Saturday, 20 March 2021

Balan Wonderworld Demo - Nights on Training Wheels

 So, you wanted high flying action? Mysterious and wondrous worlds of beauty and glamour? How about amazingly smooth gameplay with awesome mechanics? Well, if you were expecting a true successor to Nights Into Dreams, allow me to probably be the 10th person to tell you, this ain't it. What they did was take the most basic mechanic of walking around as a child in Nights, added some power-ups and crappy puzzle solving and slapped it onto a game. Then they added some Chao clones and one cool enemy along with his generic minions and called it a day. 

Do not get me wrong, I know this is a demo and I know that there could still be some good stuff here, but that's where they really screwed it all up. The point of the demo is to give people a taste of what is to come and make them want more. What this gave us is the most basic of 3D platformers with the same problems in depth perception and cryptic purpose to all of it. If this is really all we have in store for us, count me out.

This leads me to believe that if there is something of a Nights flying mechanic, it is buried underneath idiotic level designs and time-wasting bonus rounds in the "Balan Bout" segment. These segments heighten your score but they are not fun in the least; they are Quick Time Events: The Game.

Nights Into Dreams mixed with elements of Alice in Wonderland should have been a homerun. Well, it's not even a first base hit. It attempts to make the level designs interesting, but it's stuff we've seen twenty million times before. So, now we're walking around as a child in this watered down version of Wonderland. Do the power-ups even make a dent in this boredom? Of course, not. The best thing about them is that they called the rabbit suits "Jumping Jacks" which is very mildly clever. Beyond that, you're a sprouting flower much in the vain of Mario Odyssey, a dragon that puffs out a scrawny fart of fire and a rabbit suit that does the Luigi running long jump. The next power up is just a pig suit that makes you do the super stomp, much like MARIO!

Funny how this "Nights clone" is looking more and more like the gargantuan Nintendo franchise. It's almost like they didn't want to spend all of that time and effort on creating full blown flying mechanics so they just asked themselves "What's easier and doesn't take a whole lot of thought? I got a dinner date for the rest of the week." Okay, that was a bit cruel to the developers but what else are we supposed to think? They had every single bit of potential this world had to offer and they cheaped out on us! 

The introduction graphics and opening theme are quite good, if we're going for compliments. The opening score is nice to listen to and it's quite obvious that there was a lot of effort put into certain elements of this game. One of the main baddies we do get to meet actually has a cool character design; you know, much like a Nights villain with tentacles. That's pretty much where all of the praise comes to a close. Beyond that, it's so mediocre and off-putting because they gave us every single wrong idea. To their credit, they at least released a demo. That's a lot more than can be said about other certain games that have come out recently. 

So, Saturn fans, I'm sorry to say that this is not the game we were hoping for. It's highly unlikely that Nights Into Dreams will ever get a full sequel outside of that underwhelming Wii game. If this game includes awesome high flying episodes, that should have been the whole entire game or at least 80% of it. Balan Wonderworld could have been a contender for a nostalgic throwback of amazing proportions, but they decided not to go that route, for whatever reason. Be absolutely sure you play this demo if you have any interest in this game at all. It could be your cup of tea, as doubtful as that is. It's not completely devoid of fun, it's just lacking a great deal of it. Looks like Nights still remains king while this pauper is nothing more than the castle janitor. Decide for yourself, and don't forget to drink water.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

The Virtua Fighter Series - Punch, Kick, Repeat

Virtua Fighter is one of the flagship franchises for the Sega Saturn. It is one of the most instantly recognizable games on the system and it is an exemplary fighting game. No matter what generation after the fifth generation of consoles, this series has had an impact on it. VF had somewhat humble beginnings, but has never sagged in its portrayal of a genre that it helped invent. It was the first 3D fighting game to hit the arcades and it set the standard.

What it lacks in story, as it doesn’t have a great one, it makes up for it in pure fighting mechanics. Each of the characters are distinct from one another and each of them boasts a different type of technique. With every entry in the series, it only grew in quality and number of characters. No matter what kind of character you fight with, there is someone for you here.

