Sega Genesis Mini Review

There’s hardly anything that can prompt gamers to empty their wallets faster than the feeling of nostalgia, I’ve experienced this myself more times than I can count. Replicas of retro consoles have been available for years, but were seen as an inferior way to play the game as the hardware itself was rarely of reputable quality as well as the emulated games suffered from frame rate and lag issues. It wasn’t until Nintendo(who seems downright disinterested at times in re-releasing many of their back catalog titles) released miniature-sized replicas of the NES and SNES complete with an array of classic games and HDMI inputs to accommodate modern tvs. The NES and SNES Classic sold out instantly in their initial production runs and in response no doubt to Nintendo’s success, companies such as Sony and Sega have since released small-scale replicas of the original Playstation and the Genesis/Mega Drive; the ensuing consoles were respectively known as the Playstation Classic and Sega Genesis Mini.

AtGames has released several different lines of Genesis replicas licensed by Sega featuring a “greatest hits” of games built-in. These models were generally considered to be poor quality in both hardware and game performance. As a result, they remained stacked on the shelves of retailers before being discontinued. Sega announced in 2018 they were releasing a new scaled-down replica of their mega-successful Genesis and aimed for a release window to coincide with the 30th anniversary of its North American release in 1989(I posted a list of My Favorite Sega Genesis Games this past August to commemorate). The Sega Genesis Mini missed the target release date of August 14, 2019, but was released shortly afterward on September 19. I recently received the console as a birthday present and after spending some time with it, decided to write up a review of the Sega Genesis Mini.

SEGA!!

My old Sonic 2 cartridge showing scale size of the Genesis Mini

The Sega Genesis Mini includes the miniature-sized Gen 1 console(I got the Gen 2 growing up) and accommodates modern tv/monitors by an HDMI input and simple USB power adapter. The Genesis also comes with not one, but two full-sized wired control pads complete with the red lettering on the buttons and around the d-pad. The controllers plug into the console via USB ports and look, feel and play identical to my old ones. I was pleasantly surprised the controller cords are around 3.5 feet in length which allows you to sit a comfortable distance away from your tv. This being a sometimes overlooked detail as the average tv size has doubled since the days of sitting on a couch in the basement in front of an old 19-inch CRT tv; one of the biggest complaints against Nintendo’s NES Classis was the bafflingly short length of the controller cords. Everything about the Genesis Mini has been impressively replicated: console, controllers, and original box art. The game selection menu even features music created by Yuzo Koshiro who was responsible for some of the most beloved Genesis titles; I even love how the sound effects as you navigate the menus are pulled directly from various games.

Sega has done a remarkable job in recreating the Genesis down to details such as the power button being the very same used in the original, as well as a movable slider for the headphone volume and working dust flaps over the cartridge slot; the latter two details being purely cosmetic but add a nice sense of authenticity. There’s even the detachable cover for the slot underneath the console where the Sega CD add-on could be attached. In fact, Sega manufactured additional add-ons for the Genesis Mini: A Sega CD, 32x, a replica Sonic&Knuckles cartridge, and mini Sonic the Hedgehog cartridge that can all be assembled to create Sega’s infamous Genesis Tower of Power. Of course the additions to create this mini-behemoth are again, purely cosmetic but make for a great piece of Sega history. I was a bit disappointed to find out these are only being sold in Japan, and are currently sold out on Play-Asia.

Final Genesis Evolution – The Tower of Power

While the Genesis Mini not being included with 6-button controllers may seem like a turn off for those such as myself, who simply refused to play fighting games like Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat without one. Also, the 6-button controller is probably the sole reason I was able to beat The Lion King on my old Genesis. Fortunately, Retro-Bit offers officially licensed Sega Genesis 6-button controllers that can be can be plugged into the USB port. These sell for $19.99 and are compatible for use on other platforms such as Steam or even the Nintendo Switch.

The Name of the Game is THE GAMES

The Genesis Mini comes preloaded with 42 classic games, including 2 “Bonus Titles” – shoot-em-up Darius and a Genesis version of Tetris; both of which have never appeared on a Sega console. The collection of games includes nearly every big-name title to appear on the Genesis and spanning a range of genres: action, fighting, shoot-em-ups, RPGs, and even a few puzzle games. Classics like Sonic 2, Earthworm Jim, Streets of Rage 2, and Street Fighter 2 took up countless hours of my childhood and there’s a number of games that I still have yet to play like Alisia Dragoon, Shining Force, or Castle of Illusion. Mega Man and Tetris games are near-synonymous with Nintendo so it will be interesting to play them using a Sega controller. One of my complaints about the selection of games for the Genesis Mini is there could have been more EA games included, as Road Rash II is the only one. Electronic Arts had some very prominent sports titles on the Genesis that would have been cool, or even something along the lines of NBA Jam or even Mutant League Football would have been nice to see. It’s rather odd that there’s no inclusion of a Mortal Kombat game or two, considering part of Sega’s cooler, edgier image was seemingly cemented by the blood and gore of the Mortal Kombat games; this also turned Congressional hearings with Joe Lieberman into a spectator sport. “Sega does what NintenDON’T” remember?

The included games:

  • Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
  • Alisia Dragoon
  • Altered Beast
  • Beyond Oasis
  • Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
  • Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Columns
  • Comix Zone
  • Contra: Hard Corps
  • Darius
  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Dynamite Headdy
  • Earthworm Jim
  • Ecco the Dolphin
  • Eternal Champions
  • Ghouls N’ Ghosts
  • Golden Axe
  • Gunstar Heroes
  • Kid Chameleon
  • Landstalker
  • Light Crusader
  • Mega Man: The Wily Wars
  • Monster World IV
  • Phantasy Star IV
  • Road Rash II
  • Shining Force
  • Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
  • Sonic Spinball
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  • Space Harrier II
  • Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition
  • Streets of Rage 2
  • Strider
  • Super Fantasy Zone
  • Tetris
  • Thunder Force III
  • ToeJam & Earl
  • Vectorman
  • Virtua Fighter 2
  • Wonder Boy in Monster World
  • World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

Blast Processor Performance!

