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
Sega’s latest Sonic the Hedgehog game, “Sonic the Hedgehog: Reputation Fuckers!”, will put a new spin on the recently rebooted series’ formula. According to lead designer Ruben Alvarez, the game will “shatter barriers once thought unbreakable” by “finding everything you’ve ever loved and destroying it.”
In a press conference Saturday, Alvarez elaborated on this statement, saying “We here at Sega have tried really hard for the last few years to make gamers hate us and to completely ruin the good standing we have in the gaming community that has resulted from our entire history until about 2004, but despite our efforts, some people still have fond memories of us. We keep giving mediocrity our all, but somehow it hasn’t worked. We suffered a big setback from our unfortunately excellent hit Yakuza, so we’ve tried to redouble our efforts, creating bad Sonic game after bad Sonic game, even going as far as to shit on the original Sonic the Hedgehog, a move no one believed was even possible. The game was already done! All we had to do was port it! Yet, we still managed to successfully make it awful. Somehow this wasn’t enough for the community at large.”
After their exeunt from the hardware market in 2002, Sega was on top of the world, at least as far as credibility. The company became almost universally praised for its software, with hits such as Super Monkey Ball and Virtua Fighter 4. However, it didn’t lead to a large enough increase in sales, and, as a result, the company was sold to Sammy in 2003, at which point the company’s focus became, to quote their corporate slogan, to “topple everything (their) forebears have built.” Most games from the company since have encapsulated this philosophy, but according to Alvarez, the company has “frequently been challenged by attempts to create a horrible product that no one can enjoy.”
“A large part of this is that programmers continually refuse to make the game as bad as it could possibly be. We’ve tried hitting them, we’ve tried yelling at them, we’ve even threatened to have them incinerated. And then, just to show we’re serious, we actually do it! Many of them still haven’t been deterred. But we think we’ve stumbled upon the right combination of people this time. And, as a result, we’re going to corner the market on terrible games.”
“The hardest part about making a game bad is that it’s difficult to find what people hate. However, thanks to technology that is available to us in this modern day and age, that problem can be circumvented. Our newest game will begin with a required survey concerning things you loved when you were younger. The results of this survery are submitted to us via XBox Live, where we will update your game, live, into a nightmarish, unbearable desecration of all your most treasured memories. It’s truly revolutionary. And don’t think this will extend only to your favorite Sega characters; we intend to cover everything you loved, from Transformers to the red bike your parents bought you when you were 8.”
“The player will then be released into a sandbox world full of these things, changed to fit our bile-filled vision. For example, Snake-Eyes from G.I. Joe, surely a beloved memory from anyone in the 80s, would be transformed into an anthropomorphic snake-ninja who rapes your mom as she’s making chocolate chip cookies, over and over again. It will be extraordinarily, possibly even disastrously expensive, but it will be worth it to achieve our goal of being universally reviled by gamers.”
The game is set to be released in late November, just in time for Christmas, a bastardized version of which the game is set in. Preorders will include a DVD of Sonic sodomizing your grandparents, over and over again, for an hour.