Game Opinion Summaries, Part 10: Letter N

Sorry for the site being down for a few weeks.  I hope it doesn’t happen again, but it’s back now!  This update is from a week or two ago; I’m just about done with part 11, and will be posting that soon.  But anyway, if anyone notices that the site is back, here are summaries of the 15 games in letter R.

Games covered in this update

Rambo III
Ranger-X (Ranger X)
Rastan Saga II
Red Zone
Revenge of Shinobi (I have this on the Sega 6-Pak)
Road Rash
Road Rash II
Road Rash 3: Tour de Force
Robocop vs. the Terminator
Rocket Knight Adventures
Rolling Thunder 2
Rolling Thunder 3

Rambo III – 1 player. Rambo III is a fairly average top-down run & gun action game from Sega. This game is Sega’s second Rambo game with this playstyle, following the pretty good good Rambo: First Blood Part II for the Master System. That game is good, but it’s actually an unrelated game that the Rambo name was tacked on to in order to sell a few more copies. This time the game is actually based on the movie, I presume; though I’ve never seen a Rambo movie, this game does have a basic story that I imagine loosely follows the movie’s plot. I do think that this game is a bit disappointing compared to its SMS ‘predecessor’, as the graphics are unimpressive and gameplay only okay, but this is an alright game once you get into it. Rambo III for the Genesis has unimpressive graphics, levels which are often large and mazelike, infinitely-respawning enemies, no weapons to find beyond the ones you start with, and minimal enemy variety. The game does have some variety, interesting bosses, and some fun action, but it’s probably more bad than good. The game starts out easy, but does eventually get challenging, and you do have limited continues, though the game doesn’t tell you this, annoyingly. You get a lot of continues, but I did eventually run out. You are Rambo, the action movie hero, and you’re on a mission to save some guy who was captured, or something like that. The story isn’t told in detail, but there is a bit of text before each mission telling you what to do next. Each level consists of a stage and then usually some kind of boss. You can take three hits per continue.

In stages, your main weapon is a machine gun, on C. It has unlimited ammo and you can fire as you move, so just holding down the fire button most of the time is a good strategy. You can only shoot in the direction you are moving in unfortunately, but the game was designed around this so it’s not too bad. You also have three special weapons on B, which you switch between with A: a knife, a bow with explosive arrows, and bombs. The arrows and bombs are limited, and you get ammo for them by blowing towers up with bombs or by killing foes with the knife. Knifing guys will also give you a point bonus for your score, if you care about that, but it’s tough to do without getting hit. Arrows take a while to charge up, and once fired will kill regular enemies in the direction you fire, or kill some vehicles such as jeeps. Bombs must be placed, and will blow up a 5-count later. They are mostly used to destroy walls, targets such as ammo dumps, and towers. Levels consist of wandering around, walking past or maybe shooting the enemies while looking for your objective. Yes, levels have objectives beyond just reaching the end, though tye are simple — either reach a point, reach several points in a stage, or destroy certain targets. There is no map, so you’ll just have to wander around and get lost until you learn the layout while the enemies annoyingly keep spawning on top of you. Often just ignoring them is the best strategy, the game doesn’t force you to stop and fight very often. Just walking past them is boring but effective. Bosses mostly are played from a close-up third-person view, as you move Rambo left and right, trying to shoot arrows at things such as helicopters or tanks. If you die at a boss you restart the whole level, naturally. They’re interesting, but not great. And that’s really the game overall. The enemies are nearly all identical soldiers, the levels are annoying to navigate, and you get no new weapons, so there is little gameplay variety beyond the different stages, and the core gameplay is bland and average. Rambo III is okay, but it’s only sometimes fun.  Sega could have done a lot better than this, I’m sure. If you want to play a great top-down run & gun shooter on the Genesis, stick to MERCS. [There is also a Master System “Rambo III” game, but it is entirely different — that one is an Operation Wolf-knockoff light-gun shooter. It is also mediocre.]

Ranger-X (Ranger X) – 1 player, 6 button controller supported (and highly recommended). Ranger-X is a beautiful-looking and great-playing sidescrolling giant robot action-platform game from an obscure and short-lived team, Gau Entertainment, and published by Sega. You pilot the Ranger-X, a transforming robot suit. In addition to the main robot with its multiple weapons and hover-jets, you also control a smaller hovercar-skateboard base unit which follows you around. You can independently control it during play with the 6-button controller, so don’t play this game without one! You can also combine the two vehicles into a ‘car’ form for a lower profile, fast movement, and a different weapon, a very nice aimable gun. Ranger-X is an impressive game in a lot of ways. Visually it gets a lot out of the Genesis. This game puts more colors on screen than most Genesis games, and the art design is fantastic as well. The game is loaded with detail, and has little slowdown despite the often intense action. The art design and sprites all look fantastic. There are even these really cool wireframe-3d cinematics before each stage, showing the route through the level! There are also some nice visual effects in the stages such as some cool scaling effects. The game makes nice use of that rarely-seen hardware shadow capability the Genesis has. The color use in this game is stunning and really shows how much more this system can do than you usually see! Ranger-X is one of the best-looking Genesis games for sure. The soundtrack is pretty good as well. It’s an epic cinematic score, Genesis-style.

And fortunately, the substance here is just as great as the style is. The game controls very well, first. The game uses all face buttons and d-pad directions except for the Mode button, so it will take a while to get used to, but with some practice it feels great to play. You move your robot with the pad, and fly around with up. Yes, up ‘jumps’, though it’s hovering, not jumping, so it does feel natural after a while. There’s a meter which limits how long you can stay in the air at a time. You shoot left or right with A and C, allowing you to move in one direction and fire in the other. It’s handy! Pressing Down enters the sidecar thing to make the combined form. Your regular and combined forms have separate health bars. Up will then exit it, so you can’t jump or fly while combined. The sidecar also can’t fly, it stays on the ground. It also can’t turn around, so when outside it it can only fire to the left. When combined you have a homing shot though, so then it can hit any enemy. When combined, B or Y switch special weapons, while when separated those buttons use that special weapon; these have a meter to limit use. X or Z move the sidecar left or right while not combined. The controls work great once you get used to them.

