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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

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.

Doom [Sega 32X] – Review

Doom

Who can say what sparked it, but one evening Jeff and I played the Sega 32X. It’s an add-on for the Sega Genesis that increased its power but never proved successful for a variety of reasons, namely poor timing. Its library rounds out at about forty titles which pales in comparison to the nine hundred plus that the Genesis hosted. Along with it, I also have a Sega CD which makes setup an absolute chore. There are three power bricks (although only two are needed if the Sega CD isn’t being utilized), an A/V cable connecting the Genesis and 32X, and an A/V cable connecting the monstrosity to the TV. Our session was a memorable one though, so it was worth it.

With such a limited library there aren’t a lot of options, especially when I only have a few games. The two that we spent the most time with were Virtua Racing Deluxe and Doom. As he’s not partial to racing games we barely touched VRD. That game’s primitive polygonal graphics can be off-putting at first, but I was surprised at how fast and responsive the game was; it’s definitely a worthwhile title. Therefore, we spent our time with Doom. Our session lasted a couple of hours, and we wound up making it to the final stage*.

One knock against the 32X version is the limited real estate devoted to the game screen.
One knock against the 32X version is the limited real estate devoted to the game screen.

His experience with Doom supersedes mine, having played it on PC closer to its cultural explosion. My first gameplay exposure came with the Xbox Live Arcade release. I couldn’t tell you what went through my head then, but I don’t remember being blown away, even considering the context of its release. After all, this was the most significant of the early first-person shooters and became one of the most popular, if not played, video games up to that point in time. Honestly, I wasn’t particularly jazzed about playing the 32X version but it’s hard to ignore how well-made it is, even this version.

For hours, we blasted demons with a handful of weapons and searched for keycards in order to open locked doors and progress to each level’s exit. That took place across fifteen-odd levels, with one or two focusing on a boss fight rather than exploration. On paper, this all sounds monotonous, but the gameplay was quite fun. It was a fast-paced shooter and the stages and enemy encounters never felt duplicated, despite a limited palette of either. Undoubtedly, playing with a friend and taking turns completing levels enhanced my enjoyment.

Doomguy, now's not the time for knock knock jokes!
Doomguy, now’s not the time for knock knock jokes!

This newfound enjoyment and appreciation of Doom surprises even me, considering I really enjoyed Doom 3 – a game most others didn’t. I’m contemplating more Doom and my next steps branch two ways. The 32X version was a port of the PC original which hadn’t even fully released at the time, so I haven’t completely seen Doom (which this FAQ detailing version differences is just phenomenal). I’ll either start up the XBLA release or the version included with the Doom 3 Limited Collector’s Edition. I’ve also never played Doom II: Hell on Earth so that’s a natural progression too. Either way, I’m excited to play more Doom. I guess that’s one redeeming quality for the 32X.

* The final stage to reach the credits. If we had reached the same stage on a harder difficulty, there were actually two more stages.

In Between Posts, September 9, 2012

What a game!

I cut my teeth on the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and Game Boy. This trio housed my first gaming memories. As such, I grew up a Nintendo kid. Only retroactively did I get to experience the Sega Genesis. My first impressions weren’t so hot. After all, I was a Nintendo kid. Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the platform although in the past few weeks, I’ve grown to love it!

My friend and I have reached the Genesis as the Leonard 2012 Video Game Olympics continue and currently, we’re about halfway through the fifty games I own for the platform. When another friend moved out last year, he gave me fifteen or so Genesis games, some hailed as classics. This has been my first chance to experience these games and wow!

Games like Aladdin, The Jungle Book, The Lion King, The Lost Vikings, heck, I have half a dozen Madden games for the Genesis and they’re pretty great. I remember growing up throughout the 2000s and knowing that 99% of licensed games were going to be crap. It’s such a mind-blower to play these Disney games and see that what everyone has said about them was true. Great games on a great system!

In Between Posts, September 2, 2012

The SNES saw the bulk of my attention because I decided to stop holding off on purchases unless a game was complete with box and manual. I’ve missed out on many great, cheap games over the years.

Another week with no new posts, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done nothing! This weekend, like last, I actually did a noteworthy amount of game shopping. The largest of the two chains of local game stores had a buy two, get one free Labor Day sale and my friend and I took advantage of the opportunity and visited 4 of the 5 nearby stores. I haven’t purchased games at this frequency in a very long time. Partially I’ve been spurred to do so after reading jsicktheslick’s Sunday Roundup posts for so long. Another factor is the ongoing competition between my friend and I to play every game we collectively own and see who wins the most titles.

Our competition has begun to move briskly now. We completed the NES last week and today we plowed through the twenty Intellivision games and the eleven Apple II games I own. Both of these platforms on the whole were disappointing, but we also began playing the Genesis and man, there a lot of awesome games of that system. I’ll get around to posting results eventually and also, I think instead of talking about a select few titles individually and in a fairly long article, I’ll be switching formats. Rather, each and every game will be discussed in a three paragraph article, succinct and to the point. The first para will be an overview while the second and third paras will be my thoughts and my friend’s thoughts respectively. That way, I’ll be able to highlight each game, produce a veritable amount of content, and bring the other competitor’s views into the fold. I’m looking forward to doing this eventually, as school and work are all consuming!

