In the late 1990s, a great push was made by a formerly beloved underdog of video game hardware manufacturing, after bad decisions across a variety of fronts lead to gaming's greatest collapse since the fabled crash of '83. The only player that lost significant ground was Sega, which had always managed to have a bright market in some part of the globe at different points of its history. The Master System's greatest success was in Europe, with the Brazilian market pulling off a surprise punch as well. The Genesis managed to expand the hold to North America, and really tapped into the consumer mainstream, but both consoles lagged behind in Sega's homeland of Japan. All that flipped with the Saturn, when Japan took the spotlight at the expense of everybody else. The Dreamcast was Sega's last gasp, and despite a critically short life, it managed to grab hold of a chunk of North America once again.
Part of the reason for this collapse was the marketing. Sega was poised to grab a chunk of mainstream gamers after pushing their sports games boldly on cable advertisements. This failure in marketing was that it didn't show the true breadth of titles available for the Dreamcast. The commercials showcased more TV friendly and higher quality renderings of Dreamcast game assets, but only really named individual game titles in their commercials. Gone were the sort of list commercials from the Genesis days that showcased both in-game footage, and the actual title of the game on top of it. A prime example of this advertising misstep was with the main character of Jet Grind Radio, Beat. He was spotted in multiple Dreamcast commercials, even getting a solo shot in one, but not once was the name of the game ever dropped. Everything was spliced on top of live footage, and Jet Grind Radio did not get its own commercial to show off anything beyond the style of one character's design in a most inauthentic way.
I know I've talked on this blog more than once about how Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 was my first introduction to the Dreamcast more than a decade ago. In fact I was so enamored with that game that when my college roommate moved out (and took his Dreamcast with him) I had to get my own copy along with its prequel. Though at the time I had a PlayStation 2 rather than a Dreamcast of my own, so although I was more than familiar with the original Pro Skater, it would be quite a few years before I got to play this particular version. And just recently I decided I was due for another race to the end-credits.
There's a lot to love about Pro Skater. It's got an excellent soundtrack (I really wish an official soundtrack had been released), it's got a pick-up-and-play quality to it, and plays great. That said, it's always slightly tough to go back to the original game because it's easy to forget that manuals weren't introduced until the second game. This means that chaining combos together was actually a far more difficult affair back then. But once you get over this small snag, it's easy to see that the first game was already pretty close to perfection.
The original Pro Skater is also the hardest game of the series, at least as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps it's because there are actually less goals per level, and they can often be tough ones. Take for instance the Downhill Jam. This level is probably the one I'd consider the hardest of the entire series. But of course some of that could be my own personal play style. But what was fun about my recent playthrough of the game was that I purposely forced myself to patiently complete every single goal in the Downhill Jam. That definitely made it feel like a bigger accomplishment than just coasting to the final tournament by completing goals in other levels instead.
I'll be completely honest here: I never thought I'd see the allure of Phantasy Star Online. In the past I'd heard fellow gamers refer to the game as "video game crack," in which every session left you wanting just a tiny taste more. But to me it just sounded pretty unappealing. For one thing I'm not a fan of extremely long games. So something like PSO with its online world which makes it something of a never-ending game was a turn-off. I'm also not all that interested in hack-n-slash battle systems within RPG settings. Nor have I ever found myself drawn to games that focus on hoarding loot. So while I was certainly a fan of the Phantasy Star brand, I just couldn't see myself interested in an MMO.
But one night several months ago while browsing the Dreamcast-Talk forums I thought it might be fun to get my console online and test it out with PSO. After spending some time Googling for free dial-up ISP's in my area, I was able to configure my conole's modem and get connected to the Sylverant private server. Of course I had never played Phantasy Star Online before, so once connected I hadn't the foggiest clue what I was supposed to be doing. So I just sort of walked around and marveled at the excellent graphics and music.
And then soon enough I noticed two characters just standing and talking to each other. Right away I realized that I was seeing actual players since everything they were saying was being typed into word-bubbles above their heads. I admit that for a moment I was severely intimidated. But i approached, introduced myself and warned them that I was a total n00b. "Wait... right now is your first time playing PSO? You mean, like ever?" And these guys were nice enough to then spend the next hour or so giving me a crash-course in the basics. They had my back with monomates to heal me and watched me hit level 2 while playing the game online.
All in all the experience was fun, but I knew I'd need to spend some time offline with the game to really grasp how things worked and try to get myself to at least a respectable level before attempting to seriously play online. So basically the game sat untouched on my shelf for the next several months. Sure I had a good time messing around with it online that night, but it would be a serious committment to play a game so demanding. Hell, you can't even pause PSO!
