Monday, March 6, 2017

Sonic and Knuckles Collection (PC)- 20 years later

Around 1995, Sega started tinkering with some of their games and putting them onto computers. Their first few games were ones that were on the Genesis and Sega CD like Comix Zone and Tomcat Alley. After that, it was mostly arcade ports, Saturn ports, and original titles to boot. With their feet planted into that market, they continued in stride when they released Sonic and Knuckles Collection in early 1997. It is a very unique game considering it was for Windows 95, the current operating system at the time. With that in mind, has the game changed at all and does it hold up after 20 years?

This is one of those games that I would log a lot of hours in. Whether it was from Windows 95 in 1998 to mainly XP, this and Doom II kept me very busy during the 2000s. Until getting the Genesis version of Sonic and Knuckles in December 2011, this was my only way of playing Sonic 3 and Knuckles. I never realized that the game would not work on newer computers like Windows 7. With Windows 10, someone has made a program a few years ago that allows a few Sega PC games to work on modern computers titled Sega PC Reloaded. With that, it felt like the 2000s all over again playing it on Windows Millennium Edition and XP.

The overall package is you get Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic and Knuckles, both coming out originally in 1994 on the Genesis. They can be played individually or combined together for Sonic 3 and Knuckles. While that seems ludicrous today, the idea of having more than just one game on a medium was a novel concept in the mid 90s. At that time, there was Super Mario All-Stars on SNES, Namco Museum on the PlayStation, and Midway doing compilations of games from Atari, Williams, and themselves. Sega did a few with 6-Pak in 1995, and Sonic Classics in 97. Also included was the entire Blue Sphere game, which on the Genesis, had to be using the original Sonic 1 cartridge on top of the Sonic and Knuckles cart. Computers were getting in on this with Microsft having an arcade compilation of Namco arcade releases as a big example.

Graphically, nothing was changed for the compilation. Windows 95 was more than capable of doing Sonic 3 and Knuckles. Even Windows 3.1/ DOS was doing ports of Mortal Kombat really well. The only thing I noticed was the colors looking a little sharper. Otherwise, all the same backgrounds, areas, and animations are intact. I did notice on a few Special Stages that the floor glitched while playing on Windows 10, but it was only two stages. I don't know how many are affected by this, but it's probably quite a bit if you include the Blue Sphere game. Nevertheless, it still looked as amazing as it was on the Genesis.

Unlike most games today where it can be emulated, Sonic and Knuckles Collection was from an era where Sega re-tooled certain parts. The audio went through a change to MIDI formats, which really stands out compared to modern re-releases of it. Sound effects are a bit clearer, but the same. Most of the soundtrack came through intact, but a good chunk of Sonic 3's music was replaced with original tracks. Some of which sounded really good, while a few others sounding out of place. Like what a few others have said on the Internet, there are two possible scenarios.

The first one is the sound cards. Windows 95 was capable of doing real music, but most companies were still using MIDI formats at the time. Possibly some of those tracks from the Genesis version would not have survived on the PC style music. The other one is because of fearing musician Michael Jackson. Jackson was hired to work on Sonic 3's soundtrack in 1993, but news of his molestation scandal late that summer forced Sega to drop him. Whatever music he did was kept on the Genesis version while others scrambled to get undone parts finished. Jackson would later go on to do Stranger in Moscow around the same time Sonic and Knuckles Collection came out, based a little bit on the instrumental part of the Sonic 3 credits. Whether he would have put up a lawsuit, who knows what he would have done. Whatever the case, Sega took it with extreme caution and put in original music to replace the ones that Jackson did.

Getting into the games, they are as if you were playing them on the Genesis. Every bug, secret, and ways of playing are here. The levels and their designs are left intact. Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles all play like they were back in 94. They use the same features, like Tails flying to get to certain areas that are inaccessible to the others. It's vice versa for the others as well. Every TV box is here. The Special Stages and Bonus Stages are all here. This was a port that showed that computers meant business and could handle the 16-bit games very well, if not, maybe better.

This game does allow two player co-op as Sonic and Tails. It means it also allows stuff like Gravis controllers, joysticks, etc to be used along with the keyboard. Whether there is enough room near your computer is up to the individual. Competition is still here in Sonic 3 and Sonic 3 and Knuckles, All the stages and the power ups are the same as you do five laps in one of the areas. When it's all said and done, this is the kind of compilation one would want, even with it being a straight port.

Not much can really be said on the Blue Spheres game. It's like an extended version of the Special Stages, except with thousands upon thousands of stages. One can do each stage individually or collect all the rings in one so they can go ten stages ahead. Thankfully, there is the password feature when finishing a stage like in the Genesis version when you have Sonic 1 put on top of Sonic and Knuckles. This is a nice bonus to have.

With it being on a computer, here's what Sonic and Knuckles Collection does. You can reset any time you want. You can go to the Blue Sphere game whenever or switch to another game of the three. Screen sizes are here and depending on the computer, it can go faster than you think due to what I've read as the refresh rate. I remember Millenium Edition and XP running it pretty fast in full screen and going extremely fast in the smallest screen. I think that problem might be fixed with modern computers though whether that is using Sega PC Reloaded or on it's own on other modern Windows systems like 7, I don't know. Other PC stuff includes a sound test, changing the controls, allowing a menu bar, and allowing a joystick. There is a help section, but I would not use it on any post XP computers. With Windows 10, it takes you to the Microsoft Edge website.

To answer the original question, it still holds up after 20 years. Outside of how you feel about the music, nothing changed. This is one of the greatest platformers ever, and one of the great compilations of its time. Try to get your hands on this version. The disc shouldn't cost that much. This is 90s gaming perfection.

Score: 10 out of 10

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