Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Part 3

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master - The last Shinobi released for the Genesis is certainly nothing short of epic. A new & mysterious enemy has our favorite ninja facing off against enemy ninja clans(again), the military(again), bizarre experiments(that's new), and a bunch of other wild things over the course of seven stages.

This entry in the series adds a number of new moves. Now just by holding down the attack button Joe can block most enemy attacks. Also by tapping forward twice he can run which allows him to do a more damaging slash or to jump farther. To complete the additions to his arsenal he can do a diving attack that comes down at an angle, which can be very useful if applied properly.

The game plays out just like its prequel Revenge of Shinobi. Joe must move from left to right(though this is constantly subject to change throughout the game) killing foes, collecting power-ups, and facing off with a variety of mid-bosses and big-bosses. Joe has a fairly lengthy health-meter, an easily-replenished supply of shurikens, and even ninja magic. However a true Ninja must forget about all of those things and focus on killing everything at a close-range and without taking damage. Yes Shinobi III is a true successor to the series has carries over the concepts introduced in the original arcade Shinobi, it just allows more room for error to attract beginners as well as leaving the door open for veterans.

The level design is perhaps the most varied yet at the same time familiar in the series. Revenge fans will note the inclusion of Zeed's hideout(where you progress by finding the correct doors) while others will be more than familiar with the concept of elevators(even the beginning of level 6 where you jump from falling rock to falling rock could in essence be described as an elevator stage). It's clear that the intention is not to create some new set-piece and concept for every stage but to create situations where Shinobi must rely on his abilities at all times. Some might argue that it's repetitive but that's probably because they're too used to playing newer games that smash together fifteen different genres and play like an entirely new game every other level. The level design doesn't undergo any massive changes because the developers know what works and what's challenging. At the same time however they still manage to implement a lot of great new concepts like a level designed almost entirely around mastering Joe's ability in movement instead of combat(through various eletrical traps and pits).

There's simply not enough importance placed on knowing the limits of the character you play as in games I've noticed. Earlier games forced you to account for high you can jump, how fast you can move, how much you're able to dodge by simply crouching, and so on. To master these games you had to master your avatar. Shinobi III is a game that requires such knowledge as being too far from an enemy when attacking an enemy will cause Joe to throw a shuriken(thus wasting tons of points) jumping too high, at the wrong moment, or with the wrong arc will cause something bad to happen to Joe(even if it doesn't result in death). I'm not saying games should force players to figure out the wind velocity or do equations before they kill their next foe but I just don't think enough emphasis is put on mastering how videogame characters control and react to the world around them. There's no connection between the player and his avatar, thus the game isn't memorable and before you know it there's no identity. This is a trap that far too many games are falling into(and this isn't limited to new games either, it's been a problem since developers stopped putting serious effort into game design).

So with all of that out of the way I can assure you that Shinobi 3 is a classic action game and one of the best available on the Genesis. If you haven't played this before I would be legitimately shocked and ashamed.

Sonic The Hedgehog - Where do I even begin with this one? It's not enough that this game is one of if not the most important game in the Genesis's life but it's also become one of the most hated, and at times just plain bad, series of videogames of all time. But let's ball that up and throw it in a corner somewhere because at least when the Genesis was alive Sonic was a relatively great thing.

As the story goes the evil Dr. Robotnik(or Eggman if you prefer) is capturing animals for his robot army and polluting the land with his massive fortress(and with not at all subtle intentions about world takeover). Sonic aka the fastest animal alive takes on the challenge of bringing him down. This is accomplished over six zones with three acts each.

Sonic is a fast creature in a normal world. That is the very nature of being fast. If everything was fast how would we know the difference? Anyway Sonic's speed is both his strength and his weakness, since while his speed will get him through levels quickly it can also lead him to death and missing useful items if he isn't paying attention. One of the strongest ideas the original game plays upon is the fact that Sonic can perform the same tasks as any other platforming character(that is run & jump) and if you like you can play Sonic 1 as slowly as you like by jumping on every single platform, pushing every little block, and generally doing everything one step at time. However if you're Sonic what's stopping you from skipping quite a bit of that junk? You have the potential to skip over many of those platforms, evade several traps at once, and generally fly through large swaths of the game that would leave slower platform characters in the dust.

This is possibly the biggest aspect future Sonic games would eventually fail to play upon. Sure Sonic is so fast he can run around huge loops but the loops aren't what showcases his speed. If he's that fast what's stopping him from skipping the loops entirely? For however realised the levels are he runs through are designed what's to stop him from speeding through it treating complicated setpieces like they were barely worth a post-card? That's a story for another time though.

As with every other game in the series Sonic needs a ring to stay alive. While this is all well & good for survival it means nothing to gamers seeking a high score. It's essential to not only collect as many rings as possible but it also means completing the stage quickly and being able to collect every single ring off of the bonus round(which is a feat in itself since many rings are located very close to goalposts that end the round instantly). Thus even for a short game such as this one it would be difficult to perform a perfect run for quite a long time. 

Sure it's possible that you won't be interested in playing the game for that long. Maybe you prefer the later games for their additional features and abilities as well as longer game length. I on the other hand have always found the original Sonic to be the best game in the series. It is a phenomenal combination of arcade-style depth and a classic console platformer that is easy enough yet still entertaining for those days when I just don't feel like accomplishing anything.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - While the story hasn't changed much(Robotnik is being mean again) this entry marks the first appearance of Tails. He's the boy genius fox with his own plane and two tails. He's also an idiot and will bring you untold amounts of frustration in the bonus rounds...so dump him. Yeah I'll go ahead and say that I thought Tales was a terrible design decision. While he's certainly innovative in how well he manages to follow your every move he is for the most part useless and at times might even get you hurt. 

Unfortunately a lot of what I have to say about Sonic 2 involves extensive use of the word "disappointment"(also disappoint, disappointing, and disappointed). Take Tails out of the game and the unnecessary spin-dash and you have more or less the same game only with a greater variety of locales and yet less variety between them(oh and the new enemies and bosses for whatever that's worth). Maybe I will give this an in-depth look another time but for now I'll just say I wasn't impressed then and I'm certainly not impressed now.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3 - The biggest addition to this series is the fact that Tails is actually useful now....if you have a friend willing to play as him. Yes for once all of that flying he does can be put to your advantage by having him carry Sonic to parts unknown for a short time. Otherwise this game adds a bunch of other things like the ability to save your progress, a new character by the name of Knuckles(guess what's special about him), and some other things. I won't go too much into this game as it was merely a fraction of what would eventually become Sonic 3 & Knuckles(which will be the focus of a future blog update I assure you).

Sonic & Knuckles - This time you can play as Knuckles as well as Sonic. Saving however is gone. Not much else to say about this one and while I do hate to tease updates I have little choice as I don't currently have access to the full game.

Sonic Spinball - Seeing as how Sonic already bounces through some stages of his games like a pinball it was only natural that Sega would put out a game that plays more like Pinball than a traditional Sonic game. While some aspects are carried over(like having some control over Sonic's movement) most of your time will be spent bouncing through the large stages hitting targets, finding chaos emeralds, and taking out the boss at the end. 

I can't say I'm a Pinball fan but if I was in a room with a machine there's a good chance I'd play it. If I was in a room with Sonic Spinball however I wouldn't dare because I think it's terrible. Yes I'm well aware fans of this game exist but there's at least one fan for every bad Sonic game. Try it anyway though cause there's no harm in trying.

Sonic 3D Blast - Seeing as how the bird from Flicky cameos in Sonic The Hedgehog it seems natural that eventually there'd be a game where Sonic rescues Flickies in the same fashion that Flicky would rescue her chicks. It'd also be natural that this game would have an isometric perspective similar to games like Landstalker and Light Crusader(or the Sonic Arcade game we'll never get to play). Wait does any of this actually sound natural? No it doesn't. In fact I'm still not sure what the developers were thinking with this one, nothing seems to work well or even come together in a reasonable fashion. If you can get into it be my guest but even though I've played through it I still can't make heads or Tails(haha) of what's going on.

Streets of Rage - This would eventually become one of the better beatemup series of games. Unfortunately this game doesn't show it at all. While it was a good game for its time it wasn't anywhere near the league of games like Final Fight. It's simply too basic and dull.

Streets of Rage 2 - Aside from characters from the last game making an appearance you wouldn't even know this game had a prequel. First off there's an astonishing upgrade in well..everything! Graphics, sound, gameplay, mechanics, level design, everything has been taken several steps ahead to make quite a game. Many gamers think that this is the best game in the series and it's easy to see why.

