Sega Saturn Appreciation and Emulation Thread

DT MEDIA

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Darius Gaiden (1995, Taito and Acclaim)

I remember Taito's Darius from the arcades in 1987, where it made an immediate impression with its massively large display screen that stretched across three monitors. Even at the very beginning, it was a classy shoot-em-up, stylish, slightly abstract and viciously difficult, aimed squarely at expert players who were looking for the next conquest after Gradius and R-Type. If nothing else, the Darius series has its own sense of style, as your hawk-shaped spaceship engages in battle against fleets of robotic alien fish creatures, each wave more relentless and punishing than the last. If you can master these games, then you have really earned your shooter stripes.

I was thrilled when Darius Gaiden arrived on Sega Saturn in early autumn 1995, offering a thrilling 2D visual showcase for the young system. If you enjoy the shooters of the 16-bit era, you'll absolutely love this title, which arrives in a perfect arcade translation that dazzles and amazes. Graphics are extremely polished and colorful, with a wide variety of worlds, landscapes and enemies to encounter and never a dull moment to be found. This game hails from a time when "next generation" meant the next generation of Sega Genesis and arcade-oriented games like Thunder Force 3, pure adrenaline and sugar rush with little need for much else. It is a bigger, badder roller coaster designed purely for roller coaster freaks.

The opening stage features highly colorful industrial landscapes, with large blue metallic structures in the background and a ground that scrolls with a perspective depth that reminds you of Street Fighter 2. Later, you will fly through the interior of an enemy base with turrets, tanks and ships hiding along the floor and ceiling. This is all standard fare for the genre, and has the feel of a familiar piece of music. Encounters with mid-sized robot fish change up the tempo and add variety. You make your way outside where you encounter an enormous yellow fish that smashes the surrounding buildings, kicks up dustbowls, and fires waves of rockets, energy bullets and metallic scales from its back. When he is defeated, he is shattered into spinning fragments followed by a fireworks display of explosions and plasma clouds.

At the end of each stage, you have a choice of two branching paths as you work your way to the end of the alien invasion. This is the hallmark of the Darius series, and there are 28 stages available, only seven of which will be seen in a single mission. This greatly expands the replay value as you will want to explore all of the locales and worlds. It also empowers you to choose stages that are better suited to your skill level and experience. Some stages are more difficult than others,

Your weapons are upgraded by collecting red, green and blue shields that are uncovered when destroying key spacecraft as they fly by. These power-ups are vitally important for your survival, and that goes double for the shields. The game also scales the difficulty based on your ship's power level and how long you have survived without being destroyed. This is a feature that becomes standard on many Saturn shooters, although I have never lasted long enough for this to become a major factor.

The most valuable weapon is the smart bomb that unleashes a black hole that pulls everything away in flashes of lightning and color. The effect is highly psychedelic and only adds to the trippy Pop Art groove of this game. I remember reading about a legendary story long ago where Diehard Gamefan founder Dave Halvorsen penned a rambling love letter to Atari Jaguar's Cybermorph after ingesting LSD. I wonder what he would think of Darius Gaiden. This videogame is fully immersed in the Electric Kool-Aid, and it's potent enough for even the most sober of us to get a contact high. There are a number of impressive visual effects as backgrounds morph, warp and distort as decidedly avant garde music -- a wholly unique fusion of DEVO techno-pop, trip hop and opera -- plays in the background.

Darius Gaiden is extremely challenging, like most arcade shooters of the era. With practice, I can make it through a few stages before running out of continues. My strategy for survival mostly involves dropping black hole bombs as often as possible, especially during the battles with the giant fish bosses. This is one of those videogames where you can manage as long as you collect power-ups and never get shot. If you lose ships and all those weapon upgrades, you're doomed. Just hit the reset button and start again from the beginning.

There once was a time when "videogame" meant spaceship shoot-em-ups, and kids were perfectly happy to play such games all day long. Then the Sony Playstation arrived and signaled a paradigm shift towards sprawling, epic adventure games. The immediate soda rush of the arcades soon fell out of fashion, which spelled the end for 2D games and especially shooters. Sega Saturn was also a major casualty of this shift. The system had one foot in each world, 2D and 3D, but the kids of the '90s didn't have patience for half measures. You were either on the bus or you were off the bus. Companies like Sega, Taito and Acclaim found themselves off that bus. No more Electric Kool-Aid. No more Merry Prankster-isms. No more shooting giant walleye with a bird that spits out localized black holes while Diva Plavalaguna serenades you. Welcome to the adult world, kid. Sucks to be you.
 
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DT MEDIA

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@DT MEDIA care to describe your Saturn setup? What kind of TV do you play on?

Awesome write ups as usual.

Thank you very much for the support. I'm grateful that NeoGAF allows me this little space to write all these crazy essays.

My main television is a Sony Bravia HDTV, 40-inch widescreen. It's one of the lower-end models with only one composite, one component and five HDMI outputs. The picture quality is very good and does a very good job of upscaling SD sources without introducing a lot of input lag. I have a Japanese Saturn, one of the eggshell white models that you can import from Japan for $75, which is connected to the TV via composite cables (I have s-video but this TV doesn't have inputs). A Pro Action Replay cart is installed, which allows me to play all regions. Nearly all of the screenshots that have appeared in my essay reviews were taken directly off this television using an iPad camera.

Recently, I also received a 13" Sony Trinitron CRT for free, which sits in the bedroom and is connected to the Nintendo Wii (mostly for Netflix). I have the Saturn plugged into that TV right now, as you can see from the recent screenshots. This TV has coaxial and composite inputs only, and I recently purchased an RF cable for my Saturn, mostly out of a desire to recreate the videogame setups I had many years ago, and also just out of sheer curiosity. I also really don't like the hyper-sharpened, over-pixelated look of modern emulators and digital displays. Today's indie gaming scene is largely based on this misconception that retro games were very blocky, which was never the case. Most gamers in 1995 would have been horrified at the sight of large pixels.

It's much more challenging to capture screenshots from CRT than HDTV, and for the Saturn book project I might have to return to using the Bravia for photos. In terms of picture quality, I do prefer the Trinitron, as that is the native resolution for the system. The images appear very crisp and clean with a minimum of pixelation, even with the RF cable attached. Compared against composite, RF has more color bleeding and a smoother image, but lacks the "dot crawl" effect that irritates me so much. The Trinitron's display is extremely sharp, and you can easily see scanlines, which is usually not the case with most consumer CRT TVs.

I was a Saturn owner since the very beginning at the Summer of 1995, and I bought and sold (or broke) several Saturns over the years. My current collecting wave began in 2007 when I began to discover the Japanese library, thanks to a few Twin Cities videogame stores that stocked import games. Fortunately, I started collecting before everything became monstrously expensive. Thankfully, there are still many great software titles among all regions that are easily found for $10 or less, and I strongly recommend that option for all Saturn fans.

Hope that helps.
 

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@DT MEDIA great write up thanks.

I loved my Saturn but I got it late and didnt play all the games. XMen vs SF probably got the most play, I also had the action replay 4 in 1 cart. I eventually sold all my software (including Dragon Force) and I have one broken Saturn and one working one left, but I will sell them eventually.

Luckily Saturn emulation is ok, but reading your write ups really take me back to that Saturn vs PS1, Electronic Gaming Monthly sort of time.
 
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DT MEDIA

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Street Fighter Zero 3 (1999, Capcom)

Thank Heavens for Capcom and their dedicated support for Sega. They were essential partners on Genesis, Sega CD, Saturn and Dreamcast, offering many of their greatest arcade hits that helped propel these systems to success. I can't imagine a world where the two companies are not close partners; indeed, a vital part of both parties died when Sega fully retreated from the hardware realm in 2001. Neither have been the same ever since.

Street Fighter Zero 3 is Capcom's farewell love letter to the Saturn. The title was heavily rumored during the system's final year, only to suddenly appear on the Sony Playstation to rave reviews, followed closely by a Naomi-adapted Dreamcast release in July 1999. Then the "lost" Saturn version miraculously appeared in August, one of the very last videogames released on the system. And wouldn't you know it, but it's the best home version of them all.

This is a spectacular arcade fighting game. For many years, Zero/Alpha 3 was near-universally regarded as the greatest Street Fighter ever made, and one can appreciate how Capcom really swung for the fences, throwing in dozens of stages, three separate special attack playing styles (called "-isms") and nearly every character ever seen in the series to that point. This home version even adds an additional eight characters to the roster. Multiple gameplay options include standard Arcade mode in which you face off against ten opponents (varying based on which character you use), a sprawling World Tour that rivals the legendary Soul Calibur, and Survival, Dramatic Battle and Reverse Dramatic Battle modes.

Each of these gameplay modes are also found on the Sony Playstation release, but the Saturn version uses the 4MB RAM cartridge which enables a nearly pixel perfect translation of the arcade, with stunningly fluid character animation and stage designs, and loading times that are virtually nonexistent. There are loads of voice samples of the upbeat announcer, who reminds me of the tournament scene with his over-caffeinated demeanor. Where Street Fighter 3: Third Strike captures a 21st Century hip-hop mood, Zero 3 captures the dynamic spirit of turn-of-the-century futurism. "The Year 2000" was still a fabled paradise in our imaginations, the realization of our Star Trek utopian dreams, an electric spirit that flowed through our fingertips. The future was here and we were the lucky ones to experience it firsthand.

I always appreciated how the Street Fighter Zero/Alpha series focused its energies on creating new characters (or reviving lost fighters from the original, slightly obscure Street Fighter). I felt particularly burnt out on the series after Super Street Fighter 2 with its lackluster new characters (the only one anybody remembers is Cammy because, let's face it, she's a hot chick in a skimpy swimsuit); new characters such as Rose, Adon, Gen, Birdie and especially Sakura helped to breathe new life into the franchise, to say nothing of the recurring cast from Final Fight. Zero 3 adds a few interesting new brawlers such as Karin and R. Mika and Cody (who is now a depressed jailbird) and I really enjoy playing them a lot. That said, who am I kidding? I'm going to be playing Honda and Blanka and Ken every chance I get.

The gameplay of Zero 3 is honed to perfection, with all the techniques and maneuvers acquired through the series. Veterans will know understand the nuances between the -isms, know how to pull off reversals and how to cancel normal attacks into supers. More casual players who used to pump quarters into the original Street Fighter 2 will get to speed easily, and will certainly feel overjoyed to see how large the cast has grown (they'll probably ask at some point why Mike Haggar doesn't jump into the fight, instead being content to watch on the sidelines). My own skills lie somewhere in the middle, having played the arcade version to death on MAME in the early 2000s (the arcades were already extinct by that time), shortly after Sega cut the Dreamcast loose. I wouldn't last very long on the tournament circuit, but I could handle myself as long as I had a good joystick or Saturn "model 2" controller.

