Thursday Jul 22, 2010
Available now on the PC — a new batch of SEGA Genesis Classics! I’m always in favor of finding new ways to release Genesis stalwarts, and this is a particularly compelling pack since these games have not all seen wide release (especially on the PC). The following are now available through GamersGate:
You can purchase them all individually, or snag all of them in one seductively old-school package:
A single snazzy interface combines all the Genesis Classics games together for easy accessibility. The games work nicely with most controllers as well (including the Genesis-esque Play SEGA controller!), meaning you don’t have to fumble with the keyboard for fighting games like Eternal Champions. Also present: the ability to save your game at any time, which is, of course, exceedingly welcome.
Here’s some highlights from the releases, as chosen by, well, me:
Carving out its niche in the category of ‘insanely addictive puzzle games’, Columns aligns itself with your heart vertically: arrange falling columns of 3 gems to line up colors; matching colors cause the matched gems to disappear from the screen. Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines of 3 or more matching colors qualify, so this puzzle game differentiates itself from Tetris by inducing something like precognitive powers in the user. Thinking you’ve doomed yourself to a full screen of gems only to see a series of blocks fall that you must have planned without realizing it is the kind of visceral pleasure that anyone who’s ever delayed homework with “just one more game” knows only too well. Also, the music for Columns is terrific.
Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine‘
Of course, to mention Columns without mentioning Mean Bean Machine is to speak of the Beatles but never the Rolling Stones … or something like that. Mean Bean Machine is an exceedingly odd game, very much in the same puzzle category as Columns, but with little google-eyed globules (the beans) that gum together and fall all over the puzzle space. You also play “against” Dr. Robotnik, who periodically drops rock-hard beans into your puzzles space, halting your careful progress and causing you to go insane and break your controller. Highly recommended.
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
While Alex Kidd is very much a proto-Sonic the Hedgehog, his games very much deserve mention as what they were: insanely enjoyable hallmarks of the Master System / Genesis era of platforming, whose hyper cartoon-style belied insidiously difficult gameplay. While you can kick and punch pretty much anything in the game, you can’t touch it (or jump on it), which gives the game an odd edge. You can also play roshambo in the game, where losing means you die. The game features powerups like motorcycles and pogo sticks — to be honest, understanding the unique charm & appeal of the Alex Kidd games is central to understanding what ‘old school’ meant, and its the same sort of thinking which lead to one of the strangest games ever.
Super Thunder Blade
…is really difficult. Don’t mistake this game for being of After Burner’s lineage (though of course After Burner is difficult in its own right); Super Thunder Blade is closer in pedigree to the bullet curtain style of shooters, where placement is everything and learning a precise pattern of movement makes you a champion — think an evolved version of Space Harrier, with combat helicopters.
Kid Chameleon and Ristar
I’m doing these together — they’re very different games but they’re both experimental platformers and very much proto-Sonic action games. Kid Chameleon oozes ’90s cool (dig the leather jacket and sunglasses) and has the hook of taking place in a virtual reality arcade where you get to take on all kinds of different guises, each with their own unique power. Ristar, meanwhile, is simply an incredibly charming platformer that happened to have some of the best & most colorful graphics to show up on the Genesis, as well as excellent sound. An excellent platform experience, it is completed by the title character’s “grabbing” mechanism for swinging around and disposing of enemies, which works something like the arm from Bionic Commando.
An odd & unique game, Bonanza Bros. is an action/shooter where you infiltrate a variety of buildings to sneak and shoot your way past cops in order to recover loot. A fun note about this game: in the original Japanese release, you play thieves working to steal the loot from these buildings (although the shots fired are always non-lethal); in the Western release you are “security experts” helping various buildings to test their security by coming after their loot . . . although if you loose, the “game over” screen still shows the player being sent to prison. The games compelling sense of strategy comes from the fact that you don’t “destroy” your enemies, you just temporarily disable them, meaning you have to plan carefully to sneak & shoot your way around the building, as guards will invariably alert other guards to your presence.
I’ve saved my favorite game of this collection for last. Fatal Labyrinth appeals to something primal in me — it recalls my geek ancestry, gaming nerds from prehistoric times (namely, the 1970s) playing invented Dungeons & Dragons games in garages and rec room basements. Fatal Labyrinth has a strong connection to the early, early days of computer dungeon crawlers, rife with mystery and possibility: the game features randomized dungeons, items, and monsters, and of course gold — but the only value gold has in the game is to buy you a better funeral when you die (and like all hardcore dungeon crawlers of yore, when you die in Fatal Labyrinth, you stay dead). It also pulls the wicked old-school trick of making the effects of the various scrolls, rings, and potions you pick up “unknown” — they may help or hinder, but the only way to find out is to use them. I realize this game may not be for everyone — it’s difficult and has none of the trappings of more mass-market RPGs of the modern era, but it also has an indelible charm: the elemental appeal of crawling through dungeons, equipping weapons & armor, slaying monsters, and trying to stay alive.
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