XDR

 

xdrjp

They don’t get more generic than this.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: UNIPACC

DEVELOPER: UNIPACC

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

RELEASE DATE: 08/26/90 – (JP)

 

XDR stands for “X-Dazedly-Ray.” Even if you’re a proficient Japanglish speaker, this doesn’t make sense. Did developer UNIPACC mean to say “Deadly”? “Dastardly”? Some wicked combination thereof? Whatever their intention was, the extended title is this game’s most memorable feature. X-Dazedly-Ray is a soulless horizontal shoot-em-up, completely void of any creativity or personality whatsoever.

 

x-dazedly-ray-j-003

Not even Greco-Roman columns can save this clunker.

 

You play as the titular ship XDR, recruited by your home planet Sephiroth to singlehandedly stop the invading Guardia army. XDR is initially outfitted with a two-bullet stream, but there are different item/weapon upgrades that will equip him into the most dazedly ship around. In addition to an upgradeable four-bullet stream, you can also pick up Homing Missiles, extra Speed that’s adjustable, up to two Options that hang around XDR and absorb nearby shots, a Laser Beam, a Wave Beam, and a Wide Beam.

 

x-dazedly-ray-j-001

“I may have won, but… I still feel dead inside.”

 

Not all of these weapons are created equal (the Laser Beam has too narrow of a range to be useful), but they can all be strengthened up to three times by picking up additional upgrades. You can have Missiles, a Shield, two Options, and one beam/bullets equipped all at once, but you can’t stockpile beams/bullets. Either you have bullets, Laser, Wave or Wide; no switching between them. And as with most shoot-em-ups, if you die, you lose your arsenal. Don’t die.

 

x-dazedly-ray-j-006

Into the core of a flaming artery.

 

If I could compare XDR to a better horizontal shoot-em-up, it would be Gradius. Both feature enemies that attack from the air and ground. Both have levels that enclose the ship in tight spaces. And both are impossible to complete if you die and lose all your weapons in the middle of a level.

 

x-dazedly-ray-j-002

Hot pink mecha-caterpillars were all the rage in the early ’90s.

 

But where Gradius was a hip young thing that elevated the burgeoning shoot-em-up genre’s presence in 1985, XDR can’t hold its own next to advanced genre stand-outs like Thunder Force III. Outside of some nice use of the Mega Drive’s color palette in the enemies and backgrounds, no aspect of the game holds your interest. The level design is basic, albeit punishing due to the large number of protrusions that make XDR explode when he touches them. The weapons get the job done, but they’re also generic and have appeared in countless other shmups prior. And the bosses are weak, both in their forgettable design and in how easy they are to bring down.

 

x-dazedly-ray-j-008

The final boss can’t even be bothered to look intimidating.

 

XDR never made it out of Japan, though I’m not sure if that was due to poor sales, or because developer/publisher UNIPACC didn’t have the funds to bring it to different territories. Either way, Europe and the Americas were blessed. UNIPACC wasn’t so lucky. They released XDR, then disappeared, never to be heard from again.

 

x-dazedly-ray-j-010

Sweet validation.

 

Stark mediocrity might be preferable to some gamers over unmitigated trash, but I’ll take a memorable, terrible game over something that leaves no impression on my mind. XDR is everything that critics hate about the shoot-em-up genre. It’s derivative, it’s pointless, and most importantly, it’s not an enjoyable experience. On a system like the Mega Drive that’s filled with decent-to-great shooters, XDR doesn’t need to exist.

 

D-

Melon Brains

 

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.

 

melonbrains

But are they ripe?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pioneer

DEVELOPER: Multimedia Creators Network

GENRE: Documentary

DIFFICULTY: N/A

RELEASE DATE: 09/20/94 – (JP)

                                      11/23/94 – (US)

 

Like The Great Pyramid before it, Melon Brains is an interactive encyclopedia-style title that’s the equivalent of a DVD with interactive menus.

 

2

The secret killers of the sea.

 

This documentary focuses on dolphins, and derives its odd sounding name (Melon Brains) from the shape of that particular mammal’s brain. It’s chock full of facts about the creatures as well as interviews with many scientists who have studied them.

 

3

The little dolphin cursor is pretty cute.

 

Melon Brains is for the dolphin lover who also happens to have a LaserActive. There’s a lot of neat information in the documentary (although who knows how much of it is still accurate, given 20+ years of advances in science), and it really does feel like Multimedia Creators Network was putting their all into this one.

 

4

This screen demands more Dr. Ken Norris.

 

Melon Brains is also one of the few LaserActive titles to use both sides of the disc. Side A contains the more educational material while side B consists mostly of animal footage and new-age music. And while it isn’t likely to impress people today, it is nice to see that Melon Brains‘ creators were really making use of the laserdisc by giving users the chance to change audio soundtracks on the fly, as well as making use of the format’s ability to skip and repeat footage.