A few months later we got hit with a pretty impressive snow storm, and I found myself with one of those lazy snow days that gives you an excuse to dive into a game you normally wouldn't have the time for. Immediately I thought of PSO and popped in my copy. The version of I've been playing by the way is Ver. 2, which is (as I understand it) the same exact game as the original Dreamcast release, but with some bug-fixes and some additional quests.
And so I spent that afternoon going back and forth between shoveling and and exploring Ragol. At first my progress seemed slow and I'd find myself consulting the manual often to try to figure out what all the buttons did and what my objectives were to begin with. But once the ball started rolling I was making my way through quests and getting myself familiar with the Forest and genuinely having a great time to my own surprise. In fact I was having so much fun with the game that as my wife and I packed up all of our belongings to prepare to move into our new house, I spent most of February with Phantasy Star Online being one of only two games I left accessible (the other being Sega Smash Pack).
Which reminds me, I should take a moment to point out that over the months I've spent with PSO, it became a big enough part of my gaming habits to actually justify some further purchases. Perhaps the most obvious is the official Versus Books strategy guide. This book is definitely very handy to have around for reference on such confusing matters such as what to feed your Mag, and of course maps are excellent to have around if you don't want to tie up a big chunk of your screen with the in-game map. PSO also make my decision to obtain a large lot consisting of both the Dreamcast VGA box and Broadband Adapter a much easier one to make. Let me just say that this game looks stunning in VGA mode (though in fairness, so don't most Dreamcast games that take advantage). And although I haven't had the time to hook up the pricey BBA yet, it's certainly nice to have the option to do so.
At any rate, I'm currently making my way through The Mines. I'm now at level 19, and have put about just as many hours into the game. And yet my addiction shows no signs of slowing down. Perhaps the absolute sickest part of it is that I keep thinking that once I get through Offline Mode, I can actually start to play Online. And hey, perhaps I can start a second character when I pick up a copy of Ver. 1...
There was a time when I thought that the shoot-em-up was the dullest video game genre out there. I'm serious. I'm not afraid to admit my ignorance. It's totally true. But there was a chain of events that led me to discover three very important games (at least to my own gamer development). Games that caused me to fall deeply in love with the genre. Not surprisingly all three games were very different from each other -- but those differences caused me to realize that shmups were not the boring "everything is just Space Invaders with different sprites" that I had originally thought.
The first game that led me to this conclusion was Galaga and I was introduced to it as part of Racketboy.com's Together Retro game club back in early 2009. I remember dreading the thought of playing such a game for a full month, but then getting completely sucked into it for 30 days. To this day I consider Galaga one of my favorite games of all time. It's the one game that I seek out the second I find myself inside an arcade. I love the rare chance to get to play this masterpiece on original hardware. And I've since purchased way more Namco Museum collections than I care to admit.
The second game was Chaos Field -- introduced to me here on RFGeneration all those years back when Crabmaster2000 was still doing his "Unloved" series of blog posts. I remember him comparing it to Shadow of the Colossus in space -- a description so odd that I had to look into it. And really the game is odd, or rather unique in that it's basically just a boss rush with stunning music, incredible visuals and a solid dual-field mechanic that is addictive as all get-out.
But the third game I discovered totally on my own.
Shikigami No Shiro II (or Castle of Shikigami II as it's known in America) is a truly unique shmup. Rather than space ships you've got tiny little flying characters, all animated so impressively. The characters are definitely something that the developers Alfa Systems obviously cared a great deal about. Unlike most shmups which offer you three or so ships to choose from, Shikigami II gives you eight. And each character has an insane storyline to play through. Of course if you're playing the DC port it won't matter if you're an English speaker. But the translation (available on the PS2 port) proves that the story is so bat-poop insane that it doesn't even matter if you're following it or not. In fact, you have the option to turn off the dialogue which is often helpful as it can actually interrupt the flow of things.
What really matters is the game. And the game is just incredible to look at. Though the sprites are tiny they are well detailed. And the Dreamcast version does in fact offer a tate mode for those of you (like me) who are deranged enough to have monitors that you can rotate. And trust me it's totally worth it. This game looks incredible in its original vertical display mode. And audio-wise the game offers up one of my absolute favorite shmup soundtracks of all time.
The gameplay is incredible though, and that's why you're really reading this. You've got this tiny little character with an even tinier hit box. Each character (remember there's a lot of them) plays completely differently -- with different "Shikigami Attacks." Believe me when I say that each character can feel like you're playing completely different games. It's a very deep system. But what's even more intense is that you get far more points if you kill an enemy when grazing bullets. This alone adds an insanity to the game that is riveting. It's a truly unreal risk vs. rewards system where you must put yourself in constant danger in order to score higher. And this system alone means that once again, playing the game for score or playing the game for survival are two totally different games.
