The Ultimate Sega Genesis Microconsole! Part 2

 

 

While I’m finishing up the NES book, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

Don’t forget to check out Part 1 first!

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Let’s Build The Ultimate Sega Genesis Microconsole! Part 1

 

 

While I’m finishing up the NES book, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock trapped underneath an even larger rock, you’re probably well aware that the Super NES Classic mini-console just landed on store shelves. The 21-title system definitely has some superb games on it – from Super Mario World to Final Fantasy III to Street Fighter II Turbo – and that makes it impossible to not fantasize about the Genesis getting a loving microconsole tribute of its own.

Now, there have been several Genesis microconsoles released over the years, with many touting 80-plus games. Unfortunately, the consoles are all poor quality and only about three or four dozen games on the sets are actually ports of Sega Genesis games, while the rest are really crappy indie games with titles like Curling 2010 and, ugh, Mr. Balls.

 

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A History of Sega’s NFL Games

 

 

While I’m finishing up the NES book, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

 

For a series that sold millions of copies over the course of 15 years, it’s more than a little odd that there’s no formal name for Sega’s in-house pro football game franchise. Across a span of five Sega consoles, the series was marketed under several different brand names: Joe Montana Football then NFL Sports Talk Football then just plain NFL (insert year here) then Prime Time Football then NFL (insert year here) again before finally being rechristened as the venerable NFL 2K series.

 

Humble beginnings.

 

Sega did produce two proprietary football games without an NFL license on the Sega Master System. The first game, 1987’s Great Football (also known as Sports Pad Football) was a ho-hum arcade title, even if it was one of the first football video games to include true-to-form 11-on-11 player action. The follow-up – 1989’s Walter Payton Football (called American Pro Football in Europe) – was a solid football sim with a robust playbook, great graphics and super smooth gameplay. I’d go as far as to call it the best football game released on any platform prior to Tecmo Super Bowl, including the original Tecmo Bowl on the NES.

 

Neither of those games served as the base for Sega’s first pro football game on the Sega Genesis. In fact, Sega wouldn’t even develop the first “official” Sega football game on the system. Instead, they chose to outsource the duties to Electronic Arts, the same company behind the Madden juggernaut who would eventually snatch up the exclusive NFL license for itself and “kill” Sega’s beloved 2K franchise. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

 

Montana wins the Sega Bowl!

 

For all intents and purposes, the original Joe Montana Football game released on the Genesis in 1991 was the same game as John Madden Football, albeit with some major gameplay tweaks. The engines for both games are identical, the visuals are almost interchangeable and the core control schemes are the same. Joe Montana was a simpler game than Madden, however, with a smaller playbook and more straight-forward, offense-oriented play (in other words: it was meant to be a defenseless score fest.) Interestingly enough, the presentation of Joe Montana served as something of a prototype for later Madden games; more specifically, the game’s simplified passing system (which, unlike Madden, didn’t revolve around picture-in-picture frames of receivers downfield) would eventually become the default for all EA football games.

 

As it turns out, the whole EA partnership with Sega came about by accident. Sega originally wanted Mediagenic to produce what would become Joe Montana by Christmas 1989, but Sega was so disappointed by their work that they decided to scrap the title altogether (Mediagenic would later release their own MS-DOS version of Joe Montana in 1990, complete with actual NFL players). Ports of Joe Montana were produced for the Master System and Game Gear, but EA didn’t work on them. They were totally different games in terms of visual design and core gameplay, complete with a more Tecmo Bowl-ish horizontal field of view instead of the 16-bit game’s vertical perspective. Both games were developed by BlueSky Software, who – as fate would have it – were chosen by Sega to develop the sequel to Joe Montana Football on the Genesis.

 

Oh Joe, you’re not throwing that football to anybody.

 

Released in 1991, Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football was – conceptually – a bigger, more refined version of the Joe Montana games on the SMS and Game Gear. Like its forerunner, the game had no official NFL license and the only “real” player was Joe Montana (who was under a five year, nearly $2 million sponsorship deal with Sega). Sports Talk Football was a slightly more technical game than its predecessor, although it remained very offense-oriented. Technologically, the game’s two biggest claims to fame are its graphics (the camera would zoom in on players after completions and during runs, and the sprites were impressively detailed) and its voice acting. Lon Simmons’ running commentary, while a tad warbled,  is still excellent today; back in the day, hearing TV quality play-by-play audio in a football video game was positively mind-blowing. Gameplay-wise, the original Joe Montana was probably the more polished experience, but the presentation on Sports Talk was so awesome,  it almost made up for the game’s control issues.

 

BlueSky would go on to produce the next two games in the series, NFL Sports Talk Football ‘93 (1992) and NFL Football ‘94 Starring Joe Montana (1993.) Both games were enhanced iterations of Sports Talk, although this time the titles were allowed to use official NFL team names and logos. While each game graphically and aurally improved upon the other, for the most part the core gameplay remained unchanged (although ‘94 did have real player names and a switched default field view to a more Madden-esque vertical screen), with Lon Simmons’ commentary changing very little between each release. And while neither of the games received a port to the Game Gear, BlueSky did (somehow) manage to release a pared back version of Sports Talk Football ‘93 on the Atari Lynx under the title NFL Football in 1992.

 

This sums up NFL ’95

 

Although BlueSky handled the porting duties for 1994’s NFL ‘95, they didn’t work on the Sega Genesis version. That game was produced by Double Diamond Sports, a sub-unit of Farsight Technologies, i.e., the people who made the Genesis version of Action 52. The 16-bit iteration of the game dropped the running commentary and reverted back to the simple, arcadey action of the very first Joe Montana sports title. Presentation-wise, the game was a huge step back from ‘94, with fewer sound effects and less defined sprites.

 

The series was rechristened again in 1995 with the release of Prime Time Football Starring Deion Sanders. Once again the title was developed by Farsight Technologies (this time working under the name “Spectacular Games”) and yeah, it was nearly identical to the last game in the series, albeit with a few roster shifts and a couple of new animations and sound bites. While 32X and Saturn versions of the game were announced, to this day no gameplay footage or screenshots have been released.

