Tag Archives: sega

FGC #461 Space Harrier

GET READYLet’s give credit where credit is due: credits suck.

Space Harrier is a fun game. At its absolute most “please define this game”, it is a shoot ‘em up of the general fantasy/space variety. However, when you actually grip that special flight stick and start jetpacking around and obliterating dragons, you realize this is something unlike anything else in the arcade. The perspective is “3-D”, a stark change from the other shooters of 1985 and beyond, and there’s just some indescribable something about the sheer rush of adrenaline one experiences when whistling through rapidly scaling rocks and mammoths. Maybe it’s the unusual choice of nixing the typical spaceship or jet and featuring a flying beach bum. Maybe it’s battling absurd and alien monsters that are vaguely enigmatic but wholly murderous. Or maybe, as ever, it’s the moai heads. Whatever the reason, Space Harrier is an incredible experience, even now, as the game approaches its 35th anniversary.

And speaking of things in their thirties, I had the pleasure of playing Space Harrier in my local arcade a number of times as a child. It wasn’t my favorite game (by the time I had a disposable income [my grandfather’s wallet], some certain turtles had already drawn my attention), but Space Harrier held my interest for a number of play sessions. I wasn’t actually any good at Space Harrier, but something told me I should return to that cabinet every once in a while when Magneto or Shredder was defeated. I never saw the final level (let’s be honest, despite the unwavering belief of the adults in my life, I was not actually all that good at videogames as a child), but I did find my way to at least one bonus stage that seemed to reprise the best parts of The Never Ending Story. That was enough for me! Time to go play some Pac-Man before I retire for my afternoon nap.

WeeeeeeBut just because I didn’t beat it didn’t mean I didn’t want to beat it. My grandfather’s quarters may have seemed unlimited, but hours at the arcade were at a premium. I only had time for the best of the best, and, let’s face it, how was a game that was already nearly a decade old going to compete with Konami’s The Simpsons? What would have been ideal for a Wee Goggle Bob was a perfect port of that sweet, Space Harrier goodness. Okay, maybe “perfect” was asking for a bit too much. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game was pretty great! It may have had compromised graphics, but it was still something I could play at home with Jimmy on a Saturday afternoon. And it had two extra levels! Yes! A port of Space Harrier might have had to ditch the delightful graphics and controller of the arcade release, but it would be worth it to finally see the Fantasy Zone conquered if a home port could bring home the action.

Actually, strike that. There was a Master System port of Space Harrier, and it was barely recognizable. It tried to hoist a plot onto this nonsense! You can’t do that, Sega! I want to obliterate skeletal dragons divorced from any sort of stakes! … Oh, also the graphics were terrible.

And, like Nintendo of America, we’re not even going to acknowledge the NES version.

But! Space Harrier did get a “real” port in 1994. By that time, Sega home hardware had progressed to the incredible graphics of the 32X, and we were granted the most accurate port of Space Harrier yet available. And there was much rejoicing! This was distinctly Space Harrier, complete with huge sprites, detailed backgrounds, and that unmistakable feeling of adrenaline as your lil’ dude zooms over the horizon. Maybe dig out an appropriate controller, and this is truly an arcade experience that, after nearly a decade, finally makes it way home.

Except you won’t see anything past the third stage.

Rock 'n RollThere are eighteen levels in Space Harrier. There are a couple of bonus stages in there, but, aside from that occasional Flammy ride, every thing in every stage is trying to kill you every second. Bosses are bullet sponges, mundane mooks are menacing many minutes, and even inanimate objects are instantaneously fatal at the slimmest contact (though, granted, ol’ Spacey is moving pretty fast). There are no distinct power ups in Space Harrier, so the best you can hope for is temporary invincibility after a lethal collision. A new life grants you a few seconds of sanctuary, but after that grace period is terminated, you could die in every Space Harrier stage literally every five seconds. And suffice to say, if that’s your playstyle, you’re going to need a lot of quarters to see the boss parade finale.

The 32X “arcade perfect” version of Space Harrier offers… five. Five credits. Max.

Not to be constrained by the limits imposed by Sega executives of 1994, your humble author decided to try the real arcade version with unlimited quarters. The results? Even as a seasoned future gamer from the far-flung future of 2019, even as someone who has been playing shoot ‘em ups from birth, even as someone that is a registered cyborg (okay, maybe not really, but I strongly believe that the number of hours I’ve spent with a controller welded to my hands should count for at least partial credit) I still averaged about one or two deaths per level. To be clear, I very much mean “averaged” here, as some of the earlier stages saw me zooming unmolested through the skies as Koschei the Deathless, and other fantasy zones ended with a cavalcade of credit-based corpses scattered across the land. The final stage, a grueling boss gauntlet, was obviously a quarter killer, but, aside from that bit of digital malice, Space Harrier seems like a very doable game with approximately 35 credits. That would be nearly ten bucks worth of quarters in 1985 credits. That, arguably, seems fair.

TOO FASTSpace Harrier 32X allows for five credits. That is about thirty less than I would need. If my mother were playing this wonderful game, that would be about three hundred less than she would need. And that’s ignoring the final boss gauntlet, which, even for a seasoned veteran, would likely require a fiver all on its own. In short: your average player isn’t seeing the end of Space Harrier on five credits. Your average player might not even see the second level.

And that’s terrible! Because Space Harrier is good! And, while it is a bit repetitive in general gameplay, it’s still a game that literally never stops throwing new challenges and monsters at the player until the finale. Up to that point, every stage is different from the last, and the difficulty progressively ramps up to compensate for a more confident player. It’s not like Space Harrier ever turns into Battletoads, but greater challenges do wait on later levels.

But the average player would never see those levels. Limited credits meant that a game had to be grinded into a fine paste until a player had the skill to perfectly fly across level after level. And, even if that were achieved, you still only had a handful of lives to conquer the final challenges. That bone-dragon come out of nowhere and wreck your perfect playthrough? Well, welcome back to level one, loser, get ready. You’re doing great (wasting your life)!

AH!Credits, luckily, have gone the way of the dodo in recent decades. As arcade games (and arcades!) fell out of favor, less and less games seemed to exist to gobble up quarters. Credits were forgotten for loot boxes, DLC, and loot box DLC. Companies found new and exciting ways to fleece customers, usually with items that contain the adjective “rare” (“legendary” is also acceptable). And, ultimately, we’re better for it. A Space Harrier released today might include suspend state saves or infinite credits detracting from the inherent challenge or tension of the experience, but it would allow your ailing granny to actually see Planet Nark and Wi Wi Jumbo. And that’s a privilege everyone should have, regardless of skill, reflexes, or whether or not you own an entire camel full of quarters. Credits are a scourge on allowing someone to enjoy an entire game.

And before anyone wants to tell me that I’m wasting my time, and I may as well be railing against polio or wooly mammoths, let me remind you that Neo Geo emulation with credits is still a thing. A horrible, horrible thing.

Limited credits need to stay firmly in the dustbin of history.

FGC #461 Space Harrier

  • System: Arcade and 32X for this review, but it has also appeared on… Didn’t I cover this as part of the article? I am not going to repeat myself! But do pick up the 3DS version! Switch also available!
  • Number of players: Space is a great big place that can only fit one Harrier at a time.
  • Ready? Many more battle scenes will soon be available !
  • Stop Complaining: Yes, the 32X version does have an “arcade mode” code that offers infinite credits. But it requires a second player controller and an immediate stop over at Gamefaqs (or Sega Visions). I’m going to claim that doesn’t count, because I couldn’t be bothered to check for cheats online before playing (now or in the 90’s).
  • This guyWhat’s in a name: Uriah is the fuzzy, white dragon that helps during bonus stages. That is a weirdly biblical name for a magical reptile (or mammal?). David married your wife, dragon!
  • We’re all friends: The title screen seems to imply that, like Altered Beast, all the characters are friends when the game isn’t in session. All the game’s a stage, and the players merely… players.
  • Favorite Boss: For inexplicable reasons, the double skeleton dragon (Salpedon) appears before the single-skulled skeleton dragon (Valda). I don’t know what makes Valda so special, thinking he can show up with a mere one head when his better has already appeared in an earlier level, but that takes guts, and I respect that.
  • Did you know? Considering Space Harrier was one of the first 16-bit titles in the arcade, and it used a vaguely analogue-esque “stick” for controls, it would be very appropriate to say Space Harrier was ahead of its time. Considering Space Harrier was released the same year as Commando (not Bionic) and Gauntlet, you can see why Space Harrier’s gorgeous purple skies caught players’ eyes.
  • Would I play again: On the 32X? Never. The arcade version (with infinite credits)? That sounds about right.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SoulCalibur 6! And the soul appears to still be burning. Maybe someone should put that out? Please look forward to it!

I hate these bugs

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

ETERNAL!They tried. They damn well tried.

Mortal Kombat (1) was released for the Sega Genesis on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993. It was, by all accounts, a wildly successful launch for a game that had been haunting arcades for nearly an entire year. What’s more, thanks to the likes of the “blood code” and the lack of censorship on the console, the Sega Genesis version was considered by many to be the “real” way to play Mortal Kombat at home. This was in stark contrast to the release of Street Fighter 2, which had seen amazing success on the SNES a year earlier, but hit the Sega Genesis like a flopping pile of assorted expired organs. And, two months later, we saw Eternal Champions, the unusual offspring of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Now, we would hate to disparage Mortal Kombat during Mortal Kombat Week (“week”), but let’s be real here: Mortal Kombat’s initial character variety sucks. By Mortal Kombat 2, we were fighting knife mutants and Oddjobs, but our virgin foray into the world of Elder Gods and dragon men pretty much included one interesting four-armed monster fighting a bunch of dudes in marginally themed gym clothes. The motion capture graphics were revolutionary at the time, but “a pair of sunglasses” does not interesting character design make. On the other hand, you have Street Fighter, which had bright, colorful goblin people fighting stretchy yogis, sumo wrestlers, and at least one Spaniard Ninja. Even when similar fighters are involved, no one is going to mistake Ryu for Sagat. Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, meanwhile, might seem a tad similar. Sub-Zero and Scorpion being clones are a bit of an extreme case, but they also comprise 28% of the playable roster.

Let's fight!Eternal Champions seemed to take a page from Street Fighter’s book rather than Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions employed Ernie Chan, a Filipino-American comics artist, who worked with the Buscema brothers back in the ‘70’s. Before working with Sega, Chan was known for being an artist at DC Comics (Ghosts, House of Mystery, Detective Comics) and Marvel (Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange). Considering Chan was responsible for a healthy number of comic book covers for a full two years at DC Comics, he knew a thing or two about dynamic characters punching each other as hard as possible (the 1970s was before comic book characters decided to just stand around and philosophize at each other for six consecutive trades). It seems only natural that he would be responsible for designing some interesting punch mans, and, let me tell you, we got some remarkable fighters here.

The base concept of Eternal Champions is that the titular (kinda) Eternal Champion has plucked a series of heroes from their respective timelines, and granted them the potential prize of avoiding their otherwise inevitable deaths. Arguably, this could lead to a number of “stock” characters, as different timelines lead naturally to different archetypes, and we can certainly forgive a knight from ancient times or a “future man” from 21XX. But, against all odds, we have a pretty diverse cast in Eternal Champions. We do have a stock caveman, and Xavier Pendragon seems like a typical wizard hailing from Salem, but we also have Shadow Yamato (hm?), a modern corporate assassin that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadowrun. Trident is Atlantean, but basically a merman. RAX is a cyborg built for Teleroboxer, and Midknight is a bio engineer who kinda sorta turned himself into a vampire. And Jetta Maxx is a 19th century circus performer that attacks with all the agility you would expect from an acrobat. Why aren’t there more tumblers in fighting games? That seems like a natural fit!

HUG!None of the fighters in Eternal Champions are exactly setting the world on fire, but there is no way you’d mistake Larcen the 1920’s PI/cat burgler for Blade, the futuristic bounty hunter. And, whether it’s an accident of the “complicated” concept of time travel being involved, or because someone genuinely wanted to create a new Eternal Champions universe, but these fighters all have in-depth, fascinating backstories to accompany their stimulating visual designs. As a prerequisite for the plot, we immediately must learn how each fighter died (which allows for some always fun dramatic irony), why they were targeted for death (the premise of entire half hours of Law & Order), and why, had they lived, they would have made the world a better place. Additionally, this setup encourages the creation of cultures old and new (of course someone has to explain how the “future” works, but even Ancient Atlantis has some ‘splainin’ to do about its fish people), and, since this is a fighting game, it’s important to explain the whys of some of these special moves. Yes, ninja use ninja stars, but why exactly does Larcen have a grappling hook? There’s a reason for that!

Which reminds me: these exciting, distinct fighters work well for not only for biography screen attract modes, but also for actually being fighters. This is another situation where, unlike Mortal Kombat, if a character has a trident for a hand, they’re not going to throw the exact same punch as the robot dude. In fact, every fighter has a defined fighting style, and, while it does seem a little odd that the vampire scientist is trained in Jeet Kune Do, it does mean that every character feels distinct in more ways than simply a special move. And, of course, the special moves are their own kind of distinct, and not just a fireball and a jumping uppercut spread out among the cast. In short, the eternal champions collectively offer a unique experience for a time when the fighting genre was flooded with monotonous knock-offs.

TIME KILL(ERS)But there is one place where Eternal Champions differed from Street Fighter: it had fatalities. Or, to be more precise, the game had “stage fatalities” in the form of “Overkills”: make sure your opponent lands on a particular spot when their health is low, and the background will do your work for you. If you’re in prehistoric times, you’re about to see someone devoured by a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you’re hanging in the early 20th Century, get ready for a drive-by. The 60’s naturally contain napalm, and the far-flung future of 2345 AD is wall-to-wall robots. It’s entirely possible you could complete Eternal Champions without once seeing an Overkill, though, so it seems like the whole feature was an afterthought. Mortal Kombat was likely an influence, but a fighter being zapped into oblivion by a neon sign (can that actually happen?) wasn’t exactly the point of Eternal Champions. It’s all about the character variety, we don’t need gorefests to sell our Sega cartridges.

Or maybe we do, because the Sega CD exclusive sequel/upgrade, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side dialed the gore up to eleven.

To be clear, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not the kind of fighting game sequel that completely eschewed former graphics and gameplay for something completely different (Battle Arena Toshinden was fond of that move). This is much more the Super Turbo to Eternal Champions’ Champion Edition. More characters were added to the cast (and a great many of them were “joke characters”, like Hooter, a mundane owl with a taste for rats and vengeance), the special move system was rejiggered, and the same overarching plot returned with a marginal twist. The Eternal Champion has gathered his warriors once again to fight for a chance to live (and I guess nobody won the last one), but now there are a few new entrants, and the nefarious Dark Champion is hatching an evil plan to be the hardest-to-unlock character in the history of fighting games (just use the cheat code). Superficially, this Eternal Champions is just the obvious and expected fighting game upgrade that would barely necessitate a season pass in today’s market.

Not fair... for DeathBut that Dark Champion does make an impact on the fatalities of EC:CotD. The Dark Champion can be summoned for a match ending “cinekill”, which will banish your opponent to a pre-recorded FMV hell where they will endure a death based on their greatest fear. Some of these videos are goofy (at least one character is crushed with a “I’m not touching you” finger motion), but the majority are either significantly gory (the cyborg has his limbs torn off in a rather unpleasant fashion) or pure nightmare fuel (I’m not the only one that has a fear of melting into some manner of fleshy liquid, am I?). And if you think the increased gore is relegated to cutscenes, don’t worry, there are also now “Vendettas” that allow you to use a special move toward the end of the match that will be a little more special than usual. They, again, run a realism gamut (which is more likely to make an impact: a character turning into a giant bug or one just whipping out a shotgun for a headshot?), but the end result of most Vendettas is a literal bloody pulp tossed around the arena. And the stage fatalities really earned their “Overkill” moniker, as some are excessive to the point of parody. “The Pit” of EC:CotD is not one, not two, but three pits in one! And, don’t worry, you get to watch as a 16-bit human body churns through three different buzzsaws. Street Fighter has different models for every character’s skeleton thanks to Blanka’s shocking attacks, but EC:CotD goes the extra mile by modeling individual organs that are primed to leak out of those skeletons. Yummy!

And why all the gore? Well, obviously because someone wanted Eternal Champions to be popular.

That's why he's the champMortal Kombat hit the Genesis in 1993, Eternal Champions saw its sequel released in 1995. In those intervening years, Mortal Kombat continued to be a juggernaut, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter may have proven to be a lasting victor, but the sales numbers all touted Mortal Kombat as the champion of the system. Eternal Champions wanted a piece of that pie so badly. Sega did everything it could to promote EC, from country-wide, EGM-sponsored tournaments to a 7-11 slurpee promotion, but it couldn’t touch the genuine appeal of the game with the angry skeleton and the kung-fu dude. Eternal Champions never had a hold of the arcade appeal, tried to pump up the blood to compensate, and still got nowhere. An excellently crafted fighting game, and it’s still relegated to the discount bin of history.

Oh, and what finally killed Eternal Champions? Why was there never a third title? Well, there was supposed to be a Saturn version to wrap everything up, but Sega of Japan decided that Sega had too many fighting games (two), Eternal Champions was stealing too much attention from Virtua Fighter, and the eternal champions had to be retired. Sorry, guys, but there’s only room for one fighting game in this company.

Sorry, Eternal Champions. We know you tried everything, but it just wasn’t enough.

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

  • System: Sega CD for Challenge, but just regular Sega Genesis for just regular Eternal Champions. The new Sega Genesis Mini Classic Console is also available, but go ahead and grab the 6-button controller for that one.
  • Number of players: Up to and including two.
  • Favorite Character: Dr. Mitchell Midleton Knight has become the bio-engineered vampire monster Midknight! … Okay, he’s just Spider-Man’s Morbius, but… wait a tick. RAX is Cyborg, Shadow is Elektra, Trident is Aquaman, Blade is named friggen’ Blade… maybe these characters aren’t all that original…
  • Send in the Clowns: This happened.
    AHHHHHHH

    I’m never playing this again.
  • So 90’s it’s Grody: Want to know how to determine this game came out in 1995? Well, there’s a hidden fighter simply known as “The Senator” who exists as a parody of the controversy surrounding violent videogames. And he fights in front of an ersatz McDonalds surrounded by security, an obvious sendup of Bill Clinton’s love of jogging to burger joints. And Senator’s fatality is transforming into an uzi-wielding berserk postal clerk. And they claim memes were invented by the internet!
  • Failure State: Okay, maybe the reason Eternal Champions never became popular was because it was impossible to beat. The final boss is the Eternal Champion, and he’s got eight different “forms”, and they all have to be fought and defeated over the course of two rounds. And if you lose two rounds, there are no continues, you’re just booted back to your original timeline as a Bad End. So win eight continuous fights, or die. And Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side introduced another, meaner Eternal Champion after the first one, so good luck winning sixteen continuous fights.
  • Favorite Ending: Shadow Yamoto is a corporate ninja saboteur… and her ending sees her entering witness protection and making the world a better place by testifying against her former employer. It’s not exactly the most action packed finale for a ninja, but it does feel pretty right.
  • An End: Also, Crispy the Chicken’s ending involves losing his fortune in the 90’s financial crisis and then selling his eggs for booz money. This is a very dark game.
  • VIDEOGAME VIOLENCEDid you know? In further support of the Eternal Champions Expanded Universe, there were two spin-off titles released. Chicago Syndicate was a Game Gear title that was fairly Shinobi-esque and featured Larcen cleaning up Chicago in a bright green trench coat (the ‘20’s were a different time). And then there was X-Perts for the Sega Genesis, a light beat ‘em up presenting Shadow and her previously unseen team of X-Men wannabes. Both games are… not worth exploring.
  • Would I play again: If I’m in the mood for a distinctly 16-bit fighting game, I’ll choose Eternal Champions. Of course, that mood rarely happens…

What’s next? We’re going to kill some time with a game with the exact same plot all over again. Please look forward to it!

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basketball, but is rode around by Gilius Thunderhead, dwarven hero of the previous Golden Axe titles. And that’s a pretty eclectic group! Too bad they all… just play like Golden Axe characters. There are apparently some two-player shenanigans that are available with pairing up, but that’s not going to do any good in single player or in an arcade where it is impossible to shout over the rolling noise of much more popular machines. And, whether your fighters have any interesting moves or not is rather secondary to the glut of absolutely boring opponents that are available. I played this game a whole hour before writing this article, and… I’m having trouble remember exactly what I fought. There were some malevolent trees, and an army of the mask guy from World Heroes… and… uh… I think there was an ogre or two in there? Certainly a number of useless soldiers, but they are available in practically any medieval brawler. Murder skeletons are a given, but they’re on the home consoles, too. And the final boss, the titular Death Adder wielding the Golden Axe atop a castle that appears to be a giant statue of himself, is pretty memorable. Everything else? Not so much.

You'll never get me lucky charmsYet, I spent decades thinking this title, never released on home consoles, was some kind of solid gold Golden Axe gold standard (of gold). It was the beat ‘em up to end all beat ‘em ups, and we were cruelly denied such a glittering jewel, forever stuck with the likes of Golden Axe III (originally only released in the West on the Sega Channel because it sucked so bad) or The Last Action Hero. These were games that were sorely lacking in centaurs! And, while I wondered about the joys an arcade cabinet of The Revenge of Death Adder could bring me, the beat ‘em up genre withered and died on the vine. I would never see such delight ever again.

And then, years later I played the damn game, and it was boring and rote.

And then I played Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, and, apparently, that was the game I was thinking of all along.

I thought there were shops in Golden Axe! Sorry!

Anyway, someone please make every videogame ever readily accessible, or this is going to keep happening. Please and thank you.

I really don’t want to take a chance on playing arcade Willow now…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

  • System: Arcade only, dammit.
  • Number of players: Four! I want to say that other Golden Axes had a maximum of three… but probably just two. Four is important! That’s how many turtles there are!
  • Get 'em!It’s a kind of magic: This is the only Golden Axe title where a magic spell can summon a helpful item, and not just universally attack the screen. Trix the Elf can summon a tree that grants life giving, magically delicious fruit for the party. This adds an interesting “magic equals life” wrinkle to the gameplay… but most of the time you just reflexively hit the magic button when you’re surrounded, and wind up with a lousy bush instead of a mighty dragon. Good effort, Trix.
  • Favorite Character: Did I mention there was a centaur? Dora has all the power of a woman and a horse. And she seems to have really useful magic, too. There is literally no competition among the men here.
  • An End: Gilius Thunderhead leaps from his giant mount and dies delivering the final blow to Death Adder. This is apparently canon for future sequels, and the fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel, makes reference to this fact. So, see, all those Saturn owners needed a home port to understand the complicated plot of Golden Axe!
  • Did you know? The hero of Golden Axe: Beast Rider is Tyris Flare, the same Valkyrie that appeared in Golden Axe I and Golden Axe II. Even though she doesn’t appear in this game, I’m noting this now because I am absolutely never reviewing Golden Axe: Beast Riders.
  • Would I play again: There are different routes and characters, so every playthrough is different. But not different enough! I can only fight so many murder skeletons, so I’ll pass on another play of this forgotten title.

What’s next? One last non-random choice: Let’s talk about a “forgotten” game that recently came back to us in a marvelous little collection. Please look forward to it!

BANG

FGC #407 Knuckles’ Chaotix

KNUX!Behold the future of Sonic the Hedgehog that never was.

Right from the starting line, Sonic the Hedgehog was known for one thing: goin’ fast. Blast processing was the buzzword (phrase) du jour, and roughly 90% of Sega’s advertising relied on the slick, hypersonic speeds that defined that crazy hedgehog. And, should you have played a Sonic game for longer than ten seconds, you’d immediately notice (and, more importantly, feel) that raw, unbridled Sonic Hustle, so it certainly makes sense that Sega, and the world, focused on the supersonic nature of Super Sonic.

But that means that, starting with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, everybody missed Sonic’s other great innovation.

It's Tails!

It’s that dude there. You know? With the tails? Wait! No! I’m not saying that Sonic the Hedgehog should be celebrated for its eclectic cast of animal buddies; no, my point is that Sonic the Hedgehog innovated in a dramatic way with the introduction of a cooperative, optional, second “player”.

In the context of 8 and 16-bit platformers, Tails is fairly unique. He’s a secondary ally character, but he doesn’t require control. He is often helpful, though also (rarely) a detriment (please do not bring your fox to collect chaos emeralds). He can contribute to the cause, and is effectively invincible (or at least infinitely respawnable), so he does not require protection (in other words, he doesn’t turn the entire adventure into an inadvertent escort mission). And, best of all, Tails does not require a player to “wait their turn” like in Super Mario Bros. or other platformers of the time. Tails is a second player that can actually be controlled at (almost) any time. And Tails is still mostly invincible, so he’s ideal for a pair of real-life humans that are not on the exact same gaming echelon. Or a parent and child. Or babysitter and child. Or Wee Goggle Bob and his neighbor Jimmy, who is terrible at videogames, but really wants to participate. Jimmy kind of sucks, but Tails was an amazing innovation in the gaming world.

So it’s kind of funny that, by and large, the lesson of Tails has been largely forgotten in the gaming universes of yesterday and today. When Mario dips into multiplayer, it’s only with human companions, and they’re generally not as invulnerable as Tails. And if we look back to Sonic’s contemporary Mario game, Yoshi’s Island, we find a title that nearly dropped two players altogether. In fact, it seems the only 2-D action title that cribbed from Tails’ presence was Kirby and his always helpful helper characters. It worked great in Kirby Super Star, and similar gameplay pops up in every other Kirby title, too. And as for Sonic? Well, Tails had a good run until Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and then he put in a little effort as a sidekick in Sonic Adventure, but past that? 2-Player Sonic is largely forgotten, give or take one of the best games of all time. Which is a shame, because, had Sonic focused on its Tails functionality as its main gimmick, we might have seen an entirely different trajectory for the franchise.

We might have seen a lot more games like Kunckles’ Chaotix.

WeeeeKnuckles’ Chaotix began life as a “for real” Sonic the Hedgehog game titled Sonic Crackers. The original pitch was for a Sega Genesis game that featured Sonic and Tails tethered together by a magical ring. In time, this concept grew into a 32X game featuring the recently introduced Knuckles and his own band of animal sidekicks. The title then mushroomed into something featuring seven playable characters (five if you only count characters that are actually useful), five brand new zones, and another appearance by everyone’s favorite Metal Sonic. But, through it all, it maintained the “tethered ring” gameplay, and, thus, created a whole new way to play a Sonic game.

And, surprisingly enough, the tethered ring features work well. Sonic the Hedgehog always had buttons to spare, so giving the B button over to partner commands is quick and effective. With just a tap, you can command your buddy to stand in place, which is ideal for activating switches or building momentum off your stationary partner. This effectively eliminates the need for the spin dash, and, frankly, it feels damn good to snap that rubber band and speed off at top speed. But wait, there’s more! You can also carry your friend, which is great for when you want to toss your companion straight into a hidden giant ring. Or maybe you want to offer that piggyback ride just because you don’t feel like dealing with the AI right now. That would be unusual, though, as, by and large, your computer controlled friend is generally as smart as ever, and will rarely be a bother. And, while your dude might not be quite as invincible as Tails, he’s still never a burden, and could only, at worst, waste a shield by running into an enemy. In short, this ring partner system seems very well considered, and, when you’re bouncing around like a pair of ping pong balls, it really shows how this version of Sonic could have been amazing.

Unfortunately, it’s a shame that Knuckles’ Chaotix sucks otherwise.

GET READY TO GOIn what would prove to be a prescient move, KC completely eliminates the lives counter, and offers infinite tries for its fifteen levels. Which sounds great… except the game manages to be completely toothless, so every level is overly long and far too uninteresting. It seems like some zones have three, maybe four badniks total. And none of the stages have interesting gimmicks at all, so they all blend together into a single mass of tedious almost immediately. But the bosses are kind of appealing! So it’s another shame there are only six spread across fifteen otherwise boring stages. And, while there aren’t any lives, there aren’t any checkpoints, either, so a loss against a boss means repeating an entire (already tedious) level all over again.

And then there are the special stages. The special stages might be the greatest source of tension in the game, as they are literally the only reason to collect rings (as, again, there are no lives, so 100 rings means absolutely nothing). Every ring grants an extra second in the bonus stages, and, like the rest of the Sonic titles up to that point, completing a special stage means earning one of the six precious Chaos… Rings. Okay, weird twist, but whatever. But what’s important is that each special stage can only be accessed at the end of a stage, so you only have eleven chances for those six rings (boss stages do not host bonus stages). Win those Chaos Rings from the six different, extremely unforgiving special zones, and you’ll win… nothing. No Super Sonic Knuckles. No special character. No Chaos Ring-based bonus. No, all you win is a better ending. And by “better”, I mean “an ending where Robotnik doesn’t conquer your island and burn everything else to the ground”. Miss even one Chaos Ring, though, and Robotnik laughs as a Knuckles Mech hovers menacingly over a burning cityscape. Thanks for playing!

But if you get those rings… maybe everybody didn’t die? At least you didn’t have to watch the carnage…

And if you’ve been saving all along, you can’t even reenter completed stages to correct your mistake. You just get to load your file and rewatch your failure over and over again.

This is neatSo, for some reason, Knuckles’ Chaotix was an enormous failure. It was the only Sonic-esque software on the 32X, and some might even argue that Knuckles’ Letdown was a significant reason the 32X couldn’t maintain support for even a year. And, with the fall of Knuckles, so too did the idea of a Sonic the Hedgehog exploring the depths of its two player mode also fold. There were some great concepts that could have been further explored by a successor to Knuckles’ Chaotix, but they all sunk on this echidna’s ship, and have been lost forever beneath a sea of indifference.

Knuckles, you could have brought a whole new future to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, but it was not to be. Now no one will respect Knuckles’ Chaotix.

FGC #407 Knuckles’ Chaotix

  • System: Sega 32X. There have been a number of calls for this title to see rerelease somewhere, but they have fallen on deaf ears. On a related note, like 90% of those calls were coming directly from me.
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, for one of the last times in the franchise.
  • Favorite Team: Mighty the Armadillo will give you leprosy, and he’s a Sonic expy, so he’s my number one pal. For his buddy, I’m going to choose Vector the Crocodile, because he had the presence of mind to bring headphones to this snoozefest.
  • This is horribleOther weirdness: The other reason to collect rings is to power a screen clearing special attack that costs ten rings. This is never useful, as there are never enough evil robots around to warrant a screen clearing attack, left alone one that costs precious rings. But you might hit the activation button anyway, and, if you do so with zero rings, you can actually accumulate a ring debt. Name another Sonic the Hedgehog title where you can have -10 rings.
  • Punishing Achievement: You can still access the special stages after earning all of the Chaos Rings, but, as an added challenge, the stages will now be entirely wireframes, with none of the platforms “shaded in”. This makes everything completely impossible, and is maybe the worst thing in an already pretty bad game.
  • An end: If you get the good ending, Sonic and Tails appear as part of the final cast picture.

    Winner!

    Did you guys just show up to hog all the credit after the entire adventure was over? Or…

  • Did you know? There are Super Sonic sprites hidden in the rom. Not Sonic sprites, or Super Any Other Character In the Cast sprites, just Super Sonic sprites. It’s entirely possible those Chaos Rings were intended to summon Super Sonic for a slam-bang ending, but that was cut at the last minute, as adding something interesting to this title would have been just too much effort.
  • Would I play again: You only really need to play a level or two of this game to get the full experience. I will likely fire it up again to do just that, but I doubt I’ll ever take the time to finish this title ever again. I would have to be really bored.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Emily the Strange: Strangerous for the Nintendo DS! That sounds… unusual. Please look forward to it!

Sprite scaling is a scourge