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Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

Jammin’!: The Story of ToeJam & Earl

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In proverbial “man I’m getting old” fashion, I’ve just realized that we’re just two-and-a-half years shy of the 30th Anniversary of ToeJam & Earl.  It’s not like I suddenly woke up and decided to write about this franchise, either, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove will release this Friday, March 1st and while we can’t talk about it yet, tune back into the site on Thursday to get all the details and our thoughts. Permit me to take you back to the halcyon days of the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for you players outside North America) and into the team that dared to make a roguelike in 1991 on consoles.

ToeJam & Earl (1991, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Developed by Johnson Voorsanger Productions, Published by Sega)

The story of ToeJam & Earl starts with its creator Greg Johnson and his fanaticism for Rogue while at UCSD.  The link above will provide you background on both Rogue and the now dubbed “roguelike” genre, but back in 1980s there was only one game influencing a slew of young developers.  Johnson would go on to EA working on PC titles, including his most notable releases as designer on Starflight in 1986 and Starflight 2 in 1989, the latter receiving Computer Gaming World’s Roleplaying Game of the Year award in 1990.  The franchise involves space exploration with integrated strategy, combat, and simulation in a non-linear fashion.  It was a starting point and notoriety for Johnson early in his career and allowed him to get more creative as he brainstormed his next project.  It was around this time, according to a Gamasutra’s interview I reference consistently, that Johnson met Mark Voorsanger, a programmer, while mountain climbing with a mutual friend.  The two hit it off so well that Johnson pitched the idea for ToeJam & Earl and immediately set to work on establishing Johnson Voorsanger Productions, the studio that would develop and release the game.

The concept was pretty straightforward, but also unique for the time.  ToeJam & Earl is about two rapping aliens dripping with 90s urban culture who have their ship breakdown on Earth and have to scour randomly generated maps to re-collect all the pieces.  Some may even call it a cartoonish, funky version of Rogue.  According to Johnson, the main concepts that drove design were randomized maps and survival to complete the grand task of rebuilding your ship.  I’m used to hearing about all the struggles that game development faces – in the Gamasutra interview you can read about Johnson’s in his formative years – but oddly enough this wasn’t the case with ToeJam & Earl.  To hear him tell it, the design doc was easily assembled and Johnson pulled old team members into development, including the talented John Baker who was responsible for the soundtrack.  A quick meeting with Sega that spelled out the design on note cards along with their combined experience on major games was enough to get the title published.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Horror Obscura 2018: Dark Castle (Mega Drive/Genesis)

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In the past Horror Oscura I have explored games which are focused around horror and the use of horror in games you would not class as a horror title.  This year I wanted to go back to my childhood and re-visit one of my biggest horrors: Dark Castle on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in North America).

Back in my childhood I was scanning the cheapest of the used Mega Drive titles in the retailer “GAME” on the South Coast of England when I came a came across Dark Castle. This was back in the 90s, I saved up my cash long and hard to treat myself to a video game. At a young age I was drawn to dark themes and games that just weren’t well known so Dark Castle, matched that category. Looking at the box now though one may question what I was thinking. The front of the box has a gargoyle on it stuck like old Clip Art on a background of a castle entrance. Not particularly appealing. The back of the box quotes, “climb the ramparts of the Dark Castle and dethrone the Black Knight.” An interesting quote but not a lot to go on. Keep in mind in the UK the back of the box often had a very short description of the game in multiple European languages. The instruction manual also included translation for 6 European languages. Flipping the back of the box over I guess it was the screen shots that appealed. Pictures of a eyeball creatures with hands, zombies looking monsters. Back then the game cost me £12.99 (the price sticker is still on my copy to this day), some may consider that a horror to itself.

So what is this game about? Dark Castle is a 2D adventure platformer. The game is presented as single screen levels most of which you just need to reach the end to survive. Some will require you to solve some head scratching puzzles. As young Duncan your objective is pretty simple: defeat the Dark Knight. However, to do this you need to complete three quests as outlined in the instruction manual titled “Trouble,” “Fireball,” and “Shield.” Completing the latter two will give you a item that will help you in your quest, more on these later. When you begin the game you are literally presented with four doors. Two doors have a “?” the other two “BK” with a shield. BK of course stands for Black Knight. If you are brave enough you could just attempt to take on the Black Knight and finish the game super fast, this goes against what the instructions advises but it can be done. Not so easy if you choose the Hard difficulty setting though. If you go in blind in the game you just have a choose a door and hope for the best.

