Budokan: The Martial Spirit

 

budokanus

Entering Budokan without the martial spirit? That’s a paddlin’.

 

budokaneu

Let the Airing of Grievances begin!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

DEVELOPER: Electronic Arts

GENRE: Fighting

DIFFICULTY: Hard

RELEASE DATE: 07/90 – (US)

                                     12/90 – (EU)

 

Budokan: The Martial Spirit is a technical fighting game, so woe be to you if you approach it expecting quick pick-up-and-play fisticuffs. Developed and published by Electronic Arts for computers in 1989 before being ported to the Genesis in 1990, Budokan arrived in a pre-Street Fighter II world. And if you’ve played any fighting game released prior to that seminal 1991 classic – Yie Ar Kung Fu, Karate Champ, the original Street Fighter – you know you’re in for some awkward, uncomfortable bouts.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c000

That ‘U’ had it coming…

 

Like the aforementioned titles, Budokan just feels off. Your martial artist moves slow, attacks slow, and blocks slow. His geriatric movements are likely due to the game’s realistic approach. Karate and kendo are the combat methods, while the bo and nunchaku are your weapons of choice. At no point will you execute upside down whirlwind kicks or shred your opponents’ chests with sharp American hair. And that’s fine! There’s nothing wrong with strict realism. But when your character – the only one the game gives you – controls like a slug on holiday, don’t expect to win many matches.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c002

Sweet shadow, brah.

 

You begin the game at the Tobiko-Ryu Dojo, where you can practice any of the four techniques the game wants you to learn. Karate, kendo, bo, and nunchaku all have their own training areas, and you can practice both by yourself and alongside an opponent of differing skill. Kendo and nunchaku are the best combat method and weapon respectively, if only for their long range and powerful hits. The bo has good range, but its attack is slower than the nunchaku. Karate is the worst, as it forces you to attack from close range and only offers weak attacks.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c006

At least death is peaceful.

 

You can fight shadows by your lonesome all you want, but the real test comes when you face an opponent. Both you and your opponent have a Stamina and Ki bar. Stamina is your life bar and is drained by moving and attacking, and replenished by standing still. Ki increases your strength, though it’s constantly being drained by your attacks and by getting hit. The more Ki you have, though, the stronger your attacks will be. When you or your combatant’s stamina is drained, the match is over. Your teacher will then tell you how you performed and give you tips on how to improve.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c005

The height of my martial artistry.

 

Attacks are difficult to execute for three reasons:

Reason 1: Your fighter is slow. Seriously, why can’t he move faster?

Reason 2: Attacks are tied in to your stamina. If your stamina is low, your ability to attack with strong moves decreases. Yes, it’s realistic. The game wants you to consider each move before you make it. Unfortunately, the computer-controlled opponents don’t care about your considerations and will move in for the kill given the chance. Their stamina bar also decreases much slower than yours.

Reason 3: The game demands precise inputs. Your attack buttons are A, B, and C, but pressing them alone doesn’t accomplish anything. A High Punch using Karate is executed by pressing Forward, Up, and an Attack button. Is the High Punch worth this effort? Yes and no. Any attack will drain stamina off an opponent. Most of them, including the High Punch, are so dang tedious to pull off that it’s better to just learn a couple strong moves and spam the heck out of them. Just like the Budokan Warriors of old.

 
budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c004

This isn’t gonna turn into some Illuminati sacrifice party, is it?

 

Blocking takes even more skill than attacking. In order to block properly, you must time your blocks with the enemy’s attacks, which are considerably faster than your movements will ever be. Blocking properly does result in your Ki being restored, though, so there’s incentive to learn if you’re willing to struggle.

After you’ve diddled around in the dojo for awhile, pack your bags and head to the Budokan arena in Tokyo for twelve incredibly challenging matches. Each opponent has a small biography that alludes to the type of combat or weapon you should use to fight them. Karate, Kendo, Bo, and Nunchaku can only be used four times each during the entire tournament, so don’t think you can just strap on a Kendo outfit and dominate all twelve rounds. Make it through each fight alive and you’ll become the Nippon Budokan Champion.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c007

You win this round, old man.

 

The first warrior you face is Goro Suzuki, a man known more for his love of sushi than his karate skills. You could have fooled me. One close match aside, Goro destroyed me every time I challenged him. I pulled every dirty trick in the book too. I jump kicked his head a couple times in a row. I pushed him out-of-bounds several times, which drained a bit off his Stamina and Ki. I kicked him in the groin. I also pulled off the Budokan special: standing motionless like an idiot, while yelling at the controller for not responding to my button presses. I never got past Goro which means I never saw the other eleven opponents which means I pretty much suck at Budokan.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c009

I regret entering the Budokan.

 

It’s a shame Budokan has such an impossible learning curve. Programmer Ray Tobey and designer Michael Kosaka do an excellent job in immersing you into the game’s world. The dojo is a delicately crafted, peaceful place, with each training center distinct from the others. In the background of the Karate center, for example, a blue bird sits atop a pedestal before swooping down onto the ground to forage for food. A cutscene that shows your bullet train journey from the humble dojo to the impressive Budokan arena feels appropriately heavy. Your opponents’ distinct backgrounds and personalities also make them seem like real challengers rather than untouchable demigods.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c008

On a high-speed journey to failure.

 

Budokan‘s clunky controls has to be a result of the transition from computer to console. Playing this with a keyboard might not make the combat any less unwieldy, but at least you could assign moves to different keys. The Genesis controller, with its stiff D-pad and three face buttons, can’t handle such technical and precise combat.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c010

Maybe clucking aimlessly around the dojo will be a better use of my time.

 

The only way you can play Budokan on the Genesis these days is if you have an early Model 1. Sega’s TradeMark Security System (TMSS) was implemented in later Model 1 revisions and all Genesis 2 and 3 models. Created to lock out unlicensed games, the TMSS only allows games with the word “Sega” in different sections of the game’s code to boot properly. For reasons unknown, early Electronic Arts games produced for the Genesis skip the steps required to satisfy the system.

