BMX Trial: Alex Kidd

AlexKiddBMX

The annoyed cacti with the old lady red hat is my favorite.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Driving

RELEASE DATE: 11/15/87 – (JP)

ONLY PLAYABLE WITH: The Paddle Control

 

So far Alex has had an adventure in Miracle World and swapped places with a princess, but learning how to ride a BMX bike might be his greatest challenge yet. And by “his,” I mean, yours, mine, ours. Because unless you/I/we import a Mark III, a Paddle Controller, and BMX Trial: Alex Kidd, we won’t be experiencing the game properly.

Spoilers: I didn’t import a Mark III, Paddle Controller, or a copy of BMX Trial: Alex Kidd for this review. Until my Patreon soars to the heavens above, I’m stuck with virtual reproduction, questionable or otherwise. But that’s ok. BMX Trial: Alex Kidd isn’t even a proper Alex Kidd game (since his games encompass numerous genres, one could ask what is a proper Alex Kidd game – my answer would be not BMX Trial), so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on some special adventure. The gist of BMX Trial: Sega shoved Alex onto a bike and said “Get to peddlin’, monkey boy.”

 

Alex Kidd - BMX Trial (J) [!]-01

Yeah, I don’t know what you’re doing there either, Alex.

 

You control Alex from a top-down view, steering him around rocks, trees, other bikers (who shove into you, like those River City Ransom punks), and water with the Paddle Controller. Alex’s health bar decreases as he moves, and if he hits any obstacle, it goes down even further. The goal isn’t to accumulate points or to beat a time limit, but just to get to the next level. Each stage will repeat the same environments until you find an exit (look for the giant purple guy’s gaping mouth, you can’t miss it). Depending on the route you take, the exit you find could take you to a couple different stages. There are five courses total, but thanks to the multiple exits, you’ll only play three of them per playthrough, and you’ll always begin at the Black Forest and end at Radaxian, Alex’s hometown.

 

Alex Kidd - BMX Trial (J) [!]-02

The Tanooki boys made short work of Alex.

 

Thankfully, Alex isn’t helpless in his quest to be the one and only monkey boy who Christ-airs while eating rice balls. There are ramps for both jumping and wheelies (both ramps have the words emblazoned on them in all caps, so you know which is which – thanks Sega!). The former allows you to soar for considerable lengths of time, which is good for water-heavy stages, while the latter will actually turn you briefly invincible and give you items when you land. Items include the aforementioned rice balls for health and rocket boosts which allow you to fly.

 

Alex Kidd - BMX Trial (J) [!]-03

If only Alex would have JUMPed…

 

Memorize the course layouts and you could easily beat BMX Trial in a few minutes. Five courses and varying layouts aside, the game is nothing more than an advertisement for the Paddle Control; a tech demo like Wii Sports, but without the longevity (surprise surprise: in Japan, the Paddle Controller was sold with the game – the two were a bundle deal). Sega obviously cared more about peddling (paddling?) their special controller than crafting a full-fledged Alex Kidd racing game. Besides the wheelies and the jumps, the courses are quaint and uneventful, the obstacles annoying, but not insurmountable. The lack of challenge and depth make BMX Trial a wasted opportunity, particularly when you consider that Sega knows how to craft good racing games; Hang On, OutRun, and Enduro Racer, to name three. Alex Kidd might have been portrayed as Sega’s mascot, but with throwaway games like BMX Trial and Alex Kidd in High-Tech World, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was their whipping boy.

 

C-

 

*Just in case you’re following along with me in chronological order, yes, I skipped Zaxxon 3D. I’m waiting for the 3D glasses I ordered to arrive before I get down with the motion sickness. Until the glasses come, I will be continuing with reviews as normal.

Sega 3D Glasses

SONY DSC

Kanye could totally bring these back.

 

DEVELOPER: Sega

COMPATIBLE WITH: Master System Model 1, Genesis Model 1 with Power Base Convertor

RELEASE DATE: 10/1987 – (EU)

                                     11/07/87 – (JP)

                                           1987 – (US)

 

3D comes and goes as a fad in movies every thirty years or so (we love you “House of Wax,” “Jaws 3-D,” and “Avatar”), but games have continuously experimented with 3D starting as far back as Milton Bradley’s console, Vectrex. Released in 1982, the Vectrex was a dud of a home console, an expensive vector-based system (with its own monitor!) that died a little over a year after its release. During that time, though, Vectrex released the 3D Imager, a bulky pair of plastic goggles that corresponded with the plastic screen overlays. The 3D would only work with the three 3D-specific games, and required a partially-black, partially-colored disk to be inserted into the goggles themselves. Once the game was turned on and the goggles plugged in with the disk, the disk spun via a motor, producing – in theory – 3D images. Of course, early 80s technology could only reproduce 3D so well (read: not well at all), but the idea was novel, and undoubtedly, very expensive.

 

Vectrex3Dimager

There’s so much Tron in this picture.

