Ah, Spring… It’s a time for sunshine, flowers, and gentle breezes. It’s also a time for hay fever and ticks, so maybe we’d better just stay indoors! Luckily, our staff and readers are here for you, with a fresh batch of games that you will want to play while you’re hiding from allergies and sunburn. There’s always something worth checking out!
Royal Stone By Ken Horowitz
I’ve been kind of attached to my Game Gear lately, playing all sorts of great titles. Having only recently begun to appreciate its library, I’m finding that there is indeed a wide range of games that make this little handheld worth having. There are also some great fan translations that sadly, I cannot play on my machine (yet) due to not having an Everdrive, but that’s going to change in the near future. The Game Gear has some wonderful RPGs, and I may have found one that absolutely, DEFINITELY should have been released in the West.
I’m referring to Royal Stone, the sequel to Crystal Warriors (which was released in English). It’s a tactical strategy/RPG that plays and looks very much like Shining Force but never comes off as a copy or imitation. The story is excellent and fast-paced, and the battles are very well done and engaging. And those graphics! I’m not normally a graphics whore, but man does this game look like it could pass for an early Genesis title. The music’s pretty good, too!
I tried Royal Stone out on a whim, and now I’m hooked. I’m also going to have to grab a copy of Crystal Warriors, but that game isn’t as refined, obviously, as the sequel. Still, I love these types of games, and the Game Gear delivers once again.
Super Real Basketball By Sebastian Sponsel
Recent discussions on the Sega-16 forums got me reminiscing about the time when I got my first Mega Drive console again. It was Christmas 1989 – the console wouldn’t even officially reach Europe for another year, but my older, 18-year-old sister was in a relationship with a guy who ran a hardware import business from his garage (ah, how tech was distributed in the ’80s) and the two of them convinced my parents to get the “newest, hottest electronic toy from Japan” (his words) as a Christmas present for her younger siblings; me and my other sister were nine and eleven at the time, respectively. On Christmas eve, we got the console and two games to go with it, all freshly imported from Japan: Forgotten Worlds and World Cup Italia ’90.
Having the Mega Drive around was great: The gaming landscape here in Germany was dominated by home computers like the C64, the Amiga 500 or the Atari ST. While somewhat similar to the 16-bit computers, the Mega Drive practically blew them out of the water, as those of my friends who only had the Amiga-port of Golden Axe had to admit. Still, owning a console that wasn’t officially released in your region yet severely limited your possibilities when it came to getting new games. One way was as a present for special occasions. The first additional game we got that way was Golden Axe. The other was, in retrospect, way harsher: If we wanted a new game, we had to trade one of our old ones in!
By Easter 1990 we had already breezed through Golden Axe and managed to complete World Cup Italia ’90 with pretty much any team. So, we said farewell to the old cartridges and me and my sister got to pick two new ones. I still remember our first “game swap,” and how we tried out a couple of games, trying to make absolutely sure to get the most enjoyment out of them. We tried Space Harrier II – but while fascinating, it really wasn’t our cup of tea. We tried Herzog Zwei, but we couldn’t make heads or tails of it. We tried Super Hang-On, but we already had that one for the Amiga, so it didn’t appeal to us. I remember being fascinated by the title screen for Phantasy Star II, but the language barrier was insurmountable for us.
So, what did we end up with? Our first choice actually came to us pretty quickly. Castle of Illusion won over our hearts instantly. Finding the second game was a bit harder, partly due to the fact that our parents wanted us to pick a game that we could play together. So we chose Super Real Basketball. I’ll always remember the game under that name. Keep in mind, I was a German 9-year-old, I wouldn’t even have known who that guy was (still don’t, really). Also, back then, the game was THE SHIT! I kid you not when I say that we were really, honestly fascinated by the game! No flicker, great sound, huge sprites, close-up dunking animations with several perspectives! I had a friend who owned a NES, and he was very envious about the graphics this title had to offer. Back in early 1990, that practically blew our minds. Okay, so the basketball was about twice the size of a players’ head. Okay, so the ball physics were a bit floaty. Okay, so characters only had about two or three frames of animations in close-up view. Okay, close-ups in general kind of looked like someone moved a few paper cut-outs across the screen. And yeah, the game was way too easy to master, only having a roster of eight nondescript teams. Back then, most of these criticisms didn’t matter, because we never had seen a basketball game like this before! By the standards of the day, it looked great, it sounded great, it played great – heck, it was great! In hindsight, looking at the game nowadays, these notions are almost quaint, but for my 9-year-old-self, it was one of the best games I could’ve wished for.
