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Sonic The Hedgehog
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I must admit that when I first came to review this game, I failed to see why I had such fonds memories of it in the first place. That was until I hit stage 2 and enter Skull Land! From here the game picks up its pace a bit.
Like many other platformers of its time, the objective of Psycho Fox is to save a world that has been thrown into turmoil by some evil tyrant. In this case the tyrant is known as Madfox Daimyojin. With Bird Fly perched on his shoulder, Psycho Fox must trek through seven bizarre stages, each with their own stage boss, before encountering his nemesis the Madfox Daimyojin. Who is Bird Fly you may ask? Bird Fly is Psycho’s trusty sidekick that can fly out from his shoulder to defeat enemy creatures. Bird Fly also acts a shield because while perched on Psycho’s shoulder, he can take one hit without dying…however you will lose your feathered friend.
One of the coolest features of this game is Psycho’s ability to morph between fox, monkey, hippo, and tiger. However this is reliant that you have obtained a “Psycho Stick”, which can be found hidden away in the eggs that are scattered throughout the rounds or by killing an enemy creature. Of course each transformation has its strengths and weaknesses. Fox is the original form of Psycho Fox and his abilities such as walking, acceleration, punching power etc are standard. The hippo has tremendous punching power with the ability to break bricks. This allows you to enter some sealed off areas, but ultimately his weight will let you down. Monkey is known for his high jumping ability, while Tiger is a bit of an athlete who excels in running and long jumping.
Another feature is the end of round lottery bonus game known as “Amida” To play this game you must acquire at least one money bag during the round…one bet per money bag. Psycho Fox places a bet on a pathway that he then travels along, before receiving the prize at the end of the pathway. Prizes include extra lives, psycho sticks, straw effigies, and magic medicine.
Or if you’re unlucky like me, you might get the booby prize.
My favorite part of the game is defeating the stage 2 boss. A fly of epic proportions, brain visible through his transparent shell, Psycho must douse his opponent with fly spray by jumping on the nozzle of the can provided!
The game takes you through a number of landscapes including desert, sky, wind tunnels, and underground caverns, before you meet your nemesis the Madfox Daimyojin. In addition there are various hazardous implements you must avoid including disappearing bridges, slippery slopes, and needle-studded floors and ceilings.
Victory was mine and boy was it sweet!
One of the bonuses of this game is that once all your lives are depleted, there is an unlimited “continue” function enabling you to return to both the stage and round you left off.
However, my main frustration with Psycho Fox is the lack of a “checkpoint”. If you happen to die, you must begin from the very start of the round. This is very frustrating if you happen to die whilst battling a stage boss! Another criticism is that Psycho Fox moves a little too slow for my liking. This means that if you get to close to an enemy, and are not in a position to throw a punch, it is difficult to move away in time. It is also hard to jump distances if you don’t have a bit of speed behind you.
By the time the credits had rolled I felt like it was ME going psycho, possibly because I had died at least 100 times! But despite my frustration Psycho Fox is a great little platformer. It features some neat realistic sound effects, for example when Psycho cracks open an egg with his fist. The soundtrack is great albeit a little repetitive, and the game is rolled up in a bright little package. The biggest plus it gets from me is the interesting modes of defeating the stage bosses it employs.
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Not much can be found on the internet about this game, except that it was developed by Opera House in 1991, famous for porting to home consoles from Arcades like Midnight Resistance, Rastan Saga 2, and Captain America and the Avengers. Those games were somewhat decent at least. ~David Kudrev
The SEGA Master System 2 was the first home console I’ve had. It was a new experience in gaming for me as I was used to the arcades and Game & Watch games prior. I still don’t remember why we went for the Master System over the NES at the time. Might be the cost factor, as I did enjoy the games on the NES at the department stores when trying out which home console to go for. Although one thing about the Master System, was even though it had a large library of games, a lot of them were quite bad. This is one of the worst. Enter Running Battle.
Not much can be found on the internet about this game, except that it was developed by Opera House in 1991, famous for porting to home consoles from Arcades like Midnight Resistance, Rastan Saga 2, and Captain America and the Avengers. Those games were somewhat decent at least..
So the storyline in short: The Dark Zone, which is the name of your town, has been taken over by gangs and crooks, you play as Detective Gray, a cop who’s partner was gunned down by said crooks, and you’re avenging the death of him by plummeting yourself into 5 levels of fighting through monotony and cardboard cut-out characters to defeat “M”, the big boss of said town.
Okay, first off, the graphics are what you’d expect from a game on the Master System. Simple, yet effective for the given hardware there (granted I’ve seen decent graphics pulled off nicely on a Master System, I mean look at Sonic Chaos for example, or Fantasy Zone even! They’re very colorful games, Running Battle tends to go for blander colors.
The music in this game is the only thing that shines, when I first hired the game in 1991 and sat there playing it. The music was what stood out. Oh sure forget that this game has horrible animation in the characters, kind of like waddling a piece of cardboard across the screen, except cardboard doesn’t flicker/disappear when moving..
Forget that the collision detection in this game is beyond arse.. as in you can’t even get close enough to the thugs with your fists or kicks. Thankfully you do get some power-ups, like a pistol, rifle, super strength (one hit and the thugs are dead.. if you get close enough to hit them), and then there’s 5-second invincibility.