 

Three years after the Vectrex’s passing, an ambitious company named Sega tried establishing a three-dimensional claim for themselves with the Sega 3D Glasses. Rather than using Viewmaster technology to power the extra dimension, Sega used LCD shutter technology, which enabled both the left and right lens of the glasses to shutter back and forth rapidly. This quick movement created a 3D effect, of sorts, and powered a number of 3D-only games like Zaxxon 3D, Space Harrier 3D, and OutRun 3D, among others. And unlike the Vectrex which limited your 3D vision to one eye, SegaScope allowed you to see the games with both your eyes.

But, like squeezing blood from a turnip, trying to replicate 3D from a fuzzy two-dimensional screen is never without its problems. Once the 3D is turned on for any 3D compatible Master System game, the frame rate immediately drops by half. This turns already slow arcade ports like Space Harrier into home-brewed molasses and causes what looks like flicker to splash across the screen. The glasses have been known to work on LCD televisions, but you’ll have to turn off all the image enhancement and correction options. To avoid the hassle, find an old CRT, hook it up, and embrace the reality of yesterday, today.

 

Space Harrier 3D (UE) [!]000

Doesn’t look so bad here, but trust me, in-action, Space Harrier 3D is cataracts on cataracts without the 3D glasses.

 

From my perspective, however, all this information is hearsay. I’ve ordered a pair of 3D glasses to use on some upcoming reviews (*peers ahead towards Zaxxon 3D*), but I haven’t received them yet, nor have I ever tried a pair before. I’ve heard from several different sources that the glasses are extremely uncomfortable if you don’t have a small child-sized head and that they have the tendency to break easily. Also – and this doesn’t surprise me in the least – the 3D on them is supposedly less than stellar. Well, of course! Think about this: if Sega’s glasses had produced realistic 3D, they would have been the blockbuster talk of the playground. They could have turned the 8-bit console war, such as it was, in Sega’s favor. Instead, the 3D Glasses had a decent run with a handful of games, disappeared from the public consciousness for a couple decades, and now they sell for unreasonable amounts on eBay. Such is the nature of old peripherals.

 

3D Glasses PRO TIPS:

 

  • Want to play 3D Master System games, but don’t want to drop a Benjamin on some potentially broken, but COMPLETE RARE IN BOX official 3D glasses? Browse Amazon’s third-party home theater 3D LCD shutter glasses. They use similar tech to Sega’s 3D glasses, but cost a fraction of the price. Be forewarned: there’s a good chance not all of them will work. Do your research and practice safe shopping.

 

  • Are you the proud owner of a Master System II? Congratulations! Those suckers are rare. They also are unable to use the 3D glasses, due to the lack of adapter port on the front of the console. The 3D glasses can work with a Model 1 Genesis and the Power Base Convertor, but not on any other Genesis models.

SDI: Strategic Defense Initiative / Global Defense

SDIjp

*cue North Korean marching music*

 

GlobalDefense

For one mega dedicated player…

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/24/87 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US)

                                       03/1988 – (EU)

 

Strategic Defense Initiative or Global Defense as it’s known in America/Europe, is a piece of late 80s Cold War commentary that I wouldn’t have expected from a company like Sega. The game is pure, brutal war between two sides of unknown origin. There are no people, only missiles, satellites, transport ships, and, er, power-ups, all of which are hellbent on the destruction of mankind.

 

Global Defense (UE) [!]001

“Terminator II” this ain’t.

 

You control a lone satellite equipped with high-tech weaponry, a limited range of movement, and a mysterious past. Where did this satellite come from? Is the satellite sentient or is someone inside controlling it? No one knows; the military gives orders, not surveys. The satellite is tasked with both offensive attacks and defensive counterattacks against “the other side.” The first part of each level has you on the offense. Evil missiles and evil satellites and other weapons of varying degrees of evil whiz by or collide with your satellite. All the while, your satellite drifts aimlessly through the atmosphere, firing haphazardly, unable to remove itself from even the simplest of attacks (or so it would seem – more on this later). In defense mode, the satellite sets up camp directly above the planet, just in time for dozens of missiles to reign down upon him and planet Earth. If the majority of the missiles aren’t destroyed before Earth accumulates a certain amount of damage (damage represented by the bar on the bottom of the screen), the game is over. Should you destroy every enemy in Offense mode, however, Global Defense will skip Defense mode and bring the satellite to the next stage. Obliterating the onslaught in Offense mode is not an easy task. Do it, and you’ll be the greatest satellite navigator this world has ever seen.

 

Global Defense (UE) [!]000

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wein-er!