The mechanics in this game are astounding. While you don't have a crouch or some other method of dodging attacks there are many indirect ways of avoiding damage. For example performing a suplex on someone while another person is throwing a punch or a projectile is a perfectly reasonable means of dodging the attack(basically anything that looks like it shouldn't hit you, won't hit you).

Unfortunately the biggest fault with this game is that on the higher difficulties the game just becomes frustrating. This is simply because some characters have moves that are neigh-invincible to your attacks and they will perform them instinctively whenever you try certain moves. Donovan has an uppercut that will take you out of the air with almost 100% success, Fat guys have an insanely good body splash as well as fire-breath. The fourth boss can get out of any combo or grab with a move you can't do anything against, and so on. On the higher difficulties this is done at such an extensive rate that in some scenarios(like an encounter late in the game with whip-girls, ninjas, and a conveyor belt) you'll be almost helpless just trying to land a hit since all three sides play off of each other so well.

But that's just me. Everyone else is perfectly happy with this game and even I enjoy the heck out of it. I just tend to become more nitpicky about great games and I'm more likely to seek out good qualities in poor games. 

Streets of Rage 3 - I won't mince words here. Sega of America butchered this game. It's not enough that they removed a mid-boss entirely(his design is obviously questionable but still we're supposed to be above that sort of thing today). They also felt the need to change the cast's default colors to more "gender-neutral" colors, completely ruin the difficulty balance, actually change up some of the mechanics, and generally try their damndest to screw up what is (IMO) the best game in the series.

I hate to be that guy but if you really want the best experience possible you have to get yourself a copy of the Japanese version aka Bare Knuckle 3. Granted I can't imagine you'll be terribly interested in paying $30 or more for a single game(especially one that requires a game genie, or a JPN region/modded console) but that's just how it is. BK3 introduces so many great features like a roll for evading attacks, the ability to control jumps while in mid-air, running as well as several new dash attacks, and some other things I'm probably forgetting. Couple all of that with some great level design and large numbers of thugs to punch in the face and you have what should have been a classic until Sega of America pissed all over it(and no greater evidence than Axel's urine-colored shirt to match). Of course BK3 is perhaps a bit too easy unless you're trying to get through it without getting hit, and most of the bosses are absolutely pathetic.

Super Thunder Blade - I always wonder why Sega releases these games that depend on scaling to deliver the full experience yet at the same time they're on hardware that just isn't capable of it without some insane programming(the later Genesis releases are a testament to that). Just because you're a fan of Choppers doesn't mean you should play this choppy game with choppy scrolling and choppy movement. You'll be sick of this one long before you manage to score enough points to get that achievement or trophy you're interested in.

Vectorman - Late in the 16-bit generation the big thing was rendered graphics. The first major title that implemented them was Rare's Donkey Kong Country and due to its success it was only natural that we'd see something similar on the Genesis. Rather than a platformer we get an action game. Vectorman is at war with pollution and that means destroying robots, fighting huge bosses, and exploring large levels with quite a bit of variety to them. 

If you were a Genesis owner back then and played pretty much everything that came out there probably wasn't a whole lot in Vectorman that you haven't already seen. In fact you might have been too busy eyeing the Saturn to even bother this game(like me). It's a shame because I regret missing out on this title the first time around as it is really good. It's not incredibly unique sure but it's as solid as anything else.

Vectorman 2 - Hey look another one of those disappointing sequels! Boy I sure haven't seen one of those before! You know how it goes, take everything that was good about the first game and don't even bother to build upon it. Sure you get new stages, enemies, and bosses but there's nothing there that makes it as good as let alone better than the original. For fun go look up screenshots of the titlescreens for both Vectorman 1 & 2. Honestly Sega have you no shame? Well I guess it doesn't matter anymore since any Sega fan knows the answer to that but I digress.

So there you go, now that you've had a taste you're ready to dive into the world of the Genesis. Will it be better or worse than what we've already seen? That I'm not sure about because quite frankly it's been years since I've touched a Genesis game outside of this collection and a few offerings on the Virtual Console. Should be an interesting read though hopefully.

VC Look: The Legend of Zelda 2: Adventures of Link

It's hard to say what prompted Adventures of Link to be developed. There were never any sequels in the same vein and most of the gameplay elements it introduced never saw another look in future Nintendo games. People typically refer to this game as the "black sheep" in the series but I see it more as the black sheep of Nintendo's entire library.

Princess Zelda is once again in trouble as she's been put under an eternal sleeping spell. Link takes up his trusty sword and shield to once again save the land from evil by taking six stones to ancient temples in order to reach the final area where the Triforce resides. That's probably not entirely accurate but story just wasn't important at all in the early Zelda games.

First thing you'll notice when you start this game is that it's a side-scroller. Link can jump, duck, strike with his sword, and moves left or right. However as soon as he leaves the initial starting area you discover that there's an overworld map. This is less Zelda and more Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. Straying off the path of the yellow road monsters appear in sets of three(blobs represent weaker encounters, demons are harder, and fairies are rare). Running into one of them drops Link back in the side-view mode, where he has to make his way to either of the ends of the area while evading/destroying monsters.

If that wasn't enough every foe Link kills doles out experience points. By gaining enough points Link can increase the level of his sword, health, or magic levels. Wait there's magic too? Certainly. Over the course of the game Link visits many towns which all house a wise-man who can teach him a spell. Wait...towns? As in more than one? Sure Link can talk to people for hints as well as restore his health and magic. So needless to say it's definitely a different game from the rest of the series. Link also has stock of a lives and can find additional ones by finding secret areas or gaining enough exp...yep.

Combat is one of the strengths of this game. While it is simplistic in that Link only has his sword & shield(no dozens of sub-weapons to play around with) they are both essential tools for survival. His sword is self-explanatory and due to its lack of range knowing when and where to strike is very important. The shield blocks most any melee attack or projectile but only when Link isn't stabbing with his sword. Both tools are simple to figure out and that's important because they're pretty much all you've got for the entirety of the game.

Spells in Zelda 2 are quite unique. Shield and healing spells improve your chances of survival, jump and fairy(which literally turns Link into a fairy, allowing him to fly up cliffs or through keyholes) assist your progress, Reflect, Thunder, and Spell you'll use once, and Fire(which lets you shoot fireballs to destroy certain enemies) probably won't get any use at all. A better spell would have been one that reveals secret areas on the map but I guess there's no use crying about it. Spells drain magic and by finding potions or leveling up his magic skill he can replenish it.

This brings me to one of the more interesting aspects of Zelda 2. Whenever you level-up you have the option of leveling whatever is currently available, or skipping it and saving the exp for something else. Early on you'll want to focus on leveling your sword so that enemies are easier to take out. However if you're low on life you could always put your next level-up towards health and get a free healing. This might not seem like a big deal but since running out of lives kicks you back to the start of the game(with all of your abilities and items intact of course) it's a tool that shouldn't be ignored. 

The dungeons are an extension of what you've faced in the various random encounters, caves, and so on. Your main focus in each of them is finding the place to set the stone(which is typically right after the boss-battle) and finding the magic item. The magic items serve as little more than "keys" as they're useful only for reaching new areas(like boots that let Link walk on water, a flute that's good for a couple instances, etc). The dungeons are filled with creatures that you won't find out in the wild(like Darknuts that are quite a feat to destroy until you master the jumping attack) and definitely more traps like collapsing bridges, falling blocks, enemies that steal your exp & magic, and so on. After completing a dungeon it turns to stone when you leave, preventing future access. It certainly gives a sense of finality to the whole affair. 

This game is quite challenging. Aside from tough foes the game provides quite a bit of platforming with the requisite "nearby enemies to knock you off into the fire". Aside from that this game can throw some serious endurance tests at you. Early on you have to face Death Mountain which for once lives up to its name by creating a maze of tunnels filled with axe-wielding croc-jerks and fiery pits. Late in the game you have to trudge through a field of what looks like magma. Here your overworld movement speed is slowed down and thus become an easy target for random-encounters(which include more lava to fall in). At least the developers were kind enough to allow players to restart from the final dungeon if they run out of lives in there. Then again considering the final dungeon is quite a bit longer than all of the prior ones it's just as well. Regardless this further confirms the black sheep aspect as for once there's a Zelda that isn't easy to complete.