And forget the storyline and character development, you just fight 5 bosses, defeat the end boss and then greeted to a one-screen, one sentence, one picture end sequence.
I honestly don’t know what happened when this game was developed, whether it was meant to be a tax write-off? There were some great titles in that time on the Master System (Sonic 1, Asterix, Strider, Castle of Illusion) as well as it’s other competitive consoles (Battletoads and Star Wars on the NES).
If you see this game in the stores, grab it for the music. But don’t expect anything to pull you in and keep you playing for hours on end..
1.5 out of 5
– A great party game to piss friends off with
– Graphics and animations are bland (and at the time other games did better)
– Controls are way too hit-and-miss
– Not much in the way of story
Format- Master System
Genre- 2D scrapathon
Kung Fu Kid
This game reminds me of The Ninja on the Master System – in both a good and bad way.
Many Sega produced titles for the Master System were very odd indeed, and Kung Fu Kid is no exception. Their games for the system weren’t particularly polished and had several odd touches in them. They weren’t broken in any fundamental sense, but felt as if they were at times.
Take the first stage for instance. There are three ways it can go. The first time you play it, you’ll get your ass kicked. Angry men and leaping dolls (see, there’s the ‘odd’ touches I was talking about) storm across the screen at you from both directions.
You’re armed with a kick and a large jump, but you’ll most likely get your rump served up to you on a plate, confused at how to survive such an onslaught.
The second way is probably the way the developer envisioned you progressing. Inching your way to the right, you kick away foes (these ones only take one hit – small mercies), and try your hardest to avoid being hit. You have to build up a rhythm of move, kick, move kick to survive. Then, the boss.
The best way to beat the level though? Jumping. Leaping over the enemies is incredibly easy, and you’ll find yourself at the end of the stage in no time.
Best of all, the fast moving dudes can’t get to you if you use this method, as they get stuck behind the jumping dolls, leaving you to stroll away unchallenged. Slightly broken design at its finest.
The first boss battle, an old wise warrior (that’s what he looks like anyway), is not so easy though, and you have to have a bit of luck to beat him.
Levels get a bit harder, but in every one the same mantra of jump, jump, jump remains. Kung Fu Kid? More like Jumpy Boundy Boy.
Bosses however, generally get easier. Once you recognize their attack patterns you can open up a whole can of whupass on them.
One of the main reasons to stick with the game is to see what weird enemy the game will throw at you next. Tiny lobsters, zombies and what look like tin soldiers all stand in your way – i’m not sure why Sega though these enemies would fit into kung-fu game, but they’ve been shoehorned in nonetheless.
One enemy, that first appears in the third level though, is particularly worth seeing. Frogs. Tiny, cute green little frogs. Now don’t get me wrong, as I kid I didn’t put firecrackers into frogs and watch them go boom – like my Dad admitted he did – but the amphibian cruelty in this game had me in stitches.
About halfway through the third stage a small frog comes a-leaping at you. As with any enemy, you prepare to unleash a kick. But unlike the other enemies, which are knocked back a little and destroyed when hit, when you kick a frog they fly like a missile across the screen, taking out any other enemies that appear in their path. It is one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen.
Even better for those with a vendetta against frogs, the end boss for that stage is a huge version of the small green amphibians. It’s a spectacularly easy boss fight in fact – just barrage him with consecutive kicks right to his huge froggy nads and he’ll fall down like a pack of cards. Simple.
It’s in the fifth stage of the game where things get much tougher. Your jumping tactics aren’t as effective here, and you’ll probably end up taking on the boss with a weakened health bar.
Still, the game is never really unfairly difficult, and you can usually work your way through all seven stages if you’re patient enough.
What else is there to say about Kung Fu Kid? It’s weird, very weird indeed, but that’s undoubtedly part of its charm. Pick this one up if you see it abandoned at a car boot – and endless frog flying hilarity will be yours to cherish forever.
By: Tatsunoko Productions Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Nothing
I think it must be an indication of my gaming preferences and heritage that I’ve seldom been able to ‘get’ some of the most popular computer games that were doing the rounds during the 80’s. A great example of that is Impossible Mission – a supremely popular game, mainly on the C64 which I never owned admittedly, but I did later buy a copy of it for Sega’s splendid Master System. I found it an enjoyable, though very difficult game, but the puzzle elements caused me great confusion and in the end I’m ashamed to say I gave up on it. If only there was a similar game but with less puzzley puzzle bits… Before long I discovered that there was – Zillion – an unusual title even now in that it isn’t an arcade conversion and is exclusive to the MS which meant that not many people had the opportunity to play it. In the opposite scenario to which I usually find myself, however, I did have such an opportunity and I enthusiastically took advantage of it.
Like many Japanese games, this one is based on an anime series, albeit a shortish and relatively unknown one, even in Japan. Both the anime and the game star a fellow called JJ who is a member of the medieval-sounding White Knights, a peacekeeping force who are out to destroy the evil Noza Empire’s base which is located on the 50’s sci-fi-sounding ‘Planet X’. At the start of the game, the White Knight’s mothership has just landed on Planet X leaving JJ to infiltrate the underground base, rescue two captured comrades, and set the base’s mainframe computer to self-destruct. Sounds simple enough! After a short jog across the planet’s surface, JJ descends into the complex via a mysteriously-unguarded lift. From here he can make his way anywhere he wants really. The lift shaft and corridors lead to numerous rooms, each a single-screen in size. These usually contain various traps, some capsules, a computer terminal, and often a door to another similar room which will be locked.
