Sega's 3D Classics on 3DS: Which should you buy? (Updated for Wave 2)

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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.

3D OutRun

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.