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.

Friday, 23 April 2021

Mortal Kombat (2021) - Attack of the Tonfas

 Finally! At long last, we have killed the legacy of that mediocre first film done by the Resident Evil killer, Paul W.S. Anderson and that ridiculously terrible Annihilation! We have a proper Mortal Kombat film that supersedes the stipulation that video game movies cannot be made well. Was it worth the hype? Is it a perfect film? Well, yes and no on both counts. 

When you look at it for what it is, a Mortal Kombat game-to-film translation, you can definitely count it among the nigh perfect. It does have an extensive character roster, but that is for a very good reason. The real factor that they got picture perfect, that the other films failed at miserably, was the blood and gore. This film fought hard to maintain an R rating, but the censors fought just as hard. They did not neglect that element, though. 

Now, for the meat of the situation. The characters and the actors who portray them. Well, I can guarantee we will not be getting any Sindel quotes, promising Kitana she will die. Instead, we get a character that no one has heard about until this film and that was quite the double edged sword. On one hand, we have a new character who has never heard of the tournament, and can be targeted for exposition as such. On the other hand, we have a very simplistic fighter who punches all of the check marks on the list. 

We get all of the greats back as well, Raiden, Sub Zero, Scorpion, Jax, Sonya Blade, Kano and so many others make an appearance and unlike the second film, they don't feel like they're bunching up all of the scenes. We get a bunch of great performances from just about everyone. Even Shang Tsung, who is not as good as Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, still holds his own as the villain. And yes, he does take souls! So that's a good thing!

Kano is one of the best things about this film. His character is utilized so beautifully and his simple quirks are amazingly humorous without killing the tone. His chemistry with Sonya and his path between good and evil is handled amazingly well. 


There are a few things about the trailer that you should note. While some of the lines and scenes were made for the trailer, they are at least useful to the viewer in more ways than one. Mileena looks awesome in the trailer, but quite honestly, she turns out to be just another character. Liu Kang is very intense and melodramatic while also being somewhat sidelined, compared to his role when Robin Shou played him, he's much more of a face in the crowd. 

As said before, there are many characters and if I go through every single one of them, I'll be here all day. Raiden is probably one of the more disappointing characters. Not only do his glowing eyes look strange, but he is once again relegated to a spectator. He only serves the plot in indirect ways and is more or less an excuse for the bad guys to wait longer. 

The plot revolves around the group of people who gain a special mark on their bodies that resembles a symbol we all know. Outworld is taking the low route and going after them before Mortal Kombat begins. The plot is simple and to the point, which is very nice because it means that it moves fast enough to get to the good parts we all came to see. The bad part is that when the film is rushed, it is very clear where the writers dropped the ball in terms of the script. 

The CGI is very well done and it is very cool to see some practical effects brought in as well. There are so many movies that try to make blood through special effects, but this film does very little of that. The blood and guts are clear to see without being over used. The worst thing that can be said about the CGI is that when it's done to manipulate body parts like Jax's arms or Mileena's mouth, it is severely noticeable.

Now, let's go a bit deeper into the plot.

(Spoiler Warnings from here)

So, when I say the new guy, Cole Young, is by the numbers, I mean that in the most basic sense. If he were a character in the game, I doubt he would be played much because he has the most mediocre abilities and has been shown to be a very basic fighter. His weapons are a tonfa and a tonfa blade. Tonfas are given to characters you can't think of any other weapons for. Then his powers are seen and it's nothing more than a suit of armor that absorbs powerful attacks and allows him to power up as a result. He uses this power against Goro but it is not very effective.

On a high note, though, you would expect his wife and daughter to die. They come very close, but the old cliche of the main character's loved ones dying is not seen here. This is a breath of fresh air for sure.

As far as characters go, as said before, Kano is the best out of all of them. His initial fight with Reptile is one of the best scenes in the entire movie and Josh Lawson does a fantastic job. While Reptile is a far better character in the games for this reviewer, seeing his heart being removed forcefully by this criminal was an absolute delight. 