JJ is less agile than the C64’s most famous secret agent but he can still jump around about the place (surprisingly high, too) and can also crawl along the ground. He packs a gun, too, which is used for destroying the sadly-infinite enemy guards who are found in pretty much every location – the planet’s surface, the lift corridors, and many (though not all) of the rooms themselves. Contact with their shots (though not the enemies themselves), or some of traps in the rooms, depletes JJ’s energy reserves, although he can get a ‘top up’ at any time by returning to the mothership. The gun is also needed for breaking open the capsules which contain power-up items including more energy, more powerful guns, goggles (which allow you to see some of the otherwise-invisible traps), ID cards (which are needed to access the computer terminals), and floppy disks which are needed to access the main computer.
More commonly found in the capsules, however, are code symbols. Each door has a four-symbol code but capsules only contain one so you need to bust open four in any given room, remember (or write down) the symbols, then re-enter them at the computer terminal. These capsules are, unsurprisingly, often protected by guards or traps which include energy-sapping barriers, conveyor-belt sections of floor, automated guns, mines, or trip-wires which trigger an influx of guards. The traps can all be turned off by entering a simple code in the terminals although, unlike entering door codes, you won’t get your ID card back so it’s best to work around the traps if possible. JJ is reasonable for this but, splendidly, you can also control your two kidnapped comrades once you’re rescued them. They include the awesomely-named Apple, a girlie who is predictably more agile than JJ and can jump higher but also takes more damage, and Champ, a bulky fellow who shrugs off enemy fire more easily than the other two but can’t leap around so well.
These two idiots also have their own energy reserves, so once you’ve rescued them you then basically have three lots of energy to get through the game with. Well, I suppose technically you have infinite energy if you can be bothered to go all the way back to the mothership every time you’re running low, but either way it makes Zillion a much easier and more accessible game than Impossible Mission, for me at least. That said, it can occasionally be rather unfair, as with the ‘unavoidable death loop’ I encountered. Contact with enemies or their fire knocks JJ (or whoever) backwards, you see, so if enemies are present very close to the point you enter one room and leave another, you can end up getting knocked backwards and forwards between them until you die. Boo hoo! Still, it only happened the once so far and the rest of the game is fairly accommodating despite some slightly iffy controls, mainly regarding the characters’ jumping abilities. Practise makes perfect though, although don’t expect to be able to play though the game quicker on subsequent runs – the door codes are randomly generated each time you play!
The presentation is of a high standard throughout the game and includes a few cut-scenes (including some girlie on the mothership crying if you die – unrequited love?) and the in-game graphics are quite good too. The sprites look a little weird to be honest (it looks like JJ has a blue face for one thing) and the way they shuffle along the ground is quite amusing. There’s a bit of flicker amongst the enemies when two or more are close together too, but there’s been a bit of effort to keep the nicely-detailed backgrounds a little more varied than I had expected. The audio is also good – there’s only one main tune but it’s a catchy one and the effects aren’t bad either which means that, all things considered, Zillion is pretty spiffy! It’s a pretty big game, spanning 136 screens I believe, and most of them are well-designed. You’ll need to return to some later (with a different character or more powerful gun, for example) and the sense of progress is keenly felt. Impossible Mission may well be an all-time great as far as most gamers are concerned, but my simple-mind would much rather tackle this lesser-known clone!
RKS Score: 8/10
Black Belt a.k.a. Hokuto No Ken (1986)
By: Sega Genre: Fighting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 209,100
Also Available For: Nothing Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Apparently inspired by Irem’s Kung Fu Master, even to the point of borrowing its ‘plot’, Sega’s game introduces the martial arts master, Riki, whose girlfriend has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Blinded by love to the obvious dangers ahead, Riki immediately sets out to rescue her by kicking and punching his way across six scrolling stages of enemy goons. His repertoire of moves is restricted to a punch or kick, both of which can be performed while standing or squatting, and he can also unleash a flying kick. Each stage features just one type of standard enemy who are each felled (and then explode) by one of Riki’s strikes. There are also one or more mid-bosses, who are usually armed, before the main end-of-stage battle against a much stronger foe.Back in the late 80’s, my good friend Luke and I were both proud owners of Sega’s Master System.
We were both still at school though, so we couldn’t afford new games very often, but we frequently ogled the games we wanted in the various magazines of the day, and on both of our lists was this exciting-sounding game by Sega. It’s actually one of the first games by Yuki Naka who would later go on to head Sonic Team and was released earlier in the same year in Japan as a game based on the popular manga and anime series, Fist of the North Star. Rather than using this opportunity to introduce it to the rest of us though, its release in other territories saw a change in theme to the generic karate game we have before us. This was all unknown to Luke and I at the time of course, and despite the atrocious cover art (see here) it’s a game I always found very enticing.