 

5

They’ve got us surrounded!

 

Melon Brains is an interesting novelty, but it’s not worth checking out today unless you’re really into watching dolphin documentaries on outdated tech.

As a concept for its time: C+

For today’s user: F

 

This footage comes courtesy of the LaserActive Preservation Project.

Shadow Blasters

 

shadowblastersjp

Not quite a Koei game.

 

shadowblastersus

Let there be fools.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sigma Enterprises (JP), Sage’s Creation (US)

DEVELOPER: Cyclone System, Sigma Pro-Tech

GENRE: Action brawler

DIFFICULTY: Easy

RELEASE DATE: 08/10/90 – (JP)

                                                1990 – (US)

 

Shadow Blasters is akin to the straight-to-VHS action films that littered Blockbuster shelves in the 1990s. The story is vague and involves gods interfering with humanity’s debaucherous ways. The characters are top-tier martial artists, yet have names like “Horatio” and “Tiffany.” The settings take you everywhere from a futuristic space ship to a rundown inner-city harbor, all in search of continuity. Despite these very real warning signs, Shadow Blasters‘ bizarre production values contain a scruffy, what-the-hell’s-going-on charm, and the game’s intriguing upgrade system kept me engaged to the end.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c004

It’s a long way to the top, old man.

 

Tale as old as man’s beginning: humans are evil, and the gods aren’t happy about it. Ashura, the King of the Evil World, notices man’s depraved state and swoops in to take advantage of it. Soon, all the earth is under his carnal power. A benevolent god known as Hyprion (probably Hyperion, but both the instruction manual and game refer to him as “Hyprion”) has mercy on the wicked Earth, and raises up four warriors to go and fight the evil Ashura and his demonic minions.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c002

This boss is very Ninja Gaiden-esque.

 

The four warriors – in order of authenticity – are Marco, Leo, Horatio, and Tiffany. Both Horatio and Tiffany were trained in the ways of “NINJUTSU” (all-caps, courtesy of the manual), and are swift, but also weak. Leo is the best Japanese fencer of all time, despite using boomerangs as weapons, and Marco is a girthy Buddhist who’s “better at fighting the forces of evil than reciting the sutras.” Aren’t we all, Marco.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c005

Tiffany’s having a fight with her boyfriend.

 

Shadow Blasters is basic pre-Final Fight brawling, with enemies running towards you in kamikaze fashion, while you fire your NINJA MAGIC to destroy them. Each warrior starts off with a standard attack, a jump, and a once-per-stage special attack. In addition to those, the warriors have Health Meter, a Power Meter, a Speed rank, and a Jump rank. The two ranks and the Power Meter are increased by collecting different colored emblems (your Health Meter can only be replenished by emblems, not increased). Emblems are found after you defeat random enemies, and you’ll need as many as possible to fully strengthen your team.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c007

The face within the rock wall is a nice touch.

 

Speed and Jumping are increased with Red and Blue emblems, respectively. These might not seem like the most important attributes to upgrade compared to your power, but the slower characters like Marco and Horatio benefit greatly from full S and J ranks.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c001

Horatio’s a “low blow” kinda guy.

 

Each character’s Power Meter starts off empty, though you can charge it for a bigger attack by holding down ‘A.’ By collecting White Emblems, you Power Meter will increase, and as it does, your regular attacks will get stronger. Once your Power Meter is completely full, your regular attack will be as powerful as a fully charged attack.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c006

The future is bereft of life.

 

If one character dies, there’s no way to bring them back, so make sure to switch between characters and refill their health as needed. Crimson Emblems refill one bar of your life, and Explosive Emblems (they’re grayish-black) completely refills a character’s life bar. Switching between characters just to fill their Health Meter – or add to their Power Meter, or gain more speed, etc. – is tedious, but keeping all characters alive and as strong as possible will ensure that you witness the final epic battle in space with Ashura.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c000

You can complete the first six stages in any order.

 

The eight stages are varied in design, but they’re also lacking in content. Enemies come at you in waves or not at all. Entire sections of each stage are completely bare. While you can explore a stage, your only incentive to do so would be to kill more enemies to get more emblems. The latter isn’t necessary once your characters are beefed to the nines.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c009

Tiffany’s current status: beefed to the nines.

 

The enemies and falling platforms found in each stage shouldn’t give you much trouble, but to beat the bosses in a timely manner, you’ll need characters with strong attacks and swift movements. For example, the giant blob tower known as The Tarman just wouldn’t go down against Leo’s powerful boomerangs, but three charged-up Dragon Attacks from Horatio made him explode faster than a boozed-up congressman.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c008

When your attacks make a high-ranking demon explode, you’re on the right track.