The greatest aspect of this game is the mechanics. All of the fights are convincing and the recoil when attacks are deflecting is quite well done and can be quite useful when turned to your advantage(like pushing back enemies that are getting too close to create an opening). Furthermore the game doles out a very useful tool early on in the form of the downstab. By pressing down while jumping Link can stab anything below him. This is great for grabbing items, moving quickly past weak foes, and is important when dealing with certain enemies. Also Link has mild-control of his jumping, which allows him some leeway if he accidentally makes a jump that'll land him in some trouble. It seems quite odd that Nintendo didn't even do similar games to this one let alone sequels because it's obvious everything was quite well-designed.

Zelda 2 is quite a popular game with the speedrunning community. For one learning how and when to level-up saves the player from having to grind for experience and by timing their movements on the world map they can avoid running into lots of encounters. Mastering when to level-up can exceptionally important since when you complete a dungeon you're always rewarded just enough exp to gain a level(so for best results you want to gain enough exp when you beat the boss to gain one level, then gain another level when you complete the dungeon). Manipulating this system can make for some interesting results. Also while the items that increase the player's health and magic are quite useful they also can be located a ways off the path. Interestingly enough the magic ones tend to be closer to where you need to go(which is important because you need magic to finish the game, health...well not really since you could just not get hit). Also while it is a risky move since you could potentially get stuck players can use the fairy spell to get through keyholes and thus skip entire sections of dungeons(since they wouldn't need to find a key). It's quite cool that Nintendo would know to implement such features in their games(even if some of them are not entirely intentional like the trick to skip straight to the final area in Metroid) for a small though very dedicated community. 

When I first bought a Wii and accessed the Virtual Console The Legend of Zelda was my first purchase. This game was my second and for good reason because I think it's a very unique and great title. If you ignored it the first time around because you thought all Zeldas should play out in the exact same fashion you would do well to consider rectifying that. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sega Vintage Collection Volume 2 arriving this June.

Sega has a knack for timing don't they? I announce that I'm going to start doing Genesis updates for this blog and they announce their next wave of XBox Live Arcade titles that consist (mostly) of Genesis games. Aside from the usual features like a variety of video options to make the games look worse than usual I figure there will also be online co-op(with bad net-code), leaderboards(ruined by cheating), and achievements(free 200 points...woo). All games will be 400 points($5..or however that works out in your country). 

Gunstar Heroes - June 10 -  I will pick this game up as I've sold off my Treasure Box version(Japan-only PS2 compilation of Gunstar, Alien Soldier, and Dynamite Headdy) and it's $3 cheaper than the Virtual Console release. At that time I will provide my review of it.  Good game btw but I'm sure everyone here already knows that. Oddly enough this is the only Vintage release that's also seeing a version on the Playstation Network.

Altered Beast - June 10 - This is based on the arcade version and there's not much else I can say about it. Great for the fans but ehhhh no not for me.

Shinobi (arcade) - June 10 - Thankfully even the  biggest cheaters will be hard-pressed to get the highest possible score in this game because there's so many secret ways to score huge points one would need quite a guide to find them all. Maybe Backbone(the company who  produces these re-releases) will have the foresight to disable save/reload states in order to access leaderboards but I highly doubt it. Still a classic game at least.

Comix Zone - June 10 - Still a worthwhile game if you're not planning on buying one of the many compilations it's already available on and/or you need the achievements.

Phantasy Star 2 - June 10 - In Japan Sega did a special re-release of all four Phantasy Star games for the PS2. This collection provided near-exact reproductions of the games while adding a number of note-worthy features like faster walking speed, increased exp/money gain, and a wealth of bonus features. In fact since this release(and other similar ones) contains all available regions of every game you could get all of these great options combined with a game that's playable in english. Why doesn't somebody consider adding in all of these features for any of the western-released compilations? They could even tack on a premium for it. Oh well. 

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - June 10 - I'll be covering this game on part 3 of my SUGC look. It's a decent enough game but still to this day I prefer the first Sonic the Hedgehog over the entire rest of the series. With that out of the way expect another free 200 achievement points(Well maybe not free...it still costs $5 to buy the game).

Sonic and Knuckles - Late Summer 2009 - While this and Sonic 3 are available on SUGC it should be noted that Sega/Backbone didn't allow gamers to combine Sonic 3 with S&K to get Sonic 3 & Knuckles(which is pretty much the ultimate edition that creates one large game with additional areas and secrets). Thankfully(?) If you buy this release you can combine it with Sonic 3 XBLA to get Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Yeah figures they'd do that to score a few extra bucks off someone. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Playstation 1, 2, and 3

Here are the games I've looked at thus far for Playstation systems.
Breath of Fire 3
Breath of Fire 4
Final Fantasy XII
Shinobi 2002
Gradius Gaiden
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter
Under The Skin
Evergrace
Samurai Western
Eternal Ring
Nanobreaker
Urban Reign
Way of the Samurai 1
Crimson Tears
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land
Jumping Flash! 2
Tsukiyo Ni Saraba (10,000 Bullets)
King's Field: The Ancient City
Nightshade
Silpheed: The Lost Planet
Crimson Sea 2
Rygar
Drakengard
Gaia Seed
SMT: Devil Summoner 2
Gradius V
Final Fantasy 7
Sega Classics Collecction
Gunners Heaven


Playstation 3

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
Ridge Racer 7
3D Dot Game Heroes
Killzone 2
Disgaea 3
God of War 1 & 2 Collection
Infamous
Littlebigplanet
Sengoku Basara 3: Samurai Heroes
Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
Just Cause 2

PSP

Tactics Ogre
Half Minute Hero
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Virtual Console

These are the games on Nintendo's Virtual Console service that I have looked at so far.

Lords of Thunder

Axelay

Super Mario World

Metroid - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Bonk's Revenge

Secret of Mana

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda 2 : The Adventures of Link

Super Metroid

Alien Soldier

Landstalker

Wonder Boy In Monster World

Cho-Aniki

Space Harrier II

Neutopia 1 & 2

Pulseman

Super Air Zonk

Revenge of Shinobi

Final Fight 3

Nintendo DS & Gameboy Advance

Here are links to all of the Nintendo DS and Gameboy Advance games I've looked at thus far.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2

Legend of Kage 2

Metroid Fusion

Double Dragon Advance

Klonoa: Empire of Dreams

Mazes of Fate (GBA version)

Gunstar Super Heroes

Etrian Odyssey 2

Retro Game Challenge

Dreamcast

Here are links to all of the Dreamcast games I've looked at.

Bangai-O

OutTrigger

Spawn: In the Demon's Hand

Illbleed

D2

Confidential Mission

Death Crimson OX

Sonic Adventure 2

Brief: Record of Lodoss War, Shenmue, Blue Stinger, Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm, and Seventh Cross Evolution.

Sega Genesis

Here are links to all of the Genesis games I've looked at so far.

Genesis games you should never play

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection part 1
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection part 2
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection part 3

Alien Soldier
Landstalker
Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion
Space Harrier II
Socket
Ghostbusters
Trouble Shooter
Gaiares
Fatal Rewind
Tiny Toons: Buster's Hidden Treasure
Wings of Wor
Galahad
Ranger-X
Wonder Boy In Monster World
Fire Shark
Contra: Hard Corps
Alisia Dragoon
Revenge of Shinobi
Rocket Knight Adventures

Arcade Appreciation

Here are links to every Arcade game I've looked at so far on this blog and elsewhere.

