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

Thunder Blade

ThunderBladeJP

Destroying Silent Hill once and for all.

 

ThunderBladeUS

When helicopters ruled the earth.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 07/30/88 – (JP)

                                             1988 – (US)

                                     11/05/88 – (EU)

YUP: This is another arcade port.

 

Dare I call Thunder Blade a borderline realistic shoot-em-up? Your helicopter only takes one hit before it’s shot down. It has two modes of attack, air bullets and ground-based bombs. There are no power-ups. Every level takes place around drab landscapes that look like they have boring real life equivalents. The only unrealistic point about Thunder Blade is that you’re a one-man army destroying what must be a small country’s army of planes, tanks, and landscapes. Maybe in the 80s we would dare to dream of such heroics, but not in today’s selfish times.

 

Thunder Blade (UE) [!]000

Now I’ve done it.

 

Because of Thunder Blade‘s lack – no power-ups, bland environments, choppy framerate, four levels – the game only feels like half a shoot-em-up, despite each level having three parts to it. The first and best part of each level is a top-down shooter where you attack green helicopters and green tanks amidst a sea of brown dirt, brown dust, and/or brown sand (seriously, green and brown are Thunder Blade‘s two favorite colors). The framerate is stable here and there’s a steady flow of enemies to shoot down. But – and it could just be me – the screen feels too cramped with your sizable helicopter mincing with both the tanks on the ground and the enemy helicopters in the air. The red bullets can be hard to discern as well, depending on the stage you’re in. These parts are over way too fast, but they at least make you feel like you’re playing an average shmup.

 

Thunder Blade (UE) [!]001

This city’s been going downhill since the helicopters moved in.

 

The second part of each level is a behind-the-helicopter perspective, similar to After Burner or Space Harrier sans the spastic perspective of the former and the strange environs/enemies of the latter. This does not mean that this portion is preferable to either of the aforementioned games. Sega apparently believes that the behind-the-vehicle perspective for shoot-em-ups is fantastic, despite the fact that said viewpoint makes any Master System shmup slow, unstable, and impossible to tell if the bullets will hit your helicopter/airplane/levitating Rocketeer. These sections also chug on for far longer than needs be. They’re at least three times as long as the top-down shooter portions, and while that still isn’t very long (each level, if completed without losing lives, could be taken down in about seven minutes), it will feel like an eternity, thanks to the all-encompassing crapulence.

 

Thunder Blade (UE) [!]002

Gettin’ sweaty in the cockpit.

 

The last part of each level is the boss fight. The bosses again adhere to the game’s staunch pseudo-realism, and include a large missile, a fortress, an aircraft carrier! Stuff you’ve seen before. You destroy the shootable parts to take ’em down. Or don’t. If you make it to the end of the boss without dying, the boss will still explode, even if you didn’t shoot it at all. Yay realism!

 

Thunder Blade (UE) [!]004

We’re through the looking glass here, people.

 

It takes a lot for me to dislike a shmup, it takes a train for me to hate one. Thunder Blade is a long ride aboard the Union Pacific. The game’s lack of enthusiasm for itself is stunning. In my time spent with the Master System, I’ve seen few titles look as bad, sound as bad (the music and sound effects combined sound like stunted farts atop shredded wax paper), and provide so little reason for continuing. A helicopter shoot-em-up could work, but by gar, Thunder Blade is not the way to chop about it.

 

D-

Megumi Rescue

MegumiRescueJP

So… firefighters wear space suits in Japan?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Aicom (port by Sega? Unsure)

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 07/30/88 – (JP)

 

Megumi Rescue takes the grim, depressing work of firefighting and turns it into a happy, colorful romp, filled with cat rescues, helicopter rides, and chipper music.