 

If you have a friend who doesn’t judge a game by its atrocious cover, you might consider co-op mode. Two characters share the screen and work their way through each stage at the same time. The mode itself works fine, and it’s certainly nice having a friend help you take down some of the more difficult bosses. That said, I found Shadow Blasters easy enough to complete by myself. With a friend, you could conceivably beat the game in twenty minutes or less without much difficulty.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c011

I didn’t see your holy rear on the front lines, Hyprion.

 

The more I played Shadow Blasters, the more it seemed like some of the programmers cared about the game, while others wanted to finish and ship it as quickly as possible. The stages feel short and rushed, while boss battles are intense and often overextended. The simple brawling is beamed in straight from the Ghost of Master System Past, while the character upgrades via collectible items feel like the beat-em-up genre’s beautiful future.

 

shadow-blasters-u-c012

Quite possibly The End of All Things.

 

Shadow Blasters‘ bargain bin leanings are apparent to anyone who’s ever played a handful of video games. But if the 16-bit equivalent of a low-budget martial arts film starring Christopher Lambert sounds appealing to you, you owe it to yourself to blast some shadows.

 

B-

Super Monaco GP

 

supermonacogpjp

Black eyes and a boatload of confidence.

 

supermonacogpus

Vroom, they say

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 08/09/90 – (JP)

                                              09/90 – (US)

                                              01/91 – (EU)

 

In Super Monaco GP, I crashed my car repeatedly into stacks of tires. I failed to brake properly at several sharp turns. I forgot how to shift gears. I consistently dropped out of races due to low placement. I tried over and over again to finish a race at a respectable place and to no avail. Despite all of this, I had a great time. As much as I prefer to blame the game itself rather than my own poor gaming abilities, Super Monaco GP is so well-crafted that it succeeds, in spite of my failure to play it properly.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-000

Excuse me, miss? You seem to be blocking my view of the race.

 

Based on the arcade game of the same name, and the sequel to Monaco GP, the 1979 top-down arcade racer, Super Monaco GP puts you inside an F1 car and expects you to handle it. In the arcade, your race takes place on a track that becomes more winding and difficult as you progress (Wikipedia says this race is loosely based on the Circuit de Monaco, but I couldn’t verify the information). Before you start the race proper, you select one of three transmission types, then run a qualifying race to determine your starting position. In the main race is a position limit, which starts at 20th place and increases with every checkpoint you hit. If your position within the race falls below the limit, you automatically lose.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-002

“Retired” is a classy way of saying “banned from touching or looking at an F1 car.”

 

The Genesis port keeps the aforementioned arcade gameplay in the “Super Monaco GP” mode, but also expands the game to include a Practice Mode and a World Championship Mode. Practice is a carefree way to get used to the car and its automatic/manual transmission types, while World Championship puts you on a team and takes you through sixteen races.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-007

When 300+ km/h just isn’t enough…

 

Like Super Hang-On‘s Original Mode, World Championship adds hours of gameplay to an otherwise simple racing game. You start off on the MINARAE team, a group of ambitious young go-getters whose encouraging words warm your heart and harden your resolve to win. After a qualifying race, you’ll be asked if you want to choose a rival. The rival adds an interesting strategic element. If you beat your rival twice without losing to him, you’ll be asked to join their team. And if your rival’s team is better than your current band of scrappy underdogs, it’s worth switching sides. In addition to getting a newer, faster car, you’ll also get superior bragging rights. The goal of Super Monaco GP isn’t to make lifelong racing buddies. The goal is to be the best.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-004

Those poor rubes.

 

Beating your rival is great and all, but it won’t account for squat if you don’t maintain your car and strive for as many Championship points as possible. When you see the word “Trouble!” blinking during the race, pull into the pit and let your loyal crew fix you up. Yeah, it’ll cost you some precious seconds, but better lost time than a blowout later in the race. Besides, each race has five laps, which leaves plenty of time to catch up. Make sure you finish in at least sixth place or higher if you want any Championship points, though. These points boost your ranking and bring you closer to the esteemed World Champion title.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-006

Never a dull moment with your feared rival, B. Miller.

 

World Championship is certainly more in-depth than the basic Super Monaco GP mode, but it’s also a bit easier. The position limit is gone, so you’re no longer penalized for staying near last place throughout the entire race. In other words, even if you have no hope of winning the Championship, you can still Sunday drive through each of the sixteen races and enjoy yourself.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-005

Sage advice from the pit crew.

 

The first-person view could be jarring to those with weak stomachs, particularly on sharp turns that require immaculate downshifting to clear without crashing. But the decision to use first-person, both in the arcade and the Genesis port, also makes Super Monaco GP far more immersive than Sega’s preferred behind-the-vehicle third-person view employed in OutRun, Super Hang-On, and World Grand Prix.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-009

At least the practice is free.

