The Sega CD is a somewhat underrated, or at least overlooked, console. However, it's home to a number of unique games that are worthy of attention, one of the best of which is Snatcher. Snatcher was developed by Konami and released for Sega CD in 1994, six years after its original release in Japan. It's a visual novel with adventure elements whose story borrows heavily from movies such as The Terminator and Blade Runner. The game is one of Hideo Kojima's earliest works, but it highlights his unique style - the humor in the game is often bizarre and self-referential, the influence that cinema has on the game is evident, and he loves sexy, pixelated women. Though mechanically Snatcher can be somewhat awkward at times, it is a game where the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
This video review is a bit older, but I think it's one of my best and I wanted to make a strong start for my first post here at RF Generation. Give it a watch if you're interested in hearing more about Snatcher.
As a kid of the 80's, Hollywood slammed my generation with awesome action films starring arguably the two biggest names in action at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Of course, the gaming industry understood the popularity of these movies and were quick to cash in by churning out action movie titles based on some of our most beloved films: the Rambo series, Total Recall, Predator, Terminator 2, and Die Hard, etc. (just to name a few). The labels and boxes of these games were seductive and often depicted the movie posters themselves, or very recognizable scenes directly from these films. No doubt about it, any young kid/teenager coming across these games on their local store shelf was immediately filled with excitement knowing that they were about to bring home that same movie experience and blast away baddies as their favorite action stars.............well...........that was the idea, wasn't it?
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of these titles, the surface was far from the reality; often the games were very bad and had little, or nothing to do with the plot of the film itself. So imagine my distrust when a good friend came over to my house a few weeks ago, pointed to my copy of The Terminator for Sega CD and said, "Have you played that yet? Man, you should, because it is f%&king awesome!"
Of all the sports games out there, I doubt I've spent as much time on a single one as I have NHL '94. And really that's pretty impressive, as I've never been a hockey fan in real life. The only sport I've ever really followed is basketball. Though I've played many basketball games on various consoles, I can't even guess the hours I had sunk into NHL '94 before I even got to high school. Of course that was the Genesis version. By the time the Sega CD rolled around I actually did upgrade to the new disc-based port of '94, but by then I had sort of played my fair share of the game and wasn't as interested in sinking as much time into this new version. Which brings us to almost two decades later, as I have been building up my Sega collection pretty seriously with all of the focus on disc-based libraries. Though I've played a good handful of hockey games since (most notably NHL '06 on PlayStation 2 and NHL 2K on Dreamcast) it was a no-brainer that I should reacquire the Sega CD port of NHL '94 post-haste.
Mostly the Sega CD upgrade is the sort of shovelware that many gamers complain the console's library was full of. That is to say, it's basically the same game you already owned on Genesis with a few bells and whistles thrown in to justify it being re-released. That isn't entirely false. And it isn't entirely a bad thing either, at least now. Perhaps at the time it was disappointing to get what is pretty much just the same game again. But nowadays, there's no reason to not play this as it is still an excellent hockey game and the Sega CD version is still dirt cheap. In fact the only real negative I can come up with is that there are loading screens, although they're kept to a minimum and never really disrupt any of the games' flow.
Indeed this is still the same great NHL '94 you remember. It still controls wonderfully with a Genesis controller. It still rewards you for playing dirty -- is it just me or do the refs totally look the other way when you beat the tar out of your opponent? I mean I seriously brutalized every team I came across with the ultimate intention of injuring as many members of opposing teams as possible. By the end of the Playoffs I had still not sat a minute in the Penalty Box. And there is something really satisfying about hitting those computer plays hard. But I digress... the game also still has the same AI you remember as well. In some aspects '94 is a game that you can break pretty easily, at least against the computer. You can pretty much always just go to the right of the net, then head to the front of the net and the goalie will drop leaving it wide open for a shot. Because of this many of my games ended with 20-2 victories.
The back of the box boasts "500 megs of new features," so let's take a look at those. The Authentic NHL Footage is there. It's grainy, but it's there. And it really doesn't add much to the game itself. The Digitized Speech is pretty cool though. It's not in-game, but you get some nice spoken commentary before the games rather than just text. The CD Sound Effects are... well, I'm not sure they're any better than the Genesis game's sound effects. And the Real Organ Music is of course the usual selling point for a Genesis game ported to Sega CD. Yes, it's CD quality music. But of course it's not exactly a huge selling point in a game where it's used so sparingly. So ultimately the upgrade to CD isn't exactly necessary, but as I stated earlier you still can't really go wrong with a game like NHL '94 so I'd still recommend it to anyone looking to beef up their Sega CD collections.
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Sega CD. Perhaps because I was one of the kids that bought into the hype and begged my parents for the pricy add-on that Christmas season. And although its library is riddled with some pretty awkward and crappy games, they are often also quite interesting. Case in point, Bram Stoker's Dracula -- an attempt at combining classic side-scrolling action with the digitized actor craze of the Mortal Kombat days as well as the Full Motion Video craze that the Sega CD brought with it.
Certainly you're all aware of the film from which this game was adapted. Bram Stoker's Dracula was huge in 1992 -- directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring the likes of Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins and Wynona Rider. The film went on to win three Academy Awards. But why should we care about any of that here? Well because whereas earlier games licensed from film properties simply took characters from the movie, made some sprites that looked like them and asked you to platform around collecting stuff, Sony Imagesoft actually used clips of the film and digitized actors. (See if you can guess which of these pictures below is the film and which is the game!)
Now here's the thing -- Dracula isn't completely terrible. But it is bad.
First let's take a look at what this game did well. The first thing that jumped out to me was the music. Thanks of course to the CD-ROM format, we're blessed with wonderful gothic chamber music throughout the game. It's really a fantastically fitting soundtrack that couldn't have been replicated via chiptunes. There's also some very cool 3D scrolling effects where you change direction of the path you're taking, all the while continuing on a 2D plane. It's a bit hard to describe, but looks impressive when you experience it unexpectedly in the game.
However if there's one major downfall of Dracula, it would be that Sony was just a bit too ambitious with this project. Really they had some great ideas, and were perhaps really onto something which is great when talking about a licensed property. They were smart enough to at least attempt to emulate another great vampire-killer game (that was no doubt inspired by the Dracula story itself), Castlevania. But the problem here is that Castlevania and all its primitive sprites controlled so much better than this. Indeed the digitized actor here moves incredibly slow. And his jumping, punching and kicking are also slow and clunky, which seems pretty unfair when enemies are moving quickly and swarming at you from all directions on the screen. Sadly though you'll be inclined to want the game to better than it is and see it to the end, you'll often find yourself frustratingly losing all your fifteen lives before the second level is even over.
With that said, I'd recommend Bram Stoker's Dracula to fans of the macabre who must horde such games, or those curious about the Sega CD format's growing pains. But beyond that this is probably one best left overlooked.
October 20, 1985 (23 years ago): Sega Mark III is released in Japan.
Known later as Sega Master System, Sega released SMS to compete with the NES. The console supported a number of accessories (like a light gun, 3D glasses, and at least 4 different varieties of controllers) and featured a number of successful games (Phantasy Star is a big one, other popular ones were Y's: The Vanished Omens, Alex Kidd in Miracle Worlds, Outrun and the later Sonic the Hedgehog port). The system also had ports for both cartridges and cards, though cartridges were more common.
Nevertheless, the console was not successful: in North America it was eclipsed by NES, and later by Sega's own Genesis; in Japan, both Famicom and PC Engine were much more popular. The later, smaller revision, called SMS II, did not help sales. I am actually surprised that SMS had a game released for it in Europe as late as 1996. If only Sonic would've appeared sooner, the SMS might've had a chance.