The rough spots are quite noticeable when it comes to characters, there are some that do not meet up to par. Kung Lao is a great character and the portrayal is well done, but there just wasn't a whole lot done with him. He kills some throwaway lady character with demon wings. While the fatality he performs is awesome and from the games, he's killed off for the sole purpose of giving Liu Kang something to fight for. 

Reiko and Kabal are the lowest points in this film. Kabal's dialogue is the most stilted and rushed out of any of them. Reiko, on the other fist, has no lines, yet his actor still manages to be the worst in the entire film. So, pick your poison, clumsy ADR, or terrible nonverbal performances. It invokes a lot of cringe.

To continue my Raiden talk, this time around, he starts out as an elder god. This means he cannot get directly involved. Even when the bad guys are cheating by killing Earthrealm's fighters, the god of thunder can do nothing but make cryptic promises and use vicarious tactics to help our heroes. 

This becomes especially apparent when the plot takes an enormous dump. Near the end of the movie, when we have our dipping point and all of the heroes are sad, pretty much everyone loses and there is a lot of gore. Raiden literally teleports everyone to a blank white realm. It was called something fancier, but that's all it was, a white space. It was the writers scripting themselves into a corner. So, at the lowest point of the film, both storyline-wise and tone-wise, they pass us a snake-eyes roll and we are treated to a space where the bad guys can't go, and where the good guys can form a plan. 

As the plot goes, yeah, they pulled it out of their asses and didn't explain a whole lot. This part nearly ruined the movie for me. Not only did they force the protagonists into a low point that seems to be a staple of movies, but the villains actually seem to go out of their way to allow this to happen. It's clumsy, but the movie picks itself up quite well.

The ending battle that ensues between the side characters are only really noteworthy because of the fatalities. Besides Kano vs Sonya, there's really nothing special to talk about. As for the fight Sub Zero, however, you get your money's worth. It doesn't forgive the bigger mistakes but it certainly saves it from being a gigantic slog. 

The third act is a bit rushed, because with so many characters, there's a lot to tie up. However, as a whole, the movie is definitely one of the better video game movies we've seen. It's obvious they put a lot of work into making this film and you can appreciate it as a fighting movie in general. It just needed a bit more polishing with the pacing and the sequencing. Characters survive for plot reasons and a lot of the time, you're asking "Where's the tournament?" Well, sad to say, there is no tournament this time around. We wrap up the plot with the promise of a Mortal Kombat in the next film, which is fine. 

In the end, we got what we came for. There are some bad ass fight scenes and a main character we can relate to. While he is bland and forgettable, he is not unlikeable or annoying. He holds his own in battle and he's not completely cliched. 

Beyond anything else, we have a movie that takes the place of the first two very well and improves on just about everything. The 95 film is still good but now we have one that lives up to the actual name. It's not perfect as films go, but for Mortal Kombat, it is about as faithful as you could want. Definitely give it a watch if you're a fan of the franchise. If not, it's still worth a look. Don't sweat the small stuff, but if you do sweat, be sure to drink some water.


Thursday, 22 April 2021

Resident Evil - Digital Zombie Brains 2: The Return of the Revenge

 


Who here has not heard of this revolutionary title? Where Alone in the Dark broadcasted survival horror for a group of people, Resident Evil (or the Japanese title Biohazard) broadcasted it to the entire world. This launched a franchise that is still going very strong two decades later. The gameplay is easy to learn but especially hard to master. You don't need prior knowledge to learn how to beat it, but you'd better be thinking on your toes and you also need to master the controls in a big hurry. 

Right off the bat, you can see that the graphics in this game aged like a opossum. It's grimy and ugly, especially compared to ahem other ports, but if you really care that much about graphics, what are you doing here? This is the mid-90's and graphics mean about as much as a stain glass window in a church. It's nice to have, but there are plenty of other things you should be focused on. One of those things is staying alive by killing zombies that come your way. Right off the bat, the game throws you into the fire and sees how you react. 


