Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Mortal Kombat Series - The Spine of Saturn

 


Mortal Kombat, the game that, along with Doom, introduced video games to extreme blood and gore. It is a game so violent that it seemingly created the ESRB singlehandedly. This is the fighting game that captivated the gaming industry with its interesting characters, gripping lore and stylistic graphics back in 1992 and started a franchise that is still thriving today. Now, we'll be looking at the titles that were released on the Sega Saturn.

Now, let's not kid each other, not every title in a franchise this large is going to live up to the quality we all expect. Despite this, Mortal Kombat did very well as it reached over 20 titles with more still to come. Sega Saturn had some of its best ports. 


Although there's no official port of the original Mortal Kombat, its wondrous sequel was perfectly ported to the system, aside from suffering the Sega Saturn's true flaw. It does have some problems with loading times. It also had some critics saying that it was already outdated before it was even made. Still, there was no denying that this was a perfect rendition of the arcade otherwise. 

Where Mortal Kombat was controversial for its violence, this game ramped it up to 11 and doubled the blood. More human bean juice can be seen when you punch your enemy's face and the fatalities brought about more and more gore as the fans wanted. Now, you didn't need a code to unlock it, nor was the SNES port wasn't censored as the first game's port to the system was highly criticized for. Sega Saturn let you see the gore as it was intended, with full arcade graphics still in tact. 


Strangely enough, though, Sega Saturn Magazine panned the port as it didn't live up to the prerelease copy that they received months earlier. Obviously, they don't need to hold all Saturn games to a higher light, but they were needlessly critical of the load times. Of course, that also means it has the MK2 flaws about it as well. As great as the game's graphics were and as awesome the gore was at the time, there was still the ridiculous difficulty. The AI was programmed to react to your button presses automatically, much faster than they should be able to. Yes, there are ways around this, but it mostly involves spamming attacks in a certain order. A good game, but with some fairly heavy flaws that keep it from being truly great.


So, what do we do now? The last game was so hard, let's take it easy on the players now. Let's add in every single character we possibly can, even the bosses! So, now you can play as both Goro and Kentaro and you win! That's right! A game with such horrific balance issues that now you can play as both characters with monstrous strength and reach that just a few punches and special moves and your opponent is slain in a matter of seconds. 


Balance problems aside, they cheaped out on the fatalities. Some of them were taken out to save on time of its conversion to the Saturn, and yet it came out an entire year after the PSX and N64 versions. There are plenty of reasons why this game is overlooked by the fandom as, aside from the playable bosses, there's really nothing to write home about. The game itself is unremarkable otherwise and you're far better off getting the real Mortal Kombat game the Sega Saturn is known for. 


When you think of Mortal Kombat on the Saturn, most turn to Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. This game was created when fans voiced their disdain for the original Mortal Kombat 3. Once again, it is the most faithful port from arcade to console and has the loading problems much like the others. However, it is a fair challenge and all of your favorite characters are there to see. Once you put in the CRAZY CYRAX code, you can unlock all of the characters. There are hours of fun once you beat the tower mode as you can gain access to all of the fatalities, random Mortal Kombat videos and a game of Pong (don't ask). 




The controls are stellar, the game modes are plentiful and the cheat codes are ten times easier to input. With new and old characters and amazing backgrounds, you really couldn't ask for much more. It's just hours of fun with friends or solo play. Better than that, though, it's even got Scorpion this time around! Imagine that! 

Whatever your thoughts on the Mortal Kombat franchise, you can't deny its impact on not only the fighting game genre but also video games in general. There have been so many games that tried to duplicate its success, but very few had any success. Everyone thought that if you just slapped some live action people on a game with some blood and gore that you could make the next fighting game phenomenon. MK, however, boasted superior control and gameplay along with a lore that was both interesting and quite captivating. 

What really sold Mortal Kombat was its characters along with its truckloads of internal organs and severed limbs. They were memorable and diverse while also boasting diverse themes and backgrounds that made them quite unique. It may have had a questionable period after UMK3, as Mortal Kombat 4 brought about a 3D era that made interesting characters and lore take a backseat to bigger and better graphics. It took a while to recover from, but until 2011 finally rolled around, we at least had a nice collection to fall back on. Just remember to drink bloo---water... I meant water.




Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Guardian Heroes - Keep Slicing!

