Archive for the ‘Sega CD/Mega CD’ Category
This week we are joined by Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) to discuss listener William’s topic: What makes a successful console launch? It all ends up being more stories of console launches and discussions on killer apps, but we do manage to cover most mainstream consoles.
This week Fred is joined by Chip Cella of the B-Team and Derrick H of All Games and Dead Pixel Live fame to discuss how games used to come packaged. This includes the box, instructions, and a bunch of freebies we pay good money for today.
Opening Song – Joe Esposito You’re The Best
Closing Song – Iron Maiden Run to the Hills
This week Fred is joined by Ali (@thealmiesta) and Andy (@damien14273) from the 42 Level One podcast to discuss Sonic the Hedgehog. With a heavily documented history, Sega’s official mascot to combat Mario had quite the history. In part 1 we discuss the origins of Sonic and all of his 16-bit era outings (which include his 8-bit Master System/Game Gear titles, spin-offs, and his CD outing), complete with the games themselves and the stories of development. While long, there’s no lack of content or stories tethered with the beloved hedgehog.
Opening Song – Sonic Theme (from Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis/Mega Drive)
Closing Song – Sonic Boom (from Sonic CD on Sega CD/Mega CD)
I can’t explain my love for the light gun. It’s one of the oldest forms of interactive entertainment, dating back to the carnival days where you would fire air rifles at a metal bullseye to make an old man’s hat pop up or a dog bark. Once the gun made the transition to video games it honestly became one of the most lifelike and violent gaming tropes throughout history. Not to get deep with it, but you are pointing a gun at a target, usually alive, and shooting it. There is not other gesture like it, you are shooting a modern device to kill something, virtual or not. At the same time it also doubles as the most simple form of proficiency. I don’t think anyone will claim that being good at Duck Hunt or Lethal Enforcers relates to being a good shot in a shooting range, but it’s got a much higher chance of significance than being able to get a headshot in Call of Duty. Whereas the FPS emulates the concept of aiming and firing a gun with 1:1 responses from a controller, a light gun truly simulates the experience.
Light gun games have been a niche genre, but that doesn’t prevent them from withstanding the test of time and being available on most home consoles and one of the most popular games, even today, in arcades. I guess it’s because despite the maturity implied behind firing a gun, it’s one of the easiest concepts for us to pick up. I’ve been on many adventures thanks to light gun games – whether it’s cleaning up the future in T2: The Arcade Game, battling zombies in a haunted house through House of the Dead, or enjoying some of the worst acting of all time in Mad Dog McCree.
It’s also significant because the light gun is a genre nearly impossible to emulate and doesn’t translate well in today’s technology. While there are exceptions, you will have a hard time playing Crypt Killer properly on a PC running MAME and most HDTV technologies don’t support light guns from the past. Authenticity is as important as the genre itself. This month I’ve decided to dedicate to a timeless style of video game that I always make first priority when buying a new (or old) system: the light gun shooter. Come join me to learn about some of the best, worst, funniest, and definitely weirdest titles to ever grace the hobby of video games. Thanks to my huge CRT television and original hardware, I can even show you videos.
Developer: Sonic Team
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $11.99 (used), $23.50 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: Yes – PC, PS2/Gamecube (Sonic Gems Collection)
Digital Release? Yes – Steam, Xbox 360, PS3, Android, iOS ($5 on all platforms)
Sonic CD is one of those games that it’s just popular to like. I don’t want to start on a negative note, the game does have some merit, but it’s not a particularly good Sonic game and doesn’t quite change the universe like many will claim. Before Sega decided to blitz every console on the market with the digital version, Sonic fans were gnawing at the bit for a decent port (sadly the Sonic Gems Collection ports had emulation issues). Now that it’s everywhere the gaming community seems to have adjusted to a more realistic view of the CD adventure that throws a few imaginative ideas at relatively lackluster level design.
