Games have come a long, long way since the early ’90s, and yet, even as many developers aim to advance the medium as much as they can, still others try to recapture that retro pixel look and feel. I fondly remember the Sega Genesis. I didn’t have one myself, but a good friend of mine did. What I did have was a Game Gear, Sega’s handheld that essentially took some of the most popular Genesis games on the go. Because of my history with the Genesis, I was eager to get my hands on the Sega Genesis Classics, a brand new PS4 collection of 50 classic Genesis games. Sometimes though, the past is best left in the past.
What’s the first game you’d go for when booting up an enormous library of Sega Genesis games? There are a number of notable entries worth of that pole position, but of course the old staple is Sonic the Hedgehog. And it certainly is Sonic, yet again. The original outing video games’ original speedster has been updated and brought to modern consoles more times than I care to count, so it’s hard to really get excited by playing it again. After gliding through Green Hill Zone Act 1, I quickly ejected the cartridge and went to the shelf to search for another game.
No, that doesn’t mean I stopped playing Sega Genesis Classics. The retro games collection’s main menu is set up like a ’90s gamer’s bedroom, complete with CRT television, gaming posters on the walls, and a shelf that holds the 50 game cartridges you can play. Selecting one will pop the cartridge into the virtual Genesis console to begin playing. It’s a clever way to really play on the nostalgia that fans have not only for the games, but for the environment that they may have played these games in. My own experience with the Genesis was a friend’s upstairs loft that they had converted into a little gaming den. It’s where we’d roll out the sleeping bags for sleepovers, playing various Sega classics all night long.
It’s sad then that I can’t say I had the same wave of nostalgia for the games themselves. A few of the games have aged well and retain a moderate amount of fun. Comix Zone always delights me with its unique style. Altered Beast is a particular favorite choice of mine. Even Sonic, the oversaturated blue ball of fun, has aged relatively well (minus his Sonic 3D counterpart. That game is just terrible). As well as any of these games have aged though, I quickly realized that they weren’t what I wanted to sit down and play. When booting up my PS4, my first choice isn’t to play retro titles from 25 years ago. I don’t want to do a full playthrough of any of them. I immediately got bored of most of these games mere moments after loading them up.
Gaming on Nostalgia
I realized that I liked the idea of these classic games more than I liked the games themselves. My love for them came from a memory of being under 10 years old, and everything that went with that age and time period. Nostalgia is a fickle beast to play on. While the Sega Genesis may be embedded at the roots of my love for games, alongside the likes of the NES/SNES and original PlayStation, it doesn’t mean that I actually want to relive those classic moments. There’s a good reason that games have advanced in the ways that they have in the last 30 years. Trying to position these retro classics against the games of today is bound to be a losing fight in most cases.
Yet, leaning into that nostalgia is also what Sega Genesis Classics does best, and it has an awareness that people don’t necessarily want to do a full playthrough of each game in the collection. Added trophies and challenges provide something to work towards, a modern gaming twist on a classic idea. For many of the challenges, the game actually allows you to load up that specific stage/area of the game. In this way, there’s an almost arcade-like aspect to it. I may not want to do a full playthrough of Golden Axe II, but I’ll load up a boss fight again and again in an effort to complete that low-health challenge and eventually get a trophy for it. Getting the Platinum trophy on Sega Genesis Classics will be no easy feat, but it at least provides a reason to come back and play.
If you really want to embrace the retro nostalgia, there are a number of options that allow you to do things like add a curve and scanlines to the screen to mimic an old CRT screen. You can also go the other way and use one of a number of pixel smoothers that artificially make each game a little bit more high definition. Leaderboards for many of the games and the ability to play two-player titles with online multiplayer adds a splash of the modern era to these classics. The collection could have afforded to add more history to the games with unlockable art, covers, and other special features to entice more reasons to relive each of these titles.
At the end of the day, Sega Genesis Classics is simply a collection of 50 games from 25 years ago that will inspire brief moments of nostalgia. It’s not the first collection of Sega games to release, and I’d be hard pressed to say it will be the last. Mechanically, it’s a functional game collecting a bunch of other games, and the developers did a fine job reaching the status quo. It’s full of some hits, a few misses, and a number of real stinkers. I looked at Sega Genesis Classics with rose-tinted glasses. Nostalgia is a hard card to play right. The menu effectively creates that feeling of being a young kid gaming again, but the games themselves rarely managed to recapture the magic my 10-year-old self saw in them.
Sega Genesis Classics review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on Standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.