 

But before you can even think of having a freedom-oriented impact on Planet Earth’s behalf, you must learn to control the satellite – a trickier prospect than it initially appears to be. While most shoot-em-ups have you use the D-pad to control the ship and Button 1 and/or 2 to fire, here the D-pad controls the satellite’s cross hair, while button 2 fires. In order to move the satellite, you have to hold down Button 1 while using the D-pad to navigate. If you didn’t know this – say you didn’t have the manual or were unaware of GameFAQs – you might think that Sega was trolling the consumer by releasing an unplayable, unwinnable game. Sadly, this control scheme was the best Sega could do without releasing an additional peripheral made just for Global Defense. In the arcade version, you controlled the satellite with a joystick, fired at Commies with a button atop the joystick, and maneuvered the cross hair with a trackball. I’ve never played the arcade, but it sounds like it would control smoothly, as long as the trackball was greased to perfection. As one might expect, though, playing with a standard controller on the Master System is awkward and clumsy. You can’t move the satellite and the cross hair at the same time, so unlike every other shoot-em-up in existence, you have to choose between moving or firing, never both at the same time.

 

Global Defense (UE) [!]002

Earth used to be such a lovely planet…

 

Unless, of course, you have a second-player. With two controllers, one person moves the satellite, while the other shifts the cross hair to the appropriate evil. The satellite fires automatically, so the only real controlling you have to do is with the D-pad. I gave two-player a try with my wife, and it did make Global Defense considerably easier. I recommend playing with another person if you’re just trying to get through the game, and particularly if you’re seeking to get a hundred percent in Offense mode. For those seeking a challenge, shove the help aside and tackle the game yourself.

 

Global Defense (UE) [!]003

Even the moon needs help defending itself. What a wimp!

 

I’m not entirely sure why Sega bothered porting Global Defense to the Master System. Controlling the satellite separately from the cross hair is an innovative mechanic, but it’s one that only makes sense with the original arcade trackball and joystick. Trying to wrestle the satellite with one player is a hair too difficult, while bringing a friend or life partner along makes saving the world too easy. Most importantly, Global Defense lacks any personality that would place it alongside Sega’s other works of this time period, works like Fantasy Zone, Quartet, and Zillion. A satellite is not an intriguing piece of equipment/protagonist to stop full-on nuclear war, and the Defense stages hail right from Atari’s Missile Command (Sega published Missile Command in Europe, so they were obviously quite fond of the game). Sega’s made worse playing games, to be sure, but few this banal.

 

C

Alien Syndrome

AlienSyndromeJP

                          Rick Astley, is that you?

 

AlienSyndromeUS

Make the worst-looking xenomorph ever and 20th Century Fox won’t sue.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 10/18/87 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US)

                                     03/1988 – (EU)

 

Alien Syndrome or That Time Sega Saw James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ and Thought, “Me too!”

In the game, you play a renegade Earth soldier named Ricky (second player controls Mary) who’s tasked with rescuing hostages from a series of alien cruiser ships. Each ship is an labyrinth of sorts, with winding passageways, claustrophobic corridors, and the occasional dead-end, all viewed from a top-down perspective. Now, Alien Syndrome is an arcade port, so the levels aren’t as complex as the first-person “where the hell am I?” dungeon excursions of Phantasy Star. But Ricky and Mary aren’t equipped with a map, and the goal is to find all the human hostages before time runs out. In other words, quick moving and quick thinking are a must. Once all the hostages have been saved, the music changes from dull toneless blats to reserved optimism. The exit door located near the top of the ship opens, and a grotesque alien boss creature, which looks like it came straight out of Giger’s private reserve, emerges. Beat it, and you’re rewarded with points and the next ship of nightmares.

 

Alien Syndrome (UE) [!]000

The role of Ripley will be played by Generic 80s Shlub

 

As you wander through the ships, take notice of the following aspects if you want to live. Whenever you enter a room, aliens will blink before they appear fully generated on screen. If you walk through them while they’re blinking, you won’t be hurt. This is really important during later levels when you’re looking for that final hostage and you’re moving through rooms as quick as you can. There are several different alien designs on display throughout each level, but only two types: ones that move and roll around the room and the stationary heads that fire blasts at you. The ones that move are generally slow and easy to avoid, but there’s up to four of them in each room. Shoot them, and more will take their place. The stationary aliens can’t be killed, only shut down after they’ve been shot. Ricky and Mary can aim in eight directions a la Contra, and the controls are sound, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to move through the rooms with gusto. Our Earth heroes start with generic pea shooters, but weapon upgrades – which come in the form of letters L, F, N, etc. – are found on the walls of the ship and transform your standard issue snoozefest into a laser gun or a flamethrower.

 

Alien Syndrome (UE) [!]002

“Looks like someone’s gonna have to clean up this solar system…”

 

Mary and Ricky might be part of Earth’s finest, but they take only a single hit before succumbing to death. Were this a harder game, I’d rage against such warriors losing their lives so quickly, but at best, Alien Syndrome is a challenging, but not impossible, game. Once you understand the basic arcade mechanics, your only concern is running out of time or making a careless mistake, like grazing an alien.

 

Alien Syndrome (UE) [!]003

This is one of the most disgusting bosses I’ve seen in awhile. Well done, Sega.