 

Megumi Rescue (J) [!]-01

Innocuous beginnings…

 

Each level consists of an elaborate building, on fire, and filled with people. The people are spread out across the building, hanging out windows and yelling for help, while the fires generally start from the bottom and work their way to the top. If the fire reaches the people, it doesn’t kill them, but it does shove them out of the window, forcing you to catch them before they hit the ground. You control three firefighters, two of which are holding a rescue mat, while the third bounces on said mat to take care of the building. The brave bouncing firefighter has options: put out the fire first and save the building and the people, or just collect the people and let the building burn (there’s no penalty for the latter, by the way, it all just depends on how you want to play). The menu on the right hand side shows how many people need to be rescued (sometimes there are two or more people per window), how many you’ve already rescued, and your life bar. Your life bar goes down the longer you take to save people/put out the fires. Within the last couple bars, your man will catch fire, a tragic occurrence made humorous by his charred corpse’s bulging eyes.

 

Megumi Rescue (J) [!]-02

The neko-chan is your top priority.

 

Certain special items, like the key and the helicopter, will help end the level quicker. The key drenches the building in water, putting out the fire immediately, while the helicopter rescues the remaining folks in the building (and provides a sweet minigame once the level is complete). Other items, like safes, coins, and necklaces (presumably people’s property?) will give you extra points, but the key and the helicopter are the ones to search for.

 

Megumi Rescue (J) [!]-03

Building baptism.

 

Megumi Rescue uses Sega’s curious Paddle Control, previously discussed in reviews for Galactic Protector, BMX Trial: Alex Kidd, and Woody Pop. Were you to play this on the original Mark III hardware with the Control, you would use the dial to move the two ground workers with the mat, then, while the third firefighter is soaring majestically in front of the building, press Button I to latch on to one of the windows and rescue a person/put out the fire/grab hidden items. I did not play this on the original hardware, so I can’t testify to how the sensitivity of the Paddle Control. Usually emulated Paddle Control games are a gamble as to how well the controls will work, but Megumi Rescue worked better than any of the aforementioned titles. Moving the ground workers with an analog stick was smooth and easy, while clasping on to windows with Button I only gave me the occasional “I’m in front of the window, why aren’t you grabbing it” hiccup.

 

Megumi Rescue (J) [!]-04

The colors are gorgeous! Well done, Master System.

 

While the controls are mostly ace, Megumi Rescue‘s main struggle stems with the rescue mat. Naturally, when your firefighter bounces in the middle of the mat, he shoots straight up. But because the mat is so narrow, he rarely ends up in the middle when he lands. If he lands on the left side of the mat, he’ll bounce to the right side of the building and vice-versa. Well, for reasons I could never figure out, your fighter typically lands on the right side of the mat, bouncing to the left side of the screen. He does this all the time. This is great for when you want to clear the left side of the building, and annoying when you want to clear the right or the middle portions. Getting him to bounce in all directions is a struggle that involves numerous splats and/or third-degree burns.

 

Megumi Rescue (J) [!]-05

All in a day’s work.

 

Despite my bouncing woes, Megumi Rescue is by far the most clever, entertaining, and addicting of Sega’s Paddle Control games. I often give Sega’s extra peripherals crap for being cheap add-ons that don’t actually add anything to the game, but Megumi Rescue makes the Paddle Control worth owning. The entire production brims with personality, from the character types you have to rescue (18 different types in all), to the wild building designs, to the idea itself; Megumi Rescue might be the first firefighter-themed game ever made, another notch in Sega’s huge book of gaming firsts. The bouncing issue is frustrating and makes the game far harder than it needs to be, but it doesn’t detract from the game’s replayability. Each game over (you only have three lives and extra 1-Ups are only found in random windows) always brought a sense that I could do better next time. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to call the folks at Aicom heroes for developing this game. If you appreciate creative arcade-style titles, find a way to play Megumi Rescue.

 

B+

Bubble Bobble

BubbleBobbleJP

Final Bubble Bobble, my eye. Bub and Bob are just getting started.

 

BubbleBobbleUS

The dinosaurs’ cuteness overpowers the bland wire frames.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Taito

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 07/02/88 – (JP)

                                            12/91 – (EU)

 

Wait, what? Bubble Bobble on the Master System?! Yup, it happened. Sorry filthy Americans, only Japan, Europe and Brazil got what is reported to be one of the finest Bubble Bobble home versions available. Crisp summertime graphics. 200 different levels, not just 100 levels repeated twice as in the other ports. Three different endings. Same old co-op that makes you want to call your gaming buddy from third grade to come over and play, despite the fact that he lives in Cambodia and your friendship ended on bad terms (he probably still has your Shinobi, the bastard). Yeah, Bubble Bobble is pretty alright if you’re into gap-toothed dinosaurs, scores of bubbles, and repetition galore.

