Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 101

Has the summer heat got you down? Looking for a way to cool off? Then grab a cold one and check out what our staff and readers have been playing in July! With so many good games around, you’re bound to find something new or an awesome game you need to revisit. Why risk sun burn or heat stroke? Stay inside and play some games!


Cobra Command By Ken Horowitz

After many long years of searching, I finally found a complete copy of the Sega CD classic in complete condition and for a good price. Actually, it was in great condition, as it was sealed! For $20 shipped, that was a deal I couldn’t resist, and I eagerly (but carefully) sliced open the shrinkwrap to give this game a spin. And before you ask, yes I did open that sealed Sega CD game. I buy games to play, not admire on a shelf!

As a big fan of games like Road Avenger and Time Gal, I knew what to expect from Cobra Command. I was also familiar with it from back when the Sega CD was new, as my friend Miguel had bought it. I remember the two of us just admiring the attract mode for a long while, bathing in the animation and CD sound. Ah, what good times, back when new hardware was something that actually impressed us…

The game is a bit harder than I remember, as some enemies seem to give you more time to shoot than others. I promptly got my butt whipped on stage two on my first play, but as this type of game is based on memorization, I should have it whupped in a few days. I’m getting back into the quick-time style of play, and it’s more fun now than I actually thought it would be. Cobra Command may not be a major purchase, but it’s always nice to add a quality title to my Sega CD collection.

Total Football By Sebastian Sponsel

Well, the months of June and July were mostly spent in the name of the great team sport: football. And while we Germans are normally not that big on patriotism,  due to some very uncomfortable and dark history in the 20th century, the recent triumph in the 2014 FIFA World Cup saw a big surge of national pride among my fellow countrymen. Half the nation was glued to the television sets, and truth be told, I wasn’t an exception. I’m actually not that big a fan nowadays. I used to be though. Watching the German team progress through each stage of the tournament, I couldn’t help but feel a certain nostalgia welling up because one of the very first clear and detailed memories I have about a big event, about a chain of days that I can remember in detail, is the time when the German national team last won the World Cup, back in 1990 in Italy.

Total Football 2As a kid, I was a huge football nut. I played in our local team (I was a goalie, and I wasn’t half bad. I remember saving the decisive penalty to secure our team the victory in a regional cup tournament), I fought with others about who was the best player in the premier league, and of course, I feverishly followed the sport on TV and on my computer screen. I had (and still have) dozens of soccer games – for the C64, for the Amiga, for the Mega Drive, the SNES, the PC, the Saturn… though this was kind of the turning point in my interest for the sport. In 1996, when I was 16, I had a huge falling out with other members of my local team, my interest shifted in other areas, and the very first game that I owned for my brand new 600-Deutschmark console was, due to a lack of releases, the 3D version of FIFA Soccer ’96. Even back then, that game was an ugly, neigh-unplayable mess!

However, during this year’s world cup, 24 years after “our” last triumph in that tournament, this wave of nostalgia and a certain interest in the sport resurfaced. And in part due to that nostalgia, I decided to dig out my old soccer games and played them again, mostly for old times’ sake. So I actually played many games this month on many consoles (not FIFA ’96 on the Saturn though; I was feeling nostalgic, not masochistic!): International Soccer and Microprose Soccer for the C64, Italy 1990 and Sensible World of Soccer on the Amiga 500. I also played several soccer sims on the Mega Drive: World Cup Italia ’90, FIFA International Soccer, ISS Deluxe, European Club Soccer, J. League Pro Striker, Ultimate Soccer… and, last but not-quite-least, even one game that I had never even touched before, Total Football, a relatively late release with a somewhat original control scheme. The name Total Football relates to an old soccer stratagem that has every player on the field being able to take on every position on the field, totally devoting them not only to a part, but to an entirety of the soccer effort. It is no accident that this name in a way relates to “Total War,” a term that we Germans are a bit uncomfortable with, due to historical reasons…. aaaaaaand this little digressive rant has now come full circle in an awkward way, so I’ll better shut up now.

Knuckles Chaotix By Aaron Wilcott

When it comes to Sonic games, I’ve been like most people and only ever often stuck to the most popular entries, Sonic 2 and the like. Despite that, I’ve always had an appreciation for structural oddities like Sonic CD. Sure, the level design was wacky, but the added objectives per act in each zone added some much needed life to the Sonic formula, which was already getting to be a bit stale by Sonic 3.

This was quite some time ago, a decade pretty much. Fast forward to this year, I’ve finally bought a copy of Knuckles Chaotix, the one Sonic game played by few and hated by many. I had heard it was somewhat similar to Sonic CD in its strange design, so I happily bought a copy expecting something more. More, is definitely what was in store.

Right from the start, the magic ring tether system was there whether I was ready for it or not. Much to my surprise, Sega included a full tutorial mode showing you how to do some tether-based moves using both characters on your own (rather than with a friend). This certainly helped a lot, I don’t have any trouble flinging Knuckles and a buddy across the screen at ridiculous speeds. Adding additional depth is every character has some sort of special moves that make the game different. Knuckles can glide and Mighty can wall kick, for instance. The most peculiar is Charmy Bee. He can fly around with seemingly no drawbacks, even dragging the second character through the air. I suppose with the broken level design, it’s not surprising that there’s a broken character in here too.

Speaking of design, this game practically changed every in-between aspect of the Sonic formula. Instead of linear zone progression and simple character selection, you must choose your buddy with the combi catcher, which is semi randomized. You are also subject to a completely random zone selection screen, where you may end up playing one zone a few times before landing a new one. Each time you beat a zone, you go up a level, so it seems designed with this in mind. Also of note is the special stage. Being a fan of Sonic 3 and CD’s special stages while hating 2’s, Chaotix offers a vast improvement over the latter with good design ideas from the former. It’s a half pipe idea like from 2, but there’s no longer gravity and a million rings with tiny hitboxes to collect. Without going into a lot of long winded detail, it’s one of the best Sonic special stages I’ve played. It’s also the easiest, as you can’t fail a segment of the special stage by not collecting enough blue spheres, as long as you still have time, which you extend with rings.

As far as presentation goes, man is this game ever pretty. It may not be vastly improved over the Genesis sequels, it is a noticeable improvement and the altered art style makes the game feel fresh and different, a very appreciated sight for sore eyes after playing the same old Genesis/Sega CD Sonic for 10 years. The music is great too, with lots of catchy compositions that feel very Sonic-y. Even if it’s all mostly FM/PSG and not much in the way of PWM (32X’s sound), it’s still great. I would have loved to see this game on Saturn too.

I’d continue further but this is already getting to be a bit long in the tooth for a Reader Roundtable. My final thought is how sad it is that Chaotix is so despised, yet it offers such robust freshness in light of the honestly staleness of the Genesis sequel lineup. If you like Sonic CD, give Chaotix a try. I like it so much, I may just keep a 32X in my Genesis just for it. (that and my 32X works, my Sega CDs don’t…)

Dragon’s Revenge By The Coop

For a while, the Genesis was getting a trickle of pinball games that ranged from great, to odd. We got the likes of Virtual Pinball where you could make your own tables, Crue Ball and how you fought the mascot for Motley Crue, Dinoland with it’s cutesy dinosaurs, and even Sonic got a pinball game that offered up shitty collision detection and rampant amounts of slowdown. But the king of them all (in The States at least), was Dragon’s Fury.

Ported from the TG-16’s Devil’s Crush by Tecno Soft in 1992, this little gem featured great music, fun tables, bits of horror, solid controls, and quite a bit of replayability. Granted, it was a censored version of Devil Crash (which had little Satanic references with pentagrams and such), and there was a really annoying bug with one of the “ball save” bumpers on the left side (it would actually hurl the ball down the hole instead of keeping it from going in), but it was still the best U.S. pinball game out there. In fact, it was so good, that Tengen, the people who released Dragon’s Fury in the U.S., made a sequel for it called Dragon’s Revenge… and boy did they screw things up.

Wonky ball physics, ugly graphics that seem to mix in some equally ugly digitized art at times, dull boards, goofy sexualized voice effects when you hit certain objects, odd looking and framey animations, ugly character and enemy designs, music that’s nowhere near the quality of the first game (and that at times, goes out of tempo), and a final board where you have to knock out what looks like a dragon’s teeth before you fight the final boss (which turns into a frog-like thing that resembles no dragon… ever). It’s a horrid game through and through, with little in the way of redeeming qualities, even by the standards of the day.

So yeah, pretty much the bottom of the barrel for the Genesis when it comes to pinball games. How they took the formula from Dragon’s Fury and botched it in so many ways is beyond me. It’s like they never played the original game in any way before making this one, and frankly, Peter Adams and his team should be flogged for making this turd of a game and tying it to the original Naxat effort, or Tecno Soft’s port of it.