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Written by jamalais

October 29, 2018 at 11:00 am

Joust Review

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Joust.  Yes, that ostrich game you may have read about in the fiction novel Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. Well I’m going to talk about it today because the site needs more arcade love and its about time Joust had a review. Full disclosure, I did review this game across a few emulators including MAME and multiple Midway Collections on Mega Drive (Genesis), PSP, and Xbox. This review will feature some brief discussion on the cabinet itself, which I have been fortunate enough to try at retro gaming conventions.

Released in 1982 by Williams Entertainment, Joust is single screen joystick and one button flapping mash fest. You play a knight riding on the back of the magnificent ostrich. With a lance in hand, your goal is simple: take out every enemy rider on screen. Then you repeat that wave after wave until you run out of lives. The single button on the cabinet is responsible for flapping wings of your feathered beast. You have to rapidly press the button to get your bird off the ground, but once you have the momentum going it becomes quite the skill to take down the other riders. You need to be slightly above the other rider and hit them to take them down. Once they are out of action an egg will drop which you’ll need to collect before it re-hatches a new rider and you have to take them out all over again. It becomes a juggle of priorities, choosing to take out the other riders or collect the eggs. The first wave, titled “Buzzard Blitz,” is fairly easy. Just three opponents spawn to ease you into the game, but like with a lot of these Williams games don’t be disappointed if you do loose all your lives on the first wave. It can take a few attempts to come to grips with the controls and figure out your strategy. By this point – back in the arcade days – you would have sunk a decent chunk of change into the cabinet.

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Written by jamalais

July 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Beyond Oasis/Story of Thor Game Club

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One of the latest Sega Genesis/Mega Drive releases is a top down action RPG and brawler from Ancient, the team also responsible for Streets of Rage 2.  It was known as Beyond Oasis in North America and The Story of Thor in all other regions, and it tells the tale of Prince Ali as he recruits elementals to assist him in defeating an ancient evil.  Jam and Fred delve deep into the development, gameplay elements, and main campaign of this late, but great, 16-bit Sega game.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 26, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Podcast: Old Console, New Hardware (Part 1)

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We all love old video games, but the frank reality is that as they age our consoles run solely on obsolete technology.  As the basic capabilities of modern hardware increases, so does the ability to mod classic consoles to keep up.  In addition, new accessories also come on the scene to serve needs that were either impossible or too expensive in the past.  This episode covers the earliest cartridge-based consoles and the many modifications and accessories you can get for them.  In part 1 of this two-part series we get a bit technical, but also present the many options you can potentially research.


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Written by Fred Rojas

May 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

Altered Beast Review

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Altered Beast was a game that lived in screenshots.  Like it or not, the arcade System 16 classic was less known for the roller skating rinks, bars, and bowling alleys that it was intended to get popular on and instead became the poster child for early Genesis advertising.  I say this as someone who was under 10 years old at the time it premiered, though, so perhaps it was burning up the arcades, but all I seem to remember was it coming home.  I did get a chance to play the title in coin-op form at my local bowling alley, but after a handful of attempts that never got me further than the second level I gave up on replaying the game.  When it came home, however, I needed it on my Genesis and I replayed it constantly.  In fact, for a game that is not only easy but also quick to complete (probably about 30 minutes), I find myself replaying it more than most other games from my past.  This even more odd given that, sadly, Altered Beast is not a very good game.