 

budokan-the-martial-spirit-u-c001

I dunno, headless chickens can be pretty crafty. I’m not sure that’s much of an insult.

 

Like the martial artist you portray, Budokan has potential and that’s what makes the game so frustrating. The content is there – four separate skills to master, twelve opponents to eliminate – but the molasses movements and complex inputs just don’t work outside of a keyboard. That’s a shame. There’s a seed of a great technical fighter buried within the Genesis port’s limitations, but whose Martial Spirit is patient and willing enough to nurture it?

 

D+

Don Quixote

 

In this special series on the Pioneer LaserActive, guest author Taylor Pinson will be discussing some of the games released on the Sega PAC, an add-on for the LaserActive that could play Genesis, Sega CD, and Mega LD titles.

 

donquixote

Just like La Mancha used to make.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pioneer

DEVELOPER: Premier International Corporation

GENRE: RPG

RELEASE DATE: 12/22/94 – (JP)

                                               1995 – (US)

 

In Don Quixote – the LaserActive’s first ever RPG! – you play as the titular knight, tasked with rescuing the princess and finding seven magical crystal balls. These balls are necessary to defeat the villain who has usurped the throne and restore peace and prosperity to the land. Fans of the book might be upset that Premier completely changed the story, but I’d be surprised if that audience is paying attention to the details of an obscure LaserActive game.

 

1

The new soap opera, now on Lifetime.

 

You explore towns and other areas in a first-person perspective similar to Phantasy Star or Ghost Rush. As in Ghost Rush, the areas you wander through are all identical corridors pulled from FMV footage. Unlike Ghost Rush, there’s a map to prevent you from getting lost. Wandering around towns looking for people to talk to or things to do is already one of the dullest aspects of an RPG, and the stilted FMV footage only slows down the process.

 

2

Looks like Don tried to microwave an egg!

 

When you do find someone to talk to, instead of the traditional text box found in other RPGs, you get a quick FMV clip of a person talking. The clips are usually short and filled with cryptic and useless information. You can’t skip through the clips, though, so each conversation ends up taking much longer than it needs to. Something that would maybe take 5 seconds in a game like Phantasy Star ends up taking upwards of 30 seconds or even longer in Don Quixote.

 

3

Don’t just stand there, Bust-a-Move.

 

Don Quixote‘s biggest draw for me, at least initially, was the nice-looking hand-drawn animation prominently displayed on the game’s packaging. Alas, nearly every scene you see is basically just a still image of a person with a mouth that alternates between open and closed to make it look like they are talking. I understand why they did it that way – this game wasn’t made by some massive animation studio with tons of money to throw around – but the end result still looks pretty lame.

 

4

No one with a dubbed voice could possibly be an evil man.

 

Combat begins and ends in a menu, where you navigate through a series of commands to decide what happens. FMV has once again replaced the traditional pixels/sprites, and you at least get to see some decent animation here.

The music sounds like your typical Sega Genesis soundtrack, and it becomes very repetitive and irritating if you spend enough time wandering through the same areas. The game’s voice acting is also not very good, though, to be fair, it’s on par for what was showing up in other games at the time.

 

5

Agrabah’s streets never looked so barren.

 

I applaud the game’s creators for trying to incorporate new ideas into the traditional RPG framework, but the end result is hogwash. The FMV bogs the game down most of the time, and the effort that went into drawing all of the characters would have been better served by making the game actually fun to play.

 

6

That’s no way to treat a Dead Sea scroll.

 

If you’re hungry for an RPG on your LaserActive, Don Quixote is your only choice. It’s also worth pointing out this is one of the handful of LaserActive games where region matters. The US release only contains English audio and text, and the Japanese one only has Japanese. For everyone else, this is sadly another clunker not worth hunting down.

 

D-

 

Gameplay footage comes courtesy of the LaserActive Preservation Project:

Super Monaco GP (8-Bit)

 

supermonacogp

Racing everywhere but in our hearts.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing

DIFFICULTY: Hard

RELEASE DATE: 09/90 – (US)

                                       1990 – (EU)

 

Super Monaco GP for the Master System doesn’t resemble the arcade game of the same name nor does it play like the Genesis port. The first-person view has been removed in favor of a third-person view a la World Grand Prix. While each race still has fourteen racers, you’ll only see two cars on the screen at the same time, due to system limitations. The in-depth World Championship Mode has been replaced by a VS. Battle Mode. And, unlike the Genesis version which had superb handling, the controls here all but ruin the experience.

 

super-monaco-gp-ue-v1

The cleanest roads this side of the border.

 

Before you take to the dirty streets of Monaco, you first have to assemble your car. Transmissions run from Automatic to three different manual speeds. Automatic takes forever to accelerate, but is easier to control. 3-speed, 5-speed, and 7-speed allow for quicker acceleration, but are more difficult to steer. Wings range from light to heavy. The heavier the wing, the more traction you’ll have, but the harder turns will be to make. There are four types of engines with differing top-speeds and weights. And the softness/hardness of your Tires will affect both traction and durability.

 

super-monaco-gp-ue-v4

These engines sound like Cocktails of the Future.

 

If you choose an automatic transmission, you accelerate and brake with the face buttons, like you would any other racing game. Selecting a manual transmission means that you shift gears with the face buttons in order to accelerate and brake. This actually makes acceleration easier, since the game all but does it for you. Braking, however, is a nightmare. Rather than you having complete control over the brakes as you veer around a sharp turn, you have to deduce when to downshift based on how quickly your car decelerates. The time it takes for your car to decelerate differs based on the parts used to assemble your car. This makes for considerable guesswork just to turn and little enjoyment of the race proper.

 

super-monaco-gp-ue-v3

I predict a crash around the next bend.

