gamenikki review
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Review from www.gamenikki.com
Review written by Jon Point-du-Jour
Reproduced on www.clarkweb.co.uk with kind permission of the copyright owners.
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AUDIO: 8.0
VALUE: 6.0

The genre of simple compilations of past success stories has seen a recent flux of activity in releases. Itís long been known that the GBA was a good system to release old SNES ports on, but the marketing coup achieved by packaging a few classics together for one low price has spurned quite a few new releases of that nature. Some of the more high-profile ones are of Sega's games, and they donít seem content to stop this rollout. Sega's Smash Pack and Phantasy Star Collection are two of the cooler compilations that THQ brought to the GBA; both of them let you take a trip back to the Genesis days and relive some of Sega's past hits. However, this latest one, Sega Arcade Collection, is even more special than the others. In this compilation, THQ and the code monkeys of Bits Studios have taken some of the arcade juggernauts that put Sega into the upper echelon of developers and placed them into one nifty little GBA cart. In what can only be described as an arcade and Sega junkie's moistest of dreams, Outrun, Afterburner, Super Hang-On and Space Harrier have been converted from their arcade cousins and made portable. Sounds extremely good, right? Don't get too excited yet...

As most people know, despite the "32 bit-ness" of the GBA, the GBA is essentially a hot-rodded SNES... and of course the GBA, just like the SNES, is devoid of "blast processing" or any of the other cool, buzzwordy things that would let it match those powerful Sega arcade machines. Thus, it isn't up to the task of running a straight-up port of these games. Not to worry though, because Bits took the job of converting them from scratch to run well on the GBA, and they mostly succeeded. There are a few noticeable differences; generally speaking, especially since these games had special controllers and cabinets, the controls aren't as spot-on. There's also a slight drop in resolution, which is okay (the GBA isn't exactly sporting an arcade machine's monitor). After that, the games are fairly good conversions, save for a flaw or two in each individual game.

Afterburner is the first up to bat in the compilation, and it looks okay. Thing is, the game inexplicably seems slower than the arcade version... much slower. The arcade game used to attempt to scorch every rod and cone in your eye with its blistering speed; combined with the flight yoke joystick that the arcade game's cabinet had, you really felt like you were flying a fighter jet. Even Afterburner on the ill-fated Sega 32X managed to capture that feel. However, the version of Afterburner present on this GBA cart seems sluggish and suffers from not having the accurate control of the flight yoke, or even a decent crosskey Control Pad. The barrel roll technique, which was useful for evading fighters that came up from behind or dodging an incoming missile, is nigh impossible to perform with the GBA conversion's less-than-accurate Control Pad. The lower resolution of the GBA screen also kicks you in the teeth a bit more with Afterburner than with other games; you'll suffer from lots of random deaths because you won't be able to make out incoming missile fire. Overall, this GBA Afterburner isn't much fun to play; if you were a fan of this game back in those sweet and simple arcade days, you'll be saddened by this version.

Outrun brings the compilation back to fighting form, so to speak. The second you hear a perfect version of "Passing Breeze" rising up out of the GBA's speakers, you know it's time to strap in for some classic racing goodness. Outrun was a simple game, featuring some guy and his pixelated girl Friday hurtling across some America-like country in their Ferrari convertible. The cool thing about Outrun was the speedy gameplay and the variety that the racing had; you could take different roads though the Outrun world and make up your own personal "scenic route" each time you played. Thankfully, all of the quality gameplay from the arcade original is here and thankfully intact, and the visuals didn't take much of a hit at all, with the only flaws being a lower-resolution road and a slightly lesser amount of sprites on the side of the road. This means less crashing for horrible players, like me! Even though the analog wheel control from the arcade is missed, it doesn't affect the gameplay much at all; that said, it does disappoint a little that when you crash; there's none of the cool force feedback "rumble" that the arcade version and its accompanying wheel had. Nostalgia aside, the conversion's excellent overall.

The classic Space Harrier is next in line. The story of a man with a big-ass blaster rifle and a bone to pick with the evil monsters of various outer space locations, Space Harrier has players hurtling through ten levels in an Afterburner-ish manner, shooting up field hazards and enemies while avoiding enemy fire and said field hazards. While the conversion is also pretty much perfect with smooth controls, sharp visuals and all of the music tracks intact, the game seems mysteriously harder. It's not because of the controls or anything, but it feels like they put more hazards and monsters into the game. It's probably just that Iím no good at the game after all of these years. The GBA Space Harrier is also an excellent conversion, and definitely worth the time to play through it; it will remind you why you spent more time playing in the arcades in Shenmue than in the rest of the game.

Super Hang-On bats cleanup, as the fourth and last game in this compilation. This is probably the fastest game in the whole package and one of Sega's fastest-paced games ever. Super Hang-On was a simple motorcycle racer; players strapped in and shot over all kinds of terrain and through several different continents on their super sports bike. However, there was a twist - once your motorcycle reached its maximum speed, players could activate a turbo boost that gave your bike quite the kick in the pants. This turbo boost was necessary for mastering the gameplay, as the extra speed helped you finish each stage of the course without getting screwed by the quickly ticking clock. The blazing speed was a double-edged sword though; you lost some of the handling ability of your bike, which of course isn't a good thing when you're weaving through waves of rival cyclists just itching to knock you into an obstacle on the side of the track. On the GBA, Super Hang-On is the best conversion, as it is entirely arcade-perfect. Every pixel, every obstacle and every sound is in place; even the gameplay translates beautifully to the GBA. As the best conversion in the package, and a top-notch racer to boot, you'd better believe this is a blast to play!

The games in the compilation are great overall, but the presentation is straight "no frills", unfortunately. This is especially lame, given that other compilations on other systems tend to have cool little extras, like history on the games, concept art, bonus games, remixed music and more. The fanciest thing here is the game selection menu, which is a bit disturbing. The other pretty lame thing about this compilation is that there's no kind of battery backup at all. I mean, I understand that there's not going to be any need to save your game in these short arcade games, but these games, much like most arcade games, are all about getting the highest scores. With nothing in the way of battery save, you can get the most face-rocking score you've ever received in your life tearing through Outrun; but the second you turn the game off, your progress is a distant memory. Some people might think this is a minor thing, but itís about arcade principle! An arcade game where you can't save your high scores is like an episode of "Knight Rider" without KITT the talking car; it's just not the same.

This compilation of Sega arcade hits is probably the best overall package on the GBA. With three very good conversions (and one unfortunate dud), and plenty of fast arcade gameplay to be had, you'll definitely feel the nostalgia. The lack of any sort of save feature and the whole "no frills" vibe the package has is disappointing, but with a nice low price of about $20, no real gamer should resist Sega Arcade Gallery. Go get it, loyal Sega fans! (Ed note: Sega fans have always had a tendency to live in the past; hereís another chance.)

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