Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 88

Summer’s here! Time for the beach and vacation… or staying home and playing games! Either way is good, and while it’s always fun to loaf around at home and play, vacation is a welcome opportunity to get out and see the world. How else can one find new game shops and flea markets and buy more games? This month’s Roundtable has a few classic  titles our readers might want to track down, as they’re more available than ever and for a great  price!


OutRunners By Ken Horowitz

I am a major fan of the OutRun series, in every incarnation. Few racing games conveyed such a sense of speed as the original game did, and when I first played OutRunners at the Time-Out arcade I worked at back in the ’90s, I was definitely hooked. Having free play was a godsend! When I saw that there was a Genesis port, I was stoked, but this quickly turned to disappointment when I realized that the game played in split-screen mode all the time. I didn’t give it a real chance and never went back…

… until recently. I recently acquired a complete copy off eBay for a good price and decided to give OutRunners another chance. While the split-screen gameplay still annoys me, I find that this port isn’t as bad as I remembered. It plays well enough and is pretty faithful to the arcade. The scaling is choppy and the presentation doesn’t impress (that music!). Yeah, it doesn’t compare to the original, but it’s not horrible.

It doesn’t compare to the original. That’s probably my biggest gripe. Having been released on the Genesis almost half a decade after the first game, not only should this have compared favorably, it should have eclipsed it entirely. I attribute its failure to having been farmed out to Data East. Maybe Sega was too busy with the 32X and the upcoming Saturn to care, but this could have been a tremendous way to send off the series on the Genesis. Instead, we got a decent racer that fell by the wayside.

Aero the Acro-Bat By Sebastian Sponsel

The other day I felt like playing a good, old-fashioned platformer. I vaguely recalled Aero the Acro-Bat being one of the better games in the mascot crazy spawned by the success of a certain hedgehog. I never had played that before, but gaming magazines were pretty favorable of the game back in the day. I remember reading about it in various magazines, with scores ranging somewhere between 75 and 90, so it seemed to be a decent game at least. So I started to play it. And after a little hands-on experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that this must be a game that was custom-tailored to piss me off.

So the hero of the game is of the “anthropromorphic character – with an ATTITUDE” variety. The flavor of the week is bat. Okay, bonus points for Sunsoft to work the Acrobat pun into the characters name, but other than that, what IS his attitude? Well, he dons sunglasses and does the moonwalk in between levels and… that’s it, really. So what, is he edgy? Radical? A smooth operator? Laid-back? All of the above? Well, probably the latter… not that we would know from the context of the game, but this is a nineties game, so let’s just assume it is.

Then there’s the setting: a circus. God knows why game designers in the early-to-mid-nineties thought that a circus would make for a rad setting… maybe it was just a good opportunity to show of those 16-bit graphics. Personally, I don’t like the circus. Never did, really. It’s loud, it’s gaudy, the color scheme is garish, and I feel sorry for the animals. The same applies to this game, except for the latter, because I would just to kick this little twerp’s ass for controlling so horribly! His screw attack only goes diagonally, trying to jump on an enemy results in hurting yourself more often than not, so I end up avoiding enemies wherever possible (which isn’t easy to do when you get surrounded).

And then there’s the gameplay. “Jump on 15 platforms, fly through 10 hoops, activate four spotlights” – all with little to no indication of where to go to accomplish that. Retreading the level back and forth in order to see whether or not a new path has opened up – that’s not fun, that’s busywork! And then there’s my all-time-favorite part of the game, pinpoint accuracy platforming with broken jump controls over pits full of insta-death spikes, starting with stage three…

Why did this game get such good ratings? Am I that spoiled? Would my teenage self actually have liked this game? I really, really don’t know…

Monster World IV By Joseph C.

Ever since I found out it existed, I wanted to play Monster World IV. As a sequel to one of my favourite Mega Drive games and the last game in the series; I knew when the English version was officially released last year that I would have to get it. When I finally did, I didn’t play it straight away. This seems to be the same way with many games I want for a long time before finally buying, but I knew I would eventually get around to it, and this month I did.

After playing it, I don’t know why I didn’t sooner because it isn’t a very long game and much faster paced than its predecessor. I loved the character animations, art style and the music. The platforming is also easily the best in the series. I was thoroughly enjoying it right up to the endgame, which I found to be unfairly difficult. I also disliked the inability to backtrack and the single hubtown.

Perhaps it is better to consider this one from the perspective of my childhood self and not the man with many commitments that limit his gaming. As a child, I know I would have played through this a number of times and found every life drop by myself. And I would still have fond memories of it today. And with that in mind, I can’t believe this game took so long to be localised. The year of its original release couldn’t have been more perfect, with the heavy Arabian themes and Disney’s Aladdin still a popular children’s movie and fantastic game.

I’ve played it now and while it isn’t my favourite, it is still a must play for everyone who likes the Monster World series.

Phantasy Star II By David Dyne

Wait, Phantasy Star 2? Shouldn’t this month’s Reader Roundtable be another Sylvester Stallone game? Well, there’s a story behind that but the pithy version is that I found myself hooked on Road Rash for the Master System over the past two months and didn’t return to my beloved Genesis until this month. I highly recommend the SMS port if you haven’t checked it out already as the 8-bit renditions of the classic Road Rash tunes are really superb.

And now, back to our originally scheduled programming. Thinking back, it’s probably been about twenty years since I last played Phantasy Star 2 which is twenty years too long. I don’t recall when exactly I first received the game but it must have been somewhere during 1990, possibly as a Christmas gift. Being a huge fan of the original game I was eager to get my grubby hands on the sequel and wasn’t disappointed. Disappointment would eventually come in the form of Phantasy Star 3 after I discovered that there was no conclusion to Phantasy Star 2’s (Spoiler Alert!) cliffhanger ending in Phantasy Star 3.

Anyway, revisiting PS2 has been a real treat and its remarkable how well the game holds up today compared to some of the later RPG releases on the Genesis that almost feel shallow in comparison. The fact that your party can be completely decimated anywhere keeps you on your toes at all times. Most of my party members have probably become Diamate and Trimate addicts by now since we use it so often. Back in the day, I played the game through a few times with the usual party configuration of Rolf, Nei, Rudo, Anna and Amy and only used Hugh, Kain, and Shir for specific parts. This time, I’m raising the challenge level and will only be using Rolf, Hugh, Shir and Amy instead of the usual heavy hitters. I recently finished Climatrol which wasn’t the nightmare it was back in the day, and right now I’m heading for the Blue Dam with Kain sitting in for Hugh for a third blasting by the government robots and mechs. If you haven’t been back to PS2 recently then by all means fire this one up again and be prepared for another epic trip through the Algol star system on a Sega console.

TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist By KitsuneNight

So, what do we have here then? Konami’s first TMNT effort on the Mega Drive. And what an effort it is. A mutant haphazard Frankenstein’s monster of a game, thrown together from assets of TMNT IV: Turtles In Time, and the arcade game. Even its European cover art is not its own. It’s the Japanese cover for TMNT IV on the Super Famicom.

Thankfully, despite its rather dubious heritage and thrown together nature, it is a good game. …It better damn well be, since I payed 40 Euro for it. And thankfully the game also has its own personality, instead of just being reworked leftovers. The stages are much, much longer then they were in TMNT IV, whose stages are over in the blink of an eye. It lost the rather unreliable “throw a foot soldier at the screen” gimmick, a gimmick I could never get to work anyway. Even the more muted color palette helps rather then hinders the game and makes it look more “realistic.”

The story, in so far there is one, is also better then TMNT IV, and the turtles themselves are distinct as well and have their usual characteristics. Leo is well balanced. Don is slow but has the most reach. Raphael is the fastest with the shortest reach and Mikey … Mikey … Mikey is Mikey. Needless to say, I tend to opt for Leo.

But for all the good things, there are also bad things. The game play is repetitive as is the norm with scrolling beat-’em-ups. The turtles’ move sets are limited. There is no password system, which also hinders a bit.  Not that the game isn’t long (it can be finished in an hour or less), but the levels are very, very long and sometimes you need a break. Or maybe I’m just spoiled by the save features of re-released Mega Drive games (yes, I am talking about the Ultimate Collection). And dying and losing all your lives during a boss battle, sends you right back to the start of the level, ARGH !

If the Hyperstone Heist seems like TMNT IV redux , this is off course because it is, but it’s still my favorite mid ’90s TMNT game  It’s still the only one I regularly go back to, and it’s one of the games that was the deciding factor for me to get a Mega Drive again. It’s also a game I will go back to again and again. I am sure there are better TMNT games out there, longer ones too, but for me this is the best, the zenith, and I will happily play it over and over. It’s one of those games with infinite replayability and great to lose an hour or 30 minutes with.

Now if only the European version had gotten the Japanese Hyperstone Heist cover art !

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits By Frank Villone

Lately my life has been gradually settling down, like a giant ostrich who is slowly gliding to the ground. My poor Genesis received little of my time in May; However, I quickly re-visited an old classic that works great for any length of time! My studio apartment became host of a deadly tournament, in which the only goal is survival! And that depends on just one thing: Domination! Competitors wander around and whenever two cross paths, it is a life-or-death challenge to end up on top! The man on bottom always meets an instant death, while the higher man lives on! Of course, I could only be talking about one thing: Joust on Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits!

Each knight rides a huge bird, and hitting any button makes the wings flap once, so flying involves tapping buttons repeatedly and steering with the D-pad. The controls become intuitive enough, including getting used to avoiding bouncing off of ceilings, whenever possible. Dragons and lava are just extra dangers to avoid.

I grew up seeing Joust on NES occasionally, as a friend owned it, and we always enjoyed its frantic action and responsive controls. Originally a coin-op from 1982, I have only seen the arcade cabinet once, and its gameplay seemed identical to the ports for NES and Genesis, which is a good thing!

Since Joust started out as a coin-cruncher, it is definitely fair-play to go to Options (in Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits) and choose 99 lives, which is the equivalent of bringing a bag of 99 quarters to the local arcade! Then use those 99 lives to think about how Joust seems to embody the essential struggle of life itself, the will to survive no matter what it takes! Even if that means killing one’s way to the top of a murderous competition of knights, swords, and giant poultry!

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