Friday, November 27, 2015

Why I love the Sega Saturn


As I mentioned in previous posts, I was less and less enchanted with the state of modern gaming.  I found modern games uninteresting, I was thinking that the best gaming was in the past.  I read an internet article about the best video games by decade, and I read about games from the 1990's.  There were the usual suspects represented, but there were also a fair amount that I had never heard of.  This was the period of time when I was in college, and was primarily interested in playing in my band than video games.  I knew the Playstation was popular; some of my friends had one.  There were a bunch of games on this list for a system called the Sega Saturn.  I had a Sega Genesis in high school, but I never heard of this Saturn.  I thought it was odd that I never heard of this system, but I chalked it up to not paying attention.

Intrigued, I sought information on the net. Apparently, gaming in America in the mid-1990's was all about 3 dimensions.  2D was not good enough, everything had to be 3D.  Enter the period of blocky 3D.  There were almost no games released in the United States that weren't 3D.  This was not the case in Japan, where a plethora of excellent 2D games were continuously churned out for the Saturn and Playstation.  I stumbled across a YouTube channel called Classic Game Room, where retro video games are critiqued.  After watching several reviews on Saturn games, I was convinced that I would have more fun with this system than I would with any modern system.  You see, I always enjoyed video games that were short, action-packed, and easy to pick up.  I favored genres such as shoot'em ups, platformers, arcade ports, fighting games, puzzle games, run'n guns, and the like.  Genres like these were best represented in 2D, in my opinion.  Growing up, I had many of these types of games on my 8-bit NES and 16 -bit Genesis.  I remember back then wishing that they were more arcade-like, and not so graphically limited...Enter the Sega Saturn.  An unjustly scrutinized console, it was a 2D powerhouse.  It was truly capable of matching arcade-like graphics and action, more so than the Genesis ever could.  The problem with it was that it was anachronistic.  It was the 2D pinnacle in a time when 2D was no longer in style.
The misunderstood Sega Saturn
I hit up eBay, and purchased a Sega Saturn for about $20, plus another $10 for shipping.  From watching the reviews I knew that the games that I was interested in were Japanese imports, and I would need to have region bypass card called Action Replay Plus in order to play them.  It slips right into that slot that you wish was a backwards compatible Genesis slot.  Many of the games I was interested in have no language barrier as the menus and text are all in English.  I ordered one, and a couple of insanely cheap Japanese games as well.  These games cost more to ship than the actual purchase price.  This may be due to the popularity of the Saturn in Japan (the Saturn was second to the Playstation in Japan) and the large print run of games over there.
The Action Replay Cart, a valuable resource for any Sega Saturn owner
After what seemed like an eternity, the Japanese import games purchased off of eBay slowly started to trickle in.  I played the heck out of each one, and I was in heaven.  Another favorite genre, fighting games (specifically Capcom titles), were heavily represented on the Saturn, and easy to import and play.
Capcom's awesome lineup of Saturn fighters
At this point I should mention how well suited the Saturn controller is to these two genres.  The six-button layout is perfect to Capcom arcade fighters, and the directional pad is smooth and responsive.  Many feel that it was the finest example of a console controller, and I agree.  What's more, with the release of Nights into Dreams, a 3D analog controller was bundled with the game.  This 3D controller had a toggle to switch between the analog pad and digital D-pad.  Even though it was intended to be used for the Saturn's 3D endeavors, the overall comfort and button responsiveness is rivaled only by the aforementioned Saturn controller.  The first attempt at a saturn controller, one that was originally shipped with the American Saturn, was blocky and less ergonomic, and not shown here since I do not own one.
The Saturn controllers have the finest D-pads 
Word has recently caught on that the Saturn had a great library of shooters, and with a global online marketplace at your fingertips, demand for these games has skyrocketed to unbelievable levels.  I was lucky to discover them when I did, for there is no way I could acquire these games today.  Part of what makes these games so coveted, besides their amazing quality, is that Saturn emulation is not reliable.  While emulators can play games of nearly every departed system, the complex Saturn architecture befuddles emulation, making original copies the only way to play these games.  

Some of the more sought-after shooter titles on the Saturn:
Hyperduel, Radiant Silvergun, Battle Garegga, Cotton 2, Blast Wind, Batsugun
That same complex architecture that frustrates emulation was also one of the reasons why third-party publisher support was lacking.  In most cases where there were multi-platform ports of games, the Saturn version was usually rougher around the edges as programmers had to wrap their heads around the bizarre internals of the Saturn.  Some exceptions to this were the ports of Capcom arcade fighting games.  The programmers at Capcom had no issues working with the Saturn.  These games took advantage of the expanded memory capability (one of the Action Replay card's features) of the Saturn to reproduce arcade perfection.

There is a whole dramatic storyline behind the Saturn's launch and demise, but that is a story for another time.  I just wanted to let people in on the 2D magnificence that is the Sega Saturn.  The most misunderstood console that practically nobody played.
more great shooters:
Metal Black, Sengoku Blade, Sonic Wings Special, Strikers 1945, Gekirindan, Shienryu, Thunderforce V, Darius Gaiden*, Donpachi, Dodonpachi, Soukyugurentai, Strikers 1945 II 
compilation packs of shooters: Gradius Deluxe Pack, Sexy Parodius, Gokujou Parodius, Thunderforce Gold Pack I, Salamander Deluxe Pack II, Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius, Twin Bee Deluxe Pack, Thunderforce Gold Pack II

even more shooters: Darius 2, Kaitei Daisensou, Kyukyoko Tiger 2 Plus, Arcade Gears Gun Frontier, Guardian Force, The Game Paradise, Kingdom Grandprix, Layer Section II, Steam Hearts, Skull Fang, Gunbird, Layer Section*

not so by-the-book shooters: Assault Suit Leynos, Wolf Fang, Panzer Dragoon*, Fantasy Zone, After Burner II, Macross, Sol Divide

compilations were common: Capcom Generation 1 (194X series), Capcom Generation 2 (Ghosts 'n Goblins series), Capcom Generation 4 (commando series), Sonic Jam*, Outrun*, Space Harrier*, Sega Rally*, Gale Racer 

beat'em ups and action platformers: Dynamite Deka (Die Hard Arcade)*, Dungeons and Dragons Collection, Metal Slug, Elevator Action Returns, Shin Shinobiden*, Hissatsu, Clockwork Knight 2*

Bomberman*, Bubble Bobble, and Bust a Move

Anyone up for light gun games (not on HD tvs): Area 51*, House of the Dead, Virtua Cop*, Virtua Cop 2*

some non-capcom fighters: Fighting Vipers*, Virtua Fighter 2*, Fighters Megamix, Real Bout Special, Fatal Fury 3, Fatal Fury Real Bout
The Saturn itself is not an expensive system to buy, but nowadays the best games are.  There are great games to be had at value prices, but you'll have to search for them.  If you're like me, you'll find they're worth it.