The ‘controversial’ review this time is obvious, it’s that I don’t like Strider. Beyond that, Summer Challenge is worth mentioning; it’s good, and very rarely mentioned. I guess most people probably don’t like Summer or Winter Challenge as much as I do, but I do think they’re good games.
Games covered in this update
Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns
Super Hang-On (Sega 6-Pak)
Super Monaco GP
Super Monaco GP II, Arton Senna’s
Sword of Vermilion
Syd of Valis
Task Force Harrier EX
Strider – 1 player. Strider is a popular classic arcade platform-action game from Capcom. This Genesis port is by Sega, but they did a fairly good job translating over the arcade game. Unfortunately, as much as many people like this game, I don’t. This is not a game I remember playing back in the ’80s or ’90s, and the game has aged pretty badly. Strider on the Genesis has only okay graphics with massive amounts of flicker, very glitchy collision detection, often frustrating controls, only a handful of levels, and an annoyingly high difficulty level. This game isn’t even average, much less great. The game is ambitious with its original, very angled level designs and a very mobile character, and I can see why people who played it in 1989-1990 would think highly of it because of that, but it hasn’t held up. The Genesis can do vastly better than this, and would as its life went on. Visually the game is also dated. The game has some decent use of parallax, but otherwise the graphics are below average compared to later Genesis games. That flicker particularly gives away its early release.
So, you play as Strider, a ninja. The game is set in a future where the Soviet Union still exists, and is still evil, apparently. The story doesn’t matter much though; you’ve got people to kill. Strider moves fast, and attacks with a big sword-sweep which hits a good distance ahead of you. You can grab onto any wall or ceiling and move along those surfaces, and the game really emphasizes this as levels are full of angled walls, ceilings and walls to grab onto, and more. It is a fast-paced game, and you’re usually moving forward and fighting new foes and bosses. The controls are very ‘sticky’, in that you automatically grab onto any wall, ceiling, or platform you touch. There are plusses and minuses to both this game and Shinobi III’s systems, of either auto-attach or manual button-based attach control in games with this much free movement, but while it can be frustrating at times when you’re having trouble getting where you want because of something else in the way, I think I like this system more. The jump itself is bad, though — you have very little air control, so you pretty much just land where you were going to before the jump started. This is not good and makes the game harder. The glitchy graphics, collision-detection issues, and flicker all hurt too, and combine to really hurt this game, and are a major reason I’d call the graphics not so great. Overall, I do not find Strider very fun to play at all. You die fairly easily and have limited continues, so the game is hard, and with controls and visuals this flawed, I’ve never wanted to seriously try to beat this game. I did get farther than usual when playing for this summary, but I still don’t like the game much. Strider is not a bad game, but it is over-rated unless you have nostalgia for it. Maybe the arcade version is better, I don’t know and don’t think I have ever played that version, but this one is more bad than good. I guess that the very angled levels were unique for the time, as you’re rarely just moving along flat ground, but newer games are much better than this in every way, and those nagled platforms cause some of the frustration too, thanks to weird jump and attack angles, collision issues, and more. Arcade port. There is also a Turbo CD (Arcade Card required) port that was only released in Japan. It has a new, exclusive level or two, but has no parallax and runs at a lower framerate. Ports of the arcade version are also available on newer platforms, first on the PS1 included with Strider 2, and also in newer Capcom collections as well.
Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns – 1 player. Strider Returns, by Domark, is a European platform-action game using Capcom’s Strider name and license. Most people hate it, but I find this an okay little game. This game has little to do with the original beyond the name, though. This game is bigger, slower-paced, and much more conventional than its Japanese forbear. Strider Returns is just your average European platform-action game, really… but it is a competently made one, and doesn’t have most of the major flaws of the first Genesis Strider game. You play as Strider again, and walk around, chopping up enemies with your big sword as you collect powerups and try to find the exit in each level. Now, this game is flat, but levels do have a lot of verticality, and you are often jumping between many higher and lower platforms, tree-limbs, and more. I like that, it keeps things interesting. Enemy placements are also good, and you can kill them before they hit you if you’re paying attention and attack them once they appear. The annoying, precontrolled jumps do return, but in this games’ more normal-feeling levels, it works better than in the first game, and in places like the level full of laser gates actually is somewhat helpful, as you quickly learn just where to jump from in order to not be hit. Levels are large, and this is a tough game, just as hard as the first one. The levels are at least average in design, and probably are above average. I like most of the stages here, and the game is fun to play and explore. Each level has a different setting, and they’re all good. This game has only average graphics, but it doesn’t look bad. The music is similarly okay, but not great. Overall though, Strider Returns is an above-average to good game. I like exploring the levels finding secrets and the best path, and I like the large levels as well. By turning Strider into an average Euro-platformer, I (and next to no one else) think that Domark improved on Capcom’s game. Yes, it is much less ambitious, original, and unique, but it’s a better, more fun to play game. Still, though, I’d only recommend it to those with a degree of tolerance for European games of the era; this game plays quite differently from Japanese or American games, and it shows. I sometimes like and sometimes dislike European action games on the Genesis, but this one is alright. Also on the Amiga.
