Friday, January 24, 2014

Genesis DOES! (part 1)

I have a horrible secret to reveal to you all...

...I'm a furry.

That's probably not that much of a surprise, is it? After all, the mascot of my old web site, if you can remember that far back, was this kid.

He was never especially popular with my readers (gee, who'd have thunk that a diapered brown bear wouldn't go over well with gamers?), so I shuttled him off to an art gallery elsewhere on the internet. From that point on, I tried to keep my gaming and anthro interests separate, but lately the two halves of my personality have been on a collision course, and there's nothing I can do (or care to do, frankly) to stop them. Really, you guys are mature enough to accept my eccentricities, or at least politely ignore them. This isn't Something Awful, after all.

"Yeah, if it was, people would be reading it!"

Shut up, Byron.

Anyway, I've been on a Sega Genesis kick lately, and decided on a whim to review my forty favorite games for the system on my Tumblr page. Since nobody's been reading those, I've decided to bring them here as well, where they might catch a few stray eyes. Here now for your reading pleasure are the first five of the games in this special eight part feature...

That's me as a sloth bear.
You know, like Baloo from The Jungle Book and Talespin?
Just... just look it up on the internet.

Kicking things off is Bio-Hazard Battle, a supremely disturbing side-scrolling shooter that flew under the radar of most American gamers. The game was titled “Crying” in Japan for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, but it’s pretty obvious why Sega rechristened it when it was brought to the West. After all, it was released around the same time as a controversial film called The Crying Game, and Sega didn’t need that headache.

Anyway, Bio-Hazard Battle takes the bio-organic motif of R-Type and cranks it up to seventy five. The enemies are uncomfortably reminiscent of what the vet found in your cat, and even the player’s ships are bizarre, taking on the forms of insects and deep sea creatures. The running theme here is “creepy.”

The gameplay is kept straightforward, with just four power ups and two buttons. One button lets loose a thin stream of bullets; the other charges up a devastating blast. Each ship also has a satellite that orbits around it, catching a handful of the many, many shots that fill the screen at regular intervals. Bio-Hazard Battle is hard, sometimes to the point of being unreasonable. Nobody would blame you for choosing the easy difficulty setting, or cheating and giving yourself infinite lives.

The animation is a thing of grotesque beauty, with segmented worms undulating as they soar through the sky and your ship shattering like glass after it collides with them. The entire game looks marvelous, in an extremely pessimistic, nightmare-inducing kind of way. Huh, maybe that’s the reason the Japanese called it Crying…


Adapted from the crazy-powerful X68000 computer, Granada combines the tank combat of Namco’s Assault with the labyrinthine levels and crowd control of Atari’s Gauntlet. You’ll embark on a series of search and destroy missions, first hunting down generators spread across a vast playfield, then challenging a well-armed and often gigantic boss. The action is accented with a futuriffic soundtrack that would be right at home in an episode of Airwolf.

Granada was designed by a mid-sized Japanese developer called Wolf Team, which you may recognize as Namco Tales Studio. These days, they make RPGs and very little else, but back in the 1990s, they were known for intense, ambitious, and slightly wonky action games like this one. Some of the Wolf Team games that didn’t make this list include El Viento, Time Gal, and Earnest Evans… not the life story of Chubby Checker, but a platformer starring a man who desperately wants to be Indiana Jones but looks more like one of Pinocchio’s friends.

By the way, the game’s not called X-Granada-X, despite what the title screen may lead you to believe.


This game, a simple but incredibly addictive and stylish racing title, experienced a renaissance after being featured in a pivotal scene from the Disney film Wreck-It Ralph. However, I loved it before it was cool… especially on the Atari Lynx, but also on the Sega Genesis.

The Lynx version was technically more complete, with all the voice samples from the arcade game, but the Genesis port of Roadblasters had its own advantages, like a higher resolution and perfectly reproduced sound effects. It’s so close to the arcade game it’s downright eerie, translating into the same white-knuckle fun you had in the bowling alley or the rec room at your college. (It’s actually more fun than playing the game on MAME, which is so dependent on analog control that it’s practically impossible to play without it!)

