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Games NeoGAF Official SEGA SATURN Community

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com





SEGA SATURN: AN OVERVIEW

(October 22, 2019) -- Sega Saturn is Sega’s 32-bit home videogames console. It was released in Japan on November 22, 1994, the United States on May 11, 1995 and UK/Europe on July 8, 1995. It was the direct competitor to Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, Atari Jaguar and 3DO. The 5th Generation was a transformative and turbulent time for the videogame industry, which saw the emergence of groundbreaking 3D polygon technology, online play and the growth of the global market. It also marked the creative peak, and the popular decline, of 2D pixel-art videogames, and the terminal decline of video arcades, once the life blood of the industry.

In Japan, Saturn became Sega's most successful home system, selling six million units (source: Saturn no Game wa Sekai Ichi, 2000), thanks to the blockbuster arcade hits Virtua Fighter and Virtua Fighter 2, as well as Sega's stable of coin-op hits, original titles like Sonic Team's Nights: Into Dreams and the tactical adventures like Sakura Wars and Super Robot Wars F. The system outsold Nintendo 64 and ran even with Playstation through 1996. In 1997, Sony secured exclusive rights to Square's Final Fantasy and Enix's Dragon Quest, Japan's two biggest videogame franchises, pulling away for good. Sega announced and released its final home console, the Dreamcast, the following year in 1998, but Saturn software continued to emerge in 1999-2000, including Street Fighter Zero 3, Dungeon & Dragons Collection and Final Fight Revenge.

In the West, Saturn was far less successful, selling less than four million units in the US, UK and Europe. Reasons for this failure have been hotly debated for years, including a surprise May 1995 US launch that alienated many key retailers, an overly complex hardware design that alienated software developers, the failure and confusion surrounding Sega's 32X, an insufficient supply of sports games, and the lack of a flagship Sonic the Hedgehog title. Gamers also quickly embraced 3D action-adventure games like Super Mario, Tomb Raider and Goldeneye, while almost completely rejecting traditional 2D and arcade games. At the 1997 E3 trade show, Sega of America president Bernie Stolar notoriously declared "Saturn is not our future," and by Christmas, Saturn was all but dead, holding only 4% of the US videogame market (source: EGM), a shocking fall from the glory days of the Genesis.

Worst of all, Saturn was cursed with a toxic reputation for poor 3D performance that continues to haunt it to this day. "Can't Do 3D" became a never-ending mantra in the wake of early rushed software titles, most notably Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA. Playstation, meanwhile, offered the far smoother and more polished Ridge Racer, Tekken and Battle Arena Toshinden, as well as near-universal support from software publishers who were attracted to Sony's more streamlined hardware design and development tools.

Today, Sega Saturn's reputation has enjoyed a major renaissance, thanks to the revival of 2D and arcade games, the discovery of Japan's vast software library (including many of Saturn's greatest titles cruelly kept from our shores), a reappraisal of Saturn's 3D polygon powers (matching and surpassing Sony and Nintendo in many respects), and a growing appreciation for what is now seen as Sega's creative golden age of the 1990s. The system was both behind and ahead of its time, packed with a seemingly endless supply of innovative classics and hidden gems. It stands as one of the greatest videogame consoles of all time and Sega's most underrated system.




THE HARDWARE

Sega Saturn features eight processors, dividing the work load into specialized functions. Two Hitachi SH-2 CPUs work in semi-parallel, sharing a single data bus in a master-servant relationship (late in the console's life, the two chips were integrated into a single multicore processor). A system control unit (SCU) controls all buses and serves as a co-processor, and also contains a very powerful DSP. In addition, two video display processors draw the polygons and sprites, manipulate multiple background layers and display the images onto the screen. Skilled use of VDP2 proved crucial to Saturn's success, combining 2D with 3D graphics. On the audio side, a custom sound processor with an integrated Yamaha FL-1 DSP capable of 32 sound channels with FM synthesis and 16-bit PCM sampling, as well as a Motorola 68EC000 that functions as the sound controller. Finally, a Hitachi SH-1 processor is used for the CD-ROM drive to speed loading times.

The video output displays as resolutions ranging from 320x224 to 704x480. Many Saturn games take advantage of its "high resolution mode" in gameplay, menu screens or art galleries. Polygons are rendered as quadrilaterals (as opposed to triangles as used on PSX and N64), in keeping with Sega's arcade titles of the period. This has long been a source of controversy between fans and critics, as there are strengths and weaknesses to using quads versus triangles, in addition to the unique challenges of Saturn's hardware. Other systems to use quads include the 3DO and Nintendo DS.

A CR 2032 battery is used to store system settings such as time, date and default language, as well as storing saved game data. This is an advantage over PSX, which requires additional memory cards (and lots of them) to save games.

A cartridge expansion slot is used for backup memory cartridges as well as memory expansion, which proved to be critical for many arcade conversions by Capcom, SNK and Atlus. Two software titles (King of Fighters '95 and Ultraman) use a ROM cartridge that contains game data in addition to CD-ROM.

The Japanese Saturn controllers feature a d-pad, two shoulder buttons, a start button and a six-button layout ala Street Fighter 2. It is highly regarded by gamers, many of whom consider it to be the finest videogame joypad ever made. The 3D Controller adds an analog joypad, two analog triggers and a larger size that is very comfortable to hold. The Western Saturn used a different 2D controller with the same layout but an entirely different, bulkier design that is universally criticized as inferior to the originals.




THE ACCESSORIES

Sega Saturn was blessed with a large supply of accessories, including joysticks, racing wheels and memory expansion cartridges that boost the system's performance.

3D Controller (Multi Controller)

Saturn's analog controller was created specifically for Nights and was Sega's answer to the Nintendo 64 controller. It features an analog joystick and two analog triggers, as well as a switch to revert to digital play. Many games use analog settings, including the Lobotomy Trilogy, Daytona USA Circuit Edition and Manx TT. For many gamers, this should be your default Saturn joypad.

Saturn Infrared Control Pad

A wireless controller that uses infrared light to send signals between joypad and receiver. Extra joypads were sold separately. JP exclusive.

Virtua Stick

Sega's official arcade joystick, perfect for playing fighting games or spaceship shoot-em-ups. The Virtua Stick Pro was later released in Japan and features a more streamlined design.

Virtual On Joystick

This twin-joystick controller was created specifically for Sega's Virtual On, and is also compatible with other titles such as Gungriffon 2. JP exclusive.

Mission Stick

This PC-style joystick was designed for aerial combat games like Panzer Dragoon, Mechwarrior 2 and Black Dawn. It's absolutely perfect for playing Afterburner and Space Harrier on Sega Ages.

Racing Wheel

This steering wheel is an absolute must for Saturn racing fans. Many games are designed specifically for this controller and greatly benefit by its use, including Touring Car Championship, F-1 Challenge, Daytona USA and Sega Rally.

Stunner Light Gun

Several titles are compatible with this gun accessory, including Virtua Cop 1 & 2, House of the Dead, Mighty Hits, Area 51 and Maximum Force. It is only compatible with CRT televisions.

Shuttle Mouse

This mouse is compatible with many games, including the light gun titles and strategy/simulations. JP exclusive.

6-Player Adapter

This adapter allows for more players in multiplayer games such as Saturn Bomberman, Guardian Heroes and Vatlva.

Backup Cartridge

This 512k cartridge allows you to save game data in addition to the system's internal battery save. This is similar to the PSX and N64 memory cards but stores far more memory. Today, a Pro Action Replay is a smarter option.

1MB/4MB Cartridge

These cartridges add memory to the Saturn, enabling better arcade conversions with more animation and better audio. It is required for many games, and the 4MB cart will work with 1MB-compatible games.

Action Replay 4M Plus Cartridge

The essential holy grail for modern Saturn fans. Its features include backup memory, cheat codes (necessary for playing Panzer Dragoon Saga on a JP Saturn), 1MB/4MB RAM expansion and system region override (allowing you to play games from any region). Purchase this cart (seen above), stick it into the cartridge slot and never move it again.

In recent years, amateur coders have hacked the Action Replay to enable users to run CD-R "backup" discs. You must download a software file and "flash" it onto your cartridge for this to work. However, doing so will disable several cart functions including the 1MB/4MB expansion. If you wish to play backups, this author recommends that you instead install a Phantom Universal Mod Chip.

Netlink/Modem

A modem that allows for direct-dial online play. In Japan, the 14.4kbps modem was compatible with the X-Band service and supported by 17 titles including Decathlete, Worldwide Soccer 98 and Virtua Fighter Remix. In the US, the 28.8kbps modem was supported by only five titles: Duke Nukem 3D, Saturn Bomberman, Virtual On, Daytona USA CCE Netlink Edition and Sega Rally Championship Plus. Both modems offered email and online browsing. Because of its P2P nature, Netlink can still be used and enjoyed today.

Taisen Cable

This cable enables play between two Saturns and two televisions. It was only used on only seven titles: Daytona USA Circuit Edition, Gungriffon 2, Hexen, Doom, Hyper Reverthion, Steeldom and Hyper 3D Taisen Battle Gebockers. It's worth it just for Daytona. JP exclusive.

VCD Card

This card fits into the back of the Saturn and enables support of Video CDs, a little-known media format that had a mildly successful following in Asia. Some cards also include support for Photo CDs. Games that support the card offer MPEG-quality video above the Saturn's Cinepak or TrueMotion encoding. It is supported by (at least) 16 titles including Vatlva, Lunar: Silver Star Story MPEG-ban, Gungriffon and Sentimental Graffiti. JP exclusive.

Saturn Floppy Drive

A 3.5-inch micro-floppy disc drive that enabled greater storage memory for save files. It is only supported by a small number of software titles, most notably Dezaemon 2, the legendary shoot-em-up "construction kit." JP exclusive.



SOFTWARE: THE ESSENTIALS I

Sega Saturn offers an enormous library of outstanding games in every conceivable category. Its best-known genres include arcade, fighting, shooting, racing, adventure and role-playing games. It is home to many of Sega's greatest classics as well as many successful franchises including Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop, The House of the Dead, Dragon Force, Panzer Dragoon, Dead or Alive, Sakura Wars, Culdcept, Shin Megami Tensei, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Wipeout, Metal Slug, King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown.

This is by no means a definitive list of Saturn's best games, but a sampling of essential must-plays to begin your Saturn journey. Please consult this ongoing community thread for more reviews and essays.




Virtua Fighter 2

Sega AM2's spectacular conversion of the Model 2 arcade blockbuster smash is a triumph of programming skills, offering "480/60" high-res graphics, glorious motion captured animation and an immensely deep martial arts fighting system. The gold standard for fighting games.




Fighters Megamix

3D fighting classic that combines Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers and a host of crazy characters from the Sega AM2 vaults including Rent-A-Hero, Janet from Virtua Cop 2 and the Daytona USA race car. Breezy, blistering fun, endlessly addictive.




Last Bronx

Sega AM3's take on the 3D fighting genre is more aggressive than AM2's quasi-sim approach, as Tokyo street gangs bash each other senseless with weapons. It's not VF2 nor Soul Calibur but a great experience in its own right.




Dead or Alive

Highly polished 3D fighter with outstanding 3D polygon graphics, iconic character designs and a rich fighting system to rival Sega. The hold reversals and explosive danger zones are welcome additions to the genre.




Anarchy in the Nippon

3D fighting title created by four of Sega's "Tatsujin" professional Virtua Fighter celebrity players. Essentially a hardcore fan tribute to the VF series, with some inspired and slightly irreverent character designs.




All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua

Most wrestling videogames are brutally dumb, aimed at button-mashing drunks, but Sega brings their Virtua Fighter technical skills to this excellent 3D rendition of the Japanese wrestling league. Break bones, win over the crowd, what's not to love?




Capcom 4MB Fighters

X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter, Vampire Savior and Street Fighter Zero 3. These are the finest 2D fighting games available anywhere and gloriously demonstrate Saturn's 2D superpowers.




King of Fighters '95, '96 & '97

SNK's premier 2D fighting series that equals Capcom in many gamers' eyes. Features an all-star cast of characters from the SNK library in tag-team matches. KoF '97 is the best, but I have a real affection for the '96 edition.




Astra Superstars

Wild, frenzied 2D fighting game with psychedelic, seisure-inducing sprite graphics that bend, warp and rattle across the screen. Gameplay is extremely friendly to button mashers, making this the perfect party game.




Asuka 120% Burning Festival LTD

Anime-styled 2D fighting game featuring an all-female cast and a remarkably fast and deep fighting system that rivals the best from Capcom and SNK. Character designs and animations are sublime, action is relentlessly addictive.




Daytona USA & Daytona Circuit Edition

Sega's rushed-to-market Daytona conversion may look rough, but its gameplay is both more complex and more engaging than Namco's Ridge Racer. Circuit Edition features greatly improved graphics, two additional courses and 2P races via split-screen, link cable or online.




Sega Rally Championship

A near-perfect translation of Sega AM3's arcade classic, featuring brilliant track designs and a simulation-worthy physics engine that surpassed all racers of its day. Also known for its superb funk and rock-fueled soundtrack recorded by Joe Satriani. Game Over, Yeah!




Wipeout & Wipeout XL

Psygnosis' futuristic racers that are justly famous for their sensational roller coaster track designs and thumping electronica soundtrack. The first looks slightly rougher than its PSX cousin (but plays better), while the sequel is practically identical.




Sega Sports '98

Arguably Sega's finest sports lineup of any season, including the greatest baseball videogame of all time, World Series Baseball 98, the always engaging Worldwide Soccer 98, the solid and challenging NHL All-Star Hockey 98, and Visual Concepts' first 2K basketball game, NBA Action 98.




Madden NFL 98

The last Madden title to feature 2D character sprites, the last EA Sports game to appear on a Sega system, and the last time EA cared enough to bother coding the Saturn properly. And it holds up surprisingly well.




Jonah Lomu Rugby

Codemasters' brilliant rendition of rugby that captures the sport so successfully, you wonder why it hasn't taken hold in America. Its liquid looseness reminds me of Sensible Soccer. UK exclusive.




Decathlete & Winter Heat

Summer and Winter Olympics classics from Sega AM3, who provide a few welcome wrinkles to the classic Track 'N Field formula. Perfect for multiplayer and parties, great showpieces for Saturn's 3D powers. JP versions feature bonus characters.




Steep Slope Sliders

Is this the greatest snowboarding game ever made? On my best days I may agree. This game captures the experience so well, from its Tony Hawk-like controls to its magnificent course designs, glorious visuals, inspired soundtrack and inventive video editing mode.




Nights: Into Dreams & Christmas Nights

Yuji Naka and Sonic Team's wildly unique fusion of 2D and 3D platforms games. Its genius lies in its endless little details that only emerge after repeated plays, its sublime controls and its sensation of flight. And Xmas Nights is the best demo disc ever created.




Burning Rangers

Sonic Team's wholly original spin on 3D platforming features futuristic firefighters who battle fires and rescue hostages. Graphics push Saturn to its limits (and occasionally breaks it to the melting point), and the audio navigation is truly groundbreaking.




Panzer Dragoon Trilogy

Team Andromeda's masterwork saga brings Space Harrier into the worlds of Moebius and Dune. The first two titles are pure arcade shooters filled with wonder and mystery. The third title, Panzer Dragoon Saga, may be the greatest RPG ever made.




Lobotomy Trilogy

Powerslave is a FPS adventure that openly steals everything from Super Metroid and is literally years ahead of its time. Duke Nukem 3D offers irreverent humor with relentless action. Quake is dark, gothic brilliance. Saturn "Can't Do 3D?" Swallow this.




Treasure Trilogy

Three classics from the master coders at the peak of their powers. Guardian Heroes fuses beat-em-ups with RPG stats and a zany cast of colorful misfits. Silhouette Mirage pushes 2D game design to its absolute limit, and Radiant Silvergun does the same for 3D.




Virtua Cop 1 & 2

Sega's brings the light gun genre into the polygon age with the flair of a Hollywood action blockbuster. The context-sensitive shooting directly inspired Goldeneye, and the thrilling set-pieces never fail to excite.




Darius Gaiden

Supremely refined, bold and confident, this is the best installment of the legendary Darius series. Lush colors, trippy visual effects and brilliant operatic techno soundtrack. Only one of two arcade shoot-em-ups released for the US Saturn.




Hyper Duel

Technosoft's 1996 revision of their 1993 arcade shooter makes several critical changes that transform the experience from a curiosity into a bona-fide classic. Precisely focused, perfectly paced, relentless in its rhythm.




Thunder Force 5

Blistering shoot-em-up from Technosoft, masters of the genre, featuring thrilling action and dazzling visual showpieces that show off what Saturn can do in the right hands. The techno-rock music score is another standout. Life doesn't get much better than this.




Soukyugurentai

Spoken by hardcore shoot-em-up fans in the same hushed reverent breath as the mighty Radiant Silvergun, thanks to its stunning visuals, exciting set-pieces (the planetfall stage is legendary) and analog control. The Otokuyo edition features crucial bug fixes for playing on a US Saturn.




Dodonpachi

Cave's genre-defining "bullet hell" shooter overwhelms the senses with tanks, spaceships large and small, and endless waves of massive explosions. You feel like you've cheated death every five seconds, and the adrenaline rush never wavers.




Battle Garegga

An all-time classic arcade shooter with military aircraft, endless waves of bullets, richly drawn environments and a difficulty curve that flies off the charts. Another 2D sprite powerhouse for Saturn, hailed by diehard fans as the greatest shooting game ever.




Batsugun

Toaplan's legendary shoot-em-up that birthed the "bullet hell" genre offers wonderful pixel art design, a gloriously poppy soundtrack and a remix mode based on the never-released arcade upgrade.




Metal Slug

SNK action-shooter justly famous for its gorgeous art design and spectacular 2D sprite animation. It also has a fair bit of humor, which is always welcome. A standout title for Sega Saturn.




Super Tempo

Wacky, irreverent and wildly inventive 2D platformer by the makers of Bonk's Adventure and Sakura Wars. The vivid cartoon visuals and fluid animation are joined to a surreal zaniness that rivals Treasure's best efforts.




Akumajou Dracula X: Gekka no Yasukyoku (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)

Seminal chapter in the famous franchise that incorporates RPG elements and Super Metroid gameplay. Lazy PSX conversion by Konami Nagoya but not nearly as bad as you've heard.




Tempest 2000

Jeff Minter's masterpiece, a wonderfully trippy, rave-induced interpretation of the 1981 Atari arcade shoot-em-up. Its gameplay is simple yet very challenging and you find yourself hooked for hours in search of that high score.




Saturn Bomberman

The definitive version of Hudson Soft's iconic multiplayer party game, featuring 28 battle arena variations, 10 characters including Bonk, Milon and Master Higgens, and a single-player mode that's actually worth playing for once.




Virtual On

Take command of a giant robot and battle one another in a wide variety of futuristic battle arenas. Visually spectacular rendition of the Sega AM3 arcade hit, tremendously deep gameplay that makes VF feel shallow.




Gungriffon 1 & 2

Game Arts' thrilling 3D action games put you in command of a giant mech who destroys enemy armies and installations. A solid mix of speed and strategy with loads of explosions and varied landscapes. Great fun.




Gundam Side Story: The Blue Destiny

Trilogy of 3D action games set in the Gundam universe where you control giant robots and destroy everything in sight. Silky smooth 60fps visuals shame most Western software developers.




Magic Carpet

In their usual genre-fusing brilliance, Bullfrog joins the action of Doom to the world-building of Populous. Destroy enemies, collect mana, build castles, discover new spells, win over the locals and defeat rival genies.




Tomb Raider

The iconic 3D action-adventure that practically defined the Sony Playstation, yet was originally conceived on Sega Saturn and is just as good. Visuals are lush, hypnotic and beautiful but also sometimes a bit rough. Stage designs are magnificent and hauntingly so. A classic.




Baroque

A "Rogue-like" horror adventure filled with a foreboding sense of dread. Its post-apocalyptic style and measured pacing feel heavier and scarier than anything in Resident Evil. Its plot is incomprehensible even if you know the language.




