It was a brief comment in Dave Halverson’s review of Dragon Quest VIII from the November 2005 issue of Play Magazine, and not especially relevant to the full review, but it’s stuck with me ever since: “…given the detail, that the lead character is not dynamic to steps and slopes does take a bite out of the realism.” I wouldn’t say I’ve paid attention to the functionally irrelevant detail of characters walking on stairs in every game I’ve played since, but sometimes I notice. In Shenmue III for instance, whenever the protagonist Ryo walks up or down a flight of stairs, his feet hit every step. Every. Step. I know relatively little about the rigors of game development, but it seems ludicrous to offer such attention to detail for something as banal as navigating a flight of stairs. And yet, Shenmue III is in many ways a game about embracing the banal, for better or worse. Continue reading Shenmue III [PlayStation 4] – Review→
Even though I passed a never-ending supply of racers playing Hang-On, my true race was against the clock. I had little room for error, maybe one or two mistakes if I hoped to complete each stage before time ran out. Skillfully managing the throttle and brake, especially when cornering, was the key. Before long I was weaving in between racers and passing them in corners, making good time. Stages lasted about a minute and segued immediately into the next until the five-stage course was complete. In one sitting, it’s about a forty-minute game and not too challenging on the default difficulty. I made plenty of mistakes, often cornering too quickly or misjudging a racer’s proximity, but usually finished with ample time on the clock. When I was in a groove and listening to the hum of the motorcycle, the sounds of passing racers and squealing tires, it became a Zenlike, albeit monotonous, experience. Although my playthrough lacked much excitement, I’m glad to have finally spent material time with Hang-On. It’s an enjoyable racing game that tests one moderation, and patience.
It’s been nearly a year (!) since I last played the Sega Master System or recorded gameplay, but I’m getting back in the groove. First order of business: highlighting Enduro Racer! Originally released as an arcade game around this time of the year in 1986, it was another popular hit designed by Yu Suzuki. The Master System port released a year later and perspective-wise, was quite different. Whereas the arcade version featured a behind-the-back perspective akin to Hang-On, this version featured an isometric viewpoint more like Zaxxon. That difference aside, gameplay still revolved around racing dirt bikes and catching big air. Once I understood the mechanics, I was off to the races and had a great time. Continue reading Enduro Racer [Sega Master System] – Review and Let’s Play→
Although I’ve long been aware of Space Harrier, playing through the Master System version provided my first hands-on impressions of it, for better or worse. Originally released by Sega as an arcade game in late 1985, it was one of the first games designed by the now legendary Yu Suzuki. The following years saw a multitude of ports to popular home computers but it wasn’t until the 1987 Master System port that one of them had the distinction of being handled internally at Sega, helmed in part by the similarly iconic Yuji Naka. The resulting version faithfully adapted the fast-paced shoot ‘em up gameplay, vibrant stages, and varied enemies of the original release, despite the technically inferior Master System hardware that could’ve been a devastating drag on quality. Continue reading Space Harrier [Sega Master System] – Review and Let’s Play→
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→
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.
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?