Fantasy Zone

Fantasy ZoneJP

     This is quite the fantastical zone you got here.

 

Fantasy ZoneUS

This wire-frame dimension, on the other hand, is quite mysterious.

 

PLAYERS1-2 alternating

PUBLISHERSega

DEVELOPERSega

GENREShoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE06/15/86 – (JP)

                                      1986 – (US)

                                      09/1987 – (EU)

 

If Lisa Frank and Salvador Dali were commissioned to design a shoot-em-up together, the visual result would be something like Fantasy Zone. Awash in carefree colors and intentionally crude, yet well-rounded art, the game is even more visually striking when you place it next to austere outer space shmups of the mid-80s. Coupled with an optimistic musical ditty that accompanies you through every stage, one might believe that Fantasy Zone was made for small children; especially since the game is credited with being one of the first “cute-em-ups.”                            

And yet, Fantasy Zone is a lot like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” in that, both bear the visual trappings of kid-friendly entertainment, though neither of them were made for children. “Roger Rabbit” has Jessica Rabbit’s abundant cleavage, lots of swearing, and Judge freakin’ Doom. Fantasy Zone has butt-puckering difficulty that not only distracts from the engaging landscapes, but also undermines the visual optimism the game surrounds you in. Not everything is going to be ok, kids, especially when life appears as though it’s all sunshine, lollipops, and video games.

 

Fantasy Zone (UE) [!]002

The gaudy pink trappings and freewheeling jazz hands belie a meaninglessness.

 

In Fantasy Zone, you control a ship named “Opa-Opa” and your task is to save the eight realms of the Fantasy Zone from evil, not-so-fantastical invaders. Each realm has six stationary bases that spit out enemies. Destroy the bases, then the boss will appear for you to kill. Stay alive through eight rounds of pure pastel aggression – base, boss, repeat – and you’ll have restored peace to the Fantasy Zone.

Sounds like another ordinary shump at first, but the freethinking starts immediately: while most horizontal shooters force you to move to the right only, in Fantasy Zone, you’re able to move right or left at any time. This horizontal freedom served a purpose in the original arcade version, but not so much in the Master System port. While the stage design remains the same between both versions, the arcade stages are vaster and spacious, while the Master System’s stages are more cramped and contained. Given the arcade’s wide-open feel, the ability to move in either direction seems natural. In the Master System version, it’s easier to just keep moving to the right.

 

Fantasy Zone (UE) [!]001

          Round 4 gets a little blue in case you couldn’t tell.

 

Your ship has two initial attacks, a straightforward exodus of bullets called Twin Shot and bombs that drop slowly from your underside. Enemies and bases both drop coins after they’re destroyed that can be used to upgrade your weapons, bombs, and ship engine in shops. Shops are only accessed by a Shop balloon that appears on the screen at the beginning of the stage, or after you’ve lost a life. Bases will go down much quicker with an upgraded weapon, while bosses can usually be taken out by dropping a Heavy Bomb or two onto their weak points. Without taking advantage of the shops, you’ll have to rely on your standard weapons; those will barely last you past the second stage. But the Shops must be used wisely. Purchase the wrong upgrades and you’ll waste your precious coins.

Once you enter the shop, all the weapon, bomb, and engine ugrades are available to purchase at once, but you won’t have the coin to afford them all yet. The engine upgrades are really just more speed for Opa, and they range from Big Wings (the smallest speed upgrade) to Rocket Engine (the greatest speed). Eventually, you’ll want to purchase all four engines. Not because you’ll need them all, but by purchasing them all, whatever weapon upgrade you make your primary weapon will now receive infinite ammo. Otherwise, outside of your standard Twin Shot which has unlimited ammo, any weapon upgrade purchased has a limited life (one of Fantasy Zone‘s many quirks that I never grew to appreciate). The weapon upgrades range from Laser Beams to Wide Beams to 7-Way Shots, and bomb upgrades inclue Twin Bombs, Heavy Bombs, Fire Bombs, and Smart Bombs, respectively. Obviously, Sega wants you to experiment with all of these options, to find the best combination for you. I’m here to tell you experimentation sucks. If you equip the Big Wings, purchase all four engines, then equip the 7-Way Shot and buy a plethora of Heavy Bombs, you’ll be set for the game.

 

Fantasy Zone (UE) [!]003

       These corn nuts are no match for my, er, Twin Shot.

 

Unless, of course, you die. Then everything you had equipped disappears and you have to buy it all over again. Is this frustrating? Boy howdy. Especially when you just decked out Opa with the fattest gear in the game. And the more upgrades you buy, the higher the purchase price for the next time you buy them. Thankfully, bosses, once defeated, give a generous amount of coins; even if you’re low on funds at the end of a stage, a boss will usually give you enough to start the next stage right. Still, given how easy it is to die in this game, it doesn’t seem fair that every stinkin’ upgrade disappears after every death.

 

Fantasy Zone (UE) [!]005

I dare say, those crystal flowers are positively… AHAHAHAHA!

