This week Fred and Jam are talking about video games in the news. Whenever mainstream media, in both the US and the UK, decide to talk games it’s usually negative or violence based. Fortunately we’ve found plenty of instances where it wasn’t all school shootings and teen murder (although there are some), but generally when games make the news it’s rarely positive.
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3, PSP, and Vita for $5.99
Price: $20.87 (disc only), $33.99 (complete), $130.00 (sealed) per Price Charting
Note: I did not have screen shots available from my last play and it appears all screens online are from emulation. This title does not look this good on the PS1.
Dichotomies exist in all forms of media. Whether it’s Elvis or the Beatles, Shakespeare or Marlowe, Alien or Aliens, and even Star Wars or Star Trek, the rule remains the same: you are allowed to like both but you always prefer one. In the realm of survival horror, the clear competition is Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Longtime readers and listeners know where I stand (RE), but that’s not to say the Silent Hill isn’t just as easily justified, if not moreso, as the better game even if it’s not necessarily the more popular one. Despite the original Resident Evil being a living haunted house, the game still rooted itself into a world of intense action, the ability to kill just about every opposing force, and a heavy science fiction/biological manipulation concept – proven even more by the game’s Japanese title Biohazard. Silent Hill, on the other hand, is classic unexplained horror and phenomena at its best. Where Resident Evil employed pre-rendered backgrounds and forced camera perspectives, Silent Hill was fully rendered and seemed to follow the player, thus linking the character on screen with the player. This makes it more terrifying because what happens to Harry (your playable character) seemingly happens to you as well. Not only that, but the perspective of the title is completely different. Harry is a regular guy, not a soldier, and he’s frantically trying to find his missing daughter, not to simply survive. It’s all just a different perspective to the horror game where instead of trying to scare you with jumps and big gross monsters (although you will get those in this title), Silent Hill thrives on the unknown and maintaining tension instead of random fear. In short, it’s Alien to Resident Evil’s Aliens.
Harry Mason wakes up to find that his car has gone off the road and his daughter Cheryl is missing. Not only that, but he’s in the woods on a cold snow-covered night, and in searching the local area for Cheryl comes upon the town of Silent Hill. With that basic setup you are tossed into a world that is almost like a Stephen King novel come to life. A heavy fog surrounds the entire town limiting your view, there are no signs of life, and nearly every door is locked. Eventually you see something emerging in front of you, but once it clears the fog you discover its a hideous bird-like creature with sharp fangs and talons coming right for you. A pipe works to ward off the beast, but as soon as one goes down another replaces it. You frantically navigate the town for any alleyway or door that offers shelter, but almost everywhere you turn there are blockades or locks to stop you. Eventually you find a refuge in an unblocked stairwell, unlocked door, or making your own way through with items available to you, but this only lends to put you in a worse situation than before. This is Silent Hill.
I think what’s most compelling about this journey is that Team Silent, an internal group at Konami that would later go independent due to creative limitations put upon them, has properly captured the feel of being the character without the first person perspective. It contradicts most of what you know about horror: fear of the unknown. There’s no unknown in Silent Hill. It flat out shows you what wants to kill you, makes it mortal, and even gives you the means to kill them instead. What’s compelling is that it surrounds you with visual, audio, and gameplay cues that create tension and unsettles you very effectively. Director Keiichiro Toyama created the scenario and specifically focused on David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) and the occult for tone, despite Toyama not being a natural horror buff (he also integrated UFOs, but that’s only if you think the dog did it). He must have succeeded because Silent Hill will consistently make you confused just before it frantically forces you to react on the situation at hand, which is usually jarring. You will combat dead children in a dilapidated school, wonder the eeriest hospital I had seen at that point, and eventually watch it flip to a rust-covered prison completely overrun with gory creatures. At various points you may wonder how in the world Cheryl can still be alive in all of this, which only makes the game’s climax even more compelling. I must sadly admit that the game’s weakest point comes from the puzzles developed by Hiroyuki Owaku, which are more like riddles than anything else, and will most likely be the only obstacle that could make you put this game down. If you stick with it, Silent Hill will continually freak you out.
Nowadays the game doesn’t quite hold up as well as it used to. Since the sequel would release two years later on the Playstation 2, the visuals and controls had been greatly overhauled between generations and it makes the sluggish gameplay of the first game hard to take in. If you frequent the late 90s Playstation scene, it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment (and may also be of the best controlled titles for the time), but most gamers who look back tend to throw out the old description of “tank controls”. It’s also a muddy mess visually, which was about as good as that era could do, but especially on large HDTVs you may have a hard time figuring out what you’re looking at. Thankfully the reduced high resolution screens of the PSP and especially the Vita have been quite kind to Silent Hill and you shouldn’t have any problem knowing what you’re looking at or where to go. That doesn’t mean, however, that in a world with waypoints, indicators, and arrows telling you where to go that Silent Hill won’t come off as confusing. You will wonder aimlessly trying locked doors and in some cases get stuck with every apparent path explored before finding that one spot in the room you’ve already been to that has the item you need to proceed forward. In this first outing it’s few and far between, but it is a concern. You might also find yourself unable to move on because you wasted all of your ammo too quick and come to an area where you are forced to fight and have no means for which to do so. Thanks to melee weapons you may have an opportunity to still take out the beastie, but it can be much harder and lead to more deaths than if you had simply hung onto a handful of shotgun rounds. If you persevere, keep an FAQ bookmarked on your phone, and do your best to immerse yourself in the world of Silent Hill before cheating your way into solutions, you will find this game is as effectively tense and scary now as it was 15 years ago. Resident Evil may have won the Playstation battle, but even I can’t argue that Silent Hill captures the base words “survival” and “horror” much better than the competition ever did.
This week Fred and Jam are talking about the other 8-bit console that graced the late 1980s, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). While it was just another console option in Japan (albeit a massively popular one), the NES had a strong presence in Europe and a massive overtaking in the United States. It wasn’t just the games, business practices in the US and overall control over game development assisted in making the NES (and in Japan, Famicom) one of the most influential video game consoles of all time.
This week Fred and Jam are celebrating Sega’s first console attempt, the Master System. While a technical powerhouse against the NES, business practices in the US and insconsistencies in Japan made it a commercial failure. It did thrive in Europe and Brazil, not to mention it’s quite an enticing package in hindsight.
Bioshock was released all the way back in 2007 (which seems like quite a while in terms of game releases), near enough the same time as the launch of the Xbox 360. Before I re-played this game for the Game Club, my last save on the 360 was dated August 2009. So would you kindly take a seat and read on, as we see if Rapture is still a city worth re visiting or if it should stay at the bottom of the ocean.
In Bioshock you play as Jack, a character who doesn’t really say much. After surviving a plane crash and swimming to a lighthouse, you find underwater transportation to the city of Rapture, a so-called underwater utopia created by a man named Andrew Ryan. You quickly learn that Rapture is not the magical gum drop land it was probably intended to be because most of the residents have totally lost their minds and want to murder you. People seem to be hooked on something called ADAM which changes your genetic code, giving the recipient special powers. The game does a great job of explaining the story through use of audio diaries, which give audio-based background to the game while you are still playing. The story is filled with regular twists and turns that will keep you interested right up to the end. Since there is so much depth to the plot, I found I understood more when going through the game multiple times (not to mention these are hidden items that you can drudge for when not on an initial playthrough).
Bioshock plays as a first person shooter with role playing elements. The game gives very clear goals and even a quest marker for where to go. Don’t worry completionists, you have plenty of opportunity to explore the world and discover secrets and additional information of Rapture. You also find plasmids which unlock super powers for your character such as shooting electricity or even bees out your hands if you choose it. Alternatively you can use plasmids for more passive results such as improving your melee damage, healing abilities, and several other traits.