Enemy strikes deplete Riki’s health-bar but this can be replenished by performing a high-jump (jump while squatting) to grab the icons that occasionally float along the top of the screen. As well as several types of food to refill your energy, there’s also a temporary shield, but they’re tricky to grab without taking any damage as the buffoons running backwards and forwards along the single-plane landscapes are infinite and quite quick too. They’re also pretty small, as is Riki himself. The level of detail isn’t too impressive on most sprites either but the mid and end-of-stage bosses are quite varied and a bit more detailed too. Confrontations with the latter sees the view zoom in a little, and therefore the level of detail increase a little, as the game (briefly) switches to a one-on-one brawler complete with unique backgrounds.
Each of the stages also has its own backdrop and tune, of course, but these are little better than average which sums up the whole game really. It would probably have proved a reasonably entertaining game to play every now and then when it came out but it’s not aged too well. There’s no incentive to play for points since the enemies are never-ending. There is a time limit, admittedly, but it’s not a very strict one which is probably because the stages aren’t very long – if you were forced to rush through them, each would probably last a couple of minutes at most, not including the boss fights which are, incidentally, the only times you’ll need to use more than one brain cell! Playing through the rest of the game, though, is a bit of a chore and there’s a few scrolling fightings games on the MS which are much more enjoyable. Sometimes these games I’ve been meaning to play for so many years are worth the wait. Sadly, Black Belt isn’t one of them.
RKS Score: 5/10
Format- Master System
Genre- Lightgun shooter
You may remember my dismissal of Knife Edge on N64 as a pointless exercise without having an actual light-gun to play it with. Well, Assault City has a gun, but it’s still not much cop. But what do you expect when you play it with Sega’s rather naff Light Phaser?
The game starts with an odd shooting range thing, with both human and robot faces popping up to fire at. You’re not supposed to shoot the humans apparently – it took me a little while to realise this. No instructions you see. You’re just supposed to already know the robots are your enemies. That’s robo-racism if I ever saw it.
The weird faces the humans pull when you blast them with lead are amusing though. (the robot’s death animations are boring in comparison). It’s almost like the designers wanted you to shoot the wrong targets…
You’re then given a ranking for how well you did (I performed badly, predictably), and whisked into the first stage proper. Things get ugly quickly.
Enemies fly around in the air, and a robot (which the game has taught me is certainly an enemy) walks along the bottom. All of them are rather uninspired and blandly designed. I shoot away at them, and their death explosions are as equally dour.
Eventually I die, despite not really knowing when I took a hit. Enemies are so badly designed it’s not clear when they’re shooting at you.
I’m treated with a cartoon panel style rendering of my death (which is nice), but it doesn’t paticularly inspire me to attempt to progress any further.
Light-gun games don’t usually age that badly. They have a simple charm that is purely down to the way they are played – with a chunky plastic gun.
Assault City definitely does suffer from the weedy Light Phaser you have to play it with, but it has other, deeper, problems. It’s designed without any real style, and it also lacks any solidity of heft in its gunplay. These are two areas which really work against it.
In the end, it’s a game where you shoot at things on a screen, and Assault City does a half-decent job. But it had to doa lot better than half-decent job if it wanted to be remembered with any fondness.
Format- Sega Master System
Genre- Overhead Ninja Action title
With such a vague title (and box art) this game promises and threatens in equal measure. It could be the best Ninja game ever, with simple but refined gameplay that takes the genre to new heights. Or it could be a colostomy bag of crap.
It turns out it’s neither of these though. It is merely a solid but unspectacular romp that is, by today’s standards, hard as nails.
The gameplay consists of working your way upwards and dealing with onrushing enemies with a swift shrunken to their faces.
One hit and you’re finished, so the game can be frustrating, especially if you are approaching a yet unexplored area. Foes seem to come from nowhere and can finish you off in a second.
Trial and error is therefore a part of the game, and you either love that or hate it. I’m usually against such underhanded tactics, but in this game is seems an acceptable evil.
It’s not going to convert anyone to the Master System, but is worthy of a play if you see it cheap.
So if you spot it nestled amongst soiled copies of FIFA 2001 and a grimy cartridge of PGA Tour on the Mega Drive, make sure you save it.
It’s far better than you might expect, as long as your expectations are set fairly low.
Let’s start by adding Sega and Probe Entertainment to the List of Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery, because they seem to be more against him than with him.
Clearly, they were trying to ride the Sonic popularity wave from 2 years prior and make a “sequel” with another fast guy, but this game just didn’t work.
The object of the game is to defeat The Trickster, who has somehow become the mayor of Central City. Now, I know his job is tricking people, but am I to believe that he’s smart enough to convince an entire city to vote him into office, then declare Flash a criminal so everyone is against him? Even for an early-90′s comic story, this is ridiculous. The Flash needs to get through various levels of the city to reach/stop Trickster, so there’s a lot of running and jumping. Problem is, while Sonic had this huge, open area….Flash has these little city neighborhoods, and it gets confusing. He really moves too fast to see where you’re going, or sadly, what you’re landing on. Obviously, Trickster’s first order of business was to create huge potholes and spiked-pits throughout…was this the platform on which he ran? Who would have voted for this?
You must reach the far end of the level in a certain amount of time, or Trickster releases a remote robot/droid that will actually outrun the Flash and kill him. Question: If he can invent this mechanical marvel that can run faster than the speed of light, why doesn’t he just patent it, sell it to the government, and retire? Why go through all the crazy shenanigans?
