Hello everyone, and welcome to Musgravian Musings, a little space of my own where I can do some non-review reflections on recent game releases. In general, the featured games are ones that have caught my interest in some way or another, and will tend to be games that I didn't (and won't) review. This time, we're looking at the handful of retro releases SEGA just put out under the marketing umbrella of SEGA Forever. SEGA had been planning this initiative for a while, so it's obviously something they put some thought into. I just wish that showed better in the end results.

In spite of some earlier speculation that SEGA might be doing a subscription-style service under the SEGA Forever banner, it seems to have turned out to be a marketing push behind updating, releasing, and re-releasing some of their classic games with a new monetization model. The iOS platform is no stranger to SEGA classics. The company has released a number of Genesis games and a few Dreamcast over the years, with most of them having been pulled after being broken by one iOS update or another. In the past, these releases used a standard payment model. You pay an upfront price, you get the game. The quality of these releases varied wildly, of course. The Dreamcast games were generally ported and turned out quite well as a result. The Genesis games were almost all emulated through some thoroughly average emulator software. In terms of quality and the size of the line-up, SEGA definitely had room for improvement.

I don't think I was alone in hoping that the SEGA Forever initiative would give us that improvement. Unfortunately, it's a disappointment on virtually every possible level. They made an official announcement with a really slick trailer that seemed to promise a total celebration of all things SEGA. New releases every month! Great SEGA classics all the way through to the Dreamcast! SEGA has an amazing history in gaming, and so very much of it remains tragically unmined by the company, especially outside of Japan. Outside of a handful of Dreamcast ports, almost all of SEGA's efforts seem to culminate in various configurations of the same 40 Genesis games we've been getting in collections for nearly 20 years now. They'll throw the occasional bone to fans of their classic arcade games, and Nintendo 3DS owners certainly got a treat with the SEGA 3D Classics and the Game Gear Virtual Console, but systems like the Saturn, SEGA CD, 32X, and Master System seem to get left in the cold every time.

With that said, I was certainly disappointed when SEGA announced their starting line-up for SEGA Forever. Five Genesis games, three of which had been already released on iOS when they did this the last time. Technically, Crazy Taxi [Free] and Sonic CD [Free] could probably be considered a part of SEGA Forever, but those were also pre-existing releases. The selection of games leaves something to be desired even by the standards of the Genesis platform. Sure, Sonic [Free] is there, and I would expect him to be. But all they've done is taken Christian Whitehead's fantastic port and apply a free-to-play model to it that you can buy out of. Unlike the other returning games, Sonic was already 64-bit compatible and supported all kinds of bells and whistles. What do players get out of this "update"? Nothing but an extra layer of hassle on start-up. Never mind that SEGA fumbled the ball again on making sure things would work at launch for pre-existing customers. This is the third time that's happened, but if nothing else, they fixed it fast, I suppose.

The other four games are stranger picks. Altered Beast [Free] and Phantasy Star 2 [Free] rise from their iOS graves, having been among the previous releases that were pulled following compatibility issues. I recognize that its status as a launch window release and, for America, a pack-in with the system in its early days lends Altered Beast a lot of favor among some players, but it's a simple game that was pretty mediocre even in its time. It got a lot of attention because it was a pretty convincing arcade port of a recent game, but games that fly on presentation alone typically don't age well, and that's definitely the case here. Still, I'll give it a pass. It's important to Genesis history, after all.

Phantasy Star 2 is clearly filling the role of the token RPG for this launch. Once SEGA's premiere RPG brand, the Phantasy Star series has long since given up its roots as a single-player RPG to the join the exciting world of online multiplayer. The classic games are undoubtedly of their time, but they're still a lot of fun if you approach them the right way. Nevertheless, I think SEGA missed a real opportunity here to make SEGA Forever look like the big wave they want it to be. Is it so wild to imagine that SEGA could release Phantasy Star 1 first? Yes, it's a Master System game, but thanks to the wizardry Yuji Naka performed in programming its engine, it looks almost as good as a 16-bit game. It would be new to iOS players, and more importantly, it would send the message that this isn't just another excuse to peel off pieces of the Genesis Collection to sell to us yet again.

