Astro Warrior / Pit Pot

AstroWarrior-PitPot

One combo cart to rule them all. In Europe, anyway.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up / Dungeon Crawler

RELEASE DATE: 11/1987 – (EU)

 

Hey, I’ve played and reviewed these two games before!

 

Astro Warrior

Pit Pot

 

This combo cart release was the only release either game ever saw in Europe. Astro Warrior, by itself, only saw release in Japan and America, while Pit Pot was only released in Japan, not America. Why Sega thought Europeans would prefer Pit Pot is a mystery – Americans would have appreciated a goofy arcade dungeon crawler, right? – but I’m glad they saw fit to put it with Astro Warrior. The game is about as unremarkable and short as shoot-em-ups get, and should always be considered the lesser when bundled with another title.

 

Astro Warrior & Pit Pot (E) [!]000

I’m unsure if Astro Warrior is worthy of that lightning bolt…

 

In terms of genre pairings, Astro Warrior / Pit Pot makes a good deal of sense. The two games appeal to different frames of mind. When you just want to shoot random crap for a few minutes, Astro Warrior. When you want to partake in a difficult adventure through a dungeon, Pit Pot. Of course, neither game is the pinnacle of what their genre has to offer, but that’s budget-priced combo carts for you: a drop in quality for slightly more quantity.

C+

Parlour Games

ParlourGamesJP

This is my kinda family.

 

ParlourGamesUS

This is what happens when people under forty try to switch up the rules of Bingo.

 

PLAYERS: 1-4 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Compile (!)

GENRE: “Parlour”

RELEASE DATE: 12/27/87 – (JP)

                                          1988 – (US)

                                          1989 – (EU)

 

The NES had plenty of “lounge lizard” software, like Championship Pool, Championship Bowling, and Magic Darts, but the Master System had, until this point, strayed away from this crushed velvet suit of a genre. No longer! Compared to the aforementioned NES equivalents and other family-oriented titles, Parlour Games delivered quite a bit of content for your 1988 dollar. To get several types of pool and darts and bingo in one cartridge was a bargain back when NES developers had the gall to shove one type of game on a cartridge, slap a forty dollar price tag on it, and call it good.

 

Parlour Games (UE) [!]003

That’s some family fun right there.

 

Whether you’re shooting pool, throwing darts, or stamping a card, you need to know how to play in order to win – in the real world, at least. In virtual representations of these games, however, the mechanics play a large part in each game’s success. Bingo is the simplest game, and therefore the dullest. You place bets on a specific bingo card with a series of numbers, then spin a slot machine and hope the numbers that emerge from said machine are on your card. More so than the other games, bingo really requires you to have other people present to be the slightest bit entertaining. There’s no challenge or skill, only the luck of the slots.

 

Parlour Games (UE) [!]002

Will this automatically become more interesting as I age?

 

Pool is a bit more rewarding, particularly because it offers several styles and top-notch mechanics. Straight pool (knock the balls into the pockets), Five Ball (two players only – one player knocks balls 1-4, then 5 to win, the other knock balls 6-9, then 5 to win), Nine Ball (hit balls 1-9 in succession in order to win), and Rotation (select a number of points, then hit to that number) are your options here. Once you start a game, you control the cursor to where you want to hit the ball, then kick off the power meter, represented by a cue stick. The further back the cue stick is in the meter, the more powerful the shot. Easy to learn, difficult to master, like pool itself.

 

Parlour Games (UE) [!]000

The computer could afford to think a little quicker.

 

Darts, on the other hand, is just plain broken. There are several different types here, as well: 301 (get down from 301 to zero points in as few throws as possible), 501 (same as 301, but with more points), Round the Clock (throw your darts in numbered areas 1-10 sequence to win), and Double Down (“hit a series of numbered areas in sequence” – the instruction manual). I played a couple different games of 301 and managed to hit the dart board twice, thanks to the convoluted controls. Like pool, darts has a power meter. You hold down button 2 to build it up, then release the meter at maximum strength. Next, you have to watch a red arrow known as the “release point” move from right to left. When it’s at the appropriate mark, hit button 2 again and you’ll throw the dart. My problem was, when I’d let go of button 2 to release the power meter, my guy would automatically throw the dart without any consideration of the release point. I tried throwing the way the instruction manual gave and found my darts bouncing off the wall repeatedly. Either Sega’s manual writers are wrong or I’m too inept to input buttons in the proper order. I choose to believe the former.

