Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Retrospective: SEGA Mega Drive

 "To be this good takes AGES, To be this good takes SEGA."
Today was due to be the final day in SEGA week, but I may post one more article tomorrow as I ended up being unable to do so yesterday. As was teased yesterday on Twitter I'm going to have a look back on the Mega Drive. Looking at the pic you see a Mega Drive 2. What I want to do first is talk about the Mega Drive set-up I had as a kid. Back in the day I had one of those beastly model-1 Mega Drives sat atop one of those behemoth Mega-Cd's. I also had a converter cartridge to play the few Japanese imported titles I had for my system (Hellfire and Strider the notable ones) and a copy of Micro Machine's with its 2 extra controller ports built into the cartridge for some extra multiplayer fun (I had 3 controllers luckily) It was a nice little set-up that got me through a few years at least and also stuck around when the 32-bit systems came around before I eventually bought a new console. I still, to this day, have no idea what happened to the Mega Drive.

I'm currently running a Mega Drive 2 that I managed to procure for a measly £25. Fully boxed with instructions and 2 controllers to boot! Not bad. I did have to open up the controllers though as neither seemed to work 100% but I managed to fix them and everything is ok with the system now. To be honest though I much prefer the Model-1 Mega Drive. While 2's ridiculously small size and light weight make it seem like a shrewd console to have under the TV, I much prefer the Model-1's aesthetic. No doubt many will still be fond of the controller. I still do like it but oddly enough I found it to be bigger than I remember. I know, that sounds incredibly odd. What no-one can fault though is the superb six-button controller. Its arguably the best controller for fighting games in particular. The model 2 Saturn controller seemed to be based around the design of this and its probably the reason I regard the Saturn controller as highly as I do. Its a much smaller version of the standard controller while also packing in additional face-buttons into its sleek design. Theres still very little to fault with the Mega Drive from a Hardware perspective. Design still looks great and the controllers still feel sleek. Before I talk about some games though, I am going to have to discuss one more thing...

Vs SNES - It has to be done. The console war that started all consoles wars (even though the whiners these days like to act as though console wars are something new) started here, in the 16-Bit era. You could say SEGA started it with this slogan back in 89 - Genesis does what Nintendon't. Maybe it started before that but that was my first incling of a 'Console War'. The amusing thing about it though, considering I'm a SEGA fan through & through, I still played a family members SNES on a regular basis and grew to appreciate the console. Its a far cry from those on the other side (I'm looking at you Dave Jones) who still bash it at every opportunity. They were both different machines offering different gameplay. SEGA was all about the arcade experience at home while Nintendo were making games without any thought of arcade gameplay purely for home entertainment. Its this reason mainly that I see them as both being as equally good as the other during the 16-Bit era. Hardware wise they both beat the other in certain aspects. The SNES had superior colour reproduction & a better sound chip, while the Mega Drives faster CPU allowed more sprite planes, sprites etc. Each bested the other in numerous aspects of their hardware designs. I doubt we'll have another generation anytime soon with such parity in hardware/software and features like we had during that time.
 The 16-bit era features some of the best games ever conceived, and its no surprise that the Mega Drive also has its fair share of those titles. I currently only have a few titles on my shelf for the console - Mega Games 1 (Mega Games 2 was missing from my box. Tears), Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic Spinball, Captain America & The Avengers and Flashback. As you've probably guess I'm still quite fond of the Sonic games. To this day, Sonic in 2D is still highly playable even with having to play in 50hz. Aye, 50hz. Its the only issue I have now as I sampled the Mega Drive ultimate collection on Ps3 where all the games are in 60hz, so it only drives the difference more now. Still, I continued playing! Aside from the music sounding a tad slower, the gameplay seemed almost as fast and frantic so it didn't become noticeable after a bit. 2D Sonic will always be the best. I like 2 in particular due to its eye-bleeding pace that the series hasn't seemed to reproduce since. Its the arcade games that the Mega Drive will always be remembered for the most. Titles like Golden Axe, Strider, Streets of Rage, Street Fighter to name a few that played sublime and gave the console, and SEGA, its 'arcade' vibe that would last till SEGA's exit. There was also a lot of talk that the Mega Drive had no RPG's, but with the Phantasy Star series and other titles like Sword of Vermillion made sure to keep those gamers sweet. Not as good as the SNES offerings, but good enough. Another aspect that the Mega Drive excelled in was sports titles. EA released a lot of sports titles onto the system which would later go on to help the console gain and maintain its market share, especially in the west. Not all is still well though. I recently fired up Super Hang-On and it has not aged well at all. For the most part though the games are still perfectly playable and theres such a huger variety on offer that its hard not to fins something to like. In truth, I could go on & on & on about the game library but I think for those that have yet to fully delve into what the console has to offer, The Mega Drive Ultimate Collection available on pretty much every platform released a few years ago would be a great starting point as it features some of the best titles on offer from SEGA's 16-bit machine (Alex Kid, Alien Storm, Alien Syndrome, Altered Beast, Altered Beast Arcade, Bonanza Bros., Columns, Comix Zone, Decap Attack, Dr. Robotnik's M.B.M., Dynamite Heady, E-Swat, Ecco 1 and 2, Fantasy Zone, Fatal Labyrinth, Flicky, Gain Ground, Golden Axe I, III and III, Golden Axe Warrior, Kid Chameleon, Phantasy Star I, II, III and IV, Ristar, Space Harrier, Shining Force I and II, Shining in the Darkness, Shinobi Arcade and III, Sonic I, II and III, Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic 3D,Sonic Spinball, Streets of Rage I, II and III, Super Thunder Blade, Story of Thor, Tip Top, Vectorman I and II, Zaxxon)
So how do you end an article on one of the best consoles created thus far? I haven't got a clue to be honest. Its not a failure in any way so there's no need to talk about what could've gone wrong or anything and it got more than its fair share of titles so its not like it wasn't properly supported. Its rivalry with the SNES was healthy for the industry. Hell, when you think about it, there was actually a lot of goodwill in the 16-Bit era. Awesome games, Great systems, gaming boom (although a lot smaller than subsequents generations) Maybe its just fanboys who hold grudges for consoles in that era. Looking back its impossible to state who was the winner. Must mean everyone was, regardless of the system! I suppose we could talk about the 32X? I'm just kidding with you on that folks! That's something for another day...maybe...

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