You have a health bar in this game, which is necessary because avoiding damage is often impossible. I don’t mind this, as I think that the health bar makes up for that issue. It is easy to die if you’re not paying attention, though, and you only get three continues in the game, so this is a hard game and I haven’t finished it yet. It is the kind of game that keeps you coming back to try again, though, so I don’t mind this as much as with some games. Levels vary between simple corridors and large areas to explore around in, and you have a mission objective in each stage; you aren’t just walking to the end. Fortunately, a radar on screen shows where the targets you need to destroy are. It is very useful, I love that they include this. There are also a few light puzzle elements, particularly in the open second stage. In this level you’ll need to destroy some laser controllers, and also lure some enemies into light beams that can destroy them. Making good use of both your main robot and follower is very helpful, you’ll struggle if you don’t use it. I love how varied this game is. While most mecha action games just involve walking to the right and shooting, here you will need to consider which special weapon and ship form to use, move around your helper robot and maybe hide in it for healing and that altherate weapon, keep your mission objective in mind, and take your time as you explore so as to deal with the many different kinds of enemies.

So, Ranger-X looks amazing, sounds good, has a lot of variety, plays very well, has some great level designs, is a reasonable-length game for its time and presents a solid challenge along the way, and is just generally outstanding in almost every way. What’s the downside here? Well, the game does have limited continues and no saving. This means that you won’t beat the game without lots of replaying the earlier levels, which gets tedious even in a game this good. Ranger-X is great fun, but it’d be nice to be able to play the later levels more without having to replay early levels again and again. Also, some will dislike the health-bar system and unavoidable hits, though I’m fine with it. Yes, you will take unavoidable hits, but with some strategy and forethoguht most fire can be avoided, or survived. Sometimes switching between the combined and regular forms, to take advantage of the separate health bars, is a good strategy. I like how this game makes you think more than the average platform-shooter, it’s great! Really, the continues issue is the only bad thing about this game, and it’s relatively minor. Ranger-X is one of the best-looking, and best, action games of the generation. The game didn’t quite make my Genesis top 10, but it’s very close, and I could see it being a top 10 game on the system for sure. Get this game, you won’t regret it. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Rastan Saga II – 1 player. Taito’s Rastan Saga II is a side-scrolling platform action game, and sadly, it’s one of the worst, most disappointing sequels ever made. The original Rastan, for arcades, Sega Master System, and some Taito collections on newer platforms, is a really good fantasy platform-action game. You play as Rastan, a Conan-like barbarian, trying to face off against a formidable lineup of foes. It’s very hard but really well-designed and rewarding. For the sequel Taito changed a lot, all for the worse. This time the camera is zoomed in close, to show off the larger sprites possible on newer hardware. The problem is, it’s way too close! The large sprites do look nice sometimes, but that’s one of the few good things about this game. The backgrounds are kind of ugly too, so the graphics are not that great anyway. Rastan moves at a snails’ pace here; this makes up for the very short viewing distance, but makes for a boring game. Level designs are incredibly dull as well. While the first Rastan had good levels full of things to find and fun challenges to overcome, this game is just a straight path left-to-right, that’s it. Levels are far less interesting to navigate than in the first one, or than they are in any good game. There are obstacles to jump over and enemies to fight, but it’s all very bland and boring. The one thing this game does is that you do have multiple different weapon types to get, but they aren’t different enough to matter much.

This game is short, too — longplays are 16-20 minutes long, versus a half hour for the first game, and it’ll take a lot less time to finish since it’s a much easier game as well. That isn’t all bad, as Rastan is a bit excessively difficult sometimes, but I’d rather play a way-too-hard game that’s actually really fun than a moderately challenging one that will bore you almost to sleep with its tedium and mediocrity. Oh, and the music is kind of bad and lacks variety, too. Overall, Rastan Saga II is a bad platform-action game which is not worth your time. The levels are generic and boring and are not that well designed, you move far too slowly, and there is no variety to be found either, just repetion until either you die or beat it. Fortunately it won’t take long either way. Even without comparing it to its great predecessor this game is bad; I got this one well before Rastan 1, and thought it waqs awful and not worth my money. And now that I have played the first one, it seems even worse. Arcade port; there is also a Japan-only PC Engine (TurboGrafx) version. Both are accurate ports of the arcade game, though the Genesis one is better since it has parallax scrolling. The problem is the original design, not the port.

Red Zone – 1 player, password save. Red Zone is a technically impressive topdown helicopter combat and run & gun game developed by Zyrinx and published by Sega. The game looks great, but the gameplay is overly difficult and frustrating. This game is Zyrinx’s second Genesis game, after Sub-Terannia. That is a better game, but this game does have some things going for it beyond just the extremely impressive graphics, even if ultimately it gets way too hard way too fast. The developers were so proud of what they accomplished here that the first thing you see when you turn on the game is a screen listing a lot of the effects they do in the game, including sprite scaling and rotation, FMV video, polygon rendering for the ground, and some more. The game has a great, pounding techno soundtrack as well from one of the best composers for the system. Well, that’s what you get from a developer who originated in the European demoscene. The amazing (for the Genesis) graphics of the copter missions are the most noteworthy thing about this game, though the gameplay is decent as well. Still, this probably is a tech-first game.

The game has two modes, helicopter and on-foot. Controls in both are solid, though slow; dodging can be tricky. Each mission consists of both helicopter and on-foot segments, as you land the copter at certain points to take on some on-foot missions in enemy bases. The helicopter side of the game clearly was inspired by Desert Strike, but missions aren’t as long as they are in that game. You have a main machine gun and several sub-weapons you switch with C. All have limited ammo, and you have limited fuel as well. The copter side of the game all takes place on one only moderate-sized map, but has amazing-looking-for-the-system full sprite scaling and rotation of the objects below as you fly around. There are also buildings which have some 3d depth, and pillars made up of stacks of scaling sprites, super-scaler-game style. It looks incredible, there’s nothing else quite like it on the system! It is disappointing that there’s only one environment in the game and there is no graphical variety, but perhaps with everything they did visually there wasn’t room on the cart for more. At least the enemy layout is different in each mission, so it’s not always the same. You also will focus on different parts of the map each time. Missions have some optional objectives as well, as you often can take on a side area if you want to make your progress towards the main objective easier. You can land at certain circular landing pads to pick up fuel, ammo, or health refills, though each one can only be gotten once. Make sure not to accidentally blow up the pickups, you easily can! There is a helpful map on the pause screen menu showing all landing pads, enemies, and enemy bases on a nice zoomable map. You can re-read your mission objectives here as well. It’s great, but even with the help these missions are very hard, as your health goes down fast and you get only one life. If you blow up, you have to watch the ‘you lose’ cutscene, then you’re dumped back at the main menu and will have to re-enter the password to continue. It’s a bit annoying, the game badly needed a quick-continue option with how often you will die.

