Sonic 3D Blast

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Sonic 3D Blast (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was a late release on the Genesis, and I never got around to playing it. The graphics looked strange compared to the other entries on the Genesis (which I have extreme nostalgia for and love) and in late ’96 I was starting to get into PC gaming and didn’t use my Genesis much. I’ve always heard that this entry is, well, awful but I wanted to check it out for myself.

In Sonic 3D Blast you have an isometric top down view of Sonic and the level. You can move him in any direction on a 3D plane and do the standard jumps and spin dashes.The goal here is to defeat enemies by jumping on them, then gathering up the flickies (small birds) that pop out and escorting them to a collection area – this is a much different game than the side scrollers. Lining up jumps is actually fairly difficult with this perspective, and I was never confident that I would actually hit an enemy once I jumped – the game does feel fairly generous in this (probably because the designers knew it was an issues) but it never feels natural and intuitive. The game seems very easy, and not very fun – and on top of that there is no save system – a ridiculous oversight.

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Visually, Sonic 3D Blast is one of the games from that time period that use prerendered 3D objects to generate sprites that are then put in the game (see Donkey Kong Country and Vectorman). Overall I’m not wild about this art style, but for what it is it looks nice. There is also an FMV cinematic intro, which is crazy to see on the Genesis (it is compressed all to hell though). Overall I would say the graphics are probably the one good thing I would take away from this game – they do look quite nice on the Genesis, cleaner and crisper than you would see for most titles on the system.

Sonic titles – to me at least – are well known for their music. It’s some of the best that we got on the Genesis, or hell the whole 16-bit era. Unfortunately, here it falls short. Way short. The music is overly happy and poppy and doesn’t really fit in with the game very well. It’s completely forgettable too. Sound effects are mediocre with little punch felt when destroying an enemy or opening a power up. At least the ring sound effect is the same as Sonic 3.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This is a terrible Sonic game and while it’s not offensively bad, you really shouldn’t waste your time with it.

 

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Samurai Shodown

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Samurai Showdown (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a fighting game released by SNK on basically every platform ever – seriously, check out the Giant Bomb page and look at the platforms list (at the time of this writing there are currently 17 platforms listed). SNK, for those who don’t know, is a large producer of arcade games focusing on fighting games and who released the NEO GEO home console and arcade system in the 90s. Samurai Shodown is one of their premier fighting game series, and I was excited to try it out given the pedigree.

I’ll admit right here and now that I’m not a big fan nor particularly skilled when it comes to fighting games. I certainly appreciate them in a casual way, but they aren’t something I normally seek out on my own. A surprise for me was that this title is actually sort of a weapons based fighting game – something I wasn’t expecting. You can pick one of several fighters and compete in a tournament. Each fight is best of 3 rounds, pretty standard fare for a fighting game. The controls felt pretty good once I got the hang of them but the style/feel of this is completely different from what I’m used to. There are certainly fast fighters in the mix, but there is a sort of – how to say it – a lack of transparency on what attacks will hit before others. Say you punch and so does your opponent at the same time… one of you will hit and the other won’t and it’s not really clear how that is determined. When you are knocked to the ground, you gain some temporary invincibility when you stand up – many times I was waiting for my opponent to stand up to attack them and my hits didn’t register. I know why this is done, but I fell into the trap repeatedly. On the bright side, going on the offensive and attacking feels deliberate – you can’t button mash and hope for the best here. Overall, once I got used to it the controls and gameplay felt really good.  Finally I should mention that while I’m sure there is some sort of story here, I only have a loose cartridge so it completely eluded me.

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Graphically this is a good looking game – but there are some flaws. Character sprites look good by and large, and the environments also look pretty great. Backgrounds have some limited interaction (such as slicing a bamboo stalk in half) which was a treat to see. Unfortunately, there is a lot of slowdown and backgrounds do not do any parallax scrolling – something I was hoping they would do. On the whole, I’d say the positives far outweigh the negatives, but if you hate slowdown you are going to have a bad time with this one.

Music was period appropriate and fits the mood of the game, but it’s not really great – I can’t see listening to the soundtrack outside of my play session. Sound effects otherwise were solid and are clearly where the effort went when porting this to the Genesis.

Overall I did enjoy my time with Samurai Shodown. The controls and fighting felt good, and the visuals were quite nice. It also takes advantage of the Gensis 6 button controller, which is very nice to see. I do also love the really goofy translation, which gives us such gems as “I thought I was dead. But I think I’m Cleopatra, too.” and “No one calls me freak and lives! No one but my wife, that is.” – really bizarre and fantastic.

Verdict: Play again. Not my favorite fighting game, but solid for sure – I’d like to finish the campaign and see what happens.

 

Batman Returns

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Batman Returns (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) – a movie tie in – was released in the early 90s on almost every platform available at the time (in case you’re curious: NES, SNES, Master System, Game Gear, Genesis, Sega CD, PC, Atari Lynx, Amiga) – as is typical for the time period, most of these are completely different games. I actually have 2 different versions of this game, and today I’ll be taking a look at the Genesis port.

The Genesis version of the game is an action platformer. You take on the role of Batman and move through levels by walking, jumping, and using your grappling hook (similar to Bionic Commando). Enemies can be killed in one or two hits, and you have a fairly generous health bar. Unfortunately, that’s basically required – for a title released in 1992, from a design perspective it’s still clinging to the 8-bit generation. Levels are tough with enemies that get hits in automatically, jumps that are impossible to predict, and occasional attacks that are completely unavoidable unless you know they’re coming. This adds considerable length to a game, since you’re required to memorize large levels, but really kills the enjoyment. This was a plague on the NES, and it rears it’s ugly head here too. Controls felt good enough, but the punishing nature of the game really killed the fun for me.

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Sprite work is excellent for the most part here – particularly the simulated lighting. Animations are good across the board, and it has a decidedly darker tone – much like the film it is based on. They really, really nailed the look of the movie. If I have a complaint it’s that the title screen and menus are really bland almost as if they were done last minute.

In the audio department, this feels like an early Genesis title. Music is repetitive and overall mediocre. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good tunes here, but it’s underwhelming on the whole. Sound effects also are a bit low quality – disappointing.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This does not compare well to the SNES version, even though they are different games.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

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 because 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

Light Crusader

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Light Crusader (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is an action RPG released late in the Sega Genesis’ life cycle. Developed by Treasure – a developer known on the Genesis for classics such as Dynamite HeaddyGunstar Heroes, and Alien Soldier – it is not well known despite its pedigree. To be honest, until I ran across a copy earlier this year,  I didn’t even know the game existed.

The game begins with the hero returning to a town that requested his help. The king informs you that villagers have been going missing and begs you to investigate the disappearances. As for narrative – that’s pretty much it. I’m sure it gets a little deeper the further you go, but you are essentially thrown right into the action.

The game is played from a top down isometric perspective that reminds me a bit of Diablo. You can walk in the four cardinal directions, attack, and jump. Some actions are context sensitive – for example when you’re in town you can hit the attack button to speak to townsfolk to get some clues. There are also shops in town to buy and sell items that you find, but I never had anything to sell and was too broke to buy anything. To get to the dungeon, you need to figure out a small puzzle in the graveyard – unfortunately because my time is limited and I couldn’t figure out what to do I had to revert to a walkthrough. When I saw the solution it was fairly obvious, but the act of getting stuck 5 minutes into the game was a preview of some of the more obscure puzzles that I was about to deal with. As for gameplay, there are some puzzles to figure out, some light combat (which is not great), and some light platforming. For the platforming, the isometric perspective doesn’t do the player any favors and simple jumps can take several attempts to land properly. Despite this, the minute to minute gameplay works and is fun and rewarding – something I wouldn’t have expected given some of the downsides. I can’t say for sure, but I get the impression that some of the later puzzles will be very difficult which would be a bit disappointing.

