Thursday Jun 13, 2013
SEGA is proud to announce four new classic Game Gear titles are now available in the Nintendo 3DS eShop!
The color (!!!) portable system from SEGA’s 90s past – the one that ate batteries like tater tots and had a TV Tuner, which was pretty awesome even if it ate even more batteries – has previously joined forces with the finely-crafted Nintendo portable system. We’re back with more, adding four of the games that helped define the Game Gear:
Sonic the Hedgehog, Columns, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and Shining Force: Sword of Hajya!
If you’re a fan of Game Gear’s unique portable offerings, then we have more on the way in the near future — for now though, let’s plug in the car adapter and buckle in to the backseat for a trip down memory lane to look at these titles:
Sonic the Hedgehog
Ah yes, Sonic. We know about this game, right? Blue Hedgehog runs fast, collects rings, thwarts plans, frees animals encased in unfeeling metal, is charged with the mystical energies of special emeralds. Classic!
Actually the Game Gear version is a slightly different spin on the original – it’s the same version as appeared on the SEGA Master System: half of the zones feature a different design than the 16-bit counterpart, and it has different level design and story elements.
Notably, the game also featured original music from chiptune wizard Yuzo Koshiro – the same musician who created the amazing tracks for the Streets of Rage series and contributed fifteen original tracks to Shenmue.
Seriously though, Columns. Yes, there is a fine tradition of games where the player arranges falling things in a desperate bid to make them disappear. It’s as apt a metaphor for life itself as video games have devised. The twist in columns – have you guessed it? – is the frenetic arrangements are all vertical, a metaphor for the chaos of our waking lives, and/or a metaphor for spinning falling gems stuck to one another that vanish if you line them up just so.
As is becoming a recurring theme here, Columns also had some fantastic music.
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Look, it was the 90s, and matching contortionist strings of goo-beans was just something that we did back then. It’s hard to explain if you weren’t there, but this game is a window into the culture of my people.
Oh! Also it is basically a Puyo Puyo game, which is to say exactly a Puyo Puyo game, but remade with a Sonic theme, because again, it was the 90s, and that’s how we rolled.
One neat thing about the Game Gear versions of Genesis titles is they often had something unique going for them – in this case, a “Puzzle Mode” that didn’t appear in its 16-bit cousin. Nineties! Yeah!
Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya
A rare gem from one of my personal favorite series – the original Shining Force games rank highly on my list of all-time favorites for their blend of tactical strategy and story-driven RPG.
Sword of Hajya takes place some 20 years after the original Shining Force, give or take, and continues the story of Guardiana. A handful of characters from the original – including Luke, Ken, Lowe, and the magical egg-shaped squid-creature (???) Domingo – return in this Gamer Gear exclusive.
To be honest, RPGs don’t always age well – they can be grindy and they can belong very much to their eras. Sometimes you take what you can get. But tactical RPGs and in particular the Shining Force series have always felt very much alive, and the blend of character progression, story, and tactical strategy still hold a primal appeal. I mean, I’m biased! But I like to think I’m biased for a reason, and those reasons say I am very excited to see this game (and all these games) show up for download on the 3DS.
Stay tuned … there’s more on the way for the Nintendo 3DS!
Thursday Mar 15, 2012
This marks the return of portable SEGA classics into the present day: the Game Gear, introduced in 1990, was yet another salvo in the ever-raging console wars. These days, plumbers and Erinaceidae play nicely together on the same systems, even participating in various bi-annual sporting events … Yet it’s still a bit of a trip to see games from this very SEGA of systems appear on the Nintendo 3DS: and yet, considering the unique and clever titles that cropped up on the Game Gear, it’s certainly a very welcomed development, and a terrific fit for this unique marvel of a handheld system.
First out of the gate are these three titles, featuring a whole suite of ninjas, an old school RPG crawl & brawl, and also some classic Sonic action. Read on!
