Tag Archives: Sega Genesis

Thunder Spirits Review

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Technosoft. Widely known as a tour de force on the Sega Genesis, they built a long running series of shoot ’em ups with Thunder Force. The original Thunder Force was exclusive to the Japanese market on several computers like the Sharp X1, and NEC PC 8801. But fast forward to the launch of Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse, and you’ll find its sequel present in the line up of titles. Thunder Force II combined the original game’s top down shooting, with horizontal side scrolling stages. It did well enough to spawn several sequels. Thunder Force III was one of the most popular of these. A game that did well enough to see an arcade version called Thunder Force AC. Thunder Force AC played almost like a director’s cut of sorts. It retained most of TF III’s best features, while replacing some of  the levels. It was later released on Sega’s Saturn console.

PROS: It’s Thunder Force III/AC. On the Super NES! With improved visuals!

CONS: Sound effects are weak. A couple of moments of slow down.

STRANGE: Naming conventions with some of the series’ titles.

But many don’t realize it was also released on the Super NES. And this version was retitled Thunder Spirits. Functionally it’s pretty much the same game as Thunder Force AC. Though it will undoubtedly be compared against the original Sega Genesis version. Much like Super R-Type though, Thunder Force AC/Spirits is again, a lot like a director’s cut. Like the original Sega Genesis version, you’ll be going through seven stages of hardcore shooting action. The first three stages are identical to three of the stages found in Thunder Force III. Most of the other stages are either altered, or completely new.

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One feature Thunder Spirits has lost in the translation from third game to arcade game, and back to console game is the stage select. In Thunder Force III, you can tackle the stages in the order of your choosing before heading off to the final leg of your journey. In Thunder Spirits, you’ll just quickly go from stage to stage in predetermined order. Another change is the number of continues, and how they work. In the original version you’ll be given several continues. When you’re out of lives, you’ll have a few more chances to redo the stage at hand. In Thunder Spirits you’re only given a mere three continues. However you’ll continue where you died, replicating the feel of the arcade cab it’s been ported from.

No matter which version you play however, you’re in for the kind of challenge that will make your palms sweat. Thunder Force games are of course shmups. So you’ll be assaulted from all sides at a constant pace. It isn’t a bullet hell shooter but it still has plenty of things for you to avoid crashing into while trying to blow away a multitude of enemy ships. In many ways it will remind you of R-Type. It moves along at a similar pace, save for a few moments where things intentionally go into warp speed.

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The warp speed moments often lead to maze sections where you quickly have to guess which path to take. Choosing the wrong one means you’re crashing in many instances which leads to a bit of trial, and error. But this sort of thing was also typical in the genre at the time, as you could find moments like this in the Gradius series for instance. Aside from these moments however, the game generally gives you enough advance a warning to avoid incoming projectiles. Still, you likely will have to memorize stages as you play through them in order to eventually beat them. It’s the sort of game where knowing when, and where enemies are about to strike is key.

Of course no shmup worth its salt is going to be fun unless it has cool power ups, and the Thunder Force series delivers them in spades. Thunder Spirits gives you a wide variety of them. You collect them by destroying certain enemies on any given level, then picking them up. You have stock lasers, but then there are a few different laser types from there. There are crescent-shaped lasers that do high damage at short-range. There are long-range laser beams that do medium damage at longer ranges. Another power up will send heat seekers above, and below you where they’ll follow along the floor or ceiling, destroying enemies. There are also the laser orbs. These will lock on to enemies, and go after them automatically. They’re not the most powerful of your beam attacks, but they do make many parts of the game easier to navigate.

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Rounding out the weapons are the satellites you can pick up, that surround your ship firing copies of your current weapon. You can also find temporary force fields, that allow you to take a couple of extra hits before you’re destroyed. Make no mistake, in any version of this one you’ll be destroyed. The Thunder Force games are all pretty tough. But once you begin to remember which obstacles come up at which time things ease. Also making things manageable is the ability to change which laser weapons you’re using on the fly. Over time you’ll learn what weapons work best on different enemies. Kind of like if your ship were Mega Man.