Flash does have 2 forms of combat; If he’s standing still, he can waste flunkies or open “boxes” by “vortexing” his hands. Also, if he’s running, he’ll spin like a top. Both of these look cool, and are a classic use of his powers. The game looks good, and has a neat comic style. Also, love it or hate it, there are tons of the obligitory coins…er…lightning bolts that Flash can collect, even though I don’t see the point. The Barry Allen-Flash was one of favorite characters when I was a kid, so I love me some Flash, but this just do too much for me. Too crazy-difficult and pointless. And I’ll leave you with 2 words……….Trickstermobile, really?
Bomber Raid (1988)
By: Sanritsu Denki / Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 78,100
Also Available For: Nothing
As much affection as I have for the Master System, it didn’t really fare too well anywhere except Europe (and Brazil), and its paltry but loyal core of proud and loyal owners were enveloped by the congealing mass of NES owners in Japan and the US. A testament to its failure in the two most important markets is the fact that this very game represented the final official release for the console in Japan, and at a time when the system was only just becoming established here in the UK! Bomber Raid was released exclusively on the Master System too so there’s a good chance a lot of American and Japanese gamers missed out on it altogether, but did they miss much? And perhaps more importantly, was it a fitting farewell for the lovely little console in its native territory?
Taking its cues from Capcom classic, 1942, and a few similar games to a lesser extent like Flying Shark, Bomber Raid is a WWII-set vertically scrolling shmup which takes place over both land and sea. It’s interesting that the front cover of this game depicts an SR-71 Blackbird dropping a load of bombs as the actual game sees you piloting a far older and less sophisticated plane and any bomb-dropping you do is restricted to the three ‘cluster bombs’ your aircraft is equipped with! The game takes place over five stages, or ‘missions’ (you’ll receive a short briefing before each), all of which are filled with enemy aircraft, tanks, boats, submarines, and other associated vehicles, including of course much larger and more powerful bosses at the end of each stage.
Amidst all the usual military-type enemies, you’ll frequently encounter spinning pods which release power-ups when shot. These include speed-ups, upgrades for your feeble main gun, and can also see smaller drone planes join yours and produce fire of their own, although they are just as prone to enemy fire as your main aircraft too, and you can also unleash the aforementioned cluster bombs which are screen-clearing smart bombs as you might expect. No, the arsenal isn’t particularly huge or impressive but even with the pretty limited resources available here you should make pretty good progress through the stages. The difficulty curve is just about right and there’s few overly tough parts that you’ll get stuck on.
In fact, probably the biggest challenges offered by the game, at least initially, are a result of graphical issues! They’re pretty good, if lacking a little in variety, but the enemy fire is small and moves fast so it’s often hard to spot it, and the same can be said of some of the enemies themselves. Your own bullets, too, are practically invisible to start with making the acquisition of power-ups even more of a necessity! There’s also a bit of slowdown and flicker now and then too but aside from that, this is a decent enough looking game, and indeed a decent enough game generally. It was actually one of the MS games I always wanted to play but I never got around to buying it, so this is my first encounter with it, and happily it’s been a good one. It’s not perfect and it’s certainly not the best vertical-scroller on the Master System (Power Strike retains that crown) but once you get used to the slightly confusing visuals it proves to be an enjoyable and addictive blaster, and a decent farewell for the Japanese incarnation of this great console.
RKS Score: 7/10
Fantasy Zone 2 (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 40,000
Also Available For: Arcade, Nintendo NES, MSX
Download For: Wii Virtual Console
Sega pretty much invented the quickly-dubbed ‘cute em up’ sub-genre with Fantasy Zone and it was an interesting fusion of gaming styles. The bright, colourful graphics full of funny-looking creatures and cute characters belied the tough shooting action the game provided, but it proved to be very popular and was converted to several platforms of the time. Set ten years later, this inevitable sequel tells pretty much the same story as the first game – the now-expanded territory of the Fantasy Zone has come under renewed attack from the evil Menon Empire who are once again attempting to construct a huge fortress in the Fantasy Zone. He’s getting on a bit now but Opa-Opa still springs into action to save the day!
Fantasy Zone 2 The Tears of Opa-Opa, to give it its full title, initially appears to be more of the same from Sega, and there is in fact little difference between this and the first game beyond the cosmetic, but that’s certainly no cause for complaint when the first game was so good! There are again eight stages and each but the last is a free-scrolling, looped stage featuring a constant stream of small enemies, usually moving in formation or patterns, whose sole job it is to prevent you from destroying the larger, enemy-spawning Menon ‘bases’ on each stage, of which there are substantially more this time. Eliminating them all will lead to a boss fight before progressing to the next round.
The biggest difference between this and the first Fantasy Zone game is that each round is now divided into several different areas. Destroying enemies still releases coins (and notes now, too) of varying value but some Menon bases leave behind a blue warp instead. These allow you to travel back and forth between the areas, each of which generally contains four or five bases. There is also one base that will leave behind a red warp when destroyed. This leads to the boss but you can’t enter it until all the bases are destroyed. Opa-Opa’s basic armaments remain his weak but rapid-fire twin shot, and slow-firing but more powerful bombs. Fortunately there is again a shop to help him out which this time stays put once it appears rather than floating around for just a few seconds as before. Most of the old engine and weapon upgrades return, such as the jet engine, wide beam, laser, seven way shot, and twin bombs (which are much more useful this time) and there’s a few new ones too like the big shot, three way shot, and twin big bombs. As before, the speed-ups and twin bombs will last for the remainder of that life but the other shot and bomb upgrades are time or shot-limited.
