Five big simulation or RPG games this time, so this one took a while to write. Just as a warning, though, these are not exactly great reviews of P.T.O., Phantasy Star II or IV, Pier Solar, or Pirates! Gold. They are more about my thoughts on these games, which are … mixed, in all five cases. Keep that in mind.
List of Games Covered
Out of this World
P.T.O.: Pacific Theater of Operations
Phantasy Star II
Phantasy Star IV
Pier Solar and the Great Architects
QuackShot Starring Donald Duck
Ooze, The – 1 player. The Ooze is a somewhat odd top-down action game from Sega Technical Institute, one of Sega’s in-house American studios during the Genesis era. This is unlike any of STI’s other Genesis games, but while it has issues, I like the game quite a bit overall. The Ooze is another one of those extremely difficult but rewarding Genesis games, and it’s well worth a try! In the game, you play as a scientist guy who was turned into a puddle of green goo thanks to an evil scientist. You’re off to stop him, even though you don’t have human form anymore. You move your goo around with the pad, controlling a central head which is your avatar that the rest of the goo centers around. If your main body is hit by an attack you die instantly in one hit, so watch out! You can stretch out tendrils with the A button to attack, and touching switches or pickups with either your main body or a tendril will pick the thing up or activate the switch. Enemies usually drop a small amount of goo, and other powerups are scattered around such as larger good blobs, fast-movement powerups which turn you yellow for a short time, DNA strands, and more. You’ll want all of those DNA bits if you want the game to end well, and collecting that goo as you explore is vital if you want to survive. However, the bigger you get the bigger a target you are, and avoiding enemy fire will be hard. It things hit your main goo-body you lose some goo, but that’s survivable as long as you keep your head from getting hit, though this is tricky at times. You also will lose size if you take too long to finish a level, so keep moving.
Visually The Ooze looks good. The art design here is solid, and the game has a nice Western-cartoon look to it. I like that the game is set in the real world but zoomed in, since you’re a somewhat small puddle of goo. This isn’t Micro Machines-level ‘tiny real world’ design, it’s more abstract than that and telling scale isn’t always easy, but it is nice. Levels in this game are good-sized and are filled with obstacles, enemies, and traps. They quickly get intricate, but are fun to explore, so long as you can stay alive. Exploring levels fighting enemies and looking for powerups is quite fun, and I like the ooze character you play as. The game is quite hard, though. With a password system this would have been a pretty good game, but as it is I end up starting again from the beginning quite frequently; the game has no saving and as in Comix Zone you start with zero continues, so three deaths and it’s Game Over, try again from the start unless you managed to find an extra life or continue somewhere. As much as I like the game, I eventually get frustrated with that and have never gotten anywhere near the end of this game, though I’d like to sometime. Overall The Ooze is a unique and interesting game, and it’s a good fun game I like, but I can see why it wasn’t particularly successful. It isn’t a platformer, after all, the most popular genre then, and is weird and a bit unapproachably difficult as well. But yes, do give The Ooze a try. It’s worth the effort. The Ooze is one of the better lesser-known Genesis games. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
Out of this World – 1 player. Out of this World is an interesting cinematic platformer from a French developer. The game has a very cool and impressive 3d-rendered-style intro, and the ingame graphics have a similar prerendered-3d look that still looks very nice. You play as a scientist guy who was pulled into another world from a science experiment gone wrong, and indeed Another World is the European title for this game. Right from the second you appear, things start trying to kill you! You aren’t some action hero, though, so surviving this world will be difficult. Indeed, you will die, CONSTANTLY, in this game. The game is a bit like Prince of Persia or other highly-animated platformers like that, but with a perhaps even more puzzle-focused design. There is one thing you can do at any moment to survive; anything else kills you in a variety of ways. The challenge is figuring out what that thing you must do is. There are frequent checkpoints, but you have limited lives and the game doesn’t have saving, so you’ll be starting over regularly, unfortunately. The game is short, but hard enough that only the dedicated will see the end. For moves, You can run, jump, kick, and use various things you find to try to survive in this strange world. While most things here try to kill you, you will find one friendly alien partway through the game who can help you out at times. I like Out of this World’s style, and the game definitely keeps you coming back as you try to figure out what to do at each challenge, but there is no exploration here; you are following a railed path. Also, I’ve just never really liked the PoP school of highly-animated platform game movement design. Classic Mario or Sonic-style movement is a lot freer and more fun than the restricted and precise movements required in games like this. Still, Out of this World is an interesting game, and whatever your thoughts on this kind of game, this one, at least, really is a must-try game. It’s an interesting game with a simple but compelling story and lots of tough challenges along the way. The game is short if you can stay alive, but it’ll take plenty long to get to that point. Out of this World is a good game. It’s easy to see why it was popular when it released, and the game is still worth playing now. I don’t love this game as much as some thanks to the controls and design, but it is good. The game is available on numerous platforms — SNES, PC, Amiga, Sega CD, Commodore 64, Jaguar, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Mac, 3DO, Apple II, ZX Spectrum, and maybe more. There is also a modern remake for the PC also available. The remake is on mobile phones as well. There is also a Sega CD-exclusive sequel, Heart of the Alien, though I’ve never played it. Heart of the Alien wasn’t made by the original developer of this game though, and isn’t quite as highly regarded as this title.
