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.
Bombastic yet cool. This is the dichotomy you encounter in the atmosphere of Jet Grind Radio. There’s nothing quite like it — except its sequel — and that’s a blessing because I don’t think the world could handle anything else. It’s quirky, futuristic, stunning, and undeniably cool when you get down to it: Jet Grind Radio is the future. Set in a futuristic Tokyo, Jet Grind Radio features a wide cast of rollerblading graffiti gangs vying for supremacy and struggling against an egomaniacal madman and his conglomerate, which are attempting to take over the world. The storyline serves its purpose but it’s the characters that are the draw here. Each character — including the unlockable — has an interesting look and story going on. They are the lifeblood, and it’s fun to learn about them and their motivations. While we’re loving the characters, let’s also give love to the art style that brings them to life. The art style is gorgeous and still holds up after 23 years. The graffiti cel-shaded look has aged well; graffiti never fails to be awesome and impactful, and Jet Grind Radio looks phenomenal. It’s the first game to use this technique, and it set the standard in 2000 in terms of presentation. The backgrounds are also well done and inspire runs through the game. It’s clearly an early 2000s game, but that only portends good things about the Dreamcast and what it was capable of. And as good as the game looks, the graphics almost don’t hold a candle to the soundtrack. This is one of the best soundtracks ever done, and it will have you bopping while you’re running around on inline skates. This is one of those soundtracks that you put on while working and you get some of your best work done. Funky and pop-centric, the soundtrack has so much going on thematically that there’s bound to be something for everyone. And in terms of appealing to mass consumption, the controls are a common denominator kind of sensibility. The immediate comparison here is Tony Hawk, which isn’t surprising since the Hawkman had just released his first game — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — a year earlier to critical acclaim. Jet Grind Radio doesn’t necessarily grind on Hawk’s coattails, but you’re bound to say to yourself at least once, “These controls sure feel familiar.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. That’s a good thing, because it plays like early Tony Hawk, you know when it was good. While everything is great in terms of presentation and control, I’d be remiss in mentioning that there is one bothersome flaw with Jet Grind Radio. While the controls are easily analogous to early Tony Hawk games, it wasn’t easy to pick up the game and know what’s going on immediately. It’s a little too inaccessible at first, like it’s asking you to have some in-depth knowledge ahead of playing for the first time. You may not be familiar with the concepts the game is throwing at you, and it’s the game’s responsibility to ease you into the fray. Thankfully, the surrounding game is so good that you’ll come back to get more in-depth with the trappings of Tokyo-to. The Jet Grind series has lasted into the modern era with re-releases and a rumored reboot, and the original game details exactly why. Easy controls, varied modes, an engaging cast (love Pots, Piranha and Beat!) and popping soundtrack make for an immediately unforgettable experience. Get in-line to get down with the fantastic Jet Grind Radio.
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.
Bombastic bullets, bombs, and special attacks. You’re getting a taste of everything in the wild vertical shooter Gunbird 2 from shoot-’em-up practitioner Psikyo. Whether that taste is enough to whet your appetite for further shmup adventures is another story, one I believe is worth at least reading.
Gunbird 2 is your average vertical shooter in that it subscribes to bullet hell environments. There are seven characters to choose from, each with their own motivations for capturing three mystical elements and presenting them to their god. All of them fly around various stages in the Gunbird world, blowing up enemies and taking on the boss Shark and her cronies Blade and Gimmick of the Queen Pirates. The story is simple to get into and won’t take up too much of your time through static screens explaining the situation at hand.
It’s easy to understand the mechanics as well. Each character has five attacks: Primary, secondary, charge, melee, and super weapon. The primary weapon is either a concentrated or spread shot with all other weapons specific to the character in animation. It’s fun to try all of the characters to see how their weapons animate and behave, and it’s important to as well, because there is strategy involved. Knowing when to initiate a super weapon is crucial for maintaining combos and saving yourself or your teammate if you’re playing alongside someone else. The attacks are all assigned to buttons so you don’t have to do too much to move around and attack. It’s simplistic and yet chaotic at times, but it’s fun chaos.
The presentation is gorgeous while you’re dodging enemies and getting shot from all directions. The color palette is beautiful and the character animation shines. And, yes, even though Psikyo carried over Morrigan’s dog-tired sprite from Darkstalkers it still works here. You immediately know who she is, and it doesn’t look to terrible against the backdrops of bullet hell. The other characters look good for late ’90s animation. While the animation is good, the soundtrack is passing, if not a bit late ’90s mediocre. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t standout. A single track caught our attention, which is OK. Not all shoot-’em-ups get to be Galaga Arrangement or Gradius.
