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Reader Roundtable Vol. 87

As the semester winds down for most people, there’s little time left for gaming. But as well all know, all work and no play makes us dull gamers, so let’s check out what’s been getting playtime from our community!

 

Power Base Converter By Ken Horowitz

Power Base ConverterI’ve been going back to my Master System collection, getting some mileage out of my trusty PBC. With my modded three-button controller, I’ve been able to play games that normally don’t work with the Genesis pad, so no title is out of my reach (except for F-16 Fighting Falcon, which doesn’t work on the PBC). I still need to finish Spellcaster, but Maze Hunter 3D is just so darn good that it keeps me from playing anything else! I also tried out Rambo III with my Light Phaser, and while I enjoyed it, it’s not as good as Rescue Mission.

Not a bad way to spend a few hours! My collection is still tiny, so I’m always looking for new games, but I have to say that I really enjoy using this accessory. Sega really knew how to take care of its loyal customers back in the day, and making a sexy adapter that plays practically your whole 8-bit collection was more than anyone could ask for.

NHL ’97 By Sebastian Sponsel

Reader Roundtable 87-1I won’t lie to you; April has been a pretty crappy month so far: stress at work, stress at home, stress in the family, and barely a free minute of time to spare. I definitely felt some need for relief, but I couldn’t do so for hours on end – I had to let off some steam in short bursts, since my video gaming time was limited to short 15 to 30 minute intervals. But since I definitely needed some relief almost every day, there was only one solution: Pop in a hockey game and start into season mode. I had already played a little NHL ’97 last month, so in continuation of that, I decided to give this game the honor.

At the time of the writing I have still about 20 games to go before the playoffs, having lost only about 11 matches, so I’m on a good course. I really like this game, but sometimes I feel that the controls have taken a slight downgrade when compared to the ’96 edition. Passing just doesn’t feel as precise, and sometimes it seems the game doesn’t quite correctly register when I try to select the free player nearest to the puck. But these are minor problems… I guess the hardest time I have with the game is because I play it on my Nomad, and its screen doesn’t lend itself too well to the fast-paced Hockey action.

Nevertheless, a fun game that gets lost in between the cracks of the slightly superior ’96 version and the final (when it comes to Genesis games) ’98 edition. Well, at least currently it serves me pretty well.

Wimbledon Championship Tennis By Goldenband

Most retrogaming shops that carry Genesis items have a glut of unwanted sports titles that sit on the shelf for years, so it probably surprised the employee of a local Play-N-Trade when I picked up their complete copy of Wimbledon Championship Tennis last month (costing me all of $0.99 plus tax). As a kid I occasionally enjoyed a game of Color Baseball on my Tandy CoCo or Bases Loaded on the NES, but like many gamers, I make little time for sports games these days, including most Genesis titles.

However, tennis is the one sport I’ll enthusiastically seek out in video game form, whether the platform is 8-bit or current-gen. Naturally, part of the reason is that it’s my favorite sport, and the only one where I’ve accumulated some fraction of the encyclopedic knowledge displayed by many baseball and football fans. But I also think tennis lends itself particularly well to console gaming — and in fact, tennis games are arguably the grandfather of all sports games: history buffs may recall William Higinbotham’s Tennis for Two from 1958, which was one of the earliest electronic action games ever made. (Since it was played on an oscilloscope, it’s technically not a “video” game, so we can’t blame Higinbotham’s creation for all the roster-update rehashes that have since given sports video games a bad name.)

Wimbledon Championship Tennis 4

Wimbledon is the third Genesis tennis game I’ve aimed to complete this year, following the strong Davis Cup Tennis and the abysmal-but-amusing Andre Agassi Tennis. In my first few matches I was getting completely destroyed by the computer, but two things began to turn the tide: switching to the “semi-auto” control scheme (“manual” control is so finicky as to be unplayable), and learning how to reliably serve aces. The latter is a nice touch since in most tennis games, the computer gets a racket on everything, but not here. You aren’t penalized for tossing and catching the ball, but the computer repositions itself on every toss, so you can actually manipulate the computer into “cheating” out wide and then nail it with a serve in the corner of the T. I often found myself winning entire service games with aces alone, à la Wayne Arthurs.

To beat Wimbledon, you need to win the eponymous tournament four times, at three rounds each, with passwords after each two-set match. The first three championships were pretty easy, and I won all my matches in straight sets with aggressive net-rushing play, but there were ominous signs that things were about to go downhill.

And indeed, in the fourth cycle, the computer suddenly becomes exactly the kind of cheating, superhuman beast that’s ruined so many other tennis games. It’s an absolute brick wall at the net, making passing shots almost impossible, and can react perfectly and instantly at all times. Worse than that, it acquires the ability to return overhead smashes with instant counter-overheads — something that’s essentially unknown in real tennis, since even Roger Federer can’t pull off that combination of impossible angles and split-second reaction time. Finally, despite the fact that your stats are maxed out after the third cycle, it seemed like my player had actually been downgraded. Forehands that, in all my previous matches, had reliably stayed in were now drifting wide or long for no apparent reason.

I worked out some counter-tactics of my own, including serving aces (though the effective window becomes much smaller) and doing my best to pounce early on my opponent’s serve. But despite being up a set and a break in one match, I haven’t yet been able to seal a victory against my first-round opponent. I’m sure I’ll eventually break through, but it’s still a shame to see a reasonably good tennis game succumb to a poorly-conceived difficulty spike.

Dark Castle By The Coop

Dark Castle 6In a bright and happy world, there would be no bad games. There would be no games that instill rage as you deal with broken controls and wonky hit detection. There would be no wincing because of horrid, ear-piercing music, and sound effects that drive you up a wall. There would be no graphics that don’t even come close to taking advantage of the system running the game. There would be controllers being Jackie Chan’ed into the floor because you died for the umpteenth time from enemies popping up out of nowhere when you have to be near the edge of the screen. There would be no yawning because of game sections that have gotten so tedious and boring, that they prove to be a cure for insomnia. But alas, there is no such world… and that’s why we have the likes of Dark Castle.

There are just so many things wrong with this game, that it can induce fits of Tourettes Syndrome without even trying. Ugly graphics with stiff and awkward animation. Screechy and unpleasant music. Little voice samples that drive you up a wall (“Nya nya nya nya nya!”). Hit detection that, at best, is very suspect. Sluggish controls. A weird control setup for attacking (which is also sluggish). Cheap deaths by enemies that show up abruptly as you get close to the edge of the play area. Dull level designs that really offer no challenge. It’s just one bad piece of programming and design choice after another, all crammed into one little EA cart that taunts you after spending $30 or more back in the day to purchase the thing (surely, that’s the reason for the “Nya nya nya nya nya!”).

I know some like this game, but for me, it’s a cautionary tale about how one can botch even the simplest of ideas for a game. It’s woefully short too, so not only do you get a horrible game, it doesn’t even offer any kind of longevity to those who’d brave its many faults (which is a blessing, really). It fights atop a pile of Arena and Razor Soft games, vying for the right to be called the king of the garbage games on the Genesis; doing its best to keep the likes of Time Killers, Back to the Future IIIX-Perts and their ilk from claiming the prize. So… yeah, loads of fun. Pick one up from your local land fill.

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