Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 81

Halloween is here! Time for some candy and other spooky treats (especially Snickers! I have to have Snickers!). And what better way to spend the holiday than with some good ol’ fashioned Genesis gaming?


Ghouls ‘N Ghosts By Ken Horowitz

I’ve talked at length about this one before, but it’s just such a darn good port that I love to come back to it. My interest this time around has been fueled by lots of playtime with the NES classic Gargoyle’s Quest II. An incredible game, it rekindled my interest in everything Ghouls related, and that means breaking out the Genesis! While the visuals may be a bit sparse in areas, the game does an excellent job overall of capturing the feel of the arcade original, and it’s readily apparent why it was such a hit when it debuted. The control is buttery smooth with the six-button controller, and it’s very easy to get into “the zone” when playing. I actually didn’t notice my wife coming into the room to ask me if I wanted dinner!

I want to go back to the NES port of the original, but until I can find a copy, I’ll stick with ol’ “shoot-in-four-directions” Arthur.

Gouketsuji Ichizoku By Sebastian Sponsel

The other day I was just browsing around on eBay, when I stumbled upon a Japanese Mega Drive game that piqued my interest. It was a blue-tinted box sporting several characters, quite obviously from a fighting game, staring vacantly at the player – the females in particular had something really weird going on with their eyes, looking oddly misshapen and just… off. But what really drew my attention was the front-most character: A sinister, demonic-looking, wrinkled… granny? With white hair and a huge bun on the back of her head? So I did a little research, and found that the game was also known as Power Instinct, the first in a series of fighting games that’s renowned to be a bit on the weird side. I was intrigued, so I decided to see what this little game had to offer.

Not much, at first glance, as most of the cast were pretty stock: There was the obvious Ryu ripoff, complete with fireball and Dragon Punch-style attacks. There was the obligatory ninja character. There was also a clichéd Native American, and the Amazon-like strong woman gave off a certain Blanka-vibe (only bigger). Not sure where the weirdness was supposed to come in. So I was prepared to chalk it up as a standard Street Fighter II ripoff when I noticed that the granny (Otane) was a playable character, too. And, as to be expected, she’s by far the smallest, and looks pretty frail, so of course I had to give it a try. The first thing I noticed was that she was pretty quick and spry for her appearance, even dealing out some decent damage. And that’s when the strangeness began. For starters, one of her projectile moves is pulling out her dentures and throwing them, whereupon they swell to roughly half the characters size. There’s even a time delay for the animation to put them back in. Instead of throwing a character, she latches on to the opponent and… smooches on him? Oookaaay. And when that happens, she – turns into a younger version of herself, apparently. And now she’s .. throwing out hearts… and starts shooting…. rainbows…

Okay, now I see why people call that game weird…

Gain Ground By Goldenband

One of the oldest and most enduring tropes in storytelling is the tale of a diverse team of ragtag misfits who, by combining their different powers and talents, are able to overcome even the most formidable odds. From the Iliad to the A-Team, this epic vision of conflict offers all of us the opportunity for heroism, no matter what our weapon of choice might be. It’s also a terrific mechanic for a video game — and seldom have I played a better example than Gain Ground.

Gain Ground offers a fantastic blend of strategic and tactical gameplay, requiring both careful planning and quick reflexes. Since I bought my copy last year, my other half and I have logged quite a bit of time battling against the robotic soldiers of the Gain Ground supercomputer and saving our comrades from its clutches. As you rescue prisoners from inside the simulator, you gradually amass an army ranging from Bronze Age spearmen to futuristic cyborgs, all of whom collaborate to overcome the mad computer.

I don’t think I’ve ever played a co-op game that does a better job of rewarding teamwork and different styles of gameplay. My fiancee typically recruits slow-moving, powerful “artillery” characters like Mud Harry, whose weaponry deals heavy damage from the back of the arena. Meanwhile, I favor fast characters like Ashra and the mighty Webad, whose high-flung spears are capable of destroying the enemy’s own artillery at close quarters. Together, it makes a lethal combination, and a couple months ago we had the pleasure of finally beating Easy for the first time — something that was anything but easy at the end, since the final boss in Gain Ground is the kind of foe that can utterly destroy you until you figure out the trick to dealing with his overwhelming firepower.

Recently, the SegaAge website announced a high score contest for Gain Ground, and I knew I had to enter. I’d never actually played it in one-player mode, and taking on all the game’s challenges single-handedly felt a bit strange — no longer could I count on covering fire while I engaged in hit-and-run tactics. Contestants were also required to play in Hard mode, in which you start out with the complete army, but don’t gain any additional soldiers to make up for those you lose. Finally, both Normal and Hard modes include an additional world before the last level, and since I’d never played on anything but Easy, that world was totally new to me.

