Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox
Genre: Compilation
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: November 2, 2004
ESRB Rating: E

About two years late, Sonic Mega Collection Plus is the PS2 and XBox counterpart of the GameCube's Sonic Mega Collection. If I understand correctly, its contents are more or less the equivalent of the Japanese version of the SMC, which contained several more games than the North American version. Why Sega decided to screw its North American GameCube-owning customers on this, I've no idea. But then, Sega isn't known nowadays for making great development decisions. This collection is a case in point. Here's a list of the games included:

Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Game Gear: Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Labyrinth, Sonic Chaos, Sonic Drift, Sonic Blast, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Unlockables (all Genesis games): Blue Sphere, Flicky, Sonic 2 & Knuckles, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, The Ooze, Comix Zone, Ristar

First of all, you read that right: this collection does not have the Game Gear version of Sonic 2 or Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble. Instead, they give us a crappy Mario Kart ripoff, and of course, the 8-bit version of a game that was already present in its 16-bit version, with no difference between the two except that the former has less robust graphics and sound. I'd like to meet the genius who hatched that idea. (Probably the same guy who thought the upcoming pet simulator for the Nintendo DS, formerly called "Nintendogs", should be renamed to "Puppy Times".1) This was especially irritating to me because while I still have my Genesis and can hook it up if I want to play some Sonic & Knuckles, I sold off my Game Gear and its games as a teenager. But the point is that it just doesn't make sense: Why neglect to include two legitimate Sonic games in favor of two gimmicky selections that only had the words "Sonic" or "Robotnik" on them for marketing purposes?

The games play well enough, although the analog stick seems to move Sonic (et. al.) a little too quickly. Unfortunately, there are some problems related to the fact that these games are emulated rather than ported. The first is actually related to in the manual; it says (and I quote), "Your gameplay may be interrupted by screen distortions and graphical errors -- press the R1 button and return to the Title Screen to escape from such interruptions." This means having to start your game all over again, if you haven't saved. Controls in some games are also a bit odd; most are spared since the majority of Sonic games consist of using the D-Pad and a button for jumping, but in particular, Sonic Spinball has issues with the flipper controls. The game emulates three of your PS2 or XBox controller's face buttons as the face buttons on the Genesis controller; but since the former use an "X" or 2x2 format and the Genesis controller used a single row of three, it can be a bit counterintuitive. While you can alter which buttons are interpreted as what to some degree, this doesn't completely solve the problem, and there's one place in particular where it's practically a game-breaker: In the special stages of Sonic Spinball, where you must hit all three face buttons simultaneously in order to shake the table. Needless to say, this is difficult to do given the layout of PS2 and XBox controllers.

Then there's the saves. As I said before, these games are being emulated; and like most emulators, they use save states; in other words, it saves at the precise moment you tell it to, rather than saving at the end of a level or somesuch. I'm not going to argue about the relative merits of this, but there is the fact that SMC+ is very particular about how these saves are loaded. First of all, you cannot simply turn on your console, have SMC+ load, and select a saved game. No. You have to go into the games list, select the game you want to play, and then load your saved game. If you try to load a saved game while playing a different game, you will receive an error to the effect that this was not the information you saved for that game. SMC+ also takes longer than any other PS2 game I've seen to read memory cards. I've clocked it at 45 seconds, which doesn't sound like a lot, but compared to most games (even those that use up a lot of space, like Beyond Good & Evil and Max Payne 2), it's a damned long time.

Then there's the bonus material. I'll start with the unlockables. I personally dislike the concept of unlockables in the first place (my point of view is: I paid for the damn game, give me all the content that's on it), but SMC+'s really take the cake. Two of them (The Ooze and Comix Zone) are the easiest, but the most expensive: they require that your memory card has a save on it from Sonic Heroes (by all accounts, a mediocre game at best). (There's apparently another way of unlocking Comix Zone: You have to play SMC+ for 30 hours straight, or at least leave it on without the emulator's menu.) The rest require you to play such-and-such games 20 or 30 times. Mind you, "playing" in this case apparently just means seeing the title screen, but even so, it's an irritant.

The rest of the bonus material is all rather pointless. It consists of scans of a hundred or so covers from Sonic the Hedgehog comic books (in a somewhat unintuitive browser), some pictures of the characters which you can find anywhere online, and some full-motion video from the aforementioned Sonic Heroes.

You know what I would have liked to see, instead of all this wasted space for movies from a game I'll never buy and covers to comic books I'll never read? How about Sonic CD? How about Knuckles Chaotix? We're coming up on the third iteration of console hardware since the Genesis, and yet we still haven't seen either of these in a collection. Geez, they possibly could have fit the first Sonic Adventure on this thing. But instead we get Sonic Drift and two versions of the Mean Bean Machine. Glorious. Next, Nintendo will cap off a collection of games featuring our favorite Italian plumbers with the fabulous edutainment hit, "Mario Teaches Typing".

The Bottom Line: If you're a fan of the old Sonic games (and who isn't?) and there's even one game on that list that you don't have easy access to, you might as well pick up Sonic Mega Collection Plus. I mean, it's only $20; that's less than any of those games debuted for. Just don't hope for anything special, like certain games that are incredibly difficult to find anymore. That would be expecting too much of Sega.

1: To clarify: When I wrote this - just a few days before the Nintendo DS launched - Nintendogs had undergone an official name change to "Puppy Times". Thankfully, since then, someone told someone that was an idiotic name, and they changed it back.

Everything here's my own, except the info on unlockables, which came from the relevant entry on GameFAQs.

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