The weather is all wonky, but that doesn’t matter when you have some good games to play! Our readers have been investing some quality time in March with a slew of quality titles that everyone should check out. Maybe there’s something you missed or just haven’t played in a while.
Astal By Ken Horowitz
The first time I played Astal, I had high hopes that it represented the kind of games we’d see on the Saturn – beautiful 2D with awesome effects, cut scenes, and music. Of course, console gaming went in an entirely different direction, but Astal remains a clear example of what could have been. To me, its only fault is that it’s a bit too short, but I can see it may have failed to impress those looking for the Saturn to flex its 3D muscle. Astal sticks a bit too closely to the established 2D formula of the 16-bit era, and that just wasn’t enough for many people anymore. Sure, it provides everything I mentioned earlier, but in hindsight, that just didn’t seem to represent what was expected of a new generation of hardware. Regardless, Astal remains a Saturn gem to me, and those who enjoy the side-scrolling goodness of the Genesis era would do well to give it a try.
Virtual Hydlide By goldenband
I’ve long had a weakness for the Hydlide series, whose clunky mechanics and inelegant gameplay – so repellent to some – are oddly appealing to me. I played, beat, and enjoyed the first game on NES before I knew it was “supposed” to be bad (and yes, I’d already played The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior by then, so I wasn’t simply ignorant).
Meanwhile the Genesis entry Super Hydlide, third in the series, is a flawed but authentically good game that engaged me from start to finish (even if weight and inventory issues had me tearing my hair out at times). And if I could track down the English patch for Hydlide II on the MSX I’d gladly pay for it but, after a brief period of commercial availability, it now seems to reside in “You can’t have it and you can’t buy it either” copyright limbo.
Virtual Hydlide is the fourth and last game in the series, and it’s one of the main reasons I got a Saturn in the first place. (Hey, stop laughing!) Its flaws have never been so well, or so hilariously, summarized as in this video by our very own Joe Redifer. With single-digit framerates, absurd digitized sprites, bizarre mumbling bosses, and an essentially meaningless combat system, it’s hard to claim that the game isn’t guilty as charged on all counts.
Yet I found myself willing to play through Virtual Hydlide from start to finish: something rare for me with an RPG these days, and especially so with 32-bit RPGs. True, the final boss made me want to throw my console out the window; the hour-plus it took me to beat him was mostly spent doing endless laps around the room — to avoid his attacks while regenerating my health – all of which amounted to my least favorite slideshow ever (and that includes those awkward filmstrips in health class). And even before that, the game was on the verge of wearing out its welcome, with a dungeon that featured one too many levels, and a castle packed with what may be my most-hated enemy in video games: the endlessly self-resurrecting skeleton warrior. (At least bats, i.e. my other most-hated enemy, can usually be killed in one hit.)
Still, I genuinely liked Virtual Hydlide, with a fondness that resides somewhere between “so bad it’s good” and “totally charming (in a completely askew way).” Playing through the series as a whole is like spending time with a socially awkward relative whose mannerisms put most people off, but, if you’re willing to listen closely and forgive his quirks, turns out to have a wicked sense of humor and an interesting worldview. I can’t blame anyone for staying far away, but after years of wanting to play it, I’m glad I’ve finally gotten to know this procedurally-generated, utterly batty little game.
Growl By Paige
I hadn’t been to any of the local game stores in a couple months, but this past weekend on a whim I decided to swing by one of the shops on the other side of town. The past year or so I’ve mostly been scoping out their Master System and 32X games, but this time a couple of Genesis titles inside the glass counter caught my eye: a complete copy of Soldiers of Fortune and a boxed copy of Growl. Both were reasonably priced, so I snatched them up and took them home with me.
I gave both games an initial playthrough just to make sure they booted up, and unsurprisingly I ended up spending more time with Growl. I have been pretty eager to finally play this game—I’m a lover of both animals and beat-‘em-ups, so how could this go wrong?
Well, for one thing… I managed to beat it my first time through! That’s not to say this game is easy; I was using my last continue when the final boss went down. I just found it to be incredibly short, especially compared to the other games in the genre released around this time. I was also expecting several stages with clear breaks in between, but instead found one long stage set in the jungle with several boss fights throughout (which I quite like, to be honest).
