The Mega Drive / Genesis

 

megadrive-jpnsegagagadomain

A winner is you.*

 

genesis01

Hmm. Perhaps I will rise from my grave.*

 

RELEASED: 10/29/88 (JP), 09/14/90 (UK), 12/1990 (BR);  as the Genesis – 08/14/89 (US)

PRICE: 21,000 yen (JP), $200 (US), 189.99 pounds (UK), Unknown (BR)

TECH SPECS: Motorola 68000 running at 7.67 Mhz, 64KB of RAM, 64KB of VRAM

Video processor: Yamaha YM7101 capable of 512 direct colors, 64 standard colors, and 4 graphic layers

Sound processor: Zilog Z80 with a Yamaha YM2612 FM sound chip capable of 6 channel sound, and a Sega PSG sound chip

# OF GAMES: Over 900, according to Wikipedia.

UPDATES: Official – Mega Drive / Genesis 2 (1993), Mega Jet (1994), Nomad (1995); Licensed by Majesco – Genesis 3 (1998)

UNITS SOLD: 40 million est. worldwide

 

Sega’s Mark III/Master System was considerably more successful than their first console, the SG-1000, but this success still paled in comparison to the Famicom/NES behemoth. Nintendo’s first console was an unstoppable force in both North America and Japan, and Sega had to make do with market scraps- as they had done ever since launching the SG-1000 in 1983.

In 1986, almost immediately after the release of the Master System, Sega set to work developing a new console. This might seem rash or sudden, like Sega was jumping the gun, but up until this point the company had always been a step behind Nintendo. The SG-1000 launched on the same day as the Famicom in 1983, and while technically an 8-bit system, the games looked like Intellivision titles. Top Famicom ports like Donkey Kong and Popeye looked and played remarkably similar to their arcade counterparts. The SG-1000 had… Borderline. Nice for 1980, confusing for ’83. The Mark III/Master System, released in 1985, was slightly more powerful than the Famicom. Colorful graphics aside, though, the system offered games far inferior to Nintendo’s selections, despite the occasional gem shining through the shrug pile. By ’86, the Famicom’s grasp on the home console market was so tight, Sega couldn’t break in, despite its best efforts.

 

Congo Bongo (Japan, Europe)000

Cry me a bongo.

 

Sega’s arcade business, however, was doing gangbusters. The company was having hit after hit with Space Harrier, After Burner, Shinobi and OutRun, among others. The Master System had ports of all these games, but none of them came close to the quality of the arcade versions. This was to be expected from an older 8-bit console, but the question within the company soon became: what if Sega could produce perfect arcade ports? They would need a stronger console, one that could accurately replicate, at the very least, Sega’s System 16 board.

Enter ‘Mega Drive,’ Sega’s 16-bit console, and the first 16-bit console to hit the market when it debuted in Japan on October 29th, 1988. According to then-Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama, ‘Mega’ meant superiority over rival machines and ‘Drive’ represented the speed of the console’s 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor. The system launched with two titles, Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, and retailed for 21,000 yen, which translates to about $170 in 1988 and $340 in 2015.

 

SONY DSC

She’s a peach.*

 

Despite positive coverage from Famitsu, the Mega Drive only shipped 400,000 units its first year. There have been many speculations as to why the Mega Drive sold less than the Mark III in its first year (Mark III sold a million, according to Sega Retro). The two biggest reasons likely were: the release of Super Mario Bros. 3 for Famicom only six days earlier and the lack of third-party developers in Sega’s court from the get-go. The first reason is just sad. Sega should have changed the release date just to allow SMB3 some breathing room; perhaps unchecked pride for their system got in the way. The second reason makes too much sense, particularly in Japan where both Nintendo and NEC had an iron grip on the majority of third-party developers. Remember, Sega singlehandedly supported the Master System, with up to 95% of the games being released developed/ported by Sega themselves or with close associates, Compile. Sega could support the Mega Drive for awhile with arcade ports and quick genre fixes like shoot-em-ups or mahjong titles. Due to increasing development time for games, however, they needed partners if they were going to maintain a varied lineup.

Unfortunately, Sega never gained traction with the Mega Drive in Japan. Despite the advanced age of the Famicom, the system remained the number-one selling console for 1988 and ’89. Competition from NEC’s fantastic PC-Engine didn’t help matters nor did the Super Famicom’s eventual release on November 21, 1990. The Super Famicom took over the role of best-selling console from the Famicom and would go on to dominate sales charts, as its predecessor had done for years prior. Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo kept most of their best help – Capcom, Konami, Square, Enix, Tecmo – to themselves, for the most part. The Mega Drive remained in third place in Japan until Sega finally discontinued the console in 1995.

 

SONY DSC

This ferocious little tyke kept Sega from 2nd place in Japan.*

 

Third-parties eventually came to Sega’s aid, but only after Sega’s North American launch. Due to a trademark dispute with a computer storage company, the ‘Mega Drive’ was renamed the Genesis and launched in North America on August 14th, 1989. Rather than let the Genesis languish as they did with the Master System, Sega marketed their new console aggressively with the now-infamous slogan, “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.” They also focused on how arcade-perfect many of their games looked and created a number of games sponsored by celebrities, including Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.