Being wary of any issues such as input lag or chugging frame rates that have plagued other retro consoles, Sega’s previous efforts with AtGames in particular, I was relieved to read prior to the Genesis Mini’s release that Sega had commissioned M2 to work on bringing the collection of titles over to the console. M2 had recently worked with Konami on the Castlevania Collection released earlier this year, with impeccable results. Anyone who’s played the original Castlevania entries can attest to what a significant impact any amount of frame rate issues or input lag will have on what were already difficult games(though Castlevania Adventure’s frame rate issues are simply beyond repair).

I like the fact the games are kept in 4:3 and not stretched to fit the screen. The surrounding border also doesn’t take up as much screen space as other retro collections(Namco Collection…)

As a way to jump in and test how well the games play, I decided to start with a game I was familiar enough with and would no doubt magnify any issues – Contra: Hard Corps. The game plays wonderfully and the fact I died within the first seconds of the game are no way the fault of frame rate/lag, the game’s just tough as hell. I made my way through the first few levels and couldn’t find any noticeable hiccups, so I decided to test a few more games. From there I went to Sonic 2, another of my favorites that I know inside and out. After playing Sonic 2 for a while I decided to try out the Mickey Mouse platformer – Castle of Illusion, which also played great. I have since spent a while playing Shinobi III and Street Fighter II and am eager to jump into some other games that I’ve never had the chance to play….or some Sonic Spinball?

Worth Buying?

The Sega Genesis Mini is a wonderful addition to the plethora of licensed retro consoles available and the collection of games play incredibly well. Is it worth buying? For someone that already has most of or all of the included games, maybe not.

My biggest critiques of the console would possibly be the omission of 6-button controllers, though the Japanese version included them. I also would have liked to see a couple more EA games as well as at least Mortal Kombat II. The Japanese version of the Mega Drive Mini also includes several games that were swapped out for the North American version. A significant one for me was MUSHA, which I’d love the chance to play, but it is quite rare AND expensive to pick up a physical copy. The Genesis Mini IS a great way to play some of gaming’s all-time greats with such authenticity, but still taking advantage of modern technology. It was also marked down to as low as $50 over the Black Friday weekend which is more than a fair price for what’s included. I stated I’ve only ever played about half of the included games and only have a small CRT tv in the closest I occasionally drag out to get the full experience when I get the urge to play old Genesis or SNES games, so for me, it’s definitely worth picking up.

Do you plan on getting a Genesis Mini? What are some of the games you’d be most excited to play? What I intended to be a brief review of a MINI console turned out to be the opposite it seems…thanks for reading!

Halloween Blogtober – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

One of my goals for a gaming blog site was to document my experiences with games I had never known as well as catching up on some older games that I’ve never gotten around to playing despite knowing full well of their existence. For my final Blogtober gaming entry I’ve chosen one Konami’s Playstation masterworks – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I wasn’t going to go through the entire Halloween season without at least one Castlevania game, and given how much I love Metroidvanias it’s downright embarrassing I hadn’t played through this before.

Symphony of the Night was first released in 1997 for the Playstation and Sega Saturn. It is the result Konami project starting in 1994 to create a sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood(the 1995 SNES port in North America was known as Dracula X) for the Sega 32x…oh the alternate history that could have been. The 32x project was abruptly scrapped and thus plans to create a brand new Castlevania title for the Playstation were created. Koji Igarashi, the writer and eventual assistant director for the project implemented some new gameplay elements to reinvigorate the beloved franchise. Symphony of the Night presents a departure from the formula in previous Castlevania games by eschewing the entirely linear side-scrolling action and incorporating non-linear exploration, with some RPG elements added in as well. This evolution in gameplay soon became one of the series’ defining features and in the process is responsible for all other entries within the sub-genre of action/adventure games with heavy emphasis on exploration and upgrades being known simply as a “Metroidvania”; a word used somewhat regularly on this site as it is among my favorite types of games to play.

Symphony of the Night begins with a prologue in which you play the finale of Rondo of Blood. Players control Richter Belmont and ascend the steps to the uppermost tower of Dracula’s castle to confront the Prince of Darkness himself. The battle with Dracula is similar to many older games in which you begin at the end of the previous game and play through a boss battle(usually fixed) to serve as a summary of the events leading up to the game you’re currently playing. The story then shifts to four years later – Richter Belmont has disappeared just as the foreboding Castle Dracula reappears from mist. Enter Alucard – the half-human son of Count Dracula we first met in Castlevania 3, who awakens from his slumber and is drawn to his father’s castle to investigate its sudden re-appearance. While traversing the castle he meets Maria Renard who is searching the castle for Richter. He happens upon the lone descendant of Simon Belmont, proclaiming himself to be the ruling of Castle Dracula before dispatching two monster henchman to destroy Alucard. After further searching the expansive fortress, Alucard once again meets up with Maria who begs him not to kill Richter as she hands over a pair of Holy Glasses(Batman!), allowing the user to see “beyond illusions”. He confronts the vampire hunter in Dracula’s tower as he sits upon the throne of his vanquished nemesis. Wearing the newly acquired spectacles allow Alucard to see the floating green orb above Richter and destroy it, releasing him from the control he was subject to. After the orb is destroyed the dark priest Shaft(you’re damn right…), a servant of Dracula affirms that he was the one to lure Richter to the castle and was controlling him while he works to resurrect the Dark Lord himself. Shaft then retreats as Alucard follows him upward to a phantom of Castle Dracula that sits inverted, directly above the former. He then proceeds through the inverted castle, fighting many familiar minions to gather the five body parts of Dracula before battling Shaft in the ritual room where he is preparing to resurrect his master. After Shaft is defeated he informs Alucard that he is too late and there is no way to stop Dracula from returning to this world once again. Count Dracula emerges from the darkness as he is confronted by his half-human son, who swears to his father that he will not seek revenge against the humans that killed his mother and he has no other choice but to stop him. After defeating his father and dispelling him back into the darkness, Alucard then meets up with Richter and Maria who await his return outside the castle as he bids them farewell, stating his blood is cursed and he intends to disappear from this world as Castle Dracula fades away behind him.