For those that aren’t up on their Sonic history, the hedgehog was co-created by Naoto Oshima and his more known partner Yuji Naka. After the release of the first game, Naka and several members of that team moved to the United States and joined with STI (Sega Technical Institute) to create Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Meanwhile the remaining developers, including Oshima, took the concepts that were in early development for Sonic 2 and expanded upon them into what eventually became Sonic CD. This is why despite coming out around the same time as Sonic 2, Sonic CD looks graphically more like the original and doesn’t seem to adapt some of the great ideas of the sequel. Still, it does feature some interesting gameplay mechanics, like the ability to move into the past and future with two full versions of the many levels. This dual expansion of the campaign does have a casualty: level design. Many of the levels in Sonic CD feature plenty of wasted real estate in the interest of moving quickly to the right, odd gimmicks that net death if you don’t tolerate the so-so platforming, and several instances where Sonic’s momentum is completely spoiled by a random ramp or springboard. Despite these layout flaws I still contest that the boss designs are superior over Sonic 2 and prove that not all of the talent in Sega’s Japanese team migrated to America.
If Sonic CD were to release on a different platform, especially the Genesis, it would not have held up well and definitely couldn’t hold up against Nintendo’s famous plumber but with the weak selection on the Sega CD, it’s one of the few action titles worth playing. As with most CD titles, the biggest highlight of the game are the cutscenes and audio. An opening animated scene that tells the basic story and blows away the bare-bones plot of the Genesis sequel. I think it’s a shame that of all the games that held back when it came to pointless movies on the Sega CD, this is the one game I would prefer to have more, especially to better flesh out new characters Amy Rose (Sonic’s girlfriend) and Metal Sonic (his nemesis). It’s possible that these scenes were planned and even produced (at least partially) but had to be cut to get the game out in time (it released just before the Black Friday rush on November 19, 1993). On the other hand, the soundtrack is supposedly spectacular, although if you’ve played it (or if you check out the video that I will be posting shortly) I don’t think it’s any amazing feat. Hardcore fans and import elitists will tell you that the culprit is the different soundtrack over the European and Japanese version. The Japanese version featured upbeat pop tunes by Keiko Utoku, a famous singer in Japan, for the opening and closing songs and boss battles sampled the song “Work that Sucker to Death” by George Clinton and others. In the US, Spencer Nilson replaced almost all of the music (who has a justifiable reputation from his many works on Sega CD first party titles), and the fan favorite song Sonic Boom (performed by Pastiche) were integrated and updated the game to a more contemporary sound. I still feel there’s something cheerful and dated about the graphics and gameplay of Sonic CD that benefits from the more playful Japanese soundtrack, but neither version specifically blows me away and I personally own the US version. In all other releases, both soundtracks were made available although Sega made the US soundtrack the default music for all versions worldwide.
Sonic CD exists in a world where major overhauls were ignored in the interest of preserving what made the original title great. While I appreciate the plot and the fact that levels can change drastically in both pace and difficulty depending on whether you complete them in the future or the past, the only thing that remained unchanged was its weak level design. That doesn’t mean that there’s not a good reason to play or even enjoy the game, it’s more fun than most of the other platformers on Sega CD, but it’s not the amazing Sonic title that justifies buying a Sega CD (or the Sonic Gems Collection for that matter) like fans would have you believe. I must admit that I wouldn’t consider a Sega CD collection complete unless it had Sonic CD and its usually one of the first purchases I recommend for new collectors. As a part of the history of Sonic titles it’s worth checking out at the cheap $5 price tag for digital versions, but curb your expectations appropriately.
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.45 (used), $9.35 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No
Racing Aces is another in a long line of games that came out before their time. It’s not that the concept is particularly unique – a bunch of different planes involved in a race with occasional weapon combat – but rather that it’s a fully polygonal game trying to operate on a system that just doesn’t have the power. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sega CD, but I acknowledge that it did nothing more than add some graphical maps and sound channels to the Sega Genesis. This isn’t very conducive to a fully rendered 3D environment for racing. As a result it looks and acts much like the Genesis ports of games like Virtua Racing or Hard Drivin’, with large bare environments that are boring to look at and staggered, slow vehicles that don’t make for an exciting battle. Racing Aces moves sluggishly, the enemies have an unfair advantage, bare bones world, and is a racing game – all negative things in my book – so why do I like it so much?
