Thursday, October 6, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Splatterhouse 3

This is what box art looked like in the 90's, and we loved it.

October is one of my favorite times of the year. Here in Pennsylvania it's not too cold and not too warm, the leaves turn beautiful colors, and it's just a great time to go out and enjoy life. On top of that there's Halloween, a time of year where people indulge in make-believe through costumes, eat lots of candy, and take the time to enjoy the entertainment value in horror. Why is it that we like terrifying and disgusting ourselves? Is it adrenaline, is it dark fantasy? While there may be no single answer to that question the fact of the matter is sometimes we enjoy scaring ourselves silly.

Oh gosh a big spooky mansion, what could go wrong?

In celebration of this October we're going to look at a game for the Sega Genesis that revels in the horror genre, Splatterhouse 3.

In the 1980's a phenomenon occurred in the motion picture industry, the golden age of the slasher flick. In these movies a seemingly unstoppable and sometimes supernatural murderous psycho would go around slaughtering hapless victims, usually annoying teenagers who almost always have it coming. At the end the murderous monster would be defeated with hints that he probably survived and that there would be a sequel. And there would be sequels. Dozens of them. Movie franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween would see sequels, one after the other. Their villains Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers would become pop culture icons equal to characters like Batman and Spider-Man. They became heroes for being bad and audiences couldn't wait to see how these madmen would dismember their next teenage victim.

And you thought Mortal Kombat had violent uppercuts.

is the direct result of the popularity of slasher flicks and an attempt to design a game with the same kind of feel and atmosphere. The game itself is an arcade beat'em up from Namco. Originating as an arcade cabinet in 1988, the first game's most popular home port landed on the TurboGrafx-16 where it was heavily edited in the west. The sequel, Splatterhouse 2, was made specifically for the Mega Drive/Genesis where Sega, with their "mature gamer" image, allowed them to run hog wild in terms of blood and gore.

A creature hunched in a corner eating naked, broken corpses. Genesis does what Nintendon't!

Before we discuss the third game, which I feel is the pinnacle of the series, it's important that we cover the other two. The story of Splatterhouse starts with two college sweethearts Rick and Jennifer. In standard "save the princess" fashion Jennifer is kidnapped and Rick is left for dead. Lucky for Rick he's revived by a magical, possibly a little evil, mask that imbues him with the power he'll need to fight through hordes of monsters and save his beloved Jennifer. Also the mask bears a striking resemblance to the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees in a not-so-subtle reference.

The magic voodoo mask brings you back to life.

The first two games are very simplistic side scrollers. You can move back and forth, you can jump and you can attack. That's it. What set the game apart from other beat'em ups is it's shock value. The monsters are grotesque and blood soaked, they spew slime and other fluids when you smash them with your fists or various weapons and gory body parts litter most of the stages. The violence for its day, and even by today's standards, is pretty intense and over the top. Unfortunately once you got over the all of the game's chunky, meaty graphical tidbits the games themselves were pretty mediocre.

The digitized photos that tell the story make the game feel even more like a campy 80's horror movie.

Then came Splatterhouse 3 which was a major departure from the original games. In this sequel Rick and Jennifer have moved on with their lives, settled down and even had a son named David. Or course this is too good to last and all hell breaks loose forcing rick to once again don his cursed mask and protect his family from an onslaught of grotesque creatures.

The most immediate change one will notice is the game has more of a focus on the story, using digitized images of actors to tell the game's narrative which is all very corny but in keeping with its slasher flick origins. You're also no longer limited in your movement and can now maneuver up and down as well, giving you additional planes to walk and fight on like most games in the genre. This instantly makes the game feel much less restrictive than its predecessors and brings the gameplay closer to something like Streets of Rage.

Your mask talks to you? No you're not crazy. Please put down that meat cleaver.

You're also given the freedom to explore with a map of your location that marks the end of the level. You're able to work your way through however you like which is a major improvement compared to the stale scrolling of the first two games. I wish more beat'em ups would use a system like this because it adds an additional layer of interest to a traditionally shallow genre. You can't just fart around however because you're on a time limit to reach and defeat the boss otherwise you might lose one of your dear family members, or worse. Surprisingly the time is actually allowed to run out and you can continue playing. This changes which ending you'll get, of which there are four, and it's another great addition that adds to the replay value of what could have been just another boring punch-fest.

When he's not fighting Satan's minions, Rick makes his living as a butcher. Just don't ask what kind of meat.

Graphics wise the game is a bit brighter than its predecessors with better defined sprites. Regardless, the majority of the game is still dark and dingy with the exception of bright reds and greens for the blood and slime you'll be pounding out of monsters. The enemies don't have health bars but the more you beat on them the more bloody and mauled they'll become until they're finally vanquished. Some of the bosses explode like overinflated blood balloons and enemies will die in different, horrific ways if you're using a weapon on them like a meat cleaver or a baseball bat. The enemy designs themselves range from terrifying to downright bizarre from decapitated zombies to guys with giant noses. I can't say they're the most spectacular graphics on the Genesis but they do their job well and convey the campy horror atmosphere perfectly.