Symphony of the Night is unique in the fact you are not controlling a vampire hunter descendant of the house of Belmont, but rather the immortal half-vampire Alucard. The game bestows a sense of freedom to explore and discover every corner of the castle, all while upgrading your health and equipment in order to survive the nightmarish creatures that dwell within its confines. Rather than the ultra linear “point A to B” levels of previous Castlevania games, Symphony of the Night emphasizes the adventure element of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. You are not pointed which direction to go, but simply to explore every inch of the castle and uncover its secrets along the way. This is one of the aspects of Metroidvania games that have always appealed to me: being able to chart your own course throughout and allow your own curiosity and sense of adventure to guide you.

Another addition to the formula is some lighter RPG elements such as a character progression system that upgrades Alucard’s health and magic as he continually gains xp by defeating enemies. You have your four standard character attributes: strength, defense, intelligence, and luck which can be upgraded by consumable items or by finding better equipment. Your equipment can also have elemental damage or resistance as you encounter enemies later in the game that deal fire or lightning-type damage. As with nearly any Castlevania game you have a number of hearts allowing you to use familiar sub-weapons like axes, holy water, and knives; these can be upgraded by finding heart icons in the same way you would find missile expansions in Metroid games.

The visuals have held up reasonably well for a game released in 1997, especially in comparison to other games of the era showcasing the groundbreaking(at the time) 3D graphics that consoles were capable of. The 2D graphics provide a nice complement to the dark gothic setting inside the castle. The soundtrack of the game is an amalgam of moody goth rock, classical, and just a touch of new age and is a perfect accompaniment to exploring the castle, where the mood and feeling can shift within the next screen. Symphony of the Night provides the eerie ambience one has come to expect of the series and I love it.

The levels are well designed without many areas that may serve as a source of irritation for WHEN, not if you will need to make your way through a particular section multiple times. I even enjoyed scaling the bell and clock towers of Castle Dracula, something I can’t always say when discussing Castlevania games; the enemies awaiting you(to no surprise) will test your patience and determination. There are many sections within the castle that feature long corridors or large spacious areas, this didn’t seem all that impressive at first, but make for a unique experience once you reach the Inverted Castle as nearly every inch of the castle inverted or not is accessible. Symphony of the Night has a plethora of boss fights that through the first few hours of the game didn’t seem to pose much in terms of difficulty, but the boss fights found in the Inverted Castle provide a greater challenge, especially if you’re not optimally equipped to face them. The Inverted Castle certainly ups the difficulty and sheer number of enemies thrown at your every direction. It also contains a gauntlet of familiar Castlevania bosses: Mummies, Frankenstein monsters, Medusa, and Death make appearances in opposition to Alucard…flying scythes and all. One of the more memorable encounters was Granfaloon – a giant mass composed of decaying bodies. The bodies are continuously dropped to the ground and require you to fend off the hordes of mindless husks as you attack the main…blob.

What will probably be my most memorable moment of my playthrough of Symphony of the Night will probably be the moment it dawned on me I had to make my way through the entire castle a second time, only mirrored. I had spent the previous 5 hours combing every room of the castle and my game file showed that I was 76% of the way through…only to discover if you truly have completed everything in the game your progress will show 200.6%. This reminded me of my first time playing through Resident Evil 4 – you make your way from the village to the castle, only to be informed that in order to rescue Ashley, you need to make your way through another entire island where she has been taken. You’ve probably had a similar experience in a game where you’re thinking the end must be soon only to realize it was merely the halfway mark…right?

Nearly everything about Symphony of the Night is exceptional; the controls are wonderful with the combat having that familiar “crunch” of older Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden games and the jumping has the lightness as though you’re elegantly floating through the air. The visuals are sound are top notch and don’t overtly give the appearance of a 22 year old game. The boss fights are one of the highlights of the game, as in most Castlevania titles. My only gripe about the game is the fact that quite often you will enter an adjacent room or an area above you, a clock tower for example, and you will get hit by an enemy waiting immediately on the other side and because of the knockback damage(as much a part of Castlevania games as anything) you will be pushed backwards into the previous area only to re-enter the room and have to clear out any enemies you may have defeated already as they have respawned….that and Medusa heads in the clock tower ๐Ÿ˜‰

All in all Symphony of the Night is a phenomenal game with exquisite gameplay that in the years since its release it is considered among the elite titles in the Playstation’s impressive library of games. And to think three of the most memorable PS1 titles – SOTN, Silent Hill, and Metal Gear Solid were all from Konami. Its legacy was also carried on in the beloved Game Boy Advance titles – Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. What may be the most impressive is the way Symphony of the Night was able to reinvigorate the franchise while still possessing the essence of its esteemed predecessors. This also being the case of other games like Metroid: Prime and God of War(2018) in they were able to breath new life into an established franchise while holding on to what made them special in the first place. The night is still young…

That’s all for now! Have you played Symphony of the Night? How do you compare it to other Castlevania games? Let me know in the comments. Thank you to everyone bothering to read my Blogtober posts, I enjoyed writing about(and playing) all the games over the past month. Now I’m off to go do some ghost busting in Luigi’s Mansion 3 and graze on a box of Boo Berry cereal…Happy Halloween!

Halloween Blogtober – Zombies Ate My Neighbors

For today’s Blogtober post we are going to take a trip back to the year 1993. During this wondrous time arcades were still thriving in part to the popularity of fighting-games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Virtua Fighter(released in ’93), Nintendo and Sega were locked in a fierce competition for home console supremacy known as the “Console Wars”, and id Software released a little game called Doom. Also in 1993, Konami and LucasArts teamed up to create an odd game titled – Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors, or known simply as Zombie in Australia and throughout Europe, is the result of a fruitful partnership of developer LucasArts and publisher Konami. The game was released for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo and has since become a bit of a cult hit with retro gamers.