 


When does a mixture of great things turn out great itself? How often does a stew of hip game ideas mold together so well and manifest into such an amazing product? Well, it doesn't happen all that often, I can tell you that for free. This game takes JRPG elements, mixes it with Beat'em Up mechanics, anime 2D sprites, with a story mode that is very up-front and in your face. This game had some very nice, pretty graphics with 2D displays mixed with open multi-layered areas. 


The feeling of being a powerful hero taking down armies of henchmen and bosses is extremely gratifying. The real draw here is the ongoing stories and characters, aside from the dissatisfaction of the absence of your side ones. You choose from a selection of other players that have their own strengths both in melee and ranged attacks. Whichever character you choose is the one you see for the rest of the game.  

These characters are very diverse with unique gameplay and personalities. Not only do they help customize gameplay to your liking, but they also give the game even more replay value as they affect the story and the endings you receive. The dialogue is skippable but also worth reading if that's your thing. The English translation is well written and the characters can be quite humorous. 


While the graphics and the "hack'n slash" gameplay are both beautiful and cathartic, this game is not perfect. While I do love being able to die and come back immediately, this is a very limited continue system. Die enough times, and it's straight back to the beginning. This flaw is accentuated as some of the bosses you fight can get a little ridiculous in difficulty. It is especially bad when they start spamming their strong attacks, despite being able to do the same yourself. As with all side-scrolling beat'em ups, there is also that pinching flaw of being rather repetitive. However, it more than makes up for it in brilliantly differing story endings depending on what paths you take during the gameplay. 


Not only is this game one of my favorite Sega Saturn games that I have recently played, but is is also considered one of the cornerstones of side-scrolling beat'em ups. If this is your type of game or you are wanting to break into the genre, do not pass this game up if you ever get a chance to play it. It is a rare title in the Saturn's library but it is not unobtainable. Just remember not to support video game price scalpers and drink water.

Monday, 16 August 2021

Quake - The 3D Reckoning

ID software is known for their legendary titles, and Quake is one of them. Not only was this another landmark for first person shooters, but it was a gigantic jump in gaming graphics as a whole. The three dimensional graphics paved the way for so many gaming companies and showed what a powerful gaming engine was capable of. This brought deathmatching to a whole new level and gibbed its enemies with the utmost amazing details that could be seen in '96. Then it was ported to the Sega Saturn. How did it make the transition? Pretty damn well!

Is it perfect and better than the PC? No, definitely not. Is it better than the Playstation port? Of course it is. There was no PSX port. It was ported to N64 and Saturn within its first release. The Saturn port was well received, despite its graphical downfalls. The controls and the killing still work just fine and the ogres are still total jerks and the super shotgun is still awesome! Quake didn't make such a huge splash as Doom, but it still has a thriving fanbase to this day, especially with such a legendary soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails. That's right, we're bringing that up!

Now, the controls work fine, but it still has its faults when it comes to gameplay. Sometimes, the auto-aim doesn't work quite so well and there are times when you can unload an entire clip into someone and hit air because the game didn't feel like your angle could shoot the wings off a fly. Jumping and platforming are hindered by using the Saturn controls, but it just takes some adjusting. It is functional, but it's not a keyboard and mouse. 

The monsters have a bit of a graphical downgrade, but they're still recognizable and I don't think I've mentioned this, but the ogres are still jerks! Lobotomy Software seems to love the Sega Saturn more than any other console. Not only did they bring Duke Nukem to the system, but they also slammed Quake into a homerun with this port. This is still Quake and its still awesome. The real downfall of this port is that it has no multiplayer functions, and thus, no arena maps. The internet was sketchy to downright non-existent until Seganet came to the Dreamcast, so Deathmatching on the Saturn was a no-go. 

After such a dismal port of Doom, it's wonderful to see the Saturn turn around and do justice to a far graphically superior game. Lobotomy Software's contribution to the Saturn library can never be overstated. This is legendary. Not only does it prove the Saturn's capabilities were very real but it also captured Quake in such a great way. The beautifully brown and gritty setting and the gothic tone were implemented with style and grace, although that also means the fiends are jumping at you in full force. Remember to aim both barrels at those faceless beasts!

