Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 49

2009 is on its way out, and it’s taking lots of great gaming memories with it. But before 2010 arrives, let’s take one final look at how our staff and readers finished off the year!


Secret of Monkey Island By Ken Horowitz

It figures that just as I play through Secret of Monkey Island on the Sega CD, the enhanced version of the game goes on sale on Xbox Live Arcade. Achievement whore that I am, I grabbed it for the paltry four hundred points that it cost, and now I’m going through this amazing game again. There’s something about it that just makes me crack up every time, and… speaking of time, if I had more of it I would play through the new series on WiiWare. There’s just too much Monkey Island goodness out at the same time! Regardless, my Sega CD yearly playthrough will forever be a tradition. I only wish we had gotten more of these great Lucas Arts adventures on the Sega CD. The Sierra ones would have been great too. I’d have loved to have played Space Quest and King’s Quest with CD audio and cut scenes, but I guess Monkey Island will have to do…

Hit the Ice By Alex Burr

With the first blizzard of the season, one thing comes to the minds of twenty-something men who live right on Lake Michigan: ice hockey. Hours are spent, heck days are spent making the ice, laying down the water, making sure the ground is perfectly level so sometime later on we can “Hit the Ice.” Now, what I just described to you is way more interesting than this game. Hit the Ice is like a wannabe NHL Hitz 2002 for Genesis, and it gets a lot of things wrong and a few thins right. I could go on, and in my review of the game I do go on, but this game is a lot more promising when you look at the box and cartridge than it is when you start playing it. Give it a chance, but don’t expect it to be that great. I wish it were though. Playing real ice hockey and decking your friends into the mounds of snow around the rink is so much more fun than this!

Streets of Rage By Christian Matozzo

Alright, so I participated in a Secret Santa with some friends of mine, and I got a Streets of Rage cart as a gift! It’s a bit tattered and the label has “PIERCE’ written on it, but it works just fine. I recently got the second one as well, (and what a fantastic game that is!!) and I wanted to see how the first one played.

Well, this was my first reaction: The game has the basics down. It’s got good gameplay, good music, and decent enough graphics. But I can’t help but think that everything feels unpolished, or that it could have been done better in all ways. The game reeks of unused potential.

The graphics are good, but the sprites are small, and the graphics are rugged-looking. I’m not sure if they were going for a city feel, but it doesn’t appeal to me. There are also very few enemies, about five unique enemies total in the game, not including bosses. Even one of the bosses is just a palette swap of Blaze. The sound effects are average, and they got the right idea, but they’re not executed very well, such as the grunt when an enemy dies. Also, The music is good for the game, but it’s not memorable. The only track exclusive to Streets of Rage 1 that I thought was memorable was “Violent Breathing” from the elevator level.

But the most important aspect of the game of course is the gameplay.

Streets of Rage has the basic gameplay there, but it’s not diverse. There isn’t much to keep it from being the same-old game a few rounds in. The lack of a change of pace in the gameplay is what the game suffers from the most. The only level that I thought changed things up was the elevator level, everything else was just scroll right and beat-up thugs. And the police car with the rocket launcher is cool, but it doesn’t do anything for the gameplay. Furthermore, the bosses are even less memorable than the music. The hit detection on the bosses is off when compared to the regular enemies, and it really ruins the boss-fights to the point where that if you don’t have the rocket launcher when fighting them, they become ridiculously harder. But thankfully, Streets of Rage 2 expounds on all of the good points of the first game, because under all its nuances, Streets of Rage really does have some potential to be a good game.

So if you haven’t play Streets of Rage, give it a shot. It’s an enjoyable game, but don’t expect it to be like Streets of Rage 2 where you’ll be popping it in once every once in a while. It’s fun, but the fun doesn’t last for more than one or two playthroughs. If you want the best beat-’em-up action on the Genesis, Streets of Rage 2 is the way to go for sure.

Castlevania Bloodlines By Sebastian Sponsel

What better occasion to celebrate the season of joy than by battling the forces of evil? Well… all right, I’m sure that there are better ways, but since Halloween I’ve been in an all-out Castlevania mood, fighting Dracula and his minions across no less than four different platforms (Super Castlevania IV on SNES, Castlevania Bloodlines on the Genesis, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on PSX, and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia on the DS). Not only have I taken on these games, but I intend to complete every single one of them before year’s end by their fullest – meaning that no, up until I took on this task, I hadn’t finished a single one of them.

So I set out on my quest of defeating Dracula, over and over again. And I was surprised to see that the games seem to be way easier than I had always imagined: I literally breezed through Symphony of the Night (though a fun romp it was), and Super Castlevania IV did take a couple of tries but wasn’t that much of a problem as well.

I think this is why Bloodlines stands out to me as the better of these two old school Castlevania games: While the Super Nintendo version sports the better graphics hands down, the Genesis game sports the greater challenge and replayability thanks to three different difficulty settings. Yeah, I have beaten the game on Easy and Normal settings; but on expert mode, I’m still stuck on the battle against Death. But I’ll be damned if I don’t manage to defeat this undead bane until the end of this decade!

By the way: Admittedly, Symphony of the Night was an awesome experience, but Order of Ecclesia just doesn’t manage to get me as hooked. And even though I highly enjoyed the first of these “Metrovania”-style games… judging from the experiences of these past two months, I admit I prefer the old school platforming Castlevanias. They are more fun to just pick up and play, even if only for one or two levels. With the newer games it sort of feels like you took on an obligation to explore and constantly backtrack, which becomes kind of a chore. Games should be fun, not work. I prefer the straight forward to the roundabout way. And no matter what kind of Castlevania you’re playing, at the end of the day you still only want to do one thing: Whip Dracula into the face and see that castle crumble into the sea one more time.

Gunstar Heroes By Tom Briggs

December is a tough month for Genesis gaming. Usually there are a good three or four “current” releases that I can’t keep my hands off. This year it’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, and Silent Hill Shattered Memories. All terrific games, all time consumers. I did, however, make time for the Genesis as well.

For the last year or so I’ve had my Genesis connected to my front room tv, which is a large projection HDTV. Sure, I can still play all my favorites, but they look awful on the big screen. So I made it a project of mine to move the Genesis/CD combo back into my room, which has a much smaller HDTV, one which allows S-Video output to look pretty great. It took a little time, sweat, and effort, but I finally achieved my goal, and threw in my favorite game: Gunstar Heroes.

I adore Gunstar Heroes. Heck, I’ve probably already written about the game in a previous roundtable. It’s just one of those perfect games. I love trying different weapon combinations, and usually go into a trance like state while playing the game. There’s some difficulty to be had, especially when using a rather ineffective weapon combo, but it also may be my favorite beatable hardcore game. The game never feels unfair, if you ever fail at defeating a boss, you only have one person to blame: yourself. Thanks to the move and Gunstar Heroes, I had a very merry Christmas!

Streets of Rage 2 By Jackie Bogard

This is a tough month for me, I have acquired over fifty Genesis games – some I bought, and most I got for Christmas from my friend Matt.

I was originally going to do Truxton or Midnight Resistance, but in the end Street of Rage 2 took over, barely. my friend got me the game with the case, which is great!

I popped the case open, put it in my RetroGen and… nothing. That’s no good. I then cleaned it some, and nothing still. So, I decided to try it on my Genesis model 1 and 2, both with the same results. Nothing worked. I grabbed cotton swabs and went to work but still no progress, Finally, I decided on a method of trying to clean the pins with my shirt. and alas, after a few hours of working with it, it worked!

It was now working on the Genesis and RetroGen, I laid in bed that night and enjoyed a sweet playthrough of it, and wow! It’s been years since I played it and absolutely loved it! The game wasn’t too hard, but it was not super easy either. I ended up using only one continue on the final stage, even though Shiva gave me problems until I figured him out.

Now, I probably should have played part one first, but after all the work of getting it going, there was no way I was going to put it down! I’m playing through this classic and enjoying ever moment of it, so there is no way it wasn’t going to be my choice for this month’s roundtable! Now to play through part one and hunt down part three.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master By Tiido Priimagi

It seems that the game I keep on pushing into my Jr. Battleship time most often this month is Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master. There’s something about the game that keeps me wanting more of it, perhaps the cool intro, or maybe exploding enemies or the awesome music ? I don’t really know, but I do know that every time I play the game, I lose track of time and won’t notice what goes on in my surroundings, I am totally nailed down in front of my 28″ Philips viewing things in sharp RGB and blasting my ears (along with neighbors’ ears :P) through my lovely Hi-Fi… this is just one enormous WIN!!!

