Seething Cauldron of Pop Culture Talk

Irascible Analysis of Popular Culture

SNES vs. Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Hot of the heels of their roaring success with platformer Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega needed a follow-up that captured the appeal of the original but expanded upon the formula enough that it could still be just as fresh. This time around, members of Sonic Team [such as Yuji Naka and Hirokazu Yasuhara] traveled to the United States to work with a newly-formed development team known as Sega Technical Institute. The product of their labor, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, went on to sale six million copies and helped the Genesis catch up to the SNES in market share. It’s also been branded as one of the greatest videogames of all time, certainly no mean feat.

This time around, Sonic is joined by his pal Miles “Tails” Prower, a fox with two tails [hence the nickname], who aids Sonic by, mostly, providing moral support. However, Tails can, at times, accidentally attack the enemy. Usually he falls into a pit or walks directly into an enemy and dies, only to reappear a few moments later. He does prove his worth near the end, however, so I suppose he’s not entirely useless. Clever players will discover that Tails can be directly controller during singe player with the second player’s controller. There’s also a two-player race mode where Sonic and Tails race through various levels to see who can be the fastest, but everything gets really squashed during this mode and there’s a lot of slowdown, so I wouldn’t really recommend it.

This time around, the gameplay has been streamlined a bit and made a bit easier. Sonic can run much faster than before and there are various things that have been implemented to take advantage of this, such as more loops and twirls for Sonic to run through and less strategically placed enemies. In the first game, it was hard to get up a lot of sustained momentum because there was usually and enemy or a spike trap waiting just ahead, so you had to be very careful about how you used Sonic’s speed. That’s not the case with Sonic 2. But, that doesn’t mean that Sonic is just about running fast from one side of the level to the other, there’s still a great deal of platforming and quick-reflexes required. This is especially evident in levels like Oil Ocean Zone and Chemical Plant Zone which have large, sprawling levels and, in the case of the later, a number of insta-death pits places in the final third. Another addition is the ability to rev Sonic up by crouching and pressing the A button, allowing him to build up speed for a sudden burst. This is very useful for getting up steep inclines or powering through enemies. Much of the rest of the gameplay is very similar to the first title, you collect a lot of rings, jump on enemies, run really fast, and fight Dr. Robotnik at the end of every zone. That’s not a downside, of course, as the gameplay standard set by the original is one of the best in 2D platformers.

Both the graphics and the music have seen a considerable update for this sequel. The backgrounds and the foregrounds popout with detail, depth, and a vibrancy that many Genesis titles sorely lack. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say that this is one of the best looking Genesis games. As I stated before, Sonic moves even faster than before. For the most part, the Genesis has no trouble keeping up, although sometimes Sonic can get moving so fast that he actually starts to move ahead of the camera. This is usually the case most often when Sonic is going through a series of loops and doesn’t affect normal gameplay. The music, done again by Masato Nakamura, is absolutely one of best soundtracks ever made. Nearly every track is an all-time classic and each is highly memorable. On the technical front, it’s an absolute gem.

On a special note, one of the zones where the graphics, music, and gameplay gel the most is the Casino Night Zone. The two levels that comprise this zone is are just so absolutely brilliant. The way the skycrapers in the background shimmer in the night, the stars that pass by up in the sky, the sprawling, complex levels filled with bumpers, flippers, slot machines, and more. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that the Casino Night Zone is one of my favorite levels in any platformer ever. Everything about it is just so good.

As I stated earlier, Sonic 2 is a bit easier than the original. It’s possible to store up a bevy of extra lives and extra continues without much effort at all, although it’s still very possible to lose all of them fighting the final boss. I certainly have on more than one occasion, but getting that far is not the Herculean effort that it is in many other Genesis platformers.

Bottom line: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is an all-time classic in every way and one of the greatest games ever made.