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Space Jam - Mike Deserved Better

 If you are a product of the 90's, you more than likely know Space Jam. This movie was marketed harder than hot cakes. Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan were plastered all over everything under the sun. It was hyped to the point where the movie fell to the wayside of toys and merchandise in terms of how expensive it was. Even though they are scarce today, this movie bared a tie-in game on the Sega Saturn along with other consoles of the time. This game hit the nostalgia bones, but it really didn't hit much else. 

I honestly came into this game expecting to hate its ever loving guts. Very few movie tie-in games have ever been successful, even fewer have made it to the legendary status. The vast majority of them have been garbage rushed out to meet a deadline of some sort. Whether this is one of those, I don't know, it's Space Jam, what you see is what you get. Instead of hating the game, I found myself not having much of any reaction at all.



The first game you have to play is to get Michael Jordan's clothes so he can play. At first, I wondered why this game would have this sort of weird mini-game on it, and it should just be a basketball game. Then I played the basketball, and I understood why they wanted to add some variety to Space Jam. The game isn't terrible, it isn't great, it isn't noteworthy. This is an annoyance with some decent mechanics here and there. It's sort of fun at first, but as you keep playing, it just fails to keep attention. This is just one of those bland games that isn't worth getting worked up over and is more easily quit than really hard games or games you enjoy, you're just not good at. Space Jam features all of the characters you love with none of the charm they represent. 

I have heard of this game in the past, though I never played it then. Now, after having played it, I understand why I even forgot about it. No one cares about it in the slightest. If it were horrifically terrible like Superman 64 or The Crow City of Angels, then maybe it would have something of a reputation. The problem is that you forget about it as soon as you stop playing it because it's the same rubbish all throughout with slightly sluggish controls and unremarkable graphics. The characters look good, kinda. Michael looks questionable. Either way, this game pretty much fell away from the public eye because it basically has no content of any substance. You shoot the ball, it may go in. If you love the movie, give it a try, just try to remember you played it.

Monday, 26 July 2021

X-men vs Street Fighter - Awesome + Awesome!

 



The arcades had a lot to offer back in the golden days of the Saturn. Three of those golden offerings was Virtua Fighter 2, Virtual On and X-men vs Street Fighter. There have been some monumental crossovers in the past but fans never knew how awesome it could truly get. After the stifling success of Street Fighter 2 and the wide acclaim of the X-men TV series, kids were ripe with excitement for the idea of a game that brought them both together. The fans were pleased with the results. While it is not perfect in its mechanics, it brought about an awesome experience for all to see. There were not enough quarters in the world to satiate the onlooking public.

A console port was a natural response to its success and as Sega Saturn fans, we got to have our cake and eat it too. Not only was it an amazing port that stayed incredibly close to the arcade, but it was also the best console port of the game overall. Capcom had done it again. 

The graphics are glorious and beautiful. The character options were beyond expectations, harboring such favorites as Wolverine, Akuma and Magneto! All of the Street Fighter cast is on display with this game, while the Marvel hero cast is amazingly full as well. Beyond anything, it was a fan-pleasing roster. With a flashy collection of backgrounds and some eye candy ultimate moves, you are hard pressed to find any real fault in its aesthetics.

The real flaws in this game come with its balance issues. Storm is amazingly over powered and a bit of button mashing pretty much gets you through the game with very little difficulty. Juggernaut's reach makes him ridiculous in terms of an offensive. The best thing you can do is try not to be too cheap with these super powerful moves. This game has literally ended friendships as a result. 

Everything on display here is top notch. Despite its small wrinkles, it is beautiful. X-men vs Streetfighter would go on to bring Marvel Super Heroes, Marvel vs Capcom, Capcom vs SNK, and so many more. Marvel vs Capcom 2 on the Dreamcast is a beautiful successor of this game and we are more fortunate to have this among our libraries in the 32-bit era. Play responsibly, and Hadouken with care.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Sonic Jam - The Saturn Masterpiece Collection

 


There is no denying that Sonic's golden age was his first three games. When he exploded on the scene in June of 1991, he came on strong. However, this was nothing compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which took the world by storm. This was followed up by a true successor in Sonic and Knuckles 3. Back in the day, you use to need an extra cartridge to get the Knuckles content for 2 and 3 while having some limited content on the first Sonic game. Now, we have Sonic Jam, which has all of the above. 