The eight rounds are all set on new planets and as such there are many glorious new wonders to behold here, and that’s perhaps one of the biggest draws of Fantasy Zone 2. Not only does each round have its own background, but most of the areas within each round do too, and they are mostly superb! As well as being unique (and very colourful, as you might imagine!), they are much more diverse than in the first game and feature particularly impressive ice and fire stages. Each stage is also home to unique enemies who are varied and superbly detailed for the most part. There is a little slow-down when things are at their busiest, but this remains one of the prettiest, most vibrant games available for the Master System.
Anyone who’s played Fantasy Zone will know exactly what to expect here. Sega has tinkered with the premise very little for the sequel and, aside from the new graphics, sound, and level structure, this is essentially the same again but even better. It remains a pretty tricky game, with some smaller enemies moving very quickly and occasionally seeming to appear from nowhere, but it’s not unfairly difficult and playing though it is great fun. As well as taking you to new areas, the warps are extremely helpful for escaping from oncoming hordes of enemies, and thanks to the easier access to the shop, it’s now possible to buy weapon upgrades and save them for the bosses, so you could say the going is a little easier here. In fact, the only thing here that’s worse than the first game is the music which is still pretty good but not as memorable as the first game. Overall, this is a fantastic sequel that retains all the charm of the first game and adds more of its own.
RKS Score: 9/10
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Master System First Day Score: 36,940
Also Available For: Nothing
Despite being pretty popular here in the UK, the Master System was never really the most popular console of all-time. The comparative lack of games could be one reason, the NES was awash with thousands of games after all, but it’s still a shame as Sega’s sleek-looking console was pretty innovative for its time. Among the bright ideas it housed was a ‘Smart Card’ system, adapted from an accessory for Sega’s earlier Japan-only console, the SG-1000, which was an alternative to the high-cost ROM cartridges used for most games. The card system was effectively home to a budget range of games early in the Master System’s life before being dropped, but considering the number of games released on the format barely reached double figures, it didn’t really matter too much!
TransBot was, however, one of the few games to find a use for Sega’s card format (although it was later released on cartridge too, which kind of defeated the object). It’s a pretty basic horizontally scrolling shmup set after a nuclear war. Having sought refuge underground, Mankind slowly starts to emerge only to find Dalaus, a computer left over from the old world, has designs on the planet itself and has sent its minions to see us off! Luckily, our hero has access to at least one device with which to try and stop them – the CA-214 fighter. This ‘TransBot’ fighter initially seems normal enough, but it has the ability to change its form, and with these changes come new armaments. The default form of the fighter is a fairly unassuming jet / spaceship type craft which movies slowly and is equipped with a puny forward shot.
Enemies come in a variety of small, uncomplicated forms, and are easily dispatched, even with the default craft. However, they move much more quickly, and often in screen-spanning formations, so it’s sometimes easier to just avoid some of them. Trundling periodically along the bottom of the screen is a small truck which is apparently a munitions vehicle which, when shot, will release an icon branded with a question mark. Collecting this will trigger the power-up bar at the top of the screen to begin cycling through letters A – G, each denoting a particular power-up. Press the button to stop it moving and you’ll get the weapon it landed on. Many of these involve your craft transforming into a robot with increased firepower such as simultaneous forward and rear shots, three-way shots, wide shots, etc. However, this also makes the craft larger and therefore more likely to be hit. Luckily your craft can also be powered-up in its smaller form too!
Unlike most shmups, rather than lasting until the player loses a life, these power-ups only last for a limited time and it’s not long! Fortunately the munitions trucks are frequent and certain weapons are more suitable for particular sections, so it actually works out pretty well. This isn’t the only slightly unusual feature in TransBot either. Your ship has an energy bar for one thing, which allows you to sustain several enemy hits before going down rather than falling victim to a single strike. Also, and perhaps most obviously, there is no real level structure, with the game instead cycling through two different types of background – a pretty standard, planetary surface, and a metallic-looking enemy base of some sort ending in a boss – and the game goes on, cycling through them forever as far as I can tell! This makes TransBot an excellent score-attack game, something backed up by the fact that world authority on score-keeping, Twin Galaxies, has an official record for the game!
Given the popularity of the Transformers at the time this was released, it’s not hard to see where the inspiration for the main character came from, but I’m not really sure it works too well. It’s at best an under-used gimmick here, but does that make this a bad game? Well, back when my trusty Master System was my main console of choice and its games were freely available in high-street stores, I always steered clear of this game. Every magazine review I saw of the game slated it, despite its cheaper price point. If it was that bad then, it must be terrible now, right? Well, no actually. Being both a budget game as well as an early release for the Master System, TransBot is understandably basic, in concept as well as aesthetics, but it’s actually not at all bad, and certainly not as bad as I’ve believed all these years! Yes, the graphics and sound are bland and repetitive, and with games like R-Type, Fantasy Zone, Cloud Master, and others available, there seems to be little reason to play this, and I’m guessing this is from where the aforementioned scorn originates, but it’s a decent enough little blaster which is challenging, addictive, and good fun.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kzmHCYnSQg[/youtube]
RKS Score: 6/10
Penguin Land (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 9,450
Also Available For: Sega SG-1000
Back in the late 80’s when my beloved Master System was my console of choice, I was rarely able to add to my game collection. I had around 8 games, mostly considered classics nowadays and highly rated back then. As I spent time looking through the magazines of the day, there were, however, always a few games that I wanted but was never able to get my hands on. Penguin Land was among these. Despite the unspectacular scores it generally received in the magazines, I found myself taken by the premise and screenshots and decided that I had to have it! This was, I suspect, mainly due to my fondness for platform/puzzle games, but it wasn’t until many years later – around 10 in fact – that I finally got round to buying it. Was it worth the wait?