I think it can be said that one buys a Sega Saturn just to play Street Fighter Zero 3. This was especially true in 1999 and remains so today, despite the fact that the title is now widely available on any number of compilations. Of course, you can also say the same thing about a couple dozen other titles, and time hasn't diminished any of the appeal or energy, provided you are in the mood to appreciate the effort. The only problem is that a Japanese retail disc is frightfully expensive and has been so almost since the beginning. This was one of the first Saturn games to hit that $100 milestone. That price has since exploded sixfold, despite its wide availability on the used market. "Rare," my eye. If that isn't a crime, I don't know what is. There are, as they say, other methods to get around that problem. If you happen to be sitting at a corner cafe and a burned copy of Zero 3 suddenly drops into your lap, well, I didn't see nothing and I won't raise any eyebrows. Like Dylan said, to live outside the law you must be honest, and you can't help it if you're lucky.

(Edit: Added a couple new photos from the Trinitron.)
 
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Here are some photos of a higher-end VGA monitor (Iiyama Vision Master Pro 450) running Retroarch in 240p. Unfortunately the colors came out rather desaturated when in fact the monitor is *very* bright and yields a great, colorful image. Of course, even a real Saturn via RGB on a D24 BVM would never be as sharp, but I think it's still fun to see detailed spritework displayed on high TV line/high dot pitch monitors that didn't exist when these games came out. After all, that's what Friday nights are for, right?

 
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Here are some photos of a higher-end VGA monitor (Iiyama Vision Master Pro 450) running Retroarch in 240p. Unfortunately the colors came out rather desaturated when in fact the monitor is *very* bright and yields a great, colorful image. Of course, even a real Saturn via RGB on a D24 BVM would never be as sharp, but I think it's still fun to see detailed spritework displayed on high TV line/high dot pitch monitors that didn't exist when these games came out. After all, that's what Friday nights are for, right?

Looks great! And Keio is such a fun game. That monitor looks like it belongs on its side permanently in tate to play shmups... :D
 
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DunDunDunpachi, you should definitely write up that CRT summary you had mentioned previously - it'd be cool if we could all contribute Saturn pics to distinguish the different video cables and monitor types! Something like a mini-crowdsourced album to keep this fun thread going? Or just post how we each have our Saturns hooked up?

Personally, I have a US Model 1 + Rhea hooked up via RGB to a Sony PVM-20L5, and a Japanese Model 2 (I payed a bit extra for the whitest looking unit I could find on eBay) + Phoebe, which is right now a backup system not connected to anything.
 
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DunDunDunpachi, you should definitely write up that CRT summary you had mentioned previously - it'd be cool if we could all contribute Saturn pics to distinguish the different video cables and monitor types! Something like a mini-crowdsourced album to keep this fun thread going? Or just post how we each have our Saturns hooked up?

Personally, I have a US Model 1 + Rhea hooked up via RGB to a Sony PVM-20L5, and a Japanese Model 2 (I payed a bit extra for the whitest looking unit I could find on eBay) + Phoebe, which is right now a backup system not connected to anything.
It will take me a bit, but yeah I would likely make a post out of it instead of a full thread.

Your setup sounds great! I'd like to RGB-mod my tubes, but that won't be a priority until I begin building the frames and panels for their arcade chassis.
 

DT MEDIA

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Battle Garegga (1997, Raizing/Eighting)

There are hardcore videogames, and then there are hardcore videogames, the ones that break down all but the most stubborn and defiant of players. Ninja Gaiden on NES is one example, Battletoads is another. Raizing's Battle Garegga easily belongs in this club.

For the last 15 years, the Shmups.System11 forums have conducted an annual poll to rank the 25 greatest arcade shooters ever made; Battle Garegga nearly always finishes in first or second, losing only to Cave's DoDonPachi. This game has become a holy grail for the genre thanks to a combination of brilliant audiovisuals, a deep and richly complex gameplay system, and absolutely crushing difficulty that rewards patience and practice. It inspires and frustrates in equal measure, and I'm not just speaking for myself. Even if you find yourself overwhelmed and pulling the hair out of your head, you have to enjoy the ride and respect the effort.

Battle Garegga is a vertically-scrolling military shooter that reminds you of the classic Toaplan classics like Twin Cobra as well as Capcom's 194x series. You fly an assortment of fighter planes across skies, mountains, forests, oceans and industrial bases. The game's design feels like a 1940s version of steampunk, World War II mashed up with futuristic anime machines. Each of the four main fighter planes have their own unique attacks as well as "option" fighters who accompany you in a number of aerial formations. Sneaking through the options menu reveals four extra fighters who originally appeared in the 1993 fantasy-themed arcade shooter Mahou Daisakusen, as well as a host of customizable options that will keep everybody happy for a long time. Believe me, you'll need some of 'em.

Visually, this game is a sprite-crushing masterpiece for Sega Saturn, pushing the system's 2D powers to its limit. All of the enemy ships, tanks, bunkers and aircraft shatter and explode in bursts of shrapnel, sometimes falling slowly out of the sky, sometimes exploding in a burst of fire. Add to this the impressive number of bullets filling the screen at any given time, as well as their varying shapes and sizes, in addition to your own cannons, fireballs and smart bombs. Saturn takes all of this in stride. I can only imagine how badly the 16-bit consoles would have choked trying to handle these graphics.

Note the first stage boss battle against an large bomber armed with multiple gun turrets and cannons, each of which fires dizzying rounds of bullets in your direction. As you shoot out the engines, rolling walls of flame erupt from the wings. Eventually, a large cannon emerges and fires mortar shells at you. After that is destroyed, another weapon emerges that unleashes spread-shot patterns in your direction. All the while, dark clouds race below you as a deep canyon stretches in the distance. It's quite an impressive feat; if anything, it's a little too impressive at times.

This brings up a common sticking point with this game: it's very to lose track of who's shooting at what. The shrapnel blends into the bullets which hides behind the explosions which gets lost in the rust-colored backgrounds. Expert players and those who have devoted months and years of playtime will manage nicely, but what about the rest of us? Tough luck, kid. Tell it to all those GIs who were cut down on Normandy Beach without warning. This is war. Also, and this is the more honest answer, this is a video arcade game, and the manufacturer requires you to drop another two quarters into the machine every sixty seconds. Indeed, Battle Garegga's ranking system is designed specifically to punish you for not dying on cue, ramping up the difficulty based on a number of factors. Again, the experts have learned how to game that system and manipulate it for maximum effect (such as knowing when to avoid power-ups and when to lose a life), which is one key reason why they love it so much.

Battle Garegga is one of those videogames that I deeply respect and admire, but only play on rare occasions. The difficulty is simply too far off the charts for me, and I say this with the awareness that I could become better if I just sat down and practiced more. If I were still ten years old, I would probably have this game wrapped around my fingers. That said, whenever I pop the disc into my Saturn, I quickly find myself wondering, Hey, why am I not playing this more often? It's certainly a better waste of my time than channel surfing the idiot box or flipping through Twitter in the vain hope I will learn something. Toss in a tall glass of Guinness and Pearl Jam on the turntable, and that's a pretty good evening.
 
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Great write-up on Battle Garegga! You really captured how crazy the game gets. I love how it becomes harder the better you do. Every bullet your ship shoots, every Power Up you receive, every Bomb you hoard, and every Life you have in stock will increase the Rank. Bullet speed goes up. Number of bullets go up. Even the rate at which the items fall off the screen speeds up! Time-honored strategies actually encourage you to suicide your ship at regular intervals to balance out the Rank. It's insane...

While this is a Saturn thread, it's worth pointing out how expensive a copy is on the Saturn. If you just want to play the game, there's an exceptional digital version made by M2 ShotTriggers on the PS4. You can get it physical, but you'd have to import from S. Korea.
 

DT MEDIA

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DoDonPachi (1997, Cave and Atlus)

Oh, Yeah! DoDonPachi, Cave's manic, bullet-hell masterpiece. The heaviest, loudest, fastest, most intense shoot-em-up ever created. It's such a wild ride, so gloriously and insanely over-the-top, so wildly colorful and luminous. This is the videogame equivalent of chugging down Red Bulls and Jolt Colas at a rave party like Party Pete five minutes before he explodes. It’s a gloriously chaotic roller coaster thrill ride that you can barely control, and it's just about the most exciting game ever made for the Sega Saturn. I can barely understand what I am doing. I cannot last ten seconds without being blown to pieces. I burn through all my credits by the fifth stage. I don't care.

One does not "conquer" or "master" DoDonPachi so much as simply survive. This game is an exercise in the delicate art of cheating death, as your spaceship faces endless waves of enemy aircraft, battleships, tanks, fortresses and enormous bosses and massively enormous bosses. And every single one of those enemies are firing bullets, lasers and rockets at you. How the heck did I escape that?! Literally every pixel on the screen is moving, flashing, firing, or exploding. And you're always caught in smack in the middle of the mess. This feels like an arcade shoot-em-up that begins where all the other genre titles ended, cranking all the dials to maximum, gleefully reveling in the beauty of pure chaos.

Cave was a new software studio founded by staff from the legendary Toaplan, who were the masters of arcade shooters. Their first title DonPachi is an excellent debut that continues the old tradition while also looking towards the future. DoDonPachi fully embraces that future and stands as a landmark in the emerging "danmaku" or "bullet hell" style, known for its overwhelming waves of enemy bullets and tiny "hit boxes" that enable your ship to narrowly dodge those assaults. Everything in this game is over-sized and over-the-top. Even the basic enemies such as helicopters and tanks, foes that are smashed to the sound of shattering glass, are fairly large and entire squadrons take up the entire screen. Mid-bosses of various shapes and types pour pink bullets from their cannons and dominate the landscape. The end-stage bosses are enormous machines that often must be dismantled piece by piece, allowing for some epic fights.

There is a destructive glee in smashing these armies with your massively overpowered laser cannons, as though you were set loose in a glassware shop with a baseball bat and given free rein to wreak havoc. Of course, with DoDonPachi, the glassware can fire back in equal measure. As early as the second stage, you will find yourself outgunned and barely escaping one attack after another, and it's quite a thrill to miraculously cheat death. Many times, I have survived a seemingly impossible wave of bullets and lasers and have said to myself, well, how did I get here? This is not my beautiful house.

