Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom



The original subtitle for PSIII in Japan was “Successors of Time.”



Purple Rain II: A Prince for All Generations






RELEASE DATE: 04/21/90 – (JP)

                                             07/91 – (US)

                                              1991 – (EU)


Before I began Phantasy Star III, I was told by well-meaning fans of the series to run and hide under a desk, lest I be destroyed with the game’s 50+hr nuclear blast of mediocrity. I’m pleased to report that, despite some battle wounds, Phantasy Star III is neither as bad as its reputation suggests nor good enough to be considered an underrated classic. Its epic multi-generational story remains ambitious today, but the game is marred by its halfhearted presentation.




“The Legends of the Past Shape Our Lives and Those of Our Children.”


With this sentence, Phantasy Star III unravels its story of conflict between Orakio the swordsman and Laya the sorceress. 1,000 years before the game begins, these two people and their respective followers fought bitterly against each other. A potential truce was in the works before both Orakio and Laya seemingly disappeared into thin air. Both sides blamed the other for their leader’s disappearance and settled into an uneasy, unresolved co-existence.



Blue moon…/I saw you floating alone…


What does this backstory have to do with the overarching Phantasy Star mythos? Absolutely nothing. Rather than resolve Phantasy Star II‘s ambiguous ending or tie in Mother Brain and the Algo System into the latest entry, writer/director Hiroto Saeki crafted an original story with several generations of characters that have nothing to do with those from the previous two games.



C’mon Rhys, don’t look so angsty and pissed. It’s your wedding day!


The introduction also feels like it emerged from a different RPG series. You begin the game as the Orakian Prince Rhys, a dashing galoot who’s about to marry the mysterious Maia. Suddenly, a dragon emerges and whisks her away to parts unknown. Rhys vows to rescue her and the game begins. Up until this point, the Phantasy Star series focused less on generic video game tropes – woman kidnapped, man must rescue – and more on original sci-fi plots. Even today, the first two Phantasy Stars have some of the more interesting stories you’ll find in an RPG. Phantasy Star III initially follows a more traditional fantasy plot, much to many fans’ chagrin.



You’re not the boss of me!


Bear with the initial fantasy trappings, however, and you’ll be rewarded with cyborg companions, intermittent trips to two different moons, and the ability to craft the story via player choice. As Prince Rhys progresses through his journey, he’s joined by the Orakian princess Lena, the mysterious warrior Lyle, and two cyborgs, Wren and Mieu. Once you’ve rescued Maia, you learn that she is a Layan princess. The game then gives Rhys a choice: marry Lena and become king over the Orakian territories of Landen and Satera, or marry Maia and become king of Cille, a Layan city, thereby renouncing your claim as an Orakian prince. Whomever you marry will birth a son, and said son will be the main character for the next chunk of the game.



Not that hard of a choice, really.


The story spans three generations of characters, but who you marry and sire determines the events of that portion of the game. For instance, when Rhys marries Maia, she gives birth to Ayn. Since Orakians have excellent sword handling abilities and Layans have Techniques, Ayn possesses both his father and mother’s talents. Ayn’s story also takes place from the perspective of the Layans, who have their kingdom invaded by evil cyborgs. If Rhys marries Lena, she gives birth to Nial. In this case, both Rhys and Lena are Orakians, so Nial’s proficient with swords, but has no Techniques. His story involves the invasion of monsters into the Orakian kingdoms. You’ll also have different party members depending on which son you have, though since cyborgs don’t technically age, Wren and Mieu will linger with your party for all three generations.



Techniques are helpful when it comes to killing these freaks.


In the third generation, you will control one of four people – Sean, Crys, Aron, and Adon – until the final fight. Unlike the second generation sections of the game, the third generation’s story points don’t differ much depending on who you control. Each character has his own ending, however, which makes Phantasy Star III one of the first RPGs to feature multiple endings.



“That’s your problem, Dad.”


Indeed, the characters and the generational system are the lifeblood of Phantasy Star III. Yes, the first generation with Rhys is a boring stroll through monotony, but once you have a son, the 1,000 year conflict between two races and their generational multitudes opens up and becomes surprisingly engaging. No RPG up until this point had offered branching pathways complete with their own separate stories. In fact, if you want to ingest the complete conflict between the Orakians and the Layans, you’ll have to play the game multiple times to gather all the story points. (For those who have played the game before and are interested, my playthrough went like this Rhys —> Ayn —> Sean).



Well, I’ll be darned…


To make it through the game’s compelling story, you’ll have to do one of two things: fast-forward through a Let’s Play, or buck up and fight through uninspired landscapes.



