Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 123

It’s too hot outside in most places. If ever there was a reason to stay inside where it’s cool, summer is it! And with so many great games to play, there’s more than enough to entertain. This month, our staff and readers have a diverse selection of titles to share, so read on and see what they’ve been playing!


OutRun By Ken Horowitz

I’ve been on a major OutRun trip this month. I’ve played the game on my Saturn (with the Arcade Racer, of course), as well as on the Master System. For some reason though, I always find myself coming back to the Genesis version. I’m aware that it’s not the definitive port and that it lacks in presentation compared to the wonderful Sega Ages version on the Saturn. Still, there’s something about it that calls to me. Perhaps it’s because it was the first real port of the game I played that seemed to be so close to the arcade. The Master System game, while good, is obviously short of emulating Yu Suzuki’s classic, though it tries its little heart out to do so. No, it was the Genesis version that first seemed to be close enough to the coin-op that I actually felt like the difference was negligible. I know better now, but damn was it just amazing to play the game on my 27” Singer TV with the stereo cranked up! I honestly felt at the time like video games could not get any better. The Genesis brought the arcade experience home big time, and OutRun continued to prove why it was one of my favorite arcade games of all time.

World Cup Italia ’90 By Sebastian Sponsel

For the third month in a row the game I played most was one of the first games I actually owned back in the day. But this time, I actually have an excuse: SOCCER! Yes, the European Association Football Championships are currently dominating the news in the old world (alongside the potential Brexit scenario, but AFAIK there’s no video game equivalent to that…). However, since the current tournament is currently more dominated by hooligans fighting in the streets (Russians vs. English, Germans vs. the police, Croatians versus themselves…), fans throwing firecrackers at orderlies, or ultras actively sabotaging their own team rather than actual quality matches, I’ve decided to exchange the reality with some simulation and swap the crappy tournament for a crappy video game. I actually had a hard time deciding whether to write about Champions of Europe for the Master Sywstem (the “official” game of the 1992 UEFA championship) or World Cup Italia ’90 for the Mega Drive (the “official” game of the 1990 FIFA World Championship). Well, Germany won the latter and was defeated in the Finals by some “hamburger troupe” that hadn’t even managed to regularly qualify in the former tournament, so that plus the added nostalgia of actually owning the game back in the day cinched the deal.

As a kid, I enjoyed World Cup Italia ’90 a great deal. Then again, it was one of only three cartridges I actually owned. Back then, when you owned a game, you played it to death regardless of quality, since you never knew when you’d actually get the next one. But even for a 1989 soccer game, it is horribly limited – no options screen, no formation other than 4-4-2 for ALL teams, no fouls, no penalties, no injuries, no substitutions, no tactics options other than selecting your 11 players out of a squad of 16, which you then have to keep for practically the entire tournament; no offsides, no adjustable match length, meaning that every single game lasts a whopping 15 (!) minutes in reality, no real sense of speed of power behind your actions, and no passwords or save options whatsoever. So, have fun slugging through an entire World Cup lasting more than 90 minutes in a single session. The game was born in the arcades and ported to home consoles with hardly any changes, and it shows. What it does offer in return are three songs playing over and over in every single match on loop, weird delays between button presses and on-screen action, some of the most awkward goalie controls imaginable, sprites that look like roadkill if they get flattened by the omnipotent sliding tackle, and players who are completely unable to make a straight shot forward – it’s rare that a ball ends up where you intend it to be, and the limited POV supplemented by a confusing additional “radar screen” doesn’t help things. In hindsight, the game is utter, total crap.

So why do I still kind of like it? It’s not a good game by any means, but with it’s extremely limited arcade-style features, I guess World Cup Italia ’90 is the epitome of dumb fun. It hardly requires any thinking at all, it is generally best played by wildly mashing the buttons, and yet you can still somehow actually get “better” over time, for whatever that’s worth. It’s crap, but it is some really well-designed crap.

Adventures of Batman & Robin (Game Gear) By David Dyne

I have a confession to make: I can’t stand playing Game Gear games on the Game Gear. The small screen, with its motion blur and awkward playing angle, bug the hell out of me to no end. Thankfully, the Retro Freak console with its built in compatibility for Game Gear titles is the perfect fit to play on the TV, even though I have to resort to using an alternative method for playing them until the official Game Gear and SG-1000 adapter is released for the console next month. Take that, you skunks at Hyperkin!

Reader Roundtable Vol 123-2While the Retro Freak is great, the Adventures of Batman and Robin for the GG is not. As Batman, you’re attempting to rescue Robin from the Joker’s clutches, and you’ll have to progress through around a dozen stages of action platforming against Batman’s usual rogue gallery from the animated series of the ’90s. You can tell the developers didn’t think this was a very good game, as you start with nine lives and a password system to boot. The controls are clunky, the jumps floaty, the boss battles simplistic, and the collision detection for enemies and platforms is suspect.

Despite those flaws the graphics are pretty good, and the soundtrack is above average so it’s not a complete disaster.

