I promise I won’t make a habit of this, but I would like to say it one more time just so I know we’re all clear: Sega Ages 2500 began as a budget series on both sides of the publisher/consumer divide – nostalgic experiences intended to be cheap(ish) to make and cheap(ish) to buy. Monaco GP and roughly the dozen or so entries after it were supposed to be a bit of nostalgic fun for long-time Sega fans with PlayStation 2s, not the foundations of an archive fit for the ages. To try and help put this in perspective: If we use reissued “mini” Sega hardware as a rough scale, this is closer to the Game Gear Micro than the Mega Drive Mini 2; a quick flash of entertainment rather than a serious attempt to preserve anything precious or redistribute painfully accurate emulations of otherwise lost games.
Separate from these issues of public perception, Monaco GP had another mountain to climb: This is the game they chose to follow up Phantasy Star‘s relatively lavish series-opening remake with – and it’s probably the worst, and also the most appropriate, game they could’ve picked.
If people think of anything when they hear the words “Monaco GP” and “Sega” together their minds will probably jump straight to Super Monaco GP, the thrilling first-person (version depending) F1 racer released in arcades in 1989 and then swiftly ported to varying degrees of success to the Mega Drive as well as just about every other non-Nintendo piece of hardware available at the time. This is not that game. Volume 2 of Sega Ages 2500 is actually based on that more famous racer’s 1979 prequel, an arcade game so old it released in a bygone era where cutting-edge arcade games could unironically appear in public encased within classy wood-effect cabinets. To further add to this remake’s woes, prior to this the only home ports of vanilla Monaco GP were for the SG-1000, iMode phones, and the Saturn as part of the Japan-only Sega Ages Memorial Selection Vol. 2. So as popular as the arcade game seems to have been at the time – which still would’ve been decades before the Saturn finally brought the true arcade experience home – it’s not exactly something that’s been hovering around the general gaming consciousness since then.
Even if you were one of the few carrying a torch for corduroy jeans and Monaco GP there’s the sheer age of the game to consider: 1979 was the same year Asteroids debuted in arcades, and Space Invaders – the original one without colour graphics – was only around a year old. The game we have here reflects the simplicity of that time period – it has to, else there’d be no point in calling it Monaco GP at all.
And this is the part where I remember something I’d forgotten. Back then games couldn’t hide behind… well, anything, really – not when “scrolling” could be considered a cutting-edge feature. Monaco GP had to be fun to play, because if it wasn’t then there was basically nothing else in there it could entice paying customers with. The only real adjustment needed is to remember this is a racing game the same way OutRun is a racing game – which is to say, it isn’t a racing game at all. Monaco GP is a dodge ’em up: all the other cars on the track are obstacles to be avoided, not rivals to out-race, and in keeping with the general arcade-ness of it all your inevitable crashes are always spectacular and silly, nothing more than a sign the game is working as intended.
There are two unhelpfully named main modes to choose from – Original and Classic – with the latter having a few further variations on top. Original is the closest to the arcade version, presenting you with an endless vertical strip of road with the occasional slight kink in it (this is a new addition). Sometimes it’ll be icy for a bit, sometimes it’ll be so dark you can only see whatever’s in your headlights’ narrow beam – and that’s about it. This is a pure score attack challenge, the only aim being to go fast and not get hit, then keep on doing both of those things until you run out of lives or time – whichever comes first. Just for the record: There is no emulated arcade original version of Monaco GP present on the disc.
Classic offers a selection of tracks to race around split across several difficulty levels and even a five-round grand prix to take part in. These tracks are deliberately simplistic. Shoulder buttons snap-turn at 45 or 90 degree angles (the only corners going), keeping your main focus on swerving to dodge cars, collect power ups, and collect stars – stars increase top speed, consistent collection eventually putting you in a super-fast state that allows you to knock other cars off the road when you collide with them rather than explode in a ball of fire – assuming you can concentrate and react quickly enough to the track ahead.
To get into that state though you’ll probably need to do a little jumping. As ridiculous as that sounds it’s superbly judged addition to the base game, authentically daft enough to feel like it was always part of a 1970’s arcade title – of course an F1 car can jump. This amusing move also serves a useful purpose: athletically leaping over your opponents allows you to dodge incoming traffic even when the road ahead’s too narrow to move to the sides, and also avoid the gaping holes in the road present on some of the more difficult tracks.
An adequately-polygon’d remake of Monaco GP “should” feel a bit flat and lifeless but instead this feels energetic and sunny. It’s exciting in a relaxed sort of way, Sega offering an open invitation to come on over and have some fun alone or with friends (four player split-screen multiplayer’s available in Classic). There’s even an enjoyably arcade-like guitar laden soundtrack to help set the tone, just the sort of thing you could imagine blasting out of Sega branded speakers back in the ’90s.
Not being the sort of Sega game anyone wanted, asked for, or expected only helps to further justify Monaco GP’s inclusion in the Sega Ages 2500 line up. This is a quiet statement of intent: Sega Ages 2500 is going to include the sort of Sega games fans working with/within Sega want other people to play, and that isn’t always going to mean safe choices and big, obvious hits. This is collection is going to take in all of Sega, even the bits a few people didn’t know they wanted until the deliberate sequential numbering of the series nudged them – myself included – into giving these forgotten releases a go.
Unlike Phantasy Star: Generation:1, Monaco GP was included as part of the Sega Classics Collection bundle released in Europe (and US). It was something of a sorry affair, released so quietly (at least in the UK) it couldn’t help but give the impression none of these games were worthy of being celebrated (or paying for) – a compilation that apologised its way onto shop shelves and was then left to die, its perceived failure predictably hammering the final nail in a coffin that had scarcely finished being built. If absolutely nothing else, Monaco GP deserved better than that.