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Genre Spotlight: Digital Comic Con

Digital comics are a natural extension of the original text adventure games made available on PCs in the ‘80s. Such classics as King’s Quest and the Monkey Island series made the genre immensely popular, as players loved the non-linear game play and the freedom to make their own choices about what to do next. As technology progressed, voice acting and animation made their way into the genre and a whole new type of adventure game was born. Not known for their intense action sequences or twitch game play, digital comics play in a more relaxed manner, relying on intense storytelling and character development to get the job done. This is the type of game you play with a pen and notebook by your side (right next to the chips and soda, of course). A set of menu options guides you around as you play, and choosing incorrectly can have disastrous consequences (which is part of the charm).

When asked about the Sega CD, many people are quick to quote the huge amount of FMV games that came out. Usually, their knowledge of the system ends there. It’s a shame really, as in addition to some great RPGs, platformers, shmups, and strategy games; it is also home to some awesome digital comics. Today, we’ll take a look at the games available in the genre, including some of the most popular like Space Adventure , Rise of the Dragon , and the legendary Snatcher (the only version of that game to make it stateside). While all three of those games are available on other systems, the convenience of having them all in one place is a definite plus.

The Space Adventure

The Space Adventure, originally released for the PC-Engine in 1989, is based on the manga and anime Cobra. You may remember it from Mathew Sweet’s 1991 Girlfriend video (or you may not). Possibly the weakest of the Sega CD trio covered here, the game puts you in the shoes of the notorious pirate Cobra, who has to dodge both the evil Pirate Guild and Space Police as he aids Jane Royal, a bounty hunter who is looking for her two sisters, Katherine and Dominique. It seems that Ms. Royal’s siblings each have a portion of a cosmic map tattooed on their bodies that is said to lead to the galaxy’s greatest treasure.

You would think that a game based on such a popular character would be a more fun to play. Sadly, Space Adventure is more famous for its horrible voice acting than its gripping plot. With classic quotes such as “If I die, will you play Chopin in remembrance of me?” and “What’s that sound? It’s Crazy Joe! Those are his footsteps!” Shakespeare need not fear for competition. It’s almost as if Hudson Soft tried to make up for the lame plot by covering it up with all that cheese.

While not a true classic by any means, Space Adventure does provide some campy fun. Definitely not worth its price on eBay but worth checking out, if only for the horrendous dialogue.

Rise of the Dragon

Harrison Ford should be proud. To this day, his character Deckard is still being emulated across every genre imaginable. It would seem that the bleakest vision for the future is also the most popular. There just seems to be something about dark, gritty streets and cyberpunks that get people excited, and Rise of the Dragon does a good job of creating such an atmosphere.

Hired by the mayor to investigate his daughter’s murder, private eye and ex-cop Blade Hunter must wade through a thick conspiracy involving everything from drugs to ancient Chinese prophecy. Originally released by Sierra On-line in 1990 for PC, the game tells the story of hideous mutations killing people in 2053 Los Angles. After his daughter is killed, the mayor asks Blade to find the source of the mutations and end them

The plot is very good and the voice acting is excellent. Although Sierra didn’t have a lot of experience with these types of games by the time Rise was first released, the level of quality in this port is top notch. Everything flows smoothly and the sheer number of outcomes for each situation makes the game highly replayable.

One thing about Rise is that it has side-scrolling action scenes. While there aren’t a lot of them, they do add some variety to the typically predictable game style digital comics have. It was fun to play through the Rolling Thunder-esque stages every so often.

Although not very hard, Dynamix published a hint book for the Sega CD version that’s quite rare today. It provides insight to each of the characters, as well as artwork and a complete timeline of the game. It also fits snuggly into the game case, so you’ll never misplace it.

Adventures of Willy Beamish

There was still one more digital comic in the Sega CD’s future, and it was the cult classic Adventures of Willy Beamish, a smart and funny title that placed gamers in the role of a young boy out to make his way to the Nintari Video Game Championship. As expected, there is a plethora of obstacles out to keep young Willy from obtaining his lifelong dream, most notably the town villain who’s out to poison the town’s water supply.

Adventures of Willy Beamish is one of those games that tries to make up for its shortcomings by slinging all sorts of charm and twists at you, in typical Sierra style. It’s almost successful, but the hardware unfortunately works against it. The added voice overs and an awesome cameo by the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation come really close to making you forget the incredibly long load times…really, really long load times. How long are they? Long enough for the developers to have included a mini game for you to play while you wait! It’s not something Sega CD veterans aren’t used to, but modern gamers might be put off by it a bit.

Due to its availability and cheap price, there’s no reason for Willy Beamish to not be in your library. Dynamix did a great job in making the original game even better on the CD hardware, and many of the jokes are still as funny today as they were back in 1992.