 

The Saturn fumbles!

 

The inconsistently-titled series finally made its debut on the Saturn in late 1996 with NFL ‘97. The game was produced by Padded Cell Studios, who were probably best known for creating the Genesis and Sega CD iterations of Batman Returns, and featured 3D polygonal graphics similar to those on Madden and NFL GameDay on the Playstation. The game had a vertical field POV and featured all of the current NFL teams and players. It also employed a unique passing system where each throw had an arc to it, so you threw to a specific spot on the field instead of an open receiver. NFL ’97 is decent, but it’s far from being the best football game of the 32-bit era (or even the best football game on the Saturn). Oddly enough, it was the only in-house Sega football game released for the system, and the very next year, Sega decided to release the sequel as a Genesis exclusive. Today, this would be like Nintendo announcing that the next Pokemon game will be a DS-only release.

 

There’s not a lot to say about NFL Prime Time ‘98 (which, for whatever reason, is just called NFL ‘98) on the box. Released in May 1997, it was one of the last games ever published for the Genesis, but to be honest, this game is hardly anything more than a repackaged version of the Prime Time game from two years earlier. And I’m not being facetious, they didn’t even bother changing the menus or music. If it weren’t for the roster tweaks and a few different plays and animations, you’d be hard-pressed to even tell the difference between this game and its two-year-old progenitor.

 

Now we’re talkin’.

 

With the release of the Dreamcast in North America in 1999, Sega resurrected their long-running football franchise under the NFL 2K banner. The team Sega assembled to create the game was Visual Concepts, who handled the Super Nintendo versions of several Madden games back in the day. The first entry in the series (fittingly enough, titled NFL 2K) was a day one launch title for the Dreamcast, and was immediately hailed as a virtual sports masterpiece.

 

As iffy a job as Sega did with their first (and only) Sega Saturn football game, they more than made up for it with the inaugural edition of NFL 2K. The graphics were far beyond anything we’d seen in a sports game up to that point, the audio commentary from Dan Stevens and Peter O’Keefe (who are actually fictional characters) sounded like it was pulled from a live NFL broadcast, and the gameplay was absolutely superb. Visual Concept outdid themselves a year later with NFL 2K1, which was one of the first major sports games to offer modem-based online play, and followed that up with NFL 2K2, the last in-house football game Sega ever published exclusively for their own console (the game was ported to the PlayStation 2 shortly after Sega exited the hardware market in 2002).

 

Smooth as butta.

 

The 2K series became a cross-platform title starting with 2002’s NFL 2K3, which was released on the PS2, Xbox and GameCube. The same year, Visual Concept’s NCAA College Football 2K series (a spin off using the NFL 2K engine) also went multi-platform, but that series was cancelled just a year later due to lagging sales.

 

The primary NFL 2K series underwent yet another title change in 2003 when the follow-up to NFL 2K3 was relabeled ESPN NFL Football, to better reflect the franchise’s partnership with the cable network brand. ESPN NFL Football, released on the PS2 and Xbox, is especially noteworthy for several reasons, including the debut of “first person football” mode (yep, that’s football, Doom-style) and “The Crib” feature, which allowed you to unlock all sorts of cool stuff by completing in-game feats. Not only were you able to collect classic Dreamcast-era music as Easter eggs, you could even draft iconic Sega characters as playable free agents. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than watching Ryo Hazuki and Beat from Jet Grind Radio don Oakland Raiders uniforms and bulldoze over the 2003-2004 Kansas City Chiefs.

 

Fare thee well, NFL 2K

 

For all intents and purposes, 2004’s ESPN NFL 2K5 was the last “true” NFL game produced by Sega. Sega really decided to go to war with Electronic Arts here, not only releasing the Xbox and PS2 game a month before Madden 2005, but retailing it for only $19.99. The loss-leader approach worked and the title sold a ton of copies. Today it’s regarded as not only the crowning jewel of Sega’s entire NFL series, but a strong candidate for best football game ever made. It’s such a beloved title that a dedicated fanbase still continues to utilize the engine for non-official modded updates every year – you can take a gander at the unauthorized, non-canonical NFL 2K18 here.

 

Of course, we all know the fate that befell NFL 2K. In late 2004, Electronic Arts signed an exclusive $300 million-plus deal with the NFL that gave them sole rights to use League teams and players in their games, effectively spelling the financial death of Sega’s 15-year-old football series. Visual Concepts (purchased by Take Two Interactive in 2005) made at least one effort to resurrect the series, 2007’s Xbox360 and PS3 title All Pro Football 2K8. This game uses a modified NFL 2K engine and stars a litany of retired football greats as playable characters (including the man who started it all for Sega, Joe Cool himself). Alas, the game underperformed and, to date, remains the last proper entry in the long-running football series.

 

All the way to the bank.*

 

Will Sega ever return to its gridiron roots? At the moment it seems unlikely (especially since Visual Concepts left the company a dozen years ago), but you never know. The company seems to be having quite a bit of success with mobile sports games lately, and one developer has even teased resurrecting the Joe Montana Football I.P. And considering the success of Sega’s All-Star Racing series, who wouldn’t be interested in an arcade pigskin offering featuring iconic characters from Golden Axe, Streets of Rage and, uh, Billy Hatcher? Still, even if Sega never creates another proper football game, there’s no denying the impact Joe Montana and the 2K series made on the world of pro football sims.

 

*image courtesy of CBS News.

7 Genesis Games That’ll Get You in the Mood for Football

 

 

While I’m finishing up the NES book, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

 

Fall means a lot of things. Halloween, crispy leaves, Boo Berry cereal, alienating your friends and family with vegan turkey alternative. More than just about anything else, it means one thing: FOOTBALL.

