Home videogame consoles have been around since 1972. That means we have had nearly fifty years of videogames being sold to consumers. And in those decades, we somehow still have not figured out what people want from videogames.
Almost by accident, we pretty much had it right for a console generation or two. Back when all we had to work with were limited cartridges, you had a videogame, and it was simply that videogame. Super Mario Bros. was Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda was The Legend of Zelda. There was not some random point in Mega Man when the whole thing turned into Gradius, nor did Final Fantasy ever dip into suddenly becoming Contra for a dungeon or two. Men were men, women were women, and the good old days were always good for a round of Ice Climbers. You picked up a chunk of plastic, you played a game, and that was that.
And today’s Sega 3D Classics Collection harkens back to those halcyon days. It’s got the original Sonic the Hedgehog! There’s Altered Beast! Puyo Pop 2 for those of you that enjoy mean beans! Some Fantasy Zones! I’m sure somebody, somewhere appreciates Thunder Blade! And Power Drift is at least pretty! This collection represents what is unmistakably the good old days of Sega arcade/Master System/Genesis games, and, by and large, you really can’t lose with any title in this group. Heck, I could play Sonic the Hedgehog alone for hours on end.
And that’s the problem. I have.
Let’s take a step back to talk about music. The concept of the album has lost some luster in the recent age of MP3s, but, prior to about the last decade or so, musicians were expected to support their number one hits with an entire disc’s worth of alternate songs. You might have been all about Will Smith gettin’ jiggy with it, but in order to properly jiggify yourself, you had to buy a CD that contained a few other tracks, like that one about Miami, or that other one about the lil’ dude from Austin Powers. Sometimes this was a good thing, like when you discovered an artist with a style wholly different from the hit single, and became a Ben Folds Five fan for life. Other times… well, they say that if you are quiet, and listen very closely late at night, you might still hear my father complaining about purchasing “that one Smash Mouth album” where “all they do is suck”. But that’s true of any music fan (older than about 20), you buy enough records, tapes, or CDs, and, eventually, you’ve got a list floating around your head until the end of time regarding whether or not you should have blown fifteen bucks on that one Jethro Tull album. And, yes, you should have waited for the greatest hits release.
But that’s the thing about almost all albums: they’re specifically by one artist. Love or hate Meghan Trainor’s unethical praising of the booty, you pretty much know what you’re going to get if you sign up for a solid twelve Trainor tracks. And, while we may have no idea what Chumbawamba was up to during the final days of the twentieth century, you could go ahead and pick up Tubthumper and find out. There are certainly Now That’s What I Call Some Arbitrary Ditties albums out there, but, by and large, you can count on an album to have a general flow from start to finish that is… familiar. Blink 182 isn’t going to suddenly dip into European Death Metal on its third track, and P. Diddy Kong is never going to take a quick break from his phat rhymes to introduce his barbershop quartet. In other words, when you listen to a musical album, you can count on about forty minutes of a familiar experience. It might be a new familiar experience, but you’ll find that it’s generally consistent within the confines of its own disc. And a five disc “best of” special compilation? That’s going to keep you in a familiar holding position all afternoon.
Now back to videogames: despite being on the same system and being from the same general era, would you consider Sonic the Hedgehog and Altered Beast to be similar experiences? Okay, similar might work, as they are both 2-D, and… involve jumping? Bah! They’re barely similar at all! One is a sort of proto-beat ‘em up with a really fun gimmick, and the other is a supersonic hedgehog simulator. Mad speed vs. mad dragons. If they were songs, Altered Beast would be some kind of “angry” heavy metal, and Sonic would have places to go, because he’s gotta follow his rainbow. And those are the two most similar games on the collection! Opa-Opa’s adventure is a shoot ‘em up, while Maze Hunter 3-D may as well exist on another planet. And, including that one boss in Sonic Mania, nobody wants to play a puzzle game five seconds after zooming around at the speed of sound. Variety is fun an’ all, but, short attention spans aside, when you sit down to play a game, you have a certain kind of gameplay in mind, and rapidly switching between different options is unusual and unsettling.
But videogames make it customary! Starting as early as the 16-bit days, videogames had a tendency to randomly veer off into unknown lands with alarming frequency. “Minigames” went from something generally innocuous like a slot machine or shell game, and rapidly transformed into entire games onto themselves. Chrono Trigger is the best JRPG of a generation that incidentally includes the worst racing game ever. Final Fantasy 7 pulled a similar stunt with Cloud Strife 1080° Snowboarding. Even the Sonic the Hedgehog series decided to lean heavily into being a number of different games soldered together. In some cases, these gameplay changes were welcome, in others, it would be nice to not have to participate in a fishing simulator to make progress; but in every example, it meant you were playing something you absolutely did not sign up for. Or maybe I’m the crazy one? Maybe I missed all the times Final Fantasy X made a sale in the name of “incredible water soccer action”.
Now, look, I remember being ten. I remember only having one game a year, and if that game had a mini game that was anything but mini, it meant, oh boy, I got two games. I still remember that feeling. But I also remember the end of Solar Jetman turning into the worst approximation of a shoot ‘em up ever. I remember Devil May Cry pulling the same stunt. And Kirby! A whole bunch of times! Why can’t games just stay their courses! Why do they try to jump the tracks mid train ride like some kind of mixed and poorly worded metaphor? Let the whole album play out! Leave your experimental tracks for the B-sides!
Sega 3-D Classics Compilation is not one single game, and it seems silly to fault it for being a tremendous collection of superb games. But every time I boot up S3DCC, it’s to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I never play anything else, save the rare occasion I feel like shooting fireballs at chicken legs. There is nothing like Sonic the Hedgehog on this collection, so I only play Sonic the Hedgehog. Full compilation of wonderful games, but the rest never get played, because they’re nothing like the hit single that got me to buy this album. I would have been better off with just the lone MP3.
So learn something, videogame industry. In the age of “binge watching”, people do not want random pauses from Breaking Bad to watch Star vs. The Forces of Evil. People do not want a ska album to break into rap (we still want ska, though). People do not want lame action game wannabe minigames during their JRPGs. People do not want compilations of games that vary so wildly, they may as well exist in different dimensions.
There are enough choices out there. Grant individual genres and games the flow they deserve.
And people wonder why Mega Man Legacy Collection was a tremendous hit…
FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection
- System: Nintendo 3DS, thus the whole 3D thing. Most of these games can be found on the Sega Genesis or Sega Master System, too, but in a format that will cause me to complain less.
- Number of players: Altered Beast has two muscle dudes, so it’s gotta be two.
- Hey, smart guy, this is just a collection of games that were (re)released individually, and only packaged into a compilation to get the attention of nerds like you that fetishize physical media: Well, yes, but my point still stands. If they had packaged together games that were a skosh more similar, this whole game would actually get played, as opposed to just 16% of it. Man, if I only played 16% of Persona 4, I’d declare it a complete failure…
- Favorite Game (this compilation): Err, gee, you think that might be Sonic the Hedgehog? Second place is Altered Beast, and third is Puyo Pop 2. Everything else is just gravy, albeit the kind of gravy that sits in a can in your pantry until the end of all time.
- Favorite Improvement: Naturally, it’s in Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s the presence of the spin dash in a game not at all designed for such a thing. It is glorious, and now I want a spin dash in Altered Beast.
- A word from the Professor: I think this rabbit wants to see the end of mankind.
Don’t listen to him, Trump!
- Favorite Thing that Makes me Sad: Randomizing the beast transformations in Altered Beast does practically nothing. Considering this is something I begged for when I was a kid abusing the AB cabinet at the local Pizza Hut, I now know that my entire life is a lie.
- Did you know? There were two other 3D Classic Collections in Japan. The first included Ecco, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage, and Space Harrier… which probably tracks as the most focused compilation. The third and final collection is all over the place, but it includes Gunstar Heroes and Sonic 2, so its absence is keenly felt.
- Would I play again: I really like Sonic the Hedgehog.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 2! Rawr! Let’s murder all of Ancient Greece! Please look forward to it! (NOTE: Goggle Bob and the Goggle Bob Blog do not condone the murdering of all of Ancient Greece for entertainment purposes.)