Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

SNES vs. Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sega, fighting a grueling battle against gaming juggernaut Nintendo, had some success with its Master System, but the time was coming when they’d need a new console to fight the battle. That console, the Mega Drive/Genesis, arrived in Japan in October 1988, North American slightly less than a year later, and became a serious contender for Nintendo’s throne. But a console alone wasn’t enough, they needed a figure who could be pitted directly against Nintendo’s mascot king Mario. That figure, designed by Naoto Oshima, Yuji Naka, and Hirokazu Yasuhara, was Sonic the Hedgehog. Unlike the portly plumber, Sonic dripped attitude and cool. He could run at insane speeds and leap wide chasms with ease. Upon its release, it was an instant hit and even launched the Genesis past the SNES during the 1991 holiday season. Despite being released nearly seven months after Super Mario World in Japan, it actually slipped into North America a month and half before Nintendo’s latest entry in the Mario series. The title was developed by Sega’s Sonic Team, originally known as AM8 but renamed to mark their first release as a group. The game’s amazing soundtrack was handled by Masato Nakamura, who also returned to compose the sequel.

The basics of the gameplay in Sonic the Hedgehog are similar to those of other platformers. As Sonic, a speedy hedgehog out to save his animal friends from being turned into robots by the evil Dr. Robotnik [Eggman in the Japanese version], you must traverse from one side of a level to the other, jumping on the heads of enemies you might come across or simply avoiding all the while also avoiding various pits and other traps. Sonic, however, is not without it’s little quirks that set it apart. For one thing, Sonic is fast. Really fast. At times he’s little more than a blur on the screen. In giving this speed a good use, there are lots of loops, open spaces, and tunnels for Sonic to traverse. His speed, however, is not without its price. Enemies can appear very quickly, as can deadly obstacles like the dreaded spikes [some of which can hide in seemingly innocuous areas only to spring out as Sonic approaches]. It’s very important that player be aware at all times and not simply attempt to speed through a level as quickly as possible.

Also, rather than a health bar, Sonic must collect rings. As long as Sonic has a single ring, he can survive being hit [although any rings he has will instantly explode through the air, though they can be recollected after a second or two], except from being crushed or falling into a bottomless pit. These rings also give extra points at the end of each level.

The level set up is three levels based on a certain theme [Green Hill Zone, Marble Zone, and so on] with the end of the third level featuring a boss fight against one of Dr. Robotnik’s latest inventions, usually a modification of his personal airship. There are seven sets of levels in all, including the final zone. There are also special stages that can be accessed at the end of the first two levels of each zone by obtaining fifty rings and jumping through a giant ring at the end of the level. Each stage has at least one checkpoint that will act as a restarting point if Sonic dies elsewhere in the level.

As stated before, the soundtrack is one of the better 16-bit soundtracks out there, rivaling the best of Nintendo and Square. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I could listen to the soundtrack over and over and never get tired of it. Graphics-wise, it’s a very vibrant looking game with nicely detailed sprites that are just the right size for the game. Backgrounds feature scrolling elements and there’s even some trickery used to give the far background an element of depth that most games back then didn’t have.

There is one aspect of the game that I find a bit aggravating: you get three extra lives and then it’s game over. There’s no continues here, none at all. Giving the nature of the game, it means that you’ll more than likely get a few game overs before making it all the way to the end. It’s a bit unforgiving in that respect, but it’s certainly not a big enough issue to hurt the game all that much. It’s still a genuine classic and one of the greatest games ever made.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Part 2 – Platformers

Platformers, known for their fast-pace gameplay and emphasis on precision jumping and enemy evasion, rather than on weapons and killing, thrived on both systems and saw the main, public battle between Nintendo and Sega in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario the Plumber. Did Nintendo’s veteran franchise ultimately win the day? Or did Sega’s new-kid-on-the-block Sonic, with his hip coolness, steal the show? There’s only one way to find out for sure, and that’s to go back and play the games all over again!

Genesis

Sonic the Hedehog 1-3, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic CD, Knuckles Chaotix, Rocket Knight Adventures, Dynamite Heady, Ecco the Dolphin, Ristar, Toe Jam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron, Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, Pulseman, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, El Viento, Kid Chameleon, Comix Zone, Disney’s Alladin, Bonanza Brothers, Wiz ‘N Liz, Wonder Boy, Quackshot starring Donald Duck, Puggsy, Taz-Mania, Marvel Land, Tempo, World of Illusion, Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2, Flink, Global Gladiators, Wardner, Tinhead, Devil Hunter Yohko, Wild Woody, and Turrican II.