No, not that European tomfoolery we Yanks call soccer. We’re talking real football, the kind with helmets and shoulder pads and people getting hit so hard they forget how to do long division. And in my humblest of opinions, there’s no better way to herald the arrival of the new NCAA and NFL seasons than by kicking back, dusting off the old lima bean control pad and playing some awesomely old school Sega football games. And with both the college and pro football seasons kicking off, what better time to revisit the Genesis library and pay our respects to some of the system’s most beloved pigskin titles?

Whether you’re a hardcore football fanatic or a casual gamer that can’t tell the difference between Fred Biletnikoff and Fred Flintstone, each of the seven virtual pigskin games below offer something fresh, noteworthy and/or are exceptionally well executed. As that old songbird Hank Williams Jr. once asked, are YOU ready for some football?

 

Bill Walsh College Football ‘95 (1994)

DEVELOPER: High Score Productions

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

 

 

When it comes to collegiate pigskin games, Bill Walsh College Football ‘95 is undoubtedly the Genesis library’s big man on campus. Beating Madden to the punch by nearly half a year, BWCF’95 was the first Electronic Arts gridiron game to eschew the old top-screen, receivers-in-windows presentation for the still-industry-standard full-field view (with each receiver mapped to a different face button, naturally). There are 30 real NCAA teams to choose from, plus a couple more historical teams for good measure. The atmosphere is tremendous. The game has real school fight songs and each stadium bears a solid resemblance to its real-world counterpart. And since this is a college football sim, you get all sorts of cool plays that you’d never see in Madden, including a ton of options running the wishbone. College Football ’95 is a tad light on features – an exhibition mode, a season mode and that’s it – but considering how smooth and addictive the gameplay is, you won’t complain too much about the barebones package. NCAA nuts, take note: this is the only 16-bit college football game you will need/want to play.

 

Jerry Glanville’s Pigskin Footbrawl (1992)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Razorsoft

 

 

Yep, it’s a port of the cult favorite arcade sports game Pigskin 621 A.D., only with a new title and a bewildering endorsement from the former Atlanta Falcons head coach (enjoy that check, Jerry!). While the game technically plays more like rugby than anything you’ll see on the Sunday afternoon gridiron, the title should be instantly accessible to anyone with a working notion of football’s fundamentals. You can pass the ball, lob it back and forth like in college and even get in some downright intense scrums for the (in this case, quite literal) pigskin. But unlike the “real” football we’re used to, the medieval trappings allow for some creative license. Things like obstacles such as ponds and humongous rocks littering the field, the ability to punch your opponents without being penalized, and yes, even the option to pick up a javelin and spear the opposing players with it. No worries about any lopsided 63-0 finishes, either. When teams start getting the tar whupped out of them, the game sends a backup troll (read: virtually unstoppable god character) to help ‘em even the odds. Pigskin Footbrawl ain’t for all tastes, but it’s still a really fun arcade multiplayer game.

 

Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football (1992)

DEVELOPER: BlueSky Software

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Blue Sky Software didn’t do a lot to improve upon the original Joe Montana Football with this one. With the exception of a couple of trick plays (including a fake field goal that is pretty much an instant score against the computer), the playbook is virtually unchanged. And, just like in the previous game, there’s still no official NFL license or players involved (besides Joe, of course). That said, the game is definitely worth experiencing, if only to hear the incredible running commentary from Lon Simmons. Today, audio commentary in sports games is all but an afterthought, but having virtually seamless, TV-quality play-by-play in a video game was positively mind blowing in the early 90s. Even now, you can’t help but be awed by what the technical wizards at Blue Sky were able to do with the Genesis’ sound chip here. The controls may not be as smooth and accessible as other football games on the system, but running the ball is a blast, especially when the camera zooms in to give you a preposterously close look at all the on-field action. Sports Talk Football has some very obvious shortcomings, but it’s worth playing for its aural impact on sports video games alone.

 

Madden NFL ‘94 (1993)

DEVELOPER: High Score Productions

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

 

 

Madden NFL ’94 is the version of Madden for the Genesis. While Madden ‘92 had its infamous, player-murdering ambulance and Madden ‘93 elevated the series to a full-fledged sports sim, this is the best embodiment of the old school Madden experience, complete with archaic “receiver boxes” at the top of the screen. You’ve got 28 NFL teams to choose from (only 90s kids will remember the San Diego Chargers and the Houston Oilers!) and a litany of real NFL players circa 1993 filling out each roster. The gameplay is superb. Even though the offensive and defensive play are a cinch to learn, the nuances and complexities of the robust playbooks will take you a lifetime to master. The player models are great, the attention to detail is immaculate and the surfeit of game modes (complete with a fantastic season mode) ensure you’ll be playing this one long after the Big Game has been decided. The ensuing Madden games on the Genesis all became fairly indistinguishable from one another, making the ‘94 version the last truly idiosyncratic incarnation of Madden on the platform. Not only is it the best EA football game on the Genesis, it’s the best football game of the 16-bit era, period.

 

Mutant League Football (1993)

DEVELOPER: Mutant Productions

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

 

 

And now for something completely different from the House of Madden and Bill Walsh. Using an extremely modified Madden ‘94 engine, Mutant League Football is a ridiculous arcade sports title that replaces the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots with the Psycho Slashers and the Deathskin Razors and subs out Troy Aikman and Steve Young for a troll named K.T. Scary and a skeleton named Bones Jackson. The field is littered with landmines, you can bribe referees for more yardage, and you can literally kill the other team’s quarterbacks until they can only run the ball. And yet, despite the game’s wacky gimmicks, it’s still a surprisingly deep little pigskin simulation that requires honest-to-goodness on-field strategizing. The characters may be robots and werewolves, but if you want to be successful in Mutant League you’ve still gotta’ know how to read routes and work a snap count. Nothing embodies fall quite like football and Halloween, and this game manages to merge the best of both worlds into a tremendous little synthesis. And honestly, how can anybody hate a game that allows you to sharpshoot marching bands during halftime performances?