 

It’s easy to die in Fantasy Zone. The enemies are bizarre colorful mutations, furthering the child-like acid trip facade, and they often blend into the equally colorful backgrounds, making for cheap deaths as sure as you’re born. Some of their movement patterns are relentless too, particularly the creatures that hover around you until you kill them. Once again, if you have the right weapons equipped, these enemies are rarely an issue – until you die and you have to start from scratch. And you have the standard three lives, no continues, the anarchic non-option that American and Japanese arcade games reveled in in the 80s. There are also floaty controls, which I attribute to the ability to move in either horizontal direction, but which nevertheless, will sometimes get you into trouble.

 

Fantasy Zone (UE) [!]006

         So that‘s what in a turtle’s shell. Precious gems!

 

I don’t know whether to praise Fantasy Zone for its playful surrealism, or to besmirch it for ruining otherwise decent ideas with questionable execution. On one hand, the otherwordly nature of the game feels very much ahead of its time, while the option to shop for upgrades is both groundbreaking and more preferable to finding the upgrades in the levels themselves. It’s very obvious that Sega was trying to make a singular entry into the (at the time) limited shoot-em-up genre, and for the most part, I feel they succeeded on their own terms. But many of Sega’s design choices are confounding, particularly in regards to the upgrades. Why not make the upgrades cost more and have them be permanent additions to your arsenal, instead of having to purchase them time and time again? And as much as I like seeing a whimsical drug-addled vision play out on the Master System, the backgrounds can’t be appreciated when you’re trying to focus on the action at hand.

So Fantasy Zone: sometimes I’m captivated by your nonsensical stylings, other times I want to Smart Bomb every copy of the game out of existence. The conflict remains.

 

B+ or D+, depending on my mood.

 

Sega Ages Fantasy Zone

The authentic arcade version. Only for Sega Saturn. In Japan.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 02/21/97

 

Fantasy Zone received a supposedly arcade perfect port for the Sega Saturn as part of the “Sega Ages” series. I’ll be honest, I have yet to play this version, and had I known of its existence prior to this review, I would have tried to track it down in time (“let’s have your Sega Apprentice badge, Cornelius!”). Alas, as of now, I have neither the money nor the time for such purchases. When I do eventually acquire a Japanese Saturn along with this game, I will revisit this review and let you know how this version is.

[UPDATE] Six Months Later: Where Do We Go From Here?

 

10/28 UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I will leave this post up through today, then it’s back to business with a Fantasy Zone review tomorrow.

 

Good day, friends and associates of Sega Does,

 

It’s been about six months since I started this blog to review every game across every Sega console. Given this mild anniversary, I think it’s only fair to bust out a few stats about Sega Does and discuss where the site should go next.

Since late April, I have reviewed over 80 games and conducted over a dozen podcasts with my UK comrade-in-arms, Sam. Together, we’ve traversed through the entire SG-1000 library, and are currently entering into the depths of the Mark III / Master System. The site has also received over 600 comments and over 32,000 views during this time. Not bad, considering the main focus for the majority of the site’s existence has been a system few people outside of Japan have played or even heard of.

I look forward, not only to growing the site, but also to expanding it. I want Sega Does to be an all-around Sega hub, filled with information and insights that you can only get here. Yes, the blog will still predominantly be a one-man trek through Sega’s various consoles, and yes, the podcast will, for the most part, be me and Sam rambling about Sega games. But there will be more. The question is, what?

For those of you who have been with the blog/podcast for awhile, read/heard the positives and negatives, this question is for you:

 

What arenas would you like to see Sega Does venture into, if any, beyond the written reviews and podcasts? Video? Streaming? Forums? Something else?

Are there any areas where Sega Does could improve?

 

I have my own initiatives I would like to take with the site, but before I fly off the handle and do something crazy, I want to hear from the readers and listeners – you guys and gals. I could lie and say I’d tackle this endeavor even if no one read the posts or listened to the show, but the truth is, I don’t know if I could. It’s incredibly gratifying to read people’s responses – both positive and negative – to one’s work, and frankly, your responses keep me going on the harder days. So thank you. Everybody’s comments and views means a great deal.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. I encourage anybody who visits the site on a regular basis to comment if you have any ideas, even if you don’t comment normally. I will consider everyone’s suggestions and let you know what I’ve decided after this post has been up for a couple days.

Thanks again for your continued patronage. I look forward to the next six months, two years, decade – however long it takes to see this madness through.

 

- DC

Ghost House

Ghost HouseJP

Why does Dracula look like someone’s random drunk uncle?

 

Ghost HouseEU

For once, the European cover says it all. Ghost House really is chock full of bats.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 04/21/86 – JP

                                     1986 – US

                                     08/87 – EU

 

Imagine receiving a letter that says: “Congratulations, grandson! You stand to receive all the family jewels for your inheritance. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other oversized jewels are yours! There’s only one catch: you must travel to Count Dracula’s mansion to retrieve them. Why are they there, you ask? Well, that’s a long story that involves a road trip, a lotta blood, and a garlic trail that went for hundreds of miles. Needless to say, Dracula and I aren’t on speaking terms, and I doubt he’ll be thrilled that a relative of mine will be after what he considers ‘his’ jewels. But hey, it’s not like I’d send my beloved grandson to die just to steal an old monster’s riches, right? They’re his!- er, mine! – er, yours, my boy. Now go get ‘em! And should you return without any holes in your neck, come by the retirement home afterwards and take your grandpa out for a steak dinner.”

The aforementioned is, more or less, the premise of Ghost Story, a ridiculous Master System original. You play as Mick and you’re tasked with wandering through a three-story ghost house and overcoming the monsters within, particularly Count Dracula. Dracula has to be beaten five times per stage. Each time he’s beaten, he’ll drop a jewel. Gather all five jewels and a doorway will appear to take you to the next stage. In order to initiate a battle with Drac, however, you must acquire a key. Keys are randomly generated/dropped from one of the surrounding bats, ghouls, and fire-breathing meatballs. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the first enemy you’ll hit will drop a key. Other times, you’ll have to punch at least a dozen creatures before they drop anything.

 

Ghost House (UE) [!]001

Grimace from the Ronald McDonald Gang makes a guest (ghost?) appearance.

 

Once you have a key and you start traversing through the house, you’ll notice three things:

Thing #1: almost every aspect of the ghost house will interact with you to try and cause you harm. For example, when you pass by any candelabra on the walls, the house spits a knife at you from off-screen. The knife will either hit you and cause damage or you can jump on it, put it in your pouch, and use the knife yourself for a limited time. This is especially good for fighting Dracula because your punch has a short range and your jump attack won’t work on him.

Thing #2: like the disorienting, repeating levels in Teddy Boy Blues, each story of the Ghost House itself will repeat if you walk in the same direction long enough. Also, when you enter the black doorways, they will always spit you out at a random location, including otherwise enclosed areas that might have important items. This is great information for when you’re exasperated while looking for the last Dracula coffin.

 

Ghost House (UE) [!]000

Getting flung backwards by bats is an all-too-common occurrence.

 

Thing #3: there are so many damn enemies in this game, particularly bats, the vermin of the sky (or, in this case, the indoors). While you are able to punch them, jump on them, or stab them, I grew weary with having to wrestle with enemies every couple steps. Thankfully, you have a long life meter, but it’s less about the damage the bats cause and more about their endless numbers. Coupled with the off-screen projectiles, Ghost House can get downright infuriating at times.

Battling Dracula is a crapshoot. If you know the tricks, he’ll go down easy. Otherwise, consider your blood drained. Once you unlock his coffin, he comes out and flies around wildly as a bat. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sneak a punch or a stab in when he divebombs you, but you’ll usually take a hit yourself too. If you’re near a ceiling light, however, jump into it and every enemy on screen will freeze, including Dracula. If the big D is in a position where you can easily hit him a few times, do so, and he’ll turn into dust. The ceiling light trick works exactly five times per round, and since there are five Dracula battles per round, the smart thing to do would be to save one trick per battle.

 

Ghost House (mobygames)

                                          Not my mummy*

 

Ghost House has a quirky charm that’s distinctly Sega, but it doesn’t go far enough. Three levels with slightly varied templates and the same basic “Kill Dracula again” objective for each stage feels slight, particularly for a Mark III title. The title Ghost House has unlimited possibilities too, both for monsters to battle and environments to explore. Why stop at Dracula when you could battle Frankenstein, the Wolfman or any one of Universal’s beloved monster backlog? Why limit yourself to a three story house when you could throw in a castle or a graveyard, if only to distinguish the stages from each other? Granted, Ghost House is a Sega Card game with only 32kb of limited space to work with. But limited space doesn’t have to mean limited ideas. Considering the promise Ghost House‘s premise contains, methinks Sega was just being lazy with this one.

 

C-

 

*thanks to MobyGames.com for the screenshot

Comical Machine Gun Joe

Comical Machine Gun Joe

                                      It’s a hoot!

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 04/21/86 – JP

 

I think Comical Machine Gun Joe is supposed to be a lighthearted take on the static shooter genre. For starters, there’s the title, a mish-mash of words that is supposed to recall old gangster names from the Prohibition era, particularly Machine Gun Kelly. Then you have the main character, a purple trench coat-wearing, gritted-teeth type of bloke who shoots anything that comes across his path, including pigs and giant spiders. The stages range from typical mid-80s action movie locales like Harbor and Downtown to strange vistas such as the Graveyard and my favorite, Fairyland. It’s clear that Comical Machine Gun Joe doesn’t seem to take its hard-edged premise seriously, but the overwhelming difficulty will shut down the smiles real fast. Unless you’re a stone-faced ne’er-do-well with masochistic tendencies to spare, don’t plan on moving past the first couple levels.

 

Comical Machine Gun Joe (Japan)003

Great stage design, but good luck getting here without cheating.

 

Machine Gun Joe starts with Joe at a Harbor. Joe is smoking a cigarette, waiting for life to get on with it. Boats float gently by the dock. Wind blows the smoke back into his face. It’s quiet – presumably too quiet. One by one, thugs appear. He doesn’t recognize any of ‘em. It doesn’t matter. Joe pulls his machine gun and unloads at what he sees, cigarette firmly in mouth. Joe is locked into a horizontal stride across the bottom of the screen. He can venture to the left, to the right, and he can jump surprisingly well for a white guy, but he can’t move forward. Luckily, his trusty machine gun bullets move forward for him.

Thugs appear from all sides: in front of Joe, to the side of Joe, and on the top of buildings in front of Joe. Joe shoots in any direction, including diagonally. Once the Thugs start venturing out three at a time, in numerous directions, hold your finger on the trigger and never let go. The Thugs die easily, but once dead, they throw a miniature doll-like version of themselves that can attach itself to Joe if he’s in the doll’s path. The doll slows Joe down once attached to him and can only be gotten rid of by jumping three times.

 

Comical Machine Gun Joe (Japan)002

                     Joe: “Get off me, ya moochers!”

 

The dolls are annoying, sure, but they can be avoided easily. More importantly are bullets: stay out of their way. One stray bullet kills Joe – or rather, makes him slither off the screen, like some sort of hip, Mafia-affiliated snake. Unfortunately, the Thugs’ bullets come strong, fast, and seem to psychically know where Joe is going to stand rather than where he’s standing at the moment. If you manage to overcome a certain number of thugs, the boss, “El Doba” will appear and unload round after round towards Joe. A couple bullets in El Doba’s wherever will disintegrate him into a skeleton, then it’s onwards to the next bullet-ridden showpiece.

 

Comical Machine Gun Joe (Japan)000

                      El Doba likes to boogie with the pigs.

 

Then there are the pigs and spiders: bit players in this bang-bang-shoot-em-up, but still worth talkin’ about. Pigs stroll casually across the screen during firefights in any given level. Once shot, they squeal off the screen (unharmed, mind you) and release a bomb that latches onto Joe. The bomb will detonate and kill Joe unless he flings it forward onto the screen by jumping. The bomb will explode whatever it touches, thus making it an effective way to clear out a screen full of enemies at once. Giant spiders will emerge once the bomb has detonated and will ricochet any bullets that hit its person, including those of the enemies. I view the spider as a giant middle finger atop a game that’s already unloading scores of F-bombs.

 

Comical Machine Gun Joe (Japan)004

The night ends with Joe face down in the streets, slitherin’ like a snake, wishin’ he’d never been born.

 

Comical Machine Gun Joe would probably achieve the lighthearted effect it’s striving for if the game wasn’t so inordinately difficult. El Doba’s stream of bullets are almost impossible to move around. Later stages compile so many enemies on screen that the game becomes more of a fight to avoid bullets rather than unleashing hell yourself. I understand that the game only has six stages (granted, six stages that repeat), and Sega wanted to make sure that the player got their monies worth by not beating the game in ten minutes (totally doable to beat the game in ten minutes, by the way, if you throw on the Invulnerability code), but I still feel some perspective should have been applied. Joe is just one man in one trench coat with one machine gun. You know how hard it is to stay positive – comical, even – when faced with legions of gun-toting maniacs, bomb-throwing pigs and invulnerable spiders?

 

C-

My Hero / Seishun Scandal

MyHero_JP

I prefer the Japanese title Seishun Scandal or Youth Scandal.

 

My HeroEU

Then again, you really can’t argue with fists against faces.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Coreland (port by Sega)

GENRE: Brawler

RELEASE DATE: 01/31/86 (JP)

                                     1986 (US – on Sega Card)

                                     1987 (EU – on Sega Card and Cartridge)

 

My Hero, huh? More like “My Poor Shlub who can’t protect himself or his girlfriend to save his life.” Of course, if I were to hold the “can’t protect girlfriend” attribute against the protagonist of My Hero, that would disqualify pretty much every male protagonist in the beat-em-up genre from being considered a hero. The problem with My Hero is that the main character is called a hero from the outset before he’s been given a chance to prove himself. When the game starts proper and hordes of mohawked thugs come after him, one lone punch sends him reeling. One punch! The easy thing to do would be to call the guy “My Zero” and move on, but that’s not really fair. The protagonist isn’t calling himself a hero. The game is making a bold statement, perhaps echoing what his girlfriend might say once he eventually rescues her. How presumptuous: both to assume that the girlfriend would utter some cliche’ phrase like “My Hero!” upon rescue, and to saddle the “hero” tag onto a guy who may or may not stop at nothing to save his beloved.

 

My Hero (UE) [!]001

                   This is the best your hero can do.

 

But My Hero isn’t an in-depth case study on people, their relationships, and how they respond to kidnapping situations. It’s an early beat-em-up, and a bad one at that. It places you in the role of a guy who has to take on the world of Mohawk Gangs with two attacks: a punch which doesn’t work and a jump kick which works some of the time. The Mohawk Gangs have a limitless supply of thugs, while you are just one guy who has to “overcome against all odds.” Unless, of course, you’re brought down by these magical death punches, which happens more frequently than it should. As I mentioned previously, your punch doesn’t work at all. Use it, and you will die because the enemies’ punches will overlap yours. Now, if the thugs just came at you from the front, the game would be over quickly. You could jump kick the lot of them, regardless of their number, and make it to the end in a few minutes. No, the problem lies in the dual attack: thugs in the back, thugs in the front. Which group will you focus on? Once the thugs swarm you, it doesn’t matter what direction you’re jump kicking towards, one of them will get a punch off and you’ll be waylaid.

 

My Hero (UE) [!]000

Those mohawks must give them superhuman fists! Street logic at its finest.

 

My Hero supposedly has three levels which repeat ad infinitum once defeated, but I couldn’t get past the first stage. This poor heroic shlub has no life bar and no real way to protect himself outside of jumping like a clown across the city boardwalk. Even then, there’s no guarantees that some cretin won’t just land the right jab to your shin and knock you out of commission while you’re jumping. Early beat-em-up My Hero might be, but even Irem’s Kung Fu Master (released the year prior in 1984) included a life bar which allowed you to absorb a few hits. No, My Hero is Sega showing that they have no idea how to handle the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre in 1985. Given the newness of the genre, I can’t blame them for not knowing what they’re doing, but I can blame them for releasing the game at all. A valiant first attempt, My Zero is not.

 

F

SegaDoes Podcast Episode 13: Wonder Boys A Go-Go!

 

Welcome to lucky (unlucky?) Episode 13, friends.

We’ve got quite the October feast for you today, a veritable symphony of SG-1000 and Mark III/Master System titles: F-16 Fighting Falcon, Great/Super Tennis, The Castle, Gulkave, Ninja Princess/The Ninja, Super Tank, Champion Kendou, and the ever-lovable Wonder Boy.

Listen/download the podcast here or on iTunes.

No, there’s no need to thank us. Unless your manner of thanking comes in the form of fat checks, in which case, yes please, and you’re welcome.

As always, thank you for listening, and feel free to leave any comments in the comment section below. Your comments will be read on the next podcast, so make your insults and slanders clever and witty lest you sound like a fool.

 

-DC

 

Champion Billiards

Champion Billiards

Bored, determined, and terrified: the three game faces of alley pool.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Compile

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 1986

 

I know billiards are considered a sport, but I’ve always seen it as more of a drunken pastime. A way for hip twentysomethings and grizzled bikers alike to congregate in bars, slosh back a few beers with friends, and forget their earthly troubles. In other words, pool is just as much about a certain atmosphere as it is about the game itself. Sure, you could play eight-ball in a well-lit room of your house, surrounded by friends sipping red cups filled with Dr. Pepper, but that puts the kibosh on pool’s contemporary, seedy charm. Unsurprisingly, Champion Billiards isn’t able to recreate the dive bar/pool hall feel one associates with the game, but it does possess an otherworldly vibe that accentuates the game’s otherwise straightforward nature.

Indeed, Champion Billiards succeeds because it’s so simplistic. There’s no options to play 8-ball or 9-ball, no maneuvering the physics of the tables, no Marlboro-sponsored pool sharks for you to contend with (unless you play against a friend and they happen to be a Marlboro-sponsored pool shark). If you want to make up a story for Champion Billiards, you could say that you’re an up-and-coming cue junkie, hungry for power, money, and all the 8-balls you can handle. In reality, you control a glowing colorful cue ball via cursor, and you hit other balls into the pool table’s side pockets – that’s it.

 

Champion Billiards (Japan)000

                               The Illuminati, of course.

 

Even more than a physical game of pool, Champion Billiards is easy to pick up and play, but it’s the game’s design and aesthetic flourishes that keep you from growing bored. For instance, the constantly moving power meter at the top of the screen controls the speed and force of your hit. Hit too hard and you might sink a ball, but you also might sink yourself. Hit too slow and the other balls will laugh at you, but you’ll be safe. You start off each level with six shots. Use all six shots without sinking a ball and your cue ball shatters into dream dust on the table. And speaking of tables: each level presents a fresh table design. None of that standard green-colored, corner side-pocket snoozefest here. Some tables lack walls, while others have raised portions in the middle that affects the direction the balls move; only champions need apply. The backgrounds deserve mention too: images of disembodied old man heads, floating pool lingo written in cursive English (I guess it’s pool lingo – “Glidin”?), and all-around trippy colors, accentuated by the SG-1000’s minimalist color palette, makes for a surreal pool journey unlike any other.

Well, almost any other. If SegaRetro is to be believed (and they usually are), Champion Billiards is actually the first in Compile’s “Lunar Pool” series. If you’ve played Lunar Pool on the NES, you’ll see the similarities immediately: the trippy music, the squealing cursor, the “Is this really pool?” questions that arise in the back of one’s mind. Champion Billiards has the edge for me, though. Lunar Pool‘s “pool on the moon” theme is innovative, but I enjoy the whatever-the-hell-we-feel-like-doing design of CB just a bit more (Floating old man heads, Compile? Really?). I think Lunar Pool tightens the series’ style and gives it focus, but the freewheeling looseness that Champion Billiards has is very refreshing – especially when compared to the other stale entries in Sega’s “Champion Sports” line.

 

Champion Billiards (Japan)001

“And with one shot remaining, Texas Slim shakily lines up the cursor with the purple jawbreaker.”

 

Champion Billiards succeeds as a pool game because Compile seems to understand that straight virtual pool just isn’t very much fun. Without the literal background noise of the bar, the feeling of friends close by, a cold beer giving you confidence in your skills, the pool cue in your hand, the crack of the balls against the table, what you’re left with in most virtual pool games is a blank background, a standard table, standard 8-ball games, some cheesy music (or no music at all), and maybe a computer opponent designed to piss you off. No thanks: I’ll take Champion Billiards physics-driven disco insanity any day.

B+

Wonder Boy

Wonder Boy

 

Without knowing the series history, one might view the original Wonder Boy as an innocuous early platformer and nothing more. You play as Tom-Tom the caveman, and your objective is to save your girlfriend, Tanya, from the clutches of the evil cave-dwelling overlord, Drancon. Tom-Tom runs, jumps, throws hatchets, collects fruit to prevent his vitality meter from depleting, and rides skateboards that hatch from eggs. He’s the most enduring and energetic caveman in all of gaming this side of Bonk (sorry Joe, and to a lesser extent, Mac), but where he went after this, no one could have predicted.

 

Wonder Boy (UE) [!]001

             Should… should I be offended? (Master System)

 

If Tom-Tom sounds suspiciously like Master Higgins from Adventure Island, well, that’s because Tom-Tom is Master Higgins from Adventure Island. While the Wonder Boy games were published by Sega, Westone Bit Entertaniment (known as Escape during this time) held control over the source code which allowed the game to be published on different systems. Details are murky as to how Hudson Soft obtained the rights to Wonder Boy during this time. Perhaps Westone licensed out the code or perhaps they had a contract with Hudson alongside their Sega alliance. Either way, Adventure Island on the NES was the result of this partnership.

 

Adventure Island

Tom-Tom’s really let himself go for this adventure.

 

The most obvious change between Adventure Island and Wonder Boy was the substitution of Tom-Tom for Master Higgins. Higgins’ ball cap and round visage were adopted from one of Hudson Soft’s then-spokespersons, Takahashi Meijin, to give the game some distinction from Wonder Boy. There were other changes between the two games as well, but they were mostly cosmetic and didn’t affect gameplay. And as those who grew up with the NES and SNES can attest, Adventure Island would become one of Hudson Soft’s most succesful series, in large part (in my opinion) to the goofy look of Master Higgins.

Wonder Boy‘s transformations wouldn’t end there. Beginning from the sequel, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Westone would begin to mess with the series, resulting in platforming and adventure games with light RPG elements. This experimentation yielded several games, including a completely different series called Monster Land that would intersect with the Wonder Boy series whenever Westone felt like it (see Wonder Boy V: Monster World III, which is not a joke). Since this review is covering just the first game and not the entire series, I’ll leave the history for now. I just wanted to briefly touch upon the series fascinating, confusing chronology, because it gives a different perspective on the fun, but simplistic first entry. For an overview of the entire sprawling shebang that is the Wonder Boy series, please read the Wonder Boy entry over on Hardcore Gaming 101.

 

Wonder Boy (UE) [!]000

Nothing but blue skies and red-haired girls from here on out (Master System).

 

Wonder Boy‘s hop-and-boppery somewhat resembles Super Mario Bros, but the game has enough to distinguish it from the era’s golden prince of platforming. The vitality meter, located at the top of the screen, is perhaps the most unique feature of the game. As you run through a level, the meter dwindles, especially if you trip over a boulder or fire in your path. Vitality can only be recovered by eating copious amounts of fruit, but the game provides enough fruit for a small country to get diabetes, so no worries there. Wonder Boy can only be hit once unless he’s riding a skateboard. Skateboards both propel you through a level and count as a second hit. Eggs scattered throughout the stage are the way to obtain power-ups, like the skateboard. Fairies, which grant temporary invincibility, will also be hidden in eggs, along with the occasional Grim Reaper who lingers behind you and drains your vitality meter, like the ripe bastard he is. Creepy-looking bonus dolls can also be collected in every stage. If you collect them all in the Master System version, an additional world will be unlocked.

 

WonderBoy

         “Takin’ my girl, D? Imma hatch you!”

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Escape (port by Sega)

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 1986

 

Unsurprisingly, the first Wonder Boy began its life in the arcades before being ported to both the SG-1000 and the Master System. And while the Master System goes out of its way to be an ace arcade port, including extra levels, different environments, and an entirely new boss, the SG-1000 version feels like Sega placating the remaining fans of the system with a rushed, bewildering port.

 

Wonder Boy (Japan)002

               My sentiments exactly, Tom-Tom.