The game is a top down action/shooter in which players control characters Zeke or Julie as they journey through suburbia and beyond saving their neighbors that have managed to survive an invasion by zombies(of course…) and other outrageous creatures. The player must navigate 48 levels, along with 7 bonus levels consisting of backyards, shopping malls, creepy old cabins, and ancient pyramids; rescuing up to 10 survivors in each level with each level being completed when all survivors are rescued….or they are all killed by monsters. Survivors will be indicated by dots on a map/radar icon located to the side of the screen; I spent WAY too long(entire childhood) hunting for survivors before even noticing this! The core gameplay element is fairly similar to that of the ToeJam&Earl games on Sega Genesis – being tasked to find a set amount of survivors(or rocket ship parts in ToeJam&Earl) before an exit door pops up to allow you access to the next level. Another difference would be the word “funkalicious” is nowhere to be found in Zombies Ate My Neighbors(?).

Zeke and Julie are both brandishing Uzi squirt guns filled with holy water to combat the monster masses awaiting them( Zombies did it first, Robert Rodriguez!), they are also able to pick up various makeshift weapons such as fire extinguishers, soda can grenades, and silverware to battle any werewolves roaming the neighborhood. You will need to evade not only zombies, but also a vast roster of b-movie monsters including: mummies, werewolves, and toxic blobs. Other enemies with exemplary names are Vlad Belmont the Vampire, Tommy the Evil Doll, Dr. Tongue, and perhaps my favorite – Stanley Decker the Chainsaw Maniac.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the LucasArts style and humor that seems to be sorely missed in today’s games. LucasArts at one time was known for more than simply making Star Wars games, but providing popular games on PC like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle or the Monkey Island series which showcased a trademark humor and personality. Nearly all of Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a reference or callback to the many b-movie horror films of the past, the 1950’s through the 80’s in particular. Each level has a title referencing many of these films such as “Evening of the Undead”, “Dr. Tongue’s Castle of Terror”, or “The Day the Earth Ran Away”. Zeke wearing 3-D glasses also being a nod to the 3-D horror movies of the 80’s.

Yup…a giant baby

The game itself can prove quite challenging, I recently played through most of the game and it hasn’t gotten much easier over the years. This is made slightly easier by the fact the game incorporates a password system and provides a different password every few levels as to not discourage players by having to play the entire game from the beginning after getting a game over. One of the later levels finds you searching an area strewn with trees, also hindering your progress are the many giant spiders that begin to swarm the level and leave you very little space to maneuver. One of the final levels will require you to search for survivors in a hedge maze, the problem being the maze doesn’t seem to have many openings, essentially trapping you within a confined space forcing you to lure one of the many chainsaw maniacs wandering the level to cut through the greenery allowing you access to additional areas. Of course, there are a few boss monsters throughout the levels that will either take nearly all your ammo or a specific type to defeat. Early on in my playthrough I kept getting flattened by the level boss – A giant baby that can leave you seeing game over screen all to quickly. I played solo in refreshing my memory of the layout of the game, but the game is definitely best experienced with a buddy in co-op mode. Others undoubtedly have the best memories of the game playing couch co-op. My one biggest complaint would have to be the game is somewhat cryptic about what exactly the items you’re picking up actually do, I had no idea what the little clown face on my screen did until I would hit the item button to find Zeke or Julie leaving an inflatable clown dummy that distracts nearby enemies. The enemies themselves can be a bit difficult to defeat as some require a specific type of weapon to defeat, otherwise forcing you to simply run away as soon as they enter the screen.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a fun and unique experience that in many ways has only gotten better with age…as I’m older and generally more aware of the references and humor of the game. If anyone out there is looking for a fun Halloween-themed retro game that you can play with a friend, Zombies Ate My Neighbors definitely fits the bill. The game is still a favorite for my wife and I to play together.

That’s all for today! I had been wanting to play this again for a while and after playing this I would like to go back and track down some of the older LucasArts games to play and possibly cover in this blog. Have you ever played Zombies Ate My Neighbors? How about its unofficial sequel – Ghoul Patrol? Let me know in the comments, thanks for reading!

Halloween Blogtober – Splatterhouse

Welcome back to another Halloween Blogtober post! Today’s horrific highlight is the arcade cult hit Splatterhouse released by Namco originally in 1988. When I selected what games I wanted to go over for the month of October, I wanted to stray(mostly) from the most commonly mentioned Halloween-themed games(Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc.) and also use the opportunity to discover something I either had never played before like Vampire: Master of Darkness or Splatterhouse. I’d known about the series for quite some time, but like so many other games out there, simply had yet to sit down and play it. I played the game as part of the Namco Museum collection on my Nintendo Switch which worked out pretty well, as from everything I have read, it’s a really good port of the game, also uncensored unlike the Wii Virtual Console version.

Upon merely glancing at Splatterhouse it is not at all a surprise that the game is heavily inspired by American horror movies of the 80’s, particularly slasher films like the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street series. It follows a similar side-scroller, beat ’em up as other popular arcade games of the late 80’s like Golden Axe, Double Dragon, or Final Fight. Unlike the aforementioned titles, Splatterhouse added the grisly setting and gratuitous gore(for that time at least) that would become the trademark feature of the game, as well as source of concern and controversy. The game has a very grisly, grimy look and feel to it that no doubt made it a very unique experience in arcades when it was first released. Sadly, the game only saw arcade releases in Japan as the violence it contained was considered too graphic, along with some religious imagery like the level 4 boss – Evil Cross, an upside down cross floating midair surrounded by spirits. The backgrounds of many stages simply show corridor walls inside the mansion, but others feature pictures of gruesome monsters in chains or in other stages, leech-like creatures called Body Eaters lunge at you from within heaps of gore and viscera. The game pits players against the array of monstrosities primarily fought with just your bare hands. There’s also a number of weapons to pick up such as a meat cleaver, 2×4, or even a shotgun.

