Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 61

Santa has come and gone, and we hope you got all you asked for. If not, make a mental note of it and be sure to give the fat man some payback next year! Of course, with all the holiday cheer, snow (for many of us), and vacation time, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for catching up on that Genesis backlog of games!


Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle By Ken Horowitz

I’ve always been a big Alex Kidd fan. I absolutely LOVED Miracle World, hard as it was, and I even liked Lost Stars. It was a great thing to me for the character to get a Genesis sequel, and I was really eager to play an entry that went back to the style of the original. Even after all these years, I still like to fire up the old rock, scissors, paper simulation and spend some time on Planet Paperock. I admit that Enchanted Castle is something of a “love it or hate it” game, but there’s something about its simplicity and style that takes me back to another era. Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s just my penchant for liking unpopular games. Whatever the reason, I still enjoy the big-eared Kidd’s sole Genesis adventure.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine By Sebastian Sponsel

This month, I found myself once more playing Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. And no – I’ve still not come over the fact that they decided to call these little snot globs “Beans”. I mean, why? Because they sort of resemble jelly beans? Well, fair enough… Mean Bean Machine does have a better ring to it than Dr. Robotnik’s Smelly Jelly, I guess…

Anyway, me and my girl decided to give the two-player mode a go. Now, I have more than twenty years of console gaming experience under my belt, why she has hardly touched a controller in her live. However, she makes up for it with dogged determination, steadfastly refusing to let my raise my handicap by even a single level… even after losing for the twelfth time.

After about an hour I managed to sneakily increase my handicap without her noticing. Which only made her more determined to beat me after she realized that I was playing on a higher level… literally. After two hours (with me playing on the third level by then) she finally gave in… for now. But knowing her and her unwillingness to give up, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in for another round soon! Well, I sure know worse ways to spend my time…

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master By Christian Matozzo

I’ll admit that this is one of the few games in the Shinobi series I’ve played, and I picked it up on a hunch in a bag of Genesis games at Goodwill a few years back. I must say this game is highly enjoyable. Shinobi III brings to the table fast-paced action and combines it with great physics, great graphics, and excellent music. The levels are highly different, but the gameplay always feels the same. You basically have a limited number of shurikens to throw at enemies, as well as a close-up attack and one use of a selection of very powerful Jutsu that acts as your super attack. The enemies are diverse, and the game is a real challenge, though after a few levels it tends to drag on a little bit. With no password system and no save feature, it’s a little time-consuming all the way through. But I must say, some of the visuals are awesome. The third level boss especially is very cool, as disturbing as it looks. Rather impressive for the Genesis, goes to show what it was capable of later in its life span.

So really, even if you’ve never played a game in the Shinobi series, don’t be scared by the III in the title, this is definitely a game anyone can pick up and play. And considering how slow Revenge of Shinobi is in comparison, you may want to skip that one and go straight to this game.

Mickey Mania By Tom Briggs

December has been a wacky month for me. I’ve dedicated a whole lot of time to several games, and any other available time has been spent reading (it’s a phase). Sandwiched in-between Donkey Kong Country Returns and Epic Mickey on the Wii and Uncharted 2 on the PS3, I’ve spent some time with Mickey Mania for the Sega CD. The game has a special place in my heart as it represents my rekindled interest in the Sega CD.

Mickey Mania was actually an accidental purchase a few years back. I had sold off my Sega CD Model 1 years before, and I really wanted to get back into the Lunar series. I decided to go with a Sega CD 2 since my Model 1 always seemed a little finicky, and searched one out online. I found a local seller about thirty minutes away who had a few in stock, so I headed over. “Nintendo Dave” was his name, and to prove that the Sega CD he was selling worked, he started up a copy of Mickey Mania. It seemed to be in perfect condition, so I purchased the console and headed home.

Later, after connecting the Sega CD 2 to my Genesis 1, I broke out my copy of Eternal Blue to play. Imagine my surprise when I opened the CD lid and found Mickey Mania still inside! Not wanting to drive back out, I called the seller and told him what had happened. “No problem, this one’s on the house” he said! I stayed up all night playing through classic Mickey cartoons. The fond feelings still remain today. In fact, the game is pretty relevant today as Epic Mickey contains many side-scrolling levels that mirror classic cartoons. Plainly put, although Epic Mickey is a great effort, the platforming doesn’t even come close to what was seen in Mickey Mania. The game can be far more challenging, the levels are better designed, and the controls are far smoother. Not bad for a title released over fifteen years ago!

Warsong By Carl-Johan Brax

This month as been extremely busy and awesome with the release of Pier Solar and dates with (hopefully) the lady of my life. I’ve still managed to squeeze in this strategy-RPG into it though. Warsong is very addicting and fun to play. Unlike Shining Force, there is no world map, and you cannot retreat and heal your characters nor grind. This can make the game very hard, as it was for me the first time I tried it. But if you read the instructions carefully, use your generals wisely and as much as possible without having them die, you should be able to manage it and have many hours of fun.

I’m a bit full of this genre now, so I’ll wait until I try MIJET’s translation patch for the sequel, which is said to be even better. Supreme!

Good Yule and Happy new year!

X-Men By Nick McLean

Well, the time has finally passed. I, my dear friends, have finally tried XBox Live. Over Christmas I ventured home to my mom’s house, far away from work and unfortunately failing personal problems. Upon my arrival in the quaint, albeit “home” town of my supposed original (although it’s disputed), cabin fever eventually sunk in and I fired up my sister’s 360 and managed to find the XBox Live Arcade everyone is always talking about.

Firstly I had a severe urge to play Turtles in Time, the arcade version. Sorry SNES and Hyperstone Heist, I need this… to my surprise it was a horrible re-vamp using new graphics and such. What a joke. Good thing it was only a demo, and yet I was still pissed off! What’s the point of redoing an old game from the ground up? Just make a new one damn it!

Bad luck. Things aren’t looking good for me… next I downloaded X-Men for the arcade, a game I used to enjoy as a child. Holy hell, what a difference. I was hurtled back through time, to a world where neon spandex was cool, and everything was future-near-dystopia-chic. And oh my god, they knew how to depict ladies back then. You guys can have your Lara Crofts and… whatever else newfangled ladies you think are the ultimate depiction of the female form… did you SEE Dazzler? Remember when Mystique wore clothes and it made her hotter?

As I lurched backwards into this alternate realm of fantasy, my eventual realization that the X-Men arcade game is short and online players are idiots who stick you with Nightcrawler and then steal your kills as Wolverine or Colossus became stale. My Model 1 called to me…

X-Men was the first Genesis game I ever bought. I got it with a used Model 1 in the late ’90s. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work (probably a dirty cart, too young to know) and returned it. It would be many years before I bought another Genesis and started playing for real. Now, with my X-Men fire rekindled, I sat before the original Genesis X-Men and played to my heart’s content.

Aside from some obvious cutbacks, like the dialogue in the arcade, I was quite surprised to see the home game from Sega was incredibly playable. Usually when games are released around the same time, all you hear is “it’s nothing compared to the arcade. The arcade has XXXhz Mega-difference Sound. And you have to find the sit down cabinet” or “The FM Towns version is the only true arcade port! It trumps your PUNY PC Engine CD! What’s a Sega?” In this case however, especially because they are completely different games, I found X-Men to be quite enjoyable and a good representation of the franchise at home. After all these years, it is also very pleasing to relive a part of my childhood that slipped away.

Now I just need to find the sequel everyone is always talking about…

Saint Sword By The Coop

From time to time, I like to play games that aren’t considered the best examples of the Genesis’ library. Sword of Sodan, Death Duel, Caliber .50, carts along those lines. Games where there are a few fun or good traits which got buried under problematic areas… be they graphics, controls, audio, hit detection, game bugs, or just dull/uninspired design. Why do I do this? Beats the hell out of me. I guess since I paid for them, I’m determined to get my money’s worth. Or, maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

But not long ago, I sat down again with 1991’s Saint Sword, a Genesis exclusive by Taito. The story involves wizards called titans helping humans go up against a big bad wizard named Gorgan. The titans and humans win, the titans get lazy and weak, Gorgan comes back to kick some ass, and now you (a young titan named Macress) get to clean up the mess. In the game, you can level up, transform into a centaur, a merman or a birdman (sans being a lawyer… HA HAAA!), gather items to use in battle that cost magic points, things of that nature. It certainly had the makings of a potentially good hack-‘n-slash/action game with a dash of RPG goodness mixed in.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, it kind of… fizzled. The graphics come off as a bit lackluster. Dull color choices at times, odd patches where the colors don’t match up (using one tile set in the middle of a differently colored tile set), things of that nature. There are some nice details with good sized characters, but things come off pretty iffy at times. The levels are ho-hum in design more often than not, the animation’s quite choppy, the hit detection is blatantly bad in spots, and it makes you play through all twelve levels twice to see the real ending, ala Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts.

And yet under these rough spots, is a game with some fairly nice music, good controls, creative ideas for its gameplay that weren’t utilized enough, and hints of what could have been. If this game had cooked a bit longer in development, it could have come out the gaming equivalent of an enjoyable quiche dish. But instead, Taito got lazy and just handed us what amounts to scrambled eggs with the game. Saint Sword is one of those titles that you picked up because you really wanted a new game back when magazines would only review a few system’s games each month, and you didn’t feel like waiting who knows how long to see if it got reviewed (at least, that’s why I got it back then). You looked at the back of the box and thought, “eh, why not?”

But Saint Sword wound up being one of those mediocre titles that came and went quickly during the summer doldrums of that year, when the AAA titles were nowhere to be found yet. Still, I pop it in now and again and type up the code to start on level one, loop two, so that I only have to go through everything once to see the end. It’s not a game so horrible that’ll make you slit your own wrists to keep from having to play it, but it certainly won’t be one of the first games that comes to mind when someone asks you for Genesis recommendations.

