiting for their own successor. In fact, the Mega Drive seriously suffered due to a lack of killer software – Alex Kidd was their first real attempt at creating a flagship mascot for the system however there was no widespread appeal.
So it became apparent that Sega had to push the Mega Drive as a worthy alternative to their primary rival; to ensure that it appealed to older consumers in contrast to Nintendo’s family-oriented approach. After some pretty aggressive advertising campaigns and exclusivity deals with stores that refused to sell the product initially, Sega were able to gain traction – Sonic the Hedgehog most certainly contributed to this, but Sega’s overall ethos and game design proved radically different to what Nintendo were offering at the time. The Mega Drive was sleek, cool, rad, hip…any kind of typified 90’s hyperbole, really.
Enter the Mega Games Collection. Only released in Europe as a promotional pack-in deal with the console, the Mega Drive became a highly affordable piece of hardware that offered a number of great games from the get-go. While the Super Nintendo pushed bundles such as Street Fighter II: Turbo, Starfox (Starwing in EU) and Super Mario All-Stars, Sega offered accessible arcade conversions, not to mention a more adult-style of gameplay. Mega Games I was the beginning of Sega differentiating themselves from Nintendo and not emulating their distinctive brand of game design – the Mega Drive was its own beast and Sega capitalised on this, making the console almost impossible to ignore.
So, let’s begin. Mega Games I features the following games: Super Hang-On, World Cup Italia ’90 and Columns. This shall be reviewed in the aforementioned order.
Game One: Super Hang-On.
Oh, Super Hang-On. The quintessential Sega game. Much like OutRun that came before it, Hang-On sported psuedo-3D visuals that commonly penned the term ‘sprite scaling’. For its time, it looked far superior than anything found on its 8-bit brethren, the Master System, and naturally the NES – the game ran with a tile mapping technique that consistently traversed at the screen, giving the impression it was running in 3D space. While it didn’t feature polygonal sprites on screen, it proved that the Mega Drive was more than capable to emulate arcade ports and handle it nearly flawlessly. The soundtrack, much like OutRun, is also an integral part to the gameplay – ‘Winning Run’ is especially notable, with its fist-pumping tempo and anthemic hook. The game also plays like a dream, despite it being incredibly challenging in the later stages – this is indeed searingly frustrating but, like all well programmed games, it’s all because of a lack of concentration.
So you have no-one to blame but yourself. That’s the way of old-school gaming, eh? An absolute must for all arcade-racing aficionados.
Game Two: World Cup Italia ’90.
Now here’s a game that hasn’t aged well. At all. While Super Hang-On was a technical showcase for the system, this ironically is held back by its ambition – in fact, football games were crudely primitive in the early 90’s due to hardware constraints, so the game sadly suffers with its limited camera view and finicky controls. But, thanks to its broad colour palette and the addition of a radar to help manage where players are, it’s still relatively playable albeit only in short bursts. It’s sorely lacking in game modes and other such content however, proving merely as a stepping stone amidst its contemporaries.
But the music? Damn. It’s still great.
Game Three: Columns
Rounding off possibly the most varied compilation of the Mega Games hits, Columns is a game that perhaps deserves a little more recognition. While Tetris has certainly proven to be a timeless classic with annual iterations still becoming widely available on various platforms, Sega’s own attempt at emulating this desired success is more than valiant. While not wholly original in concept and design, Columns delivers an admirable twist on the Tetris formula – the player must correlate jewels the same colour in rows of three or more, be it horizontal, diagonal or vertical. There are also ‘magic jewel columns’ that eliminate one type of colour on screen, adding another layer of strategy to the gameplay. It’s definitely a little more varied, especially when considering how incredible battle mode is with a friend – but, alas, Tetris has more substance when it comes to overall delivery and mechanics.
It’s still great nonetheless…and scarily addictive. Watch yourself.
Mega Games I is a great start for newcomers and veterans alike – it offers three starkly differing gameplay experiences, each one catering to a desired demographic that Sega obviously wanted to capture at the time. While each game is somewhat limited in scope and longevity, they highlight the difference that Sega had over its competitors in 1989 – far superior sound and graphics design, an impressive frame rate and near-perfect arcade conversions. It’s definitely worth getting hold of – just try to appreciate the painfully archaic design of Italia ’90. It was impressive for its day, I swear…