Just a little off the top…

The game begins with parapsychology student Rick and Jennifer, his girlfriend and fellow university student traveling to West Mansion, better known as the “Splatterhouse” due to the horrific experiments being conducted there by Dr. West, who is said to have vanished. We find Rick unconscious at the start of the game before the Terror Mask(a VERY familiar looking hockey mask…hmm) floats down fuses itself to his face transforming him into a menacing jumpsuit-clad brute with super strength. He then must make his way through the Splatterhouse as he attempts to rescue Jennifer. There are seven levels in total to punch, chop and….splatter you way through, each level consisting of several stages with many containing upper or lower branches to traverse. Rick fights his way through Splatterhouse’s corridors of unimaginable terror before finding a group of monsters surrounding Jennifer as she lay on unconscious. She is then transformed into a grotesque monster that attacks Rick before finally pleading to be put out of her misery, she then collapses and disintegrates(NOT Avenger’s style). Rick then discovers a tear in the floor of the mansion which gives the appearance of the Splatterhouse itself having been wounded, he then follows an enemy into the gory crevice to discover this to be the womb of the mansion itself where the insidious creatures are birthed. Rick then fights his way through the end of a long visceral passage all while being attacked by monsters known as Oba – monster fetuses(that look like mere bubbles) floating directly at you, making them very difficult to hit. Rick finally reaches Mother – a giant…womb responsible for the monsters within the mansion. Now begins the final showdown with the final boss named Hell Chaos, which takes the form of a giant mutilated head protruding through the ground with giant claws emerging from underground to swipe at Rick as he destroys Hell Chaos and by doing so, the Terror Mask as well.

Splatterhouse provides satisfying gameplay on par with its arcade contemporaries developed by Konami and Capcom. The play is what you would expect from a beat ’em up of the era, pummeling anything in your path or jumping over the various booby traps located in the mansion. As the case with many games of the genre, utilizing a jump attack is a must, especially later in the game as enemy movement becomes more erratic. There’s also a sliding kick that takes a bit of practice to master, but proves invaluable as it’s one of the strongest attacks in your repertoire. I love the wonderful “splat” when introducing the ghastly creatures inhabiting the mansion to Mr. Meat Cleaver, rending them in half. This feeling further enforced by the sound effects as a you can hear monsters being splattered onto the background wall or the heavy thud when using your fists of fury to smite your enemies.

The TurboGrafx-16 version of the game has a warning that states “The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children…and cowards”

Splatterhouse is also notably the first arcade game to be issued a parental advisory due to the violence and was unavailable to play in North American arcades. It received a port on the TurboGrafx-16 in 1990 which scaled back of some of the violence and gore. Splatterhouse 2 and 3 were released on the Sega Genesis in 92′ and 95′. Titles like Splatterhouse and Mortal Kombat(which proceeded to steal most of the attention surrounding violent video games in the early 90’s) this no doubt assisted in the Genesis’ reputation as being the console for the “mature” gamer in contrast to Nintendo’s family-friendly image. The censored TubroGrafx-16 version of Splatterhouse was made available on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console in 2007 before the uncensored version being released as part of the Namco Museum in 2017. Splatterhouse is definitely for anyone who loves the grisly over-the-top violence and gore of 80’s slasher movies, though due to its controversial history and cult-game status, I imagine many, if not most slasher movie fans have played already given it a playthrough or two.

That’s all I have for now, we’re approaching Halloween in a matter of days and I have a few more games to go over before the month is over. Have you played the Splatterhouse games before? If so, what did you think? How many games out there have you become aware of or played mostly as a result of it being controversial? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Halloween Blogtober – Vampire: Master of Darkness

An influential and beloved game series like Castlevania is going to have is share of copycat versions, a Mello Yello to its Mountain Dew, right? I recently came across the game Vampire: Master of Darkness, released in 1993 on the Sega Game Gear and Master System(PAL only), and by just looking at the screenshots of the game it was quite apparent the game was created as a response by Sega to compete with the Nintendo-exclusive(at the time) Castlevania, being one of the most successful and recognized of Konami’s game franchises in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. I happened to look through the Virtual Console games on my 3DS and had completely forgotten there were a few Game Gear games available. So, is the game worth playing or is it simply a Castlevania clone? I was pleasantly surprised to find out the game is actually pretty good…

In Vampire: Master of Darkness, the story begins with Dr. Ferdinand Social, a Ouija board playing psychologist(I bet that’d look interesting on a resume…) who receives a message telling him to head to the Thames River to confront Jack The Ripper. Thus begins Dr. Social’s adventure across the streets of Victorian-era London before battling Jack The Ripper who has been tasked by Count Massen to bring him fresh blood to perform a ceremony to resurrect an ancient evil(Spoilers – it’s Dracula!). Dr. Social makes his way across the foggy streets of London, a Vincent Price-less House of Wax, generic Cemetery, and finally Castle Dracula in the mountains of Transylvania. The level design isn’t bad by any means, as one may view the levels(and game in general) with a greater degree of scrutiny due to the high regard typically held for the game it so closely emulates.

The look and feel of Vampire: Master of Darkness is nearly IDENTICAL to that of Castlevania. you pick up primary attack weapons like daggers, axes, rapiers(easily the best weapon due to its reach), and a silver-handled walking cane (because England of course!). You also have a few secondary weapons such as a pistol, bombs, or a boomerang with which there is clearly show NO similarity to the daggers, holy water, or crosses thrown by members of the Belmont lineage. The game also uses the exact same staircases to ascend higher floors in each level, along with the giant pendulums for you to jump onto as you traverse through a clock tower, which may same eerily familiar. The level design isn’t bad by any means, as one may view the levels(and game in general) with a greater degree of scrutiny due to the high regard typically held for the game it so closely emulates. The final level, which takes place in Dracula’s Castle actually take a cue from the Mario games you simply need to navigate your way through a maze-like arrangement of floors before finally reaching the final boss; I wandered around this level getting quite frustrated before finally realizing two random stone blocks were able to be destroyed, providing access the floor below granting access to the boss battle. I honestly should have been looking for this, as each level has several areas where small sections of the wall can be destroyed revealing additional health…of course.

