Osomatsu-kun: Hachamecha Gekijou

 

OsomatsuKunJP

The end is nigh.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 12/24/88 – (JP)

 

Osomatsu-kun: Hachamecha Gekijou is the first Mega Drive game that never found its way over to European or American shores. The game is based on an anime/manga of the same name, which ran throughout the majority of the 1960s before being revitalized in 1988. Hachamecha Gekijou (which translates to “Nonsense Theater”) was released solely to capitalize on “Osomatsu-kun”‘s rebirth and it shows. While the presentation is gorgeous and takes full advantage of the Mega Drive’s power, the game is short, shallow, and feels like it was made by a couple bored Sega programmers over a quiet weekend.

 

Osomatsu-kun - Hachamecha Gekijou (J) [b1]000

Don’t let those homely green drapes fool you: the hut is actually a teleporter.

 

“Osomatsu-kun” is a comedy based predominantly around the exploits of the Matsuno sextuplets. Each of the six boys have distinct personality traits, which usually leads them to clash with each other and those around them, including their parents, their rival, Chibita, and even their love interest, Totoko. Outside of brief character summaries on Wikipedia, there’s little information about the series, as it was never translated into English – though there are a couple episodes translated in Hindi on Youtube if you want to give those a go.

 

Osomatsu-kun - Hachamecha Gekijou (J) [b1]001

Only the bamboo can save you now, Osomatsu-kun!

 

In Hachamecha Gekijou, you control Osomatsu, the eldest of the sextuplets around a surrealistic world. Armed only with a slingshot and what appears to be a limitless supply of sticky buns, you traverse across the landscape, laying to waste any and all insane cats, arrow-slinging Cupids, ostrich bodies with a man’s head and a woman’s shapely legs, etc. The enemy designs are mostly inspired (though some are uncomfortably racist). Think of a ludicrous design, the crazier the better, and Hachamecha Gekijou has one-upped your attempt at madness. For example, the second main boss is a man in drag, dressed as Snow White. He hops around, lifts up his skirt to reveal pink bloomers, then spews poison apples at you from said bloomers. The crazy is strong with this one.

 

Osomatsu-kun - Hachamecha Gekijou (J) [b1]007

Uh… take that, Disney?

 

If only the rest of Hachamecha Gekijou was as ambitious as the enemy designs. The gameplay is light platforming, with the goal of each stage to find the boss and defeat him. Each stage is short, but there are numerous paths to choose from, with only one path leading to the boss; this non-linearity makes the stages feel longer than they actually are. Paths include: doors that transport you to a different part of the stage, chasms that plummet you underground, and flying turtles that whisk you up to the clouds. The enemies drop ribbons and other health-replenishing items when you kill them. Ribbons are used as currency for the occasional shop. There, you can buy items, like a monk invincibility cloak, fireworks that damage enemies, and fish bones that call cats over to kill enemies, or you can play a slot machine to try and win extra lives or ribbons.

 

Osomatsu-kun - Hachamecha Gekijou (J) [b1]002

Osomatsu-kun knew it would come to this.

 

The shop and the slot machine are padding to make Hachamecha Gekijou feel deeper than it really is. As long as you kill enemies and collect the ribbons, you never have to worry about currency. Lives are also plentiful: you start off with five, and unless you run Osomatsu-kun into every projectile, those lives should last through the entire game. The items in the shop would be helpful if Hachamecha Gekijou featured more intense scenarios. Perhaps a colony of bumblebees launching their stingers at Osomatsu-kun would necessitate a blast of fireworks, but more often than not, his standard sticky buns work just fine.

 

Osomatsu-kun - Hachamecha Gekijou (J) [b1]008

The side of Bedrock you’ve never seen…

 

The graphics are sharp and mesmerizing at times. When Hachamecha Gekijou‘s first stage begins, the famous image of the Japanese rising sun is in the background flashing wildly behind the mountains. It’s a distraction, but it’s also a brilliant display of light and color, the best the Mega Drive has presented thus far. When Osomatsu-kun hitches a ride with a winged turtle, he’s taken to the cloud area, a beautiful array of purples, pinks, and blues. The second stage takes place on the outskirts of a forest, filled with lush green trees and grass. Osomatsu-kun’s character sprite is so expressive too. The fuller his life bar, he smiles and walks confidently, but when he jumps or is low on life, he opens his mouth wide in pain/fear.

 

Osomatsu-kun - Hachamecha Gekijou (J) [b1]003

Good lesson, kids: when a creepy stranger points at you, run like hell.

 

Beyond the colorful, inviting aesthetics is a game that offers little to the player. The stages are obviously non-linear so you don’t beat them in thirty seconds, and the extra items provided are pointless. The platforming isn’t terrible, just sparse: enemies come and go, there are no secrets, and the experience is over all too fast. After you’ve beaten the third stage – the last stage in the game – in less than an hour, you’ll be wanting more of Hachamecha Gekijou. Not the game itself, but the nonsensical theater that Sega helped bring to life.

C+

Cyborg Hunter

CyborgHunter_JP

Known as Chouon Senshi Borgman or ‘Robocop-man’ in English

 

CyborgHunterUS

Just like a white-winged dove… robot.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega (EU, Japan), Activision (US)

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Action

RELEASE DATE: 12/01/88 – (JP)

                                        01/1989 – (US)

                                                1989 – (EU)

 

In Cyborg Hunter, you play as Paladin, a bounty hunter who bears a suspicious (but totally coincidental) resemblance to Robocop. Paladin’s purpose is to take out the Cyborg army, led by a vicious scag named Vipron. The Cyborg Fortress is where the game takes place. When you first start, Areas A through G are displayed at the top of the screen. Each area counts as one stage, though within each area are five levels that you access via elevators. Each level is a hallway consisting of Lower Cyborgs, the grunts of the Cyborg army, and the occasional Chief Cyborg. The Lower Cyborgs take little effort to deactivate, but the Chief Cyborgs require a stray bit of thought. Take out the Chief Cyborgs (you’ll know where they are by that obnoxious beeping), collect any important items along the way (they’re all important – collect ’em all!), and move on from the Area.