May 5, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Kid Chameleon

In a rather uncharacteristic move, Sega established a development team in the US known as Sega Technical Institute. On top of working on several Sonic games, the team also came up with several totally original titles of their own. One amongst that number was Kid Chameleon, a game about a virtual reality program that kidnaps anyone who can’t beat the game. Unfortunately for the kids who play it, that’s everyone who has ever played it so far. Enter Casey, a cool kid who think he’s got what it takes to the beat the final boss, Heady Metal, and free all the kids who have been kidnapped.

He’s nicknamed Kid Chameleon because of his ability to assume various personas by putting on different masks. One of those is a  samurai who wields a sword, another is an armed knight, and another is rhinoceros sort of creature. There are more besides those three and each serves a different purpose in getting Kid from end of the level to the other. This adds variety to the gameplay and ensures that few levels repeat the same structure.

Setting the masks aside, the gameplay is similar to Super Mario Bros. There are various enemies that move back and forth across the screen and most of them can be killed by jumping on their heads, although this is not the case for all of them. There are also breakable blocks that hide collectible crystals and Kid’s various masks. Some of the forms have melee or even ranged weapons, further differing it from other platformers. Each section is usually split into two levels, although it doesn’t have boss battles. Each form also has at least one diamond power, which uses the diamond collected in the various to levels to perform different effects.

Kid Chameleon is slightly easier than other Genesis platformers. You start with three lives and three continues and it’s possible to get more over the course of the game. I died a few times, but that mainly as a result of simply getting used to the game. Also, each form has its own health bar and that, when emptied, causes Kid Chameleon to revert back to his regular form, which has two hit points. Obtaining a new mask, even the same as the one Kid already has, result in his health bar being refilled. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some areas that can be really tricky, however.

On the technical front, the graphics aren’t too hot. I know I harped on Rocket Knight Adventure’s graphics a few days ago, but it looks much better than Kid Chameleon, which has a flat look to it. That doesn’t effect the gameplay of course, but I think it’s worth at least noting. In terms of music, I suppose it gets the job done, but there’s nothing there that I find to be particularly memorable.

Overall, it’s a fun game to play for a while, but I just don’t see putting it up with the best platformers on the SNES and Genesis.

April 30, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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: Part 1 – Recap and Concensus

Well, Part 1 is now in the books and I barreled my way through about fifty games over the past ten days. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t started this because I’ve become completely obsessed with the idea and can’t get anything else done until I finish. The main problem with that is that there are probably about a thousand games between the two systems that I might reasonably be expected to play. At a rate of fifty games per ten days, it would take me about half a year to finish. I don’t like that at all. But, I digress, let’s recap Part 1 and get it over with.

Top Five Genesis Games:

1. Gunstar Heroes

2. Contra: Hard Corps

3. Landstalker

4. Beyond Oasis

5. Popful Mail

Honorable Mentions: Strider 1, Crusaders of Centy, Mega Turican, Alien Soldier, James Bond 007, and Shinobi III.

Top Five SNES Games:

1. Super Metroid

2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

3. Front Mission: Gun Hazard

3. The Firemen

4. Super Turrican 2

Honorable Mentions: Demon’s Crest, Vectorman, Wild Guns, Contra III, Metal Warriors, EVO: The Search for Eden, Mega Man series, Pocky and Rocky 2, Super Castlevania IV, and Gunman’s Proof.

Top Developer: Capcom, for developing Demon’s Crest, Super Ghouls & Ghost, the Mega Man series, Strider, and Magic Sword

Runner Up: Konami, for developing Castlevania: Bloodlines, Super Castlevania, Contra III, Contra: Hard Corps, and Legend of the Mystical Ninja.

With the top ten out of the way, it’s now time for some point allocations. The points are based on the number of titles in the genre, my personal enthusiasm for said genre [yeah, it’s subjective, but that’s just how it is], and the quality of the titles from each console in said genre. The winner of this round will get a hundred, the loser will get slightly less. That’s an arbitrary number, but numbers from the next parts will be based on how they compare with this part’s genre offering, so all other numbers won’t be arbitrary like the first one. All the points for each console will be added up at the end and a proper winner will be determined. Explanations aside, here’s the winner and the loser of Part 1:

SNES – 100

Genesis – 80

Final Thoughts: Although the Genesis had some strong showings in its top five, which even rivaled some of their SNES counterparts, once the top five was out of the way the quality dropped steadily. On the other hand, the SNES had a very strong showing it its top five, along with some all-time classics and best game ever contenders, and kept going all the way past the top twelve. SNES wins this round by a nice margin, but there are still many more genres to take a look at, including a few that the Genesis has some very, very strong contenders in, so don’t think this battle’s already over.

