Friday, October 26, 2012

Livebloggin': The WinFun Joypad 65

I thought I'd try something different with the 'ol blogaroo today.  A few days ago, I went to a garage sale and happened upon a grocery bag full of random, mostly game-related items.  Since I couldn't find a price tag anywhere on the bag, I asked the holder of the sale how much she wanted for the whole package.  I didn't have much on me at the time, but she didn't expect much either, so I walked away with the whole shebang for a quite reasonable $3.50.  It was a pretty slammin' deal when you consider what was inside the bag...

(from left to right, then down)

Joypad 65 TV Games System
GameBoy Player disc case (minus disc... d'oh!)
Third party GameCube controller (likely the Family Dollar brand)
GameCube Platinum, with GameBoy Player and Digimon Rumble Arena 2
Xbox 360 controller, designed for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Playstation A/V cable
(barely visible) Frayed NES RF cable
GameCube AC adapter
another third party GameCube controller
Five GameBoy games (Donkey Kong Land 2, Donald Duck Goin' Quackers, Tetris, Penguin Wars, and Amazing Penguin)
One GameBoy Advance game (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
16 megabyte GameCube memory card
Xbox DVD dongle/remote receiver

That's quite an eclectic selection, ain't it?  I suspect that the previous owner just took all the video game crap they had lying around the house and threw it into a bag, to either sell or drop off at Goodwill later.  I'm not complaining, though... in fact, I'm quite eager to fold all this stuff into my collection.  However, the one item that really caught my eye was this hot little number...

What the hell is this thing, and what's with all the buttons, sticks, and knobs?  A Google search led me to a page on Amazon, which revealed that this controller was actually a Chinese TV Games unit called the WinFun Joypad 65.  Still, there were a lot of questions left to answer.  What kind of games would I find on this device?  Would I really need three controllers to play them all?  Most importantly, was there any fun to be had from the WinFun?

After thinking about it for a while, I figured I'd have more fun with this device if I brought my readers (both of you) along for the ride.  So I'll be blogging about the WinFun Joypad 65 in real time, playing each of its games and posting about them immediately afterward.  Stay tuned!

12:21 AM: Okay, I'm about to turn it on, and... oh yeah, there's some cheap Chinese 8-bit action going on here.  You've got the cheerfully inane music in the background, along with a 16-color rendering of what appears to be a badly drawn jet on a collision course with a Ferrari set on the world's thinnest highway.  Okay, enough of that... let's get to the games.

12:24 AM: All right, to start we've got a bunch of car-themed video games with names like Build Up Road, Big Racing, and Runner Car.  Moving through the list of options gives you a horrible "sproink!" noise, similar to the pause sound you'd hear in Super Pitfall or another Micronics game.  That's like starting a novel with the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night..."

12:26 AM: Okay, enough with the music!  I'll play Build Up Road.  Seems to be a knock-off of Pipe Dreams with a construction theme.  You build a road from pieces at the bottom of the screen to send a mini-van to a small house at the bottom of the screen.  The pieces regenerate over time, so there's really no challenge if you take your time.  Oh GOD the music is really getting to me.  Next game, next game!

12:31 AM: Matching Tiles is next. The title screen seems to be a flaming yet surprisingly cheerful lad crashing into a bunch of living blocks.  Breakout game?  Probably.  Oh wait, no, it's one of those Shanghai-style games where you have to match mahjong pieces set in the middle of the playfield.  You first work along the edges, then take out the pieces in the center.  Taking your sweet time results in an annoying warning alarm that actually sounds worse than the background music.  Uh, next game please.

12:36 AM: Super Surfing, anyone?  (No.)  Well, you're getting it anyway.  In this one, you're a surfer who weaves through oncoming swimmers and kayakers, and grabs the bags of money that float his way.  I don't know what ocean has bags of money floating in it, but I want to go there on my next vacation.  The music is surprisingly somber compared to what I've heard in the last two games, but that's not a BAD thing in this case.

12:41 AM: Big Racing is up next.  The glitchy tiles near the top left corner are not an encouraging sign of things to come.  It's a top-down racing game where you're regularly thrown into spin-outs by the opposition. Also, there are curves on the track shown at the bottom of the screen, but you never actually see them while you're racing.  It reminds me a little of Spin-Out! for the Odyssey2, and if you've ever played that train wreck you know that's not a compliment.

12:46 AM: Motor Rally, here we come!  This looks like an NES version of Head-On, with a really grungy heads up display on the bottom of the screen.  When you crash, your cyclist just sits there flashing.  Also, the music tries to inject a sense of urgency to the so-so action, but ends up sounding confused, like a cat stepping on a Casio keyboard.

12:48 AM: Runner Car's next.  It plays like an even more boring version of Konami's dud Road Fighter.  There are coins strewn throughout the track, which make the dreaded "sproink!" noise when you collect them.  That actually gives me an aversion to fund-raising.  "Finished?"  Thank god for that!

12:51 AM: Road Bumper is a slightly more polished, slightly less repellent version of the previous game.  You're on a motorcycle, and can ram other bikers off the road, which perish in a tiny yellow explosion.  By the way, that stick that looks like an analog controller seems to work for all the games, but has no analog properties whatsoever and moves grudgingly when you tilt it.

12:56 AM: Gear Race is next on the agenda.  (Oh lord, how many more of these are there?  57?  Augh!)  This is just like Road Bumper, but with fire trucks and set in Smurf Village.  Also, it seems to function with the steering wheel in the center of the controller, but alas, that too is strictly digital.  Damn you for giving me false hope, WinFun!

12:59 AM: Bump Car?  Gee, whatever could THIS be?  They make you think it'll be like Super Mario Kart from the character select screen, but don't be fooled... it's another top-down driving game, this time with a lot of nonsensical power ups and a broken-up road that looks like it had a front row seat to the apocalypse.

1:01 AM: Dump Lorry Race.  You mean like what Fox did when it cancelled House?  I kid, I kid.  Still, they really pulled that ending out of their asses, didn't they?  Oh, FINE, I'll review the blasted game.  You know it's going to be just like all the others.  Anyway, this appears to be Pole Position with monster cars.  That's a pretty exciting idea in theory, but what you get is a clone of Motor Rally with swapped graphics.

1:05 AM: Truck Race is up next.  Sounds fun already!  It's just like Road Bumper, etc. but with semi trailers and prettier backgrounds.

1:06 AM: Motorway, eh?  The title screen suggests a Head-On style video game but it's more like Road Fighter with the added bonus of a cyclist who skids all over the road and crashes into rocks whenever he collides with rivals.  Dark graphics, but still better than most of these sad-sack racing games.

1:09 AM: Towers is next, and it stars what appear to be Sanrio cast-offs.  The guy in the middle looks like a cross between Jerry Mouse and Keroppi.  It's a "how high can you climb" kind of game with little direct control of your character... he wanders around aimlessly, and you charge up his jumps by holding down the fire button.  Feh.

1:11 AM: Last Cabra?  Either they meant "Cobra" or it's something Rhonda Shear would sell on a late night infomercial.  It's a marginally diverting top-down shooter with lots of spastic explosions and a soundtrack that would probably be a better fit for Dueling Banjos Hero.  I just found out one of the buttons on the controller is used for rapid fire.  My aching thumbs thank you, WinFun.