SNES

Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country 1-3, Lost Vikings 2, Prince of Persia 2, DoReMiFantasy, Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Dream Land 3, Miracle Girls, Super Bonk, Super Adventure Island, Pop’n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures, Ardy Lightfoot, Violinist of Hamlin, Disney’s Alladin, Super Mario All-Stars, Plok, Magical Pop’n, Ganbare Daiku no Gensan, Go! Go! Ackman, Joe & Mac, Tiny Toons Adventure: Buster Busts Loose, Umihara Kawase, Power Lode Runner, Lode Runner Twin, Claymates, Bugs Bunny Rabbit Rampage, Disney’s Magical Quest, Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions, Skyblazer, Sparkster, Super Back to the Future II, Jurassic Park, Smartball, Mohawk & Headphone Jack, Out to Lunch, Sink of Swim, and Realm.

Taking a lesson from Part 1, I’m going to take longer to go through Part 2. I’ll probably only do two games a day at most and I’ll try to give each game a bit more playtime than I did before. Basically, it gives me more time per game to figure out what makes it work or what doesn’t work and I don’t have to run myself ragged trying to comment on so many games in such a short amount of time. It’s going to take probably three weeks at that right, but you’re patient, right?

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Super Star Wars

In the early 90’s, LucasArts teamed up with Utah developer Sculpture Software to recreate the Star Wars Trilogy as a series of games for the SNES. Each installment in the series is an action game with a heavy emphasis on run-and-gun gameplay [although sometimes you’ll be using a lightsaber instead of a gun] and fast-paced alien killing. There are also basic cutscenes which recreate scenes from the movie, although they’ve been altered slightly in keeping with the game’s focus on action, midi recreations of each movie’s most famous songs, and Mode 7 levels where you control various speederbikes, ships, and landspeeders. They’re also fairly hard, and unforgiving, and each includes a password save system. Unlike some games of this type, most enemies drop extra health to keep your health bar from running out, a feature which allows the game to throw many more enemies at you, both from the ground and the air, than it might normally. Some levels also allow you to select which character you want to play as and each level features some monster or character from the game for you to fight against.

Super Star Wars

Released June 1992 by JVC, and then later rereleased by Nintendo

Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Released June 1993 by JVC, and then later rereleased by THQ.

Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Released June 1994 by JVC, and then later rereleased by THQ.

All three are fun games that move at a fast pace, but do suffer a bit from high difficult. There are better run-and-gun action games out there, but for fans of Star Wars these are three games that shouldn’t be missed.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Landstalker and the Shinobi Series

Landstalker

Definitely one of the better Zelda clones on the two systems, Landstalker was developed by Climax [which also developed two sequels: Lady Stalker for the SNES and Dark Savior for the Saturn, but only the latter has been released in English] and released in October 1992. Unlike many of the Zelda clones on the market, which featured a sort of top-down perspective, Landstalker had an isometric camera tilted to one side that gave everything a quasi-3D look, which also allowed it to have some platforming. As with the other games, however, it featured real-time combat against a host of enemies, a large world to explore, and extra health to gain. Unlike the other two Zelda clones that have been looked at so far, Landstalker deals more heavily in puzzles, many doors are locked and require you to find keys while other areas are inaccessible unless you find a switch. The story revolves around Nigel, a bounty hunter, and faerie named Friday who knows the secret location of King Nole’s treasure. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as just going to where the treasure is and taking it, there’s a lot of wild situations along the way that you’ll have to get Nigel through. The graphics, while a bit dated, have a lot of detail packed into them and the quasi-3D look is actually pretty cool.

Shadow Dancer

Developed by Sega and released November 1989 for arcade and 1991 for the Genesis. Shadow Dancer is a side-scrolling action game that pit you, the shinobi, against hordes of various ninjas and samurai. Your main attack is to throw a small knife, but you can also slash at nearby opponents with your sword and use various magical attacks that have different effects. There’s also boxes scattered around that you can break open to find powerups, health, additional knives, and other cool things to use. While Shadow Dancer is technically the earliest Shinobi game on the Genesis, it wasn’t actually ported until nearly two years after Revenge of Shinobi, the third game in the series. Unlike the other two games, Shinobi doesn’t have a health bar and dies in one hit, making it the most difficult of the three. This game also features hostages that you can save for extra points, a feature not in the other two games.

Revenge of Shinobi

Developed by Sega and released on the Genesis in December 1989. As this was the first Shinobi released on the Genesis, it shows its age. The gameplay is fairly slow and the graphics are not nearly as detailed and vibrant as the other two games. It does, however, have a health bar, unlike Shadow Dancer, so that’s something.