The Sega Saturn is proud to be home to this marvel of a collection. While there have been some amazing collections like it since on multiple consoles, Sonic Jam still remains quite iconic among the bunch. Along with the Gamecube's two collections, Sonic has had some amazing representation of gaming history being preserved. The blue blur will not be forgotten anytime soon and it's these ports that we have to thank for it. 


The anime style introduction is some of the most beautiful artwork and animation! Its soundtrack is awesome and it's a refreshing look to see such smooth video on the Sega Saturn's engine. You could watch it over and over again!



Sonic Jam, however, has some outstanding features that sets it apart from the others. For one thing, there is an easier, kid friendlier difficulty on this version of the game. This makes it to where the younger generation can still play it as one of their earlier games. Conquering this is one step closer to beating the same level on normal mode. Before long, they'll be conquering the whole game! 

As said before, you can play the knuckles version of all the games. It is clear that this whole thing is a port, as its controls are smooth and perfectly executed as opposed to an emulation. All of the versions are bonafide and capture the original games to a T. As if that weren't enough of a reason to play it, there is also a 3D mode that acts as something of a hub world. It's called Sonic World and it's beautiful. Not only does it show off some awesome Saturn graphics while giving us a peek at the 3D 32-bit game we never got, it also predicted the Sonic Movie in a theater!


This collection has a barrage of amazing features that you need to see for yourself. It is worth finding for a decent price, but make sure not to give into scalpers of this game. It is definitely worth showing to your kids as some of their best means of practice. Sonic Jam is one of the best ports of these masterpieces and I can sing its praise to the high mountain tops for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 alone. You can Knuckle it up on any version and have yourself a ball. Pick this up and be way past cool! 

That's right, I ended this on a Jaleel White quote! What about it?!

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Sega Rally Championship - Ride like the 32-bit Wind!

 


From the beginning, this game had a disadvantage of being late to the party. The first day I got a Sega Saturn was the first day I got Daytona USA as well. It was a fantastic racing game as far as I was concerned and today, I still own a Sega 3Pak collection. Sega Rally fell by the wayside in comparison, and didn't interest me. However, throughout my journey with the Saturn, it is a name that constantly comes up when sports games are mentioned. The first time I ever played this was on a demo disc. It had one race and nothing else, so it didn't get played much. 

That begs the question, how does it hold up today? Well, playing it for the first time, the first thing that comes up is the controls. They are janky here and there, but it's more of how you use your speed and are able to drift. It's a bit of a harsh learning curve, and many practice rounds were in store for me. Quite honestly, I never was very good at it. I was amateur at best in Daytona USA, more or less because racing games are not a forte. 



However, the more I did it, the more I began to get better and enjoy my time with this game. It has some great backgrounds and very smooth rides with a nice little background music. If we're really going to play comparisons to Daytona USA, that is one place where this game falls a bit short. The soundtrack for Sega Rally is good, it's catchy and it's a smooth ride, but it is in no way even close. 

This is a great racing game. It just takes some getting used to and you may even get really good at its mechanics. Sega Rally is more just a great bit of old school gaming that brings back that old time country flavor of 32-bit goodness that came out of the mid 90's. It ranks far higher in my books for its time capsule qualities. The Sega Saturn stays such a fine machine because it captures gems like this and holds them in stasis for newcomers and oldcomers alike. 




Sega Rally does well to represent what the Sega Saturn is capable of. Even when the 2-player mode doesn't hold together very well all the time, it is still a marvel of its time with the ability to do that. It holds up in high esteem for many reasons. If you love old school racing games, this is definitely one that should be on the top of your list. It's easy to learn, hard to master and reminds us of a time when games were made right. 

Monday, 12 July 2021

Hexen: Beyond Heretic - I Cast "Bugger Off!"

There are some among us who can remember those good old days of video gaming when all you had were the video game cartridges and/or CD's you could hold in your hands. These were the days when first person shooters were in beautiful bloom and experimentation was bringing about new and exciting discoveries in graphics and video gaming technology. One of these experiments led John Romero into assisting a team with the Doom Engine. Raven Software used this engine to create a fantasy game that had all of the bells and whistles one could ever ask for to quench their thirst for swords and sorcery. 

When we were kids and didn't care all that much about beating games as fast as possible, this game gave us what we wanted. We could use our axes and staffs to drive the evil forces to an early grave. Now that we are adults and the kids are far more focused on getting through levels and killing monsters at a fast pace and with furious efficiency. If you are looking for a game that will challenge you, Hexen with either be your dream come true, or the greatest nightmare you ever had. 

