Reader Roundtable Vol. 138

‘Tis the season for family, merriment, food, and friends. Wait, that sounds a lot like last month! Well, there are still lots of great Sega games to play, and hopefully you got some gaming gifts this year for the holidays!


James Pond 2: Codename: RoboCod By Ken Horowitz

The second James Pond game is a Christmas game to me, and damned be the naysayers! I remember having this discussion back in the day with a friend, who someone thought that it wasn’t, despite the game’s setting being Santa’s workshop.  Ah, but he changed his tune once we played through it. James Pond is one of those franchises that few in my gaming group appreciated, but I loved this one. It’s the gaming Diehard for me, and I would make a little DIY tree ornament of Pond himself, had I any arts and crafts skills. The game oozes holiday charm, and while the level design can be a bit onerous at times, everything works well enough to make this a holiday classic for me. I try to give it a go every year, and this season was no difference.

Mortal Kombat II By Thief

This was the only video game I preordered in the ’90s; the hype was real. I think I was originally was going for Genesis version, but while playing the coin-op at the mall with this kid, he said the SNES version was shaping up to be superior. My local Electronic Boutique at same mall soon after had the demos of both versions on display, with the Genesis preview version only having the Dead Pool stage available and looking lacking next to SNES version. So, I did end up with the SNES version in the end; however, I had a soft spot for the Genesis version and soon acquired it too.

Mortal Kombat II is not one game I revisit much because single-player AI is not much fun to play against, unlike the original game & Mortal Kombat 3. I played with Baraka with pnly one death before reaching Kinataro, had a few deaths on Kintaro, switched to Katana to finally take him out, and finally beat Shao Kahn on the first try. I believe Katana’s ability to dodge Kahn’s projectile while in her fan lift animation is exclusive to the Genesis version, if memory serves me right, so that made fighting him a cakewalk.

Sword of Vermilion By David Dyne

You know you’re getting old when it’s been more than twenty-five years since you last played through Sword of Vermillion from start to finish. SOV was one of those games that while fascinating back in the day, it never caught my attention like Phantasy Star 2 did and one playthrough seemed to be enough compared to multiple playthroughs of PS2 over the years. Coming back to it now, I’m struck by the simplicity of the gameplay, which is a good thing. You slash your way to the next town, gear up with the latest equipment and spells, head out to a dungeon or cave to obtain an item or defeat a boss monster and then repeat the process until the end of the game. There are no real side quests or other diversions to switch your focus off the main quest.

After finishing the game, you’re told to return to the princess who has fallen in love with you now that you are the new king of the land. Then the ending and staff credits will roll. I thought I’d skip that bit and see how the game world had changed by going back to all the towns and talking to everyone again. Everyone you speak with is eternally grateful and thankful that you’ve saved them from Tsarkon’s evil, no matter which town or city you visit. There’s even one tavern owner who promises everyone free food as a result of your victory. Another aspect is that all the monsters in the world are gone so you can walk to every town or city and run around all the dungeons without a single encounter. It’s a nice little feature the developers could have omitted as they probably assumed you’d return to the princess right away and end the game instead of taking a tour of the land now that you’re the new ruler.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Crusader of Centy By Benjamin Galway

I finally made a point to finish Super Zelda III on the SNES a couple of months ago. I’m not a big “Zelda clone” fan due to the expected clunky combat, and while Link to the Past held no surprises there, it was a satisfying adventure thanks to the dungeon design and quality throughout. Not my thing; certainly not OMG BEST GAME EVER; but a good game.

Picking up and finally beating Crusader of Centy this month, the now super expensive “Zelda clone” on the Genesis, I’m reminded of why I never bothered with it back in the day. It’s just such a mess of a game. Right off the bat, you get an adventure game where you can’t really talk to anyone for the bulk of the journey, which is surprisingly off-putting. The story is all over the place; and the big draw for me, the animals, are awkwardly implemented. I love being able to move diagonally, but combat remains “Zelda clone” weak with lame enemies and bosses. The graphics are nice in parts but generally has a washed out and uninspired look that I don’t like. The big hit though is how terrible the dungeons are designed, full of messy, simple puzzles right up through the end.

If there was any justice in the world, it’d be Beyond Oasis selling for $500 complete on eBay. Nah, that’s stupid, but it’s still crazy how that works. I’ve satisfied my collection with the far, far cheaper Japanese Ragnacenty, and that’s just fine. I feel like I get the better artwork and packaging for a game likely to never come off my shelf anyway.

Batman Returns (Sega CD) By James Villone

With the holidays here, it’s important to remember the true meaning of Christmas:  Dealing out vigilante justice on the mean city streets!  

Batman is here to save Christmas by speeding around in his Batmobile and blowing up everyone on the road. Christmas has never been a huge theme in video games, and only a couple such titles come to mind for the Genesis library. Daze Before Christmas is a fairly standard platformer, but on Sega CD, Batman Returns really shines as a very fun action-racer, with great 3D graphics and a rockin’ soundtrack. This is a Christmas game because the original movie is set in the holiday season, and Sega CD brings it to life with snowy scenery and Christmas trees flashing by, as we race through the streets of Gotham. There’s great use of color, inspired by the movie, with gray and black filling out the city scenery, but with purple clouds in the background, a purple HUD, and warm-colored lights to compliment the grayscale environment. Explosions are huge and bright, with deep bass to rumble your speakers, and the Batmobile shows its damage by little fires breaking out over the car.  

I remember this title getting a big commercial push in magazines, and I think it’s completely worth the hype! While it’s known as a high point of the Sega CD library, Batman Returns actually deserves more credit, as one of the best action-racers of the 16-bit era, across all consoles. It seems that 16-bit racers typically bring to mind Super Mario Kart and F-Zero, but I think Batman Returns should be up there too, as one of the best of the era. Of these games I just mentioned, only Mario Kart is 2-player, so it has that one huge benefit. But beyond that, Batman Returns is more fun than Mario Kartand F-Zero, and Batman Returns has the most advanced graphics, with hills rising and falling, and convincing 3D for the vehicles and buildings.  

Beyond the frantic action, and great graphics and soundtrack, this is one of the ultimate feel-good games to revisit anytime. It never gets old, like a great arcade game. There’s always a city full of criminals to go kill. Merry Christmas!

Space Harrier By Mike Perez

There are plenty of ways to play Yu Suzuki’s arcade classic, since it’s been released in different formats over the decades. Some are better than others in quality, and while many would argue that the Saturn has the best version, I tend to prefer playing it on the good ‘ol 32X. The six-button Genesis pad is great overall, but it’s especially good for this kind of game, and the control is just perfect. I have fond memories of spending most of the Christmas day I got Space Harrier, just zoning out with my 32X and working on my high score, and this version still holds up wonderfully. The 32X seems to be creeping up in price lately, and what was once the more accesible form of this game might be moving out of reach soon. I recommend that anyone who loves Space Harrier should get themselves a copy before it’s too late!

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