Chaos Seed

Cult classic RPG-Simulation hybrid that plays like Legend of Zelda mixed with Herzog Zwei. Players control a Taoist mountain hermit who creates dungeons, summoning monsters, managing your rooms and repelling invaders.




Shining the Holy Ark

Camelot's first-person "dungeon crawling" RPG that features a wide variety of environments, including caves, mines, graveyards, towns, castles, as well as a charming cast of characters. Visuals combine 3D polygons and CG sprites to great effect.




Shining Force III Trilogy

This epic conclusion to the revered Strategy-RPG series spans three separate scenarios that reenact the same story from different points of view. An immense cast of characters and deeply compelling combat system make this a genre masterwork.




Dragon Force 1 & 2

Strategy-RPG series where you raise enormous armies and lead them into battle to unify the kingdoms against evil. A masterwork of 2D pixel art, very challenging and deep. The sequel now has an English translation.


CONCLUSION

In conclusion, thank you for reading this thread and sharing your love of Sega Saturn. Feel free to share comments, photos, videos, reviews and essays. All are welcome and encouraged to contribute. Much thanks to NeoGAF and its members for their support. You know who you are.

My name is Daniel Thomas MacInnes. I am the founder of Ghibli Blog and DT Media and the author 16 books, including Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life, Depeche Mode: Spirit and Biotracer. I was once a freelance writer for GamePro Magazine a million years ago, if that counts for anything.


(UPDATE: 10/25/19: Added screenshots and moved some micro-reviews to my "Essentials II" post on page 9.)
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








It seems that the Sega Saturn Collectors Thread took a major hit after the October shakedown. Let's do what we can to bring it back. This is probably my all-time favorite thread on the NeoGAF forums.

Since the Winter Olympics are happening right now, I thought it would be best to share some photos of the always-excellent Winter Heat. This game was released in 1998 as the system was in its final days in the US, so I'm not sure if it received much attention at the time. Most gamers had abandoned the Saturn for PSX and Nintendo 64 by that point, aside from the diehards, I suppose, who were rewarded with some of the greatest titles in the system's library. Poor Saturn was just hitting its stride when the plug was pulled, and it needed another solid year on the market. Oh, well, that topic has been debated endlessly, and is a moot point by now.

Decathlete was a big hit for Saturn, and Winter Heat may be just a touch better. The developers certainly tried to stretch their wings and not simply offer another Track N' Field button-mashing, joystick-wrecking sports contest. These new events are more varied, more clever. There's a great variety in the controls and play mechanics.

The graphics are still bright, colorful and cleanly detailed in that Sega way. That was their look, and they completely owned it. Because the environments in Winter Heat are more visually detailed, however, the super-sharp 60fps framerate in Decathlete is reduced to 30fps. It probably couldn't be helped, and reflects the trade-offs of the era. The animation remains as superb as ever, the controls as swift and responsive. The graphics have that squarish, blocky Sega Saturn quality that we all know and love. Triangles may have won out, but there's a certain charm to quads.

What I really love about Winter Heat is the sense of humor. This game doesn't take itself very seriously. It's not trying to compete with Epyx. Many of these events feel like cartoonish distortions of the real sports, or videogame fan-fiction. Best part: the crashes. These crashes are spectacular, extremely painful to watch, and wildly hilarious. I'm thinking of the Ski Jump as a great example.

The US version is expensive, which is unusual for a Saturn sports title, but all of the 1998 releases are pricey. You'll be lucky to find a copy under $40. Meanwhile, the Japanese version can be found for $10-$20, including shipping. It features all the things that make Japanese Sega Saturn games awesome, like the smaller CD cases and full-color booklets. Best part: this version includes bonus features not seen in the US release, including art galleries, bonus characters, and the ability to complete by running or flying around. Again, it's goofy and good for a laugh.

These are social videogames, "casual" if you like. They're never meant to be taken seriously, and intended to be passed around at parties while you're reaching for that third pint of beer and second bowl of chips. For reasons I'll never understand, the Dreamcast sequel, Virtua Athlete 2000, wasn't half as much fun as Decathlete and Winter Heat; it took itself too seriously. All the athletes looked the same. They all had those weird detached steroid shoulders. The Saturn athletes look like refugees from an LSD-fueled anime convention. And God Bless 'Em for it.

Where are the Olympics videogames in 2018? Seriously, where did they go? Are all the Xbox and Playstation owners a bunch of serious killjoys? Somebody tell Sega/Sammy to bring this one back. Bring back the Saturn and Dreamcast, too, while yer at it.

(Update: 11/16: I finally took some new screenshots of this game running on a JP Saturn, RF and Composite cables. I'll have to rewrite the text at some point.)
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com










Steep Slope Sliders (1997, Cave for Saturn)

I snapped a series of photos this morning: Japanese release, model 2 Saturn w/composite, Sony Bravia HDTV. For Saturn, I tend to prefer composite over s-video, largely because the "fake transparency" effect is preserved, and I don't have to look at the ugly wire-mesh patterns, but also because the image quality is still very sharp. I'd say s-video is only a 10% improvement in image quality. And, as always, everything looks best on a CRT.

Steep Slope Sliders is one of my absolute favorite videogames, and easily my favorite snowboarding game. It just feels authentic. It just feels right, in its earth tones and blocky textures and fluid controls. I have always had the impression that Cave's programmers knew this sport in their bones. They understood the sub-culture, with its influences of punk, techno, rave and trip-hop, the reckless thrill-seeking. Best of all, the understood the solitude of the sport. This game was always criticized for lacking a two-player mode, where you could battle against a friend. But that's not the idea. In snowboarding, your only true friend and rival are the mountains themselves. It's just you and nature and silence...and maybe the funky beats in your Walkman.

You're not here to compete in some professional circuit. You're not here to compete for the Olympics. You're not here to win competitions and endorsements and fame and glory. You're here to surf the mountains, hills, forests and farms. You're here to better yourself, to find that one perfect spot to make that perfect jump and score the perfect trick. There is always room for improvement, always another hill or rock that you can use to perform that stunt.

Little details abound. See that screenshot above of the two teenagers whacking the metal sculpture with baseball bats? Hah! Take that, Nintendo. Another group of teens are playing basketball, while a couple skateboarders are riding around. I think I saw a young couple making out by a finish line. A dog chases you through his farm. Hot air balloons float by in the background. Snow blasts out from your board in thick patches.

The controls are what makes this game a classic. Jump, Grab, Flip, Turn. That's it. Using the shoulder buttons to shift your weight and move the board allows for some highly fluid turns in tight spaces. You'll quickly learn to add more moves to the longer jumps and learn how to improvise. It's really a rough draft for Tony Hawk Pro Skater, which forever set the standard for all "extreme" sports videogames to follow.

The level designs are sensational mashups of varying environments and themes, in that classic arcade videogame fashion. There's no logical reason why there should be a log cabin on the edge of a cliff, or why there should be a train in the middle of a mountain, or why a snowboarding run should suddenly dump into a highway. For that matter, why are you surfing over an endless asteroid belt or the Death Star Trench? Because it's awesome, that's why. The mountains in Steep Slope Sliders tower above you at menacing angles, and each helicopter drop is a rush. Cool Boarders and 1080 play like Disneyland rides, sanitary and safe and unbelievably effing dull. Try riding through rocky terrain and crowded forests in pitch-black darkness.

Best of all, I love Steep Slope Sliders because, at its heart, it's an underdog and a misfit. It's never interested in being a racing game, certainly not like its peers. It's not even really interested in most arcade game conventions like level progressions and competitions and gold medals. It's mostly interested in just surfing for fun, for its own sake. Well, that and ingesting Terence McKenna-levels of psychedelics while tripping on the sound test. Where else can you play as an alien, two different spaceships, a 2D bitmap stick figure and a dog, and then ride an intergalactic wire-frame half pipe on the dark side of the moon?
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com
Quick update on Steep Slope Sliders. There was a rumor online that the Japanese release supported the 3D control pad. This is incorrect. This game does not support analog controls in any way. The only differences between the JP and US versions are the bonus characters ("Hero" in the Japanese disc is replaced with "Alien" in the West) and the title screen.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com
I want to switch out my North American model 2 Saturn for a Japanese model 1.

1) Do I have to get a different SCART cable? I've heard Japanese and North American NTSC Saturns are wired for different outputs, and vaguely remember that 5V may be carried along a different line and fry something.

2) I have the 4mb Action Replay that allows me to play Japanese games, do I need to get a Japanese cart or will this work? I'd actually prefer to get a Japanese cart because it would look cooler.

3) Do controllers work on both consoles? I want to replace my regular 6 button controllers, but may want to use a North American fight stick.

4) Speaking of the Action Replay RAM carts, I also vaguely remember something about the 4mb one running games optimized for the 2mb one less well. Can anyone explain that, or am I totally off base? Is there an advantage to having both a 2mb and 4mb expansion cart for your Saturn?

Thanks for help with any of these questions!

All of the cables, controllers and accessories will work on any Saturn, regardless of region. I have never had any problems. The Action Replay cart will also work on a Japanese Saturn (I've been using mine for years). For memory expansion, there was only the 1MB and 4MB cartridges. The Action Replay is compatible with all games that require a RAM cart. There has been some debate whether Metal Slug runs more smoothly (and with less slowdown) with the 1MB cart than the Action Replay, but I haven't seen any hard evidence. This may just be another case of internet gossip.
 

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Steep Slope Sliders (1997, Cave for Saturn)

I snapped a series of photos this morning: Japanese release, model 2 Saturn w/composite, Sony Bravia HDTV. For Saturn, I tend to prefer composite over s-video, largely because the "fake transparency" effect is preserved, and I don't have to look at the ugly wire-mesh patterns, but also because the image quality is still very sharp. I'd say s-video is only a 10% improvement in image quality. And, as always, everything looks best on a CRT.

Steep Slope Sliders is one of my absolute favorite videogames, and easily my favorite snowboarding game. It just feels authentic. It just feels right, in its earth tones and blocky textures and fluid controls. I have always had the impression that Cave's programmers knew this sport in their bones. They understood the sub-culture, with its influences of punk, techno, rave and trip-hop, the reckless thrill-seeking. Best of all, the understood the solitude of the sport. This game was always criticized for lacking a two-player mode, where you could battle against a friend. But that's not the idea. In snowboarding, your only true friend and rival are the mountains themselves. It's just you and nature and silence...and maybe the funky beats in your Walkman.

You're not here to compete in some professional circuit. You're not here to compete for the Olympics. You're not here to win competitions and endorsements and fame and glory. You're here to surf the mountains, hills, forests and farms. You're here to better yourself, to find that one perfect spot to make that perfect jump and score the perfect trick. There is always room for improvement, always another hill or rock that you can use to perform that stunt.

Little details abound. See that screenshot above of the two teenagers whacking the metal sculpture with baseball bats? Hah! Take that, Nintendo. Another group of teens are playing basketball, while a couple skateboarders are riding around. I think I saw a young couple making out by a finish line. A dog chases you through his farm. Hot air balloons float by in the background. Snow blasts out from your board in thick patches.

The controls are what makes this game a classic. Jump, Grab, Flip, Turn. That's it. Using the shoulder buttons to shift your weight and move the board allows for some highly fluid turns in tight spaces. You'll quickly learn to add more moves to the longer jumps and learn how to improvise. It's really a rough draft for Tony Hawk Pro Skater, which forever set the standard for all "extreme" sports videogames to follow.

The level designs are sensational mashups of varying environments and themes, in that classic arcade videogame fashion. There's no logical reason why there should be a log cabin on the edge of a cliff, or why there should be a train in the middle of a mountain, or why a snowboarding run should suddenly dump into a highway. For that matter, why are you surfing over an endless asteroid belt or the Death Star Trench? Because it's awesome, that's why. The mountains in Steep Slope Sliders tower above you at menacing angles, and each helicopter drop is a rush. Cool Boarders and 1080 play like Disneyland rides, sanitary and safe and unbelievably effing dull. Try riding through rocky terrain and crowded forests in pitch-black darkness.

Best of all, I love Steep Slope Sliders because, at its heart, it's an underdog and a misfit. It's never interested in being a racing game, certainly not like its peers. It's not even really interested in most arcade game conventions like level progressions and competitions and gold medals. It's mostly interested in just surfing for fun, for its own sake. Well, that and ingesting Terence McKenna-levels of psychedelics while tripping on the sound test. Where else can you play as an alien, two different spaceships, a 2D bitmap stick figure and a dog, and then ride an intergalactic wire-frame half pipe on the dark side of the moon?

I could never find this game at retail but I played the hell out of the demo that came with the UK saturn mag.
 

notathing

Banned
Feb 24, 2018
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Is there a legal way to play Bug! emulated? What would take to replay that elusive gem?
 

DT MEDIA

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Is there a legal way to play Bug! emulated? What would take to replay that elusive gem?

This is a notoriously touchy subject on NeoGAF, so I'll tread carefully. Saturn emulators should be perfectly capable of playing retail discs. A short look on Ebay shows that both Bug games are readily available. The Japanese versions also available, but in fewer numbers. Prices seem to range from $20-$40, and I'm seeing a couple Ebay auctions where the prices are still pretty low. Bug Too is more rare and prices hover around $50. In addition to these, there are a couple Bug demo discs that were released on the Saturn. Demo discs are still very cheap, which means the hard-core collectors haven't hoarded them yet.

Of course, in a sane world, Sega would already have reissued nearly every one of their published Saturn games. Bug might not have aged too well, but it was a worthy experiment in bringing 2D platformers into the 3D age. The series was buried the minute Mario and Lara Croft appeared, but you can still have a lot of fun.
 

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Guardian Force (1998, Success for Saturn)

Guardian Force is one of my favorite arcade shoot-em-ups, produced by the same team responsible for the Cotton series. It was released in Japan in August 1998, after the console had already been killed in the US. Once again, we got robbed. I'm reminded a lot of arcade tank games like Assault and Vindicators and Iron Tank, where you're fighting and moving in all directions. There are many impressive weapons, enormous bosses and flashy explosions. This title is somewhat rare and extremely expensive. You'll probably have to sell a kidney or one of your kids if you want a retail copy.

I was thinking recently about how many great arcade-style games were on the Saturn, and how nearly all of them were either ignored or dismissed without even so much as a glance. Back in the early Genesis days, if you told me we would soon have arcade-perfect games in the home, I'd be thrilled. That's all I ever wanted. But once the Sony Playstation dropped, everything changed in a heartbeat. Suddenly, words like "2D" and "arcade" became absolutely toxic. You couldn't get arrested with a game like Guardian Force. These things happen. But it absolutely killed Sega. They were like a 1980s LA "rocker" band that suddenly found themselves unemployable in the grunge/hip-hop era. What are we supposed to do now?

Anyway, Guardian Force is quite excellent and one you should check out. It belongs on the "A" list alongside Radiant Silvergun, Souky, Dodonpachi, Batsugun, Battle Garegga, Shienryu and the two Cottons. I cannot believe that we never got to play any of these great videogames when they were new.

Japan Saturn and Western Saturn are almost like two different consoles. It's shocking how many great titles were never imported. Just because grunge and hip-hop are big doesn't mean rock dudes should be made to disappear. There's still an audience for that sound...right? Right? Bueller?
 
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Do you have a US copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga and a Japanese Saturn? If you are one of those gamers, then you'll know that the Action Replay cartridge doesn't seem to work with the game. If you load the disc, you'll see a message on the screen that says, "Please remove the cartridge." Unless you have modded your Saturn to override the region code, you're outta luck. Or so it seems...

Thankfully, with a little investigation, I found an Action Replay code that will enable you to play Panzer Saga on your Japanese console. Simply enter a new Master and Cheat code for the game, as shown in this instructions above, then boot with the codes enabled. The game will now play on your Saturn! The first screenshot shows Panzer Saga running on my Japanese Saturn, and it plays perfectly. Huzzah!
 

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Mega Man X4 (1997, Capcom)

Here are some screenshots from the always excellent Mega Man X4. This is a great showcase of 2D sprite graphics in the 32-bit era, and a great example of what we could have had if the polygons hadn't crashed the party. For Saturn fans, this is the best entry in the series, as Mega Man 8 and X3 were both 16-bit ports. This is the one time you really get to see the hardware flex its muscles.

By all accounts, the Saturn and Playstation versions are nearly identical. There are some background effects on a couple stages in the Saturn version that are missing from the PSX, and I understand the music looping is slightly different on each version. And, of course, the Saturn uses the "mesh" patterns for the spotlights in the opening stage, owing to the system's notoriously complicated way of mishandling transparencies. If you play with RF or Composite cables, it will appear smooth and you won't notice a thing. It only becomes an issue when you're using S-Video or anything above.

Two decades ago, I felt burned out on Mega Man, thanks to its countless sequels. Also, like many other gamers at the time, I was swept up in the polygon hype and couldn't be bothered to touch anything that looked, ugh..."16-bit". Today, however, I'm quite excited for classic arcade-style videogames, and am quite thankful that we Saturn owners got to play X4 at all. It's too bad the later sequels were PSX exclusives, but them's the brakes. Somewhere between Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye, the Saturn just dropped off the face of the earth, despite the fact that the games were getting better and better. The knives were out for Sega in those days, and nothing could have possibly changed that.

Checking on Ebay, I see retail copies of the Japanese version are going for $50, while the US version is pulling...$150?! Are you crazy?! You can find the Playstation version for less than ten bucks. Saturn collectors are getting hosed. Why they tolerate this remains a mystery for the ages.
 

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J-League Go Go Goal! (1997, Tecmo)

My apologies for the blurriness in these photos. I snapped them of the game in action (cpu vs cpu) and tried my best to capture some good shots without everything becoming too blurry. I snapped the photos on my iPad where they were then cropped and uploaded to my iMac via "the cloud".

Sega Saturn has an almost limitless supply of hidden gems. I don't think anybody knows that this videogame even exists, which is crazy. This is a spectacular visual showcase for the system and surely boasts some of the finest graphics of the 32-bit era. Everything is presented in 480 "high res" mode, with a rock-solid 60 fps, large polygon characters who are wonderfully animated, and plenty of 1980s "Sega Rock" that is both cheesy and awesome. There isn't a hint of slowdown or polygon glitching anywhere, only when the camera gets too close to the nets, but that was common on all the 5th Gen consoles.

There are 17 soccer teams from Japan's J-League, complete with logos and team colors. You have substitutions, a host of strategies and formations, and a wide variety of moves. There are four different stadiums that look more or less the same (less variety than Worldwide Soccer 97/98). There are exhibition and season modes, options for four players, and the game uses the 3D controller very nicely.

Gameplay is extremely solid. This is very much an "arcade" style soccer game, with endless air kicks and tackles and shots that hit the goal pipe. The computer is pretty ruthless, and you'll learn that few penalties are handed out, so you can play rougher than usual. While I still believe WWS 97/98 is the pinaccle of Saturn soccer games, this one comes close, and after a couple matches and a few pints of beer, well, anything is possible.

Essentially, Go Go Goal plays like a Saturn version of Virtua Striker. I have no idea how Tecmo pulled off these graphics. These are Dreamcast graphics. Are those arenas really polygons or VDP2 planes? If these are 2D backgrounds, then it's the best 3D fakery in the system's library, surpassing even Dead or Alive and Last Bronx. It looks like 3D polygons to my eyes, but I keep searching intensely to find the man behind the curtain. The best thing I can say is that it doesn't matter. The arena stands look 3D, and that's all that matters.

This game goes for peanuts these days, like most sports games (WWS98 is getting pricey, however). I strongly advise grabbing a copy before the YouTube shows find this hidden gems and the Ebay scammers jack up the prices. Get it. You'll love it.
 
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Goiken Muyou: Anarchy in the Nippon (1997, KSS)

There have been days when I have openly wondered if Sega of America was deliberately trying to kill the Saturn. How could they leave so many great videogames in Japan without even considering a US release? In the late 1990s, we gamers were already aware of Radiant Silvergun, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Grandia and Dead or Alive. Years later, and to our great shock, we discovered just how many Saturn classics were left in Japan to fade into obscurity. It's absolutely scandalous.

Anarchy in the Nippon is a masterful example of a lost Sega Saturn classic. If you're a fan of Virtua Fighter 2 and similar fighting games, you'll absolutely love this one. According to Segagaga Domain, this game was created by a team of former Sega AM2 programmers who founded their own software studio, with the assistance of four professional VF tournament fighters: Bun Bun Maru, Shinjuku Jacky, Ikebukuro Sarah and Kashiwa Jeffrey. You even get to play them as bonus characters in the game and they're great fun, each having their own martial arts techniques and moves.

Everything on the screen looks just fantastic, even on a modern HDTV but especially on a CRT display. Graphics are displayed in Saturn's celebrated "480/60" high resolution mode, with extremely fluid character animation and some truly inspired designs. The developers began with standard Japanese "street gang" archetypes (complete with 1950s Elvis hair) and then seemingly grabbed random strangers off the street, including a middle aged woman dressed in a psychedelic-tinged ballerina's tutu and a middle-aged salaryman dressed in a suit or apron. Matches take place in a variety of outdoor urban settings including city squares, parks, rooftops and the docks. These stages take place on endless planes instead of Virtua Fighter's square platforms, and may remind you of Namco's Tekken series.

Anarchy's fighting engine is based upon the Virtua Fighter series, using the familiar guard-punch-kick system, also adding an evade as seen in Fighters Megamix and Virtua Fighter 3. Each fighter has a large roster of attacks, throws and reversals. Many of these are derived from Sega's seminal series, while many represent the new directions the software team wanted to go. One fighter is very clearly a "Bruce Lee" archetype, while the middle aged woman might remind you of a funnier version of Tekken's Eddie Gordo. The other street fighters have a unique array of techniques without being devoted to a specific martial art. The large brawler character lacks the amazing throws of VF's Jeffry and Wolf, but he does have one cool move where he throws you into the air and then punches your back when you land.

The game carries a renegade punk rock spirit in its bones, partly tongue in cheek, partly serious. You almost expect to find the Ramones as surprise cameos. Matches are suitably fast and intense, but definitely aimed towards experienced VF players. Remember that four "tatsujin" tournament gamers were involved in the development of this title. Because of this, beginners will face a steeper learning curve than, say, Fighters Megamix. Thankfully, there is a tutorial mode that allows you to learn all the moves and techniques.

Gameplay options include a normal (arcade) mode, a survival mode where you battle with one life, a mode where you only face the tatsujin gamers, two-player and team battle modes, and the aforementioned training mode. A watch mode is available when you want to just show off the game (and your Sega Saturn) to your friends. The most interesting mode is one where you "create" a fighter and train them...I think. It's kinda like the Tomodachis or Sonic Adventure Chaos, where they fight on their own...I think. It's very detailed and complex, and I'm still trying to learn my way through it. I do wish my understanding of Japanese was better.

Anarchy in the Nippon is a killer fighting game, certainly belonging to the "A" list of 3D fighting titles in the Sega Saturn library. It was followed up by a sequel on Sony Playstation, but that game seemed to lack all the fun and rebelliousness of the original, as though the developers took themselves too seriously. What happened to the shop owner who pokes people in the butt and hops on their shoulders? Oh, well. Copies of this game are available for very low prices, often as low as $10. Consider that your incentive to pick up your copy as soon as possible.

(Update 5/29: Revised the text.)
 
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Asuka 120% Burning Fest. Limited (1997, Fill-In-Cafe)

Now we come to one of my all-time favorite Sega Saturn videogames. Asuka 120% Burning Fest Limited is an intensely fast and furious martial arts fighting game that rivals the best efforts from Capcom, SNK or Sega. There are a dozen characters with their own unique moves, lots of furious attacks, throws, reversals, crazy mega-hit combos and miraculous come-from-behind victories. Matches are furiously competitive and exciting for players of all skill levels.

The premise of the game is that there is a Japanese all-girl high school where students engage in an annual fighting tournament known as the "Club Rivalry Budget Contest Mega Fight." The featured clubs include chemistry, kendo, karate, gymnastics, tennis, baseball, wrestling and cheerleading. Each character uses attacks unique to their club and this adds to a great amount of variety among the cast.

The character designs and animations are absolutely gorgeous. The fighters are just the right size, suitably large, filled with color and detail. Their lines curve and flow gracefully, and look terrific in motion. The key drawings are wonderfully posed, natural yet slightly cartoonish in the limbs. I am reminded how Japanese animators can create skillful art with fewer drawings than Western animators, and these skills carried over very successfully into videogames.

Asuka's fighting engine is simple but carries a lot of depth while using only three buttons (and the C button is really A+B). This allows players to jump into the action quickly and easily. Rookies will be successful by mashing buttons and trying Street Fighter quarter-turn combos. More skilled players will take advantage of the counters and reversals, which reward good timing over technique. Attacks can be reversed and combos can be "cancelled" into special attacks with ease. Experts will master the fine art of creating mammoth 20-hit air combos that just lay the smack down.

Graphics, again, are quite excellent and show off Sega Saturn's 2D powers. There are some very impressive visual effects, including some polygon flashes and sprite transparencies, lots of exploding red and blue flames. The screen shakes when players are slammed to the ground, just like Mike Haggar's piledrivers in Final Fight. The backgrounds are not static and not animated, which is the game's only fault, but the action is so intense, you'll barely notice. Music is a collection of chirpy and cheerful anime songs that will stick in your head, as students chant out "Ganbare!" whenever someone pulls off a big hit or combo.

Most "girly" or "bishojo" fighters are pretty terrible, as they are more interested in exploitation and eye candy than solid videogame design. Asuka 120% is not only a great exception, it's one of the best 2D martial arts titles on the system. Whenever I really get the itch to play Sega Saturn, I often find myself reaching for Asuka before any of the Capcom or SNK fighters, including the 4MB blockbusters. There's a freewheeling sense of speed and fun, a real sense of freedom. It's satisfying and frustrating in just the right measures.

Fill-In-Cafe are the developers behind Asuka 120%. The series began on FM Towns and Sharp X68000 home computers, later migrating to the PC Engine CD-ROM, Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. All are essentially reworkings and revisions of the basic premise, with nearly all the same characters and basic gameplay techniques. The Saturn "Limited" is widely considered by fans to be the series' best and remains a beloved cult classic.

I see the prices on this game are creeping up a bit, hovering almost $50 on Ebay. It was stable at $30 a couple years ago. If you love fighting videogames, or anime high school chicks, or cartoon violence, you'll love this one. Highly, highly recommended.

(Update 5/29: Changed a couple screenshots and revised the text.)
 
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Zero Divide: The Final Conflict (1997, Zoom)

Continuing our look at high-res Sega Saturn games, here is another outstanding 3D polygon fighter that pushes the hardware very well. This is the third title in the Zero Divide series, which began on the Sony Playstation. I really enjoyed the first game in 1995, much more than Toshinden and Tekken 1, both of which were, IMHO, massively overrated to my eyes. Zero Divide had better gameplay and better character designs. As Mark Bussler would say, all that's needed now are flamethrowers.

Zero Divide 3 takes full advantage of the Saturn hardware, using both SH-2 CPUs, both Video Display Processors, and also uses the SCU Digital Signal Processor to crunch extra polygons. The DSP featured prominently in the system's later and most advanced 3D games (examples include Dead or Alive, Fighters Megamix, Burning Rangers, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Quake and Shining Force 3). Graphics are presented in 480/60 "high res" mode, with character designs that are very sharp and cleanly detailed, recognizable yet slightly abstract. The arenas feature a variety of designs and shapes, including polygon walls and objects floating in the background (the walls appear more solid than in Sega's own efforts).

The robot fighters are very interesting, as they move very smoothly and display very subtle lighting effects when they move. In addition, the robots' armor shells can be broken apart in part or in whole, revealing an inner pulsating skin that is gouraud shaded. Once the outer armor is broken, that part of the body is more vulnerable to attacks, adding to the strategy and tension of each match.

Gameplay is another copy of Sega's Virtua Fighter, which is a Saturn standard (if you're a VF freak, this is the greatest console ever made). You have buttons for guard, punk, kick and evade, with the usual set of canned combos and opportunities for "rolled" combos when you knock an opponent into the air. There are also throw reversals, which is always very welcome. Finally, you can be knocked off the edge of the platform, hanging onto the ledge by one hand for dear life. Matches can be very fast and intense, rewarding a thorough knowledge of your large arsenal of moves and revealing a considerable depth. Again, this is all part of the Sega playbook, and perhaps it might have seemed a touch derivative at the time, but remains very welcome to this fan. Frankly, we needed more brawlers like VF.

Players have freedom in choosing which opponents to face as they travel through the solar system in search of the final opponent. That showdown, when it arrives, is highly satisfying and also displays a degree of tragedy, as the robot wishes to be defeated and seek freedom in death. At least, that was my interpretation of what happens, so I may be wrong about this.

One really cool thing is that when you pause the game, the screen rotates in a Matrix-style "bullet time" fashion, enabling you to see the fighters, broken parts, and effects suspended in mid-air. More videogames could stand to offer cool pause screens.

Zero Divide: The Final Conflict comes highly recommended. The game features a tutorial mode, a story mode that chronicles the two previous Zero Divide episodes, two bonus mini-games, thirteen characters, including the two final bosses and a very large cartoon cat as the "joke" character. Copies are a little more difficult to find than Dead or Alive or Anarchy in the Nippon, but prices remain very affordable at $20. This series has always remained obscure, awaiting a new audience to bring it back to life.

(Update 5/29: Revised the essay.)
 
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Dinosaur Island (1997, Game Arts)

Game Arts was one of the most successful software developers for Saturn, with Grandia, Lunar and Gun Griffon to their credit. Here is another brilliant gem, but sadly very obscure and unknown. Dino Island is an "interactive cartoon" that plays out like those "choose your own adventure" books from the 1980s. It's not a traditional videogame in the sense that there are no goals or objectives or challenges. You're really just watching a very entertaining and funny anime program.

Why should any of this matter? Because everything you see has been created using the Saturn graphics hardware, not FMV or MPEG. Because of this, the visuals are sharp, crisp and very colorful. Game Arts previously experimented with this technique with Yumimi Mix on Sega CD, which was later ported to the Saturn largely as-is. On Sega CD, the visuals were mostly still-shots; on Saturn, the animation is as lush and fluid as any television production. It looks nearly indistinguishable from cels.

The story takes place on an island that is populated by humans and a host of friendly dinosaurs. The people have learned to tame the animals by playing music, either using them for work or pets, kinda like The Flintstones. The main characters are a trio of high school students who attend a musical school for training dinos, and largely involve their various comical hijinks. The tone is always upbeat, cheerful and benign, layered with a lot of goofy Japanese anime humor.

On occasion, the story will pause and present you with a list of choices. These options may include deciding which musical instrument will be played in class, or which fireworks will be set off at a festival. I don't think this largely changes the overall plot, but results in variations on specific comic scenes, and it adds a great deal of "replay value," as you will want to see all of the different story threads. There are multiple endings that are based on your decisions, but, again, there is no "bad" ending or a "game over." You are not expected to follow any specific path, only to enjoy the show and all of its possibilities.

I really enjoy Dino Island and consider it one of my favorite Japanese Saturn games. It shows off the system's amazing 2D superpowers and always impresses. Even if you don't understand Japanese, you can follow pretty easily and laugh at all the goofy cartoon humor. I especially enjoy the nods to home video, such as the pause icon shown in an above screenshot. You can also fast forward and rewind the show, and once you've reached the ending, you can watch the entire program uninterrupted as a pure cartoon.

I enjoy the era of experimental videogames that emerged at the dawn of the CD-ROM era, when software studios were willing to try new ideas and push the medium beyond its arcade roots. I wish we could see that creative spirit emerge once again, but the videogame industry is far too insulated these days, and designers are far too obsessed with validating themselves to Mommy and Daddy, passing themselves off as wannabe movie directors. Game Arts really opened the door with their mini-genre of interactive cartoons, and it's one that should be explored further.

Collectors can find this game for $20 or less, making it very affordable as far as Saturn titles go. Be careful, as there is a second title called "Dino Island Yokoku Hen," which is actually a demo disc that was released before the full version. According to Segagaga Domain, this disc features a 10-minute video sequence explaining the Dino World characters and world, and also features a very nice sound and music test. The two covers are nearly identical, so be careful to grab the correct version. Or you could just collect both. That also works.
 

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Quake (1997, Lobotomy Software)

Thank God for Lobotomy Software. Ezra Dreisbach was a programming genius on the Saturn. Powerslave and Duke Nukem 3D are two of the finest first-person shooters of the Fifth Generation, and provided Saturn with desperately needed credibility with 3D polygon graphics. Quake is the final installment of the trilogy, and also its masterpiece.

One has to be forgiving when playing FPS videogames from that era, as technology has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. If you demand 60 fps and dual-analog controls (or PC keyboard-mouse controls), you're going to have a rough time. You must make your peace with the limitations of the era, which means 10-20 frames-per-second and single-analog controller. It's really not that difficult; you played the hell out of Goldeneye and never once complained. You'll be fine.

The Saturn 3D controller is quite excellent for this game, featuring a very comfortable and responsive analog stick and analog triggers that allow you to sneak along Quake's dark caverns, shadowy castles and monster-infested dungeons. Movement is swift and precise, and I manage to navigate fairly easily, dispatching grunts and dogs and hideous creepy things. Mind you, I also find myself quickly outgunned just as quickly, but I have nobody else to blame but myself.

By late 1997 standards, Saturn Quake is a minor miracle. Its polygon graphics, complex architectural and level designs, and copious amounts of impressive lighting effects push the hardware to its limits. These worlds are dark, rusty, gritty and brutally violent. It's all such a wonderful nightmare, and it is to the game's credit that this visual style works so well. Quake on Nintendo 64 may be "more powerful," but it doesn't look nearly as convincing. That game is like a Disneyland kiddie ride compared to Lobotomy's translation.

What really wows me are the lighting effects. I tried to show a few examples in my screenshots, from the building lights to flickering candlelights to the orange flash of your machine guns. A special armor power-up paints the nearby environments in a harsh blue light. Underwater passageways are painted in green shade. Hidden hazmat suits paint everything in a green filter. The illuminated fireballs in Powerslave and flashing explosions in Duke Nukem seem primitive by comparison. I like the way Saturn handles lighting effects. It's nowhere as smooth and refined as the lighting effects seen on Sony Playstation, but it's never as gaudy, either. It fits a game like Quake perfectly.

As I've already hinted at, Quake is very challenging and difficult. Stealth and strategy are required survival skills. If you go barreling into rooms like it's Doom, you're going to be cut down very quickly. You will also need to find the many secret rooms to uncover badly-needed armor and weapon upgrades. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, I have to fight tooth and nail for every square inch. You're not going to become bored with this videogame anytime soon.

For many years, I have often said that Sega Saturn needed another year or two on the market, especially in the West. By late 1997 and early 1998, programmers were finally beginning to truly master the hardware, resulting in an amazing string of high quality hits. Could Saturn have reached the heights seen on the Playstation in games like Ridge Racer 4, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Spyro the Dragon and Metal Gear Solid? Probably not. But Sega might have kept things close, and they might have surprised us. The legendary Shenmue demo offers this very promise. Whether this notoriously complicated console could finally deliver on those promises will remain an unsolved mystery.

We all know that Saturn was an enormously, and needlessly, complicated beast, but one thing has always fascinated me. Nearly every programmer who worked with the machine hated working on it. But what have they done since then? What has Dreisbach done in the last 20 years? What has Yu Suzuki or Yuji Naka done since the Dreamcast died? What ever happened to Game Arts, Tecmo, Technosoft? Adversity creates art. Plenty creates complacence. Hand a painter only a dozen colors and watch them create the Mona Lisa. Hand that same painter a thousand colors and what does that produce? Velvet Elvis and cuckoo clocks.
 

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Mighty Hits (1997, Altron)

Back in the 1990s, when Sega and Namco had their great arcade rivalry going, there was one Namco title that was never answered by Sega: Point Blank, a comical, lighthearted light gun shoot-em-up throwback to amusement parks and carnival rides. It was a welcome alternative to the gritty, violent worlds of Time Crisis and Virtua Cop, and remains a beloved series to this day. Why Sega never responded in kind has always remained a mystery to me.

Well, wouldn’t ya know it, a third party software house named Altron filled in the void for Sega Saturn with the decidedly fun and trippy Mighty Hits. This arcade-styled shoot-em-up appeared in 1996, and mimics the comical mini-game format of Point Blank. The one major difference is that the game follows a “Wild West” motif, featuring a cast of block-shaped cowboys and outlaws who send you on a series of target-shooting contests.

The Saturn is a great console for gun games, featuring Sega’s outstanding home conversions of Virtua Cop 1 and 2 and The House of the Dead, and two Atari Games arcade hits, Alien 51 and Maximum Force, that I and my coworkers at the Dinkytown Pizza Hut played endlessly every weekend. Mighty Hits is a fine addition to this hallowed fraternity and fans of the genre will have a terrific time.

I haven’t counted all of the mini-games, since I’m still not sure if I’ve seen them all. There are over a dozen that I’ve discovered, all extremely varied and creative. Among your tasks, you must shoot a penguin free from a frozen iceberg; guide a balloon hang glider to safety by shooting the balloons; hit the correct face cards among a falling deck; shooting eggs that quickly reproduce across the screen; hit blocks to complete a picture; hunt down bumblebees that hide behind sunflowers; place a single shot through three moving clocks; various memory tests; and so on.

The art design in Mighty Hits was clearly inspired by one or two drug-fueled benders. First you being with the Wild West gunslingers, and before you know it, the colors become weird, the contests become more bizarre and surreal, and before you know it, the circus clowns are bounding around, juggling balls that resemble jeweled faberge eggs. Graphics are an interesting mix of 3D polygons, 2D bitmaps and pre-rendered CG, painted with vibrant psychedelic colors. It’s a fun little carnival world, a zap-gun Fellini for tots.

One interesting thing to note is that each stage features a hidden bonus points, usually one of the extra targets on-screen. I’m not too sure yet what accumulating these mean, but you may be rewarded by freely choosing your next few stages (instead of shooting the moving targets and guessing). At the end of the game, you are graded on your skills and rewarded with some funny CG animation clips.

Mighty Hits works as a single-player game, but it’s very clearly meant for multiplayer. This is more of a freewheeling party game than Sega’s arcade titles, and it’s both accessible and challenging enough to keep friends coming back for another go. Alcohol is almost certainly a requirement. Have I mentioned that eight players can compete in the tournament mode? If you’re a Sega Saturn fan, congratulations. You’ve found your new go-to drinking game. Stock up on shot glasses and nachos.

P.S. Sega fans in America had a very difficult time in the 32/64-bit era, as Saturn struggled poorly against Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64. In the years following the system’s demise, we discovered the staggering number of genre masterpieces, visual showpieces and hidden gems that were left in Japan. I never could understand that. Would a game like Mighty Hits have turned the tide? No, probably not, but it could have become a minor hit and turned a few heads. I’m not kidding when I describe Mighty Hits as a party drinking game. Copies are widely available of eBay for $10-$20. Pick up a copy and see for yourself. Nachos are extra.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
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Saturn Bomberman Fight! (1997, Hudson Soft)

If Saturn Bomberman is Blood on the Tracks, then Saturn Bomberman Fight is Desire: swift, bold, adventurous, wholly unique, and the last great triumph before it all goes south. This game dramatically reinvents its classic formula for the polygon age by stripping down to the very core of what makes the series so great. It's all about frenetic action, surprise kills, massive explosions, and screwing over your friends.

Gone are the sprawling single-player worlds; multiplayer is the sole focus in this game. The single-player mode is really just a practice space for the battle and survival modes, a way to learn a new host of moves and techniques. The arenas, likewise, are a collection of 3D stages with hills, valleys, and bridges, each offering different opportunities to gang up on one another. Graphics are an impressive mix of polygons for the stages and players, with bitmap sprites used for powerups, bombs, explosions and backgrounds. There are also some nice cartoon clips at the beginning and end, which is always welcome.

When you play, expect to hit the ground running. Your player-characters have the ability to pick up, throw or kick bombs right at the start. In addition, a double-jump becomes an essential tool for dodging explosions great and small. A number of mystery cards can be discovered during the match which can either boost or hurt your abilities. You might be able to stack three bombs in a stack, or you might lose the ability to jump, or your controls might be reversed.

One nice addition is the horse, who replaces the dinosaurs from previous episodes. He's a lot closer to Yoshi, as he can eat bombs and runs off in a panic when hit. And just like Super Mario World, if you get hit, you can just hop back on top. To be honest, this little horse is probably too overpowered, which is probably why Hudson only allows one on the playing field. The idea is that everyone will fight tooth and nail to steal that animal and win the match. He who controls the horse will win the war.

The most notable additions to this game are the life meter (meaning you can take multiple hits before being knocked out), the special meter (that fills as you damage enemies...or maybe when you take damage) and the super-bombs, which are awarded when your special meter is filled. There are two sizes of super-bomb, ranging from "massive explosion" to "thermonuclear meltdown," and it's always a thrill to toss one into a crowded area and watch your friends try to scramble away in a panic.

Matches are incredibly fierce and fast-paced. Everything flashes by at breakneck speed, and there are moments when it feels like the entire playfield is on fire. Because it probably is. These stages are notably smaller than the battle stages in previous Bomberman games, which adds to the claustrophobic tension. Thankfully, there are far fewer breakable blocks this time around, and plenty of room to run and jump around. You won't be wasting the first thirty seconds of the match just blasting an open passageway so you can move around, as always happened before. Bomberman Fight skips the courtship and gets straight to the action -- WAM BAM Thank You Ma-am.

It's easy to think of Saturn Bomberman Fight as "the last great Bomberman game." It's almost certainly the last time that Hudson took any risks with the franchise, which includes the two 3D entries on Nintendo 64 that were unfairly panned. When Bomberman arrived on the Sega Dreamcast, it was back to the boring old 2D square stages and putt-putt pacing, and it was steadily downhill ever since. Unfortunately, as Dylan fans all know, Desire was quickly followed by Street Legal, the Fundamentalist Trilogy and years of lost, drug-fueled hazy wanderings in the desert of mediocrity and banality. And we all remember what Bill Hicks said about banality and mediocrity.

I love Saturn Bomberman Fight. It's smashing good fun, looks wonderful, especially on a picture tube television with the RF cables. Once again, American Sega Saturn fans got royally screwed. In my less sober moments, I'll even rank Fight as my favorite Bomberman, even though I know in my bones that its immediate predecessor is the true masterpiece. If you search eBay, you can find a copy of for as little as $20, to as much as You're Outta Yer Damned Minds.
 
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Saturn Bomberman Fight! (1997, Hudson Soft)

...In my less sober moments, I'll even rank Fight as my favorite Bomberman, even though I know in my bones that its immediate predecessor is the true masterpiece. If you search eBay, you can find a copy of for as little as $20, to as much as You're Outta Yer Damned Minds.
I stumbled across my Japanese Saturn sitting, as-new, in its box yesterday whilst I was moving some things around in my house yesterday. I just read through your posts and now I feel guilty about leaving it there (hahah). I think this weekend might have to be a "Sega Saturn" weekend for me. It's become like a neglected best friend that I haven't seen in far too long :p. Fantastic posts mate, keep them coming.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
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I wanted to share these screenshots of Saturn Bomberman Fight that I took back in 2007 on a 19" RCA TV with an American Saturn connected via RF cables. I mentioned RF at the end of my previous post, so before you all collectively roll your eyes, I wanted to show you some examples. Enjoy!
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com










Sokko Seitokai: Sonic Council (1998, Banpresto and SIMS)

Here we come to another one of my favorite fighting videogames for Sega Saturn, the highly skillful and polished Sokko Seitokai. The name translates as "Hasty Student Council" ("Sonic Council" is a bit of a pun) and features the usual assortment of anime high school students and teachers who battle one another in school gymnasiums, playgrounds, video arcades and city streets. According to a Japanese fan site, this game was intended as a spoof or satire of manga comics, as well as similarly-themed games like Asuka 120%. It was developed by SIMS Co, a very successful Sega subsidiary that was formed to bolster the Master System library in Europe, and was extremely prolific through the Dreamcast era before becoming independent in 2004. In the last decade, they are known for creating fishing games. Lots of fishing games. This certainly explains "Sonic Council," if nothing else.

Sonic Council is extremely polished title, with its sizable character roster, large collection of special moves and super attacks that can result in massive 15-hit combos. The rhythm and flow is far closer to SNK than Capcom, and I wasn't at all surprised to discover that SIMS was responsible for the Saturn translations of Fatal Fury 3 and Samurai Shodown 3, both of which were released previously. In order to create a good brawler, a software team usually needs a couple titles under their belt. First-time efforts usually fall flat. Kasumi Ninja, anyone?

The character designs are very impressive, pencil thin but animated with extremely fluid motion. Their standing animations seem to be drawn on "ones", which is highly impressive for the Saturn era. According to the GDRI database, a company named Digimotion was responsible for these designs, and I've also managed to find at least a couple comic books featuring these characters that were published in the following years. In addition, Gamest Magazine also played a role in the making of this game. One source cited their role as "supervisor," but it has never been revealed exactly what that means. It may have been nothing more than a glorified celebrity endorsement/tie-in. We would have to dig up some 1998 issues of the magazine to search for clues.

One thing I should say about Sonic Council: it's very tough. The computer will kick you around like a tin can if you don't know what the hell you're doing. Practicing your moves in the tutorial mode is a must, and you're also going to need a players' guide from GameFAQs. Fortunately, the special moves usually involve standard joystick rotations, along with some double-tap attacks and throws. You'll get the hang of things soon enough, but expect to hit the ground running. This videogame is not interested in winning you over slowly. It intends to beat you like a gong.

Visually, Sonic Council looks terrific. The characters are a bit shorter than you'd expect, especially after playing Asuka 120% of Astra Superstars. The fluid animation, however, more than makes up for it, as does the impressive stage designs and animated crowds. I was very impressed by the "sonic wave" effects that roll out whenever a major attack is joined. There are also a couple characters with flames that dissipate heat if you look very closely. It's subtle, especially on a CRT television, but very cool. This game has a quiet confidence in its bones. The programmers don't feel the need to beat you over the head in order to be heard. Well, except for those seizure-inducing flash effects when you pull off a "special attack" KO. That's also cool.

This videogame is very obscure among Western Saturn fans. It has managed to hang under the radar while bigger names hog all the attention. If Sonic Council were published by SNK, it would today be hailed as a minor classic of the genre. Instead, it was published by Banpresto with no announcement as to its developers or their pedigree. Because of this, the game has remained overlooked. Whatever. This is one of the best 2D fighters on the system.

Prices on eBay are lower than you would expect, currently hovering in the $30-$40 range. There are fewer copies floating around, but its obscurity has helped keep the prices sane. If one or two prominent video review shows were to feature Sonic Council, the eBay scammers would immediately jack the price to over $100. I strongly advise grabbing yourself a copy before that happens.
 

DGrayson

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Great posts DT MEDIA DT MEDIA .

I eventually sold all my Saturn games including Dragon force but your posts above have the nostalgia coming back!
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com










Astra Superstars (1998, Sunsoft and Santa Claus)

Wow! What a sensational videogame. I'm probably going to have brain seizures after playing this for more than an hour, but it's totally worth it. I'll be sent to the madhouse for sure, but I will have no regrets.

Sega Saturn has always been hailed as a behemoth for 2D videogames, but there were precious few examples in the USA to back up such boasts. We had Galactic Attack and Darius Gaiden and Street Fighter Alpha 2, all of which looked terrific and kept us glued to our television screens, but they weren't exactly groundbreaking. They were the bigger and bolder cousins of what we played on Sega Genesis. We didn't really see an example of a Saturn game that pushed its 2D powers the way games like Virtua Fighter 2, Burning Rangers and Quake were pushing the system's 3D powers. But Astra Superstars delivers.

These are the best 2D graphics on the Sega Saturn. It's certainly the loudest, the most brash, the most extreme, the most visually overwhelming. It doesn't dazzle your senses, it assaults you from every direction, spins you like mad, knocks you to the ground, grabs your wallet and keys, then raids your fridge just for kicks. I'm not kidding when I bring up seizures. Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter is probably its closest rival, in terms of animation quality and visual pizazz. But Capcom plays it straight, while Sunsoft and Santa Claus, the Astra software team, went completely gonzo. This is one videogame that truly deserves a Ralph Stedman cover illustration.

Astra Superstars is a 2D arcade fighting game featuring a very colorful cast of cartoonish characters with zany names like Lettuce, Maron, Coco, Rouge, Fooly. Their designs are completely, wonderfully ridiculous, either playing off or drowning in anime stereotypes. You have the spiky-haired hero, the stone-faced samurai warrior, a hulking giant with Charlie Brown hair, a small girl dressed as Santa, and two "hot chicks" whose wardrobes come straight from the Yandy summer catalog. Because, why not? We're already overwhelming your teenage male hormones enough as it is.

The game plays out like a simplified Street Fighter, with the standard six-button layout and "special" and "super" attacks that are performed with simple button presses. There are no complex joystick rotations or button combinations. The fighting system is versatile but extremely simple to use, and it's extremely satisfying to unleash a series of attacks that literally knock your opponent around the screen like a tennis ball. Because of this, Astra Superstars has a reputation for being friendly to "button mashers." To which I say, fantastic, thank you very much, and it's about damned time.

One rarely-discussed reason why video arcades withered and died out in the late 1990s is that everything became focused squarely on the "hardcore" or tournament players at the expense of everybody else. Every shoot-em-up was made specifically for those who could master Dodonpachi in their sleep. Every fighting game was made specifically for those who could pull off a Stun Palm of Doom blindfolded. But where did that leave the rest of us? Here's a quick ProTip: most gamers' only strategy in fighting games was to smash the buttons as fast as possible, and hope that something cool happens. Beer and alcohol were also present at most of these get-togethers, so we had to function with our brains half-underwater and our eyesight rolling endlessly.

Astra Superstars is just as rich and complex as anything created by Capcom or SNK (the floating concept is wonderfully played, as you hurl and bounce your way in all directions while staying grounded in a closed space), but this time anyone can pull off those super-flashy moves. It's welcoming and liberating and makes for a lot of fun. Capcom did something very similar with the Wiimote controls on Tatsunoko vs Capcom, which is another breath of fresh air that desperately needs to be copied.

The graphics in this game follow a unique style, one I'd like to call "Spaz-Tastic Cartoon Overdose." Characters bend, twist, warp and distort when performing attacks and receiving hits. Sometimes they become dizzy and fall unconscious. Sometimes they panic and suddenly realize they're floating in the air, their feet scrambling in a panic. The greatest effects are reserved for the "super" attacks, as the screen explodes in a psychedlic cataclysm of color, flash and line drawings. Backgrounds also pulsate and pixelate, and you even see a few wireframe polygon effects. One character assaults you with Christmas presents. Another drops a moon-sized peach on your head. Another transforms into a giant monster who fills half the screen.

There are at least four bonus characters to face once you've defeated your main opponents, including a stick figure pencil drawing that has to be one of the all-time great "joke" characters. He perfectly fits the Astra Superstars style, and I can't imagine the game without him. I'd like to see him go up against the Daytona car from Fighters Megamix and that big round cat from Zero Divide. We need more guys like him. Heck, we need more videogames like this. I cannot believe Astra Superstars was never considered for a Western release. This game would have sold. Heck, it would sell today. Tell Sunsoft to release this game on the Nintendo Switch immediately. Then hire Stedman to draw the cover art.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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World Series Baseball 98 (1997, Sega)

When you buy a Sega Saturn, the first videogame to get is the "3-in-1" package featuring Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop and Daytona. Then you get Sega Rally Championship. Then you get World Series Baseball 98.

I wrote about World Series Baseball 98 on one of my blogs three years ago, and more recently appeared in my book Pop Life. It stands as the finest baseball videogame ever created. I believed that two decades ago, and I still believe that today. Despite the advances in computer hardware and graphics powers, this title has never been surpassed, and still dominates the sport just like NHL 94 still dominates hockey games.

The genius to this game lies in its pitcher/batter duel. For the sport, this is the heart and soul of the game, but most videogame adaptations have reduced it to simple target practice. For the pitcher, you would simply press a button to throw the ball, and then waggle the joystick to move it in midair en route to the catcher's mitt. For the batter, you simply press a button to swing the bat and try to hit the physics-defying ball. Nearly every single video baseball game going back to the Atari 2600 has copied this formula. In later years, software designers took away mid-air ball control in the name of "realism," but the basics of the duel remained just that. Basic. Lacking all drama. Boring.

World Series Baseball 98 changes all of that. The pitcher chooses from his arsenal, aims the pitch during the windup, and lets it go. Available pitches are based on the real-life players' skills, making their curveballs, sliders and sinkers very unique, and lose their effectiveness as the pitcher tires. One pitcher may have a monster slider that drops two feet at the last second, where another pitcher can barely make a wobble. Some curveballs hook, others slice. And as the pitcher's arm tires, the more those pitches begin to straighten out and decay into a very modest "slowball" down the middle.

The batter, meanwhile, has two methods of attack. His first option is the "traditional" method. He can attempt to follow the pitch with the cursor just like all the other baseball games. You may swing and miss, or you may swing and get only a piece of the ball, resulting in easy pop-ups or grounders. However, if you are quick, your cursor will "lock on" at the correct destination. The guarantees a stronger swing and a more powerful hit. With practice, you can find a strategic balance between the two, where skillful swings can result in fly balls, grounders or curves, depending on where that cursor strikes.

The batter's second option is something we shall call "the quadrants". The batter's box is broken into four equal quadrants, and each player has their unique "hot" and "cold" zones. "Hot" zones result in stronger swings, while "cold" zones result in weaker ones. By selecting a quadrant before the pitch is thrown, the batter will focus his attention on that area. If the pitch travels towards that quadrant, the batter will achieve a more powerful "lock" on the ball, guaranteeing the most powerful hit of all. These are essentially the "power" swings, the ones most likely to result in doubles, triples and home runs. On the other hand, if the batter guesses the wrong quadrant, he regains control over the basic cursor, but with only a fraction of time left to attempt a swing. These swings usually result in short panic attacks, especially when you're staring down that third strike.

Here lies the genius of Sega's design. We now have a true pitcher/batter duel, one that becomes a series of strategic and increasingly tense mind games and shootouts. No longer do you swing at every pitch, or just throw the ball wildly. Now you must think of the long game. The pitcher must lure batters away from their comfort zones, away from power swings that could result in home runs. His strategy is to keep his opponent guessing, trying to make him willing to swing at a bad pitch. For the batter, the strategy is to control the tempo of the duel, work to wear the pitcher down, drag that count as long as possible, play for time and wait for the perfect moment to strike. Too many pitches result in tired arms. Tired arms result in fat gopher balls. Gopher balls become easy pickings for "lock on" power swings that now can occur on any quadrant, resulting in huge hits and grand slams.

Your offensive strategy is to know when to use your weak (cursor) and normal (lock-on) swings, and when to aim for the power swings (quadrants). Get a hit, get a man on base, then try for a bunt or steal. It's difficult to move around those bases, and home runs are thankfully uncommon. You need to work on singles and doubles and hustle your butt off. Likewise, your defensive strategy depends on knowing how long to keep your starters on the mound, and when to bring in the relievers, and how to respond to specific batters (southpaws are a nightmare). And you must know how deep or how shallow to move your outfielders, and hustle to catch those balls and make those double plays.

World Series Baseball 98 looks absolutely sensational by 1997 standards, with graphics that rival anything seen on the Saturn (or Playstation and Nintendo 64, for that matter). The players are all rendered in polygons, are very large and include many impressive animations. All of the baseball stadiums are recreated in impressive detail, and Sega got the dimensions right, which was always a bigger problem with video baseball than you'd realize. Everything looks very detailed and colorful, but also very clean. Quads look good on these players. Is this running in one of the 480 high resolution mode? Perhaps.

One unsung quality of this game is the audio, which features a highly professional play-by-play commentary (and not just by 1997 standards) and voice announcements for all the players. There are some nice embellishments for the star players that remind me of Marsh Nelson announcing "Kirrrrrby Puuuuucket" at Twins games (God Rest Their Souls). Umpire calls are short and, more importantly, not irritating. Sound effects are highly satisfying, from the thick crack of the bat on the power swings to the crackle of foul balls. The music fits the mood and is always catchy, giving me warm memories of the Genesis days.

Just this morning, I played a quick cpu-vs-cpu game for the purpose of taking these screenshots, an exhibition match with Minnesota Twins at Chicago Cubs. On the very first pitch in the first inning, Chuck Knoblauch cracked a home run into the left field stands, giving the Twins an easy lead that was soon widened to 2-0. After several quick innings, the Cubs meticulously clawed their way back, earning one run here, one run there, doing it the old fashioned way by rounding the bases. A home run by Sammy Sosa gave Chicago the lead with 3-2 in the eighth inning.

At the top of the ninth, with one out, the Twins had one out with the tying runner on third. A fastball was connected by a pop fly to the infield. Two outs. It all comes down to this. Matt Lawton at the plate. A pitch. Ball. Another pitch that goes outside and low. Ball Two. Then something miraculous happens. A third pitch comes right down the middle. Lawton swings. The ball is chipped, bounces backwards towards the catcher. He drops the ball, which then rolls back to the wall. Sudden shock as jaws drop. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! RUN, YOU FOOL, RUN!!

Lawton sprints towards first base as the tying run races towards home plate. The catcher chases after the ball, grabs it, spins around, fires a bullet to first base at the last possible second.

OUT!

Any programmer can simulate a sport. It takes truly gifted minds to create true drama. World Series Baseball 98 has that in spades. God Bless Sega.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
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All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua (1997, Sega)

Let's take a look at another excellent fighting game from Japan that deserved to be released in the USA. Indeed, this is the only 3D wrestling videogame for the Sega Saturn, and it's a terrific showpiece that deserves a place in your library alongside Fighting Vipers and Fighters Megamix. All Japan Pro Wrestling is very affordable (as little as $10), highly playable, richly rewarding and guaranteed to add excitement to any social gathering.

While most wrestling games of the era seemed to rely on mashing buttons in hopes that something good will happen, this title is far more intelligent, complex and strategic. It plays like a cousin to Virtua Fighter, while incorporating the styles and techniques of the sport. Your moves consist of attacks, grabs and throws, with the ability to perform hold reversals and throw escapes. The controls are easy to grasp, and you can learn to chain attacks together, such as grabbing an opponent, changing the position, throwing him to the ground, picking him back up, then throwing him again, all to roaring crowds. You can even perform moves when close to the ropes, or perform flying turnbuckle moves, or even escape the ring, which is always a lot of fun.

There are a number of gameplay innovations in this game: Reversals, Damage Levels, Broken Bones and Crowd Approval. Reversals enable you to escape nearly any grapple maneuver or throw, performed when an icon appears on-screen. Even the reversals themselves can be reversed (I'm reminded of the "hold" moves in Dead or Alive). As attacks can be strung together, you can disrupt your opponent's rhythm if you know what you're doing. Damage levels work like "special" meters in fighting games, in that it builds up as you successfully perform attacks. When you reach DM level 50 and 80, you can perform your most devastating and crowd-pleasing attacks. Broken Bones occur when you take too much damage in a specific region, such as your head, neck, back, arms or legs. A warning icon will occur when you're in danger, and subsequent hits will result in broken bones. When two bones are broken, the referee will intervene and end the match. Finally, the crowd approval rewards showmanship and pizazz. It's not enough to merely knock down your opponent and get a quick three-count. You have to win the crowd over with variety and style. As the excitement grows, the crowd will roar and chant your name, which is not only very cool, it makes it easier for you to pin your opponent (and harder to become pinned yourself).