 

Sonic and MJOCWeekly

Sega couldn’t afford a better Sonic fat suit for Michael Jackson’s support? Sheesh.*

 

The Genesis sold at a steady pace in America. Not enough to topple the NES, but at a better rate than the Master System. The Genesis really took off, though, when Sonic the Hedgehog launched on June 23, 1991. Created as a counterpoint to Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic was everything Mario wasn’t: fast, hip, and edgy. Sonic’s snarky attitude clearly fit with the Genesis, which catered to an older demographic than the NES. But it wasn’t just the character that was cool. Sonic’s first game was a fast-paced respite from all the belabored Mario clones. The quality of Sonic the Hedgehog coupled with the brilliant character design helped Sega sell millions of consoles. By January 1992, Sega’s Genesis had a 65% market share over the just-released Super Nintendo. Sega had toppled Nintendo.

 

SonicTheHedgehogGameFaqs

Never underestimate the power of snark.*

 

Sega maintained a dominant hold on the 16-bit market until 1994 when Donkey Kong Country melted faces with its pseudo-3D graphics. The SNES took charge, sales-wise, and never let up for the rest of either console’s lifespan. One could argue, however, that even before Nintendo’s resurgence, Sega had already lost the plot. By late 1994, Sega was supporting the Genesis, the Game Gear, the Sega CD, the 32X, and was about to release the Saturn. Consumers may have fell in love with Sega and its flagship hedgehog, but this greedy cry for our superfluous Clinton dollars was too much for all but the diehard fans.

 

MDAdd-ons

I’m exhausted just looking at this thing.

 

Despite consumers’ declining interest in Sega as a company, the Genesis remained popular until its eventual death in the late ’90s. Sega kept interest in the Genesis alive with the Genesis II, a smaller, lighter re-model, in 1993. The Nomad was essentially a portable Genesis and could play all the console’s games, presuming you had enough batteries to power the thing. Majesco, a third-party, even released the Genesis 3 in 1998 for the budget price of $50, almost nine years after the system’s initial release in America.

 

SONY DSC

That Low Battery signal was always on.*

 

Thanks to the previous success of the Master System in Europe, the Mega Drive found great popularity there, as well, when it released in most regions in September of 1990. The almost two-year timespan between the European release and the Japanese release meant the system had built a steady library of games. By the time Sonic launched on June 23rd, 1991, the Mega Drive was Europe’s 16-bit system of choice. The territory wouldn’t even receive the SNES until late 1992, and by that time, the people’s billfolds had already spoken.

While the Master System and (to a much lesser extent) the SG-1000 had some decent games in their library, the Mega Drive/Genesis had an insane treasure trove. Not only did Sega bring over the majority of their arcade titles released in the late 80s/early 90s, they also developed a partnership with Electronic Arts, resulting in some of the best sports games of the 16-bit era. Mortal Kombat‘s Genesis version was heavily favored over the SNES version, due to the code that let you change white sweat into ‘red sweat.’ Then there’s the Streets of Rage trilogy, Phantasy Star II and IV, Vectorman, Comix Zone, Toe Jam & Earl and Panic on Funk-o-tron, Shining Force 1 and 2, Kid Chameleon, Herzog Zwei. Contra, Castlevania, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all saw Sega-exclusive entries. The Mega Drive has one of the best libraries in all of gaming, and it will be my absolute pleasure to go through them all.

 

ScrewAttackTJ&E Gif

Yup, I’m excited to play through the Mega Drive / Genesis library.*

 

No Sega console would be complete without a ton of peripherals, most crap, with only the occasional burst of creative genius. The Power Base Convertor allows you to play Master System games on the Mega Drive/Genesis, thanks to the Master System’s processor and sound chip being included within the 16-bit console. Unfortunately, this Convertor only worked with the initial Mega Drive/Genesis units. Any later hardware revisions were unable to use the Convertor (at least legally). Sega also released the light-gun Menacer, an answer to Nintendo’s equally ridiculous Super Scope and about as useful. There’s the Activator, an octagonal ring that sat on the floor and allowed you to input in-game movements with your body instead of a controller. The Activator was made when fighting games ruled the earth. Street Fighter II: Championship Edition and Mortal Kombat both supported the device, but that doesn’t mean the peripheral could read your hilarious attempts at Hadoukens. Inaccurate and overpriced, the Activator had a mercifully brief life before being damned to Toys ‘R Us clearance sections.

 

sega-activator-ad-socool-technobuffalo

I wonder where these flickering triplets are today.

 

The Sega Channel stands alone, more prophecy than peripheral. Somewhat modeled after the “Sega Meganet,” which debuted in 1990 in Japan and allowed players to play games online, the Sega Channel was a service offered in partnership with Time Warner Cable in 1994. With a subscription fee and special adapter, players could choose to play from a list of 35-50 games using their cable providers. Players would choose a game, download it to the console’s internal memory, play it, then when the console was turned off, the game would be deleted from the console. The service was forward-thinking and expensive for its time – $15/month plus $25 activation fee. Then again, you could play a wide variety of Genesis games, including some like Mega Man: The Wily Wars that never came to the U.S. And considering game rentals were between four and five dollars for a few days, the Sega Channel would more than pay for itself if you played a lot of titles.