Then we've got the iOS newcomers, and what a pair of choices these are. SEGA Technical Institute was an internal developer at SEGA of America. They're most famous for assisting in the development of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and co-developing Die Hard Arcade. They released five games of their own on the Genesis: Dick Tracy, Sonic Spinball, The Ooze, Kid Chameleon [Free], and Comix Zone [Free]. The latter two have been selected to be on the front lines of this SEGA revolution, and they're frankly baffling picks. Kid Chameleon is a little loose in its controls but is simple enough to work on a touch screen. But it's also a very low-profile game, so I don't understand how it muscled its way in ahead of things like VectorMan. Comix Zone is more famous, and it certainly has a cult following. I think it's a pretty weak game personally, but I know many who love it. The issue here is that it's a rather complicated game that takes to virtual buttons quite poorly. The Ghosts 'n Goblins problem again, in other words.

Some games from other systems would have really gone a long way towards showing SEGA was serious here, and they really could have chosen more interesting Genesis games if that was something they felt they had to stick to. Imagine if they had launched with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 instead of downgrading an existing release? Dynamite Cop or Zombie Revenge instead of Altered Beast? Phantasy Star 1 or Shining in the Darkness instead of Phantasy Star 2? Maybe Outrun or Galaxy Force 2 instead of a forgettable Genesis platformer? Perhaps they're still working on getting those games working, or maybe they just want to save some big guns for later, but it's still underwhelming. Is this about honoring SEGA's history, or just Genesis history?

So, whatever, the selection of titles isn't exactly what Shaun wants. But that's not a killer, that's just down to personal taste. The bigger problem is that somehow, someway, SEGA is using an emulator that is worse than the one they were using in the 2009 releases. That emulator wasn't very good to begin with either, so that's quite the impressive feat. Adding in nine years of progress in software and hardware, it's nearly unbelievable. While the 2009 versions ran at their proper framerate of 60 FPS on an iPhone 3GS, these new games are running at an inconsistent framerate that wavers between 30 and 45 FPS on far more powerful hardware. The fact that SEGA can't seem to do with 2017 technology what they did with 2009 technology boggles my mind. I keep legacy iOS devices around to preserve old games, so I was able to compare Phantasy Star 2 side by side with the version it replaced, and it's like night and day.

Then there's the sound. This is a fairly regular issue with Genesis emulation, but one that many emulators have solved. In these games, it's atrocious. Phantasy Star 2's music has been mangled. Comix Zone sounds awful. This might be the worst Genesis sound emulation I've seen from a SEGA-branded product, ever. The emulator is also lacking in bells and whistles. You can change any options so you're stuck with the filtered scaling it uses. Heck, you can't even choose to use a six-button layout, which is a real problem for Comix Zone. Again, SEGA has done far better before. There's no excuse for this. I mean, I would love it if they included some of the advanced options from the SEGA AGES 2500 line on PlayStation 2, but in a world where I can't even get six-button support, I'm not holding my breath. Simply put, this is a bare-bones emulator that can't even nail down its core functions.

The problems don't stop there, either. On top of the emulation problems, the emulator itself seems to have tremendous resource demands. The games stutter, skip, and slow down to an absurd degree at times, even on newer devices. Yes, that's right. A Genesis emulator, something that could run well on my 1997 Pentium 120 MHz computer with 8 MB of RAM, is struggling to run smoothly on hardware with a 2017 1.85 GHz processor with 2 GB of RAM. I've heard bad sound emulation on Genesis emulators before, but I've never seen one running this poorly on any hardware. Ever. And again, none of these issues appeared in the 2009 Genesis iOS releases. But hey, the ads play just fine and buying the premium IAP seems to work, so I guess SEGA checked off all of the important boxes.

We're not going to be reviewing these games at TouchArcade. Certainly not in their current form, anyway. If you need to place them on a scale somewhere, they fall somewhere just above the Mega Man Mobile ports and well below the Capcom arcade ports on the ol' 2017 Inexplicably Bad Retro iOS Releases chart. You want stars? I've got a whole bag of ones for everything other than the Christian Whitehead port of Sonic 1. That game is still just fine, and maybe SEGA should take a good, hard look at it to see how they should be treating the rest of their precious library of classics.