At first glance, the graphics look stellar on the Sega Saturn. The frame rate isn't great and the pixelation on the monsters is noticeable, but overall it is a fantastic port. The controls take two seconds to get use to before you are ripping two-headed beasts apart in a gothic medieval setting. this game is gorgeous when it comes to its monster designs and atmosphere. The setting is pristine in its depiction of a medieval world that you can get lost in.

Oh, I'm sorry, did I say lost? Yes, yes, I did. If you have never played this game before and you are not watching a walkthrough, you will get lost. It's not so much a problem as finding a path, but it is a matter of finding a path, finding the switch and then finding the new path that switch opens up. Sometimes this path can be in a whole other planar dimension. So you need to hit a switch, go through a portal and try and find where a door opened. This is probably one of the most maddening parts of the game. 

Despite how they feel at the beginning, the weapons are utterly shite! This is a subjective view but it is also very valid when you are shooting monsters five or six times each while eight other monsters are chasing you around an entire map. Some people like these weapons, but some of them are slow while others are inaccurate. The real problem with the majority of these weapons is that they do not do near enough damage to get the proper job done. 

So, with the extremely confusing level design and the weapons that barely scratch, you may be thinking this is the challenge for you. Yes, if you are willing to take down flying monsters that sometimes you can't even shoot properly, then you are barking up the proper tree. Just be sure you have a ranged weapon and ammo, those fiery little bastards are a pain.

One very interesting aspect of this game is that you are able to choose between a Fighter, Cleric or a Mage. Each of them is different, and they all have their gimmicks and faults. I don't want to set any of them apart from the others, but do not play the Mage. His weapons are ineffectual and playing this class is just an all around abysmal experience. The fighter has the strongest weapons but he also doesn't have ranged attacks at first. It takes a lot of trial and error to find the class that is right for you. 

This game is the text book example of a mixed bag. It is fun and satisfying to play, but too much of this game at one time can be a convoluted and confusing experience. The real problem with saving and coming back to the game, and you run the risk of forgetting what was going on and what switches or pushed to get to what door and sometimes it's not really worth dwelling over. It's a terrible feeling when you're in the dead center of a game you decide to start all over. It is a cross this video game needs to bear. 

Imagine playing this game without a walkthrough of any kind. You could buy the game but you couldn't afford the game guide until next paycheck. Either that or your parents say it's either for Christmas or Birthday respectively. Pouring endless hours of bloodshed and madness into this game sounds like it would be fun, but it is rather bewildering. Do not start this game lightly if you intend to beat it. Just remember to drink those little vials of blue liquid. I think they're water.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Listen to the Saturn Junkyard's TitanCast Podcast!


Need a Sega-stuffed podcast in your life? Join us for the latest episode of the Saturn Junkyard's TitanCast! Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts!

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Thursday, 10 June 2021

Battle Monsters - He did the Monster Crap!

Battle Monsters is what you get when you are completely out of ideas, but you need to make a Mortal Kombat ripoff. You have a whole room full of Halloween costumes and throwaway clown outfits, so you decide to put them onto whomever they would fit. There is a difference between using martial artists with their own techniques for your character models and just taking pictures of some random people in silly clothes while they look like generic movie monsters from the black and white era of films. This game is a serious eye sore to look at, which is only the beginning of why it is absolutely horrific to play and not in a good way.

The fighting in this game feels so awful because of the controls and the hit detection. It's a coin toss whether you're close enough or far enough to hit someone and let's face it, your characters look awful! Some of the characters barely appear to be humanoid and that takes away from their playability. Not that it really matters, though. This game is ridiculously easy. As janky as the controls are and as terrible as the hit detection is, you can still just mash two of the attack buttons and you'll kill your opponents. The only real challenge comes when you face the final boss and by then, you're just ready for this to be over. 

The real problem with this game is that the graphics are so bad and the characters look like they disappear into the background. Where Mortal Kombat characters look unique enough to intrigue a player into wondering what their backstory is, the characters of this game look like people with discount Spirit Halloween gear on. You can literally see the actors in cheap makeup and the immersion is ruined from the very beginning. 