 

SEGA_CHANNEL_1jpg

The Sega Channel dude is really excited about the future.*

 

The Genesis changed Sega’s fortunes and, arguably, their souls. No other system would be as profitable for the company as the Genesis. Massive sales came from their brilliant early 90s marketing campaign, Sonic’s release, and a plethora of excellent titles found only on the system. Sega, however, seemed to believe that creative marketing and fantastic games were not enough, and that consumers wanted newer, better technology all the time. Rather than supporting the Genesis with good games until its natural end, they flooded the market with add-ons, ruined consumer goodwill, and destined the Saturn – the Genesis’ true follow-up – to be met with indifference, if not outright disdain. And yet, few gamers would argue that the Mega Drive / Genesis remains one of the company’s crowning achievements. Not even Sega’s questionable business decisions could ruin the console’s legacy.

 

*thanks to GameFAQS, Wikipedia, TechnoBuffalo, SegaGagaDomain, OC Weekly, and ScrewAttack for these pictures/gif.

Farewell to Sam

SonicTails

 

The Sega Does Podcast is no more. There’s various factors going into this decision, but the main one is, Sam can’t devote time to the podcast anymore. I do not blame him for this at all. He has a home business, a wife, and kids to take care of. He was also the one who recorded and edited the entire show and paid for the hosting fees for segadoes.libsyn.com (the latter I didn’t know about until today, though I should’ve figured it out long ago and offered to help). The man handled all the podcast duties, in other words. I just showed up with some knowledge of the games.

I’m very thankful to Sam for all his hard work. His efforts made the podcast as fun as it was for our devoted group of listeners. We tackled all the SG-1000 library and a good chunk of the Japanese Master System games. We ranted against the perils of mobile gaming, like two old men sitting on a porch, waiting for the world to burn. He made a fool out of me with 20 Questions! The time I’ve had podcasting with him will not be forgotten.

Of course, Sam is still around. You can find him on Twitter @thepixel_dude. He doesn’t post much, but you should tweet at him anyway. Tell him how much you appreciated his work.

The 27 episodes of the podcast are still up for now on segadoes.libsyn.com, but due to hosting fees, they will be taken down in the near future. If you want to download them, head there or over to iTunes before they’re gone forever.

As for any future podcast plans, maybe, but not right now. Not for awhile. The rapport that Sam and I had was special. Not only that, I don’t really want to replace him, ever. I’m open to being a guest on other Sega podcasts. Until I’m ready to move on or (wishful thinking) Sam is able to come back, Sega Does will press on in blog-form only.

Thanks for reading my bummer news. Y’all are the hotness.

 

DC

Ancient Ys Vanished Omen

YsJP

The dawning of an RPG series.

 

YsUS

“Give me back my Omens, you wastrels!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Falcom (port by Sega)

GENRE: RPG

RELEASE DATE: 10/15/88  – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US)

                                            1989 – (EU)

 

1987 and 1988 were watershed years for RPGs. If you can believe it, the first iterations of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, and Ys were all released within these two years. Surprisingly, all series are still seeing new releases to this day. That kind of longevity is unheard of. Outside of Mario and Zelda, I can’t think of two other game series from this time period that continue to see regular new releases (if able, pour one out for Castlevania, Mega Man, and Contra).

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]002

And if you don’t know, now ya know.

 

Out of the aforementioned landmark RPG series, Ys is the intimidating oddball. Falcom, the developers, seem to pride themselves on revamping and re-releasing older entries in the series, changing key story bits here and there while fine-tuning the gameplay. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but consider: Ancient Ys Vanished Omens (or Ys: The Vanished Omens for us Westerners) has been released on eighteen different computers/consoles within a twenty-year time span – from the PC-88 to the Wii. Most of those ports were Japanese-only, but still! If you’re looking to play the “definitive” version of Ys, much research is required.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]001

Wolves on a bridge? That’s a paddlin’.

 

My personal journey began with the Master System Ys port, and brother, what a long and grindy adventure it’s been. You play as Adol Christin, a strong, handsome, silent type who has been tasked with finding knowledge of the land of Ys. To do so, he must find the six books of Ys, bone up on their contents, and use said knowledge to stop evil (and transport himself to Ys). You’ve heard this song and dance before, because Ys is from the far-off world of 1987 where RPGs don’t have long and involved stories. No matter: the meat of Ys isn’t found in the story, but in the game’s curiously eccentric combat system.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]000

“Oh man,” indeed. No, I’m not looking for a good time.

 

I played my fair share of Ys, and I’m still unsure whether the combat system works or not. The system is… interesting, and despite my hang-ups with it, I continued to grind my face off. That counts for something, right? Instead of a typical turn-based RPG where you’re flung from a top-down overworld view into a separate battle screen, in Ys, you directly bum rush the enemy with your sword. No menus. No tedious scrolling through options. Just a quick real-time in-your-face rap with the sword – sort of. You can’t just slice and dice and expect to call it a battle. You have to walk sideways into the enemy, hitting them just so in order to cause any damage. Mind where you stand too. Attacking them head-on from a slightly wrong angle causes your life to drain as fast or faster than theirs. And the enemies never stop shifting directions. I wouldn’t call them ‘smart,’ per say, but they know how you intend to kill them and they won’t stand for it.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]006

“Look, just stand still and I’ll kill you. It’s that simple.”

