Bastion

 

Long ago, I allowed Patreons who pledged at a certain tier to choose any game they wanted for me to review (I have since removed this tier and am thankful that only a couple folks took me up on it).  One of my patrons chose Bastion. They’ve waited patiently for me to purchase the game, play it to completion, and review it, hopefully to their satisfaction. Yes, by posting it here I’m breaking the Chronological and Gameological Bylaws of Sega Does, in that, it is a game that has nothing to do with Sega and its inclusion does not adhere to the blog’s chronological nature. For the sake of you law abiding readers out there, I hope you can forgive me.

 

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Joe Montana Football

 

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

 

Hello… is it me you’re looking for?

 

“I’d like to thank me for being Joe Montana.”

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Park Place Productions

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 12/22/90 – (US)

                                       03/01/91 – (JP)

                                              05/91 – (EU)

 

It’s the last play of the game. San Francisco remains ahead of Buffalo by two points, but Buffalo has just driven into field goal territory after completing a couple of deep passes. The kick is basically a chip shot, and converting it would complete a comeback from as many as 14 points down earlier in the game. Here’s the snap, the ball is down… and a San Francisco linebacker busts through the line! The kick is blocked! San Francisco hangs on to win the SEGA Bowl and Joe Montana hoists the championship trophy! What a game!

 

I see what you did there, playboy!

 

This isn’t a back-of-the-box writeup for Joe Montana Football. It’s exactly what happened to me while playing the game for review. It was incredibly exciting to experience, and it’s not necessarily common for many sports games to have that kind of a dramatic ending. Blocked kicks, interceptions, fumbles, and tipped passes snatched out of the air for big gains are all part of the Joe Montana Football package for the Genesis, and make for a solid—if not exciting—game of 16-bit American football.

 

Preach it, ref!

 

As with John Madden Football, Joe Montana Football is a bit bare on the modes of play offered. Exhibition and SEGA Bowl are the two significant options. Exhibition games are single games played against the CPU or a human opponent for bragging rights. The SEGA Bowl mode runs for four games against increasingly difficult opponents with the championship trophy on the line. It’s worth noting that this game doesn’t employ a password system for the SEGA Bowl mode and there isn’t a battery inside of the cartridge to save progress. This means that there’s no way to save progress through the playoff run, should players want to come back to finish later. There’s also a two-minute drill mode of play, for those looking for a quicker experience. The options in Joe Montana Football are fairly basic and limited. Game length can be changed, and penalties can be turned on or off. There are only 16 teams to choose from here, as opposed to the 28 teams that John Madden offers.

 

And we’re underway!

 

It doesn’t take long to realize that Joe Montana has an arcade game feel to it. Kicking the football only requires one button press. There are fewer (and more manageable) plays to pick from, and the play-calling system is quite simple. Penalties, aside from the rogue pass interference call or silly offside calls when defensive players are a bit too eager to jump off of the line, are rarely called. Purists may scoff at the frequency of big plays that occur during a game, but these plays help keep more casual and/or arcade game fans to remain engaged.

 

Not even close.

 

While it is possible to have some success with the running game in Joe Montana, the passing game is the star of the show on offense. After the quarterback receives the snap, a press of the A button brings up window that shows a “first-person view” from inside of the quarterback’s helmet. This view shows the intended receiver and any defenders covering him. It’s possible to lead the receiver to a passing point by aiming the passing reticle to his left or right. Pressing A once more launches the pass toward the intended receiver, and the screen shifts to that point. The player then takes manual control of the receiver, who must be guided to where the pass is going. If the catch is made, the receiver is oftentimes able to streak up the field for a bunch of yards after the catch (or YAC). Errantly-thrown passes or moving the receiver to the wrong spot can lead to costly interceptions, so there’s a definite risk/reward element to the passing game—just like real football.

 

HelmetCam delivers.

 

On the defensive side of the ball, playing well against the pass is often the key to victory. Covering opposing receivers effectively can lead to sacks, incompletions, and interceptions. Selecting plays in the Nickel and Dime formations usually work best in defending the pass, since extra defensive players are positioned in passing zones to cover opposing receivers. Relying on the blitz, or having defenders focus on chasing the quarterback, too often leads to big pass plays being given up. Making a play at an interception is as easy as positioning the defensive player underneath the ball… but don’t jostle too much with the receiver, or else a pass interference penalty may be called.