 

Super High Impact (1992)

DEVELOPER: Midway Games

PUBLISHER: Arena Entertainment

 

 

Although Super High Impact is one of the few multi-platform sports games from the early 1990s that looked and played better on the Super Nintendo, the port we got on the Genesis isn’t too shabby, either. Essentially a 16-bit version of NFL Blitz, the game allows you to take control of one of two dozen fictitious teams (this has to be the only football game ever made in which “Africa” is a playable option) and battle it out on the gridiron. Gameplay-wise, it’s a weird fusion between an arcade-style shootout and a bona fide football sim, with the seemingly limited playbook giving you a sizable number of running and rushing options. Like Tecmo Bowl, the idea is to guess the “cancel-out” play for your opponent’s selection, but there’s a little more wiggle room here to transform busted plays into football heroics. Overall the rushing controls feel a little iffy, but the passing controls are perfectly fine. And oddly enough, Super High Impact is one of the few football games of the era where it’s more fun to play defense. Boy, is it a hoot doing sit-ups and calling the quarterback “a mama’s boy” right after you sack him out of his shoelaces!

 

Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition (1994)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Tecmo, Ltd.

 

 

Of course, what list of outstanding Genesis football games would be complete without an appearance by Tecmo Super Bowl? While the first two TSB games on the system were certainly good games in their own right, Final Edition blows them out of the water with better graphics, a vastly improved playbook and some of the best presentation you’ll see in any 16-bit sports game. The core gameplay is pretty much unchanged from the NES masterpiece, albeit with far more offensive and defensive options at your disposal. As in Madden, you get real NFL teams (about 90 of them, actually, because you can select the 1992, 1993 and 1994 roster for each squad) and real NFL players. And the hybrid arcade/sim action is just as satisfying as it’s ever been, offering a faster (but no less challenging) alternative to its contemporary EA competitors. Even now I go back and forth on whether this or Madden ‘94 is the preeminent pro football game of the era. Thankfully, this gives me an excuse to play Final Edition for another hour or two ahead of kickoff for this weekend’s Raiders season opener.

A Tribute to Genesis Boxing Games

 

 

#1 MOST ASKED QUESTION: “Is Sega Does dead or alive?”

While I’m out gallivanting with the NES book and other assorted projects, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

 

I could’ve sworn there were way more boxing games on the Sega Genesis. Maybe it’s the Mandela Effect in play, but I seemed to recall the system just oozing with a myriad of pugilism simulators and arcade offerings. Imagine my surprise when a quadruple check on Wikipedia informed me the Genny only hosted a grand total of eight boxing games for consumption in the North American market.

Surprisingly, these eight boxing games on the Genesis are all interesting titles. Some are good, some are great and some are not worth anybody’s time. But! They all offer something different in terms of aesthetics, gameplay and presentation. No matter if you like grueling technical simulators or goofy, twitch-action arcade slugfests, Sega’s 16-bit console offers something to your liking when it comes to the virtual Sweet Science. And since we’re all experiencing buyer’s remorse from the $100 Mayweather vs. McGregor Pay-Per-View, what better way to soothe our financial ache than by taking a carefree, chronological stroll through the Genesis’ octet of boxing titles?

 

James ‘Buster’ Douglas Knock Out Boxing (1990)

DEVELOPER: Taito

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Sega tried to pull a fast one on us here. Knock Out Boxing is actually just a slight redressing of Taito’s arcade boxer Final Blow, only with James ‘Buster’ Douglas (who was just months removed from knocking out Mike Tyson in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history) quickly airbrushed in as one of the playable characters. Gameplay-wise, it feels more like a 2D fighting game than a pugilism sim. You can move forward and backward, while one button blocks, one button throws a headshot and one button throws a body blow (pressing the up and down buttons merely changes the body part your boxer protects – his breadbasket or his noggin.) There’s only a half dozen or so (fictitious) boxers to choose from, but despite their, er, differences (hope you kids like ethnic stereotypes), pretty much every character plays identically. There isn’t a lot of replay value here. Yyou can beat the “story” mode in 20 minutes, and the core combat system is too simplistic to warrant many one-on-one battles against your pals. Still, it’s a pretty fun little button-masher while it lasts – and way more enjoyable than substandard stuff like Ring King or Power Punch II on the NES.

 

Read the full review.

 

Evander Holyfield’s ‘Real Deal’ Boxing (1992)

DEVELOPER: ACME Interactive

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

After Holyfield unseated Buster Douglas for the world heavyweight championship, Sega naturally decided to build their first from-the-ground-up boxing game on the Genesis around “The Real Deal” (who, as fate would have it, lost the title to Riddick Bowe right after this game was released – ouch). Unlike Buster Douglas, ‘Real Deal’ Boxing offers quite a bit of depth. One button is dedicated to a lead punch and one button is dedicated to a follow-up punch, and depending on which directional pad arrow you hold, you can elect to throw a hook, jab or uppercut from either the left or the right side. As in real boxing, you can set up combinations and even counterpunch, provided you get the timing right (and if you’re in deep dookie, clinch your opponent and buy some precious recovery time). The complicated control scheme becomes second nature after a couple hours, although the lack of equally solid defensive controls remains a huge pain in the derriere. The game also has a great career mode where you create a boxer and take him through the ringer, fighting in empty bingo halls and honing his skills en route to a championship bout against Holyfield himself. ‘Real Deal’ Boxing has some obvious shortcomings, but for the most part, this remains an extremely enjoyable – and surprisingly deep – boxing title.

 

Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing (1992)

DEVELOPER: Park Place Productions

PUBLISHER: Virgin Games, Ltd.

 

 

Despite its endorsement from “The Greatest,” this is easily the worst boxing game on the Genesis. The graphics are so awful, that at first glance, you might mistake them for a Master System game. Then there’s the fighting engine. While it is kinda cool that you can actually move in (theoretical) 360 degree steps, the actual boxing controls are stiff, clunky and frequently unresponsive. One button bobs and weaves, one button throws a weak body shot and the other launches a looping haymaker that takes a full two seconds to land, leaving you open for a quick flurry from your opponent. Throw in a random assortment of lame fictitious boxers and practically zero game options outside of a boring exhibition mode, and you have all the makings of one of the crappiest sports games on the Genesis and beyond.

