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Reader Roundtable Vol. 13

Christmas has come and gone, and all of us are partaking in the gaming goodness that Santa and his crew left behind. There’s a ton of Genesis titles that found their way under our trees, and holiday vacation doesn’t last forever! On to the games!

 

Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin By Ken Horowitz

Recently, I’ve been playing through Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the Xbox 360, and my exploits as Spider-Man gave me the urge to revisit his earliest Genesis adventure. I’d gone through all the previous Spidey games, including his classic Atari 2006 release and all his NES appearances, but to me, this one represents a dramatic change for the character. Many are quick to identify the Spider-Man game that appeared on the Playstation, N64, and Dreamcast as the first to really do him justice, and I would point those poor, uninformed souls to this little gem. From his flawless web slinging to the great renditions of the classic super villains, Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin was the definite product for aspiring digital webheads at that point. Taking pictures of your adventures for cash was brilliant, and the only thing missing was perhaps some cameos by other NY heroes, like Daredevil or the Punisher. As it was, this was the Spider-Man game to own, and it still holds up great today. I still get a chill when desperately trying to lead Sandman to that darn water hydrant!

Zero Tolerance By Vince Thornburg

Just pulling it out of it’s eBay envelope, Zero Tolerance is a pleasure I knew not off on the Genesis. I had seen reviews and read mostly praise for it for years, but not until recently had I really played it. I never really got into emulation on games I could find NTSC easily. Too bad for me though, cause this game is awesome! I mean, even with its early difficulty, I still enjoyed the simple interface, and its abilities in showing off the Genesis’ powers. Sure, I died on the 3rd floor with all my characters, but I actually really want to give it a real try to see how far I can go before I just reach for my Game Genie and enter some sort of God Mode cheat. I mean, don’t be expecting any miracles. You’ll still feel like you’re in that old Microsoft maze screen saver, but it’s still a great game, and the Genny’s only real FPS, except for Duke Nukem.

Disney’s Aladdin By Tom Briggs

I remember writing a letter to Santa, asking for Sonic 3. I had loved the first two games of the series, and I was sure that Sonic 3 would rule my world for years. When Christmas morning came, I saw a present waiting under the tree, from Santa to me, shaped like a Genesis game box. I opened it, positive that the big, red guy had heard my wishes! But it wasn’t Sonic 3. Instead I received Aladdin, a year-old game based on a movie I really enjoyed. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. It just wasn’t the damn game I asked for! Two days later I popped the game into my Genesis, and discovered its true brilliance.

Aladdin for the Genesis is timeless. Twelve years have gone by, and the game still manages to shock me. The graphics are bright and beautiful, the sound and music are some of the best the Genny has to offer, and the animation is simply unmatched. And like the rest of the game, the control is silky smooth. The levels are challenging, yet never frustrating. One of the reasons I love the Genesis so much is because it offered so many great “afternoon” games. I didn’t have to dedicate my life to beating a game, and Aladdin is the perfect example of this. The game is like a great novel, you can’t put it down until you’ve completed it. David Perry’s masterpiece is a great representation of what the Genesis was capable of, and should be played by everyone.

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures By Nick Gibson

This was what started it all for me. It was the first Genesis game I ever played, and, looking back, I think it was probably one of the most original titles I’ve ever seen. During the “Dark Age” following my initial honeymoon with the console, I suffered under the oppression of a thousand cheap, formulaic platformers. Standing in stark contrast to their cookie-cutter gameplay and lifeless presentation was the perky Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. Here was a game that was full of spunk, charming touches, and humorous animation. No, it’s not an adrenaline thrill ride, but you have to give Namco a thumbs-up for taking such a daring approach. In case you don’t know, in this game you don’t actually control our pizza-shaped hero. You influence him by asking him to look around, walk, use items, go into buildings, and pick up things. He may or may not comply with your wishes, depending on his mood. And here we have the most fascinating part of the game: the relationship between the player and the onscreen character. Pac-Man can get mad at you, frustrated, depressed, anxious, scared – any number of things – and your main struggle is to manipulate him towards your own ends. It’s a complicated waltz of pleasure and pain as you either bribe Pac-Man or beat him into doing your bidding, while he reacts in (sometimes) surprising ways. In the end it’s a novel experience that will either frustrate you to no end…or captivate you, like it did me as a kid. Give it a shot, by all means.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom By Carl-Johan Brax

I am currently enjoying the greatness of Phantasy Star III – Generations of Doom. After playing through its prequel without the hint book, this game feels like a walk in the park, a very empty park, indeed. Even though the Orakians and Layans have lived on this spaceship for 1000 years, a view in their castles makes it seem like they just got there. They are extremely underpopulated too. When I arrived in Landen with Ayn and company, all the villages where ghost towns, except for the shop personnel. All this really irritates me, as it makes Phantasy Star III look like a rush job. It probably was. The story is bare bones and character development non-existent. The battles are extremely monotonous and apart from the town and dungeons themes, the music sucks too! So why do I play and like this game? It is quite fun to play somehow. The story may be told with minimalism, but the feud between Orakians and Layans has a special depth not found in any other RPG, not even Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft. The generations concept is also unique. If you play this game twice, you will get married more times than my dad and see two endings out of four possible. People dislike the fact that it is so different from the others of this tetralogy and doesn’t take place on the planets of Algo, something I have to agree with. But at the end of generation three you will see the connection to the other parts, which is a good try to make up for such a big flaw.

Thunder Force II By Joe Redifer

Thunder Force II is a game that gets overlooked quite often and is seriously underrated by many who do play it. Back when I first got my Genesis, Thunder Force II was the first game I purchased. I had to make due with only Altered Beast for a few days. I am a huge Space Harrier fan and I am amazed that I chose this over Space Harrier II, but I am glad I did, as this is a much better game in every respect.

I think it might be a tad unfair to compare Thunder Force II to its sequels. Sequels are supposed to be better, especially in the video game world. But nonetheless, comparisons will be made. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who enjoys the overhead stages. They are quick and easy to beat (I can beat stage three in less than 30 seconds). The side scrolling levels are great fun as well. At the time I bought this game I was amazed that it used both background layers. I didn’t think a lot of Genesis games would take advantage of that feature for some reason. I thought it would only be used on special occasions, so I was stoked when I saw the scrolling in this game. I was also floored when I heard the music and sound. With the exception of the opening male speech, the voices in this game are BY FAR the best voices in the Thunder Force series on the Genesis. The recordings are crystal clear with no hint of static or digital compression. Sure, the lady has a serious “Engrish” issues, but the recordings themselves are great. Later Thunder Force games had voices that sounded very rough and abrasive in comparison, and it’s almost like two different consoles are producing the voices. I notice this on most Genesis games after the first year, the voices got WORSE. Graphics took a step forward, and sounds step backwards, I guess. That goes for the music as well. The music here is mostly smooth FM sounds with many subtle instruments. Compare that to the rough music of something like Sonic Spinball and you’ll agree that it sounds like two different consoles.

The Genesis manual suggested I buy a special cable if I wanted stereo sound as well, so I did that a few days after I bought this game. This was the first video game I had ever heard in stereo, and I couldn’t believe all of the sounds I was missing since the system otherwise only lets you hear the right channel. I also didn’t know at the time that the Genesis was “true” stereo, I figured it’d just pump the same sounds to the left and right sides of the cable like Altered Beast did. So this game holds a lot of nostalgic value for me since I was so blown away by it at the time, but it is a great game even without it. I’d love to play the original Thunder Force game, which I have read is 100% overhead.

Boogerman: A Pick & Flick Adventure By Damien Jennison

I have had someone actually not want to talk about this game because they thought it was completely disgusting. Are public perceptions so bad in this day and age that people cannot even look past large amounts of green and crisp, clear sound effects to see a true gem of a game? If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about Boogerman. Yes, the name seems low and base and that’s because it is. The game isn’t afraid to revel in the setting of the story and for that, I applaud them. Of course, I also applaud them for a very enjoyable adventure.

