Category Archives: First Impressions

Cliffhanger [Sega CD] – First Impressions

Stallone’s outfit seems a little bare for the Rockies.

When the failed heist of a treasury plane leaves John Lithgow and his group of robbers abandoned in the Rocky Mountains, they force rescuer/mountain climber Sylvester Stallone to locate the lost suitcases of money and get them out alive. This introduction is what one gleams after watching the ten or so minutes of low-quality, grainy footage that sets the stage for the first level of the Sega CD video game based off of the 1993 film, Cliffhanger. Developed by Malibu Interactive and published by Sony Imagesoft, Cliffhanger features awful beat ‘em gameplay interspersed with fast-paced 3D snowboarding and dire video clips.

Fighting the dozens of enemies was unpleasant thanks to Stallone’s slow movement, limited selection of attacks, and poor hit detection, among other deterrents.

After locating one of the lost suitcases, Stallone is on his own as he proceeds to traverse and scale peaks that contain way more enemies than one was lead to believe was with Lithgow. The beat ‘em up gameplay that ensues is awful. The stages are full of banal action that manages to be infuriatingly cheap. Stallone moves like a child with a dozer load in his diaper and after every hit he takes, he collapses onto his batch of brownies. This Stallone is not the Rocky who can take the hits, and deal them out with more determination and intensity than his foes. Thankfully, the enemies also can’t take a beating and are out cold after two or three hits. But when it comes to scaling cliffs, don’t even bother. Resting on perches are snipers who can’t be touched, so don’t worry, Stallone’s just going to have to man up and take a few bullets. The lives will be lost and continues will be used – thankfully the game doles out a combined twenty-one chances to outwit Lithgow, but you’re gonna blow through them on the snowboarding sections.

When he’s not killing thugs with his bare hands (or wussing out by using a knife or gun), he’s hitting the slopes and getting his daredevil thrills by outrunning avalanches. How Stallone can go from falling on his ass to outrunning avalanches is a weird disparity in pacing. These stages of the game are quasi-3D with Stallone shredding into the screen while dodging boulders and bushes. Speaking of infuriatingly cheap, it was one of these stages that I rage quit and decided I could spend my time better. Still, the fast-paced gameplay of the snowboarding sections was the complete opposite of the worthless beat ‘em sections and for that, I almost enjoyed it.

This game was released for other systems back in the day (Genesis, SNES, Game Boy, and Game Gear) but this was the only version to feature snowboarding sections.

Cliffhanger’s beat ‘em up gameplay pales in comparison to the titans of the genre and its snowboarding sections are a thrill, but too long for their own good. The soundtrack was ridiculously clear, but I don’t care. The best part of Cliffhanger was the twenty minutes of malodorous video, and that’s saying something.

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm – First Impressions

Rocket Science Games, the developer, was founded by a prolific entrepreneur and a workaholic game designer in 1993 and later received a $12M investment, in part from Sega.

At first glance, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm is very interesting. This Sega CD/PC video game is based off of the Xenozoic Tales comic books/TV show and it features graphics and cutscenes that stay true to this heritage. Another way the game sticks to its foundation is through the inclusion of the zany post-apocalyptic story. I perceive the developer’s as having a passion for translating this intellectual property into a video game, and yet, my first impressions of The Second Cataclysm are negative. Repeatedly playing the first level of the on-rails shooter deflated my morale until I eventually threw in the towel.

Through a brief comic book in the manual and an introductory cutscene, I was enlightened on the setting and plot points of The Second Cataclysm. Many hundreds of years in the future, Earth was ravaged by unnatural disasters and the remaining humans survived and thrived underground. When they returned to the surface, the planet was overrun with the remains of their civilizations and confusingly, dinosaurs. They’ve learned to follow the “machinatio vitae” which calls for a balance between nature and machinery and when a race of highly developed ground dwellers sense an upset in this balance, they seek out all around good guy Jack Tenrec to prevent another cataclysm like the one that devastated Earth hundreds of years before.

The game looked good (considering the terrible grainy picture), but the gameplay was bland and difficult.

With his trusty accomplice Hannah Dundee and his 1953 Cadillac, Jack sets out to stop Wilhelmina Scharnhorst’s megalomaniacal ambitions. His road to success is littered with obstacles however, first and foremost that there isn’t one!