 

Parlour Games (UE) [!]001

“Quit play-ing games with my dart”

 

Of course, your appreciation of Parlour Games will come from your predilection (or lack thereof) for replications of games you can play in real life. I don’t particularly find pool, darts, or bingo that engaging to begin with, let alone while holding a controller, but I don’t believe I’m the target audience here. Who is the target audience, you ask? Octogenarians? Retired bar goers? Given the game’s original name, Sega seemed to think the audience in Japan would be families, but as far as an American target audience, I’m not so sure. Perhaps there was a certain novelty in 1988 of gathering the family around the Master System and letting each member take turns shooting Nine Ball, playing some 501, and letting grandma fumble with the controller to play Bingo. Laughs would have been produced, if nothing else. Whatever the case, such a pastime – enjoying one another’s company as a family, whether with video games or other entertainment – is long dead now. All hail the future, where each family member stares into their own separate world while communicating with one another as little as possible. At least they don’t have to pretend to care while Grandma tries to get five-in-a-row.

 

C-

Fantasy Zone: The Maze

FantasyZoneMazeJP

Pac-Man is pissed. “Only I can have maze games!”

 

FantasyZoneMazeUS

Well… I was really hoping for two Mega’s, but I suppose I can compromise for some bat-zapping action.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Maze/Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 12/20/87 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US)

                                           1988 – (EU)

 

Turns out, crossbreeding Opa-Opa with Pac-Man results in more than just confusion and shame. Fantasy Zone: The Maze is the ultimate “what the?” in a series built on florid exclamations and shrines erected to hyper pinks and blues. The first two games were compelling unorthodox shoot-em-ups where you traveled either right or left via a wraparound screen, shooting down enemies, collecting coins, and upgrading your speed and weapons. The Maze, however, is, yes, a maze game where you travel in any direction, destroy enemies, collect lots of coins that look suspiciously like pellets, and, er, upgrade your speed and weapons. Fantasy Zone: The Maze isn’t much different from the other two games in terms of what it asks the player to do. But instead of taking a freedom-oriented approach where Opa-Opa is allowed to fly where he pleases, the game limits him to cramped quarters, reducing Fantasy Zone‘s expansive “shoot, collect, upgrade” gameplay to a minimum.

 

Fantasy Zone - The Maze (UE) [!]000

The mazes aren’t complete Pac-Man ripoffs, but you’re not exactly sailing the fuchsia skies either

 

As with the gluttonous Pac-Man, the goal of The Maze is to eat all the coins in the playfield and move on to the next stage. While you’re doing this, previous enemies from the series – let’s call them “Ghost Ships” in keeping with the Pac analogy – will emerge from a hole in the center of the stage. The hole will continuously fill up with red and pop out Ghost Ships each time it’s full. If Opa flies over the hole while it’s filling up, however, an enemy won’t regenerate – but the hole will immediately start filling up with red again. This quick regenerative enemy system felt like a waste of time, a distraction to keep you from your goal of collecting coins. Enemies come quickly whether you fly over the ever filling hole or not. As such, I found it more worthwhile to avoid the enemies, then to try and stop them from appearing every five seconds.

 

Fantasy Zone - The Maze (UE) [!]001

… well, that shut me up temporarily.

 

Scattered around the playfield are weapons and speed upgrades that you fly across to purchase. These are items from previous games, like the Big Wing and the Wide Beam, but there are less of them in The Maze. Limited items makes sense, really. You don’t need big guns like the Twin Bombs or 3-Way Shot unless you’re taking on giant Tiki Heads and other such madness. Strangely, the weapons you are provided with aren’t very strong. It will take several hits from any weapon to destroy most of these jerks. Enemies taking numerous hits before death is nothing new to the series, but in the previous two games, you had more room to avoid them should they not perish right away. Here, if you’re shooting an enemy and expecting it to die while you fly towards it, you’ll likely perish yourself. The best (and most expensive) weapon is Top Power, which transforms Opa into a fireball and allows him to fly through enemies with ease for a limited time. Get it as often as you can.

 

Fantasy Zone - The Maze (UE) [!]002

Opa will never afford grad school with a measly four grand. Get to shootin’, boy!

 

The previous two Fantasy Zone games were acid-trip shoot-em-ups that stood alone in their surreal sensibilities. Even today, the series (sans Maze) really has no equal in the shoot-em-up genre, though plenty have borrowed from its cheerful disposition and upgrade system. The Maze has to deal with that storied legacy, even though the game was clearly intended as nothing more than an offshoot. As a side project, a series of mazes for Opa to fly around in his spare time, Fantasy Zone: The Maze is fun enough. The abundance of content – seven worlds, twenty-eight levels – means there’s plenty of game here for you to explore, particularly if you enjoy the underappreciated maze genre. As a Fantasy Zone game, however, I can’t help but wish The Maze tried a little harder to engage the player.

 

B-

Zaxxon 3D

Zaxxon3DJP

But does that mothership have the power to see in extra dimensions?