Atari

Centipede
Asteroids Deluxe

Banpresto

Denjin Makai 2 : The Guardians

Capcom

Great Arcade game # 11 - Black Tiger
King of Dragons
Capcom Classic Collection volume 1 part 1
Capcom Classic Collection volume 1 part 2
Capcom Classic Collection volume 2 part 1
Capcom Classic Collection volume 2 part 2
U N Squadron
The Punisher
Final Fight Double Impact (oh and Magic Sword too)

Cave

Akai Katana
Mushihime-sama Futari
ESP Galuda 2
Deathsmiles IIX
Deathsmiles
Guwange
Dodonpachi Resurrection & Black Label

Data East

Sly Spy
Boogie Wings aka The Great Ragtime Show
Crude Buster
Night Slashers
Caveman Ninja
Other games

Irem

Blade Master
Undercover Cops
Air Duel
Gun Force 2
Other games

Jaleco

Konami

XEXEX
Shao-Lin's Road
Detana!! Twinbee
X-men

Midway

Midway Arcade Treasures volume 1 part 1
Midway Arcade Treasures volume 1 part 2
Midway Arcade Treasures volume 1 part 3
Great Arcade game # 4 - Smash TV
Great Arcade game # 5 - Robotron 2084

Namco

Namco Virtual Arcade Museum part 1
Namco Virtual Arcade Museum part 2
Pacman & MsPacman
Deadstorm Pirates
Time Crisis 4

NEO GEO

Shock Troopers
Sega

D.D. Crew
Great Arcade game # 1 - Crazy Taxi
Great Arcade game # 8 - Ghost Squad
Daytona USA
Daytona USA: Power Edition
Dynamite Cop
Great Arcade game # 7 - Outrun 2: Special Tours
Great Arcade game # 9 - Shinobi
Afterburner Climax
House of the Dead 3 & 4
Other Games

Seibu

Raiden IV
Dynamite Duke
Great Arcade games # 12 - Raiden Fighters series

SNK

Top Hunter
Twinkle Star Sprites
Great Arcade game # 6 - Metal Slug 3

Taito

Crime City
Cadash
The Ninja Warriors
Warrior Blade
Taito Legends 1 part 1
Metal Black
Rastan
Puchi Carat
Nastar
Growl
Darius Gaiden
Don Doko Don
The Fairyland Story
Great Arcade game # 3 - Elevator Action Returns
Great Arcade game # 2 - Raimais
Great Arcade game # 10 - Cameltry
Bubble Bobble

Toaplan

Wardner
Twin Cobra

Odds and Ends

Radiant Silvergun
Shikigami No Shiro aka Castle of Shikigami 3
Chaos Field, Radilgy, and Karous

3DO

Here are links to all of the 3DO games I've looked at so far.

Star Wars Rebel Assault and Blade Force.

Shockwave

Out of This World

This page will be updated as new reviews come in.

Pardon this mess

The site is going to be a bit messy for awhile as I'm trying to re-organize everything for easier access. I apologize for any inconvenience

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Part 2

Gain Ground - This arcade port is a very interesting one. It seems the designers were going for something really unique when they developed this game. The game has an overhead view and is divided into a ton of stages that are one screen in length. Most of the enemies(some like to hide until you get close) are on-screen and you start by selecting the hero you want to bring into battle. The object is to either kill all of the enemies or have every one of your heroes reach the exit. If a hero is hit by an enemy they are "captured" and another hero must rescue them and exit the battle. At times there are captured heroes already in the battle when you begin. Rescuing these guys will add to your army.

Your army consists of around twenty different characters with varying stats and abilities. All of them have access to a more traditional attack which fires a bullet in whatever direction they're facing. Their secondary ability however is unique and involves attacks like spears that reach high places(for enemies standing on top of walls), grenades(enemies behind cover of course), boomerangs(which cover different ranges), and so on and so forth. Making the most of your army's abilities is where most of your success will come from. This is a very slow-paced game compared to most other arcade titles and you'll quickly discover mere reflexes will not get you far.

This is not a game for everyone and if you're not playing for score you'll probably find it repetitive and dull. Regardless it's a fascinating game well worth studying.

Golden Axe I through III - There's really not much to say about these games. There's the evil Death Adder, a group of heroes seeking revenge, hack'n'slash action, and for the most part really poor gameplay.

The worst thing you can do in a beatemup or hack'n'slash is drag out the regular encounters. Sure bosses will always require your full attention and skills but everyone you face beforehand should be relatively simple to take down. It's only through their sheer force of numbers that your endurance will eventually fade and your character will die. Golden Axe ignores this ideal and makes even the smallest fight something that requires serious effort. This is mainly because enemies have a lot of health and thus take a long time to kill. Couple that with their ability to pull some nasty combos(particularly the skeletons) and most fights are spent constantly positioning and manipulating the movement of the thugs so that you can take them out. All of the thrill of crushing skulls is quickly lost when you're spending most of your time getting the bad guys into a spot where they can't surround you.

Another problem is that your enemy tends to have the advantage in terms of reach. If you both meet head-on the enemy more than likely the enemy will get the first strike because they can reach farther with their attacks. Again this just means that more time is spent positioning so that you can enter from a better angle. This eventually becomes mind-numbing. 

While part II is actually a good improvement(and my pick for best of the Genesis games), part III manages to be even worse than the first game. Though a number of abilities were added to the cast to make them more versatile it doesn't mean much when the enemy has become more reactive to whatever you do. Ever play Mortal Kombat against the computer and got frustrated as they had a counter for every move you tried? Well picture that applied to a hack'n'slash. Some enemies will jump over your every attack and immediately respond with one of their own. Even if you get past that you'll discover not much has changed. 

Revenge of Death Adder is at least a good game though it suffers severely from character balance. Unfortunately somehow Sega never got around to porting this title to any console. Some would say the combat has been dumbed-down as there are more enemies on-screen and it's easier to beat them up but I say it's what the Golden Axe games should have been doing from the start.

Kid Chameleon - I'm sure you're familiar with Super Mario Bros. 3 and its use of suits to grant Mario special powers like better swimming, flight, throwing hammers, or turning into a statue. Well take that concept and turn the knob all the way to the right and you have Kid Chameleon. There's a hot new videogame in the arcades but everytime somebody loses they get trapped in it forever. It's up to the hottest gamer around to journey through over 100 stages to save them all.

Now I say over 100 stages but your likelihood of playing through all of them in a single sitting is slim to none. Kid Chameleon is an extremely non-linear game as it features multiple paths, secret warps, and so many ways to get through the game(though you're likely to stumble upon a handful of the same stages in each playthrough, mainly ones that involve boss-fights).

Utilizing a side-view with multi-scrolling levels the gameplay will become instantly familiar to platformer fans. As the hero seeks out the flag to end the stage(or runs into a warp on the way) he can jump and run with the best of them. He's fairly easy to control except when you gain too much momentum and accidentally sail over the enemy you're trying to jump on. The enemies are numerous and gain in speed and power over the course of the game. Unless the hero can locate a helmet he can only take two hits before dying.

The helmets are essential to progress in Kid Chameleon as they are usually doled out when specific situations arise. Many of them are useful for merely defeating foes(like the Samurai, Axe-Murderer, and so on) but others are actually required for progress(Knights can climb walls, flies are small and stick to walls, Helmet for flying, and so on). The nice thing about these helmets is that they can take three hits(five if you're a knight) before you're reduced to plain hero again. 

Kid Chameleon is a very challenging game since not only are you expected to get through a fairly long game with a lot of different paths but you have to do it with a limited number of lives and continues. Both are plentiful in the numerous secrets throughout the stages but can be lost just as easily. Aside from the usual causes of death like falling into a pit or getting hit by an enemy you can also get crushed in a variety of ways, get mangled by the "wall of death" in a handful of stages(platformer-trope: a giant wall tied to an auto-scrolling stage where you must stay ahead while a combination of obstacles attempts to slow you down), and a time-limit that can hardly be ignored.

Kid Chameleon offers a lot of score-based rewards for masterful playing. Bonus points for beating the level under a certain time are expected but you also get bonuses for not getting hit, not picking up any items, and so on. While not all stages can be beaten without items it's still a very neat idea that the developers spent at least some time working with. It's especially good since on replays gamers can work on the stages they've completed before in new and more challenging ways to better prep themselves for the harder stages they might have gotten stuck at before. 

While some might have gotten sick of Kid Chameleon showing up on every Sega compilation around I think it holds up quite well and is still one of the better platformers available for the system. Definitely put some time into it.

Phantasy Star II - The second game in the Phantasy Star series takes place over a thousand years after the first game. On the planet Motavia(which is supposed to be nothing but desert) the enigmatic Mother Brain controls the climate and ecosystem, creating a near-utopia for the people living there. Unfortunately the presence of monsters and other bad things has led to you being sent out to investigate and hopefully figure it all out. Unfortunately nothing goes right but at least you still get a decent RPG out of the deal.

If you're a fan of RPGs and have never played a Phantasy Star before I recommend going straight to the 4th game first. The reason behind this is Phantasy Star 2 is not a friendly game. Your first couple hours are most likely going to be spent gathering exp and money(grinding) just to survive the first couple dungeons. Enemies hit hard, tend to attack first, and leave little in the way of reward for your trouble. 