 

All the D-pad does is steer and poorly, at that. Even if you make your car as light as an aluminum derby racer, it’s next to impossible to emerge from a sharp turn without sliding onto the grass or crashing into a sign. I’ve taken turns where I’ve slowed down and jammed the left/right buttons down as hard as I possibly can, and my car still drifts onto the grass like I’m not even controlling it.

 

super-monaco-gp-ue-v2

Impropriety.

 

The poor controls are unfortunate, since Super Monaco GP has a lot to offer for an 8-bit racing title. The Grand Prix mode has 16 races, more than enough to keep you occupied. If you just want to get a feel for the different course layouts or only have time for one race, VS. Battle has you covered. Assembling your car adds some light sim touches. While the game could have a touch more detail in the course layouts (it’s hard to tell Spain from Japan from England), from a technical standpoint, I appreciate that Sega didn’t even try to replicate the first-person view from the arcade and the Genesis, nor did they overload the Master System with more on-screen action than it could handle.

 

super-monaco-gp-ue-v5

Just bury my car in the pot fields.

 

Your ability to enjoy Super Monaco GP depends solely on how difficult the game is for you to control. Some might argue that the Genesis version’s controls are just as unforgiving, but at least in the latter, I had full control over my racer. Here, it feels like the game and I share responsibility over my car, and the game has no intention of letting me succeed. Keep your crooked races, Monaco, I’m going home.

 

D-

 

supermonacogpjp

The F1 Dumpling Gang races to the store for capers and wine!

 

supermonacogpus

Apparently, Sega’s trying to bore consumers into buying the Game Gear with this drab cover.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

NEEDS: Gear-to-Gear Cable for multiplayer

RELEASE DATE: 10/06/90 – (JP)

                                               1991 – (US)

 

Despite running on a handheld with the same processor as the Master System, Super Monaco GP for the Game Gear moves faster and controls better than its home console counterpart. Even at high speeds, the tight controls allow you to turn sharply without careening off the raceway, unlike the Master System version. Whether you’re using an automatic or a 7-speed transmission, your car soars down the track, like you just threw a gram of cocaine into the gas tank. This fix turns Super Monaco GP from an unplayable title into an enjoyable one.

 

super-monaco-gp-u-000

“Outta my way, Chuckles, I’m late for my probation hearing.”

 

Both versions share the same features, save for some minor changes. While you can still assemble your car – tires, wings, transmission, motors – there are fewer options to choose from. The Grand Prix mode returns, complete with all sixteen courses. The VS. Battle is back as well, but only if you have a Gear-to-Gear Cable. In order to play any two-player mode, you’ll need to have two Game Gears, two copies of the game, and a cable to make the magic happen. A ridiculous setup to be sure, but in 1990, that’s just the way things were.

 

super-monaco-gp-u-001

Japan apologizes for its track’s excessive curves.

 

I wouldn’t like playing such a fast game on a small, blurry screen, but there’s no denying that the portable Super Monaco GP is the better of the two 8-bit versions. Why Sega couldn’t make the Master System version run this well is beyond me.

 

B

Murderous Decisions – Zapping Requested (Zapping TV Satsui)

 

In this special series on the Pioneer LaserActive, guest author Taylor Pinson will be discussing some of the games released on the Sega PAC, an add-on for the LaserActive that could play Genesis, Sega CD, and Mega LD titles.

 

zappingtvsatsui

Ah, the long-awaited Depeche Mode ensemble film is here.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pioneer

DIRECTOR: Gerard Schmidt

GENRE: Movie

RELEASE DATE: 08/25/94 – (JP)

 

Murderous Decisions – Zapping Requested (AKA Zapping TV Satsui) is, in a way, two movies in one. It is a dual-sided title released in Japan only and available for both the Sega and NEC PACs. The footage was originally produced for a German Public television station experiment in the early 1990s.

 

1

I smell a low budget.

 

The director filmed a detective/crime thriller story from the perspectives of two characters, Christine and Stefan. Instead of editing both perspectives into a single movie, he made two, one for each character. The movies were then aired simultaneously on two different channels, and viewers were encouraged to switch (or ‘zap’) between the two to see how the story unfolded.

 

21

Our hero, Rick Astley.

 

This release for LaserActive takes those two movies and lets you switch between them on the fly (as well as letting you switch between an English or Japanese audio track). I’m sure this feature was interesting to see in the days of VHS tapes, but nowadays its the same as watching a DVD that uses the multi-angle feature.

 

4

“Bug your eyes out… that’s right, nice and large.”

 

The movie itself is dull and meandering. The story revolves around around an artist named Stefan who travels to a different city in search of work, only to realize he’s been duped into transporting a bag of drugs for Christine. He then decides to stick around the city instead of just going home, and inevitably gets drawn into a clumsy not-quite-love-triangle with Christine and her boss, Octave. Octave then decides to frame Stefan for other crimes just because. There’s also a generic subplot about prostitutes being killed that never leads anywhere.

 

5

Pee-Wee Herman, the later years.

 

Murderous Decisions… is a bad made-for-TV movie. None of the characters are particularly interesting or likable, the visuals are dull and ugly, and for a detective/crime thriller, there’s practically no detecting or crime-related thrills. The only real crime here is having your money swindled yet again by the Pioneer con artists.

 

F

 

Strider

 

striderjp

Why, yes, I would like to play Strider

 

striderus

…unless Zach Morris, age 45, has anything to say about it.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Capcom (port by Sega)

GENRE: Action

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 09/29/90 – (JP)

                                             11/90 – (US)

                                             05/91 – (EU)

 

Since its arcade release in 1989, Strider‘s cult status has reached near-Earthbound levels. Champions of the game declare that it’s one of the best action titles ever made, with each level being an overwhelming tour-de-force of ridiculousness. Detractors claim that the game’s relentless pace makes for an overly hard, unfair experience. Both groups are right, to an extent. I’ve never played an action game that was so intent on pummeling me with its creativity. That said, there are no places to rest in Strider and the last two stages are absolute hell until you memorize the enemy placement.