Time fer whoopins!

The gameplay itself is pretty simple. You have an attack button, a jump button and, new to the series, a button that puts your mask into overdrive, transforming you into a musclebound behemoth who both absorbs and dishes out more damage thanks to power you gain from collecting orbs on the ground. This adds a bit more strategy to the fighting which on its own becomes bland and repetitive pretty quickly. You can also occasionally regain health by picking up the still-beating hearts of some of your foes. Brutal.

Yes that is a demonically possessed teddy bear.

Occasionally you'll run into rooms full of traps like ghostly animated furniture or giant demon hands bursting out of the ground and it's difficult to dodge these things with your slow-moving Jason wannabe. While these segments break up the monotony of constant fighting and often look cool they were usually frustrating to traverse. Another problem I have with the gameplay, and it's not really the fault of this game since it wasn't designed to be multiplayer, is that I really like playing beat'em up games with friends. If this game had a two-player mode it would probably be one of my all time favorite games for the Genesis. I guess you can't have everything.


The game features six levels that aren't terribly lengthy especially if you take the path of least resistance to reach the bosses. It's also fairly easy to beat the game if you're persistent since you're granted both unlimited continues and a password system. This isn't a bad thing really since the game ends as soon as it starts to feel like it's dragging. The previously mentioned multiple endings and different rooms to explore also give you good reason to replay the game several times.

Sound design is pretty good, the music ranges from haunting to pulse pounding depending on the situation. It's probably nothing you'll be humming later though. Punches and grunts sound painful and enemies make some nice splatting noises. There's really nothing to complain about here.

Rick is just having one of those days.

For some reason in 2010 Namco decided it was time to revisit Splatterhouse with a remake of the original game for the Playstation 3 and X-Box 360. The game met mixed reviews due to the repetitive nature of the beat'em up genre though some praised its careless 80's horror movie shock value. Splatterhouse 3 was included as a bonus with the new game, though the cheesy digitized photo storyboards were edited out apparently for legal reasons. Still, this is a great way to play the game on a modern console.

Delicious monster hearts.

Splatterhouse 3 is a celebration of 80's horror with its gratuitous violence, blood and gore. While its shock value may not be as intact as it was when it was released it's still not for the easily queasy. The game was one of the first titles to receive a mature rating of M.A.-13 from Sega's proprietary Videogame Rating Council, and for good reason. If you're a fan of corny 80's horror, and I know I am, and you enjoy beat'em up games, then Splatterhouse 3 might be right up your alley. Just don't go up any dark alleys, especially this time of year.



Presentation: 9
Everything about this title screams 80's horror cheese. The blood and gore is completely outrageous and some parts of the game are downright sickening. The digitized photo story segments add an additional layer of camp that really captures the feeling that this game is trying to accomplish. I judge the presentation based on what the goals of the developer were, and in the case of Splatterhouse 3 and its 80's horror vibe, they came close to perfection

Gameplay: 7 While it's a fun beat'em up with a few unique tidbits like the transformation system, the fighting is really on the simplistic side and grows tiresome quickly. Pummeling enemies into a bloody pulp is so satisfying that you should still remain distracted most of the way through the game.

Graphics: 8 It's not the most fantastic thing you'll see on the Genesis and it's a little rougher than the arcade version but overall it's colorful, attractive and detailed.

Sound: 8 Nice spooky music, good grunts and groans and not much else to say here.

Lasting Appeal: 7 For those who love the horror genre, this might end up one of their favorite Genesis games. Not everybody will appreciate the over-the-top violence however and even though this game is leaps and bounds over the first two and has multiple endings you'll eventually find yourself tiring of the repetitive combat. If only it were two-player!

Overall Average: 7.8/10


Collector: Probably the best game in the Splatterhouse franchise. Given that it was edited for the 2010 re-release there's still some value in owning an original cartridge. It's gotten really pricey these days though so be prepared to empty your wallet.

Gamer: If you're a fan of horror, or beat'em ups, or especially both, then you should really give this game a try. It's probably too expensive for the casual player to pick up unless they're a serious fan of the genre but It's available as a bonus on the 2010 Splatterhouse or as always you can put on your pirate hat and fire up an emulator.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rise from your grave!

Yes, I'm alive! Sort of. Hopefully there will be more Sega Genesis reviews in this space in the near future. I've been suffering through some major medical problems including a few very serious surgeries so I wasn't able to put as much effort into this blog as I originally intended.

Fear not though, for my love of Sega's magical 16-bit joy-machine has not faded during my time of suffering and I still want to share with the world my opinions on some of the system's obscure titles. Updates may be a bit infrequent as I continue to recover from my health concerns so please try to bare with me.

On a side note I updated the links to my last two reviews so they aim towards the proper pages on the new Sega-16 site. Other than that, keep on blast processing and I'll see you soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Chase H.Q. II

Another review posted at Sega-16, this time it's Taito's Chase H.Q. II! Next review will probably be directly on the blog as I have no more pending reviews on Sega-16 at this time.