This game is very unforgiving, especially if you don't know any of the mechanics coming in. The feeling of panic starts when the zombie locks eyes with you and starts its ferocious attack on your flesh. Knowing your controls and knowing not to waste bullets on the first enemy is key to your success. Now, you're proud of yourself when you figure out that Berry is more than willing to help you kill it. Then the game says "Sorry! Here's some dogs to keep you company! Have fun!" These are even faster and harder to kill because of how their AI just runs ragged to, once again, chomp at your jugular. 

This is the first five or ten minutes of the game, depending on how fast you are in figuring out where to go. The rest of the game does not take it easy on you, either. It throws you a bone here and there but you've got to know when to use the healing items and when to use your ammunition or run away from the danger. That's why the key phrase is "survival", but it doesn't stop there, either. There's also puzzles and secrets that you need to solve in order to continue throughout the mansion. You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you?


No, this game is hard! The combination of unforgiving targeting, knick-of-time combat reflexes and general "Now, where the hell do I go?" game mechanics have sent several poor gamers home crying because they couldn't save without a typewriter. That's right, if you don't save your game as you go, you're going to be replaying a lot of sections that you spent a lot of time trying to figure out. If you start the game and don't get to a typewriter before an enemy takes you down, you start from the beginning. 

The key factor in all of this is that you learn from your mistakes and you learn where to go and what to do with each of the enemies that you face. The feeling of panic and fear is real when you are down to the red health bar, two bullets in the clip and needing to rely on the knife as your sole means of defense. It forces the fear into you and it does not let up for anyone! That's one of the biggest things that fans latched onto with this series and kept them coming back for more when the sequels started rolling out.

The puzzles aren't especially hard, but on top of everything else, they could possibly trick you and make you wonder what you're doing wrong. Sometimes, you'll kick yourself for not figuring it out yourself. This is okay, it's what the game is meant to do. Keeping you on your toes and guessing when the next zombie pops out of nowhere is a mechanic you're going to see throughout. That's not even including the boss fights or inventory management! Choosing what goes into your pockets is absolutely crucial to your survival. Knowing what ammunition you'll be needing in the future along with what health items to keep or leave behind has driven players bonkers! 

You'll leave behind a box of shotgun shells, and then in the next room, OH GOD WHAT IS THAT?!


The game throws you yet another curve ball! Its gameplay is disorienting on purpose. It gives you a fair chance but only just so. If you don't know how to control your character very well by now, you may as well rely on the save feature, and good luck with that. That is not going to get you far, I can tell you that for free.

Then there's the dubbing to take into consideration. This game's English Dub is infamous for being some of the most tripe garbage and hilariously terrible dialogue this side of the Atlantic. It has been parodied, mocked and the laughing stock of the gaming industry, but us old school gamers would have it no other way. There was a remake of this game for the Gamecube that fixed the dialogue and voice acting but many will attest that it wasn't worth the effort and a great many fans don't play the remake for that very reason. Lines having to do with sandwiches, mastering the unlocking and blood have flooded meme chats and forums throughout the internet, it is impossible not to find some good ones for a hefty laugh. 


The tank controls are perhaps the biggest weak point in this game. They have been defended by purists and panned by gaming critics and the back and forth still continues to this very day. They take some serious getting use to. They are one of the biggest obstacles to overcome with this game and for good reason. I won't go into too much detail here, but you will need to give yourself a moment to figure out how to equip items, use items, aim your gun and run away in the proper direction without hitting walls or chairs over and over again. If you're running away from something and you can't seem to stop hitting the grandfather clock, you should probably give yourself another moment to figure it out.

This is an absolutely solid game through and through. There is very good reason it has stood the test of time, because it set the bar for survival horror as a genre and very few games have met it in the ring. Silent Hill 2 is a contender for sure, but even the sequel games being made to this day have either been too easy or just not scary when they're tagged with the same title and genre. When you give your game the Survival Horror category, you'd better be able to bring up the goods. Resident Evil is a hard bar to reach, but it is always good to try your best to do so. Gaming companies have fallen into cash-grab crunch mode and forgotten what it is like to make good games, but at least they gave us games such as this one before they fell into that well. While you're down there, why don't you start making complete games and fill my bucket with water?

