Great Baseball

Great Baseball

Look at that batter hit the ball! Wow, he’s good!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 12/15/85

 

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sega’s Great Baseball worships at an altar dedicated to Nintendo’s Baseball. Save for slightly better graphics and speedier gameplay in the former, the two titles couldn’t be more alike in style, play, and sound. As one of the few fans of Baseball, I believe that the similarities between games are a good thing; certainly Great Baseball is an improvement over whatever Champion Baseball was trying to achieve. But the fact remains that Sega could have gotten into a lot of legal trouble with Great Baseball – assuming Nintendo knew of the game’s existence in the first place.

Anyone who has wrestled with Nintendo’s Baseball probably recalls cheap AI, incompetent in/outfielders who can’t catch or throw to the proper base, and fouls aplenty. Great Baseball refines these quirks/flaws into near perfection – for an early baseball game devoid of options or stats, anyway. AI is tough, but fair, the in/outfielders can both catch and throw to the appropriate base, and fouls? Well, there’s still plenty of fouls, but they feel like a result of your poor batting stance rather than the game’s error. The baseball players too are more colorful and detailed than the blocky sprites of Baseball. Otherwise – and I can’t stress this enough – every feature is the same: from the placement of the score box, to the way the pitchers stand before throwing the ball, to the flashing “Home Run” letters. Great Baseball is Baseball in HD after a couple Red Bulls.

 

Great Baseball (J) [!]000

Take me out to the baaall game/Take me out to the… courthouse?

 

Great Baseball does add a difficulty selection option on the main menu for both one and two-players, and a Home Run Contest. In the latter, you try to get as many home runs as possible – up to twenty hits or misses. The computer controls the pitches, but never deviates from a down-the-center, straight-and-true pitch. Thus, it’s pretty easy to rack up the home runs if you know the right time to swing. An all-around interesting diversion for about five minutes, but acquiring home run after home run doesn’t have the same feel unless you’re actually playing a game.

 

Great Baseball (J) [!]002

Looks like I hit a Homer. Again and again! And again and again and again!

 

Speculation time: Sega could have gotten away with copying Baseball because, at the time of Great Baseball‘s release, Nintendo was focused on marketing and distributing the first waves of NES’ in the United States and likely not giving a damn about a new Sega system in Japan. Or perhaps Nintendo noticed a couple years later? When Great Baseball was released in the US and Europe in 1987, it was a completely different game, though both versions were developed by Sega. Perhaps Sega didn’t want to push their luck with Nintendo by releasing the Mark III version in different territories, or perhaps the Mark III version was just feeling dated two years after its release.

 

Great Baseball (J) [!]001

                               Get up offa that thang.

 

Any gaming superheroes that have any ideas as to how Sega evaded a lengthy court case with Great Baseball, please leave them in the comments section. Lest we forget (and just in case I have any youngins in the audience), Sega and Nintendo were honest-to-God rivals back in the day – or at least, in ’85, Sega was desperately hoping they would be. Great Baseball could be seen as Sega’s pitiful plea to Nintendo. “Notice us! Appreciate us! Look, we made your Baseball game better!” And they did. By using Baseball as a template, Great Baseball became their greatest sports game to date, precisely because it doesn’t play like crap their other sports games.

Stealing is wrong.

 

B+

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Pit Pot – The Magical Castle)

Pit Pot - The Magical Castle

There’s certainly nothing magical about this cover – it just plain sucks.

 

AstroWarriorPitPot

Europe got an additional game for their cash. C-C-C-Combo Breaker!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Dungeon Crawler

RELEASE DATE: 12/14/85 (JP)

                                     1986 (EU)

 

Dungeon crawlers, they want my soul. Pit Pot‘s no Shining in the Darkness or anything, but you’ll still want a fine quill pen and some graph paper if you hope to make it out of Expert difficulty without the princess coppin’ an attitude.

In Pit Pot, you play as a knight exploring an enchanted castle for treasure, adventure, and the fair hand of “the princess.” The castle has a king’s ransom of rooms, many of which have up to four entrances and exits, and all of which have at least one piece of treasure. Collect them all, of course: loot and plunder is a rich knight’s game. But you’ll especially want to collect the cross, a vial of potion, and a ring. The cross prevents the princess from turning into a witch, the potion wakes her up (sleeping on the job, just like every princess), and the ring, well – if you like it, then you’re gonna put a ring on it. Failure to have collected all of the treasure upon finding the princess results in her turning her back on you and your immediate death. There’s no way to know if you have all the treasure when you approach the princess, either – no “Items Left” menu or on-screen counter. When you see her, hope to everything sacred and pure that you have it all, or your Love will indeed be over.

 

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Japan)001

                  My wife says this to me all the time.

 

What makes Pit Pot different from other early dungeon crawlers are the stone floors that make up each room. These floors can be bashed away with your hammer, the knight’s apparent weapon of choice (were all the swords taken?). Sometimes you’ll need to destroy sections of the stone floor in order to make hidden treasures appear. Other times, the stone floor pattern will not allow you to fully explore the room – usually because of a special treasure that can only be accessed from one direction. When this happens, go around to other rooms and eventually circle your way back. This is where your quill pen and graph paper come in handy: to remind you of where you came from, and to note if there’s any treasure still waiting to be collected in a certain room. Also, if you’re playing on any level other than Practice, trolls and dragons will crowd the floor. While you can destroy them atop the stone floor, be aware that this will create holes which the knight can fall into. Better to dispose of the trolls on indestructible tile.

