Sunday, March 31, 2019

Genesis Done Right

It's not up to the minute news, but it nevertheless needs to be mentioned... Sega's releasing a miniaturized Genesis, but this time AtGames has nothing to do with its design or manufacture. Better still, M2 will be handling the emulation software, which is assuring considering the work they've done in the past. Hey, they managed to make an old beater like the 3DS handle arcade hits like Space Harrier and Galaxy Force II! Making this system (presumably running on ARM-based smartphone hardware, like everything else in this product class) run thirty year old Genesis games should be no trouble at all for them.

Nice package! (Not Sonic; I don't think he
has anything down there.)
(image from The Verge)
The Sega Genesis Mini hits store shelves on September 19th, and will include forty games. Not everything you loved on the Genesis will be here, of course, but big names in the system's library like Comix Zone, Gunstar Heroes, and Castlevania: Bloodlines have already been confirmed. Beyond that, you'll be able to play the games as they were released in America, Europe, or Japan, which would be especially handy for Dynamite Headdy and Contra Hard Corps, since the overseas versions of both were a lot less difficult. (We don't know that these games will be in the Genesis Mini, but why wouldn't they be? Hell, even Ecco the Boring-Ass Dolphin made the cut.)

There's a lot about this machine we don't know yet... will there be an SD card slot available for adding games? Why is the cartridge slot on the top hinged if it's too small for real Genesis cartridges? Will real Genesis cartridges fit anywhere in this system? And why is Sega including three button controllers with the US version of the Genesis Mini when the six button controllers were so much more comfortable and functional? These mysteries and more will be revealed when the system launches in the fall, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the original Genesis.

Special thanks to Kotaku for the scoop.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Game with No Name

I recently discovered something interesting about Sega's first entry in the US home console market. The machine originally called the Mark III wasn't supposed to be known as the "Master System" at all here in America... that only applied to a specific package that included the light gun and two controllers. The machine was also sold as "The Sega Base System" (the entry level model) and "The Sega Video Game System" (the super deluxe model with the surprisingly effective 3D glasses). This marketing mirrored how Nintendo sold the NES... you could buy either the Control Deck, the Action Set, or the Deluxe Set, which included historical footnote R.O.B. the Video Robot.

Sega Retro claims the system's official name, at least in the early days, was simply "The Sega System." It makes peculiar sense... in the 1980s, people generally didn't refer to game systems by their official titles, but by their manufacturers. "Hey, what happened to your Atari?" "That's old news... I got a Nintendo now. Wanna try it?" It seems Sega was eager to cut to the chase and call their machine what they thought everyone else would. (No, not "that black trapezoid your parents got you by mistake.")

Here's a picture of the console, supplied by Sega Retro. The first model always had "Master System/Power Base" printed on the top, regardless of the box it came inside. However, it officially earned its "Master" status after the Genesis was released in America, in an effort to limit confusion between the two machines. It's a lot like how Atari rechristened the Video Computer System the 2600 after its own successor was launched.

Special thanks to Sega Retro for this revelation. By the way, I was never a fan of the Master System, but it gets credit for being the first and possibly only game console with a flowchart on the case.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Sho and Tell

Big news for SNK fans! Terry Bogard makes his debut in Fighting EX Layer tomorrow, and Gematsu has revealed more information about the Samurai Shodown reboot scheduled for release later this year.

Here's what can be gleaned from the article and the accompanying forty-four minute long demo footage. Special thanks to Gematsu editor Sal Romano for the news.

 There are sixteen characters planned for the SamSho reboot, with seven available in the demo. These include series regulars Ha-ohmaru, Nakoruru, Jubei, super-sized bandit Earthquake, and of course Galford, who looks like what might happen if someone dropped the books Shogun and Call of the Wild and got the pages mixed together. Three new characters will be included along with the original cast members, and more will eventually be available as downloadable content.
 As Galford himself might say, SNK is going back to the basics with this one. Unlike the deeply unfortunate Samurai Shodown Sen, the third dimension is reserved strictly for adding flair to special moves, and there's none of the dross like auto-combos and Mortal Kombat-like fatalities that was added to Samurai Shodown IV. Special moves like projectiles and throws do only minimal damage, putting a strong emphasis on sneaking your blade past your opponent's defenses and into their stomach.