Sub-Terrania – 1 player. Zyrinx’s Sub-Terrania, or Subterrania, is a fantastic gravity shooter, in the vein of Gravitar or Solar Jetman, but better. Indeed, this game is one of the best ever in this genre. In these games, you play as a spaceship in enclosed caverns. The game has gravity, and your ship slowly drops towards the ground unless you hit the forward or back thrusters. You have limited fuel, though, so you need to be careful and plan your moves. You also have health, and lose health when shot, when enemies touch you, or when you hit the ground too hard or touch the ground at anything other than a straight-on landing. Control in this game is a delicate balance of hitting both thruster commands, shooting, and avoiding the walls, while also trying to accomplish your mission objectives. This game has only eight or so levels, but each is large and has multiple objectives to accomplish. Sub-Terrania is, indeed, a very difficult game; I have never finished it, or even gotten close to the end, despite how much I like it. The game has no continues or saving, unfortunately; when you run out of lives, that’s it, start over. When you combine that with the tough stages, replay and memorization are really important here. Your health goes down quickly and health and fuel refills are few and limited within each stage, so it is easy to lose lives. You need to be careful if you want to get through. The challenge may be high, but every level is interesting and different in some way. The first two missions are straightforward once you learn them, but the third is a bit tricky; looking up what to do in a walkthrough might be a good idea, if you’re stuck. Regardless of the challenge, this game is incredibly fun to play. I really like how much variety there is, and the game controls extremely well once you get used to it. The different weapons are balanced well as well. You can only shoot straight ahead, but each gun feels different. On Easy you keep weapon powerups once collected, but on higher settings you lose a level of weapon power when you die, so the difficulty you choose affects more than just the strength of your enemies. It’s great that Easy really is easier, beginning players may need the help.
This game isn’t only about gameplay, though; it also looks good and sounds great. Sub-Terrania has a techno soundtrack from Genesis sound-chip master Jesper Kyd, later of Adventures of Batman & Robin fame, and this soundtrack is really good too. It’s a definite strong point of the game. The graphics are also pretty good; though all levels are in caverns and many enemies repeat throughout the game, at least the different ones each have different-looking walls and backgrounds, and each boss is unique. The ingame graphics are quite well drawn and detailed, and I like all the little touches added to your surroundings. Sub-Terrania is not quite the technical marvel of Zyrinx’s other, later Genesis game Red Zone, but while it does not use fancy graphical techniques, it is a pretty good-looking game for the system anyway. It also has better gameplay than Red Zone, which counts for a lot; that game is interesting but flawed, while this one is just great. Sub-Terrania does have a significant learning curve, as your ship moves quickly and it may seem hard to control at first, but with practice you will get used to it. It is important to remember to use both thrusters, instead of just the forward one; that back thruster is very useful! Also, learning the momentum system is vital. Don’t accelerate too much, and get used to rotating quickly to fire at something in a tricky location, then back to straight to land and repeat the process once you take off again. Once you get the controls down, learning each mission is the next step. Even if you use the helpful GameFAQs guide for the basics of what to do in the more complex missions like the third one and its multiple different mirrors you need to reflect a laser with, actually executing on that will be a challenge! Overall, Sub-Terrania is a very good gravity-shooter, probably my favorite game in this little subgenre of the ones I have played. This is a great game that’s worth playing for sure. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
Summer Challenge – 1-10 player alternating, battery save to cartridge. Summer Challenge is the first of two olympic sports games from Accolade. This game doesn’t have an official olympic license, but it does have good gameplay and unique design for the time, quite unlike the terrible licensed olympics games on the Genesis. I first got the PC version of this game in the ’90s, and thought that it was fun. So, after seeing how great the Genesis port of Hardball III turned out, I decided to pick up this game, and its winter-themed sequel, as well. These games have some issues, most notably the framerate, but are good games despite that. The framerate is an issue because this isn’t a 2d game. Instead, your sprite characters are in full, flat-shaded polygonal worlds! It’s a very different look from any other games like it on the system, and framerate aside the choice works. I really like that the sports actually look somewhat like the real thing. Sports like cycling or kyaking wouldn’t be nearly as good in regular 2d! The game has a somewhat limited selection of only about eight sports to play, and some are similar such as the several track events, but all are solidly done. Aesthetically, this game looks a lot like Hardball III, until you get into the events that is. I like the graphics and art design, they aren’t anything great but look good. The sprites are all good-looking and detailed, and those polygon environments work well, visually at least. The menu system is clearly copied right out of that game, which is great. The audio and graphical design are also similar, the 3d graphics in this game aside of course. And again the game has battery save. You can’t save during an event, but events are short and the game will save your progress between events while playing a tournament, so that’s fine. Most games in this genre didn’t have battery save back in the early ’90s, so it’s a very nice thing to see here. Control-wise, the game has a one-button-plus-a-dpad design, much like Hardball III, but despite this has fairly familiar controls for those used to Track & Field-styled games. As with most such games, in many events you either mash a button, or alternate between pressing two buttons or directions. There’s always a lot of button-mashing in this genre, and this game is no exception. The controls are good enough, though, once you learn each event. Multiplayer is alternating only, but it’s great that it is present and for up to ten players, and with many of these events it had to be alternating. You can save your stats to individual player files thanks to the battery, if people make good times in events.