The method of progression is pretty standard for an RPG. While you spend most of your time exploring the planets and their many dungeons you can also visit a handful of towns to procure their goods and services(hospitals, equipment shops, and so on). Also by visiting most towns a new party member will arrive at your house. As expected they all have varying stats & abilities as well as access to different equipment. Some party-members are better for particular stretches of the game while others are more likely to stick to your party throughout the game.

Like the other Genesis PS games exploration is handled entirely by an overhead view. In a frustrating bit of design the game-screen doesn't stay centered when you move around. This means that if you're moving forward you'll see more of what's behind you than what's ahead of you. This is alleviated somewhat after you leave a random battle as the game-screen is centered(course then you'll realize you've reached a dead-end). 

The dungeons are without a doubt the hardest part of Phantasy Star 2. Even the first dungeon has multiple floors and it is pretty long. From there the dungeons only grow larger and more complex, with tougher monsters filling the hallways. While there's a bit of linearity to them you'll more than likely find yourself running into several dead-ends without so much as a treasure chest for your trouble. Thankfully items for getting out of dungeons instantly are easily available and a large stock of life-restoring dimates can get you pretty far. After you get out of the initial grind you'll discover that most of the levels you gain will be due to getting lost in dungeons for extended periods of time. It's a different kind of wandering in circles sure but it's better than wandering around a nearby town for experience. That said unless you're really having trouble beating this game in less than thirty hours should be quite possible. There are only three boss-fights in the entire game and you'll be more than prepared for all of them when the time comes. 

The game is unbalanced somewhat by the appearance of re-usable items in the latter half of the game. You'll come across a piece of equipment that drops damage for all party members by a substantial amount(provided you use it when every battle starts) and at least one item that casts Gires(a mid-tier healing spell) for every party member. Between these items you'll quickly discover that with enough patience you can become near-invincible to most encounters. You can choose to ignore these particular tools at your own peril but personally I wouldn't have finished the game without them. 

Like I said if you just want to play a Phantasy Star game stick with part 4. If you want a challenging RPG with lots of dungeons to get hopelessly lost in then check out part 2. 

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom - Considering how much of a classic part 2 was when it came out there was quite a bit of anticipation for this game(so I imagine). Unfortunately this game didn't turn out well at all. 

A young man is about to marry but at the ceremony his bride-to-be is whisked away by what looks to be a dragon. The simple "rescue the princess" story becomes much more when we soon discover that they don't live happily ever after and it will take a couple generations of heroes to solve the problems of the land.

Not much has changed from the last game. There's the overworld, towns, dungeons, and an overhead view for everything. Dungeons are several times easier than in the last game as they're much shorter and more linear. To add to that the battles are also easier and the party levels much faster. 

The most unique aspect of this game is that when the player reaches certain points in the game they can choose which woman they want to marry. This results in different children with different abilities as well as different paths in the story. This is done twice throughout the course of the game and can result in a number of different endings(which sensibly explains why it's even shorter than Phantasy Star 2) . Unfortunately you're still going to go through the same particular quests and encounter certain bosses(making some paths far too similar).

I'm not usually one to pick on the aesthetics in a game but Phantasy Star 3 re-uses a ton of content. When you explore dungeons you're likely to see either caves or futuristic tunnels. All of the towns look the same except maybe the houses are moved around, many of the enemies are re-colors of one another, and so on. Unless you're really interested in the story there's not much to see beyond the first couple hours. 

Phantasy Star 3 is unfortunately a bit of a failure as a game. While it gets all of the basics down it's very clear that this title suffered from an awful development phase and didn't get the time it deserved to be made into a great game. I guess that's part of the reason why it's not a challenging game as if it actually tried to take any risks it'd fall apart entirely. 

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium - This game is a return to form and is my pick for best of the series. Taking place another thousand years after everything the player finds themselves back on Motavia(which is a desert again after the fall of Mother Brain) in control of two bounty hunters. Before long(again this game could be done in less than 30 hours) one of these bounty hunters will go on to lead a party of heroes to destroy Dark Force and save the universe.

Like the other games PSIV has the towns, dungeons, overhead view, and all of that other stuff. The biggest difference however is that exploration is fast. The party moves very quickly and even the longest dungeon feels relatively short compared to the shortest dungeon in Phantasy Star 2. Couple this with varying dungeons and almost constant changes of location and it's like the developers have condensed all of the good in Phantasy Star without sacrificing the reputation it has gained. Though the dungeons feel shorter they still provide a good challenge through the large variety of foes. Boss fights are more frequent and the battle system has been augmented with some important changes that make everything more interesting and require a greater usage of tactics from the player.

I haven't talked about the battle system in prior Phantasy Star games because there isn't much to talk about. Battles usually consisted of fight, heal, and using the strongest available techs for bosses. In PSIV however techs outside of healing are more useful. Also all of the party members have access to their own unique skills. Typically these are damage-based and can only be used a limited number of times. By using a combination of certain skills and techs in battle they can lead to special attacks that do great damage. Throughout the game these can be discovered and are quite useful. Along with everything else it's pretty clear that PSIV has the best combat in the series.

This is one of the best RPGs on the Sega Genesis so there's little reason why you shouldn't check this one out if you buy this compilation.

Ristar - This is one game I never really got the appeal of. It's a popular title among Genesis fans and I can see why as it's well-made with a strong concept, varied level-design, and a solid understanding of mechanics but I just could never really get into it. 

Ristar is a young star who soars across the galaxy to save planets from evil. His main source of attack is his head(thankfully he doesn't throw it at bad guys like everyone else). Instead Ristar grabs enemies with his long & stretchy arms and gives them a devastating head-butt. Obviously since this is a platformer Ristar does more than head-butt things into oblivion. In order to complete the stages as well as discover their many secrets Ristar has to use his stretchy arms to climb walls, swing on tree branches, swim, and find special posts that with enough momentum allow him to soar into the air for a short time. As usual bosses await at the end of every world. 

Maybe another time I'll give it the serious effort it deserves as it's really quite good.

Shining Force - While today we have more S-RPGs than we could possibly stand back in the Genesis days there wasn't much to work with. Outside of Warsong(more commonly known as Langrisser, which is a Japan-only long running series of SRPGs) and maybe a couple of other titles all we had was Shining Force. It's the standard tale of good vs evil but it's played out over the course of several 12 against many battle.

Although the bulk of the game is spent in combat you still visit towns to buy weapons, get information, and possibly recruit some new characters to the Force(there's also a tactics room where you can organize your combat party). There's some light wandering around overworlds but really not much in the way of exploration. 

Combat is handled in a strict "my turn, your turn" fashion. Depending on the agility ratings of everyone involved all of the combatants will make their turn in that order. Winning is as simple as defeating all of the enemies or their leader. Losing is equally simple since all the Force leader has to do is get killed. Thankfully Max(the Hero & Force leader) is pretty adept at fighting and has access to a useful spell that teleports the party instantly out of combat(if they're at a severe disadvantage or they just want to grind).

When two opposing forces are close enough and one chooses to attack(through melee or otherwise) the game takes on a side-view close-up of both characters as they go through the animations. While some SRPGs don't care for the animations and just want a text message stating how the attack went these go by quickly so they're not much of a bother. 

While Shining Force isn't nearly as deep as some of its contemporaries there's still a number of aspects to keep tabs on. First off while there are only twelve slots in the Force there are over twice as many characters to choose from. Sure the Hero will always take one space but finding the proper combination of fighters, healers, archers, spell-casters, and hybrids for the Force is worth figuring out. On the field one has to note the terrain they're on when they make their move. A defense bonus is granted under certain types of terrain(like forest or mountains) but flying characters can't use it. Some types of characters get a bonus against other types(like archers have the advantage over flying units). It's not much but they're still factors worth considering.

Unfortunately the game is held back by the poor enemy AI and slow-cursor speed. Since a cursor is used throughout combat and automatically moves between characters as they make their turns it can be a bit of an annoyance. Fortunately this isn't particularly noticeable unless you've played Shining Force 2 first(which has an increased cursor-speed). The enemy AI is rather poor. For the most part their movements are scripted and they tend to do some very idiotic things like not target weak party members and even not target anyone at all. This makes the game easier for the wrong reasons and can be rather jarring(because you'll be planning your movements in expectation of the enemy doing a certain move and they do something entirely random). Thankfully this is much-improved in the sequel.