Ha-ohmaru invests his rage gauge in the
"Lightning Blade," and severely injures his
(image from CryNGameR)
 The trademark rage gauge can either be kept full to increase the potency of your strikes, or sacrificed for either a signature move or a single deadly strike (now called the Lightning Blade), one of the few holdovers from Samurai Shodown IV. Once the gauge is used, it's gone for the rest of the fight, so don't waste it!
 I didn't fall in love with the graphics at first... it cribs a lot from Street Fighter IV, with the same splashes of ink and dynamic camera angles. However, others I've talked to made a good point about the (not so) fresh look. If you can't use sumi-e in a game about sword-wielding samurai from Japan's feudal age, where can you use it? Other notable details include the blood that stains each fighter's clothes after a successful hit and, uh, Earthquake's undulating body fat. Jiggle physics don't seem so fun now, do they?

No coins? No straw coffins?! Geez, what a rip-off!
(image from CryNgameR, again)
 Incidental fatalities remain, but they're subdued in comparison to later Samurai Shodown games, or even the first one. The two halves of your bisected opponent unceremoniously fall to the ground and fade from sight, which lacks the dramatic impact of a slow-motion shot of the cleaving blow. (I also miss the shower of coins, but I'm funny that way.)
 The characters are mostly kept consistent with their original designs, unlike the latest Mortal Kombat games which larded their own fighters with overly busy details, or Street Fighter V, which made unwelcome changes to series staples like Ken. This game is going to be comfort food for fans who haven't had a good Samurai Shodown in over a decade, and SNK has been careful not to upset them.
 SNK wants this thing out, like, yesterday. It's planned for the Playstation 4 in June, with other versions trailing behind at the end of the year. BadoorSNK, the proprietor of long-running fighting game web site Madman's Cafe and the person who first announced the news on my Twitter feed, is worried that the game will be rushed to market, like Street Fighter V was when it launched in 2016. However, considering the limited character selection and the lessons learned from Capcom's past mistakes, I'm more optimistic about its future.

I don't have complete confidence in the Samurai Shodown reboot, but what I've seen so far seems miles ahead of Samurai Shodown Sen, Tenkaichi, or anything that wasn't originally released for the Neo-Geo twenty years ago. As a casual but increasingly nostalgic fan of the series, I've got my fingers crossed for this one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Extra Dreamy

Seems like it's Dreamcast month here at Kiblitzing. Considering all the money I've dumped into the system so far, it darned well better be! What started out as a twenty five dollar purchase of an orphaned Dreamcast on Mercari has snowballed into a much larger expenditure, with controllers, adapters, and even a replacement for the GD-ROM drive procured from other online retailers. I think I've spent more on this late 20th century relic than I did the Xbox One S a year and a half ago! (Emphasis on the "more on.")

I discovered that the Dreamcast aged less than gracefully in the twenty years since its launch, but I'm nevertheless determined to squeeze as much entertainment as I can out of this machine. I dropped several dozen games onto an SD card, including my favorites from when the system was launched and titles I missed the first time around, and here's what stood out for me. Note that these aren't reviews, exactly... just brief impressions.


Heading the list is this vehicular combat game that's less Twisted Metal and more Blast Corps meets Toy Story. You're a little kid, and you keep yourself entertained by starting epic wars with your playthings. Fighting on the side of good are an assortment of airplanes, helicopters, and trucks. The villains include a robot with a missile launcher arm, that lame stack of rings you had as a baby, and a teddy bear with the parts from other toys stuck on it. As the battle progresses, you'll annoy the cat, shatter wine glasses, and flood the kitchen, adding to the excitement but also the frustration of your unseen parents. I get the feeling that this epic war will end with an epic spanking...

This kitchen is totally giving me
Chibi-Robo flashbacks.
(image from YouTube)
Speaking of punishment, Toy Commander serves up plenty, giving you tight time limits to finish missions with multiple goals. The tutorial has you piloting an airplane to a landing strip, dropping a payload of sugar cubes with a helicopter, and driving over the floor and walls of the house with a supply truck to reach a chocolate bar, all in the span of a minute and forty seconds. Later stages get even more demanding (and obtuse), necessitating the use of cheat codes to make progress.

