“Cassette tapes changed music forever, we’re about to do the same with retro gaming on mobile” was the bold statement Sega made in the pre-release marketing for Sega Forever. 500 hand-labelled cassette tapes posted to the most popular content creators around the world who dutifully speculated on their channels, building awareness and anticipation for Sega’s unveiling.
Sega Forever landed on June 22nd 2017, in the form of apps for Android and IOS devices. Not as some (myself included) were hoping, in the form of a single app to explore, manage and play Sega’s greatest hits, but one app per game release. Five games were released on day one, some of which were original launch titles for the Mega Drive / Genesis system in 1989. Altered Beast, Sonic the Hedgehog, Comix Zone, Kid Chameleon and Phantasy Star 2 appeared in the app stores with the very agreeable price of £0 / $0.
“500 hand labelled cassette tapes posted to the most popular content creators around the world”
There’s no such thing as a free Sega lunch of course, and the revenue is made in these apps in the usual way, with ads you’re forced to view. These can be disabled for a fee to make your app an ad free experience but this fee is per app/game of £1.99 per game. That’s not a bad price if you’ll get some longevity from the game and the experience is a good one, and surprisingly that experience varies greatly from game to game. Not due to the quality of the games naturally differing, but the presentation and emulation are not to the consistent and high standard we’ve come to expect of 18 year old systems. We have more than enough power in our hands to emulate the Genesis and emulators for these systems such as Kega Fusion are extremely mature, extending even to the CD and 32X add-ons for the system.
Despite early talks with Libretro, developers of RetroArch to provide the emulation, talks fell through owing to unreasonable demands by Sega which would result in Libretro losing control of its code. Instead Sega opted to create middleware with Unity and Sega Forever sits on “Wrapper 1.0.0” as found in the credits screen of the app.
The result? Emulation performance which falls very short of expectations, and the Sega of old would never have let this slip through quality control. Low frame rates, skips and freezes are commonplace in Sega Forever where this wrapper is used. Sonic appears to be an exception, the app features an entirely different presentation style and a wide screen version of the game which is silky smooth and offers improved hardware support for game pads. Sonic appears to run on a different engine entirely, or optimisations have been made. It’s an odd inconsistency which further highlights the weak performance of Sega’s Unity wrapper in the other games which are presented in their original 4:3 format. It surely leaves retro fans wondering what could have been if RetroArch was running the show.
Overall it’s an interesting effort from Sega which needs more work, and all but the most casual gamer will no doubt stick to the many alternative and ad free methods available to play more faithful presentations of these classics.
Find out more in my 5 minute review of Sega Forever in which I experience one or two problems along the way.