SEGA Genesis Turns 25

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Ah, the Genesis. In the halcyon days of my youth, I was a Nintendo kid through and through, but I also had a soft spot for SEGA and its little blue hedgehog. While I never owned my own Genesis, I got to play it at two different locations; my grandparent’s house and my cousin’s house. Sonic, Vectorman, Road Rash, X-Men, and numerous other titles would occupy my time on visits to both. While the Genesis might have ultimately claimed second place in the war against Nintendo, SEGA’s system is every bit as classic and beloved to this day.

My favorite SEGA memory is, fittingly, Sonic-related, running across Green Hill Zone and marveling at the spinning flowers, flowing water, and blistering speed. It’s a shame that SEGA was never able to maintain Sonic’s momentum going into the Saturn and Dreamcast eras. The Genesis Sonic titles might not have been as groundbreaking as Nintendo’s Mario games, but they were still incredibly fun and creative. The energy and enthusiasm of the staff is evident in all four titles, and if they could have kept that spirit burning, who knows what SEGA would look like today.

It would be nice to see a slew of previously unreleased Genesis games make their way to 3DS and Wii U’s Virtual Consoles in recognition of this anniversary. Too many titles still sit barely remembered and undervalued on little black cartridges across the world; it’s a waste of the system’s wonderful catalogue and legacy. Nintendo’s stranglehold on the video game industry might have continued unabated if not for SGEA’s shot across the bow. By giving Nintendo genuine competition, it allowed developers more freedom to make different type of games for SEGA’s system that they might never have been able to release on the NES and SNES. For that alone, the Genesis deserves a great deal of respect.

Besides Nintendo’s Virtual Consoles and SEGA’s various digital offerings across all other gaming platforms, there is an awesome SEGA Genesis replica system available at retailers like Toys R Us. The device comes with 30 built-in pieces of software and is an excellent way to relive some classics as they were meant to be played. If nothing else, save your Genesis a little wear and tear. Happy birthday, Genesis! May you Blast Process forever!

Is The Sonic Cycle More Myth Than Fact?

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The Sonic Cycle, as illustrated above, is a circle of pain and anguish in which loyal Sonic fans anticipate a new game, get worrying glimpses of it in previews, then play it and are horribly disappointed. With IGN’s reviews of Sonic Lost World on Wii U ( which described the game as a “big blue speed bump”) and 3DS garnering scores of 5.8 and 6.8, it seemed that the Sonic Cycle was in full swing yet again. Or was it? There’s no denying that some low-quality Sonic games are out in the wild, but there have been more hits than misses in recent years than most videogame journalists care to acknowledge. It’s time to peel the curtain back and reveal some of Sonic’s best games in recent history!

1) Sonic Colors (Wii/DS, 2010)

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This Nintendo-exclusive title is a true triumph of Sonic Team, with beautiful production values and intense gameplay. Unlike many of Sonic’s 3D outings, Colors eschewed an unnecessary play control gimmick in favor of unadulterated Sonic speed and action. While the development team did slip in color-themed powerups, they’re largely enjoyable to use and aren’t always required to proceed through a level.

For the DS version, SEGA opted to keep Colors a 2D adventure, which was a wise choice, as it played to the strengths of the handheld. Developer Dimps (who you’ll hear more about in a bit) was known for making excellent, traditional Sonic games and maintained that reputation with this fun, albeit short, take on Colors. The powerups carried over to this version, too, but like the Wii’s Colors, they’re generally fun to use and not always required to progress.

2) Sonic Generations (XBox 360/PS3/3DS, 2011)

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SEGA followed-up Colors with another gem for Microsoft and Sony’s consoles with Sonic Generations. Like Colors, Generations also abandoned a play control gimmick in favor of focusing on pure running/platforming, but rather then use powerups to spice things up, they split hero duties between modern and classic Sonic, instead. Half the game features 3D gameplay, with the other 2D, and is set in multiple stages based on Sonic’s classic outings from the Genesis all the way up to the present (well, then-present). It was a treat to see Green Hill Zone in blistering HD, and even modern classics like City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 made an appearance.

