VOL 1: Sonic the Hedgehog, Thunder Force IV & Phantasy Star
VOL 1: Sonic the Hedgehog, Thunder Force IV & Phantasy Star
SEGA Ages Sonic the Hedgehog
Released - Sept 20 2018
Reviewed By - GreenViper8
Sonic the Hedgehog on Nintendo Switch was one of the 2 SEGA AGES launch titles released back in September of 2018, a line of games that I was eagerly anticipating despite all signs pointing to the series being dead on arrival in the west. SEGA announced that the subpar Mega Drive Classics collection would be coming to the Switch a mere day before the release of the first SEGA AGES titles, although the release date was thankfully on December 7th which meant I could sigh in relief when Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was revealed for the same day, killing the title dead in its tracks and hopefully restoring some hope in the SEGA AGES brand.
This was always going to be the harder of the 2 launch titles to sell the concept of (despite it including the blue blur’s name in the title, meaning it’ll sell a gazillion copies anyway) and with a cheap collection just down the pipeline on the same console featuring the game, M2’s console accurate port of Sonic 1 would have to fight for survival.
Also not helping was the social media backlash around the game, as it’s the popular “hot take” nowadays that Sonic 1 has been ported too many times (not even including the remakes and collections) so M2 would have to do a really fantastic job to make sure that the fans swallowed it up instead of being the vindictive keyboard warriors they always paint themselves as. The overall fan reception was that this port was uninteresting because anything that isn’t Christian Whitehead is not good enough in this day and age, but I’m here to raise the counterargument that actually I think this is the best way to experience the 1991 classic.
Nothing is too different in M2’s take on the game, and that’s the beauty of it in my opinion. Whereas the more popular Taxman remake from 2013 chops the game into little pieces to make it play more like Sonic 2 and 3 (and at points downright disrespects the original through Knuckles and Tails both making light work of the game’s level design, and not to mention the Sonic 3 shields which further break the speed and flow in my opinion), M2 respected the original vision of Naka and the team back in 1990 and 1991 and tries its absolute hardest to keep the restraints of the game in tact while introducing new features to make the experience a little more intuitive. The spindash is an almost required feature in classic Sonic titles nowadays, so of course it sees an appearance in SEGA AGES Sonic 1.
One feature that isn’t a given however and acts as M2’s trump card over Taxman’s remake is ironically a feature that he and his team created: the dropdash. It fits so perfectly into Sonic’s moveset that now playing the classics without it feels a little odd, so M2 with help from Iizuka managed to implement it into Sonic 1 and their future port of the 2nd game, which will also include the move alongside many new features. While it may feel a little inappropriate in certain areas, the parts of the game that let you be a speed freak were calling for a feature like this to be implemented. The speed it gives you could’ve done with being a little faster, as I found that while blasting through Green Hill it was actually causing me to lose momentum in some areas, but I’ll remain thankful that it isn’t as overpowered as the move is in Forces.
On the subject of time trials, Sonic 1 has a few bonus modes to speak of, the first being a comprehensive Green Hill Zone Act 1 time trial. There’s just two things to worry about, your own skills and the clock… and all of the enemies in your way too. The milliseconds added to the clock are a thankful addition, as are the exact button inputs that play alongside your replay which make this a great mode for speedrunners.
That brings me to my next point though, which is: why is this mode restricted to just one level? This made sense for later games in the lineup such as Alex Kidd in Miracle World, where it makes sense to just include time trials of the iconic stages, but Sonic 1 is a game built all around speed! Not only that, but that speedrunning community I just mentioned is large enough to justify the existence of a whole game time attack in this style, and the exact button inputs shown alongside the replay would instantly make this the most popular way to play this game in that regard! A very strange move in my opinion on M2’s part, and I hope this is corrected for Sonic 2. I should mention though, there is a full game time attack in the sense of Mega Play mode. This is a version of Sonic 1 developed for the arcade which features a counting down clock, with the aim being to rack up a high score while speeding through select edited zones in the game. The reason I don’t count this mode is the complete lack of Marble and Labyrinth, which were understandably too slow to remain in a quick arcade romp, not to mention the one life and you’re out policy which turns away any unseasoned Sonic 1 player quickly.
