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Memories In A Box: The Best Video Game Compilations

Super Mario All-Stars After more than two decades of cranking out hit titles, the game industry has come to love compilation cartridges and discs.  Publishers can crank out collections for relatively nothing in terms of cost, and fans can pick up a slew of their old favorites in a single box for a low price.  However, as compilations have matured over the years some companies have become lazy about the process.  One can always tell which collections have been treated with love and which collections are seen as a quick cash-in during an otherwise slow sales period.  Today there are all kinds of retro compilations out there, but these five stand above the rest.  Seek them out the next time you venture to your favorite local game shop.

Castlevania and Contra: Konami Collector's Series 5) Castlevania and Contra: Konami Collector's Series (Konami)
Available for PC

Two of the most beloved Konami franchises have to be Castlevania and Contra.  Oddly enough, neither series has appear in a dedicated compilation on game consoles, and each series has plenty of material to pull together.  Instead the company put together five of their best 8-bit efforts together on CD-ROM for computers running Windows.  The set includes Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, Contra, and Super C; the set is included here because it's the only place to find the first three Castlevania games together in one package.

Castlevania and Contra: Konami Collector's Series It's puzzling why Konami hasn't made more of some of the best games in gaming history, but at least these titles are preserved together here once and for all.  There's not much in the way of additions or special features to be found here, unfortunately.  Some of the mistranslated typos have been corrected ("You now prossess Dracula's rib" has been fixed) and the passwords for Simon's Quest have been changed so that the passwords from the Nintendo Entertainment System version will not work here and vice-versa.

Sonic Mega Collection Plus4) Sonic Mega Collection / Plus (Sega)
Available for Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2, and Microsoft Xbox

The very best of Sonic the Hedgehog is represented in this collection, featuring his landmark Sega Genesis adventures (Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic Spinball, and Sonic 3D Blast) and a few miscellaneous toss-ins such as Flicky and Ristar.  Each game is emulated for authenticity, and the set even includes the three bonus games previously available in the 16-bit days that come from locking the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge to other Sonic games.

Sonic Mega Collection Rounding out the set are some bonus artwork, video, and comic book covers.  The games themselves are the star attraction though, and for $30 this one's a terrific bargain.  The second Sonic compilation, Sonic Gems Collection, contains Sonic's leftovers but does include Sonic CD.  Also worth noting is the Sega Saturn Sonic set Sonic Jam which includes the first four Genesis Sonic titles. Forced to choose between them, I'd take Mega over Gems and Jam any day. 

The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition 3) The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition (Nintendo)
Available for Nintendo GameCube

Nintendo fans had been begging and pleading for a "Zelda All-Stars" for years and years, but it wasn't until 2003 that the company decided to listen.  This collection includes four classic titles from The Legend of Zelda series: the original two Nintendo Entertainment System titles and the famed two Nintendo 64 titles.  A time-limited demo of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker rounds things out, but it's the games themselves that are the stars.  Like Sonic Gems Collection, each title in this set is emulated with no gameplay enhancements, although Nintendo did fix a few misspelled words and give Ocarina of Time a minor graphic makeover.

The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition The best aspect of this collection is that it gives younger fans of the series who may have never played the original games a chance to see what the fuss is all about regarding the NES titles in the series.  Three of these titles appear elsewhere this generation (the two NES titles on the Game Boy Advance and Ocarina of Time on a standalone bonus disc along with its Master Quest iteration), but one cannot go wrong with all of these titles on a single disc.  A weak video clip depicting the history of the series rounds things out.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars 2) Mega Man: The Wily Wars (Capcom)
Available for Sega Mega Drive

The Nintendo Entertainment System was the exclusive home for Mega Man's many adventures for a long time and it wasn't until Capcom decided to bring the blue bomber to Sega's 16-bit machine that he officially jumped platforms.  Wily Wars is the "Mega Man All-Stars" that fans demanded, bringing the first three Mega Man adventures together on a single cartridge.  The best part of this collection has to be the upgraded visuals and music.  Sprites are more colorful, more animated, and overall just more visually appealing.  The music has been given an update as well, resulting in some memorable remixes of what were already classic tunes.  The collection's new feature is a new short adventure known as Wily Tower that features three new Robot Masters and a new Dr. Wily fortress.  During the Wily Tower segment players can customize Mega Man's arsenal, choosing the best weapons to take along from Mega Man, Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 3 before each stage.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars Unfortunately this collection was only released on a cartridge in Europe.  The North American version was exclusive to the Sega Channel.  Acquiring this cartridge takes a fair bit of time and money these days, as players outside of Europe will have to also pick up a Sega Mega Drive, the Wily Wars cartridge itself, and the appropriate voltage and video converters.  Even though the newer Mega Man Anniversary Collection set includes more games from the series, I find Wily Wars more appealing.  The Anniversary Collection comes off as a lazy effort with awkward controls, edited games, and mislooping music.  Wily Wars shows a love of the character.

Super Mario All-Stars 1) Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo)
Available for Super NES

Super Mario All-Stars was a revelation when it was released in 1993.  The set was a landmark in my gaming world, as it was the first time I realized that my favorite old games could be given a makeover and sold in a bundle for a comparatively low price.  All-Stars includes the first three Super Mario Bros. titles, the Japanese Lost Levels, and (in the console pack-in version) Super Mario World.  Each game in the set looks downright fantastic, oozing color and personality.  Remixed music helps capture the feel of each game as well.

Super Mario All-Stars Although Nintendo would become greedy when reissuing these games for the Game Boy Advance by releasing them one at a time instead of in a single game pak, All-Stars was the gold standard of compilations for many years.  It came along at just the right time in gaming history, as today's modern collections are primarily emulated versions of the original titles.  All-Stars (and Wily Wars, for that matter) are rebuilt from the ground up for the 16-bit architecture.  This gives each game in the set a fresh appearance, one that is missing from today's collections.  While it is important to preserve the past, giving an old game a fresh coat of paint is a welcome change.