It's harder than it should have been, but it's not hard at all to see how Toy Commander achieved its cult status. The vivid graphics have the same sense of scale as an early Katamari Damacy stage, and most of your vehicles are armed to the teeth with roll caps, colored pencils, and eraser bombs. During each mission, you'll gleefully gun down tanks, missile silos, and wooden block barriers, probably making a mess of the house in the process. Your parents are going to be so mad when they get home.


In a previous post, I described the Dreamcast as a transitional game console. It's fair to say that Gauntlet Legends is a transitional game, sandwiched between the groundbreaking action RPG released in 1984 and modern dungeon crawlers like Torchlight and Diablo. The problem is that it blends the worst parts of the earlier Gauntlet games (the mind-numbing repetition) with all the aggravation of more modern (but not nearly modern enough) 3D graphics. It isn't just that Gauntlet Legends is ugly... it's that its jagged, low polygon terrain is tough to traverse, with confusing topography, paths that loop back onto themselves, and breakable walls that hide themselves a little too well against the rest of the game's scenery. After a few stages of Gauntlet Legends, you realize why more recent games in this genre, particularly the Gauntlet remake by Warner Games, keep the camera zoomed out and the playfields relatively flat... they're just easier to navigate that way.

Rogue-likes of the 21st century have another advantage over Gauntlet Legends... they offer more for the player to do than cut a path through a seemingly endless demon army. You can find, equip, sell, and fortify hundreds of different items in Torchlight, and change the weapons and armor you've collected to adapt to a variety of different combat situations. Gauntlet Legends gives you health, keys, screen-clearing magic, temporary power ups... and that's pretty much it. That was good enough for an arcade game in the mid 1980s, but not fifteen years later on the Dreamcast, and certainly not now.


This is one of those rare games which I didn't like when it was first released but has sweetened with age. Okay, "sweetened" is too strong a term... maybe "mellowed" would be a better fit. Mortal Kombat Gold seemed downright offensive next to Dreamcast overachievers like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 2, but twenty years later, it's easier to accept the game on its own terms.

Uppercuts that spew more blood than a body
could physically contain. Pretty much business
as usual for Mortal Kombat.
(image from Oldies Rising)
What you get out of Mortal Kombat Gold is, well, Mortal Kombat. It's a pared down entry in the series, with twenty characters next to the thirty two in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and much of the soundtrack was recycled from Mortal Kombat 3, suggesting that the developers were working with a tight budget. On the plus side, it maintains the brisk pace and the basic gameplay of the first three MK titles, with minor and easily ignored tweaks to the action. You can pull out a weapon for extra damage and make limited use of the 3D environment, dodging your opponent's attacks and tossing debris scattered throughout each stage.

It was disappointing in 2000 and it's still not spectacular now, but Mortal Kombat Gold has the awkward charm of a game that's trying to keep up with the times while still holding onto its identity. The camera sometimes stops in front of walls during fatalities, leading to some unintended censorship. Blood leaps out of wounds as a spray of red diamonds. Endings are illustrated with stiff, muddy computer rendering. It'll make you laugh and cringe at the same time, like that yearbook picture of you with a mullet.


I like King of Fighters 2000, but I love the preceding game, King of Fighters 1999. I love it so much that I have copies for several of my systems, going so far as to purchase NESTS Saga from the Japanese Playstation Store so I could have it on my Playstation 3. I'd have it for my Dreamcast too, but I've got that system connected to my television with a VGA cable, and KOF '99 won't work with it. King of Fighters 2000 does, so that'll have to be my silver medal.

Look, there's nothing wrong with KOF 2000. It's a more ambitious game than its predecessor, with a larger selection of fighters and way more strikers. Each character has their own alternate striker, so you can briefly summon fighters like Mature, Vice, and Geese Howard who died in previous King of Fighters installments, or characters from entirely different SNK games, like Metal Slug and Robo Army. You get the impression that the design team knew SNK was almost bankrupt and went all out with this entry in the series, thinking that it might be the last.