Once you land at an enemy base you go in on foot. Here the game changes to a topdown run & gun, sort of like an Ikari Warriors or MERCS game. As in the air, it’s action-packed and challenging. You’ve got a nice variety of weapons to use, and three characters to choose from who act like three lives. Yes, you get multiple chances here, unlike in the copter. Killed enemies stay dead for the other characters. Each base has a mission to accomplish, and you’ve got strict time limits sometimes with little margin for error. It’ll take a while in each mission to figure out what to do. Unfortunately you can only shoot in the direction you are moving; a strafe-lock button would have been great. You do get several weapons, though, and you will need to use some thought in these missions, just running and gunning can get you killed. Visually, these levels look nice and do have some 3d depth, with a ‘looking down into a 3d room’ effect on the walls, and many scaling objects, but it’s not as impressive looking as the helicopter side of the game. And just like in the copter, enemies will drain your health fast and it’s easy to die, and if all three characters die, you’ll go back to the start of the copter part since you only get passwords between whole missions, not in the middle of them. I really like that you get passwords at all though, many games on this system aren’t as generous.

Even so, while Red Zone looks great and is somewhat fun to play, by mission three the frustration really set in, and I haven’t gotten past that level yet. I think there are only eight missions, so it’s not too long a game if you can manage it. Also, the game is a bit repetitive, with no graphical variety, only one map for the helicopter and VERY similar-looking bases on foot, and the same gameplay in each stage. That is unfortunate, but sometimes you have to make tradeoffs, and the game certainly does push the hardware more than probably any other Genesis game. Overall, Red Zone is an impressive tech demo with some decent to good gameplay. However, the gameplay is not well balanced and only all but the best players will probably get frustrated. Still, it’s worth trying, at least.

Revenge of Shinobi (I have this on the Sega 6-Pak) – 1 player. Revenge of Shinobi is an early Genesis game, and the second console Shinobi game. This is a popular game which many consider a classic, but I’ve never liked it very much, and playing it again now did not ingratiate it to me any more than before. Revenge of Shinobi, just like its predecessor, a second-rate Rolling Thunder knockoff without some of the things that made Rolling Thunder so great, such as the highly controlled and predictable movement and doors and such to hide behind. And yes, Rolling Thunder released a year before Shinobi, so it came first. I know that Rolling Thunder was inspired by Elevator Action, so it wasn’t an entirely original idea, but it’s a big improvement over that game, while Shinobi goes the other way, and I like the first Shinobi more than this one. I know this is an early release, but it has not-great graphics, controls, and level designs. The visuals are bland. Nothing special there. Sprites look okay, but don’t really stand out. The gameplay is average at best as well. Maybe if I had the nostalgia for this game some do it’d help, but I don’t; this isn’t one I played much of back in the early ’90s. Once I finally did play it I was not impressed.

The game itself is a side-scrolling platform-action game, sort of like the first one but with a bigger focus on projectiles, double jumps in a game with awful double-jumping controls, and slightly less straightforward level designs. Unfortunately, you can’t switch between your throwing weapon and a melee weapon, only use melee attacks sometimes when enemies are close enough, and your ranged ammo is very limited. If you run out, you’re probably doomed. Enemies can block your attacks, and often will, so you need to be strategic with your attacks. In this way the game is a bit like Rolling Thunder, but more frustratring because of how easy it is for them to just block your attacks with their weapons. Rolling Thunder enemies can’t block, so managing ammo there works better. The double jump is a big problem as well because you have a very tight timing window for it. You’ve got to hit jump again at exactly the peak of your jump or it doesn’t register, and it doesn’t always seem to respond as well as it should. Levels over bottomless pits, such as the waterfall stage in level two, are very annoying as a result of this. I never know if I’m going to make a jump or not as much because of the very slow and sometimes unresponsive controls as much as anything else. And as for the levels, they are okay, but unimaginative and sometimes random. Why do some of those blocks in the first level open doors, while others do nothing? Be more consistent. Each level has a boss, and they do require skill and pattern memorization to beat, but beyond that are average. And when you do die, as with most Genesis games you have only a couple of continues so you’ll be starting the game over often. Yes, this game is hard. I’ve never gotten anywhere near the end, and doubt that I’ll seriously try anytime soon; Revenge of Shinobi is not very fun to play. Overall, Revenge of Shinobi is average, and at best is maybe slightly above average. I can’t really recommend this to anyone who doesn’t have nostalgia for the game. Play the far better Shadow Dancer instead, that game is great! This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Risk – 1-6 player alternating, password save. This is a decent console adaptation of the classic strategy board game of the same name. I do like Risk, though Axis & Allies is better, and this is a fine version of the game. The game has fairly simple graphics, but they’re good enough to do. Music is similarly okay, but forgettable. This game has two modes, classic Risk and a mode with arcade-style battles where you fight by shooting a cannon at troops that represent the enemy army. The classic mode is the main game; the new mode is amusing, but not great. Your goal in Risk is to conquer the world. There is only one map, based on the real world circa the age of imperialism. Some later Risk computer and video games have more maps, but not this one. At least there is AI to play against, you can’t do that with the board game. There are three AI difficulties, but only the Hard one is challenging to beat. I played a game for this summary and fairly easily beat a bunch of Beginner and Average opponents. You can play with up to six players as usual, with any mix of humans and AIs. The map is broken up into a bunch of territories connected at certain points, and the players start out by claiming territories one at a time. Then you can place armies on your territories, then start the first real turn, though every turn starts with each player placing their new armies first.

