Penguin Land

PenguinLandJP

                                Zoinks!

 

PenguinLandUS

Well, I’ll be: a Master System cover that isn’t the worst cover ever.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 08/18/87 – (JP)

                                            1987 – (US + EU)

 

Half Lode Runner and half Antarctic caper, the SG-1000 classic Doki Doki Penguin Land showed that Sega had the ability to create quality puzzle games that wouldn’t have worked within the arcade. The game was a coup for the ailing console in 1985, and while I doubt it was a financial success, Sega saw enough potential in the game to turn it into a series that spanned from the SG-1000 to the Saturn. Penguin Land is considered the sequel, though I use the term loosely. The game is more of a honed reboot for people who never played the original (which, if we’re honest, was probably 99% of Master System owners). It recycles some of the original game’s puzzles and brings them into sharper 8-bit definition, increases the number of puzzles from 30 to 50, and provides a level editor for aspiring developers. This makes Penguin Land the quintessential version of the two games and the perfect introduction to one of Sega’s strangest series.

 

Penguin Land (UE) [!]000

                 Them’s the breaks…

 

You guide a penguin named Mission Commander Overbite and a penguin egg down several levels of ice and brick to a spaceship at the bottom of a large cavern (that doesn’t make sense, I know, but nobody plays retro games for their realistic storytelling). Since the egg can be cracked if even a whisper of wind blows across its thin shell, it must be guided down with the greatest of care. Pressing ‘Start’ will allow you to scroll down through the level and get a feel for the cavern’s nooks and crannies. This way, you can map your path downwards and move accordingly. Commander Overbite pushes the egg along with his adorable flappers, and moves the egg down levels by digging through ice a la Lode Runner. There are more than just ice bricks in these underground caverns, however. Gold bricks can not be moved, while brown bricks can only be shifted if there are open spots next to them. Certain ice bricks are already cracked, and if the egg lands on them, it will fall down to the next level. The game provides a white line under your egg that tells you the distance your egg can fall without getting cracked – usually about three spaces downward from your current position. If the white line and the bricks below are in alignment, your egg won’t crack, but if the line is hanging in the air, the egg will crack if dropped. The polar bears return from Doki Doki Penguin Land, and they’re far more aggressive here. In the previous game, they would bat the egg around for awhile before it would break, giving the penguin time to rescue the egg. In Penguin Land, however, the bears will break the egg with one hit. There’s also an albatross who will crack the egg if he appears on-screen – ’cause he’s an albatross and egg-crackin’ is what they do.

 

Penguin Land (UE) [!]001

                        Wow, what a bastard.

 

If you’ve ever played any entry in the Lode Runner or any other action puzzle games like Lolo, you’ve probably noticed that the genre generally encourages you to take your time. Not so with Penguin Land. The inclusion of a 99-second time limit per level gives your penguin buns added incentive to move the egg down at a fevered pace. This makes the pause-and-scroll feature all the more useful, as later levels will practically force you to plan a route if you hope to make it out of the level, egg intact. Unfortunately, if you trap the egg in a crevice that it can’t be moved from, your only option is to step on it and lose a life. There is no option to restart the level from the beginning, and there is no password feature. Sega generously provides the ability to start from levels 1 through 30 at the menu screen, but if you want to play past level 30, you’ll have to guide that egg with the greatest of ease and the swiftest of flippers.

 

Penguin Land (UE) [!]002

        Your little penguin helpers are adorable.

 

Part of Penguin Land‘s appeal is that the levels can be tackled in a variety of different ways. Will you take the egg through the polar bear haven, with hopes that you’ll reach the end faster? Or will you dig through the ice methodically and avoid any egg-cracking drops? The levels are brilliantly built, and Sega obviously spent a good amount of time thinking them through. For those of us with a limited mathematical mindset, Sega’s ingenuity makes the level editor all the more overwhelming. In the editor, you’re able to use many of the same elements from the original levels, and save up to fifteen of your creations, which is great (battery backup, for the win). But unless your mind naturally thinks in terms of puzzle-building, I can’t imagine too many gamers will build a level that compares with the ones found in the game. The editor is a welcome addition for the geniuses who have completed the main game and want to show Sega how level-making’s done. For us small-heads who can barely read a map, let alone design a level, it’s unnecessary.

 

Penguin Land (UE) [!]003

I wouldn’t even know where to begin in designing a level like this.

 

Puzzle games on the Master System are few and far between, so it’s a good thing that Penguin Land is so enjoyable. The difficulty is perfect: challenging enough so that you won’t beat the entire game in a couple hours, approachable enough for you not to get pissed and wish a pox on all penguins, both living and cartoon. If you’re an appreciator of fun and wish to explore one of Sega’s more underrated entries, you owe it to yourself to drop in on Penguin Land.

 

B+

The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race / Great Baseball

ProYakyuu

Colossus steps up to the plate…

 

GreatBaseball

Is there any ball this anthropomorphic baseball glove can’t catch?