Most of the worlds are lush and surrounded by water and forest.


The game’s presentation is pathetic compared to the previous entries. The character sprites are less detailed and colorful than those in Phantasy Star II, and the worlds are mostly indistinguishable from each other. Outside of Aridia and Frigidia – the desert and ice worlds, respectively – it’s hard to tell whether you’re in Elysium, Aquatica, Landen, or Draconia without a hint book or some serious map-making skills. And unlike Phantasy Star II, which came with a prepackaged hint book, you had to purchase a hint book from Sega for $14.95 (in addition to the $80 you just spent on the game).



Annie Lennox’s anthem to broken glass plays softly on a warbly speaker.


The towns and dungeons are equally lackluster in their design. Both appear to have been constructed from one generic template, then re-arranged depending on the location. Towns are all surrounded by forest, have some mixture of shops, people with crucial information, and for some reason, an abundance of fountains. Dungeon layouts aren’t as confusing or infuriating as those found in Phantasy Star II, but they also don’t contain much atmosphere. They’re oversized basements with glass walkways, unnatural elongated corridors, and random mechanical parts that occasionally hinder your progress.



Welcome to Every Town.


For as much as I despised the overly grindy nature of Phantasy Star II, the simple battle system was perfect. There were two options: Fight, which brought you instantly into the battle, and Strategy, which let you customize your character’s next action. Phantasy Star III‘s battle system is a slight regression from that simplicity. When you get into a battle, there are four icons on the right hand side, with each one symbolizing a different move. Automatic Battle (new to the series) chooses how your characters fight until you press the B button, Regular Attack is a party attack that ends after one turn, Options lets you choose whether to attack, use Techniques, etc., and Run Away is an option to flee that doesn’t always work. It’s not difficult to adapt to the icons, but the new system feels needless, particularly when Phantasy Star II‘s worked so smoothly.



Amazon women are a real nuisance in the not-too-distant future.


On the plus side, Phantasy Star III does address the laborious grinding problem found throughout Phantasy Star II. In the latter, grinding was essential to progress from one area to the next without swift death. In Phantasy Star III, however, the pacing is perfect. The random encounters found when walking from one area to the next are all the battles your characters will need to level up appropriately. Occasionally you will need to fight a few extra battles to earn Meseta for items, but not nearly as often as in PSII.



When fire, robot birds, Gerudo, and blurry Greek statues join forces, watch out!


Techniques make their return from Phantasy Star II, though there’s less of them and their power can be modified. The four categories of techniques are: Healing, Melee (attack), Order (mixture of enhancements and special moves), and Time (stops enemy attacks and increases character’s speed/attacks). Each type has four techniques and costs a certain amount of Technique Points, with healing being the most expensive (5TP).



Technique Distribution is one of the best parts of Phantasy Star III.


In each town, there are Technique Distribution shops which allow you to enhance and decrease the strength of your respective Techniques. Once you select the category (Melee, Order, Healing, etc.) you wish to modify, you’ll see a square constructed of four different colored shapes, with each shape representing a technique. You can adjust the shapes in any direction you choose, and the more a certain shape is represented on the square, the stronger that Technique will be. So, if I wanted to increase my character’s healing skill, I’d make the shapes representing Res and GiRes dominant on the square.



You got hypothermia, I got a rash, who cares.


If only Sega had taken as much time with the gameplay of Phantasy Star III as they did with the story. Development was supposedly rushed in order to release the game as soon as possible, and nobody from the first two games worked on the third one. It shows. Ugly visuals that don’t take advantage of the hardware, a forgettable janky soundtrack, and uninteresting worlds that barely differ from one another all point to a severely missed opportunity.



Dark Force, as ugly and powerful as ever.


Had Phantasy Star III received a few more months development time, there’s a chance many would consider it their favorite in the series. Personally, I was able to persevere through the average gameplay and enjoy the fantastic story, but I can understand why so many fans were, and still are, disappointed. The potential for true greatness is buried beneath the half-finished foundation. Unfortunately, as so often happens in any form of media, art and business make for sexually frustrated bedfellows. Sega’s rushed development led to low sales and a pissed-off fanbase. And while the company arguably learned their lesson with the triumphant Phantasy Star IV, the mishandling of Phantasy Star III remains a blotch on an otherwise immaculately crafted series.



Virtual Cameraman


(I know, I know: where are the Genesis reviews?! I’ve been playing Phantasy Star III in earnest and plan to have that review for you on Monday or Tuesday at the latest. In the meantime, I can’t thank Mr. Pinson enough for his contributions).

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.


Look at all those lasers.