Now, Risk is a fairly simple game, in that there’s really only one type of troop, the army. You can stack as many armies on a space as you want, so building up a big stack and then going rampaging around the board is a common strategy. You will also get cards as you take spaces, and can use sthese cards for a big infusion of troops at some critical time. When you move troops onto an enemy space a battle st arts. These are essentially luck, and in the board game are based on die rolls. Here, instead of watching digital dice, you watch cannons representing each players’ force shoot at eachother. There can be up to three cannons per side that shoot, so each side can take out up to three enemies per round of battle. battle continues until the defender loses, the attacker is down to only 1 soldier which then retreats to the place they came from because all spaces must always have an army on it, or the attacker retreats. The random-number generator can be frustrating at times, of course, and you can lose lots of troops to some smaller force if you’re unlucky, but that’s the way of Risk. At least with real dice you know it’s fair though, while here you never know if the AI cheats. Also, you’ll spend a LOT of time in this game watching the AI take its turns, and all battles are unskippable, even between AIs. This makes the game take longer than it should, though it is still a whole lot shorter than the board game. Overall Risk for the Genesis, like Risk the board game, is a good game. However, there are better, more feature-rich versions of Risk available for newer platforms, so there isn’t too much reason to play this one unless you want to see how it plays on the Genesis or if you want to play the cannon-shooting mode, but that’s not much of a draw; I’d rather play with the luck of the draw than that probably also-rigged mode. It’s just a target-shooting game, nothing more, and the AI is good at it. Still, classic mode is just as it should be. If you like strategy game and see this cheap, maybe pick it up. Board game conversion. There are lots of versions of Risk, but this specific version isn’t available elsewhere.

Ristar – 1 player. There are passwords, but for cheatcodes only, not progress. Ristar is a good but not great platformer from Sega released in early 1995. You are Ristar, an anthropomorphic star-man with stretchable arms, sort of like a space version of the anthropomorphic animal characters popularized by Sonic. You’ve got to save your galaxy from evil by grabbing things, as your hands and arms are the central mechanic. The game runs in the Sonic engine, but plays differently. First though, the visuals are outstanding. This game has fantastic, top-tier graphics with great Sonic-style artwork. The game has great art design, use of color and shadows, and visual variety. However, while it is good, the slow-paced puzzle and gimmick-heavy gameplay just isn’t as fun, for me, as Sonic (or Mario) are. I know some people really love this game, but when playing it, I can’t help but think ‘this is good but Sonic is better’. It’s great that Ristar is a different kind of game from Sonic, but it doesn’t quite match up in fun factor. Ristar is a slow-paced game with a lot of puzzles, not a fast-paced action game. It’s not quite as immediately engaging. You can get stuck at puzzles sometimes, as well. I also really dislike the lacking continue system and absence of saving, these are inexcusable mistakes. Saving Ristar’s galaxy will be a long and challenging quest, as Ristar is a longer game than any Genesis Sonic game other than Sonic 3 & Knuckles and is as hard or harder than any of the Genesis Sonic games, and you need to do it in one sitting, and with only five continues besides! No game this long should have limited continues and no saving, and yet Ristar does! Sega’s early to mid ’90s failure to understand that saving was necessary in games like this is very frustrating. If you want to have fun with the game I recommend using the stage-select password. Yes, the game has a Password option in the Options menu, but it’s not for actual passwords you get as you progress. Instead it’s only for cheat-codes you will have to look up online. Fortunately finding a complete list is easy, and one is a level select. The game should have had saving like Sonic 3 does, but it doesn’t, so just use the code. That’s preferable to replaying the game over and over, really. The later Game Gear Ristar game adds a full password save system, which was a great move. It doesn’t look or play quite as well as this game, though, of course.

This is a good game, though. Ristar has seven planets, or game-worlds, each made up of three stages: two levels and then a boss fight. Levels are good-length, with maybe fewer screens than your average Sonic level but a longer playtime because of the slow pace and frequent stops for fights or puzzles. To encourage thought, there isn’t an on-screen timer, just your score and a health bar. Ristar attacks, and interacts with the world, with his hands. His arms can stretch out fairly far, so you can grab things from a decent distance away. You do have limited health in this game, unlike Sonic’s rings. Chests can have points or health powerups, but they are finite. This adds to the challenge, versus Sonic. To attack you’ll need to first grab, then hit the button again to whack into the enemy and hit or defeat it. Grabbing poles and ladders will let you climb or bounce off of them, as the case may be. I like bouncing off of horizontal walls to slowly get up them, but you can only climb up if there’s a grab-bar, you can’t bounce up to the top. This feels limiting compared to the game Ristar is often compared to, Bionic Commando; Bionic Commando is a better game than this, though I like this a lot too. It’s fun to walk across rows of grab-bars on ceilings and floors, grab walls to climb them and find secrets, and grab poles in sequence in order to reach higher areas of the level. There are spinners to grab on to as well all over the levels, and as you hold down the button while grabbing one you will spin faster and faster. Let go at just the right moment and you’ll go flying in the direction you were headed when you let go. Mastering the art of going the way you want on spinners is key, and is a nice challenge. In combat though, grabbing is somewhat frustratingly slow, and slows the game down a lot when combined with Ristar’s already-slow walk speed. You can only damage enemies by grabbing and bonking into them, after all, you can’t plow through them like in a Sonic game. Also, grabbing can be fun, but it gives the game a somewhat Treasure-esque “gimmicky” feel that you don’t see in other Genesis platformers from Sega. Still, it was a good idea to try and is mostly interesting and well-executed.