 

Even though I could never drive my F1 racer properly, the handling is still superb. Whether you’re drifting seamlessly around a corner or bashing mindlessly into other racers, you always feel like you’re in complete control of your vehicle. You steer and shift with the D-pad, then Brake, Accelerate, and Pit Out, with the ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ buttons respectively. If the default Type A control settings aren’t your cup of Earl Grey, there are five other control types to choose from, an unreasonable and generous amount in a 16-bit racing game.

 

super-monaco-grand-prix-u-m2-rev03-008

Maybe next time I won’t destroy my chances of a racing career.

 

Super Monaco GP is a fantastic racing game that I have no business playing. In Super Monaco GP mode, I’d always get knocked out by the imposing position limit. In World Championship mode, I’d find my way to 4th place before being surpassed and knocked off the track by faster, braver men. Every time I started a race, I thought, This is the one. This is the race where I won’t doom my chances of winning with foolish mistakes. But no. Super Monaco GP is for the real race car drivers, the ones with thumbs of steel and gallons of patience. I am but a hopeful pretender.

 

A-

Triad Stone

 

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.

 

triadstonebox

Sega finally decides to contribute to its own add-on for the LaserActive.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Data East (port by Sega)

GENRE: Full-Motion Video

DIFFICULTY: Hard

RELEASE DATE: 03/25/94 – (JP)

                                     05/31/94 – (US)

 

Triad Stone belongs to a rare and mostly forgotten breed of video game: the animated arcade FMV game, or as I prefer to call them, “the Dragon’s Lair Clone.” This is a divisive genre with several problems: the games are short, barely interactive, and are more or less a collection of Quick Time Events. That being said, FMV games like Dragon’s Lair and Cobra Command have a certain charm to them, despite their issues.

 

1

The most expensive, and therefore, best stone on the market today.

 

Triad Stone‘s production values aren’t as high as the aforementioned games. The game starts off with an unseen narrator talking over video footage of a real – and cheap looking – set. The levels all consist of cartoon segments that look like a 1980’s anime show, and the story segments between levels are just plain text over a static backdrop. The cartoon art style is aesthetically pleasing, and the animation was decent, barring a few rather choppy scenes I encountered during my playthrough. As a whole, though, Triad Stone feels like it was cobbled together.

 

2

Hold your breath, playboy, it’s all downhill from here.

 

This is the only game Sega developed for the LaserActive, and if I had to guess, it was something they slapped together at the last minute using leftover footage from a canceled Data East LaserDisc arcade game. Perhaps if Triad Stone sold well, it would have warranted Sega’s further involvement for the LaserActive. Or perhaps the game was nothing more than a cheap way to fulfill a contract obligation with Pioneer.

 

3

Hemorrhoids are no joke, folks.

 

The story is nothing special. An evil king has stolen a magic stone that grants him immense power and uses it to rule the land. The stone breaks into several pieces and spreads across the land. Only our hero, the son of the man killed by the evil king, can collect them all and save the day.

 

4

Our dude can’t catch a break.

 

The gameplay is shallow and basic, as you would expect from this style of game. The button prompts on screen usually consists of pressing a direction on the d-pad. You’ll also mash the Power Button to fill up a bar, or press a direction and the Sword Button to kill things.

 

5

The game’s Sword Prompts give you a too-short response window, compared to the commands.

 

Timing is the biggest issue with games like this. The best ones in the genre give you enough time to respond to the on-screen prompts; they make the game challenging without seeming unfair. Unfortunately, Triad Stone doesn’t quite get it right. Even on the easy difficulty, it feels like the game doesn’t give you enough time to respond. The Sword commands in particular were troubling. If I wasn’t holding down the Sword button and waiting to press the direction key the moment the prompt showed up on the screen, I was all but guaranteed to die.

 

6

Eh, he’ll probably be fine.

 

Overall, if you’re a fan of FMV games, Triad Stone is probably worth a look, especially since there are so few games like this. For everyone else, I recommend Strahl for the 3DO and Sega Saturn instead. It was released about a year or so after Triad Stone and uses much of the animated footage found in the game, but frames it with a new story. It doesn’t look as good on those systems, since it was compressed to fit on a CD, but I found its story to be more engaging, and its gameplay more forgiving (at least on the 3DO) than Triad Stone‘s.

 

Triad Stone: C+

As Strahl: B

 

Batman

 

batmanjp

Simple, clean, effective.

 

batmanus

As a reminder to stupid Americans, this is the video game, not a misshapen VHS cartridge.