 

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Japan)002

         The trolls aren’t very bright, but they are aggressive.

 

There’s also an Edit mode, which was taken out of Pit Pot upon its Western release. Players outside of Japan aren’t missing much, though: the mode only allows you to create one room, not a full dungeon. Once your room has been created, the game asks you to pick your difficulty. Do so, and your masterful creation will be tacked onto the pre-generated map layout that accompanies whatever difficulty you chose. Now, I understand that even on the Mark III/Master System, RAM was limited, but if you’re gonna include an Edit mode in your game, make sure it’s a worthwhile endeavor, not a disappointing tease.

 

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Japan)003

                                    Death becomes me.

 

Each of the four difficulties has slightly varied, increasingly difficult maps, perfect for easing the player into the game. One should start on Practice difficulty to get a feel for the game’s mechanics and layout, then play Beginner to dive into Pit Pot proper. Average and Expert continue the madness, of course, but all four difficulties are more than conquerable if you keep track of where you’ve already explored. Pit Pot isn’t the most challenging game for those already accustomed to dank climates, understated puzzles, and confusing maze layouts, but it is a worthwhile introductory dungeon crawler for any aspiring explorers.

B-

Great Soccer

Great Soccer Mark III

                            “Ole!” and so forth.

 

GreatSoccerEU

I wonder how much this hand model got paid.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 10/27/85 (Mark III, JP)

                                     1986 (UK)

 

Remastering games from previous generations is all the rage today in the gaming industry. Remasters don’t cost as much as a full game to produce, and fans still scoop them up as if they never played the game before. I don’t quite understand the phenomenon myself: unless the upgrade is significant, i.e. a graphical/audio upgrade from SD to HD, then what’s the point? I will, however, make an exception for Sega’s Great Soccer. The game is a much-improved remake/remaster of Sega’s SG-1000 atrocity, Champion Soccer. And while I would normally cry laziness, Sega refined Great Soccer to the point of playability. Sure, there’s no additional content to be found in the game: once again, no teams or stats to choose from (we’re still in ’85, lack of content makes sense). You can, however, pick up a controller and start kicking a soccer ball with relative ease, and that’s more than I can say for Champion Soccer.

 

Great Soccer (J) [!]000

                                 I’ll show you “In goal”…

 

So yeah, how ’bout that foozball? Pick from three difficulties on the selection screen – Amateur, Semi-Pro, and Pro – and get to kicking. Amateur is like kicking a soccer ball to yourself, the opposing team hardly does anything. Semi-Pro gets a little tougher: balls get kicked out from under your feet, but with perseverance, you can make goals. Pro is like playing your first soccer game ever against Brazil: you won’t really know what’s happening, and you will lose hard.

There’s a red arrow that hovers above the player you control at all times. You can pass the ball to other players that have a grey arrow above them with Button 2. Button 1 propels the soccer ball forward, hopefully to a good place, like into the goal or between one of your opponent’s eyes. When you approach the goal, you’ll notice a red arrow (which you can control) pinging back and forth between the goal. Control the arrow away from the goalie, then launch the ball into the goal for jubilation and merriment. Repeat several times and you have yourself a perfectly cromulent soccer game.

 

Great Soccer (J) [!]001

                       Doesn’t feel so good, does it, CPU?

 

Great Soccer is better than I expected, and not nearly good enough to be called ‘great.’ While the game is an adequate representation of bare-bones soccer, it’s also the kind of circa-launch sports title that, like Nintendo’s Baseball, needs an additional player and some alcohol to merit more than a ten minute play window. I’m too tired to drink and I don’t have any friends, so, sorry Great Soccer, I will live to goal another day.

 

C+

Teddy Boy Blues

Teddy Boy

Soooo the Mark III’s cover art is the game itself?

 

Teddy Boy US

At least the US release has the iconic wire-frame background.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 10/20/85 (JP – Mark III)

                                     1986 (US)

                                     1991 (re-released port, Mega Drive, JP-only)

                                     07/26/92 (re-released port, Mega-CD, JP-only)

                                     03/18/94 (re-released port, Mega-CD, JP-only)

 

In order to play the blues, you have to become the blues. You have to let the painful experiences of your life guide your hands across your instrument. You have to let every wretched memory inform the notes that carry you to catharsis. Teddy Boy? He’s got problems, but between you and me, he’s just a boy with a lower-case ‘b.’ Boys have traumatic experiences, sure, but they won’t be able to process them until they’ve got thinning hair and unrelenting stomach fat. Teddy Boy’s instrument of choice – a Tommy gun of some kind – sings well enough, but it’s informed by youthful aggression, not decades worth of poor life decisions.

So Teddy Boy: he’s got his Tommy gun and a helluva jump. He’s stuck in these creepy looping mazes, filled with barbaric toy demons come to life, and the demons – unsurprisingly – want Teddy Boy’s blood. The creatures range from snails to worms to ninjas (among other entities), and they emerge from fluffy dice that count down from 6 to 1 before finally disappearing. Luckily, Teddy Boy’s gun makes short work of them. When he shoots the demons, they shrink down to miniature collectible size; the perfect size for storing bonus points. Shoot and collect all the shrinky demons, then move on to the next nightmare.