We’re going to be taking a look at the main titles of this series. All of them bring something new to the table and all of them are up to par. It competes with the strongest franchises. Although it didn’t keep the popularity up the whole way through, it still kept its dignity in tact with every entry to the series. Starting with Virtua Fighter in the arcades, the franchise took off like an eagle!

                                                                                Virtua Fighter

With some blocky, jagged graphics, the first installment of the series was crude, but that didn’t matter. While the graphics didn’t age well at all, the game mechanics aged like a fine wine. We’re introduced to characters who will be following us for more and more generations than we could have known at the time.

With great characters like Pai-chan, Akira and Jeffry, you have quite the array of different personalities and styles to play with. There really isn’t much of a story behind this game, but honestly, it doesn’t need a complex narrative behind it. Fighting games can be made great with a story behind it, but in this case, it worked just fine without one. For the time, the graphics and the fighting mechanics were at a great high.

3D games in general were a great rarity when Virtua Fighter was released. The backgrounds are simple but effective in their portrayal of the setting. A cityscape looks like a whole cluster of fireflies standing still and the beach looks like a small patch of sand with a never ending body of water on the outskirts. Still, it looks just strange enough to work.

Virtua Fighter doesn’t win a great deal of points for graphics, but its controls and its atmosphere of retro fighting makes it a staple for any Saturn collection! Not to mention, it was a perfect opener for a fantastic encore!

                                                                                Virtua Fighter 2       

Many consider this the best in the series, and they are not wrong. As well upgraded as the future sequels were, Virtua Fighter 2 encompasses everything we love about the original series. The graphics were upgraded to a ridiculous extent. The console version stacked up well against the arcade edition, as it only featured minimal differences from the original version. It even gave the characters new moves and brand new backgrounds for fighting arenas.

Lion and Shun are brought into the fray and who could say no to a drunken fighter and the mantis style? They fit in perfectly with the cast and bring about their own extended mechanics. Shun, especially, brought a new weird batch of fighting moves as the more you make him drink, the more fighting moves he can perform with different button combinations.

All of the character models look so much better and the frame rate smoothed so much more this time around. If you were looking for a fighting game to challenge yourself by learning its ins and outs, this is your game. It has been used for competitive fighting many times and still holds true greatness to this day.

                                                                        Fighters Megamix


A crossover that brought the likes of Fighting Vipers into the arena alongside Virtua Fighters. Does it work? Yes, but there are some issues here and there. First off, though, the greatest thing about this whole game is the roster of characters and the settings for each wondrous level. Bringing all of these characters together and giving you the opportunity to play with both regular player characters and boss fighters was a stroke of 90’s action awesomeness!

Now, as for the shortcomings, unfortunately there is a bit of a balance issue when you take certain characters into consideration. Fighting Vipers featured some of the more fast paced moves along with armor protecting its characters, so they had something of an unfair advantage some of the time. Beyond that, there is also a few cage matches where the frame rate tanks at a ridiculous rate.

Beyond those problems, though, the graphics look amazing and the roster even bears some characters you never would expect to be in a fighting game, like a bear. Unlocking all of these characters are half of the fun and enjoying the wondrous images of both the Virtua Fighter and Fighting Viper backgrounds is a sight to behold.

Beating the game isn’t much of a challenge as all it takes is choosing some of the less scrupulous fighters with the bigger, easier combos to perform. This is okay for unlocking characters and beating the computer, but not so great when you’re fighting your friends or siblings. Be sure to keep it fair.

                                                                       Virtua Fighter Kids


Something that probably should have never happened, but we’re glad that it did! Featuring the roster from Virtua Fighter 2 in kid form, this strange title became something of a lauded title in the series. Given its strange game content and the overall outlandish execution, its kind of a wonder as to how it all worked so well. The game mechanics have changed quite a bit, but still retained its greatness in controls and fighting styles all around.

