Back in the mid '90s, bundling up various retro games into a single compilation was a fairly new idea. The Super NES and Sega Genesis both had some of these compilations, but the concept really started to pick up momentum in the 32-bit era. For this article, we're going to look at all of the arcade compilations released in North America for the Sega Saturn.
3 Free Games With Purchase of Sega Saturn
First up is a compilation that wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I decided to put together this list, but it is a compilation of three arcade games and it also happens to be the first game, or games, I suppose, that I ever owned for the Saturn. I was only 14 years old in 1996 and spent most of the year saving up some money so I could upgrade to the next generation of consoles. I flip-flopped multiple times throughout the year between a PlayStation and a Saturn, but ultimately it was a promotion that Sega ran at the end of 1996 that pushed me over the edge towards the Saturn. As you might have guessed, the "3 Free Games With Purchase of Sega Saturn" compilation was that promotion. I'm not sure what the "official" name for this compilation is, but we'll just roll with the giant label on the front of the box.
The reason I say this wasn't exactly what I had in mind is because this compilation includes three games that had all previously been released on the Saturn in its first year or so. Sega decided to entice potential console owners around the 1996 holiday season with three solid games bundled right in with the hardware. And it worked. Well, at least for me it did.
Included with this compilation is Daytona USA, Virtua Cop, and Virtua Fighter 2. If you visited an arcade in the mid '90s, you were likely to see at least one of these games and being able to play them at home was awesome. I still remember the first time I loaded up my Saturn with Daytona USA and being blown away by the graphics and sound.
These games are a little light on content, but hold a tremendous amount of replay value. My favorite is probably Daytona USA and it's a game I can just pick up and play at just about anytime. Virtua Cop is a lot of fun as well, though I remember finishing it pretty quickly back in the day and if you're familiar with the stages, it will only take about 30 minutes or so to play through. I'm really bad at the Virtua Fighter games, but I've had my fair share of battles in Virtua Fighter 2 and it certainly has a place in 3D fighter history.
Since this isn't a true compilation, but rather a few games boxed together for a promotion, it doesn't contain any sort of extra content like some of the others we'll see later. Nevertheless, this pack can be a fairly inexpensive way to add three great titles to your Saturn collection.
Bubble Bobble also featuring Rainbow Islands
Next up we have another oddly named compilation with Bubble Bobble also featuring Rainbow Islands. The original Bubble Bobble was a pretty big hit and it was immediately followed up one year after the arcade release with Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. This compilation includes arcade ports of both games, plus Rainbow Islands Enhanced, which is the same game with some improved visuals.
Obviously given the title here, the main attraction is Bubble Bobble and it's a solid port. All of the classic gameplay you remember from this one is in tact, including two player co-op. I had never played Rainbow Islands until I picked up this compilation many years ago and it's a fun game, but the gameplay is significantly different. There are certainly similarities, but without "The Story of Bubble Bobble 2" subtitle, I probably wouldn't have known they were related at all.
Overall, this is a rather barebones compilation since it only has two games and aside from a CG intro, it doesn't contain any sort of extras. Well, unless you count Rainbow Islands Enhanced. That's certainly a curious addition since based on what I've found online about these games, the Enhanced version is exclusive to this compilation. Assuming that's true, then I suppose this has a bit of a novelty factor if you're a fan of the series.
Midway Presents Arcade's Greatest Hits
This next title is more of what I had in mind when I started putting together this list. Midway Presents Arcade's Greatest Hits includes six classic arcade hits from the '80s and is more or less just a port of the similarly named Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits. The latter was originally released for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, but only included five games. It would later be ported to the Sony PlayStation and that version includes the same set of games that are on the Saturn port, just using the "Williams" name instead. To make matters worse, this compilation was ported a few years later to the Sega Dreamcast under the title Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits: Volume 1. The Dreamcast port has the same set of games that the PlayStation and Saturn have, but a few months later another Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits: Volume 1 was released for the Nintendo 64 and it has a slightly different set of games. Phew!