Shining Force 2 - This sequel improves on the original in every way. First off it's longer, with a better-realized overworld that actually rewards exploration(there are many secret items and even a secret town to be found). Secondly the AI has gotten a substantial boost and seems to have been programmed to always seek out the best possible scenario in combat(they'll always target the weakest party member in range). To add to this difficulty settings are included which give the enemies boosted stats as well as give them better chances of scoring critical hits, multiple hits, and counter-attacks. Even without these the game is still a greater challenge than the first Shining Force and it'll require a better understanding of the tactics introduced in the first game to survive this sequel. All in all this is a really good SRPG. It's still not as deep or compelling as something like Final Fantasy Tactics or one of the Nippon-Ichi titles but it's certainly easier to pick up and less time is required to get the most out of it.

Shining In the Darkness - If you're the kind of person who just wants to explore a large grid-based dungeon in first-person and not have to fool around with superfluous things such as multiple towns, a storyline, and memorable characters this is the RPG for you. A really bad guy decides to capture the princess for nefarious reasons and it's up to a young fighter, mage, and cleric to save the day. While the dungeon doesn't offer much in the way of visuals it's definitely large and confusing. The only frustrating aspect of this game is that there's no auto-map. I guess you could just use some grid-paper but even with all the time I spent on older PC-RPGs like The Bard's Tale series I never got around to figuring that stuff out. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection part 1

In preparation for introducing the Genesis next month I feel it's necessary to talk about this release for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Unlike Nintendo, Sega has no qualms about putting out quite a bit of their content out through inexpensive compilations as well as other avenues like the Virtual Console. This makes it easier for gamers who might have missed the Genesis(whether by not being alive then or sticking to the Super Nintendo) to still play a portion of its library and to gauge whether they'd be interested in buying the actual system. On the other hand maybe Sega thinks that fans of the Collection will consider buying the Virtual Consoles releases which are better emulated and/or the "Vintage Collection" versions with more extras. 

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection consists of 40 Genesis games and 9 games from both their Master System and the Arcade. The emulation is definitely an improvement over the last release for the PS2 & PSP and the front-end is also substantially better. The game offers a handful of visual modes including one for HDTV-owners but most gamers will and should leave it at the default setting. The extras aside from the hidden games are the same as in the last compilation(same interviews and everything) and aren't worth bothering with. Overall while not flawless this collection is solid in terms of visual and audio quality.

The games are the same as they've ever been. The classics have remained classics while lower-quality titles have only gotten worse. Like any other generation a number of the games featured in this set were only as good as what was out at the time, so when better options became available these games were no longer worthwhile. There are even a few stinkers that weren't even good at the time they came out, making them nothing more than curiousities and not worth a serious investment of time.

There are a handful of classics(IMO) in this compilation that I will go over in greater detail in the future. Any game that doesn't fall into this classification you can consider "looked at"and that will be all I'll ever say about them.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle - Before Sonic the Hedgehog Sega's mascot was a boy who enjoyed rice-cakes and played janken(rock, paper, scissors). Alex Kidd was huge on the Sega Master System and had many games(most consider Miracle World the best). Naturally an Alex Kidd game was released on the Genesis and it is terrible. Many years ago when I could only afford to rent games I tolerated Enchanted Castle because I couldn't stand playing through Sonic 1 or James Pond yet again. These days I have the freedom to play almost anything I want and it makes the awfulness in Enchanted Castle that much more apparent.

This game is your standard platformer fare. You punch/jumpkick foes, collect money to play janken to win prizes, and then face off against bosses at the end of most stages(in a game of janken of course). Fighting in this game is a futile effort. Since Alex Kidd dies in a single hit a missed punch or jump-kick is too costly and better off relegated to a last-ditch method to escape death. While the punch has at least some range the jump-kick is absolutely atrocious. It would have been so much simpler to have Alex Kidd simply jump on his foes or better yet re-design the game so it actually didn't lead to death if you weren't 100% on the mark. Controlling Alex outside of combat is just as bad. Movement feels slippery and makes getting around a chore. The level-design isn't much better as most of the time it consists of a straight-line and you'll be too busy searching for hidden areas(which are usually found by jump-kicking the ground) to really bother with the dull levels. 

By winning at Janken you can collect items for use throughout the stage(like a helicopter, motorcycle, a much-needed projectile weapon, etc) but to be honest I'm through trying to give this game a thorough review. It's ancient, awful, and I've wasted more than enough time talking about it. Unless you absolutely need that achievement or trophy do not bother with this game at all. 

Alien Storm - One of the benefits the Genesis had at the time was that arcade-ports were quite a bit more accurate than they were on the 8-bit systems. Granted the graphics and sound took a noticeable hit but for the most part they looked and played just like the arcade version. Alien Storm is one such game and it's a hack'n'slash whose closest cousin is Golden Axe. You select from three characters, a man, a woman, and a dwarf...okay actually a robot. Alone or with a friend you have to defeat the alien menace.

The difference between a hack'n'slash and a beatemup is that beatemups have always been more aggressive. In a hack'n'slash you have to play defensively and know your enemies in order to survive. Alien Storm is no different here as most of the time you're positioning yourself and manipulating the enemy's movement to keep from getting surrounded while you wear down your foes. Aside from a large assortment of weapons(that are all tied to a single button and are context-sensitive depending on how close you are to an enemy when you attack) you can dash, roll, and even jump. Some of these are necessary for conserving energy as without it your attacks are severely weakened. Also for a substantial cost of energy you can summon a special attack that damages everything on-screen.

In many of the stages the game mixes things up by introducing first-person areas that resemble gun games like Operation Wolf. Controlling a cursor you lay waste to scores of enemies(and everything else in sight) to find more energy and health-kits. It's an interesting break from the rest of the game and not much else.

While on the whole I prefer this game to the Golden Axe series(outside of Revenge of Death Adder, which never saw a home-port) I still think it suffers from a couple issues. The most major one is the bossfights. There are a couple throughout the game but they consist of one foe who has multiple forms. Why not take that guy and spread his multiple forms out to other stages? It's poor game design to have no major encounters for a few stages and then suddenly you're spending ten minutes on one boss. Plus you're most likely to run out of energy here so in order to damage him you have to do the rolling attack for a long period of time. The game picks up again after that but that's where the other problem rolls in. The final stage is a maze. A maze in an arcade hack'n'slash? Give me a break. Note to developers...don't ever do this.

Altered Beast - This was the title that launched with the Genesis. Many gamers are familiar with this title but they also want nothing to do with it because it's simply not very good. Zeus awakens a warrior from the dead to rescue his daughter from Hades. This involves punching & kicking through scores of enemies while grabbing the powerups, becoming the beast, beating the boss, and repeating for 5 stages.

The game takes place on a single plane where foes approach from both directions and the screen is almost constantly auto-scrolling. Your main target is flashing wolves that drop power-ups when they're defeated. Grab 1 power-up and you gain in strength, 2 grants even more strength, and 3 turns you into a beast. The beast form is different for each stage(though the fifth form is merely a palette swap of the first) but you don't get much time to play with it as the next time you run into Hades you have to fight the boss of the stage. If you're not in beast-form when you meet Hades you have to continue the level(and since the levels loop you could potentially be stuck forever if you stink at killing wolves). The boss-fights are your standard huge beasts with lots of projectiles(except oddly enough for the final) and after defeating them you get a score bonus for how fast you reached Hades(maximum points for having beast-form by the first time you run into him).

While the game is designed well enough and aspects like the punches and kicks are sensible and necessary the main failing is in the mechanics. After being knocked down you have no recovery period so if an enemy attacks as you get up you're going down again. This tends to be quite frustrating for some bosses. The clincher however is that this game really has no depth. There's no techniques for scoring better and since you gain substantially more points for finishing the stages quickly there's little reason to continue playing and putting yourself at risk. More than likely however is that you'll get bored with the game long before any of that. It makes sense why Altered Beast was a launch-title as it's good for little more than showing off the possibilities of the system.

Beyond Oasis - A young prince finds an ancient golden armlet and to save his land he must gain control of four spirits and use their powers to defeat the wielder of the silver armlet. While some would consider this title a Zelda clone, Beyond Oasis differentiates itself by taking on elements of a beatemup and putting a bit more emphasis on action & platforming over puzzle-solving(though there's a bit of that as well). 

I'll go ahead and get this out of the way. The soundtrack in this game is bad..really bad. It was composed by Yuzo Koshiro who is also responsible for classic works like Actraiser and Streets of Rage 2. Obviously he has the range and the talent but he does things with the Genesis soundchip that simply don't work. An unfortunate number of people will not get past the music and actually ignore this game and it is quite sad because I believe this title is an absolute classic.