It isn’t very hard at all, but I don’t mind that. Sometimes, I don’t want to be challenged, I just want to enjoy myself and this game gives that in spades. For a game with such unique methods of attack, you tend to end up ignoring what the attacks actually are apart from superbly animated and simply go with the flow, letting it consume you. And no matter how many times I play it, it will surprise me from time to time, which I like in a game I play a lot. This game never spawned any of the sequels of cartoons it was meant to which is a crying shame, as if they just flushed that potential right down the toilet.

Toki: Going Ape Spit By Daniel Smith

Toki: Going Ape Spit is one of those games I wasted far too much time on a child and sometimes, for that nostalgia kick and because it’s a pretty decent game, I quite enjoy spending a couple of hours running through it. In this slow platformer you play as a chap who has been turned into an ape by an evil wizard who has also taken the liberty of stealing your bird and caging her inside his palace (to each his own, I guess). This game is awesomely varied in both level design and enemies, although the touch detection is awful at best, and the ape is sometimes too slow to successfully dodge quicker baddies. I often wonder who came up with the idea of having a chimpanzee with the ability to spit fireballs – I have watched many nature programs and have yet to see any sort of primate perform such an action. It is certainly no Sonic The Hedgehog, but it is absorbing and worth squandering a few hours in the quest to save Toki’s woman.

Lotus 2 By Trevor McAleese

RECS – a mystifying acronym. It could stand for anything.. even Reheat Every Carnival Sausage. But it probably means Racing Environment Construction Set. The racing gameplay contained within this Amiga port is well done for the time, with nicely slick control, pleasing turns & hills adding complexity to the slithering landmass below, weather conditions that impact driving, an abundance of bumbling drone cars clogging up the path ahead, and a choice of two racing modes. Being forced to decide between music or sound effects as race-time audio delights reeks of amateur programming, however, and neither the music nor sound effects are stellar enough on their own to deserve this sort of exclusive attention. Having to forego one over the other leaves a noticeable void in Lotus 2‘s soundscape, something which wounds the “Lotus mood” more than a little. “But what of the mysterious “RECS’ system?” you ask, “Perhaps the eardrum neglect will be redeemed?” you ask. Well, the process of designing custom racetracks, and for that matter navigating the menu interface, is very finicky, and the actual level of control you have over the custom layout is limited to a set of adjustable variables.

Still, the hill-laden, curve-loaded tracks made possible through the RECS system prove to be far more interesting than what the game provides by default. This makes the tweakable course generator a definite plus, even if it’s not a match for the dreams I let myself conjure while gazing romantically at the packaging description. One might even say my expectations were.. wRECked!! Okay, overall, Lotus 2 RECS is a Genesis racing experience I attach a recommendation to – a casual race or two can make for an enjoyable squandering of free time, and that’s about all I expect from most racers of the era.

Risk By Zack Young

So lately I’ve been enjoying my memories of the board game Risk, which is almost as fun now on the Genesis as it was then. The premise of Risk is simple; take over the world. You allot armies amongst the players that are color-coded as the Green Army, the Purple Army, the Blue Army, etc. Your armies colonize the globe, place their troops, and then proceed to war. The only way to win is to conquer all of the countries. The game board is pretty flawless, and the cart does a good job of emulating this. One thing that’s especially good is that you have to use actual strategy. Having the most soldiers certainly helps, but large groups of soldiers can be taken down. Some countries simply can’t be taken inexpensively from other locations. You have to use that to your advantage and try to maneuver so that your opponents are closest to your other opponents. That is to say, make them fight each other rather than you.

Another thing is that the more countries you control the more armies you’re allotted at the beginning of your turn, but you have to hold the countries in order to benefit from this. The other biggest point (and in my opinion the true flaw of the game) is card drawing. As you get into the fight you start gaining cards for countries. Once you reach a certain point you have to trade in a set of cards for more armies. Unfortunately each army seems to reach this point one after another, each one negating the last ones effects on the board, and so the game stretches on forever, unless of course you are the last army to trade in cards. Ultimately though it’s a fun little game and a good copy of the board game.

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