 

strider-ue-004

The hero waits impatiently in the shadows.

 

Ultimately, though, Strider‘s too crazy to not appreciate. Like Revenge of Shinobi before it, it delights in surprising the player with one outlandish set piece after another. In the breadth of a single stage, you’ll fight off packs of Siberian wolves, destroy a ten-foot tall mechanical gorilla, clamber down a mine-riddled mountain, avoid electric transformers that fill the screen with deadly lightning, jump from helicopter to helicopter while avoiding falling bombs, and take on a deadly Chinese martial arts trio.

 

strider-ue-003

Stop this gorilla, I want to get off!

 

In 2048 A.D., a European nation known as Kazafu (which looks suspiciously like the U.S.S.R.) is toppled by an unknown army. Soon, the entirety of Europe is leveled, along with North and South America by this mysterious force. The cretin behind the destruction? Grand Master Meio, who resembles Emperor Palpatine’s cousin, twice removed. Only Hiryu of the Strider forces can stop Meio on his Third Moon Base, and bring peace to Earth once more.

 

strider-ue-013

And by ‘peace,’ I mean ‘complete and utter destruction.’

 

Like the aforementioned Siberia stage, each of Strider‘s four other stages is a triumph of relentless, absurd action. In Kufazu, you slice-and-dice a bodybuilder, dart across the Kremlin-esque rooftops, and eliminate the entire corrupt Kufazu government after they morph into a metallic flying centipede. Within the recesses of the Ballog Battleship, the Anti-Gravity boss removes your ability to stand upright and spins you recklessly around it. In the Amazon, you swing on sagging, bouncy vines, subdue the Amazon women, and leap from dinosaur to dinosaur. And on the Third Moon base, you fight the levitating Grand Master Meio from high atop his skeletal watchtower.

 

strider-ue-008

Strider Minelli stars in “Gravity A-Go-Go: An Interstellar Love Story!”

 

These stages would be impossible to complete if Strider Hiryu wasn’t one of the most elegant heroes in gaming history. He can grease slide along any surface, cartwheel through the air, and grapple onto ceilings and walls, all while slicing enemies in quick succession with his plasma sword. Such an agile creature might seem difficult to control, but his actions are incredibly intuitive. Strider’s one weakness? A single hit tumbles him backwards like a ragdoll, where he could, depending on the level, fall to his death.

 

strider-ue-002

I predict a fair and impartial trial!

 

Strider doesn’t just rely on his swanky ninja ensemble and nimble moves to get by. Canisters containing items are everywhere, sometimes on the ground, sometimes dropped by flying enemies. The items run the gamut from worthless (nobody cares about bonus points, Capcom) to necessary, like a stronger sword attack, invincibility, and extra life bars.

 

strider-ue-009

If you can’t control that bulge on your face, how can you expect to control the world?

 

The canisters can also contain three robot helpers, all of which are useful to varying degrees. The Dipodal saucers are the most common, cute little creatures that go out of their way to attack enemies. You can have up to two of them, and once you enlist their help, one of your life bar blocks will turn red. The Terapodal Robo-panther is as cool as his name suggests, and appears only when two of the blocks in your life bar have turned red. He unfortunately only hunts by your side for a limited time, and after he’s gone, your Dipodal buddies will return. The Hawk Robot circles above you and destroys anything it touches, though it also disappears after a short while.

 

strider-ue-015

The Robo-panther slinks effortlessly towards the stars.

 

Strider is, without a doubt, one of the best looking games I’ve seen on the Genesis thus far. Strider’s enormous, gorgeously rendered sprite and fluid animations exceed even that of Michael Jackson’s in Moonwalker. The detailed stage designs and backgrounds immerse you into each stage’s unique world. While not all bosses and enemies look and move as beautifully as the main character, their thoughtful, creative design is tailored to each stage and only enhances your journey.

 

strider-ue-012

“You know I normally eat leaves, but this one time, I munched a stego’s head by accident. True story!”

 

Capcom deserves praise for creating Strider for their now legendary CPS1 arcade system, but Sega should be equally commended for reprogramming the game for the Genesis. Outside of a reduced color palette and a touch of slowdown, the port is considered the finest of Strider‘s many home conversions. Given Capcom’s high standard of quality for console titles, they probably could have assembled a decent port. At the time of Strider‘s release, however, the company had yet to develop any games for the Mega Drive (Ghouls ‘N Ghosts was also handled by Sega). Perhaps it was for the best that Sega took the reins.

 

strider-ue-011

“Ladies please, there’s no need to clone yourselves.”

 

Not all is well in Strider’s house of blood and metal. Each stage has certain areas where you will be hit. The Anti-Gravity boss, for example, will throw you against the ground, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Given Strider’s small life bar – three bars at the least, five at the most – cheap shots aren’t exactly appreciated. On the opposite end of the complaining spectrum, while Strider‘s challenge will probably set you back at first, once you get a feel for the character’s movements and the stage layouts, it’s easy to fly through the game. Unless you just like showing off how much of a badass you are to your friends, Strider carries little replay value.

 

strider-ue-014

This situation can piss right off.

 

Strider‘s failings are nothing compared to what it does well. Games just didn’t come more epic and intense in 1990. Surprisingly, it still looks and plays like a dream nearly three decades later. All respect to the recent Strider reboot and Strider II from the late PS1-era, but nothing compares to the original’s kinetic beauty. If you grew up during the 80s and 90s, no excuses. Strider is a must-play treasure.

 

A

 

striderus

“It’s cool, guys, I’m here. Now let’s kick some butt – the Strider way!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Capcom (port by Sega)

GENRE: Action

DIFFICULTY: Easy

RELEASE DATE: 11/91 – (EU)

 

I’m not surprised that Sega brought Strider to the Master System, but I am surprised that it’s not the worst game I’ve ever played. Compared to previous arcade-to-Master System ports like Forgotten Worlds and Golden Axe – both of which looked and ran like garbage, despite their downgraded existence – Strider is playable, if not the least of the Sega ports.

