Welcome to the first installment of Lists of Fury, a feature series dedicated to counting down the top ten of just about everything Genesis-related. Nothing is sacred here, and we’re sure that our contenders will probably piss off a few people. That’s fine with us. In fact, we’re counting on it! Our first list really just says what everyone has been thinking anyway: game series that should have stayed on the Genesis. Some of these weren’t exclusive to Sega’s console, but they were there during their heyday, and their release on the Genesis contributed greatly to their success.
Chances are that many readers will either add to the list or change the order, but there’s definitely reason for all these games to appear. Not every franchise was able to make the jump to the next generation, and some were so badly affected in transition that they never recovered. Others deliberately took another direction that went completely against everything they stood for in the first place, and they crashed and burned in spectacular fashion as a result. Anyway you look at it, it would have been better for them to have died in 16-bit than to have become the parody of themselves that they eventually became.
So here we go!
#10. Earthworm Jim
This one might still be up for grabs, as the series is poised for a downloadable comeback on modern consoles. We only hope that developer Gameloft takes a long hard look at Earthworm Jim 3D to know what not to do. The former was a horrible attempt to bring the franchise into the vaseline-blurred world of N64 3D (and PC) that languished in development hell for three years. In the end, it advertised levels and enemies not in the game, had a horrible camera (in a 3D game? Pshaw!), and had bad animation and a horrible frame rate. If there was a checklist of things to screw up when transitioning a game to 3D, it would bear VIS Entertainment’s company logo at the top.
Menace 2 the Galaxy for the Game Boy Color retained the familiar 2D feel, but it failed to maintain the excellent reputation that the Special Edition on the Sega CD and Earthworm Jim 2 on the Saturn had established. A PSP release was announced and slated to reunite many of the original team (including David Perry and Doug TenNapel) but soon disappeared. This newest announcement could be a third strike for Jim unless developers get it right.
#9. Thunder Force
This one probably pains me more than any other on this list, as the Thunder Force games are very dear to me. The Genesis went out on top with the superb, if not stupidly renamed Lightening Force, and while the series made a decent jump to the Saturn and then Playstation with part five, it wasn’t quite the same. For almost a decade, gamers kept wondering if that odd taste in their mouth was just a fluke or a permanent side effect of Thunder Force’s jump to newer consoles. In 2009, their worst fears were confirmed. The sixth installment was left only in Japan, which should have sent a clear message. Though not entirely bad, Thunder Force VI was far from what fans expected, and it cemented their fears that the series is in a downward trend. Its sales didn’t set the world on fire, which means that it could possibly the last time anyone sees that famous logo on their screen again. Even worse, it probably took Space Harrier with it, as Tez Okana, the game’s director, told Next Gen Online that a new game in the series would depend on the success of Thunder Force VI. And we all know that there’s no better way to raise a game’s sales than by releasing it in a single territory, right?
The reason the series makes this list is because the Genesis games seemed to improve with quality with each release, climaxing in what most fans consider to be the best game of all. Once off the console, however, it’s been downhill all the way.
#8. Altered Beast
Sega made more than one attempt to revive this franchise, and oddly enough neither one was on the Genesis. It instead took the company over a decade to remember it even had the property. We think that it was probably because the game was originally a pack-in freebie. Sega executives forgot about Altered Beast because they never saw the box on shelves!
On second thought, it most likely had something to do with the fact that Altered Beast was never anything to get excited about anyway, and Genesis-era management decided that one game was enough. Of course, when Guardians of the Realm was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003, their decision was completely vindicated. Imagine doing the same tired and limited moves from the first game, only this time you get to do them for like, a thousand stages, each one lasting longer than a Peter Jackson film. That is Guardians of the Realm.
It didn’t end there, though. Project Altered Beast came to life on the Playstation 2 in 2005 for both Europe and Japan, and American gamers wondered where their copy was. The fact that it never made it over should have set off a red flag. Bland, unattractive levels were combined with cookie-cutter gameplay to create a benadril-like stupor that left gamers thinking this one should have been left in its grave.
Joe Musashi was perhaps the biggest bad ass of the 16-bit era. Slicing and dicing his way through a trio of adventures, it seemed nothing could withstand the force of his ninjistu. Unfortunately, poor Joe never counted on having to face Sega management. When the suits upstairs finally decided to bring Shinobi back for another run on the Saturn, they placed so much importance on the series that it was farmed out for publishing to Vic Tokai. Obviously, Sega had too many AAA titles on its release calendar in 1995 and decided that Bug! and Ghen War were much more important than Shinobi. They also decided to ditch the incredible sprite visuals and go all Power Rangers with the cut scenes. Hey, at least it was still 2D.
No, things went really awry when the series came back on the Playstation 2 and the Game Boy Advance. The first title offered a tough-as-nails 3D action game that had another Ninja named Hotsuma (replacing Joe as the star was another STELLAR choice) facing a foe far more deadly than Neo Zeed and the Union Lizard combined: pits. Yes, air dashing across half a level with no checkpoints was the true way to test a ninja’s metal, as actual combat was seemingly not enough. To make matters worse, Overworks added a life-stealing blade. Sounds good, right? Well, the problem was that the blade stole Hotsuma’s life force, and he had to “feed” it by killing enemies. That wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t spending most of the time watching your life be sucked away while you futilely tried to reach the bored bad guys who awaited you on the opposite side of a giant chasm.
The 2002 Game Boy Advance release was a train wreck that should have ended with the star ninja committing seppuku. It was done by the same talented folks who did the GBA Altered Beast game, and by “talented” I mean “good at killing 16-bit franchises.” Sega should have just bought the rights to Konami’s incredible Ninja Five-0 instead.
#6. Phantasy Star
Yeah, that’s right. I went there. Sega today seems to be content with the MMO-lite gravy train that Phantasy Star has become, but those who remember the original games wonder where things went wrong. Sega seems to know this, as evidenced by the inclusion of a lukewarm single-player element in Phantasy Star Universe, but the majority of the games in the series recently seem to be firmly centered around fetch quests and returning to the same levels a billion times. I played the original Phantasy Star Online for well over two hundred hours, but I was under the impression at the time that it was more of a side project and not the official direction for the series. Needless to say, I’m pissed and want my single-player RPG back! I know Sega can do it too, as they gave us a great traditional RPG in Skies of Arcadia. It was almost as if it were smirking at us, mocking our desire for a new Phantasy Star. Sadly, even that great series died.
#5. Shining Force
How? How can a company ruin a franchise so diverse as that which is everything Shining? Traditional RPGs, action/RPGs, strategy RPGs – Shining games did it all. Then Sega decided to rip out the franchise’s heart like some corporate Shang Tsung and turn it into a soulless mockery of what it once was. Crap like Shining Force Neo and Shining Soul completely tore down the canon and were clear attempts to cash in on a name. To be honest, I love Diablo and Baldur’s Gate-type games, but unless you keep the ties to the central universe and make it all blend together somehow, there’s no reason to keep the name. Oh, but look! There’s Dark Dragon! Sorry, it takes more than that to tie a series together. I’ve officially boycotted this franchise until Sega returns it to greatness. It can do it post-Genesis, too. One just has to look at the incredible Shining Force III and Shining the Holy Ark on Saturn to see how it’s done. Ah, but I forgot that Sega doesn’t remember its old games any more…
#4. Golden Axe
Aside from the brain fart that was Golden Axe III (that’s right), this is one property that wasn’t doing too badly. After Golden Axe Warrior on the Master System and then the incredible Revenge of Death Adder in 1992, Sega stumbled a bit with The Duel two years later. Twelve years is plenty of time to regain your balance, but the company somehow managed to fall flat on its face with Beast Rider in 2006. A bland and uninteresting hack-‘n-slasher that consisted mostly repetetive switch hitting and whose deadliest foe was the terrible camera system, the game was an exercise in sheer tedium. To be fair though, if dullness was what Secret Level was going for, then Beast Rider can be considered a triple A title.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Just give us a port of Revenge of Death Adder with online play for three people and we’ll call it even. At least until the next time Sega decides to “revisit” the franchise.
When a game’s creator returns to work on a sequel, things usually turn out decent. You can at least expect SOME level of quality under those circumstances, unless the publisher goes out of its way to ruin things. Bubsy patriarch Mike Berlyn attempted to give the franchise a 3D facelift, but he was stymied at every turn, and what little he was able to accomplish got completely butt-stomped by Super Mario 64. Said Berlyn of the project: “I had no tools for drawing environments, no controller precedents that I could rely on, no way to relate polygon count to the kind of design I was visualizing, and throughout all of this, there had been no 3D platform games before.”
Now THAT’S how you bring a series into the next generation! Hey, what could go wrong?
What do you do with a creative property famed for its deep storyline and incredible cut scenes, solid gameplay, awesome soundtrack, and hot female protagonists? Why, you ignore everything but the girls in skimpy clothing! Telenet gave new meaning to the term “whoring out a franchise” when it made Valis go completely hentai with Valis X(XX?) in 2006. Saving the human world so many times takes away from a girl’s love life, and the stars of this series have needs. Apparently, those needs involve tentacle rape and a myriad of other nasty sexual fetishes. And to think I remember when the biggest problem these heroines faced was saving a world.
The biggest kicker? The Valis X line was released to coincide with the franchise’s twentieth anniversary. Happy birthday.
#1. Sonic The Hedgehog
Come on, did you think anyone else would top this list? I can already imagine the hair on the back of many of Sonic’s furry fans bristling in anger, and I would recommend that they direct it against a particular company whose name is spelled with four letters. Taking its flagship franchise and continually watering it down by adding useless friends, stupid hub worlds, and freakin’ lycanthropy – make it stop Sega, please make it stop. On a positive note, I think the company may finally be realizing this, as each 3D game is accompanied by another release of his classic 2D adventures, almost as if to make up for the latest round of mediocrity. Sega is set to bring the Blue Blur back to greatness (again) with an HD, 2D release soon, but I’ve heard this song and dance before. Just refer to the diagram at the right if you’re wondering what to think.