Rise of the Dragon [Sega CD] – Review

Rise of the Dragon

Follow video games or movies closely enough and eventually you’ll see something likened to Blade Runner. I always knew of Blade Runner, but lacked the context that comes from having seen it. Finally, that moment came for me earlier this year and I’ve been able to continue the worn-out trend of likening other entertainment to it ever since. That trend continues with this write-up of Rise of the Dragon. Originally released on home computers in 1990, it was later released on the Sega CD in 1993 (1992 for those in Japan). It’s a graphic adventure so its focus is more on solving the mystery rather than gunning down criminals, although it has that too. I encountered a few lows and many dead ends playing it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Oh yeah, this game was inspired by Blade Runner.
Oh yeah, this game was inspired by Blade Runner.

Just like Blade Runner, Rise of the Dragon is set in a cyberpunk version of Los Angeles, in this instance, in 2053. The protagonist – William “Blade” Hunter – is a former cop now operating as a private detective. The game follows his work on researching the death of the mayor’s daughter. While it’s known she succumbed to her drug addiction, the mayor wants Blade to bring the culprits to justice, not necessarily for the benefit of the public so much as his personal catharsis. However, what Blade becomes embroiled in winds up being much larger than lowlife druggies. Indeed, his investigations put him in the spotlight of an ancient Chinese prophecy forecasting the end of the world.

Very early on, even immediately, the supernatural elements are present. But, the majority of the game is quite grounded, for a game set in a dingy version of LA circa 2053, that is. Exploring a handful of locations throughout LA, Blade interacts with his environment and those in it. As a graphic adventure, this entailed me moving a cursor around the environment attempting to pick up or use objects, move about, and have conversations with others. Most conversations were lengthy and branching and highlighted the game’s full voiceover – unlike the PC releases. The cursor changed to indicate when an object could be interacted with, which was very helpful.

The voice work was plentiful, and not grating! Which is a compliment considering the time frame of its original release.
The voice work was plentiful, and not grating! Which is a compliment considering the time frame of its original release.

Late in the game, “arcade” sections were also present. These shifted the gameplay from the cerebral investigative fare that composed the majority of the game to shoddy action-platforming levels that played like a bad NES movie tie-in. The diversity was appreciated, especially in a genre that I view as very narrow in terms of the way players interact with it (which admittedly, a genre I’m not the most familiar with) but these sections were downright awful. Everything about them: the character movement, platforming, and gunplay, was imprecise and just not fun. A noble attempt by the developers, but this style of game was obviously not their specialty. Thankfully, they were a minor portion and not too difficult to conquer.

Worse than the “arcade” sections was the fact that I had to restart this game twice. The first time was the game’s fault entirely. When I moved an ID card from Blade’s inventory to the environment he was in, it changed into a bomb, exploded, and disappeared. I didn’t realize this at the time and it was only when I was at one of the myriad of dead ends I encountered that I turned to GameFAQs to realize I was lacking this crucial item. Not happy, but I restarted anyways. Then, I screwed myself over losing access to not one, but both of the guns Blade acquires throughout the four days the game covers. Again, I restarted. These instances were a blessing though, as I was able to blow through all I had previously accomplished and became very familiar with the first ¾ of the game. These were disheartening events in the moment, but not so much that they lingered with me and colored my overall experience negatively.

Rise of the Dragon - Spare Me
The arcade sections were Rough (with a capital R).

As far as Sega CD games go, Rise of the Dragon ranks high on the list of quality experiences. It’s an enjoyable graphic adventure full of mystery and intrigue. The full voiceover honestly astounded me too, not just because it was present, but in part because it wasn’t totally garbage. Despite encountering many dead ends and having to turn to GameFAQs often, the majority of the game was fun to experience. Of course, the “arcade” sections weren’t and neither was having to restart twice, but these negative aspects didn’t turn me away. Rise of the Dragon is a worthwhile game in any Sega CD collection.

Also, I did a comprehensive playthrough of this game and published the series on YouTube. The playlist below includes the ten episodes I recorded which translates to roughly five hours with the game and chronicles everything from the game’s conclusion to the multiple times I had to start from scratch.

