I feel like a dick.
Yesterday, I posted my article about weird sports games. In it, I went on a wild, totally unrelated-to-Uniracers rant about Nintendo’s Play It Loud! campaign. I bashed Sega’s ad campaigns, in which they focused on Nintendo’s games as being for little kids. While I stand by my opinion that that ad campaign preyed on really stupid kids, I also attacked Sega for generally not having games as good as Nintendo, and specifically for having shitty 3rd party support. Well, I kind of stand by those statements too, but I still fucking love Sega. Well, 90s Sega anyway. 21st century Sega I can’t say the same thing about. Jesus. I just don’t understand how a company can manage to blow 60 years of very powerful good will in such a short amount of time.
Now, I understand that no one from Sega is reading this, and I also understand that my articles, despite my best efforts to the contrary, do not travel back in time and unleash my rage on people that haven’t worked in the games industry in 20 years. Furthermore, I realize that none of you give a shit how I feel about Sega’s ads in 1992. Regardless, I would still feel awful if I bashed the people that brought me Vectorman, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Phantasy Star without proper context. This is my love letter to Sega.
My experience with Sega actually began when I was lucky enough to get a Master System. I don’t remember at all when I got it. All I have from early on are vague memories of Zillion 2, Double Dragon and Gangster Town.
I liked Zillion 2 and Gangster Town (and I still do. I still think the Master System light gun, the Light Phaser, is the best I’ve ever used), but I loved Double Dragon. I know, I know; everybody does. But not everybody played the Master System version. The NES version of DD is good, but the Master System version is spectacular. Everybody who has played it typically agrees; it has much better graphics, the controls are smoother, it doesn’t have the mystifying level up system of the NES version, and it can handle more enemies on screen at once. Plus, you have infinite continues (until the final stage anyway), which helps with that bitch-ass bridge in the third level.
Although these are the only games I remember having as a kid for the Master System, when I got a little bit older I found several other games that I had apparently had always had stashed away in a box in my closet. Among them were Afterburner and The Ninja. Those weren’t necessarily treasured childhood memories like the others were, but they were solid, fun games. I later got addicted to the arcade version of Afterburner after my local arcade got the totally sweet motion-ride cabinet (I’m not sure exactly how they got a working version of this cabinet in 2003, but I’m not complaining). I bring these games up, though, because they demonstrate one of my favorite things about Sega games: the colors. With all of their older arcade games, the Master System, the Game Gear, and even the Genesis, Sega had a very particular way of designing their games to use unique, instantly identifiable colors. Just look at Fantasy Zone:
A lot of Sega’s games looked like this, for several years. They’re still so pretty in so many ways, with the thick sprite outlines and pastel colors. Sega kept this up for a long, long time, pretty much until they started trying to make their games look 3D. Around that time, games like Sonic 3D Blast and Vectorman demonstrated the graphical problems with the Genesis, mainly that everything looked waaaaay too fucking dark. But until about 1995, everything they did managed to look so uniquely colorful that they didn’t have to rival anybody else; their graphics stood in a league of their own.
Another big part of my love for Sega was the mystique everything they did had. In Nintendo, I felt like I had a personal relationship. They communicated with me by strategy guides, TV shows, books, print ads, and of course Nintendo Power. With Sega, though, I didn’t have much to go on. All I knew is that they did what Nintendidn’t. If Nintendo was the cool camp counselor who got down on one knee to talk on my level, Sega was the mysterious suited man who bought me candy, smiled, and walked away without saying anything. Sure, they seemed to have my best interests in mind, but why? They always had ads, but they focused only on the games, with only the briefest of connections to the brand (“SEGA!”). They had an official magazine, but it was apparently more elusive than Bigfoot’s ghost; I’ve still never seen a single copy of it. Sega’s mysterious slogans (like “Welcome to the Next Level”), forbidding parental advisory ratings, and attractive, modern fonts (no, I’m not being sarcastic, dickmouth) didn’t attract me the same way Nintendo’s more personal ads did; they mystified me, made me feel curious and slightly afraid. To pull a feeling like that out of me while simultaneously telling me how fun playing as a super fast blue hedgehog with ‘tude was is pretty impressive even now. The only other company that has been able to do that since was Sony (with its URNOTE ads), and they ended up forgetting about that mysterious and forbidding attitude with the PS2, and then taking it waaaaaay too far with the PS3 (Seriously, look at those ads. It’s like they completely forgot what they were even supposed to be advertising and just decided to try to scare children shitless so they’d never buy their products. Fortunately no one else bought them either, so hopefully they learned their lesson).
