My recent playthrough of After Burner on the Sega 32X was at times frustrating, but ultimately satisfying enough to soldier through and beat it. Intending to record let’s plays for my heretofore untouched Sega Master System, I thought what better game to start with than its port of Sega’s arcade classic! Having spent about an hour with it across a few sessions I realize now there may have been better alternatives. Unlike the Sega 32X version which was fast-paced and responsive, this port was riddled with choppy performance that ultimately created unintended challenge, stripping most of the fun that could’ve been had. Continue reading After Burner [Sega Master System] – Review→
Having recently completed After Burner for the Sega 32X (truly a port of After Burner II), I thought what better game to start playing my basically untouched Sega Master System than its port of the classic Sega arcade game! Well, there may have been better options. I lasted all of two videos before throwing in the towel. Heck, most of the second video I do little more than cheese it. It’s not a great version and my impending review will elaborate further on my thoughts regarding it.
My interest in the Sega 32X has evolved from something of an ironic curiosity to that of a genuine fan. Completely disregarding the business sense the unpopular Genesis add-on made, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t host some solid games. Its limited library of about forty is one of the prime drivers of my interest: the smaller library should make it easier for me collect and play each title. So when I came across After Burner for a fair price at Game Cycle of Pittsburg, Kansas, I had to jump on it. Continue reading After Burner [Sega 32X] – Review→
It’s been a while since I’ve recorded a let’s play but I picked up After Burner for the Sega 32X over Memorial Day weekend and that gave me a good reason to do another. This is truly a port of After Burner II, despite the name (Japanese box art included in this post). I enjoyed it, although I did find it quite tough. Admittedly, reaching the end took longer than it should’ve and my output isn’t as entertaining as it might otherwise be, unless you like seeing failure over and over again. Nonetheless, my playlist is featured below with a write-up to follow soon.
Having completed Doomon the Sega 32X, I decided to spend some substantial time with the only other 32X game in my possession: Virtua Racing Deluxe. Originally released as an arcade game in late 1992, it is one of video game’s polygonal pioneers. Nowadays, it looks extremely primitive, although it’s still a joy to play. As it originated in Sega’s AM2 division, this is no surprise; they were led by Yu Suzuki – one of video game’s greatest designers. Released in late 1994, the 32X version is scaled down graphically, but expands upon the arcade game in content.
I don’t have any nostalgia for games with this sort of graphical fidelity and the few that I’ve played retroactively have been unpleasant. Those that I have played seemed to have been notable only for their choppy graphical prowess at the time and were otherwise unenjoyable. I was blown away then when this game not only moved at a fast clip, but was highly responsive and a blast to play! It’s a stepdown visually when compared to the original but still remains palatable. It also features significant pop-in, but it wasn’t so abhorrent that it impacted my performance.
There were five stages to race on and three vehicles to choose from – two more of each than the arcade game. Each of the stages and vehicles required a different sort of finesse to achieve greatness. Lacking a career mode, the motivating force for solo play was high scores, or rather, best times. Placing first in the field of sixteen was a tall order, and my best after an hour is second place. The responsiveness of the vehicles and the limited time involvement required saw me continuously attempting to best my computer opponents. A split-screen multiplayer mode is available for two players although I haven’t tried it yet. My biggest fear is slowdown which, to be fair wasn’t an issue in my solo sessions.
The enjoyment I had with Virtua Racing Deluxe came as a surprise to me. I had doubts about it based on my past experience with primitive polygonal games. Any doubts I had were erased when I grabbed the controller. It was as fast-paced and responsive as any other racing game of the time period, and perhaps more so. Although my exposure to the 32X library is limited at this point, I feel confident in asserting that this is one of the premier titles on the platform.