It's quite possibly the worst fighting game on the system and is mostly only good for a laugh. Battle Monsters is not worth getting angry over, especially if you can't get past the final boss. The controls are so terrible, you can't help but shake your head at its ineptitude. The level designs are derivative of just about every other fighting game, dumbed down into confusing multi-leveled structures that make the gameplay that much more annoying. It felt like they were trying pretty much anything to make it unique from MK but the whole endeavor was for nothing.

It was panned by critics for good reason and only ever released for the Sega Saturn, so we can't share the joy of this title with other consoles. If you break this game out for a whole bunch of friends to play, be sure to have Virtua Fighter or Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 up your sleeve just in case they don't get the joke. It's fun to point and laugh but loses its flavor about as fast as Zebra Stripes. 

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Astal - An Old Star Is Re-Born!



They  say hindsight is 20/20. In other words, it's far easier to look back and make a correct judgement, than making it in the moment. When I first had my Saturn in 1995/96, I was interested in new and innovative games. If someone had told me that then Saturn would excel at 2D game presentation, it would have meant nothing to me. I had no interest in 2D fighters. They looked dated and cartoonish to me. I wanted the "gritty realism" of Virtua Fighter, the arcade thrills of Sega Rally and the cutting edge technology that allowed me to play Virtua Cop in my living room. These were the games that floated my boat. The graphics on Panzer Dragoon, were good enough to play in snippets, over and over again, as "visuals" when friends came back to my house, for post-rave chill outs. 


One thing I definitely was NOT doing, was looking back, with any nostalgia, at the 16 bit titles I had played on my Megadrive. I would have sneered at Street Fighter, scoffed at Sonic Jam, turned my nose up at the Sega Ages titles and looked past any sort of Arcade Collection that featured Defender, Robotron and Joust - all of which I now own.



I would have also snubbed Astal. 


Astal was released in Japan in April 1995, developed and published by Sega. In fact, owing to the absence of  a Sonic title on the platform at this point, Astal could have become the Saturn's mascot character, as his game was a Saturn exclusive. Astal is a 2D action platformer, the story, is far more convoluted than I care about and to be honest, has absolutely no significance to the gameplay. Wikipedia describes it thus:

"Somewhere in the universe, the Goddess Antowas created a world from a single jewel. On this world, Quartilia, she created the sky, earth, and air. To inhabit this world, she created two humans: from a green jewel, a girl, Leda, who has the power to make things live on Quartilia; and from a red Jewel, a boy, Astal, whose purpose was to protect Leda. Content with her creation, Antowas slept.

While she slept, the evil Jerado tried to take over Quartilia. To ensure victory, Jerado created a warrior: Geist. Geist kidnapped Leda, and held her at the bottom of the ocean. In an effort to get her back, Astal tore Quartilia apart, awakening Antowas. As punishment, Antowas banished Astal to Quartilia's moon. Leda took pity on Astal, and gave him her jewel. Once Astal and Jerado were dealt with, Antowas went back to sleep.

However, Geist was still free, and Quartilia was not restored from the changes Jerado wrought. From his prison on the moon, Astal witnessed Geist kidnap Leda again. Consumed with the need to protect her, he freed himself and returned to Quartilia. Now Astal journeys in search of Leda through a Quartilia transformed by Jerado's dark design, along with a strange bird who for some reason just won't leave him alone.."




OK. Got that? Good. Astal is a beautiful looking game. The art direction is original and highly stylised. It has a certain, "other worldly" feel. The creatures and characters are hand drawn, excellently animated and have a strange crystalline quality. There is absolutely no evidence that they were designed under the influence of the brain-warping psychedelic, DMT, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if I found out it was... 

The spaced out visuals, are hugely complimented and enhanced, by the dreamy musical score, written and directed by composer Tatsuyuki Maeda. This cannot be praised highly enough. It is an integral component of the game and can be credited with a large percentage of what makes this game special. The score would be something you could happily listen to, as a contemporary ambient composition in your headphones as you carried yourself through a lazy day. When coupled with Astal's sumptuous looking vistas, there is a certain synergy which elevates a "good game", to a "great game."