 

Teddy Boy Blues (J) [!]000

Look Teddy, get that gun out of my face. I just want to know what’s goin’ on!

 

There’s very little structure to Teddy Boy’s antics – an observation, more than a criticism. The demons bounce around mindlessly, waiting for Teddy Boy to shoot through blue barriers before seeking his flesh. The looping levels are disorienting, and do an excellent job at making one believe Teddy Boy and his blues have more depth than they really do. Like I stated earlier, Teddy Boy’s got problems, but can’t-stop-the-ache, low-down-dirty blues? I think not. Teddy Boy’s Blues is a made-for-TV fantasy movie filtered through a child’s vivid imagination.

Teddy Boy’s Blues also happens to be one of the first Mark III games. While I’d like to say there’s a world of difference between this game, and the what-felt-like-thousands of SG-1000 games I played, the only difference of note would be the sharper, more colorful graphics (not a surprise, given the Mark III’s expanded color palette) and the surprisingly catchy music that sounds like it inspired some tracks in the Mega Man series. Gameplay-wise, Teddy Boy Blues is simplistic and would have fit right in with the rest of the SG-1000 library.

 

Teddy Boy Blues (J) [!]001

                                  The colors, children!

 

The jaunty soundtrack, Teddy Boy, his blues or lack thereof: none of it adds up at all. Further investigation reveals that 80s Japanese pop star, Yohko Ishino, lent her name, face, and song, “Teddy Boy Blues” to Sega to promote the game. The game’s soundtrack is singularly comprised of Ishino’s song on repeat. And hachi machi, is it ever catchy, both in-game and live. Ishino might struggle to hit some notes (I guess that’s why they call it the blues), but that saxophone rips. it. up. It’s nearly as compelling as the one in George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” but you didn’t hear that from me.

 

 

Teddy Boy Blues was also released on the Master System as Teddy Boy in different regions, with the only difference being the main theme song. Yohko Ishino and her amazing 8-bit rendered orchestra remained behind in Japan, replaced by a more traditional arcade tune – not terrible, but also not nearly as memorable.

 

[SegaNet] Teddy Boy Blues (Japan)000

                A pox on those God-forsaken alarm clocks!

 

But Sega didn’t let Teddy Boy and his melting subconscious rest on the Mark III/Master System, oh no. Sega released a port of Teddy Boy Blues on the Mega Drive for their Japan-only Game Toshokan. Slight, but worthwhile digression: The Game Toshokan service was a precursor to the Sega Channel, and allowed Japanese Mega Drive owners the chance to play and download free games exclusive to the service – as long as you had a Sega-licensed Mega Modem and a special cartridge plugged into the Genesis. The service itself was unbelievably forward-thinking for 1991, but (digression over!) the 16-bit Teddy Boy Blues leaves much to be desired. The graphics have been upgraded to Mega levels of quality, and some of the level design and characters have changed completely. The music, however, has been replaced with… nothing; only the sound effects remain. Isolated sound effects aren’t always a bad thing: grimy, metallic noises are some of the Mega Drive’s bread and butter. But for whatever reason, the fluffy dice that spits out enemies have been replaced by annoying alarm clocks. Every time the clock counts down a number, the alarm goes off and shatters my mind. The alarm rings six times a level, more than the lethal dose, and more than enough for me to shimmy back to the Mark III version and sax my blues away.

 

SingSegaGameMusic_cover

                        Are the letters comprised of pizza???

 

The Teddy Boy train rolled on in 1992: not with a sequel, but with a bizarre Mega-CD port that came stuffed onto a Japanese-only music album. “SING!! Sega Game Music presented by B.B. Queens” is a Sega tribute album that includes exclusive Sega theme covers by the Japanese pop band, B.B. Queens. The album itself is available to listen to on Youtube, and it’s, uh… wow. The Japanese singers sing painful English lyrics “inspired” by different Sega games, like OutRun, After Burner and Teddy Boy Blues among others. I’m being polite when I say the synth-heavy, loud guitar music is dated now, and was likely dated upon its release in ’92. If you’re not strong enough to click the Youtube link, imagine George Michael and Guns ‘n Roses conceived a Japanese love child several years prior to its actual birth, and that the child, once born, liked to play Sega games. The Teddy Boy Blues port can be played by putting the SING!! CD into a Mega-CD Drive and pressing “CD-Rom.” It’s exactly the same game as the Mega Drive version, but with B.B. Queens music to guide your surreal journey.

 

Game no Kanzume Vol. 2

Sega, please put more than two seconds of effort into your game covers. Sincerely, everyone.

 

Truthfully, given the strangeness of Teddy Boy Blues, the Mega CD port with B.B. Queens music is probably the quintessential version. There’s nothing like gunning down peppermints while “I Fight (FIRE WITH FIRE)” plays in the background to psych you out before bedtime. There’s another Mega CD port of Teddy Boy Blues found on the Game Toshokan compilation, Game no Kanzume Vol. 2 (cover pictured above). Because it’s a Game Toshokan port of the Genesis version, however, the isolated sound effects return. And who wants to deal with annoying alarm clocks when you could be navigating loops at the “Speed of Love“?