Though Shikigami No Shiro II is not the true bullet-hell that games (such as releases by Cave) would be later, they are also not quite as borderline old-school as say Psikyo's (Gunbird, etc.) would be. In this sense it's a similar bridge-game from old school and bullet hell though leaning far more toward the latter -- and of course you've got the crazy grazing dynamic to consider. This game is intense, and incredible and highly, highly recommended.
What just happened? That's pretty much how most rounds of Mars Matrix left me feeling.
The Racketboy forums have a Shmup Of The Month Club which I've participated in over the last year. It's generally a great way to expose yourself to new shmups which you may have been putting off for one reason or another. Perhaps more importantly, it's justification -- that is it gives you an excuse to buy some expensive shmup that you might have avoided otherwise. While I've been into collecting Sega stuff for a good part of the year now, certainly my Dreamcast collection has been my highest priority focus. So I was pleased as punch to have a specific reason why I should pick up a Dreamcast exclusive (outside the arcade) shmup.
Mars Matrix is an odd one. Published my Capcom -- who showed the shmup community tons of support on the Dreamcast -- it is presented in a horizontal screen mode, much like the Giga Wing games. This means that it looks pretty fantastic on a widescreen monitor. I actually have a monitor that can rotate, but it's nice to have shmups that are meant to be played on a default monitor.
However the resolution isn't the oddest thing about Mars Matrix -- it's the default controls. You see the game is meant to be played with a single button. Or rather two. But only one button actually shoots and the second will switch shots. It's very confusing to me and I can honestly say that I'd have no chance playing this game if I encountered it in the arcade. Luckily the Dreamcast port offers full customization of controls, so I could set each attack to a separate button.
But none of this really matters because I had immense trouble wrapping my head around the game mechanics. So much of Mars Matrix revolves around using a shield to absorb and deflect bullets. The problem is the shield needs to recharge and I just was never able to understand how to properly manage this. Ultimately my high score was about 700 Million which is pitiful compared to some of the scores posted in that thread which were in the Tens of Billions! While I can say that Mars Matrix is an impressive and interesting game, it's just not one that I'm any good at. So I can find it fun in small bursts -- and probably more fun to try to play for survival. But playing for score is pretty out of the question for me unfortunately.
Ah, basketball: The one sport I actually care about in real life. Even in my earliest video game-playing years I was a fan of basketball games. Be it Double Dribble or NBA Jam, I always seemed to have at least one go-to basketball game per system. When I started getting into really collecting games five or so years back, I realized I needed a way to limit which basketball games I'd pick up since sports games are so cheap and abundant for yesteryear's hardware. So the obvious thing was this: if there's a Celtics uniform on the cover, I'll buy it. And this led me adding NBA 2K9 to my Christmas list after the C's won the 2008 Championship, landing Kevin Garnett on the cover. Really at the time I could differentiate between any of the modern NBA series, but that all changed with NBA 2k9. My wife got me the game for PS2 and it pretty much blew my mind just how far basketball games had come. There was so much realism, so much control. It felt like I was a coach watching and directing my team rather than just playing a game.
By the time NBA 2K12 was released with Larry Bird as one of the three cover players, I had a PS3 to play it on. And though there were tweaks to the 2K9 formula (and of course now I was playing it in HD) really the game had been perfected already. But certainly it should be no surprise that a game series could refine itself so much over a dozen iterations.
I picked up NBA 2K for around two dollars while eagerly collecting Dreamcast games a few months back. This was the first game in the series -- and one born out of necessity. When the Dreamcast launched EA wanted nothing to do with Sega or their new console. Of course this hurt far more on the football front, as it meant Madden would not be the DC. But this was really a blessing in disguise as Sega launched their Sega Sports line of games and starting supplying gamers with the top-notch 2K franchises.
What I find so impressive is that NBA 2K -- the first game in the series -- is completely solid. This new NBA game, built from the ground up, is already near-perfect. And certainly at the time it would have blown its competition out of the water. Even now that I own newer, revised editions of the 2K series, I can have so much fun playing the original and really not feel that I'm stuck with an inferior version. That's saying a lot for a two dollar sports game that's over a decade old.
So much about 2K was brilliant right out of the gate. The visual presentation is that of watching a game on ESPN. The players move realistically, even when the ball isn't in play. The commentators make sense (even if they will get a bit repetitive). The sound is there. The AI is (mostly) believable. Your players have their legit strengths based on their real life counterparts. It's all just so amazing how much effort Sega Sports put into making this a basketball game that felt like basketball rather than just another basketball video game.