Overall, Gunbird 2 is a good vertical shooter in a crowded genre populated by heavy hitters. It shoots its way to the middle of the pack, and while it won’t knock your socks off, it’s got replay value and charm built into its laser.
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.
As a child of the ’90s, I grew up on the “Disney Afternoon” cartoon lineup. All the shows received the video game treatment for either 8‑bit, 16-bit systems or for both consoles at the time. I had a Sega Genesis and wondered when Disney would license a game based on a DA show for Genesis. Little did I know, Sega had license deals with Disney directly, and like Disney games made by Capcom, Sega made a game that wasn’t another “DuckTales,” but was set in the series’ universe and had its regular characters. His name is Donald Duck, and he made his debut in platform gaming in “QuackShot Starring Donald Duck.” In QuackShot, Donald sets out on a treasure hunt stretching across nine stages. One day in Duckburg, Donald visits his Uncle Scrooge and while checking out his library, Donald stumbles upon a message from King Grazuia, an old ruler of the Great Duck Kingdom who has hidden his legendary treasure across the world. Enclosed with the message is a map that Donald believes leads to treasure that would make him richer than Uncle Scrooge. However, Big Bad Pete and his gang also find out about the treasure and set off after Donald, turning the treasure hunt into a race to see who gets it first. Control of our daring adventurer is simple with the d‑pad and, combined with abundant options, ensures that you can set up movement, weapon use and dashing to specific buyouts. Donald may have odds against him, but he has some advantages with his plunger gun utilizing yellow plungers to stop Pete’s henchmen and other foes temporarily with an unlimited supply, and a reloadable popcorn gun that shoots five kernels at once. Donald also has some of the “DuckTales” crew helping him: Nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie provide transportation to each destination, and Gyro Gearloose provides Donald with bubblegum ammo that can break down obstacles. The MVP weapon in the game is the “quack attack,” which Donald can use to knock down any enemies instantly. I give credit to Sega for using Disney’s knowledge of Donald’s temper. The graphics and music were excellent, lively, and bright for an appropriately spry game. The downsides to “QuackShot” are few but are similarly found in most platform games. You must ensure perfect timing for Donald when he either crosses dangerous obstacles or performs his dash move. Also, mildly infuriating is small voice sample usage for the characters as this was not only a debut game for Donald, but also it is set in the DuckTales universe. There was so much untapped potential for rich, established history. Finally, you can only start the game in Duckburg, Mexico, or Transylvania. To pass later stages, you need a particular item, so there is a lot of backtracking unnecessarily. “QuackShot Starring Donald Duck” was one of the games that I started off with as a Genesis owner. A solid platformer, it showed that Sega had talent of developing consoles and legendary games using original and licensed characters. Most importantly, I got to see another Disney classic character get his limelight in his first video game with a starring role. Carry on Donald, carry on.
Strider Hiryu. Best known for his appearances in the Marvel vs. Capcom series, he has been considered a top-tier character by players and is consistently popular. Strider also appeared in a standalone game in 2014 for various consoles at the time. However, Strider was already established, starting in 1989 with his original arcade release that was ported to the NES and to the Genesis in 1990 via Sega. It was titled, yep, you guessed it, “Strider.” In the year 1998, after a series of disasters fell upon Earth, people across the globe realized their situation and began to work together to rebuild. Four years later, in an Eastern European nation called Kazafu several red dots appeared as the advance guard of the evil space being Meio. They caused immediate destruction of Kafazu, Europe, and North and South America, resulting in 80 percent of Earth’s population being wiped out. However, on a small South Seas Island called Moralos, a secret organization known as “Striders” began to move to stop Meio’s reign of terror. They sent their best agent, Hiryu, forward with the task of stopping Meio and his plans for world domination. Control of Hiryu is simple, allowing him to attack in either direction, duck when fighting, and climb to reach higher areas. Hiryu also has use of his plasma sword, Falchion, to assist in removing enemies from any direction on the screen. I also found that Hiryu has two reliable techniques that are game-changers: a sliding move that gets him in tight areas, and a cartwheel move that allows you to glide from surface to surface while in a spinning wheel, making Hiryu unpredictable when he lands. Hiryu also can perform a vertical jump, hanging and squatting attacks with Falchion. Hiryu will also get some mission support from three battle robots: Dipodal Saucer, which fires lighting bolts wherever Hiryu swings Falchion; RoboPanther, which covers Hiryu from frontal attacks; and, Robot Hawk, which assists Hiryu by severely attacking airborne enemies. Apart from the usual powerups in hack-and-slash games, there’s also a powerup that increases Falchion’s power. The music is acceptable for each stage, matching its theme with a few standout tracks for the levels. As much as I love Strider, there are a few flaws. The challenge is on full display from the moment you hit start. In the options screen, you can add up to five lives for Hiryu, but you must frustratingly hunt down extra lives and score points to acquire the rest. You also have an obnoxious time limit for each stage; if you don’t clear a level in time, you’ll lose a life. I also found it frustrating that Hiryu can gain up to five life bars, but if he has a support partner, that can be taken away if he suffers too much damage. That makes his mission much more difficult unnecessarily at times. Strider is perfect for anyone who wants to act out their post-dystopian hero fantasies without fear of possible legal retribution. It’s an enduring classic that has transcended the hack-and-slash genre and made a name for itself in the fighting game community via the MvC series. If there was ever a time that I wish that Strider Hiryu was real and ready to kick a certain villainous country’s ass, that time is now. Hail, Hiryu-sama.
