Before the fireworks next week, take some time and see what our staff and readers have been playing in June. Classics abound, and there are a few offbeat entries as well. What better way to kick summer into high gear than with some cold lemonade and the Sega Genesis?
Heavy Unit By Ken Horowitz
Truth be told, this was really the only game I played on my Genesis this month. A brand new NES and some much-needed vacation put a damper on my Genesis time, but I managed to squeeze this import title in for some reviewing. I’ve had this one sitting on my shelf for some time, and I’d been mulling over whether or not I really wanted to review it. The few minutes of gaming I had given it previously left me with a mediocre impression, and nothing managed to change that after I played through to the end. Heavy Unit isn’t a bad game; it’s just not really a good one. With all the shooters on the Genesis, I can’t really see any reason to spend much time with this one. I’d rather enjoy a true classic like Thunder Force III or even another import I haven’t played before, so back on the shelf it goes.
Turrican By Sebastian Sponsel
June was a month where I didn’t have too much time to play Mega Drive games. Due to, well, let’s say contractual obligation I spent most of this and last month exploring the Commodore 64 home computer and its extensive library of games (sometimes I just love my job!). So eventually I once more happened to play what is considered to be one of the great late C64-games: The run-‘n-gun-classic Turrican.
The original 8-bit-home computer game is a blast with big sprites, great graphics and effects and very solid gameplay that holds up even today. The Amiga-port, done by Factor 5 and scored by probably the greatest video game composer to ever come out of Germany, Chris Hülsbeck, is even more of a cult hit.
So why does the Genesis version get such a bad rep? Well, basically it comes down to one word: presentation. It all just seems so lovelessly thrown together. The classic Amiga tracks are there, but they only come though comparably tinny and watered down, by far not unfolding the catchiness of the original renditions. The graphics are somewhat dull, lacking in vibrancy and vividness. And the effects have taken a hit, too… the gradually changing background when descending in stage one compares badly to even the C64-version, and that’s saying something! Also, the Mega Drive port seems to have ramped up the difficulty quite a bit. The home computer versions weren’t exactly a cake walk, but I remember getting through the Amiga version back in the day, and on my first attempt at the C64 I managed to reach the third stage. By comparison, I had a hard time getting to the first boss on the Mega Drive…
The biggest flaw the game has was that instead of the team creating the awesome Amiga port, responsibility for this version was handed to Accolade, who released it under the Ballistic label. So, it’s an unlicensed game that, in all likelihood, was created without official development tools… and it shows!
You wanna see a Turrican game made right? Pop in Mega Turrican for the Genesis and see how it’s done! That one was created by the original Amiga team, with gameplay by Factor 5 and an awesome soundtrack by the Sound Wizard himself, Chris Hülsbeck! Play, listen, and weep…
Snatcher By Christian Matozzo
Earlier last month I got the opportunity to obtain Snatcher for Sega CD for a good price and jumped on it, which also kicked me into gear to get a working Sega CD after my CDX died a year or so ago, so I could finally get to play one of the most hyped (and expensive!) games in the classic gaming community.
You play as Gillian Seed, a mysterious man who is suffering from amnesia and wonders about his unknown past. He arrives in Neo Kobe City as a newly hired runner for the JUNKER operation, a task force put together to combat a new menace called Snatchers, androids who appear in winter and take the place of real people quietly and almost unnoticeably. Now you, as Gillian, must uncover this menace and find out your past.
Being a fan of the Phoenix Wright games, I found Snatcher’s investigative gameplay (if you can really call it that) to be quite familiar and simple, despite the game’s tendency to make you look at and investigate things multiple times in the same place. To get the most out of the game, definitely talk to everyone, do everything, look at everything, and investigate everything! Snatcher features many different Easter eggs and little tidbits to discover! It also makes the game a little longer, as Snatcher is a bit short for a text adventure at around six hours.
And the atmosphere and world of Snatcher is so unique. There’s so much backstory to it, places to explore, and things to uncover. The game is almost always spooky and dark, with danger lurking around every corner. Snatcher will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time! And there are plenty of scenes and events that are hard to forget when it comes to Snatcher. The only thing I found disappointing about the game was the ending, which was very… packaged and delivered compared to the rest of the game, which unravels at a steady pace.
Overall, I’m not surprised Snatcher goes for as much money as it does. Like the popular Phoenix Wright series, Snatcher is an excellent addition to the “Digital Comic Book” genre of games, and is a must-own for any Sega CD owner, even though the price at the moment is quite steep. The great, unique story and gameplay has never really been revisited in any Kojima game (save for the Japan-only Policenauts) and fans of both the Phoenix Wright series and Hideo Kojima will love this one. I recommend that if you find any copy of the game for $150 or less, definitely buy it. You won’t be disappointed!
Body Count By: Greg Jurkiewicz
One of the cool things about being the guy that makes repro cover art is that I get emails from people requesting covers for all sorts of obscure games I’ve never heard of before – and sometimes these games turn out to be awesome. Body Count is one of those cases. Released only in Europe and Brazil in cart form and for a short time on the Sega Channel in North America, this game must have had a very limited print run because finding actual copies of the European version online is next to impossible, and the Brazilian release is so rare it might as well not exist.
Like most Genesis owners I’ve never even heard of this game until recently, when someone requested a cover for it. I booted it up in the emulator to grab some screen shots and right from the start I was impressed! The graphics are gorgeous! While other light-gun games like Lethal Enforcers and T2 have a rather dull presentation, Bodycount is colourful, detailed and full of ’90s charm. The entire game feels like a mid ’90s comic book – full of over-the-top action, huge explosions, giant bosses and bad-ass looking aliens. The gameplay is frantic and intense: you literally go through thousands of rounds of ammo and countless explosives, with which the game is very generous. Unlike in most arcade shooters, where you get one or two grenades and hang onto them for dear life, Body Count supplies you with a constant supply of insane explosives to launch at your foes. The amount of enemies on screen is likewise impressive; often there are too many for you shoot all at once, so you’ll be glad to have all those bombs! The levels are cool too, some of the best I’ve ever seen in this type of game and it’s really neat how so much of the environment is destroyable – garbage cans, doors, light fixtures, refrigerators, subway trains, escalators… nothing is safe when you unleash a barrage of bullets, I can only imagine how long it took the devs to program so much destroyable stuff.
Overall, this adds up to one fantastic game. Normally I’m not a fan of on-rails, light-gun shooters, but this game is perfectly playable with a standard controller and you can even play it with the Mega Mouse! I’d definitely recommend this lost gem to any serious Sega fan. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine By Metallica Man X
Aaaaah, summer. Toasty weather makes it nice to just sit outside and enjoy the air…And what better way to sit outside and enjoy the air, than with a portable SEGA Genesis in your hands? Mean Bean Machine is probably one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played, made more addictive by being able to play it on the go! The graphics look just peachy on my home-made portable Genesis, the Neutron, and it doesn’t take much to really get into the gameplay. Just pop the game in, slap on some headphones, crank up some rip-snortin’ tunes and get ready to stack beans until the batteries die!
It’s hard to top the feeling you get from getting a five bean stack combo to fill up the opponent’s screen from nearly empty to nearly full while you’re totally rocking out. The only gripe I have is the game’s difficulty curve in scenario mode. The first guy is nice and easy, but the guys after that are a bit of a pain, followed by some guys who are pretty easy. Very odd, that is…
That minor issue aside, this game is just too good to put down. No matter how much it infuriates me at times, I just can’t help but keep coming back for more! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my batteries have finished recharging and I’ve got more beans to stack!
Cliffhanger by Frank Villone
Cliffhanger has been rocking my Sega CD, based on Stallone’s classic film of 1993! The movie stands out for being set in the Rocky Mountains, with bare cliffs that Sly climbs, often with no gear. The villains are quirky (led by John Lithgow, with a bad British accent), and some of the action is just impossible – like the mid-air hijacking, between the thieves’ plane and the Denver Mint plane, carrying $100 million! Thankfully, the ridiculous action is present on the Sega CD! In grainy full-motion video, the thieves blow off the tail of the Mint plane, and slide the suitcases of cash down a cable, to their own plane. One Mint passenger survived their massacre, so he finds the last thief on-board, sprays his legs with gunfire, and then shoots up the thieves’ plane! His explodes, and the thieves crash in the wilderness, glass shattering everywhere! Twenty minutes of Hollywood film clips make this one of the best uses of (grainy) FMV, ever!
The gameplay is mainly just that of a basic brawler but set in the mountains. It is awesome to play as Stallone, and the action is a nice stress release, like any good beat-’em-up. He can collect only two weapons – a knife or an Uzi – but they both work great! It can be tricky to make him run by double-tapping the D-pad, but otherwise the controls are fine, with satisfying sound effects as he punches, kicks, slashes, and shoots his way through the Rockies!
The snowboarding looks wonderful, with fluid real-time scaling, and the background rising as he descends the slope. The controls take some getting used to, but are actually quite good: B to accelerate, A to jump, and he can also slow down, which is not used much. Stage memorization helps, although I have yet to beat a single snowboarding stage! I have, however, finished every brawler stage, using the codes for 99 lives and level select, which are highly recommended! The snowboard sections remind me of one of my favorite hobbies: extreme downhill skiing, which I do each winter. As we currently endure the dead heat of summer, this simulates the experience that I miss: Flying down frozen mountains at blinding speeds! Cliffhanger’s snowboarding is a blast, and I will keep revisiting it, to exercise my downhill sports skills!