Joe Montana Football

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Continuing the tradition of playing football games at the start of the 2016 season, next up is Joe Montana Football (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia). Joe Montana was released at the beginning of the Genesis’ lifespan and was a symbol of Sega’s intent to capture the sports market in the US. Sega of America signed a contract with Joe Montana to use his name and likeness in a series of games, much to the chagrin of Sega of Japan – the Japanese office was concerned that the titles would not make enough money to cover the cost of Montana’s contract. The game also had some troubled development – being delayed and moved to another developer before release. Despite this, a completely acceptable title came out the other side and Sega published several sequels until the contract’s expiration in 1995.

Because this is not an officially licensed NFL game, team names are just generic cities (Philadelphia, San Fransisco, Houston, etc.). There are very few modes (3 according to Giant Bomb’s wiki article) and the whole game feels very bare bones. I played the standard timed mode against the computer. There are a few options when you start, such as what opponent, duration, but nothing out of the basics. Joe Montana will give you advice before the game starts on the opponent’s weaknesses, but other than that and the title screen he doesn’t really make an appearance. Gameplay is pretty standard for a football game of this era – you control some players on the field, you pick plays – there is no team management aspects or play creation or anything that advanced. Controls are fairly intuitive and everything plays fairly well even if it’s no frills.

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Graphically, this is not going to win any awards. The title screen looks good but all the menus are spartan and the in game graphics look like they could have been done on an 8-bit system (there was a port of this to the master system). Really, the graphics are not impressive and I can’t imagine them being loved even in their heyday.

Sound effects were fine – nothing spectacular but certainly better overall than the graphics. Music was, well, limited. I only recall hearing one music track, and while it was good, hearing it over and over again would get tiresome quickly. Surprisingly, Joe Montana did do some voice sampling work at the title screen that sounds excellent – probably the best voice sampling I’ve heard on the Genesis – so there’s that.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This one hasn’t aged particularly well and is too basic for it’s own good.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Phelios

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Phelios (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a vertical scrolling shooter released on the Genesis early in its lifespan. Unlike most shooters that I can think of, Phelios is loosely based on Greek mythology – certainly an interesting setting for the genre. You play as Apollo and when your girlfriend Artemis is kidnapped, you leap onto your Pegasus and fight to get her back. That’s the entirety of the story, and it’s fine. There really only needs to be an excuse for the gameplay in these types of games.

As mentioned above, Phelios is a vertical scrolling shooter with a lot of the standard trappings – you shoot swarms of enemies that appear in a predictable manner (read: pattern memorization), you can move in the cardinal directions on the screen to avoid enemy fire, and you can pick up power ups to do more damage or give you ‘options’ which will further enhance your firepower. One small difference from the normal is that you can take more than one hit before dying (four to be exact), which is a nice addition becauseĀ Phelios has a difficulty level far above average. While I admittedly am not very skilled in shooters, the difficulty was pretty severe even on easy. Speaking of easy, one oddity I noticed was that when starting the game, you are given an option of two difficulty levels: easy and normal. The strangeness is that easy only covers levels 1-4, while normal is 1-7. I guess if you want the whole game you need to play on normal.

Visually, Phelios is pretty typical for an early Genesis title. Colors are a bit limited, and some sprites are more basic than they probably should be. This may make it sound like I’m down on the graphics, but I’m not – it’s just fairly standard for 1990.

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The sound effects are also pretty unremarkable, with some explosions and other sounds coming across as a bit weak. The music is pretty good but not really memorable. The developers also put a fair amount of voice sampling in the game, which is good for what it is, but the Genesis was never really good at doing voice samples so they are fairly hard to understand.

At the end of the day, I really like shooters like Phelios but I’m really, really bad at them. It seems to me that this is an above average shooter for the platform and release year, with an interesting backdrop.

