Hey! Did you see the MegaDrive/Genesis Mini at SegaFes this year?
Well, unless you were in Akihabara, I doubt you saw it in person, but the initial reveal was broadcast live on Sega’s YouTube channel. And while they haven’t announced the entire games lineup yet, what’s included is very interesting! Sonic 2 and Shining Force are gimmes, but stuff like Madou Monogatari, Vampire Killer/Castlevania Bloodlines, and Wrestleball — Wrestleball! — make me feel like this’ll be the first of the mini-consoles that I actually buy.
Of course, they announced the US version too, along with a bunch of its games, and… well, the lineup is considerable less exciting, in my opinion. Are there still people out there who regard Altered Beast as anything besides a gay-subtext-laden exercise in camp with miserable gameplay? And seriously, how many of the people potentially buying this thing would have even finished Ecco the Dolphin?
Then again, we still haven’t seen the full lineup of either platform, so perhaps it’s too early to judge. Still, from the early look, the Japanese MegaDrive Mini is a lot more in line with my tastes.
Of course, the MegaDrive Mini is the latest in a flood of mini-consoles that began with the NES classic: tiny little plug-and-play replicas of the classic systems with a curated selection of games that represents the platform’s history. Nintendo, SNK, and Sony have all released mini-consoles of this nature, to varying degrees of success. (You can’t seem to give away PlayStation Classics at this point.) After eeing the stumbles others have had — and having licensed out a fair few MD games to cheap plug-and-play manufacturers, to often poor results — Sega’s decided to take their time with the MD Mini. Good for them, and good for us Sega fans!
However, this all got me thinking. Retro compilations are a tricky beast: Most companies are content to just slap as many ROMs as they can on a disc, quality and adaptability be damned, often without really testing or adjusting anything. Remember how Xybots has a completely unmapped button in Midway Arcade Treasures 2, rendering it unplayable? Remember how Microsoft was so desperate for GameRoom content that they offered Atari 2600 Venetian Blinds, which is literally a game where venetian blinds open and close?)
Making a retro compilation is easy. Making a good retro compilation takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and effort. Part of the reason why the NES and SNES Classics sold gangbusters was that they picked a whole mess of good, representative games for them!
But you don’t really understand how hard making something like a classic compilation is until you try to do it yourself. When it comes to picking a game lineup (to say nothing of actually doing the emulation work), there’s a lot of factors to take into consideration.
So you know what? Let’s give it a shot.
I’m going to take my all-time favorite console — the Sega Saturn — and try and pick a selection of games that not only have broad commercial appeal, but represent what made the Saturn special compared to all of the other consoles of the mid-late 90s.
So let’s do this, folks. We’re going to make a (totally theoretical) Sega Saturn Classic!
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to consider a global Saturn library here rather than making a different game mix for each territory. A lot of the Saturn’s best games were Japan-exclusive, and if we really want to represent what the system did best, we have to include some of those. (We could also theoretically translate the games for the first time — easier said than done, yes, but let’s indulge the fantasy.
Also, I should mention that Frank Cifaldi hof Digital Eclipse — the fine folks behind such recent releases as SNK 40th Anniversary — has talked a bit in his panels at various events about what goes into making these collections. I’m probably going to crib a bit from him here unintentionally, as a lot of the ideas he’s spoken about in his presentations overlap with my own about what makes a good selection for a retro compilation package.
So, perhaps the easiest way to approach a curated game collection is through categories. There’s the obvious desire to have a bunch of different game genres to fully represent a console or developer’s library: Action, RPG, adventure, shooters, beat-em-ups, fighting games, et cetera. But these also intersect with a different set of categories, ones we tend to think about a lot less. Having a strong mix of these makes a retro package so much better. Let’s go through these categories:
- THE DEFINING GAMES — if you owned this console, there is an extremely high chance you have played or owned one of these games. For the Saturn, this would be stuff like Virtua Fighter 2, Daytona, NiGHTS, and Panzer Dragoon. Taking Japan into consideration, you can add in Sakura Wars. These are the games that an average Joe or Jill looking at a box back would see and say “Hey, I remember playing this!”