Well, except for the fact that it was way too easy, and the tournament mode was way too short. I breezed through the game in no time. And I had to wait for many, many months until my birthday came around to even have a chance of getting a new one. But for those months, it was certainly one of the best games I had.
Tecmo Super Bowl By Nobi
I really love NFL football. For some reason I never could get into the college stuff. The only time I ever get into baseball or basketball is in the playoffs, especially if the Rockets or Astros make a run, otherwise no other sport really does it for me like good ol’ football of the NFL brand. Football season has been over for a few months now, so I’m starting to get into the old school stuff just like I do every off season – watching old tapes, new tapes, documentaries, just whatever. I’m a pretty big fan of the history of the game. To me, the video games that came out through the years are a nice little piece of that history, especially Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES. I played through a season of Tecmo Super Bowl a few months back with the Houston Oilers, and it was such a good time. I finished 11-5 and lost the AFC Championship to those damn Bills. I grew up watching the early 90’s Houston Oilers, and they were so great, Warren Moon was amazing, and Ray Childress was the ultimate tough guy; it was just a great team that never really lived up to their expectations. They had three consecutive playoff breakdowns in 1991, 1992, and 1993, the latter of which caused the owner of the team to dismantle the roster, eventually leading him to move the Oilers to Tennessee four years later where they eventually became the Titans.
I decided to play through a season of the Sega Genesis version of Tecmo Super Bowl. I’m currently 5-0. The game feels much easier than the NES version, having come out in 1993, two years after the original NES Tecmo Super Bowl. It’s a nice little upgrade at first sight. The graphics are improved as far as color and detail, and the player sprites don’t flicker. It feels like the NES original as far as gameplay and controls, and the playbooks and the interface is very similar to the original as well. The rosters and teams were updated for the 1993 season. Randall Cunningham and Jim Kelly are in the game as opposed to their “QB Eagles” and “QB Bills” likenesses in the original NES version. Joe Montana, however, is not in the game. Instead, there’s some bum named “QB Chiefs,” but at least he has the same number as Joe, #19!! Also Drew neither Bledsoe nor his likeness are in the game, and I also caught that Lamar Lathan and Wilbur Marshall were not on the Oilers’ roster. Both guys were key components in the Oilers’ defense in the 1993 season. The Oilers had their best season in franchise history that year, it was a drama filled season that made for a great documentary in the A Football Life: Houston ’93 show that aired on the NFL Network a few years back. It all came apart in the playoffs when Warren Moon fumbled five times. Joe Montana led the Chiefs to a fourth quarter comeback victory, and the rest is history. So in playing this season of Tecmo Super Bowl, playing through that 1993 season, I feel like Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap, trying to fix things that went wrong; bring the Lombardi Trophy to Houston and save the Oilers.
Overall, I feel like this is a great football game for the Genesis, one of the best even. It’s a nice little upgrade of the original NES classic for sure. There’s just something about it though, that I don’t like as much as the NES original, I feel the same way about so many of the 16-bit remakes of 8-bit NES classics; there’s just a certain charm that is missing. For starters, it just doesn’t feel the same playing with the Genesis controller to me. There’s something about that NES controller and the way it feels. Then the music is a downgrade, as it sounds so much flatter and bubbly. Also the cut scenes just don’t seem to be as frequent or as cool as on the NES, though I do like that goal line stand cut scene that was added. With that said, I still really like this game, even more than the two sequels that came out later.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Game Gear) By Doug Jackson
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 never gets the recognition it deserves. It always gets panned for its high difficulty. While I agree that the Master System ports is nicer, I still really like this game and get a little sad inside when I see so much hate towards it. I have so many memories of this as a kid that I could write a separate article on that alone. It had been too long since I really challenged myself to finish a hard game, and I knew I needed to give this game another chance. So, over a few nights I played this game over and over until I was victorious, and boy did it feel good. It was just me and my trusty blue Game Gear and a power cord. I laid on my couch for several hours over those nights after my wife went to sleep,and it just felt great to say that at 34-years-old I still got it!
