Mega Games 1 - A Retrospective Gaming Review
In the early 1990s, Sega was still a major player in the console market, riding high on the success of the Mega Drive and their collection of arcade machines. In 1992, taking advantage of increasing cartridge sizes, Sega released Mega Games 1, a collection of three games from Sega's back catalogue, and included the game with the European Mega Drive II bundle.
First in the line-up is World Cup Italia '90. As the name suggests, this is a football game, tying in with the World Cup in Italy in 1990 - exactly as it says on the tin. There are two game modes - the exhibition match mode which allows you to play any team available against any other, and the World Cup mode which portrays the tournament itself.
Graphically, the game is quite colourful and still looks serviceable today, although there is too much reliance on somewhat overcoloured still pictures when the flow of the game moves away from the standard perspective. The sound is reasonable, if not fantastic, although the one attempt at speech synthesis - the commentator shouting, "Goal!" - really shows up the limitations of the sound processor on the Mega Drive.
Unfortunately, once one gets into the gameplay, it soon becomes apparent that this is probably the weakest offering on the cartridge. Games portraying field sports have a tendency not to age well, and this is exactly what has happened with World Cup Italia '90. The game is played from a top-down perspective, which looks very outdated compared to the isometric and 3D perspectives that were to follow, and limits the portrayal of the sport. As such, World Cup Italia '90 is not a particularly deep game, with more emphasis on shuffling the ball slowly towards your opponent's goal than chaining together impressive pass combinations or using superior dribbling methods to outwit your opponents.
Matters aren't assisted by the lack of licensing for player names, instead relying on lists of generic players for each team. Considering that this was an officially-licensed game, this move seems rather perplexing, and somehow, this move serves to make the game seem even more quaint than including a list of players from a tournament that occurred twenty years ago; at least some of these names are still in common parlance. Ultimately, it doesn't improve the game's atmosphere to have such generic player names and only adds another reason to avoid the game.
Well, at least it isn't as boring as the actual 1990 World Cup - which holds the record for the lowest goals-per-game average.
The next game on the cartridge is Super Hang-On, a motorcycle racing game derived from Sega's arcade game of the same name. As with World Cup Italia '90, the game is comprised of two modes, the Arcade Mode and Original Mode. The Arcade Mode follows the gameplay of the arcade Super Hang-On machine, where the player has to race against the clock to beat multi-stage courses before time runs out, similar to the likes of OutRun. The Original Mode, on the other hand, is a new mode designed for the home version of the game, in which the player takes the role of a professional motorcyclist racing for money to upgrade their motorcycle and take on increasingly difficult challengers and racing tracks.
Super Hang-On is easily the most elaborate game on the cartridge, and would be so even if the Original Mode has not been included. With the Original Mode, the game easily overtakes the other games in the compilation for complexity. Starting off with an inexpensive motorcycle, which has handling and acceleration which leaves much to be desired, the player is tasked with winning races against a rival in order to make enough money to improve their motorcycle. Winning five races in a row will bring a new sponsor, providing more money, along with a new rival and racing track.
Unlike the Arcade Mode, where crashing will do nothing but lose you time, the Original Mode takes account of damage to the bike caused by crashes or general wear-and-tear, which requires replacement of components. Some of these components, like the brakes and oil, will only compromise your lap times if they fail to work, while others, like the frame and engine, will immediately lead to your retirement if they fail during the race, and will cause you to be unable to race until they're replaced. To assist with the task of replacing these components, you get a mechanic. Like the components of the bike, you can purchase the services of a superior mechanic, who will give you better advice on how close the components are to failure.
When you get into the actual racing action itself, the game proves to be pretty good, particularly by the standards of the time. The races are simple time-trials, while trying to avoid other competitors on the track and the obstacles on the sides of the track. The Arcade Mode lends itself well to fast, competitive action, although smoothness rules the day when it comes to racing styles. Conversely, the Original Mode, with its longer tracks, requires a smooth touch at all times in order to preserve the components of the bike.
