Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sega Saturn Chronicles #2: Creatures, Cops, and Kombatants

Two men. One unappreciated console. These are the Sega Saturn Chronicles.

MATT is 32 years old, and has owned a Saturn since December 1996. JAMES is 22 years old, and acquired his Saturn in February 2015.

Virtua Cop – Sega, 1995

MATT: I praised this game for its realism back in the ‘90s, but though an adult’s eyes, the inaccuracies become glaringly obvious. For example, in Virtua Cop, the police shoot everyone first and ask questions later, whereas in real life, this seems to only be true of unarmed minorities/kids brandishing Twinkies. Also, I love Sega’s responsive and accurate “Stunner” light gun peripheral, but it’s made of bright orange plastic. Of course in real life, cops use pink and blue guns, a la Time Crisis. (My brother once referred to the orange Stunner as a “Ronald McDonald gun,” a description that is both shockingly accurate and slightly erotic.)  In terms of gameplay, Virtua Cop delivers a more controlled experience than literally every other on-rails shooter I’ve ever played, rewarding players for accuracy and restraint over spraying bullets across the screen like some kind of over-caffeinated Rambo. Oddly, Virtua Cop offers similar bonuses for shooting a criminal in the hand so he can be rehabilitated (source: game manual) and shooting a criminal three times before he collapses, so it makes more holes for the justice to seep in. An excellent game with the Stunner, and a stunning failure with the gamepad, it’s a minor tragedy that you need a tube TV for the light gun to work properly. Great fun that doesn’t get stale with repeated playthroughs. 8/10.

The main characters from Virtua Cop.
JAMES: My father, a teacher, had many summer jobs when I was a young lad, and one was the manager of a local movie theater that had recently opened. Among the many perks were free movies – I saw The Rugrats Movie five times a day, every day; posters and film reels were "misplaced" into my Dad's office; and most importantly, Dad had the key that would open up the arcade cabinets. This was after arcades were more than half way through their slow, torturous death, so the selection was limited to say the least. However, this arcade did have one particularly kickass title: Time Crisis 2. Dad would pop it open, give me the credit equivalent of 67 billion quarters, and let me at it. In retrospect, keeping me around the theater all day was a lot cheaper than paying for actual child care. Good call, Dad. Anyway, I got really good at Time Crisis 2 for a child, to the point where I didn't need the eleventy billion credits to beat the game anymore. Seasons change and I never really played that game again after that summer. But man, Time Crisis 2 was amazing. Virtua Cop is the poorest man's version of it. Don't get me wrong, it’s pretty fun, but just not what my nostalgically enhanced perception of what on-rails shooters should be. The gun is a little heavy, the aiming is a little clunky (to be fair, this was played on a TV in 2015 and probably not optimized for light gun usage) and the difficulty is a bit steep. On the plus side, colors are bright and the presentation is sharp for the time, and polygonal/graphically speaking, it ALMOST looks like a beta of an early N64 game if you squint, which is a good thing in my book. Honestly, I had a blast for the first five minutes but eventually the fact that I wasn't playing TC2 seeped in, and my arm got hella tired. The experience sagged and I shut it off after beating the first stage. But as Matt pointed out, it’s the failiest game ever with the controller, so at least I wasn't confined to that version. Probably better with a friend and two guns, likely a lot better in 1995, and most certainly better to somebody who isn't spoiled by memories of boyhood glory in a theater arcade. My personal bias aside, 6.5/10.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 – Williams, 1996

MATT: The Saturn version of UMK3 a good-looking port of the arcade game and nothing more, meaning it’s missing the SNES/Genesis console-exclusive characters like Ermac and Rain, and enough other palette swapped ninjas to start some kind of murderous Dave Matthews tribute band. It’s also obviously based on the PS1 release of normal MK3, as it uses the same bizarre, cube-based menu system – the programmers didn’t even bother to add “Ultimate” to the existing MK3 logo! Another example is that features removed during the arcade transition from MK3 to UMK3 found their way into this version, such as a few backgrounds and Noob Saibot appearing as a shadow Kano instead of a shadow ninja, which I guess adds a bit of variety. Or something. Anyway, I’ve been playing this game for years, and I still haven’t bothered to learn all but a handful of the special moves, and nary a single fatality. Meh, it’s good for a few rounds against a friend. Or you could just play MK Trilogy. Whatever. 6/10.

JAMES: I love UMK3. I know it’s not ACTUALLY good but I don't care. I think about it much in the same way I do the film Commando: I appreciate the cheese and embrace the bloodshed with glee! This is probably the best home port in my opinion, and it looks quite good. It’s your standard MK stuff, nothing more or less than you'd expect. Multiplayer is the strongest offering this game has, unless you really adore Shao Kahn so much you want to fight him as the final boss for the THIRD GAME IN A ROW. My guess is Ed Boon was too focused on teasing out his massive eyebrows to design a new end baddie. If you like ninjas, play the Genesis version. If you like Sheeva (who was removed from other home ports) then this is for you. Matt is also pretty crap at this game and I'm decent at it so I love it EVEN MORE.  Pro-tip: if you wanna beat Matt, just let him jump in and then uppercut his ass. It’s worked for years and even after publicly telling him this strategy, it will continue to work. 8.5/10 with friends, 6/10 solo.

MATT: I’m well aware of the uppercut strategy, but I can’t stop jumping in. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Like a moth to the flame, a child to candy, or James to sweet, sweet pornography.

Night Warriors: Darkstakers’ Revenge – Capcom, 1996

MATT: Capcom fighting games were like crack to young Matt. I had to have every super turbo alpha omega version of Street Fighter; Rival Schools was less of a game and more of a religion to me; and the Capcom Vs. games gave me a whole new appreciation for characters like Spider-Man, Captain Commando, and the metal-clad, fire spewing variation of Zangief that I guess was supposed to mimic Colossus. The Darkstalkers series was no different, and I played the living hell out of Night Warriors on the Saturn. Fluid graphics, a deep-but-simple combo system, and plenty of classic horror icons make this the closest we’ll ever get to a Universal Monsters fighting game. Unfortunately, replaying Night Warriors reminded me of its worst flaw: Only about four of the 14 characters are any fun to use. (But what’s the point of playing as anyone but Felicia anyway?) It’s not exactly the easiest fighting game to pick up and play, but if you stick with it for a few hours, you’ll be rewarded. Thumbs way up. 9/10.

James: I'm sure in Japan the mixing of "cheesecake" with please-don't-sue-us-Universal Monster rip-offs makes sense. In my world though, it’s just perplexing. But like peanut butter and jelly, this combination is a big hit. The theme as it were actually makes for a fresh and interesting looking game with some detailed and colorful sprites and backgrounds. The Capcom style is felt strongly in the combo system and movement, and the fact that nobody is throwing hadoukens is actually a nice change of pace. I wouldn't say this is among my top 10 fighting games out there, but i could see myself firing this up over a lot of other titles. Any game where a Dracula dude fights a Mexican Robot (note to self, make movie called Dracula Dude fights a Mexican Robot) is worth a looksie. If you can get past the unrelenting sexuality and general weirdness, this a title worth your time. If ever there was a Capcom game I found it easy to pleasure myself to, this would be it... which I suppose is a good thing? 7.5/10

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