There are eight events here. First is Archery. This is a 2d event, without the polygons of most of the rest. You have to shoot at several targets, waiting until the cursor is in the center as it bounces around. Try to hit the button at the right time to win! This is the easiest event, and while it can get old, it is nice to have something not hard to win at. Hurdles will be tougher; the only track event here is 400 meter hurdles. You run by alternating directions, and jump with the button. Getting your timing down is tricky, and if you hit a gate you’re eliminated. Javelin is also here. You build up speed with the buttons, then hit throw at just the right timing. it’s simple and fun. High Jump is harder. You’ve got to run and then This event is usually one of hte harder ones in games in this genre, and that is the case here. Definitely practice to get the timing for the multiple jumps down. Pole Vaulting is in the game as well, though the boxart is of a pole-vaulter so it better be, and timing the pole can be tricky. I’d probably have rather seen multiple running races over two jumping ones, but ah well; at least they are better here than in some of these games. Next is Kayaking, a sport almost never seen in ’90s olympics games. This sport shows off the 3d graphics well, and also the poor framerate. I highly recommend practicing the course before trying it in tournaments, but it is pretty fun once you do. I like racing games, and it’s great to see this slightly more conventional racing game appear in this title. It is unforgiving, though — just like in a real olympics, miss one gate and you’re eliminated. Speed-cycling is also here. You’re racing on an angled track in a velodrome, trying to get around the track as quickly as possible. The framerate here is bad, but the gameplay is simple — just button-mash, while watching your strength gauge. It’s alright. And last, this game has Equestrian. Yes, another sport almost never seen in this kind of game is present here. You ride your horse along a course, trying to stay on the course and make all of the jumps along the way. It’s tricky, but I do like it, I guess.
Overall, Summer Challenge is a quite interesting game. This game is partially a conventional track & field game, and partially something new, with polygonal graphics and several sports never seen in other games in the genre. I do wish that the framerate was better, it really is down near the single-digits, more sports would have been nice, and in-event music would have been cool, but otherwise I quite like Summer Challenge. The Hardball III-esque Accolade stylings are great, and the actual game is good. This game is no Hardball III, it’s only above average to good, but it is one of my favorite track & field games ever, for nostalgia reasons partially I’m sure, but also for its good gameplay and design. Also on PC and Amiga. The PC version is best, with higher-resolution graphics and much better framerates. This Genesis version is pretty good for the hardware, though, and contains all content from the PC original.
Sunset Riders – 1-2 player simultaneous. Konami’s arcade Sunset Riders game, also available in slightly modified form on the SNES, is a great run & gun action game. Easier than Contra and with some fantastic wild west themes, the game is a lot of fun! I’ve liked Sunset Riders ever since first playing it in arcades in the early ’90s. It has a cool style to it you didn’t often see then. Unfortunately, this is not that game. Instead of porting over the SNES game, Konami decided to make a low-budget, mediocre spinoff title here. This game just screams of the lower budgets of most of Konami’s Genesis games, and it hurts it a lot compared to the other Sunset Riders titles. Despite that it is a fun game, but the ‘real’ Sunset Riders is a lot better. The graphics here are downgraded, the music okay but not as good as on the SNES, the speech samples have mostly been cut from the game, and half of the level settings and bosses are gone as well. Sad stuff. Sunset Riders is a wild-west themed side-scrolling run & gun shooter. You play as two cowboys, Billy or Cormano, and have four bosses to take down in eight levels. Yes, that’s down two characters and four bosses from the arcade/SNES game. The levels are all-new as well, and far less well designed. Where in the arcades and SNES Sunset Riders has short, tightly-designed stages that keep the tempo up and are always changing, Genesis Sunset Riders stretches out each of its four locations into two whole levels each, and then has constant repeated graphical elements within each stage. You pass by the same buildings again and again and again in the first couple of stages, for example, it’s so repetitive in a way that the original Sunset Riders wasn’t at all.
There are lots of enemies to face, and the game controls well and is fun to play, though, so it’s not all bad. All major enemy types from the arcade game return, and this game has less censorship than the SNES game too, as Indian regular enemies and scantily-clad women are in this game, but not the one on Nintendo. There is still some censorship, though — as on the SNES, the female enemy type from the arcade game has been replaced with a guy, and the beer-drinking scenes have been removed from the certain doors that had them. Instead, every single door has a scantily-clad woman, and there are like ten times more doors in this game than the original thanks to all those repeated level elements, so the absence of that other animation is made painfully apparent as you see it again and again. The four bossfights that are here are good and play like they should, though at least one has a location change. As previously mentioned, though, the bosses’ voiced catchphrases have been removed, and replaced with just text. Cheap! And that’s this game in a nutshell. The missing content, new, somewhat boring, and far too repetious level designs, and downgraded graphics and sound really hold back what is otherwise a good little game. Sunset Riders for the Genesis is a fun game, and I do like it. The game controls great, sounds good, and blasting through waves of wild-west baddies is fun. The game is kind of easy as I have beaten it repeatedly, but it’s a fun easy, and there are higher difficulty settings if you want that. The co-op play is good as well. However, the game just has too many major limitations to recommend for anything above a quite low price, and this game is somewhat pricey now. Only get Genesis Sunset Riders if you’re lucky and see it cheap; otherwise, save up for the more expensive, but great, SNES game. That game is far better than this.
Super Battleship – 1 player, password save (Super mode only). This terrible, huge disappointment has two modes. First you have classic Battleship, a digital re-creation of the classive board game… for one player only. Because of how Battleship works you can’t have two players on the same screen, but still, it is disappointing that you can’t play this against a friend somehow. This mode plays just like Battleship: first you place your various ship types on your grid, then fire at the computers’ grid trying to guess where their ships are, taking turns along the way. This version has you make three shots per turn instead of one, oddly, but does not have the added alternate shot types of NES Battleship. I also can’t get past the absent multiplayer, that flaw kind of makes the whole thing feel pointless. The graphics here are bland and subpar but aren’t terrible, and the music, where there even is any, is forgettable. There’s really no reason to ever play this game in classic mode; you can find better Battleship games in many places, I am sure. NES Battleship may also be single player only, but at least it has progression, many levels to beat, special weapons, and more. This has nothing beyond the not-so-great feature that you shoot three shots per turn.
There is a second mode here, though, Super Battleship. It tries to be something more… tries, and fails. This mode is a turn-based naval strategy game. You choose one of several scenarios, and have to try to beat an enemy fleet with your own fleet of ships. Each different ship type has different stats and weapons, and movement and firing ranges also. Interestingly, ships can only move like a ship — that is, forwards and back either straight or at a curving angle only, no sideways moves. That more realistic movement is by far the best thing about this game, but doesn’t make up for the otherwise seriously lacking gameplay. Combat is somewhat arcadey, as once two ships engage you move a cursor around and hit the fire button to shoot at the enemy. It’s harder to hit enemies than it is for them to hit you, it seems. Naturally. You also have only a limited quantity of each weapon type, so if you miss with one it really does hurt. Scenarios are surprisingly difficult, and getting good enough to actually beat them didn’t really seem worth it to me. This is a painfully slow game with bad graphics and little audio, and it takes a lot of turns for ships to get close enough to actually attack… and then I get crushed. If you do stick with it there is a fifteen-plus mission campaign with password save, but I’ll probably never see that. With time you may start winning, and it is good that each ship type is quite different, but is a game this slow-paced, boring, and lacking in fun really worth that kind of time? I’d say not, myself; Super Battleship is a bad game that I find unbearably unfun to play. Pass on Super Battleship, it’s terrible. Classic mode is kind of irrelevant, and Super mode is tedious and no fun. This game made my 10-worst-Genesis-games-I-own list for a reason. Also on SNES.
Super Hang-On (Sega 6-Pak) – 1 player, password save. One of the first racing games on the system, Super Hang-On is a barely playable mess thanks to some of the choppiest ‘scaling’ seen on this system. This game is right down there with other early Sega titles like Super Thunder Blade and Space Harrier II in how bad the scaling looks, and it’s really unfortunate because this is otherwise a pretty fun game. This game has two modes, a recreation of the arcade game, and an original mode with more progression and features. The basic gameplay is classic linescroll racing, Sega-style, and it’s fun but very difficult. The two main issues this game has are the very high difficulty and, worse, the horrible graphics. Lots of games on classic consoles effectively use linescroll graphics to simulate movement, but here the flipping colors as you go fast looks TERRIBLE. I think that playing this game for this summary gave me a headache, because I was feeling fine earlier, but had a headache a while after playing this game — and I am NOT one to have such issues, even the Virtual Boy usually isn’t much of an issue. The way the screen blinks back and forth between two colors is atrocious. This is the most eye-hurting linescrolling I’ve ever seen. The sprite ‘scaling’ is pretty bad too, and contributes to the headache-inducing visuals. Flipping between differently-sized sprites is the only way to do scaling on a system like this, but Sega’s solution early in the Genesis’ life looks pretty bad as the sprites bounce around constantly in an unpleasant fashion. Between this and the linescrolling background, this game looks incredibly choppy. The sprite-work is classic, solid ’80s Sega stuff, but your bike aside it’s hard to make out many details. The music is average and forgettable, and isn’t anywhere near the level of Outrun’s classic tunes.
Ignoring the visuals, Super Hang-On has that classic Sega arcade racing gameplay, and it’s good, the insanely high difficulty aside. You control a motorcycle, and drive fast as you try to avoid all the obstacles and reach the finish line. When you reach max speed, pressing C will turn on a turbo-booster for additional speed; this is essential. It’s tough but fun and can be addictive. There are two modes, Arcade and Original. In arcade mode you take control of a superbike and try to beat all of the circuits in the game. The first has six track segments, the last 16. There are hugely overlong passwords if you manage to beat a circuit, but I haven’t managed that yet; between the graphics and the unforgiving gameplay, I always lose. You get only one chance at each circuit, there are no continues here within a circuit, and if you crash even once at any point you well might not finish. Unlike Outrun or beyond this game has no difficulty settings either, so you can’t ease up on the super-tight timer. Playing for this summary I almost finished the first circuit in Arcade mode a couple of times, but didn’t quite manage it. Original mode takes place on the same tracks, but you start with a weak bike, and have to upgrade or replace it via money you win in circuits. I don’t like the starter bike in Original mode, it’s not much fun to control. It is nice that they added a mode with some real progression and a money system, though, that’s something Sega usually left out of their home racing ports in the ’90s. And you can save your progress here with those same too-long passwords. This mode might be even harder than arcade mode, though, and as with arcade mode, I’ve never gotten far enough to get a password. Given the atrocious graphics issues the game has, I’m fine with that. If you want to play a good version of Super Hang-On, play a port of the arcade game, or play Super Hang-On 3D for the 3DS, a 3d port of the arcade version with added 3d and options. The arcade game and its 3DS port are both good fun stuff, without the serious flaws of this version. This Genesis game, however, is only for the masochistic. It’s in the Sega 6-Pak, so it is worth having since the collection is great, but don’t waste much time on this version of the game. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
Super Monaco GP – 1 player, password save. Super Monaco GP is a somewhat average F1 racing game from Sega. While the game has fairly simple controls, the style is more simulation-like. This game is, for the time, somewhere in between arcade and sim. Now it would surely be called an arcade game, but it’s trying to be a more ‘realistic’ one. For example, there is an unfortunate lack of any music during races. That makes the game somewhat dull and less interesting than racing games with music, but the gameplay here is okay. You play from an in-car perspective, presumably also to be more realistic, and your car is visible around you. This means your view is a bit closer in than the usual behind-the-car viewpoints most racing games use, so you have a bit less visibility. Tracks are also named for and have layouts based on real F1 courses, though this style of linescroll racer never looks quite like the real thing; real tracks don’t have only smoothly-turning curves with lines of objects by the sides of the road. That’s fine, and I have no interest in F1 I have enjoyed some simple linescroll open-wheel racers. It is nice that there are quite a few tracks.
However, despite the simple gameplay, Super Monaco GP is a hard game and has a decent-sized learning curve. You have to learn the braking in order to get around these tracks, and that is a problem because I prefer the kind of racing game where you rarely have to brake, and can have fun instead of playing something more ‘realistic’ like this. The game looks fine for its time; it does not really impress, but isn’t bad-looking either. Versus the above game this game has a slower sense of speed, but maybe partially as a result the image holds together a lot better. It is obvious the system doesn’t have hardware sprite scaling, but for a linescroll game this game looks average. The game controls fine as well; you have gas and brakes, and the challenge is learning to use each in the right points on each track. For modes, there’s a single-race mode or a championship. The other racers’ names are all fictional, but that’s okay. You have to qualify for each race before you race it, and if you do well enough you can progress and get a password for the next track. I find this game boring, though, so I’ve never put the kind of time into it that would be required to not finish last every time. Overall, I prefer a simpler, more arcadey game such as the Game Gear Super Monaco GP game over this more challenging one. This is an average to below-average game and I do not find it fun or much worth playing, but it’s not bad. If it sounds like your kind of thing, definitely give it a try; this is a solid game for its time and genre. Enhanced arcade port. There are other ports of the arcade game on lots of systems, but none have this versions’ added content, I don’t think.
Super Monaco GP II, Arton Senna’s – 1 player, battery save to cartridge. Super Monaco GP II is a sequel that does not stray far from its predecessor. Indeed, this game is basically the same as the first game, but with Brazilian F1 star Ayrton Senna’s name and likeness all over the menus. Senna talks to you, and did consult with some elements of the games’ design. Senna died in a race in the early ’90s, sadly, but this game was developed before that. The game has more tracks than before, and the Senna GP is interesting. YOu start out on some tracks Senna himself laid out, apparently for go-karts in the real world though here you only have F1-style cars, and then move on to real F1 tracks if you are successful. I like the addition of battery save; yes, the battery can die on you, but long passwords are annoying. The graphics look similar to the first game, but with some minor improvements here and there. This is at least average-looking for a linescroll game on the Genesis; it’s no Outrun 2019, but it’s no Super Hang-On either. The audio is, as with the first game, mostly absent; in-race you only hear the car engine. I really wish there was music. There isn’t much else to say about this game, though. It is another somewhat simmish arcade racer, with challenging tracks that will take some time to learn the correct gas and brake patterns in and semi-realistic, and thus somewhat boring for me, gameplay and presentation. It’s a decent, average game, and is a bit better than the first one, but I can’t see myself ever really getting into these games. You might, though, so do give at least one of the Genesis Monaco GP games a try. Both are very cheap.
Sword of Vermilion – 1 player, battery save to cartridge. Sword of Vermilion is an interesting, and solid, action-RPG from Sega released early in the Genesis’s life. This game covers multiple perspectives, including overhead, first-person, and side-scrolling, but has some very dated design elements. The core gameplay is good, though. This is a fantasy game in a generic fantasy world. You are a young man whose father just died due because of evil forces. So, you’re off to avenge him and stop the badguys. It’s a basic plot, but it works. Of course, you start in a small out-of-the-way town and the degree of threat scales up as you progress. This game starts out in town. You explore towns from an overhead view, and towns have various shops, people, houses, and churches where you save your game, like usual for the genre. You have to do everything by a menu on the C button, though, and the interface is archaic. You’ll need to open the menu to talk to anyone. It’s even worse in dungeons, where you need two separate commands to get items out of treasure chests! And of course, the game closes the menu after the first command. Don’t forget to pick up that item after opening the chest, or you won’t have it. On that note, when you leave town, the game turns into a first-person, tile-based RPG. In the overworld and dungeons you move from space to space in mazelike worlds. There is a map on the side of the screen, thankfully, but it doesn’t fill in as you go. Instead, unless you’ve talked to someone who gave you a map for that area, you can only see your location and the eight spaces around you, and nothing else. Make sure to talk to everyone in each town to get those maps! And dungeons don’t have maps, so you’ll just need to learn those layouts. Worse, when you enter a dungeon, you will need to use items which emit light, such as candles or lanterns, or the screen is completely dark. These only last a limited time, however, so you need a lot of them… but you can only have eight inventory items at a time, so good luck with that. Fortunately your equipment doesn’t take up space in your item inventory, they are separate, but only eight spaces is not enough when you need both health and light items. Argh. And the encounter rate is very, VERY high, as well. Sometimes you’ll fight, turn left, and fight again! Yes, it can be that bad.
So yeah, the game has some issues. Fortunately, though, the combat is fun. When you run into an enemy, the game changes back to a top-down view in a single-screen battle arena. In that way it’s a bit like Faria on the NES, though you only ever face one enemy type at a time in this game, there just are often a lot of them. The combat is fast and you can chop through the badguys easily. Your sword will be your main weapon throughout, but once you get deeper into the game you also get some magic spells. You can only equip one at a time, which casts with a button-press in battle, but these fireballs and such are helpful. You have to buy spells from stores, so you get to choose which ones you want, and which to equip. It’s nice that there is at least a little choice in this mostly-straightforward game. The game will get repetitive for sure, but it’s decent fun even so. If you reach a boss, the game has yet another perspective: side-scrolling battles. These are simple, but do make the game even more varied. Also, perhaps due to the crazy-high encounter rate and fun combat, this game doesn’t feel nearly as grindey as other RPGs of the day. If you explore everything, you should be able to handle each new area. It does let you go into areas beyond your level, but follow the townspeoples’ suggestions and you should be okay. Your health is filled up when you level up, too, and if you die you aren’t dumped back to the main menu, but return to the nearest church minus half the money you had. That’s kinder than some games. The game has decent graphics and sound, too. Sure, it looks and sounds like an early release, this is definitely not one of the best-looking Genesis games, but it looks fine. Overall, this is a decent to good action-RPG with okay graphics and sound, variety, and simple but fun, combat. The game is simple and lacks depth, the light system and absence of good mapping in dungeons is a problem, as is the high encounter rate and very dated interface, but it is good overall. Sword of Vermilion is a good game worth a try, but do expect a somewhat dated experience. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
Syd of Valis – 1 player. Syd of Valis is a superdeformed, or SD, remake of Nippon Telenet’s game Valis II. You are once-normal earth schoolgirl Yuuko, or here in the US version “Syd”, off on a quest to save a fantasy world from evil yet again. The Valis series was somewhat popular back in the early ’90s, particularly on the Turbo CD, but there are also three Valis games on the Genesis, and I have this one. As with all Valis games, it is a frustrating and annoying game that is not much fun to play; I don’t like this series much, as I said in my summaries of SNES and Turbo CD Valis IV previously… and those games are both better than this one. So yeah, it’s not very good. It isn’t terrible either, though, just subpar and at times frustrating. Syd of Valis has nice, cartoony graphics, and I like the SD art style. Levels are varied in both settings and designs, as well. As always in the Valis series, though, enemies attack at high speeds from all directions, so memorization is key. I’ve always disliked this twitch-bombardment style of level designs you see in Valis games, it’s not fun. This time, though, if you fall in a pit you just lose a bit of health and bounce back out, so at least you can’t die from falling in pits; that is nice. However, you have NO continues in this game, and unlike the TCD game, there is no saving either. That’s really unfortunate, in games as frustrating and twitch-memorization heavy as Valis games saving is essential, I don’t want to have to play levels I’ve finished again. This game has only one playable character, unlike Valis III or IV, but you do get different costumes to wear and weapons to equip as you progress, and can switch between them at any time in the pause menu. Each has different stats, so switching weapons sometimes is a good idea.
The story is similar to the Turbo CD game, just condensed for cartridge form and redone with cuter SD graphics. It’s kind of silly at times, which is odd for Valis, but it does work. However, it doesn’t have the same impact that the Turbo/PC Engine CD games do, with their voice-acted cutscenes and such. The music is alright, but can’t match CD audio of course. Overall, Syd of Valis is a below-average, annoying game. It is playable, and I do play it every once in a long while, but can’t really recommend the game. If you could save and continue, instead of having to start the game over every few times you mess up, it’d be slightly better, but even then you’d still have that same not-that-fun core Valis gameplay. So yeah, I’m not sure about this one; Valis is a series worth a try, and if you see this for a few bucks maybe pick it up, but it’s not all that great either. Oddly, my cart has an odd issue — while it works fine when played in my Genesis with 32X attached, if I remove the 32X and then plug the cart in, all I get is a black screen. It’s been like this ever since I got the game, and I’ve never heard of such a bizarre issue; this isn’t a 32X game! I imagine no other copies are like this. This game is only on the Genesis, but other Valis II games, with different level layouts and design, are on other platforms, including the Turbo CD and Japanese computers. The TCD version is also not too good, but I’ve never played the computer original.
Target Earth – 1 player. Target Earth, or Assault Suits Leynos in Japan, from NCS Masaya, is a very good, but very difficult, sidescrolling mecha shooting action-platform game. The eight missions in this game tell a story of an Assault Suit mecha pilot, you, who must save the world. So yeah, teh story is cliche, but there is actual text and conversations during the game, unlike most such games of the time. This makes the world feel more alive. This game is the first game in the Assault Suits series which also includes Cybernator for the SNES and more. I got Cybernator years before this game and found it good but not great, so I didn’t have the highest of hopes for this game. However, I like it a lot! Target Earth is indeed extremely difficult, but it is also quite good, and better than Cybernator in my opinion even if its visuals are far worse. Assault Suits Leynos 2 for the Saturn (Japan only title) is probably the best of the three, but this is a good game. The only challenge is, how much of it will you see without that invincibility cheat which thankfully does exist? However far it is, it’s worth the effort. Your mission starts on Ganymede, as the base you are defending is attacked. You’ve got to defeat a large enemy carrier before it gets to your base and destroys it, while dealing with many regular enemies as you go across the rocky landscape towards the boss. Your mech, or assault suit, is small on the screen, but the art design is good and as detailed as the small size allows. Enemies are varied in size, from the small regular foes to big, half-screen-filling bosses. There are a great variety of environments as well, from the rocky first area to outer space to a giant space station. I like the variety, and the stages are very fun to play. Levels often consist of you moving towards a goal while an infinite spawn of basic enemies comes at you, but despite this work great thanks to the good combat and movement.
Indeed, your robot controls well. You can move, jump, and fly in the space mission. You move fast, which is great, and control is precise. You can shoot left, right, or up; the upward shot is very useful, as many enemies are airborne. You have a bunch of weapons to fight the enemies with. You start out with a basic gun with infinite ammo and several other guns with limited ammo that refills between missions, and unlock more based on your score. So, if you play better, you get better weapons; this encourages repeat play, to figure out ways to score more points and get better weapons earlier. All weapons other than the basic gun have limited ammo, and you can only take so many weapons and armor items into each battle, so between missions you’ll need to carefully choose what to take. It’s a nice strategic element which adds to the game. The game is harsh and unforgiving, though, and even though you have a lifebar it is easy to die, particularly to bosses. And when you do die, you get only a few lives and then it’s back to the beginning of the game; no continues or saving here, sadly. If you want that, get the PS4 remake, Assault Suits Leynos. I haven’t played it, but it looks good and faithful to the original. I think it’s a Japan-only release so far, though, unfortunately. As for this version, though, there is a lot to like about Target Earth. The game has small, simple graphics, but the art design is good, and the game plays quickly and runs well. Levels are varied and fun, and I like that there is an actual plot here, and varied missions. The games’ intense challenge relies too much on memorization and replay, and the graphics aren’t as good as later games in the series, but even so this is a very good sidescrolling action game I very highly recommend. Use the cheat codes if you want, but don’t miss out on Target Earth, it’s great! There is also a PS4 remake of this game in Japan.
Task Force Harrier EX – 1 player. Task Force Harrier is a bland-looking and subpar vertical-scrolling shmup from Treco developed by UPL. You fly a plane, presumably a Harrier, on a mission to defeat lots of enemy forces. As in some Namco shmups, this game has separate bombs and bullets, and many ground enemies will only be hit by the bombs. The game starts out over a snowy landscape, and the first few levels are thus near-colorless, with white backgrounds and grey aircraft and vehicles. As much as I love snow, it’s an incredibly bland look here. Eventually you have some ocean and city/base missions, but the graphics here are bad and color is limited, the blue water aside. You just move left or right and shoot, there is no real variety or depth to this game. Enemies come at you in basic patterns, shoot them and avoid their fire. The enemy patterns, bullets, movement, graphics, sound, nothing is interesting or great. The gameplay feels inspired by Xevious and Twin Cobra (Kyuukyoku Tiger), but isn’t nearly on the latter games’ level of quality; the enemies and bosses are more generic in both looks and attacks, the music is worse, and more. The Xevious point is an important one to expand on, though. I have never much cared for the separate ground and air attack bomb-and-bullet systems found in Xevious, Dragon Spirit, and such. I’m fine with multiple weapons, and air and ground targets which are hit by different weapons, but the limited range of your bombs in these games is really annoying! I should be able to hit enemies from anywhere below them, not only halfway up the screen where you’re too close to their bullets. So that this game copies that attack system is a definite negative for it. As an aside, the bullet-and-targeting cursor system found in RayForce and its sequels or Soukyugurentai (on Saturn and others) also isn’t something I have ever liked all that much; it’s not awful, but normal bullets-only shooter design is better.
So, the basic design here isn’t for me. Even beyond that, though, while it is not terrible, this game gets boring to play in a hurry. This just isn’t a good game, as levels are bland, the difficulty uneven, bosses unimpressive to the point where sometimes I couldn’t tell if a boss was a miniboss or final level boss, and the music is forgettable to bad at best. I got this game for cheap, but disappointed me thanks to tedious, repetitious gameplay, unfortunate choice to us the Xevious bomb system, mediocre-at-best level designs, monochromatic white-and-grey or grey-and-blue color palettes for too much of the game, and more. Task Force Harrier EX is a below-average game only worth considering if you really love shmups and want to play all the shmups on the Genesis, love Xevious and such, or like shmups and find it for dirt cheap. If you do get it though, go in with very low expectations. I paid only fifty cents for this game, and I’m still not sure if it was actually worth it; it’s kind of bad. Arcade port.
Taz-Mania – 1 player. Taz-Mania is a successful but awful platformer from Sega. This game is based on the early ’90s cartoon of the same name starring Taz, the Tazmanian Devil from the Looney Tunes, and his family. The game did well, surely because of the popularity of the show, but of all the Taz games released that generation, this is one of the worst; only the first Game Gear game is definitely worse. Taz-Mania has pretty good graphics with large sprites that look a lot like something out of the Looney Tunes or the Taz cartoon, so it makes a good first impression. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up at all beyond that. Taz can run fairly quickly, jump a good distance, and spin into a tornado to move even faster and attack enemies. Most enemies stand no chance against your tornado spin! You have a health bar, too, though that won’t help with the games’ innumerable bottomless pits. Many items are scattered around the levels that you can eat, and some will heal Taz while others will hurt him; you’ll need to learn which is which. Walking slowly into an item, or some enemies, will allow Taz to eat it, while spinning into one will blow it away. That’s all fine, but the level designs here are among the most frustrating around! Between the skiddy controls and constant frustration due to more blind jumps and random pitfalls than almost anything on this system, Taz-Mania stops being fun somewhere around the middle of the first level. At least in the first stage you can see where you’re jumping to, though, even if it’s frustrating due to the slippery controls and because it’s not always clear where you need to go. Some waterfall spouts send you straight up into a wall of spikes, while another is a vital way forward, and nothing tells you which is which. This is that kind of game. The blind-jump-heavy jumping puzzle in level two is even worse, with multiple long blind jumps to make, but at least it’s over solid ground, so as you fall again and again you can keep trying. Later on the game isn’t always as kind. You do get three continues in this game, but there’s no saving so you’ll be redoing the game from scratch often. This is a VERY memorization-heavy game, and it’s not the fun kind of memorization. I hate blind jumps! I’m sure I will never get anywhere near the end of this game, it’s not remotely worth the effort. Oh yeah, and while the graphics are good, the music is kind of bad. If you could see where you are going and the controls were better this game could have been good, but it isn’t. Pass on Taz-Mania; don’t replay it and hurt the memories of it you may have of the game from the early ’90s. Instead, play the sequel. It is a vastly better game and fixes most of this games’ biggest issues.