Considering that there is an omnipresent rival in the Original Mode, you may expect a standard race format, but instead, it's more like an elaborate time-trial, with your opponent storming off into the lead at the start, and you tasked with trying to overtake him or her. While a time-trial race makes sense within the context of motorcycle racing, particularly road racing - the Isle of Man TT is a true time-trial with bikes setting off with ten-second separations, while the Cookstown 100 is among the road races with staggered packs setting off at different separations, with the quickest overall time winning the race - I don't believe that Japan, with its busy road network and dense population has a culture of domestic motorcycle road racing, even with their extensive circuit racing experience and massive motorcycle manufacturing industry. It isn't a feature which detracts from the game, but it is an odd decision, and one that isn't necessarily explained all that well.
To be fair, the game often seems like it's being run on roads rather than purpose-built circuits.
The game's graphics are reasonably competent, and they certainly don't detract from the racing action. There are plenty of nice details, including the flames emerging from the exhaust pipes when the boost mode is activated and the signposts on the side of the road which mimic entities such as NGK and Marlboro. The game's sound works well, with nice engine noises and tyre squeals, and the game's music is nice, if somewhat repetitive when listened to repeatedly.
Overall, Super Hang-On is a solid game, with exciting racing action and plenty of gameplay in the Original Mode, but there are some minor niggles. The necessity to win five times on the same track in Original Mode leads to it feeling rather repetitive after the third or fourth race on the same track. The technical limitations and limited graphics mean that the tracks lack distinctive features, and therefore can be difficult to learn. The game shows its age in other ways as well, like the password system used to save the game, which can be irritating and tedious - particularly as sheets of paper with codes on them can be lost more easily than the actual game cartridge. Ultimately, motorcycle racing has been portrayed better in more recent games, but Super Hang-On still acquits itself acceptably.
The final game in the compilation is Columns, a simple Tetris-style game based on another of Sega's arcade machines, in which the aim is to get three or more jewels of the same colour in a row by stacking three-jewel pieces in a grid. The general gameplay should be familiar to anybody who has played any sort of puzzle game, and the game is rather simple overall. Out of the games in the compilation, this one has probably aged the best; variants of the game can be found on more recent platforms, and the elements of the game are still applicable to some of today's "casual gaming" titles.
As with the other games on the cartridge, there are multiple game modes. The Arcade mode throws you straight into the game, with the option of choosing a higher starting difficulty in exchange for more points. The Original Game mode is similar to the Arcade mode, but gives you more flexibility in starting options. The Flash Columns mode is a unique sort of gameplay, where a certain number of rows are already filled, and the objective is to create a reaction with a specific jewel on the bottom row as quickly as possible.
The most basic combinations come from simple three-jewel groupings, but the real fun begins when you try to create chain reactions - large sets of groupings of multiple jewel colours which react one after the other to eliminate large portions of the occupied grid. As with the likes of Tetris, the game can be very addictive and can involve surprisingly complex strategies.
Simple but entertaining - on par with most puzzle games, then.
While two of the games on the Mega Games 1 pack may be individually decent, they have to be taken in context of the compilation as a whole. Columns may be the most palatable game to a modern audience, but doesn't have much to distinguish it from other, similar puzzle games. Super Hang-On is more distinctive and has a lot more content, but can be frustratingly repetitive at times. As World Cup Italia '90 isn't worth bothering with, and Columns can be acquired more easily elsewhere, the appeal of this compilation would appear to be linked to one's nostalgia for Super Hang-On.
Bottom Line: When it was a bundled compilation with the Mega Drive, Mega Games 1 was certainly a fun experience, but considering that only two of the three games are competent, it doesn't seem like such a great purchase now.
Recommendation: If you're desperate to play Super Hang-On, consider buying one of the Mega Games 6 packs instead - Mega Games 6 Vol. 1 contains all of the three games on this cartridge, plus Golden Axe and Streets of Rage, while Mega Games 6 Vol. 2 has Alien Storm and Super Monaco GP instead.