Tag Archives: 1991

Fatal Labyrinth [Sega Genesis] – Review

Fatal Labyrinth - Sega Genesis - North American Box Art

One of more than 50 games included in the Sega Genesis Classics compilation, Fatal Labyrinth is unique among its brethren. It is the only roguelike dungeon crawler with role-playing mechanics, and clocking in at only a few hours, it was just what I needed to fill the gaps between other games. Its narrow focus left me wanting, however. Continue reading Fatal Labyrinth [Sega Genesis] – Review

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Battle Unit Zeoth [Game Boy] – Review

Lacking the box and manual, I can only assume this game is about saving the Earth.
Lacking the box and manual, I can only assume this game is about saving the Earth.

With Kirby’s Dream Land beaten and SolarStriker finished, I turned my attention to Battle Unit Zeoth, another Game Boy game, and like the latter, another shoot ‘em up. I purchased it with SolarStriker, and didn’t really play it until this week. It was developed and published by Jaleco in 1991 and perhaps thanks to this later release, Battle Unit Zeoth is a little more progressive than SolarStriker. I say this primarily due to its level design and it’s usage of infinite continues.

Piloting the mech felt good. It could fly around, or just walk on the ground or platforms.
Piloting the mech felt good. It could fly around, or just walk on the ground or platforms.

The game is composed of five stages. The three odd-numbered stages are traditional side-scrolling affairs, with the screen auto scrolling horizontally. The two even-numbered stages however scrolled vertically with my movements, but required a lot of platform navigation. I thought these were pretty unique stages for this type of game. Shoot, even the traditional horizontally scrolling stages featured a notable amount of verticality to them. My control of the mech seemed pretty progressive too, as I was able to shoot in all four directions, and with enemies coming from all sides, I often had to.

That being said, the game was made easier than SolarStriker thanks to the infinite continues. Instead of having a reserve of lives that would increase with my score, I only had access to one life. But, when I died I could continue from the beginning of the stage I died on, albeit, without the upgrades I had collected. That was an important loss too, as the upgraded weaponry had a much larger impact than it did in SolarStriker.

If you play this game, you'll see this screen often.
If you play this game, you’ll see this screen often.

Between the two, I think Battle Unit Zeoth is the more interesting shooter, design-wise. But, it’s also the easier shooter, which may rub some the wrong way. Still, being able to complete a game is nice, and games in this genre are very replayable. So, I think I’m done writing about Game Boy games for the moment. I am playing something on the platform currently, although I’m not sure an article will come to fruition as a result.

Final Fantasy IV [PSP] – Review

Bundling FFIV, The After Years, and a new interlude, this version has the most content of any FFIV release.
Bundling FFIV, The After Years, and a new interlude, this version has the most content of any FFIV release.

Having played through Final Fantasy III a few years back, and now having completed Final Fantasy IV, I can see a noticeable divergence in the series. This was no doubt brought about because of a new console generation. FFIII was originally released in 1990 for the NES (or Famicom, rather as it wasn’t released in the west until the 2006 DS remake) while FFIV was released in 1991 for the Super Famicom and SNES. Despite only being released a year apart, comparatively, the narrative and gameplay are worlds more complex in FFIV.

Beginning in the kingdom of Baron, Final Fantasy IV centers on Cecil Harvey. A devout and highly ranked member of his king’s military, Cecil follows the orders of his king, to the point of attacking a neighboring city to obtain their crystal – an important and mystical object. Upon questioning the king’s actions, Cecil is stripped of his rank and assigned the task of delivering a package to another neighboring village. The package winds up being a ruse, containing monsters which level the village. After these events, Cecil begins his quest to discover the actions of his king. Ultimately though, it’s a quest to discover Cecil’s identity and rid himself of the darkness in his heart.

Dungeon crawling is a major aspect, per usual.
Dungeon crawling is a major aspect, per usual.

Although there is a clear and singular protagonist in Cecil, Final Fantasy IV features nearly a dozen named protagonists who shift in and out of Cecil’s party as major events happen. Also hailing from the kingdom of Baron are Kain Highwind and Rosa Farrell. Kain is fellow soldier, rival, and friend. Rosa is a friend and love interest to both. Cecil and Rosa are clearly meant to be together and Kain deals with his jealousy throughout the course of the game, at points, succumbing to the darkness in his heart. Cid Pollendina is another Baron native and is the creator of airships and services the king’s vast fleets. He’s a rambunctious man who lends more than a hand.

