The downloadable gaming revolution has been a boon for many companies and game designers. We’re at a place in gaming now that we could’ve only imagined five years ago and wouldn’t have dared to ten years before that. It hasn’t, however, been kind to everyone. Nintendo, for example, still struggles with the online components of their business, even as the Wii U does its best to make strides.
While Sega still has its successes—Sonic & Mario Olympics and, to a lesser degree, Yakuza—it isn’t rolling out the hits like it once was. Or did it ever, really? Sega seems to be weathering this era worse than just about any other company.
A Stroll Down Memory Lane
Sega’s answer to the modern era of gaming has been to re-release its greatest hits back to the masses and remind fans of who Sega really is. First were the compilation discs with 30+ games from the Genesis era ready to rock your face. Following that has been a consistent stream of Sega’s best-loved games from the Saturn and Dreamcast systems.
I don’t think these games are doing what Sega intended, though. Instead of reminding us how awesome Sega was, many of these games, new and old, are showing us that Sega might have just been different, not necessarily good. At least, not as good as we remember. This has been a tough generation for a long-time Sega fanboy like myself.
The Rose-Colored Glasses Are Off
For example: Jet Set Radio HD held up well visually, but the controls have not. It was a daring game when it hit the Dreamcast originally, but now its style and ideas are without substance or execution. It’s tough to be a graceful, stylish graffiti writer when you’re constantly getting stuck in corners. Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor for Kinect called upon the name of the legendary Steel Battalion, but the unworkable motion controls don’t even begin to live up to the legendary $200 controller and brutal gameplay.
The first waves of these rereleases included games like Crazy Taxi and Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram which, while interesting, were primarily arcade games that just didn’t hold up as console experiences. Nights Into Dreams is still a fun game if it clicks for you, but like so many other games from that era nothing else about it aged well. Instead of looking classic or retro, it just looks old.
Most of what Sega has released onto current consoles from their past library (or revived, in the case of Steel Battalion) is plagued, one way or another, by these issues. Something about each game has aged horribly. This has been a tough lesson as a long-time Sega supporter.
Due in large part to their role as a distant second behind Nintendo, Sega was always trying to push their games in a new direction, and that alone made the company worth supporting as much as many of us did. Toejam and Earl is still great fun. I’m genuinely waiting for that re-release of Skies of Arcadia that Sega has to be working on. (You’re working on it, right, Sega?)
On the hardware side of things, Sega did innovate. The Sega CD was one of the first optical disc peripherals. The Dreamcast was the first game system with a dial-up modem out of the box (and the last), and also the first system to have an Ethernet port, even if it was an add-on. Sega saw the online multiplayer world coming, even if they were a few years too early.
Sega was always trying something different, but a little too often it put “different” ahead of “fun.”