Bonanza Bros. - I've never been a fan of stealth games. For one my introduction to the genre was the terrible Metal Gear 1 for the NES and it only got worse when in the Playstation 1 and beyond-age developers decided to put the "obligatory stealth-level" into every one of their forgettable titles. In the end there are maybe a handful of stealth games I actually enjoy.

Bonanza Bros. just happens to be one of them. This port of an arcade game follows two burglars who break into a variety of locales to steal valuables, avoid or knock-out the guards, and escape to the roof to progress. The game uses a dual-screen setup to imply that two-players should play for maximum enjoyment and each level is broken up by various rooms and filled with an assortment of policemen, security guards, SWAT members, and so on.

The stealth part comes in because most of the time these guys can't even see you. It's only when you get in their line of sight that they'll come after you. So by shooting your knock-out gun, smashing them with a nearby door, or even using a few traps you can evade them and get to the treasure. If you're spotted they'll flip out, chase you down, and start shooting...which makes your job more difficult. When you're hit you lose a life and all of the loot you picked up(giving your friend a chance to scoop it up).

Unlike other stealth games the developers decided to play up more unrealistic and therefore more fun aspects. To start with the various guards have no concept of peripheral vision. Thus these guards can only see what is straight ahead of them. Since the levels don't take place on a single plane it's easy to walk around guards as they turn and they'll never even notice your presence. Sure you could simply shoot them but there are instances where that isn't possible(like maybe there are other nearby guy guards that'll see you if you don't get moving). This makes for more interesting challenges and allows players to work on getting through the stages faster and thus collecting a larger time bonus. All in all this is a very underrated title and I really think you should check it out.

Columns - Though this series has pretty much been abandoned in favor of Puyo-Puyo some Sega fans still recall the days of yore when this game was popular. Columns is a "falling-block" style puzzle game(like Tetris) where you drop an assortment of colored jewels unto a playing field and match them up in lines of three. Upon matching up, the jewels disappear and you get points. As you play the game speeds up the rate at which jewels fall until you can no longer control them as they'll stack up and eventually lead to the end of your game.

The depth from this game comes from the player's ability to set up combos. When jewels disappear surrounding jewels will fall into their place, and depending the set-up other lines of jewels will disappear creating a combo. While this is good for clearing space it's mainly for scoring. Since jewels must be aligned horizontally, vertically, or diagonally there is little margin for error and it's difficult to "accidentally" get combos. 

While Columns has been rendered obsolete by newer titles there's probably no harm in spending some time with it. There's always some addictive quality to a game in the falling-block genre.

Comix Zone - Here's a unique one. A young comic-book artist is captured by one of his creations and trapped literally in the pages of his work. Each stage is actually a page out of a comic book as the player beats up foes, solves puzzles, and jumps between the panels. 

The main character is capable of a rather impressive array of moves including some simple combos. This is important as many of his fights are one-on-one and his foes will start to defend themselves and counter-attack if he attempts the same attacks one too many times(blocked attacks also tend to cost him health). Each stage strikes a healthy balance between puzzle-solving and fighting, and even offers multiple paths for minor replay value. The player can also hold three items(though one slot will almost always be held by his pet rat, who is very useful for solving puzzles and finding secrets). These run the usual gamut of healing & destruction and are self-explanatory. 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game is its comic-book concept. This is actually quite unique in the design of the game as since the players can see the surrounding panels they can somewhat predict what the next area will hold. Larger panels are more likely to hold dangerous foes while smaller ones might traps to get around or maybe an item or two. It's certainly an interesting take on games that feel it necessary to tell you what you're likely to run into next as you progress. Comix Zone is also a bit of a challenge as you only have one life to work with and despite having a long health meter it's easy to chew through if you don't know what you're doing.

Sega is apt to put this game on almost every compilation they release but I guess they have good reason for it as this game is quite well-done. 

Decap Attack starring Chuck D. Head - I uh...oh God. Seriously this is the title of the game. Really now who greenlit this one? Anyway Decapattack is a very odd game. First off it's the Western version of the Mega-drive's Magical Turban Adventure. For some reason Sega decided to remake the graphics to something completely disturbing yet keep everything else intact. As Chuck you go through the levels jumping, floating, using potions to gain special powers, and smacking your head against anything that tries to get in your way. 

As far as platformers go there is little this game does exceptionally good or bad. In fact I'll go as far to say as it's perfectly mediocre. It might have been a good rental nearly twenty years ago but today it's something not worth bothering with. 

Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine - This game is basically Puyo Puyo but with the art and cutscenes replaced by characters from one of the Sonic cartoons from the mid-90s. As mentioned earlier Puyo-Puyo would become Column's replacement as Sega's falling-block franchise. 

The rules of Puyo-Puyo are a little different than Columns. Though the player still has to match up like-colored objects this time they're blobs(or beans). Furthermore these have to be matched in groups of four and there's no way to chain them diagonally. However the player can bulk them together(like in the shapes of rectangles) and destroy a much larger number of them at once(and combo possibilities still very much exist). Puyo-Puyo also happens to be tighter-designed and better developed or competitive playing(which is where most of the depth in the falling-block genre comes from). In Versus mode the player and a friend(or computer) get their own playing field but share the same blocks. To win the player has to create combos and otherwise remove large amounts of blobs to send them to their opponent's playfield(where they become clear and can only be destroyed by the disappearance of nearby colored blobs). Whoever's playfield fills up first is the loser.

The competitive aspect is important to Puyo-Puyo and makes up the entirety of the story-mode. Each stage is a different encounter with one of Robotnik's henchman and as you progress they have different tactics and exhibit better AI(though by AI I mean they're programmed to find the best solution possible). In fact after a certain point the only way you'll win against the AI is through their error or by figuring out the best solution before they can act upon it. Dr. Robotnik himself is a very tough encounter and those trying to get a high score in the story mode will certainly get crushed by him even if they happen to be Puyo-Puyo veterans. This aspect could probably use some better design as it reminds me of how the final boss in Twinkle Star Sprites behaves but I guess it's par for the genre as every final boss is like this. All the same I really don't think it should work like that.

Regardless there's little reason to not recommend this game. Besides if you like it you're more likely to check out the dozens of newer Puyo Puyo games right? At least that's what Sega hopes.

Dynamite Headdy - For an "Ultimate Genesis Collection" it seems rather odd that Dynamite Headdy is the sole Treasure-release available on this compilation. I guess Sega figures they'll make more money selling more popular Treasure titles like Alien Soldier and Gunstar Heroes through the other services.

But what is Treasure? If for some reason you've managed to stumble unto this blog without ever knowing about Treasure I'll do my best to provide an explanation. The story goes that one man split from Konami in the early 90s to create his own game-development team. The focus of this team has been on taking established genres and introducing their own approach. Gunstar Heroes for example is their take on the "run & gun" sub-genre(like Contra and Metal Slug). While many publishers have picked up Treasure's games for release in other territories more often than not they've been under the Sega umbrella and have a track-record of quality(though their fans have a tendency to over-rate their games). Yes I know it's not a good explanation but that's the jist of it. I'm not here to play wikipedia I just want to talk about some games.

Anyway Dynamite Headdy is an action-platformer. The protagonist Headdy is a puppet living in a world that resembles a stage and this world is in danger due to evil forces. How does Headdy defend himself from these evils? His head of course. Yes this compilation managed to get two games about tossing heads to kill bad guys. What are the odds? Headdy isn't limited to one head though, in fact he has several and they all have different powers. The catch is however that Headdy can only use whatever powers that happen to be nearby and only for a limited time. The game is designed around this aspect as before every situation there tends to be a little station that scrolls through the available power-ups. 

Just to give you an idea Headdy has heads for: shrinking to fit in tiny areas and dodge certain attacks, heads for climbing walls and across ceilings, heads for sucking up out-of-reach items, heads for hitting harder, heads for moving faster and jumping higher, three heads, sleepy heads to restore health, heads for heads, and so on. Also of these heads are easy to figure out and for the most part every situation has more than one way to get through them. If that wasn't enough Headdy is still a pretty capable guy with only a basic head. He can jump and fling his head in one of eight directions. Also he can grab unto certain objects(there's actually a tutorial section in the game to explain these things) to reach higher places. Most of the time however he's going to be using different heads for every situation.