You can also hack devices like vending machines to receive discounts or hack automated cameras and turrets, which will attack enemies instead of you. When you hack you enter a mini game, which is Pipe Mania basically, connecting the pipe parts together so the fluid flows to the right target. Unfortunately if you fail to do this in the limited time you will receive damage and possibly trip an alarm. Hacking is fun to begin with but gets quite tedious quickly, so fortunately like with most things in this game you also have the option to pay for a hack or use a auto hack tool to bypass the mini game entirely. Of course there is always the option to not be so nerdy and just not hack at all.
If you haven’t figured it out already, Bioshock allows you to play the game as you want. You can stealth or go guns blazing (the latter is more tricky on harder difficulties). You have a lot of choice into how to advance in the game, and even better, you can switch out your abilities should you want to change your gameplay style. The only potential issue is Bioshock can come across as quite easy on any difficulty. Even on hard mode, if you die you just get resurrected instantly in a close by vitality chamber. There is practically no penalty for this and you just continue on in the game. A hardcore mode was added in the first update for 360 and PC, so any of those that have online access and update – not to mention the port onto PS3 and iOS – will also have a Hardcore mode that will give you a game over with any death, but this is almost canceled by the game’s ability to let you save and load anywhere.
The graphics in this title are absolutely phenomenal. Rapture is unlike anything else you will probably see in other video games and a lot of thought clearly went into the art direction, which is consistently demonstrated when you pay attention to the consistent writing on the wall as well as items and bodies positioned in specific places. This can show you how far Rapture has probably fallen from grace. Bioshock is set in 1960 and the art style is inspired by Art Deco, but of course since Rapture isn’t like your typical city above the ocean things have been changed for this specific utopia. The water physics are also very impressive, water will flow down stairs and pour from the ceilings very much convincing you that you are in a underwater city. The game also makes excellent use of shadows; you will regularly encounter silhouettes of enemies projected on the wall making you kind of dread what could be round the next bend.
Character models and enemies are also very impressive. The most common enemies are splicers, which are disfigured people, and their reaction to you and the world very much mirrors a society gone wrong. Much like yourself, some of the splicers also have powers, like teleportation. The other most notable foe is the Big Daddy, giant creatures in a diving suit that protects a character called a little sister (but I’ll get to them shortly). These incredibly threatening creatures actually won’t harm you until you either attack the Big Daddy itself or get too close to the little sister. When that happens the brute goes feral and will attack you with full force. Consequently even to this day the Big Daddy is one of my most memorable characters in gaming. Returning then to the little sisters, these are little girls which have a parasitic sea slug in their stomach, allowing them to collect ADAM. Once you have taken down the Big Daddy protector you’re faced with the moral choice of harvesting the girl for maximum ADAM – this kills the girl in the process (you don’t see any child mutilation, but you can clearly tell what’s about to happen) – alternatively you can rescue the girl and receive a small amount of ADAM. Surprisingly choosing either path only leads to a different ending and has little effect on your progress in the game, which will call this further into question due to how the story progresses.
Bioshock still holds up to this day. The game has aged well, the graphics still look great on whatever system you choose to play the game on, and the gameplay doesn’t feel too dated. Bioshock is also very much a game you need to take your time with and just enjoy exploring the world of Rapture. Rushing through it will do little for your enjoyment and potentially hinder the experience. Each time you pick up the game you will probably play it differently and with the amount of player choice and gameplay style, it is unlikely two playthroughs will be the same (although the plot does remain consistent save for which of the two endings you receive). Bioshock was great in 2007, it is great today, and will likely stand the test of time for years to come. If you still have not visited the world of Rapture would you kindly do yourself a favour and play it.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (review policy)
Bioshock was reviewed by a personal copy of the reviewer, no codes of any kind were provided. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version but it is also available on PC, PS3, and iOS devices with little content difference.
