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Reader Roundtable Vol. 135

It’s been a pretty good month for gaming overall, and hopefully you’ve been able to tear yourself away from Sonic Mania to play some classic Sega consoles. Our staff and readers sure have, and they’ve got a great selection of titles to share this month!

 

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master By Ken Horowitz

Joe Musashi’s final 16-bit adventure is one I find myself coming back to every so often, though not as much as The Revenge of Shinobi. I think I’m still in the minority in that I prefer that game to RotNM. That has to a lot to do with the soundtrack, when it was released, and the nostalgia it brings me, but Return is definitely a great game. The graphics are spectacular, and the level design is very intuitive, even in the maze stages. As I played through it, I found myself longing for another Shinobi adventure, one cut in the same vein as the Genesis trilogy, when the franchise was at the top of its game. These are truly great games, and the series went out swinging its katana on the Genesis with Return of the Ninja Master. Hopefully, 16-bit Joe won’t have to hide in the shadows forever.

Frog Feast By Doug Jackson

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written for a Reader Roundtable. I miss it quite a bit, and I wanted to submit something this month. Here I am down to the wire once again, but this time it’s not for lack of motivation but rather that the game that I ordered came in later than I anticipated and showed up only two days before this month’s Roundtable went live.

The game in question is one that I’ve been searching for for quite a while now. I finally found a copy in an eBay auction that ended pretty quietly for only $23 and change, which surprised me. The game is none other than Frog Feast, an obscure homebrew that seems to only have seen about 50 or so copies released. I wanted it for my collection, good or bad. Unfortunately, bad is what I got here. My game room is all torn up due to having to tear my shelving out due to a cat peeing on them and their needing a paint job pretty badly, so I had to settle for using my Nomad, a handheld I never really cared for. I put the game in and literally played it for less than three whole minutes. Yes, that’s all there is for gameplay – no options or settings, just a timer set for 1:28 and that it’s it. It’s a remake of Frog Bog for the Intellivision and Atari 2600, but it’s more of a demake due to lack of features or gameplay and because of that it is a lesser game than the original it’s based off of.

I don’t mind buying obscure or bad games for the collection or for reviewing, but this may be the one time that I truly feel like I wasted my money. I played it for the three minutes and it felt like too much time spent on it and wasn’t worth tracking batteries down for the Nomad to play it. This is truly a game that has no point or reason to exist!

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 By Benjamin Galway

I’m still waiting for Sonic Mania, as I am part of the PC master race and have no current console. “Master race” is a bit much for a guy packing Intel HD Graphics 4600, but whatever. After months of hype leading up to Sonic Mania’s release, Sega has decided the pull the rug from under my feet at the last second, leaving me with blue balls for the blue blur.

Trying to keep my excitement up through the weeks of spoilers, I decided to play Sonic 2. I made a point to play through the entire game, which is something I hadn’t done in who knows how long. Too much to play and never enough time. Usually I bail out once I make it to the Aquatic Ruin Zone. It’s not a bad zone at all, but it’s basically the point where Sonic 2 takes off its running shoes and reminds you that it’s still a traditional platform game at heart.

I always play with Sonic and Tails. I know people hate Tails, but I love having him tag along, even when he inadvertently kills me as he did in Hill Top Zone when he took the gondola before I was ready. I was just unlucky with my second death when a Mystic Cave stalactite caught me off guard and smooshed me while spin dashing off somewhere. I cashed in my third life during my assault on the Wing Fortress when I was crushed by a 1-up monitor. Sonic bumped it up into the air with his jump and then landed underneath it without breaking the extra life, causing the falling monitor to kill him. I know those old CRTs are heavy, but come on.

I’m still bothered that Robotnik can outrun Sonic when he abandons the flying fortress. Likewise, why does Sonic wait for Tails to fly him up to the escaping Robotnik spaceship? He’s right there! Jump now before he takes off! That always bugs me because Sonic still has to jump onto the ship at the end. There’s no need to wait. He’s just exhausted after Robotnik smoked him, I guess. Or maybe Sega wanted us to know that Tails was OK after getting lasered earlier? As if Tails needed the bi-plane to fly. Stupid Sega.

It feels funny how quickly Metal Sonic and Robotnik went down thinking back to how tough I found them as a kid. When I was hoping to get in one frightened strike per cycle, Metal Sonic was imposing, especially as the fight draws on. Now he’s halfway dead before he completes his POST. I used to make the Robotnik fight harder on myself as well, but the spacious arena always made it feel easier regardless. More complex boss patterns may have spoiled me, but that fight still feels so incredibly dramatic and satisfying.

Ain’t nobody got time for special stages, so just the normal ending for me. Besides, I hadn’t a chance in hell with Tails. Sonic 2 holds up great, and it’s such a beautiful game. I’m not sure Sonic Mania will hold up as well after 25 years given what I already know about the game (sigh), but more Sonic is always welcomed. Because as much as I love Sonic 2 and replaying it today, I still wish I could view the experience through new eyes. I still have and cherish all my old games, but I want that old Sonic feeling back, too. This is why I need Sonic Mania.