 

Cyborg Hunter (UE) [!]003

Samus had some time to kill between Metroid and Metroid II

 

Starting from Area C, you’ll also have to fight Cyborg bosses. These bosses are smart, agile, and fast, the kind of robots you don’t want to become self-aware. Thankfully, by the time you’ve reached Area C, you’ve already amassed a full-blown arsenal. In addition to a punch and a Psycho Punch which spews out a limited-range projectile, Paladin also has a Laser Gun. The Laser Gun is a little on the weak side, but it’s long range. In Area D, you’ll get the Psycho Gun. This one’s for serious bounty hunters: it’s the strongest weapon in the game. You also have timed bombs; if they hit, they’ll take off a significant chunk of damage. In addition to weapons, you also acquire a shield which protects you from laser beams and a jet engine which allows you to fly. The jet engine would be cooler if all of the enemies didn’t hop like mad mecha jackrabbits right into Paladin’s grill, but you can use it to fly over beds of spikes and such.

 

Cyborg Hunter (UE) [!]001

You can float if you want to. You can leave your cares behind.

 

Cyborg Hunter has a particularly obnoxious flaw. The regular controls – moving, shooting, jumping, entering elevators – work really well. But to get into your menu, you have to press Button II on the second control pad. This menu allows you to switch between weapons and turn your jet engine on and off, so you will need to access it a lot, particularly as you get further in the game. So why did Sega force this upon us? The short answer is, they ran out of buttons. Perhaps if Sega had thought to include a start button on the controller instead of on the console itself? Oh, and if you don’t have two control pads – say you bought a used system with one controller – you’ll have to switch your controllers back between ports any time you want to open the menu.

 

Cyborg Hunter (UE) [!]002

These hall monitors are the worst.

 

This flaw aside, Cyborg Hunter‘s repetitious back-and-forth is curiously addictive. The gameplay is reminiscent of Zillion II‘s platforming segments, only more enjoyable: you move from one hallway to the next, kill enemies, go up an elevator to the next level, kill more enemies, and so on. Sounds tedious, but the game has a steady pace that drives you to get a little bit further each time. Life is scarce. You have one life, no continues (there’s only one Life power-up in the first three levels), so learn the enemy attack/movement patterns and make precise hits if you want to get far. Get to Area G, the last stage, and consider yourself a true G. Also, the propulsive music sounds as close to Mega Man as anything you’ll hear on the Master System; if nothing else, play the game to hear some quality tunes.

 

Cyborg Hunter (UE) [!]000

Well, at least this little shrimp is just being true to himself.

 

Cyborg Hunter resembles a walking simulator with the occasional fisticuff upon first play. Elevators, bland hallways, and cyborgs, bloody cyborgs are all you’ll encounter, but the desire to stay alive and see what lies in the later Areas keeps you moving.

 

B-

 

EXTRA SPECIAL CYBORG HUNTER FACTS

 

– Cyborg Hunter was published by Activision in America, and is the first example of a third-party publisher releasing a game on the Master System. Activision was one of only two third-party publishers for the Master System (Parker Brothers was the other one), and while it’s unclear why they chose Cyborg Hunter to publish out of all titles, it’s good to see another company lending Sega a hand.

 

– Cyborg Hunter is based around a science fiction anime named “Sonic Soldier Borgman” that debuted in 1988 in Japan. Outside of the enclosed link, there’s very little info to be found about the show in English. Since the show never left Japan, Sega changed Cyborg Hunter‘s story and characters for the European and American release.

Altered Beast

 

AlteredBeastJP

Altered Beast is known as Jyuuouki or “Chronicles of the Beast King” in Japan.

 

AlteredBeastUS

“Dang, should have gone with scissors.”

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Beat-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 11/27/88 – (JP)

                                      08/14/89 – (US)

                                        09/1990 – (EU)

 

If you happened to purchase a Genesis prior to Sonic’s unveiling in 1991, Altered Beast was your pack-in game. The beat-em-up was slow, short, difficult, and didn’t entirely resemble the arcade version. And yet, despite these hindrances, Altered Beast is kind of awesome, in the same way that your favorite hair metal band is awesome. Clunky, old, and outdated, but the rawk remains.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]004

Just a couple oversized beefcakes looking for Aphrodite’s temple.

 

You play as a no-name dead centurion, resurrected by Zeus to save his daughter Athena from the Demon God, Neff. For being undead, the centurion has a surprisingly sculpted figure, made more apparent by his lack of clothing. Each level is a Greco-Roman cavalcade of zombies, bulls, and demonic creatures that you fend off with your warrior fists/kicks. The enemies explode into bloody chunks – understandable, since creatures tend to have blood in them, but surprising to see on a home console in ’88/’89. The blue bulls are the ones to focus on: slaughter them and they unleash power-ups that enhance your physique. The first two power-ups beef you beyond Arnold measurements and give you a slight projectile weapon, but the third transforms you into a full-on were-beast. You’re not invulnerable in were-beast mode, but you are hairier (most of the time) and you do have a larger projectile and a special attack that differs depending on the beast.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]000

Say what you will about Altered Beast, but this screenshot is forever.

 

There are five beast transformations, one per level. The Werewolf fires energy balls and horizontal kicks across the screen, damaging everything in its path. The Were-dragon flies, shoot lightning from its mouth, and creates a lightning shield around its body. The Were-bear is cute, chubby and has an impressive roll jump, along with the ability to turn creatures to stone. The Were-tiger is similar to the Werewolf, but its widescreen attacks are vertical instead of horizontal. Finally, the Golden Werewolf is… about the same as the Werewolf, only a touch stronger and far more valuable.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]001

If I were that boss, I’d want the werewolf to kill me.

 

In beast-form, you’ll take on Neff, a bald Roman senator-type who flashes lightning in your general direction when you first see him. If you haven’t yet transformed when you first see Neff, he’ll putter off and you’ll play through more of the level. This is a potential conundrum. Getting three power-ups quickly will lead to an early boss battle, making the stage even shorter than it already is. Not having the power-ups will prolong the stage, but with the extra content comes the potential to take damage and lose lives. Since there are no extra lives and no continues (without codes), you’ll want to conserve as much health as you can along the way.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]007

“Guys, just a sec, let me finish this routine and we can rumble.”

 

Yes, Altered Beast is about as hard as the centurion’s sinewy abs. Not because the fighting is challenging, per say, but because your Adonis is big, bulky, and slow, even when he’s not powered-up. While most of the enemies move at a fairly slow speed, some, like the bulls and the insects, charge at you. Get caught in the midst of a couple enemies and they will juggle down your health. If you don’t hit the enemy smack in the middle of its face or body, there’s a chance your hit will sink through the enemy’s body and you’ll end up taking damage. If you get hit, there’s no brief window of opportunity where you’re invincible to recover. Straight abuse, all the way.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]002

This pre-chewed Bubble Yum will latch onto your head, if you let him.