Light-gun style games are almost always lacking in content, but feature-rich in replayability. Ghost Squad for the Wii is no exception. It was originally developed by Sega AM2 and released into the arcades in 2004, but was ported to the Wii by Polygon Magic in 2007. I just played through it with a friend and it literally took us less than a half-hour. There’s a handful of reasons to replay the game, but with the exception of one, they’re hard to justify actually do so. That said, this brief experience was a blast as the game was well-executed. Continue reading Ghost Squad [Wii] – Review→
One of the facets that draws me towards collecting video games, or as some might simply put it, buying a lot of video games, is finding superb games that have been more or less forgotten. Finding a hidden gem in the bargain bin makes me feel like a connoisseur of the medium. Even if I don’t play all of today’s “instant classics” I feel I’m doing my part by shining a spotlight on the good, perhaps overlooked, games of yesterday. One such game is Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball for the GameCube.
Originally released into Japanese and European arcades in 2001, it was ported to the GameCube a year later. Sega AM2, whose games I continuously find myself playing and writing about – Power Drift and Shenmuerecently – developed this game as well. In short, it’s a fast-paced simulation of two-on-two beach volleyball. There are a few modes that can eat up some of your free time, but the one that’s most important is multiplayer.
Enjoyable with up to three friends locally, the multiplayer proved to get raucous quickly. The game takes the bump, set, spike formula of volleyball and presents players with an intuitive user-interface and simple controls that make it easy to grasp. Couple that with the fast-paced flow of the game, and it can wind up growing on you. Speaking personally, it only took my friend and I a few matches to get hooked. After a few hours, we had learned the ins and outs of all the ways to receive and attack the ball to keep volleys going for a long time. We found it to be so enjoyable, we had to force ourselves to quit, hours after midnight this past Friday.
The multiplayer is definitely the draw in my mind, but there’s a brief diversion in the single player modes. The world tour is the primary draw and in it, I was able to customize a team and take them through eight rounds of tournaments. My partner started off unable to assist in any way, but as we lost and lost I earned experience to put into her various abilities. By the final tournament, I was the weakest link on the team! I wish this mode could’ve been played cooperatively; it’d eliminate the teambuilding element, but it’d also eliminate working with a brain-dead partner. There’s an arcade mode that I haven’t dabbled in yet, as well as a tutorial mode that further cemented what my friend and I had discerned on our own through hours of play.
Discovering games like Beach Spikers: Virtua Beach Volleyball has made collecting video games an enjoyable hobby for me. It’s even better when I find a gem that can be enjoyed with others, such as this one. The fast-paced action and intuitive adaptation of the sport will make this a go-to game for my multiplayer sessions. Which is the game’s main draw, as there’s little reason to play solo other than unlocking costume parts that harken back to Sega’s past. Regardless, this is an older game that’s worth a look for fans of local multiplayer.
For a month or two, Power Drift sat in a backroom corner of PJ Gamers. Not functioning, there wasn’t a reason to place it alongside the likes of Gyrussor Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. It was around this time that I was experiencing Shenmue II and developing an appreciation for Yu Suzuki. Being one of his lesser known games, I was interested in playing it. Released in 1988, I’d only recently read about it in a Retro Gamer profile of Yu Suzuki. Thankfully, it’s operational now, and although it lacks the fun hydraulic cockpit (it’s a stand-up cabinet), it’s unique.
What makes it unique amongst other racing games that could’ve been found in an eighties arcade are the roller coaster-inspired race tracks. These tracks feature massive climbs and drops and every turn is an opportunity to kick out the rear wheels and drift around competitors. The visuals helped sell the roller coaster feel of the tracks thanks to a sprite-scaling effect. As the name implies, the sprites grew and shrunk seamlessly as I played the game. This was doubly impressive as the game ran at a very fast clip. Watching the tracks rise, fall, and twist was mesmerizing – like watching a snake slither in the sand.
As with most arcade games, it didn’t take me long to understand what to do and how to do it. Progressing in the game became tough quickly though. I forewent ever hitting the brakes and instead began massaging the gas pedal around corners. Falling off ledges and colliding with other drivers was the key to success. The latter was challenging; I didn’t feel like I had the level of control over my racer as I’d like. Of course I also was zooming around stages NEVER HITTING THE BRAKES! Sometimes the hit detection seemed a little dodgy too, perhaps forming my opinion of the controls. It’s clear that to get a higher score and experience more stages, I’ll need to evolve my strategies. It’s a fun and unique game, especially to watch, but the loose controls took me a while to adapt to.
