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.
Daytona USA and Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition – Sega, 1995 and 1996
MATT: Drunken Japanese men doing karaoke is sort of like scratching off an expensive lottery ticket: You know you’re going to be disappointed, but some part of you keeps hoping you’ll strike it rich, either with cash or, in the case karaoke, hilarity. Daytona USA inexplicably opts for a soundtrack chock-full of intoxicated Asians stumbling their way through peculiar, racing-themed tunes in the English language. Even though this was the poorest offering in Sega’s “3 Free Games” promotion – which also came with Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop – Daytona USA kinda, sorta makes up for it with heart. As the player speeds along the first course, a voice booms over the droning of the engine: “Rolling staaaat! ROLLING STAAAAT!” And that’s when you know Daytona USA isn’t your average draw-in laden, pop-up heavy generic racer running at seven frames per second. It’s a draw-in laden, pop-up heavy generic racer with a karaoke mode! Once I asked my brother to race while I sang along with the help of karaoke mode’s subtitles. It was sort of a bonding experience for Ian and I, like when two people are abused by the same uncle, or when they witness the same murder. The Championship Circuit Edition cleans up the graphics a bit and offers new tracks and cars, and I think the control is better too. It’s categorically superior, except in one way: Sega ditched the karaoke songs, striping CCE of any sense of series identity in the process. 5/10.
JAMES: Playing an old sports game can sometimes be a lot of nostalgic fun. For me, popping in an old baseball game is a blast. Seeing all the old players, the stats, uniforms, ballparks, etc. more than makes up for the fact that the game is utterly inferior to modern sports titles. Playing an old racing game has none of that charm. I don’t play racers and the only one I ever really enjoyed was Burnout 2 – I liked crashing cars in slo-mo basically. This game has crashing cars, but no slo-mo. It’s a basic racer but a few major flaws spell its doom. Obstacles are constantly rendering a car’s length in front of your face, the handling is like you’re on ice, and you crash literally every time you attempt sharp turns. The music is catchy but ANY TIME you collide with a wall, a voiceover will say “Go easy on the car!” For those familiar with the Angry Video Game Nerd, this will no doubt spark the same thought in your head as it did in mine: “Where did you learn to fly?” Ugh. The best part of the game was finishing in 29th place out of 30 and hearing the announcer say “You Finished…29th…” His sentence started with enthusiasm and joy only to end with sorrow and pity. Doing that poorly in a video game is a lot like erectile dysfunction. You swear it never happened to you before, or sometimes you had a hard day at work, sometimes you had too much to drink. It can happen to anybody really. And that is pretty much how I feel about this offering: it’s a limp noodle. 4/10.
Robotica – Micronet (developer), Acclaim (publisher), 1995
MATT: The mid ‘90s. Deep in the bowels of Micronet, a meeting takes place.
DEV1: We need to make some kinda vidya game soon as we can. Acclaim is running out of NBA Jam sequels to terrorize the market with, and they’re threatenin’ to take away our wireless NES controllers if we don’t churn somethin’ out right quick.
DEV 2: Oh dear Lord, those work from up to 30 feet away! …wait, I’ve got it! You know what was great? DooM! Let’s make DooM. But for the Saturn this time.
DEV 1: Yeah, and let’s add some dang robots! And make it look bland as a cat’s rear!
DEV 2: Great idea! Every room will be indistinguishable from the last, and we can force the player to backtrack for hours to find the fiendishly concealed exit. Only by the sweet graces of Jesus Christ and the Steve Miller Band will they find their way to the next stage.
DEV3: Also boobs.
DEV1 and 2: Wait, what?
DEV3: Add electro-boobs and call it “Robotica.”
And so it came to pass that Robotica was born, albeit without breasts of any kind. Also it came to pass that the world forgot about Robotica’s poor controls, bargain bin plot, and torturous, maze-like levels almost as soon as the game hit retail shelves. 3/10.
*Note: Robotica is also the name of the current day academic journal of the International Federation of Robotics. It’s published by Cambridge University Press and, like the Saturn game, it does not contain metallic nudity of any kind.
JAMES: I’m sorry Matt, you said plot? You know damn well no such thing existed in that game. Look, there really isn’t a freakin’ thing to say about this game. It left no impression on me whatsoever. I feel about it much the same way I feel about The Trials at Nuremberg. It happened, but the effect on me was negligible. The enemies were nondescript, it was hard to contro,l and I never had a clue where I was or what I was doing. I didn’t hate it because I’m so accustomed to the trappings of FPS. Much like a beating from a parent, the pain was familiar and not wholly unexpected. It’s a 4/10, but only because I can play any FPS and be mildly entertained.
Last Bronx – Sega, 1997
MATT: Something can be said for simplicity. Last Bronx lived and died by that principle, delivering a fresh take on the “punch, kick, guard” control scheme first-party Saturn fighting titles were legally obligated to utilize. A 2D game in a 3D body, Last Bronx scores a knock-out hammer blow to the head with its pick-up-and-play style, jazzy tunes, and funky character designs. For example: Nagi, boss of the Dogma Gang and Android 18 cosplayer, is also known as The Raving Lesbian. Ha! How utterly not homophobic and endearing of you, Sega. Nagi’s the perfect complement to Harry the Homosexual Hunter from Fighting Vipers 3: The Prisoner of Ura Bahn*, but alas, they would never meet. Also, Last Bronx is set in Tokyo. There must be a Little Bronx there, kinda like how Manhattan has Chinatown. Anyway, seasoned fighting gamers (read: snobs) might see this as a poor man’s Virtua Fighter 2/Fighting Vipers, but sometimes minimalism wins out over, uh, Virtua Fighter. Don’t think too hard and you’ll have a blast with this game, alone or with a friend. In the end the naysayers are proven right: This particular well ain’t the deepest, so Last Bronx will likely run dry of fun in about a week. But what a week it’ll be. 8/10.
*Denis Miller called. He wants his esotericism back.
JAMES: I played this. I beat the arcade ladder. So why can’t I remember a damn thing about it? Oh I remember now, because it’s the fifth time I’ve played this exact same game! Maybe it’s my modern sensibilities, but this felt nearly indistinguishable from Fighting Vipers, Virtua Fighter, or any of the other Sega 3D fighters covered previously. Matt loves fighting games the way other people love their children, so I appreciate that HE gets the nuances. But I just find these really interchangeable. To be fair, the control was smoother and the hit detection was a lot better. I played as a man with a giant mallet which is pretty badass, and fought people – not a single one of which can I recall. Playing against Matt was a lot of fun but playing Matt in any fighter is fun, so take that with a grain of salt I suppose. If you like the formula you’ll like this, but to me it doesn’t feel special. The only game of this family that sticks out even a tad is Fighting Vipers. There’s nothing wrong with this game per se, but unless you’re a fighting game aficionado, I would just play Street Fighter III or something. If you can get it super cheap and you love fighters, might be worth your time. 6/10.