 

Once you know how to exploit the boss patterns, Neff’s transformations are fairly easy. For example, in stage 2, Neff morphs into a plant that shoots out a dozen eyes at a time. As the Weredragon, spam your lightning shield right in front of his “face” and he’ll disappear in a cloud of smoke within seconds. Not all of Neff’s creations are taken down so quickly, of course, but most of them do have specific weaknesses.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]003

The plant might look intimidating, but seriously, eyes against a were-dragon?

 

Beat Altered Beast in the arcade and the game is revealed to be one large movie production. All of the “cast” – the monsters, the centurion, Neff – celebrate the end of filming with a round of beers, then the credits roll. The ending sounds cliche’ today and might have been back in ’88, but I can’t think of any other game that pulled this sort of Biggie Smalls “It was all a dream” so early (I’m sure I am wrong – please vigilant readers, let me know!). Sadly, the Genesis version deleted this scene in favor of a straightforward credits sequence and the ability to control the centurion in front of a backdrop for Stage 1. Not quite as cool.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]005

Just say no to dragon snails, kids.

 

Yeah, the arcade Altered Beast has a better ending, slightly faster gameplay, and a more comfortable feel, but the Genesis version is still metal. “Rise from your grave!,” “Pow-er up!” and “Welcome to your doom!” are some of the most classic examples of voices ever found in a video game. The character design is both ridiculous and timeless. Who could forget Neff standing at the end of a level, smiling and holding his robe while lightning emits around him? Or the freaky troll boss in stage 1 that throws heads at you? Or the brilliant image of the centurion when he first transforms into a werewolf? I’ll be the first to admit, the actual fighting portion of this beat-em-up isn’t that good, but the presentation around the gameplay elevate Altered Beast to more than the sum of its parts.

 

Altered Beast (UE) (REV02) [!]006

The were-tiger reveals his true cowardly colors.

 

Should we be talking about Altered Beast with such interest in 2015? Probably not, but the fact that we are – whether due to millennial nostalgia or an overreaching ironic enjoyment – means Altered Beast has a sort of undying power, perhaps similar to the kind used on the centurion of old. Rise from your grave, reader, and experience the game’s tongue-in-cheek madness anew.

 

B

Space Harrier II

SpaceHarrierIIJP

Johnny Quest grows up and moves to Space.

 

SpaceHarrierIIUS

That woman dragon creature is filled with longing.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/29/88 – (JP)

                                      08/14/89 – (US)

                                              09/90 – (EU)

 

The original Space Harrier for the arcade was a technological achievement of the highest order, a super-scaler tour-de-force, with a cabinet that thrust you completely into the game’s disturbing wastelands. The Master System version, however, was severely compromised, despite including all of the levels from the arcade. Slow framerates and excruciating difficulty were just two of the port’s issues. Sega decided they would make matters worse with Space Harrier 3-D, also for the Master System. The 3-D effects were revolting and the five frames-per-second action redefined the word “slowdown.” It was clear that the Space Harrier series and the Master System were like coffee and Mexican food, an obviously deadly combination, made all-too-clear after the fact.

 

Space Harrier II (UE) [!]004

I never did like space oysters.

 

Enter the Mega Drive and the launch title, Space Harrier II. This sequel doesn’t expand beyond the original’s formula. The game is still a pseudo three-dimensional rail shooter. You still play as the Harrier. You still have a tight bodysuit (this time, it’s bright red!). You still fly through the sky/run on the ground, shooting decapitated heads, robots, and gigantic frogs. And yet, thanks to the Mega Drive’s eight additional bits of power, the scrolling almost matches that of the original arcade. The graphics are just sharp enough to convince you that, yes, the arcade looked about this good. The framerate isn’t perfect, but Space Harrier II moves along far smoother than the Master System ports.

 

Space Harrier II (UE) [!]003

“Your grape lifesavers mean nothin’ to me, ya hear?! Nothing!!!”

 

Despite Space Harrier II looking, playing, and sounding more or less like the original, there are a couple interesting new features here. You select from any of the game’s twelve stages at the beginning of the game and play through them from that order. All of the stages have balanced difficulty. Even if you start with stage seven or eight, the game provides more or less the same amount of challenge the entire way. Play through the twelve selectable stages and the final thirteenth stage unlocks. You fight the Dark Harrier, an evil alter-ego who doesn’t believe in your red bodysuit wearing ways. Of course, there are no continues, just a handful of lives. But there is an Option Menu, accessed only by holding ‘A’ at the main screen. Here you can change the difficulty, turn on Rapid-Fire, play a Sound Test (I advise against this – the muzak makes it sound like you’re walking through a Sears, not devil-may-care shooting everything in sight), or choose inverted controls. Option Menus would become common fixtures in the 16-bit era, but Space Harrier II is such an early release, I’m surprised to see one here – even if it is ‘hidden.’

 

Space Harrier II (UE) [!]002

Ah yes, the voodoo orb priestess of Eternia Dystopia.

 

Perhaps Space Harrier II works so well on the Mega Drive because the game was designed from the ground up for the console. There was never an arcade version, just the Mega Drive release and a handful of computer ports for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, etc. It would have been nice if Sega had spiced up the Space Harrier formula a bit – perhaps with additional weapons, longer levels, game-changing power-ups. Overall, though, I was content with playing a reasonably decent version of the series on a home console. Space Harrier II may not innovate, but it’s polished and that’s enough.

 

B-

Kid Chameleon

 

KidChameleonUS

More like Young Adult Chameleon.

 

Kid Chameleon

What happened to your shades, bro?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega Technical Institute

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 1992 – (US)

                                       05/1992 – (EU)

                                       05/28/92 – (JP)

ALSO AVAILABLE ON: PS2, PSP, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii Virtual Console, Windows, Steam

 

By request of Patreon contributor, Eric Dane Marshall

 

Kid Chameleon is a simulated night terror, a game within a game from which there is seemingly no end. 103 levels (sort of – we’ll talk later). No save points or password system. Just pure, unbridled platforming.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]000

Especially these hip cats.

 

You play as Casey, a champion video game player who goes by the sorta-cool moniker “Kid Chameleon.” The Kid’s latest challenge is “Wild Side,” a virtual reality arcade game where you transform into different costumes while taking on the villainous Heady Metal and his band of robotic misfits. Unlike other arcade games, however, “Wild Side” comes with a twist: once you enter, you can’t leave. Heady Metal has become self-aware and is trapping any gamer that can’t beat “Wild Side” within the game itself. The Kid isn’t worried about this. After all, the Kid is a champion (and a chameleon to boot). Plus, it’s just a video game. How hard could it be?