 Astal is a strong and brave individual. He can grab enemies and body slam them, he can summon his bird companion, to either vanquish foes, or collect health giving fruit. Astal can also take a huge breath, which swells his chest alarmingly. He then literally blows his foes away. Astal can also lift and throw large, heavy objects, such as boulders and trees. Finally he can strike the ground, which will send a shockwave through the platform to floor his opponents. As you can see, attacks are varied and as you progress through the game, you will have to work out which attack is most effective for dispatching each adversary and traversing the levels to the boss. The game can also be played as a two player co-op, with one player controlling Astal and one player controlling the bird.



And that's basically it. As Astal, you work your way from left to right, screen to screen until you reach the end of the level. Then you will be treated to a boss battle. One level has a sort of "shmup" feature, where you have to travel on the back of a large river monster,. avoiding or killing foes, by jumping on the creatures back and making him cough up a projectile. The game is beautifully coloured with pastel shades and tones, looking resplendent
throughout each level. 



"So, Father K..." (I pretend to hear you ask...) "If this game is so bloody fantastic, why wouldn't you have bought it, or even wanted to play it, back in the day?" And so, I shall now do my best to explain my earlier assertions, to the puzzled or cynical readers of this particular epistle...




When the Saturn came out, the very last thing I wanted to do, was play a 2D game. That meant no 2D brawlers, no side scrolling 2D platformers, no 2D puzzle games and no shmups. All of these genres didn't interest me in the slightest. To me, they were "old school" and "retro" at a time when neither of those things were considered cool. I couldn't have given a flying fuck about the Saturn being a 2D powerhouse. I wanted 3D depth, polygons, full motion video and uncanny characters formed from shiny computer graphics. Tomb Raider, Virtua Cop, Deep Fear, Burning Rangers, Panzer Dragoon - these were the games I would have craved or aspired to. Even Clockwork Knight, which was a side scrolling  platformer of sorts, looked a million miles away from the 16 Bit Era games, fitting perfectly into my expectations of 32 bit gaming. 




But Astal? Well that would have just looked  to me like a particularly pretty Megadrive game. (It didn't of course -  in fact it was graphically beautiful in a way that the developers using Megadrive hardware, could never pull off). But that is exactly what the 1996, thirty year old me, would have said and thought. I'd really enjoyed my experiences of the 16 Bit era - games such as Revenge Of Shinobi, Golden Axe, Sonic 1 & 2, Streets Of Rage and so on, had been played to death, over many hours, when my kids were small, and my days as a carefree raver, had long since disappeared. But I wasn't nostalgic for those days. I wanted the new systems to provide me with completely new experiences  - not a revision, remix or extended version of the past.


Fast forward to 2017. The rusty old gates of the Junkyard, had been blown away, and the website and Facebook page were up and running, and gaining some traction in the new scene. It was at this time, that some of the sweethearts at the Saturn Junkyard Facebook page, started sending me burned copies of games. Envelopes stuffed with blank looking cds, the names scrawled large across the disc in magic marker. The first genre I fell in love with was the fighting games - Vampire Savior, Street Fighter, King Of Fighters, Marvel Super Heroes and so on. These games looked so visually gorgeous and played so fast, that I immediately fell in love. Time had not been kind to Virtua Fighter -  and what had once looked amazing, now looked farcical - the sharp points and angular facial features of the characters, were cringeworthy. The same with the Shmups. In 1995, I wanted story driven games such as Resident Evil or Panzer Dragoon (or pure blasts of arcade pleasure such as Virtua Cop, Sega Rally or Virtua Fighter.)




Shmups looked hard! Plus very dated to me also - they are now one of my favourite genres. Platformers were not taboo for me in 1995. I played a few. But I was much happier with the arrival of the 1.5 D Pandemonium, when compared to a regular side-scrolling platformer such as Rayman or Astal, yet both games were visually fantastic, innovative and original

It was only much, much later that I got a copy of Astal. It's one of those games, that once experienced, I had to have an original copy of. A bought, factory produced disc was required. I've recently started playing it again and I have to say, whilst sometimes very difficult, the pleasure of playing very definitely outweighs any of the pain of playing. Only by practising, exploring each level and making mistakes, will you learn the enemy patterns and level pitfalls, to make it to the end of the title. It's a sublime and uplifting game, very Japanese, but also very accessible to a Western audience. 



Astal will run you about $80 in the US as a Japanese import. That's potentially expensive! I suggest you burn a copy or emulate it. But whatever you do, get playing.. It's a must play experience for the Saturn fan and a quintessential Saturn experience.