But of course, the biggest thing Sega did to ingratiate themselves to me was make excellent games. The merits of Phantasy Star, Virtua Fighter, and of course the Sonic series are well documented, but Sega had a lot of fantastic one-offs too. Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin was the first superhero game that really captured the feeling of being a superhero, and was a good game to boot. Likewise, Spider-Man, The Video Game, the arcade beat-em-up, is one of my favorites in the genre and brings back warm, fuzzy memories both of being taken to play it at the local gas station/hot dog shack (see, here in Tennessee, instead of street food vendors, we have gas station diners. They’re pretty much two sides of the same coin, except our diners have arcade games, whereas street vendors have questionable health standards) and learning more about it as I was trying emulation for the first time (specifically, learning that I couldn’t play it in MAME, because the system it ran on, the Sega Arcade 32 board, wasn’t emulated yet). Chakan, despite the bizarre poses the main character could make (you could make him look like he was directing a plane landing on a runway) and the incredible degree of difficulty (the real final boss is so hard he’s thought to be essentially impossible to beat without cheating, and Sega apparently though so too, because they never programmed the ending you’re supposed to get after beating him), was a really fun and unique platformer, and was really dark compared to other games of the time. Shinobi and its progeny are some of the best run-and-gun platforming available for any system, particularly Shadow Dancer, with its odd-yet-charming dog attack mechanic. Comix Zone is possibly the most underrated, and definitely one of the best, beat-em-ups ever. Hell, even Vectorman, which I was just bashing 2 paragraphs ago is a great game.
So I’m sorry, Sega. I didn’t mean to be a jerk. I love you, and I want you to take me to the next level every night. That’s why I got a Sega CDX. This has already become one of the most valuable things I own, and I only paid $100 for it. It routinely goes for anywhere from $350-$1200 online. But I don’t care about the value. Well, maybe I care a little. Or a lot. But regardless, I’ll never sell it. I’ve spent the last couple of nights playing Sonic CD and a shitton of Genesis games, and they still hold the same mystique they’ve always held. I love you Sega. I hope you really are developing a new console.
P.S. Sorry I didn’t get to the Dreamcast. That’s gonna require a whole article to itself. Someday. ;D
The Genesis is a mixed bag. Several unmistakable classics were released for it, but there was also a lot of unbelievable shit. For every Vectorman, there was a Misadventures of Flink. This extends especially to fighters. For a long time, the Genesis was considered to have the superior versions of both Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, and even had some exclusive hits (like Virtua Fighter 2), but it also had some of the shittiest fighters ever made. A few examples:
Weaponlord (Genesis/SNES, Namco, 1995)
Weaponlord was a fighter in the mid 90′s that is still revered today, largely because it was so different from other fighters in its day. It included a parry system, the ability to rip your opponent’s clothes or hair or even break their weapon, and a different special move system than the norm (more on that later). Unfortunately, none of this makes up for the fact that the game was slow and kinda clumsy. The team really seems to have tried, and a lot of the ideas made it into later games (especially a certain other Namco-developed, weapons-based 3D fighter), but all the innovation in the world doesn’t excuse the fact that some moves simply don’t seem to work because I’m entering the commands too fast. Unless the game was a psychological experiment created to make even the most slothlike gamers feel like the goddamn Flash, a fighting game engine that’s incapable of receving commands entered quickly simply doesn’t work.
It also doesn’t help that the developers took the classic lazy route to innovation: they turned the special move command system backwards. Instead of entering a directional sequence then pressing a button, you press a button then enter a directional sequence. Like most similar attempts at being innovative in this fashion, it’s different than anything that came before it, but still isn’t creative and offers no advantage over the traditional way of using special moves. Many games have attempted this (just look at how many Tetris and Breakout clones where the action happens on the opposite end of the play area), but few seem to realize that sometimes the basics of a game are what make it fun, and that changing them kind of ruins the game. But hey, if it’s that easy, I can do it too! Check this out: a racing game where the car drives the driver. Oh, sorry, what’s that? I didn’t hear what you said. There was too much noise from the sound of your fucking mind being blown.
Poorly thought out special move system aside, the game isn’t too bad. It kind of reminds me of being a kid, playing Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat with a reliance on regular attacks because I didn’t know how to do special moves. As far as Genesis fighters go, it’s not nearly as clunky as some others are. It’s not exactly smooth, but it’s forgivably slow, as opposed to some other games on this list. Also, the whole game, character design, plot, music and all, are totally fucking metal. It’s like playing a Dragonforce album. Seriously! Look at this motherfucker!
Tell me that son of a bitch didn’t kill his way off a Dio album. In fact, wait a minute:
There the fuck he is.
Eternal Champions (Genesis/Sega CD, Sega, 1993)
I’ll cut right to it. This game simply isn’t very good. The hit detection doesn’t feel right, the AI is unbalanced, and the special move system is fucked up beyond redemption. That said, Eternal Champions succeeds where Weaponlord failed: it makes up for mediocre gameplay with sheer creativity.