 

Zaxxon3DUS

There is so much 3D happening on this cover right now.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 11/07/87 – (JP)

                                        11/1987 – (US)

                                        11/1987 – (EU)

 

The original Zaxxon may have been groundbreaking once, but today the game feels more like a novelty from another age. Destroying a fortress from the inside while controlling a jet – all from an isometric angle – was an impressive “Star Wars”-ish take on the fledgling shoot-em-up genre, but said creativity and fancy graphics came with stodgy pacing and piercing difficulty. Thanks to the game’s unorthodox viewpoint, it could be hard to discern how high or low your ship was within the fortress. Also, the ship’s slow movement meant that sharp turns usually met with an explosion against a wall. The game’s negative qualities didn’t stop Zaxxon from being a massive hit in 1982, and Sega quickly rushed out a sequel entitled Super Zaxxon before giving the series a rest.

 

Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]003

Welcome to cataracts. We’ve got fun and blindness.

 

Five years and two consoles later, Sega released Zaxxon 3D for the Master System alongside its newest and most experimental peripheral to date, the 3D Glasses. I’ve already touched upon the topic of Sega’s 3D Glasses and how they are supposed to work with the Master System in this previously published article, but playing Zaxxon 3D was my first actual experience with the 3D glasses. I’m unimpressed. To be honest, I’m not sure they’re working, either due to my television (it’s a CRT, but it’s a newer model circa early ’00s) or the glasses themselves (bought used, supposedly in good shape, but who knows).

 

Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]002

Is that a Batarang?

 

The glasses did something when I put them on, though. When I looked at the screen without the glasses, the visuals shook like a kid on a sugar bender. I put the glasses on and the visuals still shook but not as bad. When the glasses are on, every element of the game looked like it was in blurred double vision; like the ship and the enemy ships were trying to rip in two, but they couldn’t quite make it. Strangely, Zaxxon 3D is playable this way (much more so than without the glasses), but it’s not preferable, and I know it’s not what Sega intended.

 

Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]000

Behold! The corridor… of the future!

 

My 3D glasses might be a bust, but Zaxxon 3D is a marked improvement over the original. I’m not sure I’d call the game “good,” however. As with the original Zaxxon, Sega made its new technology the focal point of the game, as opposed to the quality of the gameplay. The game feels lightweight, particularly when compared to other contemporary shooters like Gradius and TwinBee. Still, despite Zaxxon 3D‘s relative simplicity, I enjoyed it in small, token-sized doses.

 

Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]001

Look at all those space boogers.

 

There are three portions to a level. The first portion takes place in space with Vargan Space Fighters coming directly toward you. They zig and zag and perform curly-cues, all to make you say “Golly geeps!” as you rock your 3D glasses without a hint of shame. It’s difficult to tell where the enemies are supposed to be without the 3D working properly, though. Your bullets will go right through them, and occasionally, theirs will do the same to you. All because your ship is at a different depth than they are or something. Thankfully, this section doesn’t last very long. Once you’ve defeated a certain number of enemies, a fortress appears. Here, like in the arcade, you descend into the fortress, take out turrets and fuel tanks, and watch out for electrical barriers and elevated walls. Make it through the fortress and you’re confronted with a boss. The bosses are unbelievably easy. Find their weak spot, avoid their projectiles, and destroy ‘em.

 

Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]004

I know it looks like I might crash into this guy, but we’re actually 70 trillion light years away from each other, thanks to the power of 3D.

 

As in the first game, you have to keep an eye on your fuel gauge and destroy fuel tanks to replenish your fuel. But you also can pick up speed upgrades to give your ship a boost and weapon upgrades to strengthen your guns (both are in pill form – the future!). Be forewarned, acquiring speed and weapon upgrades will cause your ship to run out of fuel faster. The key to not running out of fuel in space – and really, the key to enjoying life as a whole – is moderation. Moderate movement, moderate shooting.

The reason why Zaxxon 3D works as well as it does is because of the viewpoint. No longer are you forced to live on a prayer by guesstimating where your ship is located, due to the confusing isometric angle. The camera is now located behind the ship in order to make better use of the 3D effect. The latter didn’t work for me, but I appreciated the new angle if only because it made my Zaxxon experience less frustrating.

 

Zaxxon 3D (UE) [!]005

Hey woah, nobody said anything about electric walls.

 

In a beautiful and ideal world, Sega’s nearly thirty-year-old 3D technology would never break or deteriorate. The 8-bit console wars would have never existed. Both Nintendo and Sega fans would high-five each other in the streets with the Power Glove. Denim jackets and Michael J. Fox haircuts would return en masse. Because these events will never occur, Sega deserves props for making Zaxxon 3D work with or without the 3D effect. Not just because you’re able to access a 2D mode by holding down the Pause button on the console (surprise!), but because unlike some of Sega’s other tawdry dips into the peripheral pool, Zaxxon 3D doesn’t need its accessory to provide a good time. If anything, it’s what I hoped the original Zaxxon would be: a technically impressive, if not straightforward shooter.