 

George Foreman’s KO Boxing (1992)

DEVELOPER: Beam Software

PUBLISHER: Flying Edge

 

 

George Foreman’s KO Boxing plays like an uneasy fusion of Punch-Out!! and Final Blow. It’s an arcade boxer through and through, with your attacks limited to looping over hands to the skull and quick jabs to the stomach. Like Punch-Out!!, you can easily weave your way in and out of enemy attacks by quickly shuffling left or right. Unlike Punch-Out!!, your foes in KO Boxing don’t have any noticeable patterns, nor do they drop any visual clues letting you know when you should or shouldn’t go for the coup de grace. The core boxing engine isn’t nuanced at all, and the fictitious enemies are totally forgettable, but the gameplay – as simplistic as it is – is fairly fun and if you give the game enough time you’ll probably find your groove. Just don’t expect much more than a slightly churched up rehash of Punch-Out!! sans tight execution. Bonus props to the sound design. Foreman’s battle cry of “I’m big, I’m bad, I’m FAT!” has to be one of the greatest taunts in the history of video gaming.

 

Boxing Legends of the Ring (1993)

DEVELOPER: Sculptured Software

PUBLISHER: Electro-Brain

 

 

Can’t argue about the cast in this one: among other illustrious Middleweight champeens, Boxing Legends of the Ring features Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Robinson and even Raging Bull himself, Jake LaMotta! If you can’t tell the difference between James Toney and Tony the Tiger, no biggie. You can always create your own boxer and take him for a spin in the game’s career mode. The combat engine here is just superb, with hooks, jabs and uppercuts an absolute cinch to pull off (even if you sometimes have to hold down multiple buttons in awkward combinations, like Up + A + C.)  It’s definitely a game catered to hardcore boxing fans, as the title emphasizes technique over sheer button mashing prowess. Alas, as good as the game may be, this is one of those rare instances of a SNES sports game outclassing its Genesis counterpart. Not only does it look and sound much better, the hit detection is much improved, making the SNES incarnation of Boxing Legends of the Ring the superior – and far more visceral – version to experience.

 

Toughman Contest (1993)

DEVELOPER: Visual Concepts

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

 

 

Here’s another game that desperately tries to recreate the Punch-Out!! formula with mixed results. Aesthetically, it very much resembles Sega’s arcade game Title Fight, complete with the player’s wireframe avatar. Similarly, the control scheme – which entails lots of bobbing, weaving and aiming for uppercuts – feels like it could’ve been lifted straight from the aforementioned coin-op brawler. There’s no create-a-boxer mode, so you’re stuck picking from a laundry list of painfully ‘90s pugilists, including one combatant who’s a dead ringer for Kurt Cobain. From there, you can embark upon a arduous quest for Toughman glory, with your fisticuffing career taking you all over the world; prepare to pound faces in front of pizza-eating Italians and barroom brawling Mexicans (really, the crowd animations are one of the best things about the entire game). There’s a lot of humor to be found, but unfortunately, the defensive controls hamper a lot of the fun. The quirky comedy and quasi-risque content gives Toughman Contest some character, but its core gameplay remains your typical, finesse-less button-mashing marathon.

 

Greatest Heavyweights (1993)

DEVELOPER: ACME Interactive

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Not only is Greatest Heavyweights far and away the best boxing game on the Genesis, it’s the best boxing game of the 16-bit era. It features an absolute dream roster of Heavyweight titleholders. You can match Ali up against Holyfield, pit Rocky Marciano against Joe Frazier, or even match Jack Dempsey up against Larry Holmes. But if the Sweet Science’s grandest lions don’t mean a thing to you, create your own avatar and embark upon the game’s impressive career mode, which might take you months to wrap up. The game uses a modified Real Deal Boxing engine that speeds up the pace and emphasizes constant action while simultaneously improving defensive play. This makes Greatest Heavyweights both the most frenetic and most strategic console pugilism sim of its era. Pulling off hooks, jabs and uppercuts feels easy and smooth, especially if you’re using the Genesis’ six-button control pad. And as Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel so kindly demonstrated, it’s still a fun game even if you have to use the ill-fated Activator to play it!

 

Foreman For Real (1995)

DEVELOPER: Software Creations

PUBLISHER: Acclaim Entertainment

 

 

The sequel to KO Boxing totally overhauls its predecessor’s combat system, creating a game that feels more like a Boxing Legends of the Ring-style simulation than an arcade punch-fest. Of course, the father of the George Foreman Grill is the only “real” boxer in the game, as the rest of the roster is filled out by generic, quasi-polygonal characters with eerie, Mortal Kombat-like digitized faces. In terms of offense, the controls are surprisingly solid, with a pretty good variety of punches you can mix and match for bruising combinations. Alas, the defensive controls are very clunky, while the hit detection sometimes feels a bit spotty. The career mode is alright, but not on par with Greatest Heavyweights or Boxing Legends of the Ring, and the presentation (especially the minimalist music) is uninspiring for a game that came out so late in the Genesis’ life cycle. Foreman For Real isn’t a terrible game by any stretch (indeed, I consider it a vastly improved sequel), but doesn’t compare to the Genesis’ other heavy hitters.

10 Great Shoot-em-ups On The Master System

 

 

#1 MOST ASKED QUESTION: “Is Sega Does dead or alive?”

While I’m out gallivanting with the NES book and other assorted projects, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!

 

The Sega Genesis is often considered one of the greatest consoles ever for shoot-em-ups, and rightly so. While the 16-bit powerhouse can lay claim to having some of the greatest shooters ever (Thunder Force III, M.U.S.H.A.), many retro enthusiasts overlook the genre’s presence on the Genesis’ 8-bit predecessor, the Master System. For shame. The following 10 games prove that the Master System houses the finest shoot-em-ups on any 8-bit console.