The boss fights themselves were pretty enjoyable, seamlessly fitting into any Castlevania game(almost) and like older Castlevania games, several of the bosses you can defeat by ducking in the corner and unleashing all of your secondary ammo and hopefully deal more damage than receive…that’s how we all play, right? The final encounter against Dracula also seemed downright easy once I realized he had just about the exact same attack pattern as the first Castlevania where he will appear randomly around the screen and you will need to jump and attack to target his head while evading the oncoming projectiles.

The critiques I have of Vampire: Master of Darkness are primarily of the enemies, which all too often lunge at your from offscreen to get in a cheap hit at you enter the next room or ascend a staircase. Another annoyance is the fact that enemies will home in directly on you to where you are unable to attack them as they’re too close for your weapons to register the hit-box, this is something incredibly frustrating AND common in older platforming/action games like Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. And speaking of annoying enemies, there’s an abundance of dogs to charge at you which are incredibly difficult to hit due their smaller size and speed at which they attack, and of course there’s bats…I really, really hate bats! I did appreciate however, the fact that in Vampire: Master of Darkness, there isn’t any knockback damage from enemies, which always seem to cause as many deaths as anything in older games. Enemy ambushes that seem to always exploit a far-sighted blind spot are my biggest complaint about the game.

As for the positives aspects of the game, the level design and bosses are pretty good with surprisingly good visuals and control. The ability to crouch and walk under walls and other obstacles is also nice to have in reaching a few hidden areas within the levels, the game is a bit more forgiving in terms of difficulty than the old-school Castlevania games as well. The game only consists of five levels which means the entire game will take two hours or less to complete. This may seem unreasonably short, but this was first released on the Sega Game Gear, a handheld console that would devour a six AA batteries every three hours or so. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with Vampire: Master of Darkness. I had never heard of the game until very recently and honestly wasn’t expecting much more than just a Castlevania rip-off. While the game does certainly copy borrow many similarities to the Konami’s beloved series and doesn’t even attempt to establish much of an identity of its own, other than providing a Victorian England setting, I still believe it provides an enjoyable enough experience to warrant a try. The old adage of “Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery” seems quite applicable in regards to this game.

Have you ever played Vampire: Master of Darkness? Have you every played a game that looked merely like a copycat version only to end up enjoying? Let me know in the comments. I apologize for getting a little behind on my Halloween Blogtober posts, but I plan to get a bit more accomplished this weekend and still have quite a few games to go over in the upcoming weeks. Thanks for reading!

Blazing Chrome

After my disappointing trial of Contra: Rogue Corps I sought out a game that, from what I had seen and heard provided the closest match to a traditional Contra game in terms of feel and gameplay, and indie run n’ gun throwback Blazing Chrome definitely hit the spot.

Blazing Chrome is a side-scrolling shooter that displays with no subtlety whatsoever it was created with inspiration from the Contra and Metal Slug games, particularly Contra 3: The Alien Wars. You run, shoot, climb, race, fly, and shoot some more as you progress through six different levels, each with different bosses and mini-bosses to annihilate. The game was developed by JoyMasher and was released back in July for multiple platforms.

It seems tensions have erupted between humanity and household appliances…

Blazing Chrome begins with a short intro stating that sometime in the not-too-distant future machines have overtaken the planet and left humanity scattered across the land as you control members of a group of humans(and one mohawk-equipped robot) who are determined to fight back. You are never given much more of a story than just the basic setting of any Terminator or Matrix movie and that’s just fine, Contra games have always been about gameplay rather than any sort of narrative. You begin the game by choosing one of two characters – the resistance fighter Mavra or the robot soldier Doyle. Neither of the two starting characters have any discernible difference in terms of special weapons and are able to use the same upgrades you find throughout the levels. Upon completing the game, two additional characters are unlocked – the ninja warrior Raijin or Suhaila, who sports a metal arm similar to Jax from the Mortal Combat games. Both of the unlockable characters have only one specific weapon that is restricted to close range, with a charged attack that can hit enemies outside of the small radius. Playing through the game with either Raijin or Suhaila provides a slightly different approach to the levels as you are unable to progress through an entire level holding down the fire button, making some of the boss fights a little trickier due to non-automatic fire rate and shorter range.

When you mix Ninja Gaiden and Contra…

The graphics of the game look straight out of the early to mid 90’s with the level environments providing the familiar gritty look of run n’ gun games of the era. The general feeling of familiarity in Blazing Chrome also permeates through the levels, you begin the game on the streets of a destroyed city, before fighting machines atop a speeding train, and creating chaos as you speed along in a hover-bike(of sorts) before infiltrating the enemy base deep underground.

The game plays nearly flawless and provide the same tight controls and feel that made beloved franchises out of Contra and Metal Slug. The controls are pretty straightforward – run, shoot, and jump. There’s also a melee attack to use for enemies that are a bit too close for comfort, which is quite frequently. The default weapon is a standard machine gun as you would expect, but weapon powers include explosive shots or a powerful laser cannon. Each level contains one or more mini-bosses before finally reaching the final boss at the end. The bosses each require you to take advantage of particular attack patterns and while the giant robotic enemies are not quite as memorable as some of the games Blazing Chrome takes its direct inspiration from, they’re still as enjoyable a gaming experience as you will find within the genre.