With all that said, it's still not King of Fighters '99. The novelty of the NESTS storyline and a more futuristic aesthetic has worn off, and the new batch of backgrounds just don't have the same impact as the old ones. KOF '99 had a lush green park that starts out sunny but is hit with a sudden downpour halfway through the match. By contrast, the sequel has a run down city block getting plowed under by a bulldozer. Urban renewal may be a necessary evil, but it doesn't make for a memorable fighting arena. 

King of Fighters 2000 is still a great game, no question, but alas, my heart is elsewhere.


Midway's probably best remembered on the Dreamcast for its technically sound but fiendishly hard racing games. Many a game controller was sacrificed on the altars of Hydro Thunder and 4 Wheel Thunder, but San Francisco Rush 2049 was the most brutal of them all... a racing game so hard that you can't possibly win against the computer opponents unless you memorize the layout of each track and take all the hidden shortcuts. Rush 2049 is so hard that even its cheat codes are hard, forcing you to punch in long, complicated strings of buttons to unlock options that might make the game possible for mortals to finish. It's difficult, is the take home here.

It looks nice, runs fast, and hates
your friggin' guts.
(image from ProDriveGT on YouTube, who's
somehow good at this)
As hard as it is, Rush 2049 deserves credit for being a futuristic racing game that doesn't crib most of its ideas from WipeOut. You're driving cars with wheels, not wedge-shaped hovercrafts, and obstacles you might have bounced off in WipeOut will turn your ride into a charred heap here. Ramps and the tops of hills send your car airborne, and you can take advantage of this brief escape from gravity by pressing the wing button, giving you extra airtime and letting you perform stunts. Just remember that you'll probably explode if you don't make a solid four point landing, because this is a Midway racing game, and only wimpy loser babies would ask for something like a margin of error, or mercy, or a reasonable expectation of victory without sweating blood for it. Yes, I'm bitter.


Fighting games with a high school setting were pretty popular in Japan at the turn of the century. There was Sonic Council and several flavors of Asuka 120%, but the valedictorian of this class was Capcom's Rival Schools. It even traveled overseas to be a foreign exchange student in American arcades, briefly catching the attention of players bored with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Project Justice is the sequel to Rival Schools, quite similar to the original at its core while tapping the power of the Dreamcast to deliver better graphics and more complex gameplay. Teams are now built from three fighters rather than two, and you can use them all at once to deliver a spectacular beatdown... if you've got the three stocks of super meter for it. The more modest team up attacks from Rival Schools can also be performed, but these can be interrupted by one of your opponent's teammates, generally making them not worth the risk.

Just like Rival Schools, there's a lot about Project Justice that feels off. Movement is slightly stiff, forward jumps don't take you very far, and you can't switch between teammates in the middle of a fight; only between rounds. Nevertheless, you've got to give some credit to a game featuring juvenile delinquents, youthful athletes including a sumo in training, and a principal with a startling resemblance to Stephen King.


It's all the fun of Sega's Super Scaler arcade games, without having to play Shenmue first! Ooh, sign me up! This collection offers the expected trio of OutRun, Afterburner II, and Space Harrier, then tops it all off with Hang On and Power Drift. Space Harrier actually looks better than it did in Sega Ages for the Saturn, which is odd because there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the Saturn version. My best guess is that the Dreamcast's higher resolution gives the graphics added pop.

Ugh, those accursed log bridges...
(image from
One thing the Dreamcast can't do is justify the existence of Power Drift, a game that tries to build a 3D race course out of 2D sprites and fails miserably in the attempt. You'll drive over log bridges, get pushed off the side by one of the other racers, be hopelessly confused as to where you landed, and place eighth because it took so long for you to regain your bearings and get back on the track. This was popular in arcades back in the late 1980s, but heaven only knows why. I'll stick with OutRun, which makes more reasonable demands of the Super Scaler hardware and is better off for it.


House of the Dead 2... as a typing game? It happened, and it was a remarkably prescient decision for Sega. The House of the Dead games were originally designed for light guns, but those don't work with modern displays... the onscreen flashes used to communicate with the gun are hopelessly out of sync on an LCD screen. However, a computer keyboard talks directly to the Dreamcast, taking the picture out of the, uh, picture. Well, you'll still need some kind of display to know what to type, but just about anything will do.