Okay, so the naming and re-releases for this compilation certainly got a bit out of control, but the Saturn version we're looking at here is actually a pretty decent little collection of games. This is one of the earliest examples of a true arcade compilation that I can think of and it sort of laid out a template that would be followed with future compilations. In addition to the games, this compilation includes various snippets of text detailing the history for each game, as well as a media gallery that includes some images like promotional materials and concept sketches. I didn't own this back in 1996 when it was released, but I would've really enjoyed the extra stuff included here. It's lost a bit of its luster over the years since a quick online search can likely provide more information than what you're going to find on the disc, but it's still a neat inclusion when taken in the context of its original release.
Anyways, the games included here are all excellent. The two Defender games are great side-scrolling shooters. Next you have Robotron: 2084, which was one of the first twin stick shooter games, though the controls here on the Saturn are a little awkward since you have to use the Y, Z, B, and C buttons to shoot in the various directions. Then there's Joust, which is another great game and can provide some rather heated duels if you have a friend nearby. Rounding out the compilation is Sinistar and Bubbles, both of which were great inclusions since they weren't widely available outside of arcades. Unlike the other four games that all received multiple home console ports prior to this compilation, Sinistar only had a clone known as Deathstar released for the BBC Micro and Bubbles wasn't ported at all.
So with six fun games and some bonus content, this is a nice package overall. The only problem is that since this compilation was released, there have been many other compilations that bundle even more Midway and Williams games together, which ultimately makes this one a tough sell some 25 years later. Of course, it's great to play these classics on the awesome Saturn controller, Robotron woes notwithstanding, but depending on what you're looking for, there might be some better options out there.
Midway Presents Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1
Midway must've been pleased with the previous compilation because Midway Presents Arcade's Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 1 was released shortly thereafter. For the most part, this one is set up exactly like the last one, even down to the box art. You have six classic arcade games with some extra content. As the name suggests, this was the first of two collections that centered on Atari games. The second one was only released on the PlayStation though, so we won't be digging into that one here.
Although it only has six games, this compilation is absolutely loaded. Asteroids is one of the most iconic games of all time and it's just as addictive here as it was in the arcades. Centipede and Missile Command are classics and would both see a reboot in just a couple of years after this compilation was released. I'm absolutely terrible at Battlezone, but it's the original in the long-running franchise. Super Breakout is the oldest game in the collection after its original release in 1978. And rounding things out is one of my personal favorites, Tempest. Much like Robotron though, Tempest suffers a bit from having to use a standard controller, rather than its original hardware, but it wasn't too bad, especially if you've played Tempest 2000 on the Saturn.
This is another solid compilation, but again, all of these games have been re-released multiple times over the years, so it really comes down to whether or not you want to try them out with the Saturn controller. Another interesting thing to note is that with the exception of Super Breakout, this same collection of games was released for Windows 3.1 a few years earlier in 1993 under the title Microsoft Arcade, though I don't think it included any of the bonus content you'll find here.
Net Link Game Pack
Up next we have a compilation that's very similar to the "3 Free Games" pack-in title we looked at earlier. The Net Link Game Pack was a pack-in title with the Net Link hardware and was only available in North America. It contains Sega Rally Championship Plus and Virtual On: Cyber Troopers, both of which have been enhanced to include online multiplayer support and thus feature the "Net Link Edition" subtitle. Both games had previously been released on the Saturn before their inclusion in this compilation and the versions found here retain all of the single and local multiplayer content the original releases contained.
Sega Rally is a particularly interesting inclusion because it's actually Sega Rally Championship Plus, which was previously only available in Japan and contains some slight changes over the original North American release, including 3D Control Pad support. There's not much else I can say about Sega Rally other than it's one of my favorite racing games of all time and is well-deserving of a spot in anyone's Saturn collection.
As for Virtual On, well, it's a fun game, but I've never really figured out how to master that one. It's a fast-paced robot fighting game and as far as I can tell, the version found here is exactly the same as the one that had previously been released for the Saturn, aside from the online multiplayer, of course.