Thunder Spirits looks really cool too. The color palette is different from the one in Thunder Force III, and the HUD position is different. But by, and large it’s almost identical to what you would find on the Genesis. The new stages look awesome, and have a lot of really cool flair all their own. Unfortunately, some of this flair costs some performance. So expect to run into some slowdown against some mini bosses, and bosses. For whatever reason, the Super NES just takes a hit in these sections, resulting in a noticeable drop in frame rate. It doesn’t get to an unplayable level by any means. But things do slow way down.

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Beyond that however, the game seems to run fine in most other instances. Still, this will disappoint some players who have been used to playing Thunder Force III on the Genesis, and might be looking into this one. On the audio front the soundtrack here is outstanding, and can hang with the Genesis games. The fast paced songs are all here in that orchestral synth the Super NES is known for. The sound effects however, leave a lot to be desired. Explosions particularly are an issue. They have no real depth to them, and the boss deaths seem to go to a very fuzzy, low bit rate popping sound. The Super NES has always done much better in this regard in other games. So it is a bit disappointing.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away from the fun of the game.

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Overall, I’d still highly recommend Thunder Spirits though. While long time fans of the series might scoff at the idea of a TF III on the Super NES, it is in fact a terrific game. Even for those who may prefer the original cut on the Genesis, it is worth playing for the different stages, and updated ending. Likewise, if you have a Super NES, and a Genesis, playing TF III on the Genesis means experiencing a masterful shmup, and the parts of the game that Thunder Spirits replaced. Really, anybody who owns both 16-bit behemoths ought to check out both versions. For those who only have a Super NES in their collection, Thunder Spirits is still one of the best shmups on the console. It has everything you could want in a shmup. Great mechanics. Great visual design. A rocking soundtrack. Really the only things holding it back from perfection, are a handful of sub par sound effects, and some unfortunate slowdown. Still, it just goes to show how good Thunder Force games are. Even when they’re not at their best, they’re still some of the best shoot ’em up games you’ll ever play.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Bella 73 Quart Container Review

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No, your eyes do not deceive you. I’m going to talk about a plastic tub. But this is one of the best plastic tubs you can find. A plastic tub that can, and should be used for storing something it was probably never intended to store: Video game collections. Yes really. Read on, and see if it isn’t something you’ll want to look into.

PROS: Stores, many, many games whether on cartridge or optical media.

CONS: Plastic can be cracked if you don’t take proper care of it.

PERFECT: Dimensions for those of us low on space.

Let’s face it. Many of us who collect old games can build quite the collection. What starts out as the 15 NES Game Paks from your childhood, can easily balloon to 200-300 over the course of a few years. There are tag sales, flea markets, pawn shops, retro video game stores, thrift stores, internet dealers, and even conventions to attend. Before long, you have a huge stack of video games on the floor waiting to be catalogued, and placed somewhere ideal.

But for those of us with a small room to devote to our collection, or for those of us who live in a small dorm or apartment we have to be a bit more selective about what we pick up. More importantly, we have to get a bit creative about just how to store our games. Enter the Bella container.  This plastic tub was probably never intended for gaming, but it’s something you’ll probably want to pick up for yourself. Especially if you’re in a situation where space is an issue.

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The container is the perfect width, depth, and height for most cartridges, and it even works nicely for DVD cases, and jewel cases. It can also easily slide underneath a bed thanks to the wheels embedded in each corner. Or you can stack a few of them if you have a storage closet available to place them in. Over the last several months I’ve found they’ve been great for storing my NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, and loose 2600 games.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had to spend a big chunk of my time cleaning, and downsizing where possible. These have made that process a lot easier. My aforementioned libraries all exceed 100 games, and being able to fit them conveniently, and neatly is an impressive feat. These may also be something worth looking into if you’re a used games vendor who often sells product at conventions. The blend of low footprint, and large capacity might work wonders for your table.

