‘Sega Forever’ free-to-play classic games for iPhone are off to a good start, but aren’t perfect

Sega has released four classic games into their ad-supported free-to-play Sega Forever initiative, including Kid Chameleon, Altered Beast, Phantasy Star II, and Comix Zone. AppleInsider gave the retro titles a spin, and found room for improvement.

The four titles are reasonably faithful ports of their original titles, not new titles or remasters of existing collections, and are presumably ROMs running on Sega-created mobile emulators. Visually, all the titles translate over to the small screen adequately and for anyone who is looking to relive some retro-gaming moments being able to tote these titles around in their pocket (legally) is definitely a boon.

Altered Beast, which originally released in 1988, is a Genesis port of an arcade game that follows a centurion on his mission to rescue Athena. It’s a side-scrolling beat-em-up that has the player defeating wave after wave of increasingly more difficult enemies.

For some odd reason, the centurion is capable of turning into different forms of were-beasts by collecting items within the level. Each of these forms, which are werebear, weretiger, werewolf, and weredragon, have different abilities that can be used to give the player an edge over particularly difficult enemies.

Kid Chameleon is a pretty standard action platformer that dropped in 1992 for the Genesis. It follows a kid named Casey as he attempts to save the world from a video game boss turned-real. Adopting the alias of Kid Chameleon, he progresses through different levels while collecting various masks that each bestow a different power to him.

The game has just over 100 levels, though it’s possible to beat the game by completing just around half of the levels. It’s a classic platformer in every sense of the word, and if players were fond of any of the other late-’80s and early-’90s titles in the same vein, we’re willing to bet that this is going to be palatable as well.

Comix Zone is another side-scrolling beat ’em up that follows an artist, musician, and pony-tailed New Yorker named Sketch. One night, Sketch is working on his video game when a page is struck by lightning in a freak storm. Following true video game logic, this means that the villain of his comic book, a mutant named Mortus, is immediately brought to life and decides to attempt to kill Sketch and utterly destroy The Big Apple.

Comix Zone is a bit different from Altered Beast as it’s quite a bit more mechanically complex, likely due to the game’s 1995 release date. Many of the levels require the player to solve puzzles in order to progress, which may be appealing if you like cross-genre blending.

Rounding out the first wave of releases is Genesis role-playing title Phantasy Star II. In its day, Phantasy Star II was well received and is still listed as one of the better retro-RPGs out there. Following the protagonist Rolf, players acquire a party of four characters, each with different abilities, sets of armor, and weapons.

A top-down, turn-based RPG, Phantasy Star II is worth an examination if you like other Genesis/Nintendo Entertainment System era RPGs. Out of the four games released to the App Store in this batch, Phantasy Star II feels the most natural to play on a touch screen interface.

Nothing’s quite free

Sega has released the collection as free-to-play and the games are supported by pop-up advertisements that show up between levels, after deaths, or before you start the game. Overall, they’re not terribly intrusive, but if you’re looking to remove them, you can remove third-party ads via an in-app purchase of $2.

Sega’s own ads for future releases and other titles in the series persist, even with purchase.

And, not perfect controls

The problem that we had with most of these titles is that unless you’ve got a Bluetooth gamepad at your disposal, they don’t translate over well to the touch interface. The directional gamepad is jammed together closely in the corner of the screen, and there’s quite a few opportunities to hit the wrong button, sending yourself careening off a ledge or smack-dab into an enemy.

For example, Kid Chameleon suffers from the same issues that other ported platformers have —you’re expected to jump over especially tall obstacles or long gaps by holding the action button to run faster and quickly tapping jump. Without any tactile feedback, timing these jumps is incredibly hard unless you’re looking directly at the buttons, rather than where your character may end up.

Not for the obvious platform —the Apple TV

For whatever the reason, Sega hasn’t released the titles for the Apple TV. We’re going to come right out and say it —we feel that this is a boneheaded move, that we hope is rectified.

The television is a natural place for these titles.

A Sega spokesperson told AppleInsider that the company’s Sega Networks division, which is responsible for its mobile ports, is “set on” bringing games to tvOS in the future. However, no timeline was provided.

That said, Sega is in the process of migrating its back-catalog already on iOS and Apple TV to the new initiative. Sonic and Sonic CD are both available on the Apple TV and now free.

In the case of Crazy Taxi on iOS, if you’d already paid for the title, Sega is “grandfathering” the purchase and removing ads.

For the casual fan, not the devoted

Performance is mixed bag. Frame-perfect emulation they are not, so purists will have to look elsewhere. For everybody else, though, the collection is a good start, and maybe Sega will beef up its emulation engines before the next wave of releases.