I could go into excruciating detail about the narrative and highlight all of the major plot points of Shenmue II, but I won’t. Actually, I can’t say that I won’t because I did and I’m just not publishing it. What I wrote was a two page article that read more like a set of game notes. I dove fairly deep into explaining the three major sections of the game and even then, I barely scratched the surface. What you as someone who is unfamiliar with this game needs to know is that Shenmue II is narratively rich, yet ultimately unfulfilling. Narratively speaking, that is. It’s still a joy to play.
In short, the game picks up directly where the original left off. Ryo Hazuki has travelled to Hong Kong to exact revenge on the mysterious Chinese man who murdered his father. Ryo investigates the Wan Chai and Kowloon areas of Hong Kong in a similar manner as he did in Yokosuka. He follows up on leads by asking residents, gets into street fights and other scuffles, and finds odd jobs to pay his bills. All this eventually culminates in a trip to a remote village where an event that has been foreshadowed since the beginning occurs. The beginning of this sequence had my friend and I sit straight up as we knew what would follow was very important. However, eleven years after its original American release, the cliffhanger ending is still unresolved and the current stopping point for this ill-fated trilogy.
As I mentioned, the structure of the game is identical to its predecessor, although elements have been improved. The primary emphasis was still on investigation and completing odd tasks and I found their resolutions very rewarding. Brawls and QTEs were still a large part too, but they seemed less prevalent. I find it peculiar that the fighting system appears to have such depth and yet it was hardly utilized. This made it a little tough for my friend and me towards the end as the rising action and climax consists of dozens of easy and tough fights. Needless to say, we relied very heavily on simple punches and combos.
And what a climax! These last few hours were simultaneously tumultuous to play and epic to witness. Kicked off by a stressful quest to raise money, my friend and I spent a solid hour gambling and resetting the game when things didn’t go our way. This was followed up by a convoluted trek through 18 floors of a massive 40 floor building. The dozens of fights Ryo had provided closure for the events that took place in Kowloon and they eventually led to a climactic scene where Ryo caught up with Lan Di. Although nothing transpired between the two, he now knows that Ryo is after him. Afterwards, the chance encounter that had my friend and I sit at attention was drawn out, torturous, and a great opportunity for two characters to become acquainted before finding out their destinies lie with each other.
I’m doing it again. I’m trying to delve into the narrative and I just need to stop. There’s a reason this series has such a zealous fan base. Shenmue and Shenmue II are fantastic examples of the narrative-driven single player video game. An epic coming of age tale coupled with exploration, investigation, and action. The blend of gameplay elements kept the game fresh and despite a few tumultuous sequences and the occasional camera or control issues, Shenmue II was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The passion of Yu Suzuki and his development team shines through in this game as it did in the original. Now, what about Shenmue III?
Shenmue definitely has a reputation that precedes it. At the time and for many years afterwards, it was reportedly the most expensive video game ever produced. With respectable sales that weren’t near the expected numbers, it assisted in ending Sega’s home console development. Nonetheless, the game received high praise critically and is routinely cited as an influential video game. Shenmue has always been on a personal bucket list of mine and I’m finally able to check it off.
Before being consumed by Virtua Fighter, Yu Suzuki was a titan at Sega. He was the major figure behind a plethora of the company’s marquee arcade titles in late 1980s. Space Harrier, Hang-On, OutRun, After Burner – this guy had a knack for designing video games. I’m not intending to short shrift Virtua Fighter either. It’s one of the most respected fighting game series and has a dedicated fan base. Shenmue is Yu Suzuki’s magnum opus however, and it oozes his passion. In the manual, in the credits, in the way he describes the game – the fictional world and gameplay elements that comprise the game were undoubtedly personal muses for the man.
