We’ve all had it happen. You walk into a game store to buy something, quickly going over in your head the titles highest on your list. You find the one that most interests you and are suddenly taken aback once you pick it up. Little bells go off inside your mind as you gaze in a mixture of confusion and horror at the box. Everything you’ve heard about the game; all the reviews you’ve read, word-of-mouth praise, commercials; all have their credibility instantly challenged and cast into doubt by a single thing:
Some downright nasty box art.
Nothing screams “communication breakdown” like bad box art. To have a game be in development for months, sometimes years, and have the end result of so much effort be wrapped in an ugly box tends to give the impression that no one gave a crap anymore by the time distribution came. Too many times this is true. However, there are actually quite a few cases where the game inside the box belies its unattractive shell and is either a decent play or true classic. Come along as Sega-16 takes a look at ten of the best Genesis games to overcome their promotional handicaps and actually make something of themselves.
#10: Valis III
Ported over from the PC-Engine, Valis 3 is a great example of side scrolling action done right. Continuing the famed series in high fashion, the story of Yuko’s quest to protect the human world from inter-dimensional baddies combines tight game play with an excellent story (told through some amazing cut scenes) and an excellent soundtrack. The ability to switch on the fly between Yuko and her two companions brings some diversity and strategy to an already great game. It’s a shame that Renovation passed over part two, as they left a gaping hole in the saga for Genesis gamers who didn’t have a TurboGrafx-16 CD and had played the first game.
With all the games released in this series in its native Japan, one has to wonder why on Earth Renovation wouldn’t just use some of the tons of already available artwork for the American cover. I mean, just look at this. Resembling more Xena’s stand-in than the savior of mankind, Yuko is probably pointing that sword at Renovation’s marketing director. Taking another glance at that cover, I’m ok with wherever she decides to stick it.
#9: El Viento
Once again Renovation’s marketing department was asleep at the wheel. Does that art make you want to play? Knee-high stockings and mobsters look more fitting in a “B” level mobster flick than an eight meg action game. The fact that El Viento was a pretty decent game (nothing spectacular though) almost makes up for the cover art (almost but not quite). As Annet, a seventeen year-old Peruvian princess with a mean pair of boomerangs, you must stop your evil half-sister from reviving the evil god of the wind, Hastur back in 1920s New York. The plot isn’t very original and as I mentioned, the game itself is pretty standard fare. The trademark Renovation cut scenes are here and it was cool to see Earnest Evans make an appearance. He probably needed the work after his own abomination of a game.
I have a problem with El Viento‘s premise of a boomerang-wielding teenager taking on the mob and reborn deities. Suspension of disbelief is a must here and once you can get by the over-the-top storyline; the game is actually a lot of fun. Love those Wolf Team explosions! Kaka-boom!
Of course, that cover is simply awful. It reminds me of the 8-bit game Gangster Town and when a game’s artwork resembles a Master System cover, you know something isn’t right.
#8: Target Earth
Now here’s a game that rocks. Originally released in Japan under the title Assault Suit Leynos, Target Earth remains to this day one of the hardest games ever released on Genesis. One hit, few continues: truly a man’s game. While the great story of the Japanese version may have been butchered upon translation, the wonderful graphics and game play are intact. This was what it was all about: huge, heavily armored mechs blowing each other up, epic space battles, planetary assaults; what more could you ask for? A great ending and a crapload of weapons make this one a favorite to this day.
First impressions go a long way and there’s nothing on this cover that suggests the type of game inside. It looks like Iron Man went postal or something. The brilliant part is that here was Dreamworks trying their best to sell a Robotech-type game, yet they decided to ditch the awesome mech-filled Japanese original art and go with…this. It’s incredible business savvy like this that led to Dreamworks ultimate success. Oh wait, they went under.
#7: Toe Jam & Earl
You either love this series or you hate it. Personally, I love it. The two sequels never managed to capture the magic and charm of the original, although part three came pretty close. The idea of two rapping aliens may seem a bit farfetched but the originality of the game play and the way the game just oozed style and fun more than make it a classic. Random levels ensured high replay value and I still haven’t discovered what all the presents do!
Unfortunately, the main character designs (Toe Jam’s gold chain, high tops, and ball cap; for instance) do little else except perpetuate a stereotype that no one really needs to see, and the terrible box art practically waves this around like a flag. I don’t know what Sega’s marketing team was thinking when they approved this. Don’t high tops come in pairs? Exactly why is Earl running around in boxer shorts? Most of all, can anyone tell me exactly when the hell “Jammin!” was ever a cool thing to say?
#6: Trouble Shooter
The Genesis is renowned for two genres of games: platformers and shmups. It’s library holds some of the best shooters ever made, and Trouble Shooter (or Battle Mania, as it’s known in Japan) can hold its own on that list. Apparently a loose adaptation of the anime Dirty Pair, it follows two female mercenaries, Madison, and Crystal, on their adventures to find the person responsible for killing a wealthy prince. The sequel, which was even better, was never released stateside, and currently goes for an arm and a leg on eBay. The original is a campy little romp with some decent graphics and solid control that can be had quite cheaply.