But yes, the puzzle element is uncommon for a Genesis platformer from Sega. Sonic games do have secrets to find, but are mostly focused on speed and platforming. This game, instead, is about grabbing, both to navigate the level and for puzzles. Each world in the game has a different theme, with puzzles centered around that theme. The first world is simple, you just have to get to the end of the stage, but the game changes as you progress. In one later world you need to get an object from a start point to a guy who blocks your way, for instance, throwing it over pits, keeping it away from enemies, and such. It’s a solid concept, though it can be frustrating sometimes when you get hit seemingly unfairly or lose the item, and this can happen.Other stages have similar issues; I particularly dislike the Simon-style miniboss, I’m terrible at that game. The variety is nice, though, and as is common in such games ideas are rarely repeated after their world, so if you dislike one world’s playstyle it’ll only be there for a few stages. This, along with the great graphics and grabbing-based gameplay, are what makes me think of Treasure games, for good and ill. Boss fights are pretty good. They are tricky and require thought and practice, as bosses are only vulnerable to grabbing at certain moments. Boss fights often have multiple phases and will take a while at first. Overall, though, while Ristar is a good game, it’s often over-rated. The game has great graphics, a somewhat original concept built in a familiar engine, variety, and some levels with pretty good puzzles and ideas, but the game is perhaps too slow-paced and grabbing enemies is slow and not nearly as fun as just jumping on them as you do in Sonic, it’s too long for a game without regular passwords, and the puzzles and level ‘gimmicks’ are not all good. Overall Ristar is a good but flawed game; despite my complaints, it is solid B-grade work for sure. It’s too bad they never made a sequel. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Road Rash – 1-2 player alternating, password save (20 characters long). Road Rash is a motorcycle racing game from EA released in 1992. You’re a tough biker, and are out to show you’re the best by winning races and beating up the competition along the way. Road Rash was a hit, one of EA’s more successful Genesis games along with Madden, NHL, and Desert Strike. This is a behind-the-bike-view game, though it’s not a linescroll game — it uses software scaling instead. That may sound impressive, but it comes at a very serious framerate cost. And that’s one of the big problems here, and one of several reasons that I have never liked the Genesis Road Rash games very much: it runs far too slowly. If this game even hits 15 frames per second I’d be surprised! I don’t mind 20-something framerates, but the 10-15 or so frames per second you get here are not enough. You WILL sometimes hit things just because you couldn’t see them coming thanks to the awful framerate. Of course, pulling off so many scaling objects on the Genesis has to have been difficult, but this series is a good example of why most Genesis racing games didn’t try — as cool an effort as it is, the results are painful to play. Beyond the framerate, Road Rash has okay graphics with decently-drawn sprites, and terrain that rolls up and down nicely. There is a large interface on the bottom of the screen with your speed, milage, health, closest enemys’ health, and some rear-view mirrors. It looks okay, but it’d be better with more ‘normal’ graphics for the time and a decent framerate, I think. The music is a lot better than the visuals. Road Rash has Genesis-synth rock music for a soundtrack, and as much as I dislike rock music, this stuff sounds great. There are five songs, one for each of the five tracks in the game, and they’re all pretty good.

Framerate aside, Road Rash’s gameplay is also flawed, in my opinion. Races in this game are long point-to-point affairs. You race against 15-odd competitors, trying to reach the end first. Races are measured in miles, and the game says how long the race will be before it starts. Once in the race, though, there is no indicator of how much distance is left, only a milage indicator showing how far you’ve driven in the race, so you’ll just have to remember how long the race is. This is annoying, and bizarrely isn’t fixed in either sequel. This game doesn’t tell you what place you are in most of the time either; it only flashes your position on screen for a moment when you pass or are passed by someone. This the sequels do fix, and add a position indicator. As you drive, try your best to stay on your bike! If you hit anything you’re sent FLYING, and will then have to slowly walk all the way back to your bike, wherever it is. Try to remember that as you fly, so you minimize the amount of time lost. Really though, even one crash often means the end of your chances of victory, as your opponents won’t mess up often. Combine this with the overly-long races and bad framerate and you’ve got a recipe for frustration. These three factors combined are the core of why I do not like the Road Rash games much. If you do keep playing things get even worse, as you win money based on your finishing position and can spend this money on better bikes. If you finish in the top few in each of the five tracks you’ll unlock the next set, which are the same tracks but with longer races this time, and more obstacles such as cars you can run into. The faster bikes make the game even harder, as seeing what’s in front of you gets even more difficult. I gave up early in the second round of this game, and haven’t gotten any farther in the sequels. For some more issues, those 20-character passwords are a bit long, and it’s too bad that the multiplayer is alternating and not splitscreen. Road Rash does have some interesting tech behind it, good music, and it can be fun to play for a little while, but it’s not a particularly good game and I can’t recommend it. The game was interesting back in the early ’90s, but has aged a lot since, particularly thanks to the framerate. Road Rash was ported on the PSP in the EA Replay collection. There’s also an Amiga version, but I don’t know how faithful it is to the original here. Other versions of Road Rash are available for the Game Gear and Master System, but those are significantly downgraded and really aren’t the same thing as this game.

Road Rash II – 1-2 player simultaneous, password save. Road Rash II, from 1993, is Road Rash, but with thankfully much shorter 8 character passwords instead of 20 and a split-screen mode added. Otherwise, it’s the same exact thing as before. Sure, the tracks are new, the onscreen interface has been redrawn, and perhaps the graphics are minutely better than in the first one, but really it’s the same exact thing. Once again you’ve got five environments to race in, some nice electronic rock music, a terrible framerate, and all the rest. Gameplay is exactly the same as before, with no changes, and the bikes look the same but maybe a tiny bit more detailed. This is one of those we-changed-almost-nothing sequels, made because the first game was successful. It’s an okay game if you like Road Rash, but unless you’re a big series fan I don’t know if it’s actually worth having both this and the first one. It’s not better, and as with the first game it’s a slightly-below-average game, playable but not all that fun. Also available in EA Replay on the PSP.

Road Rash 3: Tour de Force – 1-2 player simultaneous, password save. Road Rash 3 relased a few years after the second game, but isn’t much different. In between the second and third Genesis games EA released Road Rash for the 3DO. This popular classic is widely regarded as the best Road Rash game, and while I don’t love that game, it is a whole lot better than any of the Genesis ones. This third Genesis game, though, goes right back to the Genesis formula. The engine is the same as ever, with the usual terrible framerate and everything. In this game, though, fitting with the times, the sprites are now digitized actors, instead of drawings. The graphics are overall a bit better than before, but the framerate is the same and the game isn’t any more fun to play. The music is good as usual, though the first game might be my favorite aurally. In gameplay, well, see the first games’ review, they changed almost nothing. There may be some minor gameplay and control changes, but I didn’t notice them. The two player splitscreen mode and 8-character passwords from the second game return, but otherwise, it’s Road Rash again. Also available in EA Replay on the PSP.

