Boy does that make me feel old. As of today, this classic console has been entertaining the western world for 20 years. Well, America (just over 20 years for Japan and around 19 for Europe), see guys we’ve been the last in line for a while now.
With ever-growing resentment towards my creaky Commodore 64 with its cassette loaded games and joystick, I probably wasn’t far off giving up on gaming and instead dedicating my life to something even less illustrious like sticker collections or even paying attention at school.
Early adopters and damn lucky kids at Christmas managed to get the Japanese Mega Drive, which really was the daddy as it played games from every corner of the world. Any half decent UK town would have a couple of indie game retailers, just full of obscure Japanese titles. One of which I bought and fell in love with, despite having no idea what the hell it was even called, I eventually learned it had the most excellent title of Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure, which was remade for the west with an Egyptian style mummy lead character and renamed as Decap Attack.
Personally, the leap forward this console provided was jaw dropping. I mean look at this shot from Manic Miner (Commodore 64) and then look at Sonic the Hedgehog. What made it all the sweeter, was that Sonic pissed all over Mario’s chips. The sheer speed that you inflicted on the levels was dizzying and made every other game out there feel like it had been shot with horse tranquilisers. The old cheeky US ads said it best: “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.”
Unlike modern Sonic games, every last one on the Mega Drive was brilliant (the 2D platforming ones). It’s a shame that he’s lost his touch nowadays and can even be seen whoring himself out in Nintendo games with that fat shit Mario. Bitter? Yes, but back in the 90s it was tribal, you were Sega or Nintendo. Sony and Microsoft’s rivalry doesn’t even come close.
It wasn’t just lightning fast blue hedgehogs that made this a classic console. One of its earliest titles, the beat-em-up, Altered Beast, was unique at the time because it gave you the ability to change into mythical creatures such as werewolves and dragons, and provided arcade visuals at home.
Streets of Rage (or Bare Knuckle for you importers) was the first in a series of three games that imitated the likes of Double Dragon and Final Fight. However, Streets of Rage II proved to be a seminal title in the series and the genre itself, that to be honest, has yet to be bested. With around a dozen different moves that flowed fantastically into combos of your own style with a choice of four classic characters such as the overall genius of Axel, the highflying Blaze, the back-snapping wrestler Max or the rollerblade sporting breakdance beater Skates. It’s also one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.
Ghouls n’ Ghosts was another gorgeous title with you playing as King Arthur fighting off every creature that had clawed its way out the underworld. An armoury full of diverse swords and throwing weapons each with their own super power if you managed to find the elusive Golden Armour and bizarre enemy design made this stand out from other action platformers.
The traditional RPG also enjoyed a moderately successful time on the Mega Drive with the Phantasy Star series and Shining Force games. Not bad considering most other games would only last an hour or two at most.
Until recent years, the best editions of the world’s most popular football series, FIFA, could be found on the Mega Drive. The isometric viewpoint just blew away the bird’s eye view perspectives of Sensible Soccer and World Cup Italia 90 and really pioneered football games as we know them today. EA were so on top of their game back then, even NFL (American Football) and NHL (US hockey) games were massively successful here in the UK.
Even stealth had a quality game in Bonanza Bros, a two player game where you played a pair of robbers having to evade guards and SWAT teams to steal bags of loot and swag.
There were dozens of other classic games such as Gunstar Heroes (read the recent PSN release review here), three Golden Axe games, Revenge of Shinobi, Kid Chameleon, Alien Storm, Pugsy, Columns, Street Fighter 2 (albeit after the SNES), Splatterhouse, the controversially violent but brilliant Robocop vs. Terminator, and even a quality film tie-in with Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.
Sadly, Sega has stopped developing consoles as it went downhill for them with the Saturn and Dreamcast not being able to keep up with the new PlayStation brand, but they are still developing titles. Sonic’s never got to grips with modern 3D environments and purists die a little inside when they see him buddied up with Mario on the Wii. And the masterclass of scrolling beat-em-ups that was Streets of Rage II has not produced anything similar worthy of mention in a 3D setting. If Sega tries going back to basics (just make a really pretty, high-def, 2D game) it might be able to bring back some old friends.
Most of these classic games are available online on the 360 and Wii online stores, or on devices like this portable one or on the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (PS3/360) with over 40 games. You can even buy a new, cheap version of the console. This has come as a relief to all of us dragging out the old console for another retro blast of Streets of Rage II. Yes, I’ve had the same machine and pads since 1991, no ‘ring of death,’ cheaply made bullshit here. It’s true, they really don’t make em’ like they used to. Or like Sega always said: “To be this good takes AGES, to be this good takes SEGA.”