The Punisher makes good in digital crime cleanup
Before Marvel vs. Capcom became a relevant name to gamers, the companies collaborated on other games. Those games became essential classics to develop gamers who specialized in single-combat titles. In 1994, Capcom and Marvel brought a Final Fight-style game to the Genesis that starred comics’ most infamous anti-hero: Frank Castle aka The Punisher. The game follows the storyline of the classic Marvel comics series. Frank Castle, a decorated veteran Marine, was enjoying a day in the park with his family when they unwittingly became witnesses to a mob shooting. As a result, Castle and his family were massacred, him being the only survivor. Castle became determined to get payback by any means necessary. With fellow warrior Nick Fury (of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Castle begins his war on crime against mob boss Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin, who caused the death of his family and many other innocents. The game plays similarly to “Final Fight” and “Captain Commando.” You can choose to play as either Castle or Fury and can team up in multiplayer. You start off with the basics, progressing to combos and various weapons such as handguns, automatic rifles and katanas. There was liberal food and other power-ups such as cash, gold bars and diamonds that increased my score and restored health since the amount of enemies coming at me was nonstop. The graphics were pleasant enough, although they attempted to copy arcade cabinet-quality with little success. I will give Capcom credit for making the graphics comicbook-like. it was like reading an actual issue of the comics including captions “BLAM!” “KRAK” and “BOOM!” instead of playing a rushed paint job of a popular comic series video game. The music of each stage was also decent as Capcom’s sound team delivered, keeping things close to what the Punisher feels like. With the work Capcom put in, the attention to detail made me want to pick it up to play as a returning comic book fan who knew about Castle and Fury but wanted to learn more about the Kingpin and other Marvel villains such as Bushwhacker and Bonebreaker. The Punisher is the first successful paring of Capcom’s know-how with Marvel’s legendary vigilante who wastes no time dispensing his brand of justice on criminals. Playing through this isn’t exactly punishment.
In my vast inventory of interests, mafia movies are one that would make me curl up on a weekend afternoon with popcorn, drinks and other treats in hand. While I know that some famous mafia movies and television series are being developed into video games, Sega’s Yakuza series is already a perfect combination of action, adventure, and the mafia. I was thrilled to combine my love for the series with zombie elements in Yakuza: Dead Souls.
Set a year after the events in Yakuza 4, an unknown disease outbreak in the district of Kamurochō has affected its residents, turning them into zombies through bites. As a result, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force has been called in to assist with the slow and expanding quarantine. During this chaotic time, certain enemies of the Tojo clan have arisen to take advantage of Kamurochō’s suffering. The fate of Kamurochō and Japan rests in the hands of four men: Shun Akiyama, a loan shark trying to save his sick receptionist; Goro Majima, a feared yakuza and construction company owner who is fighting his own infection; Ryuji Goda, a disgraced yakuza and takoyaki chef whose clan has a tie to the outbreak; and, series protagonist Kiryu Kazuma, who runs a children’s orphanage and returns to Kamurochō when his adoptive daughter is kidnapped.