To SEGA, Capcom, and anyone else pondering doing something similar: kindly stop leaving your trash on mobile's front lawn.

  • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

    That's too bad! I don't mind the model (choice between free with ads vs. a low one-time price is one of my favorite app models) but the technical failures are a real shame!

  • kellstrand

    WELCOME TO YOUR DOOM

  • IAmTheNightRider

    WETURN TO YOUR GWAVE

  • http://www.unexpect3rd.com unexpect3rd

    MJ's Moonwalker please

  • Cheuk Seto

    How about some Dreamcast ports? So many good games from that machine that could work so well on newer iOS hardware.

    With that said, I know I have purchased Crazy Taxi already when it was released on iOS, but the restore purchase didn't work for me. I ended up paying for it again.

    • Chq

      Jeah! San Francisco Rush 2049 and 4 Wheel Thunder, please!

    • nini

      I'm enough of a loser to want a port of the DC version of Chu-Chu Rocket because the GBA version they offered was awful. Saying that though, seeing how poor their Genesis ports are I can't imagine their DC ports being all that great.

  • http://www.orcpage.com/fboy Jordan Cable

    While I believe this article is being a little harsh, I am still intrigued by this campaign SEGA is doing and am wondering what they'll do next when it comes to newer games. I'm wondering if JSR will come back with the Dreamcast ports. And for hopeful wishing - maybe the Adventure games.

    • AppWhore

      It's not that harsh re the ios versions. Altered Beast on Apple TV with a mfi controller was unplayable with zero frame rate at times and painfully choppy sound.
      Don't know if it's the same across devices but if so they really shouldn't have bothered deving it.

      • Mariko

        Finally being able to play PS II on my 12.9 Pro without it being so small, I could hardly play, since I have rather small hands. Since up until now it was meant for iPhones, which was okay on my old iPad 2, due to if you enabled the 2x enlarging option, it would be playable, just not as it looks like now.

      • Tjoeb123

        On my iPad mini 3 it looks pretty bad, so.....Oh god. I can imagine.

  • http://wizodd.tumblr.com Wizard of Odyssey

    Wow ...
    It's not perfect, but seems far from a "disaster" to me.

    That said, I'd like them to do better.

    64-bitifying House of the Dead and bringing back Afterburner Climax and Jet Set Radio would be a good start.

    I saw Outrun on the gimmicky mixtape they sent out. Seeing Outrun again -- or better yet, one of the Outrun 2 variants from ~2006 would go a long way towards making this better.

    Though they really should be able to execute a Genesis emulator better than they have. Provenance is out there if they need a leg up ...

    • Shaun Musgrave

      If GoGame (SEGA mobile division in charge of this mess) can't get even put together a decent Genesis emulator, I have no confidence in their ability to get SuperScaler emulation or anything more powerful than a Genesis working properly.

      • http://wizodd.tumblr.com Wizard of Odyssey

        Those are my thoughts exactly ... though I believe in the power of hope over experience. If no one ever did, there would be no second children or marriages, would there?

    • philsmtx

      I'm still holding out hope that these things can be fixed with updates. I think there's good and bad in these current releases, i'm hoping for a better selection of games from SEGA the next time. Hopefully stuff we havent seen on mobile yet. Vectorman, Nights, or Shining Force complete series..

      • darkfyra

        I do think also that they can be fixed.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        I mean, anything is possible, but with nearly a decade of precedence with how they handle their mobile ports... History says otherwise.

      • Dragontears969

        Maybe they can be but my thought is why the hell would you release something that was broken? It lowers your already admittedly low reputation and confidence and starts your product out with 2.5 stars on iOS. As far as I know (which admittedly isn't very far), there is no reason this should have been rushed, so why wasn't there seemingly any quality control on this before release? Why do rushed fixes that allow previous purchases of Sonic to work need to come out in the first place, especially as Sega already has experience with this problem in the past?

      • lezrock

        Agreed! Really stupid move from Sega. And also agreed to Shaun's rant. Why do the tripple a game developers releases or brands almost always suck. Especially in the porting department. If a port isn't really a gain especially over a game they previously released i won't buy it. Even if it's just 2 or 3€.