Click here to read the review!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Phantom 2040

Today's review of Phantom 2040 was written by me for, the best and most complete source for Sega Genesis information on the net.

Click here to read the review!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Mercs

Suspenders are badass in this universe.
Suspenders are badass in this universe.

The recent fad of releasing sequels to classic games like Contra 4, Mega Man 9 and even Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was responsible for a fun but forgettable sequel to Capcom's classic arcade title Commando in the form of Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. It was named this because "Wolf of the Battlefield" is the English translation of Commando's Japanese name, Senjō no Ōkami. This still left some people wondering; where the hell was Commando 2?

Well it was in arcades of course, and for our purposes it was lovingly ported to the Sega Genesis. The only problem is the game wasn't brought to the west as Commando 2 but under the completely new moniker, Mercs, which is short for mercenaries also known as guns for hire or soldiers of fortune. Though this name fits pretty well with the the game's mercenary soldier storyline it makes little sense that Capcom didn't call it Commando 2 as the original was a well loved arcade classic and surely it would have gotten a lot more attention if it were branded with that title. Was it because they had already billed Bionic Commando for the NES as a spiritual sequel? No matter what the case is I've heard many people call Mercs a good Commando clone only to be genuinely surprised to find out that the game is actually the honest-to-goodness Commando 2.

Because calling it Commando 2 was too boring?
Because calling it Commando 2 was too boring?

For those unfamiliar with Commando it was an originally an arcade game released by Capcom in 1985. It is considered the father of the top-down view "run'n gun" genre. You take the role of Super Joe, a generic soldier, and scroll vertically up the screen with a rifle and and grenades to fight off waves of attacking soldiers. This simple concept inspired many imitators such as SNK's Ikari Warriors franchise and the game was ported to just about every home gaming machine of the era.

That helicopter just swoops in and takes the president. Seriously.

Commando's follow-up, Mercs, came in 1991 and was ported to the Genesis that same year. While the game isn't vastly different in the sense that you still scroll upwards and shoot at enemy soldiers indiscriminately, it was a major overhaul from the simple design of the original. Capcom took inspiration from other "shoot'em up" games of the time incorporating different weapons and power ups instead of just a simple rifle. You could now upgrade the power of your base rifle, a wider spread shot, a powerful bazooka and even a flame thrower. In a further nod to shmup game design the grenades were replaced with a bomb that killed all enemies on-screen. Other than weapons, power-ups and bombs you also found items that lengthened your health bar or restored your heath such as medical kits and food. Speaking of which, the health-bar is another major change from the original Commando where you died in one hit and it's a very welcome one that makes the game a lot more manageable. The gameplay also focuses more on dodging than Commando which had a greater emphasis on taking cover behind objects.

A nice beach outing ruined by soldiers in bright orange.
A nice beach outing ruined by soldiers in bright orange.

You also aren't limited to fighting enemy soldiers who themselves come in different varieties with different weapons. Hard to destroy enemy vehicles and powerful bosses at the end of every level also stand in your way. You're not entirely outmatched however as occasionally you stumble across empty vehicles like Jeeps and even tanks as well as fixed gun emplacements which you can use against your enemies, a neat innovation to the genre.

It takes a psycho to attack a Harrier jet head-on.
It takes a psycho to attack a Harrier jet head-on.

The levels are fairly short, as is the game. Your mission is simply to rescue the president of the United States from terrorists of some fictional country. Once you manage to acquire the dodging and shooting skills needed to complete the game there's about 20-30 minutes of game time from start to finish. The difficulty level is adjustable and you've got a few continues to help you get through the game. Don't let the length put you off however because Mercs is arcade fun at its finest and is one of those games you'll pick up and play through time and time again. The biggest gripe against Mercs is its lack of multiplayer support which was possibly done due to technical limitations. I imagine slowdown may have occurred with more than one player. This is unfortunate because the three-player mode is one of the main draws of the Mercs arcade cabinet.

It takes a man's man to blow it up.
It takes man's man to blow it up.

But wait, the game's arcade mode isn't the only thing offered here! Mercs also comes with an "original mode" which takes the graphics and bosses of the arcade mode and mixes them into new levels with added gameplay elements. With no continues, original mode is more difficult than the arcade mode but includes additional characters you can rescue and switch between. Each character has a different weapon with your first character wielding the default machine gun. Between levels you can access a weapon shop and spend money you've earned from defeating enemies to upgrade your weapons. The story is different and instead of rescuing the president it revolves around invading a hostile nation to prevent them from becoming a threat to world peace. Honestly I prefer playing through the quick and simple arcade mode more but the original mode was a decent effort to add more longevity to the home version of the game.

Motorcycle gang trying to enforce a bridge toll?
Motorcycle gang trying to enforce a bridge toll?

