Time again for another look at what our staff and readers have been playing! Are you considering revisiting a classic game or trying a new one out for the first time? Then the Reader Roundtable is for you! Each month, we share our monthly game experiences in hopes that they will help readers explore the depth of Sega’s 8 and 16-bit library. Enjoy!
Sword of Vermilion By Ken Horowitz
After researching and writing about the esteemed Hiroshi Kawaguchi, I decided to go back and listen to one my favorite Genesis soundtracks and what appears to be Kawaguchi’s first score for the console. What started as a simple playing of the hidden sound test soon turned to a five-hour play session, and I have found myself hooked on Sword of Vermilion again. I know many people don’t have high praise for the game, and I do share many of the same concerns. Sword of Vermilion is a pretty mediocre game overall, but there’s a special charm to it that no other Sega RPG has. I don’t know if it’s the amazing music, the combination of gameplay styles, or some weird mixture of both, but I really have a soft spot for it. I’m still wondering why there are two different ending themes. I’ve only ever seen the ending with the hero and princess embracing. Does anyone know if there’s something different? Alternate text, perhaps?
Now that Shenmue 3 has been successfully kickstarted, I’m hopeful that Yu Suzuki will decide to crowd-fund a sequel to what was his first console RPG. I’d take a Sword of Vermilion II on the 3DS or Vita! Fix the gameplay problems and make it longer and more challenging. Of course, I’m in only if Kawaguchi doesn’t do the soundtrack…
Final Fight CD By Vince Thornburg
There was always a nagging worry about Final Fight. It’s known that the Streets of Rage series was made to be Sega’s answer to Final Fight, so I wondered that whenever I finally got around to playing it if it would taint my memories of playing Streets of Rage 1 and 2. I was able to finally track down a copy of Final Fight CD and now can finally see what I’ve really been missing out on, and…Streets of Rage 2 still wins out, a lot. The the enemy sprites are similar, with the Signal Gang being a massive standout. You can really see the influence that Final Fight had, I’m still going to be about Sega’s series.
Not that Final Fight is a bad game. It’s still REALLY fun, and I need to get some friends over to try out the full actual two-player version. Capcom really took advantage of the Sega CD, with voice actors and an absolutely kickass soundtrack. And I really didn’t know that this is where Rolento came from, so that was an awesome surprise. Final Fight still has issues. I’m still getting used to it, but there seems to be a lot less reaction time to some enemies, which only adds to the button mashing. This does make most weapons useless though.
Final Fight CD is about to be the most played out of the meager few games I currently have for the Sega CD, but I can tell I picked up a real cornerstone of the library.
Aladdin (Master System) By Sebastian Sponsel
In January, I moved into a new home, which meant I finally had the opportunity to do something I had been planning for years: set up my computer and console collection in a way so that every single of my machines was hooked up to a TV at any time. The problem was, it took far longer than I thought it would. This was not because I spent so much time in planning the layout of the room, stocking the shelves and hooking up the cables – though that took its fair amount of time, too. No, the problem was that, of course, I had to properly test each and every console whether it was in working order and hooked up correctly. You would think that this would simply mean to just pick whatever game first fell into my hands – or use a flash cart – plug it on, check whether controls, sound and graphics are in working order, then shut the thing off again and move to the next console. But no, things are never just that easy.
By pure chance, my Master System was the first console I had set up. So here’s how the process went: Okay, the console’s hooked up, let’s see if it works… plug in the Master Everdrive… okay, the menu has come up on screen, seems like that is in order. What game should I pick.. hmmm, Ace of Aces, Addam’s Family, After Burner… oh, let’s pick Aladdin and use it to check if sound and controls are working alright… Good, the sound is working. Oh, animated intro, nice. Plucks a scene right from the movie. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever played this version before. Let’s have a little peek… Hey, the graphics look pretty good for ye olde Master System. Hey, we start with an actual chase sequence. Seems like the game sticks even closer to the movie than its 16-bit cousins, right down to Jasmine in disguise… oh hey, another cut scene. Yeah, everything’s there, in correct order. Agrabah market, dungeon… hey, there’s Jaffar in his beggar disguise, as an actual sprite… Cave of Wonders, escape in the magic carpet, Genie’s lamp, hey, Aladdin actually looks different when we get to the Prince Ali part of the movie, you even get to run around in his princely outfit, the other games didn’t do that! The music’s also pretty catchy… dumm-de-dumm…. I can show you the world… oh yeah, now the tide is turning. Jaffar in his snake form looks pretty cool… huh? Oh, game’s over. These nine stages sure breezed by…
Yeah, needless to say, when setting up your gaming room starts out like that on your very first console, it’s no wonder getting everything up and running ends up taking forever. At least Aladdin’s a short one! Okay, on to the Genesis. Everything is hooked up, now let’s see if it’s working. What do we have here? 007: The Duel, 3 Ninjas, Aa Harimanada, Aaah! Real Monsters..