For as interesting as Teddy Boy Blues‘ history is, the game itself is less deep blues, more elevator jazz: there’s art to both, I suppose, but the latter is sterile, while the former carries weight and purpose. I like Japanese madness as much as the next gamer, but behind Teddy Boy’s ceaseless smile and jaunty beret is a character with very little to do. Perhaps Sega meant him as a potential mascot, perhaps not. All I know is, Sega developed Alex Kidd a short time later and Teddy Boy was relegated to compilation status. Almost thirty years later, a sequel is nowhere to be seen, and Teddy Boy’s gotta be pushing middle-age. Now that‘s blues-worthy.

 

C+  –  Mark III

C-  –  Mega Drive

B-  –  B.B. Queens Mega CD version

C-  –  Game no Kanzume Vol. 2

(Grades based solely on music or lack thereof. Gameplay is the same in all versions).

The Mark III/Master System

 

SegaMarkIII_JP_Box_Front

               Sega: “Let’s try this console thing one more time!”

 

Sega Master System Box

                                          America: “What’s a Sega?”

 

RELEASED: 10/20/85 (JP); as the Master System – 10/86 (US), 8/87 (UK), 10/18/87 (JP), 09/04/89 (BR)

PRICE: 15,000 yen (Mark III – JP), $150/200 (US), 99.95 pounds (UK), 16,800 yen (JP), $1,500 (BR – not a typo)

TECH SPECS: Z-80 8-bit processor running at 3.58 Mhz, 8Kb of RAM, 16kb of VRAM.

Video processor: TI-TMS9918 capable of 32 simultaneous colors.

Sound processor: TI-SN76489 capable of 4-channel mono sound

(FM sound unit in Master System models is a Yamaha YM-2413 capable of 9-channel stereo sound)

# OF GAMES: approx. 318 games, though there are likely many more

UPDATES: Official – Master System II (1990)

# OF UNITS SOLD: 10-13 million between 1985-1993 (does not include Brazil figures past 1993)

 

There’s a reason the SG-1000 is a footnote in Sega’s history: the majority of the games, the stiff, awkward controls, and the lacking console architecture were all subpar, even upon the system’s release in 1983. By the time 1985 rolled around, the SG-1000 was running on fumes, as signified by Sega’s overreliance on the optional-but-necessary-if-you-want-to-play-new-games peripheral, the Card Catcher. While many of the 1985 Sega Card games were actually quite decent, it’s clear upon playing those games that the system’s limited power was being maxed. When Doki Doki Penguin Land looks like an early Famicom game on a system with the power of a ColecoVision, well, get out the balloons and champagne, Sega! The system has run its course. With the Famicom’s power, influence, and sales continually growing, there was nowhere for the SG-1000 to go, but away, and as quickly as possible.

Thus two and a half years after the release of the SG-1000 (and a mere one and a half years after the SG-1000 II “upgrade”), Sega released the Mark III in Japan on October 20th, 1985. Unlike the SG-1000 II, which was a cosmetically revamped SG-1000 with no internal changes, the Mark III was a whole new system designed to compete with the more advanced Famicom. The advanced visuals and extra RAM gave the system a boost over its main rival: Sega Mark III games were graphically more impressive and speedier than Famicom games. Also, the system was backwards compatible with all SG-1000 cartridges and cards, another added bonus for Japanese consumers who may not have been so eager to purchase another Sega system so quickly after the SG-1000’s debut.

 

Sega_MarkIII

After the Mark III’s release, Sega wouldn’t choose white as their predominant console color until the Dreamcast.

 

According to SegaRetro, the Mark III sold one million units in the first year of its release in Japan and was considerably more successful than the SG-1000. Despite the Mark III’s superior system specs, the Famicom’s two-year grip on the Japanese console market prevented it from toppling Nintendo’s warhorse in either console’s lifespan. Sega was too little, too late with their new console, a decision they would later try to reverse with the early releases of the Mega Drive, the Saturn, and the Dreamcast

Even though the Mark III wasn’t the success Sega wanted it to be in Japan, that didn’t stop them from rebranding the system for other territories a year later. Sega saw Nintendo’s success in America and decided that it too wanted a piece of the reforming Western console market. Sega debuted the “Master System” at the Consumer Electronics Show in June of 1986. While the Japanese Mark III was white and looked very much like a rearranged SG-1000 II, the Master System boasted a sleek black-and-red color scheme that distinguished it from Nintendo’s neutral (read: boring) gray on the NES. Also, the name change: “Mark III” only made sense in territories that received the SG-1000 I and II. The “Master System” moniker was one of several options that Sega had thought up, and was apparently chosen by Sega employees throwing darts at names on a white marker board.

 

Sega-Master-System-Set

                 Where’s my 3D glasses and Light Phaser? I want the future, now!

 

The Master System released in North America in October of 1986 in two iterations: the Sega Base System, which included the system and two control pads for $150; and the Master System which included the system, two control pads, a Light Phaser, and a pack-in game Hang On/Safari Hunt for $200. The Base System was dropped sometime around 1987 or ’88 after the Master System proved to be the better-selling bundle.