It wouldn’t be Contra-inspired without a 3D sequence

Blazing Chrome differentiates itself from old-school Contra games, as it’s significantly more forgiving than the retro shooters it emulates. There are three difficulty levels Easy, Normal, and Hardcore, with the latter being unlocked after clearing the game on Normal difficulty. Make no mistake, the game is not easy, you still have swarms of enemies to maneuver around with a single hit costing you a life. The difference is the fact you are given unlimited continues in addition to the extra number of lives provided by each difficulty level, as well as each level having a couple checkpoints where you will begin again after using a Continue. For those out there wishing to tackle the greatest challenge the game provides, you can play through the game on Hardcore difficult which offers three lives per continue and only three continues to complete the entire game. Another cool feature that is unlocked once you clear the game is the Boss Rush mode in which you can play through the entire game, only fighting each mini-boss and level boss as a timer at the top of the screen allows you to keep track of your best completion times.

I’m safe just standing here…right?

I only have two minor “critiques” of the game, the first being that it is at times, hard to keep track of enemy fire due to everything happening onscreen; something all to common in like this so I don’t really view it as a critique of the game as much as a potential drawback of the genre. My other “critique” is also less an issue with the game but more on the hardware it was being played on. I bought the game on my Switch and initially spent some time playing it in handheld mode as I was away from home; the short joystick of the Nintendo Switch Joy-cons don’t always feel like they provide the best range of movement when playing certain games, and faster-paced games like Blazing Chrome seem to exaggerate this problem(at least it wasn’t drifting…right?). This feeling was immediately corrected once I played the game using the Pro Controller. The game is also available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC so any issue with range of movement or shooting would be exclusively playing in handheld mode on the Switch.

I’ve absolutely loved playing Blazing Chrome and have played through the game a couple times already, it could already be one of my favorite games of this year. Developer JoyMasher has created a retro throwback that not only looks like a Contra game, but also captures what made playing the games so memorable. Outside of the two aforementioned concerns, the game provides a superb experience on par with its inspirations and plays better than other games using the name Contra in the title. This isn’t necessarily a Halloween-themed game, but I still have a few posts planned for October that don’t necessarily fit with my Blogtober….scheme. If you’ve played the game or have any thoughts on the game let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

Sega’s Dreamcast – 20 Years Later

Sega released the Dreamcast on September 9, 1999 at the end of an enormous marketing campaign. The Dreamcast was the most technologically-advanced console released at the time, being met with much praise and was looking to be the triumphant return that Sega was hoping for. This momentum would not last however, as the Dreamcast would prove to be the final console Sega would ever create. Jump forward 20 years and we’re still discussing exactly what happened…

After stepping into the ring to square off against 800-pound gorilla Nintendo in the home console market in the 80’s and successfully cutting the market share of the video game industry in half during the console wars of the early 90’s, Sega found themselves in a tough spot at the end of the 20th Century. A string of hardware failures proved a huge setback as they struggled to keep up with Nintendo, there also entered a new contender – Sony, the original Playstation was released in 1995 to a whirlwind of critical praise and proceeded to rocket past all other competitors for home console supremacy. Sega’s “follow-up” to the Genesis – the Sega CD(released in ’92) wasn’t a follow up, but rather an add-on to the Genesis console, and further confused consumers during the ’94 holiday season when they released yet another add-on for the Sega Genesis – the 32x. Both of these additions sold poorly and were considered failures, the Sega CD was quite costly and difficult to develop games for, and the 32x was rushed out with no support as Sega had already been working on the Saturn. Gaming publications had already began to criticize the number of peripherals Sega had been releasing with the idea you were simply adding building blocks to a Sega Genesis, more recently dubbed the “tower of power”. Merely months after releasing the 32x in North America, Sega released the Saturn – an impressive console that played CD-ROM disc software and was capable of displaying(at the time) very high-quality 3D graphics. This would ultimately prove another failure for Sega as the console was heavily criticized for being both expensive, and having a small library of games due to the console being very difficult to develop games for. It was only a few months after the release of the Saturn that Sony released the Playstation which became the standard by which consoles would be judged as it boasted an impressive array of games as well as being very developer-friendly. All of these failures will eventually prove too much for Sega to bounce back from. The situation was dire as Sega prepared to release its next console – the Dreamcast.

We all know this was the final nail in Sega’s coffin, but why exactly did it fail? For as much as we may view the Dreamcast as an abject failure, there were things it did well, but unfortunately there was just as many things to bring it down, along with variables like simple time and place. Let’s first look at the ways the Dreamcast succeeded…

Hardware – No doubt as a response to the losses taken by the Saturn being quite expensive to manufacture, Sega eschewed proprietary for off the shelf components for the Dreamcast. The decision to utilize a GD-ROM format which proved less expensive than a DVD-ROM but still could hold up to 1GB of data, a rather impressive amount for the time. The 3D graphics boasted by the Dreamcast were certainly impressive, this also was bringing to a close the end of the “Bit Wars” of the 90’s in which game companies would take any excuse to state how many bits their consoles were able to create, most memorably with the Atari Jaguar’s advertisements about its 64-bit graphics. The Dreamcast was also the first home console with a built-in modem for use in playing games online via Sega’s own online service – SegaNet. Remember, this was 1999 – a time when Netscape and America Online were the still relevant and we were all bracing for the imminent apocalypse of Y2K. The Dreamcast also featured a controller with two “trigger” buttons on the back of it that had yet to become commonplace in the industry. Another interesting feature of the Dreamcast was the virtual memory unit or VMU, that was used as a memory card to be inserted into one of two slots found on the controller. There was also a small lcd screen on the VMU that you could see through a space in the controller that could be used for things like calling plays in the NFL 2k series, or raising virtual pets in Sonic Adventure. The VMU also had several small buttons on it allowing the card to act to be played like a Tamagotchi, concepts that would be seen in future Nintendo consoles like the Wii U and Switch.

The Dreamcast controllers and VMU were both intriguing AND awkward.