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 8/17/87 – (Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race – JP)

                                           1987 – (Great Baseball – US and EU)

 

Sega’s confusing sports game history continues unabated with Great Baseball and The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race. In 1985, Sega released Great Baseball for the Mark III in Japan. The game came out within a couple months of the system’s launch and both looked and played suspiciously like Nintendo’s Baseball for the NES and Famicom. When the Master System launched in 1986 in the United States, a number of Sega’s other sports titles launched alongside it, but no baseball game emerged until 1987’s Great Baseball. Despite having the same name as the Mark III version, Great Baseball was, in fact, an entirely new game. This version was released in both the States and Europe, but not in Japan. So to recap: Japan has a Great Baseball, and the US and Europe have a Great Baseball, but both games are different. Later in 1987, though, Japan released an enhanced version of Great Baseball titled The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race. As far as I know, this is where the Great Baseball saga ends, unless there’s a future game in the series entitled Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race 2: Greatest Baseball. Stranger things have happened.

 

Great Baseball (UE) [!]001

“And it’s a pop fly down to Margaritaville! Ooooh, doctor, what a play!”

 

If you grew up with Master System sports games, you know that Sega can be chintzy with content. Great Football only provided the last quarter of a football game while World Soccer gave players a seven minute soccer match. Rest assured, though, all nine innings made it into Great Baseball, which makes the game the most fully formed of the more recent titles in the “Great” series. Along with honest-to-goodness innings, you’re also able to pick your team based on city, like Cleveland, San Francisco, etc. The teams don’t have legit names – no Cleveland Indians or San Francisco Giants here – nor are there any real player names, but the fake players listed do have stats, so presumably, certain teams are better than others. I couldn’t tell a difference in the teams I played with, but I’m not a baseball fan, so I wouldn’t be surprised if subtleties eluded me. The pitchers, however, are easily distinguished by their style and stamina. Styles of choice include Fastball, Slowball, Sliders, and Knuckleballs, all of which effect play in some way. For example, fastballs are hard to hit, but if the player does hit one, it’s guaranteed to fly out of the park. You can choose either high or low stamina for your pitcher, though I’m not sure why you would choose any less than the maximum setting; if you do choose a lower setting, the pitchers will eventually get tired and you’ll have to switch ‘em out.

 

Great Baseball (UE) [!]000

It’s the first inning and Stan “The Semi” Taylor is already getting the wobbly ‘bow.

 

For Sega’s second attempt at a baseball game for the Master System (and first attempt at an original baseball game for the Master System), Great Baseball is, was, and ever shall be, just ok. The pitching is sharp, responsive, and fast, but batting is inconsistent because of the camera placement. Most 8-bit baseball games tend to place the camera behind the batter because it allows you to adjust your batter’s stance and properly take in the angle of the thrown ball, but Great Baseball places the camera behind the pitcher. Putting the camera behind the pitcher, particularly in a quick game like this, makes it hard to tell which way the ball is headed. Several times I thought I hit the ball – my bat and the shadow of the ball came in direct contact – but nothing happened. Other times, I accidentally swung, thinking I would miss, but ended up getting a home run. Perhaps you get used to this style eventually, but I found it too erratic for my tastes. Outfield play is ok, as well, though the outfielders could use a couple Red Bulls or some better motivational speeches to get them moving quicker towards balls.

 

Pro Yakyuu Pennant Race, The (J) [!]001

Sega, you’re sure to be fined for these underage cheerleaders.

 

The Pro Yakyuu: Penant Race takes the All-American hot-dog-and-beer stained Great Baseball and gives it a smooth Japanese shine. All the American teams and players have been replaced with teams and players (fake or not fake, I do not know) from Japan. Go Nippon-Ham fighters! The in-game baseball plays about the same, only harder (Japanese games more challenging than their American counterparts? I’m shocked!), while the viewpoint after the ball has been hit was changed from an isometric view to a bird-eye’s viewpoint. This is very cinematic when someone’s gotten a home run and slightly inconvenient when you’re trying to direct an outfielder to catch the ball. There’s also an additional All-Star Game option which seems to take players from the two best leagues and pits them together. Lastly, there’s the ability to watch the computer play a game with itself. It’s a charitable inclusion, but it’s sad to think that there might exist a gamer who’s so lonely and bored, he would watch two virtual baseball teams duke it out of his own free will.

 

Pro Yakyuu Pennant Race, The (J) [!]000

“I’ll show them belly-itcher…”

 

So Sega’s Great Baseball or Pro Yakyuu or whatever you want to call it is a wonderful example of technical expertise trumping legitimate baseball. I’ve experienced every single damn NES baseball game, and none of them ever looked as good or played as smooth as Great Baseball. If only the pesky behind-the-pitcher camera angle didn’t ruin the game’s batting scheme, then we’d be talking about an 8-bit baseball game even your Communist, baseball-hating buddies could rally behind. Unfortunately, being able to tell the direction of the ball as it approaches the plate is essential to the batting experience, and if that isn’t possible, then what you have is half a baseball game. To summarize in baseball terminology, Great Baseball is a double in home-run clothing.

 

C

SegaDoes Episode 19: The Long Road

 

Strap on your seatbelts, Sega fans! This episode covers a wide range of classics, like Enduro Racer, OutRunZillion, and Kung Fu Kid. Plus, it wouldn’t be a proper episode without some lazy Sega shenanigans, like Alex Kidd: High Tech World and World Soccer. I guess when you were forced – as Sega was – to develop every game for your system cause third-party developers were being held captive by Nintendo, it’s understandable that not every title would result in a winner. Still, I think we can all agree that High-Tech World was an awful idea, an abomination unto gamers everywhere, and an excellent example of why quality control should exist in a company.