Unlike other American-made fighting games in the early-to-mid 90′s, Sega made up their own original characters instead of just ripping them off from other sources (in most cases, comic books, pulp fantasy, and Street Fighter). This resulted in some surprisingly cool characters and settings. They’re all well-designed, well-animated, and have very detailed and, dare I say it, original histories.
Speaking of histories, Eternal Champions has a sort of odd one. It wouldn’t have been considered odd at the time, but looking back on it with what we know now, Eternal Champions presaged several concepts to come in video games, and, hilariously, didn’t presage at least one major one.
You see, Sega really expected this game to be huge. As such, they threw the full force of their advertising at it. Unlike Sega today, this actually meant something in 1993. Just look at this commercial:
Oh shit! Eternal Champions is so badass it’ll eat my copy of Crappy Fighter (released in America as Ultimate Mortal Kombat III)!
Not just limited to a couple of commercials, Sega continued the campaign with a comic strip in Sonic the Comic, a standalone magazine-sized comic, a sticker album (hopefully as gruesome as the game itself), a couple of choose-your-own-adventure books, and even it’s own Slurpee flavor, creatively titled “Sega Eternal Champions Cherry” (presumably after the first suggested name, “That New Fighting Game We’re Working On, Infernal Champions Or Whatever… Cherry” was shot down). A pre-release version of the game was included in an EGM travelling tournament, and a cartoon was even in the works before Sega of Japan shot it down in favor of Virtua Fighter. The fucking thing was even a pack-in game for America’s sweetheart, the Sega Activator! How did this game not get elected President?
As I mentioned above, one thing about the game is, in hindsight, absolutely hilarious. According to Wikipedia, in order to create the game’s character roster, Sega gathered a group of children of all ages to help design all the characters. Sega handed them a selection of archetypes, and asked them to whittle the list down to their favorites. In true 90′s fashion, among the chosen archetypes were “pirate”, “robot”, “ninja”, and “caveman”, which means we were probably a couple of characters away from playing as “fireman” or “BMX bike”. The children narrowed the group down to about 50 characters. After showing them projected designs for the characters, the kids chose their 10 favorites, and the character roster was born.
So why is this funny, you ask? Watch this video:
Jesus shit! Did you see the one on the train? How about the giant blade pit? That is just fucking clownshit. If you didn’t watch the video, you may be thinking I’m just exaggerating for humor’s sake. Not the case. I’ve not seen a game since that can top the level of violence in this game. It’s crazy.
Now, after watching that, can you imagine this game being shown to some 7-year-old kids nowadays? Fuck no. You’d be in jail within the hour. The funniest part, however, is that the kids just helped design these characters because they thought they were cool, and now here they are being ripped apart by a giant fan. I know it’s a fighting game, but how do you think the kids reacted? “So, Timmy, the gangster was your favorite, right? Well, here’s an animation of him being fucked to death by the Devil in Hell. Is he still your favorite or do you prefer the merman? Open your eyes, Timmy. Stop crying. This is important marketing research.”
Eternal Champions is great, it really is, but it’s just not very fun to play. It’s a damn shame, because if it had been, it might have been the game to beat Mortal Kombat. It had some memorable characters, an original storyline, and some creative features (including a Danger Room-esque battle arena with customizable environmental hazards!), but at the end of the day, it gets tiring to play more than 3 or 4 matches.
One of the game’s biggest flaws is that your special moves are limited by a small “special meter” that only allowed you to crack off two or three projectiles before you had to wait on a cooldown. The computer-controlled opponent, on the other hand, wasn’t affected at all by this cooldown, meaning they could be obliterating your shit with flaming magic tridents while you’re unable to throw a shuriken due to, I don’t know, your chi being exhausted or some shit. This is a large part of the game’s other big problem: the unbalanced AI.
Picture this: you’re playing basketball, 1-on-1, with your friend Chuck. Chuck is 5’6″, 140 pounds, severly myopic, and has asthma. You’re playing against Chuck, and you’re 20 points ahead of him. All of a sudden, Chuck starts shooting three pointer after three pointer, stealing the ball before you even know you had it, and, as a final fuck you to your preconcieved notions, lifts off from half court NBA-Jam style and soars through the air for what seems like an eternity before crashing down and wresting the goal from its moorings, thus ending the basketball game and getting Chuck noticed by an NBA scout. Chuck becomes a worldwide sensation, and uses his newfound fame to fuck your girlfriend, get you fired from your job, and make an ass of you on television. He continues his assault on you until you can’t take it anymore, and finally end it by your own hand. The last thing you see is Chuck laughing and driving off in a Ferrari full of supermodels and cash as blood trickles down your face and everything goes black.
This is the problem with Eternal Champions AI. You end up beating the living shit out of your opponent until, suddenly, he comes back from behind and becomes goddamn Steven Seagal, somehow decimating you before you even know what’s happening. This happens every time, no matter what opponent you’re playing against. Coupled with only being able to use a special attack roughly every 20 minutes, this doesn’t add up to a very satisfying game experience.