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom By The Coop

Every franchise has at least one black sheep in the family. Thunder Force has Thunder Force VI , and Sonic has Sonic 3D Blast. These are games that are either horrid/mediocre in a sea of otherwise good entries, or games that were so different from the rest of the franchise at the time, that people weren’t sure just how to take them. Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom falls into the later category… for the most part.

With PS III, the player is no longer in the Algol system. Instead, you’re riding in a seven-bubbled spaceship called the Alisa III. You’re also thrown into a world that follows 1,000 years after the Layan-Orakian conflict, and makes you play through three generations of characters. The end result leaves you with a game that seems to have little to do with the franchise’s main storyline. But wait! There’s more!

The graphics for the overworld map looked good, but the battle scenes took a nasty hit. Less animation on the enemies than PS II (or even PS I really), goofy enemy designs that made little sense, and no real background graphics to speak of during battles, left a bad taste in the mouths of players. The soundtrack, while containing a number of enjoyable tunes, was hurt a bit by some of the music having less than pleasant instruments chosen. Finally, the frequency of the random attacks got on the nerves of some as well. While never as bad as Sword of Vermillion and its “take a step and get attacked” gameplay, it can dish out the attacks with a somewhat annoying frequency at times.

So the game had a number of strikes against it, but in the end, it was still fun if you gave it a chance. Playing as the grandchild of who you initially started playing as was an interesting idea, and the story does get resolved in a way that cries out for a Phantasy Star V to be made (remember the Phantasy Earth rumors?). Yeah, it took a hit visually in areas, and the music suffered in spots, but I think it got a bad rep by the fanboys early on who just couldn’t accept that this game was a side story, rather than part of the main story (of course, the Japanese version says PS III takes place 1,000 years after PS IV, which would’ve helped the U.S. version fit in better, but…).

If you’ve avoided PS III, and only played parts I, II and IV, give it try. It’s not as good as those other entries, but it’s not the steaming pile it’s been made out to be.

WWF Royal Rumble By A.A. Dawson

I have a friend who loves the WWF. No, I’m not referring the the World Wildlife Foundation, but instead the World Wrestling Federation, a group of folks who change their names regardless of the simplicity and take part in what is effectively the “man’s soap opera” of all known professional sports, scripted wrestling. This friend of mine just can’t get enough of not only the televised events, but the officially licensed video games as well. He owns a fair collection of wrestling titles for the Playstation 2 and the Nintendo 64 alike but none for any 16-bit consoles since his oldest system is a black-cased N64. I bet you’re wondering, “how does this have anything to do with the Mega Drive/Genesis?” Allow me to explain. Since I’m the big Genesis fan in my group of friends, I try to keep them entertained by purchasing titles they’d be interested in. As a result, I’m almost done with the complete collection of WWF games on the MD/G. The latest addition to my set is certainly the most sentimental.

Royal Rumble was the very second WWF game on the MD/G. I’d also call it the second best in the series of four. Thanks to a one dollar contribution on behalf of my friend mentioned above, we bought the boxed cartridge from a local used game store and started playing a little while after we got back from the trip.

Since this was the first WWF game I’d ever played back when I was younger, many things looked familiar in-game: Hulk Hogan of course, Papa Shango’s skeleton-painted face, and the metal folding chair sitting up against the bottom of the ring, just to name a few. Strangely enough, the overall atmosphere seemed different from how I remembered it.

After losing several times and enjoying the “knock yourself unconscious by running into metal posts” feature, we called it a day. Playing Royal Rumble with a friend was a nice time and the closest I ever want to get to being the Hulkster himself.

Revenge of Shinobi By Danny Ramirez

Even though the Genesis’ 20th U.S anniversary has come and gone, I’ve still been in a 1989 state of mind. The experience has been made all the more authentic by my regular playing of now-legendary, talented musical acts such as Phil Collins & Milli Vanilli, and my watching of the laugh-out-loud antics of Andrew “Dice” (OH!) Clay on that there YouTube thingamajig. Nothing like re-living a year that I was too young and/or dumb to even remember. On my last Roundtable entry back in October, I highlighted Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, which was arguably the Genny’s first “killer app” (gah, I hate video game lingo) and demonstrated that the console was capable of handling great arcade ports. This time around, I’ll be enlightening you *scoff*…….peasants, about the greatness that is The Revenge of Shinobi (or as it’s known in Nippon-land, “Za Supaa Sheenoebi”)

Released in both Japan & the U.S in December of 1989 (those living in third-world countries such as everything outside of Japan & the U.S didn’t get it until much later, naturally) the 4 MEGA POWER -ed Revenge of Shinobi was the canon sequel to the arcade & Master System hit called well, Shinobi. Unlike its frustrating, Rolling Thunder-inspired predecessor, RoS more closely mirrored its Master System port, and most importantly was developed from the ground up on and for the Genesis, which really made a difference amongst the myriad of arcade ports (both good and bad, yet lacking in replay value overall) and crapola sports titles which made up most of the Genesis’ first-gen library.

RoS also marked the Genesis debut of many a Sega fan’s musical lord and savior LADIES AND GENTLEMEN MR YUZO KOSHIRO!!! (*cue clapping and house band music*) Most famous for his work on the Streets of Rage trilogy, Yuzo strutted his musical stuff on this game, which resulted in a fantastic, varied soundtrack that showcased what was to come. Of course, I can’t forget to mention RoS’s oft-mentioned notoriety for featuring unlicensed likenesses of Spider-Man, Batman (with actual bat wings) Godzilla and a Hulk/Terminator pastiche as bosses… there, I mentioned it. Go google the rest, you wine cooler-sipping jabroni. In all seriousness (just for now), the combination of great graphics (for 1989), great sound and rock-solid gameplay (master the double-jump, young grasshopper!) made RoS an instant classic, spoken of in the same breath as the aforementioned Ghouls ‘N Ghosts as the best Genesis games of 1989.

I initially wasn’t too fond of RoS when I first owned it back around 1996ish, as my younger self, utterly lacking in jawsomness, had an aversion to early Genesis games ( often identified by the “Sega Genesis logo” on their cart labels, sans the “16-Bit Cartridge” subtitle added in post-1990 games), under the pretense that they were old, and therefore sucked. Several years later, and after reading EGM’s retrospective praise of the game throughout the late 1990’s, I gave RoS another try in 2000. Being slightly more mature, and a much more seasoned gamer (yet still lacking in jawsomness), I became obsessed with the game, and the Shinobi series in general. I was lucky to have gotten my hands on a first-run copy of the game that time around, meaning I chuckled and struggled with web-slingers, giant reptiles and Sylvester Stallone look-alikes, all in their unlicensed, unsanctioned glory. As the case with many, I was utterly stumped by the maze-like last level upon first reaching it (fittingly enough, the BGM which plays in this level is titled “Labyrinth”), and did not conquer it until over a year later, in 2001 (by trial-and-error of course). To add insult to injury, the final battle of the game has you juggling both the kabuki-esque “Neo Zeed” and the concrete wall slowly coming down over our protagonist’s imprisoned, poorly-animated bride-to-be. Your jawsume ninja skillz (or lack thereof) will determine whether you get the “good” or “bad” ending. I, being a lifelong sufferer of JDS (Jawsome Deficiency Syndrome), got the “bad” ending at first, but bounced back to get the “good” one later on. All in all, it was a rewarding experience, topped off by utterly lame endings.

To prepare myself for this “Wall of Text” of a Roundtable submission, I went through RoS once more. Being allergic to anything and everything that is “jawsome”, I played on normal and with infinite “Shurikin” (sic, lol Sega). Only a couple of bosses, the last level and the nefarious Neo Zeed proved a challenge to my shurikin-laden offense. After an hour-and-a-half, I once again watched Musashi & Naoko standing over a mountain, arm-in-arm, watching the sun set over the 16-bit sky. And once again, the journey was far more fulfilling than this cookie-cutter ending.

RoS isn’t perfect by any means, and may even be a bit overrated, but you could do little wrong (aside from purchasing or owning Super Thunder Blade“) by snatching it up and adding it to your Genesis library. Now then child, go fire up the sound test, YouTube or Galbadia Hotel and listen to the “China Town” BGM as we close out another decade, twenty years after Joe Musashi & his rogue’s gallery of enemies closed out the 1980’s. *sniff sniff*

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