Anyways, this weekend I managed to pick up many top-notch, or personally interesting titles and I took pictures of them, as well as the few titles I picked up last weekend. I managed to pick up many SNES games for cheap, mainly shoot ’em ups because I like that genre, but I also picked up Super Tennis, Stunt Race FX, Final Fight and Rival Schools: two hopefully great beat ’em ups, ActRaiser: an RPG from Enix, and the Super Game Boy. The more modern games are more visible in the following photo so I won’t highlight those.

I also picked up a handful of random games for a multitude of platforms too!

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.

X-Men – First Impressions

My favorite part about finding a complete copy of X-Men? The sweet poster that it came with!

Maybe my friend and I didn’t like X-Men on the Sega Genesis because we were hoping for something different. We, or at least I, thought it would be a beat ‘em up, more specifically a port of the well regarded 1992 arcade game. But X-Men is more of a platformer than a beat ‘em up and not a very fun one.

X-Men was developed by Western Technologies and published by Sega for the Genesis in 1993. My friend and I were able to assume the role of one of the four selectable characters. We got to pick from Gambit, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Cyclops, but there were many more appearances from familiar faces in the form of backup attacks.

After picking our characters we messed around for about a minute in the Danger Room before the game threw us into the first stage. It was evocative of a prehistoric time when cavemen roamed, but instead our enemies were leopardmen and pterodactyls. Combat was pretty basic, a jump button, attack button, and a special button, but it was somewhat clunky and it didn’t feel great.

From the heads-up display, to the graphics, to the combat, I found pretty much every aspect of X-Men to be lackluster.

The stage required us to move upwards besides just to the right, but the camera was kind of wonky with two players on screen. We fell off screen plenty of times, but Jean Grey would save us, as long as we had health. This was hard to get used to, especially with enemies and other threats throughout the stage. Scaling the stages was different but it was difficult to do in tandem. I also didn’t like the animation and the design of the first stage honestly.

My friend and I couldn’t get through the first stage of X-Men. We had a hard time figuring out the camera and it caused us much strife. I played it by myself to get a perspective of the single player and I was able to get farther, but I wasn’t interested in putting much more time into it. The soundtrack was a divisive topic between us. It was very abrasive, making obnoxious sounds, but I liked that it was different, my friend felt differently.

I thought X-Men was a poor game overall. In every department it feels like the game comes up short and I can’t imagine playing through it anytime soon.

Golden Axe – Review

Golden Axe was a launch title for the Sega Genesis in North America so it's not one of the better looking games on the platform.

The third beat ‘em up my friend and I played through recently was Golden Axe. Like the Streets of Rage games we played beforehand, it was developed and published by Sega, although Golden Axe was released as an arcade game before being ported to the Sega Genesis, the version we played.

Tyris Flare facing the first boss of the game. Lucky for her, she's found a cockatrice to ride.

Whereas Streets of Rage was set in an eighties or nineties version of a corrupted city, Golden Axe is set in medieval times. The three playable characters set out to rescue the king and princess who has been kidnapped by an evil ne’er-do-well named Death Adder. The plot is typical of the setting, as are the playable characters, a barbarian named Ax Battler, an Amazon named Tyris Flare, and a dwarf named Gillius Thunderhead. Unlike the plots in the Streets of Rage games where they appeared only as text at the beginning and ends, there are story bits between each level in Golden Axe, marking the progress the warriors make.

Throughout the levels my friend and I were attacked by Death Adder’s henchmen. The setting of Golden Axe allowed for the enemies to be more varied compared to Streets of Rage, although there were many who were the same model, just different statistics and a different color. Most of the bosses were repeated throughout the game and towards the end they used unfair tactics, such as the final boss’ proclivity to knocking us down and zapping us with magic, taking two of our health bars in one swoop.

And this brings me to my complaint about Golden Axe. Golden Axewas super tough, even playing on easy my friend and I had a difficult time getting to the seventh stage (eight stages total) and we eventually used a cheat code to skip levels. I normally would want to attempt completing a game without the use of cheat codes, but it seemed like we didn’t have a shot.

An example of the text displayed between levels. Although it's very simple, I appreciated the extra effort in tracking the warriors' journey.

With combos, we could get up to five hits in on an enemy, but it was difficult lining up correctly to do so. And I personally felt like I wasn’t getting enough response after hitting the attack button. I’m not sure exactly why I felt this way, perhaps it was the sound design of the hits, they sounded peculiar, not what I would expect from a metal weapon, or perhaps because I didn’t enjoy the sluggish character movement.

Rather than having a single health bar that depletes in differing amounts depending on the strength of attacks, my friend and I were instead given a health bar that consisted of what turned out to be three hits or combos. This made it feel like we had less of a shot just because we couldn’t take a lot of damage, couple that with the enemies’ ability to keep you in their combo if hit and it lead to frustration for both my friend and I.

