Between the beach and all those other outdoor activities, time needs to be taken for what’s important: video games! The outdoors are nice and all, but who are we kidding? You know you want to crank up the AC and settle down with some SEGA goodness! Our staff and readers feel the same way! See what they’ve been playing for the past month.
Landstalker By Ken Horowitz
I’ve always loved Landstalker. The graphics simply blew me away back in the ’90s, and they still hold up marvelously today. And while I find the puzzles much simpler now than I did back then (except for the Green Maze… ugh!), I also find my perceptions of the gameplay weren’t the same. Isometric perspectives are not really compatible with platforming gameplay, and Landstalker suffers greatly from this. Taking off the rose-colored glasses, I now see that many of the jumps were challenging because of the camera, not because they were specifically designed to be challenging. Frustration was a lot more common when playing than it should have been, and I found myself never wishing to do some of those puzzles ever again.
I do admit, however, that this has to be taken in context. Landstalker was an entirely new experience on the Genesis at the time, and the level of excellence that went into its level design (as well as the sheer size of the adventure) were truly epic in 1993. It wanted to do so much more than 16-bit technology would allow, and despite the camera I still love it. I really wish we had gotten a true sequel on the Saturn (no, Dark Savior doesn’t count). I can imagine being able to rotate the camera to make those jumps… Ah SEGA, once again you leave me with nothing but empty dreams…
Lemmings (Master System) By Sebastian Sponsel
Do you have a game that feels like you’ve always had it, but you can’t remember ever actually getting it? Where, if anyone asked you what it was like, you’d say “oh, it’s quite good” more or less by reflex, even though you haven’t played it in a long time – let alone ever finished it? For me, the Amiga version of Lemmings is such a game. It’s really odd when I think about it. It came out after Golden Axe or Super Real Basketball were released on the Genesis, and I got those right when they were brand new. I even remember, though vaguely, getting The Games: Summer Edition for our Amiga computer in time for the Olympic games in Seoul back in ’88. When I was 10, my parents got me an original Game Boy, which of course had Tetris as a pack-in game. Yet somehow it feels like Lemmings had always sat there among the other Amiga disks. I get a really odd feeling looking at the release dates and realizing that all those other games I mentioned are older, were released earlier, and still… it seems like somehow, it has always already been there.
Another odd thing is that I don’t remember actually beating it. I remember playing it, and I remember that I kind of enjoyed it. I even remember a friend of mine, who also had an Amiga, coming over a few times, bringing his mouse so that we could play the two-player mode, but it don’t recall actually seeing it through to the very end. I have a vague memory of attempting the “Mayhem” levels once or twice, maybe beating the first one of them, and eventually giving up. The point is, I attempted it a few times when I was a kid, and when my teenage years came along, the Amiga got packed away (more precisely, it had always belonged to my older sister, who took the computer with her when she went to college. Come to think of it, maybe she was the one who got the game in the first place) and with that, I didn’t try my hand at Lemmings for a very long time.
Fast forward about 20 years. I knew I had some spare time coming up, so I decided to look through the list of unreviewed games on this site, to see whether there was a game that I might be able to take on. I was kind of surprised to see that no one had reviewed Lemmings 2 yet. Remembering the original from my Amiga gaming days, and hazily recalling having enjoyed it, I figured it might be worth a shot. So I got the game, I popped it in, fiddled around with it a bit… and eventually stopped playing it again. Not because I didn’t like it but because right from the beginning something felt odd about it. Why was that, I wondered. I figured there would be only one way to find out: I had to dig deeper! I had to play the original again! So, since the first game had already been reviewed, I got out my Power Base converter, got myself a copy of Lemmings for the Master System, and started playing the 8-bit port of the game. I felt old for the first time in my life (if that makes any sense).
And you know what? I actually finished it! I had never realized it before, but the original game has such a great learning curve. Once you sit down and dig through the levels one after one, you learn the mechanics bit by bit, slowly getting a grip on them even without the game tutorializing the whole affair. It’s actually fun (which is probably why the easiest levels are collectively in the “Fun” category) and kind of ingenious. Within days, I found myself puzzling through the “taxing” section, and soon I was mastering “Mayhem” after “Mayhem” level… something I was never able to do in my teenage years. Is it because the Master System version only has a maximum of 20 Lemmings instead or the original 99? I don’t think so, no. Besides, after playing through the Master System version I tried a quick run through the “Mayhem” section of the Mega Drive version, and aside from a few differences here and there (the Master System port actually has a few completely different levels) I worked through those in no time, now that I had gotten a hang of the game. So what was it? Well, aside from me being way more patient now than I was 20-25 years ago (my kid self was kind of a brat, to be honest), I think what ruined it for me back in the Amiga days was the fact that it wasn’t an original; it was a cracked version with a trainer included, allowing it to set all resources to 99, always. I never had an incentive to actually learn how the game was supposed to be played. And when I got stuck, I never quite knew the reason why, because I never had any reason to learn certain tricks the game mechanics had to offer. There you have it… cheating can ruin your entire experience.