There’s also Rydia, a young summoner and sole survivor of the village Cecil inadvertently leveled. She harbors hatred for Cecil early on, but eventually realizes he wasn’t to blame. Tellah, a powerful sage, joins Cecil and his party as he searches for the prince of Damcyan. Edward, the bard prince, was engaged with Tellah’s daughter before she perished. Tellah had felt Edward was to blame until he learned of the couple’s love for each other. A strong monk, Yang, joins the fight after the antagonist Golbez brings the fight to his hometown. The twin mages, Palom and Porom, bring lighthearted humor to the narrative. While only a few years old, they’re very knowledgeable about their craft. Two late-game additions are Edge and Fusoya. Edge is a cocky prince looking for revenge against Golbez. Fusoya is a lunarian – a resident of the moon.

The party was usually stacked with five protagonists.
The party was usually stacked with five protagonists.

The dialogue in the game is very limited compared to modern video games. That being said, the characters’ personalities do shine through and the sheer number of them kept the game fresh. As this was my first time to play Final Fantasy IV, I cherished coming upon dialogue and events that I’ve heard described as classic. Experiencing and understanding the context of the “you spoony bard” line was a favorite of mine. The major events were often too, helping to captivate me. Especially the final hours of the game which saw Cecil and the party fly to the moon! This was something else after thirty hours of traveling on Earth, never expecting anything different.

Speaking of memorable and important events, Final Fantasy IV is the game that introduced the active time battle system, or ATB system as the game refers to it. Allies and enemies continue to take turns but time continued to flow while I chose a character’s action. This could be switched to pause time while navigating menus, but I chose to experience the battle system with time continuously flowing. In the version that I played (Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection for the PSP) each character had a meter representing their turn. The meter filled at a rate dependent upon the speed of the character in question. For instance, someone dainty like Rydia should be able to a get three actions in for two of Cecil’s.

Lacking the job system introduced in Final Fantasy III, all the characters in Final Fantasy IV are specialized. I wasn’t troubled by not having that customization over the protagonists. Due to the brisk narrative, characters were shifting in and out of the party frequently. Therefore, I never got bored of the composition of the party. Sections were never too tough either. The game was balanced in such a way that I was never able to blame any failings on me losing a powerful character or a healer. Yet, I did have to do plenty of endgame level grinding to conquer the final boss – an hour or two at least.

Cid is a rambunctious old man.
Cid is a rambunctious old man.

I was honestly blown away by how much I was captivated by Final Fantasy IV. The dialogue was relatively bare-bones, and reading up on the development proved some of my theories on content being cut, but I still was captivated. The narrative moved briskly and thanks to the always changing party composition, it was hard for me to get bored of the random battles. I played the PSP version and I can look forward to playing The After Years at some point as the games are bundled together. My only gripe with this version is the inability to play with the original graphics. I would’ve appreciated the ability to switch between the redone visuals and the original sprites as I was able to do with the soundtrack in this version. For being twenty-plus years old, I still found the game to be captivating. Much more so than the previous game in the series. What a difference a year can make!

OutRun Europa – First Impressions

No suitable Game Gear box art, and the copy I purchased was the cart only.

So I was at a local game store the other day when I glanced in one of their display cases and noticed sitting front and center in a stack of Sega Game Gear games was OutRun Europa. Having recently spent some time with OutRun Online Arcade I decided to pick it up and see what it was like.

First off, the game is not developed by Sega, nor was it even published by them. The game was developed by Probe Software (a British studio no longer around) and published by U.S. Gold (a British publishing house that shares the same fate). It came out on a variety of platforms in the early nineties, mostly British computers but it also saw release on the Sega Master System and the Game Gear, the version I purchased.

Rather than simply driving, OutRun Europa features a very light story element. All I could gather from the game however was I had had my vehicle stolen, so I stole someone’s motorcycle to chase down the thieves, which is ironic since by doing so, I was a thief, whatever. I guess there is a different vehicle for each stage, but I wasn’t able to make it past the first stage, and it isn’t the game’s fault.

Alas my Game Gear was pretty much useless. The sole speaker on the system didn’t work and the headphone jack didn’t give me the full soundtrack. This is a shame because I watched clips of different versions of the game on YouTube and the soundtrack was good. The major problem with my Game Gear was the screen however. It was hardly legible and adjusting the contrast didn’t help. I could barely read the heads-up display or even see the pickups on the road.

