Sega Classics Collection
Platform:  PlayStation 2
Players:  1-4
Memory Usage:  95 kb

    Japanese gamers get a lot more titles than any others and I don't mean only new games, there are lots of special compilations and anniversary remakes that never see sales outside the land of the rising sun.  Not all that long ago Sega began to release updated remakes of some of their classic games.  A sister company of theirs, 3DAges, was given the task of remixing the classic titles and the result was the SegaAges2500 series.  As the name implied each release was 2500 yen, not really budget releases but instead anniversary remix releases, so of course they cost less than a first run new game.  This is pretty common in in Japan but what set the SegaAges remakes apart from the norm was that the graphics and audio were totally revamped while the games were still based upon their original engines and controls.  Some of the releases featured added game modes and features but the original gameplay still shines through.  There seemed to be no chance of these titles reaching the United States until the unthinkable happened, a compilation disc was slated for US release.  Nine of the remakes would reach our shores on a single disc, all for $20.

Description:  Sega Classics Collection gives you nine of the SegaAges2500 releases:  Alien Syndrome, Columns, Fantasy Zone, Golden Axe, Monaco GP, OutRun, Space Harrier, Tant-R vs. Bonanza Bros, and Virtua Racing.  Aside from localization the games have been left untouched, in fact the title screens for each game still have their "SegaAges2500 Vol. XX" text with a line to press select to return to the menu added.  When you start up the game you are taken to what could be best described as a front end for the included games.  There could have been a little more polish to the central hub, given the amount of delays the US release had, but we should really just be glad this compilation arrived at all.  I will say that the interface is a lot easier and cleaner to navigate than many other compilation releases.  Aside from that each game is as it was during the Japanese release.  Since this title is really nine titles in one (and is actually ten games) this will be the largest review at David's Video Game Insanity to date.  Instead of the standard review format each title will have a full mini review, the case pictures below are from the original Japanese releases.

Alien Syndrome:  Alien Syndrome is a game I never really got into until I played this remixed version.  Taking a cue from Alien and many other sci-fi films, you begin each stage by setting a time bomb and racing off to find your captured comrades.  There's a set number of people you have to set free on each stage and as you navigate each level you can upgrade your weapons or check the position of still captured allies by passing a computer terminal.  What gives the game its name is that each stage is filled with aliens and exterminating them takes on a SmashTV feel as the left analog stick controls your character's movement while the right stick controls firing direction as well as firing.  The gameplay starts off pretty simple but as you complete levels things get a lot more entertaining and challenging.  The 3DAges remake features some impressively detailed environments and enemies with a fitting soundtrack.  The level design and graphics really make you feel like you're on a space station or ship where something went very wrong.  Adding to the already impressive graphics are the stage bosses which are incredibly detailed considering this is a top down arena shooter and a remake at that.  The two player mode is what makes Alien Syndrome a blast to play as teamwork makes this game twice as enjoyable.  Throw in fully rendered 3D cutscenes before each level and you have a good idea about where the more recent SegaAges2500 series games are headed.

Columns:  Sega's answer to Tetris returns with a slightly remixed version.  The basic modes are here, Endless Mode lets you choose between the standard oldschool looking Columns playfield or the newly reworked higher resolution one with a rating system and some changes that effect when the magic jewels appear.  Either way the gameplay remains unchanged and your objective is to arrange falling lines of three colored stones so they match up horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.  As always large combination chain reactions earn more points and if the column fills up it's game over.  Vs CPU Mode lets you play against computer opponents and follows a pointless story about the columns being stolen.  Seriously, the story here makes the stories from the Puyo Puyo games look like great works of literature.  The little character sprites during the cutscenes are very poorly drawn as well but the actually vs gameplay uses the reworked graphic set and plays just fine.  A two player mode is also included.  There really isn't much reworking here, the new graphics set really just makes the jewels 3D and they spin in their columns.  The music is still terrible as ever and gets annoying after a few minutes.  The background themes have been reworked but they're still the type of music that's played in museums and mortuaries.  Aside from that this is pretty much just another release of Columns, a game you either love or hate.  Personally it's a title I've never really cared for but if Columns is your game this is a nice version.