Let me get right to the point. Typing of the Dead makes House of the Dead 2 playable in the far-flung year of 2019. It's a ridiculous way to play the game, especially when you're keying in phrases like "He was an iguana" and "Unwanted hair" to blow chunks out of zombies, but it's not like the game wasn't weird before.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Ahead of its Time, Behind in the Next

I've played with the GDEMU for a few days, tried a handful of games, and I'm satisfied with the experience overall. It's a handy device as long as your Dreamcast cooperates, and a 32GB card offers plenty of space for most fans of the system. The GDEMU has gotten me reacquainted with the game system that swallowed up most of my free time at the turn of the century, but it's also brought to light an inconvenient truth about the Dreamcast.

I doubt I would have ever admitted this in 2000 when I first bought the system, but in hindsight it's become increasingly clear that the Dreamcast was a transitional console, like the 3DO years before. Was it more capable than previous systems? Yes, absolutely... the Saturn has a strong reputation for 2D games, but there's no way it could have handled the manic three on three fighting of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, even with a four megabyte RAM cartridge. It's also got a leg up on the 3D capable Playstation, with polygonal characters that are more detailed and less angular. Going from the Playstation version of Hydro Thunder to its Dreamcast counterpart definitely felt like an upgrade.

At the same time, the Dreamcast feels out of step with systems of its own generation, like the Playstation 2, GameCube, and especially the Xbox. The graphics are rougher and the gameplay less developed than later releases on those three machines. Maybe the Dreamcast would have been able to catch up to the competition if Sega hadn't cut its life short, but it's hard to imagine highlights of the sixth console generation like Katamari Damacy, Resident Evil 4, and Crimson Skies working on the system. The limited RAM of the Dreamcast (26 megabytes in total, compared to the Playstation 2's 32 megs and the Xbox's 64) and the lack of a second analog thumbstick on its controller would have been serious handicaps.

Some aspects of the Dreamcast's design seem puzzlingly backward and wrongheaded in hindsight. Case in point... the VMU unit. Rather than plugging into the console, this specialized memory card is pushed into the controller, with a screen facing outward that functions as a miniature heads up display. The only problem is that it's an extremely tiny black and white display with limited applications. It's no good as a map and offers little room for other useful information, so developers generally stuck cute icons on the screen and called it a day. You could also remove the VMU and use it as a tiny handheld game system, but it was no Game Boy, relegated to pet raising sims and other short-lived diversions. All that unwanted functionality just feels like a bad bet on Sega's part, especially when you consider that later systems had many times the storage on their dedicated memory cards.

The VMU didn't ruin the Dreamcast experience, but it did make playing the system more costly and cumbersome. Controllers were larger than they needed to be to accommodate the memory cards, while coming up short on buttons... players had to smash start and light punch together in Capcom's fighters to taunt, and squeeze the triggers on the underside of the pad to unleash their strongest attacks. Alternatives were available, but most of these third party joypads were as large as the genuine article, and somehow even uglier. If you wanted a controller better suited to the fighting games that made up a significant chunk of the Dreamcast's library, you had to buy an adapter, which have only gotten less common and more expensive in the years since the system was discontinued in 2001.

I've been enjoying my time with the Dreamcast, don't get me wrong. However, it's a bitter pill to realize that the console which seemed so ahead of its time in 1999 has lagged so far behind its rivals.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Cast at Last

Welp, there it is. The GDEMU I've been waiting the better part of a month to get, installed in my Dreamcast and working pretty well. It didn't start out that way, though! Let me explain why.

There are a set of pins in the Dreamcast which connect the power supply to the motherboard. Putting it in simple terms, those pins are what keep the system fed, and if they're not doing their jobs, the Dreamcast gets hungry... and cranky. Lightly scrubbing the pins with alcohol keeps them clean and allows the free flow of electricity to the motherboard. 

I had done this once before when the Dreamcast first arrived back in February, but somehow, the pins got dirty again, and the system started doing strange things. Sometimes it would start games, only to crash shortly afterward. Sometimes I'd be sent back to the official Dreamcast menu, with the system failing to find a drive. Sometimes when I hit the power button, the Dreamcast boot intro would play, but half the sound effects wouldn't, leaving you with an eerie howling wind that would be more at home in a low-budget horror film.

