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Podcast: Ghouls, Ghosts, ‘N Goblins

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This week Fred and Jam are discussing the Capcom series Ghosts’N Goblins (or Makaimura if you prefer).  Easily one of the most punishing franchises ever created, the boys tackle the trials and tribulations of Sir Arthur on a never ending quest to save his girlfriend.  Along the path he will traverse to various worlds, see terrible beings, and of course battle the many derivatives of the Devil.


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And just for fun, have a video of me cussing out the original for two hours:

Version: Wolfenstein 3D on 16-bit

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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?

Written by spydersvenom

September 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Soliel / Crusader of Centy Review

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soleil_boxCrusader_of_Centy_boxConsole: 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
Released: 1994
Developer: Nextech
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.

soleil_1The 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.

You can talk to animals!

You can talk to animals!

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.

soleil_2Music 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)

Written by jamalais

September 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Genesis Does

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This week Fred, Jam, and Derrick from Dead Pixel Live are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Sega Genesis.  The first heavy hitter of the 16-bit generation started as a console for sports games and high quality arcade ports and later became known as the console for edge and violence.  They cover the creation, launch, and span of a console that in six short years gave us a coveted library of memories.


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Written by spydersvenom

August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

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Retro Game Night: Sega Master System Brawl, Streets of Rage 2 hack, and Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic!

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This week we’re covering a lot of ground in a little bit of time.  Not to be outdone by the upcoming Wii U Smash Bros, Sega fans made a Genesis/Mega Drive homebrew of classic Master System characters and levels duking it out entitled Sega Master System Brawl and we check it out.  Then we move on to a color enhancing hack on Streets of Rage 2 that is said to bring it closer to SNES quality (and we put the original’s gameplay in the corner for comparison).  Finally we play the Famicom Disk System (FDS) title Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! which you all probably know better as it released in the US as Super Mario Bros 2 on the NES.  Like Streets of Rage, we put the original gameplay in the corner for comparison.  This was played on original hardware with either original games or a flash cart for homebrew/hacks, no emulation.  To keep load times quick, the video is not embedded and can instead be linked by clicking on the graphic.

Written by spydersvenom

July 12, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Podcast: Data Easy Meets West

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No it’s not a typo (just an inside joke), but we are actually talking about Data East and Data West.  This includes the games they developed, published, and even the pinball titles available.  It may not seem it, but Data East was a limited and significant developer of the mid-late 80s and just about all of the 90s.

Special thanks to Retronauts Episode 88 (1up Run), Brandon Sheffield (and his blog/podcast Insert Credit), as well as Topless Robot for your Data East and extensive Data West information.

Also be sure to check out the ASCII RPG/roguelike Sanctuary, for free, at the following address: http://blackshellgames.itch.io/srpg


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Written by spydersvenom

June 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Review: Splatterhouse 2

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Splatterhouse_2Console: Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe/Japan)
Released: 1992
Developer: Now Production
Publisher: Namco
Digital Release? Yes – Wii Virtual Console (US/Japan only), also as an unlockable on the 2010 Splatterhouse on 360/PS3
Price: $35 (used, cart only), $87-$105 (used, complete), No known New pricing (all prices according to PriceCharting.com), $8 (VC), $4-10 (used 360/PS3 copies of 2010’s Splatterhouse)

 

Now I remember very fondly getting this game with my brothers when we were younger. My dad deliberately chose it for us because of the title since he was a fan of horror and gore. A game, whether brand new or pre-owned, in our household was rarer than a UFO sighting when we were younger so we  relished in any game thrown at us. Splatterhouse 2 shared a special place in our little hearts.

splatterhouse_2_1The story of Splatterhouse 2 will depend on your familiarity with the first game released in arcades and the TurboGrafx-16.  The basic plot is you are Rick and you have a mask which looks a lot like the Jason Voorhees hockey mask (he was the killer in the Friday the 13th series) and your job is to rescue your girlfriend, Jennifer.  The mask is known as the “terror mask” or “hell mask” depending which version of the game you own. The mask gives you super powers and also sort of possess you as it talks to you during small cutscenes between levels.