The graphics of Mercs are as to be expected. They're slightly pixelated and less colorful than the arcade version but manage to look great. I still found the game to be very colorful and detailed just not as colorful as it looks in the arcade. Using the flamethrower to light enemy soldiers on fire and reduce them to ashes is really something that needs to be seen in action to be appreciated. Most of the bosses are big and attractive and the explosions are plentiful and satisfying. Much of the environment is destructible and some vehicles and bosses have several phases of destructibility to them. I really have no complaints here. The graphics expertly convey the game's chaotic action and even your little soldier guy is well animated.

I find rockets more effective than beeping.
I find rockets more effective than beeping my horn.

The sound is mostly good though the majority of the sound effects are rather weak and undistinguished. The music is classic Capcom greatness and will really get you into the game.

Mercs is an awesome arcade style shooting game and a fantastic, near perfect port. It takes elements from the original Commando and contemporary shmups and creates a wild experience with hordes of enemies and brutal bosses. The arcade mode is short and sweet and the original mode is a serious challenge. Mercs is one of the standout titles of the top down "run'n gun" genre and is still loads of fun to waste the occasional half hour on.

Flamethrowers should be required in all video games.
Flamethrowers should be required in all video games.


Presentation: 8
It's got a generic story but at least it tries. The original mode adds a map between levels and an item shop and tries to add some depth to the game. The arcade mode tries to add a little story by marking the level bosses as important objectives. It translates the arcade game faithfully and there's not much else you really need from a game like this.

Gameplay: 8 Mercs is incredibly fun especially if you're a fan of the genre. The four weapons each have their uses and get cooler as they upgrade. The bosses are neat and fun to fight and blowing away wave after wave of grunts is very satisfying. Especially with the flamethrower. My only complaints are that the length of the levels is really too short and I had to take another point off for the lack of multiplayer which was a major feature in the arcade original.

Graphics: 8 It's not the most fantastic thing you'll see on the Genesis and it's a little rougher than the arcade version but overall it's colorful, attractive and detailed.

Sound: 8 The sound effects aren't memorable for better or worse but it's got a rocking soundtrack courtesy of the musical mastery of Capcom's composers.

Lasting Appeal: 8 This is not a game you're going to sit down and play for hours at a time but it is a game you'll most likely pick up when you're bored for a quick and satisfying play-through. It's a timeless arcade action title that you'll find yourself coming back to each time you peruse your Genesis collection.

Overall Average: 8/10


Collector: Mercs is yet another port of a classic arcade game to the Genesis and is the sequel to the incredibly influential Commando. It can be had for only a few bucks so it should join your collection as soon as possible.

Gamer: Hardcore shooter fans will really love this one and even gamers who are new to the genre should be able to handle the arcade mode after a little practice. I say it's definitely worth a shot. You can rarely go wrong with Capcom.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

16-bit Fan Art!

I probably won't get around to putting up a review this week because I was working on a review of Phantom 2040 for the incredible retro fan-site Sega-16. I'll be posting a link to that review once it's up. To make up for this I'd like to direct you to a great forum thread that just started up.

16-bit Fan Art thread at Sega-16!

Here's some awesome Streets of Rage 2 art from the thread's original poster:

Genesis based fan art seems kind of rare so I really enjoyed what's been posted so far. Head on over and take a look for yourself, or better yet contribute!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: OutRun

Why is everyone burning out their tires?
Why is everyone burning out their tires?

The 1980's was a time before Street Figther 2 and its many imitators dominated arcades. Companies were racing to create the next big sensation to eat people's spare quarters. Because of this the arcades of the time were a showcase for incredible graphics and enticing gimmicks that home consoles like the NES could never dream of being able to emulate. Unlike today arcades were where you went for eye-candy and ground-breaking games. It's difficult for some people these days to grasp how big a deal it was for the Sega Genesis to deliver unabridged versions arcade hits on a home platform. Before the Genesis it was just accepted that the arcade and home experiences were two different things.

Time to sit back, relax and drive like a maniac.
Time to sit back, relax and drive like a maniac.

Sega's most famous arcade branch AM2 and its exceptional designer Yu Suzuki are known for creating classic after classic in during that decade and their success continues well into the present. Using clever programming tricks they designed some of the most visually impressive games of their day. Hang-On, Space Harrier, After Burner and our subject for today, OutRun used what they called "Super-Scaler" technology that created a simple pseudo-3D effect at extremely high frame rates. These games were also some of the first 16-bit arcade games and not only did they look incredible compared to their counterparts but they played fast and fun. Some of the arcade cabinet gimmicks they used included a motorcycle frame to sit on and steer through leaning in Hang-On and the interior of a car with unheard of force-feedback that moved the entire machine with the deluxe cabinet of OutRun. If nothing else these attractions would draw your attention away from the usual stand-up cabinets and force you to notice them.

Switching on some tunes with my weird looking hand.
Switching on some tunes with my weird looking hand.

Many cut-down versions of Sega's arcade hits ended up on their Master System and a few of them even went over to their competitor's unstoppably popular NES as well as a few computers of the time. Needless to say when Sega would release their 16-bit home system, the Genesis, far more arcade accurate versions of these games would be released for it.