B-

Before Sega Does…

 

… there was Questicle the site where I reviewed every North American NES game, all 754 of ‘em. It took three-and-a-half years, gallons of coffee, and bouts of personal sickness and trauma, but I made it. Soon – within the next week – I’ll be giving the site its biggest overhaul yet, away from the outdated optimism of Blogger and into the sleek, cold-hearted professionalism of WordPress. Questicle 2.0 will pave the way for The NES Compendium, a re-imagining of the blog into book form, comprised of new reviews, screenshots, features.

 

This is a lot of work, which means my free time has to be pulled from Sega Does. Unfortunately, I’m not doing this whole “renegade game reviewer” for a living yet, and thus can’t devote piles of man hours to both projects. Until Questicle 2.0 is go for launch, Sega Does updates will be sparse. I’ll do the best I can to shove out two reviews a week, but I promise nothing, because broken promises don’t make friends.

 

Thanks for your continued support and interest in my Sega-related ramblings.

 

Yours,

DC

 

Phantasy Star

Phantasy StarJP

Everybody’s put on their Sunday finest.

 

PhantasyStarUS

Wow, it’s almost as if Sega decided to put effort into this cover.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: RPG

RELEASE DATE: 12/20/87 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US)

                                           1988 – (EU)

 

Phantasy Star is, to paraphrase Snoop Dogg, the gangsta ish. In an era before kids even knew what role-playing-games were, Phantasy Star brought them out back and showed them what it was like. Not just with its staggering $69.99 price tag (which amounts to about $140 in today’s money), but with the interplanetary traveling, first-person pseudo-3D dungeon exploration, and extensive length and difficulty. A role-playing-game Phantasy Star certainly was and is, but for Master System owners hungry for a break from arcade ports, it was their first real adventure. One that would linger for a lifetime.

 

PhantasyStar2

Alis is pissed and for good reason.*

 

Phantasy Star begins with a death scene. Nero Landale, a leader of a rebellion against the evil King Lassic, is shot down by Lassic’s robocops. Alis, Nero’s sister and the main protagonist of the game, holds him in his final moments, then promises revenge on Lassic for his death.

This wasn’t just an average death scene given through text. This was a cutscene. A straight-up cutscene in 1988. The first cutscene in any console game in the West? I won’t make that claim, but it’s certainly one of the first. Ninja Gaiden on the NES was praised for its dynamic cutscenes, and rightfully so, but it wasn’t released until 1989 (December ’88 in Japan, for all you date sticklers out there). With these jarring cinematic intros showcasing at least two of the game’s four megs of power, the $70 pricetag had already justified itself.

 

PhantasyStar6

                      Nero’s death was not in vain.^

 

Alis begins her adventure on the planet Palma, in the town of Camineet. From there, she can talk to the townsfolk, buy weapons, armor, and food, and get herself healed up, if need be. The townsfolk have lots of cryptic, socially awkward things to say – things that you should nevertheless write down because they’re actually clues. Once Alis leaves Camineet, she’s free to explore the landscape of Palma and get into battles. Lots of battles. So many battles, your eyes will bleed. Yes, if you want to get anywhere in Phantasy Star, you’ll have to indulge in that harsh, discordant activity, grinding. Experience doesn’t come for free, and neither do Mesetas, the game’s currency system. In order to get the best weapons (the Laconian Axe, the Laser Gun, the Light Saber) and the best items that make life easier down the road (the Magic Lamp, the Crystal, the Hovercraft), you’ll need to search every cave, tower, desert, mountain, beach, and forest.

 

PhantasyStar8

                              Gee, you don’t say…*

 

Along the way, you’ll team up with Odin the Warrior, Myau the Alien Cat, and Noah the Sorcerer. Odin is the team’s resident meat-eater, beer-drinker, axe-slinger. Hard-drinkin’, hard-livin’, but he always shows up to work on time. And in the end, one of his best weapons is the none-too-sissy Laser Gun. Fancy that! Myau might be adorable, but she’ll use all of her nine lives to prove how deadly she is. She’s got decent scratching abilities and she’s the resident healer of the ground. Truly a cat of all trades. Noah, bless him, is the weakling of the group in terms of attack power. But his white robe makes a cool swishing noise, and his magician status allows him to cast some strong spells. This is your crew, and it’s no exaggeration to say that you’ll grow attached to all of them as you play. Considering that there’s very little character development, I was impressed with how much I appreciated each character. You bond through the understood silence of warriors and through the constant battling. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses which you discover as you travel and fight. The warriors hardly utter a word, yet you realize that you need each other, and the player is all the richer for this unspoken dynamic.