Now that I learned to play it proper, I am hooked. Immediately after finishing the Master System game, I started playing the Mega Drive version again, and I haven’t stopped since. And the whole thing also made clear to me why I had stopped playing the first time. Why? Well… that’s a tale to be told a different time…
MERCS By David Dyne
I’m officially declaring June to be the month of military madness, as I’ve been playing Bloody Wolf on the Turbo Duo, P.O.W. on the NES, and most importantly, MERCS in original mode on the Sega Genesis. What’s great about original mode is the ability to acquire the various mercenaries and their weapon specialties and upgrade them as you see fit throughout the eight new missions. Rifle, Burner and Laser are my go-to team while Launcher and Homing warm the bench.
Playing through the game on normal difficulty took me about a week and what a week it was. However, Original mode on hard difficulty is to quote some of the Game Gear ads of the ’90s, where we separate the men from the boys. What was a manageable run and gun game now transforms into a bullet, grenade and missile hell run and gun game where death comes very quickly if you make a wrong move or don’t have the right mercenary for the job at hand. Forget employing the same strategies on hard that worked on normal as you’ll need an entirely new playbook to blast your way through this one. After another week I’ve only made it up to the second stage boss and still come up short trying to destroy that final cannon before losing my last mercenary. Mega Crushes are in short supply here so you can’t nuke your way out of a boss fight like you can on normal. Other than that the game is still fun to play despite the challenge and here’s hoping in a few months I can finally manage to finish it or at the very least, make it to the stage three!
Earth Defense By The Coop
Ah, the unlicensed Genesis game. Not quite as rare an animal as one might think, if you look back to the likes of Accolade and Electronic Arts with their early offerings. But later in the Genesis’ life? These kinds of games weren’t as visible as they were when the Genesis was new. But a few did come out, and one of them was a little shmup called Earth Defense. I found this game at a flea market being sold brand new. I love me some shmupping, and when I saw it for $10, I grabbed it (along with a complete and new copy of X-Men vs Street Fighter for the Saturn). Little did I know the horrors that awaited me when I got home… for the most part.
My first impression of it was simply a somewhat blank stare as I watched the screen. It left me wondering how something like this could come out of the same system that had the likes of Thunder Force IV, Steel Empire, and their ilk on it. It didn’t take long before that momentary bit of bewilderment turned into vexation as I realized that I was now stuck with the game. I wasn’t happy, but I grew up always trying to find at least some fun in 2600 and XEGS games that weren’t very good when I got stuck with one. So, that’s what I tried to do with Earth Defense.
Here’s the thing though. This no-name game from Realtec has an odd kind of charm to it… kind of like the little kid that wants to be a guitar player when they grow up but can’t play a single chord at all after months and months of practice. But once in a while, almost by accident, he hits an actual chord semi-right. That spurs the kid to try like hell even more, bringing him to slam the instruments metal strings over and over as aural diarrhea spews from the amp. And like that analogy, this game has so much wrong with it. Its barely-above-NES graphics, the sub-par music, the really questionable hit detection that makes playing this thing difficult and a chore… it’s just not a good game.
And yet there are the tiniest glimmers of hope here and there within it. The occasional bit of song that’s actually not that bad, the weapons and little options that try to be impressive or useful as they get powered up, the odd diversity of the backgrounds and enemies… the little things that show someone was trying. Someone that you know was smiling as they programmed it, thinking they were doing a good job when they touched upon those brief moments of reasonable creativity, not unlike that eardrum-abusing kid.
So yeah, this isn’t a game to seek out. I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing was all done by one person using multiple names just the fill the credits, as it has that kind of feel to it. But, it got put out there, and somehow I ended up with it in my collection through a random flea market encounter. If I’d known about how bad it was, I’d have never picked it up. And yet I can’t bring myself to toss it aside and make it go away… not unlike the parents who just don’t have the heart to take that aforementioned kid’s guitar away because he sucks so bad. It’s a case where you just pat them on the head and give a sad, yet knowing smile with, “you tried, dear.”