Spoilers: The paragraph below spoils the plot of the original game.  You may wish to skip it.
Towards the end of the first game your girlfriend turns into a horrific beast which you have to kill.  However, killing the monster also kills Jennifer and you see a very sad scene where Rick holds her in his arms. This essentially leads into the second game where you are instructed by the mask to return to a separate house and rescue Jennifer from the land of the dead.
End Spoilers

My first ever experience of the game I had no clue what was going on because the UK intro sequence was censored and just says, “go back to the house,” which seems rather hilarious since the game doesn’t censor any of the gore or graphic scenes in this game. You were not told why you were going to the house either, just shut your mouth and do it .

splatterhouse_2_2Graphics are pretty cool in this game. This game is able to achieve a moderate horror tone while using a wide variety of colours. Rather than being lazy and settling for shades of brown and grey, enemies come in reds, purples, and even pale colours. Even the blood varies in colour, but this is nothing compared to the amazing presentation of each end of level boss in the game. Every boss looks well thought out and pretty grotesque, suiting the horror feel of the game. Most bosses also have pretty spectacular death scenes, which is rather satisfying on finishing off a boss that is particularly tough to defeat.

The music in Splatterhouse 2 is just fantastic – though I do hold a lot of nostalgia from my childhood – and I feel still holds up even today. Level music is well suited to the horror environment, but the music you will notably remember is the boss music. It’s so epic and fired up you somewhat wish some boss fights would not end so quickly so you can listen to the soundtrack more. Sound effects are pretty satisfying too from the buzz of the chainsaw to Rick sounding like he is having an orgasm when he dies (it’s hilarious). Some enemies also make irritating shouts and screams but this only adds to the immersion of the experience and your desire to shut them up with a fist punch to the face.

Gameplay is fairly standard; Splatterhouse 2 is a platforming beat-em-up where you punch, jump, and that’s about it. You can duck and kick too and if you’re really skill full you can do a slide kick, though as a kid I found this really hard to pull off but does double damage if achieved. For some reason you can press up on the D-pad and Rick will face the wall looking like he is going for a pee, whereas actually this is probably old code from the first game when Rick could climb ladders, alas no ladders here Rick, you just look funny. Throughout the game you will also come across weapons, like the pole, which splats enemies on the wall, the boat oar that flings enemies into the horizon, and the good old shotgun which just blasts the entire top half of an enemy’s torso off. In fact even using just your fists results in enemies receiving a rather grim end, and for a game with no rating (in any country worldwide) at this stage it was impressive developers managed to get away with this level of gore.

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This title is difficult but not impossible. You will probably rage quit this game on your first playthrough.  On standard difficulty you have three lives and four hearts of health which are lost very easily by touching enemies or falling in traps. The game is pretty unforgiving as there are so many things that can kill you, but through practice and memorization of the levels you will find yourself eventually flying through them. If you die on the boss but still have lives left you can restart from the beginning of that battle.  If you lose all lives you have unlimited continues but you have to restart the entire level from the start, and levels in this game are not short; this applies even if you’re on a boss segment. There is a password system in place, which is shown on the continue screen should you wish to continue at a later date. Once completed, though, there is not much reason to re visit the game straight away unless you want to try your luck on a harder skill setting.

Splatterhouse 2 is a very fun game for fans of horror and the 16–bit era. It certainly does its own thing and deserves a playthrough even today; however for those not fond of frustrating difficulty or gore may want to sit this out. This is a great horror classic but will probably only be remembered as a cult classic as opposed to a “hidden gem” to most gamers. Either way this title has a special place in the collection for Genesis/Mega Drive owners willing to show it some love and attention.

Final Score: 3 Out of 5  (You can see our review score policy here.)

Written by jamalais

June 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

How Product Design has Transformed the Amusement Industry

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The term “arcade game” these days conjures up images of cutting-edge graphics and sound, combined with innovative and interactive technology that can bring any concept to life.  However, good graphics and interactivity have not always been a necessity for a game that is both enjoyable and addictive. I dread to mention the recent phenomenon of the Flappy Bird app but it is an example of an outrageously faulty and basic game becoming extremely popular. This has been seen in the past with games like Space Invaders, Pac Man, Tetris and Asteroids following very basic concepts and graphics, but still being addictive and rewarding when completed.

The Really Early Days

The first arcade games kicked off at amusement parks and are still present at fairs and theme parks, but there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about them. Ring toss, throwing balls at stacked cans, shooting targets, and other simple challenges have been doing the rounds for hundreds of years and can still draw in the punters to this day. Just don’t go expecting an easy win. Perhaps this is what is indicative of a good game – making it appear simple whilst making it actually fiendishly difficult to win. Make it too hard, however ,and you are left with Zelda II.

