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.
Duke Nukem 3D – Lobotomy Software (developer), Sega (publisher), 1997
MATT: I’m a huge fan of Duke Nukem 3D on the PC. I estimate I spent about 2,000 hours or more playing user levels or building my own back in the day. If Sam’s Club stores offered expansion packs similar to how they sell 35-pound cheese wheels, I’ve have been all over it. What had always been a dark spot on my Nukem notoriety, however, was the fact that I never played the Sega Saturn version… until now. Rebuilt from the ground up using the Powerslave/Exhumed engine, Duke 3D on the Saturn has players feeling sea-sick when turning thanks to a weird, world-tilting effect, and unlike the PC version, you can only save after completing a level. Also, it’s based on the original three episodes of the PC classic, so don’t expect to find levels like Duke Burger or The Birth here. Some levels were cut or shortened, and the exclusive toilet-based Saturn level, Urea 51, is piss poor. Finally, the graphics look like they filtered the original game though YouTube at 144p. Sounds awful, but Duke Nukem 3D is kind of like pizza: even lackluster versions are still pretty tasty, especially with beer and peperoni. The Sega Saturn Duke 3D is the best of the major console ports of the time, in that it is playable. The PS1 version suffered from sky-high difficulty and a crippling seven memory card blocks to save, which took about as long as finishing the damn level did. And the N64 version pointlessly changes weapons, removes anything even remotely risqué, and controls like Duke is less ass-kicking machine and more unoiled machine. The Sega Saturn version is basically fun despite itself, but I’m okay with that. Any excuse to dive back into Duke’s combat boots is just fine with me. These days, you’d be better off grabbing a copy of Duke Nukem 3D from www.gog.com (which does not stand for Gay Old Grannies, that’s another site entirely) or playing the buggy-but-fun PS3 version, released earlier this year. But if all you’ve got is a Saturn, by all means, pick this puppy up and start blasting that alien scum. Note: Though this game used to feature online competitive play, that service has long since been suspended. So if you’ve got the time, you’ll have to play with yourself. 7/10.
JAMES: Always bet on the Duke. Unless you’re playing a console port. Then you should most certainly not bet on the Duke ever. Duke may not look great, sound excellent, or control smoothly on this port, but you know what? It’s still DUKE, damn it. Duke 3D is such a personal fav that I would play a Tiger Electronic version if I was given the choice. This game is not my preferred version by any means, but hell, it’s a good time. You still get to make those alien bastards pay for shooting up your ride, decree that the aliens should blow it out their ass, and you can lay it smackdab on their ass. Pro-tip: Duke says ass a lot. Matt’s review pretty much nailed all the important differences between this and the PC version. If you want to feel what it’s like to play one of the best FPS games of this era, pop this SOB in, crack your knuckles and lock and load. Come to think of it, if you HAVEN’T played this, stop reading, go get a copy and PLAY! It’s something you have to experience to call yourself a gamer. It’s like Citizen Kane, but Orson Wells rarely, if ever, bellowed “Let God sort ‘em out” while unloading lead into the face of a pig-cop monster. 7/10 for the port 10/10 for the PC version.
Fighters Megamix – Sega, 1997
MATT: Fighters Megamix was the panicle of Sega’s 3D brawlers before Virtua Fighter 3 proved to be a snooze fest and the floor fell out from under the genre as a whole. Mashing up the entire cast of Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers would have been enough to make a great game, but Sega also threw in characters from its other popular titles of the time, like Sonic the Fighters, Virtua Cop 2, and even Daytona USA. (Have you ever kicked a car’s tires to make sure they weren’t flat? I’m still petrified of doing that to this day, as Fighter’s Megamix taught me that sometimes, cars hit back.) There’s nods to the pointless and downright freaky Virtua Fighter Kids, a bear statue with zero points of articulation who attacks opponents via creepypasta-style nightmare fuel, and a terrifying Mexican bean person who was surely the inspiration for the majority of the anti-sex crime legislation on the books today. His alternate costume makes him look like a giant, bloodthirsty banana, uncomfortably similar the “Bananas in Pajamas” show, in case you were wondering. You can also play as a massive slab of Castlevania meat with disembodied arms and legs. Oh, and mother f**king plam tree. In the end, Fighter’s Megamix is not only the Saturn’s best 3D fighter, but also Sega’s greatest entry into the survival horror genre. What could have been a lazy cut-and-paste job turns out to be much more than the sum of its freaky, freaky parts. 9/10.
JAMES: This series has taught me a lot, you guys. About one of the first CD based home consoles. About the gaming market in 1995-97. About some progenitors of classic modern series. But mostly, it’s taught me that Sega made terrible 3D fighter after terrible 3D fighter and then wondered why their stupid console failed. So yeah, here’s another one! Ok, ok, let me TRY to be positive. You can fight as a giant bear with no animations. For yuks that’s pretty damn fun. You also can play as a race car which, SHOCKER, sucks at fighting. Again, nice novelty. The thing I like most about this game is that you get to play as Fighting Vipers characters. Since that’s like my third favorite Saturn game so far, that’s awesome. And since this came out in 1997, this has to be one of the first fighting games where they compiled different fighters across several IPs and put them under one roof. I’d say Smash Bros. owes something to this game, but I think in the grand scheme Sega is the one in debt to Nintendo. Literally. I don’t like this formula, but for novelty this game has enough batshit insane stuff to make you laugh. Play it with a friend for maximum hilarity. 5/10
Virtual-On: Cyber Troopers – Sega, 1996
MATT: Virtual-On looked amazing nearly 20 years ago, yet I never got around to playing it during the Saturn’s short-lived heyday. But now I know how James must feel when I show him an old game I loved, and he has trouble understanding why I haven’t adorned it with rocks and sent it to a watery grave in the mighty Hudson River. You’d think Virtual-On was a simple mech combat game. Hell, the controls are even displayed on screen! Right? Not quite: the majority of time, buttons don’t do what the instructions imply, and firing while jumping produces radically different results than what you’d expect. Sometimes, I’ll hit every button on the controller and my bot just sits there, begging to be repurposed into some kind of military grade toaster. And be careful while trying to get your metallic marauder to at least pretend to fight: The perspective change, hidden somewhere on the controller, is neither intuitive nor predictable. It exists merely to punish the poor fools desperately mashing “attack” buttons. You will never, ever return the camera normal, and will remain in the nefarious grasp of the “camera on the moon” viewpoint until your mech is reduced to a smoldering pile of steel and wasted time. I appreciate what they were trying to do with this, I really do, and I bet I’d have figured it all out over a few weeks when I was a kid. But as an adult, I don’t have the time to decode obtuse, underwhelming also-rans from a bygone gaming era. 4/10.
JAMES: Growing up I watched a lot of Gundam Wing. I was and still am a fan of giant robot combat. So I admit, I was a little more interested in this title unlike say, the 20th Sega 3D fighter in a row which feels exactly the same as the last 19. And after getting my robo-ass handed to me in the first couple rounds, I started to get the hang of this insane game. Sure the camera just goes wherever it wants and your opponent seems to always find himself right on the edge of your perspective, but it’s still fun! It’s a flat-out masher, folks. You mash to find the right camera angle, you mash to jump, and you mash to shoot super robo-missiles at your hapless robo-pponent. There are characters who are superfast, some have missiles, some have melee weapons, and there’s a girl one. She’s pink. Honestly, I played as missile-bot because he could spam ranged attacks and they sought out the opponent, which solved the whole “where is this GIANT ROBOT whose shooting me?!” issue the game suffers from. It’s not a super deep game, and after six or so matches I was pretty done with it. But it’s got pretty sweet level design, it’s satisfyingly insane, and it’s a frenetic mash fest while it lasts. It’s the gaming equivalent of an extramarital affair. Short, sweet, and you try hard to not get an STD. (I don’t think my metaphors have made sense since episode two.) Anyway, 7/10. Check it out and see what madness you can get into!