Still, I had to give it a shot. And despite a few close calls early on, and losing my beloved Webad towards the end of the game, I ended up beating the game on Hard and winning the contest with a high score of 203,320, plus a nifty prize that’s currently en route to me. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as ridiculously fun without the co-op element, but Gain Ground is still one of the most engaging games I’ve ever played on the Genesis. I’m glad I made a point of seeking it out and buying a nice, complete copy. By used-game standards, it wasn’t cheap, but in terms of enjoyment it’s already more than paid for itself.

Alisia Dragoon By Greg Jurkiewicz

I’ve been on a complete Game of Thrones bend lately, after watching both seasons twice now, and reading all the available books and then getting the PS3 game, I still couldn’t get enough. Then I remembered the cover for Alisia Dragoon with the hot warrior Alisia and her dragon and all of the sudden I got a really strong urge to play it. I picked up a nice and minty copy off GameGavel and spent the next two weeks playing the hell out of this game. I’d beaten it before and knew it was a damn good game, but I’d never spent so much time time with it. I ended up discovering so many more secrets than I ever knew existed, it was pretty awesome. It’s great to see how much detail went into making this game. This is another must own for any Genesis owner. Also, I don’t care what people say about the cover art; I think the North American box art is sweet.

Cadash By The Coop

So… it’s Halloween, and folks are likely digging up their favorite Genesis games that feature spooky and undead things on the prowl. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, the Splatterhouse games, Castlevania: Bloodlines, UndeadlineZombies Ate My Neighbors… games like that. But me? I popped in a game that may not be all about the dead, but it does have a few spots where you’re fighting (and helping) those who have passed on.

About halfway into Cadash, you come to an area that’s been devastated by the evil you’re fighting against. A lake of fire, skeletons hanging from trees, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTE- er, actually, there is a dog that you end up helping now that I think of it. Anyway, the whole village you arrive in (and parts of the caves afterward) is littered with the dead. Some ask for you to help them or their village, and others mean to do you harm as “spooky” music plays in the background. At one point, the sky opens up, and rain begins to pour down as you avoid lightning bolts. You’ll also find yourself fighting little grim reaper-like creatures in the caves, splitting zombies in half in the village, and talking with those who have moved on as you try to continue on your way to the end battle. It’s a dead village, and you’re in the middle of it… for a little while anyway. After you’ve bested the fire elemental in the bandits’ hideout, you move on, and the dead are pretty much forgotten about. Still, for a little while, it’s you and the deceased making up the gameplay for the most part.

It’s true, the ruined village is only one part of the game. It’s also true, that the game’s not horror themed the rest of the time, unlike some of the other games I mentioned previously where the dead and monsters are all over the place. But Cadash does carry a bit of the Halloween spirit, even if it does so only for a short time. And it’s with that spirit (A PUN!) in mind, that I figured I’d focus on this game, since the other more horror-centric games are likely getting all the attention. Oh, as a side note, I was originally going to bring up Sword of Sodan and it’s graveyard level with the young-Ozzy-Osbourne-looking zombies. But, that game’s full of painful, “I paid full price for this back in the day” memories, so…

Phantasy Star IV by Frank Villone

As Halloween draws near, the spirit realm is most open to ours, so that it is easiest for spirits to wander the Earth, if they would like to. The whole season of autumn seems ghostly and ethereal, as the leaves die in explosions of reds and yellows, then scatter across the pavement, like little footsteps. The strangest things happen, like being home and seeing a housemate slip around the doorway of the next room, only to go talk to him, and realize that the house is empty!

In the Genesis realm, I was drawn to revisit my favorite game ever, Phantasy Star IV. Specifically, I wanted to revisit the musk cats in MYST VALE. I understand that these cats tie in with the previous titles in the series; However, PSIV is the only one that I have played, so the tie-ins are rather empty to me. I appreciate Myst Vale in a different way; It strikes me as a gathering of cat spirits, including those who used to be our pets in the past! There had to be cat-lovers on the development team, who created this area as a slightly-veiled representation of cat heaven, and to simulate the experience of visiting our deceased pets there. I am sure of it!

The cats here can talk, because we would want to be able to communicate with them, of course. Upon entering the area, the first cat says, “Somehow, we get a feeling of fond remembrance from you, meow.” Surely the cat spirits are sensing the love and connections from past lives! The FM synth sounds mysterious, haunting, and magical, while the crew spends quality time with the cats, who are hanging out and napping all over the place. Surely this is cat heaven! And someday, I would love for my own spirit to really visit there, and see my old pets who I love forever!

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