The Sega Mascot History Tour

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

People have given a lot of stick to AtGames’ recent Sega Mega Drive Flashback HD model. AtGames have produced emulation-driven handheld and TV-hookup consoles under licence from Sega for a while now, and the most recent Flashback which hooks up to your TV with an HDMI cable to allow for mild upscaling to 720p quality has come in for a barrage of criticism. AtGames claimed that the bad early reviewers were down to a bad production batch and the issues were corrected in the retail version; since the product is pretty cheap and cheerful I decided to give it a go and I’m actually inclined to believe them. I can spot small but important distinctions between the menu presentation on mine and in the reviews, for instance, which suggests that these got an urgent firmware update.

Yes, there’s a bunch of shovelware non-Mega Drive games on here which AtGames could have happily left off without complaints from everyone, and yes the main menu system is a bit off – but Sonic the Hedgehog feels like it plays like it always did for me, and the controller feels close enough to my recollections of the Mega Drive controller that I have no complaints there (though I didn’t have a Mega Drive myself – ours was a SNES house, I only occasionally got to play with friends’ Sega consoles). I hadn’t noticed either the wireless controller lag or the emulation issues others have flagged, and I suspect part of the enduring animosity towards the product hails from the fact that emulation geeks can get incredibly fussy about stuff like dropped frames which no human being would actually notice by themselves unless you drew attention to them or analysed the output from the emulator.

In general, the box feels like it accomplishes what these retro consoles are supposed to accomplish – giving you the experience of playing a cross-section of classic games from the console in question, in something which feels like the original hardware without taking up a bunch of space with a stack of cartridges. (That said, a nice touch is the inclusion of a cartridge slot, which means that many – but not all – Mega Drive cartridges can work on the system.)

One of the nice things about Sega was that they were a bit friendlier about backwards compatibility – one of the first peripherals they put out for the Mega Drive (and perhaps one of the few which actually constituted a good idea) was an adapter that let you play Master System games on it, and because the Game Gear shared enough of its guts with the Master System that it could run its games, some Game Gear titles are included here too. That’s a really nice touch – in particular, it’s nice to have a collection with all four of the original Phantasy Star games in the first place. (Though Sega have put out numerous compilations of their games over the years, many irritatingly don’t include the full run of Phantasy Star I to IV.)

There’s some frankly odd gaps in the collection – why include Sonic & Knuckles without also including Sonic 3? Why leave out Alex Kidd In Shinobi World when it was considered to be one of the better Alex Kidd games? Still, there’s enough here that you can actually use the flashback to explore a fascinating cross-section of Sega’s history – and in particular, their multiple attempts at producing a corporate mascot who could compete with a certain rotund plumber who was drawing lots of dimes for Nintendo at the time.

Continue reading “The Sega Mascot History Tour”

Hooked On the Brothers

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In a way, the biggest quibble I have with New Super Mario Bros. is the title; nothing which indulges in nostalgia to quite this extent should really call itself “new”. From the boss fight at the end of the first world, to the haunted houses stuffed with ghosts, to the primary power-ups being the humble mushroom and fire flower, to the “pay attention to the soundtrack or this bit is going to be frustrating” puzzle in the final level, to the world maps which are extremely similar to those in Super Mario Bros. 3 (right down to the Hammer Brothers wandering around the map), this is a Mario game replete with references to earlier entries in the series.

Arguably, this is nothing new; all of the Mario games are stacked with precisely that sort of thing. However, in the case of New Super Mario Bros., you almost get the impression that that’s the point. The very best Mario games don’t just restate the mythology; they add something to it. 3 gave us the simple, node-based world map that has become a staple of the series, for example, and Super Mario World gave us Yoshi, Mario’s trusty steed whose hindquarters and tongue are ever-ready to serve his master. (Why yes, I was 11 when Super Mario World came out in the UK. How did you know?)

Continue reading “Hooked On the Brothers”