- MAINSTREAM APPEAL — this applies more for a retro console compilation than other types of collections, but here, we’re looking for games that maybe weren’t platform-exclusive, but have name recognition that will also draw in the same sort of buyer I talked about above. For the Saturn, this would include games like Tomb Raider, Megaman X4, Puyo Puyo Tsuu, Saturn Bomberman, Thunderforce V, Dodonpachi, and Street Fighter Alpha 2: games that are part of big, well-loved series that could sweeten a package with more games someone would have fond memories of.
- FAN FAVORITES — these games aren’t ones that everyone played, but if you were a dedicated fan of the platform or company, you probably had a lot of fun with these titles. For the Saturn, this would include games like Guardian Heroes, Clockwork Knight 2, Die Hard Arcade/Dynamite Deka, Burning Rangers, and Astal.
- CULT CLASSICS — Getting a bit more obscure here. These games weren’t mainstream hits, but they’re still well regarded by console/company devotees and have stood the test of time. They’re the game used to get a more devoted fan to open their wallet. There are plenty of these in the Saturn lineup: Keio Flying Squadron 2, Dragon Force, and Chaos Seed are just a few examples.
- BIG MONEY GAMES — One understated point of appeal for retro collections is the ability to get hard-to-obtain and expensive games for a far more reasonable price. A lot of these games converge with the Cult Classics category, and their inclusion serves as a way to make old and new fans alike very happy. (Maybe not-so-much for collectors who worry about their collection’s value depreciating from re-releases, but screw ’em.) The Saturn’s got a whole mess of these: Psychic Killer Taromaru, Radiant Silvergun, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Shining Force III spring immediately to mind.
Okay, so with all this in mind, let’s narrow down our theoretical Saturn Classic to just thirty games!
… Yeah, you can already see this isn’t going to be easy, huh? And there are more things to take into consideration that you might not realize at first:
- Do we want to include M rated games? Part of the appeal of retro collections — especially the micro-consoles — is for older folks to share the games they enjoyed with younger family members. When M rated games come into the mix, that could turn off potential parents. With the Saturn, a lot of popular mature-audiences games in Japan weren’t just games with blood and gore: the system had quite a few toned-down ports of PC-98 eroge that were still pretty racy. Generally, it feels like companies don’t want to take their compilations past a T rating, so let’s stick to that rule here. Sadly, that eliminates stuff like Saturn Resident Evil and Deep Fear, along with other well-regarded Japanese releases like Yu-No and The People of Nonomura Hospital.
- Are there licensing problems? Magic Knight Rayearth is a favorite among Saturn fans, but as it’s based on an anime based on a manga, there could be some messy legal issues with its inclusion. Same with Saturn X-Men versus Street Fighter. The same problem afflicts a lot of sports games: team, player, even sponsor licenses would need to be renewed, and that’s too much trouble.
- Does it needs extra peripherals? Or, perhaps I should rephrase that — are those peripherals easy to emulate and/or necessary to enjoy the game? There are a few games that use the Sega Saturn 1MB and 4MB ram carts, but those should be (theoretically) easy to emulate. NiGHTS is best played on the analog controller, but it is possible to play on a standard D-pad — an option to use a different controller than the stock Saturn pad could be offered. But what about the Virtua Gun? Yes, you can play stuff like Virtua Cop 2 without it, but it really sucks to do so. It’s probably best to leave light-gun stuff off altogether.
- How much of a series (or pseudo-series) do we need to include? Panzer Dragoon is a franchise heavily associated with the Saturn, as most of its main games were on the platform. There’s a good argument to be made for including all three Saturn PD games — I mean, the NES Classic has Mario 1, 2, and 3, and Mario Bros, because those games so strongly defined the system’s legacy. But another thing that defined the Saturn’s identity was Sega’s 3D fighters: Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers, Fighters Megamix, and Last Bronx. Given that Fighters Megamix has characters from both VF and FV in it, wouldn’t it make more sense to include that rather than the other two games? Well, not exactly — VF2 has a lot more name recognition for the consumer, and FV has features that FMM doesn’t. Those are big things to keep in mind.