 



Saturday, 3 April 2021

Neptune - New Top 20 Least Virtua Insanity



So, here we go again with another updated list of times past. To check out my original list, by all means, give it a looksy. You may notice that not a lot of them have changed, save for one. Beyond that, their positions have changed as time has gone on because they have aged like already expired milk. Remember, it's not always the developers' fault but it can be a collection of reasons that the games turned out like they did. Not all of these games are really bad, but the majority of them are either bland, misguided, or just plain terrible to play.

Talk all you want about how small the Sega Saturn library is, but it still has some amazing titles attached to it. However, like barnacles to the bottom of a ship, there are also a great deal of terrible ones. There was a taste of both sensational and sinister, amazing and abysmal, terrific and toxic. Today, we will be looking at the bottom of the barrel.

These are the worst Sega Saturn games I have experienced so far. If you notice a title missing that belongs on this list, feel free to comment down below and I will see if I can get my hands on it. If you like some of these games, please don’t start hollering. You are entitled to your opinions, but I am not obligated to agree with you. If you enjoy playing terrible games, then you are invited to try the titles on this list that interest you. Just keep in mind that you have been warned.



#20 Contra Legacy of War

Anyone who gamed in the Nintendo era will remember one of the Konami greats. Its side scrolling run and gun action was a marvel of its time. Legacy of War does not take after its ascendent. This game is bland, milk toast and tasteless. You run and gun, but the controls are a lot more awkward and the aiming is a lot more related to its own rendition of depth perception. It’s, by no means, a terrible game. That’s why it’s so low on this list. It’s just not really worth playing.



#19 Golden Axe: The Duel

It’s a fighting game and about as stock as it gets. You recognize the characters, but then you realize that’s because they’re that one dwarf you forgot the name of along with the amazon who looked pretty while killing big armored guys in the beat’em up games. That’s just it, this wasn’t a good game because of the characters, it was fun to play when you were adventuring. The Duel takes all of the adventure aspects out and puts them in a fighting stage. There is no identity anymore and three or four matches is more than enough to force your attention elsewhere.



#18 Sonic 3D Blast

After another playthrough of this game, it doesn’t age nearly as bad, especially after seeing what horrors the Sega Saturn is truly capable of. Sonic 3D Blast still takes the speed out of Sonic and replaces it with a machine that makes you spindash over to the next part of the level. Then there’s portals that put you at the next part of the level. Then you get more birds and put them in a ring to move on to yet another part of the level. The boring, repetative gameplay did not age well at all, but the harmlessness and redundancy are at least good for some mindless head numbing.



#17 Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal

What kills this Ironman title is as soon as you kill one of the enemies, you walk down a hall and then see his half brother who happens to be wearing the exact same suit of armor. You get to a corner of a level and after scratching your metal head for a few moments, you see that there is a hole in the ceiling and you need to fly through it. After killing the original enemy’s fifth cousin twice removed on his mother’s side, you come to a fence. You shoot the fence, nothing happens. You walk up to the fence and it damages you with electricity, then it has a hole in it. You shoot the next fence, which makes a hole in it. This Ironman title (which is so long, I will not type that full thing out aside from the title of this paragraph) is mind blowingly samey in every aspect and every level looks like a friend you already know. A friend you want to stay away from and bar from your home forever!



#16 Batman Forever Arcade

This film just can’t seem to get a break. Not one, but two terrible tie-in games. Acclaim really went for the one-two punch with this one. So, you’re Batman, and you’re fighty and scrappy all well enough. However, every single time you beat up groups of badguys, you’ll get power ups. These power ups help you whether you like it or not and they just keep going. One minute, you’re punching a thug’s daylights out. The next minute the screen starts flashing green and lightning strikes you like you’re the Highlander and you just took someone’s head. Next thing you know, your punches explode people and then it goes away until the next random power up makes you swing back and forth, kicking people like George of the Jungle. This game just couldn’t be a normal beat’em up. It had to try and add sprinkles and fireworks. Instead of pumping the player up, it tires the eyes out to the point where you have to try and bring yourself to be disappointed that you ran out of continues.