I was gonna write a retrospective on this, but honestly in podcast form we’ve covered Doom not once, but twice! From those episodes came a project that has taken six months and over six hours to put together in one near 15 minute video. I compare the PC, 32x, Jaguar, SNES, PS1, 3DO, Saturn, and GBA versions of Doom so you don’t have to, complete with bad language and snarky remarks (sorry parents). Check out this version of Versions for Doom, but fair warning: there is some adult language.
This week we put the original SNES release of Wolfenstein 3D up against the recent homebrew port of the game on the Sega Genesis. How do you think it will work out?
In truth the dawn of the first person shooter (FPS) and its popularity is more a case of luck as a group of intelligent designers got together and created pseudo-3D worlds. In 1991 John Carmack was accompanied by three others as the development team at id Software (that story was already told in our podcast) and funded by a company named Apogee (they also developed Rise of the Triad). Carmack had created the Catacomb 3D engine, which utilized ray casting to create 3D looking environments. In ray casting, basically lines are drawn in a grid and if they intersect a texture is placed at the intersection and over a grand enough grid, you get depth perception and a software-based flat image that looks like it’s in 3D. Combine that with the fact that Muse Software, developers of the innovative stealth-action Castle Wolfenstein title from the 80s, had let the license lapse and you have the building blocks of this innovation in game design. Apogee gave Carmack and his team $100,000 to develop a shareware title and they decided to move forward with Wolfenstein 3D.
The game was to span three episodes, each being sold individually, and released as a trilogy. Development was working so fast – about one level per day – that id was tasked with making a second trilogy, which resulted in the drastic tone change of the game after episode 3’s notable finale. The six episode version (original release), each episode containing nine levels, was the final full game and unlike previous release Commander Keen the shareware model was to give out the first episode and charge for either single episode or full game unlocks. Originally the game was to include stealth mechanics and closer resemble the original game, but at some point it just became all about killing guys in corridors, which honestly was probably the better move. It’s a beefy title when you break down how long it takes to conquer it and id intelligently designed the game to run on almost any machine that could support the floppy disks.
As it premiered in 1992, there was not a single kid on the playground in grade school that didn’t have the game. It’s benefit of the shareware model meant that you could download (although this was a rare distribution), copy, or get the first episode almost anywhere. Some of my friends would crank out copies if you got them the three disks required to get the game and others would simply run out and buy the newest PC magazine that had the first episode included in what seemed to be a six month span. It was addicting and truthfully very few of us purchased the full game, but the model worked in id and Apogee’s favor and not only was Wolfenstein 3D the talk of the gaming world, but it was the beginning of a new world. Not only were we enamored with the original game, level editors and mods were widespread within weeks and in a short time you were purchasing full versions of Wolfenstein 3D just to have access to all the cool mod features and textures. In the end the game was ported to just about every platform from the 90s (I think I have like 5 console versions) and it wasn’t quite as staggering as Doom so parents didn’t have much of an issue with the game’s occasional violence.
While the firm implantation of the FPS wouldn’t start until Doom and thus giving away to the Doom clone, those games owe everything to Wolfenstein 3D. Fortunately the same team brought us both, completely obliterating the stupid online debates as to which team was the true progenitor. In the end Wolfenstein 3D did it first and Doom did it best.
Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review. It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games. Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now. Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.
Editor’s Note: Although I love classic games as much as the next guy, few games get to be restored as often as Resident Evil 4. Therefore, the recently released Ultimate HD Edition has the most cleaned up, 1080p native graphics to date and thanks to screenshot technology being what it is we were able to grab those assets directly from the game without any quality loss. We at GH101 have decided to feature screens from this version in the interest of clarity, despite the fact that they do not faithfully represent the graphical fidelity of the many previous versions. Hopefully purists will forgive us. – Fred Rojas
The Story of the Scrapped Versions
Whenever a game sits in development hell for too long, it has an adverse affect on everyone’s feelings for the game. The examples are too many to count but a couple quick mentions are the likes of Diakatana, Too Human, and of course Duke Nukem Forever. With a few exceptions, games that take too long to make can’t help but not live up to the hype and therefore disappoint an all-too-eager audience. One of these exceptions is Resident Evil 4. Originally announced in 1999, the concept was a Playstation 2 game with a brutally strong protagonist that was more action focused per the ongoing desires of Shinji Mikami (series creator that has been trying to go more action oriented since Resident Evil 2). This new iteration was appropriately tasked to Hideki Kamiya, notable for his director work on Resident Evil 2, and in connection with Noboru Sugimura, writer of Resident Evil 2. After a European trip that netted a Gothic art style and given the goals of the game it was decided that the camera would have to be dynamic and movable (much like Capcom had started in Dino Crisis) and thus ditch the traditional pre-rendered background in exchange for a fully rendered world. Much of the development style, tone, and even Kamiya’s direction involved a what was described as a “cool” world and eventually it got so far removed from the roots of both the survival horror genre and Resident Evil series and instead integrated demons and a new protagonist, Dante. A small fraction of the Capcom Production Studio 4, named Little Devils, converted this new concept with the juggling bug this team had seen in Onimusha: Warlords and eventually renamed the project to Devil May Cry in November 2000. While it spun off to a good game and an ongoing franchise that still lives today, Devil May Cry left Resident Evil 4 in a rut without a dev team (and some hardcore RE fans still refer to the game as Resident Evil 3.5 since the core concepts remained intact).
It wasn’t until nearly a year later, late 2001, that the large scale Capcom Production Studio 4 team regrouped to begin development on Resident Evil 4. Sugimura was still involved at this time and his scenario company Flagship and the original concept was Leon Kennedy breaking into Umbrella’s European headquarters to save a girl (who’s identity has never been revealed) while fighting various types of zombies and other creatures a la the original game. At this time the third person view was already the gameplay style although Leon was overcome by the Progenitor Virus, thus giving his left hand special abilities, and included first person action sequences like we saw hints of in previous games.
As time went on the concept developed into the demo that was shown at E3 2003 known as Maboroshi no Biohazard 4 (Hallucination Biohazard 4 in English), but it has been come to be nicknamed Resident Evil 4: Hook Man Version by those that talk about it in the RE circles (FYI: Resident Evil is Biohazard in Japan but not here due to the metal band’s trademark). Development of this version began when Flagship’s original scenario was dropped and Mikami brought in Yasuhisa Kawamura, scenario writer for Resident Evil 3, to make a scarier game. At first the movie Lost Souls was the template and it featured an unnamed female protagonist that found herself in an abandoned building with a killer on the loose. An in-between version re-introduced Leon as the lead, had him working with a mutated dog as a sidekick, and eventually making his way through Umbrella creator Spencer’s Castle to rescue a girl and fight his way out (with Hook Man as the killer and a newer version of the Nemesis character). Eventually this was adapted into a final version that would become the demo. In this version Leon was traversing a haunted castle, infected with a virus, and it was causing a mix of various jarring camera effects and hallucinations. To help with the goal of a scary atmosphere and merge the perspective of the player with Leon, an over-the-shoulder camera, laser sight, and quick time events (QTEs) were integrated, some of the more notable attributes of the final game. Enemies in the demo ranged from suits of armor that came to life and eventually a the Hook Man, a ghostlike zombie with a torn hook for a left hand, as a final enemy for the demo. You can find a 5 minute video of this build on YouTube (pardon if the link isn’t valid over time) that was found in the Biohazard 4 Secret DVD that came as a pre-order bonus for Resident Evil 4 on GameCube in 2005. Cost of development and technical obstacles forced Mikami to step in and assist in scenario writing and development, something Kawamura has gone on record saying he’s ashamed of, and completely scrapped the game. It was 2004 and Resident Evil 4 was back to square one. Fortunately you can find most parts of this version (aside from the demo video) in other Capcom games: many of these assets ended up in the PS2 game Haunting Ground, the Progenitor Virus concept was the base for Resident Evil 5, and of course the Spencer Estate concept was revitalized in the RE5 DLC Lost in Nightmares.