1:16 AM: Aero Engine is next, and I'm expecting the same experience I got from Last Cabra.  My mistake... this one's a generic side-scrolling shooter, borrowing many of its ideas (but not its variety or quality) from Gradius.  Feels a bit twitchy, and the bosses are as dumb as toast, bouncing up and down before locking in place and firing a stream of bullets.

1:19 AM: Ooh, Space Castle!  Any chance it's like Star Castle, one of my old Vectrex favorites?  (Fat chance, Jess.)  Okay, the title screen has a weird blue blob riding a World War II aircraft.  Oh hey, it's Space Invaders!  But in color!  And... also kind of crappy.  The blobs you shoot at seem kind of cranky, but I would be too if I were in a game like this.

1:22 AM: Golden Arrow.  It's an archery contest that looks suspiciously similar to the event from Track and Field.  It even uses the same font, the same sound effects, and even that little mustachioed athlete who looks like the lesser half of Hall and Oates.  Hooray for copyright infringement!

1:27 AM: Disc Target.  How much you wanna bet this is another event from Track and Field?  And it sure is, a pretty obvious lift of the confusing skeet event with a more cheerful background and music that sounds kind of like what you'd hear in Duck Hunt.  Bleh, pass.

1:29 AM: Racing Boat!  It's another generic top-down racing game, but this time in a river, with aquatic obstacles.  Watch out for that hippopotamus!  Also, why are there blue foxes on the shoreline?

1:31 AM: Catch the Egg!  Why yes I will!  Pink birds fly overhead, and you catch their unhatched offspring in a frying pan.  It's quite a bit like Kaboom!, except more forgiving.  They tried to fake analog control here by having your frying pan pick up speed the longer you hold the joypad.  The background seems like it was lifted from the NES version of Joe and Mac.

1:33 AM: Paint Master is next.  I suspect we'll get Crush Roller out of this one.  Oh damn, I was totally right!  Am I good or what?  Anyway, you know Crush Roller/Make Trax by now.  You paint the playfield while dodging entirely too wily fish and swearing at the critters who leave footprints in your work.  The "irksters" have been replaced with a rabbit, a purple dinosaur (not THAT one), an anatomically correct bear, and a spider.  Because nothing ruins a freshly painted floor quite like spider tracks.

1:39 AM: Fish Catcher!  I have no idea what this copies, but Imma 'bout to find out.  It's kind of like Kaboom!, except you catch leaping fish with a Go Go Gadget Arm.  Occasionally grinning missiles will leap out of the water as well... catching those has predictably messy results.

1:41 AM: Sea War.  You're dropping depth charges at undersea targets in a game that's very much like Midway's Sea Wolf, with a faster pace and an admittedly impressive background.  Then again, any background would be an improvement over the black and white Sea Wolf.

1:43 AM: Dragon Fire!  Oh please please PLEASE be a clone of the old Imagic game!  Annnnd... disappointment.  It's just like Nibbler or Snake, where you're an ever-lengthening reptile gobbling up targets on the playfield.  I've played games like this a million times before, and am willing to bet you have as well.

1:45 AM: Ocean Quest.  Oh for pity's sake, ANOTHER racing game?!  Bah!  It's just like Road Bumper, except turned on its side and set in a river.  Man, that boat really screams across the water!  And yet in spite of the speed, it's still kind of boring.  Next!

1:48 AM: Pinball Track.  It's a lot like those old labyrinth games, where you have to guide the marble through the maze and keep it away from holes.  Except here, it's really hard to see where the holes are, and just brushing up against them spells doom for your ball.  And the graphics are ugly too!

1:51 AM: Rolling Ball.  As expected, it's similar to the previous game, except much easier, and set on railroad tracks in space.  I don't get it either.  Moving on!

1:52 AM: Insect Chase.  That's a good way to get stung, by the way.  You're a wavy net that catches butterflies as they flit past you.  Catch a bee instead and you lose a life.  Or just the will to live, which is entirely understandable after you've played twenty-eight of these games.

1:55 AM: Birdie Nest.  A disembodied hand balances a flightless pelican on a pole, and it's your mission to catch the eggs it drops while keeping the pelican aloft.  Catch one of its turds instead and you lose a life.  Let the pelican fall and the game instantly ends.  By the way, why do Asian countries always draw turds like they came out of a soft-serve ice cream machine rather than someone's backside?

1:58 AM: Bingo Zap.  No idea what this one will be.  Okay, I just played it and I still have no idea.  You roll a ball into a marked cup on a flat wooden board.  Roll the ball into any of the other cups and you lose a life.  It's exactly as fun as it sounds, even with music that sounds like it was taken from the climax of a Dudley Do-Right cartoon.

2:03 AM: Pet Shop.  Nothin' says lovin' like a drawing ripped off from a Preston Blair animation book!  Okay, what do we have here?  A cat and a bulldog separated by a picket fence take turns pitching baseballs at each other in a knock-off of Artillery Duel (or Worms, if you're not as old as I am.  Or Angry Birds, if you're willing to stretch the definition of the genre).

2:08 AM: Loop Tennis.  A tennis racket floats on the bottom of the screen, and it's up to you to serve your ball to the rackets floating overhead.  You can either play conservatively and serve the ball to the racket in the center of the screen, or risk it all and send the ball to the very top for more points.  Or you could play something else.  (I recommend playing something else.)

2:11 AM: Elfland. Well if that isn't the strangest take on Bubble Bobble I've ever seen!  You're a ghost who can soak up paint from the three cans set on the screen.  Any enemy who happens to share your color can be killed just by touching them, but each collision costs you some paint, and if you happen to run out when you touch another foe, you're dead... again.  An interesting concept, but not what I'd call, you know, fun.

2:16 AM: Push the Box.  Yep, it's Sokoban... just choppier.  Moving on!

2:17 AM: Challenge 100.  It's Keroppi again, this time racing DOWN the screen while bouncing on springboards and dodging spikes.  I'm not sure what this genre of game is called, but I'm fairly certain you've played something like it at least once.

2:19 AM: Grass Cutter.  A lawn mowing simulation?  Be still my beating heart!  Anyway, this is a lot like the previously mentioned Paint Master, except with wide open spaces, no apparent onscreen threats, and an annoying cloud that regrows some of the grass you've cut.  A sedate soundtrack only adds to the boredom.

2:21 AM: Move Fun.  Move, sure.  Fun?  Doubtful.  It's just Bejeweled, which you've probably played a zillion times already.  In case you were eager for a second helping, I'd recommend you skip this and play the cell phone game Pac-Chomp instead.  It's much flashier, and much more fun.

2:24 AM: The music is getting to me!  Augh!  Anyway, Ultra Doggy is next on the docket.  You're a robot wiener dog in this one, and you've got to cross a maze-like road to reach the goal on the other side.  Movement is dog slow until you collect the shoes, and you'll have to grab multiple keys to unlock the goal.

2:27 AM: Gemstone Master.  Uh oh, sounds like another Bejeweled clone!  Oh wait, this is actually a COLUMNS clone.  My bad!  Also, this not so great either.  However, the inclusion of Moai heads makes it go down a little more smoothly.  Everybody loves Moai heads!

