Woody Pop

WoodyPop

Woody Pop would be the final game to receive the SG-1000 Mark III packaging in Japan.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Ball-and-paddle

RELEASE DATE: 03/15/87 – (JP)

ALSO ON: Game Gear

 

Why am I so bad at Breakout clones, guys? I try to keep the ball bouncing from the paddle to the bricks, just like Woz taught me to. But once the ball starts jitterbuggin’ all over the screen, my eyes can’t keep track of the movement. They twitch and bleed, and the ball sinks into the abyss beneath the paddle, time and time again.

 

Woody Pop (J) [!]001

                             I’m never ready.

 

Woody Pop is one of the more bizarre Breakout clones, in that, its story sounds like it emerged from a spec script of the Robin Williams movie, ‘Toys.’ The paddle you control is actually a log named Woody. He has eyes, a smile, rosy cheeks and what appears to be some semblance of a soul (Woody winces in pain when the ball drops into the black chasm below him). Woody’s not just bouncing balls against bricks because he’s a masochist seeking new forms of pain. He’s rebelling against the Mad Machine for shutting down the Enchanted Mansion toy factory and using it for his obsessive-compulsive need to re-arrange bricks. I’m not sure what the story has to do with anything, other than an excuse to make a simplistic ball-and-paddle game. But the fact that you’re able to play as a smiling wooden paddle means we’re one step closer to controlling oddities like Kid Chameleon and Toe Jam and Earl. The future is soon, folks.

 

Woody Pop (J) [!]000

Doesn’t Woody look like he’s up to something? Maybe he’s the villain in disguise.

 

Each of the rooms has bricks laid out in the shape of something, whether it be a sword, a helicopter, a boat, etc. The colored bricks take one hit to destroy; wood bricks (?!) take several hits unless you have a flaming ball; and shiny blue bricks which, once hit, drop power-ups. The power-ups enhance either Woody or the ball, giving you potential advantages in clearing away the bricks. If you’ve ever played Arkanoid or Breakout, you’ll recognize some of them: flaming balls clear away wooden bricks in one shot; red batteries enlarge the ball for greater destruction; two balls allows there to be, yes, two balls careening across the environment. Once the room is cleared of bricks, Woody moves on to the next room – unless there are multiple exits. If the room has several doors, you have the ability to choose your path. This makes Woody Pop the first and perhaps only non-linear ball-and-paddle game.

 

Woody Pop (J) [!]002

The door on the right looks mighty tempting.

 

Unfortunately, Woody Pop “requires” Sega’s Paddle Control to work properly. If you’re trying to play Woody Pop for the Mark III, you won’t be able to use it without the Paddle Control. If, however, you’re using other more questionable methods, there are ways around this ridiculous necessity. “Configurations,” if you will.

And if you’ll oblige me a rant for a moment, I’ve never understood why companies make games that can only be used with certain controls. Money would seem to be the obvious answer, but that doesn’t make good business sense. Business sense dictates that you want to reach as many people as possible with your product. But Woody Pop, Great Ice Hockey, and other Sega games like them that require additional peripherals go against said sense. Sure, if someone really wants to play Woody Pop or Galactic Protector, they’ll shell out the extra 1,200 yen for the Paddle Control. But if the consumer is only kinda interested in the game, they’re going to walk away once they realize the game requires a separate controller. My opinion: peripherals should always be optional, not required. They should enhance the game they’re designed for, nothing more.

 

Paddlecontroller

The Paddle Controller in all its, uh… yeah. It’s alright. (thanks to Segaretro.org for the photo!)

 

The Paddle Control looks decent enough, I suppose. The control is only a little wider than a standard Mark III controller, and that’s because the paddle on the left hand side is slightly wider than the directional pad. Thankfully, Sega didn’t see the need to completely reverse the controller layout like they did with the Sports Pad. Not sure why they separated the two buttons. Placing one button on the top of the controller is a confusing move when there seems to be plenty of space on the front for the two main buttons to rest side by side. But you probably won’t be playing many two-button games with the Paddle Control anyway, so perhaps Sega wanted to just move the button out of the way.

 

Woody Pop (J) [!]003

“Listen, kids love train sets. They’re gonna love an anthropomorphic log. Trust me on this.”

 

I am bad at Woody Pop, no doubt about that. I couldn’t get past the fourth level to save my life (or Woody’s life – I hate seeing a happy-go-lucky log wince). Perhaps my pain would have been eased somewhat with the Paddle Control in my hands, but even with my own configurations, I felt the controls worked well. I think the real culprit here is aging. I’m not old, by any means, but my hand/eye co-ordination has never been great for ball-and-paddle games, and it’s only gotten worse since I reviewed Arkanoid for the NES lo some four years ago. If you thrive on the tension and speed found in the limited ball-and-paddle genre, give Woody Pop a go. But if you’re like old man Cornelius (that’s me), leave Woody’s misadventures in the Enchanted Mansion toy factory to the young and spry.

 

WOODY’S DESIGN AND WHAT IT SIGNIFIES: A

MY TIME WITH WOODY POP: C+

WOODY POP, OBJECTIVELY: B

Loretta no Shouzou: Sherlock Holmes

Loretta no Shouzou

             What a kick in the knickers.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Adventure

RELEASE DATE: 02/18/87 – (JP)

 

My declaration that The Black Onyx was Sega’s final SG-1000 game was a bit premature, it would seem. Though Loretta no Shouzou: Sherlock Holmes was classified in Sega’s own database as a Mark III game, one look at the title screen’s spare blue tones reveals the skeletal design of an SG-1000 title. It’s elementary, my dear readers: Sherlock Holmes is an SG-1000 game packaged as a Mark III title. Holmes even received gold Mark III packaging, as opposed to the typical black SG-1000 boxes or the blue Sega My Card boxes that were so fashionable in the last year of the SG’s life. Good on Sega, I say. This is what they should have done with The Black Onyx since both it and Sherlock Holmes were released in 1987 (the year after the SG-1000’s last hurrah in 1986).

 

Loletta no Syouzou (J) [!]000

         Baker Street, huh? Doesn’t ring a bell.

 

But why did Sega feel the need to hide an SG-1000 game in Mark III packaging? I doubt they were trying to trick their small consumer base. If anything (and this is speculation), Sega didn’t want to package Holmes to die as an SG-1000 game. The SG-1000 was over before it began, frankly, but it was all but a memory by ’87. Nevertheless, Sega still put a lot of hard work into some of the system’s games, Loretta no Shouzou among them. I imagine the company labeled the game as a Mark III title because they wanted their current fanbase to experience the most ambitious game for the SG-1000 – ambitious enough that, graphics aside, the game wouldn’t feel out of place on the Mark III.

While there are three chapters in the game, Sherlock Holmes only focuses on one sprawling case: the recovery of a stolen piece of artwork known as Loretta’s portrait. The case takes you all across London into the homes of wealthy urbanites and poor farmers alike. Just look at this map!

 

Loletta no Syouzou (J) [!]002

 

You can visit every single one of those squares. I don’t care where you’re from, that’s impressive, even by Mark III standards. Of course, you don’t need to visit all those areas. If you’re only looking to find the portrait, you proceed in the direction the clues lead you, nowhere else. If, however, you want to immerse yourself in the grimy backdrop of 18th century England, you have the power.

 

Loletta no Syouzou (J) [!]001

“Ah, welcome. May I offer you a brandy? A violin solo? Perhaps a bullet from this gun?”

 

As you might expect for a game based on a Sherlock Holmes case, Loretta no Shouzou is a text-based adventure. You begin in Holmes’ parlor with only some money and an address book on your person. A man known as “Clay’s brother” stands before you. He tells you about Loretta’s portrait that’s gone missing in Clay’s art gallery, and he asks if you would be so good as to find it. Holmes accepts, and the game is afoot. Once Clay’s brother leaves, a command menu pops up, showing you options like ‘Ask,’ ‘Take,’ ‘Examine,’ ‘Use,’ etc. The options are all related to interacting with the scenery shown on-screen. For example, if you select ‘Take,’ another menu pops up with the options ‘Screen’ and ‘Back to Commands.’ Select ‘Screen’ and a hand appears on-screen, allowing you to interact with whatever you choose, including Holmes’s own inventory. There’s also a second command menu you access by pressing Button II, with options like ‘Invite,’ ‘Enter,’ ‘Move, ‘Operate’ that are used for navigating Holmes. These menus are the game – nothing happens without your interacting with them – but one should expect nothing less from a virtual adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.

 

Loletta no Syouzou (J) [!]003

                 Yup, that’s London for you.

 

The only “problem,” if you will, with Loretta no Shouzou is that all the text is in Japanese. The dialogue, the menu options, everything. There is no English patch available for the game either, so if you want to play it properly, you’ll have to learn basic Japanese or rely on the lone FAQ written by Lynn Brown over on GameFAQs. The FAQ does a good job at guiding you through the basics, but it only covers the elements crucial to beating the game, nothing extra. As helpful as the FAQ was to get me through the game, relying on someone else’s interpretations left me feeling disconnected. I didn’t use my mind to solve the puzzles or to figure out where I needed to go next. Ms. Brown’s words were my eyes, but looking from the text to the screen, back and forth, was a mechanical, laborious process that produced little enjoyment. In the end, I appreciated the game’s atmosphere, over-serious tone, and grand scope, but nothing else.

 

Loletta no Syouzou (J) [!]004

Loretta is the founding member of the Red Hat Society.

 

Obviously, this isn’t Sega’s, Ms. Brown’s, or even my fault. I don’t know Japanese, thus I can’t properly enjoy a text-heavy Japanese game (one of many to come, Lord have mercy). Is Sherlock Holmes: Loretta no Shouzou a worthwhile adventure game? Probably! I can’t testify to the game’s ability to guide you with proper clues and direction, but the amount of detail and life that went into London and its many citizens is astonishing, given the console’s limited tech. If nothing else, I implore any curious reader to venture around the map for awhile and take in the sights. Unless you can read Japanese, though, or are less sensitive than I about using an FAQ to play the game for you, there’s no reason to trudge in vain through Loretta no Shouzou. Admiration is one thing. Exhaustion and fatigue, quite another.

 

LORETTA NO SHOUZOU (PROBABLY): B+

MY EXPERIENCE: C-

SegaDoes Podcast Episode 17: Lotta Catchin’ Up To Do

Our last episode devoted its time solely to Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which was great and needed to happen. As a result, though, the podcast drain got severely clogged with games, both good and bad (mostly bad). What is a podcast drain, you ask? I don’t know. Provide a definition in the comments, along with your thoughts on this week’s banter!

Don’t be alarmed at the RadioSEGA bumpers. We’re teaming up with them for their WinterFest 2014 Sega podcast/music blowout. If you like Sega music, interviews with Sega luminaries, and other assorted goodies, please check them out.

Enjoy the podcast here or subscribe to us on iTunes! Episode 17 will be our last until after Christmas and possibly New Years (reviews will continue unabated). From Sam and me and RadioSEGA and the ghosts of Sega past (poor Toe Jam and Earl), Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Chipper New Year!

 

 

Quartet / Double Target

DoubleTarget

Despite being chased by a horrifying robot boss, Mary and Edgar still had time to pose for the illustrator.

 

Quartet

This is pathetic. Poorly designed covers like this are a large reason why the Master System didn’t do well in America.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Action

RELEASE DATE: 01/18/87 – (JP)

                                     1987 – (US)

                                     1987 – (EU)

 

The name ‘Quartet‘ is a bit misleading, I’m afraid. When the original arcade version was released in 1986, the game allowed for one to four player simultaneous action. When Sega ported the game to the Master System, however, they eliminated two of the characters, thus making the title ‘Quartet‘ a bold-faced lie. The Master System version kept the Quartet name while Sega of Japan changed the name to Double Target for the Mark III. While the latter makes sense, I imagine this may have confused players looking for a home port of Quartet. On the other hand, if the quartet of characters has been reduced by two, are they not a duo or perhaps, as the Japanese title suggests, two space warriors with prices on their heads?

 

Double Target (J) [!]000

AT-STs will show up in anything, it seems.

 

Futile reasoning aside, Quartet is a just-fun-enough side-scroller that doesn’t need four players to be enjoyable. The first player always controls Mary, the stern, yet vivacious space babe, while the second player always controls Edgar, the bald spaceman who may or may not have inspired Riddick. Both characters jump and shoot their way across an alien base comprised of six levels. The base itself is overrun with maniacal robots, robots who never truly die. While they seemingly disappear after a hit or two from your space blaster, they’ll quickly reappear in a puff of smoke a second later. Enemies’ constant reappearance and aggression towards Mary/Edgar gives the player a sense of urgency to get through the level as quickly as possible.

 

Double Target (J) [!]001

The robotic chameleon’s failure to blend in to the blue background led to his eventual demise.

 

The goal in each level is to kill the boss, collect the key the boss drops, and make your way to the exit. It is possible to just jump and shoot your way through each level, but the best strategy is to find the jet pack and hover around enemies, shooting only those you need to progress. Enemies reappear so frequently that, unless you’re going for a large score, it’s not worth it to try to shoot them all. The jet pack is doubly important because many of the boss battles take place against creatures who can fly or maneuver very quickly around their designated area. If you don’t have a jet pack and you’re trying to shoot airborne bosses on foot, you’ll get frustrated and likely die very quickly.

 

Quartet (UE) [!]000

Without the jet pack, this boss is impossible.

 

It’s Quartet‘s quirks that endears me to it, though. For example, I like that neither Mary nor Edgar have life bars, but they can each get hit several times before they die. Usually, if a character doesn’t have a life bar in a game, it means they get killed in one hit. Quartet, like Lindsey Buckingham, goes its own way. Sega’s visual commitment to the game’s generic story is commendable, as well. The deeper you move into the base, the more cold and lifeless the level designs become, as if the robots are taking it over from the inside out. There’s also secret stars that you can find in each level as added replay value. While I’m not sure what happens when you collect them all, stars in later levels are surprisingly well-hidden, so I’m sure the game rewards you in some fashion.

While there’s nothing significantly special about Quartet, the game has enough of a soul to keep one interested throughout the game’s entirety. Its fast pace, catchy tunes, and bizarre ambiance kick off 1987 in style.

 

B

The Black Onyx

Black Onyx

               Kevin Sorbo never gets a break.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Bullet-Proof Software (port by Sega)

GENRE: RPG

RELEASE DATE: 1987

 

The Black Onyx is one of the most important games you’ve never heard of. Developed solely by Dutch developer Henk Rogers, the game was partially responsible for introducing standard role-playing-game mechanics into the Japanese gaming industry. Creating a party of warriors, turn-based fighting, exploring a cramped dungeon – Japanese gamers had never seen anything like this upon its release in 1984. It sold over 150,000 copies for the NEC PC-8801 (big numbers back then) and became massively influential almost overnight. When Dragon Quest emerged for the Famicom two years later in 1986, the development team behind the game said that The Black Onyx was their main influence. The rest is history. Japanese RPGS or JRPGs became increasingly more successful in the 80s and 90s, and eventually, broke through to Western and European markets in the mid-to-late 90s – specifically with the release of Final Fantasy VII. The Black Onyx, along with Wizardry, started it all.

So what’s The Black Onyx doing on the SG-1000 in 1987? By this point, the game had been out for three years – a relative eternity in gaming, particularly in the 80s and 90s – and had already been released for the PC-88 and the MSX, both platforms which were much more successful than the SG-1000. Also, Sega had basically abandoned its original console by 1986 for the Mark III; so much so that The Black Onyx would be the last official Sega release that the console would see. Perhaps Sega wanted to push the boundaries of the SG-1000 or simply give the system a final hurrah. Either way, the game is certainly one of the system’s most ambitious titles, and while I’m not sure it came out the way Sega intended, I admire them for even attempting to port it.

 

Black Onyx, The (Japan)000

Hmm… I’m not seeing Kevin Sorbo in this lineup.

 

In The Black Onyx, you create a one-to-five member party of warriors to explore dungeons under the town of Utsuro. It’s hard to tell what distinguishes the members of the group besides the color of their shirts. Each member looks exactly like the other, but their life bars are all a little different, which makes me think the color of their shirt corresponds to their stats (I didn’t find any evidence of this shirt/stat correspondence online or in the game, though, so I could just be making that up). The town itself looks like a dungeon, all corridors and claustrophobia. Normally, I wouldn’t suggest busting out the graph paper until after you leave the first town, but it’s worth it to make a small graph of Utsuro as well, if only for you to reference later. Utsuro has all that you need for the long road ahead, including weapons, armor, medicinal herbs, and pint upon pint of grog. While the town itself is painted mostly in a disastrous lime green, the doors to shops are always highlighted in red, so there’s no mistaking them. Once you’ve gotten what you need, proceed to the middle of town and into the dungeons below.

 

Black Onyx, The (Japan)003

No word on whether Schwarzenegger still owns this place.

 

Before you get knee-deep in monster corpses, though, press Button II to bring up the menu. This allows you to see each member’s gold, change the speed of the in-game text, cure one another, quit the game and add a warrior. Many of these options are self-explanatory, but quitting the game and adding a warrior are worth elaborating upon. Since the game itself doesn’t have a battery backup, the game gives you a password to save each character. This might be a necessary evil, but wow, what commitment you have to have to jot down five passwords each time you want to save. As for adding warriors: if for some reason, you didn’t create the maximum amount of warriors from the get-go, you can sometimes recruit fighters from the town by talking to them during battles. This is a gamble, though, as some fighters would rather battle than talk.

 

Black Onyx, The (Japan)004

Queez, help me out here, what’s going on?

 

Once you get into the dungeons proper, you’ll notice some niggling points that are common with early dungeon crawlers. Unless you make some graph paper (or use your iPhone – surely there’s an app for graph paper now?) and jot down your every move, you won’t know where you’re going. Every environment in the game looks the same: blue walls, red doors, lime green ceilings and floors. Also, fights occur every one to two steps. This is great in the beginning when you’re trying to level up your character and get some more gold, and bad when you’re actually trying to progress. The fights themselves are as basic as it gets. Once you engage the enemy, you’re given the option to battle with them, talk to them, or run away. Choose the battle option and pick which warrior will attack which enemy, then watch the fight. If your warrior dies, he’s dead and he’s not coming back – unless you have his password handy.

 

Black Onyx, The (Japan)002

                    Yes, for Farg please.

 

In the original Black Onyx release for the PC-88, the game had six floors of the dungeon, which lined up with the six colors the computer could display. You’re supposed to beat the floors in a certain order, but said order depends on the platform the game was released (at least according to my friend and yours, Wikipedia). Beating the floors in the correct order results in the creation of a stairway to the Black Tower, where you’ll find the Black Onyx and free the town of Utsuro from its curse of eternal darkness. The SG-1000 also has six floors to explore, but due to the console’s limited color palette, every floor looks the same, so I have no idea which order each floor should be beaten. There’s no FAQ/map available for the game online either, and believe me, I’ve looked. Basically, you’re taking your time and your sanity into your hands if you want to beat this game properly. You could beat all six floors, but if you don’t beat them in the right order, the stairway to the Tower doesn’t erect itself and you can’t beat the game. Ah, the cruelty.

 

Black Onyx, The (Japan)005

               These zombies are… cold as ice.

 

The Black Onyx was no doubt a revolutionary game upon its release in 1984, but the limited capabilities of the SG-1000 and Father Time himself cut severely into the game’s forgotten legacy. The dungeons: even when you know more or less where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost due to the port’s mind-numbing three-color scheme and tendency to flip you around without your consent when you hit a wall. The repetitive walk-and-fight gameplay may have been groundbreaking upon release, but it has aged into a tedious slog – particularly if you know all the fighting may be for naught if you’re not beating the dungeons in the proper order.

Admittedly, the aforementioned are two large problems, but I do recommend gaming buffs give The Black Onyx a try. As a game, The Black Onyx suffers from the ravages of age and one’s own extensive knowledge and experience of the western and Japanese role-playing genre. As a piece of history, however, The Black Onyx deserves to be played, if only briefly, to imagine what it must have been like for young Japanese gamers going through an RPG for the first time. The experience, I imagine, was nothing short of revelatory.

 

THE GAME: C

THE LEGACY: A

 

(A quick shout out to Bruce Tomlin for translating The Black Onyx for all to experience!)

Safari Hunt

Hang-On & Safari Hunt (U) [!]-03

There was never a box for Safari Hunt, so here’s the questionable title screen.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 1986 – (JP)

                                    1986 – (US)

                                    1987 – (EU)

 

If Duck Hunt was a leisurely stroll with your dog into the duck-filled field behind your house, Safari Hunt is driving through Africa in a jeep, with only your bullets and blood lust holding you back. Panthers, bears, armadillos: nothing is off limits. Does the mindless hopping of a bunny fill you with indignant rage? Shoot it. Did that monkey climbing down the tree give you the stinkeye? It’s gotta go. And nothing’s more infuriating than a bat blindly flying his way through the forest and knocking off your safari hat while you’re trying to shoot that exotic spider. C’est la vie, batty.

 

Hang-On & Safari Hunt (U) [!]-01

        Is that linguini in the tree?

 

The Safari Hunt basics, if you couldn’t guess: shoot at anything that moves or looks at you cock-eyed with your gray Light Phaser. In each stage, you’re given a certain amount of bullets. Once the bullets run out or you take too much time figuring out which animal you hate most, the round is over. There are three different environments that you travel to: a lake, a jungle, and a forest, in that order . After you complete the forest stage, you’re back to the lake, and the levels repeat like that until you complete level 69 (naughty Sega… I think?). You have to acquire a precise amount of points before you move on to the next round, though, and every species is worth differing amounts. Flying creatures – ducks, bats, birds – are usually worth the least, despite being incredibly hard to shoot. Fast ground creatures – rabbits, panthers, and armadillos – are worth quite a bit more, but your aim will have to be more precise. Since you have a limited amount of bullets, always shoot at the animals that will give you more points. You have about 90-120 seconds to shoot the right creatures to get the right amount of points to advance. Plenty of time to pile up the corpses.

 

Hang-On & Safari Hunt (U) [!]-04

These ducks aren’t as silly looking as the ones in Duck Hunt.

 

Before Alex Kidd lit up the insides of Master Systems the world over, Safari Hunt was built into version 2.4 of the Master System BIOS. It was also placed onto a combo cartridge with Hang On in the States and Marksman Shooting & Trap Shooting in Europe. This makes Safari Hunt very similar to Duck Hunt, in that, if you owned a Master System within the first couple years of its existence, you’ve likely played this game; possibly a lot, depending on what other games you had.

 

Hang-On & Safari Hunt (U) [!]-02

Apples are worth points too, but they don’t bleed so why bother?

 

Now sixty-nine rounds of animal shooting action is nothing to sneeze at, but like other early light gun games, there’s no replay value here unless you’re looking to build a higher score or read the hilarious message at the end of the game (“You are a wonderful hunt/Let’s go to the real hun/With a real gun”). Also, I appreciate Sega using Nintendo’s duck-shooting template and expanding upon it, but I’m not a huge fan of shooting animals like panthers, monkeys and armadillos. My own personal convictions and whatnot, and I do understand that these are virtual animals, but it’s still not my cup of tea – particularly when the game is doing its best to emulate an actual safari hunt. Mostly, though, it’s the limited gameplay that makes me none-too-enthused about Sega’s exotic shooting gallery. Three or four rounds of just about any early light gun game is enough to satisfy this old warhorse.

 

D+

Marksman Shooting & Trap Shooting

Marksman Shooting & Trap Shooting

It’s no Hogan’s Alley, that’s for sure.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shooting

RELEASE DATE: 1986 – (US)

PERIPHERALS REQUIRED: Light Phaser

 

I’ve tried to imagine how thrilling it must have been for youngsters in 1986 to point a fake plastic gun at the TV and have on-screen objects disappear. Alas: as amusing as Duck Hunt was as a child – the duck’s eyes bugging out when you shoot them, the silly dog happily showing you the duck after it falls to the ground, the sharp twang of the Zapper’s trigger – it’s little more than a novelty now. A game that you can sheepishly show your own child, while saying, “Look, son/daughter: this was my generation’s Angry Birds.”

Sega’s initial dips into the light gun pool were perfunctory, at best. Safari Hunt (review pending) expanded upon Duck Hunt‘s limited palette by adding more beasties and environments to the shooting menagerie, but little else. Safari Hunt may as well be Skyrim, though, compared to Marksman Shooting & Trap Shooting. Even upon its release in 1986, these two repetitive Light Phaser exercises barely qualified as mini-games.

 

Marksman Shooting - Trap Shooting (U) [!]-01

No silverfish were harmed during the making of this game.

 

In Marksman Shooting, you’re ostensibly an FBI agent-in-training. Apparently, the FBI locks their junior agents in a dimly lit room with a handgun, unlimited rounds, and wave after wave of paper targets until they’re so paranoid and sleep-deprived, they’ll do anything the agency tells them to. As the black-and-white human paper outlines appear around the screen, shoot them in the red circle to gain points and make them disappear. Qualifying for the next round requires you to shoot a certain percentage of the targets. The percentage increases with every subsequent round, but if you’re holding your Light Phaser as close as humanly possible to the screen, it shouldn’t be a problem to hit all the targets. The rounds continue past 99, beyond any reasonable amount that any human being should be playing. Besides targets that appear with increasing speed, however, there are no differences between any of the rounds. Same barren backgrounds. Same stale coffee. Same ol’ questioning all you believe in.

 

Marksman Shooting - Trap Shooting (U) [!]-04

                       There were no survivors.

 

Trap Shooting takes you out of the FBI’s basement and into the woods, probably somewhere outside of Montana or Alaska. You’re out hunting with a buddy, but you’re not your average bloodthirsty buck runners, no sir. You boys prefer the time-honored tradition of shooting clay pigeons. Your partner launches the targets, you shoot them. Each round requires you to shoot a certain amount of targets in order to advance, and like Marksman Shooting, Trap Shooting goes on forever. But unlike Marksman Shooting, Trap Shooting has a calming effect, not unlike the Clay Shooting option in Duck Hunt. This is likely due to the pixelated Bob Ross panorama that lingers hazily throughout every round, making you wish you were in the real woods, far, far away from the grim spectacle of adulthood.

Neither Marksman Shooting nor Trap Shooting are bad or poorly made. They’re just boring remnants of a lost age, a time before Cabela’s fancy three-dimensional deer and bear renderings and plastic rifles intrigued the hearts of country boys the world over. As the white hairs in my beard make abundantly clear, I realize it will never be 1986 again, no matter how hard any of us try.

 

MARKSMAN SHOOTING: D

TRAP SHOOTING: C-

Combo Carts – Hang On / Safari Hunt and Hang On / Astro Warrior

HangOn-SafariHunt

                C-C-C-Combo Cartridge?

 

HangOn-Astro Warrior

                    C-C-C-Combo Confirmed.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing / Light Gun / Shooting

RELEASE DATE: 1986 – (US)

 

Remember how mind-blowing Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt was back in the day? Two games on one cartridge. Like an old 45 record with the hit single on the “A” side and the weird throwaway track on the “B” side, Super Mario Bros was the blockbuster smash that everyone wanted to play, while Duck Hunt was the Zapper game where you shot scores of ducks while a dog laughed at your misfortune. I imagine it was the first multicart many of us had ever seen, but it wasn’t the first multicart to be released. The Wikipedia entry on Multicarts states that the concept – placing two or more games onto one cartridge – goes back to the Atari 2600 days. I don’t doubt the author – there’s plenty of unlicensed multicarts for just about every system – but they provided no links to verify their information, and my own “Atari 2600 multicart” Google searches only gave results from more contemporary multicarts like these. From what I can find, there were no officially licensed multicarts released for the Atari 2600 during the console’s heyday in the late 70s/early 80s, but I’d love to be proven wrong (politely, in the comments).

(UPDATE: I’ve already been proven wrong, politely, in the comments! Xonox was a third-party manufacturer who developed Atari cartridges with games on either side. The cartridges were affectionately referred to as “double-enders” – a term which undoubtedly contributed to the much more politically correct “multicart.”)

 

Hang-On & Safari Hunt (U) [!]000

Behold! The title screen for Hang On / Safari Hunt!

 

I’m not saying Sega’s Hang On / Astro Warrior and Hang On / Safari Hunt were the first two officially licensed multicarts when they showed up for the Master System in 1986, but they had to have been among the first. Mario / Duck Hunt was released in late 1988, while Hang On / Safari Hunt was released in America only sometime in 1986, both as a multicart and into the BIOS of some early Master Systems. Sega’s appeal to the masses: an arcade blockbuster and a game that took advantage of Sega’s gun peripheral, the Light Phaser. By comparison, Hang On / Astro Warrior is the more questionable pairing, as Astro Warrior didn’t take advantage of any Sega peripheral. Still, it’s the latter multicart that’s the “best buy,” if you will. By itself, Astro Warrior is a short, bland shoot-em-up in search of an identity. Paired with Hang On, the short bursts of shooter action complement the short bursts of motorcycle racing. Together, they almost make for one whole game.

 

Hang-On & Astro Warrior (U) [!]000

More visually striking, if nothing else.

 

Neither Hang On nor Safari Hunt were released separately in America (Hang On was released separately for the Mark III in Japan, and released as a Sega Card in Europe in 1987 and again on cartridge in 1990), and I understand why. Hang On is a great racing game… in the arcade, using an actual sit-down motorcycle or a handlebar control. The Master System port, on the other hand, is adequate, but forgettable, thanks to the loose controls and sterile gameplay. Safari Hunt puts the Light Phaser to questionable use, recalling Sega’s earlier Safari Hunting in both name and gameplay. While the latter had you capturing animals, Safari Hunt has you out on safari shooting animals – ducks, fish, armadillos (?!) – because what else are you gonna do with a Light Phaser? The game is fine for what it is, but Duck Hunt has more personality and the option to shoot clay targets if you feel weird about killing virtual animals.

Unlike Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt, neither of Sega’s multicarts were worth writing about to your sweetheart. Hang On may have been Sega’s idea of a masterpiece or a breakout hit, but it certainly wasn’t the public’s. And while Safari Hunt and Astro Warrior were adequate side-games, what they really accomplished was showing the limitations of the early Master System game lineup as compared to the NES’s. Sega may have kick started the multicart in ’86, two years before Nintendo, but Nintendo did it best.

Great Ice Hockey

GreatIceHockey

             Jason’s gonna getchee!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 1986 (US)

                                     1987 (JP)

 

And so we arrive at Great Ice Hockey, the first game I’m unable to play properly.

Sega’s first and only attempt at hockey for the Master System requires their paddle peripheral, the Sega Sports Pad, to play. There is no getting around the need for the Pad. The standard controller moves the hockey players in fits and starts, and not in the direction you want them to go. What’s a poor boy to do except save up money for the Sports Pad? The controller itself isn’t that expensive, so I should get it here before too long. Lord knows you’ve waited patiently for seven months for a Great Ice Hockey review. A couple more weeks won’t hurt ya.

 

SportsPad1

Here she is, the controller that nobody asked for.

 

In the meantime, I want to address Sega’s Sports Pad, a true monstrosity of design and a veritable offense to good taste. The Sports Pad replaces the standard controller’s D-pad for a bulbous trackball directly in the middle of the controller. Whereas buttons 1 and 2 were once on the right hand side of the controller – like all good Christian controllers – now they’re on the bottom left. Without having played or used the controller, I can only speculate that this sudden movement of tried-and-true button placement will feel strange and awkward. At least southpaws will be able to smack the crap out of the puck with ease. The trackball, in theory, should give you greater control over the hockey players, but according to the one and only review of the game I could find (courtesy of The Video Game Critic), it does the opposite. “The single most unresponsive track-ball ever produced!” he claims. I’ll be the judge of that! Er, when I get one, of course.

I will not be surprised if playing Great Ice Hockey is as painful as a belly flop into a pool of ice. The Sega Sports Pad was so unsuccessful that it only saw support for three games. And why? For starters, the Pad was too damn expensive. SegaRetro doesn’t have the dollar cost for the controller, but it does have the yen price point: 9,800 yen, which in 2014 money translates to eighty-two dollars. And this sucker was released during the ’80s, when the American economy was down and the Japanese economy was up, so there’s a good chance it cost even more in America. More importantly, there’s a good chance that the trackball is as bad as the VG Critic says it is, and that’s why I’m not looking forward to playing Great Ice Hockey. Then again, if I don’t drop my hard-earned cash onto barely working peripherals in order to play games that suck, who will? This is the life I chose, friends. All for the name of completion.

Space Harrier

Space HarrierJP

            Return of Fantasy Zone

 

SpaceHarrierUS

“Bro, I told you not to taze me with twice the Mega power!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 12/21/86 – (JP)

                                     1988 – (US)

                                     08/1987 – (EU)

 

Crappy graphics and choppy framerate be damned: the Master System port of Space Harrier is determined to win you over through its relentlessness. You’ll be too busy shooting Olmec Heads and swooping jets to notice that the trees and rocks you’re sailing past look like cardboard cut-outs. The first boss, a fire-breathing dragon, has a horrible flame attack that stutters at around 5 frames-per-second through the sky toward you. But, if you’re like me, you’ll continue shooting at him regardless of how slow his flame moves, because the game trains you to keep going. Indeed, Space Harrier‘s ability to look crappy and decrease to a slow chug while simultaneously keeping an all-around steady momentum is one of gaming’s great mysteries – one that I was determined to solve by playing the game over and over, despite the fact that I didn’t care for it.

 

Space Harrier (UE) [!]000

Is the dragon moving towards me or is it being destroyed frame-by-frame?

 

In Space Harrier, you play as a jetpack-wearing renegade named The Harrier, whose shooting his way across the Fantasy Zone (yes, that Fantasy Zone). with nothing but a blaster and his soon-to-be-empty flask. The game is a third-person rail shooter, among the first of its kind. You control the directional movements of the Harrier, but you don’t control his speed, so you’re constantly moving through, dodging, or shooting the limitless amounts of crap the game throws at you without the ability to stop or even slow down. Each zone has airborne enemies – usually jets or mechs that swoop in, unload some rounds, and leave – and ground obstacles, like rocks, trees, or fantastical structures. Some of the ground obstacles, particularly those that look like buildings, can’t be shot down, but all of them can be run into by the Harrier. The best strategy for navigating the eighteen zones of Space Harrier is to never stop shooting or moving. Also, Down+Left+Button 1 at the Game Over screen. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Space Harrier (UE) [!]004

You’ll need continues to take on shlubs like these.

 

Space Harrier‘s aggressive difficulty stems both from its technical limitations, and the fact that it’s an arcade port from the mid-80s, so of course it’s tough. Navigating the Harrier around the game’s overwhelming and fast-moving panorama will literally make your eyes water from time to time. Unlike the detailed, beautiful arcade version, there are no backgrounds, just colored checkered floors that scroll along blindingly as the Harrier soars through the level. The Harrier and the enemies move fast enough, but the same can’t be said for the enemies’ projectiles. While the projectiles are large and globular (all but impossible to miss), they never move as quickly as the rest of the in-game action, making it difficult to tell which direction they’re headed. Many of my deaths came from the inability to discern the movement of the projectiles, while the remaining deaths came from my inability to steer the Harrier around buildings and projectiles and mechs, all at the same time. I blame his empty flask.

 

Space Harrier (UE) [!]002

Shortly after seeing this image, the Harrier lost consciousness.

 

As a port, Space Harrier is ambitious. Attempting to distill the Super-Scaler technology of the arcade version into a large-for-the-day two-meg cartridge is no small feat. While I’d like to say that the Master System version accurately replicates Space Harrier as a whole, the port really does feel compromised. All eighteen levels from the arcade have been recreated, but because of the lack of backgrounds and missing colors, they run together in a rush of poorly rendered neon (this might be the first time I’ve been unimpressed with the Master System’s graphics). The core game is present – you still fly and shoot at the same time – but I was never absorbed into the alien worlds as I was with the arcade version. The aforementioned cut-out graphics might have something to do with it. I didn’t have time to dwell on them while I was playing, but upon reflection, they look absolutely ridiculous in action.

 

Space Harrier (UE) [!]001

The Olmecs have yellow squares bordering their jaw, just like in ancient times.

 

As a port, Space Harrier should have been given better care, but I still don’t blame Sega for releasing it. Like Nintendo in the early 80s, Sega’s clout in the mid-80s came from their arcade games. Space Harrier was a brand-new gaming experience: from the third-person on-rails shooting, to the mind-blowing scaling, to the rollicking sit-down cabinet, and even the digitized speech (“Get ready!”). Sure, at the game’s core, it was just a shooter, but it was one of the most immersive shooters made up to that point. As a result, Space Harrier was incredibly successful in the arcades, which made it a no-brainer for porting it to Sega’s beleaguered Mark III/Master System. Unfortunately, like Alex Kidd before it, the game did little to boost the console’s favor. One could blame it on the port’s overall shoddiness, but in reality, even if Space Harrier was arcade-perfect, Nintendo’s brilliant marketing and ever-increasing console sales overshadowed anything Sega tried to do to combat it. Given that the game hasn’t aged gracefully, it’s probably for the best that Space Harrier didn’t put Sega on the console-winning map.

 

Space Harrier (UE) [!]003

Snuffleupagus’s inner turmoil only increased after he lost an eye.

 

Despite my issues, Space Harrier is playable and borderline addictive; the quick transitions between levels give you little time to think about whether the game is worthy of your time or not. Also, shooters tend to hook me, regardless of difficulty or amount of enjoyment I find in them. That being said, unless you’re feeling nostalgic for stunted ports, there’s absolutely no reason to return to this chopped and screwed Master System version.

C

 

You might be wondering whether I’m going to discuss the Game Gear or 32X versions of Space Harrier here in this review or wait until later and give them their own separate review. In the past, I’ve reviewed all versions of a game at once, and I might do that in the future for certain games like Mortal Kombat or NBA Jam – games that don’t differ much from console to console. With Space Harrier, though, I’m experimenting with a new tactic. Basically, when the time comes to review the Game Gear and 32X versions, I will update this review with information about both versions, then post the review back on the front page, highlighting that it’s been updated.