For the 3DS iteration of Generations, SEGA again turned to Dimps but focused only on 2D gameplay, with a twist. The duo of modern and classic Sonic was maintained, but the former had his homing ability in tow while the latter speed dashed across the screen. Some of the joy of the console versions was lost in removing the 3D segments, but the handheld take on Generations is still a great Sonic game worth experiencing.

3) Sonic 4: Episode I (Wii/PS3/360/Mobile, 2010) & II (360/PS3/Mobile, 2012)

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SEGA’s revitalization of the original Genesis numbering was a smart move, as it declared quite clearly their intent to return classic, 2D Sonic platforming to home consoles (and even cellphones!). Both installments were a blast, with lush graphics and solid controls. Some complain that Sonic’s jumps don’t feel like they did on Genesis, but it’s not such a glaring difference that it detracts from an excellent experience. Oh, yeah, and Metal Sonic. He alone is worth the price of admission! Just to note, the mobile versions are good, but there’s no substitute for a physical controller, so make your purchases accordingly.

4) Sonic Rush (DS, 2005) & Sonic Rush Adventure (DS, 2007)

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Dimps has long been a stalwart Sonic developer for awhile now, and they’re crowning achievements remain the awesome DS 2D Sonic games. The Rush titles feature pure, classic Sonic gameplay, but the emphasis is on speed more than platforming. The resultant adrenaline rush (a pun!) from sending Sonic blazing across the two screens of the DS is a sight to behold. There’s also a new sense of verticality to the levels in the DS games, as both screens are utilized simultaneously. Rush Adventure is the weaker of the two titles as it, unfortunately, has some awkward 3D segments crammed in, but they’re brief and shouldn’t deter you from checking out both.

5) Sonic Dash (iOS, 2013)

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Temple Run might have been first, but Sonic’s turn as an endless-runner is as fun as it natural. The graphics are crisp, the controls are precise, and the genre is really just an excellent match for Sonic on mobile. That’s not to say 2D Sonic platforming can’t be done on a tablet or phone (see Episodes I & II above), but the lack of buttons makes Dash‘s control scheme much more tenable and enjoyable on the go. Definitely a nice way to pass some time on your commute, or just to blow off some steam at home.

Sonic Lost World might have disappointed some (and I’ll be letting you know how I feel about the 3DS and Wii U versions myself, soon), but there are plenty of good Sonic games out there if one knows where to look. Give these titles a try and see why Sonic has been such a beloved character for all these years. One last thing; they’re older and a little harder to come by, but the Sonic Advance series is also a wonderful take on classic, 2D Sonic platforming. If you have a DS Lite or Game Boy Advance, all three games are well worth your time!

Organization Tips For Videogame Collectors

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Here’s one of the storage cubes in my closet; let it be your inspiration!

I spent about five hours yesterday going through my closet and organizing my videogame collection. While videogames might not seem like something that would take up much space, like anything else, the more you compile the more daunting it becomes to keep them organized and stored. Here are some tips for those of you with a small mountain of games to make room for!

1) Keep Your Boxes

The number one thing every collector should make a point of doing is to keep the boxes for all the games and consoles they own. I have boxes for everything I’ve ever bought (well, that had a box to begin with) and it really helps me to keep organized. When games and consoles are loose, they become much easier to scuff up and even break. I’ve found that stores like GameStop will often receive boxes for systems that they currently accept in trade (3DS, Wii, PS3, XBox 360, etc.) which they in turn throw out, so it’s a good idea to ask the person behind the counter if they’ve gotten any recently that they’re going to trash. My XBox 360 has a box because I did exactly that! If you’re trying to build a pristine collection, it’s even more important to save boxes because they’re often irreplaceable, especially when it comes to limited edition bundles.

