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Archive for ‘Wii Virtual Console’


Golden Axe comes to Virtual Console!

The original Golden Axe — available now on Nintendo Wii Virtual Console — sums up SEGA’s arcade lineage as much as anything from that era. It’s a classic side-scrolling hack-and-slash brawler with astonishing graphics and sound. It looked absolutely terrific in the arcades — one of those games where, walking by it when I was young, I just had to play — and the dark fantasy theme was unique and well-executed.

Golden Axe (arcade) - Virtual Console

Plus the game has great hooks–in addition to typical hack-and-slashery, the game has a unique magic and, of course, beast riding system. Punting gnomes and stealing their potions is a time-honored Golden Axe tradition, and the game saved its flashiest graphics for casting the magic spells that were powered by the gnome potions: massive dragons appearing onscreen to breathe fire on enemies and twisting columns of earth and lightning were the kind of eye-catcher in the arcades that demanded your quarters.

Golden Axe (arcade) - Virtual Console
Golden Axe (arcade) - Virtual Console

Of course, dragon riding was the most widely-toted aspect of the game. I always thought that the most interesting part of this was that enemy AI was programmed to prioritize the dragons, as well — that is, they weren’t just player “vehicles”, but rather, enemies would always try to knock you off a dragon you were riding, steal it, and use it against you. Dragons run away after taking too much damage, meaning you had to strategize how to use (or not use) them. This spiced up battles considerably.

Golden Axe (arcade) - Virtual Console

The game looked awesome, with vivid, fantasy-inspired backgrounds and parallax scrolling. Even the character selection is a fine touch: There’s Ax Battler, a Conan-inspired sword wielding barbarian; Tyris Flare, a bikini-clad Red Sonja-esque fighter (who would return for Golden Axe: Beast Rider); and the lovable axe-wielding dwarf Gilius (who returned for Golden Axe sequels).

When I was young I was thrilled to have a port of the game for the SEGA Master System. It was actually pretty surprising how well the graphics were translated — squeezed into those 8 Bits not unlike the Amazonian Tyris Flare was squeezed into her battle-bikini. What the game lacked, however — aside from the smoothness of this arcade version — was the ending of the arcade version. I’m not going to spoil it here, but it is easily one of the coolest endings to an old school game, ever. It was a fine reward for having hacked and slashed your way through a pile of quarters at the arcade — although of course, if you have it on virtual console, you can play through to this classic ending any time you wish.

This is as classic an arcade game as you’ll find — check it out if you get the chance, available now for Wii Virtual Console!


Altered Beast Now Available on Wii Virtual Console

Now available for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, the arcade version of Altered Beast!

Altered Beast will always hold a special place in my heart because it was one of the original games released with the SEGA Genesis — a true harbinger of the 16-bit revolution! The more famous version of the game, though, might have been the Arcade version, and it’s a fine reminder of the fact that before they plunged into Console gaming, SEGA was, in fact, an Arcade powerhouse.

Altered Beast (arcade) - Virtual Console

Altered Beast is a kick-and-punch fueled side-scrolling brawler, pure and simple. The “hook” of the game, of course, is being able to collect power-ups in order to turn into all variety of ferocious were-beasts, including the iconic werewolf creature used in so many of the game’s promotional screenshots. There’s definitely a high nostalgia factor to this game. The music is terrific, but maybe the best part (aside from turning into all kinds of ferocious were-animals) are the bosses — but don’t take my word for it. Behold! An enormous pod-creature, ripe with a seething mass of homicidal eyeballs:

Altered Beast (arcade) - Virtual Console

It’s also worth mentioning that this game is actually very difficult, in the “arcade” vein of difficulty that demands your skill be matched up against your reserve of quarters: This is definitely a case where the ability to give yourself unlimited continues is a good thing. Of course, for a real challenge, limit yourself to however many quarters  you happen to be carrying in your pocket at the time you start playing. Special bonus points if you actually ditch those quarters somehow — put your laundry at risk as you “rise from your grave”!

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Phantasy Star (SEGA Master System) – Out now on Virtual Console!

