Thursday, October 27, 2016

My Top Ten Genesis Beat'em Ups

During the fourth generation of video game consoles, beat' em ups was one of the most popular genres . Well represented on all the major consoles, it was a type of game that anyone could pick up and play, regardless of ability level, and is one of my favorite genres for this very reason.  By this time the genre had solidified its tropes as far as gameplay, and commonalities were abound from one franchise to the next. Ideas such as picking up limited-use weapons, finding food in garbage cans, button combinations for special moves, and so on. Not to be forgotten is the synergy of two-player co-op modes, which more than doubles the fun as you and a pal dish out corporal punishment together, and even sometimes fighting each other. With so many offerings, it is unlikely that any two lists are completely the same, so here are my favorites from my collection.


Splatterhouse III

This entry improves upon the traditional Splatterhouse formula by adding a 3D plane (instead of just moving left/right), choices in route, and deeper levels of gore.  The difficulty is increased by virtue of the choices made, and time pressure is a factor in whether you are successful or not; making the wrong path choices would delay you and not leave enough time to finish a stage. A fine-tuned game at the peak of the series.


Captain America and the Avengers

A port of the arcade hit, Captain America and the Avengers may have lost some in graphical fidelity, but the spirited gameplay and character are all packed into this gem of a game. Teamwork is necessary to make it through this one, as the hordes of enemies can be tough to fight through if you get surrounded. Admittedly, Vision is an odd choice for a selectable character, but that is more of an issue for the Arcade design than this version.  It's lots of fun with a partner, and easy to pick up and lose a few hours in.

The Death and Return of Superman

I'm not really privy to what happened to Superman in the comic book realm, but as a standard beat' em up it doesn't really matter. Superman can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, and throw people around like rag dolls. The sprites are large and well designed. The ability to pick up enemies and either punch them, throw them, or slam them into the ground is addictive. Lots of fun here.


Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter

Many of the games on this list are not only excellent in what they do, but also bring something new to table. Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter is a beat' em up through most of the stage, and then morphs into a fighting game for the boss fights. Originally based on a Japanese manga, the origin of this game has no bearing on the playability or enjoyment of the game. The character animations are fluid, the sprites are detailed, and the action is reminiscent of Golden Axe. The boss fights are one on one fighting stages. Your move set still involves sword attacks, but you can now block with your sword, adding a new element of strategy that adds depth.


Mystical Fighter

What makes Mystical Fighter different is its feudal Japanese theme. Most gameplay mechanics are tried and true, but the ability to grab, spin, and fling enemies across the screen into each other is sublime. Seriously, I would do this almost the entire game. The bosses and cronies all fit within the theme, and are aesthetically pleasing as the graohics are well designed. Two-player co-op is available.


Growl

There was an environmental push in the early 90's, for both the environment and wildlife. This is reflected in the existence of Rain Forest Cafe, Captain Planet, and so on. Growl is a beat'em up that takes this notion to the extreme. Basically, you control one of four selectable heroes to take on poachers and animal traders. By whatever means necessary, you dispatch of all those who would profit from the wild animal trade. The action is constant, with a multitude of weapons available, including grenades, assault rifles, and rocket launchers. It's literally a blast. When you shoot rockets at enemies their body parts literally fly everywhere. I like how you can punch people while they are down, and you can slam them on the ground. The only downside is lack of two player co-op, perhaps the collision detection could be a bit more crisp, but other than that, its a great brawler.


Punisher

The Punisher is an example of a licensed game that turned out pretty good.  While it pales in comparison to its arcade counterpart, the graphics still look great for a Genesis title, and if you have never seen the arcade, you would think this was one of the better looking titles on the system. It is a fun and more than competent port. The default attack is punching, and general melee, with the occasional gun-drawn shooting segments, as the dictated by the enemies that you encounter. Weapon picks are plentiful. The sprites and animation look great on the Genesis, and the music sets a dark, street fighting mood. My only complaint is some slightly off hit detection, but the action is spretty swift so its not that noticeable. Two player co-op makes the game better, as player two is Nick Fury, who plays the same, but is still badass.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Hyperstone Heist

TMNT IV made waves on the SNES, and rightly so, but the Genesis version is no slouch. It is not a direct port, as there are enough stage differences to alter the gameplay experience. The action is bit faster on the Genesis, and the colors a bit more vibrant, in my opinion. Konami did a great job working within the framework (limitations) of the Genesis, squeezing as much out of it as possible. The only gripes I have are the fuzzy voice samples, and lack of throwing enemies at the screen, but that is understandable since it was more of a mode-7 SNES effect. Multiplayer is a must for the full experience. Other differences exist, but regardless of how well received the SNES version is, this game is still one of the best on the system.


Streets of Rage II

The Streets of Rage series was Sega's response to Final Fight being a SNES exclusive. While the first game was heralded as an instant classic, the second game fixed what could be fixed and became one of the defining games for the genre and the system. Bigger sprites, more animations, more varied gameplay, another killer soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, and of course two player co-op (which is something that Final Fight left out on the SNES home port) are all reasons why this game is so respected.  The police firebomb attack from the first game has been removed, sadly, and replaced by a 360˚ attack that drains a portion of your lifebar. Fortunately, combo attacks were added to your move set, which do not consume your life. Curious is Axel's penchant for yelling out "Grandpapa!" during his uppercut, but who knows, maybe he learned how to fight from his gramps. This is almost the best beat'em up on the system...


Golden Axe

When I first saw this game, I was instantly sold on the idea that the Genesis was bringing the arcade home. Many conventions of the beat' em up genre were made standard here. The ability to select a character with different sets of traits such as strength, speed, and magic ability adds to the already fantastic replayability. The special attacks that vary in degree based on amount of items (magic) collected, and are unique to each player. The environment can be used to your advantage, such as leading enemies off ledges, or running and knocking them off. The music is excellent, it is a fine example of programming on the Genesis, and fits perfectly with the theme of the game. There are even cut scenes with map progress to describe the journey of our heroes. The game did receive two sequels on the Genesis, but the third was not released stateside for some reason (one of a long list of baffling decisions by Sega). All in all, this is a game that is taken for granted, as it does all that a beat' em up should, and does it all well. If you owned only a few games for the system, this is definitely one of them.


So, there they are. Maybe in a year some of these will slide away, and new entries will emerge. If you have suggestions for the list, by all means let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hori Fighting Stick Multi for PC-Engine, SNES, and Genesis/Mega Drive


While I am a huge fan of the PC-Engine and shooters, I find the default control pads just so-so.  The buttons are fine, but the d-pad is a little stiff and hard on the thumb after a while. Being that there aren't a plethora of choices of controllers for the PC-Engine, I thought I would just go with what I had.
Eventually I stumbled upon this gem of a joystick. It is one of the earliest instances of a joystick with microswitches that I know of. In fact, I can't think of any joystick of the era (early 90's) that sported microswitches.

Shooters are my favorite genre, and the speed of those games requires an agile thumb and better precision than the stock d-pad can manage. Its not that microswitches are absolutely necessary, its the fluid control of the stick that makes it stand out.  Now this is called a fighting stick, and it has six buttons, so anyone with a working knowledge of the PC-Engine would associate this stick with Street Fighter 2' Champion Edition. That's great and all, but I'm just glad I found it to play my shooters on.

It comes with interchangeable cords for the SNES and Genesis, which is just awesome.  Not only is this one of the best sticks for the fourth generation, you can use it for Space Megaforce on the SNES, M.U.S.H.A on the Genesis, and Gate of Thunder on the PC-Engine Duo!

Another reason this stick rises above the rest is its wide, heavy base. Most sticks during the era were smaller, and uncomfortable to hold while playing straddled on the top of your legs. The SNES Super Advantage and Sega Arcade Power stick are both guilty of this. There is considerable heft to the stick, giving it a larger presence and improving handling. Sometimes with smaller sticks you have to hold on to them while controlling the joystick so that it doesn't slide off your lap, but that's not the case here. If there is one complaint that I have, it is that the buttons have spongey rubbery response, but that was typical for consumer sticks at the time. This is nominal, considering the upside.

So, if you are considering investing in a joystick for the PC-Engine family of systems (or Turbo Grafix, as there is a controller adapter available online), I think this is a superb choice.  There could be a better one out there, but it is pretty hard to find a Japanese exclusive joystick from over twenty-five years ago, let alone one of this quality.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My Top 10 PS2 Import Shoot'em ups


The shoot'em up genere all but died in North America when 3D graphics were taking over console gaming.  During the 5th generation, you saw a few like Einhander, Raiden Project, Galactic Attack, but for the most part, it was not a market that was important to American publishers. It was a different story in Japan.  The fifth generation was one of the best for the genre, with the Saturn and Playstation getting endless titles that pleased fans of shooters to no end. The sixth generation continued this trend, perhaps not as fervently as the previous generation, since Sega bowed out of the console race early after only a few years with the Dreamcast, leaving the PS2 the only machine of the generation to host the genre (the Gamecube and Xbox libraries were barren). Here are the top 10  shooters that I own for the Japanese Playstation 2.


Chaos Field

One of the first things you think when you play Chaos field is that it is a poor man's Radiant Silvergun.  The sword swipe that absorbs bullets is clearly inspired by the seminal Saturn shooter, but beyond that there are some interesting ideas at work.  The ability to switch between the titular Chaos Field and normal field provides variety in how you play.  In the Chaos field, your attack power is amplified, as well are your enemy hot patterns. The gameplay is considered a "boss rush", where the stages consist of primarily bosses, with little in between. Once you get used to switching between fields the game slows down a bit, and is a nice entry for the console.