 

Alien Syndrome has an awful droning soundtrack, and it’s about the ugliest Master System game I’ve ever seen – each of the alien ships are colored by leftover Famicom browns, grays, greens, yellows, and blood-clot reds – but by gar, I enjoyed my afternoon with it. While the kill-aliens-find-hostages gameplay is simplistic compared to some other post-arcade 1987 Master System games, finding all the hostages and hearing the music shift from darkness to sunlight is reward enough. More importantly, Alien Syndrome began Sega’s love affair with aliens, for better and for worse. Cheers to Mr. Cameron for making this possible.

 

B-

Mahjong Sengoku Jidai

MahjongSengoku

Wolverine’s totally going to slap Spock with a tile.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu

GENRE: Table game

RELEASE DATE: 10/18/87 – (JP)

 

Did it really take Sega two years after the Mark III’s release to publish a mahjong game for the console? That’s an abnormally long wait for a Japanese system to receive a virtual rendition of their beloved table game. To give you an idea of how quickly mahjong games moved on the prior Sega console, Mahjong was part of the SG-1000’s 1983 launch line-up, and a follow up, Home Mahjong was released a mere year later in 1984 (the five people who owned the console were undoubtedly thrilled). Alas, the new Sega acolytes who converted with the Mark III had to endure terebi silence for three long years. Finally, Mahjong Sengoku Jidai was released in 1987, and the burgeoning faithful had a game to call their own.

 

Mahjong Sengoku Jidai (J) [!]002

                   Two can play at this game…

 

And you bet your sweet bippy this is a Japanese-only game. Sengoku Jidai is straight Japanese or Riichi mahjong, which, from what I understand, is a lot like mahjong after a couple drinks. Compared to classical Japanese mahjong, it’s wild and uninhibited, with a lot of stealing tiles, gambling, and name-calling. Unfortunately, without having a good grasp on Chinese mahjong – the original mahjong – I can’t say I fully understand the rules. There’s a lot to learn within the traditional rules and even more when you start wandering into the variants, such as Riichi. I attempted to summarize the basics of mahjong in a paragraph in my Mahjong review (click on the link above, or better yet, peruse this wonderful FAQ). But condensing the rules within a few sentences didn’t do justice to the game’s subtleties, and as such, I’m leaving the explanation of Riichi mahjong to the professionals.

 

Mahjong Sengoku Jidai (J) [!]000

                         The Motley Mahjong Crew.

 

Not understanding the rules of Japanese mahjong means playing Mahjong Sengoku Jidai is quite the battle. Here’s what I can tell you. You have the option to battle against three computer opponents at once in a four-player match or one computer opponent at a time in a two-player match, or participate in a tournament. Also, you can choose from a wide variety of gambling addicts to play against – from nightclub floozies named Starla to bald motorcycle riders named Slash (actual names may differ). Once I started dropping tiles, the proceedings felt like standard mahjong – until someone called a “riichi.” A riichi is called after the second-to-last tile in a person’s hand has been discarded, and is a way of saying, “Ha ha, I’m about to win.” The game then draws and discards tiles until the person gets the tile they need to win, which doesn’t seem fair at all, but perhaps I could have stopped it? Somehow? I really need to learn Japanese. There’s more to Mahjong Sengoku Jidai, but the latter was my brief experience with the game. An intrepid explorer named PublicDomain (very nice) wrote an entire FAQ on the game over at GameFAQs, so if you’re looking to get your hands dirty with tile grease, there’s a place to start.

 

Mahjong Sengoku Jidai (J) [!]001

                                          I fold.

 

What fascinates me the most about this game has nothing to do with mahjong, but with the developers. Mahjong Sengoku Jidai is the first Mark III/Master System game I’ve played thus far to be developed by a third party and not by Sega. Yes, Miracle Warriors was a port not originally developed by Sega, but Sengoku Jidai was directly developed by Sanritsu for the Mark III. What does this mean, exactly? Nothing, except perhaps that Sega didn’t feel like they could tackle another mahjong game without a little help. And I don’t blame them. Mahjong’s confusing, especially when you don’t know how to play.

 

IF I KNEW HOW TO PLAY MAHJONG: A+

BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY MAHJONG: D

BUT HEY, MAHJONG SEEMS PRETTY COOL: B

Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord

MiracleWarriorsJP

                    And, uh… there you have it.

 

MiracleWarriorsUS

Hey, what happened to her lack of clothes?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Kogado and ASCII (port by Sega)

GENRE: RPG

RELEASE DATE: 10/18/87 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

In the Book of Historical Documents Pertaining to Video Games of the Role-Playing Genre, Miracle Warriors has been rightfully regarded as a mere footnote. The footnote states that the game was released slightly prior to Phantasy Star, and thus, may be the first Japanese RPG to grace American shores. Phantasy Star came later in ’88, Dragon Quest/Warrior was ’89, Final Fantasy, ’90. This makes sense, and yet, there’s no hard proof, meaning that this one unique piece of information about Miracle Warriors might be a lie. And without that historical tidbit, the game has nothing, and a lot of it.

