Wednesday 27 October 2021

Halloween On The Saturn 2021 - Frankenstein: Through The Eyes Of The Monster

Introduction - 

The game will cost you between £100 - £300!

I'm not sure why I associate Halloween with the Saturn. It could be that it's because we relaunched the Saturn Junkyard about this time in 2017... I remember writing the "Halloween Saturn Games List 2017" and posting lots of photographs of people involved in less than impressive Saturn themed cos-play, the Junkyard littered with lots of pumpkins (carved with a Sega related themes)  and actually getting my Saturn light-gun out to play House Of The Dead for the first time in years...  Great times!

Halloween Pumpkin carved in honour of our leader Segata Sanshiro

Whatever the reason, Halloween always inspires me to put pen to paper, and churn out a horror game-themed article, to celebrate the season! The one issue I've found challenging in the past, when writing subsequent Halloween articles, is finding Saturn games that have been seldom reviewed or written about. My one rule when writing about games, is that I must have played them, usually on the original hardware, and I must have drawn my conclusions, from my own experience with the title. in 2021, I think I've found a perfect game for the time of year, that has been largely overlooked by the Saturn community (as far as I know...) 

 Welcome to "Frankenstein: Through The Eyes Of The Monster."

How most of us think of Frankenstein's monster...

Frankenstein In Our Modern Consciousness -

 Okay, so when we think of Frankenstein, we usually think of the monster - as played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 movie version - flat head, sunken eyes, bolts in neck, built up shoes - Herman Munster type vibes. But Mary Shelley, the author of the book back in 18-- had a very different (opium induced) dream of  the monster, less of a hideous creature and more as a "reanimated man". One with a brain, a consciousness and a soul. For Shelley the monstrosity was in man's desire to play God and flout the laws of nature in the process. The game draws far more on the original gothic novel for it's source material rather than any particular Hollywood re-telling. Central to the story, of course, is Doctor Frankenstein - played by the legendary British actor, Tim Curry (more on him later). We don't get to see the monster, apart from "his" arms and hands, so we don't have to critique his visual appearance.


The Frankenstein's Monster we love the most... 

Boring Game History - 

The game was developed by Amazing Media and published by Interplay Entertainment Corps for PC, in 1995. The game was ported to the Saturn in 1997, towards the end of the Saturn's life-span. The game is a 'point and click adventure', made using CGI backgrounds and full motion video clips, which are triggered, as the player clicks on various items. As such, the game is a slow burner, requiring patience and detailed exploration of the environments, in order to progress steadily through the narrative. This type of game was extremely popular in the mid 90's and for many game developers, the quest was to make an "interactive movie". Frankenstein TTEOTM, is very much trying to be this form of entertainment. As well as the scene stealing performances of Tim Curry, we have the monster played by Robert Rothrock, Rebecca Wink as villager Sara and Amanda Fuller as Gabrielle, the monster's daughter. 

The Story - 

The story begins to unfold, as soon as the title screen commences. As the opening credits roll, we hear the dialogue of an arrest and subsequent judgements of a murder trial. It seems a man has murdered his daughter, but the details are unclear, as we do not know the story's protagonist yet. As the opening titles fade, we see the view seen by the monster. You are lying on a platform suspended by four chains. The doctor is standing over you peering down. He immediately proclaims "LIFE! I have created life!" he gloats and crows, then seems to remember his 'patient'. "Here, this'll make you feel better..." He injects you using a syringe, which he then proceeds to stab into his own neck, with a celebratory: "A toast!"  YIKES! This doctor is clearly deep into some serious mal-practise! 

It doesn't take long for the horror to unfold... As you look at your arms (one familiar, one not so much...) you exclaim "Good god my hand! ...Its the hand of a woman! What has this vile bastard done to me?!" Dr. Frankenstein begins to cackle evilly and gloats - he get's stuck in there straight away, cracking sick jokes, indicative of his sick nature... "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" (sniggers) "You have no idea how close to the truth that statement really is..." Clearly this man is no family practitioner. He is the true monster in the original story and the game... But in the game they've ramped (camped?) his diabolical nature to 11.

And so the story begins to unravel, as you point and click away. The dialogue is camp, over the top and very theatrical. The conversations between the characters, flesh out the story and background in a wholly unrealistic way, speaking line after line of a narrative, that would only be necessary if trying to squeeze a long and drawn out Victorian novel's plot, into the two hour time frame, of a point and click computer game.