I originally blamed all these problems on the GDEMU, but a couple hours and several tufts of torn out hair later, I decided to take apart the Dreamcast, pry out the internal power supply, and work at the power pins with an alcohol-soaked Q-tip. I put the Dreamcast back together, and the problems ceased... now the boot sequence plays as it should, and you're sent to the GDEMU's menu screen shortly afterward. You can only imagine my relief.

I've got to give my mother props for encouraging me to keep working with this Dreamcast, because I seriously thought about retiring it to the shed or giving it the Office Space treatment on at least two occasions. Don't let frustration get the better of you! Stay calm, look online for solutions, and keep at it until it works. (Or just let someone who knows what they're doing take care of it for you.)

Image from YouTube
This is how the menu looks, once you've installed the software on an SD card. Games have to be arranged in numbered folders, from 01 to 99, and given eight letter names with three letter extensions, similar to MS-DOS files. There's an SD card maker utility by Mad Sheep that handles all this for you, so don't sweat it. Games (usually) have an image of the disc which appears in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, so you know exactly what you're getting before you start it. After you start a game, you can reset it by pressing all the buttons on the controller together, and if you need to change discs for the longer games, you press a button on the GDEMU to make the switch. (Note that the first and second discs have to be arranged in order on your SD card for this to work.)

Using the GDEMU, the games function just like they would on a disc, without unwanted stuttering but also without noticeably faster access time. The biggest improvement over a stock Dreamcast (aside from not having to fight with a dying GD-ROM drive) is that you can stick multiple games onto a single SD card. I've got about thirty-five titles on a 32GB card, with room for a few extra. I can also remove games I no longer want to make room for more, which of course wouldn't be an option with a disc.

In short, the GDEMU helps modernize the Dreamcast, giving it access to readily available solid state media alongside more recent systems like the Wii. Just know that this aging console won't go into the 21st century without a fight. It's not as easy as plug and play, although if you're a fan of the system, it's probably worth the headache.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Wait of the World

My GDEMU finally arrived! Huzzah! But I'm having someone print out a tray for me, so air properly circulates inside the Dreamcast and SD cards don't get lost inside the system. That means I won't actually get to use the thing until the end of the week. Uh, significantly less huzzah.

At least I may have something fun to do while I'm waiting. Microsoft is hinting really, really hard that a Mortal Kombat game will soon be available for its Game Pass service. They're not saying which one specifically, but I'm hoping it will be Mortal Kombat 9, the reboot which got the franchise back on the right foot after a trio of lousy games from the Playstation 2 era. That was around the time Ed Boon decided that what players really wanted from their Mortal Kombat experience was everything Virtua Fighter and Tekken were already doing, with a coat of scarlet paint. 

The thoughtful strategy of chess and the
blood-spewing chaos of Mortal Kombat. Two
great tastes that shouldn't be in the same
zip code together.
(image from YouTube)
Each new Mortal Kombat game from the 2000s took a Cold Stone creamery approach to the series, dumping another cup of sprinkles and chocolate chips onto the mess the franchise had become. This one has a puzzle game included, and this one's got a kart racer! Hey, this new one lets you make your own fatalities, except they're all drawn from the same pool of finishers! Mortal Kombat just kept getting more bloated and desperate, until Midway's bankruptcy forced Boon to pick up the clue phone and return the series to its roots.

Giving credit where credit is due, Mortal Kombat 9 was surprisingly good, and I'd argue that the sequel is better than the latest entry in the Street Fighter series. I would never have made that argument before, but it's funny what a new cast of idiotic characters, stale gameplay, and a storyline apparently lifted from a 1980s cartoon will do to flip a guy's loyalties. The only innovation worth mentioning in Street Fighter V are all the ways Capcom found to wring money out of players who already bought the game. (Yes, the ads didn't last long, but it's like bragging that the house you set on fire stopped burning after there was no house left to burn.)

Okay, okay, I'm done bitching... I'll get right to the point. Mortal Kombat 9 might be coming to an Xbox One near you, although Microsoft is being coy about what's actually going to be released. It could be the yet-to-be-released Mortal Kombat 11, and it could even be Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, the game that inspired Netherrealm's Injustice series. We won't know until it happens, so we'll just have to be patient.

...I did mention that I hate being patient, right?