Sega Genesis Classics has one of the best game selection screens I've seen in a retro collection. It's a bedroom. Specifically, it's the bedroom every '90s kid wanted (and a lucky few had). The walls are covered with game posters. Memorabilia and figurines are everywhere. "Your" private TV is hooked up to your very own Genesis, and a shelf stacked with some of the console's best games is at hand.
As someone who had to fight for gaming time on the family's single television (and who also had her playing habits scrutinized and often curtailed according what the teachers told my parents about my marks—all slander and lies, of course), the menu for Sega Genesis Classic makes me feel wistful. It might be the most idyllic picture of the '90s ever rendered, and it's an almost perfect snapshot of the culture surrounding the Genesis at the height of the console's popularity.
I say "almost perfect" because something significant is missing from that shelf of Genesis titles: Sports games. Any sports game, really. Sega Genesis Classics' main menu us designed to remember the halcyon days of the 16-bit Console that Could, but the utter omission of the Genesis' sports menu feels like a denial of the system's history.
Sega can't be blamed for cutting its sports legacy from the Genesis Classics team, though. Nearly every game from the system's history is mired in various levels of licensing hell. EA is responsible for much of the Genesis' sports game catalogue, and negotiating for the rights to, say, NHL '95 would be a job (to say nothing of working things out with the NHL regarding representation and rights to players who've since been traded, dropped, or moved—nearly everyone, in other words). All the games on Genesis Classics are first-party titles, but even sticking to the famous "Sega Sports" line wouldn't be much of a help here: Sports Talk Baseball and other games under the label still utilized official licenses and endorsements.
It's a shame these lingering licenses make it impossible for Sega to celebrate one of the biggest reasons people loved the Genesis to begin with. Imagine if a similar licensing snafu somehow kept RPGs off the SNES Classic Edition. That'd mean no Final Fantasy VI, no EarthBound, no Secret of Mana, no Super Mario RPG—games that gave a lot of people (myself included) one of the most compelling reasons for owning an SNES in the '90s. It's true the SNES Classic lacks sports titles like Sega Genesis Classics, but if the little plug-and-play SNES was bereft of RPGs, they'd be missed far more than the SNES' so-so sports lineup. The Genesis' sports line-up wasn't so-so, however. It was rich and significant. It was a big reason why the Console Wars existed in the first place.
Unfortunately, there wasn't any way for Sega to predict a future where its fans might want to play old sports games. Could anyone, really? Even in the '90s, sports titles aged very quickly; what was cutting-edge one year was old news the next. Imagine going back in time and telling your L.A. Gears-wearing 12-year-old self, "Yeah, we have sports games that look, move, and sound like the real thing, but you know what we all miss? The fun, simple stuff. Can we play Sports Talk Baseball?"
At best, Sega could've tried negotiating with EA for the license to the Mutant League games for Genesis Classics, but that probably would've driven up the cost of what's supposed to be a quick and easy money-maker for House Sonic. Even the inclusion of Mutant League Football wouldn't solve what's ultimately a big problem for Sega: As long as it releases collections designed to make Genesis owners feel nostalgic, it's going to have to keep denying a key part of its own history.