I remember being 8 years old — this was well before a complex system of tubes informed users of new info on games 50 times a minute, and where we walked uphill to and from the arcade — and virtually salivating with anticipation for the arrival of each and every issue of SEGA Visions. Actually, I received the magazine even before that, when it was just called the “Team SEGA Newsletter” (a publication too obscure to even have its own Wikipedia link) and only focused on the SEGA Master System. While it may seem odd nowadays to not receive in-depth previews & analysis of a game 2 years in advance of its release from a dozen different sources, the mini-articles published in the old SEGA magazines (particularly the newsletter, before game coverage was serious business) were often the only glimpse we got of titles for the system. The newsletter (and SEGA Visions) may have been primarily marketing tools, but they were always incredibly exciting to read, and before the internet, screenshots of any sort were precious Mana to receive.

I remember being something like entranced by the preview for the original Phantasy Star. Here’s a flashback for you:

Phantasy Star ad

How could you not love a game that had a picture of a floating eyeball and a cool chick with a flaming sword, and some kind of crazy cat creature with big fangs? Plus that evil-looking guy with the mask and the sword in the background? And a big strong guy heaving a skeleton over his head? These things are indisputably awesome. I think the original version of the OED had, next to the entry for “awesome”, a drawing of a burly guy in futuristic armor chucking a skeleton.

What I didn’t realize at the time — aside from the fact that I would be working as the GM for the MMO descendant of this title in another twenty years (!) — was that this would end up being, essentially, SEGA’s longest continually-running franchise (phranchise?), and a landmark in early Japan-style RPGs to come to consoles.

Phantasy Star (SMS) for Wii Virtual Console

This game is something of an artifact, but it’s still fun in a lot of ways. Even just seeing the early mechanics at work and having such a huge area — a massive map spread across multiple planets — to explore is a blast, and the story is still a ton of fun.

This game is also hard. Difficult. Not easy. There’s a reason that Japanese game makers didn’t really think until Final Fantasy VII finally broke through big-time that US gamers could handle the pacing and scope of their “traditional” world-crawling RPGs, but these early games showed just what was possible with epic RPGs (and let’s not forget to heap lots of credit on the Western-made Ultima series). It’s not just the difficulty, it’s the heavy emphasis on grinding for character advancement and fighting through epic quests for every scrap of XP in order to advance your characters. “Old School” RPG means a lot of time invested in advancing your characters, inch by inch, through an epic world you were more or less free to explore, long before the “sandbox game” was popular.

Phantasy Star (SMS) for Wii Virtual Console

Phantasy Star focuses on the simple pleasures of dungeon-crawling and leveling up until you felt ready to take on the next level of monsters. That being said, it can be rough getting started. You are plunged right into the story, as the main character Alis, who has witnessed her brother’s death at the hands of government troops. Your brother’s dying words send you in search of a warrior who may be able to help, but before you can even make it to that town you have to fight the monsters roaming the starting area and collect enough meseta (the in-game currency, which is the same currency used in Phantasy Star Universe today!) to upgrade your gear as you see fit.

Heading out of the starting town, you can journey a little bit to the East and see a beach. You may think the beach is a nice place to visit — hey, you’re level 1, relaxing by the ocean would be great, right? Wrong. Don’t go to the beach! If you do, something called a Fishman will come and murder you. Here, I tried this out so you don’t have to. This digital image was snapped quickly at my own desk here at SEGA, so please excuse the lousy photography–the Fishman was very menacing, and I rushed the shot:

Phantasy Star - fishman

Note that one of the available menu actions is “Talk”. You can try talking to the Fishman! Note that this will also result in murder (your murder, not the Fishman’s). Your best bet, if you encounter anything with higher Hit Points than you early on, is to select the Run option. When you’re still at low level, just stick to the area around the starting town and look for anything with low hit points to kill. It’s wisest to save your game and return to town after each kill, and go into the orange house that’s near the exit to the town, where you can be healed for free. Rinse & repeat until you’ve leveled and saved up some meseta to buy new gear. From there, you can proceed East to the town of  Scion, and continue the game’s story.

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started. This is a great game to play in bits and pieces (or if you’re feeling crazy, stay up all night for serious old schooler credit). There’s a real pleasure in having these characters (including the awesome Myau) over the long haul and investing in & clawing for their every new level. Also, a few staples of the Phantasy Star series make their apperance in the original game — including the Dark Force (called Dark Falz in Phantasy Star Universe), and the mysterious dark planet Rykros.

