RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Feb 1st 2013 at 09:20:01 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Sega, Dreamcast

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.

Posted on Jan 20th 2013 at 03:44:50 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Saturn, Sega

To call myself a "fan" of Puzzle Fighter would be a huge understatement. Since I first picked up the GBA port some years ago to quench a thirst for a portable puzzler, I have ranked it as my favorite puzzle game of all time. And though the gameplay remains the same for each of its various ports, I've for some reason felt compelled to seek out (and beat) almost every version released to date. To this day the only versions I've yet to make it through have been on the PSP and PC. With all that said, I feel like I'm a pretty good judge of the various releases. So let's how the Sega Saturn edition came out, shall we?

For those of you unfortunate enough to have never played the game, Super Puzzle Fighter II (there was no part I) has an extremely interesting premise. It's a puzzle game that emphasis a Vs. Mode. You will play against a human opponent or the computer. Each player selects from a roster of super-deformed versions of characters from the Street Fighter and Darkstalkers universes. The goal is to match up colored gems that fall from above and build them up into bigger gems. Sporadically a glowing sphere will drop, and if it touches blocks of its own color it will destroy them -- sending junk blocks over to your opponent. The bigger the gems you create, the more junk you'll send over. This is where the real strategy of the game comes in however. Each character has a different pattern of junk blocks that they send over. Much like in a fighting game, it is just as important to know thy enemy as it is to learn to play well.

The Arcade Mode of Puzzle Fighter plays well on the Saturn. The gem explosions are a bit more pixelated than in other ports, though this certainly doesn't take away from the gameplay at all. The music is excellent -- which is usual across the board as far as the various ports go. There is some loading between rounds, though they're not terrible.

If you're playing this without a friend, the real meat and bones of this game is the Street Puzzle Mode. In this mode you must play single rounds with each character to unlock various 'Goodies.' Each character has five Goodies to unlock. These range from pallet-swaps, hidden characters, background music tracks (both original and remixed), art galleries and so on. These are the sorts of extras (especially the hidden characters) that really makes this game a blast to play in single player, and ultimately opens the game up even more. It is not only one of the only games I've cared enough to "100%," but I've done in it multiple times with multiple versions.

Although this review is meant to be about the Saturn edition, I suppose that it's worth mentioning some pluses about other versions for those curious. It is worth noting that the PSN and XBLA versions do look really nice in HD but more importantly allow for online play. The XBLA version was eventually released physically as part of the 360 Capcom Digital Collection if you're not a fan of downloadable games. The Dreamcast version was only available in Japan, however it does support the VGA cable if you wish to import it. Sadly, its online play option is no longer available. And of course the GBA and PSP versions are worth grabbing if you're a fan of portable puzzlers. However the truth is that any version of Puzzle Fighter is going to be recommended by me. And really, any version will give you a great game to play.

Posted on Jan 12th 2013 at 06:29:19 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Sega, Sega CD

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.

Posted on Dec 29th 2012 at 07:16:34 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Saturn, Sega

There are shmups and there are shmups. DoDonPachi is a shmup. A very good shmup. Perhaps one of the best shmups ever made. And I spent most of last night playing it along with some buds over on the Racketboy forums.

DoDonPachi certainly has a reputation. In that sense I was maybe even a bit worried to finally get around to playing it. Y'know how sometimes people talk about a book or movie and by the time you see it you're just let down that it didn't live up to the hype? Not to mention that a recent sequel, DoDonPachi Resurrection was the first shmup I ever 1CC'd (on Novice Mode). So again I was mildly worried that going back further in the series might not be as enjoyable as a newer installment.

But it turns out there was nothing to fear at all. DoDonPachi is actually one of the greatest shmups I've ever played. Visually, it looks excellent and far from dated. The sprites are all so well detailed, the color pallet is always appropriate and the backgrounds are stunning. The music is definitely fitting as well. But really what makes the game so incredible is the balance of it all. There's such a perfect ratio of risk to reward in DoDonPachi that it's easy to see why it's still such a fan-favorite.

Not only does the game offer up three ships in the old Goldie Locks manner of Type A being the "super fast but not the strongest" ship and Type C being the "wicked slow but so powerful" ship. No the balance goes so far beyond all that if you're seriously trying to play for score. For instance there's the whole risk/reward paradox of chaining. You have a small meter that runs out rapidly every moment you're not killing something. If the meter runs out, your chain resets. Big chains make for big bonuses. But of course this means really learning a level and timing every single kill. It also means that sometimes you'll be killing in a not-so-effective way just to keep a chain going. Similarly there are icons of Bees that you can pick up throughout levels (with many of them hidden). They give you bonus points that get higher and higher with each Bee you get. But again, this means probably giving up your chain to uncover them all. The game is loaded with these sorts of decisions on how to maximize your score -- fast rapid shot or slow laser? To bomb or not to bomb? And so on.

Perhaps the greatest thing about DoDonPachi however is that it's the kind of game that makes you better at an entire genre. The more you practice, the more you're forced to think about strategy and how to increase your score. Not to mention it's a great workout for your mind and fingers to weave perilously throughout blankets of bright bullets. And all of these skills carry over to any other shmup, be it bullet hell or non. Throughout the month I managed to pull off a score of 11,446,730 which I felt really proud of. This was a lot of improvement from my first run. And I also found a new game that I just completely love and will surely revisit often.

Posted on Dec 17th 2012 at 07:38:41 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Sega, Saturn

Not too long ago I blogged about enjoying Fighting Vipers. As such I jumped at the opportunity, when I had the chance to acquire its spin-off sequel. Fighters Megamix is a mash-up of both Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2. At least that's what I thought it was. But apparently it's a whole lot more.

Let's start from the beginning. Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2 are both pretty similar games. At least as far as a game engine and appearance goes. So of course this makes for a pretty easy combo deal. You take your eleven Fighting Vipers characters and eleven Virtua Fighter 2 characters, put em together and call it a day. Sure there's some differences as far as physics go between the two games -- but you can even pick which physics engine you want to go with. And each game uses a similar three-button layout, so it's not like you have to learn one fighting style if you're only familiar with the other.

So when I first started playing Megamix, I really felt a bit underwhelmed. It just felt to me like Fighting Vipers with double the roster. Not that that's a bad thing of course. But it didn't feel like this amazing new game either. But I was in for a bit of a surprise still.

The single-player mode of Megamix is broken down into various courses. The courses are vaguely themed -- such as playing only Vipers or only females. In each course you'll be fighting through six fighters and then unlocking a hidden boss. This is where things start to get awesome. You see once a hidden boss is unlocked and beaten, they are then also added to the roster. When all is said and done you've got over thirty characters to choose from which is a huge jump from the original Fighting Vipers.

It's not just the fact that there are so many unlockable characters that's impressive here though. It's the sheer over-the-top fan service of them that's mind-blowing. You'll get an alternate version of Fighting Vipers' Candy, the Virtua Fighter Kids' version of Akira, along with cameos from Virtua Cop 2, Sonic The Fighters and even Daytona USA. Yes. You read that correctly. You see by the time you make it through the ninth course you'll fight the final boss of the game -- the Hornet car from Daytona USA. This is exactly the kind of insanely ridiculousness that earned Sega so many die hard fans.

My only real complaint about Fighters Megamix is a small one. There is a bit of slowdown that wasn't present in Fighting Vipers. However this only seems to occur on a few particular stages, so it's not a game-breaking deal. But when you take into consideration all the excellent unlockables plus the fact that each of the nine courses save your completion time, there is a huge amount of replayability here. Definitely a highly recommended 3D fighter for the Saturn.

Posted on Dec 1st 2012 at 12:13:14 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Sega, Dreamcast

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.

Posted on Nov 25th 2012 at 11:25:18 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Dreamcast, Sega

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.

Posted on Nov 14th 2012 at 07:39:30 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Saturn, Sega

I don't play a lot of racing games, but I often feel like I should. I'm a big fan of arcade style games -- ones you can pick up and play for short bursts and just have a blast without investing too much time into anything. But in general, racers are a genre I've just only dipped my toe into the pool of over the years. Oh sure I've got my staples. Super Mario Kart and Double Dash are two that I've always loved and played extensively. And just recently I've found that Sega All-Star Racing has even perhaps surpassed the Mario Kart series. OutRun is another game I'm a big fan of, though it's not quite a racing game as much as a driving game. Right? But the point is, my scope is pretty narrow on racers.

Sega Rally Championship is actually a game I remember playing in an arcade a few years ago at an arcade for a birthday party. Of course that was sitting in a huge cabinet behind an actual wheel. And it was a lot of fun. I actually couldn't even remember the name of the game until I popped this Saturn disc in and realized I had played it before. I actually acquired this game as part of a bigger Saturn lot recently, and figured I wasn't even familiar with it. Certainly it doesn't seem to get the same nostalgic high praise as Daytona USA does to this day.

But Sega Rally is definitely quite a bit of fun. The physics took me a little while to get used to, and I spent a lot of time watching my car fishtail all over the place. Luckily the Saturn controller is well-suited for the game and feels quite comfortable. Although I have to wonder how well a proper racing wheel would perform on the console version.

The sense of speed in Sega Rally is impressive. The rush of the arcade experience totally made it into the home version. In fact the announcer loudly warning you about approaching turns sounds completely like being in an arcade. And there are some nice additions to the console port as well. For instance the Time Attack Ghost Mode, or the ability to customize your car which helps make the limited car selection not as obvious. There are only three courses (Desert, Forest and Mountain) but that's to be expected of a racing game of its time. The split-screen 2-Player mode is also a great addition. And speaking of co-op, if you're lucky enough to track down an elusive NetLink re-release, you can actually still play this game online via the NetLink modem adapter.

All in all I think that Sega Rally Championship is a solid game. I'm not ready to make this one a new racing staple, but it has gotten me interested in checking out its sequel and just exploring other racers of the era in hopes of finding another to suck up way too much of my time.

Posted on Nov 2nd 2012 at 08:58:16 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Dreamcast, Sega

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.

Posted on Oct 16th 2012 at 07:34:36 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Saturn, Sega

So here's the thing. I knew very little about D. I knew it was a survival horror game with a cool cover, and not a whole lot more. Yesterday I received it in a trade from fellow RFGenner Barracuda and figured I'd throw it in to make sure it worked. I fired up the Saturn, and opened the manual to see how it worked. "Due to its story, this game has a two hour time limit," I read. "In keeping with the time limit, this game does not contain a pause feature." ...Interesting.

And what began with me testing the game out, turned into me being totally sucked in. Two hours (or a little less really) later, the game had reached its conclusion. I suppose that if I had bought this game when it was first released, then I may have been upset. I mean, two hours? A game that has a linear story, and puzzles I had solved the first time. Surely there'd be little re-playability. I would have maybe felt that I had spent $50 on a game that had run its course in one sitting. Right?

But who knows how I would have really felt then? All I can tell you is how I feel now. I feel thrilled to have played this game. I feel thrilled that I've discovered this series. There are some games out there that go so far beyond being just a fun game -- they are experiences to be had. Special games that you hold close to you forever and are willing to play again and again because of how they affected you. Games like Shadow of the Colossus or Heavy Rain come to mind. These are games not so far removed from an engrossing cinematic experience. Like a favorite movie that you can watch over and over again finding new tiny nuances to latch onto with each new viewing.

D starts off with an amazing cinematic cut scene that puts you in a deserted hospital -- the scene of gruesome murders committed by your father, a doctor. Suddenly the hospital turns into a big abandoned castle-esque mansion. It soon becomes clear that reality isn't part of this story. Instead, it is a story mostly told through mood somewhat akin to a David Lynch film.

The controls may take a few moments to get used to. The point-of-view is first person most of the time, though interactions with the environment take place in the third person. Much of the game consists of solving various puzzles in order to access new areas, somewhat reminiscent of Myst. However the gruesome flashbacks and other bits of disturbing imagery are all far removed from the somewhat relaxing tone of a game like Myst. Indeed this is a creepy game. One where although very little happens you can't help but feel a certain sense of dread (and perhaps urgency from the imposed two hour limit).

Though actual bits of story are told through some rather laughable voice acting, it is nonetheless an incredible experience. One that I won't spoil for you. None of the puzzles are brutally hard. In fact your biggest downfall may well be over-thinking some of them. But at just two hours there's really no excuse for you to not experience this game. After beating it myself I started doing some research and it turns out I got the "bad" ending. Luckily enough D was so compelling to me that I have no problem with the idea of playing through it again just to see the "good" ending. If you are a fan of the macabre, or just fascinatingly unique games in general, I highly urge you to seek out D.

Posted on Oct 7th 2012 at 10:39:38 AM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Sega CD, Sega

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.

Posted on Sep 19th 2012 at 08:02:13 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Dreamcast, Sega

Street Fighter II.

...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.

Posted on Aug 23rd 2012 at 09:43:41 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Dreamcast, Sega

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.

Posted on Aug 18th 2012 at 08:51:30 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Dreamcast, Sega

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.

Posted on Sep 3rd 2011 at 11:21:27 PM by (noiseredux)
Posted under Dreamcast, Sega

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.

Continue reading The Sega Swirl

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