“Better-selling” is a generous term, though. The system only sold 125,000 units upon the first four months of release compared to the NES’s staggering two million units within the same time frame. Sadly, like in Japan, this dramatic sales difference would extend throughout both console’s lifespans. The NES sold over thirty-four million units from 1985-1994 in North America, while the Master System could only muster up two million units in North America by 1993. Sega’s silver lining: even with the thirty-two million units difference between the two consoles, the Master System still holds a second-place title in the 8-bit console “war,” ahead of Atari’s 7800.

 

Atari-7800-Console-Set

                          I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at here.

 

The Master System’s inability to gain even a reasonable foothold in the North American market came down to a poorly perceived game library, and Sega’s inexplicable decision to sell the system’s licensing rights to the toy manufacturer, Tonka, in 1988. One could only assume that Sega thought the Master System would be able to gain more traction in retail outlets through a toy company (somewhat similar to Nintendo’s initial branding of their Famicom as an “Entertainment System,” not a video game console). Since Tonka had no prior history in selling consoles, however, they didn’t really know what they were doing and the Master System’s continuously poor sales reflected that. By 1990, Sega would reacquire the rights to sell the Master System in the United States from Tonka, but by then, the console had ceded its position to the Genesis.

The games: Lord have mercy, the games. While first-party titles like Sega’s own Phantasy Star could hold their own against some of the big N’s releases, Nintendo had a staggering amount of (mostly) excellent third-party support – third-party support that Sega couldn’t touch, thanks to Nintendo’s strict licensing practices. As with the SG-1000, it was up to Sega’s own development teams and a couple third-parties (Activision and Parker Brothers, respectively) to bolster the system’s library. The result? While the Western Master System’s library is more polished and better-playing than the SG-1000’s paltry efforts, it doesn’t compare to the sheer gold found in the NES library.

 

Wonder_Boy_III_-_The_Dragon's_Trap_boxart

                            You tried, Wonder Boy.

 

Europe began to receive the system beginning in late 1986 in Germany and Italy, and continuing into 1987 in the UK and France. Home computers ruled the gaming landscape throughout Europe in the 80s, but the Master System was able to make a somewhat sizable impact compared to other consoles of its day: 6.8 million units by late 1993 in Europe alone. The Master System is actually more widely regarded in Europe than the NES, thanks to better third-party support (Nintendo’s exclusivity agreements didn’t reach Europe) and Nintendo’s strange lack of presence in the region.

Brazil is perhaps the most surprising region where the Master System flourished. Distributed by Tec Toy beginning in 1989, the console’s popularity exploded due to the lack of competition. The system was so popular, in fact, that there are a number of games for the system released exclusively in Brazil (the 1997 conversion of Street Fighter II being among the most notable). SegaRetro claims that the Master System and new games are still being released in Brazil to this day, but I was unable to find a link that verifies this.

 

MasterSystemGirl

Interested in the stylish Master System Girl? Only in Brazil!

 

Japan replaced the Mark III with a revamped Master System (built in FM Sound Unit! A port to plug in the 3D glasses! The future is now!) in October 1987, but despite the slight upgrades, the revision failed to bolster sales. So too did the 1990 Master System II, a complete rework of the console that did away with many of the original system’s features including the power light, the card holder, expansion port, audio/video output, and reset button. The MS II was cheaper, of course, but it was released about a year after the Genesis, and as such, failed to catch on in the wake of its much more impressive 16-bit brother.

While the Master System had a healthy long lifespan in both Europe and Brazil, Sega of Japan stopped producing cartridges for the system in early 1989, directly after the release of the Mega Drive. America’s final Master System release would be Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, after which the system was effectively “dead” – or so it seemed.

In fact, the Master System architecture was alive in well in Sega’s first portable console, the Game Gear. Released in 1990 in Japan and 1991 in America and other territories, the Game Gear was, for all intents and purposes, a portable Master System with a greater palette of colors and stereo sound. While the cartridges weren’t interchangeable, many early Game Gear games found their way to the Master System as ports. Due to the lack of solid games and the handheld’s ability to munch through six AA batteries in less than five hours, the Game Gear didn’t sell nearly as much as Nintendo’s Game Boy. But, in North America anyway, the Game Gear did sell more than the Master System, which hopefully gave Sega some much-needed closure.

 

SONY DSC

            The Master System’s legacy lives on in this clunky fellow.

 

If nothing else, the Master System was a giant leap forward for Sega from the SG-1000: sharper, more colorful graphics, tighter controls, and – even with the lack of third-party support – better games. It’s unfortunate that, in both America and Japan, the system was overshadowed by the success of the Famicom and NES. As with the SG-1000, though, Sega learned from their experience with the Master System. Their next console, the Mega Drive/Genesis, proved to be the game changer the Master System should have been, and bolstered Sega into realms of popularity previously reserved for Nintendo.

 (All images courtesy of Wikipedia and SegaRetro)

SegaDoes Podcast Episode 10: Get Set to Hang On

Welcome to double-digits, folks. There’s no going back now. Listen to/Download Episode 10 here.

Because of the month-long gap (or so) between Episode 9, we have twelve SG-1000 games we cover in this episode. Hang on to ya butts:

 

Doki Doki Penguin Land

Drol

Chack’n Pop

Bank Panic

Rock n’ Bolt

Elevator Action

Soukoban/Shove It!…The Warehouse Game

Championship Lode Runner

H.E.R.O.