Shadow Squadron By The Coop

You know, sometimes when you want a game, things take an interesting path when it comes to getting it. You see it, it looks cool and you can’t wait to buy it. But somehow, the fates conspire against you and that game never shows up for sale where you live. That, or only one or two copies came in and that was it forever. I’ve had my share of such events, which I covered in Stories From the Book of Genesis 37. Thankfully, I found a mail order place that helped me through a few of those moments at other times. I just wish I could remember their name to see if they’re still around.

Anyway, I called them up for one of their catalogs and after a couple of weeks, it arrived. It was just a printed item list divided into groups, but there were a lot of games listed. However, the only section I was interested in at the time was the SEGA section. There, I found a number of games that I really wanted and called to see if they were in stock. Sure enough, they were all there. Three games that were on my “Get them ASAP!” list and there was a handy order form on the last page of the printed catalog just waiting for me to fill it out. I told the operator that I would have the order form in the mail the next day and asked if they could hold a copy of the three games I wanted. To my surprise, they did just that and after a few weeks, the games arrived. One of them was Shadow Squadron for my 32X.

I’d seen it in a magazine or two. The game looked interesting and hey, who wouldn’t be excited to play a 3D roaming space game? Fly freely around, blast enemies both large and small… sounds like fun, right? Thankfully, it turned out that yes, it was indeed fun. I remember playing the game for the first time and how wild it was to be zooming around to track down the smaller ships, encountering the first big battleship and picking it apart, watching the lighting effects play off of everything… all at a much smoother framerate than I was used to on my Genesis with its bare-bones 3D flight simulators. I also remember thinking how cool it was that with each mission, the sun got bigger and bigger, and how huge the final boss felt as it expanded the parts you had to destroy to beat it.

See, I didn’t own a computer yet, so space sims weren’t a thing for me at the time. Having all of this introduced to me with Shadow Squadron was that door finally being opened. This was my Wing Commander moment; a moment PC users back in the day will likely have fond memories of. That first time you get let loose in 3D space, able to fly anywhere you want and battle enemies that are moving around, above and below you. The closest thing I could recall on my Genesis was F-22 Interceptor, with how you could fly straight up for a time before you stalled and plummeted back toward the ground. But with Shadow Squadron, there was no plummeting. There was no ground. It was just me, outer space, and the enemies that were trying to blow my ship up. The freedom was great and to say that I played that game many times would simply be stating the truth.

Years later, I learned that Shadow Squadron got a pseudo-sequel in the form of Stellar Assault SS; a game that took all of the levels from the 32X game and added a bunch more. Of course, I didn’t know that right away, as I didn’t know Shadow Squadron was called Stellar Assault in Japan. But that’s a story for another time, should SEGA-16 cover Saturn games. For now, I just wish I could remember the name of that mail-order company. I’d ordered games from them a number of times and they always set aside the games I wanted when I’d call to check on what was in-stock before ordering. I got a number of hard-to-find games from them back when the 32X and SEGA-CD were still being sold and they always included an up-to-date catalog when they shipped stuff. I even remember getting into a conversation with one of the operators about a game I was ordering, with them telling me all about it since they owned it and how much fun I’d have with it.

Rastan Saga 2 By David Dyne

It’s the third and final month for barbarians, and I’m rounding things out by playing through Rastan Saga 2 on the Genesis. What’s the difference between Rastan and Rastan Saga 2? Plenty of cheap hits and jumping to your death just when you thought you had the right momentum swinging off a rope or leaping from a platform. I swear, Conan never had this much trouble in the novels or the Savage Sword of Conan magazine. Anyway, I’m surprised that Taito didn’t add any extras to this conversion such as difficulty options, new stages or more enemies to give it more replay value. Once you’ve finished it the first time through you may not play it through again any time soon. It still has its small charms, like the soundtrack and Rastan’s amusing commentary between stages. Does anyone know how the PC Engine version compares to the Genesis one?”

Ecco the Dolphin By Clarke Gibson

After obtaining a new Everdrive recently I embarked on a testing spree and found myself completing Ecco once again. It’s my favourite franchise, and I fell in love with it once again – the graphics, soundtrack (I’m on the 16-bit rendition here) and above all else atmosphere of the title are just top notch.

It’s not a perfect game. The part where you have to defeat the primordial Asterite is a pain due to there being no way of powering up during the battle; however, nothing, NOTHING, can prepare you for the sheer frustration of having to be scrolled through the infernal Machine once again after the Vortex queen eats you. There must be a good number of CRT TVs with cracked screens as a direct result of this one scenario!

It just makes no sense either and feels like cheap difficulty manufacturing, I liked the Japanese “stomach” level here, it’s short and makes sense in gameplay narrative terms. I have completed this before on original hardware, using no cheats or guides, even doing those jumps in the Atlantean levels. I’m not too ashamed to say then, that for the latter levels I picked up my GPDXD and finished off with emulated save states. Once was quite enough! I did see a short cut for those jumps on YouTube too…

One other tip I did find out later (I think I saw it in a Sega-16 forum), that is very useful, is that after you get the special songs for rescuing those dolphins you can dash charge an enemy, and a quick timed press of the B button “absorbs” them. The enemy will not respawn after this.

In all, a fab game. It’s basic lock and key puzzle mechanics are dressed up beautifully in brilliant artwork, sound and music with a nicely realised scifi atmosphere that conveys sadness and peril with a compelling sense of adventure. Difficulty is well judged all round, apart from the three scenarios mentioned earlier that spoil things just a little.

I’m working up the energy required to tackle the sequel next…

Power Drive By Bottino

Power Drive is a relatively obscure racing game that saw a 1994 physical release in Europe, Australia, and later Brazil ( it also saw a release through the Sega Channel in the U.S). It’s one of the games that I’ve used to own as a kid that never really made a positive or negative impression on me. Fast forward to the present, and I found myself playing this game again in order to beat it for the Sega-16 forum’s beat-em all thread, and I definitely had a good time with it. Being a rally game, the only one for the Mega Drive/Genesis, it does that genre justice by having the player take on tracks and different challenges in varied locations and terrains, with also some night events, rewarding the player’s precision and quick decision making. Skill is paramount here, much more so than speed.

The high learning curve combined with the modest audiovisual aspects of the game might turn most players off at first; however, once I started grasping the fundamental mechanics of the game I found Power Drive to be a surprisingly challenging and entertaining game. If you like racing games or perhaps want to experience something different and challenging on your Mega Drive/Genesis, why not take Power Drive for a spin? I know I had a good time with it.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles By James Villone

Lately I’ve been revisiting Sonic 3 & Knuckles, a title that took me years to appreciate.  I’ve always loved the first two Sonic titles, but S3&K was different enough that I disliked it back in 1994.

It was only 16 years later, in late 2010, that I started to appreciate how S3&K has a certain cheerfulness built into it, more than Sonic’s other titles.  It was a hard time in my life that brought me that appreciation, when a romantic relationship was ending after many years together. She was insisting that she still wanted to be with me, but she was lying, because she didn’t actually want to, and she just kept saying that to confuse and mislead me.  The last months of relationship also had her talking about “thinking of cheating,” so she seemed to be flaunting the fact of cheating on me, though she kept swearing that she wasn’t actually doing that.  Later, it turned out validated that she had been unfaithful all along – to me, and to everyone!  Late 2010 was confusing and emotional, so I bought myself a flat-screen TV as a break-up present!

S3&K was one of the first games I tried with my new flat-screen, and eventually, the gameplay and positive attitude shined through, regardless everything else.  This is the only 16-bit title in which Sonic’s sprite has a smile, which I first thought was lame, but which eventually seems to represent pushing through life with a positive attitude.  Some of the graphics and music are not my favorite in the series, yet there’s still a lot of great gameplay and stage design, and the music can be upbeat and relaxing.

S3&K can be soothing and uplifting in a world that sometimes needs that.  Just like Sonic 2, the simultaneous sprites of Sonic and Tails obviously were based on creating two-player co-op gameplay, but their sprites also seem like two loving friends who stick with each other, no matter what happens.

Since this title is wrapped up so much in my reflections of those years of my life: Death Egg Zone makes me wonder if mutual friendships will eventually die, based on her cheating and financially exploiting me, then turning hateful and defamatory against me?  Will that cause our mutual friends to turn against me too, and will our friendships die, like how everything is dying in this Zone of Death?

The Doomsday Zone is the conclusion and destruction of everything, for better or worse, and it corresponds with my final conclusion that my friends must know the truth about my life experience.  Even if some might find it “wrong” to talk about, every person is entitled to talk about his or her own life.  And it really wouldn’t make sense for friendships to end, from talking about real life experiences.

Even if certain friendships would end, from talking about the truth:  The truth is more important.  So unfortunately, if certain friendships will end, because of talking about the truth, then those friendships can go ahead and explode, like Robotnik’s mech exploding over the surface of the planet.  I’ll just expect that the most important friendships will survive, no matter what!

The Doomsday Zone also refers to the Bible, in which Doomsday represents not only destruction, but also, the revealing of truth.  Which seems to mean that sometimes the truth can cause destruction, but the truth is our salvation anyway.

While these are deep reflections to associate with S3&K, or any platformer:  It can be a great place for heavy reflections about life-and-death, in the Death… Zone, and The Doomsday Zone!

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1 Comment

  1. bitGlass says:

    James, I totally sympathise. In 1994 my then girlfriend broke up with me. It was a long drawn out affair of yes-no-maybe after I had initially ended it with her. Devastated, I buried myself in every combination of every Sonic cart with S&K. I loved the subtle changes each game had with different characters and set to work completing S3&K with all three characters, each with all of the Super Chaos Emeralds. It did the trick. It showed me that sometimes it’s good to escape into a fantasy world, just to give my buzzing brain a break.

    Ken, it’s always been a tough call between Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi 3. The former is obviously a great achievement but the latter is so polished. Only real answer is to play both. =D

    Bottino, you’ve inspired me, I’m gonna load up my copy of Power Drive. I played it a few times when I worked at a video game store and filed it away to devote some real time to it… That was 23 years ago. I think it’s time. =)

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