Ultimately any of my complaints are nit-picky. Shooting free throws in this game can be a total drag if you're not using a player who's great at them. In order to shoot a free throw you have to apply just the right amount of pressure to the left and right triggers which can be really difficult, especially if beer is involved. Also later iterations of the series let you choose between a horizontal or vertical view of the court. Unless this option is buried in a menu I haven't found yet, it seems that only a vertical view is offered in this initial game which is not my preferred perspective. Again, these are tiny flaws in my book. Far from game-breaking. In fact if this was the only basketball game I owned, I'd still be more than happy to march my team through a full season.
Don't you love it when a game finally wins you over? You know what I mean, right? There's games out there that everyone seems to consider a classic and you don't get it. You try and try but just don't see what's so great about it. And then suddenly, maybe without even realizing it you just completely adore the game? Well, let me tell you a bit about Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.
If you've followed this blog at all in the past then you definitely know that I've always used Street Fighter II (well Turbo or Hyper or IIX or whatever you want to call it) as the high water mark by which I compare all 2D fighting games. And while everyone seemed to rave about MVC2, I never really spent any serious time with it until it got an HD re-release on PSN. I had actually just picked it up for around $30 on PS2 but hadn't had a chance to play it when I received a PSN giftcard and figured that the online-enabled PSN port would be the better way to experience the game. So I sold the PS2 copy and downloaded away. And of course these sprites looked great beaming through an HDMI cable, projected on an LCD monitor in hi-def wide screen. But the game... it just seemed so boring to me. It had this huge roster of awesome characters, but I could barely force myself to enjoy an entire 3-on-3 fight, nevermind the entire Arcade Mode.
And so I assumed I really didn't like Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. Although it was widely considered the fan-favorite, I seemed to get far more enjoyment out of the third installment, and eventually the first. I tried to figure out what was wrong with it -- the music? The four-button simplicity? The sprites that probably should have been redrawn? Sure these were all marginal complaints, but they shouldn't equate to a ruined game by any means.
Recently I got a day off from work due to Hurricane Sandy and decided for some strange reason that MVC2 would be the game to pop in for the afternoon. I'm actually quite terrible at playing fighting games with arcade sticks, but since I don't have a legit Dreamcast fightpad I decided to fire it up with my Agetec to try to learn how to fight with a stick to get a sort of arcade realism going on. At first I had so much trouble pulling off simple moves. The classic Capcom Ryu projectile movement of down to forward + punch for instance often saw me jumping around like a flailing lunatic. But after about an hour I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable.
But maybe weirder is that after that hour I was also having a ton of fun. But the real difference to me was replayability. In the PSN version I was used to having all 58 characters accessible from the get-go. This was perhaps overwhelming to the point of boredom if that makes sense (see: Devo's "Freedom of Choice"). However playing the Dreamcast port meant that two of my go-to fighters (Morrigan and Chun-Li) weren't even available. So instead I had to play with Wolverine (who is a favorite), Ryu (who is an "okay, I like him") and a wild-card. And then I slowly started unlocking characters.
After a couple of days playing sporadically I had unlocked a handful of new folks, among them an alternate Wolverine and my beloved Morrigan. And yet nothing makes me want to slow down my progress. No, instead I'm loving mixing up my trio and unlocking more of the roster in a "gotta catch em all" style mania. Hell, I still don't have Chun-Li or Cammy or Akuma or Felicia or Mega Man or... well you get the idea. So yeah. It turns out I kind of love Marvel Vs. Capcom -- when it's done right, like on the Dreamcast.
...and now that I have your attention, I'll tell you a bit about my love of 2D fighting games. You see it all really began with Street Fighter II. Sure I played other fighters back then -- your Fatal Furies or Mortal Kombats -- but Street Fighter II would remain the standard for me. It's one of those games that I've bought over and over again in many different forms. Over the years I've owned multiple versions of SFII on SNES along with ports to Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, XBox 360 and so on. And while in many ways I feel that Street Fighter III (and perhaps even IV) are ultimately better games, it all comes back to II as the one I have the fondest connection with. So while I was away for gaming for much of what Capcom delivered post-SFII, it was with great enthusiasm that I went back discovering many of these amazing games I had missed once I fell back in love with IV.
Some of you may know about my love for the Darkstalkers series, which of course was Capcom's "macabre Street Fighter" game. Once I had discovered the series, the doors opened up to me to start investigating the various Capcom Vs. games which included Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters in the roster amongst other Capcom notables. Though I dabbled a bit with Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, it was really the third game in the series that got me excited as a current-gen fighting game. But this past week I've been spending some time with the first Marvel Vs. Capcom on Dreamcast. Of course the roster is smaller, the visuals aren't high-def and there's no online play. But the truth is, I'm probably enjoying it even more than MVC3.
