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In the 1980s and early 1990s, Sega's output was absolutely formidable, both in coin-operated arcade form and on home consoles like the Genesis/Mega Drive. You've probably played a re-released version of at least one of these at some point, but developer M2 has gone many steps further than simply emulating the original games as they stood. Extra features and painstakingly-added 3D support have literally brought a new dimension to some of the best games ever made, and they're cheap too.
But which should you buy? At $5.99/4.99/4.49 a pop, it would be quite expensive to buy them all, even if it would mean your own little '80s arcade in your pocket (minus the sticky floor and smell of cigarette smoke). I've played them all, so let me assist you. At this point I would normally say 'so insert a coin and we'll get going', but you can't insert a coin into the internet so let's be glad I saw that coming and instead opted for: 'Clicking through to slide 2 won't take AGES so do that now. Please.'
This article originally posted in 2013 but has been updated to reflect the new wave of releases.
This is the ultimate '80s sprite-scaler, one of the best-sounding games ever made, and the reason AM#2's logo features a palm tree. It's OutRun! The pseudo-3D tunnel of Stage 2 leapt to my mind as soon as the 3D Classics range was announced, and it doesn't disappoint. The 3D cup doth overflow with massive scaled sprites rocketing towards you at 60 frames per second - that's twice as smooth as the 1986 arcade original.
This conversion also features widescreen support, unlockable extra gameplay options, and even two new music tracks, sympathetically composed and running through the same MIDI instruments as the original classic tunes, making them sound like they've been there all along. The arcade original's 30fps is available to unlock once you've mastered the game, but the standard option is clearly best. A fantastic conversion of a wonderful game, this is essential.
3D Sonic the Hedgehog
Sanic! You probably know what to expect from Sega's most famous title, but there's more here than first meets the eye. At its heart, this is a port of the original Mega Drive/Genesis code, which means it doesn't have the smooth rotation effects or bug fixes of Christian Whitehead's recoded iOS version. Instead, this is actually running on an emulated and expanded Mega Drive (named internally at Sega as the 'Giga Drive'), given extra layer capabilities by M2 to run 3D versions of Mega Drive games. That technically makes it the first new Sega console hardware since Dreamcast, which is pretty awesome. Shame it's never been built in real life. I'd buy one.
Anyway, the new 3D Sonic looks pin-sharp and beautiful in 3D mode and runs well, albeit with a couple of very minor hiccups here and there, like flickering tiles in the special stage. There's an easy-access level select if you're not very good at using your thumbs to play games and a wonderful fish-eye CRT TV emulation, which drops the depth in the game and instead curves its round-edged display in 3D. Lovely stuff. As for the game itself, of course it's a classic. Check out my Appreciation Section article that sums it all up rather nicely.
3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Oddly, 3D Sonic 2 is noticeably less impressive in 3D than the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Emerald Hill, Chemical Plant Zone and Aquatic Ruin really should look better than this (especially Chemical Plant's overlapping pipes), but the effect is mostly underwhelming, with disappointingly flat planes of background depth, and a very odd-looking special stage. There's even some slowdown in front of the bigger waterfalls, which never happened in the original game.
On the plus side, it's still one of the best games ever made, and there are some standout (pun not intended) moments, like seeing Casino Night Zone's lights twinkling away in the distance. The fuzzy-filtered, convex-rendered CRT TV emulation option is also fantastic, and gives the game a Sonc X-Treme vibe. If you have any interest in retro Sega games, you've probably already bought this one, but while it's good, it should really have been better.
3D Streets of Rage
You can be sure of one thing with 3D Streets of Rage: Everyone who plays it will use up their special, single-use police back-up special move on the first screen by pressing all the buttons to see what they do. It's the law. Er... in both senses of the word. Nonetheless, the age-old Double Dragon formula of brawling your way from left to right has rarely been done better (though do check out the next slide to see one instance of that).
The game looks pretty in 3D, and the gameplay is smooth and the combat system is reasonably versatile. It's a little rough and ready compared to its sequel... actually let's just move on and talk about that instead because it's much more worthy of your time and money.
3D Streets of Rage 2
To say this is a classic is an understatement. In fact, we recently named it the Best Mega Drive/Genesis game of all time. M2 initially declared it impossible to convert into 3D due to the way the stages scroll diagonally in places. And yet here it is, looking better than ever, playing superbly, and sounding delightful - all things you couldn't really say of the iOS port a few years back.