XII Stag

The is game has unique side attack that you engage by wiggling left and right. As such, there is a greater emphasis on enemies approaching from all angels, and often the best strategy is to attack laterally. I appreciate this innovation, but I found it difficult to jiggle side to side effectively. There is the option to turn on rapid for the side attacks, but I never quite got the hang of that either.



Psyvariar Revision

Psyvariar is all about buzzing enemy bullets for score multipliers.  The more bullets you graze (without getting hit, obviously), the higher the points that roll in. You also get experience points to level up your ship.  If you level up to certain point, you're firepower will increase. This mindset changes how you play the game, and is a fun change of pace for shooter fans looking for a different type of play style.



Mushihimesama

This concept behind this game is unique for a shooter; everything takes place in the insect realm. You are a tiny humanoid shooting down hordes of massive insects.  The bosses are intricately segmented and pieces break off as they are destroyed.  The visuals are lush and imaginative, and among the best of the generation. The rate of fire can be adjusted, and mapped to different buttons. There are three different gameplay modes: original, maniac, and ultra.  Despite my love for the genre, my skills are not among the best, so I tend to shy away from the overly difficult modes.
This is a fun, kind of weird (in a good way) shooter, and I recommend it if you are looking for a challenge.


Strikers 1945 I & II

Another one of my favorite series, many may confuse these games with Capcom's 194X series of WW2 airplane shooters.  While 1943 and its variants had their charm and were great games in their own right, the Strikers 1945 games take gameplay into the modern age.  Bosses start as typical WW2-era vehicles, only to transform into giant mechs of ridiculous proportions. Each has a handful of planes to choose, each with their own firing pattern, bomb attack, and options attack.  You'll play these over again and again just to see what each plane is capable of.  Part 2 is very similar to part 1, but it adds challenge and even more planes.


Espgaluda

I'm not sure what the premise of this game is.  From the opening sequence it seems that you are attacked, and you loved one is murdered, so maybe its revenge?  You are a flying humanoid, with different shot pattern types.  Gameplay is very similar to Mushihimesama, and so fans of that game will feel right at home here.  The same progress bar from Dondonpachi DOJ makes an appearance here as well. Its a fun, action-packed shooter.


Gigawing Generations

This is a follow-up to the Gigawing games on the Dreamcast.  The concept here is to score an indescribable amounts of points. Seriously, the score gets pretty ridiculous fast. This is one of those games where the enemies turn into medallions after they are destroyed, and so the screen gets cluttered with medals and bullets simultaneously. The unique feature of the this game is the force shield, which envelops and protects you in a round shield, then bounces all enemy bullets back in their direction. The results can be devastating, and it is immensely satisfying to unleash.  It is a cool feature, and gives the game a strategy all its own.


Thunder Force VI

Once I found out that this game existed, I sought it out immediately.  I am a huge Thunder Force fan, so this was a no-brainer. I may be biased, but this game is awesome. It is definitely a Thunderforce game, and it plays just like how you would expect it to. Power ups are familiar, and of course the over weapon is present and accounted for. It is a bit on the easy side, but I'm ok with that.  Everything that you loved from the previous entries either make an appearance, or are given an homage.  Each time you beat the game, you are given a new ship to select from a previous entry.  This adds to the replay value.


Dodonpachi Dai-Ou-Jou

Most gamers into shooters know of the Dodonpachi games.  They started as Donpachi in the arcades, followed by the sequel Dodonpachi, and were both ported to both the Playstation and Saturn.  This entry is about what you'd expect from the the series, as it makes its lone 6th generation appearance. It's a ton of fun, and has some throwback graphics and a well-honed style of gameplay. I like the new progress bar on the side of the screen; it is not really needed, but its just a nice idea.  I don't care for the announcer's voice work this time around, it just doesn't have the personality that the first two games had. Oh, it's damn hard. Definitely a must have.


Ibara

I loved Battle Garegga on the Sega Saturn, and this game is what many call a spiritual successor.  The on-screen action is over the top, with explosions and shrapnel flying every which way.  It takes some time to adjust to what is dangerous and what isn't, but eventually you get the hang of it.  Its a blast to play two player co-op, and its hard.  Even with the difficulty turned down, its hard, but you still come back for more. Despite the cover art and lace-laden girl images in the background, this game still plays like an airplane WW2-style shooter.  The bosses are giant mecha-girls or whatever, but the gameplay is super tight.

For 2D shooters, I prefer an arcade stick, or a good d-pad.  Fortunately, I have both.  My favorite controller of all time is the Saturn pad, and I have the official Sega Logistics Systems Saturn pad for the Playstation.


It should be mentioned that in order to play these Japanese exclusives, you will need some method of playing imports on your PS2.  I wasn't a fan of the disc-swap method, so I just bought a Japanese PS2 since I figured it would get a lot of use.
Nearly all of these games have generous customizability, allowing for players of all ability levels to experience them. While not the subject of this post, it should be mentioned that there were plenty of PS1 shooters that were Japanese exclusives as well. Again, North American releases were excluded from this list. That may be a list for another day.