 

Taking down an enemy that won’t stop moving is a great feeling, particularly when you don’t lose any health. But woe be to the player who thinks Adol is at all a strong character, particularly in the beginning. When you face an enemy that’s a level or two above yours, one to two hits from them will kill you. Because these are real-time battles, these hits happen so quickly that you’ll be surprised by your death. The solution for this is twofold: 1) your health replenishes when you stand still, a fantastic and welcome feature; and 2) you have the ability to save anywhere at any time. The problem is, until you’re used to the combat system and/or the quickness with which you can be killed, you’ll want to be saving after every enemy skirmish. Which sounds silly, until you’ve experienced the death and frustration and more death. However, once your own level is above lower-level enemies, you can literally walk through them and kill them for easy experience. +1 for Adol and those that control him.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]003

I dare say I’m screwed.

 

And if angle-driven real-time combat wasn’t enough to set your girded loins ablaze, get ready to grind like you’ve never ground before. I spent two hours fighting weak knights (who only provided 4 XP) outside the first temple, just so I could face the first temple boss and not worry about imminent death. I probably wouldn’t have taken so much time, but enemies are surprisingly scarce. At times, I’d spend a good twenty seconds walking around, looking for another 4 XP-dropping knight to kill.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]005

These mutated McNuggets are surprisingly hard to kill, but the taste can’t be beat.

 

Ys combat system is like raising a child. Every time you think you’ve figured it out, the system throws you a curveball. You want to understand the system, in spite of the pain and frustration it causes you. You keep persevering with it through victories and failures. There is no reason for you to do this, yet you do it anyway. This, friends, is called unreasonable love.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]004

“Let’s settle this, old man.”

 

Questionable analogy aside, Ys held my attention with its beautiful soundtrack and meticulously crafted world. Yuzo Koshiro and Meiko Ishikawa’s music give the game a depth and emotion that, frankly, it doesn’t earn. Buy one of Ys four soundtrack releases, it’s that good. Ys world is smaller than most RPG worlds. Even at the time of the game’s release, two towns, three dungeons, and a tiny overworld didn’t amount to much in terms of content. Personally, I feel the world’s smaller scale suits the story. You never have to worry about getting lost and the constant backtracking ensures a comforting familiarity with each area.

 

Ys - The Vanished Omens (UE) [!]007

As the torch grew dim, so too did Adol’s resolve to live another day.

 

Ys is a quaint counterpoint to more epic widescreen RPGs like Phantasy Star. But what the former lacks in flash, it makes up for with innovative combat and an intimate world. There are few RPG series as unassuming and yet relentlessly fascinating as the Ys games. If you haven’t taken the plunge into Ys admittedly confusing depths, you could do worse than the Master System port.

 

B+

Double Dragon

DoubleDragonJP

Twice the “hai” for your “yaaaaa.”

 

DoubleDragonUS

Now, Sega, there’s only one dragon on this cover. Did we not read the title?

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Technos (port by Sega)

GENRE: Beat-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/01/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

If any brawler can give players lessons in the School of Wayward Fists, it’s Double Dragon. This game was among the first beat-em-ups to equip you with weapons and, more importantly, to provide two player co-op. No thanks to the latter features, Double Dragon was an instant success, paving the way for ports – as many as you could stomach. The flippin’ Atari 2600 got a port of this game! Way to keep the fire burning, Activision.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]000

Getting rickrolled by an 80s brawler? That’s a first.

 

Most gamers either remember the NES port or the Master System port, and for good reason. In 1988, these were the only two consoles that could render proper punch-and-kickery (the near-flawless Genesis version wouldn’t show up until 1992). Neither 8-bit port is arcade perfect, though the Master System comes the closest. The NES version couldn’t handle Billy and Jimmy co-op play (despite the fact that Double Dragon II provided seamless co-op a year later), while the Master System delivered co-op ’til you co-drop (I am so sorry). The Master System’s levels are closer in design to the original arcade levels, as well, while the NES version did more or less what it wanted. The NES port did receive a two-player fighting game and a unique upgrade system. With the latter, the more enemies you fought, the more points you received. Said points would then unlock new moves. This is a nice gesture on Technos’s part, but the fighting is primitive and gets old fast. Also, most of the unlockable moves are moves provided from the beginning in the Master System version.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]002

“Hold on, guys, I just need to take out the trash.”

 

So Double Dragon for the Master System is the default winner, right? Congratulations, Sega, you have the stronger console and thus the better looking, better playing port!… right? Well, hmm. The hit detection for Double Dragon is some of the worst I’ve tussled with in a while. Unless you’re staring your opponent directly in the face, you’ll be roundhouse kicking the air – and leaving yourself open for blows. Hit detection applies to you, but not to the lowlifes you’re up against. Unless you’re positioned apart from them, they can very well hit you wherever they feel like, as long as you’re within kicking distance. Now, let’s say you and your opponent have locked eyes. You approach them and start being ruthless: headbutts, kidney jabs, the Alabama Shuffle. In the midst of your punches and kicks, your opponent will hit you, sometimes several times, while you are hitting them. What this means is you will always take damage during a fight. Always. The only way to potentially avoid getting hit is to jump kick, run away, jump kick, run away. And even then, sometimes they jump kick into you, sprawling both fighters on the ground. Not only does this suck the fun out of the game, but the NES port does not have this problem. In the NES version, when you got someone in a combo, they took your blows and then tried to sucker punch you.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]003

Stuck between Abobo and, er, another Abobo.