As a compilation though, this is a tough one to recommend since the main appeal back in the '90s was the addition of Net Link support, which isn't too relevant nowadays. Whether you find the compilation itself or the games individually, they can command some hefty prices as well, even more so than the original releases.
Our next compilation is known simply as Sega Ages, which also happens to be the name of a long-running series that Sega has been using to re-release games since the Saturn. Aside from this particular release, most of the Sega Ages line of games were only available in Japan during the days of the Saturn and PlayStation 2. Starting around 2012, Sega started using the Sega Ages name for digital releases worldwide, including as recently as the Nintendo Switch.
Anyways, back to the compilation here. Sega Ages, which was known as Sega Ages Vol. 1 in Europe, contains three Sega arcade games from the '80s: After Burner II, OutRun, and Space Harrier. All three were released as standalone games with the "Sega Ages" label in Japan, but they were bundled together into this compilation for release overseas. As part of their "Sega Ages" re-release, all three games have been enhanced to take advantage of various Saturn peripherals, namely the 3D Control Pad, Mission Stick, and Arcade Racer steering wheel.
All three games play extremely well and with a wide variety of control and difficulty options, just about anybody can jump in and have some fun with these titles. I'm not particularly good at any of these games, but I do love me some Space Harrier and OutRun. That's not say I don't enjoy After Burner II, but I'm especially bad at that one. The only negative thing I can say about this compilation is that it only includes three games, though in Sega's defense, they hadn't released very many standalone Sega Ages titles in Japan at the time.
Much like some of the previous compilations we've discussed, all of these games have been re-released over the years and considering this title can easily cost into the hundreds of dollars, it's a tough sell these days. One final note though is that Working Designs published the North American release and like most of their releases, the packaging is top notch. The manual features 20 full color pages that go into great detail about the options for each game and it also contains three pages worth of translation notes, which are always interesting to read.
Street Fighter Collection
The last compilation on our list is Street Fighter Collection and it contains three classic fighting games on it. This compilation was released in 1997 and by that time, the Saturn had already seen Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, and uhh Street Fighter: The Movie. But, hey, I can get onboard with just about any 2D Street Fighter that doesn't feature digitized graphics and this compilation delivers three new ones for the 'ol Saturn.
First up we have Super Street Fighter II, which is actually the only Street Fighter game I owned when I was a kid, though it was on the Genesis. The version here on the Saturn blows that one out of the water with some incredible 2D graphics. As good as it might be, it's unfortunately overshadowed a bit by the second game, which is Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Previously, the only North American home console release for Turbo was on the 3DO, though it did have a pretty awesome cover. Turbo was also available on MS-DOS around the same time, so some of you may have played that version. Anyways, the Saturn versions for both Super Street Fighter games are awesome. Aside from some load times as a result of running from a CD-ROM, the games run fast and look great all around.
The third game that's included is Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, which, of course, is an enhanced version of Street Fighter Alpha 2 that was already on the Saturn at the time of this compilation's release. As far as I can tell, this version is based on an update Capcom released to arcades in Japan called Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha and the only time it's ever been released in North America in this form is on this compilation. Capcom would later include Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold on Street Fighter Alpha Anthology for PlayStation 2, but although it had the same name on that release, it was slightly modified even further.
While I would've preferred maybe an even older Street Fighter II game rather than having two versions of Super Street Fighter II, this is still an excellent collection of fighting games. It's a little disappointing that it doesn't contain any sort of extra content, especially considering this release spans two CD-ROMs. Unfortunately though, this compilation has gotten very pricey over the years and a complete copy can cost 4x as much as the PlayStation release.
And so there you have it, all of the arcade compilations released for the Sega Saturn in North America. Compared to modern compilations, the ones on offer here are a little light in content, but they're mostly comparable to other releases from the mid '90s. The ability to play the older arcade classics with a Saturn controller is definitely awesome, but some of these compilations have increased in value over the years and it can be tough to justify the price over other alternatives. Some of these certainly have a novelty factor though and if you're looking to bolster your Saturn collection with some arcade classics, hopefully this has been helpful.