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]001

As hard as an army of mecha gorilla heads.

 

When Kid first enters the game, he’s dressed in a standard white shirt, blue jeans, sunglasses, and fantastic hair. He has two hit points and he can’t do much other than walk and bounce on heads. Hit one of the game’s numerous P squares with your head, however, and you might just find a helmet that gives the Kid special powers. The helmets range from an Iron Knight that helps you climb walls; a Red Stealth Samurai with unbelievable jumping ability and a sweet sword; a Maniaxe (yuk yuk) serial killer who flings powerful axes; the Skycutter, a gravity-defying hoverboarder; and the Juggernaut, a skeleton soldier from World War I who travels in a tank, which shoots flying skull heads. This is just a sample. All nine helmets are creative, give you additional lifepoints, and are generally effective – though each helmets’ effectiveness does depend on your surroundings. For example, you wouldn’t want to be a bottom-heavy Knight when you have a large number of high jumps to make. Kid Chameleon usually provides the right helmet for the right circumstance, though sometimes they troll you with the wrong helmet for kicks.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]006

Sir Knight against Shamu: the final showdown.

 

The stage design is sprawling, intriguing, and frustrating in equal measure. Imagine the confusing layout of the Winchester House, but set across an entire game. Most stages take place in a forest or cityscape or hellish landscape with precarious jumps and/or selecting the right path being the key to making it to the end of the stage. But unlike most every other platformer which sends you in a straight path from left to right, Kid Chameleon forges its own paths. You’ll often need to work your way in and around the level – atop levitating tile staircases, through hidden underground pathways, bouncing across skyscrapers – before you find the flag at the end of the stage. And you do so within a strict three minute time limit (in some stages, you’re able to find additional time – some, not all). In Kid Chameleon’s initial levels, you’ll explore your surroundings, hit all the ‘P’ squares, collect the green diamonds, before making it to the end with time to spare. Later levels, however, have so many enemies, so confusing a layout, and so little time that booking it to the end will be your main concern.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]005

Those samurai pants aren’t as warm as everyone says.

 

The Wild Side has a plethora of blocks strewn around, blocks which you’ll need to take advantage of if you hope to make it through. There are the P Squares which, once hit, produce a costume, green diamond or even an extra life/continue (large amounts of green diamonds allow you to use special powers that change depending on your equipped helmet); rubber blocks, which bounce you around, rarely in the direction you wish to go; ice blocks that slip you back and forth; crumbly blocks, which break a little too easy; disappearing blocks, which often block your way or make up a platform that you step on to go further.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]003

Undead Kaiser has no time for crumbly blocks.

 

Kid Chameleon is balls hard. It is, in fact, one of the most difficult games I’ve played in a long time, and certainly one of the hardest platformers on the Genesis. The challenge is part of the game’s charm; Kid Charm-eleon, if you will. But said difficulty can ruin you, if you’re not careful. I spent all my lives – over twenty in total – in the scrolling death wall level, “Forced Entry” since it’s all but nigh impossible to move as quickly as the death wall/game wants you to. Thank God, then, for the carefully choreographed series of warps. These warps are hidden across the levels and, once found, take you to future levels (and sometimes levels you’ve already completed – “Die!”), among which are the mini-stages known as ‘Elsewhere.’ Elsewheres are transitional stages used to bring you from one level to the next (though the game does count them as one of the 100+ levels), and usually have a couple of warps within their boundaries. They don’t serve much of a purpose, other than to take you from Point A to Point Wherever-The Hell, but their presence is interesting. Warps get you through Kid Chameleon quicker, but using them comes at a price. Avoiding one difficult level doesn’t mean that there isn’t another equally difficult level just around the corner. It’s also nigh impossible to access all the levels in one playthrough, thanks to the warps, but that just means you’ll have a reason to replay Kid Chameleon in a funky fresh new order.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]002

Maniaxe is confused.

 

Many of Kid Chameleon‘s stages are over and done with quickly, but there are those that impress themselves upon your consciousness. Whether due to difficulty or creative design, here are the stages that bored themselves into my brain and have yet to let go:

  • “Isle of the Lion Lord,” an incredibly brief jaunt through a series of jungle platforms where two Egyptian-like Lions bum rush you with wizard sticks. The Lions are tougher than your standard opponent, but they’re defeated easily if you manage to bounce on their head or are clad with the Maniaxe helmet.
  • “The Deadly Skyscrapers,” a seemingly infinite series of precision jumps across mile-high skyscrapers. This level doesn’t have much to do other than jump continuously higher, but you’ll need to have the Samurai helmet in order to jump well. Jumping is one of the helmet’s greatest skills, but when equipped, the helmet also has slippery footing. One wrong jump can send you plummeting back to the ground and beyond.
  • “The Crystal Crags 1” starts off in a calm, wintery landscape before a snowstorm turns it into a dangerous excursion through falling ice. The ice from the storm hurts you, and while you can make your way underground, there is only one way out of this level and that’s with the Berzerker helmet. Miss the helmet or get hit too many times by falling ice, and you’ll be replaying this level over and over before you make it through the storm.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]004

C’mon, Kid, you got this.

 

Kid Chameleon is inspired madness, to say the least. The creature designs, like the land-based killer whales or the robots that, once destroyed, run wildly across the level with flames pouring out of their top half, never ceased to amuse and terrify. The main boss, Heady Metal, appears several times throughout the course of your journey, and is a disturbing almost see-through head (sometimes heads) that vomits at you while you attack it. Then there’s the discordant sound effects, in keeping with the industrial soundtrack. The word “Die!” is gargled so often, you’ll think you were in the middle of a Rob Zombie film. The sheer breadth of helmets and their abilities, the unrepentant difficulty, the multiple directions one can take to beat the game. These features might make one think that Kid Chameleon hails straight from the land of the weird and free, Japan. In fact, the game was made by the Sega Technical Institute, an American development studio that also developed Sonic Spinball, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and Comix Zone among others. Those games all have their merits, but Kid Chameleon is arguably the studio’s seminal creation, a truly original platformer that more than stands the test of time.

 

Kid Chameleon (UE) [!]007

Open… for death!