Dead Souls is an open-world game that combines action, adventure, and survival horror elements. The plot is one akin to samurai movies where there are four chapters with four parts for each character with the final chapter reserved for Kiryu. Controls for movement and the game camera are simple with the analog sticks. You will also be given “memos,” a list with special sections to teach you basics such as using weapons, evasion, and close quarter combat, which help when facing off against the legion of zombies. I appreciated the ability to level up each character’s attributes through use of soul points that upgrades abilities to carry more items, improve knowledge of zombies, weapons modifications and protective gear, and master advanced close quarter combat techniques.
As the game progresses, your current character will be assisted by three NPCs: Reiko Hasekawa, a researcher who offers information and rewards for completed tasks; Gary “Buster” Holmes, a firearms expert who helps the protagonists and their temporary companions with gun training; and, Renji Kamiyama, weapons seller and modifier of weapons and protective gear who can also be used as a pawnbroker to buy rare items.
I also appreciate the classification of various zombie enemies; that organization method can help you plan the appropriate strategy or simply avoid contact with them. While you’re running around Kamurochō, pay attention to the music. It’s one of Sega’s best soundtracks in the modern era and puts the Yakuza series among Sega’s go-to roster of great soundtracks.
The graphics are OK for the time when it released. It’s good for an open world game, though there’s room for improvement. Though, compared to other games at the time, Yakuza: Dead Souls doesn’t necessarily outshine the competition; it just merely competes. The only real problem I have with Dead Souls is the inclusion of scenarios where you must chase down people while fending off zombies. I know a yakuza got to make his money, but Sega was putting these characters in dangerous conditions without any protective gear, which is slightly unrealistic.
Dead Souls is great to play on a day off or slow weekend, though I would offer two pieces of advice: Do not play late at night, and do not play while COVID-19 is still around. It’s a nice attempt to mix multiple genres. I can say this with no doubt: Sega’s got a smash hit ready to secure all bags and show its competition why it does not pay to underestimate the Yakuza.
* Yakuza is the term given to transnational crime organizations based in Japan. They are also known as” boryokudan,” which the Japanese police advise for public media to use when covering yakuza-related stories. The yakuza also call themselves “ninkyo dantai,” or chivalrous groups.
* According to Japan’s National Police Agency as of 2020, there are at least 25,900 active yakuza members, despite rigid legislation aimed to combat yakuza involvement with the Japanese public. These members are accounted among the three major yakuza families: Yamaguchi-gumi, Somiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai.
* Yakuza groups have been known to operate in major U.S. cities and use Hawaii as a hub to conduct various legal and illegal enterprises.
If you’re a fighting game enthusiast like myself, you’re happy to see the community enjoying mainstream success now in the esports landscape. For many years, it was relegated to a fringe activity, something only nerds with nothing else better to do and a lack of hygiene were known for entertaining. Now, it’s all over the place and there’s money to be earned. But this is now a professional-grade enterprise and anime games are taking center stage. One of the best? Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax.
The game series that I lovingly refer to as that “all-star anime fighting game” is a blast to play. You choose from 19 playable and 30 assist characters from various anime series who team up in duos to fight each other. Even if you’re mildly into anime, there are some well-known stars of the medium and some obscure names that will make you do a little research. For instance, your favorite editor is an anime junkie and has seen or heard of most of the series with some standout selections that she’s personally watched: Oreimo, Boogiepop Phantom, The Devil is a Part-Timer and Toradora. There are others like Sword Art Online that are mainstream enough to draw in even the newest anime watcher.
So, how does it play? Much like you’d expect an anime game to play: Super floaty physics and off-the-wall attacks that feel like they do a ton of damage but probably don’t in terms of fighting games. The game feels good once you start playing, and like most games of the genre, there are levels to the play system. You can come in on the ground floor of fighting game knowledge and be able to play and then there’s competitive fighting game-level of play that requires intimate knowledge of the game’s systems. That range serves the game well as a draw for multiple groups and it’s a testament to Sega’s development prowess.
The voice acting, a major part of a project like this, must be top notch and it is. Because Sega garnered most of the animations’ voice actors, there’s a high level of consistency and gloss over the game’s audio. The backgrounds are also faithful to the different anime series, so expect to be wowed with the production values.
Overall, if you’re into anime enough to go to conventions regularly or just having a passing interest, Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a good buy. Yes, it’s got that “super anime” feel to it, but there’s a solid engine and mechanics wrapped up in an extremely gorgeous package that deserves to be played here. This fancy fan-service fighter is enough to make an otaku like myself sit up and take notice.