As you may have guessed from its name, Penguin Land features… a penguin! He is no ordinary penguin, however – he’s a space penguin called Overbite, Penguin Mission Commander, who has rather carelessly lost three eggs on a distant, icy planet. After flying to retrieve them, he has to push them back to his spaceship and safety. This must be done over the course of 50 vertically scrolling rounds through which you must push the egg carefully without breaking it, from the top of the stage to the bottom. Of course, it’s not that simple, for there are various hazards awaiting you and your egg, not least of which is a time limit. Polar bears, rising and falling section of rock walls, birds that drop bricks on your egg if you don’t move it for a while, and ghosts which mess up your controls are also out to hinder your progress as much as possible too!
Luckily, with his eggs trapped on apparently such a hostile planet, Overbite is free to walk and jump around the rounds to his hearts content. A vast majority of the blocks are blue ice blocks. Overbite can break the ice blocks beneath him by pecking them and the egg can then be pushed through the gap. Be careful though – the egg can’t fall more than three blocks downwards without breaking, so you’ll have to take some time to consider which blocks to break. There are also cracked blocks which break as soon as the egg touches them, stone blocks which can’t be broken, and tubes which Overbite or his egg can drop through. Also sprinkled liberally around the stages (increasingly as you progress through them) are rocks, which can be pushed around much like your egg, and can also be pushed off platforms onto polar bears below!
Like most platform / puzzle games, Penguin Land is a simple concept, yet fiendishly addictive to play. The graphics, whilst pretty repetitive (only the background colour changes really) are neat, appealing, and suit the game style well. There is some slight sprite flicker if too much occupies one line, but it’s rare. There aren’t many tunes in the game though. A few little ditties and just the one main game theme. It’s a jolly, catchy number, but may soon grate, especially if you dislike this kind of tune to start with! Sounds effects are minimal but decent enough. As is often the case with games like this, though, it’s the gameplay that makes all the difference. It’s easy to start playing but hard to master, and with 50 challenging rounds to play through, it will last a fair old while! You can choose any of the first 30 rounds from the title screen and there’s even a level editor with which you can create additional rounds and save them on the cartridge’s battery back-up.
After waiting so long to play this game, I won’t say I was bowled over by it when I finally did get to play it. To be fair, it was probably an unspectacular release, even when it came out, but it has proven to be a highly playable and addictive little puzzler that not many people seem to know about. If you like platform games that require a bit of thought and planning, give this charming game a try!
RKS Score: 7/10
Double Dragon (1988)
By: Technos Japan Corp Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System
Also Available For: Arcade, NES, GameBoy, MegaDrive/Genesis, PC, Amiga, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Almost all games have their fans and detractors, and now and then, particularly passionate residents either side of the fence engage in fierce fights and arguments regarding the game in question. Among the biggest I remember back in the 80’s were the epic Double Dragon Wars. The arcade game was immensely popular and to say conversions of it were eagerly awaited is putting it mildly. When they arrived, they were met with… indifference from many. But the die-hard fans vigorously defended them, and of course but there was also a lot of criticism. Obviously some versions were better than others, but the only one I’ve played is the Master System version. But how did it fare? Did it prove as controversial as many of the other versions, or did fans finally have the definitive version they were looking for to finally end their arguements?
Taking the tried and tested route of girlfriend-gets-kidnapped-by-evil-criminal-gang, in this case the ‘Black Warriors’ gang, the ‘Double Dragons’ of the title are in fact twin brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee (which makes you wonder how they distribute the affections of the girlfriend, Marian). In order to win her back, the brave brothers must fight through four long stages filled with the sort of no-good thugs and criminals you might expect to find in such places, with each one ending in a boss fight. Initially armed only with their fists, they have a few moves available with which to dispatch these punks including punches, kicks, elbows, jumping kicks, etc, and they can even gang up to double-team opponents. Some of the more ruthless enemies carry weapons such as baseball bats and whips. If you can knock over one of these, the weapon is then available to use yourself which is very handy as they’re obviously much more powerful! Even better, you will occasionally come across helpfully discarded steel drums, boxes, etc, which can be picked up and thrown at the bad guys!
Graphically the game is a bit of a mixed bag. From static screenshots it probably looks like one of the best versions of the game outside of the arcade, and the four stages are nicely varied, consisting of inner-city streets, a factory, a large wooded area, and finally the big boss’ hideout. The sprites aren’t enormously varied but all look suitably thuggish. However, the problem is a familiar one for Master System fans – sprite flicker. Lots of it. It’s often easy to overlook this problem with Master System games as it doesn’t usually affect proceedings to any significant degree, but this is one of the worst cases I’ve seen on the poor old MS. The on-screen action is sometimes hard to discern when things get busy, especially when playing in two-player mode, and when there’s several characters close together you may end up wondering where your guy is at times. It’s not the end of the world though as there are seldom more than three enemies on the screen at once, and this is still a highly playable and addictive brawler.
