Don’t let the odd weather fool you! It’s still perfectly fine to stay inside and play all those great games you’ve been meaning to get around to. December is a great time of year to catch up on the ol’ Pile of Shame, and hopefully you were all nice enough this year to get some of the games on your want list. Check out what our staff and readers have been playing this month and see if Santa treated them better than he did you!
Defenders of Oasis By Ken Horowitz
I love RPGs, even the old school, random-battle types. That’s why I was so excited to finally get Defenders of Oasis for my Game Gear. I love the presentation, the Persian theme, and the enemy design so much! I do have some issues with the combat system, and while it can be frustrating early on, it’s not enough to ruin the experience. There are entirely too few localized RPGs on the Game Gear, and I’m keen on trying them all.
Defenders of Oasis isn’t the greatest Sega RPG, but it’s definitely one worth checking out. I hope to spend the rest of my holiday recess getting deeper into its quest. I can honestly say that over the past year, I’ve enjoyed collecting and playing the Game Gear, and I can’t wait to try its other RPGs!
James Pond II: Codename RoboCod By Sebastian Sponsel
At the time of this writing Christmas is only two days away, yet it doesn’t quite feel winterly: The sun is shining brightly (shining with all its might), and does its very best to make no snowflake be in sight. Yes, it seems I’m in some sort of caroling mood. Anyway, since it doesn’t seem like a winter wonderland is arriving anytime soon, I reckon I’ll have to visit it myself. I think a trip to the arctic workshop operated by the proprietor, S. Claus is in order.
I remember Mr. Pond, the Underwater Agent quite fondly. He originated on the home computer systems and was quite popular among the Amiga crowd. That’s where I first played his games as well (back in my school days I knew more kids that had an Atari ST or an Amiga 500 than a Mega Drive). Playing the game on the Mega Drive almost felt a bit weird at first. You can tell that James Pond II was originally made for being played with the classic home computer joystick. On the Amiga Joystick, you press up to jump, and you hold the fire button and press up to make James stretch in length. To accommodate for having having these kind of jump controls, the jumps themselves feel very floaty, which gives you more time for when you need to do some precision platforming. Of course, the Mega Drive version has its own buttons for jumping and stretching, making the jump physics feel a bit weird. Also, it has a few design flaws typical of Euro-platformers: lots of blind spots where you need to plow ahead and pray that you don’t run into enemies and a level design that’s a tad labyrinthine. This version also isn’t as pretty as the Amiga original, what with the lack of animated backgrounds, transparency layers or well… colors, basically. But nevertheless, the Mega Drive port is a decent game with a few jaunty holiday tunes.
Did I finish it? Well… no, not quite. Halfway through, I got a bit bored with it… so I used the infamous “CHEAT” cheat and skipped the rest of the levels, waltzing straight to the final boss fight. Guess I wanted to open my Christmas presents early.
Comix Zone By Vince Thornburg
Comix Zone has always had a strange hold on me for years. Originally buying it complete in the systems dying days on a major discount, I took it home and quickly realized my skills were not ready for it. I had much more fun with the American Recordings demo CD. The idea of hurting myself just to punch through an obstacle when I could not find any other way to advance I couldn’t wrap my head around. I eventually said “hell with it” and grabbed the Game Genie and made it to the end. And I got the sad ending, because I just couldn’t figure out how to stop a giant container to stop filling up with water. I’m pulling the lever! A lot! So I sold it.
So, now here I am nearly 20 years later. I’ve since played around with it when a friend had it, or when it showed up on some Genesis compilation, but I never actually sat and REALLY played. I came across a complete copy (missing the CD) for a solid price and and decided to give it another go. Comix Zone really is a great game. If you’re any kind of skilled at Street Fighter, you should be able to jump into this. It’s not a button masher, as the enemies have no problem blocking the hell out of your stale attacks. There’s more of a puzzle element than you’d think, and now that I’m older, I can appreciate the unique aesthetic of just what I’m seeing.
It’s still hard though. At least to me. I eventually caved and dusted off that Game Genie and pulled myself through to the end. There’s Mortus. There’s the unfinished rocket. And I’m flipping the lever and setting him on fire. And he’s dead. And there’s that lovely drawn love interest trapped in her doom chamber reminding me that she is indeed drowning. Then she says something else. “Use the lever that’s three inches from me you dipshit!” So I went to this brand new lever I somehow never noticed before and suddenly I was watching the happy ending.
Maybe I’ll never be able to finish Comix Zone without cheating, but I still felt happy that I managed to figure out this small mystery that’s been lingering the back of my mind.
Pier Solar By Paige
I am finished with school once and for all…and that means I can finally start spending quality time with my favorite system again! Since I’ve got so much free time now, I’ve decided to play Pier Solar for the first time, which has been sitting on my shelf for months.
Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of RPGs; it’s partly because they’re relatively time-consuming, partly because I’m not big on intense storylines or character development, and partly because I’m lazy and don’t like to spend time leveling up or stopping at inns to rest. I really appreciate that in Pier Solar it seems you don’t have to spend hours grinding to progress. In fact, I haven’t spent any time grinding whatsoever! I’ve found that as long as I keep upgrading weapons and armor, and if I’m clever about how I use Gather during battles, there isn’t any enemy or area that’s too difficult to get past. Well, maybe except for the first Pine Forest part.