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The only real issue with this tub is that they’re made of the same acrylic plastics most other storage containers are. This makes them lightweight, but it also means they can’t be slammed around. You’re not going to want to drop the thing carelessly when you’re reorganizing your room, as there’s a good chance you’ll crack the plastic. If you’re fairly gentle with your stuff you should be fine. But it is something to be aware of.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with them though. They can be found fairly affordably at Bed Bath & Beyond, although other retailers, and internet sites likely sell them as well. If you’ve got quite the Nintendo 64 collection, or you’ve come into a massive lot of Colecovision games. But now you have no idea how you’re going to store them, these plastic container bins may be the solution for you.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Pac-Attack Review

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Back at RetroWorld Expo I managed to snag up a number of Super NES, Atari 2600, and NES games for the collection. Among the mix of games was a Pac-Man game that I never saw once when it was new. Of course I grew up playing Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man, and Super Pac-Man during visits to the arcade as a little kid. The earliest games have been on pretty much everything. But by the early 90’s, Namco did try to put the character in some other genres. Pac-Man 2 was noted for blending puzzle elements with point, and click elements. Years later, the Pac-Man World series would put the yellow icon in platformers. But there in my pile was Pac-Attack, a game I heard about, but never experienced. Until now.

PROS: An excellent combination of block dropping, and route planning.

CONS: Difficulty settings can be manipulated to boost your score.

PASSWORDS: Mercifully short.

Released in 1993, Pac-Attack is actually a retooled version of one of Namco’s other games, Cosmo Gang; The Puzzle. The original game was released a year prior, exclusively to the Japanese market. So essentially what we end up with is the same game with all new sprites, and backgrounds. But don’t assume that Namco swapped out characters to dupe the rest of the world into buying a mediocre game. Pac-Attack is actually, a lot of fun, and probably would have done exceptionally well as an arcade machine too.

But this was not to be. That said, Namco did bring it over to the Super NES, Sega Genesis, and Sega Game Gear. Where a lot of us likely missed it since we were obsessed with home ports of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat,  or Sonic The Hedgehog, Super Mario World, or any other high-profile game of the time. But if you did have this one back in the day, you had a treat on your hands. And if you didn’t, but love discovering oldies you missed out on, you’ll probably want to read on.

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So what do you do in Pac-Attack? At a first glance, you’d swear it was just another Tetris clone. The idea is of course to clear lines for points. However, that isn’t the main goal. The blocks drop down in similar fashion, but you’ll find they aren’t arranged in Tetris shapes. They’re in different formations, and they’re composed of bricks, and ghosts. Your initial instinct might be to group all of the ghosts together, to create some super ghost rectangles. Like the blocks in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.

But this isn’t what you do at all. Eventually, you’ll get a Pac-Man block who of course, eats ghosts. But he will always travel whatever direction he faces. So you don’t want to group all of the ghosts together, as he won’t eat all of them this way. So you’ll actually want to create pathways with the ghosts, while simultaneously trying to create lines with the brick pieces that fall.

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The results are an addictive, and captivating puzzle game that you can easily sink hours into playing. Not only does the main objective of the game create an engrossing experience, eating ghosts fills a meter. When the meter gets filled, the fairy from Pac-Land shows up to clear up to eight rows worth of ghosts. This causes the blocks above them to fall, and if they create whole rows, you’ll get a huge point bonus.

But like any good arcade game, this one eases you in. In the early goings, the blocks will fall slowly. This allows you plenty of time to arrange the pieces how you want. The first few rounds you’ll get your rows of ghosts set up nicely. You’ll create rows of blocks pretty easily too. However, before long, the blocks will fall faster, and faster, until you can’t line things up anymore. Then like Tetris, things will stack to the top, and the game will end.

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As I said though, it’s executed so well, you can spend an entire day just trying to get your best possible score. But it doesn’t end there. Because Pac-Attack also has a second puzzle mode. This time there are 100 puzzles, each giving you only five attempts to have Pac-Man clear the board of ghosts. As with the main mode, the puzzles start out simple enough. But they quickly start throwing in some complexity. By around the tenth puzzle you’ll have to start predicting chain reactions at an almost Rube Goldberg level. Not to the degree of dominoes landing on dials just so, but there is a complexity there.

Fortunately you don’t have to solve all 100 puzzles in a single sitting. You do get to retry every time you fail, but you’ll also get a three character password. So it’s pretty easy to continue where you left off.  The one complaint I have with the game is that you start out with a bunch of points in advance should you choose to start the main mode on a higher difficulty setting. If you’re not the only one playing the game, this makes it easy to be cheap as you can get your name on the scoreboard just by doing so. Starting at zero, and listing the difficulty would have been a better solution for competitive roommates.

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But thankfully, this is mitigated with the inclusion of a versus mode. This is a two-player variation of the main game, where doing well will make things tougher for the other player, and vice-versa. A mechanic used in many head-to-head puzzle games, but it works well here. And this mode, like the main mode, is a lot of fun. Battles usually go quickly, but they’re a blast. Consider breaking out Pac-Attack when entertaining guests who come over for a party.

Overall, I’d say even if puzzle games aren’t your first choice when adding a title to your collection to consider this one. Pac-Attack is excellent. The base game may have origins in a different title, but Pac-Man almost seems born for it. It may not be as iconic as the maze games Pac-Man popularized. Nor as remembered as the third-person platformers he’s starred in since the original PlayStation was king of the hill. But Pac-Attack is easily one of the more attractive puzzle games to put in your rotation. And if you don’t have an old Super NES, Genesis, or Game Gear knocking around, it was in the Namco Museum compilation for the original Xbox, Gamecube, and PlayStation 2.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Retrobit Retro Gen Adapter Review

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As those of us who buy, and play a lot of old games eventually discover, old consoles take up space. Sometimes old consoles wear out for good, and there are all kinds of third-party clone systems these days. But this week, and next week I’m looking at a couple of items that are more recent, having only been out a couple of years. Retrobit, makers of the Retro-Duo, have made retro game adapters for the Super NES. One that runs Sega Genesis/Mega Drive games, and one that runs Game Boy Advance games. This time I’m focusing on the Sega Genesis adapter.

PROS: Pretty great Sega Genesis/Mega Drive clone. Space saver!

CONS: Setup is a bit of a pain.

REGION FREE: Thanks to a handy switch.

As I said earlier, one of the pains with collecting old games is that there are a bunch of great consoles, and computers to pick up. Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Commodore, Coleco, Milton Bradley, you name it. There are a ton of them, and everyone has only so much space. Even if you’re extremely wealthy, you can still fill up that mansion pretty quickly.

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Another issue is when your Sega Genesis dies. Do you invest in an original one?, The CDX? A model 3? Or do you go with a clone? Newcomers to the hobby may ask similar questions? When it comes to the clones, times haven’t been as kind to the Genesis. The AtGames 80 in 1 models have been notorious for bad sound emulation. That system lets you use cartridges too, but many people question the quality of the build. Those same people may also question the build of the Yobo clone. There’s a pretty good store in my area that gets them in from time to time, and I have to say it’s certainly one of the more brittle clone units I’ve tried. Though at least it works better than the AtGames model.

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But Retrobit brings us something different. An adapter cartridge. That you can plug into your Super NES. You can then stack your Sega Genesis cartridges on top of it, and then viola! You’re playing Sega Genesis games on your Super Nintendo! Except not really. You see the term “adapter”, is a bit of a misnomer in this case. Because your Super NES isn’t really running the game at all. The Retro Gen adapter isn’t really an adapter. It’s a full-fledged Sega Genesis clone console. But with no controller ports, or power supply. Basically the system is designed to use the electricity from your Super NES.

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The drawback to all of this is that even though you save a big chunk of space by not having a Sega Genesis sitting in your entertainment center, you still need to take up a separate line of composite ports on your TV. Now if you only have a couple of old systems it isn’t that big a deal. You plug the RCA composite cables included with the system, into your TV, or RCA switch box, and call it a day. But if you’re like me, and have accrued more consoles than you have ports on the TV or RCA switch box, you’re going to have to swap something. This can be very annoying, especially if you tend to go back, and forth between old platforms frequently. So make sure you have a sizable switch box if you have more than a handful of old game systems.

Fortunately, there are a lot of  things to like about the Retro Gen. Hardware emulation is very good. The sound is substantially better than any of the other clones I’ve tried. It isn’t quite as good as running an actual Sega Genesis. But it’s close enough that all but the most critical Sega fan would mind. Picture quality is also very close to what you might find running on a Sega Genesis. It’s very good. I put the Retro Gen through the paces playing Golden Axe on it. I was very pleased with just how close it came to playing on an actual Genesis.

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Another thing that is nice is it works using your existing Super NES controllers. If you’re a purist, you can try to track down a port converter so you can use Sega Genesis pads. But the Super NES controllers work great. If you’re coming into it as someone who does not yet own a Sega Genesis, but you want to buy a few Sega games, this is cool because you don’t have to invest in added controllers.

The build quality is also really good. It is nice, and sturdy. The Retro Gen looks, and feels like a Super NES launch cartridge. Except it’s painted black, rather than gray. It stays pretty sturdy when playing, it doesn’t wobble any worse than Nintendo’s own Super Game Boy does. Which is great news to anyone who is going to pour a lot of hours into any of their favorite Sega cartridges.

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But the best part of all of this is the region switch along the side of the system. This gives the Retro Gen a leg up over a multitude of competing clones, and even the original version of the console. You can play imports without having to do anything to the system. Switch to the appropriate region, and the cartridge will think it’s being played on that region’s version of the Genesis. This makes the Retro Gen a must own, if you love to buy games that weren’t originally sold in your area.

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Overall, I highly recommend the Retro Gen. Even if the requirement of extra composite cable inputs on your TV, or switch box is a major inconvenience. The region switch, is a Godsend for importing. The fact that the audio, visual, and build quality is much better than some of the better known clones is also a huge plus. If you don’t already have a Sega Genesis, and you can deal with its one major caveat, give the Retro Gen a go.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Spiritual Warfare Review

You probably know all about Wisdom Tree by now. An unlicensed publisher called Color Dreams changed its focus from making typical games into religious edutainment. In some cases, under its new badge, Wisdom Tree simply reskinned its Color Dreams games. Many of them panned as being badly made, while a lot of others were merely competent.  In other cases they were original titles ranging from bad to passable. But there was one game that was a stand out.

PROS: A Zelda clone with Christian overtones that actually fit its premise.

CONS: Biblical trivia interrupts the flow.

OKELY DOKELY: This game could be a Ned Flanders sight gag at times.

Spiritual Warfare is a stand out in the Wisdom Tree roster of games. It’s the lone attempt at an action RPG, and it borrows liberally from Nintendo’s flagship Zelda series. From the starting position, it’s patently obvious that it is going to. In Zelda walking into a cave introduces you to an old man who gives you a sword. In this game, you’ll find an angel in a building who gives you a pear. Shortly thereafter you’ll find canisters that work the way the bombs in Zelda do. Just like Zelda, you’ll scroll through an overhead perspective taking on enemies, and pushing objects to find secrets. There is a pretty key difference in the overall goal though. In Spiritual Warfare you’re going on a quest to find physical representations of allegorical pieces of armor. Why? Because you’re also going on a quest to save souls, and kill the Devil in the process.

The game starts you out in a park filled with criminals, and bullies. After getting your pear you’ll be able to defend yourself by throwing fruit at them. Throughout the game you’ll find other fruits of the spirit. Tossing them at enemies doesn’t kill them. Instead, it causes them to repent from their ways, and pray to God. Some of these people are actually possessed, and so this process will cast out a demon. You have to then kill the demon with the fruit of the spirit. Throughout the game the areas become more diverse. You’ll go through a metropolis, a section of suburbs, the slums, an airport, a forest, a beach, a prison, and Hell itself. All the while saving souls, and trying to survive.

Along that process you’re going to find extra heart containers to expand your life, and other items. There are also storefronts run by angels who sell you other fruits, or power ups with a currency called spirit points. How do you get spirit points? The enemies whose hearts you’ve changed will drop them. You’ll need to have them on hand for many of the game’s power ups, and even some of the pieces of spiritual armor. You can also use them to restore health by going under the inventory screen, and selecting the praying hands. You can also gain spirit points by answering biblical trivia questions. Every so often you’ll see an angel fly around the area you’re in. If they touch you you’re taken into a game show setting where you’ll be asked random questions about the bible. This is where the game is a little bit flawed. Because instead of working this information into the actual game world, it takes you out of the game to take these quizzes.

The problem isn’t that there is bible trivia. The game is a Christian focused game. One would expect any edutainment title to have some sort of educational aspect of the subject matter to be there. In this case Christianity. The thing is, it would have been much more effective to have these moments come out in the gameplay somehow. Meeting an important character, who quotes a line of scripture that can be applied to that moment in the game whenever running into them would be more effective. Instead, this just takes you out of the game, and feels like homework given to you by a religious educator. Plus if you ignore the angel, you won’t have to take the quiz. So it defeats the purpose of having them there. The only time you might want to take the quiz is if you are low on health or spirit points. Because if you ace it with a perfect score your health will replenish, and you’ll get a decent number of points.Toward the end of the game, you may find yourself taking quizzes more as enemies begin getting quite difficult, and your energy tank equivalents running low. But instead of feeling invited to learn more about the bible you end up feeling forced. Which can make a player feel more resentment than welcome.

Thankfully the core gameplay is good enough here you may want to try it out anyway. The game controls well enough, and there are a lot of surprisingly well thought out puzzles. Boss fights are surprisingly good too. Many of them are more than a simple act of shooting fruit. Many require pattern memorization, dexterity, or puzzle solving skills. Many of the pieces of armor are guarded by bosses too. The boss rooms also require keys you can find throughout the game. The keys also open up secret areas locked away in buildings or other areas that have highly needed items inside.

When you finally do find your way to Hell, you’ll find one of the most challenging dungeons you’ll likely ever play. Newer, monstrous enemies appear, and take a lot more damage to go down. Other times the game will throw waves of low-level grunts at you in these areas relentlessly. The dungeon also has a door maze element to it, as you continually end up going back, and forth through floors. This culminates with a showdown against the Devil himself.

Spiritual Warfare also has a password system like the one found in Metroid. The game has one major flaw in it though, some of the passwords will easily be written down wrong due to the fact that some of the characters are so similar. You can get through large chunks of the game, only to jot down a single character wrong, and have to restart the entire game. So be especially careful when writing these down. Spiritual Warfare isn’t an exhaustively long game, but it does have a duration that most won’t complete in a single sitting. Though there are speed runners of the game who have managed to blast through it in 20 minutes or less.

The game was initially an NES game, but it did make its way over to the Game Boy, Genesis, and computers as well. It isn’t as rare as some of Wisdom Tree’s other bible games. But it is still uncommon, and fetches a bit more than typical NES Game Paks these days. Still, if you’re a collector, or a Zelda fan you might want to check it out. If you’re not terribly religious you can skip the quiz portions, and if you are you can probably ace them to your benefit. Either way, you’ll probably get a laugh out of seeing the Devil go down from a pear to the face. Not bad for something that could pass for a Ned Flanders sight gag on The Simpsons.

Final Score: 8 out of 10