- Does this reflect well on the console? As Saturn and kusoge fans both know, Death Crimson is a part of the console’s legacy in a very special way. I would love nothing more than a vehicle by which to expose the magic of Death Crimson to the masses. But let’s be real here: if we put Death Crimson in the box, it could sour the experience for a lot of those who don’t already know what they’re getting into. Yes, you could include a lot of museum-like features explaining it, but not everyone’s gonna read those. The prevailing reaction will be “why the hell did they waste a game slot on this?”, and that’s not a reaction we’d want. (Also, the lightgun problem.) But then you’ve got something like Sonic R, which, while not super fondly remembered, is still important due to being a Sonic game and a Saturn exclusive. I mean, you gotta have at least one Sonic on a Sega collection, right? And there’s not a lot to pick from…
So, taking all of this into account, let’s see if we can narrow down a list of thirty games for a Saturn Classic. Let’s go by genre.
- ACTION/PLATFORMER: Clockwork Knight was Sega’s first major attempt at a platformer series on the Saturn. It didn’t wind up as big as they had hoped, but there’s some nostalgia to be had. The second game is leagues better than the first, so we’ll put that on there. Astal is colorful and unique enough to be included, as well. Keio Flying Squadron 2 is more niche, but it scratches that “cult classic” itch nicely, plus it’s a platform exclusive, and Taromaru would be a huge get for people who can’t pay its outrageous asking price. NiGHTS is a no-brainer, and Burning Rangers should make the cut, too, as it’s a part of Sonic Team history and would allow people to enjoy a very pricey game. Tomb Raider would be a strong addition to bring in a more general audience, and Megaman X4 would represent one of gaming’s most enduring icons. Finally, out of all the Sonic games on Saturn, Sonic R would be my pick for inclusion: Sonic Jam is just a Megadrive compilation, and 3D Blast is just a Megadrive port. Yikes, that’s nine of our thirty games down already!
- RPG: Grandia should definitely make the list, as should Sakura Wars 1 and 2. Dragon Force is a favorite, and the first is generally considered a better game than the second. Shining Force III… well, it depends if we can package all three scenarios as one game, otherwise it would eat up too much of the lineup. And, of course, Panzer Dragoon Saga is essential. We should put one of the Shin Megami Tensei games in the mix, too — Devil Summoner would be good. And what about cult classics Chaos Seed and Princess Crown? We’re up to 18 games now. See how quickly this list can fill up?
- Shooting: Panzer Dragoon 1 and 2 should be here — they’re not only great games in their own right, but help define the Saturn as a platform. For more traditional arcade shooters, we’ve got Radiant Silvergun (cult classic that’s stupid expensive) alongside Thunderforce V (a series often associated with Sega). Dodonpachi is a maybe. 23 games now.
- Beat-em-ups: Guardian Heroes is a must for sure. Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade should also be in the mix — just dump the license, use the Japanese version, and it should work out fine. 25 games.
- Fighting games: Street Fighter Alpha 2 is well regarded and had an excellent Saturn port, and having something Street Fighter will add that bit of brand recognition. Virtua Fighter 2 is a defining game for the platform, and Fighting Vipers is also well regarded — but Fighters Megamix combines elements of both. Then there’s Last Bronx, too. Virtual On could be considered, but I feel like fans of that series don’t really have a big attachment to the Saturn port and it’s never been a mainstream hit, so I’d say no. Vampire Savior was a solid Saturn port of a well-loved fighting game, as well, so that one could potentially make the cut — Vampire Hunter’s port suffers some animation cuts and other compromises that make it less appealing than its followup. Eep, we’ve already gone past thirty, and we’re not done yet!
- Sports/racing: Most sports games need licenses and are horrifically outdated anyway, but Daytona is so closely associated with the Saturn that not including it would be a crime. Let’s go with the Daytona CCE version for this console. And perhaps something like Fire Pro Wrestling 6 Man Scramble would work to satiate all the wrestledorks out there — it’s a well-liked installment in a fan favorite series. So that’s thirty-three.
- Other stuff: Some folks might consider adding the Segata Sanshiro minigame compilation, but having played those games, I can assure you that is a terrible idea. What I’d like to put in instead is one of the KAZe digital pinball games: either Last Gladiators or Necronomicon. Necronomicon has the killer soundtrack, so let’s do that one. Puyo Puyo Tsuu might be one to consider, but that game’s been reissued on so many platforms in so many ways that I feel like it’s not as necessary as one might think at first. Also, given that the Saturn had a substantial library of gal-ge and visual/sound novels, something along those lines should be in the mix, too: I think a lot of folks might consider adding the Saturn version of Tokimeki Memorial, but personally, I think a better addition would be Chunsoft’s Machi, the critically beloved predecessor to 428.
So there we go, a big, diverse lineup. But we’re five games over our thiry-game limit! So, what do we cut?
Let’s look at the list again:
Clockwork Knight 2, Astal, Keio Flying Squadron 2, Psychic Killer Taromaru, NiGHTS, Burning Rangers, Tomb Raider, Megaman X4, Sonic R, Grandia, Sakura Wars, Sakura Wars 2, Dragon Force, Shining Force III, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Devil Summoner, Chaos Seed, Princess Crown, Panzer Dragoon, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, Radiant Silvergun, Thunderforce V, Dodonpachi, Guardian Heroes, Dynamite Deka, SF Alpha 2, Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers, Fighters Megamix, Last Bronx, Vampire Savior, Daytona CCE, Fire Pro Six Man Scramble, Necronomicon, Machi.
The first thing we want to cut are redundant games. As I mentioned before, while Fighters Megamix has elements of Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers in it, both of those games have features FMM doesn’t. Still, much as it pains me, Saturn VF2 has a lot more recognition than Saturn FV does, so the latter gets cut. Sakura Wars and Panzer Dragoon are two series that are important to the identity of the console, so we probably shouldn’t touch those.
How about the less mainstream stuff? Keio Flying Squadron 2 might seem like an easy cut, but it’s a platform exclusive and offers some good variety to the package. Chaos Seed, though well regarded among a certain subset of players, is perhaps a little too cult, so off it goes.
What about game quality? Out of all of those games above, Sonic R might be the one that’s aged the least well… but it would look bad to bring a Sega classic console to market without a Sonic game of some sort. Perhaps Saturn Dodonpachi might be on the cutting block, as it’s generally considered a mediocre port, and we’ve already got two other solid arcade shooters on the list. Chop!
That leaves two more games to cut. Personally, I don’t care about wrestling… but plenty of consumers do, and the sports-game selection is already a bit anemic. Last Bronx didn’t have quite the same pull as Sega’s other 3D fighters, but it still has its own charm. Still, too many 3D fighters might feel samey, so I’d take it out.
Finally, I’d lean towards either Vampire Savior or Necronomicon as the last cut. I feel like those KAZe pinball games are unique and interesting enough to warrant inclusion on a device like this. You don’t really have much else like them at the same level of quality. The Vampire series doesn’t have the same amount of draw as Street Fighter, but it is a nice technical showcase of the Saturn’s 2D abilities. It’s a really tough call, but ultimately, I’d probably cut Vampire Savior.
And there we have it, the totally theoretical thirty-game Saturn Classic! See how tough creating a compilation like this is? You can’t please everyone, but you can certainly try your best to make something that is both commercially viable and hits a lot of retrogaming sweet spots.
What do you think? Is my Saturn Classic list sound, or is there something you’d argue need to be added/removed? Let’s chat about it!