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Music in Light Crusader was awesome – it was some of the better Genesis music I can think of. The town and dungeon themes were atmospheric and drew me into the world. Sound effects were also excellent – this is Treasure doing what they were known for. Which leads me to….

Visuals. While not everything is amazing, I would say the graphics are definitely above average with some of the sculptures and other sprite work looking fantastic. While hard to see in screenshots, the doors and some other elements are actually 3D and look great. I will say that the main characters animation is a bit weak, and some townsfolk don’t animate at all – the only blemish on the overall look of the game.

Overall, I had a good time with Light Crusader and I’m shocked that it’s so unknown (and cheap!). If you have a Genesis and are looking for something different, I think it’s well worth a shot.

Verdict: Play again! This was a good time, and while I imagine some of the later puzzles will be difficult and possibly frustrating I can overlook the flaws.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Gargoyles

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I was born in the mid 80s, and while I love that decade and some of the media that came out during that time, if I’m honest, the 90s are more familiar. The early years I vividly remember all start with 199x, and wow do I have nostalgia for that time period. We had tons of great consoles (like the Genesis), games, cartoons, toys, movies and every conceivable cross promotion between them. This era is what created the Gargoyles TV series and ultimately the game for the Sega Genesis. Gargoyles (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was released in 1995, which means it was a fairly late release for the Genesis – its successor the Sega Saturn had just released the week before. Gargoyles is an action platformer – a genre that was over saturated at that time and at first glance it appears to be a typical licensed game cash in on a property. Thankfully, while not perfect, this game does not fall into that all too common trap.

You play the game as Goliath, leader of the gargoyles. The year is 968 AD and vikings are attacking your castle – you’ve got to defend it. That’s the basis for the story, and in between levels you are given some additional story bits – but it’s far from a complicated narrative. Basic gameplay has you running, climbing, and killing enemies with your claws (you only have one attack as far as I can tell). Here is where some ugliness crops up – this game is HARD. Really hard. And there are no saves, limited continues, and no password system. I couldn’t even beat the first level. The controls can be a bit strange at times, but the real difficulty is in the levels themselves – you have a ton of enemies thrown at you and you don’t take many hits before you die. There is a nice checkpoint system that actually feels like a modern game, but that is the only reprieve from the oppressive difficulty.

Sound was good overall – the music was fitting and sounded good coming from the Genesis (confession time: I had a Genesis growing up and I’m one of those weirdos that actually likes the way it sounds). Sound effects were also good. There was a sound test in the options menu, which is always something I love.

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Graphics are good and remind me of Aladdin. Animations were fluid and backgrounds scrolled as you would expect. I have no complaints with the graphics at all, but they didn’t blow me away either.

Overall, Gargoyles is a game that brings me back to my childhood, but it is unfortunately way too difficult for it’s own good.

Verdict: Back on the shelf.

Author’s note: Source code for this game can be found on the original programmer’s personal site here: http://shrigley.com/. I think this is fantastic and it is a good way to not only preserve the game, but teach budding programmers (or experienced ones) what it takes to make a game for the Genesis.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

 

Super Battleship

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Super Battleship (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a pretty direct version of the classic board game, with an additional strategy type mode added in.

In classic mode, you are presented with a tile grid that should be familiar to anyone who has played the board game. You place your ships (you can rotate them with the B button) and when you’re ready hit start and select a difficulty for your opponent. Because the screen is shared, there is no local coop play. The classic game plays out exactly the way the board game does with one exception – instead of firing each turn, you fire 3 times per turn. This speeds the game up considerably, and I think it’s a nice touch. You win when you sink all of your enemy’s ships, and lose when all of yours are sunk.

In super battleship mode, the game is completely different. You’re given command of a set number of ships per scenario, and have to sink the opponents ships in a certain amount of turns. In this mode, issuing commands is turn based, but combat is real time. When engaging the enemy, you have to aim and fire the guns from your ship to sink them before they sink you. It plays OK, but it’s hardly thrilling. After playing all 4 initial scenarios (there are more you can unlock or use codes to access), I wished that there was an auto-combat button so that I wouldn’t have to manually sink the ships.