#15 Alien Trilogy

Doom clone was a rather generic title for FPS’s back in the 90’s, however, at least some of them had their own identity. Alien Trilogy has this one along with its franchise and it utilizes neither of them to any extent. The most interesting aspect of this game was the fact that Doom was originally going to be an Alien title! They didn't end up doing that, but the idea was there. Now, after their success, the actual Alien game turned out to be Doom on ambien. The aliens pop out of nowhere and you have to take a minute to decide whether you’re scared or not. There are two types of aliens: the face huggers and the xenomorphs. It’s a coin toss as to which one you encounter. You shoot, they die, move on to the next bland green room. It’s exciting. See? I’m excited.



#14 The Horde

This could be a much better game and its wasted potential is part of the reason why it is not going to escape this list. The worst part about this is the FMV’s. The acting is so supremely bad and the fact that you have to keep up with a money system just pains the thought process. Why would they tax your pay when you’re just going around and slicing orcs? If you got rid of the live action scenes and cut out all of the currency mechanics, this could be a passable action game. As it stands, though, when you have to force the player into going into the action sequences through threat of imprisonment, there is something very wrong.



#13 Dragon Ball Z: Densetsu

Before this game came to be, there had already been tried and true ways to create Dragon Ball Z fighters. Why on Earth would you change the fighting game formula to this? I know that a lot of people have strong feelings about this game and I gave it a very fair try. I've been a Dragon Ball fan for many, many years and this is definitely my niche. However, there are some very unforgivable mistakes being made here. It more or less forces you into doing split screen. This causes the enemies to be hard to find, especially when you need to change characters. After the fifth hour of trying to whittle down the villains’ life bar, you’ll notice that it’s already whittled down five hours of your life bar. It’s not the 90’s anymore, there are a plethora of other DBZ fighting games to whittle upon. 



#12 Incredible Hulk - Pantheon Saga

Get ready to break things. By things, I mean glass and windows. The walls? Oh, things come off them as you punch, but breaking through is a no-go. There is no escape until you skulk around these random facilities and fight minimal enemies. It’s a puzzle switch game that doesn’t so much stimulate your brain as it does strain your senses. These senses are telling you that you could be playing something better. You should really listen.



#11 Virtual Hydlide

Even after playing a every side of the Saturn spectrum, this game proves to be one of the milder evils of the system. It’s awful, yes, but at least there’s some sense of adventure. Yeah, it handles like you’re near-sighted and the graphics give you motion sickness even without the motion, but the castles are decent to look at. Don’t get me wrong, this game is still tripe garbage. It’s just harder to stay mad at it as you walk down the Saturn’s freakshow hallway.



#10 Battle Arena Toshinden URA

Your eyes are not ready to gaze upon these “polished” pixels. It’s pretty much the first game’s graphics given a sharper layer, just in all the wrong places. The control is somehow ten times worse and your walk is even slower than before. The new badguys have no real introduction and while there is a story, it wouldn’t be worth the effort to read unless someone paid you to. Invite your friend over to play you a few rounds with this game and you’re bound to lose a companion until you start forking over the recommended amount of bribery junk food for your next gathering.



#9 Casper

Making a ghost house puzzle solver is like making a Superman game where he has to climb buildings to get balloons. It takes two seconds to realize that you should be able to pass through these walls. This becomes especially noticeable when you have a metal barred door in front of you and you’re made of incorporeal sheets. Top that with extremely boring gameplay and a nonsensical portion of avoiding uncles who are suddenly trying to… uhhhh… “kill” you. It doesn’t mix well and becomes very apparent why this movie did not get anymore game titles for it.



#8 Dragonheart: Fire and Steel

With a series such as Panzer Dragoon, you wonder why they didn’t mix that in with a side scrolling adventure game to create Dragonheart. No, they just had the sidescrolling. Coupled with a very nasty stamina meter that runs out after just a few swings of your sword and a hit detection that rivals Virtual Hydlide and you’ve got bland stacked on horrid, stacked on sludge. The controls are trash and the obstacle damage is literally unavoidable. Sorry, Grandpa knight, please limp your way slowly off of my screen, I am done with you.