Aside from that one pretty sizable gripe though, Sonic 1 on Switch is well worth a purchase if you’re a fan of the series and especially if you’ve not touched the game before. The attention to detail and overall polish it provides to the most dated entry in the mainline series doesn’t go unnoticed, but this is definitely one for the accuracy nuts, otherwise if you have a smartphone I’m sure you know where to go by now…
SEGA Ages Thunder Force IV
Released - Sept 20 2018
Reviewed by - DrScottnik
I'll be the first to admit that I am terrible at Shoot-Em-Up titles. Despite being a fan of many gaming genres - action, platforming, racing & puzzle just to name a few - the Shoot-Em-Up style game has never really appealed to me. When Thunder Force IV was released via SEGA AGES, I didn't think much of it. Regardless of my views towards the Shoot-Em-Up genre, I picked it - and Sonic - up on day one to support the newly released AGES line. To my surprise, the more I saw of the game the more it clicked.
Thunder Force IV, known in the US as Lightning Force: Quest of the Dark Star, was published by Technosoft in 1992 in Japan; ‘93 in western markets. The Thunder Force series spanned six games from 1983 to 2008, and it wasn’t until 2016 that SEGA announced they had obtained the Thunder Force licence along with all of Technosoft’s intellectual properties. This led to them porting Thunder Force III onto the Sega 3D Classics Collection and then eventually this release on Switch: a nonlinear side scrolling Shoot-Em-Up. In it you can choose your levels preference, akin to Mega Man, as you pilot and shoot down the Ohn Empire who plan to destroy all of the human race. It has a fairly basic plotline but still successfully establishes the awesome encounters within the game.
One thing you notice immediately when playing is the presentation. Each scene breathes so much life and energy! The first time I laid my eyes on it I was in disbelief that it actually ran on the SEGA Mega Drive!
Playing through the game made me want to see more of these gorgeous landscapes. Dying over and over improved my skills and increased my enjoyment as my hand to eye co-ordination strengthened. Adding to this overwhelmingly enjoyable experience was the superb soundtrack. It’s a spectacular example of what the SEGA Mega Drive is capable of producing, especially for the time, as it effectively kept the action tense and frantic. All these elements combined to create the crucial first hook that drove me to my unexpected enjoyment of the game, eventually leading to me looking further into the Shoot-Em-Up genre as a whole.
This AGES release of the game adds many ‘quality of life’ improvements, the biggest one being the “Kid’s Mode” which adds additional handicaps. For example, this includes no longer losing weapons upgrades after getting hit. This brings about an easier playing experience for newcomers such as myself. The game also provides the option to “Reduce Processing Delay”, cleaning up much of the lag it originally had in its first release to the SEGA Mega Drive. This gives players the option to either play the game as it was originally released or to experience a somewhat smoother playthrough. Alongside these options you can also adjust the displays around from ‘Fit’, to ‘Vintage’, to ‘Dot by Dot’; as well as the ability to play in either the Japanese or the international version.
Additionally, once you complete the original mode of the game, STYX Mode is unlocked, allowing players to take control of the spacecraft from the third instalment in the series. This is a great incentive for players to complete the game.
It wasn’t until I had reached this very paragraph of the review that I decided to see what the general consensus was on this game. I’ve discovered that, unsurprisingly, this title is beloved by fans of the genre. It’s a crime to admit it but I had barely heard of this series before playing it! However I can easily see why it's so loved; its fun and addicting gameplay, beautiful visuals, and superb soundtrack make it a must-play SEGA Mega Drive classic!
SEGA Ages Phantasy Star
Released - Dec 13 2018 (West)
Reviewed By - MykonosFan
Phantasy Star is an iconic RPG series that laid the groundwork for what would become one of SEGA's most beloved franchises, alongside it's spin-off series that still continues to this day; Phantasy Star Online. I’ve always enjoyed trying older SEGA series to see what I missed out on due to being young, but with this game specifically I always feared that its age and its potential for obtuse progression would turn me off from playing it for long. And I'll be honest, I turned to a guide fairly quickly which helped me understand some odd quirks I may have struggled with otherwise.
If you haven't played the game before and are checking this release of the game out as a historical curiosity I'd recommend doing similarly, unless you’re the type to enjoy diving head-first into archaic games. Once I had a hand helping my modern design-minded mind however, I found a lot to enjoy in my time with this title.
There's plenty of old-school localization line strings that are amusing to me, and there’s just no denying that there’s an inherent pleasure in defeating wild monsters to level up your party. Those oddly translated strings of text contribute to Phantasy Star’s weird sense of style. The events of the game take place in a galaxy system with 3 planets; broadly the game is sci-fi themed but is actually pretty tame on that front. There's space travel, robots, etc., but perhaps due to the limitations of the system, the towns you visit all feel quaint and older in design. Additionally, you go through a lot of very natural, wooded areas; at least in the first planet, which comes together for an interesting mix of themes. My attention span boots me off of most games much earlier than I’d like these days, but there's a charm in the simplicity of Phantasy Star that struck even me, so I feel safe in saying that if you're also a newcomer and enjoy classic JRPGs, you'll become interested in the game pretty quickly and want to see more much like I did.
That said if you have played the game before you're probably wondering what separates this edition from its numerous other releases, and if this one in particular is worth your money. Simply put there are a lot of quality-of-life additions here that are great. At the time of this writing this version of the game arguably has the best additions of any game in the SEGA AGES lineup.
Firstly, there's a new mode that makes the game easier called AGES Mode, with an option for the original game's difficulty listed right underneath of it if you prefer. This mode is the way newcomers like me will probably want to try the game, but it may be a nice option for experienced players who just want to relive some nostalgia in a less frustrating way. There’s a few other nice options as well, like being able to choose from original or FM audio, and adding a bestiary is in the overlay menu, giving you stats and a short description on each monster you've faced in your save file so far. It even includes the number of each monster type you've defeated if you want to see hard stats put to your hours of grinding. A bestiary is a pretty minor inclusion all-in-all, but I really think it’s cool and is such an extra level of care that I can't help but love it.
Possibly the best addition of al can be found by adjusting your display options. With a certain setting, you can have your party's stats and money on screen at all times to help you stay informed during battle. I have gone this far without mentioning this, but Phantasy Star is partly a first-person dungeon crawler. This release of the game maps the dungeons you've been in as you go through, marking staircases, pitfalls, treasure chests, so on and so forth. I can not imagine playing this game without this feature now that I've experienced it this way. It almost feels essential.
Rivaling that for best additional feature is that anytime you pause your game with the AGES overlay, you get access to a few different lists that tell you what spells do and when you unlock them, and what items do and how much they cost. It’s fantastic information, and it's great to be able to quickly reference this any time you have a question without having to break away from the game to search the internet.
One final nice gameplay touch is that you can change your movement speed in the overlay options to a new, more agile pace. On top of it all, at the main menu you can find a music player to directly compare any original and FM track with each other.
As you can see, there are a lot of bonus goodies here that make this game more welcoming to players both new and old. The best part is, if you want to keep it pure and shirk off any of these extras, you always have the option to play it without any frills. I still need to find time to finish Phantasy Star, but I feel pretty confident in recommending it to JRPG fans, and those interested in the history of SEGA’s classic franchises. It's an important part of the company’s history, and the game is still enjoyable today...just don’t be too ashamed if you need a guide to help with some tricky spots.
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