This game is fairly short, offering only six main stages (although the "Saturn Mode" includes an additional introductory stage at the onset), but true mastery requires you to successfully "loop" the game at least once before reaching the final end boss. The secret to unlocking this second pathway to victory is itself a challenge, as you must do one of the following: lose up to two lives; score at least 50 million points; collect all 13 hidden bee icons in four of the six stages; earn a maximum hit count of 270 hits (Fighter A), 300 hits (Fighter B) or 330 hits (Fighter C). An elaborate scoring system allows you to chain together attacks for score multipliers, which is how you can reach those points and hits goals. Skilled players will know when to use bullets or lasers, know which enemies to avoid and which ones to attack, and know how to wear down the bosses for maximum gain. With enough time and practice, you will be able to successfully "chain" an entire stage.

The Saturn version of DoDonPachi remains overly expensive, despite the fact that dozens of copies are easily available on eBay. If you can find a retail copy for under $80, you should probably pick it up. The aforementioned Saturn Mode enables an extra stage an easier challenge, which is great for beginner or casual players. Like all the vertical-scrolling shooters on the system, two-player games are highly encouraged, and you have the option of playing in "yoko" (standard) and "tate" (sideways) modes. Compared to the Sony Playstation version (also available only in Japan), this version features slightly pixelated explosions, which really isn't an issue unless somebody points it out to you, but allows you to select your fighter when continuing. The PSX version has the smoother explosions, but you cannot change aircraft when continuing, and some changes were made to score-chaining. Console fans on both sides will argue which translation is best (and diehard DDP fans will only play the arcade original), but the truth is that they're both equally brilliant and smashing good fun.

I cannot complete any report on DoDonPachi without praising its searing rock soundtrack, which has always been a highlight of the best shoot-em-ups. It's the next best thing to having Eddie Van Halen torching his guitar in your living room while you're blasting aliens, and I cannot imagine this game any other way. This game will sound sensational pouring through your home theater system, matching the adrenaline thrills of the gameplay perfectly. It is no coincidence that guitar rock and video arcades declined at the same time. Can you imagine playing a Cave shooter to some pre-packaged boy band? Ugh. Shudder the thought.
 
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Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness (1995; CAPCOM)

Like any fighting game worth its salt, Cyberbots has a rock n roll OST that ties everything together. If you consider yourself a fan of the OST for stuff like Alpha 2 or X-Men Vs Street Fighter, you're in for a treat. Load up a song of your choice and let's begin the review!
Opening Theme | Megalopolis | Doomsday Weapon | Machine Arena |

I'm a big fighting-game fan. The mid-to-late-90s was -- in my humble estimation -- CAPCOM's golden era for their fighting games. During this period of time, CAPCOM was at their height of innovation, experimentation, playfulness, and hard-nosed competitiveness. Darkstalkers, Pocket Fighters, the Street Fighter Alpha series, the standalone Marvel fighting games, the Vs series, Red Earth, and Cyberbots were all released during these few short years, supported by regular iterations of Street Fighter II to provide the financial spine for these risky ventures. American developers were churning out Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, and Primal Rage. Meanwhile, Japanese rival SNK pushed its own 2D fighters like Samurai Shodown and King of Fighters. Also, Japanese devs were plunging headfirst into 3D with the likes of Tekken and Virtua Fighter. CAPCOM was beset on all sides and couldn't afford to rest on its laurels.





Cyberbots is a strange fighting game but is also a well-designed fighting game. Attacks are over-the-top and highly damaging. Whiffs are easy to punish. Parts can be broken off your opponent. You can shoot missiles and lasers from across the stage. Players have several grab options. Character movement is based on your Leg parts: slower tank-treads, hover-jets, spider limbs, standard humanoid legs, and more. Attacks and movement have a lot of weight and momentum to them, making this game feel more like an 'anime fighter' (think Guilty Gear or Melty Blood, but slower) than CAPCOM's own Street Fighter series. If I had to draw a comparison, it plays most similar to Darkstalkers but that's still a rough comparison to make. No, Cyberbots is still very much its "own thing" even after all these years.

Sometimes fans will describe a fighting game as "swingy". Meaning, the pendulum of momentum can wildly "swing" at any moment. It is a descriptor used for frantic games like Smash Bros and Marvel vs CAPCOM and I think Cyberbots earns that same "swingy" descriptor. That isn't good or bad, by the way. It's the style of fighter you're getting yourself into, that's all. Cyberbots is a "swingy" fighter.

But is it fun? Yes! Fighting games from this era were wildly variable and often had a handful of fatal flaws that ultimately resigned them to the dustbin of history (sorry Fighter's History, World Heroes, Galaxy Fight, and Real Bout Fatal Fury). I think Cyberbots has enough polish to keep itself out of that "fun but flawed" category. It might not unseat your favorite fighting game franchise but it's such a unique game that most fighting game fans will at least be entertained and amused by it, enough to warrant owning a copy, at least.



You choose between a variety of leg, torso, arm, and special weapon assortments for a total of 17 different mecha. There are only 9 pilots (several of them console-exclusive), but in a strange design choice the pilot only affects the aesthetics not the combat. Yes, there are canon pairings of pilots with their VAs, but when you fire up a 2-player battle you can mix-and-match however you like. I think this is the game's one big flaw and perhaps the reason why we never saw a sequel: the VAs have excellent animations and designs, but they lose a bit of their familiarity and uniqueness due to the ability to pick whichever mech you want. This probably hurt the game's ability to stand out in the arcades. Good character design and good mecha design were both present, but for whatever reason it didn't quite stick as well as it did with other fighting games. A shame, really.

But let me make a case for Cyberbot's "cast" of fighters: CAPCOM invested all the same attention and detail as they do for their other fighting games. So, although the discerning player will be able to spot some reused torsos and arms between the fighters, I don't see this as being much different than the reskins and palette swaps in their other fighting franchises. Below I've posted some of the official VA art and hopefully you'll gain an appreciation for the roster of fighters:





Gorgeous, right? I've always had a fondness for the designs in this game.

And that's a big part of the appeal: you're clashing with big, detailed mecha sprites on lush 2D backgrounds. Other than the Gundam Endless Duel and Battle Master/Assault franchises, it's really slim pickings for fighting game fans who enjoy mechas. Thankfully, CAPCOM invested all their usual love into making Cyberbots more than just flashy sprites and big explosions. It runs smoothly. It plays well. Saturn's indispensable RAM expansion cart (either 1 MB or 4 MB) ensures an arcade-perfect experience on the home system. Load times are longer than most of the other RAM-expansion Saturn fighters but aren't too bad overall.

The movesets and combos are not as deep or nuanced as what you'd find in Alpha 3 or Darkstalkers 3 but they are serviceable enough to keep things fun and fair. Battles are punctuated by explosions, flying chunks of metal, shattered concrete, streaks of laser-fire, billowing clouds of smoke, arcs of electricity, vehicles speeding along distant highways, giant spaceships, and full-blown space battles, heightening the intensity between players. The spectacle is here, unshackled, riffing solos on the guitar, cranked to Top '90s Volume. The game designers had an obvious love for all things mecha. Details are crammed into every corner of the screen, right down to the the retrofuturistic '____ Parts: Power Down' indicators when your VA takes critical damage on its limbs. Ranged attacks and grabs play a larger role in combat compared to CAPCOM's other fighters, adding to Cyberbot's lasting appeal and uniqueness. Most Normal Moves can be cancelled, allowing even a novice to chain together simple 2-4 Hit Combos with little more than button mashing. CAPCOM fighters have a flow that was often lacking from the competition and this made their games feel better, more timeless, more polished. Cyberbots is a good example of CAPCOM's skills at making smooth-flowing fighting games.


The actual characters take a back seat to the mecha. Thankfully, they still benefit from the same CAPCOM artistic talent.

Sound design is colorful and bright, making good use of the CPS-2's expanded audio channels. The Saturn version suffers no compression issues or omissions as far as I've been able to tell. One mark against the game is the eerie lack of voice acting. The Saturn's Story mode is crammed with it (in Japanese, of course) but none is to be found during the bouts between mecha. Instead of grunts, victorious cries, and cheesy move callouts (Hadouken! Sonic BOOM! Berserker Barrage! You can already hear those in your head, can't you?), you have the sterile sounds of clanks, bzzzts, crunching armor, the fwoosh of rocket engines, and a robotic announcement of 'TARGET DAMAGED' or 'TARGET DESTROYED' at the end of the round. It's not nearly as charming or ear-catching as other CAPCOM fighters and it robs the fighters of personality, perhaps another reason why the game was not as memorable as its contemporaries. I would've liked to at least hear end-of-round taunts or epic anime-inspired death-cries as the pilot's VA explodes, but Cyberbots does not deliver.

Since the game has oodles of original assets (untouched by CAPCOM's uncanny habit of reusing and reskinning everything within its reach), Cyberbots is a vibrant and unique experience for new players. It's cool seeing the backgrounds and the sprites in action for the first time; the 'wow' factor never quite fades. The Saturn port is affordable and arcade-perfect while also adding a few more modes, options, and playable characters to the roster. A part of me wants to judge the game more harshly on its shortcomings. I mean, heck! Saturn boasts legendary titles like Marvel vs Street Fighter, Alpha 3, and Virtua Fighter 2! However, doing so would be like ragging on the first Darkstalkers or the first Alpha (flawed games in their own way, too). Those franchises had the luxury of sequels and refinement. Cyberbots does not, so I'm willing to cut it a bit of slack.

Break out your Saturn pad or perhaps even a stick and boot this one up. Anyone with a passing interest in fighting games will enjoy their time with Cyberbots.
 
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Sexy Parodius (1996; Konami)

Oh, the sexiest of Parodius games! With a name like that, it's no wonder this game never made it to Western shores.

You might be expecting a typical Japanese anime panty-shots-everywhere, sneak-into-the-girls'-hot-springs, nosebleed-geyser sort of game, right? The game is of course terrible when it comes to gameplay and quality, but... y'know... boobies, right?

WRONG!

The title 'Sexy Parodius' actually refers to the sexy amount of character choices, the curvaceous color palette, the busty number of Power-Ups, the sensual soundtrack... okay, I'll stop. The game is obviously a silly interpretation of Konami's own Gradius franchise but you'd be dead-wrong if you think the gameplay has suffered in the transition. Arguably, this is the best of Konami's side-scrolling shmups, not only surpassing previous Parodius games but even surpassing the original Gradius games upon which it is based. Yeah, I've gone that far. Sexy Parodius is a darn good shmup whether or not you're a fan of the source material. That said, being a Konami fan makes the game all the more enjoyable. This is the last official title in the Parodius series and the Saturn version is a worthy port.