Early JRPGs are tedious, cumbersome, given to grinding. Miracle Warriors is no different, except that it reigns as the head glutton of its genre’s tendencies. Rather than allowing you to control your protagonist directly, you control them via a white square on the upper right hand corner of the screen. This corner contains your protagonist, as represented by the white square, and a small sliver of the map which you can move around at your leisure. What occupies the majority of the screen? A picture of your heroes looking triumphantly at you. Yes, two-thirds of the screen is occupied by majestic warrior posing, nothing more. Now, if I were brimming with positivity, I might say that the interface is “unique” and “original.” Certainly, it’s never been done before – and that’s the most I can give it. Maneuvering a box around a fraction of the world map – which is large – only takes a couple minutes to become unbearably frustrating. The frustration is then compounded by the clunkiness of the movement. I usually had to press the D-pad two or three times before the protagonist square would move in that direction, and this happened all the time.

 

Miracle Warriors - Seal of the Dark Lord (UE) [!]000

               Well, we’re off to a good start.

 

Once you’ve digested Miracle Warriors creative liberties, you’re forced to confront the battle system. The system itself is straightforward: you and a monster exchange hits in first-person, back and forth. It’s smooth, seamless, and it takes about a thousand battles to get anywhere. You see, in the beginning of the game, your hero is incredibly weak. To beef him up, you buy armor, swords, the standard hero material. You have to kill enemies to get the gold to buy the goods, but enemies are so powerful in the beginning that you have to heal in towns within about two fights. The price to heal your warrior, however, is ridiculously high, and unless you fight an Evil Merchant who carries tons of ill-gotten money on him, you’ll be using most of your money on health, not shields and swords. Weapons deteriorate over time, as well, so you’ll need to return to towns to get them fixed – unless you have a blacksmith in your party and then he’ll fix them for free. But… really? Is my journey not difficult enough without this additional serving of nonsense?

 

Miracle Warriors - Seal of the Dark Lord (UE) [!]001

I just used all my coppers on health and herbs!

 

What all this means is, the amount of grinding needed to get anywhere in this game is on an unprecedented scale. I’ve played – and enjoyed – Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star, all of which were released within a similar time frame and are fairly grindy. Miracle Warriors beats them all. If you let yourself, you could spend hours upon hours and make very little progress. If you’re in third grade in 1987 and this is your first RPG, that might sound thrilling, but outside of that snapshot in time, I think it’s fair to say that most people – even at the time – would want nothing to do with that. One might think the grinding would let up with additional people in your party. Absolutely not. Even if there’s more than one person in your party, the second/third/fourth persons can’t attack on the same turn. Only one person can attack a monster per turn, despite the amount of people you have. Now, you can switch between characters on different turns, but that’s it. Does this force you to be more strategic? Sure. Is it a waste of good party members? No question.

 

Miracle Warriors - Seal of the Dark Lord (UE) [!]002

That’s pathway robbery, I won’t pay it.

 

The in-game movement and the non-stop grinding drag Miracle Warriors down to the realm of the Dark Lord, but the game does have two redeeming factors. The music is as beautiful and evocative as I’ve heard from an early JRPG and one of the main reasons to continue wandering the game’s world, step by slow, pointless step. Also, the grid map included with the original game is incredibly well-crafted and made me wish that exploring the land was as fun as looking at the map. Sega obviously did what they could to make the game inviting for adventure lovers, but you can’t cover a pile of manure in a designer dress and fool people into thinking it’s gorgeous and fashionable. The music and the map are nice, but they’re trickery just the same.

 

Miraclewarriors_sms_us_map

                                                        It is a really nice map, though.

 

All of the ingredients needed to make a working RPG are in Miracle Warriors – lots of battles, characters that speak ye olde English, large world to explore, half-naked demon things – but none of the elements ever click into place. The movement-by-square system thankfully died with this game, and the ever-present battles are a reminder that, despite the depressing gaming landscape we find ourselves in today, certain genres have evolved for the better. At best, Miracle Warriors feels like a never-ending slog, and at worst, I feel like I should be forced to take anger management courses for the amount of rage the game conjures in me. A footnote it was, a blemish it shall remain.

 

F

SegaDoes Episode 20: Holy Crap, We’re On Episode 20

 

The triumphant forward march of the SegaDoes podcast ventures ever onward!

Today, some good’uns, and unsurprisingly, some not so good’uns. Great Golf, Great Baseball, Fantasy Zone II, Aztec Adventure and Penguin Land. An esoteric bunch, if nothing else.

Download/listen here or subscribe to us on iTunes and leave us a review! We like reviews and subscriptions. And if you agree/disagree/just want to give us virtual daps, feel free to leave a comment below. Who knows, we might just read it on the air! (we will totally read it on the air).