 

In the NES version, you had three lives to beat all four stages. No continues. Your life bar was ample and would refill at the beginning of a new stage, but otherwise, those three lives were like precious street diamonds. The NES version is tough, sure, but not because the fighting is cheap.  Double Dragon for the Master System has unlimited continues until stage 4 – because the game is just that balls hard. Unless your skills are otherworldly or you’re playing with a buddy who’s seen his fair share of the streets, there is no way anyone would make it past stage 1 without these continues. Their inclusion signifies Sega’s laziness. Sega rarely provides continues in their action games (and this port is by Sega, so I feel comfortable calling it a Sega game), let alone a charitable amount like “unlimited.” Sure, they dry up on the last stage, but only because there has to be challenge somewhere.

 

Double Dragon (UE) [!]004

“Get down here and fight like a half-man!”

 

Old habits die hard. In this case, my habit of preferring the NES to the Master System. Double Dragon for the NES may have been the neutered punk between the two ports, but the dearth of co-op didn’t ruin the game. Given the Master System’s roided insides, this version should have been as close to perfection as possible. Alas, no co-op in the world could make Sega’s busted brawling feel right. At least Technos admitted that when they developed Double Dragon for the NES/Famicom, they were unfamiliar with the system’s hardware. What’s Sega’s excuse?

 

D+

R-Type

 

RTypeJP

This is just a spectacular piece of box art. No snark required.

 

RTypeUS

“My chest! My beautiful chest!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Irem (port by Compile)

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 10/01/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

Every shoot-em-up that stands the test of time has a great gimmick, one that acts as a cornerstone for the game’s foundation. Life Force‘s levels were designed specifically with two player co-op in mind. Gradius gives you the ability to choose your weapon/shield upgrades in a rotating upgrade wheel. R-Type has the Force device, a detachable pod that can be sent either backwards or forwards into enemy chaos. The Force device is all-powerful and can’t be destroyed, which makes it the perfect partner in your war against the Bydo Empire. If the device is attached to you in the front or back, it also acts as a type of shield, absorbing any projectiles sent your way. To really succeed with R-Type, you’ll have to not only memorize enemy patterns, but also learn when to deploy the Force device in any given situation. Each level sends out tons of enemies in all directions, and often the only way you’ll be able to survive is with the the Force device’s help.

 

R-Type (UE) [!]000

Back into the womb!

 

As with most shoot-em-ups, when you die in R-Type, you lose all of your weapon upgrades, including the Force device. Because the Force device is so essential for your survival, however, you’re given it quickly after you restart the level; just shoot one of those bouncing rabbit robots, collect the blue orb, and the Force device will return to you, like a robot dog welcoming home its master. This generosity is a far cry from Gradius. In the latter, if you die a few levels in, you may as well restart, due to the lack of power-ups the game gives you after a certain point. While the Force device won’t prevent your death, it is always a welcome ally, particularly when you restart in claustrophobic, enemy swarming areas.

 

R-Type (UE) [!]001

The Bydo Empire and H.R. Giger were constantly collaborating.

 

The Force device is an ingenious gimmick and the backbone of R-Type, but the eerie ambient level designs, deliberate pacing, and solid weapon upgrades add considerable depth and life to the game. As you fly through the Bydo Empire’s underwater caves filled with intestinal sea anemone, you can’t help but feel creeped out – even as you’re trying to stay alive. The shooting gets desperate at times, but the enemies rarely overwhelm when you’re ‘roided out with upgrades. In addition to the Force device, you can acquire two orbs that surround your ship’s top and bottom and shoot in either direction. There’s also missiles, anti-land lasers that look like diarrhea caterpillars and don’t do much of anything, reflecting lasers, and anti-air ring lasers. The latter two are the strongest and best weapons to have, and with the Force device by your side, make you feel invincible.

 

R-Type (UE) [!]002

Nothing like an alien graveyard to make you feel at home.

 

But just in case you thought I was a shmup savant, make no mistake: R-Type is incredibly hard and requires insane amounts of trial-and-error and memorization to make it through. This difficulty is part of the game’s charm, though. I mean, would you really feel like you had accomplished something as significant as destroying an evil alien empire if the eight missions given you were easy?

 

RType3

Now I’m playing with power.

 

R-Type makes up for Thunder Blade, Blade Eagle 3-D, and all the other half-assed shoot-em-ups I’ve been forced to play on the Master System. Not only is it the best shmup I’ve yet to play on the console, it’s one of the finest to emerge from the genre’s golden period.

 

A

SpellCaster

SpellCasterJP

Er, uh, hmm.

 

SpellCasterUS

The power of their spells compels them.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Action/adventure

RELEASE DATE: 09/23/88 – (JP)

                                          1989 – (US, EU)

 

Futuristic samurai warriors, ancient Japanese landscapes, resurrected serpent gods, and an extravagant amount of spell casting all can be found in SpellCaster. You play as Kane, a warrior of the mystical arts, and your master Daikak has commissioned you to check on the whereabouts of other mystical warriors. The story gets hazy and nonsensical from the get-go, which might seem like a detriment considering how much the game wants you to care about the plot. Roll with the “shocking” plot twists and babble between non-playable characters, and you’ll find plenty to appreciate here.

 

Spellcaster (UE) [!]001

“These holes are no match for my vintage Prince costume!”

 

SpellCaster‘s strength lies in its perusal of different genres. The game starts off as a side-scroller, like Kenseiden or Shinobi. Enemies fly at you in clusters, you shoot them with your blue fiery magic chunks, they explode, and the cycle begins anew. Once you head into a temple or a town, the game turns into an adventure. You’re expected to LOOK at strange items, TAKE swords, use SPELLS to break down barriers, TALK to cybernetic samurais, and MOVE to your next location. There are minor RPG elements, as well. Kane has nine different spells he can use from the beginning of the game, most of which are useful for one scenario or another. For example, Makiri allows you to fly for about thirty seconds. Given SpellCaster‘s abundant one-hit death pits and chasms, Makiri is a spell you’ll often use in the side-scrolling portions. You also have Strength and Energy, as indicated by the numbers at the top of the screen. Strength is your life, Energy is for spells. These can be upgraded a few times by getting items, but you never manually use or equip any item you find; ditto for upgraded armor and weapons.

 

Spellcaster (UE) [!]003

I… don’t know what to say.

 

Because SpellCaster never commits to one genre, the game isn’t very deep. Side-scrolling portions are quite easy, particularly when you’re shooting out one-hit kill energy balls and you’re flying over the level with Makiri (which I did – a lot). Because SpellCaster isn’t a mystery, per say, the adventure portions never require puzzle solving or in-depth sleuthing. Usually, the screen will show one person or one item and you’ll have to TALK/LOOK at said person or item to progress the story, but that’s all. That’s not to say SpellCaster doesn’t take spooky turns into Difficultville. Wait until you’re trying to cross the ocean around the game’s halfway mark. Not only do you not have a map, but most of the ocean screens look exactly the same so it’s easy to get lost.

 

Spellcaster (UE) [!]005

…by a freaky mechano-pillar.

 

SpellCaster wasn’t born from some crazy Sega employee’s head. The game is actually based on the manga “Kujaku O” or “Peacock King.” In the manga, “Kane” is Kujaku, a Buddhist monk who hunts and exorcises demons. According to the Wikipedia page, he is the reincarnation of Mahamayuri, one of the Buddhist Wisdom Kings; Lucifer a.k.a. Satan from Christianity; and Melek Taus, or “Peacock Angel” in the Yadzi religion. Kujaku also likes porn and seafood because, lest we forget, he’s a main character in a manga. Needless to say, none of these controversial aspects of the manga made their way into SpellCaster‘s story. I don’t blame Sega in the slightest. Playing as a Buddhist monk who is 1/3 the reincarnation of Satan would be a little tough to stomach for American audiences, even today.

 

Spellcaster (UE) [!]006

Kraftwerk was right! Not even the past is immune to computer love!

 

I’ve reviewed a ton of games over the years, most of them 8-bit. Due to their simplistic natures, my opinions of them usually fall between one of two options: a) this game is an atrocious waste of time or b) hey, that was great, how about I play some more. Then there’s SpellCaster, which was… enjoyable enough? The side-scrolling was tight, if not a bit short. The adventure/story was cheesy and filled with spelling errors. The light RPG elements were nice, even if I had no control over them. And yet, despite the game’s window dressing, SpellCaster as a whole is shallow. The game exists not to immerse you in itself, but to tell its weird pointless story. Just when you’re starting to enjoy a portion, it’s over and you’re on to the next plot point. Then again, take any one genre out – side-scrolling action, adventure, or RPG – and who knows whether SpellCaster would hold mine or anyone else’s interest. I’m conflicted, you see. Which is why I recommend every Master System fan play SpellCaster, if only because I’m unsure of its appeal.

 

B

Important Update!

 

sonic_16_bit__gif__by_fulanit0-d6fso2y

 

So it’s been awhile since I’ve had one of these “What’s Goin’ On” updates for Sega Does. As Sonic might say if he were giving birth, “I’m way past due!”

 

Most of you know that before I embraced Sega’s cold metallic bosom in the spring of 2014, I was ensconced in the NES library on Questicle.net. I reviewed every North American NES game, swore I’d make a book out of all my reviews, then let the site alone. But since the 30th anniversary of the NES is fast approaching (October 1985), what better time to dust off the site and release an all-encompassing book? Over the next couple of months, I’ll be hard at work getting my NES Compendium ready to go. I’ve been revising – and in some case, rewriting – every single one of my 754 NES reviews. This is good, great, fantastic! Unfortunately, since I have a limited amount of writing time throughout the week, I have to pull time from somewhere. That ‘somewhere’ is Sega Does. I’ll still be updating the site, just a bit less than usual. Expect 1-2 reviews a week for the next 2-3 months. The podcast should continue on as normal, but with fewer games to discuss, we might focus more on specific topics; Sega-related podcasts rather than strict game-by-game discussion. We shall see.