RoadBlasters – 1 player. RoadBlasters is a great arcade racing game from classic arcade powerhouse Atari Games, also known as Tengen on home consoles. This is a fast and action-packed linescroll futuristic combat racing game. You have guns on your car in this game, and while your goal is to reach the finish line on each long and entirely linear track, along the way you will have a lot of enemies to shoot at, and they’ll be shooting back at you as well. RoadBlasters is a scaler arcade game, but the game runs extremely well on the Genesis despite its early release date. This is a much better-playing game than the original Genesis Outrun release, and it’s too bad that Tengen did not continue to release software-scaler games on the Genesis considering how great a job they did with this one. When I got RoadBlasters I did not have high expectations despite really liking the arcade game because of the usual problems of scaler games on consoles which do not have hardware scaling support, but it played a lot better than I thought. The graphics are downgraded versus the arcade, and you can tell that there isn’t any real software scaling here but instead the usual different-sized-sprites, but it looks like an Atari Games arcade game in style, and plays really well as well. Audio is close to the arcade original as well. RoadBlasters on Genesis is fast, fun, and challenging. It’s awesome stuff.

Getting to the end of each race will be difficult because you aren’t only facing waves of enemy gun turrets and cars, you also have to deal with a fuel meter. Fuel is effectively your health in this game. It drains as you drive, of course, and also each time you get blown up you lose some fuel. If the fuel meter runs out, you lose. First though, there is a reserve tank, which will drain once the main fuel meter runs out. This meter is a one-time thing, and while after a race your main tank will be refilled back to the level it was at at the start of the race, the reserve fuel is gone once used, it never recovers. So, if you do badly and barely make it through, you will suffer for it later when you needed that fuel. It’s a tough system that was probably designed to eat your quarters, but it does work here, you just need to put in some time with the game to learn the tracks and how to play better. You get a couple of continues but not many, and there are several dozen races in the game, so it’s a quite difficult game. There are some fuel pickups on the tracks which give you different amounts of fuel, and sometimes you will need to memorize where they are to get through a track.

The weapon system is interesting as well. When you hit an enemy you get points, and as you keep hitting without missing any shots, you will build up a bonus multiplier. If you miss, though, your score multiplier resets, and this is bad because you want as many points as possible in order to get more fuel recovery between races. This really encourages thoughtful shooting, and not just driving down the road holding down fire; that is not a good strategy, you need to try to not miss. There are also weapon powerups that drop from helicopters. These can give you a strong gun and more, but the gun is maybe the best because missing with it won’t affect your multiplier! It’s fun to sometimes be able to shoot without needing to carefully consider if you’ll hit, not an easy challenge when you’re moving as fast as you do in this game. So yeah, try to remember where the copters are and get those powerups, you’ll need them. And that’s RoadBlasters. Drive, shoot, build your multiplier, and learn the tracks through repeat play, trying to do better each time. It’s a very good arcade game, and it’s just as good here. RoadBlasters is an impressive port of a good game, and I highly recommend it. Pick it up! It shouldn’t cost too much. Arcade port. Also available on the NES, Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, and Atari ST (some of those computer ports are available only in Europe). The arcade version is in some emulation collections as well, including Arcade’s Greatest Hits: The Atari Collection 2 for PC and PS1 and Midway Arcade Treasures 1 for the PC, PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, because Midway bought Atari Games in 1996.

Robocop vs. the Terminator – 1 player. Robocop vs. the Terminator is a good sidescrolling platform-shooting game from Virgin Interactive. I’ve never cared much about Robocop and remember almost nothing about the movie if I have even seen it, but I do like the Terminator movies I have seen, 2, 3, and Salvation. T2 is one of the all-time great action movies. In this game, though, you play as Robocop and have to stop Terminators who are trying to take over the world as usual. So yes, it’s a crossover. The game has good graphics and music, decent level designs, quality gameplay, and a high difficulty level with limited continues. This game has good graphics and sound, a lot of impressively clear-sounding voice samples, various different weapons to collect, and large levels to explore. The game is very bloody for the time as well, something which really got the game noticed back when it first released. Not many 4th-gen games have enemies that explode bloodily when killed, but this game does. Of course it’s just a death animation, not persistent. The game is also well-drawn, with large, high-quality sprites and nice-looking backgrounds. This isn’t one of the best-looking Genesis games, but it does look good. Each level has a new setting as well, with some new enemies and obstacles to face. This is a hard game, though. While you do have a health bar, you have no hitflash and your health bar drains fast, so you can and will die in an instant if touched by a boss, for example. And when you die, you lose your current weapon and it reverts back to the seriously underpowered default pistol. You can carry two weapons at once, and only the equipped one is lost when you die as in Thunder Force, but still, this is harsh. Bosses take forever to kill as well, you will have to shoot them seemingly a million times before they go down, while you lose lives every time they touch you. And sometimes one death is pretty much game over, for that continue at least, if you lose a key weapon during a boss fight where the default gun is near-useless. You do respawn where you died so long as you have lives left in the current continue, but continues send you back to the beginning of the stage, and you only get a few before you have to start the game over. There are difficulty options, but this is a very tough game on any setting.

Bosses aside I like the levels in this game, but they could be tighter and more focused. Levels are sprawling and often have side paths with powerups in them, and that’s good, but the graphics and enemies in each stage repeat a lot so they can get repetitive before they end. Enemy bullets can be tricky to avoid as well, as Robocop is not incredibly mobile; you just have to try to duck or jump to try to get through the patterns. Holding up+jump will jump slightly higher, but the normal jump isn’t too high. You’ll need to hold diagonal up+jump to get over some instant-kill obstacles, that can be tricky. Robocop vs. The Terminator is a lot of fun at first, but a couple of levels in the frustration starts to take hold. This game will take a lot of replay, memorization, and probably also luck to get deep in, and I got this game fairly recently so I haven’t spent that time yet. Still, despite its issues this is a good game. The graphics are detailed and look good, the music is above-average for the system and those voice samples sound great, the levels can be fun to explore and figure the secrets in, and I like the different weapons, such as the unique gun which shoots out bullets you can then move around the screen while you walk. You don’t have a firing-lock button, so you can only shoot in the direction you’re moving, but you can shoot while holding onto a ladder or pole, which is great. Overall Robocop vs. The Terminator is a fast-action game full of blood, shooting, and frustration. It is a good game despite some flaws, and is worth playing overall. There is also a SNES game of the same name, but while both are platform-action games, the two are entirely different games from different teams. I haven’t played that one. I know it has passwords to save your progress, but other design flaws that make it maybe even more frustrating than this one.

Rocket Knight Adventures – 1 player. Rocket Knight Adventures is a great platformer from Konami. This game is a popular classic, and is one of Konami’s best platformers of the generation, right up there with Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Goemons 2 and 4. This is a cartoony platformer, inspired by Sonic but quite different. This game has a weird cartoon-fantasy-medieval-steampunk aesthetic which looks pretty cool. You play as a humanoid animal in the Sonic vein, a possum-knight in this case, but the gameplay is different: in addition to jumping and a ranged projectile your sword shoots out, you also have a jetpack. You do have a health bar in this game as well, thankfully. You charge the jetpack by holding down the attack button, then letting it go while tapping a direction on the pad will send you flying in the direction you press. Jumping and shooting at enemies are important, but the jetpack is key to the game. The game controls are very responsive and precise, importantly. Learning the jetpack will take a little while, but where you go is predictable and not random once you learn the system. You’ll bounce off of walls and fly over obstacles to get through stages, and also damage enemies when you run into them while jetting around. The game has a lot of enemies to fight, of course, in the evil army of cartoon pigs.

The level designs in this game are very good and have a lot of variety, and there are many, often long, bossfights. During stages, levels have many bars and poles to hang from, but otherwise the game is extremely varied and interesting. From early in the game bosses have multiple forms, and levels all have multiple bosses. The game does have a moderate number of long levels, a design shared with most Konami Genesis games (Contra and Tiny Toons aside), but each stage has a lot of variety, so it doesn’t feel like a game like TMNT: Hyperstone Heist or Sunset Riders, where the small number of levels is probably there to save money on graphics. Here it just feels like the best design. The constant scene changes and bossfights help keep the variety up, and levels feel just the right length. You will need to use the jetpack regularly, and levels feel designed around it in a good way. This game doesn’t feel gimmicky at all, unlike some games with a unique mechanic, just extremely fun, challenging, and well-designed. Those boss fights may be long and difficult, but it is very rewarding when you finally get past one and move on to the next section. While I wish the game had saving and infinite continues, it is nice that when you die you start from the last checkpoint, not the beginning of the level, and this applies to using continues as well as regular deaths, so you won’t be sent back. On that note, there are four difficulty levels here, and they really affect the game. In the easier settings not only is the game easier, but you get a lot more lives and continues than you do on the hard ones. Play the game on easy at first, I think. It’s a tough game on any setting.

The game looks and sounds great, too. The game has good music with a nice, peppy main theme that fits the game great and very good music in the levels as well. Konami were one of the top masters of game audio back in the 3rd and 4th generations, and this game is a good example of that. And visually, Rocket Knight Adventures is a bright, colorful game, and the art design is very good. It’s mostly a straightforward platformer, but there are some parts with nice graphical effects such as a section with a reflective water surface that moves up and down beneath you. Castlevania Bloodlines does something similar, but it looks great here. Your little possum knight is a cute looking little guy, too. Since you are an opossum, you grab on with your tail instead of your arms; it’s just a graphical thing, but it is a nice touch. The enemies are similarly silly-looking, and aren’t especially threatening despite the games’ substantial difficulty. As with many Genesis games, this game has limited continues and no saving, and unlike Contra Hard Corps and Castlevania Bloodlines, as far as I know this game wasn’t made harder for the West; it just always was difficult. I really like the art design here, there’s always something new to see, new situations to work your way through, and new enemies and enemy contraptions to fight against. The multi-phase giant steam-robot boss in the mine-cart stage is particularly cool, for example. I would say more about the stages and encounters here, but it’d be best to play the game for yourself and be surprised! It’s worth the effort. There are also some short shmup segments a few times during the game. They’re quite fun, but make me wish that Konami had made some shmups for the Genesis. Konami’s 4th-gen shmups are my favorites ever, and it’s too bad the Genesis didn’t get any of them. Ah well. At least they did make some good Genesis games such as this one.

There is only one other downside to this game maybe worth mentioning, that Rocket Knight is a linear game with no collection elements beyond finding life-ups and extra lives, so the game may not have the replay value of some platformers if you do manage to beat it. However, between the new ideas in both the jetpack and in level designs, very well-designed stages full of variety and challenge, good controls, great graphics, good music as usual from Konami, and more, Rocket Knight Adventures is a great game. Really the only negatives are that it does have limited continues with no saving in a game that is not short, and the straightforward design may hurt replay value for some, but overall Rocket Knight Adventures is a great classic platformer that well deserves all the popularity it has received and more. This is Konami’s second-best Genesis game after only Contra: Hard Corps. This game was successful and has three sequels, one on SNES, a second on Genesis (and yes, these two are entirely different despite both being titled “Sparkster”), and a modern one, Rocket Knight, on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. They are all fun games, but none quite match up to this games’ level. The SNES game plays like this one but not quite as good, while the second Genesis game changes things up. I don’t actually own either one unfortunately, and they are getting up there in price now. The modern game got something of a mixed reception, but I do like it. It’s worth a look.

Rolling Thunder 2 – 1-2 player simultaneous, password save. Rolling Thunder 2 is a really great side-scrolling action game from Namco. This is an enhanced arcade port. The sequel to my favorite Namco game ever, Rolling Thunder, this game is also fantastic even if I do like the first one a little bit more. You play as agents Albatross and Leila, though I’m not sure if this is the same Albatross from the first game, since that game has a 1960s aesthetic while this one looks 1990s. Regardless though, you are a pair of James Bond-style secret agents, and have to stop another evil organization from taking over the world. This time you can play as the female character too, instead of her just being someone to rescue; that’s great. The two player co-op support is also really nice, that’s something you won’t find in either of the other Rolling Thunder games. With two players the game is definitely easier, if both players know what they’re doing at least. This game has good but not great graphics and sound. It’s a bit downgraded from the arcade game, but it’s close; the game just isn’t trying to push this hardware. The art design is solid, and I like the variety of settings from Miami to some new evil-organization bases, but the original games’ stylish 1960s look is probably better. Still, the game looks nice enough and is definitely recognizable as a Rolling Thunder game visually, and there is a decent variety of enemies to fight. Again a lot of them are hooded evil thugs, though there is some more variety this time than before. There are many more bosses than the first game, as well, some Genesis-original as the arcade version had few bossfights again, like the first game. I like the added boss fights and levels this home version has, it makes it the definitive version of the game — the graphics are good enough, and the content is expanded. The password system returns from the NES version of the first game, as well, which is fantastic. And this time you get a password for every level throughout, thankfully.

As before, Rolling Thunder 2 is a slow-paced shooter with many doors to go in along the way. You and your enmeies both move in predictable ways. This game is similar, but it is a little easier and fairer this time, as Rolling Thunder 2 eases up on some of Rolling Thunder’s most frustrating design decisions. You have three hit points, one more than the previous game, and simply touching enemies doesn’t hurt you anymore, unlike in the first game. Howver, you still die in one hit if shot, so though it is easier than before you you need to be careful. Ducking, jumping, and hiding behind doors to avoid bullets is the name of the game here, and it’s great once you get into it. You have limited ammo as well. Some people dislike the pacing, but I think it’s perfect; fast-paced, more Contra-esque Rolling Thunder just wouldn’t be the same, as Rolling Thunder 3 shows. Each Rolling Thunder game is a little easier than the one before it. Now, Rolling Thunder doesn’t let you control your jump in the air. So, where you land depends on where you jumped from. This means that pixel-perfect positioning is sometimes required, if you want to end up in the right place. On top of this, the first game has some segments with difficult jumps over bottomless pits. This game does have a level with pits, but the jumps are MUCH easier to make this time. Similarly, the first game had many points where random luck was a major factor. You’ll often have to drop down, but if you drop too close to enemies they will shoot you dead before you can react. So, you’d have to wait, or move back and forth to hope that you can get them in a position you can actually get by. I like that challenge, but it can be annoying. This time, that element of the game is gone. You will often have to deal with enemies above or below you, and will have to go up or down a level, but the parts so reliant on luck as well as skill have been removed in favor of situations you can get through with skill alone. As with the first game you do go back to the last checkpoint if you die. This makes the game easier, and somehow I miss the original games’ cruelness even if this probably is the better design. Either way on that, the game has many great encounters along the way. There may be fewer times where you go up or down a screen than in the first game, but many areas still have two levels of platforms, allowing for good strategy, and there are elevator sections, a level with moving platforms over pits, and more. It’s really great work, in a lot of ways this is the peak of the series as far as level designs go.

For weapons, again your main gun is a pistol with limited ammo. You can find ammo for it behind some of the doors. Other doors have a machine gun, some other special weapons, or rare health-ups. In the first game, if you ran out of ammo that’s it, you could not attack. This time, though, you do have a knife you can use at zero ammo. It’s handy, but again eases up on the difficulty slightly. Still, in all Rolling Thunder games, if you’re playing the game well you should never run out of ammo, so this is minor. I do like the new special weapons, they add variety and are good for some bossfights. They aren’t as common as in the third game, thankfully. There is also a Hard mode you unlock after beating the game on Normal. Nice. Unlike the first game it has no new content, so it’s just an optional difficulty and not another part of the main game, but it’s great to have, once you’ve beaten the game on Normal. It does have a a slightly different ending, at least, even if the game is the same thing but tougher. Progressing through the game, hiding behind doors, slowly figuring out how to get past each enemy pattern or boss, and then overcoming them is extremely rewarding. Rolling Thunder 2 is a fantastically fun game, I love it! This is probably a love-or-hate series, but I really love this series’ style of methodical, strategic shooting. Rolling Thunder 2 is one of the best sidescrolling action games of the generation, hands-down, and this is the best version of the game. Yes, I probably do like Contra: Hard Corps and The Adventures of Batman & Robin even more, but on the other hand, I’ve beaten this game but not those, so in some ways I like it more. Save systems are great! This is a really awesome game and I certainly recommend giving it a serious try. Arcade port. This Genesis version of the game is available on the Wii Virtual Console.

Rolling Thunder 3 – 1 player, password save. The final game in the Rolling Thunder series, Rolling Thunder 3 is a Genesis-exclusive, and US-exclusive, sidescrolling action game from Namco. I did a full review of this game several years ago, so go look that up. This is a pretty good game, but it changes some things from the first two games in an attempt to make a faster-paced, more action-packed game. They did that, but it lost some of what makes Rolling Thunder so great in the process, unfortunately. Rolling Thunder 3 has fewer areas with multiple levels of platforms, more powerful special weapons for your character available at all times, no two player co-op, story cutscenes between levels, no playable female character by default (though there is a password to play as one, she has no cutscenes of her own, it just plays the guys’ as usual), many fewer doors, a faster pace, an added diagonal shot to allow you to hit enemies above you at an angle, three hit points and getting shot only takes away two so this time you can actually take a bullet and not die, unlike the previous games, lets you continue from where you died instead of sending you back to the last checkpoint, and has a very slow-firing bullet as your weapon if you run out of ammo, so you’ll never truly be without bullets. All of these changes either are downgrades, or serve to make the game easier. People who dislike how hard and slow-paced the previous games are probably love most of the changes, the removal of two player co-op aside, but as a fan of the first two games this one disappoints me. There is still enough of Rolling Thunder here to make this a good game, make no mistake. Rolling Thunder 3 IS a good game. It has decent level designs, some pretty cool encounters, much better graphics than either previous console Rolling Thunder game, a better story with actual cutscenes even if it is once again a James Bond knockoff, good controls as always, and you do still need to think about what you’re doing and move somewhat slowly; this isn’t a fast-paced run & gun like Contra, despite all the changes. And that’s possibly one of the issues here — this game isn’t deliberate enough for a classic Rolling Thunder fan like me, but isn’t going to satisfy Contra fans either. It’s in the middle ground between them, and suffers for it. As for me, I wish that more levels were like the last one, that’s the best level in the game and the one most like classic Rolling Thunder, and it’s not as good as the final levels in either previous game. At least there is, again, a Hard mode to unlock after you beat the game, but that doesn’t fix all of the games’ problems. Overall though, even this B-grade Rolling Thunder game is still pretty good, and I definitely like Rolling Thunder 3. Get it if you find a reasonably-priced copy. While the game has issues, it’s still quite fun to play and is definitely good.  It’s too bad that this game never released in Europe, Japan, or any Namco collection or Virtual Console service, and that the series died with this game, it’d have been great to see more Rolling Thunder games. It’d be a perfect franchise for a modern 2d re-imagining, too!

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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