Pinball Wizard

2The introduction of the electric element into arcade games in the 1930s completely revolutionized pinball, which had existed as a spring-loaded tabletop ball game since the 17th century, and the advent of player controlled flippers in the 1940s solidified pinball’s reputation as a classic favourite amongst arcade gamers. Pinball continues to be a popular game to this day with digitized versions adding to the range of machines available. The Japanese even have their own variant of Pinball called “Pachinko’” which features multiple smaller balls in play all at the same time.

The Beginning of the Computer Age

The 1970s was the dawn of computer-based games. Rather than mechanical amusements, which had up until this point held sway. The seminal Pong was released in 1972 and in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s a swathe of arcade classics were released including Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. Game cabinets took their lead from pinball table designs but featured digital monitors and player-controlled joysticks and input buttons to control the action on screen rather than physically manipulating items, as in earlier amusement games. Anyone who was lucky enough to be alive at this great time will tell you that Pong was very addictive.

Late 80s Into the 90s – The Birth of the Games Console

SEGA MEGADRIVE – Release Date – October 29, 1988

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The Sega Genesis (or Sega Mega Drive outside the US) saw the beginning of the developed console, bringing games like Sonic The Hedgehog, Pat Riley Basketball and Mortal Kombat to life. This product was unwittingly the start of a new generation of gaming. With most of the games relying on reflex and timing, they relied on the same instincts that were instilled in the general population from old arcade games.

GAME BOY – Release Date – April 21, 1989

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The Game Boy saw a different kind of gaming completely. The handheld device was a revolutionary idea, and the death of every gamers social life. When I was a youngster I would literally take the bulky object everywhere I went, just for a few more goes on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. Again, the product design of the Game Boy was very simple, whilst the hardware and software were complex at the time of its release, showing that product design does not necessarily have to be complicated to be popular.

SNES – Release Date – November 21, 1990

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What a machine. As a proud owner of a SNES, I have to say that the hours spent in front of the console were some of the best of my childhood. If you think this is sad then you obviously haven’t played the original Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II or Donkey Kong Country. The design of the console and indeed of the games themselves worked extremely well. It never tried to be too extravagant or design based, simply slot the cartridge in the top (after blowing on it, of course) and you’re in gamer land. Nintendo skyrocketed in popularity with games being created in house and by third parties like Capcom. The product design of the console meant that they could improve the graphics and make a significant move from 2D platform games. Eventually this design would give us the hallowed Nintendo 64, which brought out games such as Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, and Mario Kart 64.

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Shift Towards The Physical

Fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II gathered huge followings whilst racers such as Daytona USA developed the trend of simulating an actual in-car experience. Gun games also developed so that players held an imitation weapon and fired at on-screen targets. In 1998, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) marked a shift towards physical actions and computer inputs being combined. Players “dancing” on arrow pads would try to stay in time with a selected track, simultaneously watching the rhythm and timing displayed on-screen.

7This has now led to new product designs and consoles that promote active movement. Consoles such as the Wii and the Xbox One now have the player standing up, moving around, and using themselves as the controller in many games. The future of product design in the gaming industry has never been predictable, but we can see that there is definitely a paradigm shift in the way that people are viewing gaming experiences and indeed the target audience for games.

Increased physical interaction has incorporated all manner of activities that have now been made available in arcade format. Football, guitar, drums, shooting, driving, and many more pastimes have been translated into interactive games with motion control, eye tracking, and other modern features common in today’s games. DCA’s design for the X-Putt, a golf putting game, shows how a design idea and inventive product can combine to create a novel and fun experience for gamers.

Strider Retrospective

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Starting today the reboot of Strider hits home consoles and PCs as developer Double Helix attempts to capture the charm that came with the original’s dedicated cult following.  When I try to look back at Strider – and yes I grew up playing every version from the arcade at my local bowling alley that was ported to the Genesis along with the completely different NES version – it’s hard to see what exactly needs to be in the new game.  Still, there’s no denying the hardcore appeal of this unique and odd addition to classic gaming that justifies looking back for those that didn’t grow up with it.