Here’s something you may have missed… Roadblasters was actually designed to promote a series of toys released by Matchbox in the 1980s. That music you hear in the attract mode is actually from a commercial for the toys!


It almost feels like heresy to admit this, but I never cared for the Phantasy Star series. As a fan of twitchy arcade games, it’s not the kind of experience I hoped to get out of my Sega Genesis… and even if I wanted a role-playing game where the computer does all the fighting for me, I would have been better served with the Super NES and its own Final Fantasy series.

There were a lot of irksome design flaws in Phantasy Star I could never learn to accept, like the muddled science-fiction setting (why is there a mage in my party of futuristic monster hunters?), the unremarkable enemy designs, and an interface that’s almost as user-friendly as trying to program your VCR. Wat the hell is WAT? Is there a practical use for RYUKA? Would someone in this universe ditch the MS-DOS file names and just speak some bloody English?

Having said all that, even I have to acknowledge that Phantasy Star IV is the pinnacle of a genre the Genesis never did particularly well. The End of the Millennium was originally designed for the Sega CD, and you can see those lofty aspirations in its frequent, gorgeously drawn cut scenes (and its price… good lord, this thing was a hundred dollars when it was first released!). Even when it comes dangerously close to testing your patience with a not quite there English translation or way too many damn enemy encounters, Phantasy Star IV has a knack for winning you over with charming, sharply defined characters and memorable dialog. When a pervy old owl reveals Alys’ measurements, the ball-breaking bounty hunter reveals herself to him, and punches him out of his chair!

Sometimes, you almost wish Phantasy Star IV had been released on a compact disc, so the game could have lived up to its full potential. A little voice acting and some animation during the cut scenes would really have brought this one over the top.


Arcade’s Greatest Hits holds the curious distinction of being one of the only classic game collections for the Sega Genesis. That genre wasn’t really a thing until the mid 1990s, when uberconsoles like the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation had the muscle to emulate arcade titles from the 1980s.

The Genesis, blast processing and all, did not have the power to emulate these golden oldies. However, these five conversions by Digital Eclipse are the closest a game console ever came to arcade perfection before emulation made that a guarantee. There’s a bit of slowdown in some of the more intense games- the transition between levels in Robotron: 2084 is especially affected by this- but past that the games are exceptionally close to the originals. This extreme attention to detail was a Digital Eclipse trademark, until the company was purchased by Foundation 9 and the developers fled to greener pastures.

So, what games will you find on Arcade’s Greatest Hits? Well, there’s Defender, the viciously hard side-scrolling shooter with an intimidating control scheme. The arcade game had buttons for thrusting and even changing directions, but like most home conversions, you can wimp out and use the more intuitive joystick for both functions. Stargate is more of the same, except with more buttons, more enemies, and lots more personality. Once you’ve played Stargate, you’ll have a hard time going back to the original.

Joust is another arcade favorite, featuring an ostrich-riding knight doing battle with gladiators on buzzards. Repeatedly tapping the button (any button, the game’s not picky) sends your steed into the heavens, and colliding with the gladiators while your bird is higher than theirs turns them into eggs, which you can collect for bonus points. NES fans will notice that the game is very similar to Nintendo’s own Balloon Fight. Some people say that Balloon Fight is better, but of course, those people have no taste.

Rounding things out are Robotron: 2084 and Sinistar. Robotron is the world’s first dual-stick shooter, and is every bit as intense as later entries in the genre like Geometry Wars and Beat Hazard. Sinistar is the black sheep of this collection, a ferociously intimidating shooter that’s a bit like Asteroids, if the screen stretched infinitely in all directions and you were constantly being pursued by a hungry chrome lion head. If it’s your first time, keep a spare pair of underwear handy for when Sinistar awakens.

A second game in the series, Atari Arcade’s Greatest Hits, was released for the Super NES, but missed the Genesis, skipping right to the more capable Sega Saturn. It’s a good game in its own right, but Asteroids and Super Breakout seem a little passive next to the orgy of bright colors and big explosions in the Williams collection.


More to come!

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