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Review: Sonic CD (Sega CD)

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soniccd_boxConsole: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
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.

At one point you're forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

At one point you’re forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Technopop
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
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.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 25, 2012 at 11:34 am

Review: Make My Own Music Video (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Non-existent
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: pricecharting.com has hilarously not even covered these games
Price: Don’t even bother
Other Releases: Absolutely Not
Digital Release? No, aside from how horrible they are, the music is timely

There is just no getting around this, these are terrible video games.  Not only are they pop groups that only existed in the early part of the 1990s, but they aren’t games at all.  You goal is just as it sounds: make a music video.  It’s a crash course in linear digital editing where three streams of video appear on the screen at once and you use the A, B, and C button to select the “active” feed that will become your master video.  Unfortunately the three feeds are made up of a random lot of public domain videos from the first half of the century, sometimes altered slightly for the beat, and the original music video for the game.  I’m not saying that these videos are directorial masterpieces, but when combined with the patethic hodgepodge of public domain video, they’re the next Star Wars, I have never once wanted to leave the feed of the main video.  Having said that, they are amazing fun at a party when you want to laugh your head off at how pathetically cheesy this generation of pop music was.

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Review: The Adventures of Willy Beamish (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Dynamix
Publisher: Sierra
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $8.99 (used) $15.01 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Price for Sega CD version only
Price: $6.00-$10.00 (used) $88.00 (new) on eBay
Other Releases: Amiga, PC, Mac
Digital Release? No

Another early Sega CD release, while most of the games that came out near launch were cool new CD-ROM interactions and FMV games, The Adventures of Willy Beamish was a port of an Amiga point-and-click adventure title that received several enhancements on Sega’s system.  Published by Sierra, one of the two major producers of the adventure genre at the time, Willy Beamish totes you along on an adventure of a nine-year-old boy and the several decisions and influences you will deal with.  Beamish is somewhat of a troublemaker as established by the opening scene in detention on the final day of school before summer break, which begins your adventure by sneaking past your ancient teacher and getting home.  In typical Bart Simpson emulation for the time, Willy rides a skateboard, has a pet frog, and is prone to causing problems for any adults in his wake.  From then on an amusing tale of a young boy saving his town unfolds that has you doing everything from the mundane – playing with your younger sister on the swingset – to the completely crazy – combat with a vampiric babysitter.  As much as many critics have compared this game to a storybook come to life, little touches like a playable video game console in your bedroom and somewhat brancing plot paths show impressive game design for the time.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Review: Final Fight CD (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Sega (Sega/Mega-CD, 32X CD)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $21.50 (used) $76.00 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Price for Sega CD version only
Price: $23-$60 (used) N/A on US Version (new) on eBay
Other Releases: Arcade, SNES, Gameboy Advance
Digital Release? Yes – SNES version on Virtual Console ($8), Arcade version on XBLA/PSN as Double Impact ($10)

Final Fight is a pivotal late 80s arcade release for Capcom for two reasons: it established the norms that would make up the concept of the “beat-em-up” genre for its short-lived life (although it oddly enough didn’t introduce any of them) and it created the aesthetic and building blocks of Street Fighter II.  Anyone who has played this game or SFII will immediately be familiar with that semi-realistic semi-animated graphical style of Final Fight that remained exclusive to these two titles moving forward for a few sequels (I’m considering the numerous re-hashes of SFII to be sequels).  In full disclosure this is my favorite brawler of all time and definitely ranks highly in my overall top games I’ve ever played despite the fact that Final Fight doesn’t translate well to home consoles because it’s intended to take your money and prompt more quarters rather than be completed in a finite number of lives/credits.  In order to complete the game in the allotted five credits requires you to memorize the cheaper boss battles and exploit the collision detection.  For me it was just repetitive stupid fun.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 5, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Happy 20th to the Sega CD

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Sega CD Model 2 with Genesis Model 2, the most common setup

Okay, I know the Sega CD actually turned 20 exactly one week ago on October 15, but we’ve been very busy over here so we regretfully missed the window.  Fortunately we are making up for that with tons of Sega CD coverage for the month of November, check in to see write-ups and gameplay on many of the titles that made Sega’s overpriced add-on a temptation in 1993.  Now I know it is popular opinion to crap all over the Sega CD and in full disclosure I’m an avid fanboy of this specific system, but somewhere in between lies its true value.  Someone once told me that any console with at least three good games is worth being in existence and under that theory the Sega CD justifies itself at least three times over.  In recent days the Sega CD has also dropped in price/value so it’s quite possible to get your hands on a Genesis/CD combo for roughly $50-$75, which isn’t too shabby even by today’s standards.