Upon booting the game up I was greeted to some excellent music, which got me excited as I perused the roster. My first impression was how small the roster was compared to the third game in the series, or even other Capcom Vs. titles I've played. But when I looked closer, it seemed like that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. See a lot of the characters chosen are ones I'm fond of -- Morrigan, Chun-Li, Wolverine to name a few. I'm still on the look-out for a legit Dreamcast fight pad, but I do have a Total Control adapter so for now I'm using my Nubytech Street Fighter II anniversary pad released for PS2. With no tweaking to controls whatsoever in the options menu, this sets the six face buttons to classic Capcom style light-medium-strong attacks. Perfect!
I jumped right in using Morrigan and Chun-Li as my tagteam, who I've used as a team in other Vs. games many times before. Right away I was impressed with how visually stunning the sprite-work looked on the Dreamcast hardware. I've never played this game on the original arcade cabinet, so I can't speak much for how "100% arcade perfect" the game is as claimed on the back artwork. But I will say that everything is smooth and fast.
Once I started playing for a while, there was one thing that caught me off guard: this game is hard. Or maybe I'm just rusty? Captain Commando and Mega Man both seem pretty ruthless in this game. Notice I said "ruthless" rather than "cheap." That's because as brutal as they and some of the other characters' AI can be, it always seems fair. If you put the time in to get good at Marvel Vs. Capcom, you will get good at it. Luckily the Dreamcast manual (remember those?) has pretty thorough move-lists. And before I knew it I was pulling off screen-filling specials that made me feel like a force to be reckoned with. That said, I'm still not able to beat the game on "a dollar's worth" of credits yet. But that's fine because much like the younger version of me playing Street Fighter II, this is the kind of fighter that you can sit and play for hours and have a great time doing so.
As a fan of B-horror films, it kind of goes without saying that I'm a fan of the Resident Evil series. Silly plots, bad acting, over-the-top violence... it's a lot of what I adore. However, I've never been a die-hard fan of the series either. I've always been the type to pick and choose specific titles to play from the series. It all started for me with the original Resident Evil on PS1. I'm talking the original original, pre-Dual Shock version. I vividly remember borrowing the game from a friend during Summer vacation. I was 16 if I'm remembering correctly. I'd wait until my parents went to bed, bring my PlayStation downstairs on the big (whopping 27 inch!) TV to play the game alone late at night while everyone slept. And certainly I got my fair share of jumps, be it the infamous "first zombie scene" or the dogs jumping through windows.
As much as I loved that game, I somehow managed to miss out on the second and third games in the series. This is made even odder by the fact that I would actually go on to play the glorious GameCube remake, along with the slightly tweaked analog-enabled PS1 edition. But as far as the series went, I mostly overlooked it. I'd eventually get into the extremely awesome GBC game Resident Evil Gaiden, which took cues from series inspiration Sweet Home, and finally the absolutely incredible Resident Evil 4. The fourth game blew my mind -- like many a gamer -- but also seemed to change many of the things that made the original what it was. Gone was the claustrophobia and in was the vast rural landscape. Tension was pushed to the side for high energy action. And really in a way the whole Night/Return of the Living Dead vibe was replaced with something much more akin to HP Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth" (or perhaps more specifically Stuart Gordon's film adaptation Dagon).
So to finally delve into Code: Veronica has been something of a revelation -- a reminder of a simpler, and more riveting era of gaming. I should go on to remind you here that these recent blog posts chronicling my slow discovery of the Dreamcast's library was meant to be done so with the intention that I would put in some serious time with each game before writing about each. I confess that at this point I've only played two hours of Veronica. Two hours, and I've made very little progress. I don't even have a save on my VMU at this point. And yet I was driven to write about it now.
Let me walk you through my experience with the game thus far. I was first greeted to an amazing CGI intro that reminded me once again at the processing power of the Dreamcast. Watching the intro I found it hard to believe that this wasn't a DVD. Everything was so detailed, so believable from the visuals to the soundtrack. And then I was dropped into the game, in a dark room in need of a light. I thought for a moment that my monitor needed some tweaking. I played with the brightness, contrast, etc. Nothing. After several minutes I finally figured out that I had a lighter in my inventory. Duh.
Once I could see where I was going and the game actually began I was reminded of something: Tank Controls. Oh how disheartening. I had forgotten just how utterly terrible the whole tank control scheme was. I checked the options menu, but sadly there was no alternate control setting. So tank controls it was. Certainly it took me a while to re-acclimate myself with this affliction. But soon enough I was on my way picking up a knife, some bullet shells for a gun I had yet to find, green herb for healing and -- oh no! -- a typewriter ribbon. There it was, the other horrible device that made the original RE such a pain. Set save-points. I took a gulp, and ventured on.