 

Bubble Bobble (Europe)-02

Bub’s got fruit, ocarinas, and contentment.

 

In Bubble Bobble, you play as Bub or Bob (Bubblen and Bobblen in Europe), dinosaurs who have a penchant for blowing bubbles and trapping creatures within them. Each level is a one-screen layout filled with enemies and items. You blow bubbles around the enemies, and pop the bubbles while they’re inside. The enemies don’t die, but they do turn into delicious life-giving fruit. Keep an eye on the numerous other bubbles and items that appear, as well. Red, green, and blue bubbles, once popped, will inflict fire, flash, and water damage respectively to enemies throughout the level (and you, if you’re not careful). Different-colored umbrellas warp you ahead a few levels. Laboratory beakers suck you into mini-games. Basically, if an item appears in a level, touch it. Good things will almost always happen. Three crystal balls are also the key to making it past level 100. If you don’t grab them before level 100, you’ll get the bad ending, even if you beat the last boss, Super Drunk.

 

Bubble Bobble (Europe)-01

Celebrating E3, seven years before the expo began.

 

But should you conquer Super Drunk with crystal balls in tow, you’ll face off against another hundred levels. May I say, if you plan on beating all two hundred levels in one go (you don’t have to, there’s a password system), bring a friend. Co-op really is Bubble Bobble‘s saving grace. Teaming up with a companion to encapsulate hordes of purple whales, floating elephants, and those wind-up jerks lends the game a purpose that it doesn’t have playing alone.

 

Bubble Bobble (E) [!]-01

So very bored.

 

With a friend, each of you can convince the other that Bubble Bobble is worth trudging through, that the game’s couple hundred levels are all essential. Cups of coffee, pats on the back, loud music, together you will curb stomp Super Drunk. Playing by yourself? Well, you might have to do some serious rationalizing to make Bubble Bobble worthwhile. Far be it from me to criticize an old game with such a generous amount of content, but I don’t think Bubble Bobble‘s lightweight gameplay warrants the two hundred levels it provides. Trapping enemies in bubbles and stepping on them isn’t as fulfilling as, say, shooting Mets in the Mega Man series or stomping Koopas in Super Mario Bros. And shooting/jumping on enemies are only two aspects of those games. All Bubble Bobble has is the trapping and stepping followed by more trapping and more stepping. Bub and Bob are still the best bubble exterminators in video games, but without a compadre, a little of their antics is all you’ll need.

 

B (co-op)

C+ (single)

Super Racing

SuperRacing

The prelude to Virtua Racing? Sure, why not.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing

RELEASE DATE: 07/02/88

SUPPORTS: The Paddle Control

 

Super Racing should have been released in the States for three reasons (one of which is, admittedly, not that good of a reason):

1) This here’s some good racin’. The gameplay is an interesting blend of R.C. Pro Am and Sega’s early F-1 racer, World Grand Prix. Many people love the former and, judging by the comments section on my review, nobody’s played the latter. But who cares, the mash-up works. 2) The Master System’s previous racing game was OutRun, released a year prior to Super Racing. OutRun‘s great and all, but after a year, the genre needed a new title in America. This is my meh reason. One could argue that OutRun is all you need. 3) Every piece of text in Super Racing is in English. A bare-bones instruction manual and a poorly rendered wireframe cover: these are the only things Sega would have needed to make in order to bring Super Racing over to a small, appreciative audience. Since I can’t travel back in time to 1988 to encourage Sega of Japan to release the game, let’s all be thankful we live in the age of digital downloads.

 

Super Racing (J) [!]001

I really think Hamshank has a chance this year.

 

Super Racing is a top-down Formula 1 racing game, an arcade racer with some light sim elements. You pick from one of five “F-1″ cars (the names have been changed from the real F-1 cars to protect Sega’s pocketbooks), all of which have slightly varying turn radii, speed, and inertial force. Do these stats make a difference when you play? Not really. Figure out the tracks, learn how to turn, pass the other racers, and you can dominate with a “Murch,” “McLallen,” or a “Fellali.”

 

Super Racing (J) [!]004

Taking curves at… 58km/h?! Grandmas don’t even drive that slow!

 

After you’ve chosen your car, you pick which circuit you want, the Hi-Speed or the Technical. Hi-Speed raises your inertial force, making it more difficult to turn on a dime, while the Technical Circuit supposedly gives your car greater turnability. You choose from either circuit before you begin a course. I’ve never seen either of these options in any racing game before, and as I played, I couldn’t distinguish a difference between them. Perhaps if you super raced for hours and mastered the depth, width and length of the turns, you’d deduce which circuits work best for which course. Regardless, it’s safe to say that Super Racing isn’t Gran Turismo, so you don’t have to overthink your selection.

 

Super Racing (J) [!]002

Nothing funny about this screenshot. The Master System could do way better graphically.

 

Finally, you choose your difficulty, which determines how many courses you’ll race. Beginner has five courses, Average has eight, and Expert will have you tackling an endurance run of fifteen. Needless to say, you’ll need to be a McLallen baller to handle the devious turns found in West Germany among other Expert-only tracks. Each course begins with a qualifier run and a qualifying time. These runs exist to help you get a feel for the course and determine what position you’ll begin in the real race. The closer your time is to the qualifying time when you finish, the higher of a position you’ll start in. And you’ll want to start as close to the front as possible. The computer racers can be passed with practice, but they always seem to know where to sit in front of you. If you’re anywhere below fifth place starting out, it will be hard to take more than a couple spaces in front of you, unless you’ve memorized the course and the computer’s movements. Thankfully, there is a Practice Mode where you can study any course at your leisure. Super Racing thought of everything.

 

Super Racing (J) [!]003

The purple tracks give off a Dimetapp stench if you crash on them.

 

I’d never played a top-down Formula 1 racing game (do any others exist?), so imagine my surprise when Super Racing controlled like a heavier R.C. Pro Am. I primarily used the “Lotas” car – average speed, average turns, etc. The weight and physics of the car were flawless. Twisting and weaving around the track was exceptionally fun. Shifting gears with button 1 instead of ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ on the D-pad felt a little funky at first, but I grew used to it. The tracks themselves have good designs, but their surroundings leave a lot to be desired and don’t take advantage of the Master System’s exceptional color palette. That being said, I don’t play racing games to have my eyes massaged. I play to experience great speed, great destruction, and in Super Racing‘s case, hilarious misspellings of Formula 1 race cars.

 

B+

SegaDoes Episode 26: Key to My Heart

 

Episode 26 of the SegaDoes podcast will also be known as “that one episode where Dylan hosted.” That’s right, yours truly wrestles the mic out of Sam’s hand to mediate yet another fine podcast about old Sega games.

 

In this episode, there are the misfits – Blade Eagle 3-D, Tensai Bakabon, Rygar – and the “golden child,” Solomon no Kagi or Solomon’s Key. No word yet on whether Solomon’s Key and Eddie Murphy are connected in any way.

 

Listen/Download here. A free 60+ minutes of Sega-oriented ramblings!

 

And it wouldn’t be a podcast post without me asking you to leave your lamenting tones, superhero insignias, and declarations of dearest affection in the comment section below. We’ll read ’em, or at least, summarize them on the air. After all, without you faithful listeners, Sam and I would just be two nerdy guys talking about the good ol’ days to no one in particular. And that, friends, is more than a little sad.

 

Captain Silver

CaptainSilverJP

Even the bird’s got beef. What a day!

 

CaptainSilverUS

It must be hard to find clothes that’ll fit you as a skeleton.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Data East (port by Sega)

GENRE: Action platformer

RELEASE DATE: 07/02/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (EU)

                                           1989 – (US)

 

No, Captain Silver is not based on the fabled “Silver Surfer” / Long John Silver crossover. In the game, you play as Jim Aykroyd, a confused man who has taken it upon himself to seek the lost treasure of pirate magnate, Captain Silver, as if that was ever a good idea. Jim is not a pirate, but he does love pantaloons, swashbuckling, and copious amounts of bathtub rum, so he’s able to fit in with them to an extent. Nevertheless, everyone’s against him, from pirates to witches to jungle natives to the re-animated bones of Captain Silver himself. Defeat the supposedly deceased pirate, get the treasure, and sail to a secluded monastery, where old pirate bones dare not tread.

 

Captain Silver (E) [!]003

This pirate wishes he was Captain Silver.

 

Jim begins his journey in a small seaport town around Halloween. Wolves, jack-o-lanterns, and Cheshire cats team up to thwart his progress. To defend himself against them and the other threats along the way, Jim has a cutlass, which can be upgraded up to three times by collecting fairies (Data East really pulled from all sorts of differing mythologies here). When your sword is upgraded one time, it will shoot a star that travels across the screen. Upgrading the sword three times allows you to shoot five stars that spread in every direction in front of you. Jim can collect other power-ups as well, like shoes which give him Mario-like jumping abilities for a limited time, and herbs which allow him to take a hit before death. The latter is crucial. Impressive star slashing skills notwithstanding, without the herb power-up, Jim can only take one hit before his adventure comes to a anticlimactic, shrieking end. You sometimes find these power-ups around town, but shops also appear in stages one, three, and five (stage five only available in the European and Japanese versions of the game)*.

 

Captain Silver (E) [!]006

Not so tough without your head, are ya?

 

Because Jim’s a pushover, Captain Silver can be a downright difficult undertaking. Like Shinobi, memorizing enemy movements and placements is crucial to progress. The game’s rhythm is such that an enemy is never too far away, particularly the flying creatures, like bats, hawks, and moths. Do your best not to die and hang on to the sword upgrades, particularly if your sword is shooting three or five stars. Once you’ve got them, fire repeatedly like Captain Silver is a shmup and Jim’s your trustworthy, human-shaped ship.

 

Captain Silver (E) [!]004

Settle down, Jim.

 

Captain Silver has several concrete flaws: the tuneless music, the shrill sound effects, and the fact that Jim has to be one of the least interesting protagonists ever. Also, not sure what’s with his character design. He looks like a fat retired cop of olde in the game, yet on the cover and on the ending screen, he’s circa-2003 Orlando Bloom? Despite these very real issues, my time with Captain Silver was enjoyable to the bitter groggy end. The platforming is well-paced (pacing is something I’m appreciating more in older action platformers), Jim controls like a tight sober sailor and the environments are varied and colorful (and the level continuity – from the town to the final confrontation with Cap Silver on the mountain – is great). No matter how many deaths I accrued as Jim, he kept coming back for more. How much stamina does Jim have? How badly does he want this treasure? Jim might be a boring main character, but his incorrigible refusal to stay dead inspired me.

 

B+

 

*Captain Silver is one of the finest action games on the Master System, but the American version is sadly incomplete. The latter only has four levels, two bosses, and a text-only ending, while the Captain Silver released in Japan and Europe has six levels, six bosses, and an ending complete with pictures and text. Naturally, the American version was easier and, at 1 Megabit, far less costly to produce compared to the Japanese/European version’s 2 Megabits. But cost hasn’t stopped Sega from releasing expensive games before (see: Phantasy Star). To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve played a Sega game where they intentionally reduced the amount of in-game content provided for a specific territory. Did they just assume that American gamers wouldn’t be too crazy about controlling a dude in a puffy shirt? Was Sega feeling lazy, jaded, or annoyed at their lack of an American fanbase? Either way, they dropped the ball. Get the import if you have to. Don’t let Sega steal your extra bit o’ Yarrr.

 

Captain Silver (E) [!]008

“This be my final offer: your pale flesh for me gold doubloons.”

Shinobi

ShinobiJP

This one’s for all the kids who just wanted to learn karate.

 

ShinobiUS

So close, and yet, so far.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Action

RELEASE DATE: 06/19/88 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US, EU)

 

As I played Shinobi, I realized a startling truth about myself: over the last year or so, I’ve gotten significantly worse at video games. Maybe not all video games, but certainly older ones that have sharp difficulty spikes as Shinobi does. This is not limited to Shinobi either. My recent playthrough of Yoshi’s Island confirmed that I’m not nearly as adept at platforming as I was six years ago when I last beat it (and got 100% – never again). This probably has to do with me a) not playing games as often anymore, Sega blog aside; and b) just plain ol’ getting older and losing some of my once sharp reflexes. Perhaps the start of a review seems like an odd place for such a confession, but it’s necessary for Shinobi‘s sake. Despite not destroying the Black Turtle helicopter at the end of level 2*, I acknowledge that Shinobi‘s subtle refinements of the arcade action genre make it a small masterpiece.

 

Shinobi (UE) [!]001

What other ninja game has Warhol references?

 

In Shinobi, you play as martial-arts-instructor-turned-renegade-ninja, Joe Hisashi. A group of terrorists has stolen your students from you and spread them across five dangerous missions. The missions consist of about four stages a piece, with the end stage resulting in a boss fight with one of the terrorists (naturally, the terrorists have great random names like Lobster, Ken Oh, and Masked Ninja). Joe begins the game with an infinite supply of shurikens and a mighty kick for enemies who get too close for comfort, but as he progresses and rescues his students (who look like adorable clones in red gis), he acquires different power-ups, both for close combat and long-range. The sword is best for close combat, while the knife, shuriken or pistol are all great for long-range.

 

Shinobi (UE) [!]002

Are you sure that’s a student and not a baby in a red jumpsuit?

 

Systematic pacing and above-average enemies distinguish Shinobi from similar arcade action games. There is no time limit or flashing index finger pointing you forward, nor are there infinite amounts of stupid enemies flying toward you (ninjas and other mindless thugs rush at you occasionally, but they are not being constantly created off-screen a la Sega’s earlier Black Belt). The smarter enemies crouch and shoot you from behind cover, lay on the ground so it’s harder to reach them, or can only be killed on higher planes that require Musashi’s patented ninja leap. Their intentional placement gives them more intelligence and personality. You feel like you’re killing a terrorist who’s considered his enemy’s approach versus instantly forgettable kamikaze clones. Once you get to the boss battle, the pace increases, as does the difficulty. Staying alive becomes more about bouncing around the screen and shooting projectiles than considering how to approach the enemy. These anxious duels aside, Shinobi‘s otherwise standard action benefits greatly from the game’s deliberate pace and thoughtful enemy positions.

 

Shinobi (UE) [!]000

The bonus game is really hard. If you beat it, you get ninja magic. But if you see this screen – and you will – you’ve already lost.

 

If only Shinobi looked as good as it played. The sharp colors and distinct environments of the arcade port have been replaced with unsettling purples, reds and blues that only give a vague hint as to where you might be. Questions I had during my playthroughs included: what’s with the red intestine wall in the background? Is this level supposed to take place at night or is the sky just dark blue? Why is pink in this stage when it clearly doesn’t match the rest of the stage’s color scheme? I’ve seen the Master System generate better graphics with lesser games, and considering Shinobi‘s status as a highly regarded arcade game, one assumes that Sega would have tried harder to make the port look as pretty as possible.

 

Shinobi (UE) [!]003

Musashi is swimming around a Cannibal Corpse cover.

 

I know there will be harder games than Shinobi to come. I also know that not all of them will be as good as Shinobi, and thus, I will have to force myself to play the game for the sake of the review. Shinobi‘s difficulty is the best kind of difficulty, though: the kind that makes you want to get better and weather the repeated game overs because the game is so fun. I say this with all humility: it is my fault that I did not defeat the Black Turtle helicopter, not Shinobi‘s. But it is Shinobi‘s “fault” that I want to return for more Black Turtle punishment. Go get ’em, Joe.

 

A-

 

*I am aware that there is a level select code, but I could never get it to work properly. And anyway, playing the game sans cheats was a brutal reminder that I’m not the spry young gamer I once was.