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble
First off, the ‘hog and his fox-friend: Showing up between Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic 3, Triple Trouble is also somewhere between those games in style and level-design: there’s a good deal level interaction, meaning more traps and gizmos, as well as some sly level-based storytelling (not to mention Knuckles and his favorite hobby of throwing a lever to send Sonic tumbling into the next level). It’s a fast & furious entry in the Sonic canon you may have missed, and you can now take this game with you, playing as Sonic or Tails on the road.
The Shinobi entry features a team of color-coded ninjas and music by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro. Smooth layout and clever level design mask an awesomely difficult game: rather than getting it’s difficulty from constantly bombarding you with enemies and traps (which would certainly have fluttered the Game Gear’s framerate), Game Gear Shinobi features lots of carefully laid out areas that require precision timing and quick thinking. Easy to throw yourself into, and difficult to master.
And despite my ardent fandom of all things Shinobi, Dragon Crystal is in many ways my favorite entry here. Following in the footsteps of Fatal Labyrinth and based on the sprawling roguelike games of yore, Dragon Crystal is a top-down RPG featuring a huge number of weapons and endless exploration. The game sees you awake in the middle of a dangerous forest — the only way out is through, and also, you begin your journey followed by a large, unhatched egg. If that doesn’t say adventure, I don’t know what does.
Dragon Crystal also features an element of old school RPGness that illuminates exactly what is meant by old school: namely, you will find rings and potions that do something, you know not what — the only way, as in real life, is to don or quaff these items, and see what happens. They may help, heal, or hinder, but regardless of the outcome, the game is both surprisingly deep and addictive.
All three games are available now in the Nintendo eShop – check them out and stay tuned for more, including the worldwide release of these titles.
Friday Nov 11, 2011
Ninjas, Jet Skis, Saturns, Scarfs
In which ninjas ride jet skis, dubious patent claims are made, and a scarf is worn.
Following some clever Game Gear entries, the next major Shinobi to emerge swiftly from the shadows was Shinobi III, on the Mega Drive/Genesis. I’ll skim over this one, as I’ve written about it before, possibly several times – but the ninja-gist of this ninja title is the ninja-expansion on the core Shinobi (ninja) concepts: refining the difficult combat and platforming til it felt like an art; a painting of ninjas, made by ninjas, in the dark, because that’s how they ninja-roll.
Apologies for the cheap ninja jokes. There are more to come, though.
Also apologies for glossing over the Game Gear entries — I had a Game Gear, it was amazing, it ate batteries like a champ, I played a ton of Sonic and Chessmaster on it, and for some reason never had the Shinobi games. Here — to make up for it, a video of a Game Gear entry — Shinobi II: The Silent Fury.
Now that I’ve watched that I’m kind of mad I didn’t have this game on Game Gear. I’m going to go ahead and say that it looks like a brilliant platformer. Yuzo Koshiro also did the music for this one — his style is really distinctive enough that you can tell just by listening, but I looked it up to make sure — and having his awesome tunes on a portable system means in a way Sega actually invented the iPod. Let’s move on, now.
Good Things Start With “S”¹
So once upon a time there was the SEGA Saturn, which was actually a pretty marvelous little system. It kind of slipped between major generations of game consoles, and it kind of bridged the gap between graphical worlds, as well. This is the system that gave us Shinobi Legions, a platformer with live-action cut-scenes.
Graphically and stylistically the half video/half animated look has a kind of dated feel. That’s the worst you can say of it though, I think — the Saturn may have arrived at a transitional period in gaming, but it was still a marvelous system (with a really awesome controller, I would like to add). Shinobi Legions was likewise a tremendously solid platforming game; in a way one of the last of its kind as games turned to the Grand 3D and FPS Experiments. Also: Yes … this game had cut-scenes. With actors.