Thunder Force IV Joseph C.

My mother didn’t often get it right when choosing games for my brothers and me, but when she did, she did very well. I can’t remember what year or at what time of year we got this game, but I can still remember being blown away by the intro, frustrated by its difficulty, and impressed by its soundtrack. I wasn’t then and am not now much into shooters, but being the first (and I believe only) shooter I had on the Mega Drive, it holds a special place and remains my favourite in the genre.

I had been looking for a Japanese copy of the game for a while and only recently found it at a reasonable price. After getting it, I immediately had to give it a go. Without using the 99 lives trick, I was able to get to the early part of the ninth stage without cheating. The Japanese version notably doesn’t have the 99 lives trick and seems to be a bit more difficult. On my first go, I think I passed one stage before I saw the game over screen. On my second, I got up to stage six, and just before writing this, I got all the way to stage seven. This is one of the only games that I never finished as a child, so with time, I’ll hopefully be able to make it to the end.

Win or lose, I’m glad to finally have it back in my collection!

Virtua Racing Deluxe by KitsuneNight

Here we are then, another Reader Roundtable. So, what have I been playing then? Well… uh, a lot actually. And after a nearly three month odyssey, I finally managed to marry my American 32X with its intended counterpart, the American Mega Drive Model II. (Yes, Mega Drive. ). After nearly three long long months I can finally play my 32X games on my “Shroom of Doom,” and that is what I am going to talk about …

Hey get back here! It’s the just 32X. It won’t be that bad!  … don’t look at me like that.

So what have I been playing then? Virtua Racing Deluxe. People on the forum have assured me that this would be the best version by far, far superior then the Mega Drive version, and they were right. Of the five versions of Virtua Racing that are available. I have owned and played four and currently own three. (The Playstation 2, 32X ,and Mega Drive versions,  if you’re wondering. I am missing the Saturn version and I doubt I will ever get the arcade version, unless I will get a supergun and the Model 1 board). It’s far superior compared to the Mega Drive version, though not quite as impressive. After all, the Mega Drive is running that version on its own, with help from an extra chip yes, but still on its own. The Mega Drive version might just be gimped, but it still blows my mind that it runs on the stock hardware. The 32X is an upgrade and a class of its own, and it can do and should do much better then Mega Drive version. If the Mega Drive version was the broken bare bones barely working prototype, then the 32X version is what should have been: a fully featured game with five tracks and three different cars that look and behave differently. Oddly enough, the one that should be the most difficult to handle, the prototype, I find the easiest to drive.

The graphics in the 32X edition are still poor; they are flat and rough but still exude a kind of rough flat gouraud shaded charm. Everything still looks like jutting polygons, but better and more refined then the Mega Drive version. The pop up is horrendous though, and the graphics are grainy. It looks laughable these days, and it shouldn’t work but instead it does. It still works. It’s still enthralling and still addictive. Also, the game is an exciting pointer at what 3D games could be and what they could do. It introduced different camera views, instant replays, and who knows what else ?

But with the good (the impressive – for the time – graphics, the smooth gameplay, the great controls, the pick-up-and-play mechanics) also comes the bad. The two new tracks are hit and miss, with the jutting polygon graphics and pop up. Half the time its very hard to see what is what and where you are supposed to go, and by the time you figure it out you crash. The music is still very sparse, the stock car is almost impossible to control, and the game doesn’t save your high scores (my cart doesn’t, at least), making it some what pointless. And the music is still “stop and start,” which is somewhat disappointing.

The Mega Drive version and the arcade versions are fairly shallow games and are more noteworthy for their technical merits than as games, but they are still worth playing. In contrast, the 32X version is much more rounded game and even more worth playing then its predecessors. It’s still fairly shallow but more rounded with five tracks and three cars, to be getting on with, and I prefer to drag my prototype car around the corners of Big Forest, skirt across a solid grey block of polygons, which is no doubt a wall, and then careen under the girders of the two orange bridges.

The game, like its predecessor, has not failed to impress me impress me. It’s yet again a testament to what could have been, what the 32X could have been and could have done. It’s not as easy to get as the Mega Drive version or the Saturn version, but it’s still worth getting and still worth playing, still worth playing the hell out of it

And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Leave a Comment