 

batmaneu

S’up Mike?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sunsoft (Sega – EU)

DEVELOPER: Sunsoft

GENRE: Beat-em-up, with shoot-em-up sections

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

RELEASE DATE: 07/27/90 – (JP)

                                             06/91 – (US)

                                             07/92 – (EU)

 

Sunsoft knew they struck gold when they acquired the Batman license. The company took complete advantage of it and developed four different games based on the 1989 Tim Burton film – for the NES, Game Boy, Genesis, and PC Engine respectively. The NES and Game Boy versions were developed and released first in early 1990, followed shortly after by the Genesis and PC Engine.

 

batman-u-005

I believe this qualifies as “rubbing another man’s rhubarb.”

 

Batman’s presence on the Genesis should have been a huge win for the then-underdog console. Sega’s typical licensed games were limited to greasy Stallone vehicles and the occasional anime title, system sellers none. Ghostbusters was a solid effort in bringing more attention to the Genesis, but Batman was based on one of the highest grossing films of all time. The game was poised to be a system seller, regardless of its quality.

 

batman-u-000

Visual trickery, sure, but still impressive!

 

Unfortunately, Batman showed up too late to make much of an impact. In June 1991 – two years after the film hit theaters – the game was finally released in the States. How did this happen? Why did Sunsoft wait so long to release one of the Genesis’ most anticipated games?

 

batman-u-002

Perhaps the man with the gun knows why Batman took so long to come out?

 

When the NES game shipped in early 1990, Nintendo’s two-year exclusivity clause was still in effect. This meant that Sunsoft wouldn’t be able to release Batman for the Genesis until early 1992, despite the Genesis game being completely different from the NES version. Its inability to come to American shores made gamers desire it all the more. Many desperate Genesis owners imported the Mega Drive version to satiate their Bat-lust, only for Nintendo to lift the exclusivity clause in late 1990/early 1991. Six months later, Batman finally flew its way to the Genesis.

 

batman-u-006

Joker’s military budget must be astronomical.

 

If all you’ve played is the NES version, you might be surprised to find that Batman on the Genesis focuses more on brawling and less on platforming. The Dark Knight feels weightier than his more acrobatic 8-bit counterpart; no wall jumps here. He’s also equipped with everything he’ll need at the start of the game. In addition to a punch and sweeping kick (neither of which hit as hard as they should), Batman has a limited supply of Batarangs and a grappling hook which lifts him up to higher platforms. His one special move is an awkward aerial somersault that looks goofy, but is effective for avoiding boss lunges.

 

batman-u-004

Lawrence is here to broaden Batman’s mind.

 

For some unknown reason, Batman begins the game with only half of his life bar filled. If you find a Heart icon, it will replenish Batman’s life bar in full. Once he dies and reappears, however, his life shoots back down to four bars. This is the only game I’ve ever seen where your character begins each life with half health. I’m not sure whether this was to make the game more difficult or to imply that Batman’s body is always slightly bruised from fighting the darkness every night. Either way, it’s a perplexing and stupid decision.

 

batman-u-007

The mimes’ lovely performance brought Batman to tears.

 

The game’s six stages are all taken directly from the film. In “Gotham City Streets,” Batman is surrounded by claustrophobic alleys and thugs out for Bat-blood. “The Axis Chemical Plant” introduces exploding pipe walkways, rocket-launching goons, and Jack Napier, who only takes one punch to fall into a vat of acid. “Flugelheim Museum” is not soundtracked by Prince’s “Partyman,” but it does feature fine art and you do fight Lawrence, the bald party maniac from the film. “Gotham City Streets Redux” is the first shooting section where you control the Batmobile through all-out street warfare. “In the Sky Over Gotham City” has you piloting the Batwing to rid Gotham of Joker’s poisonous balloons and dangerous helicopters. Finally, in “Gotham Cathedral,” you climb your way up over loose cobblestone and dynamite-throwing henchmen to take out Joker’s loony buns once and for all.

 

batman-u-008

This game needs an enema.

 

The beat-em-up was never a “deep” genre, but it’s still surprising how vanilla Batman feels, especially when compared to the propulsive NES game. Thugs emerge from the right or left, Batman punches them, and then moves forward. Nothing more, nothing less. Boss battles involve little to no technique, especially if you have a lot of batarangs (I killed at least three bosses with Batarangs). In certain areas like the Cathedral, Batman has to somersault from platform to platform and use his grappling hook to avoid stone dragons that breathe fire. Otherwise, Batman‘s beat-em-up stages are too repetitive and shallow.

 

batman-u-010

The Joker’s got a bit of junk in the trunk.

 

The shooting stages break up the monotony, at least at first. Both the Batmobile and the Batwing look and control fantastic, and it’s nice to drive/soar majestically through the Gotham City streets/skies after plodding along slowly as Batman. But once you blast your fiftieth armored tank and shoot down Joker’s entire purple-and-green helicopter brigade, you might wonder why the levels haven’t ended. What initially seems like a respite from punching countless thugs are actually endurance runs, designed to weed out lesser Batman fans from finishing the game.