The Master System version of Phantasy Star is out now for the Wii Virtual Console!


Revenge of Shinobi: Out Now for Virtual Console!

Joe Musashi–aka Shinobi–has been around as long as almost any SEGA character. The original arcade game came out in 1987 and Shinobi games have always been a hallmark of the best SEGA has had to offer in graphics, sound, and music.  It’s been a pleasure to see these games reintroduced in all sorts of ways, and now the Genesis version of Revenge of Shinobi has been released for Virtual Console.

Revenge of Shinobi

Revenge of Shinobi

Chronologically, Revenge of Shinobi is a direct sequel to the original, released around the same time as Shadow Dancer. It’s style is very similar to Shinobi III with the limits on shuriken and organization of levels. A few things are worth noting about this game:


The Shinobi games in general — like certain other ninja games — are NOT easy. Let’s revise that — these are some of the more difficult platformers you can play, and they rely a lot on timing and careful planning of levels. Revenge of Shionbi is no exception and I found all of my old platforming skills woefully dusty when playing through this again.

However, what has always set Shinobi apart, I think, is that while extremely difficult the games feel fluid & fun: Revenge of Shinobi makes you feel like, well, a ninja, and pulling off an impossible-seeming series of jumps and attacks to get through a maniacally difficult juncture in a level is very satisfying indeed.  Add to this the clever use of “Ninjitsu” powers and you have a really nice element of strategy.

Crazy Bosses

No, really. Check this out. There’s a definite spirit of mischievousness and fun that makes this Shinobi game different from the others in the series. Whereas most Shinobi games kept to more “traditional” bosses–a big guy wielding a sword, an even bigger guy wielding a sword, a helicopter with Ninjas jumping out of it, an advancing wall of gigantic cybernetic Hindu dieties–Revenge of Shinobi features a number of, ah, recognizable level bosses.

The production history of the game actually features a number of changes since some of these bosses trod on other copyrights–notably, a version of Godzilla  was made to look more like a giant “skeletal dinosaur”–however most have remained intact. This includes a Batman/Spider Man hybrid and a suspiciously muscled cybernetic opponent wearing sunglasses who seems interested in terminating your number of continues.

Revenge of Shinobi

Revenge of Shinobi

Last note: In addition to graphics that seem very well-suited for the Genesis (terrific backgrounds and detailed animation), the game has really excellent music and sound. The music in particular: it was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who, aside from doing the original Shinobi music, has also done Sonic the Hedgehog and the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack (among many, many more).

There’s a reason Shinobi became an iconic SEGA character, and for those interested in finding out why, definitely give this game a whirl.


Pulseman and Secret Command — Out Now for Virtual Console

Two new classic SEGA titles came out this week for the Wii’s Virtual Console — Pulseman and Secret Command. Both of these games are technically available for the first time here: Secret Command is previously a European release, whereas Pulseman was previously only available in Japan — and occasionally in untranslated form on the SEGA Channel.

Secret Command is from the bygone days of the top-down shooter. If it bears a strong resemblance to a certain other SEGA Genesis North American release, well . . . no comment. I always liked these style of games at arcades and pizza palors and whatnot, but found them immensely difficult for some reason. The strategy of moving from one cover to another can be addictive — I think my problem was always that charging headlong into a storm of bullets seemed like strategic gold. Typically, it wasn’t.

Secret Command 1

Secret Command 2

As for Pulseman, this is a gem of a game, with really excellent graphics — a fine example of the absolute best that the Genesis had to offer.  The titular hero moves between the “real world” and a kind of TRON-inspired computer world comprised of psychedlic circuit board backgrounds and lots of cool shifting colors. I’ve played a lot of generic side-scrolling action games and Pulseman actually caught me by surprised — for such excellent graphics the game moves very quickly, with an almost Sonic feel to the way you can cruise around levels. Pulseman’s moves are very unique though, and he can change into an electrical ball in order to maneuver from platform to platform.



Enjoy these unique games now, for Wii Virtual Console!


