Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 104

Halloween is here! It’s time for some candy, costumes, and classic TV specials. It’s also a great time to break out those great horror-themed Genesis games. Turn down the lights, crank up the TV, and have some spooky fun with these 16-bit classics!


Zombies Ate My Neighbors By Ken Horowitz

Man, how I wish this franchise hadn’t died after only one sequel (the SNES-only Ghoul Patrol). This game is great! It’s weird as hell, funny, looks and it plays like a charm. That’s all the makings of a Halloween classic! I love exploring the levels and trying to save everyone, even those darn cheerleaders. The brilliant level design makes what would be a typical “find everything and leave” style of play into one that actually promotes exploration and experimentation. ZAMN (even the acronym is cool) came out when LucasArts was still creatively competent, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get more games from them on the Genesis. Still, I’ll take zombie-blasting, giant baby-fighting, chainsaw-wielding fun like this wherever I can get it.  If you haven’t played this one, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy.

World Class Leaderboard By Sebastian Sponsel

Nostalgia can express itself in a great variety of ways. Sometimes, when you deliberately browse through your archive of games it can be like a pleasant little stroll down memory lane, a leasurely walk with a smile on your face. Or it can come as a pleasant surprise, like a friend you haven’t seen in a very long time suddenly dropping by out of the blue for a quick visit. It can also sneak up on you without you noticing it being there, until it suddenly whacks you over the head with a two by four, completely overwhelming you without warning. At least that’s how I felt when I discovered only recently that World Class Leaderboard had been ported to the Mega Drive.

The reason for this has little to do with the console, but rather the Leaderboard series of golf games itself. You see, when I grew up as a little kid, I wasn’t a console gamer. Oh, we did have a console, one of those Philips G7000 Videopac systems, but there hardly were any games for that machine. However, when I was about six years old, my parents also bought a good old breadbox: A Commodore 64 home computer. And in the old age of cassette tapes and floppy disks, games were easier to come by, especially when you had a teenage sister with technology-minded friends and a nerdy teenage cousin. Of course, my parent disapproved of any violent games (that they knew of), but they didn’t object to sports or arcade reaction games. As a result of that, the three first computer games I remember playing were Krackout (a sideways Arkanoid clone), David’s Midnight Magic (a pinball simulator) – and the very first Leaderboard game.

Reader Roundtable 104-1Imagine a German six-year-old who doesn’t understand a word of English. After some schooling from his cousin, he eventually learns how to start up a computer game and understands what commands like “load,” “list,” or “run” accomplish way before his parents do. And then, with a lot of trial and error, he’s playing a golf game alongside an eight-year-old sister, another 14-year-old sister and a 12-year-old cousin on their old 8-bit home computer. It was weird. I barely understood what golf was (other than “get the ball in the hole”), neither my siblings nor my cousins really knew why the clubs were called wood, iron or “SW” and “PW”, and we all had to use trial and error to see what which one did, though at least my eldest sister was able to interpret the instructions and on-screen menus, which were all in English. And yet here I was, trying to guess what clubs to use, how to avoid sand traps, how to counter the effects the wind had on your shots, how to work your ways around trees and so on. I found it all absolutely fascinating. Whenever my family visited my relatives, my younger sister and I started playing Leaderboard, and the same occurred whenever he came around. And eventually I even happened to win a few matches. When we got our hands on Leaderboard Executive, we played a few courses with that. And eventually we upgraded to World Class Leaderboard, with its fantastic expansions, and played that for a while.

And then… it just stopped. The C64 era ended. Around the same time, my cousins’ and my family grew further apart. And somehow, golf games just weren’t interesting any more. Maybe it was also due to the fact that there weren’t any real life golf courses nearby in real life where I lived. The closest thing we had was a mini golf facility, and I got very bored of that one when I was 11 or 12-years-old. At that time I had already switched to an Amiga, and I also got my first Mega Drive. I realized that there were other golf games out there, and once or twice I dabbled a bit with the Links– or the PGA Tour series, but never again did I feel the same fascination that I did when I was an elementary school kid playing his very first video games, one of which just happened to be the greatest golfing simulator of its day. Besides, the console had more action to offer than any golf game had in store…

And now, years after the fact, here I am, looking dumbfounded at a boxed copy of the Mega Drive port of a golf game I played before the Mega Drive even existed. And I wonder, how could this have happened? How could this have existed without me even knowing? All these memories, loading and playing the game every other afternoon whenever my cousin and I were together… how come we never did play this on the Mega Drive, when we had spent so much time in its original C64 state? Those were wondrous days, great days… the wonder years, if you will.

So I popped in the Mega Drive version and played it for a bit. It was okay.

Universal Soldier By The Coop

Ah, the tale of the Turrican game that went and pulled a Renée Zellweger; changing its appearance so drastically, you can’t tell it’s the same game anymore… sort of. OK, bad analogy, but anyone familiar with this game knows what I’m getting at. For those who don’t, quick history lesson…

Turrican II was being ported to the Genesis by Accolade, when they acquired the rights to make a game based off of the movie, Universal Soldier. So what did they do? They changed Turrican II into some kind of bastardization of an original game and the game it originally started as. A few new stages to replace the shmup stages of TII, a few sprite changes (like a giant Dolph Lundgren to replace the big robot with a feathery headdress), and PRESTO!… Universal Soldier: The Game. Except, they also left in quite a bit of the original Turrican II stages as they originally were. So the game hops all over the damn place, not following the movie in any real way at all.