 

Aerial Assault (1990)

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu Denki

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

The  best way to describe Aerial Assault is a side-scrolling version of 1942. The game has a consistent WWII military theme, eschewing the genre’s typical sci-fi tropes … up until the fourth level, when the stage turns into an R-Type-ish labyrinth and you start getting attacked by sentient androids. In addition to its considerable challenge, Aerial Assault has some of the system’s most impressive (and intimidating) genre boss battles. All in all, a fun, no-frills shmup with satisfying and addictive gameplay – although the game never explains how a fighter jet works in the deep, dark vacuum of space. 

 

Astro Warrior (1986)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Astro Warrior might be rough around the edges, but this early SMS release was certainly better than any shmup on the NES up to that point. With virtually no flickering or slowdown, the game gave early Master System adopters the most technologically advanced home console shooter to date, complete with fast, frenetic gameplay that felt darn near arcade-perfect. Of course, the visuals haven’t aged well and the fact that you can beat the game in less than ten minutes may turn off a few players. For its time, however, it gets the job done.

Read the full review.

 

Bomber Raid (1989)

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu Denki

PUBLISHER: Activision

 

 

The spiritual successor to the Atari 2600 classic River Raid is every bit as good as its pioneering forerunner. The visuals are bright and colorful and, unlike most NES shmups from the same era, there’s hardly any flickering or slowdown to ruin the pace and tempo. The action is constant and lightning fast and the boss fights are truly a sight to behold. The enemy types and well-designed levels are icing on the cake. Easily one of the best and most underrated shoot-em-ups of the entire 8-bit era.

Read the full review.

 

Cloud Master (1989)

DEVELOPER: Taito Corp.

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

If nothing else, Cloud Master takes home the title of weirdest SMS shmup. In this beautifully animated side-scrolling blast-fest, you play a redheaded kid who (true to the title) rides atop a cloud. Cannon-carrying pigs, sentient bowls of kamikaze instant noodles, and other kooky adversaries all want to take you down. Just wait until you get to the boss fights against the giant green gargoyle with the friar’s haircut and Buddha himself! The animation and sprites in this game are tremendous, and there are plenty of weapon upgrades to keep things interesting. Cloud Master does get a tad repetitive towards the end, but it’s a wacky little adventure while it lasts.

Read the full review.

 

Power Strike (1988)

DEVELOPER: Compile

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Power Strike is a Compile shooter. How could it possibly suck? If you’ve ever played Gun Nac or Zanac on the NES you’ll feel right at home here, as the central gameplay and weapons systems are practically identical. The pace is amazingly fast and there is an astounding amount of action happening on-screen. Add to the mix a ton of beautifully designed stages, and you have all the makings of an absolute must-play shooter.

Read the full review.

 

Power Strike II (1993)

DEVELOPER: Compile

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Not only is Power Strike II the best shmup on the Master System, it might just be the best game on the SMS period. As good as the first Power Strike was, this sequel absolutely outclasses it in every category, with better visuals, better music and gameplay that’s exponentially more intense. This game looks and feels more like a Genesis/TurboGrafx-16 shmup than anything else on the platform. First-time players are sure to have their minds blown witnessing how remarkably fast and fluid Power Strike II is. This is about as close as we’ll ever get to an 8-bit M.U.S.H.A., and if you’re a genre fan you owe it to yourself to give this extraordinary shmup a try.

 

R-Type (1988)

DEVELOPER: Irem

PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

This was the game that proved once and for all that the SMS was the superior platform for 8-bit shmups. Not only did this port of the arcade classic look better than just about every other shoot-em-up on the home console market, it felt way closer to the coin-op experience than any of the flicker-heavy shooters on Nintendo’s hardware. The stages are huge and exquisitely animated (if you thought the “body horror” stages in Life Force were something else, just wait ‘til you see what R-Type throws at you), and the game runs with zero lag. With 16 enormous levels to plow through, you’re going to be logging a lot of hours with this one.

Read the full review.

 

Sagaia (1992)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Taito Corp.

 

 

Don’t let the title fool you: Sagaia is actually a port of Darius II. Of course, it isn’t as polished and visually impressive as the Genesis version. But considering the SMS hardware limitations, Sagaia is nonetheless a downright solid shoot-em-up experience. There are six ginormous stages to blast your way through, each with a preposterously oversized end boss awaiting you at the end of every level. The sprites look fantastic, the action is super-challenging and the background effects are some of the best-looking on the Master System. Special shout out to the music, especially that bangin’ track on level three!

Read the full review.

 

Scramble Spirits (1989)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

While you really can’t call it a faithful arcade port, Scramble Spirits is still an enjoyable shooter. The pastel-hued levels are vibrant and well-animated, and the twitch action is more intense than you might expect. It has its demerits: the soundtrack is repetitive, all the boss fights take place in mono-colored abysses and you can probably finish the entire game in 20 minutes. Even with these issues, for me, Scramble Spirits‘ entertaining and engaging two-player mode makes it one of the best genre offerings on the system.

Read the full review.

 

Submarine Attack (1990)

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Sega

 

 

Submarine Attack needs to be experienced for its uniqueness. You’re constantly being bombarded by enemy attacks, not only horizontally, but from above and below the ocean, too. The level layout is more of a labyrinth than a straight forward side-scroller, with tons of tricky environmental obstacles all over the place. The sprites are tremendous, with some of the most intimidating looking bosses you’ll see in any Master System offering. The levels, although a bit short, all look great and differ drastically from one stage to the next. Submarine Attack may not be as great a sub-themed shmup as In the Hunt, but it beats the pants off Steel Diver.

Night Trap: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective

 

Looking back on the hyper controversial Sega CD launch title, a quarter-century later…

 

“Is Sega Does dead or alive?” “Are you posting new content or not?

Yes!

While I’m out gallivanting with the NES book and other assorted projects, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while. So without further ado…

 

Night Trap: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective

 

 

 

With Screaming Villains re-releasing Night Trap on Steam and the PS4 (complete with a gnarly, 25th anniversary collector’s edition physical copy of the game), now is as good a time as any to reflect and reminisce on the history and profound influence of Sega’s infamous full motion video offering.

 

Of course, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Night Trap a true “Sega” game. Yes, it was eventually released on the Sega CD, and for a time at least, Sega marketed it as one of their marquee pieces of software. But the game actually began life as the killer app for Hasbro’s never-released Control-Vision console – a system that would’ve used video tapes instead of traditional gaming cartridges or CD-ROMS.

 

Francis Ford Coppola’s Night Trap

 

The mastermind behind the Control-Vision (which was briefly codenamed the NEMO – it stood, rather humorously, for “never ever mention outside”) was Tom Zito, a former Atari employee who quickly put together a series of tech demos to wow the suits at Hasbro. One of the demos, a ripoff of Clue called Scene of the Crime, pretty much served as the prototype for what would become Night Trap. The game included seven rooms which the player could check into with a push of a button, with a house layout map that would migrate over to Night Trap virtually unchanged.

 

Interestingly, Night Trap was initially meant to be a licensed game based on A Nightmare on Elm Street, but apparently New Line Cinema never gave Zito and their pals their blessings. From there, the Control-Vision crew mulled producing an interactive murder-mystery in which the player had to thwart invading ninjas(?!?) from looting their family fortune, but after a few more tweaks the Night Trap we all know and love (or loathe) finally began to take shape.

 

Quoth the mustachioed figure, “Saddle up, cowboy.”

 

The game was “filmed” in 1987 for about $1.5 million. It starred Diff’rent Strokes star Dana Plato as the main character, a plant for an undercover mission to lure a bunch of vampires – who, strangely enough, look more like Foot Clan castoffs than Dracula and his ilk – to a slumber party. Interestingly, the director of photography for the gig was a guy named Don Burgess, who would later get an Oscar nod for his cinematography work on Forrest Gump.

 

Keep in mind that, at the time, the movie/game was designed for Hasbro’s proprietary video console. As such, the NEMO team was beholden to their demands, which included diktats to tone down the violence. Inexplicably, one of Hasbro’s biggest problems was with the speed of the vampires; for whatever reason, they demanded that the bad guys in Night Trap walked at a stilted pace, I guess to deter kids from jogging through their kitchens after playing the game.

 

There’s so much “over it” in this shot.

 

By 1989, Night Trap – alongside an even more expensive FMV title dubbed Sewer Shark – was in the can and ready for the Control-Vision’s Christmas launch. According to David Crane (who served as a consultant on the game … for one afternoon), Toys “R” US were so impressed by the hardware they were ready to buy up Hasbro’s entire inventory. Unfortunately, a global RAM shortage drove up the manufacturing costs of the Control-Vision, more than doubling its retail price point. Feeling the console was too expensive to compete with Nintendo and Sega, Hasbro officially pulled the plug on the Control-Vision project, as Night Trap (more or less a completed game at that point) sat on the shelf for another three years.

 

Shortly after Hasbro cancelled the hardware, Zito bought the footage rights to Night Trap and started his own interactive movie production firm, Digital Pictures. He originally wanted to port Night Trap to the Super Nintendo, but after the Big N abandoned its CD-ROM partnership with Sony, he naturally decided to partner with their arch rivals Sega instead. And on Oct. 15, 1992, Night Trap – after five years in development purgatory – was finally released as a launch title for the Sega CD.

 

For I was blind, but now I’m trapped!

 

While the game was slightly retooled to better accommodate the Genesis’ lima bean-shaped control pad, relatively few alterations were made to the finished port. With the exception of an opening tutorial introducing players to the control setup (as well as the Sega Control Attack Team, the top-secret agency the player “works” for), hardly any other additional footage was filmed for the Sega CD title.

 

Gameplay-wise, Night Trap is pretty straightforward. There are eight cameras you can cycle through by hitting the A button, and to set off death traps, you hit the B button. Probably the biggest structural problem with the game is the inclusion of “security codes,” which are basically just random colors that constantly change, and you can only activate the aforementioned traps by knowing the correct “security code” color in each room. This gets really annoying because it’s pretty much impossible to listen in on every bit of dialogue in the game so you can know what the proper security code is at any given time. Which means, inevitably, that you’ll spend the bulk of your game time constantly mashing the C button until you inadvertently stumble upon the right one.

 

Those nutty bloodsuckers!

 

While it doesn’t sound very intuitive at first, cycling through the eight cameras isn’t as difficult or irritating as you would assume. You usually have a pretty good idea where all the characters are at any point in the game and believe it or not, there actually is something resembling a coherent plot in the mix. It takes some getting used to – and a set-up like the one in this user-generated video would have been much preferred –  but it certainly amps up the replayability. You’d have to play and beat the game dozens of times before you experienced everything Night Trap has to offer, and there’s certainly some cool stuff in there – ESPECIALLY the quasi-Easter egg where Dana Plato lip syncs to that amazingly awful “Night Trap” theme song.

 

In hindsight, you have to second guess Sega’s decision to bet the farm on “interactive movies” as the primary driver of the new hardware’s sales. But at the time, Night Trap and its kindred were considered extremely cutting edge entertainment, and all of the game mags back in the day were convinced this was going to be the future of video gaming, if not the first step towards bona-fide virtual reality entertainment. As a standalone game, Night Trap is pretty enjoyable for what it is – a playable, no-budget, late night Showtime horror movie. There are better FMV games on the system, and there are definitely worse as well. As a tech demo, the game succeeded as a hardware showcase, but alas, such didn’t translate into purchased consoles. About 200,000 Sega CD units were sold by the end of 1992, and Night Trap did very little to convince consumers that the add-on’s $300 asking price was justified. While the game initially did very little to make an impact on gamers, the title certainly made an impact on an entirely different demographic: federal legislators.

 

Teenagers clearly conversing in sin.