Fantasy Zone:  3DAges reaches back to one of the best games ever released on the Sega Master System in this long overdue remake.  Fantasy Zone was a bi-directional side scrolling shooter that was known for its ultra colorful graphics and challenging gameplay in that the paths that enemies would follow were very complex and unpredictable.  In the remake instead of rendering everything in 3D polygons the entire game is cel shaded which fits in perfectly with the original visual style.  Normal mode is a recreation of the original game with additional and special stages.  The special stages come up after defeating a boss and are a bit like Space Harrier except instead of shooting you're trying to pick up coins that the enemy boss is dropping.  Normal mode also has nice introductions to each stage where the camera pans around showing that the stages are indeed redone in 3D.  Arcade mode is a recreation of the original without the special and additional stages, additionally some of the visual extras are held back.  Challenge mode allows you to select which stage you want to play, earn gold, and then use the coins earned in the stage to purchase new stages to unlock as well as some cool items that can be used in the Normal mode.  Things such as a sound test or infinite special weapons can be purchased in this mode for use in Normal mode but these features don't come cheap.  This gives Challenge mode a ton of replay value even for the most experienced Fantasy Zone player.  Lastly Gallery mode allows you to check out every enemy character in the game once you earn them by picking up their special red coin in Challenge mode.  You can rotate and zoom in for each character almost like the trophy mode in Super Smash Bros. Melee.  Unlocking everything in this remake of Fantasy Zone will take some time since there's really just so much stuff to earn.  The music is the traditional Fantasy Zone themes slightly remixed for the SegaAges2500 release.  Hands down this is the best version of Fantasy Zone ever released and if this is your game Sega Classics Collection is a must purchase.

Golden Axe:  Set out to defeat Death Adder in this remake of the grandfather of all hack and slash games.  Golden Axe lets up to two players choose from three characters (Ax Battler, Tyris Flare, Gilius Thunderhead) and was one of the first games that created the genre of the side scrolling beat 'em up, except Golden Axe featured weapons instead of bare handed combat that games like Streets of Rage featured.  The graphics have been completely redone in 3D but things don't look as solid as many of the other SegaAges2500 series games, although the new magic attack animation sequences are cool.  The play control is a little different but for the most part things are left alone and the core of the gameplay is still as it was in the original.  Some people speak of Golden Axe almost religiously, like it's the greatest game ever made and no remake will ever be near as good as the original.  Most of these same people seem to hate the 3DAges remake and feel that it killed the gameplay of the original completely.  Personally I've never liked Golden Axe that much, the play control has always seemed lazy and unresponsive and the gameplay way too repetitive for even a side scrolling hack and slash.  In other words the original wasn't all that great.  (neither was the arcade version of Double Dragon while I'm thinking about overrated classic games)  So while the 3DAges remake isn't spectacular I still feel that the original wasn't that great anyway - the control still seems lazy and unresponsive and the gameplay is still way too repetitive.  Yet the game doesn't seem so broken it can't be played to completion and enjoyed since it's somewhat entertaining.  The 3DAges port also gives you a Time Attack and Survival mode which are both self-explanatory.  The remixed music sounds really good and a new intro sequence has been added to the remake as well.  It's not as bad as many reviews say but just be prepared for some cruel reality that Golden Axe isn't the tour de force you may have perceived it as in the past.

Monaco GP:  Many people are familiar with the Super Monaco GP games that were released on the Sega Genesis.  However long before then the original Monaco GP was released.  Where as the Super Monaco GP games were viewed from an in-the-car perspective, Monaco GP is a top down racing game similar to the hugely popular (in Japan anyway) F-1 Circus series.  Although the gameplay is still in the same top down view everything is now rendered in 3D and is nicely detailed.  In Arcade mode you compete through score earned from distance covered as well as bonus stars collected.  There are two types of Arcade mode, Classic and Original.  Arcade Classic mode is the original Monaco GP with the enhanced graphics of the 3DAges rerelease, the track is a straightaway with no sharp curves, only slight left and right bends.  Arcade Original mode adds corners and obstacles on the track as well as powerup items and the ability to make your car jump.  It's almost like a Formula-1 version of Bump 'n' Jump.  Grand Prix mode sets you up in a series of five races on five courses with a time limit on each.  Each course runs for two laps and the game is cleared if you can complete all five courses.  On the fifth race a rival car will be on course and if you finish ahead of it you unlock that car and can use it in any game mode.  There's also a time attack mode as well as a versus mode that allows up to four players to race at once.  The default control scheme is horrible as it puts acceleration on the up button, so I recommend changing the controls to mode B as soon as you load this game or you'll probably be so irritated with the controls you won't play it.  Since Arcade mode continues until you run out of lives once you pass the 20,000 point time limit, you can in theory play the game infinitely.  This means that the Arcade mode can get repetitive fairly quickly.  However the Grand Prix and multiplayer modes are what will give this title longevity.  The more I play this game the more I think of it as a mix of Micro Machines, F-1 Circus, and Bump 'n' Jump - which is surprisingly fun.