 

Along with being a platformer of the highest order, Kid Chameleon is also a quintessential Genesis game. The muted colors, janky, rubbery synths, a sense of hopeless despair coupled with careless enjoyment, and haunting imagery wouldn’t be caught dead on Sega’s more kid-friendly rival, the SNES (Demon’s Crest notwithstanding). Sadly, the game never rose above cult classic, despite being packaged and repackaged in many of Sega’s more recent Genesis collections for PS2, PS3, and Xbox 360. There are no sequels. No HD remasters. Kid Chameleon stands alone, a frightening, challenging time capsule from which few have recovered. Long may its insanity reign.

A-

The Mega Drive / Genesis

 

megadrive-jpnsegagagadomain

A winner is you.*

 

genesis01

Hmm. Perhaps I will rise from my grave.*

 

RELEASED: 10/29/88 (JP), 09/14/90 (UK), 12/1990 (BR);  as the Genesis – 08/14/89 (US)

PRICE: 21,000 yen (JP), $200 (US), 189.99 pounds (UK), Unknown (BR)

TECH SPECS: Motorola 68000 running at 7.67 Mhz, 64KB of RAM, 64KB of VRAM

Video processor: Yamaha YM7101 capable of 512 direct colors, 64 standard colors, and 4 graphic layers

Sound processor: Zilog Z80 with a Yamaha YM2612 FM sound chip capable of 6 channel sound, and a Sega PSG sound chip

# OF GAMES: Over 900, according to Wikipedia.

UPDATES: Official – Mega Drive / Genesis 2 (1993), Mega Jet (1994), Nomad (1995); Licensed by Majesco – Genesis 3 (1998)

UNITS SOLD: 40 million est. worldwide

 

Sega’s Mark III/Master System was considerably more successful than their first console, the SG-1000, but this success still paled in comparison to the Famicom/NES behemoth. Nintendo’s first console was an unstoppable force in both North America and Japan, and Sega had to make do with market scraps- as they had done ever since launching the SG-1000 in 1983.

In 1986, almost immediately after the release of the Master System, Sega set to work developing a new console. This might seem rash or sudden, like Sega was jumping the gun, but up until this point the company had always been a step behind Nintendo. The SG-1000 launched on the same day as the Famicom in 1983, and while technically an 8-bit system, the games looked like Intellivision titles. Top Famicom ports like Donkey Kong and Popeye looked and played remarkably similar to their arcade counterparts. The SG-1000 had… Borderline. Nice for 1980, confusing for ’83. The Mark III/Master System, released in 1985, was slightly more powerful than the Famicom. Colorful graphics aside, though, the system offered games far inferior to Nintendo’s selections, despite the occasional gem shining through the shrug pile. By ’86, the Famicom’s grasp on the home console market was so tight, Sega couldn’t break in, despite its best efforts.

 

Congo Bongo (Japan, Europe)000

Cry me a bongo.

 

Sega’s arcade business, however, was doing gangbusters. The company was having hit after hit with Space Harrier, After Burner, Shinobi and OutRun, among others. The Master System had ports of all these games, but none of them came close to the quality of the arcade versions. This was to be expected from an older 8-bit console, but the question within the company soon became: what if Sega could produce perfect arcade ports? They would need a stronger console, one that could accurately replicate, at the very least, Sega’s System 16 board.

Enter ‘Mega Drive,’ Sega’s 16-bit console, and the first 16-bit console to hit the market when it debuted in Japan on October 29th, 1988. According to then-Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama, ‘Mega’ meant superiority over rival machines and ‘Drive’ represented the speed of the console’s 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor. The system launched with two titles, Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, and retailed for 21,000 yen, which translates to about $170 in 1988 and $340 in 2015.

 

SONY DSC

She’s a peach.*

 

Despite positive coverage from Famitsu, the Mega Drive only shipped 400,000 units its first year. There have been many speculations as to why the Mega Drive sold less than the Mark III in its first year (Mark III sold a million, according to Sega Retro). The two biggest reasons likely were: the release of Super Mario Bros. 3 for Famicom only six days earlier and the lack of third-party developers in Sega’s court from the get-go. The first reason is just sad. Sega should have changed the release date just to allow SMB3 some breathing room; perhaps unchecked pride for their system got in the way. The second reason makes too much sense, particularly in Japan where both Nintendo and NEC had an iron grip on the majority of third-party developers. Remember, Sega singlehandedly supported the Master System, with up to 95% of the games being released developed/ported by Sega themselves or with close associates, Compile. Sega could support the Mega Drive for awhile with arcade ports and quick genre fixes like shoot-em-ups or mahjong titles. Due to increasing development time for games, however, they needed partners if they were going to maintain a varied lineup.

Unfortunately, Sega never gained traction with the Mega Drive in Japan. Despite the advanced age of the Famicom, the system remained the number-one selling console for 1988 and ’89. Competition from NEC’s fantastic PC-Engine didn’t help matters nor did the Super Famicom’s eventual release on November 21, 1990. The Super Famicom took over the role of best-selling console from the Famicom and would go on to dominate sales charts, as its predecessor had done for years prior. Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo kept most of their best help – Capcom, Konami, Square, Enix, Tecmo – to themselves, for the most part. The Mega Drive remained in third place in Japan until Sega finally discontinued the console in 1995.

 

SONY DSC

This ferocious little tyke kept Sega from 2nd place in Japan.*

 

Third-parties eventually came to Sega’s aid, but only after Sega’s North American launch. Due to a trademark dispute with a computer storage company, the ‘Mega Drive’ was renamed the Genesis and launched in North America on August 14th, 1989. Rather than let the Genesis languish as they did with the Master System, Sega marketed their new console aggressively with the now-infamous slogan, “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.” They also focused on how arcade-perfect many of their games looked and created a number of games sponsored by celebrities, including Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.

 

Sonic and MJOCWeekly

Sega couldn’t afford a better Sonic fat suit for Michael Jackson’s support? Sheesh.*

 

The Genesis sold at a steady pace in America. Not enough to topple the NES, but at a better rate than the Master System. The Genesis really took off, though, when Sonic the Hedgehog launched on June 23, 1991. Created as a counterpoint to Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic was everything Mario wasn’t: fast, hip, and edgy. Sonic’s snarky attitude clearly fit with the Genesis, which catered to an older demographic than the NES. But it wasn’t just the character that was cool. Sonic’s first game was a fast-paced respite from all the belabored Mario clones. The quality of Sonic the Hedgehog coupled with the brilliant character design helped Sega sell millions of consoles. By January 1992, Sega’s Genesis had a 65% market share over the just-released Super Nintendo. Sega had toppled Nintendo.