 

PhantasyStar10

Myau totes looks like Pikachu here.*

 

There’s two types of exploration in this game: top-down overworld, where you guide your party members from a viewpoint in the sky, and first-person dungeon exploration. The former will be familiar to most retro RPG aficionados. Your party wanders around the overworld looking for areas to explore and is periodically interrupted (every other step) by battles. Once you enter a cave or a tower, the game’s perspective will shift to first-person. While graphically breathtaking in their day, the dungeons of this game are brutal to explore. Even in some of the earlier dungeons, you’ll need to use graph paper to keep track of where you’re going and where you’ve been. Thankfully, if you get stuck, there are items like the Flute and the Exit spell that will help you get to safety.

 

PhantasyStar3

You know what? You can have this dungeon, Marauder.*

 

As the team gets stronger and progresses the story, you eventually travel to two other planets: Motavia, a desert planet, and Dezoris, an ice world. You don’t just walk there, though. You fly. In a rocket ship. Driven by a robot. Indeed, seeing the ship blast across the galaxy is a gamechanger. This brief travel scene shows you how ambitious Phantasy Star is. Traversing across one planet is fine and good for most games, but three planets? Even though you are fairly limited as to where you can go, the game tricks you into thinking the planets are larger than they are. At different points during the game, you’ll acquire vehicles to better explore the areas: Hovercraft, Landrover, and an Ice Digger. All of these vehicles will help you travel across treacherous terrain with ease. The Ice Digger is particularly cool (heh heh), as it can burrow through layers of ice on Dezoris, revealing hidden caves and secrets and such. Features like the latter help the worlds to feel like well-crafted alien planets. Their hostile terrain is unkind to your party, but they provide rich rewards for those willing to explore.

 

PhantasyStar1

                                          Epic.*

 

Once a battle begins, the monster appears in front of you, a menu box appears to the upper left, and the character’s health and magic stats appear in boxes underneath the screen. The menu gives you the options to Attack, use Items, Magic, Run, and even Talk to the monsters (just a heads up, this rarely works). Once you choose an option, the game cycles through each person and monster until either the monster dies or the party members die. Treasure chests are always gained from beating a monster, and while monsters are always good for Mesetas, there are also traps hidden in chests. Be careful, as the type of trap could kill you if your health is low enough.

 

PhantasyStar4

                             Phantasy Island.*

 

If the last couple paragraphs sound more or less like every Japanese RPG you’ve ever played from approximately 1988 to 2002-ish, that’s because Phantasy Star was a template for all those role-playing-games you’ve enjoyed over the years. Dragon Quest certainly streamlined RPGs for the mainstream in Japan, but Phantasy Star solidified turn-based battles as the system to use, established the party system (four characters, even), the importance of an in-depth story with characters you care about, and exploring out-of-the-way secret locations for items. Sure, Final Fantasy expanded on these elements. Lots of RPGs did. The reason the genre became as popular as it did was because fans not only knew what to expect, they wanted more of the same in slightly different trappings. Phantasy Star – without meaning to, I’d wager – started several RPG tropes that linger until this day.

 

PhantasyStar7

Well, at least it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.*

 

Special mention needs to be made to the fantastic monster designs and animations. The first time I saw a zombie lower his jaw and excrete vomit, I was in awe. Every enemy has their own special attack animation and look that gives them personality. Later enemy designs, like the Centaur, the Troll, and the various colored Dragons are incredibly well-rendered and intimidating as all hell.

 

PhantasyStar9

The thought of a zombie pausing to battle, as opposed to just eating their brains, makes me smile.*

 

If I had to level a complaint at Phantasy Star‘s way, it would be the game’s soul-rending difficulty, particularly in the later temples. Graph paper will only get you so far with some of them, due to the plentiful doorways and traps, all leading to God knows where. Figuring out where the dungeon drops you wouldn’t be so hard, though, if you weren’t up against an unholy amount of enemies at the same time. They’ll destroy you if you don’t have the best weapons and equipment in the game, and even then, you’ll take a solid thrashing.

 

PhantasyStar5

It’s fitting that Alis is the last one standing in this battle.*

 

To really understand Phantasy Star‘s impact, you have to realize that there was no other game like it at the time. Miracle Warriors – the first RPG Sega (regrettably) released for the Master System – didn’t even come close to Phantasy Star‘s scope nor did it play as smoothly. Dragon Quest had released a year prior to Phantasy Star in Japan, but in the West, Dragon Warrior didn’t emerge until 1989, several months after the former. Final Fantasy was a whole year away. Thus, Phantasy Star had a significant period in which it made NES-owning children jealous of those who owned Master Systems. After a couple years of NESheads rubbing the fantastic Zelda and Metroid in Master System owner’s faces, the beleagured console lovers had a game to call their own. Alex Kidd in Miracle World might have been Sega’s flagship title for the Master System, the pony/monkey that they bet all their arcade tokens on, but Phantasy Star is the console’s crowning achievement.

