The summer has waned and fall returns. Our staff and readers spent the last month of the season with Genesis controllers firmly in hand, and there was quite a bit to play this month. Check out what we’ve been up to in September!
Popful Mail By Kenneth Horowitz
Every now and again, I go back to Popful Mail. It’s short enough to be easy to get into, and it’s got just the right mix of action and personality that it can be enjoyed over and over. This is one game that you simply do not complete and then forever shelve. The Sega CD really could have used more titles like this, and Falcom excelled at creating simple yet charming side-scrolling action/RPGs that were very fun. I’m amazed that no one has brought back this franchise, but with the recent deluge of Kickstarter revivals, who knows? If there was ever a title from the 16-bit era that deserves a chance to shine again (in 2D, PLEASE!), it’s Popful Mail. Don’t play with the formula; just give me a side-scroller with cool, hand-drawn graphics, a funny story, and animated cut scenes, and I will be a happy camper.
Until then though, find a copy of the Sega CD version and enjoy one of the best games of its generation.
Flashback By Sebastian Sponsel
Have you heard? There’s been a remake of the classic Flashback! Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original, it more or less sneakily hit the XBox Live Arcade this summer, with PC and PSN versions soon to follow. The PC port is prone for release on October first, but since I don’t have an Xbox 360 and don’t want to wait till October, I figured I might just as well experience a Flashback myself and popped in my trusted old Genesis version. I hadn’t played the game in ages, so I figured I might just as well experience it anew.
What I hadn’t remembered though is how unforgiving the game can be. Until you get a hang of things, everything just outright kills you. You go in the wrong direction from the start – dead. You fall to great a distance – dead. You step into something that looks unfamiliar – dead. Yep, those were the old days alright. None of these fancy health meters (though you do have a rechargable shield that blocks attacks at least), no objective markers, no map. It’s just you, your gun and a small inventory, solving puzzle and action sequences alike. I must admit, at first it felt frustrating, after all those years, to play a game where you simply just die over and over and over again until finally you managed to find a way past that one particular obstacle. But I stuck with it, and after a short while I was back into the flow. It feels immensely satisfying to figure out the maneuvers, like running into a forward roll and shooting immediately, or dropping down a ledge, have one enemy shoot another over your head while you drop into a crouch and eliminate the remaining one.
The story is well, not the deepest, but the way everything is presented within the game engine makes for a very smooth (if by today’s standards rather minimalist) experience. About three to four hours later, I had reached the end. I actually tried to cheat a little, trying to use a teleport shortcut before the climax. But I had dropped my teleporter receiver over a collapsible floor and saved afterward, so when I tried to port out, I immediately dropped to my death. So, since I didn’t want to track back all the way again, I was stuck to experiencing the “real” climax: Without using the teleporter running through a collapsing cave, trying to reach the hangar before the timer ran out. It really got my heart pumping (especially after the sixth or so try), but making it with barely two seconds to spare made victory all that sweeter.
If you haven’t played Flashback, I’d say to it, because as far as classic action adventures go it’s definitely among the best, if a bit frustrating at times. I’ve heard that the remake also includes the original as well. So maybe it’s worth checking out for that alone.
Primal Rage By The Coop
Way back when arcades were alive and well, with games that ranged from the old (Battlezone, Stargate, Pole Position II) to the new (King of Fighters ’94, Darkstalkers, Raiden II), I can remember seeing all sorts of oddities. No, I’m not talking about the arcade goers (though there was some odd ones there too), I’m talking about some of the games that would pop up. One of those games, was a one-on-one fighter that featured big dinosaur-like creatures jumping around and eating small humans. This of course, was Primal Rage.
Filled with stop motion animation, and touches of digitized stuff as well, it was a quirky game to be sure. Bloody, violent, silly, short, tough to get a handle on control-wise, and basically nonsensical; all that describes PR pretty well. But, there was a certain charm to it that made you want to pop in a few quarters and fight with the downright bizarre control setup the game went with. Hold these buttons down, do some weird SNK-like half circle and back tap at a 45º angle… it wasn’t nearly as intuitive as Capcom’s games, or even most of SNK’s for that matter. Despite this, it got a bit of a following, and it eventually found its way onto almost every system under the sun.
To be honest, my first version was the Saturn one. It had lots of loading, but it was a pretty good port overall (except for the new, horrid FMV intro). I didn’t get the Genesis port until many years later while I was browsing a local flea market and found it complete for three whole dollars. Despite the huge price tag, I bought it for the hell of it, played it a bit, and put it away. It wasn’t utterly atrocious, but it certainly wasn’t in the top tier of Genesis fighters to be sure. A couple of years after that, I was playing some ROMs on my PC, and came across the 32X version. It looked nicer, sounded better, and all that, but it wasn’t until recently that the bug to own a copy bit me. So, taking my chances online, I scored a complete copy cheap and waited for it to arrive.
So what’s the verdict now that I’ve been able to slap it into my 32X for a while? Well, besides not being based off of the final version of the arcade game like the SNES version was, it’s not a bad port. It’s not as big of a jump over the Genesis version as games like Mortal Kombat II and After Burner Complete were, but it’s a step up. The controls are still weird, with having to hold two buttons awkwardly (one each on the top and bottom row), or even three buttons (two on one row, one on the other), but the music’s a bit better, and the graphics are improved. Still no ending screens though. Seems like there was an aversion to putting those things into the digitized 32X fighters (isn’t that right, Probe?).
Yeah, it wasn’t going to save the 32X, and I don’t think any version of the arcade game set the world on fire. But, it was a unique diversion for a little while, and I finally got to experience it on real hardware with my comfy six-button controller. Kind of surprised it took me so long to go after a copy, having seen a sealed copy of it get whored around on the forums for a while. That said, now it sits with the likes of Space Harrier, Knuckles Chaotix, Shadow Squadron, and other quality 32X games that I’ve owned for years… probably wondering why it doesn’t get as much attention as those other games do.
Separation Anxiety By David Dyne
Separation Anxiety has earned the reputation of being either a mediocre or awful game due to its graphics, repetitive gameplay and not so spectacular sound. And let’s not forget true believers that the Clone Saga comic book storyline the game is based on is regarded by most fans as being extremely convoluted and ultimately forgettable. Yet, despite all these blatant warning signs I actually enjoyed playing through this game. Playing as Venom is akin to being the Incredible Hulk as you can demolish everything and anything in your path with relative ease. Spider- Man on the other hand requires more strategy as he doesn’t have the power or reach of his arch-nemesis and has to rely on speed rather than strength to survive. Locating all those hidden extra lives is an absolute must as you’ll end up losing a majority of them on the final stages as Spider-Man. Without passwords it only took me three tries to finish the game as Venom and another six as Spider-Man. I don’t want to imagine what kind of nightmare it must be trying it on hard mode. Even though the game has a limited soundtrack I found myself humming along with each and every track that came up. My favorite tracks in the game are from the opening stage called “The Streets” and “The Forest Path Entrance.” What else can I say about this one? No much so ‘Nuff Said, and go duff up some clones!