As I cruised through the jungle in Jack’s hot ride, I’d try my best to avoid rocks, logs, and dinosaurs and if I couldn’t, I’d have Hannah blast them with her gun. I had to keep an eye on the path ahead though because the road to success wasn’t straight. I’d have to make split-second decisions when I came to forks in the road and I’m not quite sure if this holds true in the earlier stages, but the manual leads me to believe that I could go in circles. Keeping the “machinatio vitae” in mind, I’d try my best not to blast dinosaurs because when I did, my time limit to reach Scharnhorst decreased.

Hannah was shocked to hear that the game’s cutscenes involved little to no animation.

Looking back, I probably was going in circles. Still, I would stick it out for as long as I could until the Cadillac was too beat up from obstacles or I ran into a dinosaur preventing me from completing the first stage. I’m not all that interested in trying to best myself and complete the first stage to, reportedly, do the same thing in the same environment six more times until the game alters its stage design before capping off Jack and Hannah’s journey. An ambitious game with tepid gameplay – Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm is a game that can remain extinct.

Battlecorps – First Impressions

I’m guessing the battlecorps and the peace corps are diametrically opposed.

In my years of collecting video games, I’ve made an observation. When developers were making their first forays into first-person and polygonal video games, the first-person mech genre was a popular choice to test the waters. Battlecorps for the Sega CD falls into this category. Developed by Core Design and published by Time Warner Interactive, Battlecorps features colorful graphics, but poorly executed gameplay.

As one of three characters, I began missions by listening to a briefing from the Comedian-inspired Lieutenant Calgary. With my objectives known, I’d pilot a bipedal attack machine (BAM) through enemy-riddled levels and destroy the infrastructure of rival corporations.

Are those giant boulders or scrunched up moai faces?

Controlling the BAM was doable but aiming was a hassle. With only three buttons and a directional pad, Core Design was limited in their choices for sure, but they still chose to overuse the controller. They opted to give players the ability to aim up, down, and around, but doing so required players to shift the functionality of the d-pad depending on what they wanted it to do: pilot their BAM or aim. Enemies won’t wait for you to aim at them so taking damage is an unfortunate necessity. This is a design choice that hampered the game and could’ve been avoided by eliminating the need to aim at all.

The confounding controls ire me and the gameplay revolving around walking slowly and shooting deserves only this single mention, but I do like the graphical style. The environments are colorful and the game is a hot pixilated mess. It’s 3D much in the way that Doom was 3D; objects are made of pixels and as camera moves, so too do they. What’s not cool is the limited field of vision. The game replicates the insides of the BAMs as though I was actually in one, and because of radar and various screens, my view of the world is limited.

Like a ticker on the bottom of a TV news channel, the ticker in the topmost portion of the BAM warns against enemies and mines.

Battlecorps’ tepid gameplay and complicated controls left me not wanting to return to its battlefield again.

Lethal Enforcers – First Impressions

On consoles, Lethal Enforcers was released in a massive cardboard box that could contain the Konami Justifier.

Back when arcades ruled the video game roost, light gun games were widespread. The genre wasn’t as ubiquitous on home consoles, but it seems like each console from back in the day had a light gun. One game with a big presence back then was Lethal Enforcers. It was originally released as an arcade game in 1992, but was ported to the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD from 1993-1994. Developed and published by Konami, each version came bundled with the Konami Justifier, a blue light gun modeled after the Cult Python, the iconic .357 Magnum revolver. Enabling cooperative play is the harder to find pink light gun, although it works across all three platforms.

The Genesis and Sega CD versions were very grainy.

Lethal Enforcers contains little narrative, but little is needed. Crime is being committed and as a cop, it’s your (and your partner’s) duty to uphold the law. You’ll shoot through scenes in which bad guys pop their heads up from cover looking to blow yours off. Without quick timing and precise accuracy, game over comes quickly. Once those qualities are on lock-down though, you might just be able to make your city a little cleaner. While that sounded like an ad, that’s pretty much the best way I can sum up the game.

