PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
GENRE: Racing / Light Gun / Shooting
RELEASE DATE: 09/86 – (US)
Remember how mind-blowing Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt was back in the day? Two games on one cartridge. Like an old 45 record with the hit single on the “A” side and the weird throwaway track on the “B” side, Super Mario Bros was the blockbuster smash that everyone wanted to play, while Duck Hunt was the Zapper game where you shot scores of ducks while a dog laughed at your misfortune.
I imagine the latter was the first multicart many of us had ever seen, but it wasn’t the first multicart to be released. The Wikipedia entry on Multicarts states that the concept – placing two or more games onto one cartridge – goes back to the Atari 2600 days. I don’t doubt the author – there’s plenty of unlicensed multicarts for just about every system – but they provided no links to verify their information, and my own “Atari 2600 multicart” Google searches only gave results from more contemporary multicarts like these. From what I can find, there were no officially licensed multicarts released for the Atari 2600 during the console’s heyday in the late 70s/early 80s, but I’d love to be proven wrong (politely, in the comments).
(UPDATE: I’ve already been proven wrong, politely, in the comments! Xonox was a third-party manufacturer who developed Atari cartridges with games on either side. The cartridges were affectionately referred to as “double-enders” – a term which undoubtedly contributed to the much more politically correct “multicart.”)
Behold! The title screen for Hang On / Safari Hunt!
I’m not saying Sega’s Hang On / Astro Warrior and Hang On / Safari Hunt were the first two officially licensed multicarts when they showed up for the Master System in 1986, but they had to have been among the first. Mario / Duck Hunt was released in late 1988, while Hang On / Safari Hunt was released in America only sometime in 1986, both as a multicart and into the BIOS of some early Master Systems. Sega’s appeal to the masses: an arcade blockbuster and a game that took advantage of Sega’s gun peripheral, the Light Phaser.
By comparison, Hang On / Astro Warrior is the more questionable pairing, as Astro Warrior didn’t take advantage of any Sega peripheral. Still, it’s the latter multicart that’s the “best buy,” if you will. By itself, Astro Warrior is a short, bland shoot-em-up in search of an identity. Paired with Hang On, the short bursts of shooter action complement the short bursts of motorcycle racing. Together, they almost make for one whole game.
More visually striking, if nothing else.
Neither Hang On nor Safari Hunt were released separately in America (Hang On was released separately for the Mark III in Japan, and released as a Sega Card in Europe in 1987 and again on cartridge in 1990), and I understand why. Hang On is a great racing game… in the arcade, using an actual sit-down motorcycle or a handlebar control. The Master System port, on the other hand, is adequate, but forgettable, thanks to the loose controls and sterile gameplay. Safari Hunt puts the Light Phaser to questionable use, recalling Sega’s earlier Safari Hunting in both name and gameplay. While the latter had you capturing animals, Safari Hunt has you out on safari shooting animals – ducks, fish, armadillos (?!) – because what else are you gonna do with a Light Phaser? The game is fine for what it is, but Duck Hunt has more personality and the option to shoot clay targets if you feel weird about killing virtual animals.
Unlike Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt, neither of Sega’s multicarts were worth writing about to your sweetheart. Hang On may have been Sega’s idea of a masterpiece or a breakout hit, but it certainly wasn’t the public’s. And while Safari Hunt and Astro Warrior were adequate side-games, what they really accomplished was showing the limitations of the early Master System game lineup as compared to the NES’s. Sega may have kick started the multicart in ’86, two years before Nintendo, but Nintendo did it best.