DEVELOPER: Transpegasus Limited

GENRE: Adult

RELEASE DATE: 12/10/93 – (JP)


Virtual Cameraman is the first adult game released for the system and unfortunately not the last; adult games actually make up nearly a third of the the LaserActive’s entire library.

Imagine a less interactive, smuttier Pokemon Snap: You select the model you want to pursue, watch a brief FMV of her walking around the city (not unlike a creepy stalker), then make your way through a seemingly endless stream of Japanese multiple choice questions. Answer a single one incorrectly, and you’re treated to a brief clip of the woman telling you off and walking away.



Let the skeez begin.


If you successfully navigate your way through this labyrinthine web, either through sheer luck, exhaustive trial-and-error, or because you actually speak Japanese, you’ll eventually reach the real reason anyone plays this game: brief (about 60 seconds in length) video clips of women striking risque poses.



Here are eight women who would rather be left alone.


During these segments, you need to take as many pictures of your model as possible. Good pictures will add to your score and allow you to proceed to naughtier photoshoots, while bad ones subtract from your score and keep you from achieving your pervy dreams.



Nothing screams eroticism like multiple choice questions.


I found the game play during these shoots to be physically painful. Every time you take a picture, you have to reload the camera. This is done by making a rotation motion with the D-Pad, simulating the experience of physically moving the plastic wheel on a cheap disposable camera.



And getting this far only took 30 hours!


Because you have such a limited amount of time to take pictures (and you need a lot of them if you want to score high enough to advance), your thumb is constantly mashing down on the D-pad at speeds that would make the old Track & Field games break a sweat. After a few of these shoots, my thumb was aching and started to form a blister.



A plastic smile and a busted camera.


About the only good thing I can say about Virtual Cameraman is that once you unlock a section, it seems to stay unlocked, avoiding the need to repeat trial-and-error question segments or old photoshoots. Also, after each shoot, you’re given the option to review your work and save any pictures you wish to keep to the LaserActive’s system memory. Just in case you want to relive the, uh, “hotness.”



You’ve been a bad score.


Virtual Cameraman’s gameplay exists as an impediment of its core content rather than an enhancement. This isn’t like a naughty poker or mahjong game where you can argue that you’re playing an actual game, or a visual novel where you can claim you’re getting pulled in by the story. The only reason someone would play this is to see some skin. Honestly, if that’s what you’re after, there are (and were even back when this game was new) much easier ways to get a hold of that kind of material.



You’re going to see this screen a lot, if your luck is anything like mine.


Few people today are going to spend hours guessing their way through the multiple choice segments, or destroy their thumbs trying to score enough points in early photoshoots just so they can see a few minutes of softcore pornography.

But who knows? Maybe there’s a compelling, not-at-all cliche story in those multiple choice questions about evil aliens invading the planet. Perhaps the only way to save the world is to convince these 8 women to loosen up, strike some seductive poses, and prance around in skimpy outfits. If that were the case, I’d certainly have to bump it up a few letter grades. For creativity, if nothing else.



Rocket Coaster


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.



Six Flags 2099





GENRE: Racing

RELEASE DATE: 12/20/93 – (JP)

                                      05/26/94 – (US)


And so we come to the last Sega PAC release of 1993. The LaserActive’s releases so far have run the gamut from forgettable to awful. Can Rocket Coaster turn the tide and give us the system’s first gem?



Screenshot/cover art synergy.


Rocket Coaster is a very pretty game. It makes good use of the laserdisc’s vast storage capacity to create some beautiful pre-rendered race courses; definitely the nicest looking LaserActive game I’ve reviewed thus far. While it does have generally catchy music, its gameplay and controls could use some work.



There are three courses to choose from, each with multiple levels.


There are multiple courses to choose from, but you can’t race against a second player or the computer. The only gameplay option amounts to a Time Attack mode. The racing itself isn’t bad, I just wish there was a little more to work with.



Well, that’s not good…


Control is where the game stumbles the most. You’re given three racers to choose from. Each of them handles differently, but no matter which one I picked, I found myself constantly flying off the course and dying whenever I came to a sharp turn. I could only avoid this if I immediately slammed on my breaks, but even that didn’t save me every time.



Elon Musk would be spinning in his grave if he saw these gas guzzling Teslas.


I’d be inclined to blame the control issues on myself and not the game. But with a name like “Rocket Coaster” and its focus on scoring a low time for each course, the game seemed to encourage me to try and go as fast as I could, before punishing me for doing so. And since there are no rivals to race against or even obstacles to dodge on the courses, the dodgy controls are the only thing that adds any challenge to the game.



But I thought we went back in time to stop the Candy Land takeover.