You are scientist Phillip Wren and you've been framed for the murder of your daughter Gabrielle. You've been tried, found guilty and hanged by the neck until dead (by the mysterious  Judge Rothenbush). As if that wasn't enough, you've been brought back to life with a hodge-podge of other people's bits, and are now trapped in the laboratory of the evil genius who has reanimated your ravaged corpse. Not a great predicament to begin your quest, but the one you are faced with, nevertheless. 

Your mind in turmoil -  "I'm an experiment!" -  you begin to explore, further and further into Frankenstein's castle. This is how the game starts and represents the stage of the game, where I became unable to play without the help of a Youtube playthrough guide.

The views from the castle are to die for...

Without wanting to spoil the whole plot, you make some gruesome discoveries as you explore the fortress and suffer further persecution for your trouble. The game involves you stealing your way through the castle, solving puzzles, collecting notes and moving both physically and temporally through the mystery of your current circumstance.

The Gameplay - 

The style of game is exactly what western game developers thought would be the future of gaming. The "interactive movie". There were thousands of dollars and pounds invested in these FMV games. The irony is that these titles, at the cutting edge of technology back in 1995, as games passed from cartridge to compact disc. The best Saturn games used FMV for cutscenes and intros only. Very few of these video based titles, have stood the test of time. In fact they seem to be amongst the most dated and least enjoyable titles available for Saturn gamers and retro gaming in general.

The Good - 

We'll start with some of the supporting features, before we get to the main draw. First of all, the acting. As well as the talents of the start of the show, the supporting cast of actors do a pretty good job of guiding you through the castle and reacting to the spooky sights and shocking surprises you uncover as you make your way though the castle. If we are kind enough to suggest that the title fits the interactive movie slot, in the way it was intended, then the acting has to be pretty good. When we think of titles such as Deep Fear, Resident Evil, House Of The Dead or Corpse Killer, we are not looking for Oscar winning thespians doing Royal Shakespeare quality performances, we are looking for campy, over the top, slightly "hammy" acting. If that is the case, then Robert Rothrock, Rebecca Wink and Amanda Fuller do a more than adequate job as a supporting cast. The CGI "scenery" and "sets" provide the right atmosphere and background for the action, and the letters, diagrams, notes and plans you discover on your journey are well made and convincing. The music by David Dvorin,  is atmospheric and fitting. However, it can become rather grating, as it loops around again and again whilst you struggle to find the way out of your current setting. And, that's about all that can be said about the game other than... 

TIM CURRY!!! TIM "FRANKENFURTER" CURRY!!! TIM "SCARY MOVIE" CURRY!!! TIM MOTHER-FREAKING CURRY!!! He is literally the main draw for this slow moving, rather turgid game. You're not going to be enthralled by the action, you're not going to be absorbed by the plot or transfixed by the atmosphere. But you can drink in, devour and satiate yourself on every over-pronounced syllable, every rich, chocolatey vowel, every twisted muttering and snarkily delivered snigger, from one of the finest actors the world has ever seen! Curry burst onto the British acting scene in Richard O'Brien's cult, musical homage to 1950's suspense and science fiction B Movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the "sweet transvestite, from trans-sexual, Transylvania" Dr. Frankenfurter. This was a fabulous role, that allowed Curry to preen, pout and generally flounce about as he sang, stomped and smashed his way into our consciousness. Twenty years later, Curry was either at the cutting edge of video entertainment, or making a fast buck by selling his acting prowess, standing in front of a green screen and rasping out hammy dialogue for a fairly uninspiring video game. If I was hooked in by one thing, it was the appearance of this legend on the box. Not the only time that a video game has been sold on the inclusion of a Hollywood star. The latest Far Cry release has been sold on the inclusion of current Hollywood favourite, Giancarlo Esposito. But once the lure of Tim Curry has begun to be eclipsed by the lame gameplay, the game has very little to redeem it. As with many point and click adventure games, the ending you see, depends on the route you take through the game and the actions you perform and the choices you make. This allows for a degree of re-playability, that wouldn't exist without it.