A-

*images generously provided by GameFAQs.

^image generously provided by VGMuseum.com

SegaDoes Podcast Episode 21: Insert Title Here

 

Hey there! Sam and I here at SegaDoes.com like to talk about Sega games. If you’re here, we assume you do as well.

Today’s episode focuses on a handful of average-to-lackluster Master System games. Miracle Warriors, Global Defense, Zillion IIAfter BurnerBMX Trial: Alex Kidd, Alien Syndrome. Sega’s not hurting for recognizable brands, but they could have put a little more effort into these games.

Listen/download here or find us on iTunes under the Sega Does Podcast. Should you subscribe from there, please leave us a review! The more reviews we have, the more acknowledgment we’ll get from the Apple conglomerate.

The rest of you know what to do. Leave comments and disagreements in the section below. As always, thanks for listening.

 

- DC

Zillion II: The Tri Formation

ZillionII

It’s gotta be hell to leap into the air with two tires around your ankles.

 

ZillionIIUS

Channeling the spirit of “Akira” only gets you so far, Sega.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up/Action

RELEASE DATE: 12/13/87 – (JP)

                                             1988 – (US)

                                         03/88 – (EU)

 

The original Zillion was an outer-space cocktail of code-cracking, alien-shooting, and buddy-rescuing, polished with a slightly non-linear sheen. The game had exploding trashcans, white clinical hallways, and an abundance of screens where you entered in alien languages to disengage electric barriers. All that, and it’s based on a short-lived anime’. No, it’s not your typical Sega arcade slamma-jamma experience, but its distinctive style makes it one of the best games I’ve played for the Master System.

 

Zillion II - The Tri Formation (UE) [!]001

“Come with me if you want to, uh… not hang out in this room.”

 

Zillion II – released a little over six months after the original – treads its own path. There are now two different styles of gameplay, neatly divided into even and odd-numbered stages. The odd stages (1, 3, 5, and 7) are close-quarter vehicular shoot-em-ups, where you control JJ – the shaggy ne’er-do-well leading man from the first game – atop the Tri Formation, a motorcycle that’s more than a little reminiscent of the bike from “Akira.” The even stages (2, 4, 6, and 8) are straightforward linear platforming with no exploration or code-cracking whatsoever.

 

Zillion II - The Tri Formation (UE) [!]000

Not even Opa-Opa’s evil toaster brother can stop JJ from looking/feeling like Tetsuo.

 

In the vehicle shmup stages, the game pushes you along the pathway automatically. You slow down by pushing left on the D-pad or speed up by pushing right, but the game always moves the bike forwards. Both ground-based and airborne enemies emerge for you to destroy with Zillion, your trusty Light Phas- er, laser gun. Getting the upgrades to both the Zillion gun and the Tri-Formation bike is key to conquering these areas. Collect enough red Z upgrades throughout the level, and the laser gun’s firing width expands and grows stronger; perfect for when multiple ground-based and airborne enemies attack at once. Collect the red A upgrade and you’ll be able to transform the Tri-Formation into a robot called the Armorater. The Armorater is huge, and thus, is able to absorb lots of hits if you’re not careful. Transforming into him is optional at first, but by level 3, getting the A becomes mandatory. The ground beneath your motorcycle turns completely into spikes, and Zillion II transforms into a proper horizontal shoot-em-up.

 

Zillion II - The Tri Formation (UE) [!]002

                             What say you, little man?

 

The platforming stages are where Zillion II falls off the grid into the head-popping recesses of space. Outside of rescuing Apple and Champ, there’s little to do or see. The levels consist of traveling on elevators, hopping from platform to platform, and shooting the same three boring enemy designs: an Opa-Opa lookalike named Noza-Noza, a robot called the Norsa Warrior, and a hovering robot called the Norsa Jet Soldier. These three enemies pop out every other step. They know where you’re going to jump/move/be before you do, and they’re not afraid to prove it by shooting you in advance. Thank goodness Sega provides the characters with large lifebars. Every inch of your life is needed to make it through these unreasonably tough sections. Once you’ve rescued Apple and Champ (in the second and fourth levels, respectively), you can switch between them as you did in the original Zillion. Not only do your comrades have movements specific to them – Apple is weak and quick, while Champ is slow and strong – but by switching to them, you gain an extra full lifebar. They function as extra lives, in other words. As in the first game, it’s pretty much mandatory to cycle through everybody if you want to survive past the boss.