Urusei Yatsura: My Dear Friends By Joseph C.

The first I heard about this game was from an episode of Game Sack, which immediately led me to Ken’s review and then I bought it soon after. It ended up sitting on the shelf for over a year after this though, and I think the only time I turned it on was to make sure it worked. I had a pretty good reason for this, as I wanted to check out the source material first, which seemed like something I might enjoy. I can count the anime I have enjoyed with my fingers, and Urusei Yatsura is the quirky type I usually like. I only ended up watching the first few episodes and it didn’t grab me, so the game stayed on the shelf.

Urusei Yatsura-My Dear Friends 5After some spring cleaning a few weeks ago, I found myself looking at the case again and decided I should just give it a go. I’m glad I got a background to the show before I started, as this, along with my basic Japanese, made the game a lot easier to follow. This game is essentially an interactive episode, and I can imagine that fans must have loved it at the time. I didn’t notice that my storage was full before starting and ended up playing all the way to the end rather than turning it off. It isn’t particularly lengthy, but this demonstrates how engaging I found game.

Even if you come to it with no knowledge of the show or Japanese, there is a lot to enjoy in this game. The game is technically impressive with plenty of voice work and full screen animation. I’m not sure what they did to get it looking this good because it’s the most impressive I’ve seen on the Mega CD. There are also three mini-games to be found and played, which are quite fun. Much of the humour is visual and all you really need to know is Ataru the main character is after anything in a skirt, except for his unwanted alien girlfriend Lum. Despite its age, the Japanese town and culture is still quite accurate today. That is, except for the aliens. This is definitely worth your time and that goes especially if you enjoyed the series.

One final thing I should mention is I actually saw a man dressed as Lum when participating in the 2015 Osaka Marathon, and I think he finished before me.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles By Paige

Sonic turns 25 this month, so I figured there’s no better time than the present to play through Sonic’s 16-bit adventures. I’ve played all four of his original games, but the game I’ll talk about this time is the last one for me to beat: Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

I’ve always absolutely loved Sonic 2, and nine times out of 10 it ranks as my favorite Sega Genesis game of all time. Until about five years ago I didn’t even know there was a follow-up to that gem, and when I brought that loose Sonic 3 cartridge home and plopped it in my system, I was… actually a little disappointed. There were a bunch of new power-ups to take advantage of, the music sounded great, there was an actual story being told with little cut scenes and everything… and I was disappointed. I was just expecting more of Sonic 2!

Double Take- Sonic 3 & Knuckles 1As luck would have it, I became older and wiser over the years and I decided it was only fair to give this game an honest-to-goodness try. I picked up Sonic & Knuckles, and I was off to the races. My first attempt at a playthrough two years ago was pretty lackluster. I made it all the way to the Death Egg Zone, but since I had only three lives (and no continues) to my name I was unable to successfully beat it despite my best efforts. I really couldn’t deal with the gravity switching in this level, and I hadn’t touched the game again until this month. I decided this time to start from the beginning with Sonic and Tails, and maybe actually have a few lives and a continue or two stocked up for the final showdown with Robotnik.

I will say that I definitely enjoyed this game more the second time through. The music was still fantastic, the colors were amazing, and the level design was pretty good, though I hate Sandopolis Zone like it’s nobody’s business. I also really liked that in between each zone there was a little part of the story unfolding that connected the area I just beat to the one to come, making each zone feel as though it really is all part of one larger world. The only thing I didn’t really like that much was just how long it took to get through some of the zones. While the exploration aspect and the complexity of some of the levels is cool, some zones reminded me a little too much of Marble Zone or Labyrinth Zone in that you really can’t get that sense of speed the franchise is known for (contrast this with Star Light Zone, and some parts of Hydrocity Zone and Chemical Plant Zone). Sandopolis Zone in particular stands out in this regard—I lost a life here just due to exceeding the time limit!

Without making this any longer than it needs to be, I did indeed beat Sonic 3 & Knuckles. And you know what? Even though it did take some time to get through, and I do still prefer Sonic 2 overall, I can certainly see why Sonic 3 & Knuckles is often many players’ top choice as the best 16-bit Sonic game around!

Altered Beast (Master System) By The Coop

Sometimes, you just want a particular game. It doesn’t matter if there are better ports, or emulated versions of it on MAME or in some compilation, you just want it. Maybe it’s Mario Bros. on the Atari XEGS, or Donkey Kong on the Atari 800. Perhaps it’s a soft spot for playing Joust on the Atari 2600, or Raiden on the SEGA Genesis. Or, it just may be Altered Beast on the Master System.

Reader Roundtable Vol 123-1I don’t know why, but this game has repeatedly been put in front of me at some point for a long time. Flea markets, eBay, half.com, pawn shops… it’s shown up again and again over the years. Sometimes it was missing the manual, or the cart looked like a claw hammer had had its way with it, but it usually showed up complete whenever I came across it. I’d always just given it the brush off since I had the Genesis version, which is a far better port. I knew the SMS version was missing a level, that the colors were a bit odd, the movements were choppy and all of that, and yet… there was always a small part of me that thought, Maybe I should have picked that up this time. That nagging little voice that comes after the fact, when you’re home and done blowing a few bucks on games.

See, I like Altered Beast, despite the criticisms I’ve had about the Genesis port. The arcade game was simple, but fun. And the transformation aspect of it? Cool. And being the fan of it that I am, there’s always that bit of curiosity to see what people did with the arcade game when bringing it to a console that was less powerful than the arcade board that ran the original game. So when I came across the Master System port yet again not that long ago, that nagging little voice kind of smacked me upside the back of my head.

So, now I’ve got a copy of the Master System port of Altered Beast. Everything in my brain says I shouldn’t be enjoying this game, as I could be playing better versions of it. Yet here I am, playing it and having a bit of fun oddly enough. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an era where arcade-perfect ports didn’t exist, but these days, I kind of get a kick out of seeing how close a group of programmers could come to an arcade game when dealing with weaker hardware. The content corners they cut, the way they translated the sounds and music, how well they used the console’s color palette, and stuff like that. I haven’t drank the nostalgia-laced Kool Aid so to speak, as I still know full well what I’m seeing and hearing. It’s just an odd bit of interest and fun.

And now, my curiosity is satisfied. Yeah, it’s a pretty rough port. The Master System could have done better, and the cuts didn’t really have to be made. But I enjoyed seeing what a few programmers tried to do and making my way through the content-lacking, toned-down, choppily-animated end result. Maybe next I’ll try my hand at the ports of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II on the ol’ SMS. Of course, those will be emulated, as I’m not paying the going prices for those two games. That nagging voice didn’t hit me in the head that hard.

Bubsy By James Villone

Bubsy seemed like a phenomenon in the ’90s, or at least, the marketing for it was massive, with the bobcat smiling on magazine covers, with very positive reviews! I never got to try it, but I read about it, and imagined that it had to be great! It wasn’t until recent times that I realized Bubsy has such a bad reputation online!

Trying it finally, after about two decades of suspense: I mostly like the graphics and gameplay, obviously derived from the Sonic series, so at least it’s ripping off a great series! Bubsy runs fast and leaps all over the place, and he even glides through the air like Knuckles! The quirk that everyone hates is the one-hit deaths, but the developers did try to balance this out with constant check-points and 1-ups. And it mostly does balance out the constant dying, except it’s still annoying to keep restarting from the last check-point!

The constant dying also limits the enjoyment of running fast and leaping around like Sonic, because it usually ends in death! (Although I’ve actually gotten used to the first few stages, so now I can survive and enjoy running and floating through.) Collecting yarn (instead of rings) seems very pointless, because it never brings an extra life!

The voice clips before starting each stage are not funny, but I don’t mind them too much! They remind me of the original Bugs Bunny cartoons (from the 1940s), where he always has a bunch of sayings that might be references to different things (like actors, movies, etc.), but we often don’t know what he’s talking about! Bubsy similarly leaves me wondering what he’s talking about: “Hey whatever blows your hair back!” (What?!) “Hey, I thought I saw Elvis back there.” (Huh?) “Well, it worked for Clint!” (What did?) I can see how some people would hate these voice clips, but I can tolerate them as similar to those old cartoons. (Plus in the ’90s, everyone was excited about voices in their video games, as hard as that is to believe!)

Bubsy is at least more interesting than playing my least-favorite Sonic stages. I managed to get through and enjoy the first two-thirds of the game. After the first area based on waterfalls, and literal green hills, there is a rather nice equivalent of Carnival Night Zone, and then a Western area with music that surprisingly is not cliché, and instead resembles Classical music. It also has the most memorable enemies, that show a bit of originality: Giraffes with sunglasses and sneakers, gophers with guns, and sand-sharks! It seems like someone’s doodle-pad came to life, so it has a certain charm.

Stages 10-15 just seem unplayable, a mess of pits, platforms, and enemies, so I don’t want to even bother trying to get through these stages! (The instant-deaths mean that the gameplay only works right when there are minimal enemies and dangers.) The final stage (16) is easy again, a spaceship to run and glide around, and is pretty enjoyable. It’s like a mellow Scrap Brain Zone, with futuristic music, colorful parallax stars, and Robotnik’s classic teleporters that make the screen fly from one port to the next. The final boss looks impossible until one gets the hang of glide-bouncing on him repeatedly, without touching the ground, and then he’s dead in a few seconds. Yawn.

At his best moments, Bubsy could still never rub shoulders with Sonic or Mario (or even Sparkster), just because he’s a total wimp! All that magazine hype was unrealistic, after all! Bubsy mostly seems like a limited hack based on controlling Knuckles, redrawn as an ugly cat, with one-hit deaths (that nobody ever wanted), and stages that are mostly derivative of the Sonic series. It mostly just makes me want to play as the real Knuckles, to run and glide around Mushroom Hill Zone and enjoy how nicely everything works!

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