Puyo Puyo 2 By Vince Thornburg
I still occasionally will challenge a friend who grew up on Mean Bean Machine (or its counterpart Kirby’s Avalanche) and have a fun time. It’s about a 70/30 ratio of me winning, which I know I can make better. Puyo is really my favorite puzzle game series, and I try to own as many versions of it as I can find. So when the new Sega 3D collection came out today, I figured I’d grab it just to really sit down and play it while at work.
Of course… I almost dropped f’bombs as my boss walked by. This game isn’t fun. I mean, it totally can and will be once I get it all down, but for right now… I’m losing my mind.
I didn’t realize just how much I relied on big four-five hit combos until I now played a game where the game can just blank out your combo because it feels like it. I could get mad and say it’s “cheating” or blame the 3DS’s slide pad, but no; I’m going to take this game down. I’ve already taken down Robotnik years ago, and now I’m giving myself a new challenge.
The game essentially wants you to instead just focus on taking out the “beans” as fast as possible, instead of building up a wall of death. When I do that now, the other side just drops 14 lines of clear “beans” to make me scream and go “Sure I’ll just turn it off why am I even playing?! *WHINE*”
I still have at least one friend challenge me occasionally to a game of Mean Bean Machine, and instead I may just hand off the 3DS and see how quick he gets all red faced and wants to go smoke. Then I’ll spring the actual Mega Drive copy off on him, and get ready for the sparks to fly!
But for now… damn this game this hard. It just is.
Ecco Jr. By The Coop
I’ve been a fan of the Ecco series for a good while now. The Genesis, the SEGA CD, even the maddening Dreamcast game. They’ve got rather nice graphics, smooth animation, big levels and some interesting gameplay mechanics to keep the player on their toes much of the time. Sure, they can get frustrating enough at times to make you want to kick baby seals in the head (those final levels are mean-spirited), but they’re still pretty fun games. And there’s one entry that I never got to try back in the day, Ecco Jr.
Everyone knows that it’s a kid’s game, with drastically toned down difficulty and a more cutesy atmosphere than the “the world’s screwed and you have to save it” scenario’s of the two main games on the Genesis. But I’ve always wanted to give it a try just for shits and giggles. Unfortunately, it was never a cheap game when I looked for it online. Lots of people on eBay asking for $30 or more for a complete copy, and most of the cart-only copies looked like they’d been handled by a drunken sumo wrestler with a vendetta against it. And being the kind of person I am, I wanted a complete copy. But while I was curious, I wasn’t $30-plus curious.
It was last year that I found the game at a flea market for $3. Yes, $3 with the box and manual. The box was in rough shape, with a tear at the bottom and the cartridge holder looking like it had been used to hold up a car. But the manual and cartridge were in unexpectedly good shape, which was nice. So, given that it’s a cardboard box game (which rarely get taken good care of), and that it was $3 compared to $30, I bought it and went home with it. What did I find?
Well, pretty much what I expected, simple tasks that were easy to take care of, a cuter version of the character, and it was all done in graphics that still had the same feel as the two more difficult Genesis predecessors. It was weird to play an Ecco game that was easy, but at the same time, it was oddly refreshing. No breath to run out of, a couple of other characters to play as, no sea life trying to kill you, none of that. You just swam around and completed some tasks.
I’ve sometimes wondered how many little kids played Ecco Jr., loved it, and then got their parents to by them the “grown up” entries on the Genesis. I’ve also wondered how many of those little kids ended up putting those games aside for good after having their asses handed to them over and over in-game. I’m pretty sure at least a few of them cried at some point as well, as they watched Ecco drown, get beat up, or plummet from the floating sky rivers. Not because they were sad or scared, but because they were frustrated… and too young to swear up a storm and not get in trouble.
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master By Clarke Gibson
Of all the games on my Mega EverDrive this is in the minority of those that won’t allow a save state. I’ve come to like that, as it forces me to appreciate it more fully; the methodical and strategic pacing appeals to me, I enjoy taking my time blocking and countering enemy attacks and exploring the levels but I can see that with practice better players would be able to steam ahead.
Joe has a good move set, and at times it’s almost as if I’m playing a scrolling beat-’em-up as opposed to a less complex action platformer. The graphics are beautiful, and the soundtrack is one if the best you’ll hear on the system. I’m not near completing this game, and I don’t play it all that often, but when I do I play it for long spells like this month. It was still ‘reasonable’ as far as price goes when I picked it up complete and in box from America, and there are still one or two decent deals on eBay at the time of writing. Pick it up while you can!
X-Men by Emil
Back in the early ’90s, the X-Men cartoon was king of Fox Kids Saturday mornings. All the cartoons leading up to X-Men were just warmups for the main 11:00 am event. So naturally, when I first seen that shiny new fast cut action-packed Genesis commercial, my jaw dropped. This commercial and game was also my introduction to Mojo before he appeared in the cartoon, which made that episode very anticipated.
I didn’t know it’s been that long since I’ve played this game, as several failed attempts would indicate. My favourite X-man is still Wolverine because it’s Wolverine, due to his flexibility in switching between airborne tactics depending on his claws being sheathed or not, since this game has some tricky platforming only made easier by having access to both air travel modes. I was surprised to have misremembered the way to beat Apocalypse and was briefly stuck there. Sure I could of cheesed him with Nightcrawler, but I’m well past that, even though his mutant powers combined with Wolverine’s healing factor abuse served me well during those early days when this game seemed much harder. As I slowly got more comfortable with this game, I also slowly stopped skipping Excalibur Lighthouse with some parts of Ahab’s World and Asteroid M.
After beating it on Hero difficulty I still wanted to play more, so I played & beat Super hero difficulty too. Replaying this game I noticed some things I’d forgotten or missed, like what that switch next to Iceman icon does in Ahab’s Worlds, since I was looking to see if there was a way to make that one chasm jump without Iceman or Nightcrawler (I guess there wasn’t). It also seems Wolverine can’t jump as high as Nightcrawler with the rapid double tap jump trick.
Anyway, this is major game that helped define Genesis coolness to 13-year-old me. Future me is now off to take on Ahab.
Ecco the Dolphin (CD) By James Villone
After revisiting the cartridge of Ecco the Dolphin, it was only natural to move onto its Sega CD version. Playing them back-to-back should make me appreciate the improvements more than ever! And it worked. Upon firing up my Sega CD, I was blown away by Spencer Nilsen’s beautiful New Age soundtrack: Heavenly synthesizer humming along with wind chimes, flutes, drums, sea creatures’ cries, and when Ecco jumps out of the water, there seems to be a real splash sound sample! This is the only Ecco title that seems to have real splash sound effects – the sequel Tides of Time doesn’t, even on Sega CD – so this might be the one detail that stands out the most for Ecco on Sega CD!
The intro full-motion video probably looked dated almost immediately upon its release, just because it’s hand-drawn artwork and animation. (Tides of Time on Sega CD is loaded with clips of computer-generated imagery!) But on the other hand (or fin), there is always a timeless appeal for hand-drawn artwork that never ages, and the intro is well-drawn and colorful!
In the library of Atlantis, I flipped out when two of the crystals triggered FMV clips of a documentary about dolphins! This seems fitting for a series that probably appeals most to people who enjoy nature documentaries. It also touches on the ’90s hype for “multimedia” experiences, and the hype for actually learning from video games: Themes that were related to personal computers rising in popularity at the time, while still remaining pretty rare throughout much of the ’90s.
The City of Forever has no music, and I thought my disc was scratched or something. After maybe five minutes of silence, the title song kicks in! It was nice to realize my copy is working fine, and it was slightly mind-blowing to find that this is the intentional experience: Dead silence and then later, the theme. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a soundtrack doing this before! I let Ecco float there (with the code for unlimited life), enjoying the music, and it got even more interesting: After the theme, it cycles through the other songs, and the whole disc can be listened to in this one stage! This has to be one of the most unique soundtrack features I have ever heard of!
For the ending, I was hoping for another FMV clip, but the normal ending was nice with the CD soundtrack, and there is one small extra that made me laugh: The close-up shot of Ecco from the title screen, opening his mouth for a close-up dolphin cry! It’s a good wrap-up for Ecco on Sega CD because it shows again that this is still just the original title, with a few extras that make it the deluxe version, while both versions of Ecco are still blown away by both versions of Tides of Time!
So of the four titles in the 16-bit series, Ecco on Sega CD is the third-best of those four: An entry that stands out for its water-splashing sound effects, and for Spencer Nilsen’s soundtrack which is great, but which almost seems like a warm-up before he really made a splash for Tides of Time! The whole series is worth experiencing, so take a deep breath of rich oxygen, and plunge into one of the best and most unique action-adventures ever!