Sonic Classic Collection
Saturday, 13th March 2010, 12:18am (UTC), 2 Comments
The new baby brother of the "Sonic Something Collection" series is here, once again offering classic Mega Drive action to yet another platform, in the form of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles and thankfully the experiments of the cross-breeding of Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 2 and 3 (though not 1, sadly). Clearly by Sega's reckoning, if you don't have these titles playable on at least five different things then there's something wrong with you. The key thing about Sonic Classic Collection though (and indeed if it weren't for this simple fact I personally would have very little interest in this umpteenth compendium) is that it's on the Nintendo DS, and therefore portable.

Gathering all four of these gems, plus their cross-breeds in any officially portable form has never been easy. Sonic 1 and 2 starred quite successfully in a Sega compilation on the PSP, and I believe S&K appears on a little nostalgic Sega handheld, but this collection promises a much simpler solution. I find myself on a train on a monthly basis throughout most of the year, and quite often I've had a certain itch for vintage Sonic like Momma used to make. Trains are dead boring after all. In particular I wanted to finally have Sonic 3 & Knuckles, in my view the greatest game ever created, in the palms of my hands, which has never been possible until now, so naturally I was anticipating this collection quite eagerly. It arrived on pre-order very early, just in time for my most recent train journey, and I thought I'd share my findings with you all..

Make no mistake about it, this is a real bare-bones compilation. The EasyJet of Sonic compilations, if you like. Its minimal menu system reminds me of compilation cartridges on the Mega Drive, such as Sonic Compilation or that 6-in-1 thing that had Sonic 1 on it. It offers a set of basic character illustrations from the games that it features (which you've seen dozens of times and surely can't be in that high demand as far as viewing anywhere, any time is concerned), but that's it in the extras department. No videos, no unlockables, no music, no comics. The only other thing is a list of credits that are remotely fun to watch only because various sprites have been placed so that, for example, Knuckles is clinging on for dear life off the edge of some guy's name. Oh, you guys. You're such pranksters.

What I found far more interesting is the music that accompanies the whole menu system. Anyone who collected the minimal Sonic titles on the Sega Saturn will receive a blast from the past when they realise they're listening to the theme of "Sonic World" Sonic's first ever fully 3D environment, which served as an explorable hub into various museums of worthwhile extras, found within the first proper compilation title, Sonic Jam. What an obscure, albeit highly relevant thing to bring back. I'd liked to have had the Sonic 3 data select slow remix that also features in those museums as well.

However, we're agile online Sonic fans, any extra trinket that we want, we can get, so who needs em on a little DS cartridge? It's the games that I want. How do they fare? Well enough, I would say. I began with Sonic 3 (at first not realising that S3&K was further on in the menu system and no unlocking is required - I blame the scary and unfamiliar American boxarts that got me all confused). I think I was expecting as perfect an experience as any other emulation of it when I first loaded it up. That's not the case, so you shouldn't expect it either. If I were to describe it with a metaphor, I would say that if you consider a normal PC emulation of these games as the equivalent of Digital radio, then these versions are a bit like FM radio on good reception. They're clear enough, they get the point across and they do the job, it's just not quite a smooth a ride as it would be elsewhere.

Frame rate is the main culprit for this. Unless you have exceptionally high standards (and some of you do), then it's not what I'd call horrendous. It's perfectly playable, and the only real slowdown you get is when you lose a lot of rings, which has always happened really, so it rarely intrudes on your ability to play the game. I played most of Sonic 3 on my train journey and didn't really encounter any technical problems to stop me from playing the game about as well as I would on any other system. That said, the frame rate can get noticeably inconsistent. I know there were some concerns in previews of this problem, and I think those have been adjusted, however despite some reports of the final version, I don't think the problem has been erased entirely. These sudden drops aren't quite as severe as Sonic Adventure DX, which would go from 30 to 60 every few seconds - the margin of difference isn't anywhere near that high, however it is somewhat comparable by frequency and the fact that it's not always obvious things, like a lot happening on screen, that seem to cause it, it can occur at any time. It's not necessarily when running full pelt either, which can often be a perfectly smooth ride. If you're a complete purist then it might bother you, but if you just want a perfectly reasonable, playable rendition of classic Sonic on your handheld then you'll be fine with it, and you can get used to it fairly quickly.

Audio is crucial, it is is surely impossible to get the same amount of fun out of these levels without being able to hear their glorious tunes, and fortunately everything sounds about right. Going back to my radio analogy, this is also particularly reminiscent of FM as opposed to digital, perhaps just down to the hardware of the DS, as it's rather sort of tinny and muffled, even with earphones. Bit of a shame, but at least it's the original versions of the tunes and not recreated ones like the much loathed and ridiculed Sonic 1 GBA port. Again, you get used to them. Like Sonic Jam, this compilation appears to feature music separate from the actual emulation. It's all the right tunes (well, almost - I did notice Sonic 3 mini-boss music in the mini-bosses of S&K - WTF?), and they all play at the right times, but it does mean that when you get an extra life, the tune then restarts where it should have just carried on, ala Sonic Advance. I noticed in a couple of levels like Casino Night and Launch Base, they don't quite loop properly either. However, this does mean, and I haven't yet got far enough to confirm this, that you should be able to play Star Light and Sky Sanctuary without the chimes of rings and other objects completely interrupting the particularly beautiful melody. In theory. That always really bothered me.

The other interesting thing about this interpretation of these games is the fact that the full 320 x 224 screen resolution doesn't quite fit into the resolution of the DS. At first, from screenshots I thought they'd just clipped off the very corners of the full screen, but what they've done is made it so that the actual area of the screen, the window into Sonic's world if you like, is a tad smaller. So when you face a boss that is normally designed to be in a window that perfectly matches the normal 320 x 224 resolution, so that normally the camera won't move, it will nudge over a bit here. There aren't really any problems with this, apart from the fact that in Sonic 2, you can run around behind the score tally bit and actually move all of the results left and right by a few pixels, which is actually more amusing than problematic. Actually shows that the developers might have had a harder time bringing these games to this format than others if they had to go to the trouble of making those kind of changes. In addition, somewhat predictably, there are no 2 player modes. When you start up Sonic 2, the options for character select appear where your player mode or options menu would normally be (which means no 19,65,09,17 level select cheat!), and Competition has been removed from Sonic 3's similar list.

Now the DS has two screens, right? So what have they got on the other screen? Well, not a whole lot, and this is, I think, the biggest shame of it all. You have the ability to save and load your game for Sonic 1, 2 and S&K (Sonic 3 already has this feature anyway of course), and there are touch screen buttons here to do that, except it'll only save your progress from the start of the current act you're in (or level for S&K), and not the actual state. You get a very brief summary of the game's plot and you can bring up a list of controls and moves to pull off, and the pause button has curiously been moved from Start to a button on the touch screen. This is such a missed opportunity though, where else are you going to be able to so easily add a piece of relevant information to one of these games, while you're playing it? I've tweeted about this fairly recently, but wouldn't it be great if they were able to add, in essence, a mini Zone: 0 in that bottom screen? As soon as you enter a level you can bring up info about its badniks and objects. They could finally give a kind of hints system to the games, if it could analyse where you are in the level and bring up a relevant point to guide you if you're near enough to an area that you could get stuck on (the Carnival Night barrel would be the obvious example). Hell, you could even have a map that tracks your location and that you could zoom in and out to see the different routes. It'd all make the games a lot easier admittedly, but perhaps there could be an unlocking system to it, and lets be honest, who hasn't played all of this before anyway?

So in summary, Sonic Classic Collection does what it says on the tin, but little else. That's fair enough I suppose, but as a Sonic fan, it's a great shame that they didn't/couldn't do more creative things with that bottom screen. Just looking down and seeing it with a slightly pathetic little description, not really knowing what to do with itself is a pity. Even just a bit of level specific info (take it from this site, Sega! I'll happily give you what I've written for the unpublished guides too) couldn't have been that taxing on the developers, considering they've messed around with quite a lot of things in the game anyway. It's that kind of effort that wins favour with the fans and makes it worthwhile to buy the same games over and over again.

Whether or not you should buy this depends entirely on your lifestyle. If you don't get out much, then there's probably not a lot here for you except for the sake of owning everything Sonic, ever (an expensive habit, I should know). However, if you do a fair bit of traveling (unless you're the one driving of course) and have often thought how much fun you could be having bouncing off of bumpers in Spring Yard or getting high off of pixelated fungi in Mushroom Hill, instead of staring out the window at cows, this is worth a look. It's a portable collection of reasonably accurate, perfectly playable renditions of four and a bit of the greatest games (scratch that, four of the greatest things - scratch that too, the four greatest things) in the history of creation, and whatever way you look at it, that's a good thing. Even if the overall packaging could be more interesting and unique.
Comments   2 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by supersonicsmash on Saturday, 13th March 2010, 8:36pm
Oh, yeah I heard of hits on wikipeidia the same day I found out about Sonic 4 being named Sonic 4. But the real name is Sonic 4 episode 1.
#2. Comment posted by GreenBird on Wednesday, 31st March 2010, 6:02pm
I'm a little disappointed with how little extras we got this time around, especially with what we got with Mega Collection, ah well. Still hoping for a portable version of Sonic CD.
Featured Posts
Sonic's latest Wii U outing turns away from the popular and well established speed dashes of recent games, in favour of a more traditional platformer approach. But does it work? Get ready for one of the most different Sonic games in every respect!
We've finally done it! The Zone: 0 guides have reached their last big update. Owner LiQuidShade has new projects on the horizon, but this site will always remain in his heart.