Champion Ice Hockey

Hang-On II

Bomb Jack

C_So!

 

These are the remaining 1985 SG-1000 games. Next episode will see us focus on the Mark III and its launch games, hopefully in two weeks or so.

All questions, thoughts, or concerns should be directed to the comments section below. As always, thanks for listening!

What’s Goin’ On with SegaDoes.com?: September and October edition

Greeting and salutations from the depths of my sleep-deprived mind!

I just wanted to give a brief update on some upcoming happenings and some already-happeneds around the site.

First off, as some of my more eagle-eyed readers may have noticed, I have taken down the Peripherals sections from below each system. Originally, I was going to write articles about every single worthwhile peripheral released for Sega’s systems; “worthwhile” meaning the peripheral was notable in some way i.e. the Dreamcast Keyboard for Typing of the Dead or the Master System’s 3-D glasses for Zaxxon 3-D (among others). But it all comes down to this: I want to devote more time to the games themselves and articles about the peripherals get in the way of that. Instead of full-fledged articles, I’ll be including information about specific peripherals into reviews of the games that use them. I doubt anyone really cares about this change, but I felt like it should be noted. First up: Hang-On II and the Bike Handle.

This brings me to my next subject: time, or lack thereof. I’m currently getting ready for a cross-country move at the end of September. The move is about three weeks away, which gives us time to prepare, but as it so happens, the company I work for is also undergoing a major transition of its own right this moment. As a result of my company’s transition, I’m working more hours, along with preparing for a humongous move at the same time. All this to say, the next month or two on Sega Does might be a bit lacking in content. God willing, the podcast will continue unabated (Podcast #10 is coming, hopefully by the end of this week), but reviews might decrease to about three or less a week until I get settled into a new town/new apartment/new job/new life – ETA mid-to-late October. Please understand.

Thanks for your continued readership. I’m really looking forward to digging into the Master System library with you all.

- DC

C_So!

C-SO!

                          Who’s the real bully?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

C sos, Shee shos, by the Cee Cstore? Close!

C_So! is a stranger-than-usual SG-1000 game that involves a young child punishing bullies by death of seesaw. Your job is to lure the bullies onto the seesaw, then jump on the opposite end to either fling them upwards or stomp them with your small child stompin’ shoes. Slay all the bullies and collect every item in the level to progress to the next one, while also avoiding killer balloons that float rampantly around. The balloons have no purpose beyond extra points, and while you can’t kill them via seesaw, often they will inexplicably fly across the screen and burst against the wall of the level. I’ve tried to figure out the balloons’ unreasonable actions, and their reason for being – perhaps because the game stars children and balloons could be considered scary to some kids… I guess? They don’t seem to have much purpose other than to loiter and annoy, but hey, extra bonus points for popping them all; bonus points were cool once.

 

C_So! (Japan)001

                   The sprites look so moldable, like putty.

 

I am usually among the first to embrace weirdy games like C_So!. Getting revenge on bullies via playground equipment? Quick, shove the controller in my hand! But despite C_So!‘s novel premise, the game itself never plays quite right. First and foremost: the levels are not assembled well at all. There’s trampolines and long jumps and long falls and warping doors and mile-high ladders and items in odd locations, and clusters of seesaws in a chunk of the level, and no seesaws in other parts of the level. Indeed the levels look as though the game designers vomited a bunch of random in-game elements onto a black screen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, C_So! has a level editor. Place your seesaws in the middle of nothing! Color your bullies purple! (not sure why the bullies have a variety of different colors. I think their color might relate to their movement patterns, but I’m not sure). While I’m usually right crap with level editors, I could make better levels than the ones found in the game themselves. Perhaps that’s the point of these crappily designed levels, to make players feel smarter than they are with the level editor? I wouldn’t put it past a game as strange as this.

 

C_So! (Japan)000

                                     Not my playground.

 

I got to the third level of C_So! multiple times before I see-ed my last saw. I’m sure I could have gotten past it eventually, but frankly, the game felt like work. Bullies rarely go where you want them to go, and you’re on a time limit so you have to follow them around and hope they make their way to a seesaw. Then you have to make sure they walk onto the seesaw at the correct angle, which means you wait for them to walk to the edge of the seesaw before jumping backwards and flinging them upwards. Launching bullies is totally doable, and I got better at it with time, but I never really enjoyed myself. And games, above all else, are about enjoying yourself. Sorry C_So!, I don’t think you and I will ever C eye to eye.

D

Bomb Jack

Bomb_Jack

Hey yo, it’s just anotha… bomb jack? (thanks to gamesdbase.com for the cover)

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Tehkan (port by Sega)

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Is Jack the most boring name for a superhero ever? Well, it’s slightly better than Ant-Man, but not by much. Thankfully, Jack’s ability to defuse bombs is nothing short of phenomenal. Also, he can jump as good or better than Mario. You heard it here first, kids.