 

batman-u-012

When Joker said he wanted to “paint the town red,” this isn’t what he meant.

 

Worse than Batman‘s poor timing is how the game failed to live up to the hype. For months prior to its release, fans pored over detailed screenshots that put the NES version to shame. Batman was back in his black suit (as opposed to the questionable purple number he wore in the NES version), and the level design matched the film’s sweeping Gothic architecture. It’s only the gorgeous sprites, lovingly rendered backdrops, and an overall faithfulness to the film that save Batman from being a complete flop. Without the inspired art direction, the game’s tedious brawling and exhausting shooting portions sink it into the depths of licensed game mediocrity.

C+

An Early Christmas Present

 

noway

 

I have a bad habit of making promises I don’t keep, with Sega Does and life in general. Not this time.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Grand Sega Order, here is the first episode of the SegaDoes Podcast V. 2.0.

 

http://segado.libsyn.com/sega-does-20-episode-1

 

Some of you will have questions about this new iteration of the podcast. I’m hoping this first episode answers most of those questions, so please listen/download before leaving a comment.

A couple points I will address now:

 

  1.  As of right now, the podcast is not on iTunes. Hopefully it will be on the Store after Thanksgiving.

 

  1.  This first episode was recorded in early October, so we don’t discuss the most recent reviews. The next episode will be out in early December and bring us up to date. After that, we should be posting new episodes twice a month.

 

If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Feedback? Yeah, we want that too, good and bad.

Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show!

Phelios

 

pheliosjp

Another gorgeous box, worthy of being framed and hung in your house.

 

pheliosus

… what’s with the baby blue border?

 

phelioseu

I see Skeletor, but where’s He-Man?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Namco

DEVELOPER: Namco

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 07/20/90 – (JP)

                                             10/90 – (US)

                                             12/91 – (EU)

 

I’m all for sci-fi shoot-em-ups, but Phelios‘ mythological backdrop is a refreshing change of pace for the genre. Your protagonist is not a space ship, but the Greek god Apollo atop the winged horse Pegasus. Instead of fighting giant space worms, you take on ancient creatures like the Medusa, the Cerberus, and Scylla. Rather than soaring through the darkness of space ad infinitum, you explore temples, caves, and landscapes seared by fire and ice.

 

phelios-u-c008

Some like it metal.

 

Artemis, Apollo’s beloved, has been turned to stone and kidnapped by Typhon, the most terrifying and powerful of all monsters. In order to take down Typhon’s hordes of undead soldiers and demonic minions, Apollo is equipped with a sword that spews both little fire blasts and, when charged, large fireballs. To charge, you hold down any button until the large sword display on the right hand side of the screen is filled with energy.

 

phelios-u-c001

“Don’t make me set fire to the rain, you robed hoodlums!”

 

Charging your weapon isn’t an uncommon feature within shoot-em-ups, and when used properly, is an effective way to thin out an onslaught of foes. In Phelios, however, your sword takes way too long to charge. Since charged blasts are all but necessary to take down even common enemies, and since the screen often gets filled by said enemies, charging is both your saving grace and a terrible hindrance.

 

phelios-u-c002

Girl, that hairdo is sooo B.C.

 

Golden owls emerge throughout each level, and once shot, explode to provide you speed and weapon upgrades. The most common upgrades are Options, diamonds that attach to Pegasus, mirror your sword’s attack, and double or triple your attack power, depending on how many you have. The Beam is a fast-firing, wide-ranging light attack. Homing lives up to its name and takes out the enemy, no matter which direction they come from. Across is a series of boomerang attacks that bounce off walls and ceilings until they hit enemies. In the final level, you collect the letters PHELIOS to acquire the most powerful weapon, a sword of light. These weapons are all fantastic, but they disappear after being in use for a couple minutes, making them little more than a tease.

 

phelios-u-c005

This descent into the underworld could really use some Mode 7 effects.

 

Apollo has a small life bar that enables him to be hit up to four times. This might sound generous, given that most shoot-em-ups have one-hit kills, but Phelios is hard as nails. The sprite of Apollo straddling Pegasus is large enough that he’s able to absorb hits without even trying. Certain sections are filled with enemies that are impossible to avoid, and the bosses take too long to kill, even with both Options equipped. Also – and most importantly – Apollo is a god. He deserves something more than a mortal-sized life bar.

 

phelios-u-c007

These green bats were the most feared fruit snacks in all Greek mythology.

 

To be fair, Phelios seems aware of its difficulty. When you first start the game, you’re given the option to play Novice Mode, which is only the first four stages. This mode will help you get accustomed to the game’s quirks, but once the stages are conquered, you won’t be able to see the true ending. And if you’re like me and have played approximately five million shmups across your lifetime, the very notion of a Novice Mode is scoff-worthy. Advanced Mode is all seven stages and is guaranteed to add gray hairs to your chest. If you beat Advanced, another harder difficulty opens up, one that Zeus himself hasn’t been able to beat.

 

phelios-u-c006

“Double, Double, Toil and Scrumptious,” the new cooking show, only on Lifetime.

 

Phelios debuted on the arcade two years prior to this Genesis port, but in Japan only. The game’s Wikipedia page claims that this was because Artemis’ bondage/torture cinematics were too strong for American audiences, though they provide no link to back up this claim. The Genesis port does tone down some of the sexual imagery, though, so perhaps there’s some truth to this statement.

 

phelios-u-c003

Get Joe Lieberman on the horn, pronto!

 

While I love the idea of a shoot-em-up based around Greek mythology, Phelios is wildly uneven. The shooting is adequate, but the lack of long-lasting power-ups is disappointing. The difficulty borders on cheap, due to the absolutely-necessary-but-painfully-slow charging mechanic and Apollo/Pegasus’ large sprite. The boss designs are wonderful, but the stage layouts are surprisingly barren and lacking in creativity – a shame, given the source material. Namco should be commended for adding a bit of color to a monochromatic genre. I just wish the end result was more fulfilling.

C+

CyberBall

 

This review is brought to you by the one and only Retro Referee, Peter Skerritt. Be sure to check out his work on Retroreferee.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteSkerritt/@TheRetroReferee.

 

cyberballjp

Quite the explosive ballet.

 

cyberballus

Will you root for the San Diego Pistons or the Miami Lug Nuts?

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Atari/Tengen (port by Sega)

GENRE: Sports

DIFFICULTY: Moderate

RELEASE DATE: 06/90 – (US)

                                      07/28/90 – (JP)

                                      1990 – (EU)

 

Cyberball, in short, is a version of American football that is played by robots on the field instead of humans. This change protects humans from injuries while creating a much more violent product with explosive spheres and robots that can also explode if subjected to a lot of punishment. There are rule changes that separate Cyberball from traditional American football– including the removal of the system of gaining 10 yards for first downs, the removal of punts and field goals, and expanding each game to six periods instead of four quarters—but the game by and large plays and feels like an arcade football game.

 

cyberballtd

In for six points!

 

SEGA obtained the rights to Cyberball from Atari for the purpose of releasing a home version for its Genesis console in 1990, and it was the first console version of the arcade game to be released. The NES version (courtesy of Jaleco and Tengen) and the Atari Lynx port of Tournament Cyberball 2072 arrived a year after SEGA’s game did. Unlike the NES and Lynx games, however, Tengen had little to do with the Genesis port of the game. SEGA handled the programming of Cyberball, and added a few things to the package that makes it arguably the best overall home version of the arcade game.

 

cyberballupgrade

Inflation has really gotten out of hand in the 31st century.

 

It’s important to understand Cyberball’s rules, especially for players who are accustomed to standard American football. Instead of downs, Cyberball has increasing ball temperature after each play. The ball temperature starts cool when a possession begins, but gradually increases to warm, hot, and critical. If the ball reaches critical temperature, it’s the equivalent of 4th down. Reaching mid-field (the 50-yard line) “defuses” the ball and resets the temperature to cool status. After that, the only way to defuse the ball is to score a touchdown. Players who are tackled with a critical ball in their possession explode on contact, unless they are in the end zone. Players who are tackled a lot can break down, to the point that one more tackle can cause them to explode and fumble the ball. Once a touchdown is scored, extra points can be earned by completing a play with a critical ball into the end zone; one point is earned for completing a pass play, while two points are earned for running the ball in. This extra point conversion is risky, though, because of the potential of losing players to an exploding ball if the conversion fails.

 

cyberballcritical

A potentially explosive play

 

Robot players destroyed in explosions, whether from critical ball situations or due to too many hits, are replaced with low-level plastic ones. Players can be upgraded using money that is earned during play. Scoring touchdowns, completing after-touchdown conversions, crossing midfield to defuse the ball, destroying opposing players, and playing strong defense all add money to a player’s bank. Select players can occasionally be upgraded during play (via an option on the play-calling screen) or they can be upgraded more liberally before a game begins. Be sure to think before upgrading players, though; upgrades are expensive and offensive players are subject to explosion– thus losing any money that was invested.

 

cyberballconference

That’s a lot of letters.

 

Where the Genesis version of Cyberball excels over the coin-op original and over its fellow platform conversions is the addition of a season mode of play. At the start of a season, players select one of 28 teams, spread out over two conferences. Picking a team is as easy as picking a favorite city, since all of the teams are exactly the same at the beginning. Once a team is selected, the season begins and playoff races shape up in each conference’s three divisions. Wins and losses are tracked, but team and player stats are not. Player upgrades are saved, as well as a team’s bank balance. At the end of each game, a twelve-character password is given, which can be used to resume a season should the player want to turn the power off and play something else. It’s not the deepest season mode, but it does provide decent replay value.

 

cyberballoffenseplay

PROTIP: Alley-Oop and Runaway are high-percentage pass plays.

 

Visually, Cyberball for the Genesis does an adequate job of replicating the coin-op. The robot players are slightly less detailed and there are a few other minor differences, but the game still animates well and doesn’t really bog down at any point. The sound suffers a bit more than the visuals do. The lack of bass from the coin-op is noticeable, replaced by a more tinny sound. A few voice samples made the trip, including touchdown calls and successful conversion calls, but quarterbacks no longer call signals and the announcer doesn’t make a call when the ball is defused after crossing midfield. These are relatively minor nitpicks, though, and don’t really affect the how the game plays at all. Aesthetically speaking, Cyberball is about as good as a 16-bit port of an arcade game could be in 1990.

 

cyberballboom

Another quarterback joins the scrap heap.

 

According to SegaRetro, Cyberball supported the Mega Modem in Japan. This makes the title one of the first sports games to have ever been playable online. Too bad the online feature wasn’t available in the US where football is king. Had the Mega Modem’s US-counterpart, the TeleGenesis, been released, Cyberball would have been one of the first games available for it.

 

cyberballdefensiveplay

PROTIP: When choosing LB Blitz, control a cornerback (CB) and let the CPU rush. 

 

Cyberball is a solid addition to any sports video game fan’s Genesis library. Its arcade roots make the game more accessible than a Madden or Montana football title, but the rule changes here may bother some purists. No punting or field goals, thus forcing offenses to score on every possession, puts pressure on defensive play. You won’t find Deflategate suspensions or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for excessive celebration here, either. Sure, a battery backup and the ability to track and save team and season stats (a la BaseWars for the NES) would have been nice. But what’s important here is that Cyberball plays pretty darned well and is fun to go back to from time to time. The game’s value has edged higher recently, to as much as $13 for a complete copy, but $5 for a loose cart still provides hours of fun for one player or a pair of competitors.

B

Hyperion

 

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.

 

hyperioncover

Somebody ate beans for dinner…

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pioneer

DEVELOPER: Taito

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 05/27/94

 

Hyperion looks a lot like the other shooters we’ve seen on the LaserActive. It uses the system’s impressive video capabilities to supply the game with fancy pre-rendered back drops, then applies the Sega PAC to overlay the game’s actual graphics on top of it.

 

1

Hey look, a developer who’s actually made video games before!

 

Instead of making yet another shooting-gallery style game, developers Taito created a more traditional over-the-shoulder shoot-em-up similar to Space Harrier, After Burner or Galaxy Force. After enduring the vapid likes of Pyramid Patrol, Hi-Roller Battle and Space Berserker, I welcome any change.

 

2

Standard enemies and your ship are both rendered using the Sega PAC’s capabilities.

 

The story is the usual goofy stuff we’ve come to expect from LaserActive games. The Earth has been destroyed by evil aliens and its up to the few remaining humans to save what’s left of the human race from extinction. To help do that, you pilot a tough little spaceship and blast your way through hordes of alien bad guys.

The gameplay is challenging, but nothing shoot-em-up fans can’t handle. Your ship starts with the usual genre staples: a machine gun/blaster cannon with unlimited ammo and a finite set of bombs for blasting bigger baddies. As you play through the levels, you can try to collect health power-ups that restore your shields or weapons ones that make your cannon shoot faster.

 

3

That is one fiery rear.

 

Your enemies are a mix of enemy ships and aliens generated by the Sega PAC as well as the occasional mid-stage mini boss. The larger enemies stream from the LaserDisc’s video footage and typically act as the stage’s final boss. Hyperion also offers some additional, if limited, interactivity with certain flying footage. As you fly near cliffs, space debris and other obstacles, your ship can dodge to avoid taking damage (similar to the sort of thing you see in Silpheed for the Sega CD).

 

4

Mission briefings don’t really add anything, but they do make for some nice window dressing.

 

In addition to the typical dramatic in-game music and pre-level mission briefings, there’s also the occasional in-level radio chatter from your wingmen . It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it gives the impression that Taito was at least trying to immerse the player in their cliché sci-fi universe.

 

5

The FMV looks quite nice, given its age.

 

Compared to space shoot-em-ups you’ll see on other systems, Hyperion‘s decent, but nothing special. Compared to the LaserActive’s unremarkable shooter library, Hyperion‘s the best, hands down.

 

B