In truth the Sega CD (Mega CD in Japan and Europe) wasn’t designed for our market.  It was developed in Japan to compete with the PC-Engine CD (Turbografx-16 Duo in our country) and hopefully migrate the consumers of the time into the CD generation as an unassuming add-on instead of a full-blown machine.  In the end both consoles did make their way stateside (NEC being very conservative with Turbo Duo distribution and Sega liberally releasing any and all hardware in every market) with hefty price tags ($300-$450).  Sega CD emerged victorious but many would argue its victory was due more to the fact that almost every game that released in Japan came over here whereas an extremely meager amount of PC-Engine CD titles ever made it stateside.  Like the PC-Engine CD, the Sega CD was able to upgrade visuals, considerably upgrade audio quality (especially with straight CD tracks in red and yellow book audio format), and increase capacity of discs to 600 mb when compared to the frail 32 megabit capacity of the Genesis.  Sega CD was kept under wraps so tightly that aside from technical specs, many developers of early games had no idea what console they were developing for.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Know this Publisher: Sunsoft

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Normally we focus on developers, the true makers of video games, but it’s also important to focus on the publishers responsible for making sure we ever see the game in stores.  In many cases these notable publishers are the ones that grab a bunch of smaller developed or imported games and grants them release in another region.

Sunsoft was such a great publisher back in the days of the NES.  Back in those days the few of us who read the labels of game boxes didn’t normally notice a developer, but rather a the publisher logo (although to be fair the two were often the same).  Whenever the Sunsoft logo crossed your boxed copy you could almost guarantee two things about it that normally don’t go together: 1.) your game would be a license game 2.) it would be good.  Yes, you read that correctly, Sunsoft made good licensed games on the NES.  As time continued, Sunsoft got more linked in with lackluster mascot games of the 16-bit era, but that doesn’t stop them from still being a publisher worth noting.  In fact, had it not been for Sunsoft porting many a game that wasn’t slated for release outside of Japan, we may never have seen these classics.  Oh yeah and Blaster Master, they made that too.

Atlantis No Nazo box art

Sunsoft is not in any way related to the short-lived SunSoft that was part of Sun Microsystems in America, but rather a subsidiary of Sun Denshi (or Sun Electronics) that entered the video game realm in the late 1970s.  When the publisher/developer opened a branch in the United States it went under the title Sunsoft of America but the logo still remained simply “Sunsoft”.  They developed mostly unknown games on arcades at that time: Arabian, Ikki, and Kangaroo – a weird hybrid of Donkey Kong and Popeye – but it wasn’t until the company moved to the NES that it really started making waves.  Sunsoft developed arcade ports and original Famicom games in Japan, mostly odd titles that would never come out over here like Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi (English: Stations of the Tokaido), which is a side scrolling action platformer where you play Kintaro, a fireworks salesman and use fireworks as a weapon.  Of the most famous is a kusoge (Japanese slang for cult video games that literally translates to “sh*tty game”) known as Atlantis No Nazo (English: Mystery of Atlantis), which has the player navigating an explorer through 100 levels of platforming.  What most don’t know is that the hit detection is horrendous and the platforming physics are a crash course in masochism, not to mention the game doesn’t move linearly (ie: you don’t necessarily go onto level 4 when you beat level 3).  Like most other games of the 8-bit era, a game over results in you completely starting over and the real aggravating part is that the game is completed by doing a sequence of about seven brutal stages in a certain order (including hidden warp zones).  Without having the information from the onset, I’d safely declare this title impossible.

