Tag: Genesis

150 Mega Drive games reviewed #4: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday

I have been reviewing games, writing blogs and making YouTube videos for quite a long time now, and there are a few games which I have found myself repeatedly returning to. One of these is Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday.

I made a YouTube video about it many years ago and I have talked about it several times on my blog. I guess there is some reason that I keep returning to it. Even before all of this I have had a long history with this game it was one of only a handful of games that I ever actually rented for one. In fact, Mega Drive-wise I think I only ever rented about four games. All of these were before I owned an actual Mega Drive and were rented along with a rental console.

The main thing that drew me to Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday was the name. I grew up watching the old Buck Rogers show when it was rerun on Saturday afternoons, as well as Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Lost in Space, Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. Watching science fiction shows and movies was the main way I spent time with my dad. Usually he would get home from working long, hard hours and he wouldn’t have the energy left to play ball or do something like that so we would watch science fiction. Heck, watching sci-fi stuff pretty much is still our main way of hanging out with each other.

So basically I was in the know about just how cool a certain Buck Rogers was and how awesome his universe was and that made me want a piece of that – I wanted to shoot bad guys and go to space. I still think Buck is cool to this day even though I later learned that he didn’t swear on TV during a space dogfight like I believed he had when I was a kid. (During an episode of the show he asked a pilot if there was something wrong with his ‘Funk & Wagnalls’ which I heard as ‘there is something wrong with your fucking wagnalls’.

No idea what a wagnall would be, but I basically believed he was cussing the guy out and he was so cool he could get away with it during daytime TV. For those wondering what Funk & Wagnalls means its basically an US brand of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, so it’s a way of him saying ‘hey, do you know what you’re on about?’.)

OK, that’s enough about me and the TV show lets move on to the game. Well the game was an RPG set in the Buck Rogers universe. It was developed by Strategic Simulations and published by Electronic Arts and it came out in 1991. During the Mega Drive’s glory years EA was responsible for porting a large number of games across to the Mega Drive from the PC and Amiga. Personally I think this was a great thing as it opened up console players to a world of games which had previously been merely the domain of home computer users.

Buck Rogers was made on a very famous game engine called Gold Box which was used for the classic Dungeons & Dragons series of games from the 80s and 90s. If you’ve played any of the Forgotten Realms games then you will have played something which uses this engine. I have to admit that when I hired it I didn’t know that it was a RPG in all honesty, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into I think I just expected some action type of game a bit of shooting and well something a lot simpler than this.

What I was met with was the ability to make my own team of individuals and to then enter a conflict which was taking place in the world from one of my favourite TV shows. From this point on though the game was just this gift that kept on giving. To go back to the beginning you start the game by making a party of six characters. It’s all based on dice rolls really. You make the characters one at a time and you do it by choosing the character’s races, genders and classes, and then you basically do a digital dice roll for HP, attack power, defence, etc. You can do this again and again though until you get the result you want. Then you name your creation, choose an on-screen sprite to represent them and finally use some assigned points to train them in the skills of your choices, including things such as tactics, perception, stealth, demolition, etc. If you’re anything like me then you will probably rip names off from other games or TV shows. I frequently used names like Kirk and Spock when growing up as well as the names of various Transformers. Still it helps the game in the long run because you get really attached to the little guys and cant stand the thought of them dying. Very few games have made me feel this close to my characters and this concerned for their welfare and those games would be games from the X-COM and Fire Emblem lines.

At first after having made my squad of six I was walking around an isometric game environment getting into random battles which are handled in a turn-based way. First you move and attack and then the enemy does the same and this repeats until someone has won the battle. After each battle you have the chance to root through your enemies remains in the hopes of finding something good in the spoils of war or just grabbing absolutely everything so you can sell it later.

When I had finished a couple of missions and I was given the ability to pilot my own ship around the universe well that’s when the game really began to open up. It really stopped feeling like just a game and became a sort of second life in the way that only the best games do. The story grabbed a hold of me and pulled me in to the universe itself. The funny thing was I had an Amiga in the house and as I have learned since this game was actually available on the Amiga but at the time I didn’t realise this was the case and so Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday became one of the reasons I wanted a Mega Drive even more than before. (I originally wanted a Mega Drive because my brother’s friend brought a Japanese imported one to the house with a handful of games.)