 

I believe that’s “turntover” in today’s vernacular.

 

The play controls for Joe Montana are responsive and easy to learn. The play-calling screen could have been designed a bit differently, as it’s too easy to call the wrong play and be forced to call a time out in order to change it, but that’s more of a nitpick than a serious complaint. While there aren’t any difficulty settings to choose from, playing through the SEGA Bowl mode showcases a gradual rise of challenge from the first game through the Championship game. Playing against a friend is the best way to go, but the CPU can pose surprising resistance to defeat and test skilled players during the last two games of the mode.

 

Put six on the board!

 

Aesthetically, Joe Montana is decent, especially by early 16-bit era standards. On the field, the players are animated well, as they run, jump, and dive. The frame rate is smooth also, and the presentation is anchored by digitized images and a few animated cutscenes featuring the titular quarterback. The sound is surprisingly clear, featuring clear voice clips from Montana as well as grunts and groans that are seemingly pulled from live action. The music is also quite good, with guitars and drums that punctuate scoring drives.

 

Well gee, thanks for telling me how to beat you, Joe.

 

Joe Montana Football remains an enjoyable game more than 25 years after its release, in spite of missing some of the bells and whistles that other football games offer. The game’s arcade-style approach makes it accessible for players of all skill levels, and big plays in the passing game and on defense keep things exciting. It’s also hard to deny that having Joe Montana point to you after a big passing play and say, “Great catch!” is pretty darned cool… as in “Joe Cool”.

B+

Darius II / Sagaia

 

Darius II: You Sunk My Deathship!

 

let’s just pretend that says Darius II.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Taito

DEVELOPER: Taito

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

DIFFICULTY: Adjustable

RELEASE DATE: 12/20/90 – (JP)

                                             04/91 – (EU)

 

Darius II, or Sagaia as it’s known in the West for some reason, is yet another horizontal shoot-em-up that takes place in space – as if the Genesis needs more of this genre in its life. I remain in awe at how many shoot-em-ups Sega’s 16-bit console received, particularly in its early years. Good news, though. Darius II stands out from the exhausting deluge with solid mechanics and never-before-seen replay value.

 

Visiting some ancient ruins before the war begins.

 

In the original Darius, main characters Proco and Tiat (“Taito Corp” spelled backwards) escaped from their home planet Darius before it was destroyed by the Belsar empire. In Darius II, their descendants – Proco Jr. and Tiat Young, now living on the planet Orga – receive a mysterious distress signal from Darius. They travel through the Milky Way, battling the Belsar empire as they attempt to save the remaining Darians from imminent destruction.

 

Proco Jr. and Tiat regret their inheritance.

 

Your ship, the Silver Hawk, starts off in the ‘A’ Zone, a sun with a lava floor and solar flares that careen around you. You’re equipped with a single laser and bombs that drop by two underneath your ship. Enemies are almost always grouped together, and you’re given a point bonus if you can destroy the entire group. Little metallic UFO groups bestow different items, like laser upgrades, stronger bombs, a shield that allows you to be hit three additional times, and green lasers that spew vertically from your ship. Two large crustaceans appear at the end and engage you in a boss battle. Defeat them, and you’re whisked away to the screen below.

 

 

Just look at that image, friends. Twenty-eight stages! Multiple pathways! Seven different endings! Sure, the original Darius had this branching path feature too – even more astounding, given its 1986 release date – but this is the first we’ve seen of it on a Sega console. You might think that this would give Taito an excuse to slack off and make the stages shorter, but this isn’t the case. You could play through Darius II a variety of ways and it will feel like a complete game each time.

 

Of course, Zone C would be a cave. Of course.

 

The power of choice is all well and good, but how does she play? Like a dream, for the most part. The Silver Hawk is a quick, easy-to-maneuver ship, and if you hold down ‘A’ and ‘B,’ your weapon and bombs stream out automatically. You’re never overpowered, though, even with several weapon upgrades on your person. Even the smaller enemies can take a couple hits to kill, to say nothing of the occasional large fishes or octopi that function as minibosses.

 

Just a humble space squid looking for a sloppy space kiss.

 

Like most shoot-em-ups, Darius II will make your cheeks clench. The garden variety enemies are strong and bosses grow increasingly tougher with each stage (screw you, brain helmet that took ten minutes to kill). The Silver Hawk is fast, but she’s also large. Avoiding enemy fire is a real concern, particularly when groups of enemies bum rush the screen, spray a mist of projectiles at you, then fly away. Because of your size, at times it feels impossible to avoid the onslaughts, which lends the game a slight unfairness. You’re given shields fairly often, which eliminates some of the pressure to avoid every stray projectile, but you shouldn’t have to rely on a shield to constantly succeed.

 

Bury me at zone M with Pinhead’s brain.

 

I blame the porting process. The arcade version was presented in two-screen and three-screen versions, which gave not only a wider field of view, but also more space for the Silver Hawk to move around. When the game was ported to the Genesis (and the Master System), the action had to be condensed into one screen – understandable, as few would have been willing to rubberband two TVs together for that authentic look. The Silver Hawk’s sprite wasn’t shrunk enough to account for the change, making it difficult to avoid everything the game throws at you.

 

Two shrimp cocktails for the price of die

 

Concessions aside, the Genesis port looks and plays fantastic, given the circumstances. The soundtrack is phenomenal and alternates between rock jams and moody atmosphere. The gunplay can be cheap at times, but it’s rewarding and addicting enough that you’ll want to power through it to see the end (or ends). Likewise, the lack of a two-player mode is disappointing, but if you enjoy the game, there’s plenty of it to keep you occupied. Darius II doesn’t break the space shoot-em-up mold, but its consistently higher quality elevates it above the more common, mediocre Genesis shmups. Your move, Technosoft.

 

B+

 

James Cameron’s Sagaia

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER/DEVELOPER: Taito (port by Natsume)

RELEASE DATE: 06/92 – (EU)

 

There are many misguided ports on the Master System, but Darius II isn’t one of them. It looks and sounds great, and plays more aggressively. From the first stage on, enemies bombard you with fire. In the options menu, the default difficulty is Easy, and you should stick with that. I chose Normal and got my cheeks handed to me.

 

At least they’re set for blood transfusions.

 

Of course, Natsume had to rearrange some features to make sure the game could function. The Silver Hawk now fires vertically without the need for upgrades. There are twelve stages instead of twenty-eight, due to space limitations. Boss fights are also fought on a black screen, separated from the level itself.

 

Sagaia: Private Reserve

 

You should absolutely not choose this port over the Genesis version (or the Saturn version, probably), but the quality of Darius II on the retirement-age Master System can not be denied. A bronze medal for Natsume.

 

B-

 

Underwater skirmishes just aren’t my bag, man

 

Oh, glub it all.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER/DEVELOPER: Taito (port by I.T.L.)

RELEASE DATE: 06/07/96 – (JP)

                                               1996 – (EU)

 

Full, steamy disclosure: my Saturn rig isn’t ready, which means I’m not properly prepared to review Darius II on Saturn. Shame on me! I’ll come back to this and give it a proper go when the Saturn can handle it.

In the meantime, here are some “Darius II on the Sega Saturn” fun facts. While the two-screen experience just can’t be replicated on a single television, you start the game in widescreen mode and are given the ability to zoom in and out on the action with the shoulder buttons. Zooming in gives a slight wobble effect, so probably not wise to utilize the feature while you’re in the throes of war. Still, pretty neat!

 

The Saturn port reintroduces the goofy narration from the arcade.*

 

Pristine visuals and zero slowdown are what you’d expect from a Saturn port of an old arcade game. The red book audio soundtrack, however, is incredibly disappointing. All the tracks have a muffled, compressed quality that don’t even compare to the 8 or 16-bit versions. I’m sure it was easier for I.T.L. to just slip the soundtrack on a disc instead of utilizing the Saturn’s sound processor, but it lessens the arcade-perfect feel that this late port of the game should have.

 

“Listen here, ya filthy crab!”*

 

Judging solely by what I’ve read about the game, Darius II has an “almost got it” feel. Shame, as the Saturn should have been able to handle every aspect of this game. Final score and further review forthcoming.

 

*screenshots from segasaturn.co.uk