2) Cubbies/Shelves

In my home, I have a closet devoted to my videogames and memorabilia. At first, I simply stored everything on the shelves that were already there, but it didn’t take long for everything to devolve into a large mass of indistinguishable boxes, posters, and loose handhelds. My solution was to buy a bunch of cheap storage cubes to keep everything in order. I recommend the 2X2 storage cubes available at Target. They’re priced modestly, are stackable, come in different sizes, and also have optional fabric drawers. Regardless of where you find these cubbies, they can easily be placed inside of a closet or basement, where your games and systems will not only be more accessible, but look good, too. My system is half-storage, half-display, and the cubes I bought are perfect for this.

3) Prioritize

The systems and games that I know I won’t be playing as much are put in the more out of reach areas of my closet. It’s best to keep what you know will be seeing a lot of attention in easy access so you don’t have to kill yourself every time you want play with/see it. My handhelds are all front and center, along with each of the current systems’ games (Wii U, PS3, 360). It can be tough deciding what goes in a deep, dark corner, but using something like the cubbies I suggested, or similar shelving, will make your unearthing go smoother.

4) Plastic Bins and CD Sleeves

This is more in the interest of preventing undue wear and tear, but I like to take the discs out of their boxes and put them all into a single, huge CD holder. I’m referring to one of those large, zippered pouches that have pages of CD holding sleeves inside. Your games will stay safe and centrally located, and you won’t have to open and close your games boxes all the time. This is particularly important for Wii games, as I think the white plastic will eventually yellow with too much handling. Plastic tubs and crates are another good way to utilize storage space, as they’re easier to dump less fragile items that don’t fit as well into a cubby hole or on a shelf.

The key is to find a setup that works for you. I like all my stuff to be rigidly neat, but if something a little looser works in your situation, go for it. Just know that if you want to keep your collection in good shape, it’s essential to form some sort of system for keeping it all from getting banged up or crushed. Happy collecting, and good luck!

Toy Box 7-1989 Super Mario Large Plush

Released: 1989  Maker: Applause Inc.

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I was lucky enough to find this in an antique shop in Reno a couple of years ago, just sitting by its lonesome on top of a bookshelf. I love these older pieces of Nintendo memorabilia because there were quite a few different interpretations of what Mario was supposed to look like back in the day. The NES was limited in being able to communicate exactly what the characters looked like, especially as compared to today’s HD systems, so the illustrations by designers didn’t always translate n the game, which in turn didn’t always translate to the toys. This big Mario plush is a perfect example of this, as he certainly isn’t as cute-looking here as he is now. There’s also a small version of this plush as well, though I’m heartbroken to say that mine is missing is hat! A wonderful, old piece of videogame memorabilia this time around, folks! Catch you all next week.

IGN Dual Destinies Review Misses the Mark

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After yeas of waiting and an excellent demo to build up hype, Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright-Dual Destinies has finally arrived. For the most part, reviews are solid, clocking in at a solid 81 on Metacritic’s website. One review in particular, though, stands out for being an odd assessment of the game. Labeling Dual Destines worthy of a 7.2 isn’t necessarily strange, but when IGN reviewer Chuck Osborn declared that the game has “little gameplay” when listing the title’s flaws, my eyebrow went up. This is an outrageous claim to make when you realize that the Ace Attorney series is known for text adventures that require the player read quite a bit as part of the experience. Unless the reviewer had no clue what sort of game Dual Destinies is, there’s no excuse for penalizing the title for adhering to the fundamental style of its genre.

The visual novel is a genre of videogame most popular in Japan, where the primary form of gameplay is little more than reading. Visual novels have yet to make much of a dent in the American market, but there are exceptions here and there, and the most popular are titles that eschew traditional takes on the genre and incorporate more interactivity. Professor Layton, the Zero Escape games, and the Ace Attorney series are some of the more successful examples here in the States. The Ace Attorney approach has been to mix the visual novel with elements of point-and-click adventure titles, all wrapped up in an outrageously over the top story. Huge patches of text interspersed with logic puzzles and environment investigation are hallmarks of the series.

So when I read that Osborn didn’t appreciate what he saw as limited gameplay in Dual Destinies, I was irked. The reading is part of the gameplay. Anyone evaluating an Ace Attorney game should be aware of its genre and make their judgments accordingly. Complaining about Ace Attorney’s lack of gameplay is like saying there’s too much driving in Forza. It speaks to a complete absence of understanding how to evaluate a video game and is sadly a far too common problem. I Osborn finds the visual novel style of game uninteresting, he shouldn’t have been assigned to review Dual Destinies. It’s no different than someone who hates sports games being tasked with reviewing Madden; there’s no way that they can make an unbiased assessment of something that they have a predisposition to dislike.

While I have yet to play Dual Destinies, I know that when I fire up my 3DS I’m at least aware of what sort of title it is. Anyone who rates a game has a responsibility to make their evaluation based on the titles inherent qualities and nothing else. Playing a visual novel and marking it down because it’s not the sort of genre a reviewer finds enticing is a massive disservice to the developers and fans. Here’s hoping that sites like IGN can stop making that mistake.

Remembering Wii

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Flags at half-mast and a 21 gun salute; Wii is dead. Well, dead is maybe a strong word; let’s say instead, Wii is shuffling off to the retirement center. With production of the system now halted in Japan, the Wii’s run is officially coming to a close. What a run it was, too, as Wii will remain a true paradox in the modern age of videogames. Not a powerhouse by any means, and limited in its online capabilities, Wii entered the fray against two vastly technologically superior competitors in the XBox 360 and PS3, and won. Amazing. Nintendo’s rationalization that people preferred fun games above all else was proven right with the runaway success of Wii and its resultant legacy has indelibly changed the landscape of the videogame industry.

The most obvious innovation Wii brought to the table was the introduction of motion controls. I can vividly remember when I finally played Wii for the first time. My aunt bought a Wii a few months after its debut at the beginning of summer. My sister sat back as I set up the system, and when I finished we immediately put in Wii Sports. What an incredible, smart move on Nintendo’s part to include that game with the system. Wii Sports was insanely fun, intuitive, and downright charming. I was stunned at how realistic all of the motions felt, as though I was genuinely bowling or swinging a tennis racket. I truly believe that if Wii Sports wasn’t made a pack-in game, Wii wouldn’t have been the revolution it was.

The other half of Wii’s legacy is how it helped firmly establish the casual gaming market. While established gamers were amused by Wii’s interesting new motion controls, entire droves of new players found their way to videogames because of them. Suddenly everyone from women to elderly people, a demographic who generally didn’t play videogames, were golfing and karting and loving every minute of it. It’s amazing to me how dismissive some people can be towards the casual crowd, as the larger and more inclusive this medium becomes, the better it will be. Movies aren’t limited to summer blockbusters, and videogames shouldn’t only be defined by shooters; the more diversity, the more legitimate the industry becomes. While a great deal of the crowd that jumped on with Wii have moved on to mobile, games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope owe a nod to Nintendo for opening the minds of players that might not have been so willing to play before.

So goodnight, Wii! Thank you for the creativity! Thank you for the fun! Thank you for the waggle!

Retro(spective) 16-Earthworm Jim

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Earthworm Jim is the end result of 45-minutes worth of work listening to Fleetwood Mac. Thats according to series creator Doug TenNapel, who created Jim in 1993 after a rough patch with Virgin Games. TenNapel was looking to get a job with Shiny Entertainment as an animator, and came up with Jim in order to have a character to make a mockup for a demonstration piece. Little did he know that the company would take to his creation with such enthusiasm, as they loved Earthworm Jim and wanted to use him as-is. Thus was born the world’s toughest anthropomorphic earthworm and one of the most memorable series in videogames!