Shinobi III

Developed by Sega and released on the Genesis in July 1993. The last of the Shinobi series on the Genesis and easily the best-looking, thanks to some detailed backgrounds, transparency, and some neat animated effects. It also feature the fastest pace, since Shinobi can actually run this time around instead of merely walking, and has a health bar that’s longer than in the first game. Shinobi can leap from one wall to the next, reaching higher places than in the previous games, launch into a run that you can end by having Shinobi slash his sword, and perform a midair dash-kick. Shinobi III is easily the best of the three Genesis titles.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: A Pocketful of Mega Men

The SNES actually had a grand total of FIVE Mega Man games. Most of them follow the same basic formula of run through various levels until you get to the end where you have to fight a boss. For the most part, shooting can be done left or right, but not up or down or anything other direction. There are some powerups to be found, such as health upgrades, a powered up shot, and dash ability. All five of the SNES games look really good and have decent music.

Mega Man VII

Sequel to the NES’s Mega Man VI, picks up the story where the first left off. Dr. Wily has finally been captured, but he’s got a plan to escape. With the aid of four new robots, he does just that and Mega Man is forced to go after him with the help of his trusty robot mutt Rush to stop his robots and bring the evil doctor back. To complicate matters, a new robot named Bass is also after Dr. Whily he’s not too keen on Mega Man getting in the way. There are eight robots to fight, each with their own level, an intermission stage at the Robot Musuem, and then the final four levels of Dr. Whily’s fortress. Released in March 1995 by Capcom.

Mega Man X

Released December 1993. The X series is set farther into the future, after Dr. Light’s death. X, a prototype robot, is found by Dr. Cain and used as a prototype to develop a series of thinking robots, which eventually go berserk and become known as Mavericks.

Mega Man X2

Released December 1994.

Mega Man X3

Last of the X series released on the SNES, X3 came out December 1995. This time around, Zero, a robot who helps Mega Man X fight against the Mavericks, is also playable in addition to X himself. Feature some vector graphics and transparency courtesy of the SNES’s Cx4 Chip.

Mega Man and Bass [aka Rockman and Forte]

Play as either Mega Man or Bass, each with their own different style of play. Bass can fire seven different directions, has rapid fire, and can slide across the ground for extra speed. Mega Man can only fire left or right and can only fire one shot at a time, but makes up for this by having a charged shot which is more suited to fighting against the bosses. Released April 1998. The SNES version never made it out of Japan, but a GBA version was eventually released in the US in 2003.

April 19, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Attack of the Zelda Clones

The Legend of Zelda is a popular series, so it’s not surprising that a few clones have popped up over the years.

Gunman’s Proof

Released in January 1997 for the SNES by ASCII, Gunman’s Proof tells the goofy story of aliens landing in the American southwest during the 1880’s and causing all sort of trouble. The main protagonist, a young boy who decides he wants to fight the the aliens, known as Demiseeds. It’s not long before the boy meets up with another group of aliens, who are also hunting the Demiseeds. The captain of the crew convinces the boy to let him take over the boy’s body during their mission, which the boy agrees to. Then they go fight the Demiseeds together. Like I said, it’s pretty goofy. The gameplay is straight-up Zelda, no question. The main difference is that you have a variety of guns, instead of a sword. As you progress, the local gunsmith teaches you how to use other weapons aside from your pea-shooter, which you pick up as drops from dead enemies. There’s an overworld and a town or two for you to explore. Much of the gameplay takes place in dungeons where you find treasure and eventually fight the dungeon’s boss. It’s actually fairly simplistic, as there are no items and little in the way of puzzles to overcome. It’s mainly just fighting and exploring. The music is cheerful and the chirpy and the graphics are colorful and vibrant. Gunman’s Proof is a fun game with a nice, breezy pace, but lacks the depth of Link to the Past and is probably best appreciated by younger kids who aren’t quite skilled enough to tackle more difficult games.

This game is only available through translated ROM as it had no released outside of Japan.