OutRun:  Yu Suzuki's driving opus is given new life with the 3DAges remake yet retains the gameplay of and actually surpasses the arcade original.  The graphics, while not cutting edge, are extremely impressive.  Personally I thought the realism in OutRun 2 killed the feel of what an OutRun game should be, on the other hand in the 3DAges remake the graphics are beefed up to polygons but the whole game keeps the comic feel of the original.  Even though the graphics are in full 3D it still retains the look of the original sprite rendered OutRun both in presentation and visual movement.  Turn signs still fly by before curves, billboards still line the roads, and the stage with the overhanging pillars is exactly as it always was - except in 3D.  The road and camera pans around just as it did in the arcade, so for instance on the stage with the overhanging pillars the camera points downward more just as it did in the arcade.  Transitions between different stages are as they always have been with a hard turn out and a harder turn in as you rejoin the main roads.  Pretty much everything is recreated in 3D from the starting sequence to the different endings to the crash sequences - all without venturing away from the original gameplay.  All the music has made it over into the remake including the three original background themes but then the 3DAges remake goes even further by including an arranged remix of each of the three background themes.  The arranged version of Splash Wave is excellent, not as good as the Sega Super Sonic Team Band remix but it's right up there.  Another thing that really shines through is the incredible sense of speed the game creates along with rock solid controls.  The car has been changed from the Ferrari in the original arcade title (which never was legally authorized) to what looks like a little Lotus Elise but it's no big deal and obviously had to be done for legal reasons.  This is the first OutRun game that really feels right when using a standard controller.  The arcade ports of OutRun (including in Shenmue II) always just didn't feel as accurate as they did in the arcade with a steering wheel but the 3DAges remake controls perfectly with the DualShock2 analog stick.

OutRun is one of the 3DAges remakes that gives you more than just a direct remake of the original.  Arcade mode lets you play exactly like the arcade original with one starting point and five possible destinations through a series of branching routes.  Everything is as it was except with improved graphics, even the five ending sequences are as they were except in 3D.  Arrange mode lets you face off against rival cars that join and/or leave as the road splits and combines.  It's a lot like OutRun 2, with a diamond shaped course map as opposed to the original triangle, except it plays like the original OutRun.  There are a few new stages thrown in during Arrange mode which add some new variety and the Las Vegas themed stage reminded me a lot of another classic Sega game that's long overdue for a remake - Radmobile.  OutRun is probably the most perfect example on the disc of what great things can come from a game that enhances the original but retains the classic gameplay.

SegaAges2500 Vol. 4 - Space HarrierSpace Harrier:  Another of Yu Suzuki's truly unique gifts to the arcade industry Space Harrier is a game in which the player controls Harrier, a guy that can fly around and has a really big gun, as he blasts his way through levels of shoot and avoid gameplay.  The arcade versions used a flightstick with a fire button atop it to move Harrier around the screen and the controls transfer well to the analog stick.  Each standard level ends with a boss battle and the game was best known for it's amazing sense of movement and scaling.  3DAges once again decided to leave the original gameplay alone but enhanced the graphics and added a few new features to their remake.  The first thing you will notice is that while everything is now rendered in 3D special attention has been given so that everything looks as it did in the original sprite driven arcade classic.  However what has changed is how some of the environments are rendered but they don't seem out of place since the feel of the original stages are maintained.  It's almost like a celebration of Space Harrier and this remake shows a lot more polish than most.  New features come in the form of weapon upgrades as well as powerups such as shields and smart bombs.  It doesn't seem like a lot but it really does add to the experience and enhances gameplay without causing any massive changes to the original formula.  The soundtrack is where this game really shines, the original Space Harrier theme has been remixed into more of a techno laced sounding piece of music and is one of the best audio tracks to come out of Sega in years.  The music alone makes this game a must play especially if you're a fan of the Sega themes, which I am.  All the boss enemies have been fully reimagined in 3D and are amazingly rendered yet retain their patterns and characteristics from the arcade original.  Even Harrier himself has been reimagined in 3D and has a new neo-future look and is animated extremely well.  The starting animation of Harrier running by as the game begins while the voice-over blasts is as timeless as ever and lets you know you're in for an exceptional rework of a true classic.  Challenge is high in the later stages as the terrain becomes more crowded and the enemies more numerous but everything still looks great.  Another nice little graphical feature is that from time to time there will be blue streaks coming off of Harrier as he flies through the air, nothing massive but it's a nice graphical touch.  There is a small amount of slowdown when things get really heavy or if you detonate a smart bomb on a stage with a lot of obstacles on the terrain but it's rare and really not a big problem.  I'll have to be honest in saying I'm not the biggest Space Harrier fan but I can play this version for hours.

