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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: Sherlock Homes Consulting Detective (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: Sega (Sega/Mega-CD)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $5.99 (used) $11.99 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Price for Sega CD version only
Price: $5.00-$10.00 (used) N/A on US Version (new) on eBay
Other Releases: FM Towns (original release, Japan only), DOS/MAC, Commodore CDTV, Turbografx-16 CD
Digital Release? Yes – an updated version with better video quality released on PC, Mac OS X, and iPad in late Sept. 2012

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a bit of an anomaly in the realm of video games.  Much like Myst, the game premiered on CD-based consoles and computers to show off the benefits of the new technology, but was much less of a game than it was an interactive form of media.  A basic interface allowed the player to navigate various options and view content (mostly video) in order to solve one of the popular cases that originally appeared in the novel by the same name.  To show off all of the fancy marvels of a multimedia CD-ROM title there was complete focus on showing off content rather than optimizing any aspect of the game for quick playing, resulting in a few simple actions taking ridiculous amounts of time to accomplish.  I was recording gameplay videos for this article last night and it took more than 30 mins just to capture the “tutorial” that includes many icons, each with its own slow loading audio (no subtitles) background, and a video from Sherlock Holmes himself.  It was so slow-paced and boring to capture, I made the executive decision that it would be even more boring to watch and scrapped the video.  Don’t let this discourage you, especially with the re-releases likely having no load times, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a thought-provoking hybrid between the adventure genre and the full motion video (FMV) game.

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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

Guilty Pleasure: Night Trap (Sega CD/32X CD/3DO/PC)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD, 32X CD, 3DO, PC
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sega (Sega/Mega-CD, 32X CD), Virgin (3DO), Digital Pictures (PC)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $25.00-$50.00 (used) $50.00 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Prices for various platforms
Price: $25-$50 (used) N/A (new) on eBay
Digital Release? No

Oh Night Trap, your reputation precedes you.  In actuality this game has received far too much press than it’s probably worth and constitutes an odd sense of rarity about the title.  It’s too bad because had this title fallen into the $5-$10 category that its brethren Sewer Shark, Corpse Killer, and Double Switch dwell, more people would probably appreciate the title.  Unfortunately due to some senate hearings and the fact that this game was alongside Mortal Kombat and Lethal Enforcers for why the ESRB ratings needed to exist in the first place, people think they are going to see some explicit content.  That, friends, is simply not true.  Putting all that publicity aside, there is a meaty cult-style game here that perhaps suffers less than other full motion video (FMV) games.  It’s not great, but it sure is fun to watch at least once.

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Silpheed (Game Arts)

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If I mention the game Silpheed, those who aren’t Sega CD fans probably won’t be familiar with the game.  On the other hand, if I mention a very similar title that came out at about the same time I know most gamers will instantly recognize it, Star Fox.  While both are on-rails shmups, Star Fox had a new perspective directly behind the ship or in the cockpit, not to mention that there were many more SNES consoles than Sega CDs at the time.  That doesn’t mean that Silpheed should be discredited; it offers some of the best polygonal graphics of the time without the groggy slowdown and keeps the traditional vertical shmup perspective.  Oh yeah, did I mention it originally came out in 1986?

As a brainchild of Takeshi Miyaji (you know him better for his RPG franchises like Lunar and Grandia), this title released on the Japanese PC-8801 in 1986 and in 1988 made the jump to the Fujitsu FM-7.  At that time Sierra took notice of it and ported it to the US (along with a rough translation) for the MS-DOS format.  At the time the game featured pre-rendered graphics to create the polygonal effects we see in early 3D games like Star Fox.  It wasn’t until the game was ported to the Sega CD/Mega CD in 1993 and actually featured polygonal graphics for all of the ships in the game, a feat for the time that was somewhat common in Sega CD titles. 

At this point Silpheed is a rudimentary and quite easy shmup, but it retains the roots of the genre better than titles it’s often compared to like Star Fox or Star Wars Arcade.  I’m still amazed with the graphics, especially when you know the game was already 7 years old when it came to the Sega CD and yet has a lot of similar dialogue to Star Fox – is there really a chance Nintendo “borrowed” choice phrases?  If you have a Sega CD and you’ve avoided this title because it either didn’t look fun or had some of the most generic cover art you’ve ever seen, it might be worth giving this inexpensive game a chance.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Homebrew

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It started predominantly with the Dreamcast, but for as long as consoles have been around “homebrew” make an appearance in one form or another.  Nowadays it’s not uncommon to find a myriad of independently developed applications and games for consoles.  Mind you, it does require you to hack your console – and these days that’s no simple feat and usually carries with it the risk of bricking¹.  Once complete, a modded console with working homebrew can greatly improve the capabilities of your device – certain Wiis, for example, can play DVDs and MP3s as a virtual media machine that even accepts external hard drives via USB.  There are plenty of dark sides to homebrew as well, including the inevitable piracy debate, and in some consoles the homebrew scene is almost laughable.  This article will discuss what homebrew is, why it has been beneficial and the legalese dance any homebrew user must take.

Basement Beer

I couldn’t find any direct correlation between the two, but most likely the name “homebrew” comes from the culture of brewing alcohol in one’s home that began wide popularity after it was made legal in most countries in the 1970s.  Independent “brewers” would create wine, beer or grain alcohols in their homes using various materials and methods.  It was said by these homebrewers that unique flavors were created via methods not possible in major distillers and breweries.  Much like these basement libations, the homebrew scene on video game consoles stems from a similar background.