OutRun – 1 player. Outrun is one of Sega’s most popular arcade games. An all-time classic, Outrun released in the mid ’80s and is a linescroll-style racing game. This is a time-based point-to-point racing game with a branching tree-like structure that has one start point and five end points in your five-track run. So, your goal is to reach one of those end points without running out of time; you aren’t actually racing against other racers, the other cars on the road are just obstacles. The arcade version looks, sounds, and plays fantastically, and has branching routes too, giving the game replay value. You always start at the same place, but there are five end points depending on how you turn at the end of each route. You’ve got only one car to drive, and three songs to choose from, all very good. It’s a fantastic game in the arcades. Here on the Genesis the game is good, but it could be better. The basic concept and gameplay is here, but the Genesis doesn’t have sprite scaling, so instead they have differently-sized sprites for everything which the game flips between as you get closer to things. Unfortunately, it’s distractingly choppy. Track-side objects are large and detailed, but scale badly. The scaling here isn’t quite as terrible as it is in Super Hang-On or Space Harrier II, but it is kind of bad. If you play this and then Outrun 2019, there’s an incredible improvement in that later release. And indeed, Outrun 2019 is an important part of why I’ve found this game disappointing ever since I got it in the ’00s; as good as this is, Outrun 2019, which I got first, has much better graphics and sound, and it has more variety in the tracks as well. While this game looks alright most of the time, playing that game and then this one really shows how much the later game improves on sprite-flipping-for-scaling. Here it’s choppy and awful-looking, and gets a lot worse when a lot of stuff is on screen as in the stone gates stage; there it’s almost smooth, as smooth as such techniques get. Outrun also doesn’t have any engine noise, disappointingly, only music (with four songs available) and a few sound effects. 2019 does have engine noise.
Still, though Outrun 2019 is better, when playing Outrun again for this summary I liked it more than I thought I would. Those gates are kind of eye-hurtingly bad looking if you look at them, and the clouds flying by in one other stage might be even worse, but most of the time it’s okay, and I do like the detailed graphics and large number of sprites the game puts on screen. The car is nice and large, and the art design is great classic ’80s Sega genius. Each of the 15 tracks looks different and has its own trackside objects to drive past. Each track is fairly short, though, and you’ll be seeing the same stuff a lot in this game. Outrun has limited content; it won’t take long to see most of the routes here, and you’ll be replaying the smaller number of early tracks a lot in order to get to the different later ones. Reaching the end will be difficult though, particularly on normal difficulty or higher, as the time limit is very strict. On Easy you can finish with a crash or two, but that’s about it. The game has five difficulty settings which affect both time and number of obstacle cars, but anything above Very Easy will take quite a bit of practice. It is frustrating when I crash once late in the game and doom an entire run, and crashing is easy; because of this I haven’t finished Outrun many times. Still, whether or not you win, Outrun is a good game even in this downgraded form. Overall Outrun for the Genesis is good, but could have been a lot better. It looks nice in still shots, plays well apart from the annoying choppiness, and sounds good. But is there much reason to play this version of the game today? Really, there isn’t. Why suffer through Genesis Outrun’s choppy bouncing scaling when you could just play a better port? For 1990 this is pretty good, but it has aged. Arcade port; OutRun has been ported to many platforms over the years. This Genesis version is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games. The other 4th-gen console version is on the PC Engine (Japanese Turbografx). It has less graphical detail and fewer background-object sprites than this Genesis version, but plays more smoothly, making it perhaps a more fun version to play than this. It has engine noise, too. The best versions, though, are on the Saturn and Nintendo 3DS (eshop download only title); those two ports are better than arcade-perfect thanks to added 60fps support. The 3d on the 3DS looks quite great as well. Also see the sequels.
OutRunners – 1-2 player simultaneous. This is the third Genesis Outrun game; the second, Turbo Outrun, was only released in Japan. I’ve heard it’s not that great. As for this game it is also unpopular, but I kind of like it. OutRunners is Sega’s attempt at a multiplayer Outrun game. The game was originally a twin-cab arcade machine, but this Genesis version is significantly scaled back in order to run on the limited hardware of the Genesis. Visually this game is not too impressive, but the two player support is nice, and I like the variety of cars you can drive; there are a lot more choices than the one of the original! There are a fair number of tracks to race through, as well, set all over the world. Each race in this game is a 1-on-1 race between you and the home team for that track, as you try to defeat all of the others and win the championship. The game has a forced-splitscreen view, so it’s always split even in single player. This means that the play window is pretty small, but with the detail level here it’s probably for the best that they don’t have a full-screen option; it would not look great. Despite that, the game plays more smoothly than the first Outrun, and thankfully doesn’t have that games’ distractingly choppy look. Environments are fairly basic looking, and the draw distance isn’t as far off as would be nice, but the game is playable and looks alright. And yes, in terms of the gameplay, this game is great fun! Zooming along, making turns, and trying to stay ahead of your competition are all great fun here, and I quite enjoyed my time with the game. This game is no A-grade classic, but it is a solidly above-average game that’s fun to play. The championship is fun to play through, and you can play single races against a friend as well. This is the only Outrun game ever with single-system simultaneous multiplayer, surprisingly enough, so it’s worth having for that as well. OutRunners is a better game than most people say. I imagine the poor graphical detail is a big part of why people often dislike it, but I really do think it plays more smoothly than the first Outrun; no matter how many times I try I just can’t like that game on the Genesis thanks to the visuals, while this game was fun from the first time I played it. Give OutRunners a try, it might surprise you like it did me! It’s not great, but it is good. Arcade conversion, though this is quite different from the arcade game.
