All Together Then: Sonic Gems Collection
Well, they couldn't very well call it Sonic One Good Game and a Bunch of Garbage
Released on Gamecube (and PS2 in Europe) in 2005, Sonic Gems Collection packs a range of games that could charitably be called esoteric. More frankly, it's utterly bizarre. You get nine games at first, with two more unlockable. Six of these initial games are Game Gear titles - Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Triple Trouble, etc. Nice to have, but hardly "main event" material - and they didn't even include the Game Gear version of the original Sonic the Hedgehog! When you buy Sonic Gems Collection, you're buying for its daintily proffered trio of obscurities - Sonic CD, Sonic R and Sonic The Fighters. Yes, this is one for the fans.
The Sega Saturn’s 3D racing game Sonic R is fun, for the hour and a half tops it'll take you to unlock everything and clear the game. Multiplayer offers next-to-zero value as you barely interact with your opponent and the character balancing is totally out of whack; the secret characters are simply better than the defaults in every way. The course designs are impressive and it's enjoyable to blast through, but not one you'll constantly see fit to revisit.
Arcade conversion Sonic The Fighters is a total mess. You pick one of eight Sonic series characters, and knock seven bells out of one another. There's probably some strategy there, but I was able to win every fight by holding Right and mashing the Kick button, so goodness knows it isn't necessary. It's got an appealingly ugly low-poly look, with plenty of character to the fighters. Music is wonderful (as per usual for the Sonic series), but generally the game experience is toilet. That said, the toilet can be a fairly enjoyable place to hang out, right? (Please revise this line. - Ed)
The best game in the package, then, is Sonic CD. As I've espoused before, Sonic CD is a marvellous, intricate, thoughtful game. A much more cerebral take on the traditional left-to-right action,CD asks you to - shock, horror - slow down and think about your racing line, study the environment, search for prime spots to get your speed up in order to trigger the game's most significant gameplay addition - time travel. The version of the game presented in Sonic Gems Collection has the revised (read: totally different) US soundtrack, which is a bummer even though it's not a bad soundtrack by any reasonable metric. To my ear, the Japanese music is much better and more fitting, but your mileage may vary. Either way, it's a misunderstood masterpiece.
Beside the Sonic titles, this collection also packs in Mega Drive action-platformer Vectorman and its 1996 sequel. Both games are spoiled for me by loose controls that leave you flailing wildly and taking damage from the erratically-moving enemies that seem to swarm all over every inch of every platform. It's got a following - and it's worth seeing how its astonishing graphics push Sega's 16-bit to its very limit - but it doesn't hold up very well as an actual let's-sit-down-and-actually-play-this game. Frustratingly, the Japanese release of this collection included the entire Bare Knuckletrilogy (better known as Streets of Rage) as bonus unlockables, as well as classic coin-op Bonanza Bros. The western release omitted them in order to avoid a "T" rating, which is... terrific in its stupidity.
Thankfully, the package is absolutely laced with extras - the included gallery mode is as extensive as it is painstaking to unlock. Many, many images and videos are locked behind bizarre, challenging tasks achieved across the entire collection. Sadly, a lot of them are simply "play x game for x hours", which with the Game Gear titles basically amounts to your leaving the system switched while they're running. Also unlockable are some very welcome and unusual "timed demos" of games not included in the collection; you'll be dumped at the final boss in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic 3D, etc. It's a cute, fun way to jump straight into the endings of these games. Also, amusingly, using an Action Replay or similar cheat device you could freeze the timer and loop the entire game.
Sonic Gems Collection is, ultimately, more notable for what it doesn't include than what it does. At the time it was especially criticised for not including Knuckles Chaotix, which would have absolutely fit the remit. Believe me - you weren't missing anything. Regardless, this omission, a bizarre games line-up and the cruel excision of Streets of Rage make this one a bitter pill to swallow.