Homebrew is defined as a program or game created for specific hardware (the specifications of the home console they are developed for) by the community.  In many cases these games are not authorized or licensed by the manufacturer of the console and at times aren’t even legal due to the use of protected materials and copyrights.  It is possible to have legal software created on a development kit and authorized by manufacturers, but this is rare and has only seen mainstream success via Microsoft’s XNA program.  From my experience homebrew either helps the pirating community open up the capabilities for a console to emulate games that never came to them, college students to get the most out of their device (the aforementioned turning a Wii into a DVD player) and hardcore fans of a dead console creating new and sometimes impressive games.

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Supplemental: Remembering the Sega 32X

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In 1994, the 16-bit generation in America was dwindling and gamers were ready for the 32-bit generation to emerge.  With discussions of interactive CD-ROM consoles, the emergence of early 32-bit  CD consoles like CD-i and 3DO and everyone wanted to know what Sega and Sony had in store for the future.  Super Nintendo was only three years into its life and riding strong while the Genesis was having a tougher time competing.  Not only did its age (it’s two years older than the SNES) hinder it, but with the introduction of the failing Sega CD, the Genesis still didn’t have the kick it wanted.  In early January 1994, Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama wanted a 32-bit cartridge console to be released that Christmas, codenamed “Project Jupiter” (Sega used planets for its projects).  Sega shortly decided that CD-based technology would be better suited for this project and it was renamed to “Project Saturn” – it would later go on to be the Sega Saturn console that released in 1995.

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Day 5

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On the fifth day of Christmas my memories gave to me…

Five Genesis Models!

For a console that was only around for roughly six years, the Sega Genesis sure was releasing new iterations like there was a reason for all the updates.  To be fair, every single one of these consoles changed something about the Genesis but not all of them for the best.  Sega in the 90s was like an eager child, just ready to jump at the next opportunity to improve current technology and release new ones.  This is why the Genesis had 5 different models, not including the many licensed models that also released from different companies, as well as two more add-ons.  They would also jump the gun and release the Saturn less than a year after selling you the pricy 32x, which claimed to turn your Genesis into a 32-bit system and didn’t do a good job at it.

Thankfully all of the standard Sega branded Genesis models ran the entire Genesis library (yes, some 3rd party consoles did not), but not all of them were compatible with Sega’s add-ons.  It’s easy to imagine that the Nomad wouldn’t work with the Sega CD and 32x – at least not without a hardware hack – but the CDX, which already combined the Sega and Sega CD, you wouldn’t assume would be incompatible with the 32x.  Even more odd was the fact that Genesis 3 was incompatible with both Sega CD and 32x due to hardware design.  Furthermore, the 32x would be on store shelves with the CDX and Genesis 3, both consoles it was incompatible with.  It was a nightmare for everyone involved from the marketing guy to the retailer and finally the parent.  The only person who could keep it all straight was of course the gamer, the one person that couldn’t be involved in the transaction thanks to Christmas and gift giving.  I’m sure there were at least a few massive $500 refunds after a rich parent purchased multiple incompatible parts.  In those days if it didn’t work like it was supposed to right out of the box, who cared how cool it was, parents returned it. 

I managed to get out mostly unscathed thanks to the gaming press, which kept me informed of the upcoming Saturn.  I did ask for a 32x, which would end up being incompatible with my CDX, but I didn’t fret because I knew the next console generation was around the corner.  I returned the 32x (and both games I got with it – Doom and Star Wars Arcade) and kept the money waiting in my dresser for the Saturn.

<- Go back to the fourth day                                       Go on to the sixth day ->

Written by Fred Rojas

December 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Generation Gap Pt. 3: 16-Bit

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By 1989 the NES was a powerhouse not to be reckoned with.  Sure, there were other consoles out there, but if you were doing home gaming it was predominantly on the NES.  That is, until Sega introduced the first 16-bit system to the market.  Billed as the Genesis (Mega Drive in other regions, but due to an US copyright it was renamed to the Genesis), Sega hit the ground running bringing near-perfect arcade ports of popular titles like Golden Axe and Altered Beast.  This spawned the popular “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” campaign, the onslaught of the console wars, and the second true generation of consoles since the crash.  For those simply wondering what 16-bit (and other “bits”) means is the type of processor working within the system at a given speed (think “Pentium 4” for a basic comparison).

16-bit Generation (1989 – 1999)

Sega Genesis – Launch Price: $189.99 – Released: 1989
It came literally out of nowhere.  Back then the only place to purchase Nintendo games in the Chicago suburbs was Toys R Us – you’d go see a slew of Nintendo box art in closed plastic sleeves, remove a ticket with a large price on it, and take it up to a booth that was enclosed and caged like a casino redemption.  There wasn’t a “video game” section, just a “Nintendo” section, because at that time Nintendo was synonymous with video game (and for my grandparents, it still is).  On that faithful summer day in August 1989 I walked into the Nintendo section and a slot was missing from the game display, replaced by a big blue logo that read “Sega” and a television that had a commercial playing.  In the commercial games like Golden Axe were getting compared to Bionic Commando, a truly unfair comparison from a graphics standpoint alone, despite hindsight revealing Bionic Commando the better title.  This upbeat guy was chanting “Genesis…” and a bold deep voice finished the sentence “Does!” as the commercial cross-cut the great visuals of Sega’s new console versus Nintendo’s clearly dated NES.  Then my eyes wandered down to the price: $189.99 – available soon!  I immediately forgot about it.

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