Now let me just side-track for a moment in case it sounds like I'm complaining too much. Here are two devices that I've processed to hate about the series; two devices that were alleviated by the time RE4 hit. Yet I can't say they are without their merit. Personally, as a gamer I hate tank controls because I just find them impossible to wrap my brain around consistently. I can never do what I want without thinking long and hard. And I personally, as a gamer hate set save-points because I just don't have the same time I had when I was a teenager. I hate making a bunch of progress only to realize that I need to get to bed and can't find a place to save. Yet as a game fan, I think tank controls are sort of brilliant within the survival horror genre. They create a sort of fumbling confusion that can really elevate the tension in those fight-or-flight moments. And again, as a game fan the set save points force you to really think about when you should save instead of always playing it safe. These are at least interesting devices within the genre.
Continuing on I made it to the first zombie encounter. It's within a graveyard where you are surrounded by five zombies. This is where I first died. And then I died again. And again. And again. I swung that puny knife so many times, fumbling around with my tank controls, flailing and almost never making contact with zombie flesh. It took me maybe five continues before I realized I could just run my way out of that graveyard and right into a cut-scene that would give me a handgun. I should also note at this point I was on eBay researching whether or not a Code Veronica strategy guide was published for the Dreamcast. Sadly, it looks as though any of them were for later ports of the game, and really I'm not one to collect strategy guides under normal circumstances but have kind of warmed to the idea of Dreamcast ones. Oh well.
From here the game started to open itself up a lot more. The path was far less linear. The "right" door was less obvious. I staggered, bleeding down a long alley before realizing there were more zombies than I wanted to deal with ahead. When I started to make my way back I was startled by zombie dogs! And just like in the original game, I jumped you guys. I mean really jumped and let out a yell that I think startled my poor wife who was trying to relax with a book. I just barely killed the dogs and made my way back to a porch that had a green herb for me. After healing up I headed inside and was forced to battle some more zombies. I cleared the room and searched it for goods before making my way into a bedroom lined with bunk beds.
And there I froze up. I'm not being dramatic when I say this, I was too tense to play any further tonight. The thought of what could pop out at me while investigating this bedroom was just too stressful. I felt it best to just turn the system off, and try again another night. Now this might sound like I don't like the game, but quite the contrary. I am by no means new to the horror genre. As stated previously, I am a huge fan of horror films. I've played my fair share of horror games outside of the Resident Evil series. But wow, this game is generally scary. I look forward to venturing on (howlongtobeat.com says it'll take me at least ten hours) and seeing just how badly it can scare me in the coming months.
My recent desire to get back into Dreamcast collecting (thanks OatBob) isn't just to watch piles of games stack up on my shelves. Nope, I want to actually spend time with these games. I want to delve into the library and find out first hand everything the Dreamcast did right, wrong, and just downright bizarre. So to start with, let's talk about a game it did very, very right: King of Fighters Evolution.
Evolution is actually a port of King of Fighters 99, though the Dreamcast port of KOF 98 was confusingly titled 99. All title-weirdness aside, it is an absolutely fantastic game. But before I get into all that, I should tell you a bit of my history with the KOF series to put things into context. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Street Fighter II as I'm sure most of you reading this can relate to. My first introduction to SNK's breed of fighting games came via a Neo Geo cab at a convenience store a few blocks from my house. The game was Art of Fighting, and I popped some quarters into it whenever I had a chance. Not long after I added Fatal Fury to my collection via its SNES port. I found both games to be fun -- with their bright colors and large, expressive sprites. But ultimately, neither would prove as memorable to me as Street Fighter II. And for the most part, I wouldn't touch another SNK fighter until just a couple years ago when I finally played King of Fighters 98: Ultimate Match on PS2.
King of Fighters 98 UM I actually blogged about here and basically complained about its difficulty. It seemed to me an exercise in pure frustration. But of course this had a lot to do with its gigantic roster of characters I was completely unfamiliar with. That and y'know... KOF 98 is pretty damn hard. But for some strange reason I stuck with SNK. And really, I'm glad I did. Subsequent titles I'd check out were oddly amazing (Neo Geo Battle Colessium) or just downright incredible (Garou Mark of the Wolves, King of Fighters XIII). And slowly I started to branch out from just using my staple Terry Bogard, and started to really learn some new favorite characters (Athena rules).
So now that we're all on the same page, let's talk KOF Evolution. First off, the roster is large but not outlandish, topping off at just over 30 characters. And luckily many of the series' fan favorites are present -- including some of my favorites like Terry, Mai, Athena, Kasumi, Choi and so on. Graphically the game is stunning. 3D backgrounds mesh beautifully with the 2D sprites and the music is fantastic and bordering on the darkside. Even more interesting is the strange storyline -- something about a conspiracy and an evil organization who has infiltrated the King of Fighters tournament to capture "data" in the form of the winners' fighting styles. It's all a bit over-the-top in a really awesome way.