 

SonicTheHedgehogGameFaqs

Never underestimate the power of snark.*

 

Sega maintained a dominant hold on the 16-bit market until 1994 when Donkey Kong Country melted faces with its pseudo-3D graphics. The SNES took charge, sales-wise, and never let up for the rest of either console’s lifespan. One could argue, however, that even before Nintendo’s resurgence, Sega had already lost the plot. By late 1994, Sega was supporting the Genesis, the Game Gear, the Sega CD, the 32X, and was about to release the Saturn. Consumers may have fell in love with Sega and its flagship hedgehog, but this greedy cry for our superfluous Clinton dollars was too much for all but the diehard fans.

 

MDAdd-ons

I’m exhausted just looking at this thing.

 

Despite consumers’ declining interest in Sega as a company, the Genesis remained popular until its eventual death in the late ’90s. Sega kept interest in the Genesis alive with the Genesis II, a smaller, lighter re-model, in 1993. The Nomad was essentially a portable Genesis and could play all the console’s games, presuming you had enough batteries to power the thing. Majesco, a third-party, even released the Genesis 3 in 1998 for the budget price of $50, almost nine years after the system’s initial release in America.

 

SONY DSC

That Low Battery signal was always on.*

 

Thanks to the previous success of the Master System in Europe, the Mega Drive found great popularity there, as well, when it released in most regions in September of 1990. The almost two-year timespan between the European release and the Japanese release meant the system had built a steady library of games. By the time Sonic launched on June 23rd, 1991, the Mega Drive was Europe’s 16-bit system of choice. The territory wouldn’t even receive the SNES until late 1992, and by that time, the people’s billfolds had already spoken.

While the Master System and (to a much lesser extent) the SG-1000 had some decent games in their library, the Mega Drive/Genesis had an insane treasure trove. Not only did Sega bring over the majority of their arcade titles released in the late 80s/early 90s, they also developed a partnership with Electronic Arts, resulting in some of the best sports games of the 16-bit era. Mortal Kombat‘s Genesis version was heavily favored over the SNES version, due to the code that let you change white sweat into ‘red sweat.’ Then there’s the Streets of Rage trilogy, Phantasy Star II and IV, Vectorman, Comix Zone, Toe Jam & Earl and Panic on Funk-o-tron, Shining Force 1 and 2, Kid Chameleon, Herzog Zwei. Contra, Castlevania, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all saw Sega-exclusive entries. The Mega Drive has one of the best libraries in all of gaming, and it will be my absolute pleasure to go through them all.

 

ScrewAttackTJ&E Gif

Yup, I’m excited to play through the Mega Drive / Genesis library.*

 

No Sega console would be complete without a ton of peripherals, most crap, with only the occasional burst of creative genius. The Power Base Convertor allows you to play Master System games on the Mega Drive/Genesis, thanks to the Master System’s processor and sound chip being included within the 16-bit console. Unfortunately, this Convertor only worked with the initial Mega Drive/Genesis units. Any later hardware revisions were unable to use the Convertor (at least legally). Sega also released the light-gun Menacer, an answer to Nintendo’s equally ridiculous Super Scope and about as useful. There’s the Activator, an octagonal ring that sat on the floor and allowed you to input in-game movements with your body instead of a controller. The Activator was made when fighting games ruled the earth. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition and Mortal Kombat both supported the device, but that doesn’t mean the peripheral could read your hilarious attempts at Hadoukens. Inaccurate and overpriced, the Activator had a mercifully brief life before being damned to Toys ‘R Us clearance sections.

 

sega-activator-ad-socool-technobuffalo

I wonder where these flickering triplets are today.

 

The Sega Channel stands alone, more prophecy than peripheral. Somewhat modeled after the “Sega Meganet,” which debuted in 1990 in Japan and allowed players to play games online, the Sega Channel was a service offered in partnership with Time Warner Cable in 1994. With a subscription fee and special adapter, players could choose to play from a list of 35-50 games using their cable providers. Players would choose a game, download it to the console’s internal memory, play it, then when the console was turned off, the game would be deleted from the console. The service was forward-thinking and expensive for its time – $15/month plus $25 activation fee. Then again, you could play a wide variety of Genesis games, including some like Mega Man: The Wily Wars that never came to the U.S. And considering game rentals were between four and five dollars for a few days, the Sega Channel would more than pay for itself if you played a lot of titles.

 

SEGA_CHANNEL_1jpg

The Sega Channel dude is really excited about the future.*

 

The Genesis changed Sega’s fortunes and, arguably, their souls. No other system would be as profitable for the company as the Genesis. Massive sales came from their brilliant early 90s marketing campaign, Sonic’s release, and a plethora of excellent titles found only on the system. Sega, however, seemed to believe that creative marketing and fantastic games were not enough, and that consumers wanted newer, better technology all the time. Rather than supporting the Genesis with good games until its natural end, they flooded the market with add-ons, ruined consumer goodwill, and destined the Saturn – the Genesis’ true follow-up – to be met with indifference, if not outright disdain. And yet, few gamers would argue that the Mega Drive / Genesis remains one of the company’s crowning achievements. Not even Sega’s questionable business decisions could ruin the console’s legacy.

 

*thanks to GameFAQS, Wikipedia, TechnoBuffalo, SegaGagaDomain, OC Weekly, and ScrewAttack for these pictures/gif.

Farewell to Sam

SonicTails

 

The Sega Does Podcast is no more. There’s various factors going into this decision, but the main one is, Sam can’t devote time to the podcast anymore. I do not blame him for this at all. He has a home business, a wife, and kids to take care of. He was also the one who recorded and edited the entire show and paid for the hosting fees for segadoes.libsyn.com (the latter I didn’t know about until today, though I should’ve figured it out long ago and offered to help). The man handled all the podcast duties, in other words. I just showed up with some knowledge of the games.

I’m very thankful to Sam for all his hard work. His efforts made the podcast as fun as it was for our devoted group of listeners. We tackled all the SG-1000 library and a good chunk of the Japanese Master System games. We ranted against the perils of mobile gaming, like two old men sitting on a porch, waiting for the world to burn. He made a fool out of me with 20 Questions! The time I’ve had podcasting with him will not be forgotten.

Of course, Sam is still around. You can find him on Twitter @thepixel_dude. He doesn’t post much, but you should tweet at him anyway. Tell him how much you appreciated his work.

The 27 episodes of the podcast are still up for now on segadoes.libsyn.com, but due to hosting fees, they will be taken down in the near future. If you want to download them, head there or over to iTunes before they’re gone forever.

