A Quick Look At Sega Smash Pack

The Sega Dreamcast is a pretty versatile piece of hardware. Not only is it capable of running operating systems like Linux and Dreamshell et al, it is pretty adept at mimicking other console formats too. Since the early days of the Dreamcast, talented coders have been tricking the system into convincing itself it was a Nintendo Entertainment System, a Neo-Geo or even a Sony PlayStation. The latter example of console emulation on Dreamcast is well documented and eventually resulted in Bleem! being shut down by Sony's legal department, but let us also remember that Sega itself utilised the hardware of the Dreamcast to bring emulation to the masses.
While the inclusion of PC Engine and Megadrive emulators on certain Dream Passport internet browser discs is well known in the wider Dreamcast community, Sega opted to bring Genesis titles to the general populace in the United States via the Sega Smash Pack collection - an official release containing 12 retro titles from various eras in the company's illustrious history spanning both the 16 and 32-bit generations. I have it on pretty good authority that a PAL version of Smash Pack was in the works at Sega Europe (having both played a variant and by way of the article below as proof), but only the NTSC-U version ever saw the light of day.
The 12 games in this US exclusive compilation do leave a lot to be desired, and there are some slightly odd inclusions here, but the full lineup goes like this:
  • Sonic The Hedgehog
  • Golden Axe
  • Shining Force
  • Streets of Rage 2
  • Wrestle War
  • Columns
  • Virtua Cop 2
  • Revenge of Shinobi
  • Altered Beast
  • Phantasy Star 2
  • Vectorman
  • Sega Swirl
Personally, if I were creating a compilation of the greatest 16 and 32-bit Sega titles and running them on a Dreamcast, Vectorman and Altered Beast would not be anywhere near the list I was scribbling on the back of a cigarette packet. That's probably down to the fact that I don't smoke...but you get the idea. That personal gripe aside, how do the games play? We've seen how well the Dreamcast can emulate other Sega systems via unofficial methods...but how well does this do the job?

Before I answer that question, let me share with you the fact that I have sampled an official Sega Europe Megadrive Collection for the Dreamcast and it was pretty much spot on. It included other games too, like Outrun and Afterburner...but that's a story for another post (coming soon). I'll be blunt on this occasion though - Sega Smash Pack features some of the worst Genesis/Megadrive emulation I have ever seen. Look at the weird graphical glitch on the Sonic title screen that bestows the blue spiky one with a grotesque beer belly and the right arm of a Robotnik mutant:
The shoddiness doesn't end there. The delay between pressing a button and something happening in Streets of Rage 2 is abysmal. Wrestle War is frankly unplayable. Virtua Cop 2 is identical to the NTSC-J standalone version...which is actually a port of the cruddy PC game. The worst thing about this whole collection though, has got to be the music and sound. Everything just sounds wrong. Bass lines are the wrong tone, and everything else just sounds odd. I really can't describe it in words...so here's a video comparison I made of Sonic and Streets of Rage 2 running on both the Dreamcast and original hardware:
Before you comment on the Sonic sections, I know that PAL Sonic is slower than NTSC Sonic, but that's not the point - listen to the 'ring loss' effect; and the build up to the intro music in Streets of Rage 2. It sounds like a Windows 95 PC has crashed in the next room.

I applaud Sega for trying to bring older games from the back catalogue to a new generation of gamers on the Dreamcast...but really? Is this the best they could do? I'm no expert when it comes to console emulation - I fully admit that - but I've seen better emulation on non-Sega hardware, done by amateur home-brew developers. Sure, there are some nice features on the Smash Pack disc, such as being able to save your progress in games that previously didn't offer this option; and the individual game menus are well done and give a nice retro theme to the whole experience. But ultimately, most of the games included are plagued with slowdown and the sound is utterly terrible. Furthermore, the selection of games is pretty lamentable.
While Sega Swirl and Columns are nice additions to the action-oriented library here, where are Afterburner, Outrun, and Space Harrier? If the Saturn could do arcade-perfect ports why the hell are those games not on the Dreamcast as part of an all-singing, all-danincing arcade collection when Smash Pack was the perfect opportunity to bring them up to date? Why does the console need to be reset if you want to stop playing Virtua Cop 2 while the other games allow you to go back to the main menu with a soft reset? Why is the Dreamcast Smash Pack a re-hash of the PC version with a few extra games added (and others removed)? These are just some of the questions Smash Pack throws up (figuratively), but questions that will, as with many Dreamcast related queries, go frustratingly unanswered. At this point, I'd like to add that while I'm aware that at least some other arcade ports exist as part of the Shenmue games and the Yu Suzuki Game Works set, I'm not really counting either of those as a proper Arcade Classics collections like the ones on the Saturn. Firstly, Game Works is not readily available to the average Dreamcast owner due to the outrageous prices it commands; and Shenmue is it's own game with arcade ports added as novelties.

As it stands, Smash Pack is probably worth getting (at a push) if you don't own or can't afford to buy the original games and hardware represented here. That said, if you really must play Megadrive/Genesis games, either get an unofficial emulator disc or an actual 16-bit system; and if you want to play Virtua Cop 2, then invest in a Saturn. As much as I love the Dreamcast and Sega, Smash Pack is a poor alternative to what has been done far, far better by the fan community.


Brad said...

Altered Beast gets a bad rap but it's one I have a deep connection with. For me and my friends, Altered Beast was the game that brought us to the Genesis. It looked unbelievable at the time when compared to games on the NES. We played it nearly every day together and it will always be the game that defined that generation of consoles for me.

noiseredux said...

This collection always gets dissed, but I have a soft spot for it. I can't even explain, but there's something about its flaws and odd choice of games that make it rather endearing to me. As such, I revisit it fairly often.

On the topic, I've often wondered if a selection had been officially made for a Volume 2.

And slightly on topic, I've often wondered about the Mega Drive and PC Engine emulators that were built into the Dream Passport 3 disc and if there was some way to exploit that disc... I don't believe any of the games were on the disc itself though. I'd like to see a thorough examination of the disc's content I guess.

Rambling now...

DCGX said...

Nowadays, with Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, the only reason to own this if you're not a feverish Dreamcast owner is for Wrestle War, Virtua Cop 2, and Swirl (if you don't have the Dreamcast Magazine demo disc it's on). And even then, only for the cheap price to collect.

And I will never, for the life of me, understand SEGA's fascination with Altered Beast even to this day. That game gets re-released more times than I think any other game in history has and, I'm sorry Brad, is awful.

All that being said, I do own this compilation.

Charlton said...

i love vectorman but it glitches like crazy on the smash pack. i don't remember it being like that on the genesis, at least not that bad. the sound is worse too. wonder if maybe my disc is messed up?

8c7855d8-19ae-11e5-8e9b-5bea2ad5fa0b said...

SEGA Smash Pack Volume 1 is worth it for Virtua Cop 2 and SEGA Swirl. I'm glad I own it for Dreamcast. It is flawed, but it's still a nice way to play these two games. The others... not so much.

SEGA Smash Pack Volume 2 I own on PC. It features eight games:

Comix Zone
Kid Chameleon
SEGA Swirl
Shining Force
Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Super Hang-On
Vectorman 2

The emulation here in Smash 2 is much better. Also I think it has a better selection of games. Interestingly, SEGA Swirl is notably different in its Windows PC version from its Dreamcast variant. Both types of SEGA Swirl are well worth playing.

-Nz17, the Numbers Man