There are many King of Fighters games out there, so certainly it can be a daunting task to know where to start. Certainly I've yet to make my way through all of them. But I would certainly suggest this one as a good place to start. The final boss is difficult, but lacks the infamous SNK Final Boss Difficulty that many have known as a reason to break windows with controllers. And while it uses the series' usual three-character teams, it also incorporates a fourth Striker character (including a couple exclusive to the Dreamcast release) that can jump in during a match similarly to the Marvel Vs Capcom series. What's even better is that this particular title is not overly expensive, especially if you're interested in the Dreamcast port, so you've got every reason to give a try.
A lot of my gaming friends on the interwebs seem to totally adore the Sega Dreamcast. And to an extent, I've always understood why. I mean, it was short-lived, but it was certainly an exciting period in gaming. It was a console that embraced new things like online gameplay and strange accessories. It was also a dream machine for arcade gamers, with 2D fighters, shmups and racing games galore. But more interestingly it was home to some seriously strange experiments. Games like Seaman, Space Channel 5 and Shenmue. But something kept me away for a long time. It was nothing personal against the Dreamcast, I just didn't feel like I needed another console to collect for.
That being said, I've always kept an eye on Dreamcast news. I always found it an interesting and respectable console. And then something weird happened. I found myself with a considerable amount of retro-store game credit, and nothing in particular to spend it on. And then somebody offered to trade me a Dreamcast for an Xbox which I had saved from a yard sale, but let collect dust for several months. I knew this was it. This was time for me to finally bite the bullet and explore the Dreamcast world proper rather than just read about it.
It has been some time since I last covered an end game on the blog, and when I did it was a Dreamcast shmup. Here we go again...
As a 2007 release, Triggerheart Exelica was one of the last games that Sega itself released for the Dreamcast in Japan, where the system outlived its U.S. counterpart by almost five years (the last U.S. Release by Sega was NHL 2K2). So how does this near-final final shmup stack up to the rest of the excellent Dreamcast shmup library?
As an end game it is notable for several reasons
Multiple release formats. As was the case for several of the late Dreamcast releases, there was a Sega Direct limited edition version of the game which included a small art booklet, a phone card, a poster, and a soundtrack. In addition to that version, there was another Limited Edition version which included the soundtrack, and a Standard Edition featuring just the game. All of these releases came in a DVD-sized case, as was typical of these very late Dreamcast titles. As you might expect, each of these releases continues to demand a premium on eBay, with the rare Sega Direct version usually fetching over $200.
The Sega Direct, Limited, and Standard releases of the game
It has a good gimmick. Some of the best shmups have a gameplay gimmick Ikaruga's color-based gameplay, Gaiares' TOZ, and Gradius' power up system are all classic examples. Triggerheart's gimmick is the anchor shot, which allows you to grab enemies, use them as a shield, and spin around and throw them. This adds an almost wrestling-esque feel to the game at points and gives it a ton of replay value as you can try to figure out new ways to string together chains or best address the rougher sections of the game.
Its aesthetics elements aren't state of the art. There are many earlier, better looking shmups on the Dreamcast. Late system releases can be very hit and miss - sometimes they take advantage of all the development tricks learned on the games released previously and try to squeeze the most out of a system (e.g. Under Defeat for the Dreamcast), other times they are produced as budget titles and look cheap (e.g. the PS1's Shooter series of games). Triggerheart Exelica falls somewhere in the middle: it looks and sounds fine, but it isn't anything special. As it was Warashi's first (and only) outing on the Dreamcast, they may not have had much experience porting their arcade games to the hardware. In any case, the game doesn't stand out as either a budget title or a carefully polished high point for the system.
All in all Triggerheart Exelica is a fun game and a necessary addition to any shmup fans Dreamcast collection. Its status as a late system release gives it more of a reputation than it probably deserves, but it is a great game nonetheless.
Yeah, it's been a little while since I updated this. I apologize about that. So to herald my triumphant return to discussing the joys of horror gaming, I present you with a title so horrific and so foul that I must beseech you, nay, get down on my knees and beg you never, ever, ever to even consider playing it!
No, seriously, this game is terrible. Not only do I enjoy horror, I also can enjoy a horribly made game from time to time. I believe it's something to do with an almost kitsch value to it that makes it unique and allows me to laugh at it. The Ring: Terror's Realm did its best to go above and beyond anything I had ever experienced. I have beaten the title, and I can honestly claim that it is not only a bad game, it is the WORST game I have ever played. And I own Pit-Fighter for the Super Nintendo.
But I suppose an explanation is in order. The Ring: Terror's Realm is a Dreamcast game based upon the Ringu property, albeit an extremely loose take on it. The game follows Meg Rainman as she starts work at the Center for Disease Control following the death of her boyfriend Robert, who was also a CDC employee. Once at work, she begins exploring and investigating a strange computer program called RING, which apparently leads her into a strange and horrific virtual world where mankind battles it out in abandoned buildings against strange monsters.