But the most frustrating aspect for us was the difficulty of the final boss. We originally got to the seventh stage before losing our continues. We opted then to use a cheat code to select the final level and another to add nine continues. The final boss took an enormous amount of damage and he was able to evade the bulk of our attacks, and he had a little help with the aid of some invincible skeletons. Later on in the fight, he began using magic after knocking us down, taking out two of our health bars. He was difficult and we used plenty of continues but we ultimately conquered him and saved the king and princess.

Golden Axe was a mixed bag for me. A lot of the stages had a similar feel, but there were a few that had interesting settings, and they were fairly short which I liked. The soundtrack seemed meager, but the tracks present were phenomenal and I found myself humming them as we played, especially the first stage’s song. I appreciated having story bits throughout the game rather than at the beginning and ends. But I disliked the reuse of lack of standard enemy design and the similar looks of the majority of the stages. And more importantly, I disliked the way the game felt. It’s a hard concept to quantify but it is ultimately what made me like Golden Axe less than Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2. Golden Axe was equally filled with parts I liked and disliked and for that I recommend it only to those seeking out another beat ‘em up.

Streets of Rage 2 – Review

Max, Blaze, Axel, and Eddie taking out baddies on the box art.

So, before I played Streets of Rage, I thought I disliked beat ‘em ups but it turns out, I really enjoy a solid beat ‘em up, especially with a friend. With Streets of Rage completed I naturally moved onto Streets of Rage 2. Figuring out exactly who had a hand in the game’s development was a little tricky. The credits list people working at Ancient, MNM (MNM Software, later Mindware), Shout!OW (Shout! Designworks), HIC (couldn’t find any info on this), and I’m sure a few were from Sega. Anyways, I’ve always heard talk of Streets of Rage 2, that it was the best in the series and perhaps the genre, so I was anxious to try it for myself.

Streets of Rage 2 begins a year after the events of Streets of Rage. Peace has returned to the city that Adam Hunter, Axel Stone, and Blaze Fielding once called home. Axel and Blaze have retired from the police force and moved out of town  while Adam is still an officer and lives on the edge of the city with his kid brother Eddie “Skate” Hunter. On the anniversary of Mr. X’s downfall the gang gets together to celebrate. The next day, Eddie returns to find his older brother gone and their house ransacked. He gets a hold of Axel and Blaze and when they arrive, they notice a picture of Adam tied up at the feet of Mr. X. Not ones to leave a friend behind, Axel and Blaze set out to rescue Adam with the aid of Eddie and Axel’s wrestling friend Max.

Axel, facing four thugs. Notice the enemy's health bar underneath Axel's.

With the cheesy plot of Streets of Rage 2 providing momentum for these four, the battles soon ensued as my friend and I ventured throughout the nameless city once again. While the stages in Streets of Rage definitely had a strong atmosphere with the nighttime setting, the flashing neon lights, the dark, pumping soundtrack, the stages themselves were straightforward and for the most part, similar in setting.

Streets of Rage 2 contains the familiar elements of stage design compared to the original, but took my friend and I through a greater diversity of stages. We ventured through the city streets at the outset, but soon fought through an amusement park, a stadium, and even a jungle. And besides the diversity in backgrounds, the stages themselves were broken into two or three sections themselves. These sections seemed as long as the stages in the original game, which meant the stages in Streets of Rage 2 were longer, while still retaining succinctness.

There were two changes to the gameplay of Streets of Rage 2 that I really enjoyed. First off, the game was much speedier compared to the original. I initially thought character movement in Streets of Rage was a little slow (especially vertical movement) but it wasn’t so slow that I couldn’t adapt or didn’t enjoy the game. This increase in speed appeals to me because it feels like there is more immediate feedback between my inputs and my character’s action, plus I enjoy the game moving at a slightly faster clip.

Axel, fighting the boss of the stadium stage.

The second change I enjoyed was the addition of an enemy health bar whenever they were attacked. Whenever my friend or I would attack an enemy, that enemy’s health bar would appear underneath the health bar of the player that attacked them. This was smart as we had more information on the situation at hand and knew how much more damage we needed to deal to a specific enemy.

The final aspect worth mentioning is the technical improvements of Streets of Rage 2 compared to the original. The character models of allies and enemies alike appeared more detailed (perhaps larger too) and the backdrops of the stages were more animated. The backgrounds had more elements moving and there was generally more going on; overall, the game looked better. I very much enjoyed the soundtrack to Streets of Rage, and the soundtrack for Streets of Rage 2 is as good, if not better. It sounds darker but more importantly, it is much clearer than the original’s.

So, as it turned out, the hype I had heard about Streets of Rage 2 turned out to be accurate. The game was a better experience overall, and that’s saying something as I really enjoyed Streets of Rage. The story isn’t the main motivator for these types of games, they seem too shallow and something that’s tacked on at the beginning and ending of the game, but the gameplay remained as good as Streets of Rage and introduced a few improvements. And from a technical standpoint, the game seemed like a large improvement over the original. I recommend Streets of Rage 2, more so than the original.

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.