This game’s a weird beast. It can’t really make up its mind what it wants to be, and as a result, you end up not sure just how to look at it. On the one hand, it really does still play like Turrican II, has much of the same music and stages, and as a result, comes off well in that regard. Then you see the new sprites and stages that just don’t fit with the other stuff, and it feels disjointed because of it. It’s a shame really, because as a port of TII, it was on its way to being a solid one. You could see it was getting there, and then suddenly took a wild turn and flung itself off of the main highway. Sure, the music isn’t as good as the Amiga game (this is Accolade after all), but gameplay-wise and visually, it’s a pretty solid effort.

Alas, this is as close to Turrican II as Genesis owners will ever have for their 16-bit system. We got a fair port of the first game, and a great third one, but we’ll always be stuck with the mutant child of the second game and a second-rate Van Damme action movie. Maybe someday, someone will do a ROM hack and throw out all of the Universal Soldier stuff, but I doubt it. So, this is what we’re stuck with. As I said, it’s not a bad playing game, or even bad looking/sounding. It’s just not the game it was supposed to be. And as a fan of the series, that’s a let down.

Sonic The Hedgehog (8-bit) by Frank James Villone

As Halloween draws near, the spirit realm opens up to us, and ghosts seem to be flying around everywhere at night! October is a great time to curl up with blankets in the spooky darkness, brightened by the Game Gear’s shining 4,096 colors! Lately I have ha​d the most fun doing speed-runs of the first stage of Sonic The Hedgehog on Game Gear, with the best time of 24 seconds! I also checked out the Master System original (which can be played on Genesis, of course, with the Power Base Converter).

Reader Roundtable 104-2To be clear, the very first Sonic game was the 16-bit Genesis classic, followed by the 8-bit Master System title, which was then adapted for Game Gear. This portable version is the one known in the U.S., as the Master System was practically nonexistent here! Game Gear Sonic is just slightly modified; It mainly uses a smaller, zoomed-in window of the action, a new sprite, and the huge palette is used to throw in a few extra colors!

Green Hill Zone is lovely on Game Gear, with music faithful to the Genesis, and bright blue sky that seems sunny and cheerful. Sloping hills rise and fall, with the sense of huge open space to run and leap through! Bridge Zone could be set in the Rocky Mountains, again with bright sky and a lot of open space to leap across the changing landscape. Music sounds like everything is right in the world, breathing in the cold clean mountain air, with waterfalls and streams flowing everywhere!

Jungle Zone is full of strangely-drawn red flowers and plants, plus apples and pears glowing in the dark green! Clear water runs below, and music is again very cheerful, but that changes for the remaining stages, which sound foreboding and dangerous! Labyrinth Zone and Scrap Brain are basically alternate versions of the Genesis stages, and then Sky Base is a chaos of flashing lightning and bullet hell!

I discovered that a glitched form of the Master System version can be accessed on Game Gear, by slightly lifting/moving around the cartridge while it is running! Usually it crashes but sometimes the screen zooms out and shows the Master System’s larger perspective, with the colors all wrong – apparently trying to run that version, but with the palette breaking in the process! Title-screen Sonic is pink, and during gameplay he is yellow. Hard to tell for sure, but the graphics seem to be a mix of both versions! For example, the extra sign posts are still there from the portable version, while the waves in Green Hill’s background seem to lack animation, like the Master System original!

I also downloaded the Master System ROM, just to try it out properly. Again the larger view is the big difference, with a greater portion of each stage displayed at all times. This makes gameplay relatively easier, but the colors are more drab, and I soon lost interest. Just for the added colors and extra charm, I have to stick with the Game Gear on this one!

Dracula Unleashed By David Dyne

I’ll keep this one short, as it’s been more trick than treat. Last October I originally selected Dracula Unleashed on the Sega CD as my pick for that month’s Reader Roundtable and switched it up at the last minute to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on the Genesis. Now I’m glad I did. Dracula Unleashed has a lot going for it; an unofficial sequel to Bram Stoker’s novel featuring a resurrected Dracula wreaking havoc on London, good production values for the FMV sequences, a spooky soundtrack to set the atmosphere and an old school PC adventure game feel. It’s the last element that drags the game down due to the ridiculous trial and error gameplay to determine the exact order to visit locations around London and the precise time of the day in order to advance the story and complete the day’s requisite objectives. If the timetable was more forgiving it wouldn’t be such a chore to make any progress. I spent four days fumbling around with some inkling of what I needed to do, but no idea on how to do it despite numerous visits to various locations at different times and with various items which seemed like the correct combination. A quick check of a walkthrough set me straight but still somewhat confused as to the logic behind some of these solutions. It’s still a good game and it made me wonder how many players back in the day were calling up those 1-900 hint lines to get a clue as to how to proceed. Here’s hoping that next October is more enjoyable when I plan on tackling the adventure and fighting hybrid title, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, also on the Sega CD. Have a Happy Halloween everybody!

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