2:29 AM: Ball Clash.  Sounds painful, and not just because it's on an el cheapo TV games unit.  Oh lord, it's just like Penguin Wars!  You toss medicine balls across a playfield to your opponent and hope he doesn't return your serves, because man, getting hit with one of those things really stings.  I played this already on the GameBoy and had more than my fill there... next!

2:33 AM: Balloon Man.  Shouldn't that be Balloon Frog?  Anyway, balloons drift through the night sky, and you've got to catch them while steering clear of the sparks floating in their midst.  I know what you're thinking... it's a total rip-off of the Balloon Trip mini-game in Balloon Fight, right?  Well it totally isn't... it sucks!  It takes forever to gain altitude and the screen doesn't scroll, either.

2:37 AM: Basketball.  When will the hurting stop?  This is a free-throw contest, so you already know Shaq will hate it.  Actually, you will too, despite the somewhat attractive court artwork.

2:38 AM: Worm Catch.  Forget the title... you're actually catching gnats and bringing them back to your nest as a tiny yellow canary.  Catch enough and your offspring will gain enough strength to fly away to start families of their own (aww!).  Run into a vulture and it's curtains for you.

2:41 AM: Bubble Blaster.  It's Zuma!  Except choppy.  And you direct your aim with an onscreen cursor, instead of tilting your cannon with the wheel in the middle of the joypad.  I mean come on, it's right there!  Yeesh!

2:43 AM: Fancy Match.  Augh, it's a clown!  And he's trapped in a game of memory!  There are cards scattered throughout the playfield, and flipping them over reveals a fruit stolen from Pac-Man underneath.  Match the fruits and cards vanish.  You will too after a few minutes of this.

2:46 AM: Power Jump.  You'll adjust your speed, then launch a car over a ramp in the hopes of landing on a small strip of highway in this tough, but not especially rewarding, challenge.

2:49 AM: Sky Mission.  I'm absolutely certain I've played a game like this for the Famicom.  You're a tiny soldier armed with a gun, and your primary means of locomotion is the recoil from the gun.  Fire down and your hero is propelled upward, and so forth.  It's an interesting play mechanic, but probably done more justice in the original game.

2:52 AM: Tricky Brick.  A Breakout clone, right?  That's a big 10-4, good buddy!  It's even more like Breakout than most of the souped up remakes released years later, although there are still power ups to catch.  The wheel that should have lent itself really well to a game like this doesn't work any better than the standard D-pad or stick.  Missed opportunity there, I think.

2:55 AM: Wall Ball.  Bounce a ball against two sets of paddles on the edges of the screen in this game where the sprites are entirely too large and failure comes entirely too easily.  Barf.

2:56 AM: Delta Fighter.  Battle your way through fleets of airplanes in this vertically scrolling shooter with an energy meter that slowly counts down as you play.

3:00 AM: Undersea Travel.  Carefully adjust your altitude with the fire button while racing through an underwater tunnel, trying your damnedest not to touch the edges or any of the sea life inside.  Like most sumo matches, your games are likely to only last twenty seconds.

3:04 AM: The Night.  Ooh, spooky!  Let's see what this one has in store.  You're a badly drawn devil, firing arrows at the balloons an angel rains down on you.  Occasionally you'll collect power ups, but they're hard to distinguish from the instantly fatal items that also fall from the sky.  Ooh, crappy!

3:08 AM: Fish Quiz.  Wow, this already sounds like a whole lot of fun.  Heh.  Anyway, this is a puzzle game where fish that look vaguely like Jay Sherman have to be rotated into place, to match a diagram displayed on the right side of the screen.  Yeah, that is totally not my bag.

3:11 AM: Hard Win.  Oh God, just run out of games already!  Ugh.  Anyway.  Balls roll down from the top of the screen, and you've got to twist a pipe to divert them into the like-colored jars on the bottom.  Easy to learn, hard to master, impossible to stay awake through.

3:13 AM: Lonely Island.  A mini-game challenge that's more ambitious than pretty much anything else in this package, Lonely Island nevertheless gets a wag of the finger for shamelessly ripping off 80% of its graphics from the Konami sleeper Yume Penguin Monogatari.  Its greatest sin, however, is stripping away the storyline about a penguin trying to win over his girlfriend by getting in shape.

3:21 AM: Fast Race.  With a name that original, how could you lose?  Anyway, this is a lousy knock-off of Vic Tokai's NES remake of Bump 'n Jump.  That was an unappreciated gem in the system's library and I strongly recommend you give it a spin.  Go ahead!  You'll know where I'll be when you're finished.

3:23 AM: Dangerous Zone.  Or is it "Zone Danger?"  Whatever.  You're trapped inside an arcade crane game, and have to arrange the blocks the cranes drop into lines, a'la Tetris.  The only problem is, every block is the same shape, so there really isn't any challenge to speak of beyond just trying to stay interested.  To its credit, the graphics aren't too bad, with the lead character scurrying around and lifting the blocks dropped into the bin.

3:27 AM: Hero Spud.  Hero... Spud.  Okay!  This reminds me of an oversimplified Rodland, with your way-too-close-to-Kirby-for-comfort protagonist grabbing keys, climbing ladders, and spitting pellets at roving enemies to rescue his girlfriend from a cage.  It's pretty meh, but "meh" is as good as the games on the Joypad 65 are likely to get.

3:30 AM: Stone Mover.  Evidently a clone of Banana, a game released for the Famicom a couple of years after its launch.  You dig tunnels through patches of dirt to drop red stones on a treasure, occasionally dropping blue stones on enemies to get rid of them.

3:34 AM: Right Spot.  Who names their game "Right Spot?"  The same guy who's forced to make sixty five of them in the span of a week, I suppose.  The title screen shows a Snork dropping a handful of Pez candies, which gives me no idea what the game is supposed to be about.  Evidently it's a puzzler, with the player swapping the positions of squares set on a hexagonal board, trying to match the colors of the squares with the stars underneath.  This is so not my kind of game...

3:38 AM: Pool Pro.  I've been doing this for three hours now, making me realize why nobody has ever attempted this before.  These games just don't deserve to be reviewed!  Anyway, Pool Pro is a straight up copy of Data East's Side Pocket.  That game was pretty good, but this is passable at best, with grungy graphics and a less than convincing physics engine.  While we're on the subject, Lunar Pool for the NES wasn't bad either, if you don't demand your billiards game to be strictly according to Hoyle.

3:42 AM: Happy Diamond.  What the heck does Santa Claus have to do with a happy diamond?  One of the programmers at WinFun made the connection, but I'm still straining to understand it.  At any rate, this is a holiday themed puzzle game, not too far removed from Taito's Puzznic.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if WinFun took that game and reskinned it.

3:46 AM:  Ball Mania.  Come on Jess, you're almost done!  Ball Mania is yet another puzzle game, where balls are tossed at a nucleus in the center of the screen.  You have to rotate the nucleus in place to make stacks of like-colored balls.  It reminds me a little of Zoo Cube, released by Acclaim when the company was on its deathbed.

3:49 AM: Block Flying.  Pretty obviously Quarth, the Konami puzzle game that's equal parts Tetris and Space Invaders.  You shoot blocks at shapes looming overhead... turning the shapes into solid rectangles removes them from the playfield and keeps your ship from colliding with them.  It's not a fun game, and the generic soundtrack doesn't do it any favors.

3:52 AM: Crazy Hit.  TGIAF... Thank God It's Almost Finished!  Let's hope Crazy Hit ends the selection of games on a positive note.  (I'm not counting on it, though.)  Oh for Pete's sake!  It's Whack a Mole!  All that build up for Whack a Mole?!  Sure it looks fine, but the way the holes are staggered makes it almost impossible to hit the moles as they emerge from their holes.  On the plus side... I can bury this in the garage and forget this ever existed!

And the moral of the story is this... you can find a better use of three hours than to spend it liveblogging the crappy games on a cheap all-in-one joystick.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to talk to my therapist.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Early Adopters: Sega's First Licensees Part 3

We're in the home stretch!  There are just five more early Sega licensees left to review... and just for the heck of it, I'll throw in an extra developer the advertisement missed to make it a nice, even number.  By the way, here's the ad in case you've forgotten about it...

Now that I've refreshed your memory, let's wrap up this feature!


Ah, Video System!  Who could forget the creators of Aero Fighters and, uh, the sequels to Aero Fighters?  I kid, I kid… Video System made other games, too.  There just weren’t many good ones.  The lone standout is Rabbit Punch, a side-scrolling shooter starring cute robotic bunnies in a surprisingly threatening futuristic setting.  The game was brought to the United States by Nolan Bushnell’s Sente, and later found its way to the Japanese TurboGrafx-16 as Rabio Lepus Special.

Video System went on to create many, many Aero Fighters games for many, many formats.  Most of these were for the Neo-Geo, but there was a Super NES conversion of the first game published by Video System’s Mc O’River label.  Why the company thought it would be a good idea to name its US branch after a fast food menu item is anyone’s guess, but that lapse in judgment could explain why Video System got super downsized in 2001, closing its Japanese headquarters along with its ridiculously named American division.  Many of Video System’s programmers saw the signs of impending doom early and fled the company to start Psikyo in the early 1990s.

Dammit, stop gawking and get me to a hospital!
Here’s the rub for Genesis owners… they didn’t get an Aero Fighters game, or even a port of Rabbit Punch.  Video System’s one and only Genesis release was the charitably titled Super Volleyball, designed by the masters of horror at Micronics.  You’ll probably recognize Micronics as the programmers of every crappy NES game you ever hated, and that tradition of (negligible) quality lives on in this hugely frustrating sports game, where you’re always offscreen when the ball is served and have no reasonable hope of returning it.  Even if you can intercept the computer opponent’s bionic spikes, there’s a good chance they’ll knock you over, leaving you curled up on the floor as the other team moves in for the kill.  As a final insult, there are numerous advertisements in the background for Rabio Lepus, a game that doesn’t even exist on the Genesis.  Yes kids, Video System hates you thiiiiiiis much!


It’s important to state for the record that this DreamWorks, a Minnesota-based company that was briefly in the video game business, has nothing to do with the film studio headed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen.  Evidently, the DreamWorks that made Genesis games was a division of Toy Soldiers, Inc., making you wonder if they also made those little green army men your brother used to stick up his nose.

Precious little is known about DreamWorks, but one thing that’s clear from looking at their slim collection of games is that they were pretty tight with Nippon Computer Systems.  Also known as Masaya, this studio made a name for itself with eccentric, distinctly Japanese titles like Langrisser, Assault Suits Leynos, Schibibunman, and Cho Aniki, the preferred target of ridicule for internet humorists for over fifteen years.  Only two of DreamWorks’ games, the delightful if derivative Fire Shark and the just plain derivative Mystical Fighter, were designed by other studios.

Seven years later, I finally
beat the first stage.
The game shown in Sega’s ad is Target Earth, part of the Assault Suits Leynos series along with Cybernator for the Super NES.  If you love heavily armed mechs, starships so large you expect to see “We Brake for Nobody” bumper stickers hanging over their thrusters, and merciless missions guaranteed to make you cry, this is your game.  In fact, if that’s your thing, you might want to skip Target Earth and head straight for its sequel, Assault Suits Leynos 2 for the Sega Saturn.  It’s just as vicious, but a lot prettier!


This company made a lot of noise in the early days of the Sega Genesis, toeing the line of good taste and frustrating parents’ groups with obscenely violent games like Technocop (shown here) and Death Duel.  However, in its rush to offend everyone on the face of the planet, Razor Soft made an enemy of Sega, the only console manufacturer willing to publish its games.  After an ugly fight over some bare boobs in Stormlord, Razor Soft fell on its own blade, and was quickly forgotten after Mortal Kombat became the last word in video game violence.

Finding information about Razor Soft twenty years after its demise has proven exceedingly difficult.  The company doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, and Giant Bomb offers only an address to their long shuttered office and the helpful tip, “Razor Soft is a company that makes video games.”  Yeah, thanks for that news flash, putzes.  However, research on their games reveals that many were originally developed by European studios for the Amiga computer, suggesting that Razor Soft was a fly by night operation that purchased the licenses in the hopes of riding a wave of controversy all the way to the bank.

This can't end well...
One of these games was Technocop, developed by N2O creators Gremlin Graphics.  I was actually pretty excited about this game when I first read a review of the computer version in Video Games & Computer Entertainment.  I can only presume that teenaged me was suckered in by the promise of blood and guts, because as a game, it’s charmless and wholly unremarkable.  As the titular (heh heh, “titular”) cop, you first drive to a crime scene on a hauntingly empty highway.  There’s no scenery and no forks in the road… just a green void on either side of the asphalt, occasionally broken up with trees and signs.  Eventually, you’ll step out of your car and into a maze-like slum, where children kick you in the shins and punks beg to be blasted into hamburger.   You’ve got five hyper-accelerated minutes to take down your target… fail and you’ll have to hop in your car to find the criminal’s next hideout.  Or you could rip the cartridge out of your Genesis and throw it at the wall… that works, too.


Technosoft was, to quote our vice president, kind of a big f’n deal to Genesis owners.  Their first game for the system, Thunder Force II, was a fusion of two wildly different shoot ‘em ups.  Players hunted down targets from an overhead perspective in the odd-numbered stages, and clawed their way through side-scrolling gauntlets in the even-numbered ones.  Critics of the time hated the seek and destroy missions but saw promise in the side-scrolling stages, hoping that Technosoft would sharpen its focus on them in the sequel.

Technosoft’s response to the criticism was to split Thunder Force II cleanly down the middle and make new games out of the two halves.  The overhead stages evolved into Herzog Zwei, an early real-time strategy game most keenly appreciated by fans of the genre, and celebrated in a nerdy rap opus by Del the Funky Homosapien.  The side view stages blossomed into Thunder Force III, which dazzled players with its special effects and screen-filling firepower.  Technosoft didn't get much mileage out of Herzog Zwei, but Thunder Force III was given two sequels, as well as a couple of collections on the Sega Saturn.

Where is Technosoft now?  The word on Wikipedia is that the company was purchased by a pachinko manufacturer after punching out a handful of Saturn and Playstation games.  However, Technosoft does have its own web site, which claims that its back catalog is available on the Playstation Network in Japan.  There’s also mention of a Thunder Force VI for the Playstation 2, but it’s not likely the game was ever finished.

If this jungle was to scale with the ships, its
trees would probably be 500 feet tall.
Well, that went on a little long!  Let’s talk briefly about Thunder Force III.  It’s one of those games that must have seemed incredible for the time but comes off as a little flavorless now.  There’s a whole lot of tiling going on in the background, the gameplay is frustratingly cheap, and the enemies are largely forgettable; certainly not on par with R-Type’s tail-flailing alien monstrosity or the gleaming metal fish in Sagaia.  There are a whole lot of shooters on the Genesis, and Thunder Force III isn’t one of the best ones.


Many of the publishers on this list that vanished along with the Sega Genesis met an expected end… either they went bankrupt, or were devoured by a more successful rival.  However, Micronet went an entirely different direction, releasing a trickle of games through the end of the century.  After the death of the Dreamcast in 2001, the company abandoned the increasingly aggressive video game industry, and found sanctuary in publishing computer animation software.  You can get a trial of its rendering tool 3D Atelier from the Micronet web site… although the fact that it “now supports DirectX8” suggests that the software might be due for an update.

Before doing its best Pixar imitation, Micronet lived up to its puny name as a software publisher of little consequence.  The company first got its feet wet on the Japanese MSX computer, releasing titles like Helicoid and Outlaw Suikoden, before diving into the deeper waters of the Genesis and Sega CD.  Micronet tried to compensate for its well-deserved inferiority complex by distributing games under the Bignet label in the United States.  When savvy players didn’t take the bait, Micronet upped the ante by teaming up with fellow underachiever Absolute Entertainment and changing the brand’s name to Extreme Entertainment Group.  That too fell flat, with both Absolute and Extreme disappearing after a couple of years.  Micronet’s last desperate grasp for glory in America was Robotica, a grungy first-person shooter released by Acclaim for the Sega Saturn.  Was there any part of that last sentence that sounds like it would translate to a fun game?  Most reviewers didn’t think so, either.

Junction has a slow down button...
not that it needs one.
Micronet has the distinction of creating TWO of the games in Sega’s advertisement.  Curse was already given the curbstomping it deserved, so I’ll put my blood-stained heel on the throat of Micronet’s next Genesis release, Junction.  The Konami branding suggests that good times could be had from this puzzle game, but the sluggish action and confusing three-quarters perspective will have you reaching for another cartridge long before you’ve run out of lives.  It’s a shame too, because I really loved Loco-Motion, the tile-sliding, track-building arcade oldie that inspired this.  The best explanation I can offer for Junction’s sketchy design is that it was only based on Konami’s past work, and that Micronet pasted the company’s name on the box to ward off lawsuits and move copies of a game that otherwise would have been glued to store shelves.


Taito is curiously absent from this list of early developers, which is puzzling as it was not only one of the first licensees on the Sega Genesis, but also the one with the most star power.  These guys gave the world Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble!  How do you not brag about this?!

Anyway, Taito has a deep history… deep enough to have been in business before video games existed.  The company sold vending machines and music jukeboxes in Japan until it took a chance on Pong in the early 1970s.  Encouraged by its success, Taito released the influential Gunfight and the record-smashing Space Invaders years later.  When the latter game caused coin shortages throughout Japan, Taito jumped into the video game industry with both feet and never looked back.

Taito’s first Genesis game, Final Blow, was distributed in America by Sega.  Sega changed the title to James “Buster” Douglas’ Knockout Boxing, thinking that it could one up Nintendo by giving a game to the man who dropped the mighty Mike Tyson.  However, it didn’t count on Douglas losing his next boxing match, and every match since, shortly after the game was released. 

Well, that's one way to fry a fish...
Taito’s later games were published by Taito itself, and varied wildly in quality.  When Taito was at the top of its game, it gave Genesis owners top-shelf titles like Space Invaders ’91, Sagaia, and Ultimate Qix.  When the company was under the weather, abominations like Chase HQ II, Growl, and a badly botched conversion of Cadash were the result.  It became clear after a couple of years and a half dozen crappy Genesis releases that Taito’s true love was the Super NES.  The company released just one Genesis game in 1993 (Flintstones!  Oh joy!), then abandoned the system completely a year later.

If a Taito game had been in Sega’s advertisement, I’d like to believe it would have been Sagaia.  It takes a lot to stand out in a library packed with side-scrolling shooters, but Sagaia delivers the goods, with sleek metallic visuals, creative aquatic-themed enemy designs, and branching paths that make each playthrough a fresh experience.  The critics loved this one- EGM gave it straight eights-and you’re sure to agree.

Special thanks to Wikipedia, Moby Games, GameFAQs, and Replacement Docs for their assistance in researching and fact-checking this feature.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Early Adopters: Sega's First Licensees Part 2

In the last episode of The Early Adopters, Treco was revealed as the illegitimate son of Sega, to the horror and disgust of Renovation.  Nuvision was stranded on a deserted island with nothing to eat but coconuts and small pewter Scottie dogs.  And what about little Kaneko?  Will she ever shake her amnesia?  This episode of The Early Adopters answers none of these silly questions.


Seismic seems to be a popular name for software companies these days… believe me, I would know.  I’ve discovered a Seismic that sells surveying apps for GPS devices and a Seismic that makes Facebook games, but try as I might, I’ve had no luck finding information on the Sega Genesis publisher.  THAT Seismic may as well be a figment of my imagination.  The company doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, and its presence on Moby Games is limited to a tiny list of games and a history section left blank.

I can’t even find a pattern in the games Seismic published, because its approach to licensing was so scattershot.  The company localized software from T&E Soft (Super Hydlide), Compile (MUSHA), Toaplan (Hellfire), and Copya System (Air Diver), with R.C. Grand Prix for the Sega Master System being the lone game designed in America.  Moby Games claims that Dan Kitchen, previously responsible for Activision titles like Crackpots, headed the team that created R.C. Grand Prix, suggesting that the prolific developer either worked at Seismic, or was Seismic.  I’ve contacted Mr. Kitchen and will hopefully get more details about his involvement with this elusive publisher in the coming weeks.

What is this, some intergalactic on ramp?
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at Hellfire, one of Seismic’s earliest (and onliest!) Genesis releases.  This one goes right into the “fond memories” file, as I recall struggling through its death-laden stages with a friend.  Hellfire is a side-scrolling shooter with Toaplan’s typically off-putting art design but a clever weapon system… pressing a button cycles between forward, backward, vertical, and diagonal shots, letting you attack from all angles.  You could almost consider it a sequel to SNK’s Vanguard, except you don’t have a second joystick for firing.  After a couple of rounds, you’ll really wish you had one.  There’s also a remake on the TurboDuo, which adds redbook audio and animated cut scenes but cranks the difficulty down to negative three.


Even the name is confusing with this one.  The founders of this company must have thought it was mysterious and profound, like the spells weaved by a mystic living in seclusion high atop a mountain.  However, it just takes too much thought to figure out, like what happened to the company after the Playstation launched.   The best explanation I can offer is that Sage’s Creation was a publishing arm or at least a partner of Hot-B… the fact that all of their games but one were developed by the company certainly suggests it.  By the way, Moby Games claims that Hot-B went hot-bankrupt in 1993 before offering a link to its web site, which probably shouldn’t have existed in 1993 and definitely shouldn’t be promoting a late Playstation 2 release.

More research reveals that the site belongs to Hot-B’s American office, which stuck around for a while after the Japanese one went belly up in its koi pool.  I also discovered that the team behind the original Hot-B formed a new company, Starfish, and took all of its intellectual property with it.  (You know, because those half dozen fishing games were just too good to leave behind.)  Starfish produced a remake of its spooky Arkanoid clone Devilish for the Nintendo DS, which was skewered by IGN as “one hell of a bad game.”  That’s okay, IGN, you just keep trying to grasp that strange concept we humans call “humor.”  Also, apropos of nothing in particular, the name “Starfish” reminds of that scene from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, where a giant turd monster regales you with a song about how he’ll beat the himself out of you.

Just when you thought wasps couldn't
get any scarier...
The game shown in the ad, Insector X, is a side-scrolling shooter seen from a bug’s eye view, with insects for ships.  It’s a bit like Sagaia, but for entomologists instead of the seafood lover in you.  The arcade game by Taito had a lighthearted atmosphere, but on the Genesis, the characters are more streamlined and threatening, with bulbous compound eyes and bionic limbs.  As for the gameplay, it’s competent if a little lackluster.  You can boost your hero’s firepower to devastating levels, should you be lucky enough to survive that long, but past that there’s not much about Insector X that’s noteworthy.  Well, aside from its uncanny resemblance to Apidya, another bug-themed shooter for the Amiga computer.


In the board game Go, Tengen is the dead center of the playfield, the coveted area players strive to claim for themselves after taking the corners and edges.  However, in the video game business, Tengen was a source of headaches for Nintendo when the publisher invaded its own territory, the hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System.  After signing up as a Nintendo licensee, Tengen had its tech boys reverse engineer the development kit, then went rogue, making NES games after the license had lapsed.  Pretty sneaky, sis!

Tengen’s subterfuge sparked a battle of wits between the two companies.  When Tengen got its hands on the puzzle game Tetris, Nintendo broke its grip by having BPS Software’s Henk Rogers purchase the rights from ELORG, the branch of the Soviet government in charge of technology exports.  When Tengen released a minor arcade hit like Rolling Thunder, one of Nintendo’s licensees offered a suspiciously familiar knock-off.  Eventually Tengen got tired of the cat and mouse game and migrated to the Sega Genesis.  Tengen published dozens of titles for the system, including timeless hits like Dragon’s Fury and Gauntlet IV, before it was absorbed by Time-Warner in 1993.  Nearly twenty years later, the company formerly known as Tengen is now Warner Games.

The US version of Klax,
released by Tengen.
The Japanese version,
courtesy of Namco.

One of Tengen’s first Genesis releases was Klax, one of the more inspired puzzlers of the early 1990s and a heartwarming tale for hopeful game designers besides.  Klax creator Dave Akers wrote his game in BASIC for the Amiga computer, before rewriting it in C for a speed boost, then rewriting it again for the Genesis when the game became an arcade smash.  Just when you thought this story couldn’t get more redundant, get this… Namco released its own slightly better Genesis version of Klax in Japan.  That one’s got more voice and crisper graphics, although the applause after each wave ends is conspicuously absent, replaced with a more subdued "Well done."  Damn it, I’ve got low self-esteem!  I could use the encouragement!


A series of corporate mergers and the stupidity of college frat boys have made Activision the number one game publisher in America.  However, Activision was strictly small potatoes in 1990, still recovering from the industry crash seven years earlier.  The company made a tactical retreat to the home computer market, but was eager to return to the video game industry after Nintendo returned it to profitability.  Activision first built a foundation for itself on the NES and Sega Master System, and decided to expand on it by publishing software for the 16-bit Genesis.

And then… bankruptcy.

Yes, the mighty Activision ran out of money.  Its planned debut on the Sega Genesis, Tongue of the Fatman, was put on the backburner while the company pieced itself back together.  Activision took another stab at the Genesis in 1994 with four games, headlined by the quite palatable Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure.  Strongly influenced by the work of David Perry (Earthworm Jim, Cool Spot, and Aladdin) and including a version of the original Pitfall! as a hidden bonus, The Mayan Adventure was a far better premiere on the Genesis than a creaky old computer game like Tongue of the Fatman would have been.

So it's not a good game, but at least they had
the right idea when they let you beat up Slimer
from The Real Ghostbusters.
Tongue of the Fatman would be released for the Genesis, but by a new publisher, and with a new name.  A cash-strapped Activision sold the rights to Razor Soft, which changed the title to Slaughter Sport and promoted it to teenagers as an edgy alternative to Street Fighter II.  Granted, there weren’t too many games in the early Genesis library which could scratch that itch for one on one combat, but anything, even renting yourself out to the local gym as a punching bag, was better than suffering through Slaughter Sport.  The gameplay was limited to simple button and joystick combinations, technique boiled down to spamming magic attacks purchased between each stage, and characters other than the wimpy default had to be selected with codes.  But hey, there’s blood!  Big whoop… I’ll wait for Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition.


Namco… now we’re talkin’!  If you’re not familiar with the creators of Pac-Man and Galaga, well… it’s probably because Midway took all the credit for their work.  Namco wisely ended its licensing agreement with Midway, and after a successful partnership with Atari in the late 1980s, mustered up the courage to publish its own games under the Namco Hometek label.  It’s pretty clear from its early output that Namco had more faith in the TurboGrafx-16, making over a dozen games for that system in Japan.  However, when the machine cratered here in the United States, Namco wised up and put its full weight behind the Genesis.

Unfortunately, the early 1990s were lean years for Namco, and their Genesis games reflected that.  There were no smash hits with a lasting cultural impact… just conversions of obscure arcade titles like Phelios (shown here), Burning Fight, and Marvel Land, along with two pretty good Rolling Thunder sequels and several attempts to stir the embers of the long-cold Pac-man series.  In 1995, Namco swore off Sega and pledged their allegiance to the Playstation, even releasing games that were too similar to would-be killer apps Virtua Fighter and Cop to have been just a coincidence.  Today, Namco is a major player in the video game industry, even if its acquisition by toy giant (and game midget) Bandai leaves many gamers grinding their teeth.

Showdown at the Apollo.
Phelios, the game featured in Sega’s advertisement, is a perfectly playable shooter with a Greco-Roman theme.  The setting is a refreshing change of pace from the crapton of science-fiction shoot ‘em ups on the Genesis… heck, there are six in that print ad alone!  However, the game has issues that make it less entertaining than its cast of mythological monsters would suggest.  Your hero’s a massive bullet sponge, and the game is held back by the limitations of the Genesis hardware.  The arcade version of Phelios was an orgasm of scaling and rotation, with Apollo swooping down on his winged steed to unleash his fury on fire-belching skulls, but the Genesis port seems uncomfortably restrained by comparison.  Maybe Namco should have held onto this one until the Sega CD was released…


You know ‘em, you love ‘em… it’s Electronic Arts!  Well, you know them, anyway.  The company casts a frightening shadow these days, but EA was started with the best intentions.  Founder Trip Hawkins wanted to treat his game designers like celebrities, putting their software in packaging better suited for a Pink Floyd album and printing a detailed profile of the programmers in the lovingly crafted instruction manual.  The presentation was stunning, the admiration for the developers palpable, and the love for the customer obvious.

So what the hell happened?  It’s hard to say just when Electronic Arts turned to the dark side, but there was still some of that old spark left in the company when it made games for the Sega Genesis.  True, the elaborate packaging that had defined its early work on home computers was left in the past, but the developers were still given due credit in the instructions, and Electronic Arts was still willing to roll the dice on crazy concepts while all its competitors were cranking out samey shooters and Street Fighter II clones.  Who else would have published General Chaos, or Haunting starring Polterguy, or Rings of Power?

Everybody on my island looks happy.
I bet a flood would change that! Bwa ha HA!
Populous is another of those high-concept games, tailor made for the old Electronic Arts.  Created by Peter Molyneaux, now famous for the Fable series and underdelivering on his lofty promises, Populous puts you in the open-toed sandals of a god.  Your holy mission is to build a civilization, then send your worshippers to other islands to slaughter the heathens who live there.  The gameplay demands the patience of the patron saint of turtles, and the interface is icon-based and gallingly obtuse, but you’d expect that from a Molyneaux game made in the 1990s.  Seriously Pete, people love words.  You should try using some.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Early Adopters: Sega's First Licensees Part 1

A week ago, one of the members of my favorite gaming forum, Talking Time, started a thread dedicated to the Sega Genesis.  You could imagine my excitement, as the Genesis was my preferred console by a wide margin in the early 1990s, and Talking Time hasn’t always shown it the love I feel it deserves.  (Yes, yes, I know about GameSpite's all-Sega book!  It only took Parish twelve volumes to make one!  But erm, I digress.)

It didn’t take long before the subject turned to the early days of the Genesis, when Nintendo still held the industry in a vice grip and most publishers were too frightened to make games for anyone else.  At first, Sega got by with its own stable of arcade conversions, as well as a handful of hot properties on loan from Capcom and Data East.  However, after the Genesis crushed the Turbografx-16 and Nintendo’s industry monopoly started to erode, it wasn’t as tough for Sega to convince outside developers to give their system a chance.

The discussion reminded me of an advertisement from a video game magazine, which crowed about the support Sega was getting from third parties.  I couldn’t remember what magazine it was specifically, so I dug through my collection until I found the ad hidden near the back of EGM’s 1991 Video Game Buyer’s Guide.  Here it is now in all its weather-worn, “I should have been keeping this in a Mylar bag instead of a dusty cardboard box in a dilapidated barn” glory…

Let’s ignore the massive Sega seal of quality for a second (oh my god, it’s coming right at us!) and concentrate on the list of licensees instead.  You’ll recognize some of these names right away, while others will be tougher- if not impossible- to place.  What the hell is Sage’s Creation?  Kyugo Trading who now?  Dreamworks… weren’t those the Shrek guys?

The dust settled on the 16-bit console wars a long time ago, but just for fun, let’s find out a little more about each of the companies on this list, and where they are now.  As an added bonus, I’ll review each of the games pictured in the advertisement.  It’s a lot to sift through, so we’ll split this up into three chapters, starting with…

Many of the companies in this advertisement went out of business, and Treco was no different.  Here’s the delicious twist, though… Treco was the short-lived video game division of Sammy, the maker of pachinko machines and other gambling devices.  After Sega’s misfortunes with the 32X, and the Saturn, and the Dreamcast, and one too many crummy Sonic games, the company was forced into a merger to stay solvent.  Now Sega is the video game division of Sammy!

But yes, back to Treco.  The company floundered about for a couple of years, publishing some of the most forgettable games on the Genesis, until Sammy realized that it could bloody well make its own software and put the label out of its misery.  The first major game credited to Sammy was Viewpoint, released for the Neo-Geo in 1992, so one has to assume that Treco was taken out to the backyard and shot the same year.  Speaking of Viewpoint, it’s worth mentioning that 1. Its developers went on to become Blazing Star creators Yumekobo, and 2. There was a Genesis version of Viewpoint published by Sammy a couple of years after its Neo-Geo debut.  It wasn’t a great port, but you gotta give ‘em credit for having the chutzpah to attempt it!

Man, I thought those things were extinct!

All right, all right… back to Treco again.  Their first game for the Genesis was Atomic Robo-Kid, a supremely quirky side-scrolling shooter starring a well-armed garbage can.  Originally designed by Universal Playland, ARK proudly flaunts the company’s exquisitely odd art style.  Everything’s chrome plated and absolutely nothing is aerodynamic; a galaxy apart from the dozens of other shooters on the Genesis.  There’s no forced scrolling either, letting you explore each stage at your leisure.  Well, until the swarms of space nautili and floating cannons close in on you, anyway.


Who, or what, was NuVision Entertainment?  It’s a mystery that has plagued absolutely nobody for over twenty years.  The company released a single game for the Sega Genesis, Bimini Run, and vanished into the night, never to be heard from again.  Genesis owners responded by shrugging their shoulders and moving on with their lives.

For just a second, let’s pretend someone cared.  What was NuVision Entertainment, and where did it go?  According to an interview on the Game Developers Research Institute, NuVision was founded by a couple of Parker Bros. employees who weren’t satisfied with the company’s timid approach to the video game industry.  NuVision hoped to establish itself as a hot new game publisher on the Sega Genesis, only to run out of investment capital before the company could find an audience.  Three more games were planned by NuVision, including Bean Ball Benny (described by developer Charlie Heath as Keystone Kapers for a new generation of gamers), Swamp Thing, and The Guardian Angels, based on the controversial (and frankly, kind of scary) neighborhood watch group.  Two of these titles are covered in more detail on Unseen64, that online museum of lost gaming treasures.

"It's Knight Boat... the CRIME SOLVING boat!"
The only NuVision title to see the light of day, Bimini Run, was a mission-based action game with a Miami Vice flavor.  As the fabulous and mostly naked Kenji Ohara, you’ll race your speedboat to the lair of Dr. Orca, blasting the black helicopters that ominously loom overhead and taking out the not-so-good doctor’s radar dishes along the way.  Bimini Run is more complex than the lion’s share of Genesis games available at the time, and the 3D that’s usually a sticking point for the Genesis is unexpectedly pleasant here, with shimmering waves lapping against your boat.  On the other hand, Dr. Orca’s men have an uncanny aim, and one hit is all it takes to sink your ship.  You’ll also quickly grow to hate the police chief, who constantly interrupts the action with his cries of “Kenji, come in!”  Bitch, do you know what I did to Otis?


Renovation was one of the most active publishers on the Sega Genesis during the system’s first shaky years.  If Sega’s selection of arcade megahits wasn’t enough to convince disillusioned NES owners to buy a Genesis, Renovation’s equally eye-popping but more console-friendly software was that extra nudge that made them take the plunge.  Renovation also brought welcome diversity to the Genesis library, giving gamers everything from lengthy role-playing titles (Arcus Odyssey, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys) to viciously tough shooters (Gaiares, Sol-Deace) to games that defy easy classification (Granada, a search and destroy mission inside a futuristic tank).

Renovation lasted long enough to make a handful of games for the Sega CD, and even spread the love to the Super NES with a couple of titles.  Sega wasn’t thrilled with one of its most valuable allies migrating to the competition, and put an end to the threat by purchasing the company outright.  Later Renovation games planned for the Super NES, like a conversion of Arcus Odyssey and the disturbing Dream Probe, were denied a passport to the United States, and the brand name was retired.  Strangely, Renovation’s parent company, Telenet Japan, remained independent until 2007.  After its passing, the rights to its games were sold to Sunsoft.  (Yes, it still exists.  No, I can’t believe it either.)  Wolf Team, the development house that made most of Renovation’s games, went on to create the Tales of… series, and is currently festering in the bowels of Namco Bandai.

Whip it!  Whip it... adequately.
Well, that was fun!  Now let’s take a look at the game pictured in the advertisement.  Whip Rush, alas, isn’t one of Renovation’s better titles… it’s a side-scrolling shooter that gives you the distinct impression that it fell from the backside of a factory assembly line.  Your bulbous ship has access to three different weapons, as well as two sidecars which can be rotated into place or spastically bounced at enemies.  Get hit while you’re carrying a weapon and you’ll lose it; get hit without one and your tiny craft blows up.  This happens disconcertingly often when you’re underwater and the ship slows to a crawl.  Whip Rush was probably impressive in 1990 (have you seen what passes for a shooter on the NES?), but it was instantly outclassed by later Genesis titles like Gaiares, Sagaia, and the way creepy, way underappreciated Bio-Hazard Battle.


Oh man, where do I even begin with this one?  Kyugo Trading Co., Ltd. is a cryptid among Sega Genesis licensees.  There have been plenty of sightings- usually in the previews section of old EGM issues- but little proof of its existence.  After releasing just one game in the United States, Kyugo Trading slipped back into the forest to become the stuff of legends.  To this day, people still speak of the mysterious Kyugo while huddled around the campfire, after they’ve run out of more interesting tales to tell.

I honestly believed that Cross Fire hadn’t even been released in the United States, until I looked for the game on eBay.  It’s definitely there, albeit in limited quantities, proving once and for all that Kyugo had lived up to its promise to deliver at least one Sega Genesis game to America.  I also did a little hunting on GameFAQs and discovered that Kyugo published exactly six games worldwide, including the Japanese version of the charmingly hapless Wrath of the Black Manta and Airwolf for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Kyugo was last seen lurking in Japanese arcades, leaving behind high-tech photo booths with enticing names like Love Love Simulation.

Good lord Higgins, it looks like you've
been hit with the ugly FOREST.
You’ll recall that Air Wolf was mentioned earlier.  This is important, because Cross Fire is actually the sequel to that game with the license stripped out.  It’s a shame too, because the theme song from the television show sounds pretty snazzy on the Genesis!  With or without the license, you get a (barely) passable shooter with three styles of gameplay.  The first is a standard vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up that gives you three bombs and a special “turbo” ability that lets you crash into all the enemy jets you want for a few seconds.  The second offers a zoomed in view of your helicopter as it lays waste to helpless soldiers and ground targets.  The third has the pilot stepping out of the chopper for a little run ‘n gun combat in the style of Commando, except you can hang in mid-air briefly to fire at cannons you couldn’t otherwise reach.  It all feels a little off, which is why I’d recommend you scratch that itch for military combat with Fire Shark and MERCS instead.


If the name sounds familiar, it should!  Intv Corporation was founded by the brains behind the Intellivision game system.  They split from Mattel after the crash of 1983, purchased the rights to the console for a song, and revived it to compete with the red hot NES in the late 1980s.  However, the very dated Intellivision with its very blocky graphics couldn’t take the company into the 1990s, so Intv signed up as a licensee for the considerably more advanced Sega Genesis.

Intv Corporation’s first Genesis release would have been Curse, but alas, Intv was forced into bankruptcy before the game could reach store shelves.  However, there’s a happy ending to this story!  The masterminds behind the Intellivision are still in the video game business, operating as Realtime Associates and Intellivision Productions.  Realtime produced a Genesis game for Electronic Arts, Normy’s Beach Babe-O-Rama, bringing a weird sense of closure to the planned partnership between two of gaming history’s most famous second bananas.

Curse... where half the challenge is finding
your ship in the background!
In retrospect, maybe it was for the best that Intv Corporation went out of business before Curse was released.  The game would have been a stain on its legacy; an ugly, jumbled mess that betrays the developers’ total lack of experience with the Genesis hardware.  If it tells you anything, Curse was programmed by Micronet, another early Genesis licensee, and even they wanted nothing to do with it, bringing Junction and Heavy Nova to the United States instead.  JUNCTION.  And HEAVY NOVA.  You know a game is cack when Heavy Nova sounds like the better option in a comparison.  To put it another way, pick any Genesis shooter.  That shooter is better than Curse.  So are the next ten you were going to mention.  Hell, Mike Ditka’s Power Football is a better shooter than Curse.


Kaneko’s one of those lesser known Japanese developers that seemed to come from nowhere, but has actually been around a lot longer than you’d think.  Like BioWare, it was originally in the medical business, but segued into video games in the early 1980s, creating arcade titles for Taito.  Few of those games reached the United States, and barely any were ported to a home console… Red Clash for the dreadful Emerson Arcadia 2001 is the only one that comes to mind.

However, Kaneko’s fortunes changed (briefly) in the 1990s, starting with DJ Boy.  This game was a novel take on the beat ‘em ups that were popular at the time, putting all the characters on roller skates and featuring color commentary by famous radio deejay Wolfman Jack.  (See what they did there?)  Soon after, Kaneko pinned its hopes and dreams on merchandising, publishing two games starring cheese puff spokesfeline Chester Cheetah and planning another with Bill Clinton’s cat.  This… did not work out too well for them.  Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill was too closely tied to the volatile political climate of the 1990s for either Sega or Nintendo to risk releasing it, and the game was ultimately shelved.  After that, Kaneko went on a steady diet of Gal’s Panic games until it choked on a lawsuit in 2006.

"Quick, make the unflattering racial stereotype
purple! There, now no one will ever know..."
Let’s get back to DJ Boy, as it holds a special place in my heart as the first game I bought for the Sega Genesis.  I wouldn’t have called it the crown jewel in my video game collection, but at ten dollars, it was awfully hard to resist, and it did offer a break from the unrelenting monotony of the pack-in Altered Beast.  There was a lot of give and take in this conversion… the stages are redesigned, the second player has been relegated to a cameo as a boss, and you won’t hear a peep out of Wolfman Jack.  At the same time, the designers did add a touch of River City Ransom by letting you buy power-ups between stages.  It was probably shelved the moment I bought Streets of Rage, but until then, DJ Boy served its purpose as a Double Dragon stand-in.