As for any future podcast plans, maybe, but not right now. Not for awhile. The rapport that Sam and I had was special. Not only that, I don’t really want to replace him, ever. I’m open to being a guest on other Sega podcasts. Until I’m ready to move on or (wishful thinking) Sam is able to come back, Sega Does will press on in blog-form only.

Thanks for reading my bummer news. Y’all are the hotness.

 

DC

Ancient Ys Vanished Omen

YsJP

The dawning of an RPG series.

 

YsUS

“Give me back my Omens, you wastrels!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Falcom (port by Sega)

GENRE: RPG

RELEASE DATE: 10/15/88  – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US)

                                            1989 – (EU)

 

1987 and 1988 were watershed years for RPGs. If you can believe it, the first iterations of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, and Ys were all released within these two years. Surprisingly, all series are still seeing new releases to this day. That kind of longevity is unheard of. Outside of Mario and Zelda, I can’t think of two other game series from this time period that continue to see regular new releases (if able, pour one out for Castlevania, Mega Man, and Contra).

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]002

And if you don’t know, now ya know.

 

Out of the aforementioned landmark RPG series, Ys is the intimidating oddball. Falcom, the developers, seem to pride themselves on revamping and re-releasing older entries in the series, changing key story bits here and there while fine-tuning the gameplay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but consider: Ancient Ys Vanished Omens (or Ys: The Vanished Omens for us Westerners) has been released on eighteen different computers/consoles within a twenty-year time span – from the PC-88 to the Wii. Most of those ports were Japanese-only, but still! If you’re looking to play the “definitive” version of Ys, much research is required.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]001

Wolves on a bridge? That’s a paddlin’.

 

My personal journey began with the Master System Ys port, and brother, what a long and grindy adventure it’s been. You play as Adol Christin, a strong, handsome, silent type who has been tasked with finding knowledge of the land of Ys. To do so, he must find the six books of Ys, bone up on their contents, and use said knowledge to stop evil (and transport himself to Ys). You’ve heard this song and dance before, because Ys is from the far-off world of 1987 where RPGs don’t have long and involved stories. No matter: the meat of Ys isn’t found in the story, but in the game’s curiously eccentric combat system.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]000

“Oh man,” indeed. No, I’m not looking for a good time.

 

I played my fair share of Ys, and I’m still unsure whether the combat system works or not. The system is… interesting, and despite my hang-ups with it, I continued to grind my face off. That counts for something, right? Instead of a typical turn-based RPG where you’re flung from a top-down overworld view into a separate battle screen, in Ys, you directly bum rush the enemy with your sword. No menus. No tedious scrolling through options. Just a quick real-time in-your-face rap with the sword – sort of. You can’t just slice and dice and expect to call it a battle. You have to walk sideways into the enemy, hitting them just so in order to cause any damage. Mind where you stand too. Attacking them head-on from a slightly wrong angle causes your life to drain as fast or faster than theirs. And the enemies never stop shifting directions. I wouldn’t call them ‘smart,’ per say, but they know how you intend to kill them and they won’t stand for it.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]006

“Look, just stand still and I’ll kill you. It’s that simple.”

 

Taking down an enemy that won’t stop moving is a great feeling, particularly when you don’t lose any health. But woe be to the player who thinks Adol is at all a strong character, particularly in the beginning. When you face an enemy that’s a level or two above yours, one to two hits from them will kill you. Because these are real-time battles, these hits happen so quickly that you’ll be surprised by your death. The solution for this is twofold: 1) your health replenishes when you stand still, a fantastic and welcome feature; and 2) you have the ability to save anywhere at any time. The problem is, until you’re used to the combat system and/or the quickness with which you can be killed, you’ll want to be saving after every enemy skirmish. Which sounds silly, until you’ve experienced the death and frustration and more death. However, once your own level is above lower-level enemies, you can literally walk through them and kill them for easy experience. +1 for Adol and those that control him.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]003

I dare say I’m screwed.

 

And if angle-driven real-time combat wasn’t enough to set your girded loins ablaze, get ready to grind like you’ve never ground before. I spent two hours fighting weak knights (who only provided 4 XP) outside the first temple, just so I could face the first temple boss and not worry about imminent death. I probably wouldn’t have taken so much time, but enemies are surprisingly scarce. At times, I’d spend a good twenty seconds walking around, looking for another 4 XP-dropping knight to kill.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]005

These mutated McNuggets are surprisingly hard to kill, but the taste can’t be beat.

 

Ys combat system is like raising a child. Every time you think you’ve figured it out, the system throws you a curveball. You want to understand the system, in spite of the pain and frustration it causes you. You keep persevering with it through victories and failures. There is no reason for you to do this, yet you do it anyway. This, friends, is called unreasonable love.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]004

“Let’s settle this, old man.”

 

Questionable analogy aside, Ys held my attention with its beautiful soundtrack and meticulously crafted world. Yuzo Koshiro and Meiko Ishikawa’s music give the game a depth and emotion that, frankly, it doesn’t earn. Buy one of Ys four soundtrack releases, it’s that good. Ys world is smaller than most RPG worlds. Even at the time of the game’s release, two towns, three dungeons, and a tiny overworld didn’t amount to much in terms of content. Personally, I feel the world’s smaller scale suits the story. You never have to worry about getting lost and the constant backtracking ensures a comforting familiarity with each area.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]007

As the torch grew dim, so too did Adol’s resolve to live another day.

 

Ys is a quaint counterpoint to more epic widescreen RPGs like Phantasy Star. But what the former lacks in flash, it makes up for with innovative combat and an intimate world. There are few RPG series as unassuming and yet relentlessly fascinating as the Ys games. If you haven’t taken the plunge into Ys admittedly confusing depths, you could do worse than the Master System port.

 

B+

Double Dragon

DoubleDragonJP

Twice the “hai” for your “yaaaaa.”

 

DoubleDragonUS

Now, Sega, there’s only one dragon on this cover. Did we not read the title?

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Technos (port by Sega)

GENRE: Beat-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/01/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

If any brawler can give players lessons in the School of Wayward Fists, it’s Double Dragon. This game was among the first beat-em-ups to equip you with weapons and, more importantly, to provide two player co-op. No thanks to the latter features, Double Dragon was an instant success, paving the way for ports – as many as you could stomach. The flippin’ Atari 2600 got a port of this game! Way to keep the fire burning, Activision.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]000

Getting rickrolled by an 80s brawler? That’s a first.