As the title indicates, this is based on the All Japan Pro Wrestling League, which was founded in 1972. The cast of characters include a mix of Japanese and American wrestlers, all motion captured and wonderfully animated with a balletic grace. It's quite something to see, a tone poem of grace and violence. If you're like me, you'll skip all the real-life wrestlers and play as Jeffry and Wolf from Virtua Fighter, who make a very welcome cameo appearance. They fit like a glove, especially Jeffry, who takes to wrestling like a duck to water. It's fascinating that both characters are based on real fighters ("Bear Killer" Willie Williams and Jim Steele), which is probably why they work so well here. You can perform all the major attacks, grabs and throws from Virtua Fighter 3, and these are some of the most satisfying attacks in the game.

The graphics are highly polished and smooth, moving at a rock solid 30 frames-per-second, and feels like a further refinement from Fighters Megamix. The characters feel meaty and solid, with a subtle degree of shading and lighting. The arena and ring are a highly impressive mix of 3D polygons and 2D bitmaps, with digitized crowd in the background. All Japan Pro Wrestling is highly impressive not just by Saturn standards; this game can compete against the wrestling games on Nintendo 64.

Yes, I can understand that licensing would have made things more expensive for Sega of America, either to secure a WWF or WCW license, or to simply import the AJPW players. Whatever. Once again, Bernie Stolar choked. Wrestling videogames were huge during the 32/64-bit era, as any teenager or college student at the time will tell you. The Nintendo 64 had a virtual lock on the genre. Saturn could have had a piece of that action.

This game was followed by the two Giant Gram titles on Dreamcast, which continue the tradition, but also sacrifice some of the strategic gameplay in favor of a faster, more arcade-oriented style. All three are must-haves for fighting and wrestling game fans, but I have a gnawing feeling in my gut telling me the Saturn original is the best.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








Savaki (1998, Cygnus)

Savaki appeared in the final months of the Sega Saturn in Japan in April of 1998, and it's a highly polished title that demonstrates a great mastery of the hardware. It is a 3D polygon fighting game that leans heavily towards "simulation," focusing on real-world martial arts while avoiding anything flashy or unrealistic. This focus on realism helps give this game a unique, original style that is very welcome. And for a system overloaded with so many fighting games, it becomes extremely challenging to stand out from the crowd. But Savaki stands out very nicely, even if it's not for everyone.

This game revolves around specialized martial artists in an underground fighting circuit, probably taking place in some dingy mafia-run warehouse basement. The characters don't have names; instead, they are designated by their fighting styles, including karate, boxing, muy thai, jeet kun do, tai kwon do and "freestyle," which is the style employed by the extremely challenging and relentless final boss, a towering masked man in wrestler's garb. I wonder if he's related to the final boss from Pit Fighter?

Attacks are simple to learn, consisting of various punches and kicks that can be chained together in short combos. There are no throws or grapple techniques. Your defensive moves include blocking, "feint" moves that attempt to trick your opponent, and a move called "savaki" that can deflect an attack if timed properly. This was something that Virtua Fighter 3 dabbled with, and this game elevates it to a significant importance.

Successful play involves not only learning the rhythm of your attacks (as well as your opponent), but understanding that defense and psychology is equally important. Mashing buttons will not work for more than a couple rounds. Very quickly, the fights become extremely fast and challenging, and you must employ skilled technique to survive.

Visually, Savaki looks magnificent, employing smooth action at 60 frames-per-second, polygon shading, light sourcing, particle effects and a caged arena that combines 3D polygons with 2D VDP2 bitmaps. If there is one complaint to offer, it's that there is only one arena, but this is perhaps part of the game's "Fight Club" theme and was intended as such. Audio consists of solid effects for punches and kicks, and a looping crowd that cheers you on without becoming overly distracting.

According to research, Savaki was programmed by a single individual, Kozo Nishio, who was also the programmer of the 1996 Saturn/Playstation robot fighting game Robo Pit. He clearly understood how to maximize the Saturn hardware, something that very few programmers of the day could boast. Hardly anyone outside of Japan ever properly knew what to make of Sega's massive box of processors and chips. Hardly anyone even bothered to put in the time to learn, usually just turning off the second SH-2 CPU and struggling to work with Sega's crummy C compiler instead of working in Assembly language. Oh, well, whatever, nevermind. All water under the bridge.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
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Baroque (1998, Sting Entertainment)

Baroque is a magnificent work of dark surrealism, horror and existential dread. It's scarier than Resident Evil, more gothic than Quake. This game is like peering into a long nightmare from the depths of the unconscious, like peering into Purgatory or something worse. I dare you to play at night, sitting right in front of the couch, lights out, and no distractions. Play for an hour and then try to walk to bed without turning on all the lights. I dare you.

The game opens with an impressive CG sequence that raises mysteries and answers nothing. The setting appears to involve an apocalypse, a devastated wasteland, a hoard of disfigured mutants, friendly and hostile, and dreamlike images of men in white lab coats, steampunk machinery, and a face hidden inside a steel vat. Images of two lovers in embrace are twisted, distorted. On the horizon, an enormous towering mass of ball and steel, wire and rust beckons. You awaken in the metal ruins of a nearby city, a desolation of metal, red lights and sand dunes. A large robed figure forbids entry into a building. Another creature with an enormously long neck cackles uncontrollably. A ghostly angel figure asks cryptic questions and hands you a weapon, invoking you to explore the depths of that great Neuro Tower in search of answers.

None of this makes sense, and that's part of the design. Even if you understand Japanese, the dialog is darkly poetic, an endless series of suffering and lamentations. This place is probably where bad people go when they die. Everything is shrouded in dark shadow, illuminated only be occasional lighting, accompanied by the howling of winds and lost souls. Baroque is incomprehensible and very deliberately so. You are left feeling disoriented, confused, almost lost in a fog of amnesia. That sense of uncertainly will only accelerate once you enter the tower.

When you enter the tower, your goal is to descend over twenty levels in search of...what, exactly? Answers? Adventure? Cheap thrills? Have you ever felt tempted to explore an abandoned building that was supposedly haunted? That feeling in the pit of your stomach...that's what this game is about, and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

At its heart, Baroque is a "Rogue-like" adventure game, patterned after the legendary computer game Rogue, which was defined purely by randomness. Every time you enter the Neuro Tower, the floors are different. One room may be eerily quiet, while the next is pulsating with throbbing, disgusting monsters and mutated freaks. Crucial items such as weapons, coats, and food may be in abundance or absent. You may find a sword that spits fire, or you find nothing and have to rely on your fists as your health steadily drains away.

And the most chilling cut of all: if you are killed, you will lose everything, absolutely everything. You will have to begin all over again. At the end of a stage, you are given the option to save your progress, but you can only use that save state once. After that, you're on your own. This not only adds a tremendous amount of tension the further you progress (Minecraft's "expert" mode pulls the very same mind trip on you), it also adds to that sense of disorientation and existential despair. You are born into a nightmare, you struggle to survive, you die, mysteries are revealed as you cross over, and then you awake again, cursed to live through the nightmare again. Baroque is like Groundhog Day for H.R. Giger freaks.

Baroque is a videogame that is loaded with style and atmosphere. When it's not moody, it's creepy. When it's not creepy, it's unsettling. When it's not unsettling, it's scaring the hell out of you. Expect a lot of cheap shocks. Remember that dog in Resident Evil? Yeah, Sting remembers. The last videogame that spooked me as much was Minecraft and it's endless dark caverns crawling with Zombies and Skeletons and Creepers who always put the zap on you the moment you've let your guard down. Fascinating how both titles employ a first-person view and randomized level designs.

The graphics are absolutely sensational. Which is to say, they're highly effective: rough and rusted, slow and brooding, heavy on the shadows, and illuminated by patches of red, white and green. It looks a lot like Lobotomy's Quake, only less refined, but retaining all the grit and grime. Here is one example why the 32-bit graphics of the Saturn/Playstation era are so effective when done right. If you doubt me, then take a look at the Playstation 2/Nintendo Wii remake, which "improves" the graphics by removing everything that made them great in the first place. You don't want smooth wall textures, bright lights, long draw distances, smooth frame rates or polygon anime dolls. You want ugly, roughshod buildings that look like they're about to completely collapse. You want haunting mood lighting. You want grotesque creatures that are pre-rendered sprites (ala Donkey Kong Country). You want the uncanny, not the uncanny valley.

I can't think of a single horror videogame that sticks in my gut the way Baroque does, that gnaws at me and leaves me checking the back of my couch for monsters. I'm probably going to have nightmares tonight. I may have to sleep with a cross and a copy of the Roman Ritual of 1614 under my pillow.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com










Dead or Alive (1997, Tecmo and Team Ninja)

Every Sega Saturn fan knows about Dead or Alive. We were absolutely thrilled by the 1996 arcade game, which used Sega's Model 2 hardware board, and were doubly thrilled to learn it was coming home the following year. Then we were left hanging by Sega of America, as newly-installed CEO Bernie Stolar notoriously declared "Saturn is not our future." Then he grabbed a shovel and began digging, and Saturn tried to crack a smile beneath another shovel load.

Why the bloody hell was this game not released? Yes, the Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64 had thoroughly dominated the US videogame market by 1997, thanks to Super Mario 64, Goldeneye, Crash Bandicoot and Final Fantasy 7. But the Saturn wasn't dead yet, and if it was dying, the cause was starvation. Gamers were left high and dry waiting for quality software that delivered on the early promises offered by that spectacular Christmas 1995 lineup of Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop and Sega Rally Championship. We had many great games in '96 and '97, but nothing could really match that peak, which was beginning to look insurmountable.

Then Team Ninja arrived and conquered that mountain with ease. They not only created an arcade fighting game that could equal Virtua Fighter 2's "480/60" high resolution graphics, they may have surpassed it. And if you thought Dead or Alive was a one-time fluke, Go Go Goal was waiting in the wings to slap you upside the head a second time. These guys could make the Saturn sing and it was glorious.

Today, two decades later, this game still looks glorious. The opening CG movie, the character menu screen, the stages, the character design, every moment glows with pride. This game knows how to strut with its feathers held high. The animation is wonderfully fluid and natural, and can easily stand alongside its more sequels. Indeed, even though DOA 2 and 3 are vastly more advanced from a technology point of view, the core gameplay of the original is so solid, so focused, that it has hardly aged a day. There's a reason why Tecmo included Saturn DOA 1 on the Xbox for Dead or Alive Ultimate.

The fighting system in Dead or Alive follows the Virtua Fighter formula, with PKG buttons and a series of "canned" and "rolled" combos. The rhythm and tempo, however, is slightly different, focusing more on short, quick attacks that often result in multi-hit combos. You will find yourself on your back in the blink of an eye. The speed is very fast, and you must study your character's moves and flow charts closely if you wish to have any chance at winning more than a couple matches. The computer opponents in arcade mode is especially brutal. You'll get your butt handed to you on Lei Fang's stage two.

Two gameplay innovations that define this classic: "hold" reversals and danger zones. The holds involve use of the guard button to repel an attack and can be used offensively or defensively, either by pushing the opponent aside or retaliating with a quick grab-and-punch. Sega dabbled with this idea in the Virtua Fighter series, but Tecmo made it universal for all characters, much like Namco would later do with Soul Calibur. The danger zones are an explosive perimeter that surrounds the fighting ring. When knocked down in this zone, your fighter is detonated by an explosive and shot into the air, allowing for more free hits.

Many of the characters lean hard on Chinese martial arts, offering many techniques and styles that are different from Sega's franchises. You can tell that Team Ninja worked hard to distinguish themselves, which pays off handsomely. Yes, I find myself going for Jann Lee's Bruce Lee's copycat moves, but Lei Fang's Tai Chi maneuvers are always hard to anticipate. Ryu Hayabusa's (yay, Ninja Gaiden!) gymnastics set him apart from Kage Maru, and Gen Fu's short-range strikes are nothing like Shun Di's drunken kung fu.

One thing that really impresses me in Dead or Alive are the backgrounds. The graphics are a mix of 3D polygons and 2D bitmaps, much like Sega's brawlers, but I think Tecmo does it better here. They do a better job of faking the 3D effect by keeping the camera perspective slightly lower, and, more importantly, drawing the backgrounds with perspective distortion. It's very convincing in the heat of battle. Also, the backgrounds feature pre-rendered graphics, which look especially sharp. I'm thinking of Ryu's mountain stage and Bayman's military hangar. And Zach's stage with the beach and fiery sunset that evokes memories of Rygar? Genius.

Finally, I need to bring up one infamous topic: the bouncing breasts. These giant balloons defy all gravity and logic and are guaranteed to make every sexually frustrated teenage boy swoon. Poor saps. Whenever I play this game, the first thing I do is turn that off. It's distracting and stupid, and, frankly, embarrassing. This was a joke, right? Itagaki might as well have hung a sign around his neck that says, "I'm a virgin and I live with my parents."
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








Last Bronx (1997, Sega AM3)

Of Sega's 3D arcade fighting videogames -- Virtua Fighter Remix, Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers, Fighters Megamix -- Last Bronx is the weakest title of the bunch. Only the original Virtua Fighter, notoriously plagued with programming growing pains, would rank lower in my opinion. This isn't to say that it's a poor game, as it's actually quite good. I just find myself reaching for another title on my shelf when I need my martial arts fix. I'm not sure why this is.

Last Bronx was created by Sega AM3. They gave us Sega Rally Championship, Virtua On, Decathlete and Winter Kings, terrific games, all. They're great at creating genre classics that feel fresh and innovative. Here, they create a world of underground criminals in Tokyo who belong to rival gangs and beat each other senseless with large, bulky weapons. Stage designs include airports, empty warehouse districts, and city rooftops. A young man wearing steampunk goggles may be behind all the violence. Fast violence and cheap thrills await.

The game is presented in Saturn's "480/60" high resolution, and there's no question that it looks very nice. It probably looks better on a CRT television, as there are many moments where graphics display "interlaced" effects that can be seen on an HDTV. Characters are very large and well animated. Stages once again employ a mixture of 3D polygons and 2D bitmaps, this time also including short fences around the perimeter. Sega AM3 especially wows us with two indoor stages that take place within a parking garage and subway station. The combination of ceilings, perspective-distorted walls and stationary objects create a stunning recreation of a 3D world in 2D, thanks to the Saturn's VDP2 processor. It's even more effective than Dead or Alive, and never fails to dazzle.

I'm trying to think about what holds this game back from greatness, and I struggle to remember my experiences with it in the late 1990s, before Namco's Soul Calibur arrived on Dreamcast and blew all our minds. Now that is how you make a weapon-based fighting game, one that flows and gels, where the weapons are an extension of the characters' bodies. Last Bronx never gels the same way. There's a distinct clunkiness to its combat; the fighters don't dance or sway with athletic grace. Instead, they just beat one another down with large sticks. Sometimes it feels very satisfying, especially when you mount a great comeback victory. At other times, it feels very two-dimensional, very up-and-down.

One thing that really irritates me is how so many attacks push your opponent away from you. Many fights result in the players kept at arms' length, and it's difficult to get up close. You're just left to poke-poke-poke at one another from a distance. And since there are no reversals or parrying moves, we lack the tension felt in Dead or Alive or Soul Calibur or the Virtua Fighter series. That interaction and balance just isn't there. There isn't enough defense, or enough throws. The lack of a sideways dodge is especially surprising. This feels like a step back from where the genre had progressed during the 32/64-bit era.

The character graphics have an urban grittiness to them, and they're highly original when compared to the genre. I do enjoy that. I really like Kurosawa, a gangster who wears an purple suit and an Elvis Presley sneer, and Yoko, who dresses in SWAT fatigues and a baseball hat. The rest of the cast tries too hard to look like comic book heroes, and there's not much personality to them. They're largely defined by their weapons, and that's the problem. There's really no difference between one weapon and another in terms of style and technique. It's all the same punch-punch-punch.

Also, since I'm on this rant, is it just me, or do the polygon characters look blocky and low-rez? The flat color tones, thick lines and chunky limbs are surprisingly jarring. After playing for a while, I swapped in Anarchy in the Nippon just to compare, and was immediately struck by the smooth, refined and colorful character designs. AM3 might counter by suggesting this was all part of the game's urban design aesthetic. Maybe they'd have a point. Maybe not.

I'm probably being a bit harsh. I do enjoy Last Bronx when the mood strikes. It can be good in fits and starts. I should also point out that I own a copy of the Japanese version, which is notably glitchier than its American counterpart. Sega had a nasty reputation of rushing software titles to market before they were ready, and it contributed greatly to Saturn's terrible reputation for 3D graphics. If you're building a software library, I strongly recommend finding the later release. Sega Rally and Tomb Raider in Japan, Daytona USA and Last Bronx in the US. That sort of thing.

No doubt Last Bronx suffers from being on a system with such a strong lineup of fighting games. When you have to compete against AM2, DOA, Anarchy, Zero Divide and Savaki, it's almost impossible to keep up, especially when your design team is unfamiliar with the genre. If this game were released on the Nintendo 64, diehard fanboys would be howling about it every single day for the last twenty years. It's all a matter of perspective.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
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Fighting Vipers (1996, Sega AM2)

Fighting Vipers is the Motley Crue of videogames: flashy, trashy, wild and out of control. It's similar in many ways to its sober cousin, Virtua Fighter 2, and welcomes new fans with familiar controls and promises of martial arts action. Then it quickly raids the liquor cabinet, smashes the hotel room, and drives a motorcycle through the window into the outdoor pool below, leaving you stuck with the bill. These cats have come to rock hard and burn out in a blaze of glory.

These are a great cast of characters. They all look like Prince and the Revolution from the Purple Rain era, with wild colored costumes, big hair and all full of energy and attitude. This was especially daring in the 1990s, which battered down with a Puritanical bent anything that resembled those horrible, decadent '80s. These were the days of angst and two layers of flannel shirts, not neon hairspray and alcohol-fueled amphetamine blasts. We were halfway to Vegas when the drugs began to take hold... One fighter wears rollerblades. Another kid carries a skateboard like a weapon. Another dresses like an L.A. Rocker Dude and carries a v-neck guitar. Another wears a long, dark trench coat and a toothpick sneer. One fat bastard dresses in armor that makes him looking like a walking bowling alley (when he grabs and throws you into a wall, crashing pins are heard). And one female fighter looks like Private Vasquez from the movie Aliens.

The action in Fighting Vipers is very similar to Virtua Fighter, with punch-kick-guard controls and simple moves that belie a deep complexity based on a rock-paper-scissors system. Attack beats throw, throw beats guard, guard beats attack. With that solid foundation, AM2 pushes forward: the speed seems to be boosted a little, attacks are breezier and more immediate than in VF2. The action feels more immediate. Attack combos are more plentiful and fluid, especially for beginnings. Some specialized attacks can send opponents suddenly smashing into the back wall. Fighters knocked into the air can roll back to life before they hit the ground. Walls and cages surround the fighters who find themselves bouncing off when hit in a jarring motion, and it's quite a kick.

The armor is an especially cool touch. All of the Vipers can lose their armored shells if they absorb too many ultra-powerful hits, sending pieces flailing in all directions as the camera goes for multiple replay angles. More 1980s cliches. These armor breaks aren't just titillation for the boys, showing the slutty girls in their g-strings, they make the victims more vulnerable to damage. This adds a bit of danger to your game, and might cause you to step back and play a little more defense.

The best part of the game? The finishing moves, which send the opposing fighter through a shattered wall, splintering a dozen times over. It's a great thrill to knock away at one another, then finish your foe off by hurling them into the horizon. Add in the breakable armor, cage combos and hurling attacks, and you have a terrific brawl on your hands.

The Saturn version of Fighting Vipers is very close to the arcade, if not quite up to the level of VF2. The graphics are rendered in "240" standard definition, but this trade-off enables AM2 to create some excellent gauraud shading and realtime light sourcing effects. At the time, this was a new frontier for home videogames, and it was a race between Sony Playstation and Saturn to determine who could champion the coolest effects. This was a fight that Sony easily won, and in retrospect, Sega should have stuck to their strong hand, which has always been clear and clean high resolution graphics. That said, the visual effects in this game are highly impressive, and demonstrated that Sega could compete. Jane's boxing ring stage is the most impressive, with four sets of different colored lights that switch off during fights. Thankfully, the 60 frames-per-second that is Sega's trademark is perfectly preserved. Such a feat was rare in the Fifth Generation, and Sega never got enough credit for that. I never understood why.

The Japanese version of Fighting Vipers includes one of the all-time great bonus characters: Pepsiman, a Japanese spokesmodel for the soda giant. He appeared in his own commercials and at least one videogame on the Playstation (it was a cheap gimmick, but a fun one). In this game, he's a perfect fit, full of fast and flashy moves and some cool winning poses. He might be a little too powerful, but maybe he's just closer to my style. It's a shame that he was removed from the American version. Thankfully, the other two bonus characters, the final boss and a giant bear balloon, are retained. The bear, especially, is seen as a "joke" character, but that's half the fun of these sort of videogames. Heck, half the bonus characters in Fighters Megamix were "joke" characters, and nobody seemed to mind. Be honest, when you fire up that game, you play as the Daytona race car. We all know it.

I can't fully explain why this game has become obscure, almost forgotten, all these years later. Perhaps Megamix simply filled the void and became the default Saturn 3D fighting game, leaving most casual players uninterested in anything else. Perhaps the lack of any further sequels (Fighting Vipers 2 is even more obscure) is another reason. I think Sega had a lot of killer ideas for this title. They were trying to bridge the gap between the strict and strategic Virtua Fighter with the more immediate 2D fighters from Capcom and SNK. I think they succeeded, and I wish they would revisit that success again.

Of the two Saturn versions, the Japanese disc is the one to get. You can't go without Pepsiman. Also, the US disc costs three times as much. Whatever. You need to save that money for cheap booze and '80s rock mixtapes. Life is short, kids. Rock on.
 
Last edited:

mechafan64

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Mar 19, 2016
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It's really too bad that the Sega of today has absolutely nothing in common with the Sega of the Saturn/Dreamcast era. It's effectively almost like the Atari name, releasing generic Genesis compilations time after time, or milking Sonic for yet another ho-hum round.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
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www.dtm-arts.com










Decathlete (1996, Sega AM3)

Decathlete is vintage Sega: cheerful, full of energy and packed with irreverent humor. It reminds me of the glory days of the Genesis as well as the triumphant revival with Dreamcast. It was a rare moment of confidence for the famously troubled Saturn, like a rare moment of Beatles unity during the making of The White Album. How I wish there were more moments such as this. If you own a Saturn, this title is an absolute must.

Olympics videogames have been a regular staple since Konami's seminal Track 'N Field conquered video arcades and home systems. It established a template for the genre that has been followed almost religiously ever since. The only great exception was Epyx, whose Summer Games delivered a more thoughtful, strategic sports game, where complex joystick controls and careful timing superseded button mashing. Today, we would probably call it a "simulation", one that demonstrated the growing divide between arcades and home computers. That's a discussion for another day, but it's interesting to note that as the Nintendo Entertainment System resurrected the dedicated game console, Konami's formula for video Olympics was followed instead of Epyx. It has been thus ever since.

Decathlete is the creation of Sega's AM3, who would later follow up with Winter Heat a couple years later. They hold closely to the classic Track 'N Field formula, with a series of short sporting events with fast action and simple controls. The action is limited to two buttons (the joystick is employed only in the 1500m dash), and "run" and "action" buttons. It's a nice tribute to Konami that they map "run" to both the A and C buttons on the Saturn controller; if you use Sega's arcade joystick, you can use the old 'pencil" or "comb" trick to flip those buttons as fast as possible. The "action" button is used for specific tasks such as jumping or throwing; in the pole vaulting event, you must use the same button to lower your pole, lift yourself up and push your body over the top bar.

In Sega's hands, these Olympic events employ a combination of speed and careful timing. To run the hurdles, you must be especially precise in your jumps, or else you will quickly stumble and fall (as you can see from the above screenshot, I'm terrible at this event). In the Shot Put and Discus events, you must release your held object at just the right moment, and hold the button just long enough to achieve the ideal angle. Again, all of this follows the Konami formula, but the execution is flawless.

You can play all ten events spread across two days, which then awards you a final score and a medal ranking. You can also play an arcade mode, in which you must reach a minimum score in each event in order to proceed to the next. You can also compete in a single event and practice on your technique. Goodness knows I need to practice the pole vault, because I absolutely stink.

The Japanese version of Decathlete has an added bonus character who is awarded if you score over 8000 points in the 2-day Olympics competition, Mankichi Kazami, who is a character from the Yoshihiro Yamada manga comic, "Decathalon." With smooth, pale skin and big cartoon eyes, he's a lot of fun to play. He reminds me a little of Lupin the 3rd, and he's a nice addition to the cast. Sadly, he was removed from the US and UK editions of the game.

The character designs are absolutely smashing, pure 1990s Sega. The athletes are a wildly colorful bunch, sporting ridiculous costumes and wild haircuts. They're the best thing about this game, and it's equally fun to see nearly all of them return in Winter Heat. Why did Sega remove them from Virtua Athlete on the Dreamcast? Wasn't that game just a dreadful bore, a colossal snooze-fest? Playing Virtua Athlete is like being drowned in chamomile tea while watching TV golf after overdosing on sleeping pills. And why was this so? The character designs were terrible. That wacky cartoon cast from Decathlete had completely disappeared, and with them all the spit and spark went with them.

Visually, Decathlete is presented in the Saturn's "480/60" graphics, meaning 704x480 resolution at 60 frames per second. This was always the system's true ace card, the one reliable trick that was nearly impossible on Sony Playstation or Nintendo 64. Here, Sega could boast of next-generation supremacy and stand tall without looking over their shoulder or feeling embarrassed. The character models are rendered in superb 3D polygons (note how their limbs are perfectly seamless, another rare feat for its time), and the stadium environment is presented in multilayered 2D bitmaps. Everything is presented in wonderfully lush and richly saturated color tones that are slightly cartoonish but entirely believable. You look at this game in action and think to yourself, this is how videogames should look. If this title were to suddenly appear on, say, Playstation 4, you wouldn't want the graphics to change at all. What would be the point? What is there to improve, really?

Well, that's a bit of a stretch. You would want to make some improvements. But not much. There's a part of me that believes that videogame graphics really peaked with the Sega Model 2, and everything ever since has just been sugar, frosting and glitter on the cake.

If there is any complaint about Decathlete, it's that only two human players can compete together. There is absolutely no reason why four players can't be present, especially when only a few events show all the competitors together. Thankfully, AM3 fixed this issue with Winter Heat, but they also had to cut the frame rate and resolution to "standard" 240/30. So perhaps that was the necessary tradeoff. Oh, well. I remember playing Track 'N Field on the family Atari 800XL long ago. By that standard, I have no reason to complain today. This is paradise.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
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Bug! (1995, Realtime Associates)

I bought a Sega Saturn in the summer of 1995, despite my best intentions never to do so. Like many gamers at that time, I was highly frustrated with Sega for their many bizarre and terrible hardware decisions in short succession, including Sega CD, Game Gear, CD-X, Nomad, Pico, Activator, Menacer, and worst of all, 32X. The crowning achievement, of course, was the Sega Saturn, which had been subjected to an endless stream of bad press and ugly rumors for the past year. We already knew the stories that would define the system: massively complex hardware design, a last-minute rush to pack in more processors to compete with Sony's Playstation, grumblings from software developers, and with the "surprise" May 1995 launch, the risible sentiments of crucial retailers, none of whom were happy. The knives and the shovels were out in force as everybody was smelling blood in the water.

At first, I viewed Saturn with wary eyes. After spying some demo stations at Toys 'R' Us and Funcoland, I slowly began to come around. Two software titles really jumped out at me. The first was Panzer Dragoon, a supremely visualized world of Moebius-inspired dragons, monsters and machines, offered as the next evolution of Space Harrier. The cinematic opening sequence was enough to win me over. The second game, and this really surprised me, was a 3D mascot platformer called Bug. After spending a couple weeks playing both titles, I made a rash decision: I packed up my entire videogame collection, including NES, Genesis and Super NES, along with a massive box of games and accessories, took everything to Funcoland, and traded everything in for a new Sega Saturn. I received $200 in store credit, which at the time was a big deal, but today would require at least one more zero at the end. I came home with Saturn, a demo disc, Virtua Fighter, Panzer Dragoon and Bug in tow. I was very, very happy. Eventually, I picked up Pebble Beach, Worldwide Soccer and Daytona, and loved them all.

I don't know if the appeal of those early Saturn games would appeal to players today. This is one of those times where "you just had to be there," when this stuff was the bleeding edge, blazing new trails for the future of videogames, whose possibilities seemed infinite. Much of the experience just fades with time, and this is doubly so with Bug. When this game was brand new, it represented the first great step forward for the medium. It was daring and new and full of possibility. Then Super Mario 64 dropped like a fifty-megaton hydrogen bomb, reducing everything else to ash. Such is life. The dinosaurs say hi.

Bug wasn't Saturn's first attempt to bring the 2D platformers into the third dimension; that honor fell upon Clockwork Knight, which used 3D polygons with 2D gameplay. But its visuals were just a glorified con job, as the entire game moved strictly left-to-right. It didn't even try any new ideas where it counted, and after the initial thrill wore off, you felt cheated. Sony Playstation launch games like Jumping Flash were far more dazzling and innovative, reinforcing the notion that Sega was caught behind the times, trying to relive the 16-bit era that was suddenly becoming very obsolete.

Where Clockwork Knight fails the promise of "next generation," Bug delivers the goods. It boldly moves into that third dimension, into and around and up and down and back again. The traditional platform level design is pushed in every direction possible, while still being, essentially, a platformer. Realtime Associates, the software development team, was trying to preserve the old paradigm while incorporating the new technology. And I think they did a very, very good job. Your character, the latest in an endless lineup of 1990s cartoon mascots, follows linear paths left-to-right, then into the screen, then up and around, looping over itself, then expanding the pathways into larger areas. He must dodge or attack giant bugs of all shapes and sizes and techniques. Some of them simply waddle forward. Some of them hop around or fly. A few of them really try to impress us by leaping into and out of the screen. There's a part where you walk down a pathway as hordes of crickets hop at you from the background, and it was quite a thrill in 1995. I have to admit, it still looks pretty impressive today.

The level designs are closest to Western game design theory, which in those days meant large, non-linear stages that play out like enormous mazes. Japanese stage designs were far more linear and focused, emphasizing the quick, immediate experience. The Western style proved more easily adaptable to the third dimension, as we see in this game. However, this does result in a general sameness and repetition, as each stage just bleeds into one another. It all begins to look the same, and if you've been playing for a long while, you begin to feel comfortably numb. This is Bug's biggest failing, and it's probably going to remain its biggest stumbling block, particularly when there is no way to save progress until you complete the entire game.

The graphics are a mixture of 3D polygons for the stage layouts and 2D pre-rendered CG sprites for the characters and objects. This followed on the heels of Donkey Kong Country, which dazzled everyone and seemed to kill off traditional sprite graphics for good. On Saturn, the vastly improved color palette results in highly detailed, lushly colored characters. They are also very impressively animated, and you can tell that the designers had a blast creating this impressive cast. As the star of the show (quite literally here), Bug gets all the best animations and quite a few snarky one-liners.

There's a lot of humor in Bug, with the voices and funny cracks like "Buuuug Juuuuice" that always makes me chuckle. The whole game world is actually a staged movie, where each world is a separate thematic sequence. A director cracks a slate board and shouts, "Action!" At other times, when you uncover an invincibility power-up, the director yells, "Cut! Bring in the stunt bug!" In comes Bug decked in blue. This game-as-movie theme was common in the late 16-bit era, and has always been an obsession with Western software developers, who have long ago decided that respect can only be found by pretending to be Hollywood movie directors.

One final thing I should say about Bug: it's extremely challenging, a lot tougher than I ever expected. I think I only got as far as the third world back in '95. Again, not being able to save my progress and just begin where I left off really burned me out. Today, I would just recommend using the level select code to skip ahead, which is how I was able to snap all these cool screenshots. But it you want a really meaty videogame, one that requires lots of time and patience and practice, well, you'll be in heaven.

Super Mario 64 wasn't interested in the old 2D action games. Nintendo just completely demolished the old paradigm and reinvented themselves as something entirely new. For many years, it worked, and the very idea of a 2D platformer was all but extinct. Many years later, Nintendo tried to bring the two worlds together, 2D and 3D, with Super Mario 3D Land and 3D World. It's very fascinating to see how Nintendo tried to pull that off. I wonder if they used Bug for inspiration? Shigeru Miyamoto must have been sneaking away some ideas, at least a few.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
455
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Mass Destruction (1997, NMS Software)

Mass Destruction is perfectly named: a pure sugar rush of Pepsi and Pop Rocks, a dizzying assault of thrills and massive explosions. It is a pure arcade videogame from an era when kids suddenly wanted nothing to do with arcade games. Whatever. It's their loss.

The premise to this game is remarkably simple: you command an arsenal of three armored tanks in a series of military campaigns. You drive around in a calculated frenzy and shoot everything that moves. Then you back up and blow up everything that doesn't. You run over foot soldiers lobbing mortars at you. You outmaneuver and shoot down enemy tanks. You lob mortar cannons and machine guns at incoming helicopters. You fire rockets at enemy bunkers. And you throw fire on every structure in sight, smashing everything into rubble. It's all such glorious fun. It's like being a child again, playing in the front yard with toy soldiers and tanks.

Experienced gamers will be reminded of Electronic Arts' Strike series, which began with Desert Strike on Sega Genesis and continued with Soviet Strike on Saturn and Playstation. That series was excellent through and through, but its gameplay balance tilted towards simulation and strategy. Mass Destruction leans in the opposite direction, toward arcade action and speed. Which paradigm you prefer is really a matter of taste. Personally, I prefer the arcade model. I don't want to have to worry about managing fuel and ammunition reserves, or plotting the proper strategy for missions into enemy territory. I really just want to stomp around and break things.

Mass Destruction offers 24 missions across five campaigns, with at least ten additional secret missions that are unlocked if you explode the right buildings. Each stage takes place on an enormous overhead map, featuring valleys, cities, military bases, rivers, lakes, islands and patches of forests. You engage across winter and desert landscapes. Your goals are quite varied, from search-and-destroy missions to reconnaissance to full-scale rampages. One mission requires you to find sensitive documents that detail your army's future plans before they fall into enemy hands. Another mission requires you to destroy a series of communications dishes and anti-tank bunkers. Each of these objectives are tightly guarded by tanks, soldiers and planes.

I especially like the sight of bomber planes, shown only as a shadow moving across the ground, quickly followed by cluster bombs in its wake. The copters are especially tricky, weaving in and out, dodging your machine guns. I learned that I could knock them out by lobbing mortar shells. I'm not sure if that's how they're supposed to be used, but they do work.

Your tanks are massively overpowered, and your regular cannon can cause tremendous damage. High powered shells, mines, rockets and bombs can be collected among demolished buildings (which, of course, only encourages you to smash more things). My favorite weapon in the game, and I'm sure it's yours as well, is the flamethrower. A massively overpowered flamethrower that launches enormous plumes of fire that devour everything in sight.

Visually, Mass Destruction is a triumph on Sega Saturn. Everything is presented in the hallowed "480/60" high resolution mode, rendered with the combination of 3D polygons and 2D bitmaps that was the system's trademark. When that formula worked, it was magical, and it works here, with endless massive explosions, pieces and debris falling everywhere. There is an especially cool reflective effect over water that dazzles even today. The Sony Playstation version is visibly shakier and less confident by comparison, giving Sega a rare victory in the 32-bit war.

Mass Destruction plays very much like the classic Commodore Amiga games of old, with its thrilling action and endlessly engaging techno music, and I am reminded of the great promise of Saturn as "the ultimate arcade machine." A videogame like this was beyond the wildest dreams of the children of the Atari, NES and Genesis eras. Then Playstation arrived and a new paradigm suddenly emerged, leaving poor Sega fully exposed, heavily indebted, burned from too many failed products, and leading with a famously complicated system that was itself caught between two worlds, caught between 2D and 3D. It was a losing struggle, one that nobody could have possibly won. But what a glorious struggle. Let's go play another round and demolish a small town for kicks.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
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Chicago, IL
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Pebble Beach Golf Links (1995, T&E Soft)

I think Pebble Beach Golf Links was the very first Sega Saturn game that I saw in action, at the Richfield, Minnesota Funcoland where I had frequently visited and even worked for a short spell (to this day, I cannot remember if I'm still technically employed there, and have dreams where I suddenly remember I have to finish my 20-year lunch break and get back to work). I was not impressed. Fortunately, after I had bought my Saturn and started collecting games, I picked up this game and was quickly won over. Within a few weeks, this became a very popular videogame at the house where I lived, sharing space with several other college students, many partygoers and a blender that was constantly grinding out pina coladas. I loved that house. Those were great memories.

What do I love most about this game? I think it has to be the music. The synth-based chiptunes are very catchy, bouncy and relaxing. The songs are very similar to music you'd hear on the Super NES in games like SimCity and Final Fantasy and Donkey Kong Country, but with the digital clarity and dynamics of Compact Disc. The Saturn's sound processors are given a major workout and it's all such a wonderful bliss-out. Mind you, I was always playing while downing those pina coladas by the pitcher, and always with twice the rum as the recipe requires. It all contributes to the wonder color of summer and autumn 1995, which were very warm and sunny. The music brings me back to those days of being 22 years old and free as a bird.

Pebble Beach Golf Links offers only one 18-hole course, which was still the standard in those days, but it's one of the greatest golf courses ever created. Gameplay options include stroke, skins and match play, practice, and watch mode. The main options are the Pebble Beach Open, which is spread across four days, and Tournament, which skips the qualifying rounds and gets straight to the action. Up to four players can compete, although for some reason the tournaments only allow three players. You can also create your own custom golfer and save your stats, which becomes very useful over time. Crowds will cheer as you break a personal record, such as longest drive or longest putt, and your handicap will automatically adapt to your performance.

The best feature in this game, of course, is the inclusion of PGA golfer Craig "The Walrus" Stadler, who appears in true Sega Sports fashion. He provides strategy tips on all 18 holes which are delivered in a very breezy, improvisational style that doesn't sound at all scripted. It's also very helpful advise, which is a tribute to the programmers. Stadler also plays along in the tournament modes, where he shows off his chops and offers a friendly competition. This is where the funniest moments occur, as Stadler frequently cuts in with pats on the back and cheerful digs. Sometimes he just comes off as a real jerk, especially when you completely botch that double bogey. "You need to practice a LOT MORE." Hey, shut up! Hmm, I should probably practice my comebacks a little more. Maybe another shot of rum will help with that.

Gameplay is standard for the genre, which means it plays nearly identically to every golf videogame since Access Software's Leaderboard Golf. You rotate your position, choose your club, adjust your foot stance, then use the curved power bar to make your swing. You can adjust gameplay options to simplify the golf swing if you're having trouble avoiding those sliced shots, which helps a lot. You're going to have your hands full navigating through these very challenging holes, which are full of sand traps, tall trees, the Pacific Ocean...and have I mentioned the heavy crosswinds? Yeah. Get used to having the winds suddenly kick up to over 20mph. Don't let Stadler see you knock your shot into the ocean. You'll never hear the end of it.

I really enjoy the look of Pebble Beach Golf Links, with its vivid colors and lush greens and blues. Yes, many of the digitized graphics would become very blocky at times, but that's to be expected. The digitized golfers look terrific and are well animated, especially Stadler. I think this is the best looking golf game for the system. For comparison, just look at Electronic Arts' PGA Tour Golf '97, which was dreary, grungy and grey. Actua Golf has nice polygon graphics but a shoddy frame rate. World Cup Golf has an interesting pre-rendered look that is unfortunately sterile and lifeless.

T&E Soft, the software developers, are best remembers as the creators of the Hydlide RPG series and about a hundred golf games. They released four other golf titles for the Saturn, three of which never left Japan. They're worth collecting if you're a fan of Pebble Beach and want to play some other courses. But none of them have Stadler. So what's the point?
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com










Worldwide Soccer: International Victory Goal (1995, Sega)

Worldwide Soccer was a launch title for Sega Saturn in the Summer of 1995, and it very quickly became one of my favorites. I enjoyed it nearly as much as Panzer Dragoon, which is really saying something. Here was a true showcase for the new system's powers, with bright, colorful graphics, smooth polygon and pre-rendered graphics, fast arcade action, and some classic 1980s guitar rock that sounded like it was escaped from the last Van Halen tour.

For reasons I've never understood, this game was almost completely ignored by the videogame magazines of the day (Next Generation gave it a paltry three out of five stars). They wouldn't give it the time of day. Much of that, I think, was due to the fact that most prozines hated having to deal with sports videogames, and reviews were usually dumped onto lowly freelancers or shoved away into the corner somewhere.

Saturn had already established a poor reputation, and yet here was a game that clearly refuted that, and pointed to a more promising future. Why wasn't Worldwide Soccer held up with pride? Why wasn't it hailed as a triumph? Even the fans seemed to fall silent, and the game faded quickly into obscurity.

That's really too bad, because this is an excellent arcade sports title that plays a very lean and mean game of soccer. You are given multiple tournament and season modes, including a penalty shootout mode that always worked at parties (it worked very well as a drinking game). There are a dozen worldwide teams that seem to play more or less the same, a number of play formations, the ability to substitute players, and a choice of multiple camera angles, including rotation and height. All of the action takes place at a single stadium, and the weather can either be sunny or cloudy. And, of course, you have your choice in classic "Sega Rock" tracks that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The controls are very nimble and responsive. You can pass and lob the ball fairly easily, and can kick the ball forward with a simple double-tap. The moves and attacks are very much a part of the 16-bit era, which would soon be surpassed by the legendary soccer games of the 32/64-bit era. It may seem a bit simple, but that simplicity has a purity that I enjoy. Worldwide Soccer does everything that it needs to do, it gets straight to the action and never gives you a moment to catch your breath.

Computer controlled players can put up a good fight, especially when the defense tightens up close to the net. The goalies are also fairly tough to stop, although you can abuse the head shots if you shoot at just the right angle. Choosing the right offensive or defensive formation is key, and there are times when it seems like I can score at will, while other times leave me gasping for air. And it goes without saying that matches are exponentially better with human opponents and teammates.

The graphics in Worldwide Soccer are extremely confident, packed with color, featuring pre-rendered players that look a touch pixelated on HDTV but really shine on a good CRT. We see here the strategy that Saturn programmers will use very effectively, with the VDP2 plane used for the ground, and polygons used to render the stands. As the players themselves are sprites and not polygons, the action remains an extremely fast and fluid 60 frames-per-second.

Mind you, when Sega unleashed Worldwide Soccer 97 the following year, we were well and truly blown away. It's easy to dismiss the first soccer game when its sequels are so much better, something that has no doubt added to the obscurity factor. On the other hand, the difference is visuals and gameplay means that you can collect the original and enjoy a game or two without things becoming redundant. Prices are also dirt-cheap, which is a great blessing for Sega Saturn fans who are expected to shell out ridiculous sums of money for videogames.

Really, the only thing I never liked about this game was the Westernized name, generic as always. "Victory Goal" always sounded better to my ears. Oh, well. This is pure Sega goodness that celebrates the company's arcade spirit. It's a cheerful box of sunshine that always lifts your spirits.
 

mechafan64

Neo Member
Mar 19, 2016
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Fantastic work, DT MEDIA!

May I suggest you also cross-post on the Sega Saturn subreddit, as the community there will surely appreciate your efforts as well.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
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Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








Virtua Fighter Remix (1995, Sega AM2)

Like many Western gamers, I discovered Virtua Fighter in the arcades but struggled to understand its mechanics, which were far closer to true martial arts than the antics of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. When I bought a Sega Saturn in the summer of 1995, I sat down and tried to teach myself the game, which was always intriguing but slightly puzzling, out of reach. It took a fair amount of time to fully comprehend its depths, but once it finally clicked for me, I was hooked for life.

Virtua Fighter plays out like a very fast and precise contest of rock-paper-scissors. Two combatants face off in an arena and battle with an arsenal of punches, kicks, throws and blocks. Blocking beats attacking. Attacking beats throwing. Throwing beats blocking. Fireballs and over-the-top cartoon maneuvers were out. Fatalities were out. What remained was the pure essence of the sport, like a finely cut steak. Here, offense and defense are fairly balanced. Timing and patience are essential assets. Simply mashing buttons -- the way most kids played fighting videogames -- would get you killed. Precision and strategy would yield victories.

Gamers who grew up on the arcade games of the 1980s would recognize this gameplay, for it was the direct descendant of Karate Champ, which was created by Technos and published by Data East. I was personally more familiar with Archer Maclean's World Karate Championship on Atari 800, published by Epyx and featured a single-joystick control scheme that was surprisingly deep and intuitive. These titles were pure martial arts, focusing on bone-crunching punches and kicks, requiring strategy and good timing to win. Again, just wriggling the joystick or bashing buttons as fast as possible would never work. You'd just become a sitting duck.

Because of this, I suspect, Sega's Virtua Fighter series has remained more of a cult hit than its peers, and certainly compared to Japan where it became a blockbuster hit and almost single-handedly made Saturn a success in 1994 and 1995. Its sequels would become ever more complex, adding more layers to its strategic core, things like throw escapes, staggers, stumbles, sideways dodging and elevated floors. Most players, and this certainly includes the videogame magazines, could never get passed the "mashing" phase, and dismissed the series as little more than "punch-punch-punch-kick." In the hands of rookie players, yes, that is true. But for those who study the characters' moves and understood the timing of attacks and block recoveries, it's not "PPPK." It's "punch, then high- or mid-level kick, then dodge their counter-kick if they block and respond with a foot sweep."

What's great about the Virtua Fighter cast is the diversity. The father-daugher duo of Lau and Pai Chan employ Kung Fu lightning punches, but the father relies on powerful strikes while the daughter relies upon speed and balance, even reversing an opponent's attack. Siblings Jacky and Sarah Bryant employ Jeet Kun Do in different ways, with spinning punches or angled kicks. Jeffrey and Wolf use their sheer strength to overpower foes with many powerful and impressive throws. Kage Maru employs Ninjitsu acrobatics, including the deadly "ten foot toss". And Akira, the expert's character, utilizes fast strikes and brutal throws that are almost entirely his own. In the hands of a VF master, Akira is simply unstoppable.

The key to mastering Virtua Fighter lies in knowing not only your character's abilities, but your opponents as well. You have to know what attacks are best blocked or avoided, and what maneuvers are "punch countered" or "throw countered." You must be able to read your opponent's mind and anticipate their next move, so that you can duck that roundhouse kick, block that uppercut punch, or hop over that foot sweep. In this sense, Sega has given us the closest thing to a true martial arts simulation, while staying within the arcade tradition of speed and finesse.

The original arcade game was rendered entirely with flat-shaded polygons, which was an amazing technical feat in 1993. There was an almost cubist abstraction to the character designs, but the animation was so astonishingly fluid and natural, far beyond the hand-drawn sprites of Street Fighter 2 or the digitized graphics of Mortal Kombat. You could tell that you were seeing the future of videogames in front of your eyes. Meanwhile, Sony paid very close attention to Virtua Fighter's success, taking careful notes as they made careful plans, waiting for Sega and Nintendo to become intoxicated with their own arrogant laziness.

Virtua Fighter on the Sega Saturn has aged pretty terribly, with its notoriously glitchy graphics, particularly the arenas, which seemed to crumble or disappear at random. Back in 1995, most of us rarely noticed as we were too busy fighting one another, and, besides, this was a vast improvement over the 3DO and Atari Jaguar, to say nothing of the ancient Genesis and Super NES. Of course, once the Playstation dropped with Toshinden, the jig was up. But that was September, and this was May or June, and Sega had all the time in the world. In this one instance, Sega Japan was absolutely correct to launch their system early. They held the weaker cards and everybody knew it.

Thankfully, Sega AM2 had one ace up their sleeve, and it arrived in the mailbox just as Sony Playstation was set to launch: Virtua Fighter Remix. This game was freely given to all those who had sent in their Saturn registration cards. And what a gift! The classic martial arts gameplay was still fully intact, with over 700 moves and nine characters, but now the graphics were given a complete overhaul. The polygon characters were now fully texture mapped and boldly splashed with color. The arenas were also overhauled, the jagged glitches entirely removed. The floors were now sharper, cleaner, smoother.

Toshinden may have dazzled in 1995 with its gouraud shading and transparent polygons, but its character models are crude, its frame rate sluggish, its game mechanics cliched and sloppy. Virtua Fighter Remix looks cleaner, sharper, runs much faster and more precise, and -- most importantly -- plays significantly better. Its combat is far deeper and more strategic, rewarding practice and patience. These were the hallmarks we all associate with Sega in the 1990s.

Much of this is academic, of course. By Christmas, Virtua Fighter 2 had dropped and exploded, giving Saturn its greatest blockbuster smash hit and rendering all previous fighting games "obsolete." Of course, no videogame that is enjoyable is ever obsolete, but it has been a bit harder to go back to VF Remix after playing VF2, Fighting Vipers and Fighters Megamix, which are all significantly smoother and more evolved expressions of the original idea. Such is the way of things. Sgt. Pepper is more "evolved" than "Please Please Me. Blonde on Blonde is more "advanced" than The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. True fans will endlessly debate whether forward progress is good or bad or merely a cultural myth. The world goes on.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








Daytona USA (1995, Sega AM2)

For detractors, Saturn Daytona was symbolic of everything that had gone wrong with Sega: the hubris, the arrogance, the lack of vision, the overconfidence. Compared to the Sony Playstation, which in 1995 could seemingly do no wrong, Daytona was a shambolic shambling of a mess, like a prize fighter who arrived at the title match half-asleep and stumbling drunk.

Let us clear the air all the complaints. This version of Daytona runs at 20 frames-per-second, one third the performance of the arcade. The graphics are rendered in a modest resolution, with thick lines, chunky vehicles and smudgy colors. No multiplayer option was available, only single player. And worst of all, the draw distance was surprisingly short, causing entire chunks of the environment to "pop up" during a race. Alongside Virtua Fighter's glitchy polygon graphics, here was convincing proof that Saturn was a wreck of a machine, and nowhere near the sleek and polished performance of the Playstation.

This game quickly became Sega's whipping boy among detractors in the press and the industry. Namco's Ridge Racer on Playstation, meanwhile, was smooth, fast, quick on its feet and nearly identical to the arcade. It was a showpiece for Playstation's 3D graphics and demonstrated the future of video games. In the arena of public opinion, there was no competition which game was better.

I've been hearing that schpiel since 1995. And to that, I say: you're outta yer damned minds.

Back in those days, I often made the comparison to Velma and Daphne. Daphne was the pretty one, the popular one, the girl who always got to sneak away with Fred in the back of the Mystery Machine van. But Velma was the smart one, and she had greater depth. She's the girl you really wanna take home.

Daytona USA is rough around the edges, there's no denying that. It's also a spectacular arcade racing game that captures the feel of its coin-op cousin better than any home translation that followed. The cars handle like greased lightning, fast and nimble and always bouncing. There's a great sense of speed and momentum in the movements, and a great sense of traction to the handling. Even the way the cars bounce on their suspensions feels just right. Powersliding is slightly challenging but an essential skill to master, and once you've made your way through a few races it becomes second nature.

There are three great gameplay features that Ridge Racer could never touch. One, Daytona's cars can take damage, from minor bumps and scrapes to full-on smashed frames. Two, the damage affects the cars' handling, which forces you to change your driving tactics (there's no time for a pit stop, so forget about that option). Three, there are crashes. Lots and lots of spectacular crashes.

One of the great thrills of Saturn Daytona is learning how to deliberately cause car crashes that turn into 20-car pileups. If can hit a car in just the right way and the right angle, you can cause him to swerve just a little, and if this happens in a very large crowd of cars, can trigger a massive chain reaction of crashes and collisions. My favorite moments in Daytona involve tackling that final turn at Sonic Mountain while dodging cars that are falling out of the sky in all directions. The trick is to play at the highest difficulty level and the highest computer AI level. Now the cars won't merely try to outrace you, they'll try to kill you. Game on.

Has there ever been a more perfectly balanced trio of race tracks than the once found in Daytona USA? Each course features subtleties and surprises, moments where you can sit back and relax, others where you must hit just the right spot at just the right speed. The "easy" track has that second turn that can surprise you if you're not paying attention, and Sonic Mountain which requires a powerslide right into the inside edge of the road. The "medium" track has a nasty s-curve just before entering the tunnel that easily end in rollover crashes, and a series of three powerslide turns waiting on the other side. The "hard" track is my absolute favorite of them all, requiring all of your skills and techniques to win. You're never more than two seconds away from danger at all times. It took me forever to master all the powerslide turns on the second half, as you hop from one highway to the next while driving around the pier.

Arcade mode is endless fun, but Saturn mode is where all the real action takes place, as you can unlock many hidden cars with their own performance and handling stats. Some work better than others, and I remember deliberately crashing at least one of them so they could drive better. And the best "hidden" car of them all: the horses. Have you ever raced a better vehicle than these horses? Of course not.

Finally, one cannot mention Daytona USA without praising the music, which is glorious, catchy and cheesy all at once. It's completely absurd and yet you're singing along with a stupid grin on your face. It's pure Sega. You should get yourself a Nakamichi cassette deck and start making mixtapes.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








Daytona USA: Circuit Edition (1997)

God Bless Sega. You can always count on them to screw it up in the clutch. It's a miracle they were ever successful in the first place.

Daytona USA on Sega Saturn is a spectacular arcade racing videogame that received no end of grief for its rough visuals, particularly the polygon "pop-up," low 20 frames-per-second performance (a low frame rate that was supposedly acceptable on Playstation and Nintendo 64, but that's neither here nor there) and lack of multiplayer modes. In 1997, Sega decided to silence the critics with a "revised and improved" Daytona, and in the process found themselves moving forward and backward at the same time and ending up right smack where they began.

First the good news. Daytona USA: Circuit Edition was programmed by the AM3 studio entirely from scratch, utilizing the graphics engine created for Sega Rally Championship. The visuals are a significant improvement over AM2's original translation, with a solid 30 frames-per-second performance and notable reduction in polygon "pop-up" that equals anything on the scene at that time. The visuals appear more refined and delicate, as though the artists were using a finer tip brush. The cars were redrawn to more closely resemble NASCAR stock cars. New additions included a new soundtrack, two new courses, multiplayer matches for split-screen, parallel "link up" and online play, and support for Sega's analog 3D controller.

If you were one of those poor suckers who complained endlessly about Daytona USA's rough visuals, this new edition will make you smile. It retains much of the look and style of the arcade and ably demonstrates the Saturn's hardware powers. It can run with any racing title on Sony Playstation or Nintendo 64 at the time, at least until Ridge Racer 4 dropped and Sony seriously began to pull away for good. The two-player modes are terrific and very welcome, especially if you're lucky enough to play in link-up or online modes.

Now the bad news. How do I put this kindly? Sega improved the graphics but completely screwed the pooch on everything else.

First, they wrecked the steering and handling. AM2 Daytona's cars were swift, nimble, and floated on the ground as they raced through the tracks. AM3 Daytona Circuit Edition's cars drive like cardboard boxes being scraped along asphalt. The idea I always had in my head was, these bastards took the wheels off these damn cars. Worse, the steering lost that immediacy in the digital controls, instead going for a momentum-based scheme that was popular for many home computer games in the 1980s and 1990s. It's not the left-right that you expect from digital controls, more like slow-moderate-fast as you hold down the steering. The analog controls, meanwhile, are faster and more responsive, but far too twitchy. It doesn't really feel like analog, only a faster digital. It's a shambling mess and it drives me up a wall.

Second, the computer cars were completely neutered. One of the great thrills of the original Saturn Daytona was the violent clashes between cars that would slam into one another, shove each other around, and deliberately start massive 20-car crashes. All of this has been taken away. Instead, the cars only randomly shift lanes, darting side to side but without any purpose. The timing isn't even correct, like the cars are just pasted onto the background.

Third, and this will really irk the fans, Sega wrecked the music. Instead of the catchy, tropical pop songs of the original, Circuit Edition replaced those songs with a collection of late '80s "L.A. Rock Dude" songs from Mr. Big singer Eric Martin. The songs are not only horribly out of date and about as welcome in 1997 as a bout of the chicken pox, they're poorly mixed with the backing instruments too quiet and compressed. Sega's obsession with this style of music works when they present it as semi-parody, as seen in Sega Rally or Crazy Taxi or Ferrari F355 Challenge. It doesn't work when you play it straight.

I once saw Mr. Big perform at Sega's stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in '93 or '94. "Everybody put your hands together! Clap your hands for Sega! Yaay!" Ugh, I thought to myself, what a bunch of corporate tools. Bill Hicks was right. Mind you, I was a bit grouchier in my late teens and early twenties, but the impression has stuck with me ever since.

The Japanese Circuit Edition fixed things somewhat by restoring the original Daytona songs, but they still sound different and a little off. Maybe it's just me. In any event, I don't enjoy having to go to the options menu and manually put the correct audio tracks onto the correct stages. It bugs me.

Fourth, the Saturn mode has been removed. No more 80-lap marathons on the Three Sixty course, and certainly no spectacular pileups. You only get to race the arcade modes with the standard times and number of laps. Isn't a revised edition supposed to add features and not remove them? What was AM3 thinking? Thank goodness the horses are still available.

Fifth, the new race tracks aren't very good. Perhaps I'm being grouchy and need my medications before being shuffled off to watch Matlock, but these new courses are lame and unbelievably boring. When Daytona veterans want a new challenge, they don't want another basic oval track. They want tracks that build upon the originals and push further. Instead, Sega played it safe with boring, dull designs. At least the dinosaur track features a train and some hot air balloons, but have you noticed that it's really just a remix of Sega Rally's forest course? Whoops.

I've always had a pet theory that the hardware limitations of the 32/64-bit era were the motivation for so many spectacular course designs. Software developers were always mindful of the dreaded "pop-up" effect, and so designed their raceways with endless curves, dips, hills, tunnels and surprises. The goal was to keep you moving and shifting constantly, so that the illusion of a solid 3D world could be maintained. Once the hardware advanced enough where pop-up was no longer an issue, the raceways became as tasteless as mud. Elaborate roller coaster designs gave way to endless straight roads and modest turns. I can already drive on those roads in the real world. They're called Interstate Highways and they're unbelievably freaking boring.

Racing videogames peaked in this era because of the fantastic track designs as seen in Daytona USA, Sega Rally, Wipeout, F-Zero-X, Mario Kart 64 and the Ridge Racer series. It's been all downhill ever since.

Finally, Sixth, AM3 screwed up the crash animations. How the hell could you futz that up? The car now performs some weird barrel roll in midair that doesn't make any sense. It's far too floaty and lacks the bounciness of AM2 Daytona. It's embarrassing.

If you have to own a copy of Daytona USA Circuit Edition, buy the Japanese release as it's the more complete and polished edition. It's also fairly cheap, usually less than ten dollars. But then you could just pick up the original Saturn Daytona for that money and have a lot more fun. Graphics, shmaphics.
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com










V.R. Virtua Racing (1995, Time Warner Interactive)

I had a lot of fun playing Virtua Racing on Sega Saturn. I was a big fan of the arcade version, and while the home translations on Genesis and 32X had their quirks, they never quite captured the whole experience for me. This third attempt is much better, and I spent many chilly afternoons in the snowy winter of 1995. I wasn't sure how well the experience would hold up when I played again for this review, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was still hooked. If I only had more time to kill, I'd definitely be on the couch, working my way through another marathon race or two.

V.R. Virtua Racing on Saturn wasn't programmed by Sega, but instead handed to Time Warner Interactive, otherwise known as Atari Games/Tengen. These folks were some of the greatest American videogame designers of their era, with an endless supply of classic hits on arcade and home systems. For this home version, they wisely expand the arcade experience with a new career mode that offers a total of ten courses and five vehicle classes. You begin the lowest circuit, and after accumulating enough racing points, you can graduate to the next class, where the vehicles are faster and the drivers more aggressive. You begin with kart racers, which is surprisingly fun, then move up to stock cars, 1960s race cars, prototype cars and then the Formula-One cars from the arcade.

You are free to choose any of the ten racetracks in career mode, and each race lasts ten laps. This feels almost torturous when you're starting out with the karts, especially when you have already pulled ahead of the pack before the end of the first lap. It's a bit monotonous here, but I promise that the action seriously picks up speed when you graduate to the stock cars. From that point forward, you'll need those ten laps to catch up with the lead drivers. Heck, you're going to struggle just to maintain a respectable position in fifth or sixth place. The rival cars are relentless and you're going to have your hands full keeping them off your back bumper.

The track designs in this game are simply spectacular, and TW/Atari did an exemplary job understanding what made the original Sega courses work and built on those strengths. The Alpine course is my personal favorite, with a nice tunnel after the first turn and a series of corners you can just powerslide through like lightning. The Surfer, DIablo and Metropolis courses are also quite excellent, offering a fine balance in difficulty, twists and turns, dips and hills, and little touches like polygon Moai heads and snowmen that lie off the side of the road. You will have to master each course's unique qualities if you wish to win any races, and you'll learn to rely on the practice mode to work on perfecting those racing lines and lap times.

It's really the steering and controls that make Saturn Virtua Racing shine. There's a certain method to proper digital controls in racing videogames, with the right combination of traction and responsiveness, of being able to make a turn at top speed while knowing when to let your finger off the gas pedal and when to tap the brakes, and these programmers just nailed it. I also greatly enjoy the moments when you can send your vehicle flying over a hill, leaping over opposing cars. You can see the seeds of the San Francisco Rush series in these moments. Speed, precision, and just a little bit of good luck, it's all here.

The polygon visuals are a little rough and painted with thick brushstrokes, much like Sega's Daytona USA that same year. Because of this, it can be difficult to see the track ahead with in the two closest viewing angles. I try to use the second viewing angle whenever possible, such as the Metropolis course, but rely upon the third angle most of the time. Don't bother with the driver's seat view which is too smudgy to see properly, or the arial view which is set at a an overhead angle. Fortunately, the frame rate is solid without any choking or stuttering, and the polygon "pop-in" is kept at a respectable distance. That said, I would really like to see Sega offer a modern remake with true high resolution graphics and 60 frames-per-second while keeping the flat polygon art design. Just release it on Dreamcast with a four-player split screen and online play and I'll never ask for another thing again.

For me, Virtua Racing sits in my Saturn racing top three, alongside Daytona USA and Sega Rally. Thankfully, you can score a physical copy for little money, and the Japanese version is identical to the US one, even down to the English text and voiceovers. This title was given respectable reviews in the prozines back in '95, but hasn't kept up with most Saturn fans over the years. Yes, the graphics could have been a bit more refined, but once you've committed to the career mode and graduated to the second and third classes, you'll be hooked for life.
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
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597
455
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Sonic R (1997, Traveller's Tales)

Sonic R is without question the most divisive software title in the Sega Saturn library, one that is either loved or hated. Both camps have long since entrenched their positions over the years, and it is all but impossible that the debate will ever be settled. In the end, one simply learns to make peace with the stalemate and enjoy the ride as best you can.

Sega Saturn was notorious for lacking a proper Sonic the Hedgehog title, which was due to the combination of overly complicated hardware designs and bad timing, as the era of 2D videogames gave way to expansive 3D worlds. As we have discovered in the years since the Fifth Generation, it is far more difficult to successfully translate the traditional Sonic experience in 3D, certainly when compared to Nintendo's iconic Mario. The proper balance has never been achieved, although many of us will argue that NiGHTS: Into Dreams achieved that perfect balance. But that title proved too quirky and surreal to achieve blockbuster success.

The unfortunate truth is that Sonic the Hedgehog is a creature of the 16-bit era, with four groundbreaking masterpieces -- Sonic the Hedgehog (1991), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992), Sonic CD (1993), Sonic 3 & Knuckles (1994) -- that were followed by a very long and very uneven series of sequels, reinventions and spinoffs. The experience is all about speed and precision of control and exploiting the restrictions of the 2D realm. It just doesn't work in 3D, not without significantly changing the formula, but Sega could never find a successful second act for its blue mascot.

Love it or hate it, I think Sonic R is one of the more interesting attempts at reinvention for the 3D polygon era. It's not quite a racing game and not quite a platformer, but borrows elements of both genres. You race as the characters including Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Sally and Dr. Robotnik across four sprawling stages. If you finish first, you will win a gold trophy. If you win gold on the four stages, a fifth course will become available.

I think a lot of players and reviewers gave up once they finished first place in the five courses, assuming they had seen all there was to see. The real challenge is not only to win the race, but win while collecting all the gold coins and chaos emeralds. Collecting all the coins will open up a second race on the same course against a hidden character; if you can beat that opponent, they will be unlocked and available to play. Collecting all the chaos emeralds will unlock Super Sonic. Achieving these feats requires you to really master the complex track designs, knowing when to use the right shortcuts and alternate pathways. If you can achieve these goals and master that perfect speedrun, congratulations.

If you can pull off that trick, give yourself a pat on the back, because you've achieved something truly special, and the reason for that is where my troubles begin. The controls are an absolute slop-bucket mess. The characters are prone to oversteering, sliding and skidding uncontrollably in many situations. Lateral movements are twitchy and require the tap-tap-tap approach of digital controls; analog controls are simply too loose to be of any use whatsoever. When entering turns, your character instead slides sideways, as though they are running on ice. You need to find a proper balance between using the joypad and the shoulder buttons, and it's a very tricky balance.

I have struggled with the controls on Sonic R for years, and on the times when everything clicks, it's quite enjoyable. When things aren't clicking, it's a nightmare. Where you come down on this issue largely depends on your patience and willingness to keep playing for hours and hours until you've mastered every twist and quirk of the steering as well as the complex interlocking pathways, bridges, hills and drops that make up the level designs. Again, you can see how Traveller's Tales, the software developers, tried to thread the needle between racing and platforming, between running as fast as possible and exploring your surroundings for secrets. Each level feels like three or four separate tracks were laid down on top of one another. It's both highly inspired and highly messy, very deliberately designed for extensive play sessions, and a very fitting metaphor for the Sega Saturn.

One area where everybody will agree are the graphics, which are absolutely sensational. The programmers achieved a number of highly impressive visual effects including a fade-in transparency effect to eliminate polygon "pop-up," polygon shading and light-sourcing, water reflections, environmental mapping and transparent polygons. Many of these visual effects are closer to what was seen on NIntendo 64, and was widely believed to be "impossible" on Saturn, which demonstrates that virtually anything can be achieved with skilled coding and enough time. Everything looks vivid and solid, especially the final stage that gives Mario Kart 64's Rainbow Road a serious run for its money.

Oh, and for the record, I really do enjoy the music. It's so very 1997, with its Euro-dance beats and infectious pop hooks that probably belonged in dance clubs instead of a videogame. That was the onion on the belt, the style at the time. Just as polygons had shoved out sprites, recorded pop tracks had shoved out "chiptune" computer songs. It was all part of the effort to make videogames "grow up" and shed its kiddie reputation, which has been an industry obsession for decades. Thank you very much, Puritanical Guilt.

Masterpiece, Train Wreck or Misunderstood, it probably doesn't matter. Sonic R is practically the definition of "review-proof." In any event, you owe it to yourself to play and see where you end up, either at the finish line with a gold trophy or the bottom of a lake kissing fish. Just don't pay the ridiculous extortion money being offered on the used games market for the US release. Beg, borrow or steal a copy from one of your friends or import the Japanese disc.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Apr 18, 2018
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Recently got my hands on a pair of good CRTs. Playing through the Saturn collection has been tremendous fun, especially 2D games where the colors just POP and the motion is snappier.

And it's the first time I've been able to play some of my shmups in Tate mode on a CRT. DoDonPachi and Layer Section are sooooo beautiful in Tate.

S-video seems to work well, but pretty soon I'll bite the bullet and transcode from SCART to composite, which I think will give me more color depth compared to S-video.

Glad to see there's a dedicated thread for Saturn fans!
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com





Myst (1995, Cyan and Sunsoft)

If memory serves, I received a copy of Myst for a freelance writing assignment for a videogame magazine that only lasted a couple issues. I was curious about this computer game, which had become a mainstream sensation on the Macintosh but was met with open skepticism by the console gaming crowd. This wouldn't have been my first choice for a Sega Saturn game to play, but since the software library in 1995 was so painfully thin, I picked up a notebook and pencil and slowly began to make myself through this fascinating and strange world.

Myst was, and remains, a very interesting experience. You navigate through a series of pre-rendered environments by clicking a mouse icon, moving forward or changing direction, opening doors or pressing buttons. It's a bit like walking through a series of surrealist postcards that either slide or dissolve away. The worlds are almost entirely unpopulated, aside from the occasional bird in the sky or moving mechanism, and one has the sense of visiting a world that was lived in but suddenly abandoned. Something has happened to the people who once lived here. But what?

Your first puzzle challenge is a simple one, to count the number of switch stations on Myst Island and then enter them into a machine located in an underground chamber nearby the docks. A video recording of a man appears who looks and sounds very much like Orson Welles, speaking to his wife about sabotage of books in his library. He suspects one of his sons of the deed, and warns his wife to find the other books in "places of protection," then leaves.

Exploring the surface, you discover a library where many books are available. Many have been burned beyond recognition, several others are available that will teach you about the history of this island and multiple other worlds. On two shelves, you will find a unique books that, when opened, features only a screen of static. A single page lies nearby, and when added to the book, fuses together. The static is now replaced with a scattered images of a man trapped inside, trying to communicate. A second book features another mysterious page and a second imprisoned man; these are the sons mentioned earlier.

These books are actually portals to other worlds, ones that were written into existence by the original author. You discover that you must travel into these worlds to locate more lost pages. With each page restored to the library books, the brothers tell their tale of imprisonment and betrayal. Each one accuses the other and implores your help, although neither appears fully trustworthy. Something is very wrong here. At the final climax, you will find yourself with a final page and a final dilemma: what became of the father, and which of these brothers should you release from their book?

Myst became a blockbuster success that captured the public's imagination in a way very few video and computer games have done. Its impact and influence spawned a new genre of interactive fiction, the next step in the evolutionary line dating back to Infocom text adventures and Lucasarts click-and-point adventures. Its worlds have an eerie beauty to them, familiar yet slightly alien and sprinkled with surrealist moments. A book morphs out of a wooden table. A pathway of clockwork gears grows out of a green sea. A tree becomes an elevator that towers high in the sky. A portrait on a wall twists and turns, revealing a hidden staircase. Strange creatures fly through the air in the distance. These worlds are rendered in that mid-1990s computer graphics style that is closer to geometric abstraction than realism, and this adds to their alien nature. The incidental music is sparse but highly effective and accentuate the mood perfectly; Minecraft obviously took a lot of inspiration in this realm from the Miller Brothers.

The puzzles may appear overly cryptic and incomprehensible at first, and it requires time to explore the worlds and understand the internal logic at play. Reading the books in the library is an absolute must, and you will need a notebook and pencil to write down all the clues. Patience and curiosity will be rewarded, and once you have discovered the first "linking book" to another world, everything will click into place. The puzzles have a perfectly clean and clear logic, which is the key to their understanding. Far too many adventure games would create obscure puzzles that never made any sense. Myst makes sense. You can unravel the mysteries using nothing more than your common sense and skills of perception.

Myst rarely appears on any Sega Saturn "greatest hits" list, but it remains an essential experience for all and comes with my highest recommendation.

(Update 11/2: Added new photos and slightly revised the text.)
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com








Rampage World Tour (1997, Midway)

Rampage is one of those genius ideas for a videogame that everybody loves. You play as a classic movie monster who invades crowded cities and stomps everything flat. You punch holes in buildings, break windows, munch down on terrified locals, and smash everything in sight. There is no goal or purpose other than wanton mass destruction. It's a great sugar rush, less satisfying in longer doses but perfect in short doses. This is the sort of arcade game you would play while waiting for the movie to start or the bus to arrive. It's a terrific way to kill ten minutes.

Released in 1986, Rampage became a big hit in arcades and found its way to nearly every major home video and computer system of its day. A decade later, Midway returned with a sequel that upped the ante with new gameplay features and cities to destroy, and a new visual design that was inspired by clay animation. Rampage World Tour was another hit in arcades and found its way home to Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64. This time, however, the reception was far colder and more hostile. In the age of 3D polygons, simple 2D arcade videogames were cast aside as yesterday's fad, and magazine critics were harsh and unforgiving. They wouldn't give George, Lizzie and Ralph the time of day.

This sort of Puritanical hostility must seem shocking today, as 2D videogames have returned to the stage, sharing space equally with 3D polygon adventures. Rampage World Tour would be hailed as a retro triumph today by the same critics who denounced it two decades ago. But such are the fickle winds of fashion and hype. It's their loss.

I consider World Tour to be a worthy sequel that builds upon the simple thrills of the original, adding just enough depth and variety to keep things interesting. Playing as the original monster trio, you are on a quest for revenge against the evil Scum Lab, the biotech company responsible for turning you into a monster. In addition to punching and climbing buildings, you now have the ability to kick, jump or stomp buildings, adding to the destruction. Kicking the sides of buildings may shake people loose from the windows, and jumping on rooftops can cause the entire structure to collapse. Some buildings also allow you to bounce over the steel beams for bonus points and extra damage.

By punching open windows, you can uncover bonus objects that, when eaten, are either good or bad. Some windows even reveal hidden objects that allow you to travel to hidden cities around the world, aiding you in your quest to destroy all the Scum Lab factories. In addition to these, you can also hop onto larger vehicles such as tanks and aircraft. Best of all, certain stages will feature toxic waste that will transform you into a hideous monster with super powers, enabling you to fly and smash everything with ease. Finally, there are a number of bonus stages, including one where you must eat as many amusement park tourists as possible.

The graphics use the pre-rendered CG style that was popular in the wake of Donkey Kong Country, and animated in a clay animation style that has appeared in arcade games from time to time (e.g. Trog, Primal Rage). Colors are bright and vivid, animation is extremely fluid and swift, and there is a lot of humorous moments that keep you smiling. Rampage never takes itself too seriously, which is a welcome relief to my eyes. I'm not really looking to reinvent the wheel or contemplate the universe. I just wanna break things and pummel tourist traps. And what's the harm in that?

Rampage World Tour is a good example of building upon a classic successfully, not merely copying the past but expanding upon its strengths. The Saturn release has become criminally expensive, because everything on Sega Saturn has become criminally expensive. You could just as well pick up the Nintendo 64 cartridge for the price of a sandwich, which is just as well as all home versions are identical. But then you wouldn't be able to use a Sega Saturn controller, which is half the reason you own this system in the first place. Once again, you are advised to beg, borrow or steal a copy from your friends until prices return to reasonable levels.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
485
597
455
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com






Sega Ages Vol. 1 (1997, Sega and Working Designs)

In Japan, Sega released a series of retrospective discs for Saturn called Sega Ages, featuring many of their most beloved classic arcade and console videogames. In 1997, a compilation of three titles was assembled and released in the West under the title Sega Ages Vol. 1. Unfortunately, as these things happen, time ran out on the Sega Saturn before future volumes could be released, including Phantasy Star, Fantasy Zone, Power Drift and Galaxy Force. Thankfully, what we were given is the absolute cream of the crop.

Sega Ages includes perfect arcade translations of Space Harrier, Outrun and Afterburner, three arcade blockbusters created by Sega's AM2, led by the legendary Yu Suzuki. This is where Suzuki-san built his reputation as a programmer and videogame designer, and he demonstrates his mastery of speed, motion and excitement. Arcade games were always seen as the descendants of carnivals and amusement parks, and Sukuki created three masterful thrill rides, digital roller coasters that blaze by in flashes of color and light, all set to rocking guitar riffs and endlessly catchy pop melodies. This is pure Sega at its finest.

Space Harrier is a shoot-em-up where you control a futuristic astronaut who carries an enormous laser cannon and flies through a series of highly surreal and hallucinogenic worlds that are one part Lewis Carrol, one part Peter Max and three parts LSD. You find yourself battling strange aliens, starships, giant stone heads and strange flying creatures across an endless array of checkerboard stages populated by boulders, trees, bushes and stone columns. Everything blazes by at such a clip that one barely has time to catch one's breath, much less take in the scenery. And being this is a 1980s arcade videogame, the challenge is high and relentless. Your first few plays will probably last less than a minute. Practice and you will do much better and you'll be owning the high score table before too long.

Outrun is the seminal racing game that puts you behind the wheel of a red Ferrari as you race cross-country along long roads, winding curves, sudden dips and hills, through tunnels, forests and farmland, all while dodging heavy traffic and trying not to crash into something. Chances are that you will flip your vehicle into a billboard or roadside surf shop sooner or later. I always find myself getting caught by that sudden s-curve at the end of the first section. You will need to skillfully use the gearbox and let your foot off the gas pedal in order to avoid these crashes, yet you are also on a very strict time limit that pushes you to go faster, faster, all set to the greatest chiptunes Sega's musical wizards have ever composed.

Afterburner is a aerial combat game where you fly an F-14 fighter armed with machine guns and heat-seeking rockets, and you don't quite battle or race as much as you survive. Flying at a breathtaking speed, your jet can perform dizzying barrel rolls in order to avoid onslaughts of enemy missiles as you try to shoot down planes. In later stages, you will fly missions at sunset and night, dodge rocky canyons and attack ground targets, all while flying at mach speed. The arcade game even featured a deluxe cabinet that would tilt and turn in fully three dimensions. Surely, this is the most intense roller coaster trip of them all.

I remember a video arcade in downtown Duluth that had Afterburner, and it was the only place in town where you could play the game. The owners had a novel approach for inspiring the kids: they would give you free game tokens for every "A" and "B" you received on your report card. Needless to say, we were highly motivated to study hard and get good grades so we could play another round of Afterburner for free, even if I could never last more than five minutes to save my life before crashing and burning. That game took a lot of quarters and tokens from my pockets in those days.

Sega Ages features support for digital and analog controls, and Sega should be commended for going the extra mile in supporting their Mission Stick controller. Space Harrier, for example, used a centering analog joystick in the arcade, and this option is perfectly preserved in analog mode. Indeed, I would recommend scoring a Mission Stick just so that you can play Space Harrier and Afterburner as God and AM2 intended. Thankfully, the digital controls work perfectly fine and are my choice when playing with the standard controller.

The Japanese Sega Ages series only features a single game, but each disc includes an arranged soundtrack that was removed from the Western release. The prices are also somewhat lower, especially compared the US version that was released by Working Designs. Pretty much anything with a Working Designs logo will jack the price by at least one Benjamin, but if you have ever seen their package designs and artwork (Dragon Force is the perfect example), you would understand why collectors are completely gaga over having them. That said, even the Japanese titles are becoming expensive so you had better move fast.

I can't imagine any Sega Saturn library without Sega Ages. This is Sega at its absolute best, and for kids who grew up in the 1980s, the idea of playing the arcades at home is a dream come true. Just try playing these games on a Commodore 64 or NES or even a Sega Genesis to compare. You kids today are spoiled rotten. You have no idea how good you've got it.