Online play – The Dreamcast also led the way(for consoles) in the integration of internet in video games as a way to communicate and compete with others. Sega first launched their own internet service – SegaNet which for a monthly subscription allowed players to connect to others and play games like Phantasy Star Online, ChuChu Rocket! or the NFL 2K series, along with the ability to chat and send email, two years before Microsoft would launch Xbox Live and dominate online gaming. This was the type of forward thinking that could have kept Sega in the game for much longer.

Shenmue was impressive back then and is still considered one of the greatest Dreamcast games.

Games – During the Dreamcast’s lifespan, Sega was responsible for some of the most creative and impressive titles around. Sega had divided up numerous teams to go out and create a library of games to support the Dreamcast, one of the biggest marks against the Sega CD and Saturn. Some of the Sega franchises created over this time were Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, Skies of Arcadia and Shenmue; the latter two titles were met to great acclaim with Shenmue being one of the most impressive(and expensive to make) games to that point. Sega had also created Phantasy Star Online – an online RPG game that would be a precursor to what we would later know as MMORPGs. Sega’s exclusive 2K Sports series also demonstrated the greatness that lay ahead in online sports titles( I STILL say NFL 2K4 > Madden ๐Ÿ™‚ ). The Dreamcast was also home to an impressive collection of fighting games such as Dead or Alive, Power Stone, and the revered first Soul Calibur game. I must also mention the infamous Seaman, where you help to grow a man-fish abomination by talking to him through the peripheral mic plugged into one of the controller slots, adding to the game’s…uh…appeal is Leonard Nimoy as the narrator. Of course, no Sega console would be complete without its mascot Sonic, the title Sonic Adventure was the Dreamcast’s best seller.

One of the most bizarre games in the Dreamcast’s catalog, requiring a microphone to communicate with the…Seaman.

Let’s now take a look at some of the factors that caused Sega’s untimely defeat…

Sony – The first place we generally look when discussing the fate of the Dreamcast is Sony and its behemoth of a console in the Playstation 2. The original Playstation entered the fray while Sega and Nintendo were battling each other and captured the lion’s share of the market as it represented both forward-thinking technology and awesome titles in equal parts. Sony’s stranglehold on gaming only continued as rumors began to swirl about the inevitable release of the PS2. The hype surrounding the release of the Playstation 2 certainly stole away a lot of Sega’s thunder in marketing the Dreamcast. Information had come out that the PS2 was going to have the same horsepower as a government supercomputer, there was also the mystique around the Sony and its “Emotion Engine” which we were told would produce the most life-like graphics ever seen. I remember hearing a kid at my school talk about how the PS2 was going to have “millions and millions of polygons and is going to be so powerful you won’t have ANY LOAD TIMES”. There’s also the fact the PS2 would be backwards-compatible so gamers could still play all of their original Playstation games, something that’s always been a critical element of marketing a new console going all the way back to Nintendo announcing the Super Nintendo and facing backlash from parents who didn’t want to start buying games for a whole new system(I remember that personally). Another variable not to overlook is the fact the PS2 would use a DVD drive, something Sega had decided not to use for the sake of keeping production costs a little lower. This comes at the turn of the century when the world was transitioning from old-fashioned analog format to the newer, shiny, digital formats like DVDs, and MP3s.

Past Failures – The Sega CD, 32x, and Saturn were all a string of market failures that Sega was never able to fully recuperate from. Most consumers had seen the Sega CD an an expensive add-on to exploit current fad of FMV(full-motion video) games and unable to provide a rich gameplay experience. The 32x had a very small library of games, and fewer yet received recognition as being worth playing, with the Doom port for the 32x as being notoriously bad. The Saturn while impressive, cost $399 at launch($671 today!) and suffered from a modest library of titles all while Sony proceeded to dominate the console market with its Playstation. By the time the Dreamcast was released, many out there were understandably hesitant to invest in Sega’s newest console. The Dreamcast was quite ahead of its time as a home console, Sega had suffered huge financial losses by this time and simply couldn’t afford anything but a home run.

Sega Corporate – Both of the aforementioned reasons are responsible in part for the demise of the Dreamcast and Sega being forced out of the console business, but I would believe the final nail in Sega’s coffin is themselves. Sega’s history is full of instances where Sega of Japan would balk at an idea proposed by Sega of America, and vice versa. The Blake Harris book Console Wars(a great read BTW) chronicles former CEO and President of Sega of America Tom Kalinske’s time with the company and successfully competing with Nintendo during the 90’s, during this time there are many situations of butting heads between the two Sega headquarters. Kalinske left SOA in 1996 and the following years would prove quite tumultuous for Sega execs in both Japan and America. The corporate landscape within Sega only exacerbated the issues they were dealing with on a commercial level.

Other contributing factors for the Dreamcast’s failure would be lack of third-party support, as big publishers like EA and Squaresoft contributed nothing to its library of games. Also, the simple variable of place and time were not on Sega’s side as the Dreamcast was a little ahead of its time in online gaming; there’s still people out there with less-than-stellar internet service in 2019, the growth level of the “internet age” was just a step behind the Dreamcast. I also mentioned above the advent of the digital age – the DVD drive used in the PS2 that provided most of us the first DVD player we ever owned.

Sega discontinued the Dreamcast in 2001 and committed to creating software rather than hardware. The Dreamcast sold over 9million units is still remembered as the console that killed Sega, but I feel Sega as a company is more responsible for its fate than any console. In recent years, an appreciation for the console has grown throughout the internet, with many lamenting a console that was too far ahead of its time and disappeared just as quickly. I came across a Eurogamer article by Dan Whitehead comparing the Dreamcast to JFK in both being remembered by what they represented along with leaving us far too soon…I guess that would make Sega both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald?

What are your thoughts on the Dreamcast? Did you own one? What was your favorite game to play for it? Let me know in the comments below. I’d certainly love to pick one up for old times’ sake. I could also use some of the games as blog fodder…I just may do that sometime ๐Ÿ˜‰

Keep on playing…