Coming soon in Part 2: Platformers!

April 26, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Holy Umbrella, Chakan, and Red Zone

Chakan: The Forever Man

Well, what can we say about this one? It’s an action game developed and published by Sega in June 1992, based on a comic by Robert A. Kraus. It’s notable for it’s dark theme and unrelenting difficulty. Chakan must fight his way through various levels filled with monster in order to become human again. It’s actually nearly impossible to get a real ending to the game, because of how difficult the final boss is [and the fact that you only get one try]. And the “real ending” is just an hourglass background with no text because it was never actually implemented. Joy! So, I suppose if you like to punish yourself, this is the game to play. It’s slow, incredibly hard, and doesn’t actually feature the real ending.

Red Zone

This little top-down shooter from Zyrinx, and published by Time Warner for the Genesis in November 1994. In the game, you pilot a helicopter through various missions designed to prevent nuclear war. Failure results in a little video of nukes being set off and the remainder of the world being taken over by communism. This is a scene that you will become very familiar with because the game can be very unforgiving. It’s hard, really hard. There are enemies that you can wipe out your helicopter in a matter of seconds and you can run up on them before you even realize what’s going on. You’ve got to be incredibly careful at all times, especially since get killed means an instant game over. It’s kind of cool, especially because of the neat graphics effects that it employs [and which very few other Genesis games did], but it’s just so hard and unforgiving that it’s difficult to really enjoy it.

Holy Umbrella

This action game, developed by Naxat Soft and released by Earthly Soft for the SNES in September 1995, most of the action takes place as a sidescroller, although towns are presented in RPG-style isometric view. It’s a colorful game and pretty kid-friendly, but difficult enough that someone more experienced with games won’t be immediately bored. Having said that, it’s a bit too slowly paced to be all that much fun, but it does make up for that slightly by having all sort of different abilities that have to find in order to progress, mostly relating to the main character’s umbrella. It’s also possible to switch characters mid-level to gain access to areas that the main character might not be able to. Overall, it’s a decent little game, but a bit too slowly paced for its own good. The game was only ever released in Japan, but a translation is available online.

April 26, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Beyond Oasis, Dungeon Explorer, and Blades of Vengeance

Beyond Oasis

This Zelda-clone, developed by Ancient and published by Sega for the Genesis in December 1994, is one of the better action-adventure games on the Genesis. On top of looking really good and having some really nice graphics, both of which are probably among the best the system has to offer, it also has some really good gameplay. To explain, the gameplay appears very Zelda-like at first, with it’s isometric view and large overworld and dungeons to explore. But, looking closer, Beyond Oasis has gameplay that makes it almost like beat ’em up. Combat is very fast paced and Ali, the main character, can perform attacks in a series very quickly. He can also jump and perform a jump kick. It’s also got some nice boss battles and weapons that you can find and then use for a limited number of times.. The only real downside is that it’s more combat oriented than some of the other games in its genre, rather than emphasizing puzzles or platforming. That’s just a small complaint though and doesn’t stop the game from being one of the better Genesis offerings in this round.

Dungeon Explorer

Developed by Atlus and published by Hudson Soft for the Sega CD March 1989. It’s a bit like the Gauntlet games in that you wander through level after level of an ancient dungeon killing monsters and collecting loot. One of the main differences is that you can actually leave and purchase new weapons and armor with the gold you find. It also features experience points for level up your character to get more health and better stats. It’s much more fun than Gauntlet IV on the Genesis and much deeper experience. Thanks to the CD format it also features some really nice music, definitely a standout in that category. It’s a bit unforgiving though, so be prepared to get some game overs from time to time.