altered_beast_arcade_beast_modeThe premise is that of a centurion of Greece brought back by Zeus to save Athena, his daughter, who has been kidnapped.  Upon your resurrection, you now gain the ability to take the form of different animals in a sort of “were-” hybrid (werewolf, weredragon, werebear, etc) that can be accomplished by collecting power-ups in the level.  Beyond that Altered Beast is nothing more than a walk to the right and beat up everything in your path game, often known today as a brawler, but given that it pre-dates most of the Konami licensed brawlers and Capcom’s Final Fight, it was significant for the time.  Levels can vary in length, but if you know the game in the least – and what needs to be done – you’ll clear each one in 5 minutes or less.  Given that there’s only 5 levels, that’s a short time span.  When I refer to knowing what needs to be done, that’s the need to destroy the albino wolves in each level, which contain the power-ups needed to make your character’s strength grow and eventually trigger “beast mode.”  Each level rotation has 3 albino wolves and it takes 3 power-ups to go into beast mode, so you have to do it right the first time through or go through another rotation of the level that is usually harder than the first.  Beast mode refers to your character transforming into the aforementioned were-beasts from earlier and has even crept its way into pop culture as a meme.  While there are new enemies in each level, they all take basically the same amount of hits to defeat and aside form some basic change in behavior, don’t differentiate very much.  That’s still not to say this game didn’t have talent behind it because designer Makoto Uchida would earn some notoriety for his future work on Golden Axe and a personal favorite Dynamite Deka (Die Hard Arcade series).  Co-designer Hirokazu Yasuhara is even more notable with his planning and design on the early Sonic the Hedgehog titles before moving on and being involved in the design of Jak & Daxter titles with Naughty Dog and eventually the first Uncharted.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

Celebrate Halloween with Splatterhouse 2 and Typing of the Dead

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Happy Halloween from Gaming History 101!  To celebrate we had Fred tackle Splatterhouse 2, a game he tragically had not played until today.  Can he overcome the house of horrors and save Jennifer?
Warning: Both videos contain adult language and gameplay violence.

Then to lighten things up Fred moves over to the Dreamcast to play through Typing of the Dead.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 31, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Shadow of the Beast II Review

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Writers Notes: In an attempt to make my comeback in game reviewing I wanted to get nostalgic again and revisit the first video game review I ever wrote. But since film and game developers seem to love to remaster everything, I thought I would jump on that bandwagon and re work my old review. Enjoy and hopefully you will see more content from me soon. Today I am going to revisit the 16-bit hit Shadows of the Beast II on the Sega Mega Drive developed by Reflections Interactive and published by the late Psygnosis. I decided to return once again to this brutally challenging game and see if I still remember how to play through what is a relatively short experience (if you know what you are doing).

shadow_of_the_beast_ii_1

I still have my copy of the game exactly how I purchased it back in the nineties. I was originally attracted to the game by name alone though I always wished I could find the original boxed version but alas I still have never found one at least for a reasonable price, and with the way retro prices are going now I probably never well. The game to this day is kept in a rather shoddy EB games box that does not leave much to the imagination, but it is my only memento from the store which is now extinct in the UK and I kinda like hanging on to it even if it is a pain to store away since the box is a couple of centimetres taller than a standard Mega Drive box (yes, we use the metric system here).  When I popped this game in for the first time I was totally blown away by the sound track which is composed by David Whittaker and Tim Wright. Even listening to it today, it still holds up and sounds incredible. Before you even start the game itself you take a moment just to take in the truly gorgeous title music. If you never play this game I highly recommend you check the soundtrack out online it is beautiful.

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Written by jamalais

August 10, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Podcast: Rocket Knight Adventures Game Club

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Rocket Knight Adventures came out during the apex of Genesis/Mega Drive game design. Developed by Konami with roots in the Contra franchise, this cute possum with armor and a jet pack was a charming action platformer. Unfortunately given main character Sparkster’s mascot status and the trends on consoles at the time, this is probably one of the best games you’ve never played. Join Fred and Jam on a journey through a true Sega classic.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

Rocket Knight Adventures Review

rka_gen_boxrka_md_boxPlatform: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
Released: 1993
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? No
Other Games in the Series: Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 (Genesis/Mega Drive), Sparkster (SNES – yes, it’s a different game), Rocket Knight Adventures (2010 – technically a sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures 2)
Value: $13.51 (cart only), $29.99 (complete), $78.00 (sealed) – per Price Charting

Jam’s Take

Rocket Knight Adventures is one of those games that you’ve probably heard of but never played. Those that did play it generally spoke very highly of the experience and I found most other people say, “yeah, I really need to get round to trying that.” Now I personally have a lot of nostalgia for this game. This was one of the very few games I received for my birthday that was to my knowledge brand new. But more importantly a game for me and not my brothers. I had no idea what to expect when I unwrapped this game. But I immediately popped the game into my Mega Drive, heard that sweet Konami tune and lets just say things just got better and better from there. Now this is our game club for April and its time to revisit and see if it’s just as great as I remember or if it was one of those titles that looked better through my younger gamer eyes.

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Written by jamalais

April 28, 2015 at 11:33 am