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To put it mildly, gameplay is rather boring. The ship battles are the most interactive part, and they don’t have you doing much. The strategy portion is pretty basic and I don’t think it would interest strategy game fans at all. I will say this, at the time of release (1993), there were pretty slim pickings for strategy gamers on home consoles, and so I have to give a little credit to this one for being one of the few in the genre.

Graphics are pretty bland and uninteresting – it’s definitely not pushing the Genesis in any way in that department. They are adequate, but nothing to write home about and would be right at home on the Master System or NES and look very dated for a 93 release. Sound… is pretty bad. There are only 3 music tracks that I heard (victory, defeat, and super battleship mode background) – there is no music in the classic mode. Sound effects are fine, but nothing stood out as great.

Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with Super Battleship – it feels like a budget release. The classic mode is the only thing I can see coming back to, but even then it’s not very interesting just playing against AI every time.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. I don’t see a reason to go back to this one.

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures

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Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a strange game. It is not at all similar to the classic arcade games – instead it is a side scrolling adventure game. You are not given direct control of Pac-Man, instead you interact with the environment in 3 ways: Feed Pac-Man power pellets transforming him into Super Pac-Man, hit things in the environment (including Pac-Man) with a slingshot, or finally using the d-pad and a button to make him look in a direction for something to interact with. You are given a task, usually by Ms. Pac-Man, and have to guide him to complete the task. If this sounds a little dull, it’s because it is. Getting Pac-Man to get through a screen to the next one or to the solution to his problem feels like a puzzle game… very trial and error. There are no “lives” so if you make a mistake you just reset back to a check point. Since there are no real stakes you never feel pressured to actually try really hard on a given screen – just shoot things at random with the slingshot and hope for the best. According to Giant Bomb, this just got a release on Wii U via the virtual console – I don’t know how many people will buy it, but I imagine even fewer will like what they find.

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The graphics looked pretty decent for a Genesis title, nothing to write home about but they did the job just fine. The music was fitting but I bet it gets tired after an hour or so. Gameplay was very dull to me, and was not enough to keep me interested more than 30 minutes or so.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. I can’t see revisiting this one.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb.

Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master

 

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Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a Sega Genesis classic – a game that always seems to find its way onto Genesis collections whenever Sega decides to publish one for a platform. I’ve seen it described as a brawler, but I would say it’s more like an action game – either way, your objective is to kill everything in your path and make it to the end of the stage. There is some platforming in this one too, but for the most part it’s pretty light. Every level has a mid and end boss, some of which have some really great looking sprites.

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In order to destroy everything in your path, you are given several attacks. You can throw a shuriken at enemies but you have a limited number of them, you can hit them with your katana if you’re close enough, or you can use magic. Yes, you have ninja magic and it is very useful. I was only able to get the basic lightening shield, but according to wikipedia there are several offensive magic attacks available. Enemies will attack you with various ranged and melee attacks, which you can jump or duck to avoid. Speaking of jumping, there is a double jump that you can perform but I was never reliably able to pull it off. The best I can tell is that once you are on the descending side of the jump you can no longer double jump.

The graphics are quite good for a game released on the Genesis in 1993 – scrolling backgrounds, transparent waterfalls, and huge sprites. I really liked the art style too – particularly on the third stage where there are glowing test tubes with creatures in them pulsing in the background.

Music in this is… uneven. Some of the tracks I really liked, such as the first stage and the title music. Others, not so much. The music in the fourth stage in particular was borderline bad in my opinion.

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I spent about an hour with the game, and got near the end of the fourth stage. Judging by the total count of seven levels, I think this game is easily beatable in about two hours if you are good. I think the length is a bit on the short side, but each level is completely different from the last and the boss encounters are memorable which helps justify the length.

Verdict: Play again! This was a fun action game, and due to the short length, I think I will try to beat it next time I play.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb