Only 10 this time, and yet once again the update was much-delayed. That’s mostly because of Viewpoint, that game is great and totally hooked me until I finally finished it! Next time… the last ten games. It’s almost over.
Also, I updated the TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist summary from last time to correct a few mistake, about the number of enemies on screen in SNES Turtles in Time and a few other things.
Ultimate Qix – 1 player. Ultimate Qix, known as Volfied in Japan, is a sequel to Taito’s early ’80s classic arcade game Qix. This time the game has a sci-fi setting and backstory, and you control a small spaceship instead of just a cursor or such, and you’re fighting aliens of various kinds instead of lines (the Qix), sparks (Sparx), and the like. The gameplay, however, is classic Qix. you move your ship around the border of the screen, and when you hold down a button you can move into the field. However, until you connect to the edge again you are vulnerable and if an enemy or their shots touch you or the unfinished line behind you, you die and lose a life. However, if you get back to the edge, you are safe, and the edge of the area you just outlined is the new edge of the screen. You win once you cover over a large enough percentage of the screen, with that percentage varying depending on difficulty setting. Unlike the first game, there are no enemies moving along the edges of the screen, but despite that, Ultimate Qix is harder and less fun to play than the original classic. This game does have an ending, unlike the endless original Qix, and it has preset levels you’ve got to get through. Qix is a classic, and I do like this game, but it gets frustrating quickly, and you get absolutely no continues in this version. You can choose up to 7 lives, and there are 4 difficulty settings and three game modes that further adjust the difficulty, but there’s no way to get even one continue, unfortunately. That makes this game very difficult and frustrating, as it’s very easy to die and soon have to start over from the beginning again. That gets old fast.
In addition, the game is visually somewhat bland and has very annoying droning sounds for “music”. The sound is not quite Xevious bad, but it’s bad. If that’s supposed to be the sound of the Qix, it fails to match the original’s. The graphics are better, but the backgrounds are not great and sprites only average-looking. Perhaps the arcade version looks the same, but this game has only average-at-best graphics and awful “music”. Even so, the core here is a good classic-style arcade game, and the originality of the original Qix shines though. This isn’t yet another shooter, or your average puzzle game, it’s something different. It stays faithful to the Qix formula, but adds new things such as more graphical variety, various bonus items you can surround on the field that give point bonuses, and an actual ending to strive for. Even so, Ultimate Qix isn’t quite as great a game as the original, and the steep difficulty level gets frustrating. With enough practice you will get farther, but this game is really only for fans of this genre. Overall Ultimate Qix is average or maybe slightly below average. Arcade port. There is also a Japan-only PC Engine (TurboGrafx) version, and a Playstation version released as Qix Neo in the US and Simple 1500 Series Vol. 80: The Jintori – Volfied in Japan. I haven’t played that version, but I would like to get it sometime. It has saving support of some kind; I hope it’s actual progress save and not just scores, but I’m not sure. There are also ports of the original arcade game on the Amiga, FM Towns, PC, and Commodore 64 computers, in various regioeview.
Universal Soldier – 1 player, password save. This borderline run & gun action-platformer called “Universal Soldier” is actually the Genesis port of Turrican 2. This game, from Accolade under its Ballistic label and programmed by The Code Monkeys, is a port of Factor 5’s Amiga port of Rainbow Arts’ Commodore 64 original. Accolade got the rights for the console ports, and decided to use their recently-acquired Universal Soldier license on the game. The film is a Stallone sci-fi action movie, but I haven’t seen it; I got this because it’s Turrican. Despite the name change, though, this is mostly just Turrican 2. The main and boss sprites replaced with characters from the movie, the title-screen theme is now a song from the movie I believe, and a couple of new platformer levels set in locations from the film replace the now-removed shmup levels the original game had, but otherwise, this is just Turrican 2, but on the Genesis, and with a password save system added. The original Turrican 2 is the most loved game in the series by the games’ European fanbase, and after playing it I can see why. Earlier I explained my issues with the first Turrican, but while this game brings back some of that games’ issues, including the absence of any invincibility or hitflash while taking damage and the health system, though damage thankfully now happens at the correct, slower rate versus the first Genesis game, in most ways it’s hugely improved over the original. Universal Soldier/Turrican 2 has better graphics, better-designed, much more fun to play levels, better music, password save, a much fairer challenge that actually is probably a bit on the easy side now, versus the super-hard first game, almost no instant-death pits and none in trap locations, no required blind jumps, and fixing that health-drain issue really is huge as well. Sure, the graphics and music pale in comparison to the three SNES and Genesis Turrican games made by Factor 5 itself and US doesn’t come even close to Mega Turrican’s level in either graphics or sound, but The Code Monkies did a good job here and the results are great. Not quite Factor 5-tier work, but great.
Yes, despite its flaws and stupid unnecessary tacked-on license, this is a fantastic game! This version of the game gets far, FAR too much flak from series fans. Universal Soldier may have only a second-tier port of Chris Huelsbecks’ incredible Amiga soundtrack, and the redrawn elements of the graphics are silly and don’t fit the game at all, but these issues are somewhat minor compared to all the great gameplay and fun to be had here. The basic controls are familiar Turrican stuff and work well, though that fast-draining health system is kind of a pain; stay away from enemies. You can shoot, use a beam attack if you hold down the button, go into ball form, use several kinds of super attacks, and now drop bombs in ball form as well. US/Turrican 2 has absolutely huge levels loaded with enemies, powerups, and extra lives to find. Exploration is fun and rewarding, as points and lives are all over. This game is much more generous with extra lives than the first game, and when combined with the removal of almost all death pits, the change to make required jump points visible on the screen so you don’t need to blindly jump into space, the slower rate you take damage, and the passwords, this game is a LOT easier than the first Turrican. I can barely get even a few levels into that game, but this one I can finish no problem. The game does have a difficulty curve and by the last, immense level can be a challenge, but it’s the fun kind of challenge you want to keep trying at until you beat it. And thanks to the password system, you should. This game is great beginning to end. So yeah, I don’t mind the lowered difficulty at all! Every level in this game is great fun to explore, and I like the variety. You’ll traverse alien worlds, fight bosses, swim through caverns, and more. Turrican 2/US’s stages are some of the best in the exploration platform-action game category.
The game has other improvements over its predecessor as well. The weapons are improved, and the new scatter-shot ball gun is great and would return again in future Turrican games. You now will drop bombs as your attack in ball form, too, instead of shoot; nice improvement there. Also, for the only time in the series, you can use your ball form at will! Yes, while all other Turrican games have limited uses of Turrican’s Samus-like ball form, in this game you can use it as much as you want. Universal Soldier is a great game, and it’s easy to understand why Turrican 2 is so popular with those who played it back in the early ’90s. The mechanics are great, the level designs huge and yet well-designed and absent of frustration like that in the first game, the difficulty is well-balanced and fun to the point where masochists may prefer the first game since it’s so much harder than this one, the addition of password save is fantastic and puts this game above the others in the series in at least this one way, and the new levels are even pretty good, even if the themes do not fit with the rest of the game. Yes, as before Accolade’s version here does not look or sound as great as the computer originals and the loss of the shmup stagers is unfortunate, but US looks fine and sounds pretty good. Overall Universal Soldier is a very good A-grade classic which unfairly gets hated on because of the silly license applied to this good version of Turrican 2. Pick it up for sure, this is a great game you can get for very cheap. Also on the Game Boy. The original Turrican 2 version is on Commodore 64, Amiga, and PC.
Vectorman – 1 player. Vectorman is a very good run & gun-ish action-platformer developed by Blue Sky Software and published by Sega. Blue Sky’s earlier Genesis games were mixed in quality, but with this one they put everything together and made a game with some of the best graphics on the system, and pretty great gameplay as well. The fantastic graphics are the first thing you’ll notice about Vectorman, and really show off the hardware. The game also has great music, good controls and level designs, and lots of great fun action as well, though, so it’s about much more than just the visuals! This game has both great graphics and great gameplay, and has greatly impressed me ever since it first released in 1995. The game is difficult and memorization is absolutely key, but even though I still haven’t beaten this game, it’s really, really good. You are Vectorman, a robot in the future. The Earth is a polluted wasteland, and you’re going back to take out the villain Warhead and maybe start the Earth’s recovery. So yeah, it’s one of the ’90s many environmentally-themed games. This is no Captain Planet, though, thankfully; the story is irrelevant to the actual game. But back to those graphics. Visually, Vectorman impresses right from the start. This game released in the wake of 1994’s Donkey Kong Country, and uses a somewhat similar CG-rendered art style. Vectorman was probably the Genesis’s best answer to DKC on a visual level, and shows off the system’s capabilities nicely. Yes, there are fewer colors on screen than a SNES game would have, but the use of color here is great despite that. Every level looks different, and all of the settings are interesting and have quite nicely done backgrounds. The game has plenty of nice visual effects beyond that as well, including lots of software scaling and rotation in some top-down stages, large sprites, fair amounts of stuff on screen, great use of the system’s rarely-used hardware shadows feature to add to the number of colors seen, and more. There is also a neat flash when you shoot your gun; sure, it’s not actual hardware lighting, but it looks pretty cool. The soundtrack is great too, it’s good Genesis techno. I’ve always loved the cool spinning animation and electronic techno music on the title screen, it’s great stuff. From the art design to the technical accomplishments, Vectorman is one of the most visually impressive games on the Genesis, and for me at least was a good answer to Donkey Kong Country on a technical level.
On a gameplay level, however, Vectorman is pure Genesis; it’s an action game, not a platformer like DKC. This is an intense action game, and you’ll spend most of your time shooting baddies and jumping between platforms. Vectorman can walk, jump and double jump, and shoot. It is sometimes annoying that you can’t fire diagonally without moving, but otherwise the controls are great. You can shoot up and diagonally, and also down while you are jumping, and the double-jump activates some jets on your feet that will hurt an enemy below you; it’s cool to see a double jump actually explained in the game, and that it does damage too is a nice bonus! You have three hit points at the start, and can get more. The controls are tight and very responsive. You only have one main gun, but can collect many different time-limited weapon powerups for more firepower. The gameplay is almost as well-polished as the graphics. Vectorman’s sprite is large on the screen, but visibility is not a problem, as the bottomless pits seen in earlier Blue Sky games on the Genesis are absent here. There are no spike pits either, which is awesome; there’s more than enough challenge here from the numerous enemies, unfair death-pits are not also needed. And yes, the game is hard. You start with only a couple of lives and there is no way to get continues, so when you run out you go all the way back to the beginning. There are extra lives, and getting them will be absolutely essential, but some quirks add to the memorization required to maximize your chances of survival. You see, Vectorman has a point multiplier system. Health-ups, healthbar increasing items, extra lives, all give you one of the item if collected normally, but two, five, or even ten if collected while you have a multiplier… and of course multipliers are time-limited items, so if you don’t know where to go after getting that great multiplier it’ll go to waste. Powerups are hidden in televisions, as well, and all TVs look the same until destroyed so you can’t just look at them and know what’s in each one; you’ll just need to play the game repeatedly and learn the best route, or look something up online. This can be frustrating and is surely a major reason I have not finished the game, but I do like its originality; a bonus multiplier which multiplies the extra lives and health powerups? That’s an interesting idea, and Vectorman implements it well. All levels are very well designed, and are large with lots of secrets to find all over the place. You also respawn at certain TVs when you die; it’s not marked, so you only find checkpoints by dying, but you do have to have destroyed that TV to respawn there. Other powerups in TVs add to your score and such, or give you those special weapons. On the whole Vectorman very heavily rewards exploration, and it’s very fun to play the game, go through each level, and try to find everything. Learning where the bonus multipliers and key powerups the multiplier affects are is centrally important, but even when not maximizing that the game is great fun and feels rewarding to play, as you do a little better each time.
Vectorman has variety, too. This game has 16 levels, and each is different. Action stages each have their own character and style. The first level is open to the sky, the water level feels like climbing out of a pit, the sawmill level has moving platforms to take you between tiers, and more. This is a tough game, so I’ve never gotten to the end, but it There are also special morph powerups which turn you into a bomb or a drill, and then you need to go to a certain point in the level — usually nearby, but you’ll need to find the place — to break through a wall to reach some powerups or an alternate route forward. It’s one more way that the game emphasizes exploration and makes gameplay fun. The level designs here are great. Each level has a boss as well, and each one is entirely different. You’ll need to learn how to fight each one and approach them differently, and they’re all good; this game is really good all around. In addition, while most stages in Vectorman are side-scrolling action, the game has a couple of top-down levels as well. These can be tricky, the second one particularly, but are a nice break from the main action. As usual for games from this time Vectorman is not an especially long game, but it more than makes up for that with its difficulty. This game is no Adventures of Batman & Robin or Contra Hard Corps, challenge-wise, but it is a tough game that will take most people quite a while to finish. I don’t like having to repeatedly replay content I have finished before many times, and this is probably why I’ve never finished the game as I don’t keep trying as many times as I’d need to, but it’s a lot of fun to play so I don’t mind this here as much as I would in other games. In conclusion Vectorman looks and sounds fantastic, has good controls with great shooting control and an above-average variety of enemy types to fight, great stages to explore, and a somewhat unique game system centered around bonus multipliers. I don’t have much negative to say about this game, either, beyond that I wish it had continues so it’d be a bit easier to finish. I guess people who want a linear, Contra-esque game will not find it here, as while this is a shooting-heavy game there is also a lot of platforming and exploration, so its Western roots show, and people who prefer games designed around 1-hit-deaths instead of Vectorman’s hit points system may not love it as much as I do, but damage is avoidable if you play well; you do not often take random unfair hits in this game, when you take damage it was your fault. I don’t think these issues hold the game back much at all. Vectorman is one of my favorite action-platformers ever, and it’s a definite must-play. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
Vectorman 2 – 1 player. Released a year after the first game, Vectorman 2 is one of Sega’s few major releases for the Genesis in 1996. For the most part, this is a good game very similar to its great predecessor. Unfortunately, while it is a good game, it’s not quite as great as Vectorman 1 is, for several reasons. First, the game gets off to a mediocre start, as the awesome start screen from the first game is gone, and replaced with a bland, static image of Vectorman instead. Still, the core gameplay in Vectorman 2 is very familiar, and still good. The controls, TVs (well, pods now), weapons, powerup system, and such are all the same as before. Once again you are Vectorman, off to save the day on horribly polluted future Earth. Vectorman’s sprite looks better than ever! This is still a great-looking game, with more animation and better graphics than most games on the console. The music is great electronic stuff as before, and there are more, better-quality voice samples, which is nice. You start out in a swamp this time; it’s a somewhat drab environment, worse than any from the first game, and goes on for multiple levels with only slight variation. Still, there is a cool lighting effect, as the swamp lights up each time you fire your gun. Nice. I do find the first environment disappointing and less interesting than any from the first game, though. Also, instead of making almost every level different as in the first one, this time each setting has multiple stages. This is another downgrade from the first game. The levels in each setting are much more similar than any two levels from the original, and some are just the same thing but with new stage layouts. Some levels have traps which can damage you, such as lava on the fire planet, too, which can be an issue in a game with a somewhat close zoom as this one; you do have to make some blind jumps. Thankfully, platforms are usually right where you expect them to be and you can look up and down, so this isn’t much of an issue, but it is worth mentioning. There are also fewer bosses, as most levels don’t have bosses anymore; instead, the few bosses are in their own stages. The bosses are large and fun to fight, but why are there so few of them? Levels feel different from the first game, too. This game has some very linear stages and some which have more side areas to explore, so there is some nice variety, but overall levels are more linear than they were in the first game. There is less exploration this time than before. That’s unfortunate. The game has more levels than the first one, 22 versus 16, but isn’t longer; the stages are just shorter. The fastest Vectorman 2 speedrun is actually shorter than the fastest Vectorman 1 one, though the two are not that far apart in length.
Even so, the game is still very fun to play. The action is fast and furious, and you’ll face a lot of enemies which can block your fire from one direction, which adds a bit to the mostly straightforward shooting from Vectorman 1. The controls are every bit as good as before too, though there are no new moves and few new special weapons available. Unfortunately there still isn’t any way to fire diagonally without moving, but otherwise it controls great. They re-used a lot from the first one, for sure. There are some new morphs, such as a fire-resistant scorpion in the fire levels and a spaceship for the shmup-style bonus stages between levels that you can access, but the timed bombs hiding bonus areas don’t seem to be present anymore. And as for those bonus stages, they’re kind of disappointingly easy and basic. Adding bonus stages is a potentially good idea, but these aren’t as good as they could have been; they’re average stuff. The TVs from the first one are now green pods, but they function the same way as before. Because of the simplified level layouts, finding them all in a stage is often easier than it was in Vectorman 1. In fact, the game is a bit easier than the first one, and shouldn’t be as hard to finish as the first one is. I haven’t beaten it yet, but while playing recently I got to level 11 with 15 lives left, only to have the game crash… argh. But yes, I found it much easier to build up lots of extra lives without needing nearly as much memorization of bonus-multiplier locations as before; I never have 15 lives in Vectorman 1! Overall, this is a good game with great graphics and controls, large levels to explore, find items, and kill evil creatures in, more great visuals to look at particularly after you get past the first few stages, and some pretty cool set-pieces to get past and bosses to fight. However, the game is more linear, not quite as challenging, less varied, and generally not quite as fun as its fantastic predecessor. Vectorman 2 is a pretty good game, and I definitely recommend it, but the first game is the essential one. Still, anyone who likes the first one at all should get this game as well, it’s good and won’t cost much. This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
Viewpoint – 1-2 player alternating. Another extremely impressive Genesis game, Viewpoint is a port of SNK’s Neo-Geo shooter of the same name.This Genesis version was made by Sammy, but for some reason is a US-exclusive release; it did not release in Japan or Europe. They really missed out! Viewpoint is a 3/4ths view isometric shmup, sort of like Zaxxon except on a flat plane. This is a shmup where you control a spaceship flying over a planet, instead of outer space, wiping out hordes of enemies. You can move around, shoot, charge up a power shot, and use superbombs of several types. The game has only one weapon powerup, one that gives you twin option fighters that protect you a bit from above and below and increase your firepower, sort of like in R-Type. That’s it, though; you do not have overwhelming firepower in this game, so you will need skill. The game was noteworthy after its release in ’93 thanks to its great visuals, style, and design, and it’s got solid shooting action as well. I remember Viewpoint and have always thought it looked really cool. The game has fantastic art design, with 2d backdrops and pre-rendered “3d” polygon model ships and enemies. The two styles mix very well and look great together; this is an early example of the CG-rendered sprites style that would quickly gain popularity particularly after Donkey Kong Country’s success. The game does interesting things in both visuals and stage layouts. The bosses are all really cool as well, and have a great amount of variety. And fortunately, this Genesis port is amazingly good considering the more limited hardware and smaller cartridge space. Viewpoint for the Genesis has some visual cutbacks and a huge amount of slowdown, indeed it’s maybe the slowest-running shmup on this console and it will speed up and slow down as things go on or off screen, but the core game is the same as the Neo-Geo original and that’s somewhat incredible. This game may not have quite as good graphics as Sega’s fairly similar later 32X title Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000, but despite that this is the better game. Viewpoint is a hard game despite giving you infinite continues, but it’s great fun and seeing each new area and figuring out how to get past its enemies and obstacles is a great fun challenge. I really like Viewpoint, it’s great!
Now, this game is isometric, so it plays at an angle. This definitely takes getting used to, and you will die sometimes from bullets you barely even noticed due to the camera angle and graphical look of the game. Only bullets and enemies kill you, though; touching the sides of the stage will not. The game regularly uses special types of enemies as obstacles, however, and these will often kill you even with a shield if they touch you, so it is easy to die. I really like the variety and depth of the game, though. The obstacles and enemy types in each level are unique. You start out facing just waves of enemies, but soon you have to deal with spinning floor panels which can kill you if you’re on them when they flip, rotating circles of enemies R-Type style, and such. Manage to beat the first boss and you will find each level has even tougher obstacles than the last. Later there is a section with giant worms which come up out of holes in the ground, arcs of flame which pop up out of the lava in the lava level, blocks raising up out of the ground in a land-based segment in the mostly over-water level, centipedes moving around the screen that you can only kill by shooting their heads, and more. Sure, a lot of the Neo Geo versions’ background animations are gone, but some, such as the twisting fire in level 5, are still here, and enemies animate and twist around very well. And you’re rarely just facing these obstacles, but enemies and sometimes even minibosses at the same time! Enemies can shoot out quite a few bullets, too, and as you move slowly and this game has no speed powerups, if you’re in the wrong point on the screen at the wrong time, you will die. You do have infinite continues, but they start you from the beginning of the current level, not from the last checkpoint as a normal death does. So, beating the game will take a lot of practice and effort. I got hooked by this game again while playing it for the summary, and actually finished the game. This is probably the main reason why this update is late, too busy with Viewpoint. :p If you manage to get through without dying Viewpoint is a bit on the short side and the game does pad its length by repeating all the old bosses in the fifth level, but with everything going on here, with the detailed prerendered backgrounds, animations, numerous enemies, additional complexity from the isometric perspective, and more, that is entirely understandable.
The game is not perfect, of course. One issue I need to mention is the camera. That angled perspective can lead to deaths if you’re pushing up against the bottom edge of the screen and an enemy or bullet comes at you from behind or to the right off the screen, because the screen only scrolls left if you’re touching the edge. It might d be nice if it scrolled a bit away from the edge, so you didn’t have to risk death to move over that way. Still, you get used to this and mostly play a bit up and right from the bottom, and due to the camera angle some of the issue is unavoidable, but it is annoying at times. Additionally, sometimes you will die unfairly from a hard-to-see bullet that the angle makes hard to judge the exact location of. Your slow movement speed and taking advantage of the frequent, massive slowdown also take practice to get used to. This game is no too-slow nightmare like Gun Frontier (Arcade), though; it may be slow, but with practice I definitely get better. Overall the slowdown actually helps, as in Gradius III (SNES) where it makes the bullets easier to dodge than they are in other versions. The other issues are minor: The graphics aren’t as good as the arcade game, there is less animation, and the game pads its length with repeated boss fights. These are unimportant issues compared to Viewpoint’s many strengths. In conclusion, Viewpoint really is the total package. The game has great graphics both artistically and technically, lots of fantastic-looking, highly-animated prerendered CG sprites, an isometric perspective you will not find in many other 4th-gen shmups, unique game design with inventive levels full of not only a wide variety of enemies to shoot at but also interesting and varied environmental hazards you will need to figure out, a high difficulty level balanced with infinite continues and predictable design that greatly rewards practice, reasonable game length, and some pretty decent music, too. This is an amazing game that is really fun to play. Viewpoint is a fantastic top-tier shooter, and is easily one of the best and most under-rated Genesis shmups. Arcade port (on the Neo Geo MVS). Also on Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo CD, Playstation (US/EU only), and in Japan only on FM Towns and X68000. That PS1 version is supposed to be pretty bad, but I have not played it myself.
Wardner – 1 player. Wardner is a difficult platformer from Meldac that was clearly inspired by Ghosts n Goblins, though this is not just a clone. The game has mediocre graphics and sound, and isn’t particularly original, but it does provide plenty of frustrating platformer fun. You are a young mage guy, and have to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend, as usual in these games. The game controls well, and You die in one hit and are sent back to the last checkpoint when you lose a life, so you need to memorize each section to progress. The game has limited continues, of course, so you will be restarting the game regularly even though you get a lot of lives and continues because of how often you die. The magic element is the main thing that differentiates this game from Ghosts n Goblins and its sequels, but you start out with a standard arcing fireball, and powerups just add more fireballs, so there isn’t an interesting magic system like Jewel Master’s here. Still, I like mages a lot, they’re great and my favorite fantasy class, so it’s cool that you are a mage in this game and not a warrior-type. Still, though, this game has bland graphics with not so good art design. Humans like your character are particularly poorly drawn, and environments are simple and amateurish. There is parallax, sometimes, but the visuals look very flat and bland. The music is okay, but it’s not anything particularly good or memorable, either.
Even so, the game does have graphical and level-design variety. Each level looks different and has some unique enemies. Each stage plays differently, too, which is good. The first stage is fairly straightforward, the second is loaded with traps to avoid, the one after that has more exploration, and so on; the game does change as you progress through it. This game is more fun to play than it is to look at. Each level has a different setting, from an opening forest, to castles, and such. There are quite a few different types of enemies and traps, and learning all the traps certainly will take a lot of memorization! The constant dying can be frustrating for sure, and starting from the beginning again regularly is annoying, but even so, Wardner is an okay to good game, gameplay-wise. From pits to buzzsaws to other surprises, this game keeps throwing new challenges at you, and figuring them out is fun. There is also money to collect in each level, and a shop between levels. However, you lose all money collected if you get Game Over, so you need to play well to be able to buy powerups. Some powerups are lost upon death, too, which is kind of cruel. Still, if you do get to the store and buy a better weapon, that, at least, is permanent. The other powerups you can buy are one-time-use items, including a shield to absorb a hit and something to protect you from spikes once, but weapons do stick. Choose wisely, though! That one that spins as it moves is no good, it’s too hard to hit bosses with. And you cannot switch back once you'[ve bought something else. Mostly, though, this is a fairly standard overly-hard side-scrolling action-platformer. Levels are mostly linear, enemies die quickly but can and will kill you just as quickly, and levels are complex and loaded with challenging traps, pits, and optional treasures. Overall, Wardner is a fun but frustrating game. This game is probably too hard for its own good, but even so I kind of like the game. It’s above average and I do like this game despite the difficulty and bad graphics, but be prepared before starting this one. Still, it’s good and cheap enough that genre fans might want to pick it up. Arcade port.
Warrior of Rome II – 1-2 player simultaneous, on-cart save (battery). Warrior of Rome II is an intresting but seriously flawed real-time strategy game. You are Caesar, and fight a series of battles retelling Roman conquests. This is a game that was surely interesting when it released, but quickly became very, VERY badly dated, and is nearly unplayably boring today. This is an ambitious isometric strategy game, and I like how you can move menus around the screen and resize them; that’s very forward-thinking features for a 1993 console game! You can also save anywhere to two save files, which is fantastic. The graphics are good, but very small; it can be hard to make out details, and the two armies blend together far too much. As for audio, there is much, but it’s average stuff. The gameplay is the most interesting, but flawed, thing here. Your goal here is to defeat the enemy army on each map. There are 44 maps available for single-map play, a campaign, and even two player splitscreen, so there’s a lot here to do for those who can get into it. Each commander starts from a base, and from here you can send your troops out and build more troops. You can also have soldiers build several buildings, including forts, colisseums, and seaports. You can create troops from forward bases. Towns build up around bases over time, and these are your resources — when you create a soldier some buildings vanish, and you can only create new troops while there are still buildings nearby. There is only one base type of soldier, but they can level up to several different forms if they stay alive and rank up. The player and enemy use the same graphics, just one is red and the other blue. It’s a decent, though simple, system.
However, the game is unforgivably, glacially slow. Just waiting for your troops to move across the screen will take minutes, and reaching the enemy even on the smaller maps can take tens of minutes! It’s absolutely absurd and ruins what could have been a decent little simplistic early RTS, and RTSes have been one of my favorite genres for a long time so that could have been great. Sadly, as it is WoR II is probably not worth playing due to the incredible tedium of playing each map. There is a speed option, but it barely makes a difference. The game has other flaws, too. When you tell a unit to move, there is no marker telling you where you told it to go, and if you select it again the game won’t tell you where it’s going; you’ll just have to remember, or give a new movement order; annoying. Also, both armies look too similar, with nearly identical soldiers only differentiated by a blue or red thing on their head. When armies are fighting it looks like just a blob of troops, and figuring out what’s going on is much harder than it should be. You can access stat screens that show you the health and other stats for any of your troops or buildings, but I don’t think you can view any such stats for the enemy, so you never know when they will die. The game isn’t entirely balanced, either, and it’s hard to defeat people in forts shooting arrows; this can hurt or help you, depending, but when every reinforcement takes multiple minutes to get to the front, if you didn’t approach with enough troops you’re probably finished anyway. The game starts out fairly easy, but ramps up over time. That’s good, but I just don’t have the patience for a game this incredibly tedious. Apparently this is a 60 to 100 hour game, and it shouldn’t be if units moved at a reasonable speed. There is also a two-player splitscreen mode, but it’d be just as slow as single player, of course, and if you have many menus open with only a half screen it’ll quickly get covered, which could be annoying. The game does look somewhat nice and has some good ideas, but the perhaps too-simplistic gameplay and unbelievably slow pace are too much to look past. Overall Warrior of Rome II is a timepiece, something only for the very dedicated who have a lot of time to kill watching units move around in a game where only occasional interaction is required. As much as I like strategy games, this game is too dated to be worthwhile. This game is a series; there is also a first one for the Genesis, and a third one that’s a Japan-only SNES game. I haven’t played the others.
Warsong – 1 player, on-cart save (battery). Warsong, also known as the first Langrisser game, is a turn-based strategy game from NCS Masaya. Though they also made some good action games in the early ’90s Masaya was best known for its strategy games, and the Langrisser series became their main focus in the mid to later ’90s, before they shut down around 2000. Langrisser is a fantasy medieval TBS. The game clearly took a lot of influence from Fire Emblem in particular, as well as other Japanese TBSes of the era as well, but this is much more than just a clone. In this game, you control a force made up of heroes and their troops. Each of your hero units can build expendable regular troops between battles, and then you can use these troops as units during the mission. Each hero can have up to eight troops and you can control each one individually during missions, and you start with several heroes and will eventually get as many as eight, so you control quite a few units right from the start in this game, unlike many of its peers. The game does have a system to make moving all those units easier, though, as the regular units will automatically move towards their hero and move into a formation around them if you don’t tell them to move during your turn. Each hero has several stats including health and experience, so this game has RPG elements. Basic troops have their own health, but share their heros’ level and their attacks give their leader experience. Heroes also have a range around them in which their basic units are much stronger. You can see this range when you move the cursor over one of your heroes. If a heros’ regular units attack someone or are attacked while outside of that range they will be hurt badly and easily killed, so staying within range of the hero is recommended. Sometimes you may need to move them away, but be aware they will die much more easily. Heroes exclusively can also use several other skills, including healing and item use, and can set several attitudes including defensive or offensive-minded for their troops, while regular troops can only move and attack. Battles, much like Military Madness/Nectaris or Famicom/Advance Wars, show the two sides’ soldiers attacking eachother, then the damage done to the other. As units lose troops they become less effective. However, regular units can heal up by ending their turn on one of the four spaces directly next to their heroes’, which is great. Heroes can also heal themselves, though it costs a turn, and they can’t even move if they choose to heal. Also as in Fire Emblem units are strong against certain type(s), and weak against other types, as in FE’s ‘weapon triangle’. Each type of hero has their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own types of regular troops. Your starting guys are knights, and can choose between infantry, cavalry, or archers as regular troops, each is strong or weak against different foes. You get points based on how many enemies you killed in the previous mission that you can use for troops in the next, and unused points do carry over between missions, though purchased troops do not. Good system. The game has display options, too, including two different camera zoom levels and a useful minimap you can view. You can also save between missions to a permanent file, or even save a mission in progress during the game, to continue later! Those are great features to have in this kind of game. All in all the two-tiered heroes-and-troops system is interesting and original for a game from the early ’90s. The range-of-command system is particularly unique, and is an interesting way to emulate the fact that in a real battlefield commanders only could really be effective on those near them. It’s a very good game.
So, this game is mostly great, but it does have few design issues worth mentioning. First, the AI is terrible. AI allies suicidally get themselves killed, and enemies are very predictable and frequently move in very stupid ways. The game tries to balance this by giving the enemies larger numbers, but still, it’s weird and watching enemies randomly try to move over mountains and the like gets old after a while, as does that equally awful allied-forces AI. Better AI would have been great. Also, unfortunately battle animations are unskippable, which gets old after a while. Ah well. Also, many maps are too large for their own good, and you will spend more turns than you’d like just moving your troops towards the enemies. Sure, since soldiers will auto-move towards the leaders you only need to move a leader then watch the rest follow, but still this takes time. This may be realistic in that real battles involve a lot of maneuvering, but it’s not always fun. In addition, and this is sort of good and sort of bad, heroes in your party die for real if they are killed, as in Fire Emblem games, so reset if someone dies! Also, if either an allied or enemy commander dies their troops go with them, so kill troops first if you want the most experience. This only applies to your troops, not allied forces, but it is important and adds to the challenge. Of course, battle outcomes have a random element, so as in Fire Emblem the random element WILL get you killed sometimes in frustrating ways. Ah well. And last, the game has some balance issues between classes. Once characters reach level 10 they can rank up to new classes, but some classes are better than others, and you won’t know this unless you look it up online. All in all, though, it’s a good system and it is well implemented here. AI aside this is a well-designed game which clearly had some thought put in to it.
All told Warsong is a moderately difficult game, but it’s not too hard. The first mission is interesting in that if you stay and fight it is a very hard mission, but if you flee at the start it’s easy. Note that in this mission if, or when, the allied troops die they do not die for good, which is nice considering how impossible it is to keep them alive. After that the next few missions are easy, but the game starts ramping up the challenge after that. Moderate or challenging, though, this game is great fun and keeps you coming back again and again to try to beat each mission with everyone alive. Warsong grabbed me right from the start, as good strategy games should, even though the first mission is a bit overwhelming. Choosing the right support troops and using good strategies will be the difference between success and failure, though grinding up levels and choosing the right upgrade classes admittedly does count for a lot as well. The story matches this challenge, as it tells a sometimes dark and somewhat melodramatic story somewhat like those seen in Fire Emblem games, in a way. You are a prince, but of course your kingdom is attacked and crushed right at the start, and your real journey begins from there, once you escape and raise forces to defeat the villains trying to take over the world and such. The story is somewhat generic, but it’s good enough. Missions start with a bit of text to try to explain the backstory. Then you go to the screen where you choose what troops you will use in the battle, buying from a point pool for the mission. In-mission there are occasional story conversation scenes, but other parts of the story are told with single blocks of text on the mission-briefing screen. Unfortunately these text blocks are often vague and fail to fully explain the story, and the in-game conversations are poorly translated and can be confusing, so following the story is harder than it should be, but this doesn’t matter much, really. The gameplay is the main star here, and it’s pretty good.
The graphics and sound are solid too, though they aren’t amazing. Warsong looks okay, but the art design is fairly average and sprites are small both on the field and in battle animations. It’s no match for Shining Force visually, for sure, though gameplay-wise it’s just as great. The music is good and fits the game well, though. Good work there. Overall, Warsong, or Langrisser, is a pretty good game that is among the better strategy games on the Genesis. This under-rated classic is something any strategy fan should pick up for sure! The heroes-and-troops system is a bit different for the time, and the heroes’ support-range system is even more interesting. Both RPG levelling and strategy-game strategizing are required here, but thankfully this is much more of a strategy game than it is an RPG. Warsong/Langrisser is a great game I highly recommend! Definitely pick this one up if you find it affordably. It’s really too bad that none of the sequels ever had English-language releases, we missed out. The sequels seem even better than this first one. This games’ developers later left Masaya, and went on to make the also mostly fantastic Growlanser series for Atlus. Several of those games did get US releases, and Growlanser Generations (PS2) and Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (PSP) are both fantastic. The latter title might actually be my favorite PSP game. The original Langrisser is not quite on that level, but it is good for an early ’90s strategy game, full of fun and challenging gameplay. Also available on PC Engine CD (TurboGrafx CD) in Japan only. I also have that version; it is similar to this, but with CD audio music and some voice acting in the cutscenes. The graphics are also perhaps a little better ingame as well; it did release after the Genesis original, so they had time to work on things. Of course, it’s only in Japanese, and while you can figure out the menus, it’s more fun in English for sure. And the Genesis version is good enough to hold its own, even if the music isn’t CD quality. This game is available in digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.
WeaponLord – 1-2 player simultaneous, 6 button controller supported (and pretty much required if you want to have any fun), password save. WeaponLord is a decent fighting game from Namco, developed by the American team at Visual Concepts. This Conan the Barbarian-inspired fighter is an interesting but flawed one. The game can be good, but I don’t like it quite as much as I was hoping I would before I got the game. I like weapon-based fighting games like Samurai Shodown, The Last Blade, and in 3d Soul Calibur, but this is not quite on that level. WeaponLord isn’t bad, though. The game has good art design, characters which each look and play differently, plenty of challenge, and some decent to good gameplay. The game has a small cast of only seven characters, but they are different enough that it doesn’t feel like too small of a roster, though it is well below average for a game released in fall 1995, late in the generation. The biggest problem I have with this game, though, is the very choppy animation. WeaponLord doesn’t run slowly, but the game uses a lot fewer frames of animation than I’d expect, and the resulting look looks… wrong, somehow. The limited-animation gampeplay feels unpleasantly choppy. The game is probably being held back by the by-then-dated systems it’s running on. This really hurts the game and makes it hard to get used to. The characters and backdrops here do have a unique and very busy comic-book-like style set in a violent world of half-dressed barbarians, but I wish that the game ran better; you can get used to the slow pace, but it’s not ideal. This game looks great in still shots, and I was hoping to really like it, but it doesn’t play as well as it looks. This game is also a downgrade from the original SNES version visually, as fewer colors are used on screen and the interface doesn’t look as nice. The game still looks good, though, so I don’t mind this much.