The Deal With Nintendo
In November 2002, Capcom announced a 5 game deal with Nintendo that would see five of the titles coming to the GameCube, known as the Capcom Five, and among those (despite some miscommunication) only Resident Evil 4 was to remain console exclusive. After rumors suggested that users and investors were adding pressure to move the game to the much more successful Playstation 2, Mikami even came out and claimed he would “cut his head off” if RE4 ever made its way to another console. In late 2003 Shinji Mikami took over directional duties and had a large part in scenario and writing duties to completely re-invent the series. He spread a massive campaign in interviews and told the Capcom Production 4 Team that the focus was to be on action and not horror. To assist with this he dropped the Umbrella involvement completely, created the Ganados concept, and clearly borrowed from many earlier versions of the game, including the new Dante-like look and personality for Leon. By E3 2004 Capcom locked down a January 2005 release for Gamecube and then to everyone’s shock an awe a Halloween 2004 announcement for 3 new Resident Evil PS2 titles revealed that a port of Resident Evil 4 with expanded content would be hitting the PS2 later in 2005. This made Gamecube fans livid, some of which admitted to purchasing the nearly dead console purely for the now three year prospect of finding the game only on Nintendo’s console. For the record, Mikami did not cut off his own head and the PS2 version did come out. I have never been able to find out if there was any action from Nintendo for breaking the exclusivity, although in those days it wasn’t always a paid or contractual deal so perhaps Nintendo had no leg to stand on.
After all that hype and pressure, it’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 is as wonderful as it turned out to be. If you’ve never played it, the genius of Resident Evil 4 is that it sticks to the basics of game design while also offering a look and feel that is fresh. Easily one of the most gorgeous games from that generation, I still contest that the Gamecube version is the best looking from that time period, so if you have a choice that game really was developed for that console. Additionally the game was long, like 15-20 hours long, and didn’t feel as such. Each of the five chapters feel like complete games in and of themselves and while enemy types and bosses do reappear from time to time, the environments and scenarios are unique for the most part. Even more striking is the way that game develops alongside the player as a whole.
In the first act you are traversing the woods of Spain as Leon, completely unaware of what’s to come but you know it’s not going to be good. Eventually you get introduced the Ganados, who at this point are townsfolk that have established farming villages along the countryside, but of course they are violent toward you. After killing off a pair of cops that accompany you, the Ganados turn full attention on you and with the different ways they attack based on where you shoot them and how close you are too them, it’s clear that these are no zombies. Ganados will throw weapons at you (that yes, you can shoot out of the air), duck under your laser sight, run around you, and overall give you that sinking feeling of being entirely alone against the world. Not only that, but the world is quite jarring for the time, with the over-the-shoulder camera and focus with the laser sight on where to shoot everyone, it’s a steep learning curve. That’s why the first main area, a central town, is so pivotal and one hell of a demo. You enter into this town that is fully populated by Ganados that all give chase upon your arrival. You can go in and out of houses, down different paths, jump out of windows, and navigate a small space where you have almost no idea where to go next. Since your perspective only allows for what’s directly in front of you, a somewhat accurate interpretation of what being in that situation in real life is like, it’s dangerous to take a corner without knowing what’s going on and you always take a risk of being jumped when you dare look behind you. Sure it’s seen as somewhat tanklike controls today, but back then it was about as good as you were going to get out of Capcom. Then the chainsaw guy arrives, a larger sized villager with a potato sack on his head and eye holes cut out, and he begins to chase you at a much faster pace than the others. This doesn’t meant that the horde of Ganados back off either, you’re now thrown in the mix with all of them. No matter how many times you shoot Chainsaw Guy he won’t die for good and you have limited ammo at this point and most people will probably get caught by him at least once, which triggers and instant death where Leon’s torso is sawed diagonally across the sternum. It’s freaky and it demonstrates the biggest change in Resident Evil 4: you won’t be scared, you’ll just feel immense tension, which triggers a different kind of fear. When those church bells ring after a certain period of time and clear the town of danger, I had to literally take a break and step away from the game. My thoughts at the time were, “damn, that was close.” It was a great rush.
