Summer is over! It’s time to return to inside activities, and what’s better than playing Sega? So many great consoles, and so many great games; there’s no way you can go wrong with any of them. The Genesis may be king of the hill, but there are definitely a ton of games on CD and 32X that are very much worth your time. Check out what we played in September.
Streets of Rage 2 By Ken Horowitz
Having just got a Game Gear, I wanted to see if its selection of Genesis ports actually were done justice on the inferior hardware. I was pleasantly surprised at Aladdin and Ecco: Tides of Time, which both played to the portable’s strengths instead of trying to imitate the 16-bit originals pixel by pixel. Imagine my joy when I popped in Streets of Rage 2 and saw just how good it was. I know, the levels aren’t as detailed and there aren’t as many enemies onscreen (or in variety), but this definitely is Streets of Rage 2! The game is nice and long, and there’s a lot of juicy beat-’em-up action to be had. You can even play two-player if you have a friend and a Gear-to-Gear cable. The only downside is that there are only three playable characters, but Sega made up for it by adding in extra moves exclusive to this version. Great stuff! Just to be sure, I went back and played the Genesis version again, and I ended up playing all the way to the last level. I didn’t feel like continuing, but the experience was enough to reaffirm my conclusion that the Game Gear is a neat little system!
Sunset Riders By Sebastian Sponsel
I don’t think many readers on this site know this, but I am a huge fan of the western genre. So when my wife had to leave for a business trip the other week (oh yeah, BTW, I’m married now), I grabbed a fistful of spaghetti and decided to binge on a few classic Italo-Westerns. After spending a couple of hours with my pals Ringo, Sabata, Django and Rocco, the thought pierced my mind that another Reader Roundtable would be coming up soon. Since I own all titles that the western genre has to offer on the Mega Drive (that’s right, BOTH of them!), I felt playing on of them would suit the occasion perfectly. Deciding what game to play came pretty easy. With fond memories of the movie the game is based upon in the back of my head, I lovingly took my copy of Back to the future III out of the shelf. Then I yelled “Hell, no!” tossed that piece of garbage into the corner, and plugged in Sunset Riders instead.
Seriously, if you like both spaghetti westerns and games where you get to shoot at stuff, Sunset Riders should be right up your ally. Colorful villains, nice western-set pieces and a good deal of action, dodging gunslinging outlaws, dynamite-throwing Mexican bandits and Indian warriors along the way. It’s not as fast and frantic as other games like Contra or Gunstar Heroes, but then again, the pace suits the western genre nicely. I also don’t mind that out of the four heroes in the arcade version, only two made it into the Genesis port. There wasn’t that much different between them (two had pistols, two had shotguns), so the only difference is that when you start a two-player-game, you can’t have both players sport the same gun. The music’s also pretty great.
Though I have to admit, I’m a bit miffed about the graphics. The color palette sports very odd choices in some places (pink barrels?), and the animations are sometimes a bit too jerky for my tastes. The game lacks polish. But then again, so do most spaghetti westerns. In the end, it comes down whether or not watching they deliver some entertaining gunplay for a couple of minutes, and in that regard, Sunset Riders delivers. It isn’t an epic meal, but a quick helping of spaghetti can be pretty tasty every now and again.
Herzog Zwei By the Coop
Way back in the day when I was but a chicken of the Spring (not to be confused with any of those weird sea chickens that Jessica Simpson had a brain fart over), my Genesis and I were yearning for a new game to spend a little time with. It had been a while since I’d fed my 16-bit system something different, and as I browsed through the somewhat cluttered shelves of Software Etc., I came across a game that I had no knowledge of at all. Sadly, I was $5 short of being able to get it, but I had a friend there who just happened to have that $5 to spare. As such, I left the store with a game that would arguably be a sizable catalyst for an entire genre that would burst onto the scene just a couple of years later.
Now I’m not ashamed to say that I had no bloody idea what the hell I was doing when I first began playing Herzog Zwei. Yeah, I skimmed the instructions, but things were just going wrong in-game, and all I was thinking was…
Take over a base? Yeah, but how do I- CRAP! MY MAIN BASE!
My brain just wasn’t really connecting the dots of game’s mechanics, until a few days later when I happened to figure out how to get a little man to enter one of the mini-bases. Then came learning how to set up defenses, offenses, destroying troops who were out of ammo to make new ones when the troop limit was hit, taking over bases closer to the enemy; it was all so new to me. I was used to running, jumping, shooting, bombing and all that actiony stuff; not planning and setting things up to defend something while I was off blowing up enemies.
But once I get into the game’s groove, it was an absolute blast. And setting up my own troops around the enemy’s main base so that he’d be blown up the moment he respawned? Priceless. I later found out completely by accident, that there are two endings in the game; one of which involved a subject not often used in video games at the time (suicide). Couple all of this with the great music Herzog Zwei features, and it was a game that I enjoyed from start to finish… even if I did have to play the same eight levels four times to win. It was a mix of shmup and what would eventually be called Real Time Strategy that made for an interesting experience… and I liked it.
It’s a shame we never got a sequel. Sure, the RTS genre took off a couple of years later to fill in that part, for a while we got to put our hopes in an Unreal conversion that looked promising until the creator killed the project, and we do have Air Mech to carry the flag that Herzog Zwei flew. But it still would have been great to see what the Tecno Soft crew could have done on either the Genesis or the Saturn. If the sequel featured a jump in quality like what we saw going from Thunder Force II to Thunder Force III or TF3 to TF4, it would have been a game made of pure awesomeness.
Gunstar Heroes By Joseph C.
It is common to talk fondly about the history and legacy of classic titles. Gunstar Heroes is one such game, being the first and still arguably the best game ever made by the now legendary Treasure. But for me back in the day – I just thought the box art looked cool. Thinking back now, I wonder how many people came to games knowing the pedigree of the developers. As a child I never knew and now I seldom don’t.
I used to be very good at this game and I was proud of being able to finish it on the highest difficulty without having to continue. Around that time, I was always trying to find hidden or special endings and for a long time I thought I could save the character Green at the end of the game if I finished the game the right way.
This month was the first time in a long time so I started on easy and on my most hated level; Black’s Strange Fortress. I got through the dice board the first time and up to Black. I was rusty but I managed to defeat him just before he got me. Being such a long time since I played it, I forgot that the first gem he throws out explodes and he got me. I don’t know if anyone else has had that happen but it was certainly a humiliating first for me.
I wasn’t deterred though and restarted the game, getting all the way up to the final stage, having to continue once and then defeating Golden Silver. It was set to easy but after all these years it still felt like an accomplishment. Gunstar Heroes holds up very well today and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I play it. Hopefully next time I will have a friend along.
Fire Shark By Diego Rivera
It hasn’t been long, about a year and a half, since I discovered the pleasure of playing shoot-’em-ups, and fortunately for a humble Mega Drive/Genesis enthusiast like myself, the console offers plenty of great options for the genre. Among those options lies Fire Shark, which was released in 1990 and is one of Toaplan’s best efforts for Sega’s 16-bit machine. It boasts good visuals, some rocking music, precise controls, and 10 stages of intense action with minimal slowdown. While it may not offer anything new to the genre, its gameplay is polished in a way that keeps you on your toes all the time while making you come back for more action.
When playing a game of this caliber, you can only count on your reflexes and memorization capacity. Make one little mistake, and you’re dead (well, not really YOU, but you get the point). I sure made mistakes a lot of times while crossing the skies dodging a shower of bullets and bombs…
Oh great, here comes a new big-ass boss and I have zero bombs.
… crashes the plane.
Eventually, after quite some practice, I finally reached the last stage on a single credit, and boy I was on fire. As I watched my score reaches new heights, I kept blasting everything that appeared on screen with my fully-powered weapons while rocking to the music. I was sure that nothing could stop me. A new wave of enemies came along. forcing me to make a wrong maneuver that left me in a bad position, but I was able to recover by dropping a bomb. I kept pushing forward, while the CPU threw everything that it had at me.
With only one bomb left, my hands were sweating, and I felt that the controller was going to slip through my hands. Another wave of enemies appeared, and this time they were thirsty for blood. I blasted most of them, but this left me in a bad position. Then I dropped my last bomb, but my plane crashed due to an enemy bullet that I missed. Underpowered, I became easy prey for my foes. That game was lost.
I would eventually clear the game after another frantic session, but that’s not what really important. What matters in the end is the thrill and the experience of challenging yourself to react quicker and more efficiently than what you thought possible, to get just little further in the game, to escape for a hour or so, and to have a good time even when the outcome isn’t exactly what you expected it to be.
Fire Shark provided me just that.