With the release of Sonic Mania, Sega has been successfully capitalizing on the nostalgia of its fans. It’s a true celebration of everything that made Sonic and Sega great and shows that there’s clearly still a lot of love out there for the console veteran.
But this isn’t the only way that Sega has been looking to the past lately. While we might not have been blessed with an Android port of Sonic Mania (yet), we have been able to enjoy a new initiative called Sega Forever. The aim of this service is simple: to let players relive classic games from all of Sega’s past systems past. The games are free to play with ads, or you can pay to have them removed. Paying also enables offline play.
New games are constantly being added to the roster and as a massive Sega fan, I’ve been absolutely loving it. So, let’s take a look at some of the best games currently available, some of the ports that didn’t quite stick the landing and some of the Sega gems that would be a perfect fit for the new platform.
The cream of the crop
With a decent selection now available to choose from, which Sega Forever games are worth downloading? Here are some of the absolute best.
Comix Zone is a 2D scrolling beat-em-up that feels as though it was made today. It’s got a retro, pixel-art aesthetic, but the style and the direction make it feel way ahead of its time. The gameplay is your typical Streets of Rage action, which involves punching and kicking your way through screens of enemies.
Some other quirks set the game apart, like novel transitions between comic-book style panels and a host of interactive objects to climb, explode and punch your way through. It’s a brilliant and lesser-known title that you can sit down and play for a long time without even getting frustrated.
Sonic the Hedgehog
The game that started it all! This isn’t actually the original Sonic the Hedgehog, but rather a perfect recreation handled by Christian Whitehead and Head Cannon, who gave us Sonic Mania!
The game’s got proper widescreen support, sharper graphics, an added spin dash, the option to play as Tails and Knuckles, and a save feature. The touchscreen controls are so weirdly perfect that I wish Sega would use this set-up for all its ports. It still holds up incredibly well today.
While the first Sonic is generally regarded as the worst of the original trilogy due to some questionable levels, I still have an absolute blast playing it. Sonic 2 and Sonic CD are also available on Android, but they’re not technically part of Sega Forever, so I can’t count them.
Hey, I don’t make the rules!
Here’s a fun fact: before Sega decided on Sonic as their mascot, they were originally considering a rabbit called ‘Feel’. Feel’s gameplay was going to involve grabbing things with his long ears, which would make for far more interactive and tactile level design.
Eventually, it was decided that Feel’s gameplay would be too slow and they went with Sonic. But years later, the idea was revived for one of the last titles on the Genesis: Ristar! Ristar’s late appearance in the console’s life meant that it didn’t get the attention it deserved. But the game certainly holds up. The levels are colorful with multiple paths and lots to grab and play with and methodical pace is well-suited to fiddly touch controls. The only downside is that it’s a little tricky handling diagonal movements – but there is always the option of a gamepad. This is another one that has aged well.
Crazy Taxi on Android is every bit as good as I remember it. This was added to the Sega Forever system after having been ported to Android, meaning a lot of people will now be able to play it for free.
Crazy Taxi is a Dreamcast-era title that lets you take control of one of three ‘crazy’ cab drivers to deliver passengers to destinations around a city loosely based on San Francisco (I’m not sure the real city has quite so many ramps and jumps). Tips are gained by driving with style, which means getting air and weaving in and out of traffic Burnout-style.
Passengers love it when their drivers try to kill them, apparently.
What makes this such a good port is how well the controls translate to touchscreen devices. All you need is left, right, drive and reverse. You can just double tap drive for a boost of speed. Arcade mode is perfect for dipping in and out for short play sessions and the original Offspring soundtrack even made it into this version, along with the Crazy Box mini games! Bring on Crazy Taxi 2!
Golden Axe is basically Streets of Rage with a fantasy setting, though it’s not quite as good as Streets of Rage. This was one of the first Genesis games and there is clear room for improvement. The fighting mechanics are less nuanced and the graphics are worse, but it’s still fun in small doses and has some interesting enemies and cool features like ridable dinosaurs.
The biggest shame here is that the two player mode, which many remember fondly is absent. While it’s fairly playable, it does get pretty frustrating at times. Still, it’s certainly worth a look for the right crowd and definitely a lot better than Altered Beast IMO.
The games that didn’t quite get it right
While my glasses are thoroughly rose-tinted when it comes to Sega games, there were definitely some “misses” among the games on the service.
While personal taste is definitely in play here, some games just don’t hold up. Altered Beast is essentially a game where you walk forward slowly and kick monsters in the shins. Phantasy Star II is also going to take some dedication to be fully appreciated and there are much better RPG experiences to be had on the Play Store.