Verdict: Play again – like most shooters, I’ll come back to this periodically but never finish it. I’m terrible at shooters.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode

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Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is based on a Japanese manga character who (from what I understand) has some similarities to James Bond. The game is notable for a few reasons – one, it has a diverse set of gameplay types and is fairly competent in all of them. It also has probably the most cinematic presentation I’ve ever seen on an NES title – there are full screen cut scenes with large detailed sprites. Also, it is notorious for being one of the few NES titles to feature sex – when injured, you can regain health by ‘visiting’ a female associate at a hotel. Growing up, I never heard of this game nor did I know anyone that had it – one of my favorite aspects of 8 and 16 bit systems is that there are a ton of titles waiting to be discovered, just like this.

Gameplay is a strong suit of Golgo 13, and it’s hard to describe – it does act like several different games in one. The primary mode acts as a platformer where you walk around a street and fight the occasional enemy – this mode reminds me of Rolling Thunder. Occasionally when walking, you’ll be interrupted with a first person shooting gallery mode, where you need to shoot down helicopters and ground based assailants who are shooting at you. There is also a side scrolling shmup style mode. All of this is impressive in that it all works fairly well. There are some issues with the normal platforming mode – mainly, you can’t duck and shoot at the same time even though enemies can so some damage is not avoidable. If you do manage to die (and you will – a lot), the game places you back at a recent checkpoint – a nice touch. I would have appreciated it if the developers had included a save slot or password system, but they didn’t. Bummer.

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Graphically, we have a mixed bag. The title screen, cut scenes, and story telling sections look great – in fact, I’m impressed they pulled it off on the NES. The side scrolling mode you’ll spend most of your time is – well, only ok. The character sprites lack any kind of detail and the backgrounds repeat far too often to not notice.

Music and sound effects are very good. Music wasn’t catchy enough to stick in my head the rest of the day, but that’s hardly a criticism. Sound effects were fairly standard for NES titles – nothing to complain about but not amazing either.

Verdict: Play again. The check points keep the frequent deaths from being frustrating and I can’t imagine this is a particularly long game.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

NFL Fever 2004

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In celebration of the start of football season, this week’s entry is NFL Fever 2004 (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia). Released for the original Xbox, it was part of Microsoft’s push of sports games onto the platform – there were 4 NFL Fever titles released, with this being the final entry. While sports games are typically not something I seek out, I find Microsoft’s entry into the console market fascinating and so I had to try this relic from that time.

Since I had limited time with the game, I jumped into some quick tutorials and then a quick game. The tutorials were fairly basic but they give you gist of controls (running, passing, tackling), and were easy to skip though or come back to if required. After that, it was on to the single game mode. I picked the 1990 Eagles (a nice touch that some ‘retro’ teams were included along with the current lineup at release time) and of course squared off against the 93 Cowboys. Controls were pretty good in general, passing and running felt intuitive from the beginning, but I will admit that there was a strangeness to the timing on the field that I wasn’t able to pin down. I was either moving a bit too fast or a bit too slow based on controller input and it felt – well, wrong. Overall the game was fun for what it was, but other than the retro teams, it didn’t wow me.
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Visually this is a great showpiece for the original Xbox. Characters are detailed and animate well, and the field looks great. Menus are clean and clear and communicate very well what you need to do. This is definitely some of Microsoft Game Studios best visual work on the platform.

Solid sounding hits, roars from the crowd, and believable announcers make sound effects a bright point here. There are some licensed music tracks for the menus, which were acceptable especially for the time, but they got a bit stale during my time with the game. I didn’t check to see if the game supported custom soundtracks, but if it does it’d be a welcome addition.

Overall, this is a solid title from my layman’s perspective. The controls feel good, there are a ton of modes and teams, and the whole thing feels very polished. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information online about the series so it’s hard to say how well it did for Microsoft financially. The NFL license went to EA in 2004 and has been renewed since – killing any opportunity for competition and leaving NFL Fever as a historical artifact of Microsoft’s first console.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. Nothing against the game itself, but sports aren’t really my thing.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb and Game Spot.