Tant-R vs. Bonanza Bros.:  I was actually really surprised at how much fun both these games are.  Tant-R vs. Bonanza Bros. gives you two unique games that are both well done.  Tant-R is basically a slower paced and more complex version of Wario Ware, that came out long before Wario Ware was even conceived.  Story Mode starts with four different minigames that are selected by what can be best described as a spinning wheel.  Complete the minigame the spotlight lands on and it is replaced with another, after four minigames are cleared then you move on to either the next substage of minigames or the next level.  Each game is as frantic as a game in Wario Ware but requires a lot more fast thought and puzzle solving.  The minigames are all original and very entertaining.  In Free Mode up to four players can join in and compete in any of the minigames and it's a total blast.  Bonanza Bros. lets up to two players (using a split screen somewhat like Xenophobe) attempt to rob different environments blind. It's is kind of like a puzzle action stealth game in which you sneak from room to room without getting caught.  It usually resorts to shooting shielded guards in the back or opening doors into enemy sentries but the gameplay can get pretty hectic.  It's almost like the Activision Atari 2600 classic Keystone Kapers except you're the robber.  After collecting all the treasures it's off to the exit to escape.  Both games have very nice presentation and the visuals are well done.  Bonanza Bros. almost has a lego look in its characters and environments.  The audio is decent and in Tant-R the background voiceovers have been left in their original Japanese.

Virtua Racing:  It seems many gamers don't realize how influential Virtua Racing was to the video game industry as a whole.  Virtua Racing was the first true 3D polygonal racing game as well as the first Sega Model 1 game ever created.  Originally Virtua Racing was going to be an internal project only, sort of a proof of technology build to see if it could even be done.  The game was so enjoyable and performed so well that the decision was made to bring it to the arcade.  Pretty much every arcade driving game since has built off the branch of the industry Virtua Racing created.  Sadly there has never been a truly accurate home port although there have been many attempts.  The port of Virtua Racing on the Sega Genesis was the most expensive 16 bit game ever produced but it just didn't measure up to the arcade version which lead to Virtua Racing Deluxe on the Sega 32X.  The 32X version got closer to the arcade but wasn't quite there and the later released port on the Sega Saturn was so horrible it barely warrants mention.  However after all these years Virtua Racing finally gets the home port it deserves and 3DAges actually goes a bit further and enhances the original while leaving it's signature look and feel in tact.

Straight away you get a faithful recreation of Arcade mode.  All three original circuits are present: Big Forest (Beginner), Bay Bridge (Intermediate), and the Acropolis (Advance) are all lovingly recreated and are exact to their original arcade incarnations.  Thankfully ALL the audio from the course select screen is there in arcade mode, and will bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers the first time they sat down to play this glimpse of the future.  The CG grid girls at the Acropolis are there just like in the arcade (including the one that leans down and kisses the driver before scurrying away) as well as is the CG pit crew start at Big Forest.  The first change from the arcade version one will notice is that the frame rate has been beefed up considerably.  In fact the arcade original ran at 30 frames per second while the 3DAges remake runs at 60 frames per second.  There is also a lot of added reflection although thankfully the flat polygons have been left untextured.  It's still cool to see (and hear) the sparks toss off from beneath the car as well as blades of grass shower off from beneath the wheels if you get off circuit.  The popup and draw distance is how it was in the arcade and while some people seem to be put off by this, you have to remember it's a lot harder to simulate the hardware limitations of 15 years ago then it is to simply let the new hardware power run wild and change the look of the original game.  If you ask me the popup is forced to keep things how the game was in the past - and how it should be.  If you run into another car both you and the opponent car spin around before continuing which makes the game infinitely challenging and overtaking just as intense as it was in the arcade.  The sparse music clips that play when you pass checkpoints are just as they were before as are all the sound effects.

