Sonic Classic Collection
Popping the Sonic Classic Collection cart into my DS and turning it on was strangely troubling. Despite Sega having been out of the hardware market since the ill-fated (but fantastic) Dreamcast there's still something weird about playing their most iconic character on a Nintendo console. I know we've had the Sonic and Mario at the Olympics titles on the Wii and DS but still, as a child of the heated Sega vs. Nintendo console wars of the early nineties, it feels more than a little strange to boot up stone cold classics like the early Sonic games on a Nintendo.
Of course it shouldn't really feel odd, we've had plenty of chance to get used to seeing Sonic on other platforms, the post Dreamcast years has seen the speedy blue hedgehog grace pretty much every platform around with new games and re-releases of his sixteen-bit classics. Unfortunately this overwhelming sense of familiarity turns out to be the biggest stumbling block with this DS compilation.
First things first, what do you get for your money? Well anyone who (rightly in my opinion) claims Sonic has never been as good since as he was in his 2D Megadrive days will be pleased to find that this compilation holds all four of his 16bit outings, thats Sonic, 1, 2 and 3 as well as Sonic and Knuckles. Also included are the alternative 'lock-on' versions of Sonic 2 and 3 which enabled owners of Sonic and Knuckles to play as Knuckles in both games, assuming they still owned copies to plug into the top of their Sonic and Knuckles cartridge. Each game has made the jump onto the DS pretty much intact, there's some resolution loss for obvious reasons but on the small DS screen you'll barely notice the difference and otherwise they all seem exactly as you remember them.
Which is where the problems start really. While there's no doubting their status as classics there's also only so many times you want to play exactly the same game. At some point surely Sega (and every other publisher guilty of over flogging an ageing back catalogue) are going to have to finally consign games like this to history and stop porting them to every new console that appears. I admit the urge for some nostalgia is hard to resist, I remember getting excited when the original Sonic first appeared on XBLA for example, but surely the entire target market for these games must own at least one version of them by now? To be fair, there is some added value here because of the handheld nature of the DS, the short(ish) levels found in Sonic games proving well suited to mobile play.
It doesn't help when youre desperately looking for signs of value for money when there's almost no glitz or fanfare around the games themselves either. A simple game select menu and a miniscule smattering of pretty dull artwork is all you'll find holding the games together, surely there's more that could have been done to tempt weary fans into purchasing? Disappointingly the single 'new' feature that claims to have been added, the ability to save your game anywhere, simply doesn't do what it says on the tin. Yes, you can click the save icon at any point and it seems to do its job, the trouble is should you then want to reload you'll realise that what it actually does is dump you back to the start of the level you saved on rather than the exact spot you were at. Call me picky but that's not what 'save anywhere' means in my book.
Of course, the flip side to me moaning about how we've all played these games a hundred times before is that despite this they still remain great fun to play. As examples of 2D platforming they're hard to beat and proof, if proof were needed, that Sonic became the global brand he is for a damn good reason. Played here on the DS, where all touch-screen gimmicks have wisely been relegated to menu selecting and nowt else, the speed, fluidity and sheer pleasure to be found in the gameplay remain undiminished in a way that can't be said of many other games from the same era.
I love the early Sonic games as much as the next gamer but honestly, does the world really need another port to another console? It's not that the port itself is poor (no frills yes, but not poor) it's just that its all going to feel a little pointless to the majority of gamers who are likely to be interested. If you want a Sonic game on your DS and accept that its offering nothing new then fine, this is perfect for you. However, despite the undeniable quality of the games themselves, for everyone else who's probably played these exact games various times before, the motivation to put your hand in your pocket is probably a lot weaker.