 

strider-ue-016

It’s dark and hell is hot.

 

Rather than attempt to recreate Strider in full, Sega wisely took into account the Master System’s limitations. The stages are shortened and on-screen enemies have been considerably reduced, to the point where the levels almost feel empty (most of the bosses are still present). Any background details have been omitted in favor of a black or blue screen that represents the time of day. Strider can still climb walls, hang from platforms, and somersault through the air, but his sliding move has been removed. His life bar too was removed in favor of a number that shows how many times he can be hit.

 

strider-ue-017

“Is this the end for our sultry hero?”

 

If Master System Strider is remembered for anything, it’s for the serious slowdown and the easy difficulty. Strider can’t walk, leap, or attack without looking like he’s starring in some John Woo-directed slow-motion scene, sans doves. Perhaps because of the choppy movements, Sega toned down the difficulty. If you’re careful, you can clear the game in fifteen minutes, and that’s with Sega disposing of continues.

If you loved the arcade Strider, saving up for a Mega Drive and the 16-bit port would’ve been the way to go in 1991. Still, kudos to Sega for bringing a neutered version of Strider to the Master System’s surprisingly large fanbase. You can’t say they don’t care.

 

C

Hellfire

 

hellfirejp

Really more of a heck fire, if you ask me.

 

hellfireus

Then again, this warped US cover does play hell on my eyes. Hellfire, it is!

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Masaya (JP), Seismic (US), Sega (EU)

DEVELOPER: Toaplan

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

DIFFICULTY: Hard

RELEASE DATE: 09/28/90 – (JP)

                                             11/90 – (US)

                                             05/92 – (EU)

 

Just when I was beginning to grow weary of the deluge of shoot-em-ups on the Mega Drive, along comes Hellfire to reignite my love for the genre. Toaplan’s first attempt at a horizontal shoot-em-up doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the game’s gimmick – a four-way directional weapon – adds the right amount of strategy to otherwise standard bang-bang proceedings.

 

hellfire-u-001

Here, have all of my love!

 

You play Lancer, commander of the ship CNCS1, and your mission is to drive back the Black Nebula and Super Mech forces single-handedly. The CNCS1 can shoot in four directions – forward, backward, 2- directional up-and-down, and 4-directional diagonal, respectively – which can be rotated through by pressing ‘B’ and fired by pressing ‘A.’ Pressing ‘C’ will unleash a Hellfire attack that, despite the name, never does as much damage as you would hope.

 

hellfire-u-006

Oh, how I wish this was just a friendly game of alien pool.

 

Hellfire does not take your ship’s abilities lightly. From the first level on, your thumb will mash the ‘A’ and ‘B’ buttons in unison, as enemies attack you from every direction. The key to survival is both rotating through your directional weapons quickly and powering them up as you move along. Your weaponry can be upgraded several times from single shots to twin and triple lasers. You can also acquire a Seeker, which will hover around your vicinity and destroy incoming enemies. Icons that provide speed boost, bonus points, extra lives, and a shield that gives your ship an extra hit point are also worth picking up.

 

hellfire-u-005

Rise and, uh… please don’t be pissed.

 

There will come a time – or perhaps several times – in Hellfire when enemies merge towards you from every direction. Rather than shooting them down with gusto and grace, you’ll grow flustered and cycle to a weapon that shoots in the wrong direction. In this scenario, you will be taken out for your efforts. And like most shoot-em-ups, when you die in Hellfire, you lose all your power-ups. Thankfully, however, power-ups are plentifully dispersed throughout each stage, so starting from a checkpoint isn’t as intimidating as it could be.

 

hellfire-u-008

“And so, a swarm of demonic seahorses hurtled towards our hero. He was never seen again.”

 

Hellfire‘s stage layouts and enemy/boss design are not far removed from generic shoot-em-up fare, but the game at least had moments that surprised me. The Egyptian hieroglyphs that suddenly came to life in the Desert stage were comical, almost Gradius-esque. When the volcano springs up from under the water and spews evil seahorses in the Forest stage, it’s impossible not to be taken aback. And in the Factory stage, the narrow corridors that require tight maneuvering while destroying turrets are not to be taken lightly.

 

hellfire-u-012

I question how Easy this actually is, Toaplan.

 

If you’re going to tackle Hellfire for the first time, head to the Options Menu and change some things. Increase your lives from 3 to 4, and turn Rapid Fire on so you don’t injure your thumbs. Indulge in the Sound Test too. Hellfire has an outstanding soundtrack that takes full advantage of the Genesynths. The default difficulty is Easy, which seems insulting, until you realize you can only pick between Easy and Hard. Choose Easy and be quick about it. If you leave the cursor on Hard for too long, a third difficulty will emerge called ‘Yea Right.’ Best not to call the game’s bluff.

 

hellfire-u-015

Immortan Joe 3099

 

Once you make your way through Hellfire three times without using all lives and continues, you’ll be rewarded with the game’s true ending. I tend not to encourage such masochism, but this game is one of the rare shoot-em-ups I would play through at least twice in one sitting. Cycling through directional weapons to destroy enemies in every corner and cranny is one of the best features I’ve ever seen in any shoot-em-up, and it more than makes up for the game’s generic aesthetic. Hellfire is unrelenting action, all-or-nothing immersion, and one of the best shoot-em-ups on the Genesis.

A-

 

hellfire-u-017

Got to see the next graphic ending!

Sega Does Update – End of 2016

 

sonic-christmas-blast

 

Merry holidays, friends! I hope you and your loved ones are enjoying the effects of global warming this warm and frosty winter.