 

Op-Ed: Why Sega’s Drift Away From Console Games May Be For the Best

The Sega of 2015 is not the Sega of your childhood.

This seems like an obvious statement, but nowhere was it made clearer than on January 30th when Sega announced that it was closing its San Francisco offices, laying off hundreds of employees, and positioning their business around mobile and PC. Why are they taking such drastic measures? Because they’re down about 200 million in net profit from 2013 (according to this Gamespot article), and they don’t have a Nintendo-sized war-chest to get them through the hard times. Console gaming isn’t bringing in money like it used to, though to be fair, name a recent Sega-developed game that you enjoyed (Sega-published is a different story). Maybe Yakuza: Dead Souls if you’re into that sort of thing? Mine would have to be Sonic Generations and I’m still unsure if I actually enjoyed it or if I just enjoyed suffocating under the game’s nostalgic blanket.

 

350px-Sonic_Generations_-_Bosses_Trailer

“At least we’re not in Sonic 06!”

 

Point is, Sega hasn’t developed a memorable console game in a long time. People get on their case for how much Sonic games are crap, but damn, at least they never stop trying with Sonic (well, not Sonic Boom, but Sega didn’t develop that one). At least they’re putting some effort in his direction, and they should. He’s the reason people know who Sega is. But outside of Valkyria Chronicles, Yakuza – which has a razor-thin Western presence to begin with – and Sonic reboots, can you name a Sega-developed console game that’s stood out in the last six years? I don’t know what the Sega brand name means anymore. In the Master System and Genesis days, it was Alex Kidd, OutRun, Phantasy Star, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Toe Jam and Earl, Kid Chameleon, Shining Force. But the end of the Genesis-era was nearly twenty years ago. Hell, Sega quit making games for their own consoles nearly fifteen years ago now. Add to that the Japanese gaming industry’s identity crisis, and you see Sega doing exactly what they’re doing: cutting costs by cutting consoles and hoping that PC and mobile will save them.

 

SonicBad

Sonic Boom 2: Still Booming (iPhone exclusive, 2016)

 

And frankly, good for them. I’d rather Sega be upfront with the direction that they’re taking – knowing that it will piss off a ton of people – than try and pump out crappy game after crappy game on console and pretend like all is well (they may continue to produce crap on PC and mobile, but I’ll never know ’cause those aren’t my play devices of choice). Businesses have to evolve with the times, and for the majority of game companies today, console development is an inescapable money pit unless your game sells about ten million copies. We as gamers may not like the directions Sega’s taking, but ultimately, the company has to do what they think is best. And I don’t think any gamer can begrudge them for that.

This op-ed isn’t meant to be a great big Sega apology cake, though. Sega has made so many horrible choices over the years, it’s unreal. Between 1992 and 1995 – three wallet-busting years – they released the Sega CD, 32X, and Saturn, expecting that people would buy them all with that disposable Clinton-era income. When that blew up in their face, they made a ton of right decisions with the Dreamcast and fans welcomed them back… for a time. Then the PS2 conquered the world in 2000. Sega called it quits on the console business and moved to strict third-party development. This also benefited them, at least at first. Sega’s alliance with the Xbox and Gamecube produced some great games (games that would have arguably been put on the Dreamcast, but hey, at least we got them at all!), like Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jet Set Radio Future, and, er, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. The third-party transition was their last great shakeup fourteen years ago, and frankly, they’re overdue. They shouldn’t have let themselves get to this point, but if it takes losing 200 milli to rouse the giant from its apathy, then so be it.

 

sega_cd_32x_front

It could be worse: we could all be pretend we’re ok with this.

 

Personally, I think it would benefit Sega to evaluate why their console games aren’t selling, as opposed to just cutting out consoles entirely – but for all we know, they’ve already done that. Maybe they believe that, despite the humongous Xbox One and PS4 user base, there’s no future for consoles and it’s better to take the plunge now before everyone else does. Ever since the Master System days and in the arcade, Sega’s always been a trend-setter, always the ones to jump in the pool first to tell everybody the water’s fine. I’m not saying that Sega’s predicting the end of consoles as we know it or anything – I still believe their decision is based on loss-of-profit versus prophetic insight – but we’d all be fools if we looked at the current gaming landscape and said we expect it to stay the same. Perhaps we’ll see more mid-tier companies cut their losses and move to mobile and PC development exclusively, instead of dying off outright. And video game companies staying alive is always a good thing. Even if I’m not in a company’s key demographic and even if I don’t buy their product, if they’re able to thrive and keep hundreds of people’s jobs going, I’m all for it.

 

Toejam_and_Earl_by_Makinita

Running as far away from Sega as possible.

 

So Sega, I’m glad you’re doing what’s best for you. We’ve had some good times and I will always cherish that. But… who are we kidding, we’ve been distant since Sonic Heroes. This new development in your life just confirms to me what I’ve already known: we’re going our separate ways. I’ll always cherish the memories you’ve given me, but I can’t accompany you down that path. I hope the future works out well for you, though. We’ll always have the 90s…

Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa

FantasyZoneIIJP

When the winds of fantasy blow, they blow hard.