Urusei Yatsura: My Dear Friends

Urusei Yatsura: My Dear Friends is truly an oddity, an anime-based FMV game (I kid, I kid). Since I have not had the pleasure of viewing this particular show, I can’t comment much on the source material, though judging by my ignorance of its existence, it couldn’t have been that popular (at least in the U.S.). A point-and-click adventure in the old school vein, Urusei Yatsura tells the tale of a world beset by an alien invasion. The only way to repel the invaders? Beat them at their favorite game, which just happens to be tag. Yes, that’s right…tag. The little dear to our right is Lum, daughter of the alien leader, who is slated to be the opponent of Earth’s savior, Ataru. Chaos ensues as Lum believes Ataru is in love with her, when he is in fact trying to prove his worth to his girlfriend Shinobu. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? At least the animation is full-screen!

Yumimi Mix

Yumimi Mix is another Japanese-only Game Arts release. Apparently, these games are supposed to be beautifully animated on the Sega CD and well done with intriguing story. As my Japanese skills are limited (even more limited is my access to Japanese Mega CD games), I can’t say for sure. Though it does look interesting and follows a “choose your own adventure” style of play with pretty visuals completely different from the kind given to us in the U.S. market. I wish Game Arts had been kind enough to give us this and Urusei so could see what we were missing on the other side of the ocean. A remixed version was later released for the Japanese Saturn. It seems we were denied two different releases of this game…

Secret of Monkey Island

LucasArts practically achieved the status of legend with the slew of quality graphic adventures with which it blessed PC gamers. Luckily, Secret of Monkey Island managed to trickle down onto the Sega CD, giving owners a small taste of what went on to become one of the most beloved series in the genre. It’s easy to see why, too. Who doesn’t want to be a pirate (ninja fans notwithstanding)? The awesomely-named Guybrush Threepwood, seeking to prove his worth as a pirate, must undertake three challenges. This leads to several memorable encounters with everything from cannibals to love struck ghost pirates. It’s really a great adventure, and the Sega CD — wonky save system and all — does it justice, despite some washed out color.

It’s a pity that Secret of Monkey Island wasn’t more warmly embraced by Sega CD owners, as it’s poor sales most likely contributed to LucasArts cancellation of Indiana Jones & the Fate of Atlantis. The company never did give the Sega CD much support, and this was perhaps one of the earliest signs that the add-on wasn’t going to be able to muster enough quality games for long-term survival.

Scooby-Doo Mystery

Wow, there’s actually a game in this feature that’s not on the Sega CD! As the only cartridge entry here, Scooby-Doo Mystery might seem to be at a disadvantage. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. It might lack a redbook soundtrack and voice work, but everything else here is spot-on. There are two involving quests, and virtually everything in the game can be touched, examined, or otherwise investigated. Shaggy and Scooby are their typical hungry selves, and the rest of the gang is still split up and looking for clues. An enormous password is the only minus to what otherwise amounts to one of the best graphical adventures you could find on a console at the time. Given the slim pickings in the genre on the Genesis, you just can’t go wrong with Scooby-Doo Mystery.

Snatcher

I’m not sure where to begin with this one. Snatcher is something of a legend in the gaming community, with prices reaching upwards of $100 on eBay. As one of the few games to deserve such a high price tag, it is truly as much of an experience as it is a game.

Created by the legendary Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid, Zone of the Enders), Snatcher was first released on the NEC PC-8801 back in 1988. It was ported to the Sega CD and beefed up with voice and Roland Surround Sound, which further enhanced an already awesome title. The production values on Snatcher are through the roof, which was quite a risky move for Konami, as the Sega CD was never the mega (pardon the pun) system it was hoped to be.

Playing the part of Gillian Seed, you must save mankind from the Snatchers, evil android-like beings that kill humans and assume their identities. As a JUNKER (Japanese Undercover Neuro-Kinetic Elimination Ranger), it is your mission to discover who the Snatchers are and why they are determined to eliminate us.

The story is both involving and intense. My hat is off to Scott T. Hard, the game’s translator, for maintaining the great plot of the original and icing it off with some astounding voice work. Everything in Snatcher just screams quality; it’s that good. Konami even went so far as to make the game compatible with its Justifier gun, making the shooting sequences easier to handle and more authentic.

Definitely king of the hill among Sega CD digital comics, Snatcher also stands tall among others in the genre released on other systems. It’s funny that even though it was released for the Saturn and Playstation, neither of those versions ever made it to the U.S. This makes the Sega CD version both unique and quite valuable. Still, it is well worth the asking price and should be in the library of anyone who owns the console.

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