Expanding on the arcade mode you also get a Grand Prix mode which adds three additional circuits: Island, Mountain, and Beltway.  The Island circuit is new while the Mountain and Beltway are slightly remixed conversions of circuits from other Virtua Racing home ports.  Grand Prix drops you into five sets of racing each of the six circuits once.  Points are awarded in accordance with how you finish and you can unlock new cars (F-1 70's, Prototype, Coupe, Classic) if you earn enough points.  Unlocked cars can be used in Grand Prix, two player, and free race mode.

Additionally it seems there's something everyone seems to be forgetting - GT Force feedback wheel support!! Although it's not documented in the booklet (and disappointingly there's no adjustment mode) the Japanese release had GT Force wheel support and it's been carried over in the US release. However the support, while decent, isn't as impressive as it could be. While the wheel will autocenter upon starting the game there is next to no force feedback - which sucks compared to how the wheel in the arcade could tare your arms off if it was turned up high enough. Also pausing the game is hit or miss when using the wheel as the controller / wheel interrogation routines seem to be total junk. I also had my save file corrupted while using the GT Force wheel so I'd recommend removing your memory card if you're going to play with the wheel - don't want those OutRun times or unlocked V.R. cars to be lost.

The only gripe I have with the V.R. port is that the in-car view is different from how it was in the arcade.  In the arcade version the V.R. driver's hands and arms moved a lot more, in the Sega Classics Collection version (Virtua Racing -Flat Out- in Japan) the driver's hands barely move when steering the car.  Just a tiny visual gripe I have, really only because of my fondness of the original.  There are also some VERY small audio errors (cue lags) but you'll only notice them if you pump $20 into a Virtua Racing machine every time you come across one.  In my opinion if there was a single reason to pick up Sega Classics Collection it would be for this title.  I love Virtua Racing and it's the one arcade game were I've nearly bought a sitdown arcade cabinet many times.  In fact I was thinking of importing the SegaAges2500 release until I heard that it was going to be part of Sega Classics Collection.  While it's not the franchise celebration that Daytona USA on the Dreamcast was, it still gives Virtua Racing what it deserves, an accurate arcade port without changing what made the game stand out.

Final Verdict:  Sadly this is one of those games where magazines and online mass media gaming sites will kill sales unless people actually try it.  Pretty much every review I've read about Sega Classics Collection from a large scale source has bashed it at every angle and given the compilation sub-par reviews.  You have to remember, these were not intended to be budget releases but remakes that showcase the gameplay of classic Sega titles and feature revamped graphics that still pay homage to the look of the originals.  In Japan there are hundreds of games released each week, of course a hobbyist type series like this wouldn't sell for the same amount as a new first-run game.  They're not supposed to be state of the art remakes, they're supposed to be reworked classics that while have improved graphics and play modes, don't get too far away from what gives them classic status.  It's quite a feat that these ever made it to the United States and on a compilation for $20 none the less.  During this first release week it seems that copies were selling out nearly everywhere which is a good sign as there are lots more SegaAges2500 series games currently in Japan and the series is showing no sign of ending anytime soon.  The better this release does the better the chance we have of getting localized ports of the other SegaAges2500 remakes.  The three SegaAges2500 Phantasy Star remakes (Phantasy Star, Phantasy Star II, Phantasy Star IV) are slated for release in the United States on a single compilation disc, again for $20, next month.  (Phantasy Star III wasn't remade because it never sold well in Japan)  If that release does happen it's sure to do well and hopefully Sega Classics Collection and Phantasy Star Trilogy won't be the last SegaAges2500 releases we see on this side of the globe.

Pick it up for the first solid port of Virtua Racing - OutRun, Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, etc. are just really nice bonuses.  You have to think "would I pay $20 for one of these games?"  Answer is probably yes, but you're getting 9 additional titles as well.  Just in case anyone is wondering, the reason this game got a teen rating is because of the blood and violence in Golden Axe and Alien Syndrome but it's not graphic at all and there's no reason this title couldn't be for the entire family.  (although it really caters to the retrogamer or hobbyist gamer)  This is hands down the most unique gaming series to come along in years and finally some of them have reached the English speaking world.

Written on 03-31-05 by David,
Last amended 04-15-06 by David,

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