My friend and I played the Genesis and Sega CD versions of Lethal Enforcers and I only noticed one difference between the two versions – the soundtrack of the Sega CD version was of a higher quality. Both games looked identical, although the Sega CD version should look much better than its Genesis counterpart. I imagine the Super Nintendo version is identical to the Genesis version, although without playing it myself, I can’t say with certainty.

My friend and I had a rough go at the game. It was easy to complete the first level, a bank robbery, and even do so without losing lives, but to unlock the next level, we had to have 70% accuracy. We eventually managed this, but the second level, a trip to Chinatown, upped the difficulty, while also asking us to have even better accuracy. The game has five stages and I’m sure this continues to be the case throughout the game.

This scene played like an episode of The Flintstones – my friend and I saw, like, thirty National Rubber Stamp Companies.

I really enjoy light gun games, and Lethal Enforcers seems to be one of the genre’s better examples. It’s tough, but it doesn’t force players to memorize enemy locations. With quick reflexes and good accuracy, anyone can have fun. Playing cooperatively is a treat because at that point, you’re into the experience for at least thirty bucks, but it’s definitely much more fun with a partner. Lethal Enforcers is a fun game, although for the best experience, it will be slightly costly/difficult to track down. It’s worth noting that Lethal Enforcers won’t work on HDTVs so if you’re interested, make sure you have a CRT TV or something you can play it on.

MS Saga: A New Dawn – First Impressions

Did Bandai attempt to obscure the link between the Gundam franchise with the game’s title? Never mind the mobile suits in the background…

Distilling MS Saga: A New Dawn to its most basic pieces is pretty easy, even after playing the game for only twenty or so minutes. Before I do that though, let me give some background information. MS Saga is a role-playing game for the PlayStation 2 based off of the Gundam franchise. It was released in North America on February 21, 2006 and was developed and published by Bandai. As it’s based off of the long-running anime series, mobile suits are abound, however it tells an original story. Now, onto a succinct distillation.

For starters, the gameplay is very traditional, and by that I mean basic. According to Wikipedia, the game was designed to be accessible to an audience unfamiliar with Gundam. I’d also add that it was designed to be accessible to those unfamiliar with RPGs because the combat seems ripped from a fifteen year old game, which isn’t bad. Bandai didn’t need to set the world on fire with a video game based off of a preexisting property. Instead they built a simple RPG around that property, and that works for me. I’m not an avid fan of Gundam and I like that MS Saga is easy to get into. Sometimes, I just want a simple RPG to play, one that I can casually play while listening to a podcast, all the while still going through the motions of character development and advancement.

Because I barely played MS Saga, I can’t comment on the worth of the characters or their surrounding world. Still, it took me by surprise when I realized that the protagonist was a male when he looked like a female. Androgyny aside, I imagine that like the gameplay, MS Saga is filled with characters and scenarios I’ve seen before. With the exception of piloting giant human-like mecha that is.

Come on mom, just gimme the keys to the mobile suit!

Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the most influential anime series out there, but in the video game realm, the Gundam franchise has been anything but influential. The franchise has been incredibly prevalent, appearing on many systems with many releases, and from what I can remember, games were generally received lukewarmly and that sums up my feelings regarding MS Saga: A New Dawn.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean – First Impressions

No, Baten Kaitos isn’t a jumble of made up words; it’s Arabic for belly of the sea monster and another name for the star Zeta Ceti.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is a role-playing game released in late 2004 for the GameCube. It was co-developed by Monolith Soft (known for the Xenosaga series and the recently released Xenoblade Chronicles) and tri-Crescendo (Eternal Sonata) and published by Namco. The game is a story of revenge for Kalas, the primary protagonist but it also focuses on his (and his compatriots) quest to save the world. I didn’t find the story or characters interesting, but what’s exceptional about the game is its card-based battle system, which could’ve been its biggest liability.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean takes place in a fantastical world, a world where landmasses float in the sky, oceans are a thing of legend, and the human inhabitants have wings. The young adult Kalas is on a mission of revenge as he searches for the murderer of his brother and grandfather. He believes the person responsible is a soldier in the imperialistic Alfard Empire. The game begins as he awakens, confused but not suffering from amnesia, in a remote village. Soon after this point, he meets Xelha, a kind but mysterious girl who believes the Empire is on the verge of unleashing a great evil. Although Kalas believes he has no need for her, they join together as their goals run a similar course.