OutRun is in many ways a follow up to the earlier motorcycle racing game Hang-On though it differs in many ways. Both games made an excellent conversion to the Genesis which had more than enough horsepower to do them justice even though the scaling isn't quite as foolproof as it is in the arcades. Both games used the "Super-Scaler" technology to great effect creating interesting atmospheres with believable speed and cool effects like hills. It's something we might take for granted today but the elevation changes were a big innovation for driving games which used to be limited to driving on flat surfaces. The illusion of movement is created by scaling sprites from small to large towards the player making them look like they're coming at you while the road would use alternating strips of dark and light colors to give the illusion that you're driving over it. It was ingeniously simple and effective and it gave these games an unprecedented sense of speed.

People sure are excited to see me break every traffic law on the book.
People sure are excited to see me break every traffic law on the book.

Like Hang-On, OutRun is a race to the finish against the clock. Instead of a sport bike you're a guy driving with his girlfriend in a generic red sports car that has been popularly recognized as a convertible Ferrari Testarossa. Called the Testarossa Spider, in reality there is only one legitimate convertible variant of this car in existence though unofficial Spider modifications have been done.

Unlike it's motorcycle cousin you're not really racing against anyone else in particular and are just trying to get from point-A to point-B as quickly as possible. It's a simple premise that isn't as boring as you would think and the nature of the game always reminded me of speed-driving movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run. Instead of other racers you have to contend with traffic which comes in a small assortment of different cars and gives you the feeling that you're driving on real roads instead of a race track. Yu Suzuki himself once said that he doesn't consider OutRun a racing game, but a driving game.

Cool sailboats.
Cool sailboats.

Another innovation that set this game apart from the competition and added to the idea that you were driving along on actual roadways were the forks before each checkpoint. You could choose to go either left or right and depending on which path you took you'd end up in a new environment. In comparison Hang-On and most other racing titles of the time had you driving on a predetermined track. This was an excellent feature that added to the longevity of the otherwise short arcade gameplay. After you beat one route you wanted to play again to see what you missed on the other routes. The different stages were attractive to look at and switching them up kept the experience from growing stale. One moment you could be driving on a sunny beach then you would move on to a scenic mountain road or possibly end up in the desert where the roads are unpaved or on a snowy highway. Am2 even upped the ante by giving the game multiple endings depending on which paths you decided to take.

Suddenly we're in ancient Rome or something.
Suddenly we're in ancient Rome or something.

Other than the 3D effects the rest of the graphics were highly detailed. The Ferrari you drive was lovingly recreated right down to the prancing horse logo and the people inside are fully visible and look great. In Hang-On when you crash you fall off of your bike while in OutRun if you hit an obstacle on the side of the road hard enough you'll either spin out and get told off by your girlfriend or be sent flying out of your car as it tumbles end-over-end down the highway. It's a nice touch that along with some of the goofy endings adds to the humor and overall laid-back feel of the game. Other little things that you'd notice if they weren't there like your break-lights and smoking tires really put the game over the top in the detail department for a title this old. I have only one minor gripe with the graphics; because the obstacles on the side of the road are being repetitively scaled to convey the sense of speed they're very repetitious carbon copies of each other. It's not so bad with objects like trees and billboards but sometimes stuff like an army of identical boat shops is a little weird. As I said earlier the scaling is not quite as good as the arcade game and it can be a little choppy at times.

Note: A Ferrari is not built for desert driving.
Note: A Ferrari is not built for desert driving.

The game has very simple controls with A-button to break, B-button to accelerate and C-Button to shift gears between low and high. It's archaic by today's standards but the driving is smooth and entertaining regardless. Much of the fun has to do with the atmosphere because even though you're on a timer something about the game just makes it feel relaxed. It's like going out for a leisurely drive (like a maniac in a super-sports car) without actually going out for a drive. The car controls flawlessly with the Sega Genesis controller even though it's not quite the same experience you'd get from the steering wheel in the arcade. Unlike Hang-On's Genesis port, Super Hang-On, OutRun seems to be a straight arcade port with no additional gaming modes though you have the option to adjust the difficulty.

The only sound-effect that really stands out in my mind is the tire-screeching which can get annoying. The music on the other-hand is superb. The Genesis version comes with all three selectable tracks from the arcade original and a bonus fourth track that really rocks. Memorable soundtracks really add a lot of character to simple games like this and OutRun's is very memorable.

I knew I should have brought a map.
I knew I should have brought a map.

This game might not turn many heads today but it's an arcade classic that set the standard for driving games in its day. It's still a blast to play today and that's saying something because typically I'm not a fan of racing games. It's got a lot of character to it that elevates it beyond the generic. It doesn't take very long to drive through the game and once you've seen everything, you've seen everything so some people might not get a lot of replay-value out of this one. Personally I find it to be one of those games, like many arcade titles, that you can play again and again simply because the gameplay itself is so enjoyable.