In Bomb Jack, you play as Jack (is he a demon in tights or just a really ugly superhero? Who can say!) and your goal is to defuse bombs at several worldwide tourist sites. The Sphinx, the Great Pyramids, the Acropolis and many more will be blown to the realm of the Ancients unless Jack can defuse all the bombs in time. “Defusing” involves nothing more than collecting/jumping through them, and while the bombs are scattered all around the screen, Jack’s superhero leaps will easily allow him to collect them in the highest places. Also, the bombs themselves will never go off, even though certain ones look closer to detonation. No, the real threat comes in the form of numerous unknown creatures (I have no idea what these things are – bats? Crustaceans? Beings from civilizations past?). They generate out of nothing and try to stop Jack from defusing the bombs. Jack can’t attack these creatures, even though he’s a superhero and all superheroes should have an attack of some sort. However, if he collects enough bombs, an @ symbol will appear and bob around the screen. Grab dat @ and all of the creatures will turn into blobs. At this point, Jack can collect the creatures for extra points or leave them be and finish collecting the bombs.

 

Bomb Jack (Japan)000

The Acropolis doesn’t deserve a gummy bear rampage.

 

The best way to play through Bomb Jack is by collecting the proper amount of bombs for the @ symbol to drop. Once the @ symbol drops, grab it, then fly through the remainder of the level and pick up the rest of the bombs. All the enemies will be powerless to stop your bomb grabbing. Of course, this strategy becomes less doable as the level layouts grow more complex and puzzle-like, but it will certainly get you through the first dozen stages.

While the level backdrops themselves don’t change that often (by the time you reach level six or seven, you’ll have seen The Sphinx a couple times), the levels themselves potentially go on forever and with slightly more complex layouts. Each level consists of a pre-rendered historical backdrop and platforms in the foreground which Jack can use to access the bombs or weave his way through, puzzle style, to collect the bombs. The higher the level, the more ferocious these level layouts are. Imagine Tetris pieces set up around the bombs, and you’ll get the idea.

 

Bomb Jack (Japan)001

They’re not bombs! They’re really old cherries with explosive properties.

 

Bomb Jack ultimately succeeds because of the game’s flawless controls. Jack can jump to the very top of the screen if you want him to – hold Button I or II down for as long as it takes and watch him soar like Superman. Once Jack’s on top of the world, press either Button down again and he’ll glide slowly downwards. These actions feel as smooth and instinctual as jumping in the original Super Mario Bros. Not only does the arcade version of Bomb Jack precede Super Mario Bros by a year, Jack’s jumping, flying, and gliding abilities recall some of Mario’s later endeavors. Long before Mario donned a Tanooki suit or a cape, Jack – of all characters – laid down the roots of character-based flight in a video game.

 

Bomb Jack (Japan)002

                    I dare say Jack has his swagger back.

 

Bomb Jack isn’t the deepest arcade game, no matter who you ask. But I’ll be jiggered if the little horned creature didn’t win my heart with his pure arcade action. The Jack series continued with Mighty Bomb Jack on the NES, a not-so-impressive attempt at an early platformer. While not a terrible game by any means, Mighty Bomb Jack seeks to be unique, but ultimately feels like another early NES platformer with a genre identity crisis (see also: Goonies II, Milon’s Secret Castle). Bomb Jack‘s focus is simple and true, and its this assuredness (and beautiful controls) that make the game… dy-no-mite!

 

B+

Hang-On II / Hang-On

HangOnII

Insane motorcycle battles sponsored by the rich bold flavor of Marlboro. Ride the cancer.

 

HangOnMkIII

This packaging has also been known to cause cancer of the eyes. Yeesh.

 

HangOnEU

                         Hangin’ on like a boss.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing/Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985 (Sega Card)

                                     10/20/85 (Sega Mark III)

                                     1990 (Master System, EU)

                                     2000/2002 (Dreamcast)

OTHER GAMES IN SERIES: Super Hang-On (Mega Drive/Genesis, 1989), Hang On GP (Saturn, 1995-1996)

                                   

Even gamers familiar with Sega’s influential Hang-On series have probably never heard of Hang-On II. Besides being a Japanese SG-1000-only release, this supposed sequel is actually just a port of the original arcade Hang-On, and thus, not a sequel in the slightest. So why did Sega attach the “II” on the front of the title, confusing any and all future game historians? Hardcore Gaming 101’s SilverStarRipper speculates in his all-encompassing Hang-On post that perhaps Sega didn’t want to confuse Japanese consumers with the brand new (in ’85) Mark III version. My shrewder take: perhaps Sega wanted to entice consumers to buy their soon-to-be-extinct SG-1000 console in order to play the console-only “sequel” to Hang-On. Hang-On was, after all, a popular, groundbreaking game at the time, and a sequel would only arouse further interest. Maybe? Only Sega knows, and realistically, our theories are likely much more interesting than the actual explanation.

Hang-On was a revelation in the arcades. It was the first arcade game to utilize full-body movement in order to control the game. Instead of using a joystick and buttons to control the on-screen motorcycle and its speed, you rode atop a full-blown motorcycle cabinet and used a handlebar to shift gears, accelerate, and brake. When a tight turn approached, you leaned into the direction you wanted to go, just as you would on a real motorcycle. The cabinet worked flawlessly, and the game itself was a blast too. Later examples of the full-body-experience arcade genre focused more on outrageous cabinets than making sure the game was worth your four or five quarters. Hang-On was the type of game that played so well, you didn’t need a fake motorbike to enjoy yourself.