The Bad - 

This is a very dated game. A very slow moving, plodding title. The one trick pony of  FMV video games IS the reactive FMV scenes triggered by your actions. These can be so finickity to find and trigger, that you can easily become bored or frustrated very quickly. In order to progress I had to watch a video on Youtube, showing an entire playthrough of the game. I then had to keep pausing the game, trying out what I had seen in the video and this made the playing of the game even MORE slow moving and plodding -  as if the title wasn't already tortuous enough to play through in 2021... . And as usual, certain actions which worked in the video DID NOT work on my Saturn - this is a phenomenon I've noticed more and more. The execution of  certain actions within games seem to not work form machine to machine, from disc to disc. Recently I've had to source new copies of Casper and Exhumed, in order to get them to work on my machines. and I couldn't get the game Tunnel B1 to work on any of my Saturns, despite trying three different discs of the game...Very frustrating.

In the end I just gave up and watched the game unfold for the person creating the Youtube video. The experience was basically the same as if I was triggering the cutscenes. It just involved far less faffing around and frustration. Although there are a couple of alternative outcomes, I defy anyone to enjoy the game enough to give it a second spin...

Spoiler alert!

Conclusion - 

If you're looking for some Halloween fun on the Saturn this year, you could do a lot better with some of the console's other offerings. There are a plethora of horror, monster and sci-fi themed games on the Saturn that will scratch your itch... Deep Fear, Vampire Savior, Resident Evil, House Of The Dead, Exhumed and of course, the big daddy of them all, Casper. Unless you want to be bored rigid in some kind of masochistic indulgence of tortuous, snail-paced shite, avoid this game like the plague. As if God is taking a hand in saving us from this nightmare, the price of this turd of a game has sky-rocketed in recent years. A copy of Frankenstein TTEOTM will set you back between £100 and £300, depending on where you source it. Only the most ardent of Saturn completist, should fork out silly money for this game. I got a pristine "repro" of the game from the excellent Nightwing Productions (shout going out to my man Marvin Macias!) which enabled me to experience it without losing the shirt off my back, I'd have been pretty sorely pissed, if I'd splurged out top dollar for this dollop of doo doo. 

My advice? Avoid this game at all costs... if you really want to experience this game for yourself, emulate, burn a disc, buy a repro or simply watch the Youtube video below... the one thing that did give me a laugh, was Victor Frankenstein's OTHER creation, but you have to get pretty far into the game to see it! Other than that leave it alone, Games which are comparably bad? Corpse Killer, The Crow and Alone In The Dark, If the comparison to those three nightmares doesn't give you a scare this Halloween, nothing will!  

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.

Thursday 1 April 2021

Finally Revealed: How to Play as Ryo Hazuki on the Sega Saturn!

OK, so it ain't Saturn Shenmue but bear with us here. This is still really dang cool!

As many fans already know, AM2’s Fighters Megamix is an ambitious crossover 3D fighting game for the Sega Saturn, featuring a mashup of iconic Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers characters duking it out for...reasons. For those who are unfamiliar with the game, we have written about it here on the Saturn Junkyard. It even ranked just outside folks' top 10 all-time favorite Saturn titles in our community poll a while back.

Aside from being an all-around excellent video game, Fighters Megamix is particularly notable for its smattering of weird and obscure unlockable fighters, including Bark and Bean from Sonic the Fighters, Janet from Virtua Cop 2, Rent-A-Hero (in the Japanese version), original character Deku, the prototype VF1 character Siba (who was cut from the original game before release), and most notoriously, the Hornet stock car from Daytona USA. And, uh, meat. The game even lets players fight as the AM2 palm tree logo once they've logged in a whopping 84 hours!

But apparently, that isn't everybody…

In a recent Japanese interview as part of the GO SEGA 60th Anniversary series, former Sega arcade/AM2 executive and Fighters Megamix director Hiroshi Kataoka let it slip that, buried deep within the recesses of Fighter Megamix’s code, there is one more unlockable fighter that the community has yet to unearth. Further, it was strongly hinted that this character would go on to be a massive fan favorite in the Sega community, which is especially since you bought merchandise relevant given the recent hubub surrounding certain other infamous AM2 prototypes on the Sega Saturn.

The fact that he is apparently unlockable as an alternate Akira skin also lends some credence to our suspicions, and it was later confirmed that Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki -- or at least a very early prototypical iteration of him -- is indeed a hidden playable character in Fighters Megamix.