      • Mariko

        Shining Force has been available for several years. Just without iPad support, like PS II had been, up until now.

      • OrangutanKungfu

        Not in the EU, unfortunately. Only on the US store. Thanks, Sega.

  • bigrand1

    It's hard to believe that Sega is STILL bumbling around and not able to do much of anything right! Blows my mind also and at the same time, it makes me sad! Perhaps they should look at making some serious changes in their marketing personnel! ( uh, you THINK?????!!!) These guys SUCK!!! There's a lot of great stuff to work with, and they fail completely time after time, making their reputation laughable, which is just where it is now, and I think with the right people at the helm they could easily right the ship and satisfy their fans! But unfortunately for US, it doesn't look like it's gonna happen, so to me, I feel if they can't do things right, they shouldn't do anything at all. Leave well enough alone and let it die. Let us keep those warm fuzzy feelings in our heads instead of making us resent them and making a once great company a big frikkin' joke! 😑

  • vectorarchitekt

    Speaking of low profile games, what I wouldn't do for a good port of Burning Force. Outrun would be amazing.

  • http://facebook.com/leo.koester Leo Koester

    So much hate...

    For a platform that hungers for good games and that has so few of them, calling "disaster" when true games emerges is beyond understanding.

    • ScotDamn

      Did you just buy an iPhone?

      • http://facebook.com/leo.koester Leo Koester

        Some time ago. Now, just an iPad Mini 2.

      • http://facebook.com/leo.koester Leo Koester

        It's been some time. Now, I just have an iPad Mini 2.

    • Saveria

      What a weird statement...There are dozens of far better, original ios games on the platform that have been there for years.

      • http://facebook.com/leo.koester Leo Koester

        There are some good, I agree, and a few amazing ones, but dozens? I don't think so. (perhaps my expectations are too high for a 10 years old platform?).

      • Saveria

        Yeah don't know what to say. I could list a dozen or more easily from the past 8 months or so alone and no not free to play stuff either....

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      Has so few good games? We had to expand our best games of 2016 list to 100, and it easily could have been two or three times longer than that. Is that not considered a lot of games? I would not consider very poorly emulated versions of 30 year old games "true games." This Sega Forever thing is an unmitigated disaster in every sense possible.

      • http://facebook.com/leo.koester Leo Koester

        If you say thousands of Clash of Clans/Candy Crush/Hidden Objects/Diablo-hack'n'Slash-like games are good, I cannot argue with you...

      • nini

        Limited view of the iOS landscape if you ask me.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Not worth arguing, some people just want to believe all mobile games are shit, meanwhile, I don't have enough time to play all the great iOS releases and it's my job to do that.

      • http://facebook.com/leo.koester Leo Koester

        I didn't.

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        This is just last year's list, it doesn't even take into consideration all the games released in the 8 prior years. If you can't find good games on this list, then you're broken.

        http://toucharcade.com/2016/12/23/the-100-best-mobile-games-of-2016/

    • OrangutanKungfu

      Seriously? So few of them? Touch Arcade listed 100 top games from 2016 ALONE in its end of year round-up - and still left out a bunch.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Mobile is hardly hungering for good games, it has tons of them, and if your idea of a "true game" is a poorly-emulated Kid Chameleon played with virtual buttons, we're probably not going to agree on much. πŸ˜›

  • macatron

    Shining in the Darkness! Yes! I'd absolutely LOVE to see that ported over. πŸ™‚ As for SEGA's crappy emulation, I have no words. It really makes zero sense in today's software world. I could easy go online and find a whole slew of Genesis emulators that work perfectly fine that are made by third parties. How in the world can't SEGA figure out how to emulate their OWN games? SMH...

  • SuperDanX

    Zombie Revenge. I wish!

  • curtisrshideler

    Thank you for laying it out there. I, too, am baffled at why we can't get solid ports and emulators on iOS from major developers. And yet the indie one-man teams give us stuff like CW's Sonic and GBA4iOS, where I can save to Dropbox. What's wrong with the industry that those one-man teams aren't in charge of teams at these huge developers?!?

    • Duane Locsin

      Probably because for huge developers it's not really a priority and their accounting department has an emphasis on -cheapest, cost effective and maximum profit motive.