The game starts off with a training arena that gets you used to using the easiest of the four classes of airplanes, the basic bi-plane. It allows you to learn navigation, pointing the plane where you want it, and how to navigate the air before throwing competition your way. It’s during this tutorial level that I learned I had a long way to go and for some reason remained a blocked part of my fond memory of this game. Racing Aces controls like a computer that has too many processes (which may very well be what’s happening) because all of your inputs have drastic changes to the movement of your plane and come a few seconds after you press them, so it’s difficult to re-adjust yourself after an overshoot. You eventually get the hang of it but that really means you get used to tapping directions to slowly adjust your direction to just the right spot. Well until you hit a turn, that is, when everything gets thrown drastically off course and you’re again fighting to fly in a straight line. Since I’ve never flown a plane before, I guess it’s possible that this is a normal experience for pilots but for those of us just trying to play a game it was a bit specific. This speaks nothing for the other planes in each class, there are usually 2-4 different ones, which will force you to readjust to even more picky controls. It’s all worth it once you grind through the hour or so of practice to get your skills up because then you feel like this laughably sluggish race moving at stuttering speeds is actually intense. By the end of it onlookers couldn’t help but crack up as I inched my way toward a finish line.
Contextually you have to understand that this was the only option in town if you liked Super Mario Kart and titles like it but only had a Sega console. Granted, it would be cheaper to purchase an SNES and the game rather than chance it on Sega CD, but we didn’t have that kind of hindsight and we were fanboys to the bone. Racing Aces provided similar racing, especially with the intelligently integrated weapon balloons, that seemed to fuse the graphics of Starfox with the racing of a kart racer. Unfortunately the barrier to entry is so large, even back then and these days for sure, that I have to determine this game is more work than its worth to get started. On that same token, though, Racing Aces can be a fun and rewarding plane racer if you put the time and patience into it and you happen to be burned out on the competition. I just dig it because it has everything against it from programming to framerate to aesthetics, and yet it overcomes that obstacle with gameplay and makes for an intriguing experience and addition to the Sega CD library. On a final note, I’m quite surprised that Sega, the king of re-releasing titles at any opportunity, didn’t attempt to update this title for future consoles (although the poor handling of 3D on the Saturn may be resonsible).
Developer: Digital Pictures
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $2.63 (used), $7.63 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: Yes – Sega Saturn, PC/MAC
Digital Release? No
This is the game that brought it all together and proved that not only was a full motion video (FMV) game possible, it could be properly acted with high production values. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this title completely bombed on the Sega CD, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many freaking copies in the world (both used and sealed). Despite its commonality, Double Switch is like many other titles in the vast gaming world that starts off solid and becomes a veritable train wreck near the end. Honestly that’s when its commonality and subsequent low price tag come in to justify the purchase because I still really dig this title. It’s definitely not without plenty of flaws and if played in long intervals, can easily induce the need to never touch it again. If you can stomach it, this title does bring with it all the charm of a far-fetched early 90s pop film, which lead Corey Haim should suggest by the very fact he’s cast in the game. With the proper introduction, Double Switch was a fair follow-up to its much more popular, although purely due to its controversy, older brother Night Trap.
Developer Digital Pictures is solely to blame for the FMV game and it held the most firm grasp and largest library on the Sega CD. A company that started off as the lead developer for Hasbro’s canceled NEMO game system (that would do basically the same thing with VHS tapes), most of the sales celebrated by the company came from all the controversy of Night Trap. Even back then there was clear admission that Night Trap was a dated title that lacked almost any interactivity by the player and had terrible acting to boot. Double Switch, the successor that would follow the same structure without being a true sequel, hoped to address many of these complaints and did a fairly decent job of it. Unfortunately no one factored in the fact that many gamers thought they would see graphic violence or sexual themes as the sole reason for picking up Night Trap, the return on investment was hardly there. With what was surely a much higher budget than any similar title at the time, Double Switch was a big gamble that failed and not without good reason.