I'm sorry, did I say monsters? I mean gorillas, cat things, and strange goblin-looking critters of various colors. And when I say abandoned buildings, I mean the CDC building. Yes, that is a bit of a spoiler, but you don't really want to play this game, so don't worry about it. The monsters don't really do much beyond running up and attacking you, which they have a nasty habit of doing at a rate that will prevent you from getting a round off if they get too close. They also randomly float in the air and drop down on top of you...I think that was more of a bug that never got resolved when the game was created. At least I hope it was.
To fight these critters, Meg has an arsenal of various weapons she will acquire, all fitted with laser sights, so you can aim at critters across the room, if you can see them with the fixed cameras and if they're standing upright. Perhaps the greatest point in the game's favor, at least in my opinion, is that Meg's also not a total pushover. She can fight while unarmed, knocking the monsters away or kicking them, which is especially useful on the cat creatures.
And then there's the graphics...
...but I won't be too critical of them. I feel its appearance is out of place for a Dreamcast title, but we are retro gamers. Games don't have to look spectacular for us to enjoy them. Just understand that people look blocky and move in unnatural means, and the textures are bland and repetitive. And creature movement isn't any better. There are some nifty mechanics with enemies having a difficult time detecting you in the dark, but it rarely comes into play.
As for the sound, there's only a handful of musical tracks, and these usually consist of five, maybe six notes in a sequence before repeating. It quickly becomes nauseatingly repetitive, and the creature sounds feel off. The voice acting is also some of the absolute worst, with the random friend who appears in the intro video earning my choice as the worst actor ever. The only saving grace is the sound at the starting menu of the game, where confirmations reward the player with the most satisfying squishing sounds I've ever heard. I broke into peals of laughter every time I heard them.
And finally there's the story exposition. Or the lack thereof.
You will need a guide for this game, or a lot of free time, because very rarely are you told what you are supposed to do next. Characters sometimes speak in broken English and conversation always comes off as stilted and disjointed. There's also little in the way of true character development, and most seems to be there solely to fill a stereotype or perform a nameless role. Characters will sometimes fly off the handle for no real reason in an unexpected emotional outburst. It makes for some tough going.
If you're really interested in seeing some gameplay, here's a video. You'll have to skip to about the 1:00 minute mark to get past their intro, but if you want a good laugh, check it out:
If this YouTube clip is to be believed, then what we have is the first PC emulation of the Sega Naomi arcade board on a PC...
What you see in this video clip is a screen capture of the Naomi BIOS running on a Dreamcast emulator on the PC. The hack was done by a guy by the nickname of drkIIRaziel, and he has revealed nothing more about how he did it, nor has he released any of the files used in his experiments. As of the moment, no games are working on it, but that will likely change now that they have the BIOS running on the emulator.
Now, this video may look like a whole bunch of nothing to you, but in actuality, this is a huge breakthrough in the emulation community, and the "modern-classic" gaming community as a whole. If this video is accurate, this is the first step to being able to emulate the arcade versions of many Dreamcast classics, such as Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000, Cosmic Smash, Crazy Taxi, Dead or Alive 2, Guilty Gear X, House of the Dead 2, Marvel vs Capcom 2, Both Power Stone games, and Samba De Amigo.
But, this news should excite fans of "shmups" the most, since these arcade games may be emulated on the PC in the very near future: Border Down, Cannon Spike (or Gun Spike if you're an elitist loser), Giga Wing 2, Ikaruga, Radilgy, Trigger Heart Exelica, and Under Defeat. Me, I'm not a fan of shumps (not even Ikaruga) and I really don't care what happens with them. But the fans of that genre are pretty hardcore about their fandom, and this will get them even closer to the original arcade experience of their favorite games.
This cracking of the bios could very well contribute to the death of the now aging Naomi hardware, which is still being used for niche shmup and fighting games in Japan, but Nintendo and Sega did recently use the hardware when they made Rhythm Tengoku back in 2006. Just so you get some idea of how long the Naomi hardware has been in use, Neo Geo MVS (the longest running arcade system) was discontinued after 14 years, the Naomi is just coming up on 10 years. Impressive lifespan for an arcade system.
With a year of speculation and anticipation, a Wii version of this Dreamcast classic has made its rounds in the rumor mill, and last month's announcement in Nintendo Power only caused more head scratching. Now comes news straight from Sega themselves confirming that this title is indeed coming to Wii. Developed by Gearbox Software (makers of Brothers in Arms and the PC Half-Life expansions) this title will be Wii exlusive with a release date of Spring 2008.