A Host of Classics on Wii Virtual Console

Three new classic SEGA games have recently made their way to the Wii Virtual Console and are available now–Galaxy Force II, Space Harrier, and Fantasy Zone II. Galaxy Force II and Fantasy Zone II are from the Genesis and Master System, respectively, and Space Harrier is the original arcade version.

Let’s start with Space Harrier: This is a near perfect example of everything that made SEGA unique in the field of arcade games back in the 80s. Nothing else has ever looked quite like Space Harrier. It has the straight-ahead fighter style of games like After Burner, but replacing the ship/plane with a flying guy holding a laser cannon who navigates alien worlds, thusly:

Space Harrier - Virtual Console

This is the epitome of quarter-eating obsessive arcade action. The Wii version has the bonus that, by simply clicking the trigger button the Wii remote, you can add “quarters” to the game–meaning you can gut your way through no matter how many times you die. And unless you are a highly skilled twitch-gamer already adept at bullet-curtain style shooters, you will die plenty of times.


Considering the difficulty of the game, that’s not a bad move–and yet, there’s still a great deal of challenge in the game for anyone who wants to try to finish with the more traditional 3 lives. Or, if you’re really hard-core & old-school: get a stack of your laundry money and give a quarter away for every extra life you get. Be warned that Space Harrier is a difficult enough game that this approach may leave you quite rank after a while, which may help add to the nostalgia factor of playing this game in dark, seedy arcades.

If you want to see the dizzying maneuvers put on by a pro at Space Harrier, check out this video of someone playing the last 3 levels of the game.

In the same vein as Space Harrier is Galaxy Force II, which is a little more like After Burner in space. This is another trippy-looking game, with a unique targeting system that causes each shot to home in on multiple enemies at once, provided you can wait for them to be targeted. The game is based around your fuel gauge and your ability to speed up & slow down, and the need to get through each stage before running out of fuel. All the elements work together quite nicely, and this is a great example of the basic engine behind After Burner being expanded upon and given a unique look and feel.

Galaxy Force II - Virtual Console

Galaxy Force II - Virtual Console

I’ve saved my favorite game of this bunch for last, though. Although I certainly have fond memories of Space Harrier (the Master System version, even!), it’s Fantasy Zone II that is the strangest, most psychedelic game of this trio of incredibly psychedelic games. I covered, in a retro/nostalgia piece a while back, the original Fantasy Zone for the Master System, and this sequel (still from the Master System) basically improves on everything from the original.

Fantasy Zone II - Virtual Console

It’s a side-scrolling shooter, replete with whimsically designed enemies and stages that look like they’re made out of sentient blocks of candy. The music is inspired and the gameplay, which involves deft weaving in and out of swarming mobs of pastel and technicolor bad guys, is oddly hypnotic.

Fantasy Zone II - Virtual Console

The full title of the game is Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa, which is a reference to the ending of the original game. A quick refresher, for those of you not up on your SEGA history: Opa-Opa is the title character, and was actually the official mascott of SEGA up until a blast-processing-powered Erinaceinae took that title.

At the end of the plot of the first Fantasy Zone, Opa-Opa defeats the leader of the invading force only to find out that it’s his father (an enormous version of Opa-Opa himself), who, filled with regret over leading an invading force of flying cupcakes against the peace-loving Fantasy Zone, sheds a single tear before dying.

Fantasy Zone II - Virtual Console

Last note on Fantasy Zone II: This game looks really good, with (almost alarmingly) bright colors and crisp sprites. The Master System may have been dwarfed in terms of sheer numbers by the NES, but boy howdy, it had incredible color and sound.

All three of these games have a very through-the-rabbit-hole aesthetic. They go nicely with some other recent Virtual Console releases, which I can’t help but highlight here:

Wonderboy III: Monster Lair

The Wonderboy games were always a kind of neat hybrid of side-scrolling action with odd little RPG elements — collecting items and upgrading weapons and armor — thrown in. One can think of Wonderboy as the more naturalistic (naked) cousin of Alex Kidd.

Wonder Boy III - Virtual Console

Clay Fighter

One can safely call Clay Fighter a visual feast. A fighting game with a fine sense of humor that squeezed everything it could out of the Genesis.

Clay Fighter - Virtual Console

All of these games are available now for the Virtual Console!