      On a pragmatic level old hardware models are stopped from being made as demand eventually stops or is insignificant to make room for newer hardware that has the biggest demand.

      Of course games are not a charity and you are in it to make money, but for big companies the 'passion' doesn't translate so well in the books.

      It's like the movie industry it's only recently there is a trend to maintain old and classics films for 'prosperity'

      So perhaps the games industry ought to start doing that from now on.
      Keep several master copies of games, programs, software etc. archived and given to a depository for prosperity and demand.

      The problem maybe things like royalty and rights.

    • nini

      They aren't really hamstrung by profit motive or the grey area of legality they exist in so that does give you a lot of latitude to do something purely out of love for the platform.

  • boydstr

    I give them the benefit of the doubt the first Nintendo games on iOS didn't impress me either fact is that Sega has some real cool games in there library so I wait and see what the future releases from Sega will bring.

  • Duane Locsin

    I think its more a mattter of having to find original codes, getting permission to satiate rights, royalties and the archiving methods of classic games (if they were archived properly at all in their time) more then it is with modern technology struggling to run ancient software.

    For those who have seen the games industry for 20-30 years we all know and seen countless times that publishers, developers, key staff, engines and source codes change, become no longer available and there are a whole mess of long standing agreements and copyrights that last for years.

    Perhaps a 'Prosperity' initiative needs to be formulated that after a certain time and agreement that games are archived and "made public"to an independent institute that holds all the master copies, necessary technical and legal chains.

    • Cameron Fenton

      That explains why they have such a limited selection of games, but it doesn't explain the terrible performance. I can emulate these games on my Android phone or tablet easily. The original cartridges are still out there. If the source code is gone, Sega could buy the cartridges, dump them, and emulate the ROMS. They don't have to port the games to iOS, so they don't need the source code. They just need to use an emulator that doesn't suck.

  • repapermunky

    Agreed

  • klink

    Sega is running out of lifelines which is quite sad. I've been a big fan since the master system but it's hard for me to care anymore. I really they pull it together but I don't have any faith they will.

  • Martin Cook

    Thanks Shaun, your article is not harsh it is the truth, these games are appalling.
    Sega is the only company I used to care about and it is so sad watching them to continue to destroy their legacy.

    One of the first things Steve Jobs did when he went back to Apple is he killed Mac clones and brought everything back in house and in apple control.

    IF Sega were serious they would do the same, kill off AT games and all the poor emulators that make the games look bad and seriously look at preserving their legacy.

    I honestly don't NEED Sega forever I was happily running Provenance sidedloaded on my phone (using purchased Sega roms from steam) the emulation is perfect and provenance runs even SEGA CD perfectly.

    I wanted to support Sega forever as I want to give Sega more money, I want them to do well. How embarrassing I hyped Sega forever to tons of friends who I then had to inform to avoid due to the terrible quality emulation.

    Whole thing has been a bummer And I am starting to question why I even care about Sega anymore.

    Can't this be fixed? Maybe?
    That's not really the point, they stuffed up good and proper with this launch.

  • Tjoeb123

    I should also mention that while save states sync, games with local save files (the SRAM file, i.e. Phantay Star II) don't. Again, another oversight.

  • OrangutanKungfu

    Ouch. My only additional comments are that, as a Game Gear owner in the Nineties who used to buy games magazines, Kid Chameleon is actually a far better known title to me than either Vectorman or Comix Zone - but maybe that's a British thing.

    • korossyl

      No, I'm US, and as a non-SEGA gamer, I've at least heard of Kid Chameleon but not Vectorman or Comix.

  • WildBastion

    If sega wants to really get people excited they need to release psobb on ios, fully featured and intelligently altered for touch screens. If they could be bothered to make their games without slowdown and other technical problems I would be all over this. /sigh constant disappointment in the games industry....

  • Chq

    Biggest sh_t i have ever played. πŸ‘ŽπŸ‘ŽπŸ‘ŽπŸ‘ŽπŸ‘Ž

  • Nicholas C Vesely

    Emulation is fine IMO but I'll admit that it'll never beat the original hardware in terms of accuracy.