 

I’m not giving up Sega Does. I’ve thought about pulling the plug more than a few times, but I feel like I’m supposed to continue this blog, as if this is a part of my life’s work. I can’t explain this mystery and it sounds silly to me as I write it. Believe me, my life would be a lot easier if I didn’t have this burden of my own making on my shoulders. But I will continue. I have to. I can’t wait to have the NES book behind me, so I can focus exclusively on Sega. Until then, thanks for sticking with this crazy endeavor.

 

And hey, if you like Sega Does and want to see it continue on a more frequent basis, please consider contributing to my Patreon. My Patreon isn’t explicitly Sega Does related, as it covers all my writing. This blog is one of my main endeavors, though, and if I reach a certain amount of money, I will be able to – Lord willing – cut back on my day job and turn Sega Does into an every day or every other day type of review blog. I’d also love to incorporate videos along with these reviews, but one step at a time.

 

Thanks for understanding and for continuing to read my work. Y’all the best.

 

DC

Golvellius: Valley of Doom

GolvelliusJP

The man skirt never really caught on, did it?

 

GolvelliusUS

She’s one head turn away from becoming a pillar of salt.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Compile (port by Sega)

GENRE: Action/RPG

RELEASE DATE: 08/14/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

Golvellius owes its very being to The Legend of Zelda. From the top-down perspective to the wherever-you-may-roam exploration to the caves with old people who give you junk. The influence (or idea theft, depending upon your point of view) is impossible to ignore from the first few moments of the game. At the time of Golvellius‘s release on the original MSX, Zelda was barely a year old in Japan. Talk about a fast turnaround! The Master System wouldn’t see a port until 1988, but the extra time spent was worth the wait. Rest assured, Golvellius is one of the console’s true gems, an action/RPG that expands upon Zelda‘s original genre template.

 

Golvellius - Valley of Doom (UE) [!]001

Yes ma’am.

 

You play as Kelesis, a name you will likely forget throughout your journey, since neither the story nor the hero are of much importance. In fact, the supporting characters take on as great of a role as the Kelesis himself. There’s the Wise Woman who gives you items of great importance, often at great cost. I believe she dresses like a hobo just to troll you. Randar is a blue Lolo-esque figure who refills your health and any spare potions you have for a measly 150 gold. He’s adorable and incredibly helpful. Finally, Winkle, a psychic fairy, will give you an embarrassingly long 32-character password that you will write down and use. Inputting said password she provides will bring you back to where you turned off the game with all your items in tow. Failing to do so means restarting the game from the beginning. The password system is one of the game’s major flaws. After all, Phantasy Star had a battery backup and that game debuted a year prior. But as with other retro games, you either grow accustomed to the quirks or you use emulators and save states. Problem solved!

 

Golvellius - Valley of Doom (UE) [!]006

These guys give ya lots of gold, and they’re surprisingly chill about being killed.

 

Golvellius‘s gameplay amounts to two things: grinding for gold and uncovering caves. To grind for money, you kill the enemies that appear on screen. Kill them again and again because they won’t ever stop regenerating and you need the money any way. Snakes, boars, moles, frogs, spiders, bees, crows and others all provide varying amounts of gold upon death. Because of the Wise Woman’s highway robbery pricing for most items, there will be numerous times when you are forced to sit on one screen and hack away at dozens of enemies until you have enough gold for a certain item.

 

Golvellius - Valley of Doom (UE) [!]003

Side-scrolling dungeons, platforming, lots of snakes: Golvellius thought of everything.

 

Caves are where you go to spend your hard-earned ducats. For example, when you see the Wise Woman, bust out ye olde coin purse (and if you don’t have enough money, prepare for some hilarious olde English insults). She sells everything from potions (the equivalent to additional hearts in Zelda), sword and shield upgrades, aqua boots (walk on water, son), and Bibles (not the Bible, but increasingly large purses with which to hold more gold). She may be wise and wrinkled, but she drives a hard bargain. If you want what she’s selling, you’re gonna have to grind for days. The items are always worth it, though. Bonus fact: when you buy a special item, like a new weapon, the music changes. Since Golvellius has one of the best soundtracks on the Master System, you’re gonna want to get all the items in order to hear the game’s themes.

 

Golvellius - Valley of Doom (UE) [!]002

I hope she doesn’t represent all angels.

 

There are two kinds of dungeons. The first is a side-scrolling kind, similar to the type found in Zelda II – though far less frustrating, thanks to Kelesis’ extended sword. These dungeons are linear and usually have easy puzzles, like destroy the false block, or hit the switch here. Some additional puzzles and atmosphere in these side-scrolling dungeons would have been welcome, but they’re enjoyable for what they are. The second far more interesting dungeon is the top-down automatic scrolling kind. Here, you’ll have to keep up with the scrolling screen while killing bats and butterflies. I want to say I’ve seen another game do this, but I can’t remember the name. And until I do, Golvellius earns my respect for this innovation. Unfortunately, the dungeon bosses are rarely if ever challenging. I beat four of the game’s eight bosses without doing much more than walking up to them and stabbing them. No special items needed here, like in Zelda.

 

Golvellius - Valley of Doom (UE) [!]005

Get out of mine way, ye winged wastrel.

 

But the last boss, Golvellius, is an interesting beast. After you defeat him, he repents of his evil ways and joins your party. How many bosses can you say have done that? Presumably, Golvellius would have been a part of your party in a forthcoming sequel. Unfortunately, no sequel ever arrived, though Japan did get a weird spin-off called Super Cooks. Visit the link or just take my word for it that the game is as strange as they come.

 

Golvellius - Valley of Doom (UE) [!]008

But can he tame her heart?

 

Zelda may have been the game that popularized the action/RPG genre, but Golvellius is the better game. To many, this will seem like blasphemy, but hear me out. I respect The Legend of Zelda more than I enjoy it. I love the dungeons. I’m lukewarm on the layout and design of Hyrule. As a kid, there were times when finding a dungeon in Hyrule felt like happenstance, due to the world’s seemingly endless amount of shrubbery and mountains. Golvellius takes Hyrule’s lacking design and adds much needed personality. Golvellius‘s world has deserts, cemeteries, meadows, oceans, caves, forests. They are colorful, creepy, vast. They inspire emotion. They feel like a living world, not just a blip on a map. Golvellius‘s world obviously doesn’t lessen Hyrule’s initial impact, but I couldn’t imagine exploring the latter now without thinking about how much better the former is. For those that doubt, I say, try the game for yourself. Golvellius may not have kicked off a systems spanning franchise, but there’s no doubt it took the action/RPG amalgam to new peaks of excellence.

 

A-

SegaDoes Episode 27: Forever Blowing Bubbles

 

spaceharrier3d

 

Sam and I have seen the future of gaming and it is… not Sega’s 3D glasses. We’ll just keep holding out for Oculus Rift or HoloLens or Project LaurenceFishburne.

 

Today’s episode features such glory hogs as Shinobi and Super Racing, are-they-or-aren’t-they-good-games like Bubble Bobble, Captain Silver and Kenseiden, and out-and-out misfires like Lord of the Sword. A wild bunch, to say the least. The Master System’s heady days are in full swing.

 

Listen/download here.

 

And hey, we might be playing lots of old games, but we don’t live inside a vacuum. We also discuss the Shenmue 3 announcement and what Ryo’s continuing adventures mean for society.

 

As always, thanks for listening. You’re all gentlemen and scholars.

 

Nekkyuu Koshien

NekkyuuKoshien

Uh, sir? Your head’s on fire…

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 09/09/88 – (JP)

 

Most retro gamers agree that there was an overabundance of baseball games that occurred during the 8-bit days. I attribute the glut to the Japanese fascination with the sport, though they also must have been easy to develop. Why else would America have received four Bases Loaded, three R.B.I. Baseball titles, and God knows how many others for the NES?

 

Nekyuu Kousien (J) [!]-01

Go, Purple Rains!

 

I personally have played a couple dozen baseball games since I’ve started my review quests. Most were on the NES, but Sega’s put out their fair share on the SG-1000 and Master System, and I suspect there are dozens more to come. Today’s platter consists of Nekkyuu Koshien or, as it’s known in English, ‘High School Fastball.’ Yes, Nekkyuu Koshien is a high school baseball game, the first I’ve ever played and the first for the Master System. What does that mean exactly? High school teams from everywhere in Japan (I played as Hokkaido West), goofy anime sequences between hits, and hirakana/katakana galore.

 

Nekyuu Kousien (J) [!]-02

These sequences are the best portions of the game.

 

What Nekkyuu Koshien has going for it is presentation. You’re able to pick from 49 (!) different high school teams. When you get a hit or score a point, your team’s cheerleaders pep you up with creepy, suggestive routines (I thought this was cute until I realized they were likely underage). The shrill voice modulation made famous in Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars returns here to yell “Out-o!” or “Saf-u!” among other abrasive words. These are the few touches that make Nekkyuu Koshien distinct.

 

Nekyuu Kousien (J) [!]-03

The mice seem pretty happy.

 

But as for the baseball itself, Nekkyuu Koshien could be Bo Jackson Baseball or Great Baseball or any number of middling baseball games. Hitting and pitching feel good enough, but you aren’t able to do much with either. For pitching, I could only throw curveballs and straight forward balls. Perhaps there were more styles, but these were the only two I found (you pitch and swing with Button I – Button II does nothing). My batters were ok, but nowhere near the strength of the opposing team’s batters. I got some hits, mostly singles, then I’d usually get out because sometimes my team wouldn’t run to different bases if I scored a hit. No joke: if I got a single hit with a man on first, I had to move the man on first to second base manually with the controller, while the current batter ran to first automatically. I’ve never seen any other baseball game do this. Even in Nintendo’s Baseball, the players on the other bases move when someone scores a run. The less said about my outfielders, the better. If the opposing team hit a ball that ended up being an out, the outfielders would stand in place and catch it, as they should. But Lord help them if the ball went anywhere other than their mitts. The slow pace at which these hooligans moved is only rivaled by the outfielders in – once again – Baseball. All of this being said, I didn’t find it impossible to sit through a full nine innings, but I was nonplussed through most of the game.

 

Nekyuu Kousien (J) [!]-05

For the love of crumb cake. Catch the ball!

 

Perhaps I’m being too hard on what are essentially high schoolers trying to ganbatte through some good ol’ fashioned Japanese yakyuu. Unfortunately, Nekkyuu Koshien really is just another baseball game amidst an overcrowded sea of chaw-filled spittoons.

 

C