To be perfectly honest, even though I didn’t like the game itself, I’d love to see a resurgence in its popularity. The game had enough style to make up for its lack of substance (to some extent, anyway), and a remake could be amazing, as long as the current Sega didn’t handle it. It still hurts every time I read the last part of that sentence. Sigh… youth lives on hope, old age on rememberance, I suppose.
Deadly Moves (Genesis/SNES (as Power Moves), Kaneko, 1993)
Before saying anything about Deadly Moves, I feel there’s something we need to discuss.
Do you see this shit? Specifically, you need to see this:
Since you’re wondering, no, the game doesn’t look like that. In fact, it looks like this:
It’s not exactly Donkey Kong Country, but it doesn’t look bad. So why did they do that? Why would they give a 6-year-old a box of crayons, poke his eyes out, and ask him to draw whatever he thought Hulk Hogan did in his spare time? These are questions we’ll never know the answer to, because everyone involved with this ad is probably working in lawnmower sales or something. Some of the captions are also mysterious if you’ve played the game. Specifically, the top right caption. This isn’t an advertising slogan, it’s a description of a screenshot, that isn’t really a screenshot, that depicts something that doesn’t even closely resemble something that happens in the game. Why is this here? It might as well have been a picture of a train with a caption that says “The train to Intercourse, PA runs at 8:15, 12:00, 4:30, and 9:00.” It would have made exactly as much sense.
Aside from the terrible faux-screenshots, there are a number of other things going on in this ad. Let’s look at the large picture at the top, which coincidentally is also the cover of the box:
I understand why this guy is getting punched, as he apparently had a glowing jar of marmalade on the side of his face. Alternatively, the glowing, liquidy explosion could have been the result of world’s largest firefly on his cheek, smashed . The only other thing I could think of as an explanation is that this horrible karate man with a Julie Roberts mouth punched a man with a bizarre haircut so hard that it caused a luminescent explosion of blood. Speaking of the blond man’s haircut, what the fuck is that on the back of his head? Is that a handle? Some kind of burrowing worm? It’s not a ponytail, because ponytails don’t grow out of one end of your head and into the other.
Now that we’ve got this… thing… out of the way, we can move on to the game itself.
Deadly Moves is by far the worst game in this list. It’s more awkward and clumsy than a 13-year-old with a boner in gym class. The hit detection is way off, and the special moves don’t really serve any purpose, because the fireball (which seems to use the exact same sound sample as Ryu’s Hadoken in SFII: Special Champion Edition) is so easily blocked, and the only other move, a vertical kick, is at such a sharp angle that it can’t hit anything. Addiing to all this is the fact that the game’s difficulty was so unbalanced. Not only does the difficulty vary by character, it even varies by round. It’s like a being in a tag team match against Betty White and Andre the Giant.
Again, like every other game on this list, the game has a bizarre, almost prophetic element to it. In specific, Deadly Moves predicted the inevitable melding of RPG elements with everything, and especially (of course) with fighting games. There haven’t been a whole lot of them yet (the biggest one so far is Soul Calibur 4), but as far as I can tell, this was the first one ever. It isn’t a large part of the game, but you choose what order you fight opponents in, and depending on the strengths of the character you’re fighting, you gain points in one of 6 different stats. This has the side effect of essentially forcing you to fight the characters in a certain order, since you won’t be strong enough to actually defeat any character outside of the next one in line, just like in Mega Man, except I don’t want to compare it to Mega Man, because fuck this game.
Deadly Moves also implemented a multi-plane fighting environment, kind of like the one from Fatal Fury, but without the need to press a button to jump between them. You just move up and down, Final Fight-style. I would say that this presaged 3D fighters with a greater degree of movement, but shit, I don’t even believe that.
Deadly Moves fucking sucks. It could have been worse, but not much worse. It’s not completely without merit, it can be fun for about 5 minutes, if only out of awe at how fucked up the difficulty is, and out of attempts to spite the game for being so hard, but anything past that and you’ll being praying for Eternal Champions’s comparitively serene mediocrity.
As one final note, I’d like to note something about the characters here. Most of them are generic ripoffs of other fighting game characters, but there are two in specifc that deserve note:
Say hello to Baraki and Vagnad.
They appear to be a regular set of characters, Baraki a blatant ripoff of Blanka, and Vagnad a Russian strongman like Zangief (who, curiously, later became gray himself). This is true, but it’s more than that. They are the most racist cariactures this side of Punch-Out!!. Unlike Blanka, who’s just a mutated monster, Baraki is represented as just a regular Kenyan. You know, green hair, bull ring through the nose, skull necklace, loincloth. Vagnad was even worse. Vagnad was indeed Russian, but he got his gray skin from…
The fucking Holocaust.