Rocket Coaster isn’t a bad game, just unpolished. If the controls were a little more refined or if there was a couple more game play options, this could have been the LaserActive’s first great game. Instead, it has to settle with being decent.



Thunder Force III



Almost a prog album cover.



“Suddenly, the air conditioning broke, and Tom melted into a fiery pulp…”



PUBLISHER: Technosoft

DEVELOPER: Technosoft

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 06/08/90 – (JP)

                                             10/90 – (US)


Technosoft follows up their genre-creating strategic masterpiece Herzog Zwei with one of the finest shoot-em-ups I’ve ever played. Thunder Force III doesn’t redefine the genre, but it does polish it to a near-perfect sheen. Enormous bosses, fantastic weapons, creative level design, excellent handling: everything you love about side-scrolling shoot-em-ups is on full display here.



The Disco Lobster means some serious boogie business.


You control Styx, a ship equipped to destroy the evil ORN Empire’s cloaking devices on five different planets. When you first begin the game, you can choose which one of these planets you wish to attack first. Once you select the initial planet, however, the game controls your course and you’re forced to tackle the planets in the order provided.



Ew, you’re picking that one?


As in Thunder Force II, Styx is always equipped with default weapons, Twin Shot and Backfire. Both of these weapons are surprisingly powerful, even in their initial state. You can, however, upgrade them to Laser Beam and Lancer Fire and really unleash hell; Laser Beam in particular is ridiculously overpowered and can cut through bosses quickly. Additional weapons include Waves, long and slender bursts of energy; Fire, single-shot missiles that crawl along the ceiling and ground; and Hunter, guided homing orbs. Items such as the Shield and the Claw, which triples your attack power, are also helpful, though much less common than the weapons. You can also switch between weapons at any time with the ‘C’ button – an incredibly helpful feature, as each planet’s layout and enemies call for slightly different tactics.



Shame those aren’t geysers of Tang.


While you can initially choose any planet you want to start, if you’ve never played the game before, the jungle planet Hydra is your best bet. Hydra has a straightforward design with fewer enemies, which allows you to ease into the action to come.



Hydra does have this jerk, but he’s pretty easy.


After Hydra, all bets are off. Gorgon is a lava world, with trippy red background waves hypnotizing you and molten geysers spraying constantly around your ship. Seiren is nothing but water, which might sound peaceful, if not for the constant air bubbles pushing you upwards towards enemies. Haides’ ever-shifting terrain feels like it’s always on the verge of falling apart. It constantly moves up and down, and at one point, forces you to retrace your steps backwards until another path can be found. Finally, Ellis is a cruel ice world that showers you with frozen stalactites and forces you through tight crystal caverns.



There’s more frozen dooks where those came from!


The bosses for these planets all have intimidating proportions, though they’re not all created equal in terms of strength. The Gargoyle – which looks nothing like a traditional gargoyle – has an easy pattern and can be taken down quickly by shooting its stomach with the default Twin Shot. On the other hand, the Twin Vulcans’ weakness is surrounded by laser-repelling metal, and is incredibly difficult to destroy without the Hunter homing orbs.



These bosses gave me the most trouble, despite their early appearance in the game.


Once you’ve beaten the five planets, the battle shifts to ORN headquarters. You destroy the enormous ship, Cerberus, from the outside in, then venture into the cold ORN base. The base is one of the largest environments yet, complete with three large sections, two midbosses, light bursts that split into eight-way directional beams, and a boss that requires you to avoid ever-shifting, screen-filling blocks while shooting its center. The ORN mean business. Once you breach the ORN core there are two additional bosses to destroy: an insect-like guardian with arms that wave back and forth in front of its weak point, and the ORN Emperor, encased within a royal purple egg.



“Sure we can’t resolve this with words instead of horrible gruesome death?”


If you have the right weapons equipped and can hang onto the Claw for most of the game, Thunder Force III is cake – at least on the Normal setting. I always expect drawn-out boss battles in shoot-em-ups, so I was surprised at how quickly the bosses died here. The levels aren’t always overrun with enemies, either. There were periods during each stage where I could breathe and gather myself because there was nothing happening on-screen; can’t say that about most Genesis shmups I’ve played thus far. Personally, I enjoyed the lighter challenge compared to, say, Truxton or even Thunder Force II. And beating the game on Normal makes me want to try Hard and Mania to see how far I can get.



I think this screenshot captions itself.