 

In fact, I would argue that Wonder Boy shouldn’t have been ported to the SG-1000 at all. Forget the washed-out graphics or the awkward controls. The system just can’t handle a fast-paced scrolling game, where the main actions are running and jumping, often at the same time. Choppy movement indeed rules the day here. The game’s playable (in a extreme test of will, I actually beat it), but you’ll wonder why you’re bothering, especially since the Master System version is so much better. Enemies literally appear right in front of Tom-Tom as he’s running along, fruit is relatively scarce, and hatchets lost as a result of death are rarely seen again. The arcade game’s thirty-two stages have been cut down to five, and the skateboard, fairies, and dolls have been extracted altogether. Coupled with the difficulty and the port’s minimalist aesthetic, the SG-1000 Wonder Boy is just above LCD-handheld status in terms of playability: not bad enough that you can’t see what’s happening, not good enough to be considered a full-length experience.

 

Wonder Boy (Japan)004

 Tom-Tom and Tanya proceeded to marry atop Drancon’s bloated corpse.

 

WonderBoyJP

That’s “Super Wonder Boy” for those of you in Japan.

 

WonderBoy

SPOILER: The snails really are the scariest part of Wonder Boy.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 03/22/87 (JP)

                                     1987 (US/EU)

 

Compared to the SG-1000 port, the Wonder Boy on the Master System is a whole new world. Every aspect of the arcade has been restored and then some. Skateboards, fairies, and dolls have returned, along with vibrant graphics that look better than just about anything the NES ever produced. The game has three additional worlds, each with four stages, for a grand total of forty stages. Sega was finally starting to understand the difference between a straightforward, no-frills arcade port, and a console port that gave the player more value for their buck. Both the arcade and the Master System versions have an abundance of jungle, cave, and water levels, but the Master System adds a desert, a waterfall, and cloud-based environments. Unfortunately, the controls remain slippery and sometimes difficult to manage, but they don’t detract from Wonder Boy‘s overwhelming charm.

 

Wonder Boy (UE) [!]002

         I think it’s safe to say that Tom-Tom is “shreddin'”

 

WonderBoyJP 

                     I’m beginning to notice a trend…

 

WonderBoy

          Well, I guess nobody saw this coming.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Escape (port by Sega)

GENRE: Platforming

RELEASE DATE: 12/08/90 (JP)

                                     1991 (US/EU)

 

Wonder Boy also saw a decent Game Gear port in the early 90s, though it was renamed Revenge of Drancon in the States and given an ominous looking cover; presumably to remake Wonder Boy with an early 90s Sega “edge.” The game is the same as the Master System version, albeit with slightly fuzzier graphics (dat blurry Game Gear screen), less enemies, and unless I’m crazy, more slowdown; Tom-Tom just doesn’t seem to be on his running A game, as he is in the Master System port. All the extra levels and features are here, though. For gamers who like their screens small and their batteries exhausted, you could do worse than Wonder Boy.

 

Wonder Boy000

      This is a screenshot of Wonder Boy on Game Gear.

 

I’m not sure if it’s the excitement of playing a Master System game that feels like a Master System game (as opposed to an SG-1000 game with fancier graphics), but Wonder Boy is a joy to experience. The game pays homage to Super Mario Bros, while adding in a prehistoric style and non-stop, light-hearted feel that’s all its own. The controls could be tighter and the levels could have a tad more variety, but that’s if you’re looking for things to complain about. After the games I’ve played, Wonder Boy is an out-and-out blessing.

 

C SG-1000

A- - MASTER SYSTEM

B - GAME GEAR

Champion Kendou

ChampionKendou

            Ain’t no bamboo hiiigh enough!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Er… “sport”?

RELEASE DATE: 1986

 

Alright, kendo fans, I know you’ve been clanking your bamboo swords together in anticipation for this one. The question that’s on your minds: does Champion Kendou accurately probe the subtle depths of the martial art? Well, for those who may not know what kendo means (like myself prior to this review), the word “kendo” means “Way of the Sword,” while the practice of kendo itself is “a Japanese form of fencing with two-handed bamboo swords, originally developed as a safe form of sword training for samurai.” Champion Kendou does throw two presumably Japanese gentlemen into an arena, complete with armor, bamboo swords, and spectators. Beyond that, your guess as to whether the SG-1000 does kendo justice is as good as mine.

Like the other Champion games on the SG-1000, there are menu options you need to select prior to wielding your bamboo sword. Two of these options are in Japanese and affect how the match is fought. Both options place the fighters in the ring, but the second option displays a power meter underneath each fighter, while the first option shows a string of white kanji-filled dominoes underneath the fighters. To be honest, I’m not sure what the dominoes represent. I thought they might unleash specific moves once selected, so I tried scrolling through them as the characters fought with the joystick. The dominoes did not comply with my tactics, so I did the best I could, which is to say, not very good at all. There are also six levels of difficulty for you to choose on the menu screen. The higher the difficulty you select, the more you should probably know about kendo (and how to control your player) before fighting your opponent.

 

Champion Kendou (Japan)002

       No wonder I’m getting destroyed, my guy can’t see!