From there the game digresses into a somewhat interesting storyline that contains a mass of interesting and tactical scenarios. Whether it’s fighting the sea creature in the lake, tackling El Gigante for the first time, eventually meeting and dealing with Salazar, knife-fighting Krauser, and eventually unraveling the mystery of Las Plagas, Resident Evil 4 is a thrill ride. Each new area of the game will challenge the skills you had previously learned and try to force you to use them in new ways to the point that your cumulative skills make the initial Ganados fight seem like a walk in the park. When I completed the game for the first time after getting the game for my birthday in 2005 (I had a Gamecube for the few other Resident Evil games on the platform) and again that Christmas on PS2, it was fantastic and I couldn’t offer it up to enough people to experience. Capcom and Mikami had gambled big – the series was to be discontinued if a failure – and they had succeeded admirably. For better or worse, Resident Evil would never be the same.
It sold well. 1.6 million units on Gamecube and more than 2 million on PS2, not to mention eventual ports to the PC (terrible initial attempt) and Wii before receiving HD remakes on 360/PS3 recently and eventually the Ultimate HD Version on PC this year. I think the reason it keeps being remade is that Resident Evil 4 still looks amazing today, now with updated assets and filters, and the gameplay, while seemingly dated, is still that perfect mix of locked in time and tolerable to a modern audience. If you have yet to experience this game and are even somewhat of a fan of Resident Evil, you should pick this game up and give it a go. It was a steal at $50 back in 2005 and today it’s a reminder that not all re-invented games in development hell end up being underwhelming, dated messes.
Console: Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe/Japan)
Also Known As: Soliel (the title used in this review based on the writer being from Europe), Shin Sōseiki Ragunasenti (Dawn of the Era: Ragnacenty) in Japan
Publisher: Sega/Atlus (NA only)
Digital Release? No
Price: $134.00 (used, cart only), $309.99 (CIB), Sealed price is $109.52, but that’s biased because the only known copy was a random eBay listing in 2012 (according to Price Charting)
In the twilight years of the Mega Drives life a surprising amount of gems came out for the system, and one of the biggest surprises for me was the 1994 release Soleil (Crusader ot Centy for North America). Now I got very lucky finding this game when I was a lot younger. I was at a marketplace with my grandfather and I had saved up all my pocket money for four weeks to buy a game. Heading over to the only game stall in the entire market place I picked up the rather suspicious looking Soleil, a game I brought totally blind for eight British pounds and I was very impressed with what I found. Several years later, and revisiting the game, lets see how it holds up today.
The game starts in the town of Soleil (which is Sun in French) and puts you in the shoes of Corona – no, not the beer, though playing this game with any lime based beverage is definitely recommended, just remember to drink responsibly. Corona is only fourteen years old and the town of Soleil does what they do to every kid that age, equip them up with a sword and shield and go fight monsters because they are evil. Life expectancy must be rather short in the town of Soleil to be kitting out kids that age with weapons. The sword and shield are inherited from Coronas father who died in battle and has a great reputation in the town. On exploring the world and bumping into a suspicious fortune teller Corona looses the ability to talk to humans and can only speak to animals and plants (yep even flowers talk to you in this game). Corona then fetches his faithful dog, Johnny, (or Mac in the US release, they really changed a lot between the versions) and heads on a quest to regain the ability to talk to humans. However, Corona’s quest quickly expands into something much greater that will alter the world he lives in and question who truly are the bad guys in the game.