 

Hang-On II (Japan)001

               Riding through the Spearmint Meadows.

 

Of course, Hang-On was popular enough that Sega wanted to make it available for their home consoles as soon as possible. Both the Master System and the SG-1000 received ports of the game in 1985, the same year it was released in arcades. The Master System version isn’t as graphically detailed as the arcade, but it does an adequate job of playing like the arcade. As for the SG-1000 version… well, it doesn’t take a Sega Fun-gineer to realize that Hang-On would have to be severely compromised if it was to be ported to Sega’s oldest console. While I’m not going to outright lie to my audience and say Hang-On II looks good (don’t be fooled by the pretty screenshots – by SG-1000 standards, it looks just ok), I’m surprised at how well Sega was able to recreate the overall Hang-On experience.

As in Hang-On, Hang-On II has you racing across five distinct stages in order to beat the time. You receive sixty seconds per stage, an amount that refills when you complete the stage. Twists and turns abound, as do other motorcyclists who seem hellbent on making you crash. They’ll usually sidle up next to you as you pass them or refuse to move out of your way if you come up behind them. Thankfully, the controls are pitch-perfect for avoiding them, even when they seem to smother every inch of the highway. Driving and switching gears via the joystick is incredibly intuitive, as is accelerating and braking with Buttons I and II, respectively. The controls are so good, in fact, that if you crash into anything, it’s almost always your fault. The experience of taking turns at 280 km/hr while riding the brake and narrowly avoiding another biker is a thrilling experience that has no replication on the SG-1000.

 

Hang-On (E) [!]002

The racer looks a bit portly from this angle (Master System version).

 

While the Master System version of Hang-On looks superior to the SG-1000 version, I can’t help but prefer the latter over the former. Hear me out before you judge. For starters, the controls don’t feel as tight in the Master System version. The brakes don’t kick in as quickly, and the motorcycle takes longer to accelerate back to full speed. Also, while neither version has music during the race, the SG-1000 card’s lack of space makes the dearth of music understandable. But with increased memory comes increased responsibility: there’s no excuse for the game’s iconic theme song to not be in the Master System. Basically, while the SG-1000 version feels like a monumental achievement given the console’s relative lack of power, the Master System version is playable, but basic and a little underwhelming.

 

Hang-On II (Japan)002

                          How Monument Was My Valley

 

Once you finish the game’s five stages, the next course repeats the same five stages again, this time with more obstacles and turns. There are three difficulty levels on the main menu, and while I played them all, I didn’t see much of a difference between them on the SG-1000. All are equally challenging, particularly in the number of opposing bikers that are placed on the course at any given time. Interestingly, the first stage is always the hardest. If you crash even once during this stage, chances are, you won’t make it to the next stage before running out of time. In the following four stages, however, I crashed a couple different times per stage and always made it to the next stage without fail. On the Master System, however, the difference between difficulty levels are more apparent: in Level 1, for example, the computer-controlled bikers won’t even acknowledge your presence, whereas in Level 3, they will be “up on your grill.”

 

BikeHandle2

                   The Bike Handle – vroom vroom!

 

Hang-On II also received its very own peripheral: Sega’s Bike Handle BH-400. Even though the Handle was designed for Hang-On II, one can use it for racing games up through the Mega Drive days, which is pretty forward-thinking and generous of Sega; Road Rash, here we come, eh? As you can see from the picture above, the controller is seated on a red base, which mimics the color of the original arcade motorcycle. I haven’t given the controller a hang-on myself, so I can’t say for certain how well it works. Do the handlebars look petite to anyone else, though? My hands would certainly dwarf the bars, and I consider myself to have very small dude hands. Also, the shifter on the left side: perfect for countries that are used to that configuration, like Japan and Britain; not so easy, perhaps, for us in the U.S.A. The Bike Handle certainly looks retro cool (those motorcycle gauge stickers!), but if you’re gonna import it, be forewarned, it was not designed for American audiences.

 

Yu Suzuki

Despite threats from the stern Suzuki, Sega never released a Vol. 2

 

Hang-On would later be featured in an extremely rare Dreamcast compilation entitled Yu Suzuki’s Gameworks Vol. 1 alongside some of the developer’s other acclaimed works, like After Burner II, Outrun, Power Drift, and Space Harrier. While I haven’t played this particular version, I have played the version of Hang-On found in another more popular Dreamcast title, Shenmue (also developed by Yu Suzuki). The Shenmue version plays relatively close to the arcade, save for the in-game billboards which now reference Shenmue instead of cigarettes.

 

Hang-On II (Japan)003

No sleep ’til whatever city this might be. Brooklyn, perhaps.

 

Hang-On for the Master System would eventually be packaged in several compilation carts with other minor Sega games like Astro Warrior and Safari Hunt, and in some cases, placed into the system’s hardware. While the Master System version is a serviceable port, Hang-On II is the best version of Hang-On either system could have received. While the graphics lack the eye-bursting color and detail of the arcade and Master System versions, the SG-1000 makes up for that with surprisingly decent scrolling and top-notch controls. Sega may have started to move on to the Mark III by the time of Hang-On II‘s release, but cheers to them for putting the time and effort into a solid port for the  oft-neglected SG-1000 owners out there.

 

B - (SG-1000)

B-  (Master System)