 

FantasyZoneIIUS

Sega wisely omitted “Tears of Opa-Opa” from the title for beefcake American audiences.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/17/87 – (JP)

                                            1987 – (US)

                                     01/1988 – (EU)

 

Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa is everything a vainglorious technicolor dreamcoat sequel should be. It’s faster, brasher, and – thank God – more colorful than its predecessor. You’ve seen those 1000-ct Crayola boxes, yeah? With colors like “Macaroni and Cheese” and “Chartreuse Sherbet?” That’s how Fantasy Zone II looks: like the inside of a demented Crayola maker’s mind. All praise due to Sega and its Master System for producing the console’s richest-looking game to date. Graphics aren’t everything, but when a game looks as gorgeous and plays as solid as Fantasy Zone II, then you might as well throw your NES against a wall or something*.

 

Fantasy Zone II - The Tears of Opa-Opa (UE) [!]000

A spring wonderland filled with snowmen and chubby ripe tomatoes.

 

Fantasy Zone II largely sticks to the foundation of the original. As in the first game, you control Opa-Opa, a spaceship with feelings, and the tears of whom you’re trying to quench. In each level, Opa-Opa is tasked with destroying all of the bases. The bases are recognizable immediately: they all have faces and spew out enemies from their nethers. But a level is not simply conquered by base-destroying, oh no. Opa must also avoid the waves of pattern-based enemies that come without fail and wish his tears never to cease – while he’s destroying the bases. Thankfully, Opa can be made powerful. He starts with a double shot weapon and bombs, which can be upgraded (along with engine/speed upgrades to your ship) via shops in each level. In order to purchase these accoutrements, Opa must collect coins and bills dropped by enemies. In the first game, these shops manifested at random intervals throughout the stage. You needed to catch the shops to enter them, and once you purchased what you wanted, they drifted away. Here, the shops remain grounded to different parts of the level, so you can re-enter them as many times as you’d like. To recap: shoot and bomb everything you see, particularly the bases, collect the precious bounty dropped from their remains, find a shop, purchase more firepower/speed, admire the surreal beauty of the landscape, mend Opa-Opa’s heart.

 

Fantasy Zone II - The Tears of Opa-Opa (UE) [!]001

Opa’s totally listening to Death Cab here.

 
The biggest difference between the two Fantasy Zones are the way in which the levels are constructed. In the first Fantasy Zone, each level was one long screen. Opa could travel left or right at any time, but all of the bases were located in one area. In Fantasy Zone II, there are more bases than ever before, and they’re connected through warps. Two kinds of warps are unearthed by destroying bases: blue warps, which warp you to a different part of the level entirely (complete with a new surreal background), and red warps, which take you to the boss after you’ve defeated all of the level’s bases. I could see how this feature might become confusing at times – particularly in later levels, where there’s about five sections per level – but I felt the warps added to the appeal of the game, and provided Fantasy Zone II with its own personality, separate from the previous game.

 

Fantasy Zone II - The Tears of Opa-Opa (UE) [!]002

Like fighting a stack of Italian plastic donuts.

 

Fantasy Zone II is even harder than the first game, albeit not at first. The first few levels in FS II are not nearly as ball-busting as the original, and if I had to venture a guess as to why, I’d say because the levels are longer in II. Sega probably wanted to ensure that players would grasp the concept of warping through the level to different sections. If the levels became as hard as quickly as they did in the original game, Fantasy Zone II would be nigh unplayable. To wit: I remember being completely overwhelmed by level 3 in Fantasy Zone, but in Fantasy Zone II, I made it to level 5 without breaking much of a sweat. After level 5, though, Sega takes your confidence down a dark alley and pummels it against a wall. The tears – both of Opa-Opa and of my own – poured out of our beings, as enemies who once drifted aimlessly by Opa came raging towards him, like bats out of some art deco hell. For many Fantasy Zone veterans, the real challenge will begin here. If you are one of the few who have beaten Fantasy Zone II – after weeks of practice and Kleenexes aplenty – I commend your abilities.

 

Fantasy Zone II - The Tears of Opa-Opa (UE) [!]004

    Just look at that background! So fresh, so clean!

 

Despite the increased difficulty, Fantasy Zone II is a vast improvement over its predecessor. Every aspect of the original – from the controls to the shops – has been refined to near-perfection, and the new level progression via warps gives the game an added depth missing from the first entry. The graphics, backgrounds, colors are overwhelming. Fantasy Zone II is one of the prettiest 8-bit games I’ve ever seen, and I’ve played enough 8-bit games for a couple lifetimes. Even if you were iffy on the original – based on my bi-polar grade, I know I was – Fantasy Zone II deserves your attention. Like the best sequels, it takes what worked about the first and adds to it, resulting in what is – as of now – the perfect expression of Fantasy Zone on the Master System.