I have to say for a game that is aimed more at the younger audience, this game has one of the most touching plots I have ever come across on the Mega Drive (Genesis) system. This game touches on issues I rarely see in other games questioning who really is the barbarian in the game the monsters, the humans or something else. There were moments in this game that even replaying today pulled on the heart strings. One scene in the game has you put in the shoes of the monsters you are actually killing and seeing the world from their prospective. Of course the plot will only appeal to those whiling to immerse themselves in the world making this unsuitable for the arcade focused gamer keen to jump right into the action. There is a lot of text to read in this game and of course it can not be skipped.
So lets address the obvious: yes, Soleil looks like Zelda. It’s a overhead prospective action adventure game, you use a sword, and the game contains small puzzle solving elements. Soleil does manage to create its own identity by equipping animals. At one time you can have two animals follow you which can be switched out instantly in the game menu at any time. Each individual animal gives Corona a special perk for example Penguy the peguin adds freeze effect to your sword, Flash the cheetah increases your running speed, Moa the Ostrich strengthens the ability of other animal you have equipped. There are sixteen animals in total, most will be found as you progress naturally through the game though some you’ll have to earn through small side quests and exploration.
The game also has a fast travel map system allowing you to easily revisit levels and areas once you have completed them. It is worth mentioning a very famous hedgehog known as ‘Sonic,’ makes a small cameo in this game, you may have heard of him. The game controls are quite clunky. When you begin the game Corona is slow and can be tough to control at times, the sword swing does not always seem to connect all the time with enemies and the game seems to favour you throwing it rather than swinging it. You learn to throw the sword early in the game, however, it requires a short charge up time to let loose, this can be a bit dull and repetitive as you’ll be using it a lot. Equipping certain animals fixes this however, the constant swapping of animals to make use of certain perks can become quite frustrating especially when fighting certain bosses in the game. The game does not have any other weapons or items apart from your sword and shield, just the animals to vary your abilities. The shield is completely cosmetic and has no use in the game.
For a game that is advertised as something Sega aimed at a younger audience I found this to be very tough the first time I played through it especially early on in the game. Your health bar is indicated by a bar of apples which I actually found a welcome change to generic hearts. Frequent saving is highly recommended and you can save the game almost anywhere.
Graphics are very kid friendly. Sprites are cute and cuddly, even a lot of the monsters look sort of adorable. The boss characters however look quite impressive. Usually something massive and threatening though the game really does not have enough of them. The levels and environments are colourful and vibrant. Its interesting how the game looks this colourful and cute even when the story takes frequent dark turns.
Music is a nice mix of heavy memorable rocky style tones for the boss fights and serene melody’s when you enter the town of Soleil. The soundtrack is amazing and definitely one of the most memorable features I took from the game, it feels like it hits all the right notes in the right places. Of course remember this is also running on a Mega Drive as well so extra points scored for making the most of the hardware. Soleil is long put can be easily finished in a weekend if your able to spare the time for it. The save feature helps if you need to spread the experience out for weeks and if you decide to take a extended break from the game the controls are simple enough that it is easy to go back to. Once you finished the game that’s probably it for you. It’s the sort of game you’ll probably re visit a year or two down the road but there is no varying difficulty or much reason to replay the game unless you want to speedrun it or explore areas you may have missed the first time through.
Overall, Soleil is a real hidden gem for the Mega Drive. The story alone is worth experiencing touching on points you don’t normally see explored in games. If the kiddie graphics put you off I advise to try look past it after all many hated the graphical direction of Zelda: WindWaker and people seem to love that game today still. The game, of course is not without flaw. The controls and be a bit tricky and the games difficulty spikes early in the game and occasionally through the quest. Despite the flaws this is one game adventure fans would be very happy with and worth adding to the Mega Drive collection if you happen to spot it one sunny day.
Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)