Shrugging off a 170 MPH crash.
Shrugging off a 170 MPH crash.

As I discussed earlier OutRun was ported to several other systems as well and even had a second 3D glasses version for the Master System though the Genesis version is probably the most arcade-perfect. It also recieved three of what Yu Suzuki has termed "unofficial" sequels on the Genesis; the Japan only Turbo OutRun, the futuristic OutRun 2019 and OutRunners. They were good games in their own right but failed to recapture the charm of the original. The franchise has stayed alive and has seen a few modern remakes such as its official sequel OutRun 2 and OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, this time with official Ferrari licensing.

The map of our very diverse neighborhood.
The map of our very diverse neighborhood.

OutRun is ultimately less a game about race driving and more a game about luxury and relaxation as you fly an expensive sports car through beautiful locales with your girl by your side. It's 1980's escapism at its finest.

Moments before they drop me on my spine and end my racing career.
Moments before they drop me on my spine and end my racing career.


Presentation: 9 The feeling of freedom on the open road while you enjoy the excesses of an expensive Italian sports car and a hot babe helps to elevate OutRun from a simple driving game to a timeless classic. The funny endings and lots of other little details really show the care that Sega put in their old arcade titles. It only loses a point for being a little choppier than the arcade version.

Gameplay: 9 I would give it a perfect ten for its tight controls and excellent sensation of speed but the game is just a little too short considering you reach the end in around six minutes. You've only got the normal arcade mode so it won't take you long to see it all. There's nothing more to it than driving from beginning to end but thankfully that's such an enjoyable experience that it doesn't matter much. The game is fine as it is but I can't help but feel they should have included something more like they did with Super Hang-On's original mode. It was common for arcade ports to have extra modes but apparently Sega felt this one stood up fine on its own.

Graphics: 8 While it's really close to the arcade some of the colors have been dulled a bit, yet the game still remains exceptionally colorful for an earlier Genesis title. The Genesis also can't handle the sprite scaling as well as the arcade hardware though it's as close to an arcade perfect port as you're going to get on the console and is a big improvement over the earlier Master System port.

Sound: 9 The music is one of the things that OutRun will be forever remembered for. All of the tracks are catchy and memorable. It's some of the best classic video game music of all time and it sounds incredible on the Genesis. The only problem I have is that the somewhat annoying tire-screeches distract from the wonderful tunes.

Lasting Appeal: 8 Like most of the arcade classics it's got a simple and addictive concept that's fun to pick up and play for a few minutes. It's not the type of game that you'll sit down and play all day then beat and never pick up again. It's the type of game that you'll have the urge to play for a few minutes every once in a while that never gets old. You'll always be trying to shave a few seconds off your time.

Overall Average: 8.6/10


Collector: Out of all of the arcade ports that helped cement the popularity of the Genesis this is probably one of the best. It's a real Sega classic and I've never met a Sega fan who disliked OutRun. As far as I'm concerned it's a must have for any Genesis collection. It's one of the first in a long line of stellar Sega arcade racers.

Gamer: If you like racing games this one may be a little odd to you at first and possibly seem a little too simplistic. Give it a shot and once you get into the atmosphere and the casual feel of the gameplay you might start to understand what makes it so enjoyable.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Genesis Developers: Toaplan

The shoot'em up, the scrolling shooter, the shmup; whatever you want to call it it's one of the oldest and most enduring styles of video game. For our purposes we'll simplify things by going with the popular (and shorter) designation of shmup.

In these games you take on the role of the lone hero, or heroes in two player varieties, forced up against impossible odds. You usually, but not always, face down entire enemy armies in some kind of spaceship or aircraft. These games are usually known for their high difficulty that require practice and memorization and for their fantastic action.

Shmups found themselves at home on Sega's arcade oriented Mega Drive/Genesis but unfortunately with an overabundance of these titles released, and their waning popularity with a general public who viewed the game style as growing old and archaic, the genre practically died out maintaining only a niche audience. A minor resurgence is occurring in the present day though shmups will probably never be as popular and important as they once were. Regardless of all this, if you love shmups you will love the Genesis and its massive selection.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one. If you're not into shmups you probably never heard of a company called Toaplan save for the infamous "All your base are belong to us." meme from a game called Zero Wing. Toaplan however is an important player in the history of shmups and not just because they gave rise to the companies Gazelle, 8ing/Raizing, Takumi and Cave. Their first major hits Tiger-Heli and Sky Shark added more destruction than was usual for shmups at the time allowing you to decimate buildings, vehicles and other objects on the ground that weren't necessarily enemy combatants. It's difficult to use the word "realism" when talking about this genre but it certainly added to the atmosphere. Catchy music and other memorable gameplay quirks like enemy tanks driving in formation cemented their popularity.

They would continue to produce several quality shmups with a few games from other genres in-between. This ended with their magnum opus Batsugun, arguably the first of today's manic shooter sub-genre, though its success couldn't save them from bankruptcy. Thankfully the spirit lived on in the splinter companies I already mentioned.