Crusaders of Centy

Released in June 1994 for the Genesis by Sega in Japan and Atlus in the US [it was developed by Nextech, a contractor responsible for Code Veronica, Time Crisis 3 and 4, and various Shining games], tells of a world beset by monsters. As the son of warrior who died in combat, the main character is given his father’s sword at age 14 and summarily sent out into the world to fight monsters and do various other heroic things. One of the interesting things about the story is that it actually questions whether or not the monsters are actually “evil” or if there’s more to it than that. Story aside, it plays very similarly to A Link to the Past, even down to the way the main character swings his sword. The overworld, however, is just a large map that the character moves automatically to once the locations have been unlocked. There are several different moves to acquire, such as jumping, a powered up sword throw, and various others things that make it possible access new locations.  You can also have various animals as your companions, up to two at a time, who will help you out in your quests by provided various abilities. The first half of the game, after the first hour or so, you lose the ability to talk to humans but gain the ability to talk to plants and animals. One problem is that movement is restricted to four directions, so movement ends up feeling stiff and a bit unresponsive. It also lacks some of the depth of A Link to the Past, but offers a bit more than Gunman’s Proof. The graphics and music are both pretty good. It’s a fun action/adventure game with some depth to it and some interesting story elements.

Overall both games are fun additions to the genre and each have their pros and cons. This round ends in a draw.

April 19, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Alien Soldier and Gunstar Heroes

Treasure, long associated with fast-paced shooters, had two such titles for the Genesis: Alien Soldier and Gunstar Heroes.

Alien Soldier

Released in 1995, you play as a sort of bird-guy who must blast his way through waves of enemies and bosses both on the floor and on the ceiling. One of the unique aspect of the game is that the character can hover in the air and fire at bad guys or leap up on the ceiling and shoot down at bad guys. There aren’t too many shooters I can think of that do that and it adds another layer to the gameplay to distinguish itself. As with most Treasure titles, it looks great. Everything’s detailed and explodes beautifully and there’s a wide range or well-animated bosses to fight. There are a few problems I have with the game. One is that switching weapon types during the heat of battle is a pain, since you have to bring up a weapon wheel and the game doesn’t pause when this happens. The second is that your ammo is depleted very quickly, so you’re going to change fairly often, including when you’re trying to take down a boss. There’s also the issue of having to stop firing to change direction, which can be frustrating when you want to change quickly in the heat of battle, though it does have its uses such as when you want to run backward while shooting at a boss. It’s a pretty difficult game, definitely one of the harder shooters I’ve played so far, even more so than Hard Corps I think. It’s got a health bar, but when the health bar is gone the game is over. Again, this is a game that rewards patience, so bring an extra bag with you.

Gunstar Heroes

Probably the most well-known Genesis shooter. Released in 1993, Gunstar Heroes features the same sort of fast-paced, explosions everywhere action that Alien Soldier offers. As per usually, the graphics are very well done and it looks great with huge explosions and debris flying all over the place. There’s a variety of weapon types to find and use and the game has a health system, rather than lives. It also gives you the option of multi-directional shooting or freezing the direction of fire whilst firing. The levels take place in many natural settings, such as a tropical rain forest, a mountain, or a cave. The first level even has a final boss ripped straight from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water! Overall, it’s more fun and less frustrating to play than Alien Soldier and it’s not nearly as hard. Make no mistake it’s still a hard game, like most shooters from this period were, but it’s much easier to pick up and play immediately.

April 18, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Part 1 – Dueling Castlevanias

If you’ve ever played any of the Castlevania series then you have a good idea of what to expect from more or less any iteration of the franchise. The games involve you, the player, as a vampire-killer roaming through the halls and rooms of ancient castles looking for the dreaded vampire Dracula, whilst fighting his minions and looking for new weapons and other items along the way. The gameplay is on a 2D plane with platforms, ladders, and such scattered around to give vertical height to the levels. The main weapons is usually a whip, although sometimes the character might have some other weapon like a long spear, and there are lots of secondary weapons such as knives, axes, and potions that can be thrown. Each level is punctuated by a boss battle of some kind.

Overall, there’s not much difference in the fundamentals of the Castlevania: Bloodlines on the Genesis and Super Castlevania IV on the SNES. However, if you scratch at the surface a bit, some underlying differences do come to light. For one thing, the music in the SNES game is slightly better and the character sprites are slightly larger, although the Genesis version has slightly more detailed graphics. One minor issue with the Genesis game is that you can only attack left, right, up to the left at an angle, or up to the right at an angle, while the SNES version allows attacks in all eight directions.  Also, the SNES version seems to have a better variety of monsters, that attack both on land and from the air. SCIV is a better experience overall, but Bloodlines isn’t a slouch by any means.

The SNES also had another Castlevania game called Dracula X. It had a much faster pace than the others and felt much more like an arcade game. Overall, it’s not really all that good compared to the other two titles and, thus, doesn’t have much impact here.

Slight edge to the SNES in this mini-challenge, but SCIV and Bloodlines are both excellent entries in the series and worth playing for fans of these types of games.

April 18, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment