Knockout Kings 2000 — Issue 48

Not tech­ni­cal­ly a knockout
Knock­out Kings packs a punch for PSOne

Ah, Elec­tron­ic Arts aka Crunch Time World Head­quar­ters, how gamers love thee (sar­casm insert­ed). Begin­ning in 1995, there was­n’t a sports game, col­le­giate or pro­fes­sion­al, that was not giv­en EA’s sports label “the game amongst sports games.” When you saw offi­cial­ly licensed sport game com­mer­cials in the late ’90s to ear­ly 2000s, nine times out of 10 they would be from EA Sports. I have played some titles in EA’s Mad­den series but my main expe­ri­ence with EA Sports came dur­ing my junior year in col­lege when I played an EA game that fea­tured the best of pro­fes­sion­al box­ing to deter­mine who was tru­ly the undis­put­ed best amongst them. Knock­out Kings 2000 stepped into the ring and put on a show.

In Knock­out Kings 2000, you get to play as one of 25 leg­endary pro­fes­sion­al box­ers such as Mar­velous Mar­vin Hagler, “Smokin” Joe Fra­zier, Son­ny Lis­ton, and my favorite, the “Great­est of all Time” Muham­mad Ali. In addi­tion to these clas­sic box­ers, you can cre­ate your own box­er like I did with box­ers named “Bus­ta­jawzs” or “Crush­er Bear”. Depend­ing on which option you choose, you’ll be fight­ing at well-known sport venues such as Cae­sar’s Palace and Great West­ern Col­i­se­um in either the Cham­pi­onship, Slugfest or Train­ing modes. 

Despite EA’s attempt to faith­ful­ly ren­der each pro­fes­sion­al box­er’s and venue, the graph­ics are of PSOne qual­i­ty. It can be dif­fi­cult to see box­ers unless you have excel­lent mas­tery over the game’s cam­era sys­tem, which brings out the scenes in bet­ter quality. 


The con­trols in Knock­out Kings 2000 are sim­ple and do not require com­pli­cat­ed move­ments unlike oth­er fight­ing games. The super punch is very easy to per­form, which is a bless­ing since I’m a but­ton mash­er at heart. I can say with con­fi­dence that after a few bouts, I became a new world heavy­weight cham­pi­on going straight to train­ing to main­tain my com­pet­i­tive edge. 

EA did excel­lent in the music depart­ment with each mode hav­ing a unique theme for train­ing and var­i­ous music styles for the Cham­pi­onship and Slugfest modes. I espe­cial­ly like the ’50s-like gui­tar entrance theme and a hip-hop hor­ror mix that brought fear to my oppo­nents’ hearts when I used my “Crush­er Bear” char­ac­ter. The sound was top qual­i­ty, and EA gave upcom­ing artists such as Androyd, Alien Fash­ion Show and my per­son­al favorite rap­per, O, a place to shine. O pro­vid­ed the main theme “In the Game” as well as a music video with cameos by Hagler, Roy Jones Jr., and Floyd May­weath­er Jr., which was a nice touch.

I like a lot about Knock­out Kings 2000 but there are some prob­lems. The cam­era needs adjust­ment so the fight­ers can be seen prop­er­ly but even worse the mod­el­ing of each fight­er looks like EA rushed its pro­gram­mers. The fight­ers are unrec­og­niz­able, which is dis­ap­point­ing. Anoth­er issue that I had was in the train­ing ses­sion where I want­ed to learn com­bo tech­niques. The train­ing want­ed to rush my learn­ing, result­ing in lit­tle train­ing val­ue for my box­er. My final prob­lem was announc­ing calls. While I appre­ci­ate that respect­ed box­ing com­men­ta­tors Al Albert and Sean O’Grady called the action, their tim­ing was off some­times on mak­ing cru­cial com­men­tary, or they were not made at all. 
Knock­out Kings 2000 is a great sports game for the PSOne. While EA is known for cash grabs, and low-qual­i­ty work on their games, I believe that they found the mag­ic for­mu­la for suc­cess with this.

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi — Issue 48

A secret leg­end in the making
Shi­no­bi sequel barks up the right tree with new canine companion

Before Son­ic the Hedge­hog and Yakuza, Sega had estab­lished game fran­chis­es and mas­cots for the arcade and home con­sole mar­ket. One of those mas­cots was very pop­u­lar and came out on the scene at a time when Teenage Mutant Nin­ja Tur­tles were blow­ing up across the coun­try. His name was Joe Musashi, and his adven­tures were detailed in the game series “Shi­no­bi.” Ever since its 1987 release, Joe fought a one-nin­ja war on crime against the evil Zeed orga­ni­za­tion, which plot­ted glob­al dom­i­nance with their style of nin­ja arts. Time after time, through var­i­ous Sega games, Joe defeat­ed Zeed and kept the world at peace. How­ev­er, in Shad­ow Dancer: The Secret of Shi­no­bi, Joe would once again take up his sword against evil.

Shad­ow Dancer takes place one year after Joe’s most recent bat­tle with Zeed. In 1997, New York City comes under attack by a cult orga­ni­za­tion called Union Lizard. NYC is laid to waste with sur­vivors cap­tured as UL hostages. One of Joe’s stu­dents, Kaito, hears about UL’s assaults on a neigh­bor­hood and sets out to free its res­i­dents. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Kaito falls in bat­tle. Enraged, Joe heads to NYC to bat­tle, accom­pa­nied by Yam­a­to, Kaito’s canine com­pan­ion. With a new ally, Joe enters this lat­est con­flict deter­mined to free NYC from UL clutch­es and avenge his stu­den­t’s death. 


Shad­ow Dancer’s con­trols are sim­ple. While I was impressed with the game-ready default set­up, I also appre­ci­at­ed that there are oth­er con­fig­u­ra­tions. You also have the option of using nor­mal or non-shuriken mode, which takes away the abil­i­ty to throw shuriken from a dis­tance. I also appre­ci­at­ed that Joe can also call upon three types of nin­jut­su in the forms of fire, tor­na­do, and mete­orites. The most vital weapon that Joe has in his lat­est bat­tle is Yam­a­to, who can be used to attack on-screen ene­mies with­out hes­i­ta­tion, tru­ly giv­ing cred­it to the phrase “take a bite out of crime.” Every time I unleashed Yam­a­to aka Kuma-pup­py TM, I loved see­ing the bad guys cry in pain as they thought that noth­ing could stop them. Jokes on them that a nin­ja dog brings them instant terror. 

The graph­ics were pret­ty decent as if Sega pulled the game from the actu­al arcade cab­i­net. The music is ’90s genre fit­ting for Sega games and will make you feel a spe­cial fond­ness for the nos­tal­gic days of arcades. I also like that with each stage the music blend­ed with the scenery, espe­cial­ly at the Stat­ue of Liberty. 

While I do love Shad­ow Dancer, I have a few gripes. The abil­i­ty to con­trol Yam­a­to is deter­mined by hav­ing no ene­mies on screen; if Yam­a­to or oth­er ene­mies are on dif­fer­ent lev­els of stages or when an ene­my can avoid him by jump­ing up or down out of his reach, it can get frus­trat­ing. I also don’t care for the imposed time lim­it that makes you rush to the end of the stage. My final griev­ance with Shad­ow Dancer is that at the end of each stage, there is a bonus stage where you must hit as many ene­my nin­jas as you can with shuriken. I threw a ton of shuriken at nin­ja but got low scores for my efforts. It’s a lot of work for lit­tle reward and seems like a waste of time, honestly.

Shad­ow Dancer: The Secret of Shi­no­bi is a game that helped cement Sega’s lega­cy in the video game indus­try. Sega is rein­tro­duc­ing clas­sic games in var­i­ous forms for a new gen­er­a­tion of gamers. Sega would be wise to rein­tro­duce Joe Musashi as the undis­put­ed mem­ber of video game roy­al­ty and leg­end in video game hero his­to­ry that he is.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection — Issue 47

A good start to a long-last­ing legacy

I’m a huge Mega Man fan. It start­ed with the orig­i­nal series and evolved to include the X series. Fear­less GI leader Lyn­d­sey gift­ed me a trea­sure trove of Mega Man X games wor­thy of Cap­com’s next gen­er­a­tion blue titan, and Mega Man X Lega­cy Col­lec­tion has risen to the top of the pile.

The first disc of Lega­cy Col­lec­tion cov­ers the first four MMX games that were released for the SNES and PSOne. In these games, you con­trol our favorite hero in blue or his lat­er part­ner Zero in their quest to achieve peace in the future. Each game has a dif­fer­ent sto­ry that builds on the pre­vi­ous game, but over­all X and Zero are the stars of the show with var­i­ous ver­sions of long­time antag­o­nist Sig­ma attempt­ing to achieve world dom­i­na­tion. Each of the first four games has var­i­ous boss­es X or Zero faces with the suc­cess­ful result of gain­ing the boss’ weapon or skill that can be used for var­i­ous lev­els. X has a slight advan­tage in the game by using hid­den upgrade cham­bers designed by the late Dr. Light that increas­es fire­pow­er, speed and protection. 

The val­ue of the first disc is per­fect for fans or those begin­ning the X series and increas­es with the ani­me-inspired designs of heroes and vil­lains, which encour­ages replay of all the col­lec­tion’s games. This first disc also has a lot of inter­est­ing ele­ments that include pre­sent­ing 16-bit and ani­me-style inter­mis­sion screens that were includ­ed when the games were orig­i­nal­ly released. Cap­com also intro­duced a high-res­o­lu­tion fil­ter, giv­ing the game’s graph­ics a stream­lined yet col­or­ful approach and a unique box frame for each game. A music play­er con­tain­ing all the music from the orig­i­nal games also rounds out the pre­sen­ta­tion extras, which were nice. 

One of the oth­er cool addi­tions is the X Chal­lenge, which pits you against two leg­endary boss­es of the series while choos­ing three weapons to use. This requires some fore­thought and under­stand­ing of the series’ mechan­ics, which is a wel­come change of pace when you want some­thing dif­fer­ent from the sto­ry modes. I also thought that the art gallery and the ani­mat­ed movie focus­ing on Sig­ma was a nice touch. 

The only crit­i­cism I had of the col­lec­tion is with some of the oth­er extras. Cap­com decid­ed to show off nev­er-before-seen Mega Man X col­lectibles that were only avail­able in Japan. Cap­com nev­er did license these out­side of Japan, mak­ing fans like me curse them for their dense busi­ness prac­tices. Because, real­ly, why would you tease oth­er regions with this, know­ing Mega Man is glob­al? It just seems like anoth­er slap in the face where Mega Man is concerned. 

Mega Man X Lega­cy Col­lec­tion is a great trib­ute to the X series. Despite my hang-ups with Cap­com, this is a great love let­ter to Mega Man X fans and can be a tem­plate to con­tin­ue the sto­ry of X and company.

Devil May Cry 2 — Issue 47

You may cry over this dis­ap­point­ing sequel

 

 

 

 

Dante, Dante, Dante. Cap­com’s res­i­dent demon hunter/investigator has con­tributed great­ly to the com­pa­ny’s for­tunes. From var­i­ous mer­chan­dise and endorse­ment deals to a Net­flix series due lat­er this year, Dante is liv­ing large. How­ev­er, there are games in the Dev­il May Cry series that almost destroyed his ris­ing star. Dev­il May Cry 2 is one of those games.

In Dev­il May Cry 2, Dante and a new com­pan­ion, Lucia, join forces to bat­tle demons led by an inter­na­tion­al busi­ness­man named Arius whose com­pa­ny called Uroboros estab­lish­es itself on the island of Vie de Mar­li. Arius’ true goal is to find holy relics called Arcanas so that he can obtain the pow­ers of the ancient demon Argosax. Now locked in a race against time, Dante and Lucia must bat­tle against Argosax and put an end to Arius’ mad­ness before the world is plunged into eter­nal darkness. 

DMC2’s graph­ics and pre­sen­ta­tion had a nice approach instead of the usu­al hap­haz­ard scenery found in most hack-and-slash games. It’s nice that the DMC2 devel­op­ment team took inspi­ra­tion from West­ern Europe and the Mediter­ranean region and com­bined that with var­i­ous ele­ments from Japan­ese, Latin and Greek cul­tures and var­i­ous reli­gious ele­ments. How­ev­er, the parts of the deal­break­er with DMC2 soon appeared with var­i­ous scenes as poor­ly done clay sculptures. 

Fur­ther in the game, the graph­ics became more of a dis­ap­point­ment, despite giv­ing lee­way to the PlaySta­tion 2’s hard­ware capa­bil­i­ties in its ear­ly years. One of the most glar­ing issues involved the cam­era. The in-game cam­era was weird and clunky, zoom­ing in and out odd­ly in under­ground areas. And, it was too rigid when it need­ed to move with Dante. The con­trols were tank-like — Cap­com’s nor­mal stan­dard oper­a­tional pro­ce­dure — but it was more annoy­ing when I was shoot­ing at ene­mies long dis­tance and wast­ing ammo and mobil­i­ty. The tank­ing of Dante is counter to him being agile, which was a major sell­ing point that cat­a­pult­ed him to star­dom. Anoth­er issue was that the in-game store sold var­i­ous skill and weapon upgrades includ­ing health items but were ridicu­lous­ly expen­sive despite me hav­ing the abil­i­ty to gath­er more coins seam­less­ly here than in the orig­i­nal game. That’s a major turnoff because it’s a chore. More work for more expen­sive rewards is not fun.

The music of DMC2 was ser­vice­able; it feels like Cap­com’s renowned music team was told to phone in their work that was at best chop­py but accept­able. That’s a shame because all of it just seems mediocre and not the best that Cap­com could do for a series of DMC’s caliber.

While Cap­com attempt­ed to strike hot with a glob­al smash-hit prop­er­ty, they man­aged to fail because they treat DMC2 like their oth­er crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed series (Mega Man, Rival Schools, the Ver­sus series and Onimusha) not named Street Fight­er: like FLAMING GARBAGE. As a fan of DMC, Mega Man, Onimusha and var­i­ous Cap­com games, I’m incensed that these titles are beloved glob­al­ly, yet Cap­com does very lit­tle or noth­ing to do prop­er pro­mo­tion for them, yet they prof­it HUGELY from them. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Dante fell vic­tim to the Cap­com curse for which he can­not blame his black sheep broth­er — this time.

Dev­il May Cry 2 should have been the light­ning that struck twice. For­tu­nate­ly for Dante and Co., Cap­com man­age­ment saw the fol­lies of mis­treat­ment of a hot prop­er­ty and applied lessons learned in its future install­ments. As we say in GI HQ, “Know bet­ter, do bet­ter.” Cap­com should have done bet­ter with this sequel because they knew bet­ter. Dante should have been able to keep it styl­ish, but this is a major stum­ble in an oth­er­wise stel­lar jack­pot of a series.

Demon’s Crest — Issue 46

Fire­brand reigns supreme in ghoul­ish, ghost­ly, fiendish romp

Cap­com is known for its glob­al­ly renowned ros­ter of video game char­ac­ters. From Mega Man to Neme­sis, these char­ac­ters have cement­ed their lega­cy. Fire­brand, the red demon of death that is on that renowned ros­ter, made his bones and shows up to show out in Cap­com’s Demon’s Crest (no, not the dev­il’s toothpaste).

In Demon’s Crest, you take the role of the fire-breath­ing, head-butting hero Fire­brand through six stages as he tries to recov­er mag­i­cal crests, which are arti­facts with con­trol of the ele­ments and time. Accord­ing to Demon’s Crest leg­end, when these items fell into the demon world, a civ­il war erupt­ed with Fire­brand as the vic­tor claim­ing the crests of Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Time. Fire­brand fought anoth­er demon named Somu­lo, who held the crest of Heav­en, and secured a vic­to­ry over the rival demon. How­ev­er, anoth­er demon named Pha­lanx attacked Fire­brand while he had low health, tak­ing pos­ses­sion of all the crests. This allowed Pha­lanx to sum­mon anoth­er crest that con­trols infin­i­ty. While Fire­brand recov­ered, he was impris­oned in an are­na guard­ed by the revived Somu­lo. After defeat­ing Somu­lo, Fire­brand begins his quest for vengeance and recov­ery of his well-earned spoils of war. 

Game­play is a com­bi­na­tion of plat­form­ing and Japan­ese RPGs mixed with ele­ments from Castl­e­va­nia and Metroid. Fire­brand has the usu­al plat­form­ing moves such as run­ning, and jump­ing, but can climb walls, tem­porar­i­ly float, and launch pro­jec­tile attacks with the help of the Fire crest. Fire­brand can pick up var­i­ous powerups from fall­en ene­mies to increase health and attacks in addi­tion to col­lect­ing coins to pur­chase for var­i­ous items found in shops through­out the demon realm. I also love that Fire­brand has some allies: Phora­pa, a demon who sell potions with var­i­ous abil­i­ties; Mal­wous, a demon that tells Fire­brand the secrets of tal­is­mans found from the human realm; and, Morack, who sells mag­ic spells to boost Fire­brand’s arsenal. 

The con­trols are sim­ple, yet require some nuance to remem­ber all of Fire­brand’s abil­i­ties. The fact that Cap­com decid­ed to take a fresh approach on the plat­form­ing instead of mak­ing anoth­er Ghosts n’ Ghosts was a wise choice to make here. The music fits the theme of each stage and main­tains the theme of the stage well. And much like the music, the graph­ics also won me over for the col­ors and artistry, espe­cial­ly when played on a mod­ern television. 

While I love most parts of Demon’s Crest, there are some not-so-good nit­picks to make. Cer­tain stages where per­fect tim­ing is need­ed to land on float­ing plat­forms across killer obsta­cles are annoy­ing. The pre­ci­sion isn’t there and it’s frus­trat­ing to attempt it mul­ti­ple times. Anoth­er strike comes when you play the bonus game. You must time your head-butting attack against demon skulls in a Whack-a-Mole-style game with a time lim­it. Con­sid­er­ing that if you lose, you also lose mon­ey, this is a prob­lem with the in-game econ­o­my. It makes you not want to play the mini-game at all. I also had issues with the Mode 7 view in Demon’s Crest. Although awe­some most of the time you use it in nav­i­gat­ing the demon realm, it weird­ly affects your vision if you fly around for a pro­longed time. 

Demon’s Crest comes from Cap­com’s attempt to do some­thing new and excit­ing. Ush­er­ing in a new era of plat­form­ing and hop ‘n bop action was Cap­com’s agen­da and it paid off. In the case of Demon’s Crest, they under­stood the assign­ment and passed.

Columns — Issue 45

Columns stacks up against Tetris juggernaut

As the faith­ful read­ers of GI know, I’m a child of the ’80s and ’90s. I owned an NES, Gen­e­sis and a Game Gear, but not a Game Boy. To sat­is­fy my portable gam­ing needs, I got a few Game Gear games that would hold my atten­tion. I’m not much of a puz­zle man, but one stood out as an alter­na­tive to the high­ly pop­u­lar Tetris at the time: Columns.
Columns’ game­play is sim­i­lar to Tetris, except that you’re match­ing var­i­ous gems with each oth­er before their row known as — you guessed it — columns stack up, ulti­mate­ly end­ing your game. The game back­sto­ry claims that its ori­gins hails from Mid­dle East­ern mer­chants with also a lit­tle bit of Greece mixed in. 
Con­trol of the columns is sim­ple: Guide the columns’ rows and arrange pieces to fit. It’s a sim­ple con­cept that is quick­ly under­stood. You can be a new­bie or a puz­zle expert and still jump into play­ing. There’s also an option to change the items from jew­els, to fruit, dice, or tra­di­tion­al play­ing card suits, which livens up the game­play slightly. 
The graph­ics are top-notch in both ver­sions. The graph­ics are col­or­ful and more than just bricks being moved around. They look good even in a small set­ting like the Game Gear. 
The music in Columns varies from ancient Roman tunes to a futur­is­tic beat that is calm­ing dur­ing game­play. The sound­track is a nice men­tal break for the mind, which helps when you’re pos­si­bly fran­ti­cal­ly mak­ing matches. 
Columns is an under­es­ti­mat­ed crown jew­el that shines on all Sega sys­tems. It’s a fun alter­na­tive to Tetris with a nice calm­ing effect to boot. Hunt down this dif­fer­ent but bril­liant puz­zle choice. 

 

Build­ing blocks of Columns

In 1989, Jay Geert­sen, a devel­op­er for Hewlett-Packard, was look­ing to port a soft­ware tool to HP’s in-house oper­at­ing sys­tem for its work com­put­ers. Geert­sen believed there was a bet­ter way to learn skills and have fun at the same time. He came up with mod­i­fy­ing Tic Tac-Toe and applied it as a way to help soft­ware engi­neers prac­tice their pro­gram­ing. The result: Once they heard about Geert­sen’s work through third par­ties, Sega called him and inquired about devel­op­ment. Check out his sto­ry through this link: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/retro-gamer/20190711/281599537055264.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 — Issue 45

Son­ic reigns supreme in sec­ond outing

Ah, Son­ic the Hedge­hog. Sega’s top mas­cot has had a bit of a revival late­ly. From tril­o­gy games on the Gen­e­sis and oth­er sys­tems devel­oped by Sega and its com­peti­tors to com­ic books and var­i­ous mer­chan­dise, car­toon series and two block­buster movies, Son­ic and Co. are liv­ing large. He reached a sim­i­lar zenith in his sec­ond game — Son­ic the Hedge­hog 2 — which also intro­duced fans to his equal-yet-unique part­ner, Miles Prow­er aka “Tails” (because he’s a two-tailed fox) who joins our favorite blue speedy demon in a new bat­tle to stop Dr. Robotnik. 
In Son­ic 2, Son­ic and Tails and their friends are enjoy­ing peace­ful days on West Island until Dr. Robot­nik and his cronies arrive, kid­nap­ping the inhab­i­tants, and trans­form­ing them into robot­ic slaves. The slaves would help Robot­nik search for the leg­endary Chaos Emer­alds, which he plans to use to pow­er his space sta­tion. With Robot­nik’s lat­est threat, It’s up to Son­ic and Tails to find the Emer­alds to foil Robot­nik and his dreams for world domination. 
Game­play in Son­ic 2 is much like the first Son­ic game, but with some new addi­tions. Each lev­el or “act” (there are 20 in total) will have you bash­ing ene­mies and avoid­ing var­i­ous haz­ards such as spikes and bot­tom­less pits. While dash­ing through you must uti­lize some patience and tim­ing to avoid these var­i­ous obsta­cles. Son­ic is still easy to con­trol but he now also has a cool new trick called the Spin Dash. This lets him go even faster and take down more ene­mies. Tails has the same skills, but his two tails give him a lit­tle more flair. 
Son­ic 2 has the option of Son­ic or Tails going after Robot­nik alone or join­ing forces in either sin­gle- or two-play­er modes. Robot­nik has some new allies in the form of a robot­ic mon­key named Coconuts and a robot­ic crab named Thrash­er whose shell is com­prised of a pin­ball bumper. With Robot­nik hav­ing new meth­ods to attack and hench bots to car­ry them out, the usu­al powerups (Rings, Speed Sneak­ers, and invin­ci­bil­i­ty) are vast and abun­dant, but Son­ic and Tails can take advan­tage of a new pow­er shield that gives tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion against hits. 
The graph­ics are of 16-bit qual­i­ty, but they do an excel­lent job of shin­ing, whether it’s char­ac­ters or back­grounds. Each stage is burst­ing with high ener­gy col­or; the Chem­i­cal Plant Zone, Metrop­o­lis Zone and the bonus stages are my some of my per­son­al favorites. 
I was pleased with Son­ic 2’s music from begin­ning to end as it paired per­fect­ly with the stages, beat by beat. The Green Hill, Chem­i­cal Plant, Casi­no Night and Mys­tic Cave zones hit the spot with spe­cial recog­ni­tion for the Sky Chase Zone for its relax­ing beats. 
Son­ic 2 is wor­thy of revis­it­ing often, espe­cial­ly if you want to expe­ri­ence 16-bit gam­ing at its finest. There is no doubt that Son­ic 2 would be a sure-fire hit game to intro­duce to a new gen­er­a­tion of gamers look­ing to expe­ri­ence good old-school gaming.
Son­ic the Hedge­hog 2 is a cer­ti­fi­able banger in the annals of video game his­to­ry. One of the best sequels ever released kept Sega in the 16-bit wars and gave us leg­endary Son­ic game­play that still holds up. Spin Dash on blue blur.

 

Altered Beast — Issue 44

Beast & Co. alter gaming

As a young lad grow­ing up in the era of arcades (AKA the gold­en age of gam­ing) one of the for­mer kings of gam­ing, Sega was the name that had instant recog­ni­tion with me. From titles like After Burn­er, Out­run, Shi­no­bi, and Vir­tu­al Fight­er, Sega has mas­tered the art of sep­a­rat­ing one from their gam­ing tokens with­out fail. Dur­ing my arcade trav­els, I saw a Sega title that turned out to be not only a clas­sic arcade hit, but also was the inspi­ra­tion for the Bloody Roar series: the revered but maligned Altered Beast for the Genesis.

In Altered Beast, you take on the role of an ancient Roman Cen­tu­ri­on war­rior res­ur­rect­ed by Zeus to res­cue his daugh­ter Athena who was kid­napped by the under­world ruler Neff. As this unnamed war­rior, you do have a small-but-pow­er­ful advan­tage over Neff and his armies: the abil­i­ty to pow­er up into var­i­ous beasts that change the tide of the bat­tle. With this abil­i­ty, the Cen­tu­ri­on war­rior sets off on his divine man­date to res­cue Athena and defeat Neff. 

Game­play of Altered Beast is real­ly sim­ple: As some­one who played side-scrolling games, I instant­ly took to the basic punch, kick and jump mechan­ics. As you go through each ene­my, you’ll get a pow­er-up orb that lit­er­al­ly says “Pow­er-up!”; this made me think that Zeus came down and gave com­mands. On the third pow­er-up, you’ll go into your actu­al beast mode, which con­sists of forms such as a drag­on, were­wolf, were­bear, weretiger, and a gold­en were­wolf, each with their own unique pow­ers. At this point, I’m think­ing that this game is the ori­gin for the pop­u­lar phase “Beast Mode.” At the end of each lev­el, you bat­tle Neff in var­i­ous forms. The graph­ics are pret­ty good for a tran­si­tion from arcade to 16-bit con­sole with lit­tle notice­able dif­fer­ence in qual­i­ty for the time period. 

Altered Beast does have a few flaws: When you defeat Neff at the end of each stage, he some­how takes away your pow­er-up forms as a last part­ing shot, which is obnox­ious. Also, the brief inter­mis­sion scenes are grainy, mak­ing it hard to under­stand what’s going on. On the bright side, the replay val­ue is awe­some for those who want to relieve the gold­en days of the Gen­e­sis and those who want side scrolling action with a mix of horror.

Altered Beast is one of Sega’s clas­sic gems that is wor­thy of anoth­er look. There was a mod­ern-day remake released in 2005 for PS2, but it was crit­i­cal­ly panned. For­tu­nate­ly, Sega decid­ed to give Altered Beast anoth­er look, this time plac­ing it among its oth­er well-known prop­er­ties in var­i­ous TV and film projects. Sega altered the side-scrolling land­scape with this epic tale of good ver­sus evil.

Golden Axe — Issue 44

A gold­en era of gaming

I know I’ve cov­ered a lot of Sega games, but I’m a big fan. I par­tial­ly owned a NES, a Mas­ter Sys­tem and a Gen­e­sis, and while I did not have a lot of games for those sys­tems, I enjoyed the games that I had for them, espe­cial­ly the Gen­e­sis. One of those games has an arcade back­ground shared with Gaunt­let with ele­ments of the Dun­geons and Drag­ons table­top games. If you old­er read­ers know what I’m talk­ing about, respect. For you younger read­ers, lis­ten and learn of the tale of Gold­en Axe.

Inspired also by the Conan the Bar­bar­ian movie series of the 1980s, Gold­en Axe gives you a choice of three war­riors: Ax Bat­tler, who wields a broadsword; Gilius Thun­der­head, a dwarf war­rior with a bat­tle ax; and, an Ama­zon­ian war­rior, Tyris Flare, whose weapon of choice is a longsword. These war­riors were brought togeth­er by twist of fate thanks to an evil enti­ty known as Death Adder, who has cap­tured the king­dom of Yuria along with its king and his daugh­ter. The three heroes have also lost loved ones at Death Adder’s hands and set off on their quest to destroy Death Adder and restore hope and peace to Yuria. 

Game­play is sim­ple with each char­ac­ter have the basic attack, jump and spe­cial attacks you find in reg­u­lar side-scroller games. The one major advan­tage that Ax, Gilius, and Tyris have is their unique abil­i­ty to cast mag­ic spells that does seri­ous dam­age to all ene­mies on screen. How­ev­er, this spe­cial attack comes with two caveats: mag­ic ener­gy has a high cost and pro­tect­ing your nec­es­sary mag­ic potions from thiev­ing elves is a chore. Now, this is the part where you ask, “what’s the pay­off with the char­ac­ter’s mag­ic attacks?” Good ques­tion! Tyris wields fire mag­ic, Ax’s spe­cial­ty is earth spells and my favorite char­ac­ter, Gilius, lit­er­al­ly brings the thun­der with light­ing spells. It’s easy to under­stand the mechan­ics and use every­thing in the heat of battle. 

If there was one neg­a­tive thing that I found about Gold­en Axe, it’s that it’s too short on game­play. The first stage is set on a giant sea tur­tle that moves across the sea in the sec­ond stage. You move to a sleep­ing giant eagle in the third stage and are trans­port­ed to the fourth and final stage by said eagle. That’s entire­ly too short of an adven­ture. Eas­i­ly there could have been a few more stages to flesh out the story.

The music has a strong com­bi­na­tion of hero­ic and fairy­tale beats that are not too shab­by but is a per­fect fit for the game. The replay val­ue is pret­ty good for a 16-bit game that has a short lev­el of game­play. Over­all, this is a valiant effort by Sega to be cre­ative with a game that has poten­tial sad­ly but lacks creativity.

While it can be fun to play, the game need­ed some pol­ish and a lit­tle bit more finesse to real­ly shine. You’ll pull some hair at the length and some ele­ments, but over­all, it’s a decent hack ‘n slash. Just exer­cise calm and steadi­ness in this promis­ing yet cru­el venture.

Star Gladiator — Episode 1: Final Crusade — Issue 43

Cap­com’s space opera side series sad­dles up

I pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed Plas­ma Sword, the sequel to Cap­com’s 3D weapon fight­ing game Star Glad­i­a­tor. I played Plas­ma Sword and real­ly liked Cap­com’s approach that com­bined ele­ments from Star Wars with ele­ments of ani­me and fight­ing games. Years lat­er, hav­ing played games like Soul­cal­ibur, I want­ed to play a fight­ing game with weapons. I’m glad I got my hands on the first game in the series, Star Glad­i­a­tor — Episode 1: Final Crusade.
In Star Glad­i­a­tor, in the year 2348 humans have explored space for cen­turies, allow­ing for reg­u­lar peace­ful and trade rela­tion­ships with var­i­ous alien life­forms. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some alien species have made threats against Earth, result­ing in a defense project cre­at­ed by Dr. Edward Bil­stein that uses ener­gy of the human mind or plas­ma pow­er. Once the project became known, Bil­stein gained fame and prof­it. How­ev­er, the Earth Fed­er­a­tion uncov­ers that Bil­stein engaged in unlaw­ful human exper­i­men­ta­tion dur­ing plas­ma pow­er research and impris­oned him in a satel­lite. Four years lat­er, a fed­er­a­tion base was attacked by dis­ci­ples of Bil­stein known as the Fourth Empire. With the Fourth Empire’s attacks toward Earth con­tin­u­ing, the Fed­er­a­tion’s hopes rely on a project allow­ing plas­ma-pow­ered users to acti­vate their gifts on a whim. That pro­jec­t’s name is Star Gladiator.
Star Glad­i­a­tor is a com­plete depar­ture from usu­al set­up for fight­ing games like Street Fight­er and Dark­stalk­ers. Instead of using a six-but­ton scheme for punch­es and kicks, Cap­com used a four-but­ton set­up that resem­bles Soul­cal­ibur. You have but­tons assigned for kicks, defense, and weapon attacks. I found this sim­ple and easy as I did not strug­gle with fight mechanics. 
You also have use of two counter moves called Plas­ma Revers­es: One is called a Plas­ma Reflect, which allows block­ing of an oppo­nen­t’s move and stun­ning them for a brief peri­od. The oth­er, Plas­ma Revenge, allows you to counter an oppo­nen­t’s fast attack while you unleash your own light­ing attack. Star Glad­i­a­tor also intro­duces the Plas­ma Com­bo Sys­tem, which allows you to set­up rapid attacks that, with the right tim­ing, can result in a tech­nique called Plas­ma Final that inflicts major dam­age. Final­ly, anoth­er stand­out fea­ture in Star Glad­i­a­tor is the plas­ma strike abil­i­ty that lets you deliv­er heavy dam­age, if timed per­fect­ly on the opponent. 
Keep­ing with the mechan­ics, let me deliv­er a safe­ty warn­ing: This game has a rotat­ing and hov­er­ing are­na that may cause motion sick­ness. With the rotat­ing are­na, if you are knocked out of bounds, you will lose auto­mat­i­cal­ly. I learned a hard les­son about using the Plas­ma Reflect and Plas­ma Final tech­niques: Like any oth­er weapon-based fight­er, your tim­ing must be accu­rate; oth­er­wise, your char­ac­ter will be open for a ring-out attack or Plas­ma Final that will end the round before you can blink. And, for those who see the Plas­ma Strike as an easy use any­time weapon: Plas­ma Strike is an impres­sive move; how­ev­er, it can only be used once per round. 
The graph­ics and music are top tier for a 3D fight­ing game from the era it was released. It looks good and tries hard but with­out being over the top. The replay val­ue is strong and is a great show­case for the start of the 3D weapon fight­er genre. 
Star Glad­i­a­tor is a clas­sic 3D fight­er that showed how fight­ing games tran­si­tioned from the arcade to the home mar­ket. I com­mend Cap­com for think­ing for­ward and not rely­ing on the same for­mu­la. Star Glad­i­a­tor is an exam­ple of Cap­com’s bril­liance in the fight­ing game are­na and the series is long over­due to return. There’s cer­tain­ly room for it in today’s space.