My favorite thing in this game is probably Kruller. He’s pretty lighthearted and he doesn’t seem to have any clue as to what’s going on—which I sort of find charming—though for what it’s worth I can kind of relate. I feel that the game can be too cryptic at times when it expects me to progress, and the notebook isn’t usually that helpful, so I’m left to wander around while talking to everyone (when applicable) until I finally figure out what to do or where to go. That’s probably the biggest issue I have with the game, but it’s not too frustrating. And, as I say about every game I play, I am really enjoying the music. My favorite track so far has to be the Point Zero song, though I also like the one that plays in Oasis, and the one that plays during boss fights, and the one entitled “Mangrove…” Anyway, I’m going to stop writing this and go back to playing!
Batman Returns (Genesis) By David Dyne
For the month of December it’s been the Bat, the Cat and the Penguin as I’ve played Batman Returns on the Genesis, Sega CD, and the SNES for some Christmas-themed gaming goodness. I picked up Batman Returns for $5.00 from our local Lechmere department store when they were liquidating their existing stock on their way out of business in 1997.
Playing it back then left me with a feeling of frustration, as it wasn’t as great a title as Sunsoft’s Batman on the Genesis and the game eventually was relegated to back of the shoe box that was used to store my games. Sadly, that copy and all my other Sega stuff at the time went into the trash almost fifteen years ago, so I had to pick up a new copy this year for the much inflated price of $7.50.
Batman Returns was one of those titles I didn’t expect to buy again as at the time my mindset was to buy the best version of a game and the Sega CD seemed like the superior copy to own. Eventually I came to my senses and grabbed another copy to give it a fresh perspective. While the Sega CD version is a fantastic upgrade, I still prefer the cartridge’s platforming stages as the original soundtrack has a much better fit to the game while the CD music seems almost out of sync with the onscreen action. Have a Happy New Year everyone!
Model 2 Console By The Coop
We’ve all heard about the rescue pet; one that had abandoned, and left behind for one reason or another. The pet that longed for someplace to be loved and given safety, and once given those things, returned that gift with a lot of affection and loyalty. Cats, dogs, hamsters, birds… at some point, just about every house pet has been mentioned in an example of that tale from someone who brought home what no one else wanted. A question one might ask is, can an inanimate object do the same thing? Ha, of course not. It’s inanimate, silly. But, I did recently rescue a SEGA Genesis that looked to be on the verge of being sent to that big landfill in the sky.
See, I still have my model 1 Genesis from 1989. And while it does work fine for the most part, its headphone jack has become unimaginably touchy over the years. Sometimes one speaker works, sometimes neither do, and every once in a while, if you find just the right spot and don’t move even an inch during a planetary alignment, both speakers will work. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten to hear Genesis music in stereo from an actual system all that much for a long time. Thankfully I own a 32X, so while my headphone jack is screwy, I can use the reliable RGB plug on the back of my model 1 for cleaner graphics and sound over what the composite plug puts out. But, the RGB plug only puts out mono sound. Yeah, I know there are mods to change that, but I’m not screwing with the still working innards of my old Genesis. All that said, about a month ago, I came across something as I was going for a walk.
Someone had thrown out a group of three Genesis 2 units. Why, I didn’t know, but something in me said to take them home and see what’s what. I’m not the dumpster diving, garbage digging type, but there was an urge to see if maybe one of them worked. We’ve got a flea market that I could get a few bucks from if one of them did, so, I picked up the beat up cardboard box they were in and lugged them home. Using my 32X’s 2103 power plug, along with an RCA stereo cord I’d bought that was supposed to give me stereo sound on my 32X (but didn’t), I tested these systems out. The results?
One of them was DOA. It wouldn’t even power on, which wasn’t really surprising considering how badly beat up it was. The second one had a very, VERY loose power jack connection. You had to hold it firmly all the way to the left for it to turn on. And even then, the power would randomly cut for a second. It too was in rough shape, and sadly, it too was no good. Two down, one last unit to go.
The third unit was a bit beat up, but not nearly as bad as the previous two. Turning the system over, I saw that it was a ¾ motherboard, which gave me a bit of hope since I knew one of them was supposed to be a good model 2 variant. I plugged it in and found that it powered on, which was another good sign to be sure. I hooked the system up with that 32X stereo RCA jack I mentioned, and popped in Lightening Force. At first, I got no picture. But after a few tries, the game started up and I played a quick level or two to test the controller port. The colors were bright and vibrant as I tested it, and the picture was pretty clean overall. I had no issues with the controller port, and when I heard the music, it sounded rather nice and clean… in STEREO. And when I did a quick comparison with my model 1, it was pretty hard to tell the difference between the two systems. They sounded really similar, with maybe a touch of muffledness on the model 2.
It was then I decided to check a certain thread on the SEGA-16 forums, and see exactly which version of the system I had. I learned that it was a VA4, MK-1631 from SEGA. The system seemed to be working fine, sounding fine, and now I’d learned that it was one of the better and harder to come by versions of the model 2; a version that had been tossed out by someone for some reason. Once this was learned, it eventually led to me having a bit of a change in plans regarding the flea market as I cleaned the unit up a bit. The next day, the other two units were given a burial via trash truck when the trash man came that morning. But that ¾ motherboard unit? It’s got a new home now, sitting right next to my 26+ year old model 1.