 

A-

 

*Ok, maybe don’t throw the NES against a wall. It might come in handy if you want to play Mega Man II or Die Hard some time down the line.

Great Golf

GreatGolfJP

Chad Brochill delivers an enchanting musk to the crowd.

 

GreatGolfUS

I know what these images are, but their placement confuses me.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous; 1-4 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 10/10/87 – (JP – as Masters Golf)

                                             1987 – (US)

                                       11/1987 – (EU)

 

My opinion of most sports games is largely negative, but video game golf can be pretty ok if executed properly. Sega’s earlier iteration of golf – also called Great Golf – was about as good as 8-bit golf could be. The game had a clean isometric viewpoint, spot-on controls, and no personality whatsoever. So far, it remains one of Sega’s best sports games. Shame, then, that Great Golf never saw a release outside of Japan. The version of Great Golf being looked at today is the sort-of sequel that was released for all territories (the game was retitled Masters Golf in Japan to avoid confusion). Sega must have had a better feeling about this one. A Golf Game for All Nations, so to speak. And yet, Sega’s first college try was better because it wasn’t trying hard – at all. Great Golf ‘circa 86 was so light, you could carry her off the course with one hand. Great Golf ’87 is Sega trying to show off the power of the Master System, while weighing down the golf in the process.

 

Great Golf (UE) (V2

Not sure when golfers started wearing Levis, but it’s a trend I can get behind.

 

Great Golf shows promise when it begins, though. You have your choice of Stroke Play or Match Play – two glorious options! Match Play is the two-player version where you and a buddy fight to get the best score on each hole. Whoever wins ten holes first wins the match and a year’s worth of cardigans. Stroke Play is me (sitting by myself on a Wednesday night with a cup of coffee) playing through all eighteen holes to completion. You can screw around all you want in Stroke Play: chop balls into ponds, dig trenches in the sand, whatever. Regardless of your score, as long as you sink the ball into the hole, you move on to the next hole, and so on until all eighteen holes are completed.

Before you get busy child on the course, you have to pick all your clubs. Normally, golf games – including JP-only Great Golf – give you the clubs you’ll need for the course, but not here. Pick them yourself, Sega says, you’re a grown-ass person. This sounds promising. Sega seems to be assuming that the player already knows a thing or two about golf. But no, Sega doesn’t have as much faith in you as you might think. You’re allowed to select fourteen out of seventeen clubs, so in other words, you pick the fourteen you want, and leave three behind. “Gee, wouldn’t want to make the seven iron feel unloved – what a moral conundrum for the player!” remarked the one developer who fought to leave this option in the game. “Select your clubs:” neat, but pointless. Sega should have just held our hands.

 

Great Golf (UE) (V3

      Yes, this is a children’s placemat.

 

Then comes the stroke play. Instead of an isometric view, a behind-the-person viewpoint is established. While I prefer the isometric angle (it’s just better, con sarn it), behind-the-person is pretty standard for most golf games and it works ok here. There is also a crudely rendered overhead map of the entire hole on the left hand side of the screen, along with some course information, like the number of yards to the hole, wind direction/speed, etc. You go to hit the ball and you’re given the option to shift your golfer’s feet, as if a slight loafer shuffle to the left or right would help you get that elusive birdy or bogey or Bacall. The power meter rises. Finally, you hit. The ball soars, but you won’t know where unless you follow it on the overhead map. The ball seems to land a lot faster if you watch it from the golfer’s point-of-view – an observation, not a complaint – and it goes, more or less, to where you’re aiming it. But herein lies the game’s main issue: I never felt like I had complete control over the ball. That might sound silly, like, why would you have control over a golf ball you just smacked to the heavens? The ball’s in God’s hands now! But Great Golf ’86 gave you that control – in spades. Here, Sega sacrifices control of your ball for the illusion of more sophisticated graphics. I say “illusion” because the graphics are terrible, though apparently, Sega thought them good enough to leave in (see also: Space Harrier). Gone is the shrunken isometric cutesyness of the earlier Great Golf and in its place are courses that look more “realistic” (whatever that means), yet take forever to load; normal-sized golfers sans faces; and the notion that following your ball’s trajectory on an overhead map is easier and better than following it as it flies real-time across the course.

 

Great Golf (UE) (V1

Now I’ve done it. I’m not sure what exactly, but I have.

 

I’ve written way too much about a long-forgotten golf game that nobody remembers. And if I’m honest, you could probably play a solid eighteen holes in this game and not hate your life. So why waste the time and energy to excoriate a meaningless distraction that probably took Sega a couple weeks to program? Because Sega had already made a far superior golf game. And instead of simply re-releasing that version for Europe and the States – at zero cost to them – they chose to waste money out of their own coffers, along with a couple of programmers’ time and energy, to make Great Golf. Poor decisions add up over time. Sega’s poor decisions have added up over time. I love you, Sega, but Great Golf is one of many reasons why you’re bringing me down.

 

D