Blades of Vengeance

Developed by Beam Software and published by Electronic Arts for the Genesis in 1993. Here’s a nice little sidescrolling hack-and-slash title. You choose from one of the three hero classes and then do battles against the evil Dark Lady, who wants to take over the world. It’s pretty standard stuff for the genre, nothing that’s really going to surprise or delight, but it’s not a bad game or anything. You fight monsters with your weapon of choice, jump across lava pools, and locate treasure chests for extra points. The graphics are okay and the music’s fine. Overall, a decent game to waste a bit of time with, but if you want more than that you’ll need some patience because the game gets devilishly hard as it goes along.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SNES vs. Genesis: Toe Jam & Earl, Heimdall, X-Men, and Pirates! Gold

Toe Jam & Earl

Developed by Johnson Voorsanger Production and published by Sega for the Genesis in 1991. This action titles follows alien friends Toe Jam and Earl as they race through space and then crash on a strange world. From there, they must locate the missing parts of their damaged craft. The gameplay takes place across a series of interconnect overworlds with lots of items littering the ground for you to use and enemies to avoid. It’s actually fairly light on action and heavy on exploration. The only item the player can actually use to attack is a tomato, which first has to be found. It’s hardly a bad game, but aside from the funky soundtrack and sense of humor, it’s just not really all that fun. I’m not sure who I’d really recommend this too, but I suppose if you just want something slowly paced and not too difficult, you could do worse than Toe Jam & Earl. A sequel, Panic on Funkotron, was actually a platformer. There’s also a second sequel that appeared on the original Xbox.

Heimdall

Developed by The Eighth Day and published by Core Designs for the Sega CD in 1992. Much like Landstalker, the action takes place in isometric location, although battles take place in semi-realtime battles, ala PC RPGs of the same time period. The extra space on the CD allows for a lot of colorful cutscenes to introduce the game. There are lots of puzzles to solve, islands to visit, and items to find. The game world is actually fairly large, so it’s a game that’s going to stick around for a while before you get to the end. One of the big issues is that the inventory is pretty small, only three characters can leave the ship and each one can only carry six items at a time. It’s an interesting game, but a bit slowly paced compared to other action-adventure titles.

X-Men

Developed by Western Technologies and published by Sega for the Genesis in 1993. You can play as one of four of the most famous X-Men as they wander through various levels, such as a jungle, while some of the other X-Men can be called in for momentary support. It’s a bit platformy, in that the levels are pretty large and sprawling and require a high degree of jumping. Overall, the game’s just not very fun. The levels are huge and repetitive and mutant powers are limited by a power bar that very slowly refills once depleted. The music is interesting, but that’s about it.

X-Men 2: Clone Wars

Developed by Headgames and published by Sega for the Genesis in 1995. Better than the first game, and with much better graphics, but ultimately retains the expansive, repetitive levels and gameplay. At least this time around, the mutant powers had no power bar limitations, that’s something at least.

Pirates! Gold

Developed and published by MicroProse for the Genesis in 1993 and is remake of the 1987 release of Sid Meier’s Pirates!. In this title, you play the captain of a ship, a pirate ship to be exact, and it’s your purpose to sail the Caribbean and fight other ships for gold. Ship-to-ship battles take place in an overhead perspective with the two ships squaring off. You’ve got to time your shots just right so that they hit the enemy ship full-on for maximum damage. Eventually the ship will surrender and then you can plunder it and keep the ship or sink it. Ship “health” is in the form of sailor on board. Sometimes the ship captain won’t surrender and so you’ll have to board the ship and take him on in single combat, as seen during the opening scene of a new game. To keep your men happy, you have to split the plunder with them from time to time. You’ll also need to keep a well-stocked supply of food, rum, and cannons. What I like about this game is it’s free-roaming nature and strategy stylings. It’s not the best game on the system, but strategy fans are sure to love it.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | Console Wars, Games | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment