Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hotblooded, Check It and See!

It's been about a year since I stopped publishing The Gameroom Blitz, my old gaming web site.  I've thought about reviving it from time to time, but I don't have enough to say these days to keep it clinging to life.  I do, however, get the occasional itch to talk about the hobby... what I'm playing and why it's significant to me.  I'll be doing just that with this blog, but don't expect much in the way of frequency or structure... this will be pure self-indulgent stream of consciousness.  Any entertainment or educational value this may have will be purely coincidental.

Damn right you should get it!
So!  After months of searching, I finally came across my Sega Saturn, hiding in the dusty corner of the breezeway bridging my parents' house and garage.  One could only guess how it got there, but I'm nevertheless relieved to have the old girl back.  The Saturn is one of my guilty pleasures; a console I love dearly in spite of what could only be described as a crash 'n burn performance here in the United States.  After being launched for a frightening $400, the Saturn horrified Western developers with its peculiar hardware, frustrated gamers who waited in vain for a fresh Sonic game (no, Sonic 3D Blast doesn't count, thank you very much), and was ultimately sabotaged by Sega of America CEO Bernie Stolar, who declared the machine dead after just two years on store shelves.

However, things were different in Japan.  While far from an industry leader, the Sega Saturn performed very well in that country because Nintendo stubbornly clung to the cartridge format that the Japanese were eager to leave in the past, and because small developers didn't feel like they had a home on Sony's Playstation.  (I'm also sure having a spokesman like Segata Sanshiro, whose enthusiasm for the Saturn bordered on the homicidal, didn't hurt.)

Yes, she's holding exactly what you
think she's holding.
Hundreds of Japanese exclusives were released for the Saturn, mostly by tiny crack-in-the-wall developers with odd names like Sai-Mate, Xing, and Athena.  Years before PS Minis, XBLIG, or Apple's iOS, this was the closest any game console had come to being a playground for independent developers.  (Sure, the Playstation had Yarouze, but how many of those games could you actually find in a store, online or otherwise?)  The releases themselves were as out of left field as their ragtag teams of developers... you could buy any game you couldn't possibly imagine on the Saturn, from homoerotic shooters to one-on-one fighters with the combatants riding dragons to battle royales with heavily armed vehicles, best described as Star Control on a much smaller scale.  If there were hipsters in the 1990s, the Saturn was almost certainly their console of choice.

After cleaning up my Saturn and connecting it to my television set, the first game I popped into it was Groove On Fight, one of those bizarre releases that just wouldn't have felt at home anywhere else.  When that wouldn't run, I fell back on a side-scrolling brawler known to Americans as Hot Blooded Fighting Family.  Well, to the few Americans who've actually played it, anyway.  This release by Thunder Force developers Technosoft was technically a cross-platform title, released for both the Playstation and Saturn.  However, with its quirky Japanese sense of humor and just-shy-of-professional design, I can scarcely imagine Hot Blooded Fighting Family on any console but Sega's black box.

Hey, a girl's got to have her limits.
With that said, let's meet the family, shall we?  There's Rio, the kid sister who lugs around an animated mallet.  Like Blaze Fielding and Guy before her, she's weak but tenacious, delivering more hits per second than either of her teammates.  She has no qualms about handling rifles, but draws the line at drinking beer, most likely because she saw that one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures.  Flanking our dancer on the sand is Tora, the Bogard-esque street tough who serves as the game's official Average Guy, and Rando, who looks like J. Jonah Jameson after ingesting a pharmacy's worth of steroids.  The tightly-knit trio lays the smackdown on everything from the expected beefy soldiers and street punks to boxing octopi and liquid foes with the word "H2O" helpfully printed on their chests.  (You may actually need that information; it's hard to tell for sure with the Saturn's typically dodgy transparency effects.)

Like many of the side-scrolling beat 'em ups released after Final Fight, Hot Blooded Fighting Family tries to top its ancestor with even more outrageous situations.  Pipes and bats are replaced with bombs and bazookas, and one stage ends with the heroes swallowed by a massive whale, with the next opening inside its belly.  Like the later Streets of Rage games, the characters all have special attacks triggered with a joystick command, but they also have an apocalyptic super move that drains their energy but hurts the poor saps standing near them a lot more.  It's all presented with the chunkiest sprites and the most saturated colors this side of a Neo-Geo.

Rando piledrives his opponent,
much like a certain wrestler-turned-
politician. No, not Jesse "The Body"
Try as it might, Hot Blooded Fighting Family can't quite hang with Final Fight, or other Saturn beat 'em ups like Guardian Heroes.  It's a little too eager to acknowledge its inspiration, and the bewildering sight gags lose their flavor after repeated plays.  Nevertheless, there's something honest about this game... something untainted by focus groups and marketing departments and crass product placement.  It's not afraid to go down its own, perhaps ill-advised, path when others would bend in the wind of public opinion.  Much like the Saturn itself, really.

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