 

Zillion II - The Tri Formation (UE) [!]004

You ever been weighed down by green? Not cool.

 

Both the shoot-em-up and platforming areas in Zillion II present considerable challenge, but the shoot-em-up portions have more life to them. No surprise there, really. Even in 1987, Sega’s bread-and-butter was still arcade games; console development remained a side gig, at least for the moment. A couple years into the Master System’s lifespan, Sega still hadn’t figured out how to develop engaging platformers (outside of Alex Kidd: Miracle World). Shoot-em-ups were a different story. Sega had been making thrilling vertical and horizontal shmups since the early ’80s (the port of Star Force remains one of the SG-1000’s best games). Because Sega was familiar with the genre’s trappings, they excelled at pushing the genre’s boundaries. Zillion II is no exception. Besides the typical weapon upgrades, transforming motorcycles and non-stop enemy waves, these levels are ground-based and air-based horizontal shoot-em-ups. This might have been done prior to Zillion II, but not that I’m aware of, and if so, not often. I was transfixed with these stages, but said transfixion ended quickly when I entered an even-numbered stage. The woefully generic platforming stages not only slow down the game’s momentum, they don’t even seem like they’re part of the same game. Shame on Sega for not making Zillion II a pure shoot-em-up for the ages.

 

Zillion II - The Tri Formation (UE) [!]003

Even Armorater understands that all good things must come to an explosion.

 

I’ve concluded that, fun shmupping aside, Zillion II was a quickie sequel, nothing more. It’s pointless to even compare the quality of the two games. Zillion II is four fantastic shoot-em-up stages and four worthless (yet controller-bustingly difficult) platforming stages, period. Zillion, on the other hand, defies easy description (see: initial paragraph of this review). While I applaud Sega for not making a copy/paste sequel, experimenting with a successful style only works if the entire experiment is a success. Thus, your appreciation for Zillion II lies in your unmitigated enjoyment of the shoot-em-up genre and your ability to tune out the rest.

 

C-

After Burner

AfterBurnerJP

It’s not “Tora! Tora! Tora!” but it’ll do.

 

AfterBurnerUS

Explosions! Planes! Wire frames, oh my!

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade shooter

RELEASE DATE: 12/12/87 – (JP)

                                           1988 – (US)

                                         03/88 – (EU)

 

Anybody who went to the arcade as a kid in the late 80s/early 90s remembers the After Burner cabinet. Compared to more traditional stand-up cabinets, After Burner was a sit-down cabinet that fully embraced your puny body within its massive confines. The game would often be placed in a corner of the arcade, not because it was unpopular, but because the cabinet took up so much damn space. Because of the cabinet’s placement, as a child, I viewed After Burner as the massive guardian of the arcade. Until somebody approached that was bold enough to challenge it (usually teenagers), it stood watch over the lesser stand-up cabinets, inspiring both reverence and fear in machine and man alike.

 

t2-afterburner-2

Look how huge the cabinet is compared to John Connor and the ‘Salute Your Shorts’ guy! Huge! (Thanks to eldergeek.com for this awesome screenshot.)

 

If you dared to enter the cabinet’s chamber and insert some quarters, you were met with an immersive experience unlike any other of the time. You controlled an F-14 Tomcat look-alike with the cabinet’s flight stick and shot down other jets. Standard arcade shooter stuff, but it wasn’t After Burner‘s gameplay that reeled you in. It was the movement of the cabinet in time with the jet’s movement. As you controlled the jet with the flight stick, the cabinet would move in tandem with your maneuvering. The seat rotated horizontally, while the cockpit would rotate vertically. The combined movements meant you were in for one helluva of a ride, even if you couldn’t discern much of what was happening on-screen.

 

After Burner (UE) [!]001

Where’s Peppy when you need him?

 

The fun-factor for After Burner lay in the game’s all-encompassing cabinet. Take that away, and you have a hyperactive, spasmodic shooter that doesn’t so much entertain as it does nauseate. Indeed, your ability to play and enjoy the Master System port will be relative to your ability to withstand the jet’s consistently jerky movements.

As in the arcade, you control the so-called Tomcat through eighteen levels of destruction. While you control the plane’s movements with the D-pad, the game automatically moves the plane forward on a linear path, so you never have to worry if you’re moving in the right direction. Any other jets that come at you are your sworn enemies. Shoot them down with your unlimited machine gun rounds or your limited missile supply. Some jets just fly towards you, while others will shoot homing missiles at you. The homing missiles can be destroyed by shooting at them, but you can’t lock onto them, unlike the jets. Once the game decides you’ve shot down enough jets and avoided enough missiles, it moves you on to the next level and the cycle of explosions begins anew.

 

After Burner (UE) [!]002

Your jet leaves a trail of fire as it explodes. Pretty boss.

