Sega Forever launches today with F2P classics to your mobile! And the results are unfortunate.
The spirit is willing, but the Unity-powered flesh is a bit wobbly still.
A few weeks ago, I wildly (with tongue somewhat in cheek) speculated as to just what SEGA had in mind with the Sega Forever service, and what they meant when they said that they were going to bring some of their old IP's back. Now though, we finally have concrete news about it: Sega Forever is, as was largely expected, a mobile games service that will feature classic games for download and play. However, it is not a subscription-based service, as was speculated -- instead, the games on Sega Forever are available to download for the cost of absolutely nothing, albeit with ad support. Said ad support can be turned off for the cost of £2 ($2.50). The service launches on June 22nd (that's today!) with 5 classic Sega Mega Drive games. Do check out the fantastic and so very '90s trailer here, and see how many classic Sega sound effects you can spot in it:
What do we know then? Sega have stated that they intend to cover just about all of their main systems with the service, and it will feature games from the SG-1000, Master System, Mega Drive, Saturn and Dreamcast. The inclusion of the Saturn is somewhat interesting considering how infamously difficult it has been for Saturn games to be accurately emulated anywhere, but Sega have stated that while the older systems will be handled through emulation, Saturn and Dreamcast games on the service will be direct ports. The games on the service will be augmented with modern features such as cloud saving, leaderboards and controller support, along with the ability to play games offline -- whether you're playing the ad-supported version or not.
So, what about the games? Sega have said that they intend to release new games onto the service every two weeks, and that they're kicking off with five of the best Mega Drive and/or Sega Genesis games around. These games will join up with Crazy Taxi, which was released onto mobile in May and follows the same free-to-play model as the Sega Forever games. As it is, I have been able to give the games a quick onceover on my phone -- so I can give you some thoughts on the quality of the emulation and so forth. I have played the games using a Samsung Galaxy S7, with the regular touchscreen controls, using the ad-supported versions.
Sonic the Hedgehog -- Well, there's not an awful lot to say is there? It's the original Sonic, the 1991 game that put the Mega Drive on the map unlike any other, and chances are fairly good that you've probably played it before. Indeed, you may well have played it on mobile before -- it's already available on both iOS and Android. While some may balk at seeing it released on mobile again...well, it's Sonic. It sort of has to be here. Sega know the consequences of launching something without Sonic on it only too well. Thoughts: This is Christian Whitehead's 2013 port of the game -- you may have played this exact version before...if you haven't, then it's excellent. The framerate is perfect, Sonic looks great in widescreen, the music's exact, there's options to play as Tails and Knuckles, and the touchscreen controls aren't bad at all...it's a legitimately superb port and worth playing. If all the other games follow this example, then we're laughing! (Spoiler: They do not.)
Altered Beast -- Naturally the first few games are all going to be quite famous, and Sega's almighty ancient Greek beat-'em-up, a game that existed purely so it could be ported to the Mega Drive as a launch title in 1989, is one of the first up to the plate. It's not exactly the most exciting game ever or anything, but those speech samples, rippling muscles and magnificent beasts provide a big hit of nostalgia, especially for anyone who bought a Mega Drive before Sonic came along. Thoughts: Sadly, this isn't by Christian Whitehead -- this is the emulation kicking in. The first major disappointment is that the framerate is cut in half...30 fps. It just doesn't feel right at all. The sound of Altered Beast is mostly there, although the drum channel does drop out a lot. Being a rather simplistic game, the touchscreen controls aren't a big issue with this one. Not bad, but hardly good.
Phantasy Star II -- This classic was arguably the most advanced console game around when it arrived in 1989. Predating the American release of Dragon Warrior on the NES by a few months, PS II (as well as the earlier original SMS game) was one of the first proper tastes of the JRPG that the West got, along with being a famous JRPG in which a main character snuffed it. It is also infamously challenging, lengthy, and labyrinthine -- if you play this on your mobile, you'll be at it for a while. Thoughts: Being a JRPG, the 30 fps framerate and controls aren't a big issue here. What is an issue however, is the woeful sound -- seriously, the high notes are so distorted that they're kind of painful to listen to. Seeing as Phantasy Star II has an excellent soundtrack, that's a real shame.
Kid Chameleon -- a 1992 platformer from the Western Sega Technical Institute featuring a cool kid named Casey who gets sucked in to a virtual reality Arcade game and has to don a whole load of masks in order to beat the levels and rescue all the other poor suckers who are trapped in there. Kid Chameleon wasn't a massive success or anything when it came out, but time has been kind to it -- it's been re-released often, and now has a pretty solid reputation as a good platformer. The biggest issue with it is that it's very long, hard, and has no save features whatsoever...thank heaven for cloud saving, then! Thoughts: I didn't notice any major sound problems, but that's as good as I can say. A precise momentum-based platformer like this is murder with these awful touchscreen controls -- they're unresponsive, clunky, and the C button is so close to the programs button that half the time I end up pausing the game. And of course, it's 30 fps. Not good at all.
Comix Zone -- Another Western gem from STI, Comix Zone is pretty much the definition of a cult classic on the Mega Drive -- in fact the game comes up so much that we can probably just call it a classic now. Sketch Turner gets pulled into his own comic book by Mortus, his own antagonist, and from there proceeds to defeat his own baddies with many a punch, a kick, and the help of his pet rat Roadkill. A brilliantly presented and very strong game that was hurt at the time due to its late release in 1995, and one that's a welcome sight on the new service. Thoughts: ...Oh dear. Leaving aside that you really need a 6-button controller for this game, the touchscreen controls make this virtually unplayable -- half the time you accidentally hold the diagonal and put Sketch in his ready kick animation, making movement a chore. Fighting is somehow worse, and jumping? Ugh. The sound is also awful -- everything seems to be severely downtuned. And it's 30 fps. Awful in every way.
And so, there you go -- the first batch of games for Sega Forever! And...well, I am dismayed by what I've seen here. Sonic 1 is great, but then we already knew that -- the emulation on the other games is quite simply not good enough. In fact, it's AT Games-quality, made even worse by the touchscreen controls...if you have a controller then maybe you'll have a better time, but you still have to contend with the poor framerate and sound, not to mention the adverts -- they aren't present in the games themselves, but they still do irritate and frankly it's not worth paying the extra money to get rid of them. According to some, Sega are using a Unity-based emulator for these games, and it's simply not right -- especially when there are better unofficial examples out there such as MD.emu. It's a shame to see some of Sega's classics treated this way, it really is...perhaps the direct ports from newer systems will be better, although I wonder if there's anything that we won't have seen before amongst them. On the whole? Not a good showing -- if this is to go anywhere, then Sega really need to improve the quality of this emulation for the older titles.
If there are any old Sega classics that you would like to play again on your mobile, feel free to let us know in the comments below.