Friday, March 13, 2015

Sega Saturn Chronicles #4: Fighter Frenzy

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.

Battle Monsters – Scarab (developer), Acclaim (publisher), 1995

MATT: What can be said of a high profile, triple-A title like Battle Monsters that hasn’t been already? A clear masterpiece of the live action shortbus tournament fighter genre, Battle Monsters delivers the very best in dual clown technology via hive-minded ex-cons/John Wayne Gacy enthusiasts Chili and Pepper. The game is also known for making great strides in bridging the decapitated pharaoh and emo Frankenstein communities through the endearing friendship of Headless Harn and everybody’s favorite golem, Deathmask. Gameplay is simple, with a scant four jump buttons, a button that occasionally does punches, a kick, and another button that is only used in some special move notations. Multitiered arenas fuel Battle Monsters’ unique, refreshing gameplay. As a result, never does the player lose sight of opponents as the camera shoots into the stratosphere to accommodate the restraining order-style distances fighters get from each other. Intuitive controls, enduring characters, and a totally reasonable difficulty curve make Battle Monsters one for the ages. A true classic. 22.95/10.

JAMES: This game…wow. We’ve played some bad fighters – if you’ve read the previous instalments, you know what I’m talking about – but this game is devastating. The characters are all digitized a la Mortal Kombat, but despite this coming out years later and on CD, these characters look like their sprites were rendered in MS Paint. But the low-res is actually a blessing when you consider what these characters actually look like. The best description I could come up with is that they were assembled from the discarded items from a high school prop closet mixed with whatever clearance Halloween costumes the team could get for $8 from the Five and Dime. It’s like some sort of Frankenstein of bad character design. NOTE: There is a Frankenstein’s Monster in the game. There’s also Shao Khan’s non-union equivalent. It seriously looks just like him, except instead of telling me “You will die!” his battle cry sounds like he’s shredding on an electric guitar. I’m not kidding. He throws his head back and lets loose a tasty guitar riff that sends his opponents reeling with the power of ROCK. Also, I beat the game as identical twin clown creatures who threw one another as projectiles. The game did have one interesting feature: Instead of a life bar, you have candles, and each time you get hit, the candle shrinks and eventually is extinguished, which lead to instances of grown men screaming “God damn it, I threw my clown at him five times and he had a half candle but he still won!” And neither of us are schizophrenic. The final boss assumed many forms, each one cheaper than the last, but at least you get to start from wherever you he defeats you instead of beating all four forms in one go. Small comfort. I’m not going to mention the sloppy controls or really nondescript level design (oops, I just did), but I will say is this: I beat that game. In 2015. I have a legitimate claim to best Battle Monsters player IN THE WORLD. So come at me! 4/10 for actual quality, 10/10 for riffing purposes.

Battle Arena Toshinden Remix – Takara (developer), Sega (publisher), 1996

MATT: Battle Arena Toshinden was one of the first PlayStation games available upon the console’s release in 1995, and at the time, it wowed players with its 3D graphics and rockin’ soundtrack. Many first generation PlayStations came with a demo disc that prominently featured BAT, further catapulting it into the public eye. However, better 3D fighters like Tekken almost instantly dethroned Toshinden and the series spiraled into obscurity. So obviously, the best course of action for Sega was to release a second-rate port for the Saturn months after Toshinden ceased being relevant, almost as if to prove that the console could handle it. The Saturn’s infamous inability to handle transparencies is in full force here, and through the polygons look a little less jagged than in the PS1 version, the textures leave something to be desired. The added story sequences with anime style character portraits and voiceovers are nice for the both of you who care about Toshinden’s storyline, but overall it adds little to the experience. The big draw was supposed to be the Saturn-exclusive character Cupido. She’s cool and all, but really not all that different from Eiji, Kayin, and Sho. It’s worth noting that despite Cupido’s important place in the Toshinden’s overarching plot, this is her only playable appearance in the series. Now a novelty at best even on its native console, the inferior BAT Remix on Saturn is little more than a slow, tedious waste of time. This might have been the worst aged game ever before Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City/San Andres took that crown, but I’ve got to admit, I still have a soft spot for Eiji and his pals – but mostly thanks to Sega’s biggest competitor. 5/10.

JAMES: Playing this one kinda felt like playing with the grandpa of the Tekken or Soul Calibur franchises, and boy do I love playing with grandpa! (Wait, no, that doesn’t seem right…) Anyway, I would copy and paste my review from the numerous other 3D fighters, but this one actually did have some features that border on, dare I say, unique? For starters it had pretty neat cut scenes. They were really more like animated comics with still images and voice acting but still, for the time I thought that was pretty dope. The art style of the cut scenes were eye pleasing, and for 1996, the voices were quite good when you consider Resident Evil’s voice acting was considered acceptable. Aside from that though, the game does feel a bit standard. Characters really don’t behave or look that different from one another, the same strategies work on every opponent, and the level design is pretty uninspired. I prefer it to the Virtua Fighter games only because the cut scenes and voices give it some heart and atmosphere whereas most of the Saturn’s 3D fighters tend to run together. It’s probably worth a looksee if you have the time, but unless you are a mega huge fighting game fan, you won’t lose sleep if you skip this one. 6/10.

Mortal Kombat II – Probe (developer), Acclaim (publisher), 1996

MATT: This title was released terribly late from a marketing standpoint, roughly around the same time as MK3 was making its way to home systems. It looks great, especially in comparison to the Genesis cart, but arcade fanatics will immediately notice missing frames of animation and absent voice clips. On a 32-bit system like the Saturn, that’s just inexcusable, especially considering that the game takes up so little space on the disc. As always on CD-based consoles of the time, Shang Tsung’s morphs grind the game to a halt, and fatalities freeze to load death graphics from presumably the most hazardous databanks on the disc. You can turn off Shang’s morphing ability to preserve the fast-and-furious nature of Kombat’s combat, but what’s the point of playing as everyone’s most tolerated shape-shifter if he can’t do his only cool trick? Perhaps the easiest version of MK II, computer opponents routinely allow the player to assault them with the same special moves over and over again. But don’t worry, Kintaro will inevitably separate you from your precious few continues – and your character from his or her limbs – faster than that hack Goro ever could. Seriously, why did early Mortal Kombat games insist on having limited continues? It goes against the very nature of both arcade AND fighting games. Anyway, not a bad game and definitely not the worst port of MKII (that dubious distinction goes to the GameBoy cart), but I still find myself itching for the 32X version instead. Or better still, Midway Arcade Treasures 2 on PS2, Xbox, or GameCube. 6/10.

JAMES: Once upon a time I hated MKII. As a child I played UMK3 and MK1 exclusively and really never paid much attention to the meat in that Mortal Sandwich. I think it boiled down to two things: The place where I lived had a fully stocked arcade (a story for another blog) and among other things it had arcade cabinets of MK1 and 3, but no 2, so I didn’t get well acquainted with it. Also the game always scared me a little. The other MKs had blood and guts, but the tone of MK2 was always darker and more serious, the tongue in cheek nature was toned down, the setting felt more badass, and in general the game didn’t f**k around. Also I had the genesis version at home so playing it as a child with its diabolical difficulty was a non-option. But in recent years I’ve revisited my stance on this game – after all, it’s considered by most fans of the series to be the best one! And upon reflection, I really do like it. Specifically this port. For all the ports of the time before the re-releases on modern systems, I find this to be the most complete. Sure it’s missing some sounds or frames, but only people like Matt realize that, and I’m pretty sure he only learned to read so he could find out what the manuals to his video games say. The difficulty is dumbed down but you could always raise it for a challenge, unlike the Genesis port which on the lowest setting is still a walk through a park that’s on fire and you’re naked and it’s raining broken glass. Fairness ends when you get to Kintaro, whose difficulty setting clearly was directly imported from the Genesis version. We couldn’t beat him. Still, this is a slick port and if you want to own a version of the game that’s from the era in which it was released, this is your guy. Side note, we did beat MK2 for Genesis recently, however I beat Kintaro and Shao Khan while Matthew cried and sucked his thumb in the corner. 8/10.

MATT: Note: James is a penis. That is all. 

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