There was also something about the way the Indiana Jones-esque character played that rubbed me the wrong way. Are the controls just the tiniest bit unresponsive? Is there something off about the hit detection? I know that at least sometimes the characters will automatically perform a series of moves after just one press of the “attack” button—this was most obvious when I was wielding the sword, and one button press would cause him to swing the weapon twice. There were times when I really wanted to strike once and then retreat, since some of the enemies immediately retaliate, but couldn’t do that when using the sword. And on a related note, it seems like once you pick up a weapon, you’re stuck with it until an enemy knocks you to the ground. I wasn’t able to find any intuitive way to drop or switch weapons at will, anyway.
Of course, not all is bad with Growl. It’s nice and colorful, the music is fine, and I really enjoyed it when your new animal friends would come onscreen and help wipe out the enemies. My personal favorite was the elephant, who charged around and completely OBLITERATED everyone in its path! Also, I’m not even bothered by the fact that this game is for one player (blasphemy, I know). I just don’t think it’s good enough to warrant the current asking price—you’re better off spending that money picking up Streets of Rage 1 & 2.
Ecco PC: Fixed and Enhanced Edition By James Villone
Although I haven’t been gaming much lately, there’s still a lot of great music to enjoy, from the Sega universe. A couple years ago, I reviewed Ecco PC: Fixed and Enhanced Edition (click here), which is a wonderful fan-updated version of 32-bit Ecco the Dolphin. Originally released for Windows ’95 (as Ecco PC), it brought splashy new 32-bit graphics and more colors, plus better controls, and it featured the Sega CD soundtrack, plus the cut scenes from Tides of Time. But over the next twenty years or so, Ecco PC eventually stopped running on newer operating systems, so a couple devoted fans updated it to run on modern PC’s. Plus, they added more enhancements than ever, like adding the option of the Genesis soundtrack, in addition to the CD soundtrack. Fixed and Enhanced Edition is a great way to play any songs from both soundtracks on our computer, even if we’re not running the actual game. All songs are listed as music files in two neat folders, ready to play just like any music files.
As much as I love the CD soundtrack, a couple Genesis tracks keep me swimming back to them, as quiet background music for my office or bedroom: The song for Medusa Bay features the Genesis creating some of its best New Age synthesizer: With deep notes humming along slowly, it sounds relaxing and mysterious (like the ocean). The emotions it stirs up are mixed and ambiguous, because in addition to sounding peaceful and relaxing, it could also be interpreted as sounding sad, or lonely, etc. The track is only just over a minute long, but I can loop it for hours of quiet music.
My other favorite Genesis track is from Ice Zone, which also sounds peaceful and mysterious, as well as maybe sad or melancholy. Its high-pitched notes sound quiet and delicate, like how a frozen Arctic landscape would have a delicate beauty of fragile ice. This song is interesting for having three themes playing at the same time: There’s the slow tune of high-pitched chimes and synthesizer; there’s the faster theme of medium-notes constantly rising and falling quickly; and there’s the tune of very-deep notes that drone along very slowly. It seems that any one of these three tunes could be considered the main theme, and the song will sound different depending on which theme we focus on. I recommend playing this track overnight, for a good night’s sleep! We just might sleep with a sense of peace, and maybe we’ll dream of the Arctic Ocean.
Everyone’s computer deserves a free download of Ecco PC: Fixed and Enhanced Edition (click here). My gratitude goes out to Korama and Klaimen from Caverns of Hope, for bringing Ecco PC to a new level, and bringing it ashore for modern audiences to enjoy, with the graphics, music, and gameplay washing over our senses.
Kolibri By Mike Perez
I have a weird love for my 32X. There are only a handful of games for it that interest me (there are only a handful of games, period), but I enjoy them greatly. Kolibri is the latest addition to that list. I only recently got it in a trade with a friend, and this would be my first experience with the often-discussed game. What an odd little shooter it is! It takes a while to understand, but once you have the hang of what you’re supposed to do, it’s a lot of fun. There are a lot of different weapons, and the graphics are beautiful. The sound is a bit lacking, but overall I really think this game deserves more attention. I know I will be spending some quality time with it, at least until I’m able to finish it (it’s quite hard!).