Batman Returns (CD) By The Coop
A good number of years ago, I found a copy of Batman Returns for the Genesis. It got pretty underwhelming reviews and no one seemed overly fond of it at the time of its release, but it was $3 complete, with all of the little advertisements still in the case. So, I figured I’d give it whirl. I quickly found out that my $3 might as well have been tossed into the trash. The game was ugly to look at, dull to play, and the music was nothing I wanted to listen to outside of a couple of tunes. It wasn’t worth the $3 I’d handed over, but, I kept it. It wasn’t a fun game, but it was my not-fun game.
Fast forward to not long ago, and I came across a copy of Batman Returns for the Sega CD. I’d known about this game long ago, and knew that it too got some mixed reviews. It was the cart game, but now with CD music and 3D driving levels. I’d heard the music and thought it was much better than the stuff on the cart, and I’d seen some of the 3-D stages and thought they looked cool. But man… that cart game still being in there was a real deal breaker back then. But, now I was looking at a complete copy of the CD version for $10. The CD and manual were in good shape, though the box was a bit beat up. I still wondered if I should take the leap, seeing as I got burned with the cart game. I’d passed on it many times before, but this time, I dove in.
Well, the platforming is still dull, and the graphics for those areas are still pretty ugly. But the music is quite nice to listen to, which sort of helps to try and make your way through those stages. The driving stages are tough, but they’re rather fun. Sure, the visuals are pixelated, but seeing all that stuff scale at you is a nice nostalgic journey to when such things were a rarity. The music is much more enjoyable than what was on the cart version, with its synthy nature and healthy dose of ’90s cheese at times. Sure, I could just turn off the platforming sections in the game’s options menu, but I still slog through the platforming so I can listen to the music. Plus, it makes those 3D levels feel more special when you work to reach them.
So yeah, I can see why the cart game got such mediocre scores, and why the cart sections dragged the CD game down. But I have to say, even with those platforming areas untouched, the Sega CD game is noticeably better than the cart version. But I have to say, it’s strange to look back and see the minefield we SEGA gamers had to navigate if we wanted to play a Batman game. One great and one iffy Sunsoft cart effort, a dull SEGA cart, a HORRID Probe game, a Sega CD cart-port with ups and downs, an “Animated Series” Sega CD driving game that was cool but pretty tough, and a Batman and Robin run-‘n-gun that was hard as balls. It was a varied selection with equally varied quality to go with it. But hey, at least we didn’t get stuck with that rat-in-a-maze Batman game the PC Engine received.
Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 by James Villone
Music at work got me to revisit Sonic 2. Mumford & Sons’ song “Tompkins Square Park” sounds like its chorus could have been directly inspired by the theme for Sky Chase Zone! At least, it sounds that way to me, so when the CD Wilder Mind is played, I end up humming Sky Chase Zone instead! I am still impressed by the fantastic soundtracks of the first two Sonic games!
In revisiting Sonic 2, my all-time favorite platformer, I plugged the cartridge into Sonic & Knuckles to form Knuckles in Sonic 2. I realized that this is my least-played 16-bit incarnation of the Sonic series, for a couple of reasons. First, I love everything about stand-alone Sonic 2, and second, Knuckles’ sprite and colors just do not seem to fit in the world of Sonic 2! And Knuckles’ extra moves are nice but Sonic 2’s stages were clearly not built for his gliding, which makes much more sense in the sprawling stages of Sonic 3 & Knuckles!
I have given it a fair shot but Knuckles in Sonic 2 still fails to appeal to me, aside from the cool cartridge technology! I always get sick of it fast and then separate the carts to get back to vanilla Sonic 2, with almost a sigh of relief as Knuckles’ pink-red smirking sprite is replaced by Sonic’s cool scowling sprite, and his dark blue seems to perfectly complement the colors of the stages that flash by!