The end of 2016 is upon us and with that comes reflection. In terms of both views and visitors, Sega Does had its best year ever. 2016 alone saw over 70,000 views and upwards of 20,000 visitors. Not bad for a niche Sega blog! In 2017, as I get deeper into the vast Genesis library, crack open the rich acidic innards of the Game Gear, and maybe dip my toe into the Sega CD, I’m sure interest will increase. Thanks to all of you loyal readers for making this happen. As always, if you ever have any constructive criticism or positive feedback about the site or my reviews, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

In April, I was honored to be a part of the Retronauts panel at Midwest Gaming Classic, alongside Jeremy Parish, Bob Mackey, and Greg Sewart. To say that this was a thrill is an understatement. It was the friggin’ bees knees, and I don’t bust that phrase out lightly. Jeremy and Bob were awesome and generous hosts, and Greg was a fantastic hotel roommate who has since become a friend. One of the year’s best memories, no question.

 

retronautsmastersystemart

Awesome art from an awesome show (thanks to Retronauts for the image).

 

In July, suddenly and unexpectedly, my podcasting partner and friend, Sam, disappeared. We had what I considered a small quibble about one of the episodes, but rather than discuss it further, he stopped talking to me and took the podcast offline. I’ve reached out to him several times since, but to no avail. This is, of course, my version of the events. Perhaps he sees it differently. I hope he’ll get in touch with me someday, and we can work out and rekindle our friendship.

Out of respect for Sam, I didn’t want to restart the podcast too early. It was three months after our initial tiff before I reached out to Jeff Rud. For those who don’t know, Jeff is one of the hosts of the HG101 Top 47k Games Podcast and the SegaDoes Podcast’s current co-host. Without Jeff’s interest and willingness to help, Sega Does Podcast V. 2.0 would not be a reality.

And speaking of which, episode 2 is coming soon! We had a technical snafu with our last recording, but we will be meeting again soon. Expect the episode in January!

 

sonicgremlins

Don’t worry, the podcast will always be Sonic Boom-free.

 

The Patreon page has seen some minor updates, as well. My overview, rewards, and goals have all changed to better reflect my current attitude, schedule and abilities. If you’re interested in donating or even if you’re not, go check it out and let me have some feedback! I’m always open to making the Patreon page more inviting.

And finally, this update will be the last Sega Does post for 2016. I’ll be taking a much-needed break from Dec. 25th through January 1st and will return with new posts on the 2nd.

The goal for 2017 will be, as always, 2-3 reviews a week. Whether I hit this consistently or not is in God’s hands, but this is the ideal. I would also like to start producing books in 2017. My only limitation is money. I don’t have the finances available to pay my graphic designer what he requires, thus book production will be on hold until then. Could I design the books myself? With a few tutorials, I’m sure I could whip something together, but I’d prefer the books not be of amateur quality. If you’re interested in seeing books sooner than later, please head on over to the Patreon! When I reach $300/month, book production will begin in earnest.

 

sonicread

Off-model Sonic cries out for more Sega-branded literature!

 

Most importantly, thanks to all of you for reading and sticking with me, lo these past three years. If nobody was interested, I’d be hard-pressed to continue. As it stands, I’m continuously flattered and humbled that anyone cares about my grandiose chrono-blog. Forget Sonic, Tails, Alex Kidd, Ecco: you guys are the real Sega superstars. Take care, and I’ll see you (Lord willing and the world doesn’t collapse) in 2017!

Back to the Edo

 

In this special series on the Pioneer LaserActive, guest author Taylor Pinson will be discussing some of the games released on the Sega PAC, an add-on for the LaserActive that could play Genesis, Sega CD, and Mega LD titles.

 

backtotheedo

Christopher Lloyd wanted no part of this confusing production.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pioneer

DEVELOPER: TBS Games

GENRE: Trivia

DIFFICULTY: ???

RELEASE DATE: 12/22/94 – (JP)

 

If you don’t speak Japanese, there’s little point in going Back to the Edo.

The title is an FMV trivia game about Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868). You watch brief video clips of people dressed in period costume, then answer a series of random questions to advance. If you get one question wrong, you’re forced to start over.

 

2

I have no idea who this man is or why he demands I answer trivia questions.

 

The game was only released in Japan and contains no English language dub or subtitles. I don’t know Japanese, so I was working on nothing but pure trial and error. In my brief time playing the game I saw a few of the questions repeat, which leads me to believe there is a very limited assortment of questions to answer. If that is the case, I assume Back to the Edo has low replay value.

 

3

Chigaimasu.

 

Judged purely from an aesthetic standpoint, the game does not look as cheap as the typical FMV games we received from American developers in the early 90s. Back to the Edo‘s creators spent, at the very least, a decent amount of time and effort on the set designs and costumes. This means they probably had a sizable budget on this production. Without understanding Japanese, though, I can’t tell you if the actors’ performances are any good.

 

4

Yellow cake?! Don’t drop that here!

 

Overall, Back To The Edo has a pretty limited appeal even by LaserActive standards, and is not worth your time to try to hunt down.

Because of the impenetrable language barrier, I can’t give Back to the Edo a proper grade. Based solely on the underwhelming FMV trivia game genre, and the seemingly limited amount of content, I’m guessing this would have scored in the range of a D. If I could have understood it.

 

Space Invaders 90 / 91

 

spaceinvaders90

1978 called, they want their invaders back!

 

spaceinvaders91

Released one year after the Japanese version for reasons unknown.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Taito

DEVELOPER: Taito

GENRE: Arcade/Shoot-em-up

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

RELEASE DATE: 09/07/90 – (JP)

                                               1991 – (US)

 

Space Invaders 91 (or Space Invaders ’90 as it’s known in Japan) has a killer upbeat soundtrack that sounds as good as any music I’ve heard on the Genesis. There’s an energy and enthusiasm running through the ten tracks that makes for perfect listening on its own. When paired with the game, however, the music is almost too lively. It stands at a contrast with the leisurely paced back-and-forth shooting that’s Space Invaders‘ modus operandi.

 

space-invaders-90-j-c000

It looks like the aliens are actually shooting earth. The future is 1991.

 

The fantastic tunes beg to be placed in a different, more exciting game, and so do I. I’ve reviewed the original Space Invaders once before for the SG-1000, and while I can appreciate the game’s legacy, I didn’t grow up with it and thus have no nostalgia towards it whatsoever. Space Invaders 91 seems to understand that there were many kids like me and attempts to combine the Space Invaders formula with elements of the modern shoot-em-up. Special weapons, all new levels, and a shield on the ship make for a slightly different experience, but none of the additions succeed in making the game feel like a true heir to the original.

 

space-invaders-91-u-c001

“When Interplanetary Peace Negotiations Go Bad, tonight on Fox!”

 

In the original Space Invaders, you control a spaceship that has to destroy rows of descending alien invaders before they reach the ship at the bottom of the screen. The ship is limited to horizontal movement, so it’s unable to fly vertically towards the invaders. There are four large shields between you and the invaders that you can hide behind as they shoot at you. When the aliens shoot the shields, they slowly erode away; lingering behind them like a coward does you no favors, though you can shoot through them to take out hard-to-reach invaders. UFOs occasionally appear at the very top of the screen and, when shot, provide a large number of bonus points. As the number of aliens decrease, the remaining ones move faster towards your ship. If they reach your ship, game over. If you destroy the entire fleet, onto the next round, same as the last.

 

space-invaders-90-j-c004

Even the outer reaches of space wept when Prince passed.

 

In Space Invaders 91, you control a spaceship that has to destroy rows of alien invaders from reaching you at the bottom of the screen. Your ship can only move horizontally, not vertically. The four shields have been removed for a personal shield that allows your ship to get hit five times by enemy projectiles. UFOs occasionally appear at the very top of the screen and, when shot, drop a special weapon. Depending on the round, the weapon can be anything from a shield that protects you from enemy fire to a homing bomb that locks on to specific enemies. All special items have a limited number of uses and disappear quickly. As the number of aliens decrease, the remaining ones move faster towards your ship. If they reach your ship, you lose a life. If you destroy the entire fleet, you move on to the next round, slightly different than the previous.

 

space-invaders-90-j-c002

Thomas Kinkade’s “Galaxy of Despair.”

 

Each level takes place on a different planet with slightly varied enemies. The pixelated aliens from the original are here, but so too are amorphous sea creatures, space bugs a la Galaga, and vengeful amoebas. While you mostly stay in space, occasionally you’ll fight on the ground in a land vehicle. On these ground levels, the terrain will sometimes bend in the middle, which forces you to shoot diagonally.

 

space-invaders-90-j-c003

Even the sea creatures have caught “Invader Fever.”

 

Space Invaders was a huge success because nobody had played anything quite like it before. The changes made to the formula in Space Invaders 91 are poorly implemented, and are features you’ve seen in every other shoot-em-up made in and before 1991. The special weapons are solid, but the limited number of times you can use them renders them pointless. The stage backgrounds resemble bad paintings; so much so, that I would have preferred the constant blackness of space behind the aliens rather than surreal landscapes you might see in a Carl’s Jr. The shifting terrain is neat the first time you see it, but doesn’t actually enhance the game.

 

space-invaders-91-u-c000

Only 16 bits of raw blast processing could alter such formidable terrain.

 

Space Invaders 91‘s conservative changes seem designed to not offend old fans, yet still bring in new ones somehow. So who’s the game’s intended audience? For an update, it plays too much like the original, yet not enough like the original for fans who just want to play a 16-bit version with upgraded graphics. The different levels, the intense soundtrack, and that “’91” in the title: Taito desperately wants you to think this is a modern and fresh take on your parents’ favorite classic arcade game. But no amount of visual trickery or aural ear candy can give Space Invaders 91 what it desperately needs: a purpose.

 

D+

Klax

 

klaxjp

Commence the puzzling!

 

klaxus

“Mr. Klax, what a honor! I’d love to shake your, uh… hmm. Well, nice to meet ya anyway.”

 

klaxeu

Soar through the lightning fields while you KLAX IT UP!!!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous (JP-only) / 1 (US/EU)

PUBLISHER: Namco (JP) / Tengen (US/EU)

DEVELOPER: Namco (JP) / Atari Games (US/EU)

GENRE: Puzzle

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 09/07/90 – (JP)

                                               1991 – (US)

                                             11/91 – (EU)

 

Another falling-block puzzle game so soon after all those other falling-block puzzle games? Why the freak not. After all, Tetris was a world-conquering hit. People seemed to like Columns for some reason. It was only natural for Atari to assume that Klax would be a puzzle bash, a real arcade smash.

 

klax-ue-002

Time for what?… Time for what?!

 

Just as Tetris was the only puzzle game that mattered in the late ’80s, Atari wanted Klax to represent a new decade. The slogan that appears before the game says as much: “It is the Nineties and there is time for Klax.” No subtlety there! Atari was banking on Klax to do well in the arcade while the Tengen version of Tetris was held up in the courts with Nintendo. If the court sided with Nintendo (which they eventually did), they’d have Klax to fill the puzzle void on the console front.

 

klax-japan003

Time to break some hands, got it.

 

Klax takes a slightly different approach to other games in this specific genre. Rather than have pieces/blocks fall from the sky onto a playing field, the multi-colored tiles tumble down from a conveyor belt onto a paddle. If the tile doesn’t land on the paddle, it will scream and fall into the abyss below. As the tiles land on the paddle, you flip them down into a 5×5 bin below. The paddle can hold up to five tiles at a time, and you can also flip the tiles back up onto the belt. In order to make the tiles disappear and get a Klax, three of the same color tile must be arranged horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

 

klax-japan000

Diagonal wave and bake, bruh.

 

Different Klax shapes result in varying amounts of points. The harder the shape is to make within the bin, the more points you get. For example, a horizontal Klax is worth 50 points because it’s easy to achieve, while a diagonal takes more work and is worth 5,000 points. The emptier the bin at the end of the wave, the more bonus points you’ll receive. But if the bin fills completely with tiles or if you drop a certain amount of tiles, your Klax-ing days are over.

 

klax-ue-000

The tiles have hustle, I’ll give ’em that.

 

Rather than just making Klax and moving on to the next round where the tiles fall faster, each round (or “wave” as they’re called here) comes with an objective. The five different objectives include: making a certain amount of Klaxes, making a certain number of diagonal or horizontal Klaxes, catching a specific number of tiles on the paddle, and getting a specific point value. These goals add substance and life to an otherwise repetitious puzzle game. Without them, Klax would be a flashy Tetris wannabe.

 

klax-japan002

Every five levels, you can select between three different waves.

 

There are indeed two different versions of Klax for the Mega Drive/Genesis. One was published and developed by Namco and released only in Japan. The other was released in the United States/Europe, was published by Tengen, and developed by Atari Games, who also developed and released the Klax arcade.

The Namco version preceded the Atari version, and in my opinion, is the better of the two. This, despite the fact that the Atari version was programmed by Klax‘s original programmer, Dave Akers. The Namco version has smoother controls, unlimited continues, crisper graphics, an easier learning curve, a co-op versus mode, and some fantastic voice samples. Hearing the Japanese announcer say “very good!” after I cleared a round always made me smile.

 

klax-ue-001

Look at all those bonus points. Very good.

 

The Atari version is more faithful to the arcade game, though, and also features more options. You can adjust the difficulty so the game either gets more difficult over time or doesn’t increase whatsoever. The music and sound effects can be switched on or off. You can choose different colors from three different tile palettes. But with options comes sacrifice. The co-op versus mode is missing. The continues depend on how many “credits” you “insert” (you can have up to 21 credits, but still). The paddle doesn’t slide as elegantly across the conveyor belt. The graphics are darker, faded, and the American voice samples are shrill and annoying.

 

klax-ue-003

That blue nail polish really ties the level together.

 

But why are there two different versions of Klax? Greg Sewart of Generation-16 said in his Klax (Tengen) video that he contacted the game’s programmer Dave Akers to see how this happened. Akers responded by saying that Namco’s Mega Drive version was a “complete surprise” to the Atari team. Especially since the American team was already preparing a Genesis version at the time of the Mega Drive version’s release.

 

klax-mega-drive-vs-namco

But can your version of Klax do this?! (thanks to HG101 for the screenshot).

 

Akers theorizes that Atari’s Japanese division immediately struck up a deal with Namco to get a Klax home version released before any clones of the game could be produced. Though clones of popular arcade games were largely a thing of the industry’s past, Atari was still worried that other developers would get wind of Klax and quickly develop a clone, beating them to the market. As for why the American development team never knew about the Mega Drive port? Aker graciously calls this “a quirk of the Japanese management style.” Seeing as how Sega’s mid-90s implosion can be partially attributed to poor communication between American and Japanese divisions, this would not surprise me in the least.

 

klax-japan001

Live long and Klax, I guess.

 

While I prefer the Japanese Mega Drive version of Klax, the Atari-developed Genesis version will still scratch that tile-slinging itch. Klax isn’t a Tetris-killer by any means (unless you’re talking Tetris on the Genesis, in which case it absolutely slays), but the game has more depth than you might expect upon initial play, and completing the objectives to get to the next wave can be addicting. Klax on, you crazy tiles.

Namco: B

Tengen: B-

 

klaxeu

Warning: tiles may disintegrate unexpectedly.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Tengen

DEVELOPER: Atari Games

GENRE: Puzzle

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 12/91 – (EU)

 

Klax was released on pretty much every console, computer, and handheld available back in the early 90s, so it was only natural for the Master System to receive a port. The catch? This one was just for Europe and Australia, presumably since America had all but abandoned the Master System by 1991.

 

klax-e-001

+5000 sympathy points if this is the only version of Klax you’ve ever played.

 

The changes are strange. The paddle slider is slippier than either the Genesis or the Mega Drive version, which can make catching and releasing the tiles a crapshoot. The tile colors don’t alternate down the conveyor belt as often as in other versions. I’ve had five of the same color come down the conveyor belt, one after the other, something that was never an issue before. You only have three credits, which is great if you want a challenge, and bad if you want to get into the higher waves. And it should go without saying that the Master System’s lower color palette makes the game look ugly.

 

klax-e-000

I don’t think I’m gonna klax it out alive…

 

Klax is Klax, but since you can play it about a thousand different ways, I’d suggest looking outside of a dated 8-bit console for your fix.

 

C

 

klaxus

He’ll sleep tonight.

 

klaxeu

Porta-Klax, for the hip young consumer on the go.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Tengen

DEVELOPER: Atari Games

GENRE: Puzzle

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 1992 – (US)

                                    09/92 – (EU)

 

No foolin’. This Game Gear version of Klax is exactly the same as the Master System version. All of the latter’s quirks and annoyances are here: slippery paddle, three credits, repeating colored tiles. The colors might be a little less faded on this version, and the screen is smaller so you can no longer see the background parking lot, only the conveyor belt and the bin. Otherwise, no differences.

 

klax-u-000

This is Klax. See Klax clack. Clack, Klax, clack.

 

In 1992? Sure, Klax on Game Gear would have kept you company while you and your fam rolled over to Disney World. There’s no reason to bust out Sega’s portable buddy in our High Definition Times, however. Especially if you’re playing a game like Klax that has several different and better versions. The Game Gear may have been the best color handheld at the time (sorry, Lynx), but the blurry screen and appalling battery life don’t make for friendly playing today.

 

In 1992: C+

Today: D