 

Most gamers either remember the NES port or the Master System port, and for good reason. In 1988, these were the only two consoles that could render proper punch-and-kickery (the near-flawless Genesis version wouldn’t show up until 1992). Neither 8-bit port is arcade perfect, though the Master System comes the closest. The NES version couldn’t handle Billy and Jimmy co-op play (despite the fact that Double Dragon II provided seamless co-op a year later), while the Master System delivered co-op ’til you co-drop (I am so sorry). The Master System’s levels are closer in design to the original arcade levels, as well, while the NES version did more or less what it wanted. The NES port did receive a two-player fighting game and a unique upgrade system. With the latter, the more enemies you fought, the more points you received. Said points would then unlock new moves. This is a nice gesture on Technos’s part, but the fighting is primitive and gets old fast. Also, most of the unlockable moves are moves provided from the beginning in the Master System version.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]002

“Hold on, guys, I just need to take out the trash.”

 

So Double Dragon for the Master System is the default winner, right? Congratulations, Sega, you have the stronger console and thus the better looking, better playing port!… right? Well, hmm. The hit detection for Double Dragon is some of the worst I’ve tussled with in a while. Unless you’re staring your opponent directly in the face, you’ll be roundhouse kicking the air – and leaving yourself open for blows. Hit detection applies to you, but not to the lowlifes you’re up against. Unless you’re positioned apart from them, they can very well hit you wherever they feel like, as long as you’re within kicking distance. Now, let’s say you and your opponent have locked eyes. You approach them and start being ruthless: headbutts, kidney jabs, the Alabama Shuffle. In the midst of your punches and kicks, your opponent will hit you, sometimes several times, while you are hitting them. What this means is you will always take damage during a fight. Always. The only way to potentially avoid getting hit is to jump kick, run away, jump kick, run away. And even then, sometimes they jump kick into you, sprawling both fighters on the ground. Not only does this suck the fun out of the game, but the NES port does not have this problem. In the NES version, when you got someone in a combo, they took your blows and then tried to sucker punch you.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]003

Stuck between Abobo and, er, another Abobo.

 

In the NES version, you had three lives to beat all four stages. No continues. Your life bar was ample and would refill at the beginning of a new stage, but otherwise, those three lives were like precious street diamonds. The NES version is tough, sure, but not because the fighting is cheap.  Double Dragon for the Master System has unlimited continues until stage 4 – because the game is just that balls hard. Unless your skills are otherworldly or you’re playing with a buddy who’s seen his fair share of the streets, there is no way anyone would make it past stage 1 without these continues. Their inclusion signifies Sega’s laziness. Sega rarely provides continues in their action games (and this port is by Sega, so I feel comfortable calling it a Sega game), let alone a charitable amount like “unlimited.” Sure, they dry up on the last stage, but only because there has to be challenge somewhere.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]004

“Get down here and fight like a half-man!”

 

Old habits die hard. In this case, my habit of preferring the NES to the Master System. Double Dragon for the NES may have been the neutered punk between the two ports, but the dearth of co-op didn’t ruin the game. Given the Master System’s roided insides, this version should have been as close to perfection as possible. Alas, no co-op in the world could make Sega’s busted brawling feel right. At least Technos admitted that when they developed Double Dragon for the NES/Famicom, they were unfamiliar with the system’s hardware. What’s Sega’s excuse?

 

D+

R-Type

 

RTypeJP

This is just a spectacular piece of box art. No snark required.

 

RTypeUS

“My chest! My beautiful chest!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Irem (port by Compile)

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/01/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

Every shoot-em-up that stands the test of time has a great gimmick, one that acts as a cornerstone for the game’s foundation. Life Force‘s levels were designed specifically with two player co-op in mind. Gradius gives you the ability to choose your weapon/shield upgrades in a rotating upgrade wheel. R-Type has the Force device, a detachable pod that can be sent either backwards or forwards into enemy chaos. The Force device is all-powerful and can’t be destroyed, which makes it the perfect partner in your war against the Bydo Empire. If the device is attached to you in the front or back, it also acts as a type of shield, absorbing any projectiles sent your way. To really succeed with R-Type, you’ll have to not only memorize enemy patterns, but also learn when to deploy the Force device in any given situation. Each level sends out tons of enemies in all directions, and often the only way you’ll be able to survive is with the the Force device’s help.

 

R-Type (UE) [!]000

Back into the womb!

 

As with most shoot-em-ups, when you die in R-Type, you lose all of your weapon upgrades, including the Force device. Because the Force device is so essential for your survival, however, you’re given it quickly after you restart the level; just shoot one of those bouncing rabbit robots, collect the blue orb, and the Force device will return to you, like a robot dog welcoming home its master. This generosity is a far cry from Gradius. In the latter, if you die a few levels in, you may as well restart, due to the lack of power-ups the game gives you after a certain point. While the Force device won’t prevent your death, it is always a welcome ally, particularly when you restart in claustrophobic, enemy swarming areas.

 

R-Type (UE) [!]001

The Bydo Empire and H.R. Giger were constantly collaborating.

 

The Force device is an ingenious gimmick and the backbone of R-Type, but the eerie ambient level designs, deliberate pacing, and solid weapon upgrades add considerable depth and life to the game. As you fly through the Bydo Empire’s underwater caves filled with intestinal sea anemone, you can’t help but feel creeped out – even as you’re trying to stay alive. The shooting gets desperate at times, but the enemies rarely overwhelm when you’re ‘roided out with upgrades. In addition to the Force device, you can acquire two orbs that surround your ship’s top and bottom and shoot in either direction. There’s also missiles, anti-land lasers that look like diarrhea caterpillars and don’t do much of anything, reflecting lasers, and anti-air ring lasers. The latter two are the strongest and best weapons to have, and with the Force device by your side, make you feel invincible.

 

R-Type (UE) [!]002

Nothing like an alien graveyard to make you feel at home.

 

But just in case you thought I was a shmup savant, make no mistake: R-Type is incredibly hard and requires insane amounts of trial-and-error and memorization to make it through. This difficulty is part of the game’s charm, though. I mean, would you really feel like you had accomplished something as significant as destroying an evil alien empire if the eight missions given you were easy?

 

RType3

Now I’m playing with power.

 

R-Type makes up for Thunder Blade, Blade Eagle 3-D, and all the other half-assed shoot-em-ups I’ve been forced to play on the Master System. Not only is it the best shmup I’ve yet to play on the console, it’s one of the finest to emerge from the genre’s golden period.

 

A