While the stages were fairly lacking in detail, the Game Gear still had some impressive visuals.

So I didn’t get to play a lot of OutRun Europa, but I was able to piece more and more of it together from playing it a few more times and scouring the internet for information. I did like the handling of the motorcycle from what I played although I could’ve done without the pickups. These pickups gave me shields, boost, and maybe ammunition in later stages. There was a fork in the first stage but it doesn’t have a format similar to most other OutRun games, that is to say it doesn’t have multiple branching paths. I wished I could’ve played more to see the different stages and vehicles (a Jet Ski?!) but I won’t be able to until I get another Game Gear or a different version.

Streets of Rage – Review

Originally released on the Sega Genesis in 1991, there is no love for Adam Hunter on the box art.

I thought I wasn’t into beat ‘em ups. I remember looking down on the genre, perhaps because of the negative reception I saw most of the beat ‘em ups receiving in the mid 2000s. But after my friend casually brought up Streets of Rage, I thought we should play through it. I had at least one copy somewhere and I knew it wouldn’t take too long to complete, and I had never even played any of the Streets of Rage games, a series well regarded by many. After playing through Streets of Rage, I realized my dislike of the genre was feigned.

Blaze Fielding has her hands full on the beachfront stage.

Streets of Rage was developed and published by Sega and released onto the Sega Genesis in 1991. The game’s three protagonists Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding are young cops in a corrupted police force. The city they live in has fallen into the hands of a criminal syndicate, led by Mr. X. He has bankrolled everyone, including the police force, and the city is now in chaos with no law enforcement. They decide to take matters into their own hands (or rather, fists) and set out to take down this criminal syndicate.

With three protagonists, my friend and I each chose one that suited our tastes as they all have slightly different statistics regarding power, speed, and jumping. My friend and I had an easy time with the game. The stages at first were succinct, and longer towards the end, all the while continuously adding more and tougher enemies as we progressed. I enjoyed the length of the stages for the same reason I enjoy books with short chapters. I felt as though I was making continual progress and being rewarded, while the levels themselves never outstayed their welcome.

For the most part, my friend and I stuck to simple combos and the occasional throw. With little experimentation, the game seems simple, but once I flipped through the manual I realized how much depth there was to the fighting. I was shocked to see all the different ways I could handle enemies when I grabbed them, I never attempted pressing the jump button before, I just thought of taking them out, but there turned out to be a lot more I could do, and I tried more on my following playthroughs.

My friend and I traversed through eight stages before finally having our showdown with Mr. X himself. When we confronted him, he gave us the option of joining him and becoming his right hand man. I wanted to take him down and declined, but my friend must have a rogue streak in him as he accepted Mr. X’s offer, or perhaps he accidentally pressed the wrong button. Since there could only be one right hand man, Mr. X made us face off, with my friend eventually taking me out. Mr. X had more in store for my friend however. He didn’t accept him just yet; he instead sent him back to the sixth stage and forced him to fight his way back, and this time alone. After burning all his continues on our duel, he didn’t feel like working his way back to Mr. X.

Yuzo Kushiro's soundtrack is phenomenal, as evidenced by his copyright on the title screen.

On a later playthrough, by myself this time, I reached Mr. X fairly easily, although just before I got to him I lost a great deal of lives. The final stage has a showdown with the first four bosses of the game, and while I had a handle on most by this point, the fourth boss was a chore. The fourth boss was a pair of females who focused on jumping and grabs. I found the timing difficult to pin down for attacking and evading, and with two of them, I couldn’t really grab and do damage to one, knowing that I was vulnerable to the second one. I finally conquered them and had my showdown with Mr. X. He was quite cheap too. He moved much faster than anyone I had encountered before, myself included, and I believe I could only damage him with a lead pipe that was lying on the ground. The lead pipe has a great range and is powerful, but swinging it takes time. And throughout the battle, Mr. X summons some of the powerful enemies so I had plenty to do throughout the fight.

I came away enjoying Streets of Rage more than I thought I would. I had a blast playing through it with a friend, and even on single player playthroughs I enjoyed the journey. The game wasn’t too difficult, although I refrained from playing on higher difficulties, and I’d say it takes about an hour and a half to complete. The gameplay was deeper than I originally anticipated, the environments were varied as were the enemies, although some enemies were palette swaps of earlier ones, and the soundtrack was surprisingly phenomenal. I played through Streets of Rage a few times and highly recommend it.