I think I need to talk at least a little about the game’s sound and graphics, so let’s start with the sound. The music is rather basic. In fact most of it is made up of very short repeating tunes which a lot of people would probably find repetitive. In all honesty though I kind of like the music. Yes, it’s basic. Yes, it’s repetitive but it also fits the tone of the game. It’s action packed and dramatic when it needs to be. There are a lot of different sound effects. Each and every weapon has its own crack, buzz or sizzle noise – a rocket pistol sounds different to a laser pistol, for instance. There is even a tiny bit of digitised speech here and there in the game which for its time and a game of this scope on a cart has to be admired. The graphics are about as basic as you can get, but they work. They are basic but highly functional and full of little nice touches. There are some great still frame comic-style scenes shown at certain points to tell the game’s story.

With this game being a strategy game I didn’t really notice any difference when trying this game at 50hz and then 60hz.  I guess the speed difference is more of a deal when playing games which have a fast pace to them.

It is time to score the game. I am going to give this game 10 out of 10. Yes the graphics could have been better and the music could have been better, but the game itself is so good that once you get into it none of this matters. This game is one of a kind on the system, there is nothing else quite like it and I recommend this to everyone. I kind of see this game as a sort of Mass Effect for the Mega Drive as the games although differing in style are in fact kind of similar in feel.

I would have loved this game to either get a sequel or a updated remake on a later console. Actually while talking about sequels there was a PC only sequel which I have heard mixed things about. It’s actually considered abandoned ware now so you can download it and play it on your PC using DOS Box. I do wish though that some enterprising individuals would try to use the engine behind Countdown to Doomsday to construct a Mega Drive rom based on its PC sequel. I know someone will say why don’t you do it if you’re so into the game but that is something far beyond both my time and skill. As much as I love games I have never understood a thing when it comes to how they are made, to the degree that as far as my brain understands they might as well be made by fairies clapping or wizards waving there wands.

If you fancy giving the game a bash yourself then you can expect to pay around £10 for a loose cart, with boxed copies usually starting at about £15. If you keep your eyes open. I really feel this game is worth the cash and worth your time.

150 Mega Drive games reviewed #3: Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude!

My first memory of Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude! was seeing it at the house of one of my friends when we were young. He was an amazing guy who would pretty much perfect anything he put his mind to.

The first thing I really saw him perfect was Greendog, then later it was Ridge Racer and finally it was the electric guitar. He made the game look like a work of art. He hadn’t owned it long but he seemed to totally understand everything about how it worked and he made it look darn easy to play.

I didn’t actually own it till years and years later. I think I got a boxed copy complete for £5 from an indy game shop and in all honesty the second I saw the game it made me think of my friend. Simply put, for me that game will forever be linked to him because not only is it the first time I saw it being played, I have also never seen it being played so well anywhere else.

OK so lets start with the story. Well, the main character is called Greendog which you could probably guess from the game’s name, and he has an issue. This issue is the fact that he was surfing and then he wiped out finding himself on a beach with no surfboard in site and a strange necklace around his neck. He soon finds out that the necklace can not be removed when a ‘beach babe’ appears before his eyes and informs him that the necklace is cursed and that he will be stuck wearing it until he finds the lost parts of an ancient Aztec treasure. Without the treasure he will be stuck with the necklace unable to remove it, unable to surf and – worse than that – every single living thing in the world will attack him. OK, so in a world where so many games involve random creatures trying to kill you for no apparent reason its actually pretty interesting to have a reason given here for why your character is homicidally pursued by birds, crabs, starfish and all manner of other creatures.

OK so I want to start by talking about the game play. Greendog is a platform game. You go from left to right jumping, swinging and traversing the levels, you have a Frisbee that you can throw at enemies. The real issue with this though is not in what Greendog can do, it’s in the way Greendog controls which can best be described as sluggish. Your button presses never quiet seem to work quite how you want, or quite as fast as you want. At its worst this game can be extremely frustrating. The Greendog sprite feels like a pretty large one really and the hit detection box around him feels like it is even bigger. Add to this his bad slow-motion feeling jumps which often end in either you taking damage that you feel is unjust and can cause people to seethe with rage or even worse instant death on occasion. If you think Greendog is hard to control on land then just you wait until you get him to go underwater.