So what exactly do I mean about high production values? To start off, there’s the cast. The late Corey Haim (The Lost Boys, License to Drive) plays the lead in a time where he was just escaping the teeny bopper craze from the 80s, Deborah Harry plays another major character (best known for her singing career), and R. Lee Ermey (drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket) plays the other main character. This is an impressive video game cast right off the bat (although they do misspell Ermey’s last name as Emery), especially for 1993, and each actor delivers believable performances in what feels more like a small audience play than a movie. As the mystery unfolds you get to know and like the cast of characters that also include a few famous Hollywood character actors like Taylor Negron, Irwin Keyes, and Thomas Rosales Jr. (look them up, you know all these guys). To couple this are varied music tracks that accompany certain characters, rooms, and scenarios to keep the soundtrack fresh in comparison to the painstaking repetitive music of Night Trap. There’s even a song by the band in the game, Scream, entitled Tunnel Vision that is to this day in rotation as one of my ringtones – for selfish reason I’ve included the “music video” (short clip from the game featuring the song) below. Given the trap-based nature of the game, plenty of set design and Arabian-style art direction do come together in a series of rooms that are individually distinguishable and fun to check out. Altogether it really is a decent and probably expensive cost to capture all the elements that tie into the game, not to mention what the software developers cost.
That’s where Double Switch hits some of its biggest snags: gameplay and mechanics. Being that it’s the spiritual successor to Night Trap, you’re still running from room to room capturing the various enemies that try to invade the Edward Arms apartment building. The game has three acts, each with their own individual tasks, that are properly laid out for you at the beginning of each act. In Act I, your job is to help Eddie (Haim) escape from the basement he’s been locked in by collecting codes and at the same time protecting the tenants from harm at the hands of those invading the premises. In Act II you are tasked with utilizing more traps, all hidden and must be discovered by viewing them, to prevent a killer wearing a mummy costume and discover who that person is. The final Act wraps the game up, ties up all of the loose ends (quite effectively), and reveals the secrets of Edward Arms. I liked the plot differences and the various tasks, especially given that in each act part of your task is actually watching the video to gain access to certain things. If you aren’t watching the thugs in Act I reveal the hidden code numbers, they will not unlock and you will not progress. Similarly in Act II, if you do not see the hidden extra traps demonstrated, you will not have access to them and be unable to prevent the mummy killer from trapping tenants or getting captured themself. It’s one of those things that once you discover the secret you may be a little annoyed and roll your eyes, but I thought it was a great way to keep you attentive and to assure that regardless of how many times you’ve played you’ll have to watch the movie.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work out quite as well as the developers had planned. Instead of a single bar that indicates proximity to a trap, you now have to arm specific traps in a room and trigger them as an enemy steps on them. This sounds simple enough except that the only way to know what trap an enemy is going for or will end up on requires you to have played the game several times and memorized the look or eventual trap outcome. I’m sure this was to encourage replay, as is probably every other annoying decision in this game, but it instead promotes anger and annoyance. As the game progresses there’s also a lot of juggling that pulls away from the very costly and mildly entertaining production – for example you may be listening to an important conversation, but a random enemy that can cause an immediate game over appears and thus you must leave the important part for a mundane task. In the grand scheme the solution is again to begin memorizing those key moments and navigating appropriately, which I can do without a hitch in Acts I & II. Act III is a different beast of its own because the difficulty ramps to an all time high, the enemy spawns are much quicker, and catching the key moments is basically once every thirty seconds or so. Since all of the traps used, characters involved, and timing are new, you never quite develop the skills, knowledge, or reflexes to succeed in the difficult final chapter. Not only that, but all of the important plot is revealed on that chapter and you’re only given 5 chances per save to complete it before having to start the whole game over again. This is a major problem, especially when you can never see the ending, which I have more issue with now than I ever did as a kid. I refuse to consult a YouTube video for a person who’s quicker and better than me (I’m sure there are plenty) because this is a reward I deserve when I finally get there, but as of the long 4-hour session last night I have yet to accomplish it. To get to a wall 85 percent through a game is what I call unacceptable.