OutRun 2019 – 1 player. Outrun 2019 is an incredible futuristic racing game. As with the original Outrun, this is a point-to-point linescroll racer. This game is my favorite racing game on the Genesis, and in the 4th generation as a whole, on my list only F-Zero on the SNES is better, in this genre. Outrun 2019 is a fast and exciting game with a good number of tracks to race, great graphics, good music, and easier gameplay than the original Outrun. The really good graphics are the first thing you’ll notice about Outrun 2019. This game is fast and smooth, and does some really cool things you almost never see in linescroll-style racing games, including suspended highways you drive on, divided roads, and more. Between this and Top Gear 3000 on the SNES, Outrun 2019 is much more inventive in track designs, while Top Gear 3000 is mostly just conventional linescroll-racer roads with a light sci-fi theme. I love the suspended highways, they’re great! The see-through ones are particularly cool. Sometimes the track branches, with one one the ground and the other on a suspended road above, and you can see the other path above or below you as you drive; that’s really cool stuff for the time. The speed and smoothness are key as well. Gone is the ugly, choppy jumping sprites of Outrun and such, and in are nearly-scaler-smooth sprite transitions. If you look you can tell that the game doesn’t have actual sprite scaling, but it looks great and holds up well.
This is a fast game too, faster than its predecessors. Your car is fast, and you have an automatic turbo feature as well. Once the accelerometer is maxed out, it will start to fill with white. Once the meter is fully white, your turbo booster kicks in and you’re off! If you hit the brakes or go off the main road turbo will cancel, and it slows down turning a lot of course, but it’s a great feature I love. Futuristic racing games are my favorite kind, racing games are better with things like turbo boosters, techno music, and cool futuristic cars! And on that note, yes, the music this time is techno, and it’s very good. All of the songs are great, unlike Genesis Outrun with its mix of good and mediocre songs. There’s a good amount of content here too, though it won’t be hard to get through if you stick to Easy or Normal difficulty. Unlike the original game, which has only one five-track race, this time you have four different circuits to choose from. THey vary from three to four races long each, and you can select any from the menu, so you don’t have to race them in order. Each has branching paths along the way in that classic Outrun style, but each has only one end-point, so the game doesn’t have multiple endings like Outrun does. I’m fine with that; it’s better to have more variety along the way, instead of having to do the same early tracks over and over in order to see different late ones as you have to do in the first Outrun. There are probably twice as many tracks here than the first Outrun, and some have multiple routes within the track as well, as described earlier with those ground-and-suspended highway sections, or areas with a split road with a median in the middle. The game has tunnels as well, and they look nice. The tracks in this game are some of the best in the genre in both design and fun factor.
Several things make this game easier than past Outurn games. Most importantly, when you hit things, either cars or trackside obstacles, you are likely to just spin and slow down a bit, but not crash. I really like this change, it goes well with the turbo-booster; if you had to avoid hitting anything you’d have to use turbo a lot less, and that wouldn’t be as fun. This way is more fun, and makes keeping up with the timer a lot easier. The timer has been eased up on a bit too, and it won’t be nearly as hard to finish without running out of time in this game. Easy in Outrun might be harder than Normal in this game, actually, and this one has only three difficulty levels. I recommend Hard if you want any challenge after zipping through on Normal, though I’ve beaten it on Hard as well. If you run out of time you have to start the current race over, from the beginning of whichever of the four circuits you’re in, but they aren’t that long so that’s okay. Outrun 2019 is incredibly fun, and I don’t mind at all that it’s a bit easy. There is plenty of replay value here despite that, the game is still fantastic no matter how many times I’ve played it. Outrun 2019 isn’t perfect, though. Probably the biggest flaw is that Sega cheaped out and didn’t include a save feature in this cart. The game looks like it was designed for saving, as you can enter your name at the start and the game has a Records section which keeps track of your five best times on each track in the game… but only as long as the power is on, because the cart doesn’t have saving. With saving this already-great game would have been even better, and it’s really too bad it was cut. The game started out as a Sega CD game, where it certainly could have had saving; it’s too bad Sega was too cheap to keep it here. Actually that original version wasn’t an Outrun game, but the franchise fits well here. The gameplay is Outrun, but with a few updates, after all. Otherwise, really the only other issue is the length, but I at least don’t mind it. Everything else about this game is fantastic, including the great graphics, fast gameplay, fun track designs, good music, and more. Outrun 2019 is exceptional and is easily one of the best Genesis games ever. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games. There also was a stand-alone-system release of this game in the early ’00s.
P.T.O.: Pacific Theater of Operations – 1-2 player alternating, battery save. P.T.O. is a turn-based grand strategy game from Koei, probably the best-known Japanese strategy game developer. Koei’s best known for their Romance of the Three Kingdoms series of strategy games set in ancient China, but they used to make other strategy games as well. This one recreates the naval war in the Pacific theater of World War II, the war of America against Japan. The game is a deep game for a 4th-gen console game, but as much as I love strategy games, and they are my favorite genre, I’ve never been able to get interested in Koei games. This and the PS1 version of RotTK IV are the only Koei strategy games I’ve played, and while I can see that there is an interesting game here, my few attempts to actually play this game end fairly quickly because I’m not having much fun. There are two main problems, first that this kind of game really isn’t very good without a mouse, and second that ’80s to early ’90s strategy games are badly dated even on the PC. By the mid ’90s PC strategy game interfaces became somewhat modern, but it’s hard to go back to early ’90s design. This isn’t quite as bad as the worst of early ’90s PC strategy games, it’s all menus, setting numbers, and yes/no questions instead of the obtuse and confusing interfaces of PC games like The Patrician or Cohort, but it’s not much fun either, compared to a game like Harpoon Classic. Having a mouse and a higher-resolution screen you’re sitting closer to makes a huge difference! And the graphics in general here are not great. The graphics work, but aren’t as good as some Genesis strategy games, and audio is somewhat bad in this game; the music isn’t good, and sound effects are weak.
But anyway, for those who want to play this game despite how badly dated it now is, P.T.O. has quite a lot here. This game clearly took some inspiration from RotTK, but it’s adapted for the World War II setting and is more complex than RotTK in quite a few ways. The game plays on a large map of the region. As the game is focused on the navy, ships and fleets of ships are your main units here. You can attach armies to fleets, send troops to attack islands, and such, but your main focus is on your fleet. Scattered around the map are bases, like the cities in RotTK, and your goal is to capture the required number of enemy bases. There are a nice variety of scenarios to play, for if you want to play the whole war or just a part of it, and you can play as either the Allies or Japan. This is a complex game. You start out by setting your officers’ stats, something present in many RotTK games. Then you set your starting resources, set some initial goals, and then you’re off. In the game, a bunch of menus let you refuel fleets, create new fleets and ships, move fleets around the map, look at various stats screens, adjust your goals, look at enemy intelligence if you have any, and lots more. Finding points on the map is a bit frustrating and would be MUCH easier with a mouse. You’ll need to make sure ships are restocked and fueled up, then you can send them around. When fleets run into each other there is a battle. Battles are effectively very simple hex-based wargame fights. Each player moves their units in turn, attacking the enemy ships, planes, and troops. Different unit types have stats, and strengths and weaknesses against eachother, so planes are good against ships and such. It’s fun, but the game has little depth compared to a more serious wargame — all you can really do in battle is move around and attack. If you win you get that territory. And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten with this game. It’s okay, but it’s hard to recommend when this genre has improved so dramatically over the years. Platformers have aged better than grand strategy games over the past 25 years, I think. Also on SNES. The game has several sequels, some Japan-only, but this is the only Genesis release in the series.
Phantasy Star II – 1 player, battery save. Phantasy Star is Sega’s longest-running RPG franchise. This is the first 4th-gen PS game, after the original for the Master System, and it is one of the first RPGs on the Genesis as well. This is a big, impressive, and incredibly grindey traditional turn-based Japanese role-playing game. The game has decent graphics for a 1989 release, good music, and a detailed if overly depressing story for the time, but also boringly conventional menu-based battles, confusing navigation, and constant required grinding. The SMS and Genesis PS games are all traditional RPGs, not action-RPGs like the series has been since its Dreamcast reboot. I prefer Phantasy Star Online and its followups to these games myself, but I know the classic Phantasy Star games have many diehard fans. Both are extremely grind-heavy, but I like the gameplay in those games a lot more than this. I’ve just never quite loved classic JRPG design, though I do like some of the games, most notably the Lunar series on Sega CD. This game isn’t anywhere near Lunar’s level; I can see why genre fans think highly of this game, but don’t enjoy playing it myself. In Phantasy Star II you play as a young man who will go on to be a hero and defeat evil, though at great cost, as usual in the Phantasy Star series; this is a series heavy on tragedy in its plots, and there’s a lot of that in this game right from the beginning. One of the earlier quests in the game involves you finding a girl in order to bring her to her father, a bandit, to convince him to let you through. Well, after finding her on top of some monster-infested tower or something like that and taking her to that passage the guy is blocking he kills her when she refuses to give him money, then he kills himself because he hadn’t realized who she was. Pathway clear! You can progress now. Yeah. This is that kind of game, and I don’t like that, it’s too dark. Games don’t need to be all happiness and light, but some of the PS games go too far with the depressing tragedies, and both of the Genesis PS games I have are probably at the top of that list. It’s also too bad that all three Genesis PS games have male protagonists in the name of better sales from the mostly-male console gaming audience; PS1’s female protagonist was probably more interesting.
Gameplay-wise, this is a traditional RPG with random battles with a too-high encounter rate, large, mazelike dungeons and overworlds that are very easy to get lost in, boring combat, and mountains of mandatory running around in circles levelling up — that is, level-grinding — to do if you want to stay alive. And no, there isn’t a map unless you look one up online; you’re on your own here, against the pretty tough onslaught of monsters. It’s a tediously frustrating combination, and makes this game not very fun to play. I like turn-based games a lot, but if I’m going to spend this much time in a battle system, I’d rather it actually be one that requires some strategy beyond just ‘hit attack over and over’! But no; you’ll find no character customization and only the most basic battle options here — attack; techniques, this series’ name for magic, though you’ll have VERY few techs for a long time, sadly; change character order; use item; or run. That’s it. It gets old fast, though in this way it’s just like the first Phantasy Star. Unlike the first game, though, exploration is entirely top-down in PSII; the first one has first-person dungeons, to make navigation even harder unless you draw a map as you go, though you’ll want to do that, or look up a map, here as well. Battles do have a behind-the-character view, but this is purely visual. I like the enemy and character animations, but battles themselves are way too simplistic and boring. Win or lose, battles have little depth. For such long games, it’s too bad that usually JRPGs require so little thought in battle, that’s one of my biggest issues with the genre. Item and tech-point management are not a substitute for a strategic battle system. And when you die, you’re punished hard — you can’t save anywhere in this game, and healing in town and cloning (bringing back dead party members) are very expensive.
So, there is a lot good about Phantasy Star II, but also a lot bad. On the positive side the game has good music and animations, a well thought through sci-fi setting in a genre that’s mostly swords-and-sorcery, nicely-drawn graphics, an impressively complex story for the time, some likable characters, reasonably fast-paced gameplay, and isn’t too complex. However, the game has random battles with a high encounter rate, which I hate; a high difficulty level, so you’ll die a lot; giant, annoying mazes to wander around in both the overworld and in dungeons, with no map where one is BADLY needed; mandatory running around in circles leveling up before you move forward (grinding) if you want to stay alive, and I really can’t stand grinding one bit, it’s something that makes me stop playing games; an overly-tragic plot; and simplistic battle and character-development systems have have little strategy or depth, where those things make for more interesting games in my opinion. I stopped playing this game after a few hours when I first got it, and going back for a little bit now, I can see why. Phantasy Star II is, overall, a good game for its time. The game was a step forward for Japanese RPGs in 1989, but some of its design decisions are hard for me to love. There are a lot of good things about PS II, but for me, more bad ones. Still, RPG fans who haven’t played Phantasy Star II should play it, but I doubt I’ll be playing this one much more. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games. Probably get one of those versions unless you can swap out cart batteries. My cart still saves fine, but these batteries are getting old.
Phantasy Star IV – 1 player, battery save. Phantasy Star IV is the last of the three Genesis games in the series, and the last Phantasy Star game until PS Online on the Dreamcast five or six years later. This game is, again, a top-view RPG with similar art design and combat to its predecessors. It has much better graphics than the PSII, however, and less required grinding, along with just as complex and depressing a storyline. Originally Sega was going to make a fourth PS game for the Sega CD, but unfortunately that plan was dropped in favor of this. Sega really needed more Sega CD games from Japan, so it’s too bad the CD game was scrapped. As for this one, I’ve played it less than PSII, but it does play well from what little I’ve seen. I like the improved overworld graphics, and battles look a bit nicer as well. Combat is similar to before, but the game seems a bit easier than the tough and sometimes unforgiving PSII. I really dislike what I’ve heard about some things that happen later in the story, though, it’s way too depressing yet again! Also, this is still a JRPG, that genre I rarely stick with for long, so I didn’t get far into the game. PSIV seems like a good game story aside, though, and genre fans who haven’t played it certainly should check it out. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games. As usual that might be the better choice unless you can solder.
Phelios – 1 player. Phelios is a shmup from Namco released early in the Genesis’s life. This is a pretty good vertical-scrolling shooter where you play as an anime-styled classical Greek guy flying on a pegasus, and you have to save the woman you love from a demon who kidnapped her. So yeah, the story is bad, and the game has scantily-clad pictures of her encouraging you to save her after every level, too, with voice clips of her dialog. Lots of negative stereotypes there, unfortunately, though they sure did put effort into those scenes, using that much cart space for the voice clips. Everything else about Phelios is much better, though. I like the ancient Greek setting, and the game has good controls, lots of enemy variety, and some good boss fights as well. You have a health bar in this game, rarely for a Japanese shmup, with up to four hits per life depending on difficulty. Your main attack is a forward shot, and if you hold down the button you charge up for a more powerful shot. Charge shots are vital to the game, and you’ll probably be making more charge shots than regular button-tapping attacks. I like this design. There are powerups that drop as you progress, but most are speed-ups and options (Gradius-style helpers). The rest are time-limited weapon powerups. There is also a life-up item, though it is VERY rare — I saw only one or two through my whole most recent playthrough. As you progress through the levels, enemies will come at you from both ground and air, but unlike other Namco shmups like Xevious or Dragon Saber, you don’t need a separate bomb button, thankfully; your attacks will hit all enemies. Your shots can push ground enemies off of ledges to destroy them, and you’ll be doing a lot of this; charge up and shoot ground guys for a quick kill. Each of the seven levels has a completely different setting. Some enemies recur throughout the game, but others are exclusive to each stage. Now, though this is a vertical shooter, there are instant-death walls, so you will need to learn the stages. That speed section in level two seems hard at first for instance, until you learn the trick. At the end of each stage is a temple you enter where the level’s boss will be found, and levels have midway checkpoints as well. I like that each boss has entirely different attack patterns and styles, it makes the game more interesting than shmups where all the bosses are basically the same.
Visually, Phelios looks okay but not great. The early release date does show, though the art design and graphics are good. The music is fine, but not memorable at all. The game has very few options, as well. Oddly, the options menu has no options in it — all it lets you do is view some text story scenes explaining what happens in each level and boss-fight. These texts do not appear during the game, so you’ll need to read them here if you want to have a bit of extra story. Yeah, it’s a quite odd design decision. There are three difficulty levels. The easiest one only lets you play four levels of the game, though, so really there are only two, and the hard one only unlocks after you beat the game. As the game doesn’t save, this means you have to finish the game on normal in order to play the game on hard, which is not good design; you really should be able to play Expert without playing Advanced (Normal, really) first. Phelios is quite fun, but it is a bit easy on “Advanced”. Playing the game for this summary, I finished the game on “Advanced” on my first try! I thought that I was going to get game over when I was down to one hit point left in the middle of level 6, but I managed to finally get to the end of that tough stage on my last hit, beat the boss without taking a hit, and then it was smooth sailing from there because the final level gives you lots of extra lives. I haven’t beaten Expert, but with more practice I probably could. Not having to play the whole game once first would make me more likely to try. Overall, though, Phelios is a good game. The graphics and sound are good but not the best, you have only one main weapon apart from some time-limited powerups, and on the medium, default difficulty the game is surprisingly easy for a Genesis shmup. Still, definitely play this game if you have any interest in shmups! The moderate difficulty makes this game a good entrypoint for people interested in classic-style shmups, and there is a little more challenge if you play Expert mode, though the unlock requirement is a pain. With a nice setting, good level designs, and great fun gameplay, Phelios is a quite good shmup that I certainly recommend. Arcade port.
Pier Solar and the Great Architects – 1 player, battery save, Sega CD supported (with optional music disc), 6 button controller supported. Pier Solar is a homebrew Genesis RPG, a Western game done in the style of JRPG. This is the only homebrew cartridge game that I own. I got it when the second printing started because it seemed interesting and I wanted to see if the game could live up to what I’d heard about it before release. I started the game, liked it initially, and then stopped playing a few hours in, frustrated and kind of bored, and never have gone back. Yeah, that is kind of silly when I paid full price for this game… but at least I got the nice plastic clamshell case, and the game has a great full-color paper manual as well. The cart, box, manual, and stickers all look great. The in-game graphics are really nice as well, the backgrounds particularly. Characters aren’t quite as great and have a definite mediocre-Western-anime look to them, but otherwise the game looks very good, and uses the Genesis’s color palette well. There is even a burnable CD you can use in your Sega CD, if you want CD audio instead of chiptunes! That’s awesome. So yeah, Pier Solar has great presentation. You can save anywhere as well, though it actually only saves from the last area you entered, not from the moment you hit save. Sadly, most of the gameplay isn’t anywhere near as good as the presentation is. Now, I’m only maybe 2 1/2 hours into the game, but Pier Solar has random battles (WHY???); annoyingly mazelike dungeons with, of course, no map; required items hidden behind secret passages, so have fun randomly walking into walls and such unless you use a guide, something you probably will want to do; a high difficulty level, much like the ‘you WILL die all the time’ challenge of Phantasy Star II; almost no enemy variety, so you’ll be fighting the same three monsters over and over and over in each dungeon, something which gets boring fast; slow-paced, simplistic, and boring combat, too much like the console RPGs of the early ’90s but less fun than some; and a cliche, bland plot that really could have used some more originality. You are Hoston, the usual RPG boy hero who will go on to, I presume, eventually save the world. The setup so far is generic.
Ingame, you’ll spend most of your time exploring around, and that means you’ll be fighting a lot of battles. Any battle can kill you, as enemies do a lot of damage per hit. And naturally, you have very few spells early on and they each take an inordinate amount of magic to cast, so three or four heals and your healer is out of magic. So yes, this game uses the usual traditional JRPG ‘mana and item conservation as the main strategy in the game’ system that I have never liked. As such, battles are simple. You can attack, run, use a spell if you actually still have magic left, use an item, and Gather. Gather is an ability-boosting move which uses up a turn, but boosts your attacks and such for the rest of the battle. Each character can Gather independently, and you can also send Gather from one character to another, as you can have up to 5 points of it per character. Sadly, it all vanishes after each battle, so you’ll have to Gather every time if you want boosted attacks. And considering that every Gather or send-gather-points move burns a turn, it may or may not be worth it, in each battle; do you want to gather, considering that the enemies will attack and probably hit hard? Often just using regular attacks seems better, though Gather does have its uses I guess. I wish that they had used a better system for this though, such as the great one in Skies of Arcadia, with its commonly-shared meter and special abilities that use it. Having the Gather system is better than nothing, but it slows down the game, adds lots of unskippable animations, and gives the enemies lots of free hits on you in a game where each one hurts, bad. But if you don’t use it, tougher enemies will take quite a few hits to take down, so there’s a lose/lose situation here. Overall, Pier Solar is an average game. I was hoping this game would be great, but they stuck far too close to the source material here. With visible enemies, a map, better level designs that aren’t quite as frustrating to navigate, and a better, faster-paced battle system, at minimum one like Lunar’s, this game could have been good, but that isn’t what this game is. This is a very oldschool early-’90s-style console RPG, and it really is only for fans of that kind of game. The game probably is not worth full price unless you’re a collector or a big 3rd/4th-gen JRPGs fan. There is also an HD remake of this game available on the PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Ouya, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. PS Vita, Dreamcast, and Android versions are supposedly also still coming. The remake has optional HD-upscaled graphics and adds an ingame map, which would have been great to have in this version for sure, and might rebalance the difficulty a bit, but apparently doesn’t fix any of the games’ other issues.
Pirates! Gold – 1 player, battery save. Sid Meier’s Pirates! is a Caribbean pirate simulator from Microprose, or perhaps minigame collection you could say, from Sid Meier, the famous designer of the great classic strategy game Civilization. This game is no Civilization in scope or gameplay, but it is a pretty interesting game for sure. Pirates! was originally made for computers, then enhanced in Pirate! Gold, which is the version Microprose ported to the Genesis. though the 2004 remake did have console ports as well, on Xbox and PSP. I got the 2004 game back when it came out, and liked it for a while, but this original game isn’t one I have ever put the amount of time into I should. I didn’t have Pirates! as a kid, but the PC version of this game did come with the remake, and I didn’t play much of it. I’d heard how good Pirates! was, but the new one seemed better, then. And now, I’d still probably rather play that game than this one. It’s a similar game, but adds enough that it’s well worth a look, though it does get repetitive after a while thanks to the minigame-esque nature of the game. And that is a problem this game shares. You are a young man who is, or can be, a pirate or privateer, and want to be one of the greats. Pirates! Gold is a somewhat open-ended game, and deciding what to do can be overwhelming. At the beginning of the game you can set several options, including the starting year, with various options between 1560 and 1680 available; difficulty; your name; and choose a best trait. Then you’re off. The remake has more direction, though you can ignore it if you wish, but this one really just tosses you into the Caribbean. There is a main quest here, to rescue kidnapped family members and find a great treasure, but it’ll take time to talk to enough people to figure out anything about where they are or where to go. I like more directed experiences over open-ended games like this, so the games’ open-endedness is a definite negative for me, though the huge popularity of open-world games today suggests that I’m in a minority here. Still, I really would prefer a more focused game; for a pirate game I like Monkey Island more than Pirates!, for example. There are a couple of scenarios to play if you want a somewhat more directed experience, and it’s good they are here, but the main game has little direction.
The game looks and sounds good. The main screen is the map screen where you sail your ship around. It’s very nicely drawn, and details are everywhere. You’ve got several different things you can do ingame, though this is where the ‘minigame’ element comes into play — each one feels a bit like a minigame. There are two main kinds of combat here, ship-to-ship combat and 1-on-1 swordfighting. When you decide to fight another ship, the game zoomes from the large map into a close-up of the sea you are fighting in. Left and right turn your ship, and you can fire broadsides in either direction. It’s simple, but fun. On land, or when you duel a ship captain, swordfights play from a side-scrolling view. Your goal is to press the opposing captain to their edge of the screen, at which point you win. You can attack up, middle, or down, and also block. This combat is also simple but enjoyable, though it lacks depth. Both this and the remake might be better if they had a bit more depth to the combat. In addition, you can buy and sell goods in towns if you need to restock or wish to become a merchant, talk to governors to woo their daughters or to get letters of marque if you wish to be a legitimate privateer instead of a rogue pirate, hire crew members, and use the banks. You can also attack towns if you want, though this usually just results in a swordfight for potential plunder. Romancing governors’ daughters is simpler than in the remake. While that game has an amusing rhythm-style dancing minigame, here it’s just a matter of conversations and your stats, pretty much. The women you can marry all have different ranks, based on the success of their towns, and you’ll get more points at the end for marrying better. They do have other suitors who you probably will have to duel if you propose to one, though. Once you’ve married someone that’s it for the rest of that game, the romance option is gone from that point on.
So, overall Pirates! Gold has a lot to it, but broader than it is deep. You can sail around, defeat ships for plunder or to add to your fleet, buy and sell merchandise, attack towns, romance governors’ daughters, and search for the great lost treasure and your family as well, but none of these things are done with the depth of games focused on those fields. This isn’t a great fighting game, or a great economic-trading simulator, or a great ship combat or romance game; it’s some of all of those things, made to be approachable to a larger audience. For me the ship combat is probably the highlight, but that alone doesn’t hold my interest long enough to finish a whole game here. The game is just too open-ended for me, also. I do like the concept, 16th-17th century Caribbean pirates have an appeal for sure and I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series and the Monkey Island game series for example, but with both this game and the 2004 remake, eventually I lose interest and want to play something a bit more focused and complex. I really need to play more of this game someday, though, it’s pretty good. If you find it for a good price, absolutely pick up Pirates! Gold. The game looks nice, is quite unique on the system, and can be fun to play. It’s an interesting game, and it’s great that it works as well as it does on a console. Some PC-to-console ports are real downgrades, but this one holds up very well. PC port; Pirates! Gold is also available on Mac and Amiga CD32. The original Pirates! and the 2004 Sid Meier’s Pirates! remake are on a lot more platforms.
QuackShot Starring Donald Duck – 1 player. QuackShot is a Disney-licensed platformer from Sega starring Donald Duck. Donald is on an adventure here, so you’ve got to find some treasure before the bad guys do! Donald is armed with a plunger gun, which is your main weapon here. You will find a variety of different kinds of plungers to shoot in the game. The game is a platformer, but it’s a platformer with some adventure elements. For the most part you just walk to the right and avoid or attack enemies, but you will have to figure out the correct order to play the levels in, as you have several levels to choose from as you progress. At first you will go into levels, only to reach the end of the area and find that you run into something you need an item or plunger-ability to get past that you don’t have yet, or a door you can’t get into, you are in the wrong stage. This can be annoying, but thankfully, these end points have checkpoints in them that you can fly to, so your time was not a complete waste. Still, the game will take longer if you don’t know the correct level order, or which item to use where. Donald controls well, and the graphics are good as well. Donald looks just like he should, and enemies are just as good looking and have nice variety. All characters are large and detailed. Level designs are solid, but lack challenge. The game has few instant-death pits through much of the game and enemies don’t kill you easily either, so you won’t die that often. There is also only one route to the end on each stage so there is little replay value compared to, say, Sonic. QuackShot is an easy game that I finished very quickly. And that’s my main issue with this game: QuackShot is fun to play, but feels insubstantial. The game doesn’t have many levels, and you get more than enough lives and continues to finish the game with even though you can’t save, but it is fun along the way. Still, the game is probably too short and easy, those are its main flaws. I do like that you get more abilities as you progress, though. At first you can just shoot plungers as a weapon, but eventually you’ll get ones that stick to walls so you can jump on them to reach inaccessible areas, and also more powerful ones as well. Some other items are just keys to let you into areas, though. Still, as this game is about Donald going on a treasure-hunting adventure, it is nice that they made this game something of an adventure. QuackShot is, overall, a pretty good, fun game that is well worth playing. I do like Disney, and loved the DuckTales series as a kid and also Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, so that helps, but still, this game is pretty good. The game has some variety, looks good and plays well, and is fun while it lasts. I just wish there was more to it; the game is too easy. There is also a Japan-only Saturn port of the game, but otherwise this game is Genesis-only.
Quad Challenge – 1-2 player simultaneous, password save. Quad Challenge is a terrible racing game from Namco. This game is maybe the worst Namco racing game I have ever played, actually! This game is a 4-wheeler linescroll racing game. The game has few modes, bad graphics, a horrid framerate, poor audio, and really nothing good aside from maybe the art design. The game plays in a forced-splitscreen window, with player one on the top left, player two below, and the right quarter of the screen reserved for a huge map and speedometer interface. I don’t mind the forced-splitscreen view, but the status area is far too large! But despite the small windows, the framerate is horrible. Quad Challenge runs unacceptably slowly, with choppy visuals that make actually playing the game difficult. It’s hard to understand why it runs so badly, because the game isn’t putting much on screen — races are 1-on-1 only, so there is never more than two vehicles on screen at once including your own, and there are never more than one or two track-side objects on screen at any one time either. Backgrounds are bland as well — the first track is brown, with a boring brown-hills background and brown ground in front. It does not look good. The game does have a lot of bumps which send you flying into the air, so maybe that is part of why the framerate is so bad, but that doesn’t help it much, it’s still bad, and way too hard as well — even beating the first track is a real trial here! I do like the sprite art, though. It reminds me of other Namco games of the time, but there isn’t much of it to look at here, unfortunately. Ingame, the game has very Outrun-like controls, with a High and Low gear system. If you go off the track you’ll need to switch to Low gear to keep moving. Naturally the AI will never go off course, so you’ll need to be near-perfect to get past even the first race. Thanks to the bad framerate, your 4-wheelers’ propensity for spinning out on turns all the time unless you slow down, that it’s pretty much You Lose if you go off track at all or get slowed down much, that when the AI car bumps into you YOU seem to lose speed even if they hit you from behind (it’s not 1983 anymore, Namco! This should not play like Pole Position!), and more, the game is too hard to be fun, or worth playing. After four or five tries I gave up at beating the first track and turned the game off, so I’ve never seen the second track. And since the only modes here are the circuit campaign or 2-player-only versus mode, there’s no way to see more of the game in single player, either. Yes, there isn’t even a single race mode, sadly enough. I could beat track one with some more tries, but it just isn’t worth the time, I’d much rather play a better game instead. This game has awful graphics with a terrible framerate despite almost nothing going on on screen and bottom-of the-barrel gameplay. Pass on this boring waste of time; it’s one of the worst games I have played for the Genesis and is right down there with Combat Cars for the worst Genesis racing game I own. This game is based on the arcade game Four Trax, but I imagine that version has to be better? Never played it though.