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Written by Fred Rojas

August 17, 2012 at 11:06 am

Review: Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis)

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Console: Sega Genesis
Released: 1994
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Mega Drive? Yes (as Banpaia Kira  Translation: Vampire Killer, Castlevania: The New Generation in Europe)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? No
Value: $23.07 (used) $59.99 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $25-$50 (used) $60-$350 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? No

Just like today there was fierce competition between the two main 16-bit consoles, SNES and Sega Genesis, that necessitated exclusive games.  Aside from the first party developed titles, third-party developers could opt to either create the same game for both consoles or create completely new ones.  In the case of many Disney games, like Aladdin or The Lion King, different companies developed the game on each console but the basic concepts and level design would remain consistent regardless of which version you purchased.  Konami, on the other hand, would usually make completely different exclusive titles that played to the strength of the specific console it was designed on.  There was no way this developer, who was free to release games on any (and every) console not to create games for both.  Castlevania: Bloodlines is a side story game, much like Rondo of Blood, that played to the audiences that came running to Sega’s edgy console.

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Written by Fred Rojas

July 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Zero Wing (Toaplan)

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Ah, Zero Wing, good ole “All your base are belong to us.”  For those that don’t know the story of the legendary line, feel free to check out our localization article, but despite the horrendous translation this was supposed to be a solid shmup.  Sorry, Europe, but from what I can tell, save for the Parodius series, the exports that hail the only English translation from across the pond kinda suck.  The reason I bring this up is that I wanted to like Zero Wing, I even tried for more than 3 hours to like the game and despite completing it (thanks to endless continues), it’s just not the shmup I had hoped for.  It’s got a power-up system that’s sub-par to the Darius series and a grab-and-throw mechanic that is a stripped R-Type staple, but this hybrid doesn’t net any benefits.  Additionally the controls, while responsive, and the framerate, which suffers little slowdown, makes for a clumsy sluggish ride because your ship is so slow.  I’m also not too keen on the fact that this game utilizes a low enemy count with high hit points.  Stronger enemies are okay from time to time, but I need to take out groups of weaklings for that little ego boost and to soften the blow of a death.  In Zero Wing, if you die within a level you may have to restart the same checkpoint tons of times to overcome the mass of strong enemies that continues with only your basic cannon.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that Zero Wing doesn’t have its good points, and frankly I really enjoyed the “true” boss battles, but it’s a headache to get PAL (European standard def) games to play in the US and I would be disappointed if I did all that work and spent all that money on Zero Wing.  Fortunately I got my hands on a European Mega Drive/32x combo this weekend to test drive this game and the super expensive Darxide.  I’m going to be recording that video tonight and I’m frankly psyched to play a nearly $1,000 game, but I’m guessing it will disappoint based purely on the high value/price tag.  Look for it tomorrow!

Written by Fred Rojas

March 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm

M.U.S.H.A. (Compile)

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Today is yet another Sunday for Shmuppreciation month, which I feel is a time to play shmups and not spend all day reading about them.  It is for this reason that I have chosen a game that needs little introduction: M.U.S.H.A.  In Japan, this is part of a larger series known as Aleste, but given that only two titles came out in the US, seemingly almost unrelated, and its roots stem to the Japanese MSX and rare PC-Engine Super CD titles I have avoided the series personally and will do the same in this write-up.  For technical reasons, the game is known as Musha Aleste: Full Metal Fighter Ellenor in Japan and in the US it has the acronym title that stands for “Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor”.  Basically the game deals with mechs that can power up guns and shields, not normally a topic I’m very fond of, but this particular title was made into a vertical shmup.  You play as the main character Terri (Ellenor in Japan, hence the title), who is the last living mech pilot to protect a space colony named “Little Japan” from obliteration by a series of mechs.  As a result you blast through a bunch of levels filled with a bunch of things that explode in impressive ways.

Thanks to the Sega Genesis architecture, shmups perform quite well on the system and M.U.S.H.A. is no exception.  There will be tons of enemies, power-ups and bullets on screen but this title won’t skip a beat in keeping up with all of them.  In truth it functions much like the 19xx series in terms of how you pick up power-ups and how enemies act, but with a lot more variety to situational combat as well as much improved level design.  For a long time this rare title was seen as an expensive “holy grail” of Genesis/Mega Drive shmups, but thanks to Virtual Console this can be had in any region for a low (and great) price.  I, of course, jumped the gun and hunted down an expensive original version prior to its release on VC, thus decreasing the value a few short months after purchase.  It’s okay though, this game is well worth the money.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm