Thursday, June 26, 2014

The ABCs of Sega CD #1: The Adventures of Batman and Robin

The Adventures of Batman and Robin
Developer: Clockwork Tortoise
Publisher: Sega
Release Year: 1995

It’s apropos that the first game we’re delving into embodies the missed opportunities that characterized the Sega CD’s short run.

On the plus side, the Adventures of Batman and Robin nails the unique “dark deco” atmosphere of the seminal cartoon of the same name, from the graphics to the animated sequences between levels. Even the stylized font is the same.

I am vengeance! I am the night!
A lot of talent went into this game. The cutscenes were penned by and directed by Batman: The Animated Series veterans Paul Dini and Bruce Timm respectively, and the original voice cast, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, reprised their roles. I’m no producer, nor do I know much about budgets (nor do I own a wallet), but I think that’s where the majority of this game’s finances went.

With no television censors to worry about, the animation is a lot more brutal than the show. For example, in an early scene, Batman hacks Poison Ivy’s plant-based henchman with an ax, and “chlorophyll” spatters on walls. Later, the Riddler takes an electric shock that could kill a man.

The Bat STABBED him, and he DIED.

The music is a far cry from Shirley Walker’s orchestrated fare from the show, but it’s exciting enough and appropriate for the action.

Unfortunately, these cutscenes, the game’s greatest strength, serve to make the rest of the experience that much more dull. Sans the magic of Dini, Timm, and the familiar gallery of rogues in the cutscenes, there’s absolutely nothing about this title that couldn’t have been done on stock Genesis.

Let’s get the game’s most unforgivable sin out of the way: Not once do we control the Dark Knight or even the Boy Wonder outside of the Batmobile or the Batwing. I suppose it’s understandable because Batman is so well known for his driving skills, not his martial arts and detective skills. OH WAIT.

What's in the trucks? Crappy gameplay.
It’s a fundamental flaw that dragged this title to bargain bin hell – I got this game new at Toys ‘R’ Us for $10 about six months after it hit the shelves.

The game begins with Bats hopping in the Batmobile and riding off to save Robin from the clutches of Poison Ivy. Immediately, players must avoid every citizen in Gotham City out for a Sunday drive at 3 a.m. (Maybe it’s Black Friday?) For a game that should be all about speed, forcing players to drive carefully starts things off on the wrong batboot. It never recovers.

Then Poison Ivy’s goons show up. Nothing says “Batman” like dodging an endless stream of giant pumpkins, trees growing in the middle of the road, and pissed off bushes. You could try to avoid them, but that’s pretty difficult. Your other choice is to try to take them out with your weak mini-missiles and a handful of confusing, useless special weapons.

Hey, Batman! Make like a tree and NEVER GET OUT OF THE BATMOBILE.

On leather wings?
And that’s all you do. You drive, you fly, and it takes forever to beat down the bad guys. I’d describe the gameplay more, but there’s hardly anything to talk about. All the backgrounds look the same until the Riddler traps Batman in an arcade game and then the Joker forces him to drive though some kind of bizarre zoo with joker-smilin’ animals, but then it’s back to the same ol’ Gotham City.

All I want in a Batman game is to, you know, play as Batman. Sega CD owners had that chance with Batman Returns, but the Batman: The Animated Series license deserved much better.  My advice is to level skip your way through this bat bomb and enjoy the animation. (Code: B, A, down, B, A, down, left, up, C when paused. “Bad, bad luck?” I think not!)

Will Batman drive himself crazy? Will Clayface speed to an early demise? Or will the Joker get the last laugh? You won’t want to tune in long enough to find out.

That's not funny. That's not...

See you next time, same bat blog, same bat console, but a new bat game: The Adventures of Willy Beamish!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Welcome to the next level?

“You still don’t own a Sega CD? What are you waiting for, Nintendo to make one?”
-          Sega CD commercial

I received my Sega Genesis in 1992, about a year after my Super Nintendo. Although the SNES was technically superior and a role playing gamer’s dream, the Genesis had soul. I found myself thinking that if only the Genesis had just a little more power, it could do more than just hang with the Nintendo juggernaut.  

The big blue Sega CD box under my family’s Christmas tree in 1993 represented potential and the promise of quality, courtesy of the House of Sonic.

The tech specs were good. The CD format offered at least 650 megabytes of storage space – hundreds of times more than Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo cartridge games. The quality of music was limited only by the game maker’s imaginations, and video – though not quite VHS quality – could be integrated into the experience. And the Genesis’s color pallet was expanded.

But as time passed, it became evident that there wasn’t much to get excited about with the Sega CD (at least on North American and European shores). The technical aspects of the system were promising, but game makers, including the mighty Sega itself, had no idea what to do with all that space. Third parties looking to make a quick buck habitually released “enhanced” versions of cartridge games with CD music.

Sadly, the full motion video titles the SGCD was best known for, like Ground Zero Texas, Corpse Killer, and the infamous Night Trap are some of the best examples of what the system might have been capable of. Full Motion Video (FMV) games were plentiful, hardly interactive, and a stigma the system was never able to shake.

Sonic CD, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, Snatcher – some of the strongest titles of the ‘90s, and all were exclusive to the Sega CD. But for each of these successes, there were 10 lazily produced clunkers. And with only some 150 titles on released in North America, the system couldn’t afford so much junk weighing it down.

A price tag that even the stoutest Sega devotees scoffed at, a dearth of triple A titles, and FMV shovelware lead to the system’s quite demise about four years after its debut, an early death when compared to the near-decade the Sega Genesis graced gamer’s dreams. With the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation already on store shelves, both of which could produce 3D games, suddenly the Sega CD’s FMV was obsolete at best, and embarrassing at worst. The Sega CD went out with a whimper.

I moved on to the PlayStation and the Saturn, but sometimes I would ponder that ol’ Sega CD sitting on my shelf next to them.

It’s silly I guess, but 20 years after that Christmas, I still believe in the Sega CD’s potential. It was mishandled, but I see glimmers of greatness in its library. Maybe if some of those glimmers had been multiplied, the Sega CD might have been a titan like the Genesis, not just a footnote of gaming history and the beginning of the end of public good will for Sega.

With that in mind, I intend to review every North American Sega CD game, looking for that greatness. See you next time with The Adventures of Batman and Robin!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A very detailed review of "Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster"

Final Fantasy X:

Final Fantasy X-2

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Tribute to Hugo, World's Greatest Street Fighter

In case you were wondering, Hugo is the best character in the newly released Ultra Street Fighter IV. In fact, he is the strongest character in every one-on-one fighting game he's ever blessed with his massive frame and wild, potentially delicious hair. (He's also quite the ladies man, as detailed in his heartwarming, face-smashing bio, "Hammer Mountain" by author I.M. Nembre-Juan.)

Hugo grinds his foe's bones into shoto Jell-o not because of his inhuman size or his sweet pink leotard, though these are obviously boons to his cause. No, he's the winningest due to three DEADLY moves:




It's as easy as eins zwei drei.

He is also really, REALLY into potatoes, a fact that has taken nearly 20 years to unearth, and will take nearly as long to try to forget.

With the three DEADLY moves and potatoes, I predict a Hugo sweep the upcoming EVO tournament, culminating in Daigo vs. PR Balrog. They'll both be using Hugo and neither will be able to win, resulting in the first-ever EVO tie. EVO Moment 9001 will just be eight hours of draw games, with both competitors becoming increasingly distraught, until they both fall asleep simultaneously. 

Congratulations, Hugo. I knew you were the big potato all along.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Back in the Ring with Ultra Street Fighter IV

After countless teases and trolls for nearly a year, Ultra Street Fighter IV is finally upon us.

Ultra is the fourth revision of Street Fighter IV since the series first dropped in 2008, revitalizing the fighting game genre much like Street Fighter II did for U.S. arcades in 1991.
Rolento reminds me a little of D. Dark from Street Fighter EX...
If you moved on from SFIV a few years ago and are wondering why anyone cares about this upgrade, just move along. The game’s new competitors, modes, and stages probably aren't enough to get you excited.

But for anyone else who’s remotely interested in Street Fighter, pick this up. Thankfully, Ultra is a more robust update than Arcade Edition was. It provides enough content to keep warriors like you seeking Street Fighter nirvana.

About half of the copied-and-pasted backgrounds from Street Fighter x Tekken feel out of place in the main SF universe, but the five additional characters – Final Fight’s Hugo, Rolento, and the ever-ambiguous Poison; along with Street Fighter III’s perky Elena and the “new” character Decapre – fit right in.

Despite her essentially being Cammy with a mask, Decapre is different enough from her “sister” to be fun to play. It would have been nice if her normals were more distinct, however.

Decapre's standing hard punch. She's been taking lessons from Claw (Vega), apparently.

Elena’s jumps are high and floaty, sometimes making it difficult to judge jump-in distance. But other than that, she plays a lot like her SFIII iterations, which is a good thing.

Ever wish Street Fighter IV had a larger, more German Zangief? Well, now it does! I doubt Hugo was at the top of anyone’s SF4 wish list, but he’s about as much fun to play as any other grappler. Just don’t expect to win any major tournaments with him.


Likewise, Poison isn’t going to be tearing up any tier lists, but she offers fresh and stylish rushdown play that’s more worth your time than, say, yet another shoto like Ryu, Akuma, Evil Ryu, and even eviler Akuma (AKA Oni).

Rolento is as good as he ever was in the Alpha series, feeling like a cross between a rekka character (think Fei Long) and Vega, thanks to his long reach. And his first alternate costume, unlocked if you have Street Fighter x Tekken data on your system, is hilarious. I guess he had to make money somehow after the collapse of Mad Gear.

And just to get this out of the way: The Udon “alternate 2” costumes are horrendous. Hire someone else next time around, Capcom.

The new balance tweeks (seemingly) bring most fighters closer to middle tier, but it’s going to take a few months for that to be determined.

For now, just pay your $15 bucks (or $40 for the retail disc, out August 5) and get back in the ring. 

Glad those dinos aren't hungry.