At the point I finished (about a dozen hours in), I had met a third party member: a rural fisherman named Gibari. He was beefed up and helpful in the rural town I found him in, but he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Beyond those three, I can’t comment on anyone else as I didn’t sink enough time into the game to meet anyone else. After joining up with Xelha, I visited another town or two and trekked through a few enemy-riddled areas, but the main focus was the routine run-ins with the Empire, which helped narrow the protagonists’ motives.

There wasn’t a ton of discussion regarding the character’s wings, and they rarely used them.

I don’t really have an opinion on the general story because I only played it for a dozen or so hours, but in that time span I already knew that I didn’t like Kalas. He was off-putting from the get go with his lack of respect for others and rudeness. Of course, naïve characters are the norm for role-playing games of this ilk; I’m sure that over the course of the estimated sixty hours of gameplay, he would mature and grow as a person. A lot of my opinion of him (and others) was based on the poor voice acting and that didn’t help in forming my opinion. It’s not necessarily that characters over or under act, instead my grievance lies with the quality of the audio – it sounds like I’m listening to people in a sound booth, as if whatever audio mixing that would remove this aura wasn’t done.

On the back of the game’s box is a quote from Nintendo Power: “It’s possibly the most beautiful GCN title ever made,” which I’d have to agree with. The game’s locales are like paintings that you walk around in, or like the PlayStation 1 era Final Fantasy games; they feature a fixed camera perspective with no player control of it. The pre-rendered backgrounds of the towns are intricately detailed and will often have animated bits and pieces, but because I wasn’t able to control the camera, navigating these areas was sometimes less than great; for instance when Kalas would walk into the background and shrink to signify distance from the camera. This isn’t a problem with Baten Kaitos, it’s just a style that I don’t prefer.

As the land masses reside in the sky, clouds were occasionally a nuisance.

What makes Baten Kaitos unique compared to other RPGs is its reliance on Magnus (playing cards) for items, attacks, equipment, and just about anything else. Each character had a deck of cards that they used in battles. As they leveled up, the amount of cards they could put into it, as well as their hand size in battles grew.

Battles revolved around each character’s deck of Magnus. A good deck would contain a mixture of offensive, defensive, and healing cards that were suited to take advantage of enemies’ elemental weaknesses. In battles, characters would have a hand of cards and I’d try my best to link them together to create optimal attacks and defensive maneuvers. I found that if I didn’t suit my deck to each area and continually keep it fresh, I wouldn’t advance.

The Magnus weren’t just used in battles though; they were used in place of items too. Special Magnus could capture the essence of an item, say water, and I could then use that Magnus to solve a puzzle, such as putting out a fire. I had to be careful with Magnus however, as the cards would age and their properties would change. For instance, if I had a Magnus with green bananas on it, as time passed, the bananas would ripen and the card’s effect would change. This aspect of the Magnus kept me on my toes and was in some instances, annoying.

An important aspect of battles and deck building was to try and use cards that had similar numbers. For instance using three cards with the same number yielded bonuses.

Card-battling games have a reputation for being obtuse, complicated, and slow-paced. Of course, they’re also known for requiring strategy, skill, and a little luck. What’s great about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is that it takes the best things about card-battling games: strategy in deck building, skillful combinations of cards, and a little luck of the draw, while reducing the negatives by speeding up the battle system and easing players into the extensive number of Magnus. It may not have captured my attention for too long, but damned if I didn’t absolutely enjoy its battle system.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Game.com) – First Impressions

I don’t know what’s up with the portable video game t-rex lettering in the bottom-right corner of the game’s box.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is probably the worst game. With the Game.com’s piss poor screen, any game that involves motion is pretty much an eye sore to begin with. Unfortunately, this game involves a lot of motion. What burned me about The Lost World was the awful platforming in which I controlled a character who moved like stagnant water pitted against a busy background that blended with the foreground as soon as I pressed forward. Because of the terrible blurring effect of the Game.com, I couldn’t see the dinosaurs I was supposed to shoot or dodge. Playing The Lost World: Jurassic Park was an unsettling experience.