#35: SAMURAI SHODOWN
Of the three major game consoles from the early 1990s, the Genesis was most closely related to the mighty Neo-Geo, with a watered down version of its 68000 processor and Z80 sound chip. It stands to reason that the Genesis would have the best conversions of Neo-Geo games, and indeed, titles like Fatal Fury and King of the Monsters were consistently better on the Genesis than the Super NES. (We’ll not discuss that hideous port of World Heroes handled by Sega’s US division.)
|This is what Genesis does that Nintendon't.|
Still, the Genesis version of Samurai Shodown has just as much going for it. The characters are huge, brightly colored, and crisply drawn, and they animate just this side of beautifully, as you can see from these brief clips. The control is actually improved from the Neo-Geo original, with three dedicated buttons for both slash and kick, and the voice samples that are normally as smooth as granola on a Genesis sound remarkably clear here.
It’s no substitute for the Neo-Geo version, but Samurai Shodown is a good sight better here than it was on the Super NES, with its fights seen from three counties away and with a soundtrack performed inside a sewage drain.
#34: FIRE SHARK
Boy, do I have fond memories of this! Fire Shark was the first good game I had for the Genesis (no, Altered Beast and DJ Boy most certainly do not count). It’s an overhead view shooter, very much in the same vein as Raiden Trad, Truxton, and any one of a number of games where you frantically flail on the bomb button in times of distress. That’s not going to get you very far here, though… there’s a slight delay before the bomb explodes, forcing you to carefully time their use.
|Nothing can withstand the might|
of your bombs! NOTHING!
There’s one thing Fire Shark does that the millions of other shooters on the Genesis don’t… when your plane is clipped by a bullet or crashes into oncoming air traffic, you’ve got two seconds to keep firing before you go down in flames. This serves no purpose other than to give the player a false sense of hope, but it’s a nice touch. Incredibly sadistic, but nice.
Fire Shark was developed by Toaplan, a game company that’s best known for that annoying All Your Base meme but should be remembered for its excellent arcade games, including Out Zone, Snow Bros., and Alcon/Slap Fight, whose enhanced Genesis port missed this list by that much. The game was distributed in the United States by Dreamworks… not the Shrek guys, but a division of Toy Soldiers. Nobody knows for sure what Toy Soldiers was, but Sega Retro suggests the company may have been a part of Japanese publisher Nippon Computer Systems.
#33: MORTAL KOMBAT 3
I’ve always preferred Street Fighter to Mortal Kombat, and to be perfectly frank, this is not the kind of game that shines on the Genesis hardware, with its weak voice digitization and low color output. Nevertheless, Mortal Kombat 3 was as good as it got for fans of the series, if those fans couldn’t afford a Super NES.
Back when Acclaim owned the rights to the home versions of Mortal Kombat, the games were ported to Sega systems by the godawful design studio Probe, makers of such “fine” products as Back to the Future III and the disappointing GameCube conversion of Crazy Taxi. Fortunately, when series creators Williams took the reins, they threw Probe out the door and hired Sculptured Software to design the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat 3 instead.
Sculptured Software had previously created the sublime Super NES version of Mortal Kombat 2, so you knew Mortal Kombat 3 on the Genesis had to be a step up from the previous two games. It is indeed as good as the hardware would allow, with more voice, better music, and the same intense action as the arcade original. Some people balked at the addition of dial-a-combos and a run button, but these features go a long way toward speeding up the gameplay and keeping it competitive with Street Fighter II, which had shifted into turbo the year before.
There was a sequel, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, but you don’t want that. You’d be better off downloading the fan hack Ultimate Mortal Kombat Trilogy, which offers all the characters Sculptured Software had to trim from the supposed upgrade, plus more fatalities than you can shake a severed limb at. Most of them don’t make sense and seem cobbled together with existing sprites, but that’s Mortal Kombat for you!
One last thing: Mortal Kombat 3 uses the same typeset as the decidedly more lighthearted Waku Waku 7, released years later for the Neo-Geo. Evidently, it was a really popular font back in the 1990s.
One other last thing: both Sculptured Software and Probe were subjected to the worst torture one could inflict on a game company, being absorbed by Acclaim in the late 1990s. When the nefarious crap factory went out of business, the latter company considered starting a new design team called Exclaim, but couldn't scrape together the capital for it. (Maybe the potential investors played some of their games and ran for their lives.)
#32: DESERT STRIKE
Desert Strike, based loosely on the first war in Iraq, is one of the deepest action games you’ll find on the Sega Genesis. There are nearly a half-dozen objectives, a hundred hidden items, and countless enemies in the first mission alone!
|One down... uh, two hundred|
thirty six to go.
It’s also one of the toughest games you’ll ever sink your teeth into… and vice versa. After you pop this into your system, you’ll swear more before 9 AM than most gamers will all day. Success in Desert Strike (if it ever comes at all) depends not only on fast reflexes, but obsessive management of your armor, fuel, and limited supply of missiles. Run out of either of the first two and you’ll crash… run out of the latter and you’re as good as dead. Dark Souls has got nothing on this one.
Desert Strike is the first in a series of murderously difficult military themed shooters by Electronic Arts, including Jungle Strike (blow up Latin America… for America!), Urban Strike (blow up the inner city… for America!), and the advanced Saturn sequel Soviet Strike (blow up Russia… for America!). You’ll spend so much time indiscriminately blowing up people who aren’t you that you’ll wonder if you’re really one of the good guys.
The British press came to the same conclusion, angrily criticizing the storylines in the four games as “uneasily right wing,” “jingoist,” and “ugly American idiocy.” It’s a small wonder Electronic Arts didn’t respond to the criticism by releasing London Strike.
Taito had a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde approach to the Sega Genesis. When it was bad, it was very,very bad, subjecting players to monstrosities like Growl, Rastan Saga, and Chase HQ II while cackling with sadistic glee. However, before the moon came out and its worst instincts were unleashed upon a hapless public, Taito crafted exceptional arcade conversions. One of their greatest gifts to mankind (or at least those members of the human race with a Genesis) was Sagaia.
|Fish 'n ships.|
Sagaia was the sequel to a shooter called Darius, which had two claims to fame. The first is that it’s got an aquatic theme, with steel-plated sealife serving as your enemies. The second is that the action is stretched across three screens, predating the widescreen monitors of the 21st century. This meant three times the onscreen hazards, and three times the challenge for the overwhelmed player.
Naturally, the Genesis couldn’t output to three screens at once, so Taito wisely chose to shrink down the playfield and added letterboxing to simulate an extra wide screen. It’s a fair compromise that worked much better than the later Saturn version of Sagaia, which let the player adjust their view of the action, either crushing the playfield into a tiny, distorted rectangle or leaving them without enough room to dodge bullets.
As shooters go, Sagaia isn’t the best the Genesis has to offer, but it’s a satisfyingly solid experience, with seven levels chosen from a massive pool of twenty-six, imaginative bosses, and a soundtrack that seems lifted from a Venusian game show. One highlight is Olga Breeze, the ethereal, clap-filled track that plays while you’re flying over the surface of the sun. You’ll probably want to listen to this strangely compelling piece of electronica on YouTube, because while actually playing the game, it’s often drowned out by the sound of your gunfire.
More to come!