The sprites are large and chunky, the character design is top-notch, the controls are more versatile and there are four characters to choose from. Basically, Streets of Rage 2 is better than the original in every way, and this is the best version of Streets of Rage 2. So really, you have to buy it. Go on - do it now. I can wait.
3D Super Hang-On
Super Hang-On is the sequel to the original Super Scaler coin-op that first produced smooth, impressive pseudo-3D visuals. The sequel added a turbo button, which can be engaged once you hit 280kph. There are four courses to try, ranging from beginner to expert, although even finishing the Beginner Course is a massive challenge. This is a very hard game to master, but definitely not difficult to enjoy. You just ride your motorbike like the wind and try not to crash. Perfect.
The conversion is exemplary, with everything from four selectable screen sizes through to the ability to save one replay (though sadly not one for each track). There's a daft and thankfully-optional screen tilt feature that supposedly emulates the effect of playing with the old sit-on bike. I'm not convinced. The control is great on the analogue circle pad and the game is compulsively playable despite its age. The new 3D effect does seem a bit uneven in the far distance, with bikes looking closer than the road they're supposed to be on, but this is still one of the most easy games in the range to recommend as it fits the handheld so well.
3D Gunstar Heroes
Some 22 years on, there are still few 2D scrolling shooters better than Treasure's Gunstar Heroes. The solid character movement, clever weapon switching and phenomenal graphical wizardry make for a breathless, action-packed game that's barely aged at all. By the time you've seen the morphing boss at the end of Stage 2 and the rotating backgrounds of Stage 3, you'll probably suspect M2 has added some extra effects to make it look better, but it hasn't. Gunstar Heroes was always this good.
On 3DS, the 3D effect impresses by maintaining a solid 60fps, although I wouldn't say the game benefits massively from the extra depth. Exploring its nuances like fixed or free shot shooting and the various weapon combinations is as fun as ever. Worth buying anyway, but not if you already have it. Unless you really want it on your 3DS so you can carry it with you everywhere you go, which I can totally understand.
3D After Burner 2
This honestly used to be the best-looking game in the world. On 3DS, it's still breathtakingly fast and the multitude of pixelly, rotating sprites that make up the ground beneath your fighter jet still look impressive when they're gliding by in 3D. But when the graphical impact has been ravaged by time, it falls to the gameplay to hold the game up... and it doesn't.
After Burner 2 just doesn't work as a shooting game. The collision detection is too fuzzy, evasive manoeuvres never guaranteed to avoid an incoming missile, and the lock-on function doesn't allow you to shoot enemies quickly enough to prevent them firing at you, because the missile trails (now translucent if you want them to be) are such a big part of the visual spectacle, so they're given plenty of screen time. It's still a wonderful blast of nostalgia if you ever had to look for your jaw on the floor of an '80s arcade, but not worth much more than that. Pity.
3D Fantasy Zone: Opa Opa Bros.
This is one that I had only ever played on home consoles before it hit 3DS in its original arcade form, but I have to say this is by far the best version. The game is a very simple 2D shooter, which features bright (some would say 'garish') visuals, cute enemies and limited-ammo power-ups that you can buy from the shop that occasionally enters the field of play.
The game is perfect for score chasing, and the ability to save a replay of your best run is a great addition, especially when you start being able to nail all the boss encounters without taking a hit. Some '80s arcade titles will always be universally entertaining - this is one of them.
Fantasy Zone 2: The Tears of Opa-Opa
This is the best kind of sequel. Fantasy Zone 2 remains true to everything that made the first game so enjoyable, and expands it in every direction, offering more variety and substance. There are even multiple endings, if you're good enough to get there. The turbo-fire button will undoubtedly help you in that respect, as will the obligatory save state that comes with modern emulation.
The music is gorgeous, with calypso melodies complementing the colourful action, and the 3D depth is just right, even with the slider all the way up to the top. The addition of warps to zap you between light and dark worlds adds an extra layer of mystique to the Fantasy Zone, and there's even an endless mode available besides the original story mode, making this a great all-round package that fits handheld play beautifully.
3D Space Harrier
After a few years where it looked really, really old, Space Harrier seems to have turned things around and metamorphosed into a timeless arcade classic. Pew pew pew pew! In fact, it's more 'pew-pew-pew-pew-pew', as the game allows you to set the speed of turbo-fire for when you hold down B. Multiple control options, screen modes and a new Time Trial mode make this a commendable emulation for a modern machine.
Speaking of modernity, the best mode of all is the Touch Screen mode, which makes Harrier's movement on the top screen track your finger/stylus on the touch screen, autofiring as you go. In this configuration, it's a brilliant handheld blast. With one of gaming's most treasured soundtracks and the fact you could ride a great big furry dragon like that bit in Never-Ending Story except with less 'yay, Falcor!' and more tree-smashing, Space Harrier encapsulates the 1980s. Definitely worth the asking price if you enjoy simple, zen-like blasting.
3D Ecco The Dolphin
Oh, Ecco. How you represented the early 1990s 'Eco-friendly' surge. Greenpeace probably loved you. Everyone else... thought you were a bit weird. But at least you got into the credits sequence of 'Newsround' on UK children's Television, bridging the divide between kids' real interests (games) and what Auntie Beeb was happy to acknowledge actually existed (other stuff) in a public service broadcast.
In 3D, the deep blue of the background and schools of tiny fish (and bubbles) in the foreground give the game a very pleasant, if shallow (how ironic--it's the ocean) effect. That said, extra depth has been added to some flat layers, which mean it looks like slabs of rock are moving when the camera pans, as they're further back but out of sync with the rest of the parallax. Still, it's a nice little puzzler, if a bit difficult. And bonkers.
3D Galaxy Force II
This is about as far 3D came when it wasn't made of polygons. Everything is made up of scaling sprites as you pilot your ship through asteroid fields, lava-filled caverns, and beautiful cloudscapes. Gameplay-wise, it's a lot like After Burner, only slightly slower and with more control over where you can fly. It's still essentially on-rails, but you do get some route options and there are obstacles to avoid, which After Burner doesn't really have (canyon walls notwithstanding).
The shooting itself obviously took second place to the spectacle of the action in the original design, so it might not hold your attention for long, and there is also some slowdown, especially with the 3D turned on. It can look far too deep on the highest setting, but stick it on half-way and you should find plenty to like here. Thank goodness you don't have to pay for more credits, though - this is a very difficult game.
3D Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master
Shinobi 3 sees Joe Mushashi taking on Neo Zeed. Again. But at least he does it with style. Interesting fact: The game was actually taken back into development so late in its cycle, magazines had already gotten around to reviewing it. It was brought out for real a year later (in 1993) and... didn't set the world alight.
HOWEVER! (Sorry to shout, you've done very well to raed this far and I'm just making sure you're still awake) Shinobi 3 fits 3DS very well. The rather sparse level design looks chunky in 3D, and the previously flat-looking backgrounds appear surprisingly cavernous now they have a Z-axis. The controls are tight and responsive, and they need to be because there's a substantial challenge on offer. If you play games to master them, this is a very worthy purchase.
3D Thunder Blade
The reason Sega's sprite-scaling graphics techniques were so impressive in the late 1980s is that all of the calculations for object location are done in 3D space. So when you add in a visual interpretation of 3D depth, the game really comes to life, almost as though it was supposed to be viewed like this all along. The relatively slow-moving missiles here can be dodged because you can see how close they are to you, instead of having to half-guess on a 2D display.
The top-down sections look nice in 3D, but they're kept short for a reason. The top-down gameplay just isn't as engaging as the chase cam sections, which see you piloting your attack helicopter through detailed pseudo-3D environments. It's a difficult game and certainly not as spectacular as AfterBurner or Galaxy Force, but certainly worth playing if you've exhausted the more celebrated titles in this series. But seeing as there are so many, that might be a little while away.
3D Altered Beast
This might be pushing the 'classic' moniker a little further than I'm personally comfortable with. It's probably worth the asking price to be able to start the game, wait for the first level to start and then close the lid and whack the volume up so next time someone opens it the 3DS shouts 'WISE FROM YOUR GWAVE'. If that sounds worth 4.49 then you should buy this. If not, I can't really recommend it.
This has the same CRT TV simulation as Sonic, but the slow pace means it just looks fuzzy. There's just nothing good here: It's a crap game. It has always been a crap game and will always be a crap game. The 'animation' is crap. The enemies are crap. The difficulty level, the colour scheme, the... pigs. I want it to stop now. In fact, that's it. Altered Beast has sullied this entire articl for me. And for that reason (definitely not that we've reached the end of the list of titles released so far), I'm out.