The thing about this title is that it is, in fact, aimed at children and even gives them the option to choose a more kid friendly difficulty. It also features brighter colors and a much more upbeat atmosphere. Somehow, this mixed in with the fighting mechanics just fine. Pay no attention to the fact that the guys with facial hair still retain these as a kid. The fact that Shun is an oldman kid is hilarious.

One thing worth noting about this title is that both Sarah Bryant and Akira Yuki appear in their kid forms in Fighters Megamix as some of the later unlockable characters. Beyond this, sadly, there were no sequels made for the Kids title. It’s sad, but then again, it’s not surprising as this seemed more like an experimental game. If you want to try and gets kids into Sega Saturn fighting games, then look no further!

                                                                    Virtua Fighter Remix


A revamping of the original title in the series, Remix came and improved pretty much all of the graphics of Virtua Fighter. To be honest, it looks better, but there is just something missing from it. It lacks the atmosphere of the original titles and the polished graphics just don’t feel like they belong. Many would find it to be preferable over the blocky polygons you see in VF1 but honestly, if that sort of thing bothers you, then you’re better off just going with Virtua Fighter 2 rather than this.

This is more subjective than anything because newcomers will probably find this version far superior. It’s definitely worth a try, without question. However, those who look past graphics and frame rates and enjoy the old retro style may not find this favorable. If you have a chance to try and see for yourself, do so, please.

                                                                           Virtua Fighter 3tb


Now moving onto the Sega Dreamcast system! Virtua Fighter graduates to a new set of 32 bit graphics with this take on the Virtua Fighter series. Virtua Fighter 3 came out on the arcades but hit the Dreamcast with the “tb” at the end (standing for Team Battle). The graphics overall look remarkable, certain details aside, and the fighting mechanics are still here for your fighting pleasure.

This is probably the worst title in the franchise, but that’s not saying a whole lot because it’s still fantastic. The real problem it has is in the team battle aspect itself. This mechanic makes fights take far longer and the length makes them out stay their welcome just a little bit. The graphics, while improved, also start hitting the uncanny valley when it comes to seeing the people’s faces. Their eyes and facial features just look a little off and seemed like the improvement only made them worse.

Still, the fighting arenas never looked better and fighting in them is a lot of fun. The level of detail can be seen with such clarity and you get to meet your old favorite characters all over again while also being introduced to more. While the new characters don’t really have the same kind of staying power or charm, they also don’t get in the way of anything.

Honestly, this is not the title you should use to get people into VF, but it also won’t scare them away. The team battle aspect can be a lot of fun if you have the patience and the time to work it to your liking. The characters have looked better, though, and it’s a little sad that this is the only title that made it to the Sega Dreamcast, as Virtua Fighter 4 was never ported to it. In fact, this is the last Virtua Fighter game to be on a Sega system. It’s sad, but let’s move on.

                                                                         Virtua Fighter 4


After a bit of a dip in quality with the third installment, hopes weren’t exactly high for this title. Boy, was I surprised to find that this game made improvements across the board and even gave it even more of a fun factor. This is how you truly improve upon greatness. The introduction to the PS2 honestly could not have gone better for Virtua Fighter. It not only kept its underlying greatness, but the story mode is actually a whole lot of fun!

You play as one character and improve that character to your liking as you fight in arcades around the city in order to take them all over! The more arcades you take as yours, the more your character improves overall. It makes you want to keep fighting and improving your character to take over more regions of the city where there are bigger and more important arcades.

To say this was a graphics improvement would be an understatement. While the new characters still lack in staying power, it really doesn’t matter. The character designs are still stylish and their overall portrayal has lost none of its potency. This was a surprise and a half! Virtua Fighter 4 is a hit! How it could possibly have been the only title the series had on PS2 is a mystery, but it carried on an amazing legacy and ushered in even a fifth title.

                                                                                 Virtua Fighter 5


The fifth and final title of the main game series. VF5 was released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 and wowed audiences and critics alike! The graphics are sublime and it never stumbled on its fighting mechanics, as the series never would. You can still see your old favorites along with a few new, rather noticeable additions to the line up.

