As a long-time Sega fan I can never have too many high-quality re-releases of their classic library. Needless to say when it was announced that M2 was handling ports of a handful of Sega games for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network I had to cheer. M2’s work is top-class and is usually a close-second to having the actual hardware. Alex Kidd & Company is an odd collection of titles but when two out of three are among Sega’s best it’s hard to complain.
I wasn’t around for the Sega Master System. In fact even today my library consists of one game, the original Phantasy Star. So I’m not the person to ask when it comes to games like the Alex Kidd series. As far as I can tell he was the original mascot for the system. Quite a few games were released starring him, all of wildly varying quality. Eventually he was replaced by a significantly more popular Sega character and that’s the end of it. I only know Alex Kidd from his sole Genesis game and his appearance in Sega Superstars Tennis. Since the Genesis game was terrible and he absolutely destroyed me in Tennis, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t despise Alex Kidd.
Miracle World does little to change my feelings. The biggest issue is the controls. Alex is a slippery, greasy, and just plain sloppy Kidd who has no business being in videogames. Jumping, the most important aspect of a platformer, is totally flawed. Missing jumps and landing in pits is a common occurrence, or after the jump is made Kidd will slide off the platform and into death’s waiting arms. This game also seems to go on forever, with vehicle sections, labyrinths, and even a few swimming stages doing very little to keep things fresh. Worst of all a handful of boss-fights require that you play Janken to win. What is Janken? It’s rock-paper-scissors. Even if the rest of the game was quality I’d still fail it simply because of such a terrible and inane design-decision. How Alex Kidd got top billing in this collection is something I’ll never understand.
But let’s forget about that mess and focus on the two great games in this set. Revenge of Shinobi is a classic when it comes to action games. It’s closer to the older style of action that can be found in the earlier Castlevania titles. Even though Joe Musashi has several times the maneuverability of the average whip-slinger, the enemy-placement and design still feels very traditional. Basically, enemies are placed in the manner that they can best kill you. Expect your adversaries to hassle you with constant gunfire, block your shuriken, or push you into pits. Also numerous traps fill each stage, with most leading to death if the player isn’t paying attention. There aren’t any fancy tricks for getting around enemies aside from the rainbow shuriken technique. Even then it’s a wasteful maneuver so your score is likely to suffer. Newer Shinobi games put the emphasis on looking good while fighting, a philosophy that this game doesn’t share in the slightest.
While this may not sound appealing to you that doesn’t mean you should avoid this game. The easiest way to tell what makes a game great is by how natural it feels while playing. When the player moves around in the game-world it immediately feels like this is what they’re meant to be doing. This co-existence that occurs when the controls and the world-design flow so well together is something we take for granted. It’s times like these that we have to step back so that we can notice just how well put-together a game like Revenge of Shinobi is. The best games feel like everything was done effortlessly, like it was only through divination that such a gem occurred. Don’t ignore an opportunity to visit this classic.
In terms of arcade racing games I usually don’t pay attention to anything that predates Daytona
USA. So it seems very strange that
I’ve been able to not just enjoy but to actually connect with Super Hang-On.
The goal is exceedingly simple, reach the end of the race before the timer runs
out. All you really have to look out for are the turns and the other racers.
However all it takes is one big crash or slowing down one too many times to
cost you a chance at seeing the finish-line. Also knowing when to apply the
turbo can lead to success, or to a horrible controller-tossing wreck.
What makes Super Hang-On work is that despite being considered a racing game that doesn’t mean you have to approach it as one. Think of it more like you’re dodging obstacles and making turns in order to get through the game. The handling of the bike and the turbo-implementation feel almost binary. It’s not like other racing games where you have to consider just how much gas you’re applying or what type of turn is going to have to be made to get around a particular curve. Winning races becomes less reliant on memorization as reflexes actually have their use. Ultimately Super Hang-On is really simplistic but even for someone like myself who has never played it, its status as a high-quality game is immediately recognizable.
M2 delivers in terms of features. Each of the three games has a handful of trials. Think of these as the score-attack modes you’d find in arcade ports. There are specific rules to account for and the player is ranked accordingly in the online leaderboards. For example Revenge of Shinobi has a trial for getting as high a score as possible with one life while Super Hang-On allows the player to race for the best time on a handful of courses. Other bonuses include jukeboxes for listening to the music and the ability to save and download replays. Unlike the late Sega-Ages releases in
Japan, don’t go
into this set expecting art museums or anything of that sort. You will however
get all of the available region versions with each game, though at least as far
as this set is concerned the differences between them are minimal. Numerous
screen options are also available for gamers who want the right look for their
TV. These screen modes also allow for scan lines and smoothing, though I’ve yet
to see a circumstance where the latter actually looks decent. Super Hang-On
even allows for some 3D options if you have the necessary equipment (even a
cheap pair of 3D glasses could suffice).
All that’s left to say is finally, a vintage collection actually deserving of the word “vintage”. For a very respectable price you can get a pair of classics that are fully-loaded with all the options you could ever need. Revenge of Shinobi and Super Hang-On emphasize what made Sega games great. That means accessibility that doesn’t disrespect the player no matter their skill-level and a flawless application of mechanics and game-design. It certainly makes me wonder how Alex Kidd in Miracle World managed to get in there though because it has neither going for it.
Note - IHNIWTG is short for I Have No Idea Where This Goes. There's quite a bit of stuff that I've written that went unpublished, so I'm putting it up here on the blog.