Shenmue takes place in Yokosuka, Japan during the winter of 1986. The game is a tale of revenge, following Ryo Hazuki as he tracks down the mysterious man who murdered his father. Ryo’s father, Iwao, was a master martial artist whose dojo was in a remote suburb of Yokosuka. Iwao’s murderer, Lan Di, is a mysterious Chinese martial artist who had an unknown grudge against Ryo’s father. Not only that, but Lan Di’s ties to a Chinese criminal syndicate further complicate the affair as Ryo investigates the mysterious Chinese man.
Exploration and puzzle solving are the primary focuses of Shenmue’s gameplay, although there is a minor emphasis placed on brawling. Knowing practically nothing of Lan Di, Ryo takes to the neighborhoods and shops of Yokosuka to find and follow up on any leads he can. Interacting with dozens of townsfolk, it was easy for me to get immersed in the day to day heartbeat of the city. Ryo’s leads introduced him to friends and foes from practically all of the storefronts, and since the game had a strong adherence to portraying a realistic setting, I’d have to make sure to check in with individuals at the corresponding hour of the day, or night.
I was dead set on making a physical map of the shopping district and outlying neighborhoods, but by the time I sketched it out, I was familiar enough with the areas to abandon the prospect. The neighborhoods contained little to experience but the shopping district was densely packed with unique individuals and storefronts. To an outsider, such as myself, it was a joy to experience what this slice of Japan might’ve been like in the late 1980s – minus Ryo’s Sega Saturn.
The puzzle solving aspect of the gameplay revolved mostly around locating the proper individual to speak with. Then, utilizing the information they provided with Ryo. Be it an area to check or another individual to speak with. I didn’t find monotony in constantly seeking someone out, only to be pointed elsewhere. It didn’t seem like it was filler content. For the most part, every lead advanced the plot, if only slightly.
One related point is what I interpret as shoddy localization. The game is fully voice-acted and everyone will respond to Ryo if he prompts them. However, a lot of the dialog doesn’t sound natural. It’s as if the script was translated directly from the Japanese original with no localization. Translating the game is one part of the localization process, but another would be making it so the characters speak realistically. Some lines of dialogue didn’t make functional sense to me. Then again, the game contained a friendly Jamaican hot dog vendor named Tom, and he doesn’t make a lot of sense either.
The third pillar of the gameplay is the action sequences. I’d break these down into two categories: brawling and quick-timer events (QTEs). Both were infrequent, but an important aspect nonetheless. Brawling was reminiscent of the fighting system from Virtua Fighter – deep and very precise. Ryo had a wealth of moves at his disposal, but I was able to meander on by button mashing. This was helped by the fact that there were about twelve fights across the entire game. QTEs are now commonplace in video games and we have Shenmue to thank for that! They were pioneered in the game and allowed the player to experience a handful of exciting action sequences and actually feel some involvement. They were also infrequent.
After a dozen or so hours, I had brought Ryo to the end of his quest in Yokosuka. Shenmue ended with a slew of events, beginning with Ryo getting a job at the Yokosuka docks. This entailed me operating a forklift for about a week of in-game time which translated to a few hours. It was a decidedly dull climax to the game, but it was far from over. At the docks Ryo got a better understanding of the criminal syndicate Lan Di was aligned with.
Eventually, Ryo was too late to confront Lan Di who was already heading back to China. Ryo’s story was just beginning, but I wasn’t left unfulfilled. Shenmue capped off with an exciting motorcycle ride through the nighttime Yokosuka highway system. The goal was to reach the docks which lead to an epic brawl against 70+ gang members. Ryo intent on pursuing Lan Di to China and many of the interactions with Ryo’s friends and family were heartfelt.
With Shenmue off my bucket list, I’m anxious to begin Shenmue II on the Xbox. The series was originally proposed as a trilogy so my journey with Ryo will end with an unfulfilled cliffhanger upon completion of the second game. Heck, I’ll probably convert into one of those crazies trying to get a grassroots effort started to develop Shenmue III. It wouldn’t be a surprise. The game came out nearly a decade-and-a-half ago and it still feels modern. Its combination of storytelling, setting, and gameplay meld together to form one of the most realized and worthwhile video games out there.