 

To me, Champion Kendou plays like an unwieldy sword match where neither fighter really knows what they’re doing. The object seems to be to hit your opponent in a sensitive spot in order to knock them down and take down their power meter, but how one discovers this sensitive spot is a mystery. When you begin the match, your player moves of his own volition. You can guide him backwards and forwards slightly, but he never stops moving. Button 1 and Button 2 both seem to block and attack, but Button 2 has the stronger of the attacks. The longer you hold down Button 2, the greater the knock on the head to your opponent, but the more power you remove from your own power meter. The joystick also seems to correspond to the direction and nature of the blocks and attacks, but I couldn’t figure it out completely. Nor could I figure out the best time to block or hit. Each button press on my end was a guessing game, in hopes that I could get beyond Round 1.

 

Champion Kendou (Japan)001

                           It’s a dark day for kendo fans…

 

Champion Kendou might be a good game for those willing to wrestle with its supposed intricacies, but given Sega’s track record with these Champion titles, I’m willing to bet the game is average at best. Champion Kendou has strange, clunky controls, and unless you’re a kendo disciple, I’m not sure why you would bother. But like the mahjong or tsumeshogi games I’ve tackled already, Champion Kendou was never released outside of Japan, and thus, wasn’t meant for an American honky such as myself. Perhaps in 1986, this game was a revelation for kendo fans. If indeed this was the case, who would I be to tell them they’re wrong?

C-

Super Tank

Super Tank

This tank might be super, but does it compare to Garry Kitchen’s?

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 1986

 

Super Tank made me ask the question, “Why am I playing this?” more times than I’d like to admit. I mean, I knew why I was playing the game. I agreed to review every game on every Sega console, and by gar, I’m stickin’ to it. Rather my question digs at Super Tank‘s reason for being: why was this game ever released? The sludgy controls, faded denim graphics, and half-working mechanics hearken back to the SG-1000’s beginnings, not its surprisingly solid latter years.

In Super Tank, you control a tank whose “super” status is faulty at best. Its “powers” range from shooting directly in front of him (button 2), to shooting in any direction (button 1), to launching missiles that may or may not fly and land in the direction you point them (both buttons). These attacks get the job done, for the most part, but you can never fire fast enough to satsify the oncoming enemy military. Tanks, helicopters, mechs and other assorted vehicles will never stop coming. If you make a point to destroy every enemy you see on the screen at any given time, ten more will emerge to take their place. I suppose that’s war, but the problem with this onslaught is that there’s no reason for it. If you wanted to, you could move your tank past the enemy forces and progress to the boss with little trouble. There’s no objectives and no time limit. So unless you want to keep firing at the same repeating tanks, at some point, you’re probably going to get fed up and move on.

 

Super Tank (Japan)001

                         This here’s your boss.

 

Along with vehicles, there are also ground fortresses that fire at you. All of these fortresses can be destroyed, though some of them, once destroyed, will reveal a secret pathway to an underground base. In the base, there are tight corridors with stationary weapons and mechs to take out. Once you reach the end of the base, you’ll receive power-ups that increase the width and fire of your traditional attack. The power-up will stay with you until you die, even into the next stage, so it’s totally worth it to seek out these bases; particularly if you’re going to try to play the game through, as Sega intended.

 

Super Tank (Japan)000

I wonder what would happen if I launched a missile underground…

 

I made it to stage five before my tank lost whatever super abilities it may have had (i.e. I lost all my lives and there were no continues). The amount of enemies and projectiles on-screen was just unbelievable. And the fact that Sega expects you to destroy all that junk when the controls don’t allow for easy maneuverability is strange. You’re not a sleek starship cruising through the ethereal galaxies. You’re a tank rumbling through thick sand, deep rivers, and impenetrable forests. And when you’ve got all of Iraq or Libya or whoever it is we’re fighting against here coming against you, the lone representative of freedom (presumably), it’s just not going to end well.

 

Super Tank (Japan)002

Everything on this screen can hurt you, except for the water and the gray squares.

 

Super Tank is one of those rare games that goes beyond mediocrity and into meaninglessness. No game should allow you to bypass entire stages just so you can reach the boss, fight it, then move on to the next stage. Why not construct a game entirely of boss fights if you’re going to allow the player to do this? And why should a player want to bypass a game’s levels? As far as Super Tank is concerned, I didn’t want to have to fight fifty billion (approximate number) waves of tanks, helicopters, mechs. I saw an out. I took it. I continued into the game, not because I enjoyed it or even wanted to play it, but because I wanted to probe what little depth the game had. To see if, like Optimus Prime and the gang, there was more to Super Tank than meets the eye. But no, every level is the same waves of nonsense, repeated until you lose all your lives, get to the boss, or turn the game off. Goodnight, Super Tank. There will be no encore.

D-

 

Point of interest: Super Tank began its life as the Japan-only arcade game, Heavy Metal. While I’d like to testify to Heavy Metal‘s qualities, good or bad, I was unable to find a playable version. Judging by Hardcore Gaming 101’s writeup of Heavy Metal, however, both games are incredibly similar mechanically, though Heavy Metal‘s levels are more varied in their design.