Thunder Force III would eventually be rebranded as Thunder Force AC in Japanese arcades. While the bulk of the game is similar to its console counterpart, the Haides and Ellis planets have been removed for a new space stage and the temple stage from Thunder Force II. The difficulty was increased as well. Thunder Force AC would then be ported and rebranded as Thunder Spirits for the SNES. Thunder Spirits suffered from some additional changes, the biggest of which was slowdown not present in Thunder Force AC or Thunder Force III. Thunder Spirits remains the only SNES entry in the Thunder Force series.



A decent entry, but Thunder Force III remains the superior game.


One could argue that most shoot-em-ups have large bosses, an energetic soundtrack, and interesting weapons. But not all shoot-em-ups feel as good to play as Thunder Force III does. Styx controls so smoothly, and the steady rapid-fire barrage you’re able to unleash from the first level onward is intensely satisfying. Throw in some of the best level design I’ve seen in the genre, and you have a classic that feels as fresh today as it did in 1990. Hats off to Technosoft’s achievement.





Some celebratory cuddles for the camera.              

Hi-Roller Battle


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.



“Super Real”: when regular real just isn’t real enough





GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 12/20/93 – (JP)

                                      05/26/94 – (US)


Hi-Roller Battle is strongly reminiscent of Cobra Command on the Sega CD. Both use extensive FMV footage and both have you (sort of) controlling of an elite attack helicopter. Instead of fighting a vaguely defined terrorist organization like in Cobra Command, however, you’re tasked with thwarting the military aims of a small island-based country in Asia named “J-Land” (I wonder where that’s supposed to be?).



Don’t let the blocky graphics fool you, that’s all just an FMV backdrop.


Like Pyramid Patrol, Hi-Roller Battle uses FMV footage of blocky 3D terrain and vehicles to give the illusion of depth. This amounts to you moving a cursor around the screen and shooting what baddies the game permits you to interact with.



That orange dot will pay for messing with the hi rollers of America.


Hi-Roller Battle is slow-paced and dull, due to the monotonous gameplay. Each level is populated with enemy helicopters flying around the game’s FMV backgrounds (as well as a few fast-moving sprite-based ones generated by the Sega PAC), and unless they have a targeting reticule over them, you can’t hurt them. Even when you have the helicopters in your line of sight, you still may not be able to destroy them, thanks to the questionable hit detection.



At least the explosions look nice.


Your arsenal consists of a machine gun and several kinds of missiles that all seem to fire and act the same. I mostly stuck with the machine gun since the missiles were usually too slow to hit a target before it disappeared. Poor weaponry, combined with the slow cursor and the large amount of damage it takes to kill enemies, makes much of the damage you receive from enemy fire unavoidable.



These missiles might look and sound fancy, but they’re all equally slow.


Hi-Roller Battle also has mission briefings voiced by a guy that sounds like Spottswoode from “Team America.” The briefings are meant to enhance the story, but since every level amounts to “shoot helicopters” anyway, they’re pointless – save for the unintentionally amusing voice actor.



Missiles take longer to reach your target and are generally less effective.


Hi-Roller Battle takes what should be a cool concept – blowing stuff up in a flying death-dealing monster – and turns it into a low-energy slog. If you want a more rewarding FMV shoot-em-up, go play Cobra Command on the Sega CD.




Sega Does Update – Fall 2016




Hello friends. I’m sorry if it seems like I pump out more personal updates than I do game reviews on Sega Does. It’s not intentional! My world has just been hectic for the last year. I’m still not fully recovered from both crippling loss and an overall lack of time.

That being said, I’m going to limit site/personal updates to four times a year, one for every season. Since fall started last week, I’m technically behind. So, happy fall everyone! Enjoy the update.


  • I’m in talks to resurrect the podcast with a different partner. Nothing’s concrete yet, but I’m excited to see what could happen. Details should emerge by the end of the month or November at the latest, so stay tuned for that.


  • If you’ve stuck around Sega Does for the last couple months, you’ve probably noticed guest reviewers Taylor Pinson, Peter Skerritt, and Greg Sewart. These gents have knowledge on particular Sega hardware/games that I don’t have, and their insight has been invaluable. Expect them to return in the future.


  • Reviews will return on Monday. I’m going to try to make it through Phantasy Star III by then, but no promises…


Now onto the hard stuff. Views are down. Comments have all but disappeared. Interest in Sega Does is at a low point. I’m not blaming anyone but myself for this. I’ve had a terrible time keeping up with the site due to life shenanigans. Losing the podcast was also a huge blow.

That being said, I’d like to invest time and effort into Sega Does in a manner that will draw people in. I don’t expect the blog to be a cash cow or anything, but it would be nice to see continual growth and engagement from the community.

So I have a couple questions for you, the readers:

  1. What would make you want to engage more with Sega Does, if anything?
  2.  Is there anything about Sega Does that you wish was different?


Whether you comment frequently or have never commented before, I encourage everyone to leave some feedback and/or constructive criticism. The goal with this is to make Sega Does a site retro gamers want to visit, nothing more.

Thanks for all your help and support. See ya Monday!


The Sega Mega Modem


This article is brought to you by the legendary Greg Sewart of classic EGM fame. He currently produces the outstanding video series, Generation-16 on Youtube, and co-hosts the Player One Podcast with Chris Johnston, Phil Theobold, and Ethan Einhorn.



The modem itself. You can see the microphone on the top-left of the unit.


RELEASE DATE: 11/03/90 – (JP)

                                       1991 – (JP, with Game Toshokan)


Sega’s often leaped before looking, taking chances on bleeding edge technology before it’s ready for prime time. The Mega Modem represents one such occasion.

Released on November 3, 1990, the Mega Modem launched in Japan for 9800 yen or approximately $75 US dollars. With this compact little device plugged into the 21-pin expansion port on the back of the Mega Drive, you were ready to play head-to-head against gamers across town on a screaming 2400 bps!



An already sexy system looks even sexier with this neat little gadget hooked to the back.


Early adopters had three games to choose from at launch. Sega’s own CyberBall (a port of the classic Atari arcade football game), and from Sunsoft, Tel-Tel Mahjong and Tel-Tel Stadium. The first was, of course, a mahjong game, while the second was a kind of baseball management simulator.

Ever since the late ‘70s there was a drive to turn home game consoles into something more. To make them the centerpiece of a family-friendly computer – something Mom and Dad could use to do their banking or check stock prices. Sega was no different, and the Mega Modem was a key piece in its attempt to do something like this with the Mega Drive.



The “anser” to all your gaming and banking needs.


The Mega Anser (yes, that’s the correct spelling) was banking software that users could buy as a standalone cartridge, or as part of a suite of hardware that included a printer and 10-key pad to make navigation easier. The entire bundle retailed for 72,800 yen, or approximately $560 USD. Other productivity cartridges were released for the system as well, including software for the Bank of Nagoya, the Bank of Osaka, and Sumimoto Life Insurance.



Schematic for the Mega Anser hardware peripherals.


The biggest draw for gamers when it came to the Mega Modem was the Sega Game Toshokan (Sega Game Library) cartridge and the MegaNet service. A subscription to MegaNet got players access to an online newsletter and a selection of downloadable games for their Mega Drive, all for about six dollars a month.



With Game Toshokan and the Mega Modem, you’ll finally reach Valhalla.


With the Game Toshokan cartridge, subscribers could download two games right off the bat on launch day: Putter Golf and Phantasy Star II: Amia no Boken. The first is basically minigolf, very reminiscent of Putt & Putter on the Master System. The second is the first in a series of text adventures that revealed the backstory of every hero character in Phantasy Star II.



One of the first two games released for the Sega Game Toshokan service. Similar games were released for the Master System and Game Gear.


Over the following two years, another 25-or-so games were released to the service, including games that were released as cartridges in North America, like Flicky and Fatal Labyrinth.

Sadly, the service was discontinued around February ‘93, rendering this cool little piece of hardware basically obsolete. Luckily, all of those Toshokan games were preserved and re-released through the Game no Kanzume series on the Mega CD.



Vol. 2 in the two-volume Game no Kanzume series.


Sega put the final nail in the Mega Modem’s coffin in 1993 when it released the redesigned Mega Drive 2. This new, sleeker version of the system did not have the proper ports (or shape) to be compatible with the Mega Modem.

The party wasn’t totally over, though. In 1994 a version of SanSan (an online Go service) was released for the Mega Drive, which allowed players with the console and a Mega Modem to play head to head against other players on the service, including cross play with PC gamers. The Mega Drive version apparently didn’t last very long, and the cartridge is considered one of the rarest on the system.



Good luck getting your hands on one of these puppies.


The Mega Modem was way ahead of its time. Along with online play, it even offered online voice chat with the built-in microphone. Unfortunately, being ahead of its time was ultimately its downfall. Head-to-head online gaming would become huge, but not for another decade.

Sega of America COO at the time, Shinobu Toyoda, said in an interview in the “Sega Mega Drive/Genesis Collected Works” that SOA actually demonstrated a baseball game being played online during the summer CES in 1991. However, latency was just too high to allow for a good playing experience. This is likely why Sega of America never released the modem in North America, in spite of heavily advertising the renamed TeleGenesis Modem.



Pour one out for the TeleGenesis.


The Mega Modem is important. Even though it didn’t last that long, it helped blaze a trail for subsequent hardware and services like the X-Band, Sega Channel, and the always-online, digital download future we live in today.


Tel-Tel Mahjong



Best to just let the dragon win.


PLAYERS: 1 (1-3 simultaneous with online play??)


DEVELOPER: Sunsoft, Chatnoir

GENRE: Table game

RELEASE DATE: 06/08/90 – (JP)


The Mega Drive’s first mahjong game, Mahjong Cop Ryuu, attempted to combine a hard-boiled noir adventure with thrilling tile swap high jinks. The result? Inconclusive. The game remains Japanese-only, with no fan translations forthcoming. The few that have written about the game (myself included) haven’t had the patience to decipher its Nihongo-heavy text. A Japanese commenter informed me that the game was “not up to my expectation” and to “avoid.” I believe this anonymous poster, but my curiosity remains piqued. Even if Mahjong Cop Ryuu is a disappointment, the genre combination seems ridiculously perfect.



Mahjong Acid Trip.


Tel-Tel Mahjong is the Mega Drive’s second mahjong title and, like Mahjong Cop Ryuu before it, also has a hook that separates it from previous mahjong titles: online play. The game was compatible with Sega’s Mega Modem. Once connected, you could play mahjong online against other players at an enthralling 2400 bps using Sega’s own Meganet service.*



You, a friend, and a Yakuza member take it to the online streets.


For a game that wore its ambitions in its title and featured a “Modem” telephone symbol on both the front and back cover of the game, it’s strange that Tel-Tel Mahjong released five months before the modem itself. The Mega Modem was released on November 3rd, 1990, while the game released on June 8th, 1990. Was this a mistake? Did Sega intend to release the modem earlier than they actually did? If anyone has any information on this (or any amazing theories), please leave a comment.



Not that one, you stupid hand!


Tel-Tel provides three choices on the main menu: one-player mahjong, a screen that leads to a digitized telephone, and an options menu. Mahjong leads you through a series of menus, presumably to customize your style of play, before spewing you out into a match with two other computer players. Trying to use the telephone option today gets you nowhere. After a few seconds of seeing the phone, you’ll be whisked back to the main menu. Presumably, if you had the Mega Modem installed and were subscribed to the Meganet service, you would either dial the telephone manually using the Mega Drive controller or watch as the telephone connected you and a friend through electronic witchcraft.



It’s so lifelike!


Admittedly, I don’t understand most kanji. But after exploring many different sub-menus, it doesn’t look like Tel-Tel Mahjong even supports two-player competitive play. This means that, if you purchased the game any time before the modem’s release in November, you could only play against computer opponents. What a rip! Even if you were content with a months-long wait to play mahjong against your friend in a different prefecture, a two-player option should have been included.



At least you can choose from a variety of colorful characters.


While nobody would stand for this sort of staggered release today (imagine buying the latest Call of Duty and not being able to play multiplayer for five months), it’s not inconceivable to think that consumers from decades past would be willing to purchase a game and wait months before they could use it for its intended purpose. Not inconceivable, but still ridiculous. Five months is a long time, and there’s no reason Sunsoft couldn’t have just postponed Tel-Tel Mahjong‘s release to line up with the Mega Modem.



The loneliest menu…


Without its online play, Tel-Tel Mahjong offers no surprises. No story mode, no two-player competitive feature. And if you don’t know how to play mahjong, this isn’t the game to teach you. There doesn’t appear to be any tutorial, and even if there was, it would be in Japanese. While I’ve attempted to learn mahjong in the past, I’ve found that it’s not easy to play without considerable practice. Online FAQs aren’t very helpful either, as even people that comprehend mahjong’s intricacies don’t describe the game well.



Quick, knock over the table and run!


If you’re mad for mahjong, Tel-Tel Mahjong is fine. But since you can no longer use the game for its intended online purpose, it’s more of a historical curiosity than a game worth revisiting. If you really crave online mahjong, download a free mahjong app and play against anyone in the world – or at least your country. Sweet, sweet progress.


*please look forward to an upcoming post that will unpack the Mega Modem’s history in more detail.

Now This is Happening


Two weeks ago, I was approached via e-mail by Bakdrop, a company who wanted to partner with me in making “Dylan Cornelius socks.” They informed me there was no upfront financial investment on my end, and I only stood to profit from the venture.

Uh huh, sure. I thought this was an odd hoax at first. Surely in order for this venture to proceed I would have to give Bakdrop my social security number, bank accounts, and first born child. I’m not a big name in the gaming community, so why would a random company reach out to me? And to make socks, no less?

After researching the company further and talking with folks who have worked with them (like Lazy Game Reviews), I’m convinced they’re the real deal. And so, after toying with a number of designs, the first ever Dylan Cornelius sock is available for purchase.



If nothing else, I’m tickled by the sock’s existence. Once I found out Bakdrop was legit, I couldn’t say no.

Here’s the link for purchase:

If you are interested in adding some funky retro-themed socks to your collection, know that you only have a limited time to purchase them (a little over 7 days at the time of this posting). And a minimum of 20 must be purchased before they are made and delivered. You’ll only be charged if the campaign is successful.

For those wondering, Bakdrop set the price of the socks and the campaign time. The only input I had was the look of the sock.

Now if only publishing books were this easy…

Whip Rush



“I could go my own waaaaay.”



Many a parent would have passed up Whip Rush if not for its Seal of Quality.



PUBLISHER: Sega (JP), Renovation (US)


GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 05/26/90 – (JP)

                                             10/90 – (US)


If you’re a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, you’ve played many a nondescript title like Whip Rush. The shooting mechanics are solid, the controls are tight, you do indeed “shoot them up.” And yet, after you’ve beaten it and moved on, you fail to remember any of the game’s defining characteristics. Either you have early onset Alzheimer’s (and I really hope you don’t), or Whip Rush‘s content is as lightweight as its title.



John Lithgow will meet us there.


You control the ship Whip Rush (who looks a bit like Opa-Opa!) through seven levels of harrowing space madness. Armed only with a pew-pew bullet stream at first, you acquire weapon upgrades by destroying floating capsules. Your upgrades are: mega lasers, homing missiles, and fireballs that move in the opposite direction. Lasers are the strongest upgrade, but can only be shot in front. This makes it the wrong weapon to have for bosses with hard-to-reach weak points. Homing missiles will ensure enemies are hit, but they move slower and their power is slightly weaker than the laser. Fireballs spew out in whatever direction they want, and their sporadic movements make them worthless.



Dastardly peach rings!


Because each weapon has a significant weakness, in order to handle each level’s various challenges, you’ll need to switch between weapons. The problem with this is that upgrade capsules do not appear often, and when they do, you don’t always know what weapon you’ll need for the obstacles ahead. If you choose the wrong weapon for a particular portion of the level – say a cluster of enemies appears behind you and all you have is the front-facing laser equipped – it could result in significant death.



Better pray to Neil deGrasse Tyson that you make it out alive.


The Power Claws – tiny floating units that can be added to Whip Rush – are all but necessary for the game’s more intense segments. The units provide additional firepower and, when they appear, they float atop and below the ship. Up to two Power Claws can be equipped and spun in front, behind, on top or below Whip Rush, depending on the direction you want to attack. They also can’t be destroyed, no matter what you do to them, so feel free to ram them into enemies who’re getting a little too close to Whip Rush.



Not even a Triple Laser can pierce this orb’s metallic heart.


Whip Rush is mostly a traditional horizontally-scrolling shoot-em-up, in that, you progress from left to right, merrily shooting other ships while avoiding their projectiles. Occasionally, though, the game pulls a spook on you and flips your direction. In level 1 for example, everything is proceeding as usual, when the stage suddenly descends. Large, formless obelisks (that will kill you if you touch them) move slowly past you as you float downward, while little robotic insect ships buzz around your personal space. Level 3 takes advantage of Whip Rush’s generous proportions and propels you horizontally forwards, backwards and vertically upwards through narrow corridors.



Forget this noise.


What, if anything, sets Whip Rush apart from other unremarkable shoot-em-ups of yesteryear? The Power Claws, while neat, are a feature seen in both the Mega Drive shoot-em-up, Curse and used to superb effect in the underrated NES gem, S.C.A.T.. The power-ups aren’t effective. Generic level design fails to leave any mental imprints. The bosses are your stereotypical oversized machines you see in most shoot-em-ups. But! The game does allow you, at any time, to speed up and slow down your craft by pressing ‘A.’ This is cooler than you might think. No longer do you have to focus on getting speed power-ups in order for your ship to move faster than a sleeping snail. Want to slow down and consider your trajectory? Go for it. Want to soar through the galaxy like some intergalactic Autobahn? You have the power. The speed control is not a game-saving feature, but it is one I wish would be implemented in more shoot-em-ups.



The Janitor Robot comes to settle the score.


Our time together is complete, Whip Rush. You have crappy power-ups, speed control, and a title that reminds me of a frosty Sonic beverage. Even with that information, I will likely forget I played you within a week or two. Man can not live by sugar alone.