Shinobi in particular was one of my favorite games on the Genesis but it just doesn’t quite work with these controls. This wouldn’t be an issue if the game wasn’t so punishing, but thats’ how they were back then. You can play with a controller, but support is limited. If Sega had implemented a scheme similar to the one in Sonic the Hedgehog then this could have been an unreserved recommendation.
The same goes for Virtua Tennis. The controls seem very small and overly spaced out.
Kid Chameleon sits somewhat awkwardly in between. The gameplay is dated and the lack of any instruction means you’ll often run into roadblocks simply because you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. It could be worth checking out as a slight oddity, if the controls didn’t suck.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to question Sega’s decision to remove a number of fantastic titles from the Play Store. Apparently, titles like Chu Chu Rocket and Jet Set Radio didn’t ‘meet SEGA’s standards’, which makes zero sense to me as the ports worked well and Chu Chu Rocket in particular was a perfect fit for mobile. Hopefully they’ll be able to return on Sega Forever!
Games we’d love to see
There are already some pretty cool titles available through this initiative, but there is so much potential for more. Sega’s slow fall from grace meant that some truly great games ended up releasing to minimum fanfare. This is a chance for those under appreciated gems to get the limelight they deserve.
This would be a hard one to get working on a mobile device due to the controls and the awkward architecture of the Saturn. That Saturn emulation is so hard is just another reason this game is still so niche. It would be worth it, though.
Burning Rangers is a game from Sonic Team, back when that name could be trusted as a mark of absolute brilliance. You play as futuristic firefighters who wear jetpack-powered suits of armor to fight fires in underwater bases and space stations. The music is absolutely awesome, the anime art-style and plot is pretty engaging and the gameplay is a lot of fun. It’s overly short, but like most of Sega’s best hits, it’s endlessly replayable. This one is a pipe-dream but I’d love to see it make a comeback.
Space Channel 5
Dancing games do lend themselves well to touch controls, and Space Channel 5 is as good as any rhythm game ever made. It’s got wacky, colourful characters, some great beats and awesome gameplay. Back when I was 13 and only ever wanted to shoot stuff or run really fast, Space Channel 5 made me eager to try out a new genre.
NiGHTS: Into Dreams
There was a time when this would have been considered sacrilege. NiGHTS was Yuji Naka’s masterpiece and he never even entertained the idea of a sequel. But then NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams happened, so I guess Sega is a little more relaxed about the franchise these days.
NiGHTS was to be “the best game ever made” and do for the Saturn what Sonic did for the Genesis. We all know how that ended, but that’s a shame as NiGHTS really was an incredible game and in many ways was superior to Sonic – at least after you figured the score-attack based gameplay.
The setting is magical, the titular character charming and the music fantastic. I can already see how the touchscreen would lend itself to the gameplay, if Sega took the effort to implement it properly. There’s already a HD remaster on Steam and home consoles, so surely this couldn’t be too out of the question.
Echo the Dolphin: Defender of the Future
This is such a strange concept when you think about it. It’s a dolphin that’s also the defender of the future.
But surreal though it may be, this is also one of the best titles on the Dreamcast and another IP that Sega has been ignoring. The game had beautiful graphics for the time, a peaceful soundtrack and some novel gameplay. This could be an ideal port for those wanting some peaceful and meditative gameplay after a stressful day in the office.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles
It’s high time that Sega gave us the best game(s) in the original Sonic trilogy: Sonic 3 & Knuckles. This was really two games combined (Sonic 3 + Sonic & Knuckles) via ‘lock-on technology’ but the result was an epic saga with three playable characters, a total of 14 zones, a subtle-yet-brilliant plot, tons of new mechanics and perfect level design.
We know that Christian Whitehead has been working on a port for the title behind the scenes but unfortunately, it has yet to see the light of day. Partly, this might be down to the legal issues surrounding some of the music tracks (due to contributions from none other than Michael Jackson). It might also simply be that Sonic Mania took priority. But Sega, it’s time.
While you’re at it, port 1, 2 and CD over to PC as well please! And how about giving us Knuckles’ Chaotix for Android, too!
Look, I could go on and on and on. I’d love to see Daytona USA in some form, Streets of Rage is a must (ideally the fan remake!); House of the Dead 2 would be great if a decent control scheme could be worked out; Virtua Fighter 3; Shenmue; Panzer Dragoon; and many more.
Sega is onto a good thing here, but it has been known to drop the ball. I just hope we see a lot more obscure gems and games from the Saturn and Dreamcast era and fewer games that haven’t aged well. Add support for more bluetooth controllers. Maybe iron out some of the lag in the emulator.
If the service keeps improving, I’ll be a very happy customer. The company has been on a bit of a role lately, so here’s hoping!