Ryo? In Fighters Megamix?! This is cool!

It can't be overstated how monumental this potentially is for the Sega fan community. The fabled Saturn prototype build of Shenmue (a.k.a. Project Guppy, a.k.a. Virtua Fighter RPG: Akira's Story, a.k.a. Project Berkley) has been a white whale for fans ever since AM2 revealed detailed footage from the prototype project alongside Shenmue II. Perhaps one day a former Sega or AM2 employee (who is also a supremely benevolent and all-around wonderful human being) will step forward and grace the world with a playable build of Saturn Shenmue and give us adoring fans a chance to experience it for ourselves in its full 32-bit glory. Unfortunately, this prototype build reportedly ran on an upgraded version of the Saturn (rather than stock hardware), which could pose its own practical challenges to our collective pipe dream. Nevertheless, it would be a remarkable glimpse into the unbridled ambition of a masterful Yu Suzuki-led AM2 team who dared to unravel the seams of the medium to engage players in new ways and immerse them fully in its living, breathing virtual world.

Until then, having the chance to play as Ryo in a 25 year-old fighting game could be the next best thing. However, there is a catch. Unlocking our (baby) boy Ryo in Fighters Megamix is apparently a very time-consuming ordeal and none of us at the Junkyard have had a chance to try it since learning this information a couple of days ago. For any patient and dedicated souls in the community with some extra time their hands, this is how it’s supposed to work:

Similar to other secret characters in the game, unlocking Ryo requires playing Fighters Megamix for a certain threshold of time before be becomes playable. Unfortunately, in Ryo's case, this is double the amount of time it takes to unlock the AM2 palm tree: 168 hours!

Worth it.

Done doing that? Good.

After logging a full 168 hours into Fighters Megamix, simply go into any mode and highlight Akira on the fighter select screen, hold *L+R+B+X+Z simultaneously before selecting the character with either A, C, or Y

* Note: we believe they meant L and R as in the shoulder buttons, not the D-pad inputs.

And after that…?

Let’s get sweaty.

That’s all we know so far. We will follow up with some updates once we’re able to play as Ryo for ourselves. In the meantime, if anyone in the community can unlock Ryo first and share their spoils with the Saturn Junkyard Facebook community, we will be forever grateful for your legendary exploits!

May Segata Sanshiro guide your path.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

New SJY TitanCast Episode -- Yakuza: Like a Dragoncast w/ Kinsey Burke & KC RadioMan!

Join us for a monumental celebration of SEGA and RGG Studio's Yakuza: Like a Dragon (a.k.a. YakLAD)! In this mega episode of the Saturn Junkyard's TitanCast, Brian and Camron are joined by special guests KC (host of The SEGA Lounge on Radio SEGA) and Kinsey (YouTuber and Producer at Chuhai Labs) for a lively deep dive into the inaugural adventure of Ichiban Kasuga and friends.

Available on podcast sites everywhere, including:

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Google Podcasts
Listen on Buzzsprout

For the first half of this episode, we have a spoiler-free chat about our broader experiences and impressions of LAD as a sequel and entry point, and its merits as both a continuation of and departure from the series' legacy. Later in the episode, things take a turn for the absurd and spoilery as we fawn over Ichiban, reminisce about our hypercapitalist tomfoolery in the business sim mini game, and talk mad shit about certain “supporting” characters.

Whether you already love Yakuza and Like a Dragon or are curious what all the hoopla is about, join us for a fun time, either way!

Games discussed in this episode: Yakuza: Like a Dragon (and not much else)

Panelists (Twitter links):

Kinsey (@KinsZilla)

KC (@KCRadioMan)

Camron (@Tsundain)

Brian (@VirtuaSchlub)

Related Links:

The Sega Lounge podcast site -

Radio Sega main site -

The SEGA Lounge Twitter (@thesegalounge) -

Chuhai Labs main site (w/ Discord link) -

Chuhai Labs Twitter (@ChuhaiLabs) -

The Saturn Junkyard blog site -

SJY Facebook page & community -

SJY YouTube channel -

SJY Twitter (@SaturnJunkyard) -

The Dreamcast Junkyard home page -

Brian's Shenmue III article on DCJY -