Great game aside, nothing on the cover says, “buy me!” In fact, that hair has me wondering if there’s a wind machine off camera or if huge advances were made in the development of Aqua Net. The whole design is horrendous as well. The logos are all out of whack, and everything is just kind of tossed in there. If anything, I kept looking for Lucy Lu. Hmm, maybe she’s behind the seal of quality…
#5: Shadow Dancer
Everyone loves Joe Musashi. the original ninja master who showed no mercy and took no prisoners, he seemed to only get better on the Genesis. After his seminal debut in the legendary Revenge of Shinobi, Joe was back and ready to slice and dice. The Genesis version is not an exact port of the coin-op original, but I think it’s better in most respects. The game basically took the established and successful formula and threw in a dog, which didn’t really add much to the game play dynamic. The graphics are clear and sharp and Joe looks about ten pounds lighter than he did in the arcade. The soundtrack pales before Yuzo Koshiro’s work on Revenge but is still quite good. A definite purchase for Shinobi fans.
Just looking at that cover makes me chuckle. Who is Joe going to strike here? Don’t ninjas have better things to do that tackle purse snatchers? Why not just wait for the dog to bite that thug in the ass? Can you guess which of his mighty ninjitsu techniques would be best employed here? Me neither. Maybe he’d better not stain his blade with this one and go back to more important things like, you know, saving the world.
#4: Wonder Boy in Monster World
It’s a sad day when there are no more Wonder Boy games being made. The series started out great and changed dramatically with Monster Land on the Master System. The Genesis sequel came after the impressive Dragon’s Trap and was the last game in the series to be released domestically, which is sad, as Monster World is one of the best action/RPGs ever made. Everything in this game is of the highest caliber: the graphics, inventory system, control, level design; everything. Even the soundtrack is terrific, even one-upping the PC-Engine version (Dynastic Hero). Actually, this version craps all over the PCE game in every conceivable way and is only nosed out by the masterpiece that is Monster World IV.
I’m still waiting to find those magic high tops in the game. You tell me; if you were a boss monster, would this person inspire fear in you? Just jump around a bit, he’s liable to trip on one of his shoe laces. Of course, this is all assuming that the mean bandana around his head hasn’t intimidated you into a state of total paralysis. Wait, don’t bandana-touting, high top-wearing teens usually sport some sort of automatic weaponry?
Arcade legend, fan favorite, all around badass. What else can you say about Strider Hiryu? As the first ever 8meg cartridge, it shattered expectations as to what could be done with the Genesis hardware and paved the way for bigger and better carts (the largest of which was also by Capcom. Super Street Fighter II weighed in at a hefty 42megs!)
As close a port of the arcade classic as it was, most gamers would have to wait until Capcom blessed us with the inclusion of the original with the sequel on PlayStation over a decade later to get the perfect version (or you could just buy Capcom Classics Collection for the PSP and play it there). Fantastic graphics and sound, gorgeous levels and fast paced game play make this one of the best platformers around. Just try not to get distracted by the Bruce Willis look alike on the cover, who not only lacks a grappling hook, but is also using a blade that is definitely not the famous Falchion plasma sword. I’m also loathed to ask what those leather straps around his chest are for.
Here’s another great action/RPG that fell victim to a bad jacket. Landstalker is a wonderful game that shows just how maddening mazes can be. The incredible level design and awesome graphics are at first hidden behind the cartoony graphics, but once you get started, you realize that this game is not easy. Simple and intuitive controls, lots of items and equipment, and some absolutely huge dungeons put this at the forefront of the genre on Genesis. There’s currently a 3D remake in the works for the PSP, though it’s unclear how it will hold up against the Genesis classic. Many of the original team are working on it, so my hopes are high.
Muscle-bound heroes with flaming swords don’t make for inspirational art, and when they look as fruity as Nigel does here, even the undead will laugh at them. With legs like those, he should be drop kicking everything in sight. In all honesty, whenever you entrust the fate of your world to spandex-wearing elves, you simply cannot expect good things to happen. The best part? Nimble Nigel here’s best friend is a fairy. You do the math.
#1: Pirates Gold!
Now here’s a game that just doesn’t get enough praise. Created by the esteemed Sid Meier and originally released for PC, Pirates Gold! is a remake of 1987’s Pirates! You play the part of a would-be swashbuckler in the 17th century. Assemble your crew and gain notoriety as a scourge of the high seas while visiting ports around the globe. Long range cannon battles are matched in intensity with boarding raids and heated sword battles. The ability to play politics and win the favor (or wrath) of the era’s most powerful nations adds so much to the game. Play the governors against each other and watch the sparks fly! Wine, dine, pillage, and purge (no raping though) across the high seas in search of adventure and treasure. It doesn’t get much better than this folks. Truly a classic in every sense of the word, any RPG fan should try it out. Don’t let the Capt. Hook wannabe on the cover dissuade you from playing what must surely be one of the Genesis’ best RPGs. I mean, is he fighting Peter Pan here or what?