Since this is a blog about the Sega Genesis we're obviously here to see what contributions they made to that particular console so read on and enjoy some of Toaplan's legacy.

Truxton (1989):

Truxton was the first Toaplan game to make it to the Genesis and it truly stands out as one of the best early games on the console. It's your usual space-shmup where you fly your lone super-ship against an evil star empire. Often criticized in modern times as being overrated and mostly loved out of nostalgia I tend to disagree since I didn't play it when I was younger and I still found it to be a lot of fun. The game is hectic with enemies swarming you from the front and the back. You have your choice of a standard red spread shot, a focused but powerful green shot or an awesome blue lightning shot that locks onto enemies. Another infamous weapon is the screen clearing-bomb that explodes into a giant skull. The levels are lengthy and difficult though the easy mode offers unlimited continues for inexperienced players. The graphics won't knock you out of your chair today but are nicely detailed for a 1989 home console game.

With great action and catchy music Truxton is old-school entertainment and simplicity at its finest. It's generally easy to find though I've noticed the price creeping up in recent years. I partially blame the incredible amount of undying love this game gets from Mark of Classic Game Room for that.

Twin Hawk

Twin Hawk is often criticized for being a clone of Capcom's popular 1943. Personally I feel the game is far more unique than that. Yes you're flying a fighter/bomber in a World War 2 styled scenario but a few things make this title different. One of those things is the fact that you're only doing battle against ground targets. If you like blowing apart tanks then this is the game for you. Luckily, blowing up tanks is one of the funnest things to do in Toaplan shooters if you ask me. Without any air targets there's nothing for the player to crash into leaving you to focus completely on enemy bullets.

Another very memorable aspect of this game is your squadron. Instead of just dropping a powerful bomb like in most shmups you call in a squadron of fighters to fly along with you and shoot at the enemies giving you practically full screen coverage with your shots. It's something I've never seen in this type of game before. No longer are you a lone fighter just the only competent one. When your buddies are hit they don't just welcome death they dive headlong into a kamikaze attack straight into the nearest enemy! You can also manually disband your squadron by ordering them to simultaneously kamikaze without needing to be shot down. Brutal. It's a really cool gimmick but unfortunately the game's setting and lack of air targets make this one feel a little bland at times.

This one wasn't released in the United States for some reason but you can find the European version rather cheap. The Japanese one will cost you a bit more. If you've got no trouble importing games this is a fun shooter with unique elements though I find myself preferring Fire Shark much more.

Fire Shark (1990):

One of my favorite shmups, Fire Shark is also my personal favorite Toaplan game on the Genesis and second only to Truxton for many others. Fire Shark is the sequel to their break out game Sky Shark. Like Twin Hawk the action takes place down on Earth which is the setting where I feel Toaplan gives us its best designs due to all of the little details they like to include. In Fire Shark you pilot a bi-plane instead of a high-tech super-fighter but this humble looking vehicle houses some ridiculously powerful weaponry. Much like Truxton you have your standard spread shot, powerful forward firing shot and your ultimate weapon which in this case is a powerful flamethrower. Once upgraded steady streams of napalm death will sweep the screen showing off probably one of the deadliest shmup weapons ever conceived. It doesn't make you invincible however and dying will severely punish you by leaving you slow and under-armed. Many times have I gotten cocky in Fire Shark only to die a stupid death and screw myself in later levels.

Because you're flying a bi-plane and fighting everything from other antique aircraft to hi-tech jets and tanks the setting is a little odd though it gives you a lot of variety in terms of things to blow up and it's nowhere near as strange as some modern entries in the genre. It's also not the most difficult shmup in the world but is still a challenge on the higher difficulties and is simply a blast to play. Fire Shark is also common and inexpensive so there's no excuse not to have this excellent title in your collection.

Hellfire (1990):

Taking place in the traditional space setting, Hellfire is a horizontal shmup as opposed to the previously mentioned titles' vertical scrolling. You don't hear much about this one and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the serviceable but forgettable graphics or more likely the legendarily high difficulty but Hellfire is a certainly a decent game that doesn't get enough credit. The main gimmick of Hellfire is the ability to switch between four primary weapons at will. A forward shot, a backward shot, an above and below shot and finally a shot that shoots in all four diagonal directions. Since you can cover all of your angles you can bet your ass that the game will throw enemies at you in every direction and it certainly does. Later levels will leave you struggling once you die and lose your power-ups. A familiar scenario for many shmup fans.

If you like horizontal shooters and have already played the hell (no pun intended) out of the Thunder Force series this one shouldn't be too hard to find or expensive to pick up. Just be aware that it's not going to be a cakewalk.

Twin Cobra (1991):

Twin Cobra is the follow-up to Toaplan's Tiger-Heli where you take control of an attack helicopter and blow apart enemy tanks and aircraft. A popular arcade game from 1987, the Genesis port of Twin Cobra leaves something to be desired. It's not the worst shmup on the system by a long shot but after giving us Truxton, Fire Shark and even Twin Hawk the uninspired graphics and below-average gameplay make Twin Cobra feel like a step in the wrong direction.