The complex moveset and often difficult AI are also potential issues here.The difficult AI is also a problem. While the game is not as brutally difficult as Eternal Champions, on the default difficulty this game will absolutely punish you unless you go look up move-lists online and practice for a while! Sure, on the easiest setting the game is easy to beat, but then it insults you for not playing on normal when you win, so it’s a hollow victory. You will need to learn the moves to compete on the higher settings, normal included. The move list is not just standard Street Fighter moves, either. Each character has a good 10 moves, and some do use SF motions, but the game also takes inspiration from other fighting games, and has some moves where you hold a button then press directions, others where you just hold a button, some charge moves, and yet others where you do a motion then press a button. So yeah, there is a variety. There is also a combo system. I am hopelessly bad at doing combos in fighting games, but it is good that they have one, some fighting games of the era don’t and it does add something. The game displays the number of hits in a combo on screen after you complete one. For those good at combos, you can do long, very high-damage ones, maybe too damaging for good balance. The game does have fatalities, Mortal Kombat style, but I’ve never tried to learn them.
There also isn’t a training mode, so you can’t practice your moveset anywhere other than in real matches, unfortunately. Instead, the only modes here are story mode, arcade mode, and 2-player versus. In Story mode you choose any of the seven characters, then fight the other five each in their stage, then you fight all five of them again in a boneyard stage, then the boss. There is story text at the start and end for that character, and the game, interestingly, has a password save system, and gives you passwords at two points, before the boneyard stage and before the final boss. The SNES and Genesis’s fighting game libraries virtually never have saving, so this is a nice feature to see. However, there are a few oddities here. First, you do not fight a clone of your character, unlike in most fighting games, just the others. And second, one of the seven playable characters is that final boss, so you can play as the boss if you want and there isn’t some super-strong boss to fight at the end. Apparently this game was rushed, and features like these, or training mode, didn’t make it. And really, that’s my main issue here. On the one hand, WeaponLord is a good-looking fighting game with some varied mechanics, characters who each feel different, and fun gameplay, particularly at the lower settings. But the choppy, limited-animation visuals, lacking featureset, weird mix of special move styles that can be confusing to remember, and steep difficulty at default settings hold the game back. WeaponLord is, overall, average. It could have been better, but it is an okay game that genre fans might want to check out. Also available on SNES. I only have this version, but the SNES version is apparently slightly better, as it is the original version.
Whip Rush – 1 player. Whip Rush is an average-at-best horizontal shmup from Renovation. This game has mediocre graphics with a bit of a visual identicy crisis and bland but acceptable gameplay. You’ve got to save the Earth from an evil alien invasion, and have only a stubby little fighter to do that with. The game has below-average graphics for a Genesis shooter technically, and in art design as well. In visual design this game seems halfway between a more ‘serious’ Japanese sci-fi anime look like Gradius or R-Type, and cute ’em up games. Your ship is short and kind of cute-looking, and enemies are a bit cartoonish-looking as well, but this game isn’t a full-on cute ’em up. The look is a bit weird really, and I don’t care for it. And technically this game is very average. The backgrounds look okay, but too many levels have no or limited parallax, and the art design is not great. The early level with a cloud background looks better than most, but this isn’t a game you’ll be playing for its visuals, for sure. The music is similarly forgettable. As for the gameplay, you fly to the right and shoot things. This game is average in difficulty, so it’s not easy, but isn’t a nightmarish challenge like Renovation’s Gaiares, either. The difficulty balance is reasonable, but the game lacks excitement far too often.
For weapons you have a basic gun and four different powerups which drop from a specific enemy type. The powerups are a straight laser, two option helpers which stay above and below you and fire up and down only, missiles which can fire forward and back once upgraded, and an aimable shot which shoots in the opposite direction from the way you are moving. I’ve never liked that last type of weapon at all, and most of the others have limitations — the first isn’t great because many enemies in this game come from behind, the second because you need that upgrade to shoot backwards and the weapon is a bit weak, and the last because the helpers can’t shoot forwards or back. Also, if you have no weapon upgrade and get hit you lose a life and respawn where you died so long as it’s not Game Over, but if you do have a powerup you’ll lose the powerup first, so weapon upgrades serve as a hit point. Unfortunately it won’t level-down an upgraded weapon on the first hit, it’s just two hits and you die. Still, the additional hit is nice. If you do get Game Over you restart the current level, it must be said. and you have limited continues in this game, but it’s nice that other deaths don’t set you back.
In terms of design, Whip Rush is a conventional early ’90s shmup with bland graphics and enemy patterns and seriously lacking excitement. The levels do turn sometimes, so levels are not all just straight-line paths but instead sometimes you move up or down as well, but the actual stage layouts are boring. Other games do shmup stage layouts much better. Still, there are some interesting challenges, and the game does do more than just toss waves of similar enemies at you; there are also some environmental hazards, and some enemies can be hard to kill without the right powerups so you may need to avoid enemies sometimes instead of shooting them. There is also a boss at the end of each level, and it is satisfying when you beat them. This is a decent game which can be fun to play. Still, with generic stage layouts, graphics which can’t decide whether they should be cartoony or serious, no original game design elements anywhere, subpar visuals and music, underwhelming weapons, and gameplay which just is not as good as better shmups, Whip Rush disappointed me. You can definitely do a lot worse than this, but you can do much better too. Still, genre fans and people who want a slightly easier-than-average shmup might want to check it out if you find it cheap; this game isn’t awful or something, just visually dated and extremely derivative and bland.