Part of Shiny’s reason for being so keen on Jim was that Playmates Interactive Entertainment was looking to find a compelling videogame mascot to turn into a multimedia empire. They’d singled out Shiny as the studio best equipped to come up with such a character, and when TenNapel showed up with Earthworm Jim, Shiny in turn knew they’d found their man. From there, developing the actual game was the next step, which was made easier by TenNapel’s great enemy designs. Characters like Psy-Crow, Major Mucus, and Peter Puppy were also brainstormed in those fabled 45-minutes when Jim came to life, so the team primarily had to focus on story and gameplay.

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The premise for Earthworm Jim is fittingly bizarre; Jim was an ordinary worm who stumbled across an alien space suit that grants superpowers to its wearer. Donning the suit, he unwittingly draws the ire of villainous Psy-Crow, who had wanted the suit for himself and will stop at nothing to get it back. In order to lure Jim, Psy-Crow takes hostage the love of the worm’s life, Princess What’s-Her-Name. The zany story and colorful cast were a perfect match, but it would have been meaningless if the game didn’t play and look equally compelling. Luckily, Shiny had a few tricks up their sleeves for Jim’s debut.

For those who played Earthworm Jim on the SEGA Genesis and SNES, one of the most memorable things about the game was its incredible animation and graphics. Earthworm Jim was a visual feast, and was in no small part due to the incredible effort put into its creation. Much of what appears on screen was actually hand drawn and scanned into the computer, resulting in finer visuals than simple digital rendering would have yielded. Earthworm Jim is a truly psychedelic videogame experience, as the environments are colorful, twisting, and in many cases organic looking, eschewing any rhyme or reason for pure spectacle. Shiny took a leap making a deliberately abstract game like Earthworm Jim, and it paid off for everyone. If nothing else, you’ll never look at cows the same way again.

In terms of gameplay, Earthworm Jim is a 2D run-and-gun platformer with different variations appearing throughout to keep things interesting. The action is primarily Jim running, jumping, shooting, and using his worm body as a whip/swing. The game controls solidly, as combat is fun and responsive. The interspersed gameplay deviations are also well done, like the times Jim has to escort Peter Puppy across a stage; if Peter gets hurt, he transforms into an enormous, purple rage beast and wreaks havoc! Lots of games try to spice things up with arbitrary races/puzzles/etc., but Earthworm Jim is one of the rare few that succeeds at it. This perfect mixture of the two is what made Earthworm Jim so compelling to gamers.

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Earthworm Jim has reappeared on a number of videogame services in recent years, so whether you track down a Genesis or SNES copy or download it to a modern system, you can’t go wrong. The SNES and Genesis versions of Earthworm Jim are interesting because they’re both good in different ways. The Genesis version isn’t quite as pretty as the SNES one, but it features a level that the SNES doesn’t (Intestinal Distress). More content or better graphics; not an easy choice to make! Ultimately, most gamers would argue that Earthworm Jim is a SEGA classic before calling it a Nintendo one, but to each his own.

Before we go, it’s also worth noting that Earthworm Jim was made into a cartoon series that lasted from 1995 to 1996. It’s an interesting adaptation of the source material and also yielded some cool action figures. Playmates was very pleased with the success of their deal making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys, and their deal with Shiny was intended to land them their own franchise that they didn’t need to license. Some say that Playmates’ approach was unorthodox, but considering TMNT came from a comic book, it’s really not that big of a stretch!

Released 1994. Developed by Shiny Entertainment and Playmates Interactive Entertainment. Published by SEGA.

Earthworm Jim is available on SEGA Genesis, SNES, SEGA CD, and PC. It has also been ported to Game Boy, Game Gear, and Game Boy Advance. Finally, a modern port of the game is available via download from DSiWare, mobile, PSN, and XBox Live.