Strider_1If you haven’t played it, the original arcade version of Strider is all over the place.  There are multiple languages, settings across the globe, massive mechanical ape bosses, and even lead protagonist Hiryu riding on a whale at the end.  As one of the pioneer titles of Capcom’s new CP arcade platform – think of it as a cartridge-based cabinet that allowed quick swapping of games with only a few ROM changes – the graphics are indicative of the cartoon style all CP titles shared (ie: Ghouls’n GhostsWillow, and of course Final Fight).  Graphics aside, the game is also noted for its crazy gameplay that features hanging from walls and ceilings, fighting massive enemies, and reversed gravity.  To accompany this eclectic melting pot was an equally frantic soundtrack that covered all the bases from electronic progressive music to ambient classical style.  While the soundtrack is uncredited to original composer Junko Tamiya (she also did the solid NES version of Bionic Commando as well as my personal favorite Sweet Home), the original versions of the arcade game didn’t feature the Aerial Battleship or Third Moon stages (replaced instead by the first stage music on a loop) so it can be deduced that someone went back and composed those additional tunes.  While the game itself covers a scant five stages that will take the average person probably 60-90 minutes in total (pros can do it in half that time) the high difficulty and game design that was more indicative of home consoles was fresh.  Instead of trying to rack up a high score or conquer a single mechanic over and over you were progressing through brutally difficult levels with the carrot on the stick being that provided you could afford to continue as many times as it took, you could see the ending.  This is why most people who play it today will either set it to free play on the cabinet or emulator and also explains why the PS1 port flat-out gave you unlimited continues.

strider_2I remember playing it when I was about 10 years old and being blown away by the neo future envisioned in the story’s 2048 Soviet dictatorship, indicative of the continuing fear of Cold War oppression and Socialist/Communist popularity.  Each sound effect, especially the signature slash sound each time Hiryu swings his sword, had a crisp edge and realism I had not heard before.  It was even more impressive that some of these sounds made it into the NES port, which was a technical feat in its own regard.  While the plot is very hard to follow, even today, only playing for a few minutes proved that Hiryu, the youngest ever high-tech ninjas known as “Striders”, was a force to be reckoned with.  This is counter to the gameplay in that the extreme difficulty and new mechanics meant you would die quite a bit through even the most basic levels of the game.  Few titles I’ve ever played master the art of both empowering the player and kicking their butt at the same time, which Strider did in spades.  Each stage and even area of a stage was drastically different from the last and I will never forget the large-scale of each boss.  Not only that but beating the boss did not always mean the end of the level, especially with regards to the massive gravity sphere that destructed the ship you are on when it was defeated, resulting in a frantic escape run before completing the level.  Oh yeah, and there were massive cyborg interpretations of King Kong (large gorilla) and Godzilla (large T-Rex) as well.  Sweet.

Unfortunately I have to admit that I think a title like Strider is a perfect example of a game you most appreciate if you grew up with it.  In a wild development cycle that included three independent companies working on an arcade version, an NES version (who also happened to develop the simliar but different Ghosts’n Goblins port), and a manga in Japan, Strider was unlike most projects in video games at the time.  Ironically enough the Metroid-style open world NES version of the game that directly connected to the manga were completely severed by the business decisions of worldwide business.  A Famicom version of the game was never manufactured or released in Japan and the manga never saw its way to our shores (not to mention the language barrier that separated each medium), so in retrospect it’s one disconnected mess of a story.  One thing all regions had in common was that the teens of the time were enticed by the arcade port and many of them picked up and loved the later Genesis/Mega Drive version that came as close to the arcades as we saw in the late 80s.  Even more odd are the random sequels that share the franchise such as the horrid US Gold/Tiertex sequel Strider II (known as Journey From Darkness: Strider Returns in the US) that probably isn’t worth emulating.  Capcom later fixed the issue by ignoring the licensed sequel and releasing Strider 2 to arcades and later in a near-perfect port to the original Playstation.  While I wouldn’t say it changed the world, it was a cool take on the mechanics of Strider and the odd 3D graphics of the time.  If you play any version, I highly recommend the Genesis port because it really comes with no caveat.  With Grin’s 2009 project being scrapped and Double Helix’s recent success with Killer Instinct 3, here’s hoping that the reboot doesn’t disappoint.  Look back near the end of the week for that review.  Either way, what other game can you say ends with you riding the back of a freaking whale for no reason?

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Written by spydersvenom

February 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Podcast: Heroes in a Half Shell

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You can’t have grown up in the late 80s and not been struck by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It apparently transcends geographic location as co-hosts Fred (@spydersvenom) and James (@Jamalais) both had similar experiences growing up in different parts of the world.  In this episode we dissect TMNT’s roots, marketing, and obvious integration into video game culture, covering the games that made the surfer-style pizza-eating New York crime fighters a pop culture sensation.


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Written by spydersvenom

February 12, 2014 at 12:52 pm

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