It still feels like a Toaplan game and thanks to that it's fun and difficult but compared to the others it comes off as a watered down experience. You can't really use the excuse of the arcade original's age for this one either since the arcade version is a much more enjoyable experience. There was also a version of this on the NES. The Genesis game is at least better, and harder, than that one. Still, you can find this game dirt cheap and if you're a fan of Toaplan's gameplay style you might get something out of it. Just don't expect the same quality as the earlier games.

Zero Wing (1991):

Well here it is, the infamous Zero Wing. Known primarily for its horrible English translation and the phrase "All your base are belong to us." which blossomed into an Internet meme, Zero Wing is another horizontal space shmup that puts the last surviving pilot of a doomed starship crew up against insurmountable odds. Depending on who you talk to Zero Wing is either generic and forgettable or one of the better shmups on the Genesis. I suppose I fall between the two groups somewhere. I like Zero Wing but it doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the crowd.

The game has an interesting gimmick (beyond its hilarious translation) to try and keep your interest. You have a capture beam that pulls enemy ships in front of you so you can use them as a shield. If you do this to a larger ship its weight will start to pull you down and might accidentally cause you to crash. You've got your usual assortment of weapons with the standard shot, the powerful focused shot and a homing shot which I usually find to be the most useful.

Like Twin Hawk this game was also only released in Europe and Japan and because of its Internet fame you'll probably have to pay a decent amount for a copy. Unless you really want it for the humor or you just happen to really like the game I'd say you could safely pass on Zero Wing.

Snow Bros. Nick and Tom (1993):

One of the few non-shooters in Toaplan's library. Snow Bros. is essentially just a clone of Taito's popular Bubble Bobble. That's not really a bad thing and Snow Bros. is not a bad game either. Released only in Japan and sometimes demanding well over one-hundred dollars on eBay it's probably not a title you're going to add to your collection any time soon.

Snow Bros. is a single-screen platformer where you cover your enemies with snow and give them a shove, sometimes plowing over other enemies that get in the way of the giant snowball you've created. You can also get harmlessly pushed around if you happen to be in the way of the snowball. The goal is to defeat every enemy in the stage and move up to the next level. If you take too much time an invincible pumpkin headed baddie will show up and start to hunt you down. Every ten stages or so you'll fight a boss to break up the monotony.

It's a nice game and a very addictive one but nowhere near worth the price of admission.

Slap Fight (1993):

Another game that was abandoned in Japan that regularly fetches prices of over one-hundred bucks. Just like Snow Bros. It's not a bad game but not necessarily deserving of that kind of cash.

Slap Fight is sort of the bastard child of two classic Konami shooters Xevious and Gradius. The original arcade game was released way back in 1986 so the 1993 Mega Drive release of this title makes sense in the context of a nostalgic port of a classic game rather than attempting to be a cutting edge shmup. The overhead view and enemy designs seem straight out of Xevious but the power up system where you collect stars and choose what upgrades you want comes directly from Gradius. Maybe in 1986 Toaplan just hadn't quite developed their identity yet since they were borrowing these mechanics from the popular Konami cabinets of the time? Beats me.

What's important is that these gameplay mechanics work pretty well for Slap Fight. Gradius similarities aside the upgrade system does manage to earn some points for originality. When you make new additions to your arsenal you also increase the size of your ship. As you continue building yourself up eventually it's going to be nearly impossible to dodge enemy shots. It's an interesting concept that punishes the player for getting too greedy.

Aside from the original arcade version there's also a rearranged version of the game called "special" mode where you get a version of Slap Fight with improved graphics, music and new gameplay elements such as a bomb that's independent of your other power ups. In a way you're getting two Slap Fight games for the price of one. Unfortunately that price is way too high and even the special version's graphics are old and outdated looking.

Grind Stormer (1994):

The final Toaplan game released for Genesis by Tengen in 1994, the year Toaplan itself went bankrupt. Thankfully Grind Stormer is a pretty good game but unfortunately many of the cartridges Tengen produced are defective. Not only has this added a few dollars to the game's price tag for a working copy but you should probably make sure you're able to return it if you choose to buy one.

Interestingly there are two versions of this game on the cartridge, the western Grind Stormer and the original Japanese version V-V (pronounced V-Five). This is an out of the ordinary but welcome addition. The only real difference between the two versions is the power up system. Grind Stormer is similar to most other Toaplan games where you find upgrades that instantly effect your vehicle when picked up. In V-V you collect gems to use in a Gradius style system which have lead some to call the game the successor to Slap Fight.

No matter which version you choose you're in for a difficult fight with long levels and loads of bullets flying on the screen. It's a bit too much for the Genesis at times and sprite flickering tends to be one of the big problems with this game. It's not a perfect port of the arcade version by any means but it's a good challenge with nice graphics and slighty mediocre music. It's not the first shmup I run to but as the swan song for Toaplan on the Genesis it's not half bad.