Wolverine: Adamantium Rage By Greg Jurkiewcz

I’ve been on a bit of an X-Men bend lately and been pretty much playing every X-Men game I could get my hands on. Even that monstrosity of a game for the NES, so clearly I have no standards. Though it’s not entirely fair to compare the NES X-Men to Wolverine Adamantium Rage. While this game isn’t great, it is amazing in certain aspects and a complete failure in others.

Let’s start with the good. From the second you turn it on you are greeted with an epic blast of gritty dark electro-industrial music that really sets the mood for the entire game. I really can’t think of a better soundtrack to a game whose back story is about a guy that was tortured and used as a military bio-weapons experiment to be turned into the ultimate living killing machine. The graphics are also fantastic, and definitely some of the best on the Genesis, they feature huge sprites, big bosses and a nice amount of well drawn detail. The level designs are also pretty good, and reminiscent of the first X-Men game, and with the exception of the dreaded sewer level, they don’t drag on for too long. The game also has some decent (for the time-period) cut scenes and features password saves.

So with all those nice things to say about it, you might be wondering just what the hell is wrong with this game. Well just one thing really… THE CONTROLS! This game would be an instant classic if the controls worked right, but they don’t, not even close. As far as Acclaim releases go, this one has the worst controls of the bunch. Not only are they delayed and unresponsive, they should really be adapted for the six-button controller. Unfortunately they’re not. Wolverine comes armed with a nice array of moves that the game really expects you to use, unfortunately executing some of them via three buttons is tedious at best. Aside from that, controlling Wolverine feels like you’re trying to force a pile of bricks to do martial arts. It’s too bad really because this game has so much potential, it’s sad to see all those great qualities defiled by the terrible controls. If Acclaim had just used the Demolition Man movement engine this game would be a must have for every Genesis owner.

Phantasy Star II By Frank Ramirez

Thankfully, Phantasy Star II resembles Phantasy Star IV the most, or is it the other way around?

At first, I was put off just a bit by a few things when I started this game. The music was a bit jarring. I didn’t like the way the menus looked. It was HARD. I wasn’t giving the game a chance. It was an early Genesis title after all, and I know playing Phantasy Star IV had spoiled me rotten. Besides, I figured if I went on and played PS II, some things in PS IV would be just a bit more clear for me.

After playing for a few hours, I finally did come to appreciate it. The music is quite charming. The battle tune is probably forever burned in my brain (some battle sounds effects are still pretty cheap sounding though). All the blues, greens, and purples are actually a bit of eye candy. The first dungeon took me quite a while to get to without the chance of being KILLED every other battle. And the dungeons… oh God. They’re huge. I got LOST. The overhead pipelines and circuitry seem to make the dungeons even more cavernous and labyrinthine.

It’s Phantasy Star IV’s father, who eats broken glass and nails for breakfast.

I’m playing this because Phantasy Star III started to aggravate me.

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits By Frank Villone

There is a saying: “no one can hear you scream in space.” Which is true, since sound cannot travel through a vacuum. Sinistar, however, breaks such physics with reckless abandon, roaring and threatening you loudly, as you fly a puny rocket through the cosmos. “Beware!” “I live.” “I hunger, coward!” Before he chomps your ship for a small snack, you must destroy him with Sinibombs. Your ship produces them once you shoot at planetoids, and collect the Sinisite Crystals (yellow dots) that are released.

For the nostalgia department, when I was very young, Sinistar was one of the best things at the skin-and-bones arcade at Chuck E. Cheese’s. The cabinet was built as a full-size puny rocket , with narrow side doors that you had to squeeze into, to sit down and man the control panel. Nothing compares to literally struggling into a rocket, for a showdown with a star-devil who is screaming in your face! But the next best thing is being able to play Sinistar on your Genesis via the Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits.

After Burner Complete By Chris Leathco

Here lately I’ve been playing a lot of After Burner Complete on the 32X. This has gotta be one of the best ports of After Burner I’ve seen. The graphics are a huge step up from the Genesis version, and seems a lot more arcade authentic than the Sega CD version. One of the things I love about the 32X version is the sense of speed you get while playing it. This game moves FAST. If you aren’t paying attention to every split second, you’ll find your lives being spent VERY quickly.

Another thing I like is how the sprites seem to jump out at you. Compare the smoke plumes during takeoff on the Genesis version, than look at the 32X version and you’ll see what I mean. There’s almost a 3D effect to the plumes on the 32X version. It just adds to the sense of speed you get while playing this version of the game.

The 32X, to me, is a criminally overlooked add-on. It gets overlooked due to the low number of games and the fact that there’s no real standout titles, but its a dream system for arcade ports. I’ve mostly talked about After Burner, but there’s also great ports of Space Harrier, Star Wars Arcade, WWF Wrestlemania, Virtua Figher, Virtua Racing, Primal Rage, Mortal Kombat 2, and NBA Jam. Each of these is probably the definitive home version of the original arcade version, which alone makes the add-on a must have. Add in the original titles and ports that were quite good, and its really worth having that mushroom sitting atop you Genesis and alongside your Sega CD.

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