Still, for those that don’t get as wrapped up in the game as me it can be a fun little bit of history where a movie game is just fun enough to get addicting. The video quality is greatly improved over Night Trap and the coding is smooth enough that load times are almost unheard of, not to mention the much-needed improvements with the on-screen display that makes you feel more like you’re in control of an actual security system. I’ve included video of the first act below but I didn’t want to include any more because it begins spoiling the larger plot points of the game and since I didn’t make it to the end would seem like a poor enticement to watch. For what its worth, this was the game I spent all of Thanksgiving 1995 trying to conquer and despite its flaws has always been one of the first games I re-collect when I get a Sega CD or give one as a gift.
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $8.88 (used), $39.99 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: Yes – Simply known as Spider-Man on Genesis, Game Gear, and Master System
Digital Release? No
As we sometimes see in the 16-bit era, first party published titles became interesting exclusives on either side of the console wars and among the various Spider-Man titles I have to say this is my favorite. Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin (or better known on all other ports as Spider-Man) tasks you with defusing a bomb set by the nefarious Kingpin within 24 hours (pretty sure that’s not real-time) by collecting keys from different foes in the Spider-Man universe. This was the first game I played that gave me exactly what I expected out of a superhero title. It allowed me to play as Spider-Man, it had solid controls that included web slinging and wall grabbing, and it did it all in a side scrolling platformer/brawler. Not only that, but the game embraces a non-linear structure where you visit locations throughout the city and face whatever is in certain locations, which felt like it freed the game up to your personal pacing, something quite uncommon in the days of early platformers. While the plot centralized around the Kingpin, you will take on almost all of Spider-Man’s key foes including Venom, Doc Oc, Lizard, and Electro, just to name a few. Graphically the game had that semi-real grit that Sega titles all seemed to offer in the early 90s with great animated storyboard art throughout.
The Sega CD version was enhanced in several ways. As with most titles on the console, animated moving cutscenes were integrated complete with voiced dialogue for all the characters – as a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated 90s cartoon, I’m pretty sure the same cast was utilized here. I must admit that the cutscenes made the game look more cartoon-like, a stark contrast to the traditional levels you would traverse moments later, but they are in the same style as Willy Beamish and I just thought it cool to see Spider-Man come to life. This game also had collectible comics in various locations, 21 in total, that were digital scans of actual comics that you could explore and read in the main menu, another nice touch. In all of the other versions of this game, Spider-Man is tasked with taking photos of enemies to sell to J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle to purchase more web fluid, however in the Sega CD version web fluid is a simple (and common) pick up within the world. Finally the soundtrack was much better than the cold metallic “beep boops” of the other Sega ports and instead featured a soundtrack by Spencer Nilson (a composer that almost solely did Sega CD titles, known best for the Sonic CD soundtrack) and performed by the rock band Mr. Big. Of all the updates made to the game, the drastically enhanced soundtrack stands out.
It’s just a fun game of exploration and bumping into the various foes of Spider-Man, which was always the key plot points for almost all of his comics so it felt like your own personalized adventure. Like so many other titles of this era, it took me more than two hours and several game overs before I even figured out where the enemies are and how to diffuse the bomb, although I’m certain there are a few dozen walkthroughs that can be found on the Internet today. There’s a twist after completing the bomb diffuse mission that completely twists what the game is about and makes the player more prompted than ever to capture Kingpin. I was also surprised that it is possible, and frankly for me a bit too easy, to fail in the final fight and have some very tragic endings (I think there are three different endings), which was something I didn’t expect and seemed like an idea Marvel would never approve. Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin is easily the best port among the different versions on Sega consoles and is yet another stunning example that Sega CD does more than just port a game, but it’s still a bit disheartening that at its core the overall title can be found elsewhere with much cheaper hardware. In any form, however, it’s well worth a play for retro gaming fans and comic book fans alike; in fact, it’s the sole reason that Marvel continued its licensing deal with Sega and according to developer Randel B. Reiss, two-thirds of all Genesis/Mega Drive owners purchased this game. In hindsight, a 66 percent attach rate on a specific game is almost unheard of, even today, unless its one of the powerhouse exclusive titles (think a Mario or Sonic game) and Spider-Man should be highly commended for that feat alone.