I do have to give the game some praise though for trying to break things up a bit. There are skating levels, in which Greendog either jumps on a red skateboard or puts on pink rollerblades. And then you have levels with Greendog’s pedal copter, which he uses to travel from one island to the next. In these pedal copter levels you bash the C button repeatedly to remain airborne while using the B button to use the copter’s spring-loaded boxing glove weapon to attack enemies. The game is playable and it is completable despite feeling tough, because eventually you seem to get on board with its janky controls and learn to work around them. If you just watch someone play it and don’t feel what it’s like then you’d be forgiven for thinking that its a great game as there was certainly a lot of effort put into it.

Yes, you could say that Greendog is yet another platformer on the Mega Drive – a console that certainly is not short of 2D platformers, but to its credit I think it does enough to have its own flavour and therefore stand out as its own thing. The game has its Caribbean sort of style you find yourself traversing through jungles, across beaches, exploring an aquarium, visiting a native village and other places. It’s nicely varied while also managing to keep everything connected to a central theme and I think it does this very well. Along the way you will collect items, these are usually foods such as French fries, burgers and doughnuts, but you also get power-ups which upgrade your Frisbee or give you more protection from damage.

Lastly I want to talk about Greendog’s music. In all honesty I think it is simply excellent. Much like the graphics it sticks to this Caribbean style but it also offers a wide variety of tunes. Most importantly I think what is on offer really fits the games general theme, it works well with the graphics and gives the whole package a certain degree of charm. It’s just a shame that these good things about the game are not really backed up by the gameplay.

OK so I tried this game at 50hz UK and 60Hz US and I have to say that the game is more fun at 60hz as moving that little bit faster helps the way the game feels, and the music also sounds a lot better. I did think it was a little bit easier when it was slower though I guess that’s just because it allows for you to be a bit slower in your reaction to enemies, etc.

It is kind of hard to rate this game, I mean on the one hand it is really broken in some departments, but then its full of character and it does make a big effort to break up the action. There is a lot about it I really like and also a lot I dislike. I feel that what it really deserves is a six out of 10. It’s slightly above average and there was certainly all of the stuff here that could have taken it up to classic status but there was also far to much dragging the game back down.

If you really want to play it then complete copies seem to be around the £15 mark, with loose carts being about half this much. While not exactly bad prices there are much better games you could spend your money on.


150 Mega Drive games reviewed #2: Beast Wrestler (aka Beast Warriors)

So the game I am going to be talking about now is a game called Beast Wrestler (also known as Beast Warriors in Japan). Did you ever have a game which as a kid you played so much it was a bit of an obsession? Maybe it delivered just the right cocktail of things you were into at that precise moment in time that it just felt almost as if it had been made just for you.

Well this is how I felt as a youngster about Beast Wrestler. I was massively into wrestling of the WWE favourite but I was also big into monster movies, so combine grappling with a creature feature and how can it be anything other than awesome? Load up the game and let it do its introduction and you will be greeted by the site of all manner of cool looking beasts and what I can best describe as some 16-bit foreboding Phantom of the Opera style music which really sets the scene. Hats of to the developers here, they really did know how to get people pumped.

Apparently the game was made by a company called Riot. Information on them appears to be rather limited but it turns out Riot was a subsidiary of Telenet Japan. It came into existence in 1991 when Telenet Japan was expanding but when Telenet started to lose sales in 1993 it was closed with some of its staff being transferred. It was was best known for employing graphic artist and later director Eiji Kikuchi, and music composer Michiko Naruke. The game was published by Renovation Products which was basically Telenet Japan’s US publisher of Sega Mega Drive games. Telenet would later go on to be purchased by Sega themselves, which is rather fitting seeing as they had heavily supported the Mega Drive and only ever released one SNES game.

So with monsters and such you might think that this game is set in the past. Well no, according to the Japanese manual this game is set in 2020 – two years from now. But heck when this game out in 1991 the year 2020 probably felt pretty darn space age, and basically it’s all about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has allowed scientists to develop specific life forms called ‘dragon warriors’ and basically trainers have used these creatures to fight in a wrestling championship. So ladies and gentlemen I guess you have two years to save up your cash and decide what kind of monster you would like to own. This is one of those games where if you grab the US version there is some absolutely fantastic Engrish, there are plenty of words pushed together missing adequate spacing and some excellent typos which managed to slip through the translation process, in fact before your first fight you will be called a “bovice” when offered your first monster. If you’re a lover of funny Engrish then this game is one to keep an eye out thats for sure.

The visuals in Beast Wrestler are very mixed in my opinion. I find the monster designs to be very interesting. They are reasonably detailed and there is a fairly good variety of them and I think that they show a great deal of creativity. It is kind of from here that things get worse though the arena is plain, it lacks any real care or attention, plus you probably noticed I said arena not arenas. That’s right there is only one so you better get used to looking at the same backdrop as you play. I am also sad to report that the graphics look even worse in motion than they do in static screen shots. This is because the animation on the whole is pretty darn stiff and could seriously do with the frames of animation being doubled, it looks odd and well janky. It feels like someone took a lot of time to make the beasts and they were then just poorly put into the game.

The music in Beast Wrestler is far more consistent than the graphics though, and more importantly it is in my humble opinion pretty darn great. It has this fitting orchestral meets 16-bit sort of feel, it really feels like the most of the Mega Drive’s sound capabilities was used here. It really does help the game to try and create a dramatic atmosphere. The sound effects though I kind of think they’re a mixed bag. The hitting noises are not too bad and the noise when the beasts hit the ground offers a nice satisfying feel, but the noise used when one monster bearhugs or chokes another is pretty grating and all of the monsters roar the same when they are beaten.

When it comes to gameplay, Beast Wrestler is once again a mixed bag. You move your monster/wrestler around with the D-pad with the A button being used to punch, the B button being used for tail-based strikes, and the C button being your special/signature move button. The idea is to beat your opponent’s monster till it cries out on the ground three times. Once you have managed this then you have won the fight. In order to do this you need to cause damage to your opponents’ monsters and you do this by punching, tail whipping, body slamming, and clotheslining the living heck out of them. In total honesty though it is a bit of a button masher, it never seems to feel like quite what you want is happening.

The game has two modes: match and tournament. Match mode is basically your versus or exhibition mode. In this either two players can go head-to-head with 10 selectable beasts, or one player can fight a computer controlled beast. This is basically good either for just practising or having a quick go with a buddy. Now tournament mode is the real game, the story mode. Here you use a pre-chosen creature and fight battle after battle. The game has three acts the Pro Test, Domestic Rank and World Rank. You don’t have to finish the whole game in one sitting as passwords are provided but they are pretty long so that’s worth bearing in mind.

After every other match you win, you get the chance to spend some of your winnings. You can use these to get various items and serums that can help you raise your monster’s speed, strength or stamina. At certain points you will also be forced to merge your beast with a choice of monsters you have already defeated, being told that your monster’s badly injured and without merging it its life will be at risk. I think this is part of what really gripped me back as a kid and it’s something I don’t remember experiencing in a game before and wouldn’t again until I played Monster Rancher on the PS1 ( A game I would strongly recommend even if it is incredibly pricey).

So despite loving this game as a kid it’s time to let rip now. The game has a lot of issues – the first being that the grappling and damage systems seem unreliable. A lot of the time who wins a grapple seems to be really random, you try to pound the buttons or press them at certain times and nothing quite seems to help your situation. Apparently the US instruction booklet states that timing is key but in all honesty if there is some kind of proper way to time things I have never really worked it out.

Weirdly your character can face in six different directions, but can only attack in two of those directions. There is no block and no real dodge so there’s not really anything you can do defensively. Add to this the hit detection seems to be a real mess. When you’re fighting the big upright monsters punches and tail whips hit well enough but don’t work very well when your fighting against short enemies. Sometimes it looks like your blows really shouldn’t be connecting and yet somehow they are. Soon you will find that you’re kind of managing to get by but it’s not because you have learned how to play the game its more like you have learned a little bit of the game’s broken logic.

OK, so its a little bit hard giving this game a rating as it was a pretty big part of my childhood. It was a game I invested a lot of time in and yet I want to be totally honest, this game is a real mess, and for that reason I need to give it three out of 10. I don’t think the game is without merit, there is in fact a lot of things I like about the game but it really feels like it needed a lot more work for it to be a good game. If you want to try the game, it never came out in Europe, and US copies very rarely seem to go up for sale so really you will probably be stuck with a Japanese version and the prices are all over the place. I have seen fully boxed versions go for around £13 but some people seem to want a lot more than this for it. Really I wouldn’t worry that much as there are much better things to spend your cash on.

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