How is it that this was the last title, though? Was there a bit of franchise fatigue or did AM2 simply think that they should end the series on a high note? This is definitely a high note and it is worth buying right now because you can get it remarkably cheap. It holds the same mechanics as VF4 and the frame junkies will get their fix because it runs as smooth as butter cream. It’s just such a shame that the series needed to end so unceremoniously. They could at least release a Virtua Fighter collection or something to commemorate such an amazing series as this.

Virtua Fighter had its highs and its small mediocrity, but it never dipped below its own standards. It still held true to its mechanics and every single one of the game developers should be proud of how it all turned out. Not only is it a staple for Sega enthusiasts but Fighting Game junkies will get their money’s worth in many ways with any of these titles on this list. If you are a fan of this genre, then you are neglecting a fantastic bunch of games in skipping out on this franchise. Do yourself a favor and get as many of these games as you can because this is a legacy that needs to endure and Sega needs to show it some respect. There are titles that I missed (namely the Sega Genesis 2D fighter) in this list, but these are the titles that I have played and loved in doing so. Give it a go, just don’t be like Shun and over indulge. He should drink more water and so should you.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Doom - Saturn Demon Gorefest

 Let's talk about Doom. The masterpiece of a game created by ID Software, headed by both John Carmack and John Romero. Originally meant to be an Alien tie-in, Doom took on the hot subject of hell, death, guns and gore and put it on computers across the entire world. The impact this game has had on the world could not be overstated with a series of novels. If Wolfenstein 3D is considered the grandfather of modern FPS, then Doom is the father. With limitless amounts of ports across platforms of all kinds, the Doom franchise has thrived across the span of over two decades, despite a long lull in development between Doom 3 and Doom 4.

So, putting it on Sega Saturn should have been a match made in heaven, right? Well, not so much. While the developers had more than enough to work with in making it the best console port of its time, it was John Carmack that came down with the decision to not use any 3D tech, opting instead to keep it to the original textures. He single-handedly killed this port for everyone simply to avoid a bit of texture wobble. 

The result is rather disheartening. The frame rate drops to crawling rates, the controls are less than stellar but at least the graphics are fairly decent. The textures actually look really good, if not a little bit discolored, but was it worth it? No, no it really wasn't. This makes it look like the Sega Saturn couldn't perform well enough for Doom, but that is not at all the case. The Saturn had every capability in carrying both Doom and Doom 2, but instead, the frame rate was dropped to a dismal 12 fps which constantly bottoms out with too much activity on the screen.

You know what the real kicker is here, though? It's still Doom and it is still very much playable. It's no lie that the frames are awful and the controls are very slowed down as well, but thankfully the weapon firing rates were all heightened to compensate for the difficulty. It works surprisingly well. You can still find great enjoyment in this port if you are willing to look past its many faults. 

Discovering what became of this port was very depressing. It took time and gameplay, but overall, it was not a terrible experience. In fact, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had! You can now cheat and make it where you can have the super shotgun and all of the weapons in the first episode of Doom, Knee Deep in the Dead. You can now take down the Bruiser Brothers, the Barons of Hell in the Phobos Anomaly with the BFG 9000 and the plasma gun! It's a riot! 

There have been some who came forward, saying that Doom on the Saturn was the first version they ever played the game. They still love Doom. They had no problems playing it and thoroughly indulging in it. This is definitely not the best port by any means, but it is still not the worst. It still has the majority of the Doom 1 and 2 levels in tact, despite its limitations. Do not count this port out just because it has some graphical shortcomings. Doom is Doom and the Saturn is no different. 

Do I wish we got a port more akin to the PS1? Of course, I do. Carmack was obviously not happy with his decision in the long run, and the developer who wrote the port was mortified to have been forced to change it from his original version which reportedly worked at 60 fps. It would have been nice to have, but these are the cards we have been played. Give this version a try if you fancy yourself an old school gamer. Saturn fans don't need to be proud of it, but we can keep it to ourselves. Now go spill some blood and rip demons responsibly. 

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 -