 

The Master System does an admirable job of recreating the arcade’s gameplay, which unfortunately includes the game’s faults. One can get used to the barrel rolls and the hanky-janky movements if you have a strong stomach, but it can be difficult to discern how far the missiles and the jets truly are from your jet. This forces you to make constant evasive maneuvers. Even when you think you’ve narrowly dodged the projectiles, you’ll often get hit and crash for no explainable reason. The further you get into the game, the more jets and missiles come at you, the more crashes happen, the more you’ll curse After Burner‘s existence.

 

After Burner (UE) [!]000

Take this! And that! And some of these!

 

Like Space Harrier, After Burner is a game that was made for the arcade experience. It’s not a bad game, but it’s a limited game brought down by its flaws. The flaws seemed less noticeable in the arcade, because you were too busy enjoying the experience of being throttled. After Burner is as much a ride as it is an arcade game – but this is also its downfall. Since the Master System is incapable of transforming into a human-engulfing stationary roller coaster, “Game over? Who cares, I want to go again!” isn’t something one utters while playing at home.

C

BMX Trial: Alex Kidd

AlexKiddBMX

The annoyed cacti with the old lady red hat is my favorite.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Driving

RELEASE DATE: 11/15/87 – (JP)

ONLY PLAYABLE WITH: The Paddle Control

 

So far Alex has had an adventure in Miracle World and swapped places with a princess, but learning how to ride a BMX bike might be his greatest challenge yet. And by “his,” I mean, yours, mine, ours. Because unless you/I/we import a Mark III, a Paddle Controller, and BMX Trial: Alex Kidd, we won’t be experiencing the game properly.

Spoilers: I didn’t import a Mark III, Paddle Controller, or a copy of BMX Trial: Alex Kidd for this review. Until my Patreon soars to the heavens above, I’m stuck with virtual reproduction, questionable or otherwise. But that’s ok. BMX Trial: Alex Kidd isn’t even a proper Alex Kidd game (since his games encompass numerous genres, one could ask what is a proper Alex Kidd game – my answer would be not BMX Trial), so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on some special adventure. The gist of BMX Trial: Sega shoved Alex onto a bike and said “Get to peddlin’, monkey boy.”

 

Alex Kidd - BMX Trial (J) [!]-01

Yeah, I don’t know what you’re doing there either, Alex.

 

You control Alex from a top-down view, steering him around rocks, trees, other bikers (who shove into you, like those River City Ransom punks), and water with the Paddle Controller. Alex’s health bar decreases as he moves, and if he hits any obstacle, it goes down even further. The goal isn’t to accumulate points or to beat a time limit, but just to get to the next level. Each stage will repeat the same environments until you find an exit (look for the giant purple guy’s gaping mouth, you can’t miss it). Depending on the route you take, the exit you find could take you to a couple different stages. There are five courses total, but thanks to the multiple exits, you’ll only play three of them per playthrough, and you’ll always begin at the Black Forest and end at Radaxian, Alex’s hometown.

 

Alex Kidd - BMX Trial (J) [!]-02

The Tanooki boys made short work of Alex.

 

Thankfully, Alex isn’t helpless in his quest to be the one and only monkey boy who Christ-airs while eating rice balls. There are ramps for both jumping and wheelies (both ramps have the words emblazoned on them in all caps, so you know which is which – thanks Sega!). The former allows you to soar for considerable lengths of time, which is good for water-heavy stages, while the latter will actually turn you briefly invincible and give you items when you land. Items include the aforementioned rice balls for health and rocket boosts which allow you to fly.

 

Alex Kidd - BMX Trial (J) [!]-03

If only Alex would have JUMPed…

 

Memorize the course layouts and you could easily beat BMX Trial in a few minutes. Five courses and varying layouts aside, the game is nothing more than an advertisement for the Paddle Control; a tech demo like Wii Sports, but without the longevity (surprise surprise: in Japan, the Paddle Controller was sold with the game – the two were a bundle deal). Sega obviously cared more about peddling (paddling?) their special controller than crafting a full-fledged Alex Kidd racing game. Besides the wheelies and the jumps, the courses are quaint and uneventful, the obstacles annoying, but not insurmountable. The lack of challenge and depth make BMX Trial a wasted opportunity, particularly when you consider that Sega knows how to craft good racing games; Hang On, OutRun, and Enduro Racer, to name three. Alex Kidd might have been portrayed as Sega’s mascot, but with throwaway games like BMX Trial and Alex Kidd in High-Tech World, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was their whipping boy.

 

C-

 

*Just in case you’re following along with me in chronological order, yes, I skipped Zaxxon 3D. I’m waiting for the 3D glasses I ordered to arrive before I get down with the motion sickness. Until the glasses come, I will be continuing with reviews as normal.