Alien 3 [Sega Genesis] – Review

Alien 3

Truly my foray into the Alien franchise began with Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation, although I’ve barely touched that game. It began in earnest after watching Prometheus, an “unofficial” movie in the series, although it’s about as official as anything else if you ask me. I’ve now watched all movies in the franchise and am ready to dive into the related games and feel confident in my understanding of the source material. It helped too! I can comprehend the mediocrity of Alien 3 on the Sega Genesis a little more knowing that the movie it’s based on is of the same quality.

Of the “five” movies, I’d put Alien 3 at the bottom of the list. This is to say, I didn’t begin playing the Genesis game with much optimism. On the whole, I thought the movie was rather brown and monotonous visually, and the game didn’t shake this aura early on. It looks to have a few different environments to be fair, but I didn’t witness these firsthand. The gameplay was related to the events of the movie too but skewed (and omitted) the storyline in favor of more action.

Most stages tasked Ripley with rescuing the prisoners of Fiorina 161 and combating the aliens.  The stages needed to be completed in a set amount of time and this was hard to do the first time through. Most took a few attempts to learn where the aliens popped up and rushed me and where the prisoners were. Locating the prisoners wasn’t so bad (I had to explore the stages anyways, right?) but constantly getting bum rushed by the aliens grew annoying. Often, they’d materialize at the edge of the screen as I progressed. They’d quickly charge and if I didn’t immediately start shooting, I would take damage. This led to much trial and error.

Hostages were abound, but aliens were more prevalent.
Hostages were abound, but aliens were more prevalent.

This sounds like a lot of negativity towards Alien 3. You want the lowdown though? I only progressed to the third stage and the game has twelve! I had no idea it was that beefy until I did further research. This being the case, I would only take this review as my experiences with a minority of the game and not a comprehensive examination of it. After seeing that I barely scraped the surface I am interested in playing more of it, but not because what I experienced was such a joy to play. I was oddly compelled to continue playing it, even when I felt like many of my deaths were cheap, so take that as you will.

Zoo Keeper [Nintendo DS] – Review

Zoo Keeper

Zoo Keeper is a game that has intrigued me since the early days of the Nintendo DS. In North America, it was the first game to release outside of the system’s launch window. A launch window that was a veritable drought – after the system’s November 21, 2004 launch, there weren’t any releases until this January 18, 2005 title. Even then, I don’t recall there being an actual noteworthy release until June 14, 2005 – Kirby: Canvas Curse. My curiosity in this game shouldn’t be construed as a belief in its quality either; after ten years of thinking about it, I refrained from hyping myself up for it which was a good call, as it’s merely a basic match-three puzzle game.

You crazy lion.
You crazy lion.

There are a handful of modes available to play, each a variation on the familiar match-three gameplay present in many like puzzle games. The quest mode in particular is quite ingenuitive. It’s not a beefy affair however, nor is there a lengthy distraction present. The drive for high scores or killing time would have to be one’s long-range motivator with this game. Fortunately, the underlying gameplay is solid and enjoyable. Bearing in mind that this released a year or two before the dawn of the App Store, this was a predecessor of sorts to the touch-controlled match-three games that are a deluge now. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly progressive in what it is – it’s just a basic, solid puzzle game that incorporated touch controls well.

The scoring in quest mode was unlike anything I've seen.
The scoring in quest mode was unlike anything I’ve seen.

It’s worth noting that I have played an Android version of Zoo Keeper in my ten year quest to experience this version. A year or so ago I downloaded a multiplayer focused version and had little more than a passing session with it. That says nothing of its quality and perhaps everything with my desire to abstain and experience the Nintendo DS game fresh. Ironically, I wound up not spending too much time with it either – no more than a few hours. Again, that says nothing of its quality. As I mentioned before, it’s a basic puzzle game that plays well. It may have curried more favor with me before my exposure to the match-three hell (heaven?) that is mobile gaming. It has a cute art style too.