Boot up that soundtrack and let's dive into the review!
Vic Viper theme | Please, help me! | Shooting Star's theme | Chu Chu Polka | Departure for Sexy

You've been tasked by a perverted squid (Takosuke) to accomplish missions for his agency (or something along those lines?). Each mission comes with optional conditions that earn you a sexier ending screen after each level. You can still beat the game in the traditional way but in order to see all the levels and all the sexiest of the 32-bit pictures you'll need to gather a certain number of coins or destroy a certain number of an enemy type. It's hardly an essential part of the experience though it is a cool way to add challenge and flavor to an otherwise-standard sidescrolling shmup.



Your choice of 8 different ships greatly affects how you'll approach the game, since each character has their own unique progression of upgrades. The upgrade system is 'classic Gradius': save up the orange Power Up chips to spend on bigger enhancements or spend it all on Speed Ups and until you're crashing into the walls. You'll also find generous amounts of 'Bells' (originally from TwinBee, but also found in previous Parodius titles) that provide further upgrades. The variety of ships and upgrades in Sexy Parodius is unheard of in most other shmups, so to see this much content lavished onto a parody spin-off is both amusing and impressive.



What really *ahem* attracted me to this game is the colorful and detailed artwork. Every stage is a pixelated masterpiece, packed full of sprites and background activity. The mission structure seems geared toward getting players to earn themselves the "sexier" artwork, but I'd argue that the stages themselves make a worthwhile case for accomplishing all the missions and exploring all the stages. Part of the fun is in experiencing the wide variety of stages, more like a Darius game (with its branching stage structure) and less like a Gradius title.

And what would a good shmup be without its soundtrack? Sexy Parodius doesn't take itself seriously so you shouldn't expect the music to. Yet, I can't help but crack a grin at all the awesome musical nods and remixes of previous Konami games, not just Gradius but also Castlevania, Mappy, and TwinBee. The bulk of the OST is made up of sugary-stupid mixes of classical compositions like 'Hallelujah', 'Beethoven's Fifth' and 'Hungarian Dance No. 5', all rendered at a carousel-gone-haywire pace. What else would you expect from a game that pits you against a giant corn-on-the-cob, a penguin wearing a toilet, and an Uncle Sam bald eagle?

As long as you're not embarrassed to have a quite-intentionally risque game on your shelf, Sexy Parodius is both a hilarious rib on the genre's conventions and a darn good shmup in its own right.
 
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Anyone care to give me a top 10 list? It would probably be better being eu/us releases with the types of retro stores near to me.

My wife is buying me a saturn and a Crt for my birthday so I'm looking at some games to pick up.

When I owned the saturn I only had a few games like Fighters Megamix, nights and panzer dragoon.

Cheers
 
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Anyone care to give me a top 10 list? It would probably be better being eu/us releases with the types of retro stores near to me.

My wife is buying me a saturn and a Crt for my birthday so I'm looking at some games to pick up.

When I owned the saturn I only had a few games like Fighters Megamix, nights and panzer dragoon.

Cheers
Totally depends on what sort of games you like. You can easily skew toward certain genres on Saturn and populate an entire Top 10 with hardly anything but fighters, shmups, puzzle games, arcade racers, sports, and a few other odds and ends.

Mine?

DoDonPachi, Magical Drop III, Twinkle Star Sprites, X-Men VS Street Fighter, Soukyugurentai, Layer Section, Pocket Fighters, Super Puzzle Fighter, Vampire Saviour, and Sexy Parodius.
 
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DT MEDIA

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Anyone care to give me a top 10 list? It would probably be better being eu/us releases with the types of retro stores near to me.

My wife is buying me a saturn and a Crt for my birthday so I'm looking at some games to pick up.

When I owned the saturn I only had a few games like Fighters Megamix, nights and panzer dragoon.

Cheers

My best advice would be to check out the reviews of Sega Saturn games that are available on the past few pages of this forum thread. There are many software titles that are available for very affordable prices.
 
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@DunDunDunpachi I bought Cyberbots a few weeks back. I've only had a couple of goes and not quite got my head around it yet, I'll have to give your post a proper read later.

@Toe-Knee If you can, try to get an import cart of find some way to play Japanese games. Most of the Saturn's best games didn't come over to the west, and if they did they're stupidly priced. Guardian Heroes for example, I saw it for £70 today in CEX. It's a great game, but it's not worth that.
That being said, you should be able to find NiGHTS and Christmas NiGHTS cheap (watch a guide on how to play it). Baku Baku Animal is a great game that isn't crazily priced, Burning Rangers maybe. The likes of Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining force 3 are outstanding but will cost you a lot


I remember a year or so back there was talk of some USB Saturn emulator for pc. I forget the details, but it apparently ran better than emulators tend to. Did anything happen with that?
 
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@DunDunDunpachi I bought Cyberbots a few weeks back. I've only had a couple of goes and not quite got my head around it yet, I'll have to give your post a proper read later.

@Toe-Knee If you can, try to get an import cart of find some way to play Japanese games. Most of the Saturn's best games didn't come over to the west, and if they did they're stupidly priced. Guardian Heroes for example, I saw it for £70 today in CEX. It's a great game, but it's not worth that.
That being said, you should be able to find NiGHTS and Christmas NiGHTS cheap (watch a guide on how to play it). Baku Baku Animal is a great game that isn't crazily priced, Burning Rangers maybe. The likes of Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining force 3 are outstanding but will cost you a lot


I remember a year or so back there was talk of some USB Saturn emulator for pc. I forget the details, but it apparently ran better than emulators tend to. Did anything happen with that?
Pick the coolest-looking VA and stick with it while you learn. It'll help you grasp the nuances better. Normally I'd be all like "try all the characters and see who you like!" but in this case, stick with one.
 

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Radiant Silvergun (1998, Treasure)

Question: Was 1998 the greatest year in the history of videogames? It certainly stands among the top five dates, for sure. Consider only a handful of candidates: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; Tony Hawk Pro Skater; Starcraft; Half-Life; Grim Fandango; Dance Dance Revolution; Panzer Dragoon Saga; Radiant Silvergun. What a year.

For many years, Radiant Silvergun was known as the Great Lost Sega Saturn Game, a genre-bending audiovisual masterpiece that overturned all expectations of Sega's troubled 32-bit system, but left in Japan to obscurity and fiendishly high import prices. This was probably the console's first $100 software title on the import scene, and has always remained in high demand. The rise of emulation and internet downloads only added oxygen to the legend. Today, you can download the game in vintage and remastered form for Xbox Live Arcade for the price of a couple movie tickets, a true bargain. Yet the Saturn original remains in very high demand, a holy grail for the devout fans and collectors.

Today, I believe the game's reputation has lessened somewhat; some of the shine and polish of the legend has faded in the wake of experience, tempered by more realistic assesements. Two decades ago, Silvergun was universally hailed as a masterpiece, a living legend, the greatest shoot-em-up ever made. Today, well...the game is greatly respected, but its place in history has become more debated, which only adds to the legend.

What sort of game is this? It is presented as a vertically-scrolling spaceship shooter, as you guide a team of pilots against an endless array of enemy spaceships, gun turrets, urban installations and enormously powerful bosses of all shapes and sizes. But looks can be deceiving, and if you attempt to play in the classic style, by shooting everything that moves and everything that doesn't, you will find yourself overwhelmed by enemy forces. You'll scratch your head wondering when the power-ups will arrive to save the day. You'll probably wish to retreat to another round of Galactic Attack where everything made sense.

But looks can be deceiving, and Treasure are, if nothing else, masters of usurping and fusing genres. Silvergun presents three main weapons, with three combined variants, that begin very weak but gain strength through experience. You will notice that nearly all enemies are painted red, yellow or blue. When you destroy three enemy ships of the same color, that creates a chain bonus; if you destroy three more, the chain continues and bonus points multiply. Once you have scored a set number of points with that weapon, its power level will be raised by one.

In addition, there are other ways to collect bonus points. If you shoot one red, yellow and blue ship, you will score a 10,000 point bonus. Each weapon has its own hidden technique for scoring bonus. Your ship is even awarded a bonus for narrowly dodging enemy attacks (a trick that can be exploited by expert players). All of these factors contribute the leveling up of your arsenal over time. Even the epic boss battles can be carefully dragged out for the purpose of raising power levels by dismantling the vessels piece by piece.

Here we have something very fascinating and unique: a shooter that incorporates elements of RPGs and puzzle games. If you simply fire upon everything that moves, your weapons will remain dangerously underpowered for the later, more difficult stages. Skilled players learn to study the layouts of each stage, learning where each attack formation lies and in what order, planning which targets to strike for maximum impact. Treasure presents this as an open-ended challenge; there is no one "correct" path to victory, and this gives you a great sense of freedom.

I must admit that I am not as good at Silvergun as I ought to be. The challenge is extremely high, as you are constantly beset by enemy ships of all sizes, each of which is firing an immense number of bullets, lasers and rockets in your general direction. Your ship has a very small "hit box" (meaning the part of the ship that can be destroyed), which is your only salvation. These elements are a hallmark of the danmaku or "bullet hell" sub-genre, but this game is far slower and methodical than, say, DoDonPachi. Its pacing is measured, tactical. You are required and encouraged to think and plan several moves ahead. And yet you are always at the edge of your seat, narrowly escaping certain doom and cheating death six ways before breakfast.

For all of these reasons, this game was considered trailblazing when it was new. Its innovations and designs set it apart from every other shooter on the scene, and it was hoped that a new paradigm shift was at hand, that shoot-em-ups were about to evolve into some new exciting form for the 3D era, just as Super Mario World had evolved into Super Mario 64. Sadly, this evolution never really happened, apart from Treasure's own spiritual sequel Ikaruga. Arcade spaceship shooters faded from the mainstream videogame landscape for good, despite a few good danmaku titles here and there. We really never saw anything close to a full-blown masterpiece ever again, much less something that dared to take risks and push the envelope. But the same could be said for the videogame industry in general.

Visually, Radiant Silvergun is gobsmacking, fantastic brilliance. Even two decades later, it has lost none of its power to amaze and dazzle. It must have knocked the socks off gamers in 1998, especially those who had long since written off Sega Saturn as a second-rate contender. These graphics would be spectacular by Nintendo 64 standards; heck, by Dreamcast standards. Treasure were famous for being master programmers who knew how to push any machine far beyond its assumed limits; it's practically their calling card, and this title is one of their strongest examples.

These graphics are probably the finest example of Sega Saturn's strengths, a fusion of 2D sprites and 3D polygons. The spaceships are all rendered in highly polished pre-rendered CG, most of the weapons are hand-drawn sprites, as are the richly saturated explosions, and nearly all of the backgrounds are multiple VDP2 planes. Polygons are used sparingly, sometimes to enhance the background graphics, usually for the big boss fights, where they are highly fluid and polished and illuminated. There are many moments where it feels like the screen is spinning out of control, like a roller coaster car that has jumped the rails, and nothing like this had ever been seen. The thrilling planetfall stage in Soukyugurentai feels rather pedestrian by comparison.

The final showdown involves a large diamond crystal that shatters to reveal a giant polygon man who runs across a spinning dual-plane realm. He reminds me a lot of Nausicaa's God Warrior, as he runs, dodges and attacks from a multitude of directions as your ship scrambles to catch up. I get a slight sense of vertigo when playing and even feel a touch dizzy when I replay the episode in my mind many years later. Please don't ask me to recreate the feat again; the only reason I ever reached the running man was because I was playing the arcade (Sega Titan) version on MAME and could furiously abuse the extra credits.

Oh, I forgot about the sword! Your ship is equipped with a wire-frame sword that can slice through enemies. It's useful for getting out of a tight jam, but its best power is the ability to scoop up pink bullets, an act that fills a special power meter. Once that meter is full, you can unleash a massive dual-sword attack that shatters everything in sight. It's a terrific thrill when you can destroy a boss in one wide swing, defeating your foes in a flash of light and shattering of polygons. What a sensational thrill ride. We'll never see the likes of this sort again.
 

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Virtua Cop 2 (1996, Sega AM2)

I had a terrific amount of fun with Virtua Cop, both in the arcades and on Saturn. The home version was released as part of the Holiday 1995 trilogy (including Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Rally Championship) that rescued the console from an early collapse. It's a fantastic lightgun game that pushed the genre forward, offering new possibilities for realism and immersion beyond simple target practice. The game was always popular with friends and at parties, always great fun with pizza and soda and beers.

For the sequel, Sega AM2 once again raised the bar, determined to raise the bar and really wow the gamers. And, boy, did they ever succeed.

Here's something you should do. Before playing Virtua Cop 2, put on the original disc and play the first stage until it becomes familiar. Now turn on the sequel and start at the first stage, the downtown jewel heist, and be astonished at the improvements. Yes, you are still playing "on rails," as Goldeneye fans would gladly point out, but it is the best roller coaster ride yet seen, a fully immersive and highly interactive city with streets, buildings, highways and cars. You begin by intercepting a jewel store robbery, shooting down armed terrorists in the street and inside the building, smashing the glass, knocking down the chandeliers. After the robbery, a highway chase gives way that twists and turns across streets, over hills and through the highways, ending at the gang's hideout outside an office building.

The car chase sequence is a spectacular rush, and the camera bobs and weaves as your car swerves around traffic, engaging the criminals in their vehicles. You can shoot out the windows and tires, sometimes even causing the cars and motorcycles to explode and crash. The pacing is extremely fast and fluid, never a hiccup or moment of slowdown, and it feels quite cinematic. The second mission takes place at a hotel, where you make your way through the main sections including the lobby, ballroom and rooftop lounge. The third stage is my favorite and features a subway chase that is an action movie sequence for the ages. Even today, I marvel at how Saturn could pull this off, as you work your way through the subway cars that bob and weave, turn and glide through tunnels and over open land. Gunmen hide behind the seats. Idiot civilians pop out and get in the way at the worst possible moments. Are you sure I should be punished because Milhouse over there got in the way of my bullets? Are you sure there isn't a cheat code that helps me out here? Activision once made a Space Invader clone (Laser Blast) where you were the invaders. I wanna play a version of Virtua Cop where I'm one of the criminals and my goal is to shoot all the civilians.

Even though there are only three main stages in the game, each mission includes a branching path onto two different directions, which helps to enhance the replay value. The challenge is also high as you face an endless assault of criminals and soldiers. This world is far more interactive than its predecessor; there are far more targets and objects to shoot, and there's a sense of discovery as you wonder what can be hit. Most of the time, this is done purely for kicks, but you will also find more powerful guns hidden about.

Once again, Virtua Cop 2 allows you to target specific body parts of the criminals (a famous inspiration for Goldeneye) as well as the "justice shot" that knocks the gun from their hands. You still have the three-shot combo, but the scoring system has been changed from the original. Fortunately, you have the option to play the Vircua Cop 1 scoring system, which again adds to the replay value, which is always important for target-shooting videogames. The "proving ground" mini-games are pretty impressive but are screaming out for a two-player mode.

A CRT television is required to play with the light gun, and this remains the best option, but you can also use a joypad or mouse when your Saturn is connected to an HDTV. To my surprise, this option works better than expected. It's not quite the same experience, but you can have a pretty good time and the action is quite challenging. I never felt myself overwhelmed by having to use a, ugh, cursor. That said, somebody out there really needs to create a method to make light guns work on modern displays. And Sega needs to bring this series back. Why they never released a Virtua Cop compilation on Nintendo Wii when they had the chance, I'll never know.

P.S. Just for the record, the Sega Dreamcast version of Virtua Cop 2 is actually a port of the PC release, which was kind of a rip. The Saturn version remains the only true console translation to date.

(update: added photos from Sony Trinitron, 13" screen, RF cables)
 
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Duke Nukem 3D (1997, Lobotomy Software)

It's very easy to take great videogames for granted. During the 1980s, my family owned an Atari 800XL (everyone in my extended family also had Atari home computers), where I was blessed with classic games with outstanding 3D graphics including Ballblazer, Encounter, Mercenary, Master of the Lamps and F-15 Strike Eagle. It never really phased me that these visuals were, for its time, pushing the boundaries of the cutting edge. I just accepted it all at face value and never gave any of it a second thought, taking it all for granted. It was only years later, after two console generations had passed, would I realize just how impressive those computer games were all along.

The same thought comes to mind when I think of Duke Nukem 3D on Sega Saturn. Even in 1997, in the heat of the Fifth Generation war, it was incredibly easy to take the game's 3D visuals for granted, simply accept them as ordinary, standard fare, almost boring. Only two years after being dazzled by the likes of Virtua Fighter 2 and Ridge Racer and we were already jaded and bored. Snooze. Isn't that crazy?

It is the highest compliment to say that Lobotomy Software, the developers behind Saturn Duke, make everything look so effortless. In the hands of most Western software developers, Sega's system was an absolute shambles. But this studio could create magic seemingly at will, like lightning shooting from their fingertips. They make it look so easy. Their first title Powerslave established their legend, and their second only solidifies that legend further. These guys didn't just get lucky once. They're the real deal.

Duke Nukem 3D flows smoothly, with highly detailed polygon environments drawn in gritty tones of grey and brown, with flashes of red and light and flame in its frequent bursts of violence. Its worlds are elaborate and intricate, massively large and immersive in its layouts. You face an endless onslaught of enemy monsters from every corner, facing guns, fires and the occasional surprise explosion, and you take it all in stride, shooting and blasting everything in sight in a blaze of bullets and rockets. The Saturn handles these graphics with confidence, featuring many impressive lighting effects that will be familiar to Powerslave fans, complex level designs and heavy action while maintaining a very respectable frame rate.

This game is an excellent translation of the 3D Realms smash hit on PC, which took the successful Doom formula and raised it to the next level, adding a snarky, almost cynical grittiness with a heavy dose of satire. The titular hero is a Bruce Campbell parody of all the 1980s action heroes, dispatching corny one-liners while shooting mutant pigs in police uniforms through sleazy city streets, like a cartoon version of the sex-and-grime districts that once plagued all downtowns in age of urban decay. This is a throwback to the days when only pimps, prostitutes and drug addicts would be caught dead in most city cores, while the respectable citizens scattered to the distant suburbs, and presents us with something of a revenge fantasy, our own mashup of Dolph Lundgren and Taxi Driver.

Of the Lobotomy trilogy of first-person shooters on Saturn, Duke Nukem 3D is probably the most accessible to most players, since it's based on a successful PC game and is a very straightforward action game. It is more direct and immediate than Powerslave, faster and more accessible than Quake. You run, you shoot, you discover hidden rooms that hide essential armor and weapon upgrades, you frag bad guys. You don't have to backtrack to previous stages in search of essential items or pathways. The hardware is not pushed but not to its absolute limits. For the average player, this game sits in that Goldilocks zone and will be the ideal fit.

I enjoy the breezy atmosphere Duke provides, as well as its high challenge. It's possible that I'm not as good at FPS games as you, so keep that in mind. I can report that the Saturn 3D controller is an absolute must, thanks to its analog stick and triggers (don't even think about using the digital joypad). Controls are very responsive and default to a "Goldeneye" layout, but you can switch to something closer to "KBM" (keyboard-mouse) settings. The joypad will never equal the PC keyboard controls in either precision or speed, and this is an area where you must make your peace. With practice, I have found that I was able to move around fairly easily. I still get gunned down far too often.

Duke Nukem also appeared on Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64, but the Saturn version is widely considered the best translation, which is a rare victory for Sega and proof that, in the end, quality software developers trump everything. PC fans will roll their eyes in indignation and gladly point out all the areas where Saturn
Duke cut corners in the level designs, simplifying or removing many areas and stages, and even relegating the "crouch" button to an automatic function. And don't even think about mentioning that single-analog controller, which would cause the computer gamers to pull out the fainting couch. The horror, the horror!

One of the great reasons to play older video and computer games is to appreciate what those artists achieved when working within very strict limitations. Anybody can paint a Picasso if they have unlimited hardware power and a hundred million dollars to spend. It takes genius to pull that same feat with rubber bands, tape and spare nickels. It takes genuine creativity to pull off such stunts. We should never become so comfortably numb as to take such things for granted.
 
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NBA Jam Tournament Edition (1995, Iguana Entertainment and Acclaim)

It seems that every videogame console is required to have a version of NBA Jam. It was monstrously successful in the arcades, and every kid with a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo owned a copy of the home version, both the original Jam and the improved Tournament Edition. Gameboy and Game Gear owners also had a stripped-down version of the game to play on the go. Later, Sega 32X saw a visually-enhanced version of TE that turned a few heads, and Atari Jaguar received an exemplary translation that is now in great demand. All of these home versions (the portable versions will get a Mulligan by me) are superb and highly addictive and a must for all sports fans and casual gamers alike.

For those who aren't aware, NBA Jam is an arcade sports title that plays a very fast and breezy 2-on-2 basketball. The emphasis is on offense and scoring above tactics or defense, on spectacular slam dunks that thrill the crowds. When a player makes three baskets in a row, he will become "on fire," allowing for more amazing aerial dunks and nearly guaranteed shots from any location. Quarters are brief and matches are furious and short. This is a pure distillation of the sport and remains one of the most popular videogames of all time.

In 1995, Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation both received NBA Jam TE, and these were probably intended to be the definitive home versions. The audio soundtrack was given a complete overhaul with CD-quality soundtrack and audio samples. Players were large and scaled in and out of the screen as they moved around the basketball court (the 32X and Jaguar versions also featured sprite scaling). Player animations, including a standing waggle, nearly equaled the arcade. Full-motion video clips from the NBA would also play in between games, an extra that nearly all gamers will skip as quickly as possible.

The consensus has long been that the Playstation version is a disappointment, owing to a far more aggressive computer AI that results in far more turnovers, among other minor issues. The Saturn version has always viewed as the stronger of the two, and arguably the best home translation. I find myself unsure about this assessment, and suspect that this belief came about largely due to laziness. "Sega is better at 2D, Sony is better at 3D" became an iron-clad mantra almost from the start, saving many players, and especially videogame review critics, from having to pay much attention.

The truth is that most gamers were burned out on NBA Jam by 1995. The 16-bit home versions might not have matched the arcades rich visuals, but the gameplay was captured perfectly. Kids who wanted to play found themselves perfectly happy with their Genesis and Super NES. The 32-bit ports might have looked better, but not significantly so, and not enough for the kids to throw away their cartridges to buy the "super deluxe" version. What was a massive success in Generation Four became almost passe in Generation Five.

That's one theory, at least. I do enjoy playing Saturn NBA Jam, but I've never loved it. I think it's a very solid translation, with impressively large digitized characters that are well animated, as well as crisp and clean voice samples. But something feels off and I can't quite put my finger on it. The clock runs slow, resulting in matches that are longer and more drawn out. The stadium is unusually quiet and rarely moves, with less animation than other versions, including the arcade. The bulb flashes in the stands are completely missing, which takes a lot of fun out of the over-the-top dunks. The game appears slightly unfinished; perhaps this was a consequence of Sega's infamous decision to release Saturn four months early. The PSX version, for all its faults, feels the more polished of the two. Your mileage may vary.

For the record, my favorite home version of NBA Jam TE is the Atari Jaguar version, which was translated directly from the arcade source code by High Voltage Software. It cuts out the standing waggle player animations, but the speed and controls are dead-on perfect and the stadium just erupts whenever you score a soaring somersault-and-spin dunk. The colors also just pop off the screen and always leave a big silly smile on my face. I also have a great affection for EA Vancouver's 2010 NBA Jam revival on Nintendo Wii, which looks sensational and allows for highly satisfying motion control slam dunks. Honorable mention goes to NBA Showtime on Sega Dreamcast. My all-time favorite basketball videogame? That would be Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One-On-One on Atari 800.
 
Likes: mechafan64
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Thanks for posting reviews on Duke Nukem 3D and NBA Jam, @DT MEDIA

I have NBA Jam on my Genesis. Maybe if I put in enough playtime I'll grab the Saturn version (due to the obvious advantages and improvements compared to the version I own).

I've been playing around a bit more on the hardware side and will try to post pics taken of Saturn gameplay on my CRTs (instead of using stock images). Just got a pair of PC CRT monitors and am going to try Component -> VGA through a converter, but that's for the PS2. Still investigating how I could get the Saturn to display through that VGA cable (it seems like I'll need to use a horizontal line doubler...).
 
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I've been playing around a bit more on the hardware side and will try to post pics taken of Saturn gameplay on my CRTs (instead of using stock images). Just got a pair of PC CRT monitors and am going to try Component -> VGA through a converter said:
You need a line doubler like the OSSC or the Retrotink to go from the Saturn's 240p to the VGA monitor's 480p.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
267
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www.dtm-arts.com








The House of the Dead (1998, Tantalus)

You just have to love the sheer rush of adrenaline and fear from The House of the Dead. Terrors and thrills abound at every corner, gruesome monsters leap at you from every direction, and the roller coaster never stops. This game never gives you a moment to catch your breath before the next plunge. That this arcade smash hit became a successful and long-running franchise comes as no surprise. It is one of Sega's most notable achievements in the 1990s.

One thing I should admit about this game is that it's freakishly hard and I find myself beaten and kicked into submission rather quickly. Even with considerable practice and knowing where the enemies are about to strike, I find myself easily overwhelmed. Virtua Cop 1 & 2 were only the warmup, the training exercises for the real test. Were you one of those gamers who became bored with Duck Hunt in the first sixty seconds? Well, my friend, your prayers have been answered in spades. Hoo boy, have they ever.

The House of the Dead follows the theme of Capcom's Resident Evil series and places you in the hands of police officers who must investigate a large mansion whose scientists are being relentlessly murdered by zombies, mutant animals and strange bio-mechanical creatures. As soon as you exit your car, you must rescue several scientists from a mob of zombies who prove difficult to kill. You have to shoot them several times to bring them down, unless you are lucky to score a head shot, something that is more difficult to do than you'll expect. These monsters bob and weave, dart and dance as they march towards you with blood in their eyes. Outside the mansion, there are a series of zombie dogs that always kill me because they're always dodging my gunshots. Perhaps my reflexes are just fading with age.

The key to success lies in knowing where and when the monsters will attack, and almost begin firing a half second early. You have to anticipate the threats before they drop down on your head, often without warning. Remember the circle gauges in Virtua Cop that warn you when you're in danger? They've been chucked out the window; say goodbye to those training wheels and hello to a lot of pain.

One excellent feature of this game is the ability to choose multiple paths, often determined by whether you successfully rescue scientists in danger. Early on, you see a person being carried by a large zombie who's about to toss him over a bridge. If the scientist is saved, you will continue to the mansion's front door. If you fail and he is killed, you follow him down a set of stairs towards an underground passage to the basement. Each branching path sends you towards a different area of the house with unique threats such as skeletons, frogs, slugs, monkeys, and my personal favorite, the bearded maniac with a chainsaw. I almost wish there was a code so that I could play as him.

Thanks to the many pathways and options before you, it will take many games to discover them all. Interestingly enough, rescuing all the scientists gives you the most boring path of all, a straight line to the end boss. To see the really interesting places, you've got to let a few of these Professor Frinks buy the farm.

As always, The House of the Dead plays best with a light gun, but I should also advise that you will be more successful with a larger television display, say over 19", than a smaller 13" screen. It's always a challenge to hit the corners of the screen, so this may affect your progress. If you play on a digital HD display, you can play with a joypad or mouse controller, like the VIrtua Cop series. Once again, this is a good option and better than I expected, but no substitute for the real thing. Just pick up a couple Stunners and get your John Woo freak on.

The House of the Dead was created by Sega AM2 for the arcades, but the Saturn translation has handled by Tantalus, a studio staffed by experienced Sega programmers. They're a very solid bunch -- they were also responsible for the Saturn ports of Wipeout, Wipeout XL and Manx TT -- but they are clearly the backup players and not the starters (who were busy at the time working on Virtua Fighter 3 and Shenmue). The programmers did an excellent job in capturing every aspect of the arcade, including all of the mansion's areas and its freakshow circus, but there's a slight lack of polish. Most notably, the polygon textures are low-rez and look slightly Minecraft-y. One gets the impression that these textures were placeholders and were intended to be improved before release; this suggests that Sega's bosses once again rushed a crucial software title out the door before it was finished.

Personally, I think this is a minor issue that has become blown out of proportion by retro gamers over the years. This videogame is far more demanding on the hardware than the Virtua Cop series, which mostly took place over open spaces and carefully timed its action sequences. Its environments are far more complex and varied; its camera swiftly glides in nearly every direction as monsters crash through doors, windows and ceilings. And throughout all of this intense action, the speed remains very fast and smooth, only occasionally skipping frames in intense moments in order to preserve that speed. Also, it must be said that HotD looks much better on a CRT display where the dithered visuals are smoothed over (such as the slash and bite marks on-screen when you are attacked).

I should also say something about the music, which kicks out some super funky bass lines, as well as the deliberately corny voice acting. One can't have horror without a degree of funk and cheese, I say. All in all, this is one heck of a thrill ride, another great example of what makes Sega Saturn so much fun. Highly recommended.

The House of the Dead was one of the very final Saturn titles released in the US, and as a result has become very rare and expensive, averaging $300 at the time of this essay. The Japanese release can be bought for as little as $20, making it a far easier option for retro collectors.
 
Likes: Belmonte
May 28, 2014
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House of the dead took a decent amount of criticism when it came out, and it doesn't look great, but as more time has passed, that it is running on a Saturn the way it is has become more impressive to me.

I've a very distinct memory of buying House of the Dead, coming home and playing with my brother while listening to Filter :LOL: The complaint with lightgun games was that they were short experiences with no replay value, but I played HOTD (and Virtua Cop, HOTD2 etc) loads. Eventually I'll have to pick up a decent CRT so I can play some of these again without using the WiiU
 
Likes: DT MEDIA

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
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House of the dead took a decent amount of criticism when it came out, and it doesn't look great, but as more time has passed, that it is running on a Saturn the way it is has become more impressive to me.

I've a very distinct memory of buying House of the Dead, coming home and playing with my brother while listening to Filter :LOL: The complaint with lightgun games was that they were short experiences with no replay value, but I played HOTD (and Virtua Cop, HOTD2 etc) loads. Eventually I'll have to pick up a decent CRT so I can play some of these again without using the WiiU

Yes, the American reviews for HotD were pretty harsh. I just checked the reader reviews on GameFAQs; the reviews from 2000 and 2002 were very critical, but a review from 2005 was more generous. The reception in Japan was far more favorable: Sega Saturn Magazine gave the game 8-9-9 in its review.

At the time, many players and critics just couldn't get past the blocky Minecraft textures, but 20 years later, most players probably wouldn't bother giving it a second thought. Every other aspect of the game is spot on, including the speed of the gameplay and visual design of the layouts. The graphics are very ambitious, more so than the Virtua Cop series, and it's quite impressive that Saturn could pull this off at all. It surely could have used a bit more polish, but it all seems like such a non-issue now. What matters is the gameplay and the feeling of the experience. Does this roller coaster deliver thrills and chills as promised? Is it sufficiently challenging? Are you having fun? Those are the important questions to ask, and everything else is trivial.

Also, by 1998, "arcade" had become a dirty word, something to be dismissed as mere fluff, and light gun games doubly so. "Real Gamers" would prefer longer, more adventurous videogames like Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy 7, Goldeneye and Zelda Ocarina. Needless to say, this put Sega in a bad spot from which they never fully recovered. Thankfully, the pendulum has now swung back, but it's too late to do Saturn (or Dreamcast) any good. Oh, well, it can't be helped, as they say.
 
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As promised, I've been fiddling with the camera. The shots are a bit cockeyed (did them freehand; no tripod) and I'd like to get a bit more brightness out of them, but otherwise I like what I got. I may have to play around with the shutter speed but I found 1/50 was actually better than 1/60 in some cases when it came to avoiding the scan refresh.

I'm open to any advise and critique as I'm trying to improve the picture quality.

Saturn Model 1, 240p signal via S-Video to Toshiba 27", option set to 'Tate' screen orientation.

DoDonPachi (mostly close ups):








Layer Section



Gunbird





Sonic Wings Special





 
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Likes: DT MEDIA
Feb 21, 2018
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What's the general consensus on Sakura Taisen?

Jumped into it literally just having looked at 1 screenshot of a robot tactical battle, and it turns out that it's more like a visual novel!

I've finished the first chapter so far and am enjoying it. Does it get more gamey or is this the overall style?
 
Apr 18, 2018
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So a few weekends ago I visited Galloping Ghost Arcade which was a ton of fun. I played a really enjoyable SEGA racing game for the first time, Rad Mobile. It's a first-person racing game and the cabinet moves as you turn and go up on slopes. It's really cool, in a simple 90s sort of way.


(pic courtesy myself!)

So as I was looking through a list of Saturn games, I notice "Rad Mobile" listed as a launch-window title in Japan. Huh? I couldn't find it anywhere, until I stumbled upon the fact that it was ported as Gale Racer:




Anyway, I nabbed a copy for ~$8 as soon as I learned this fact. I love stumbling upon forgotten gems like this!
 
Jan 10, 2017
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So a few weekends ago I visited Galloping Ghost Arcade which was a ton of fun. I played a really enjoyable SEGA racing game for the first time, Rad Mobile. It's a first-person racing game and the cabinet moves as you turn and go up on slopes. It's really cool, in a simple 90s sort of way.


(pic courtesy myself!)

So as I was looking through a list of Saturn games, I notice "Rad Mobile" listed as a launch-window title in Japan. Huh? I couldn't find it anywhere, until I stumbled upon the fact that it was ported as Gale Racer:




Anyway, I nabbed a copy for ~$8 as soon as I learned this fact. I love stumbling upon forgotten gems like this!
On the topic of arcades on holiday I saw a Daytona stand up cabinet. The attract mode made me smile as it said coming soon to sega saturn!

If I had my phone I would have snapped some pics. Best of all it was in a shed in a pub beer garden in the UK!
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
267
199
290
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com
What's the general consensus on Sakura Taisen?

Jumped into it literally just having looked at 1 screenshot of a robot tactical battle, and it turns out that it's more like a visual novel!

I've finished the first chapter so far and am enjoying it. Does it get more gamey or is this the overall style?
Sakura Taisen was very popular in Japan (one major Saturn poll ranked it #1), but has only received a little attention in the West. The most recent entry in the series was released on Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii and I was a little surprised that it didn't receive more attention from Sega fans. It's combination of soap opera dating sim with Tactical-RPG is very unique and compelling. For Saturn fans, both titles are excellent and among the best genre titles on the system. There have been at least a couple attempts at a fan translation, but those project kept falling through.

Both Sakura Taisen games on Saturn can be purchased easily, usually under $10. There is a language barrier, which means consulting a translation guide or just boning up on your Japanese. These were also released on Dreamcast, so there's that option as well.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
267
199
290
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com
Does anyone here own all star baseball 97?

I don't have much experience with this title, but I do remember the series was successful on Nintendo 64. On Saturn, it feels like a passable but extremely average baseball game when compared to Sega's World Series Baseball series. For me, WSB 98 raised the bar on baseball videogames and I've never been willing to go back.

Again, I haven't played All Star Baseball 97, so it might be good. If you enjoyed it, then that's all that matters. Seeing "Acclaim" on the box was always a bit of a gamble for me, as their quality always varied wildly. They were a little bit on the trashy side, like an '80s glam rock band. But at least they had style that is now sorely missed.
 
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I don't have much experience with this title, but I do remember the series was successful on Nintendo 64. On Saturn, it feels like a passable but extremely average baseball game when compared to Sega's World Series Baseball series. For me, WSB 98 raised the bar on baseball videogames and I've never been willing to go back.

Again, I haven't played All Star Baseball 97, so it might be good. If you enjoyed it, then that's all that matters. Seeing "Acclaim" on the box was always a bit of a gamble for me, as their quality always varied wildly. They were a little bit on the trashy side, like an '80s glam rock band. But at least they had style that is now sorely missed.
Oh, I wouldn't play it over WSB myself. I only had a question about the physical game. It's not very common and the copy I just got has me wondering if the case insert is original. It's the first Saturn liner I've gotten that isn't perforated on each side. I was assuming it was a reproduction, but it looks similar to other pictures, including scans at Sega retro. Was hoping someone else had it and could comment on how theirs looked.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
267
199
290
Chicago, IL
www.dtm-arts.com






Wipeout (1995, Psygnosis and Tantalus)

Wipeout was Psygnosis' landmark racing game that dazzled videogame fans when it appeared on Sony Playstation in 1995, and indeed was highly praised as the star of the system's excellent software launch lineup. Its techno-futuristic landscapes took inspiration from Nintendo's F-Zero and in turn inspired countless others. Throughout the Fifth and Sixth Generations, you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a sci-fi racing title that owed something to Wipeout.

While Ridge Racer and Daytona USA opened our eyes to the possibilities of driving in polygon landscapes and its advantages over 2D sprite graphics. Wipeout grabbed that ball and ran with it. Its racetracks are fully three-dimensional roller coasters, and you will find yourself careening over mountains, hills and ramps, then crashing down through deep tunnels, whipping around industrial buildings, blazing over rolling hills and breakneck turns. Here are some truly inspired and brilliant course designs, and it's arguably the finest demonstration of the new (for its time) technology to deliver new innovations and ideas to videogames.

Your racing vehicles more closely resemble the spaceships from Star Wars, which hover above the ground but can also bank and curve in all directions. There are many times when you will need to raise the nose to climb hills or bank downwards to tackle a downward hairpin curve. The aircraft glide across the tracks, but you must learn to anticipate turns in advance, and you really have to bank into the turns. This requires a slightly greater learning curve than most driving videogames, but once you master the controls and become familiar with the courses, controls will become second nature.

In addition, you can acquire powerups located on panels along the tracks which include speed boosts, shields and various missiles. These weapons do little damage and usually serve to temporarily slow down opposing vehicles (you can destroy your aircraft but it's not without some effort). In this world, everything comes down to speed and time, and being dragged to a halt can prove lethal in a fiercely competitive race. Personally, I think the direct sequel, Wipeout XL, has better power-ups, including land mines and a super cool "rolling wave" attack, but what's available here is very effective.

Wipeout is dazzling on Playstation and a terrific showcase for the system's powers. It has only one serious flaw that has always irritated me, in that your aircraft will grind to a halt whenever you hit the side railings, no matter how slight. You just slam to a complete stop. For the Saturn version, which was ably translated by reliable stalwarts Tantalus, the side banks became more forgiving. Depending on the angle you slide into them, you will either scrape by or grind slightly, with only a slight reduction in speed but no real disruption. Psygnosis clearly paid attention and added this modification to their gameplay engine for the sequel, Wipeout XL (my all-time favorite Playstation One videogame).

Comparing the two versions of Wipeout, the Playstation original has always been considered superior, but I prefer the Saturn version because of those side rails. The racing is just a touch smoother and more fluid. Yes, it's true that the PSX offers some cool transparency effects in missile smoke trails and your shields, which are rendered on Saturn with the notorious "dithered mesh" effect. If you play with RF or Composite, you won't notice much of a difference. Sharp eyes will also notice that the tracks on Saturn Wipeout do a good job of faking lighting effects on the tracks. Such things would have started schoolyard arguments back in 1995. Today, hardly anybody notices, which is probably for the best.

I really enjoy the sci-fi imagery that is offered in this game, which images and glimpses of a greater world. Wipeout could easily fit into Blade Runner or Alien or Akira, and I do think Psygnosis missed an opportunity to expand this universe with sequels of spin-offs that show us a greater view into this world. I am thinking of Panzer Dragoon Saga, which built upon the foundation laid by the original Panzer Dragoon and presented a lush, mysterious and deeply complex universe.

For my money, Wipeout is one of my favorite racing games for Saturn, as good as Sega Rally, Daytona and Virtua Racing. Its gameplay and course designs are absolutely smashing and I don't think we've seen anything as inspired since. Even the Wipeout series hasn't reached the heights of its first three entries, as innovation and inspiration slowly gave way to repetition and redundancy. Ah, well, such is the way of things. Everyone in this business either dies young or lives long enough to become Fat Elvis.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
267
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Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits (1996, Midway and Digital Eclipse for Saturn)

Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits compiles six classic arcade hits from the "golden age of videogames." Their names will be immediately known to all who grew up in the 1980s: Defender, Defender 2 (formerly Stargate), Robotron: 2084, Joust, Sinistar and Bubbles. We pumped a million quarters into the coin-op machines and played the home versions on our Atari consoles. These are the true "hardcore games" of its day and will prove equally challenging to audiences and players today. This compilation disc comes highly recommended for everyone and should be easily available on the used games market.

This disc arrived in the early days of a "classic game" revival of sorts that sought to revive 1980s videogames for the 1990s audience. It was soon followed by compilations from Namco, Capcom, Konami, Activision, Atari (owned by Hasbro or Infogrames), Sega and Nintendo. Compared to its peers, I'd say Arcade's Greatest Hits holds up very nicely. The lineup could be a little larger, but all the major hits of the day are included and they're involving enough to keep you engaged for a very long time.

One nice addition to Arcade's Greatest Hits is the large collection of video clips featuring interviews with the original designers and programmers, including the legendary Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender and Robotron. He would go on to create such arcade blockbusters as Narc, Smash TV and Cruis'n USA. Today, his company Raw Thrills are keeping video arcades alive with such hits as Target: Terror, The Fast and the Furious, Cruis'n Blast and H2Overdrive, the spiritual successor to the great Hydro Thunder. Here is a true master of arcade videogames, and if you haven't sat down and played Defender or Robotron recently, well, prepare to have your butt handed to you by one of the very best.

In the minds of players from the Atari era, Defender is the greatest of all arcade shoot-em-ups, a fiendishly difficult game where you pilot a spaceship that must destroy invading aliens hellbent on kidnapping astronauts on the ground and turning them into murderous mutants. You must also deal with landers, baiters and pods who either get in your way or chase you endlessly around your small world. Skilled players will learn to lie low, hover in the bottom third of the screen, prowling for those damned alien landers, one eye always on the long-range scanner, ears waiting for distress calls from the humans for immediate rescue. Each stage ends when all the aliens have been destroyed; if you lose all of your astronauts, then your world explodes in a flash of color and you become overwhelmed by a fleet of marauding mutants.

The arcade Defender uses a joystick that moved only vertically, and five buttons for thrusters, reversals, laser cannons, smart bombs and hyperspace jump. It was and remains extremely difficult to master the controls at first, but with enough practice it becomes second nature. This home version simplifies the controls somewhat by allowing you to move forward and reverse direction with the d-pad, which is how all home translations of Defender did it. I do wish that I had the option to change the controls to copy the arcade layout. There is a precision to movement that only comes from the arcade controls; with d-pad movement, you slip and slide around far more than you would wish, which can often lead to crashing into things. Maybe that's just me. If everything works out for you, rock on.

Robotron: 2084 is a masterfully tense and frightfully paced action-shooter where you control a cyborg humanoid who must destroy an army of evil robots while protecting the last humans from destruction. Next Generation Magazine famously described the game as being "two seconds away from death at all times." The arcade game uses two joysticks, one for movement and another for firing, which was extremely intuitive and allowed you to blast your way out of nearly any situation. The Atari masterful 7800 port also offered twin-stick controls; the Atari Lynx version could not do this, but instead offered a number of control schemes that were serviceable. For Arcade's Greatest Hits, you use the d-pad for movement and the buttons for firing, which is very effective but not as immediate as the twin-stick option. Later home consoles with dual analog sticks solved this problem once and for all. But that's like saying the doctors found the cure for cancer six weeks after you died.

Joust is a highly original contest where you control a knight riding a flying ostrich that knocks out other knights who fly in the air and run along floating platforms. When two warriors collide, the one whose lance is higher will win, and the loser killed. The computer knights will leave behind eggs when defeated, and you must scoop them up before they hatch, revealing a new and angrier knight inside. On later stages, the floating platforms disappear one by one, and the long bridges below burn away, revealing a lake of fire and an unseen monster whose grisly hand reaches out at any passing prey, dragging them into the molten lava. Finally, a pterodactyl will appear to attack everyone on sight if any given round runs far too long. Hey, we need more kids to pump quarters into these machines, pal.

Seriously, what did you think happened to all those stoner acid-head hippies once the Sixties ended? They moved upstate, built Silicon Valley and birthed the Computer Revolution. You've been playing in the Psychedelic Salon all your life and never knew it. Oh, well, back to your consumer capitalism and Gilded Age economy that's designed to grind you into dust. Good luck with that.

Defender 2 was known as Stargate when it hit the arcades, and also when it arrived on the Atari 2600 in a spectacular translation. It features smoother graphics and more varieties of enemies. The biggest addition is a "stargate" that warps you immediately to the nearest astronaut who's in danger. If no humans are being abducted, it simply warps you to the other end of the planet. In addition, if you enter the stargate carrying four or more humans in tow, you will warp several stages ahead. The speed and overall intensity have been notched up, so Defender experts will have their hands full.

Fortunately, the stargate also makes things much easier for novice players, which means the 90% of us who could never score more than 10,000 points in arcade Defender to save our lives. This makes this a worthy sequel for everyone. The incremental changes means it will be mostly ignored by the masses (see also Space Invaders Deluxe and Asteroids Deluxe as examples), but that doesn't make this the lesser videogame. Indeed, there will be some who consider this the better of the two.

Sinistar is another hardcore Williams arcade hit, where you must mine asteroids for minerals used to create smart bombs in a race against an alien fleet that is constructing a giant robotic monster that devours everything in its path. You must avoid and destroy endless waves of alien spaceships while mining those minerals and creating your bombs. Meanwhile, alien miners will try to steal those same minerals to build Sinistar, who, once alive, he will hunt you down mercilessly and chomp you into tiny bits. You must destroy Sinistar with your smart bombs to clear the stage.

This has always been a very difficult arcade game for me. The pacing is extremely fast and you will always have your hands full, as the enemy spaceships dog you endlessly and there never seems to be enough minerals to build those bombs. You always feel outnumbered and outgunned. It certainly didn't help that no home version was released so I could practice (Atari 2600 and 800 ports were nearly finished but unreleased due to the Crash of '83/'84). Whatever. I just need more practice and so do you.

Bubbles is the final game in the collection and also the weakest. It's a very unique game, as you play a soap bubble who must clean up a sink by washing away dirt, spiders and other obstacles. Its creators wanted a nonviolent videogame that could tap into the Pac-Man craze, but they were never fully successful. Despite the main character, the game itself lacks charm and it's a bit difficult to understand just which objects are friends or foes. They're all just a mass of pixels to my eyes. This game seems to want to be Robotron for children or the "scrubbing bubbles" commercials on acid. In any case, it never really works for me. It might work for you, so give it a try and see what happens. But don't act sorry if you come home feeling like you just dated a lemon. You were warned.

Overall, Arcade's Greatest Hits belongs in any Sega Saturn library. This title was released on multiple platforms, but the Saturn/Playstation version is the definitive take.

(Update 11/2: Finally added screenshots.)
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Jan 7, 2018
267
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Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (1996, Team Andromeda)

Panzer Dragoon opened the door into a vast and strange world populated by enormous insects, flying machines of metal and stone, and people who live in fear enormous mutated flying creatures called dragons. It is a wildly inventive videogame that demonstrated just what Sega Saturn could do. For the sequel, that door is opened further and we are given a deeper look into this most fascinating realm. This is a sensational sequel that refines the gameplay of the original, expands its universe of characters, showing us more hints of a long, troubled history, and sets the stage for the spectacular third chapter in the trilogy to follow. This is one of Sega's proudest moments.

The opening movie in Panzer Dragoon Zwei does not equal the cinematic grandeur of the original, but it is nevertheless highly impressive, showing the first look of the mysterious emperor whose legions loot the world for lost ancient technology, and the villagers who live in fear of the empire as well as the mythical Khoureats that are feared as omens of doom and hunted down on sight. The main character is a young man who has hidden away one infant creature, raising it to adulthood in
secret. One year later, while riding the animal and trying to teach it to fly, the village is attacked by the empire's ships. And so the quest for revenge and answers begins.

This sequel continues the same gameplay as the original, where you aim with a cursor and either fire single pistol shots or store up a collection of charged blasts from the dragon. You also have a full 360-degree view by pressing the shoulder buttons. One notable addition is a "berserker" attack that can be unleashed by your dragon, which sends out a furious assault of laser blasts. Another new addition are the branching pathways that are found in many stages, allowing you the ability to visit different locations and encounter different enemies on your journey. Finally, your dragon will grow and evolve into different forms at the end of each stage, depending on your score and hit ratio. This adds a considerable amount of replay value to the game and adds to its shelf life.

The opening stage begins with your dragon riding on foot as you race through your devastated village, and it's a terrific visual showcase of 2D bitmap sprites and 3D polygons. There are huts, fences, windmills and towers in all directions, as you face threats not only from the imperial forces, but mutant creatures as well. Your run takes multiple twists and turns as you face obstacles at all sides, and I am impressed at how you must keep your eyes open to threats from any angle (your radar scope is invaluable). I also wonder why more videogames have not followed Team Andromeda's lead in incorporating 360-degree action. Even the mighty Starfox 64 feels a bit simplistic and childish by comparison.

Team Andromeda demonstrate their mastery of Saturn's complex hardware, as this sequel produces some of the finest graphics of the Fifth Generation. The frame rate is extremely solid at 30fps, the draw distance is considerable and far objects fade in and out smoothly. The screen is often filled with creatures, flying machines, buildings, forests, trees and water, all of which move smoothly and seamlessly. When this videogame was released in early 1996, it came on the heels of the holiday blockbuster trilogy of Virtua Fighter 2, Sega Rally Championship and Virtua Cop, and there was great hope among the Saturn faithful that the console's difficult learning curve had been mastered. Alas, it turns out that mastery was only possible in the hands of the most skilled and persistent programmers, and as Sony Playstation and, later, Nintendo 64 continued to gain market share, those skilled developers moved away from Sega to pursue greener pastures. Panzer Zwei would become a high water mark on Saturn for quite some time.

Panzer Dragoon Zwei is a masterwork of atmosphere and world building, as is the case with the entire trilogy. Many wonderful little moments stick out in my memory, such as the thrilling moment when your young dragon runs towards a cliff and takes to the air for the first time. You race through a treacherous canyon and then leap off a cliff into unknown skies, wings fully extended. You glide peacefully for a moment among the clouds, dispatching a couple enemy ships that fly past the horizon. You slowly descend and hover over the surface and then finally touch down on the ground again, running towards distant mountains.

Also note the following stage where you fly through a dense forest, large trees in all directions, sunlight peeking through the canopy above. Here, only organic mutated creatures attack you, including a very large creature that appears to be bio-engineered. Notice how your dragon flies for a time, but soon has to return to the ground to rest his young wings. This allows for some dramatic camera angles as you battle the boss creature that looms overhead. Notice also how seamlessly this stage combines 2D and 3D graphics. Your dragon and the creatures are rendered in 3D polygons, while the ground, canopy, trees, bushes, sunlight and explosions are all 2D bitmaps (some larger trees are drawn with polygons).

The fourth stage takes you through a series of enclosed cave tunnels that feels like a revision of the similar tunnel stage in the first Panzer Dragoon. This time, a dark blue river flows beneath you, incorporating a rolling wave effect via Saturn's VDP2 processor that astonishes even today. We also saw this effect in the beginning of the first game, and the effect is even more impressive. You eventually come to rest on a bridge over a vast lake, and you see a breathtaking view of a vast interior cave. Below the waters, an enormous sea creature lurks, then leaps into the air and onto the bridge. He fires projectiles at you and then dives back underwater. Then he smashes through the platform behind you and begins a furious pursuit on land and air. This creature also appears to be bio-engineered, firing lasers and something that appears to be large pink molecules.

There is no greater explanation for why such beings exist or why they were created; their presence is accepted as a given and that is that. These are products of the lost civilization, the machines and creatures they bred and nurtured for reasons God only knows, and now they are the living monuments to the lost human world, the only evidence that these humans ever existed. One cannot help but notice a slightly somber tone, one that will become fully fleshed out in Panzer Dragoon Saga, which is a masterpiece of moody atmosphere.

As a shoot-em-up, Panzer Zwei is extremely challenging, including two spectacular boss fights at the end that send you spinning and diving through the air with reckless abandon. Is it just me, or is the game's story really about the dragon, who grows into adulthood and slowly learns to master his abilities before defeating the empire and its legion of engineered mutants? The human character is only an observer, is only shown glimpses and visions of the whole, but never fully understands the mysteries he discovers. The animated ending sequence directly evokes the original Panzer Dragoon while also thematically looking towards Panzer Dragoon Saga. This title was praised in its day, but also faintly dismissed for being a mere "arcade shooter." Of course, it is so much more than that.
 
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