Top quality fighting games are hardly prevalent on the little Master System, and even with the problematic graphics this remains one of the best. It could do with a few more moves, but it’s fast-paced, very playable, and control over your character is good and responsive. The music and sound effects are pretty good too and the game offers a decent, though not impossible challenge. It can be a bit frustrating and your energy bar will sometimes dimish at an alarming rate, but luckily you have infinite continues (until the last stage) and, as a two-player scrolling fighting game, it offers a rare treat nonetheless. Even including offerings on other systems, until Streets of Rage came along, this was for a long time the zenith of two-player scrolling fighting games for me and my good friend (and scrapping partner), Luke, and even now we still have a riot playing it. Just wish those graphics didn’t flicker as much!
RKS Score: 7/10
Let’s be frank. Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars is a very weird and very frustrating platformer from the early ages of the 8-bit era. It was one of my first Sega Master System games, and one of the only ones that I could manage to beat. The levels were colorful, the enemies bizarre, and to this day, I’m still not really sure what the hell the story was about. I think it has something to do with collecting the signs of the zodiac. “Find the Miracle Ball,”says the disembodied digitized voice. This is almost all of the storyline you have to go on aside from the blurb on the back of the box.
Its predecessor, Alex Kidd In Miracle World, had a lot more going on for it: breakable blocks, purchasable items and power-ups, a varied terrain that seamlessly went from vertical to horizontal, and to top it all off: a freaking motorcycle. AKIMW is also one of the hardest things I’ve ever played and I don’t think I’ve even gotten past the second stage.
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars shares the same protagonist, but its gameplay is almost nothing alike. To me, it seems more like Wonder Boy crossed with a hallucinogen-fueled nightmare. The erstwhile Sega mascot can no longer deliver his trademark punch, and is left pretty much defenseless until he gets an “S” card power up which allows him to shoot some sort of energy wave. They’ve thankfully done away with the one-hit death system from Miracle World and have replaced it with a health bar that also serves as a timer. An unlimited amount of continues makes this decently kid-friendly; the disturbing sound clip of Alex Kidd screaming every time he dies, probably does not, however. And die you will. Often.
The seven levels in Lost Stars consist of Toyland, a robot assembly line, some sort of Halloween crap-forest, an underwater escapade, some dinosaur crap, the inside of a body, and a low-gravity outer-spaced themed area simply known as Ziggurat. The action is solely limited to “run from the left side of the stage to the right” while jumping over pitfalls and dodging enemies. The game features angled surfaces, swinging ropes, and a few different types of platforms that will drop, raise, dissolve, or launch you into the air, but nothing really breaks the monotony of left-to-right. In place of end bosses, the final screen of the level has some sort of hazard to navigate to get to the Exit sign. Most of these you can run right through without much of a problem, but others will snag you in a flurry of overlapping projectiles that will make you lose precious time and take you back to the start of that screen.
The enemies in this game are something else. Some of them fit right in with their themed levels, such as a puppy that spits a rainbow of colored letters in Toyland or the falling anchors and octopuses of the undersea level. Others, such as the outer-space penguins of Ziggurat, the rolling baby heads in the esophagus area of the body stage, and the naked men that shoot skulls out of their asses from the Halloween area, left me scratching my head. Certain previously encountered enemies will act completely different later in the same level (oh, now they jump!), which furthers the frustration level. I’m unsure whether to haul ass to the edge of the screen or take my time, as things will drop down on you from the top of the screen pretty much either way.
Power ups are haphazardly scattered around the levels and many are invisible until you’ve come within a certain distance, which means you will probably be jumping around like an amphetamine-crazed pogo enthusiast for much of your playing time. Most of the items don’t have any obvious use aside from the “J” card that doubles your jump height, the “SC” card that will partially replenish your health bar, and the aforementioned “S” that gives you a limited number of projectiles. What does a mirror or a clown head do? Beats me. There is a score system in place but you can’t see any numbers until after clearing a stage, so I’m never sure if the point items are worth the risk.
The game features one of the most maddeningly asinine second halves I’ve ever seen. Here’s how I think this went down. The developers come up with six or seven wildly imaginative levels pushing the boundaries of the Master System’s graphic capabilities and nearly taking up all of the cartridge space. It goes into play-testing and they realize that the game is simply too short. They don’t have room for many more assets, so some genius gets the idea to simply re-use the levels again in the same order, without so much as a palette swap. There are a few more enemies and the power ups are harder to come by, but the player is simply left to trudge through the whole game a second time to find the other six signs of the zodiac. It could be the original NG+, except for the fact that you didn’t even really beat the game yet.
Alex Kidd still had about five years left as Sega’s mascot but they were already starting to give him the raw deal with this title. It has since been released on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, so you don’t have to scout flea markets and garage sales for this whimsical piece of trash. I can’t say it offers much replay value, as you’re already sick of it by the time you get to the first stage your second time. I had to force myself to complete it and I was not terribly surprised by the lack of a satisfying ending. Fun for masochists of all ages!