The game is broken up into nine stages and they all have varying length. When I say varying I mean varying. Some stages might be only a few screens long while others are absolutely huge. There's no real balance in this but I guess it really doesn't matter. Most of the time you'll be too focused on the situation you're in to worry about what's next. Each stage is also filled with secret bonus points. These are exactly what they'red called and can be found through a variety of means. Suspicious objects when smacked by a head are most likely to drop these. They're good for score and not much else but if you're going for mastery you'll have to find them all.

One thing Treasure has always been known for is that they're clever and always trying new approaches to old concepts. This shows in their handling of concepts, mechanics, stage & enemy design. Despite the head being the most dangerous part of Headdy's body the enemy seems fixated on it and attacks generally seem to focus there. Sure this isn't like a 2D shooter(though there is a stage that resembles one) where you have to dodge hundreds of tiny bullets but there's an interesting instance where one boss specifically target's Headdy's head and you can throw off his aim by tossing your head). It isn't really touched upon in the rest of the game but that's part of Treasure's MO. They're likely to introduce ideas but then not do anything with them. It's sort of like "Hey see what I can do!" and that's it. Some might not enjoy this style of game design but I think it works great in Dynamite Headdy since the game is almost entirely this way. 

This game underwent a number of changes when it hit the US and Europe. The biggest change is that it is in fact quite a bit more difficult(the same thing has happened with Treasure's Astro Boy for the Game Boy Advance as well). Headdy takes more damage and you don't start with any continues(you can still earn them by collecting enough chips after defeating a boss). The Japanese version also has some different graphics for a few of the enemies and the ending is different. Thankfully unlike Streets of Rage 3, Dynamite Headdy wasn't ruined by the changes made for its Western release. Anyway this is a great game that I think you should spend some time on.

Ecco The Dolphin - Another day spent playing with his friends turns mysterious when they're all whisked away by a freak storm. In order to solve the mystery and defeat an alien menace(!?) Ecco must journey through the sea, into the arctic, through ancient ruins, and even into prehistoric times. Featuring amazing art direction for its time and a wonderful soundtrack it's fair to say that many Genesis fans regard this as an important title.

The game is broken up into nearly thirty levels of varying size, concept, and difficulty. The one constant however is that you're a Dolphin. You're capable of sonar for speaking to other animals(it's used for puzzle solving, creating a small map, and even attacking as well), accelerating to perform huge jumps and get somewhere faster, and a dash-attack for taking out hostile creatures. Though you spend most of the game in the sea like any other Dolphin you need to breathe air, whether by going to the surface or via other means you need air or it'll drain, then your health, and before you know it you're back at the beginning of the level(there are many other ways to die though and since this is a difficult game you'll be dying many times).

Throughout each stage your main goal tends to be figuring out the puzzles in order to progress. Using the hints given by animal friends and glyphs(giant crystals that assist or impede your progress) you gain the knowledge you require and by avoiding/fighting sea-life and eating fish(don't forget the air!) you can stay-alive long enough to get to the next level. The puzzles themselves take many forms. Some require finding a glyph that serves as a key while others require pushing blocks(yes this is very tricky to get used to since you use your nose to push) or leading special creatures with the sonar to unlock areas(also tricky). Deadly creatures are pretty easy to figure out and they take many forms. While you can destroy them there's little benefit as they respawn when you leave the immediate area. Thankfully this extends to the life-restoring fish so the player should focus on figuring out where they need to go.

The most impressive aspect of Ecco The Dolphin is its control. A lot of work was put into creating a game where a dolphin would behave realistically underwater. While the controls definitely take time to get used to they can be quite rewarding once mastered as they're very fluid and make strong use of mechanics. This is important as the game is quite challenging and while the stages aren't overly long screwing up still means restarting the stage and that can get old very quickly if you're not paying attention to your surroundings and blindly rushing through. 

The last few stages are particularly nasty as they mostly involve surviving long auto-scrolling corridors without getting crushed while fending off aliens. Honestly I think they're a bad idea. Sure if you just want to explore the levels and goof around with no repercussions there's passwords and an easy invincibility code but the final stages are perhaps a bit too difficult and unbalanced compared to the rest of the game. 

In the end it's a difficult yet worthwhile game if you can get into it.

Ecco: The Tides of Time - Every successful game deserves a sequel...but did Ecco really deserve this sequel? While for the most part the gameplay has gone unchanged the stage design and concept has jumped the shark(ugh). While many of the stages carry over from the original game Ecco 2 has seen fit to include even more of the levels I disliked from the first game. Now there are faster auto-scrolling stages that take places miles above the ocean, "behind-the-dolphin" perspective stages where Ecco has to go through rings to progress, and generally just a bunch of gimmicky stages that scream "we thought these would be clever so we threw them in". There's always room for gimmicks in a videogame but when there's an over-abundance of them all it does is ruin the direction of the game. This is definitely a disappointing sequel and the franchise wouldn't see a worthwhile follow-up until Ecco: Defender of the Future for the Dreamcast/PS2.

E-SWAT City Under Siege - As we're all aware new technology tends to get an "E" slapped in front of it. In this game you play the role of a rookie cop who quickly goes up the ranks and his awarded a spot in the E-SWAT. It's just like any other SWAT except there's jet packs, cannons, and many other technological advances to help combat the similar advances made by criminal masterminds everywhere.

After a couple stages as a regular cop with a gun, a jump, and not much else the player is given their own suit. From then on it's pretty simple. Get to the end of the stage, kill everything in your way, beat the boss. While this game shares the same concept and name the gameplay and level design is quite a bit different. While the arcade game features straightforward levels the Genesis game is multi-scrolling and the end of the level can rarely be reached by walking in a straight line. Aside from other differences the arcade version was two players as opposed to this game's one.

There's little else I can say about this one. Like Decapattack it's neither astoundingly awful nor amazingly awesome. It's still filler though and is only good for padding out this collection(cause as we all know more games means better value).

Fatal Labyrinth - Here's an odd one. This is an overhead "rogue-like" game where you have to reach the top floor to battle a great evil and save the town. Rogue-likes typically have a few things in common. The loot, dungeons, and enemies are randomized(though there's always a clear progression towards harder enemies and better loot), combat is very simplistic and depends more on position and equipment/items than tactics or skills, and they're very tough with high penalties for death. This rogue-like also happens to not allow saving or passwords of any kind(though I guess with the Ultimate Genesis Collection you could use the front-end game-saving utility to retain your progress, but that would just screw up the point of the game)

Like the title implies there's a lot to fear. Enemies hit hard and have no qualms about surrounding the lone adventurer. Furthermore food is required in order to survive and regain lost hit-points. Not enough food leads to starvation and rapid HP drain while too much food slows the player down and may potentially kill him. Potions, magic scrolls, rods, and equipment are scattered everywhere but unless you have some way to identify them they could be quite dangerous if used. In a game where death is around every corner and nothing remains the same in every playthrough all you can do is remain cautious.

It's fair to say this game is for a niche group. Rogue-likes are typically un-friendly for the un-aware and they do little to help struggling players. While Fatal Labyrinth offers continues they tend to set the player back quite a bit before they died. Also for a game where everything is randomized the player could run into great difficulties or they could stumble on a good weapon or a series of good items, making progress much easier. It should also be noted that while the player can also find money all it's good for is holding a better funeral if they die. It's really not a bad game though and if you like it maybe you'll consider some of the other rogue-likes(Like Shiren the Wanderer for the Nintendo DS, published by Sega).

Flicky - Like most other early arcade games Flicky has a simple concept. As the mother bird you have to rescue all of the chicks in the level and escape. In order to score the most points you want to grab as many chicks as you can at once before taking them to the exit as a long chain leads to big points. You also want to do this quickly as less time taken means more points gotten. The levels are wrap-around(like Defender) and you jump between platforms to reach all of the chicks.

Cats wander the stages and seek you out. Not only does touching a cat cost you a life but they can also crash into the train of chicks following you and cause them to scatter. Do you attempt to go back and rescue them? Knowing that the cat is nearby. Or do you deposit the chicks you have and hope the situation improves? Knowing that your score will suffer. Again it's a simple risk vs reward concept and Sega has done a fine job of establishing it. There are also objects you can pick up that when used will roll across the screen knocking out cats in its way(leading to bonus points if you hit multiple cats in a row) but annoyingly it shares the same button as the jump so you toss the object just as soon as you leap. I guess the game was never designed to support separate buttons for different commands. Otherwise this is a pretty good game.