 

Listen/download the podcast here. And hey, if you have some extra time, leave us a user rating on iTunes or some comments below. We would oh so appreciate it!

 

Anmitsu Hime / Alex Kidd: High-Tech World

Anmitsu Hime

This cover is fairly typical 80s manga, except for that sweet ninja with sunglasses.

 

AlexKiddHighTech

Doesn’t this cover allude to Rock Paper Scissors? Either that or Alex and the ninja are both struggling with Gigantism.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Puzzle / Action

RELEASE DATE: 07/19/87 – (JP, Anmitsu Hime)

                                            1989 – (US, EU – Alex Kidd in High-Tech World)

 

The fate of a princess’s trip to the bakery rests squarely on your shoulders in Anmitsu Hime. Based on a popular Japanese anime from the mid-80s (which was in turn based on a manga that ran from 1949-1955), Anmitsu Hime has you guiding Princess Anmitsu through her castle, the woods, and a prefecture to get to a bakery before it closes. I could make a fair prediction as to why the princess wants to get to a bakery (ladies love their sweets, regardless of their societal standing), but in truth, I have no idea. Sega never released Anmitsu Hime outside Japan, and the game has enough hiragana to stymie the casual Japanese reader. And despite the abundance of fan-translated Japanese Master System games on the Internet, Anmitsu Hime is one of the rare few not to have a direct translation. Given this information, my experience with the game was as follows: I wandered around the castle, willed the hiragana to turn into English (it didn’t work), then turned off the game with a melancholy sigh. Anmitsu might eventually satisfy her sweet tooth at the bakery, but it won’t be because of me.

 

Anmitsu Hime (J) [!]001

Princess Anmitsu decided to run away to the bakery after the castle banned cheese danishes.

 

The longing of Princess Anmitsu might mean nothing to American gamers, but Alex Kidd: High-Tech World may ring a few bells, depending on your relationship with the Master System. Sega turned Anmitsu Hime into High-Tech World, replacing the princess with Prince Alex. Instead of a lust for pastries, Alex has an unquenchable desire to play the latest Sega games. The game’s sprites have been changed, and the text has been altered to be more American and 1980s hip (Alex’s speech in particular indicates that he is quite a brat – not the personality I imagined from Miracle World), but the Anmitsu Hime environments – the castle, the Japanese forest, and the Japanese town – remain the same.

 

Alex Kidd in High Tech World (UE) [!]000

                    The drama unfolds…

 

There’s nothing wrong with a company altering one of their previous games in order to adjust it for a different audience. If there was, Super Mario Bros. 2 would be an afterthought rather than the curious classic it’s become. But why Sega felt the need to make Anmitsu Hime into High-Tech World, I’m not entirely sure. After all, Alex Kidd was Sega’s big mascot before Sonic. One would expect his games to be epics, comparable to Mario’s own adventures in spirit, if not in truth. And yet, High-Tech World feels like a lapse in judgment, a short, bizarre puzzle/action hybrid that doesn’t feel like Alex Kidd should be anywhere near it.

 

Alex Kidd in High Tech World (UE) [!]001

The old man’s name isn’t Pops. Alex just has no respect for his elders.

 

The conflict: Alex needs (not wants, needs) to get to the arcade, but there’s a first-world problem. The map to the arcade has been torn into eight different pieces and scattered throughout the five floors of his castle. To find them, you’ll explore every room and talk to Alex’s relatives and servants to see if they’ve seen them, until eventually, you recover them all. Unfortunately, one of the game’s key problems crops its head up here: a lack of clues or direction. Many of the map pieces are, as High Tech World‘s manual states, “scattered all over the castle… in the most unlikely of places!” Ya got that right, Sega. In one room, six women sit in a row, waiting for you to give their names in the correct order. Miss one name, and not only will you not get the map scrap, but you’ll “faint,” and the game will start you from the beginning. I never found any clue in the castle as to what the women’s names were; thank goodness for FAQs. Or how about taking the burnt scrap of paper from the old man and “fainting” because you didn’t know you were supposed to clean the paper before you grabbed it? Does Alex need a fainting servant to accompany him? What’s with this kid(d)? Good rule of thumb in the castle: if an item looks suspicious, it’s probably designed to kill you. Or it’s exactly the item you need. Seemingly mindless trial-and-error is the rule of the day here.

 

Alex Kidd in High Tech World (UE) [!]004

Alex’s insular, happy-go-lucky existence is about to come to an explosive end.

 

Once you find all eight pieces of the map and a Hang Glider to sail out of the castle, you’re off to the forest. Good thing about entering the forest: you get a password. Up until now, if you had a game over, you had to start from the beginning. Bad thing about the forest: it’s full of ninjas who are annoyingly precise with their throwing stars. Alex has his own stars he can counter attack with, but they can only be shot directly ahead, and the ninjas usually dwell above Alex in the trees. Other than the surprisingly agile ninjas, the forest is generic action, compared to the confusing intricacies of the castle.

 

Alex Kidd in High Tech World (UE) [!]003

“Please, ah… whoever or whatever I believe in. Help a brother play some games!”