Let us move on from here – departing swiftly like some sort of martial-arts expert — leaving only the smoke bomb of this statement: The acting in this game was almost definitely as good as that of the Sega CD classic Night Trap. Look behind you! A ninja!
Wait I Forgot Something From Shadow Dancer
I forgot to mention: The criminal organization in Shadow Dancer is called “Union Lizard”. That feels like a happy accident of translation. Aside from a criminal organization, it is also the name of an industrial dance-core band I’m going to go start. And a skateboard/shoe company, and an alcoholic beverage (absinthe and cherry coke). Lastly: a derogatory term for a Teamsters thug.
Shadow Dancer might be my personal favorite of the bunch, or maybe I’m just partial to ninja dogs and decaying urban landscapes. Something about that deliberate setting – a post-invasion New York City – resonates with me. Okay, back to your regularly scheduled ninja-timeline.
A Magnificent Scarf
There are some interesting things about Shinobi on the Playstation 2. Wait, hold on – first, I did not ever play this game, either. I would like to play it, too, but my Playstation 3 at home is the new kind that only plays PS1 discs, Blue Ray, and PS3 discs – it only does almost everything except play the PS2 games I would like to play. I’ll definitely get to this one at some point but for now, here’s some video:
There’s a lot that is amazing about this game, particularly his long, flowing red scarf, the gorgeous way it translates Shinobi to 3D, his scarf, the insanely difficult combat, the fact that you get to be a ninja with a sword, and the red scarf worn by the ninja. From what I’ve read this is something of a flawed gem – worth playing, totally interesting at an interesting point in gaming history, great scarf; doesn’t totally come together the way something like God of War would in 2005, but absolutely has its fans. To be honest I would love to hear anyone’s take on it — did you like it, hate it, have mixed feelings .. Ninja-share those feelings!
Next was the 2004 game Nightshade, wherein you play a female Shinobi who takes the
Remember how there’s a scarf? Did I mention a scarf? That will become important later.
Follow the Flowing Scarf
Right now is when the scarf becomes important.
More than just a great visual trick in the second game, and aside from just being part of the past two games, it has become a franchise icon; a poetic representation of a sword slashing through the air as the ninja wielding it disappears — the scarf’s trail a tracer marking only their disappearance.
Wait, I was going somewhere with all this scarf nonsense: the new game! Coming out on the Nintendo 3DS. I am proud of this game and excited for it – it adheres most closely to the platform games from the console days, both in terms of pure elegant design and ninja-quick difficulty (and of course, the scarf is there, too). This is what I’m saying — game history means something to me, it’s what I grew up with, and now I work for that company I grew up with. Getting to see this game come out is a huge kick, and in my opinion, the new game does exactly what an update of a franchise like this should do — it speaks to the previous games & eras, while working hard at being its own game with its own style.
In truth, Joe Musashi – the patron sword-saint of the original – appears in only some of the franchise games; his son appears in other Genesis/Mega Drive entries, a whole slew of ninjas show up on the Game Gear versions, while still more from Musashi’s clan appear on the PS2 version and the Sega Saturn game. In a nice bit of retcon, it is Joe Musashi’s father who appears in the forthcoming 3DS title. But it isn’t about the individual ninja by name, even if Joe Musashi is the prototype. Shinobi, translated, means Ninja – whoever is worthy to hold the blade, wear the scarf, throw the shuriken, and platform out of the shadows, is worthy of the name.
One parting note: Both I and SEGA wish to thank Phil Theobald for his work on both the summaries and factoids which appear in Shinobi 3DS (and which I drew from for facts in this blog series, especially the bullet points in part one). Shinobi 3DS speaks to its past with a great selection of information on previous games for you to study & learn from in the game itself; thank you Mr. Theobald for your contributions!
1. Sega, Sonic, Space Harrier, Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Space Channel 5, Seaman, Segagaga, Shining Force, Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star, and of course, that one game people really like … what’s it called … right! Sports Talk Football. Oh! And Sewer Shark.
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