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Product Review: Mega Drive Play TV
By: Ken Horowitz
With so many companies releasing all types of joystick and controller-shaped "plug-'n-play" collections, it was only a matter of time before Sega followed suit. Released in Japan for ¥4,179 (about $38), this Mega Drive collection sports six titles, some of which have been released way too many times, and one that has been deserving of re-release for far too long. Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Flicky, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, and Kid Chameleon are all ready to play here and interestingly enough, they're all in English.
The games come housed in a unit modeled after the Mega Drive console (complete with little logo and all), with an original style three-button controller directly connected. You can't remove it but why would you want to? It would have been perhaps a bit more authentic to make the controller identical to the original in color but blue is definitely more attractive. While the quality of the D-pad is questionable, the controller appears to emulate the real thing quite well. The downside is that since it's only a single plug in unit, neither Golden Axe, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Altered Beast, or Flicky support two players.
I'm not sure if the screen shots look so bad because of the unit's video quality or just someone's lack of skill with a camera. The MD itself was very decent looking in RCA and other products of this type have benefited from the upgrade from RF as well. From what I can gather, the image has been spread and the sound has been warped a bit. I would need an actual unit to say otherwise (Japanese fans: *hint, hint*). Four AA batteries are needed to run it or you can use a standard AC unit.
As to why the games are in English and not Japanese, Sega Toys is testing the waters with this collection and wants to see whether or not retro MD bundles will sell in Japan. Considering how well both Namco and Nintendo have done with their compilations, you might think this should be a non-issue. However, the Mega Drive was never a big hit in Japan, so I can understand why they think this may not light the world on fire.
Sonic the Hedgehog
The undisputed heavyweight champ of Sega compilations, the blue 'hog has appeared on the Sega Six Pack and Sonic Classics (Genesis), Sonic Jam (Saturn), Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1 (Dreamcast), Sonic Collection (PC), as well as the recent Sonic Mega Collection (Game Cube, Xbox, & PS2). No other Genesis Character has been featured in more collections than Sonic (can you hear the "cha-ching?") and of all the games featured in the Mega Drive Play TV, this one is by far the most played out, although it is understandable why it was included. Everyone knows Sonic and this was his first outing, so it does make sense from a business standpoint. I would have preferred another of Sonic's exploits (Sonic 2 maybe?) but what can you do?
Another one of Sega's favorite cows for milking, the original hack-'n-slash adventure has seen release on the Sega CD (both the 4 In 1 & 5 In 1 discs) and on the Dreamcast (Smash Pack). I'm not as miffed about its inclusion as much as I am with Sonic, as the Mega Drive version of the arcade classic is highly enjoyable and still very playable. The addition of all the new modes gave it a longer play life than the arcade would have and these modes should now entice buyers of this collection as well. The lack of a two-player mode could hurt it though. We most probably will never see a home release for Revenge of Death Adder, so any attempt to keep the franchise alive, rehash or not, is welcome in my opinion.
Also one of the Smash Pack alumni, Altered Beast is probably the least-playable title in this collection. Having debuted over sixteen years ago, this game has not aged well at all. Repetitive, mundane gameplay and plain, stiff graphics do nothing to motivate you; neither does the fact that you can blow through this game easily in under fifteen minutes. If Sega were going to raid the Smash Pack titles to include here, they could easily have taken Vectorman or Streets of Rage 2. Either one of these would have made this gadget a must-buy. Why go back to the most basic title? Why not pick something more mainstream and successful? Better yet, why not choose something actually good?
In my mind, Flicky is one of the more fun maze games on the Mega Drive. First appearing in arcades back in the mid '80s, the little blue bird came home to the Mega Drive and was quickly forgotten. He did appear again in the Sonic games, as one of the furry friends you save. His game was probably dismissed due to its cute factor and super simple gameplay (it only uses one button). I think it was probably included here for younger gamers and non-gaming spouses. Sega Toys probably wanted to go after the market enjoyed by Namco's Ms. Pac-Man collection. Not a bad game by any means, Flicky is fun for a while but more serious gamers will probably stay away. Still, it's something the missus or the little ones can appreciate and get into quickly.
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
I was half expecting to see Columns in this set and instead I get the wonderful Mean Bean Machine. Based off the Puyo Puyo series of games, Mean Bean inserts the evil Eggman from the Sonic series but changes little else. There's a lot of game here and I can see this easily becoming the favorite at parties or other get togethers. Very easy to get into yet hard to master, many people will probably spend most of their time here. I have to commend Sega Toys for including this instead of sticking with the typical Sega collection puzzle standard. It was a welcome and refreshing change of pace, especially since Columns is both overrated and over exposed. Very nice to see but no two-player mode is a major kick in the balls.
Kid Chameleon is the only game here not featured in another collection (Mean Bean Machine and Flicky both appeared in the Sonic Mega Collection) and it is easily the best game here. With over 103 levels (1,850 screens!!), you could easily spend the entire day with this title alone. Nine helmets allow you to transform into different creatures with unique abilities, ranging from a Jason look-alike to a samurai warrior. Each character must be used in specific situations in order to progress and finding them all is a blast. Longer than Mario and almost as deep, KC provides countless hours of fun and tight gameplay. Original and incredibly entertaining, the game does have its Achilles' heel: no password or save feature. Creator Steve Woita has stated that this was done on purpose!
After all is said and done, there isn't really much to see here that hasn't been seen and played before. Chances are, if you're even reading this, then you have most of these games on cartridge. That brings us to the biggest hit against this collection: the price. $38 dollars is easily enough to get a Genesis on eBay, along with most, if not all of these games. If you want some Genesis fun but don't feel like lugging out another console or if you just want something for an afternoon, this may be your cup of tea. I don't see serious Genesis fans going for this though , even for collector purposes. The price is literally too high.
On the bright side, there is always the American version of this set. It's almost the same, lacking only the mini Genesis console (the games are stored in the controller itself), and is somewhat cheaper (about $20-$25).
More info on the Mega Drive Play TV can be found here (Japanese site). Remember to Babelfish!
Be sure to read our reviews of Altered Beast, Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, Flicky, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, & Kid Chameleon.