#7 Corpse Killer: Graveyard Edition

It’s bad enough that FMV games force us to watch their preschool plays but do we really need live action actors trying to jump scare us in their mother’s halloween makeup? The zombies in this game look like they were cut from a coloring book of horrendous pixelation and the main villain’s gaze is so disturbingly ugly, you feel like you have a right to press charges. This game is so blatantly easy up to its later levels. Then they shove all of the zombies out at you all at once and the difficulty spike is a breath of fresh air. After all, Game Over means that you can turn off the game!



#6 Double Switch

Imagine the crappiest movie you possibly can imagine. Then imagine that you could control some of the events in that movie. That’s when you realize that you’re essentially helping it be crappy and after that realization, the game goes from lackluster to dreadful in a very short amount of time. While some people love this game for its flaws, it must also be looked at objectively. It’s still the equivalent of watching a really terrible movie that lasts for hours. Even controlling Plan 9 from Outer Space sounds like a better idea than this. Game developers honestly need to get on that idea.



#5 Street Fighter The Movie

It’s not even admirable what they were trying to do with this title. It’s one of those ideas that sounds good on paper and could have possibly been pulled off in a good way. However, blatantly copying Mortal Kombat’s style when you already have a fighting game phenomenon seems like a tasteless gesture. Cap that with the fact that the actors’ sprites look like they turn into cheap action figures when they attempt anything more complicated than an uppercut. The story mode is worth a good laugh, but that’s about all you can really appreciate about it.



#4 Rise 2: Resurrection

When I first played this game, I had no idea that it had a gigantic campaign behind its franchise. It promised amazing fighting mechanics coupled with memorable characters. It also proves that Aliens: Colonial Marines wasn’t the biggest lie in gaming history. This game teeters the bland and terrible meter to the point of breaking and leaving a shattered mess on the floor. Every character has no outer layer textures, they are simply faceless, shapeless machines that perform monotonous “fatalities” on each other while also spamming their attacks to an endless degree. Push your fastest attack in every fight and you will win, guaranteed. That should have been the ad campaign; at least it’s true!



#3 Battle Monsters

What’s this? A fighting game worse than Street Fighter the Movie and Rise 2? Believe it, friends. This game is the absolute worst of the worst when it comes to a 1v1. The characters blend so terribly into the background, you can barely see either character on the screen. The hit detection, level design and the playtime Halloween theme are laughable at best. It doesn’t matter what character you choose, the game is so terrible to control that playing it becomes more of an excuse to stare at the characters shamelessly ripped from popular horror movies. Whatever terrible drinking game you make out of this title, make sure you don’t get alcohol poisoning.



#2 Death Crimson

A current playthrough of this game caused it to go much higher on this list. Not only is it the laziest attempt at a rail shooter I have ever seen, but the fact that it can easily give you the worst motion sickness of your life makes it intolerable. The enemies are some of the worst paper cut out finger puppets and the lack of a damage indicator makes the entire experience mercifully short. Every graphic looks like literal puke and controlling the crosshair to actually fire upon a target is reliant on hope and prayer. Neither of which are worth wasting on this game.



#1 The Crow City of Angels
 
Even after sampling twice as many Saturn games as I have ever played, this game was not dethroned. It still tops the charts on horrible. The awful tank controls that snipped a chip of the effort put into Resident Evil make this game half unplayable. The hit detection and controls make this game completely hopeless. Defeating these annoying scumbags carrying guns is solely reliant on nonexistent luck. The graphics are among the absolute worst, even for Acclaim and the aimless walking around levels can only be described through thumbtacks in your skin rather than words. If you legitimately beat the first level, you deserve a metal. You also deserve to play Virtual Hydlide. At least that game is better.

There you have it! There were some laughs to be had, and even some unintentional fun in unexpected places. These games all have some kind of value to them, even if that immediately isn’t apparent… which it’s not in some cases. You could try it if you wanted. Just remember to not drown in the incompetence and instead, drink lot’s of water.


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.

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.