 

A little more than a year after Night Trap was released, the game was immortalized as the focal point of a Dec. 1993 Senate hearing on video game violence spearheaded by Democrats Herb Kohl and Joseph Lieberman.

 

You can check out the full three hour hearing here, but for those of you that don’t have an afternoon to kill listening to quarter century-old CSPAN programming, the gist of it was that Night Trap – with its lurid depiction of half-naked women getting their blood sucked out of their necks with giant K’NEX toys – was lambasted as the exemplar of virtual depravity and degeneracy. Avowed child development experts and other moral watchdogs took to the chamber to explain, without any tinge of sensational overreaction whatsoever, how games like Night Trap were making children more prone to aggressive behavior and encouraged sexual violence against women. The bad press eventually goaded Sega into developing its own MPAA-esque video game ratings system, which served as the basis for the industry-wide Entertainment Software Ratings Board standards shortly thereafter.

 

Kathleen Turner guest stars.

 

Yet despite the negative publicity from Capitol Hill, that didn’t stop Sega from re-releasing the game as an “enhanced” 32X disc barely a year after the infamous Senate hearing, nor did it bar Digital Pictures from porting the game to Panasonic’s short-lived 3DO system. In a strange way, all that political ire gave Night Trap a second life, turning what would’ve otherwise been a forgettable, full price tech demo into one of the most significant (and slightly financially successful) titles of the 16-bit era – indeed, the game managed to sell 50,000 copies just one week AFTER being torn asunder in D.C. Still, all the controversy in the world couldn’t save the Sega CD, and in many ways, the full-motion-video subgenre. By the time the Sega Saturn was on store shelves, the whole “interactive movie” shtick had become painfully passe, and it wasn’t long before Digital Pictures (who wound up producing more than a dozen games for Sega) went belly-up.

 

For better or for worse, Night Trap came to embody everything Sega did right – and wrong – with its initial foray into CD-ROM gaming. Even now, when most people think about the Sega CD they don’t think about standout titles like Sonic the Hedgehog CD, Snatcher or Robo Aleste. They think about the system’s deluge of Digital Pictures games – chief among them, of course, being Night Trap. Twenty-five years later and it’s still difficult to tell if the game, and all the controversy it courted, helped or hurt Sega in the long haul. While all the bad publicity may have put Sega in the doghouse with concerned parents, the brouhaha over largely uncensored games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat made the Genesis and Sega CD the edgier and more countercultural choice of the big two 16-bit systems and represented the fledgling medium’s first steps into truly adult-oriented entertainment. Still, one can’t help but wonder if Sega could have extended its lifespan by foregoing the Sega CD altogether, or at the very least focusing on aurally and graphically updated traditional video games instead of the glut of FMV titles.

 

I think this clip speaks for itself.

 

Regardless, Night Trap may not be a good game using normal quality measuring sticks, but it’s undeniably an entertaining title. The acting is hokey and hilarious, the softcore erotica soundtrack is cheesily endearing, there’s a ton of replayability and the tongue-in-cheek, fourth-wall shattering grand finale – complete with a surprisingly well-done “twist” ending – is actually quite engrossing and nerve-racking.

 

Night Trap is one of those cornerstone video games you just HAVE to experience for yourself at least once. If you’re a hardcore B-horror fan, you’re going to love it and if you just have a general fondness for pop cultural cheese and sleaze, you’ll probably adore it, too. It hasn’t aged particularly well in all respects, but that’s sort of the game’s charm; it feels refreshingly simplistic, refreshingly dated and at certain junctures, even refreshingly frustrating.

 

Not pictured: Dana’s agent.

 

That, and it’s a pretty remarkable testament to our society’s ever-changing views on what is and what isn’t culturally permissible. Here we are in the era of Grand Theft Auto V and Postal 3 and games where you literally rape other characters, and to think that elected officials once thought grainy footage of Kimberly Drummond getting chased around a winery house by guys with pantyhose socked over their faces was positively obscene.

 

Images/GIFs courtesy of James Swift, MobyGames, GameFAQs, Factory Sealed, and RetroGameNetwork.

Let’s Try This Again

 

Gotta go to work.

 

Oy.

I gotta be real with y’all. I was excited to jump back into Sega Does, thus my hasty “Sega Does is Back!” proclamation, but… it’s not quite time to return yet.

“And why?” they asked.

The NES book is my first priority. I’ve been trying to push that thing out since early 2016. We’re in the second half of 2017, it finally has a tentative timeframe for release, and I have to see it through. I’ll be putting out more updates for it as the book gets closer to completion, both on Questicle and Sega Does.

I also feel like now is a time for behind-the-scenes work. I’ve wanted to build a post-2000 Nintendo handheld review blog (GBA, DS) and an early Sony console (PS1, PS2, PSP) review blog for the last couple of years, but I never felt like I could just stop or even slow down Sega Does to work on them. Now that I have, I realize taking a break is not the end of the world, and my desire to invest time and effort into these blogs has increased.

I will eventually be putting all these blogs – Questicle, Sega Does, Nintendo handheld, Sony, etc. – under one giant hub website. I have a sweet domain name picked out and everything, but it’s still in the planning stages, so I don’t have a lot of information to share yet.

While I’m constructing these sites, I also need to prepare myself for when Sega Does eventually returns. This means: buying systems I don’t have, modding them to play Japanese/European titles, stocking up on games, etc.

On top of all this, my personal life has gotten increasingly busier since the start of the year, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. Growing older, responsibilities, and all that.

I’m sorry I published the last post and got peoples’ hopes up. I feel like a boob for getting ahead of myself, especially since I was excited to jump back into the Sega fray with y’all. I’m sure some of you saw a larger break coming, but I promise I’m not going away for good. I’ll be posting updates about future projects on Sega Does and Questicle, so you can stay in the loop.

Thanks, as always, for your support throughout the years and years. I can’t believe I’ve been reviewing games for seven years now. That’s a long time, but as a sage once uttered, “Can’t stop, won’t stop.”

Talk to y’all soon.

DC