 

The forest spits you out into a fully-realized town, full of shops and goods and people that look nice, but don’t really matter. The town’s only real purpose is to make you pray a hundred times at the local shrine in order to progress. Once you do this, you receive a pass and can move on. Seriously. A hundred times you have to approach the shrine before you’re given a pass; monotony at its finest (you can also buy stuff in the town, but it’s really just a waste of time). Once you leave the town, you wander through a forest area that’s a carbon copy of the first forest. And once you beat the second forest’s barrage of ninjas and animals, the game’s over. Alex makes it to the arcade, spends every last drop of money he has playing OutRun, then presumably hang glides back into the castle with nobody the wiser. I’d say the abrupt nature in which Alex reaches the arcade is anti-climactic, but since there’s no real tension or purpose behind the game, him wasting his hard-earned inheritance on OutRun is a pretty appropriate ending. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “High-Tech World is just a bunch of stuff that happens.”

 

Alex Kidd in High Tech World (UE) [!]006

Oh, that I was playing Outrun instead of High-Tech World.

 

Beyond the game’s nonsensical nature, what really grabs my craw is that not one aspect of High-Tech World feels appropriate with Alex Kidd as the star – and particularly if you know that the game emerged from a different source. Put aside the confusing “puzzles,” the half-hearted action, and the purposeless town. If Sega had replaced the feudal Japan setting with Miracle World, or even Japan circa 80s so that the prospect of getting Alex to an arcade would be believable, the game would have been slightly more tolerable. As it stands, it makes no sense that Alex would be stuck in ancient Japan – both in the environments and with every character that surrounds him – and still feel like a modern character. Sega was in ultra lazy mode with High-Tech World. For a game that starred their supposed mascot/ace-in-the-hole/Mario killer, they sure weren’t treating him with much respect.

 

D-

World Soccer

WorldSoccer

If this is “world soccer,” then count me out.

 

GreatSoccer

World Soccer is known as Great Soccer in the U.S. only. Cause America just has to be different.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 07/19/87 – (JP)

                                             1987 – (US)

                                        10/1987 – (EU)

                                     10/29/88 – (JP – rebundled as Sports Pad Soccer)

 

Wait, Dylan, didn’t you already review a soccer game for the Master System?

Why yes I did, reader with excellent memory. A few months back, I manhandled Great Soccer, one of Sega’s initial forays into sports for the Mark III/UK Master System (not Great Soccer for the US, which is actually World Soccer – oh, the confusion!). The game was bare-bones soccer at its most adequate – no team selection, difficulty options and little else, etc. – but it was far superior to the company’s paltry SG-1000 offering, Champion Soccer. World Soccer is a limited upgrade to Great Soccer that offers teams, a two-player option, horizontal instead of vertical play, and a nagging sense that your hard-earned soccer dollars have been pilfered.

 

World Soccer (E) [!]000

Bunch a googly-eyed ne’er-do-wells…

 

World Soccer is at least true to its name: instead of being forced to play as a team of no-names, distinguishable only by their bright shirt colors, you have the option of eight soccer teams from around the globe. Argentina, Brazil, France (?!), England, the US, and so forth, are all represented here. As far as I could tell, the teams don’t have playing styles specific to them, so in theory, a team as banal as the US could beat a team as mighty as Brazil (I wouldn’t if I were you, though – such an upset would be reckless mismanagement of world soccer politics). Once you’ve picked a country to play as and a country to play against, the options end and soccer – such as it is – begins.

 

World Soccer (E) [!]001

In an extremely suspicious play, Brazil scores a goal!

 

Once you’re on the field, you’ll quickly notice that there’s zero fluidity to any player’s movements, including the computer’s. Imagine taking a little soccer player action figure, putting a ball in front of them, and moving them in short, sharp bursts, like a pawn in a chess game. That’s the soccer in World Soccer. Because every player moves this way, though, the playing field is level. Stealing a ball, passing the ball, and making goals take the same amount of time for both you and your opponent because of the five frames-per-second motion. This doesn’t make it right, but it does make the game fair.

 

World Soccer (E) [!]002

                  All is right with the universe.

 

The funky movement is probably due to World Soccer being designed for the Sega Sports Pad. The box says the Sports Pad is ‘optional,’ but I’m curious to see how well the players move with a trackball. Will they glide gracefully across the field, like human/swan hybrids sashaying across a grassy sea? Or will they continue to shuffle like old people stacked in a line on top of God’s Eternal Shuffleboard? I will update this section of the review once I’ve played the game with the Sports Pad. Until then, let us dream.

 

World Soccer (E) [!]003

This goal has been sponsored by Preparation H.

 

Even if the Sports Pad doesn’t set World Soccer right, the game is mercifully brief. Two 3.5 minute quarters and you’re done. To some, this might seem like limited value, but to those of us who aren’t the biggest soccer fans or who don’t want to deal with Sega’s confusing attempts at soccer, a seven minute game is plenty of time. And if you’re really looking for a reason to play World Soccer more than needs be, there’s always two-player mode and, for some reason, a penalty kick mode where you and the computer alternate shots into each other’s goals. Let no player say that Sega doesn’t give. They just give on their own unusual terms.

 

D+

OutRun

OutRun

                                The life.

 

OutrunUS

            Herbie Goes to Florida?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Driving

RELEASE DATE: 06/30/87 – (JP)

                                              1987 – (US)

                                       10/1987 – (EU)

ALSO AVAILABLE ON: Genesis (1991), Game Gear (1991)

 

OutRun is the quintessential racing game for the 1980s. Top-down Testarossa blazing across the highway with a reckless indifference towards speed limits. Gorgeous blond-haired woman keeping you company in the passenger seat. The sleekest summer jams blasting out of the car’s every orifice – and if it wasn’t sweet Hiroshi Kawaguchi noise, you know it would be Duran Duran’s “Rio.” Then there’s the blow: no playboy fantasy would exist without it. The driver’s got a mountain underneath the back seat. How do I know? Because when you crash the car – and you will, at some point, crash the beautiful Ferrari – the driver and his gal look fazed, then promptly get back in the car and start racing again. That’s not bravery. That’s white-inspired insanity. That’s every Frankie Goes to Hollywood video mashed-up into one hellacious montage. That’s the ’80s.

 

OutRun (UE) [!]000

         Dances in the sand? She sure does.

 

Like other Sega “racing” games, OutRun is less about racing other cars than it is about the joy of the drive. Is it possible to be as high as your stock investments while still keeping your Ferrari on the road at insane speeds? Yes! To a point! The game starts you off at the beach before giving you options. A split will appear in the road with one way leading to The Devil’s Canyon and the other way leading to a secluded field with ancient architecture. The Ferrari can handle any type of terrain or exotic backdrop, so the choice is up to you. It’s the first of many choices you’ll be forced to make since OutRun is built on branching paths. Once you make your choice, you’ll come across a checkpoint that will give you more time. Fail to hit the checkpoints before your time runs out, and the hedonism is over. There’s over fifteen levels in all, with multiple endings depending on the path you choose. I’m no racing game historian, but given the racing genre’s limited creativity in the mid-80s – hell, even today – multiple ending and branching paths sounds like much-needed progress.

 

OutRun (UE) [!]001

Go fast enough and you may travel through time.

 

OutRun is yet another Yu Suzuki joint. This is made immediately obvious by the game’s similarities to his previous works, Hang On and Enduro Racer. If you’ve played either of the aforementioned, you know how OutRun controls: Button 2 accelerates, Button 1 brakes, and Up/Down on the D-pad shifts gears between Low and High Gear. While this is all you need to know in order to control the hottest car of 1986, you also need to be cautious of the game’s poor attempts at three-dimensional depth. In the arcade, OutRun used Sega’s infamous Super Scaler technology to give the roads an added sense of depth. But as I mentioned in my Enduro Racer review, the Master System isn’t able to recreate such superior scaling. This means that, in OutRun, your Ferrari will appear to get jostled in different directions depending on the way the road bends, whereas in the arcade version, the Ferrari would caress the road’s supple nooks and turns through scaling trickery. These jarring movements aren’t game breakers, but they happen enough to be worth mentioning.

 

OutRun (UE) [!]002

Sega’s color choices couldn’t be more in line with the decade’s gaudiness.

 

Now, of course, the arcade version of OutRun looks better, sounds better, plays better than the Master System port. The game wasn’t the top-selling arcade title of 1986 for no reason, after all. But unlike Space Harrier a brilliant Super Scaler-run arcade game chopped and screwed to oblivion in the porting process – OutRun‘s vibes of freedom, speed, wealth and recklessness translates well to the Master System. This is due in part to top-notch controls, but also to the simple sprite of the Ferrari with its top-down and two people inside. This classic American image appeals to the basic human desire of wanting to be cooler than you are, which is – let’s face it – what lies at the heart of so many video games in the first place. When I think of OutRun, I don’t think of a good racing game. I think of the Ferrari and the experience of being the cool, rich kid with the world at your fingertips. Even if Polo Shirt Boy and Trophy Girl have some major self-loathing going on, it doesn’t matter. They have a Ferrari that can speed past whatever blues they carry with them. So I say, drive on, you caricatures of excess. Drive on.

 

B

Zillion

ZillionJP

Not even a “Zillion” anime tie-in would convince Japan to buy Mark IIIs...

 

ZillionUS

…Which means there’s no way this cover of an old computer enticed Western consumers to bite for a Master System.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Action

RELEASE DATE: 05/24/87 – (JP)

                                             1987 – (US)

                                          10/87 – (EU)

 

Set your Light Phasers to surprise! Zillion takes code-entering and laser-blasting to unforeseen peaks of excellence.

You start off Zillion as JJ, a secret agent who has to infiltrate an alien base, recover the Five Floppy Disks of Doom, blow up the base, and get out of there. Of course, there’s plenty of danger. Imminent death awaits you in each of the base’s rooms, which are filled with a mixture of guards, turrets, force fields. In each room is a computer terminal and a small amount of stationary pods which you can – nay, must - destroy with your laser. Each pod contains either an ID card, bread for extra life, the occasional level up, and most importantly, a symbol that you can input on the computer. In each room, there are four symbols that need to be uncovered from the pods and input into the computer in order for the pathway to the next room to be opened or unlocked. The symbols look random and impossible to decipher, but they’re easy to memorize once you know what they are. Every symbol is just the letters 1-9 mirrored next to each other, with the exception being 8 which looks like an infinity symbol and 0 which looks like… 0. It probably sounds confusing, but should you play the game and see the symbols, it will make a zillion times more sense.

 

Zillion (UE) (V4

Smashing dumpsters ’til the breaka dawn.

 

Zillion also gives you numerous codes at the beginning of the game that you can input at any time into any room, depending on what the circumstance calls for. Let’s say you enter a room with two electric barriers and four turrets, and there’s no way for you to destroy the pods necessary without getting overrun. Head to the terminal, enter in the proper codes (which are easy to remember as they’re always four of the same symbol for different actions), and the barriers and turrets will disable for a short window of time. If you do this, though, the computer will eat your ID card, so it’s important for you not to waste these. ID cards are fairly prevalent in the pods around the base, but don’t bother using them if you don’t have to.

 

Zillion (UE) (V3

                Angelina Jolie guest stars.

 

As you look for the Five Floppy Disks of Doom in each room (they’re always just found in pods, as if the alien’s couldn’t be bothered to hide them anywhere safer), you’ll encounter JJ’s kidnapped comrades, Apple and Champ. Once rescued, they become playable, with each character having their own characteristics. JJ is the balanced of the three Sinceyou’ll have been playing with him for most of the game, he will also be quite leveled up and strong by the time you reach Apple. Apple is limber and spunky and able to leap to the highest platforms without breaking a nail, but she’s also quite weak. Champ is a veritable beefcake, but his abundance of beef makes him slow. It’s nice to have the option to play as the other characters, particularly since they function as extra lives; if JJ dies and Apple or Champ are still alive, you’ll have the option to play as them. Still, JJ is the best, and I’d recommend you play with him through the majority of the game, using Apple and Champ only when necessary.

 

Zillion (UE) (V5

Champ might be strong, but can he smash three dumpsters in a row?

 

The crux of Zillion‘s gameplay – running to different rooms and inputting codes – doesn’t sound very exciting nor does the stock alien base environment inspire any feeling towards the task at hand. Nevertheless, I was hooked the entire time I played Zillion. Once I arrived in a room, I always wanted to make it to the next room to see what awaited me. Though, I’ll admit, at first I thought Zillion started off slow. Going from room to room is cake in the game’s first section. Guards can be avoided by crouching, then shooting. Bread and ID cards are plentiful. There’s very little danger to be found. But once you arrive to the rooms with the red backgrounds – and if you’ve played Zillion, you know what I’m talking about – each room bears the potential to be JJ, Apple, and Champ’s final resting place. Guards will move at different speeds while crouching and firing; multiple turrets (usually no less than four) will be set in both vertical and horizontal positions and shoot at different times; the red force fields will blend in to the red background, almost ensuring that you miss one and unleash more guards into the room. These were the rooms that I was excited about entering, if only because of their viciousness. I’m not ashamed to say that I died numerous times in these areas. Sega’s “one more room” hook kept bringing me back, though, despite my many deaths. Player beware: there are no passwords for this game. If you plan to beat it, get ready for the long haul.

 

Zillion (UE) (V2

Don’t worry, baby. We’ll always have continues.

 

Outside of Master System fans, many gamers out there haven’t heard of Zillion. No surprise, as Sega did a terrible job of marketing both the Master System’s gems and its duds. Zillion‘s case is particularly depressing. I mean, just look at that cover: what was Sega thinking? On the off chance that you’ve heard of Zillion but haven’t played it, you’ve probably heard two interesting ideas attributed to the game. The first would be that Zillion is the Master System’s answer to Nintendo’s own non-linear space adventure, Metroid; the second is that the in-game weapon inspired Sega’s light gun for the Master System, the Light Phaser. The latter is a strange belief given that the Light Phaser debuted in America in late 1986, while Zillion didn’t release until mid-1987. Zillion didn’t inspire the Light Phaser. Zillion gave the Light Phaser top billing by having three of the game’s four playable characters use one. The former idea – Zillion being Sega’s yin to Nintendo’s Metroid yang – is more subjective, but to me, the similarities only go so far. Yes, both games are non-linear platformers that take place in space, but in Metroid, you’re exploring a world, not just increasingly difficult areas within a single base. Your missile upgrades, weapon upgrades, and health extensions all feel vital in Metroid because the atmosphere you’re in is moody, tense, and bleak. Zillion feels light-hearted by comparison. The space stations are full of danger, yes, but they’re well-lit and soundtracked by a rollicking Capcom-esque theme. In Zillion, back tracking is often a choice, except in rare circumstances where you’re you’re forced to go one way and leave the other for later. In Metroid, backtracking is vital because you’ll often explore all directions with nowhere else to go. The more of Samus’ abilities and weapon upgrades that you find, the more Metroid unlocks before the player. By contrast, characters in Zillion level up, but the effects are limited to additional health, slightly stronger lasers, and the ability to jump higher. Outside of some pods that can only be destroyed by using leveled-up weapons, the increased abilities in Zillion don’t unlock more of the alien base. So yes, the similarities between the two games are there. Metroid, however, is more exploration-based adventure with action bits, while Zillion is pattern-based action with adventure bits. Did Sega crib inspiration from Nintendo? Sure. Who didn’t in 1987? To my mind, though, Zillion is different enough to feel like its own beast.

 

Zillion (UE) (V1

I’m sorry, gentlemen, the Safety Dance has been cancelled.

 

Zillion doesn’t come near the depth of Metroid or Legend of Zelda – the non-linear games of the mid-80s – but the game was certainly unfamiliar and likely uncomfortable territory for the arcade-leaning Sega. The company had to have known, though, that if they were going to compete with the ever-evolving, ever-popular Nintendo, they’d have delve into different genres (see also: 1987’s Phantasy Star, Sega’s first in-house developed RPG). Sega would still focus heavily on their arcade stable going forward, but awesome aberrations like Zillion began to appear more and more often, standing as examples of Sega learning from their contemporaries while still remaining true to their identity.

 

B+

SegaDoes Episode 18: We’re On-A-Rolla Gay!

 

So many sports games in this episode, boyos! Settle down in your favorite comfy chair, sling back a sud or two, and listen to us deride Sega’s Master System sports line. Alongside the sports games, there’s also Sukeban Deka II, Sega’s curious adaptation of the sequel to a television show based on a manga, about a bratty, metallic yo-yo wielding girl kidnapped by the government to do their bidding. Oh Sega, what were you thinking!

 
Go on! Episode 18 awaits!

 

As always, feel free to reflect with/despise us in the comments below. Cheers!

Enduro Racer

Enduro RacerJP

               Vrroom, they say.

 

EnduroRacerUS

I know the NES had some terrible box art too, but c’mon, Sega, put a little effort into these.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing

RELEASE DATE: 05/18/87 – (JP)

                                             1987 – (US)

                                       11/1987 – (EU)

 

Yu Suzuki strikes again!… er, kind of. The arcade version of Enduro Racer was Suzuki’s follow up to the successful, influential Hang On. Both games involve riding full-sized motorbikes as fast as you can in order to beat the time limit before it reaches zero. The only real difference between the two is that in Enduro Racer, you ride a dirt bike and are able to pull wheelies by lifting the front of the bike as you jump off of ramps; whereas in Hang On, you ride a standard motorbike, and all you do is (wait for it) hang on. When Hang On emerged, though, the idea of riding a full-sized bike to control a game was fresh. For better and for worse, Hang On ushered in the concept of large-scale arcade machines that gave the player enveloping, jarring experiences – experiences that they couldn’t get at home (see also: After Burner, Space Harrier, those horrible skateboarding/snowboarding games). But while Hang On wowed bored arcade goers with a never-before-seen crotch-rocket, Enduro Racer replicated its predecessor’s style, while adding wheelies, dirt, and unforgiving difficulty. Even forward-thinking innovators have their lazy days: Enduro Racer is Suzuki spinning his wheels.

 

Enduro Racer

Nothing you haven’t seen before (cheers to uvlist.net for the screenshot)

 

Remember Space Harrier‘s Master System port? The game pushed the console to its limits, which is a polite way of saying it looked and played like crap compared to its arcade brother. Both the arcade versions of Space Harrier and Enduro Racer ran off of “Super Scaler” technology built specifically for the arcades. This means that any Master System ports from “Super Scaler” games have to get creative or risk being crap. Thankfully, for the Enduro Racer port, Sega got creative. They wisely changed the look of the entire game and added features that gave the game reasonable depth. The changes worked in Sega’s favor. Enduro Racer plays like an arcade experience tailored for the console rather than a half-working port.

 

Enduro Racer (UE) [!]003

There’s no need for that bubblegum ensemble, Mr. Racer.

 

In the arcade, the camera viewpoint stayed behind your racer, just as in Hang On. The Master System version, however, places the camera from an isometric angle, giving you a wider view of the tracks. As in the arcade, ramps actually slow you down unless you have equipped enhancements that reduce your loss of speed (engine upgrades and suspension, respectively – more on these in a bit). I’ve never played a racing game where the ramps actually hinder your progress instead of sailing you forward a la Excitebike. There’s a bugger full of ramps in this game too. It’s not uncommon to hit four or five in a row, which means you’ll be turtle limping across the track if you continue to drive over them. This unique approach sounds like it could be frustrating, but I liked the way it forced you to memorize your environments and maneuver accordingly. Instead of just cruising over ramps and poppin’ wheelies with little to no difficulty, you have to take in the various terrain – desert, water, grass, etc. – and drive all around, avoiding what hinders you – which happens to be everything. As in the arcade, you can perform wheelies off the ramps by pressing the D-pad down as you jump. They give you an extra speed boost if you land them right (negating the loss of speed the ramps provide), but they’re not imperative to beat the race.

 

Enduro Racer (UE) [!]000

These ramps were placed here by native tribes several eons ago.

 

Additional AI racers were there just to be in your way in the arcade version, but in the Master System version, they have a purpose. When you pass one on the track, you’re given a point which you can use to enhance your bike at the end of each race. The enhancements – acceleration, tires, handling, suspension, etc – are crucial in your beating the later races, but keep in mind that, even if you pass a lot of racers, you won’t ever have enough points to completely overhaul your ride. Experiment to find the enhancements that work for your racing style, then drive from there.

 

Enduro Racer (UE) [!]001

     Is that Skrillex holding the flag there?

 

Instead of just exploding when you touch an obstacle, like in the arcade, different environmental objects pose different threats. Rocks and stubble and all-around smaller items give you four damage points, while fully crashing and/or burning into walls and signs costs ten damage. The damage accrues across the levels, and once you hit 99 damage, the in-game timer counts down twice as fast. You can purchase items that reduce your damage, but they’re a gamble as to how much damage they’ll reduce; sometimes they’ll lower it by 30, other times only 10. Basically, don’t wait until you’re already at 95 damage to buy one, as it might not help you that much.

 

Enduro Racer (UE) [!]002

As he sank slowly into the murk, he whispered, “I have endured much. I can endure… no longer.”

 

I’m not sure why Sega decided to change their approach to Enduro Racer (other than the obvious technical limitations of the Master System), but kudos to them for not playing it safe. The enhancements and unorthodox approach to racing make Enduro Racer much more than just Hang On’s Redneck Cousin, The Game. They show that Sega was learning how to differentiate from console development and arcade development, and might I say, it’s about damn time. Wheelie on, you crazy dirtbike.

 

B

Kung Fu Kid

KungFuKidJP

Soundtrack by En Vogue. “Never Gonna Get It,” indeed.

 

KungFuKidUS

What’s with the mismatched socks, bro?

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Beat-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 05/17/87 – (JP, as Makai Retsuden)

                                         1987 – (US)

                                     01/1988 – (EU)

 

Even by 1987, a relatively early point in their console careers, Sega had churned out a handful of side-scrolling beat-em-ups – none of which were good. Black Belt turned “Fist of the North Star” into “Just a Japanese Martial Artist Looking For a Fight, #673.” Sukeban Deka II had limited brawler portions attached to a bizarre Japanese adventure/dungeon crawler based on the sequel to a TV series originally based on a manga. Wowzers! My Hero is the worst beat-em-up I’ve ever played, thanks to the Fisher-Price graphics and the weakest one-and-done “hero” to ever emerge from brawler-dom. Then there’s the infamously named Dragon Wang. The SG-1000’s lone beat-em-up was known for its overwhelming difficulty, slow-moving main character, and sneaky trap doors that, once triggered, would lead you back to earlier stages. Naturally, Sega made a sequel for the Mark III, Kung Fu Kid. Strangely, it’s the first semi-enjoyable beat-em-up to emerge from Sega’s overworked development teams.

 

Makai Retsuden (J) [!]000

Hopping ghosts and bamboo forests are a deadly combination.

 

Kung Fu Kid places you back in the tight, binding footwear of Master Wang. He’s got that same “lonesome dove” kicking style that he wore so well in Dragon Wang, but with the added bonus of being able to jump like a chimp. He can also walk faster than his previous zero miles per hour, though jumping constantly is still the best way to get around. As in Dragon Wang, enemies clone themselves, then bum rush you; that’s just how brawlers operated in a pre-Double Dragon world. Unlike Dragon Wang, Kung Fu Kid has open environments that allow Master Wang to jump over the enemies and their clones with ease. By avoiding the enemies instead of attacking them directly, they pile up and chase you, but by jumping constantly, Wang will eventually run them off the screen. When you have to hit them, try to aim for two or three at a time; your kicks are strong enough, if you believe in yourself. The bosses have great designs – ghost banshee, large frog, creepy wizard, ninja brothers, etc. – but are easy to defeat once you learn their patterns. The frog in particular just requires five fast low kicks before he croaks (my sincerest apologies), thus making him the easiest boss fight I’ve had in a fortnight. Still, I always looked forward to the boss battles, if only to witness the inspired craziness Sega hurled Wang’s way.

 

Makai Retsuden (J) [!]001

Wow, everybody really is kung-fu fighting.

 

Along with kicking and jumping, Master Wang can use Power Talismans dropped by enemies Talismans will knock back and destroy two or three enemies at a time, which is great for the few claustrophobic areas of the game. Wang also wall jumps with relative ease, a surprising find in a game with few surprises. I can’t verify this for certain, but I’m not sure there are any earlier examples of wall jumps found in games. Strider emerged in 1989, Ninja Gaiden came out in 1988, Kung Fu Kid is 1987. Can anyone think of any earlier games with characters who could wall jump? Let me know in the comments.

 

Makai Retsuden (J) [!]002

Couple zombies, a frog, psychedelic wall patterns, the usual.

 

Kung Fu Kid could use a touch more difficulty (the first four stages can be overcome in a few minutes, while the last three just require memorization), but the gorgeous environments, solid controls, and well-paced level progression make for an above-average experience. I know that’s not the highest of praise, but if Sega’s earlier attempts at brawlers prove nothing else, it’s that I’ve played worse. After so many failed tries, Sega finally has their answer to Irem’s Kung Fu.

 

KungFuKidBR

All the other frogs with their pumped-up kicks better run, better run.

 

Sapo Xule O Mestre do Kung Fu (B) [!]000

Like plopping a Tiny Toon into a Jackie Chan film.

 

I know what you’re thinking: Master Wang is cool and all, but Kung Fu Kid would be a true classic if a smarmy frog was the main character. Sapo Xule O Mestre do Kung Fu is the game for you then, a lazy re-skin of Kung Fu Kid with the Brazilian cartoon character, Sapo Xule, replacing Master Wang. If this frog looks familiar, that’s because he also appeared in a re-skin of Astro Warrior entitled Sapo Xulé: S.O.S. Lagoa Poluída. The difference between the two re-skins is great: being able to control a frog underwater while shooting dirty shoes made an interesting game out of the rote Astro Warrior. Inserting the smirking Sapo Xule into the middle of Kung Fu Kid with no additional enemy design or environmental changes gives the production an inconsistent tone. On one hand, you have a frog that somewhat resembles Bubsy wearing a gi. Hilarious! On the other hand, you have ancient Japanese evil trying to attack said smirking frog. Confusing! Stick with Kung Fu Kid.

 

KUNG FU KID: B-

SAPO XULE O MESTRE DO KUNG FU: C