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Psychotic Reviews: General Chaos

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Now its been overdue for a nice nostalgia trip. Playing Saturn games was nice for a spell. I remember seeing the games on a shelf as a wee lad, and had no idea what the system was but thinking the big cases were the coolest thing I had ever laid eyes on. I did not know anybody with a Saturn though. I did know multiple people with a Sega Genesis though, and one of them had our game today, General Chaos. General Chaos was developed by Game Refuge Inc. and published by Electronic Arts.

General Chaos is a real time action game that can also be said to be an early RTS game, without the base building aspect of the modern genre though. This game focuses on micromanaging a squad of soldiers against another squad of soldiers, its much more tactical and the real time battle system sets it aside from many turn based games of the time like X-Com and is closer to playing like Syndicate. It was developed by Game Refuge Inc. This company’s founders, Brian Colin and Jeff Nauman, were well known as arcade developers for Bally/Midway, developing classics such as Rampage and Arch Rivals, and later followups such as Rampage: World Tour.

The art style is cartoony and the style is definitely going for completely whacked out and crazy. My friend did not have the box and manual for some reason though, so my recent purchase was glorified by flipping through the incredibly cheesy comic book right at the front of the manual. The graphics are quite good, and there is plenty of action on screen at any one time. There are multiple types of soldier, and each one has their own weapon, range, strengths, and weaknesses. How you move in the game and what type of squad you decide to go with can have a massive impact on your success in the field of battle! While the AI is rather stupid there is a two player option, and that’s what I remember playing the most at my friend’s house. We would blow the crap out of each other in this game and have a blast while doing it.

Playing the AI is a rather interesting affair. At first your opponents are quite stupid and just run into your fire, and winning Close Combat sections are quite easy. Its not too difficult to win outright and storm General Havoc’s capital city on this first round. You then have a choice to play again, and this time the AI ramps up the difficulty. It may take a few tries to best this medium difficulty. There is then a third tier of difficulty that’s even harder. This is it though. You can only play three rounds, for a nice gradient from easy, medium and hard.

This game is a cult classic now, and its quite easy to see why. This is a game that occupies a nice niche on the Genesis, it is almost completely unique on the system. The animation is quite smooth in the game, and during battle you are graced with nothing but the sound effects of gunfire and explosions. The music is nice when it shows up, and is some of the higher quality audio for the system. With a multitap you can have up to 4 people playing at the same time, so this game is definitely made for couch multiplayer. The multiplayer is what I remember enjoying the most as a kid, and its just as fun now as it was back then.

A sequel was posted on Kickstarter, but this was a complete failure. General Chaos II: Sons of Chaos was asking for $125,000 to create a high definition, hand drawn sequel of this game. It only managed to get just shy of $16,000 in the month it had.

Psychotic Reviews: Magic Knight Rayearth

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Magic Knight Rayearth is an action/adventure based on a popular manga and anime series of the same name. Come to the Sega Saturn where we get going back down the Working Designs road!

Working Designs and Sega had quite a close relationship at first. Sega could make some money by licensing the rights to a game out to Working Designs that they themselves did not want to localize and release. Looking at the lineup of Working Designs Saturn games a staggering 4 of their 6 games for the Saturn were actually developed by Sega (5 if you count Camelot’s Shining Wisdom since the company was founded by Sega, but they had broken away from them the same year it was released in Japan) including our game this week.

Magic Knight Rayearth was first released in Japan in 1995, but did not make it to North America until late 1998. In fact this is the very last Saturn game released in North America. What was the cause of this delay? In the manual Working Designs simply states that it took 30 months to fix everything that they wanted to or could fix. Well, that story actually goes back to around 1995 when Working Designs was interested in working with Sony. Bernie Stolar did not like the company or its president Victor Ireland, and quickly shot them down for the rights to Arc the Lad. When Stolar moved from Sony to Sega Working Designs was quick to move back to Sony, since their relationship with Sega soured very quickly. I don’t think they took three years messing around with an already finished game for no reason. Stolar was well known for his dislike of RPGs, especially at Working Designs. Nevertheless, the game was released and sits as a curiousity for a company known for putting as much work into packaging as their actual games.

As a result of this nearly three year delay between releases Rayearth was not reviewed well when it launched. Many criticized the graphics as being akin to an early Saturn 2D game (it was), and the game’s release window (months after the other final Saturn stragglers). But, does this mean the game itself is not worth anybody’s time, or is it just a case of bad timing mixed with a sour relationship?

I previously reviewed Sunsoft’s Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean from Working Designs where I praised that game’s voice work. Rayearth has much more voice acting in it, and its all top notch quality that other companies should take some lessons from to this day. Each of the three main heroines keeps a diary of events as you progress through the game. Most of these are multiple sentences and are fully voiced. Cutscenes are fully voiced as well. There are hundreds of lines of spoken dialogue for the major characters, and you can hear how well directed the actors and actresses were, as well as the quality of Working Designs’ recording studio. Sega America could have taken some pointers from these guys.

Now let’s dig into the meat of this game. As an action-RPG combat takes place in real time. It takes quite some time for the game to really ramp itself though. There are three playable characters, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. Hikaru and Umi use short range swords while Fuu uses a bow. Fuu’s charged attack homes in on enemies, making her by far the most useful character. About the only time you’ll switch characters is to use magic to progress, or blast the boss with your strongest spells until they’re out of MP. Then you’ll just switch to Fuu, run in circles, and use her charged attack until the boss is dead. Its not a deep combat system.

The progression system is mostly related to the the Zelda system. Your heroines get better armor, weapon upgrades, and spells by getting to certain parts of the game, and not by spending a lot of money. Money in this game are gems, and they’re actually quite hard to come by. Most enemies will not drop much, most of these gems come from treasure finds.

The story is about a kidnapped princess who summons a few Magic Knights from another world to save her own from being swallowed in darkness. So the world of Cefiro is being taken over by dark forces and starts coming apart at the seams as a result of the princess’ lack of protecting prayers. Our three heroines have been prophesized in this world’s mythology for eons, but these Magic Knights were always assumed to be male. This type of gender identity and societal roles plays a crucial part of the story. Almost everybody is surprised that the Magic Knights are a trio of fourteen year old girls in short skirts. This story does take quite a few twists and turns despite using this rather simple and trite formula.

In the end I felt like the game was a mediocre Zelda clone. Even though it had some nice twists and turns and the game actually functions quite well it just does not stand out too much other than being a Working Designs game. There are a few places in the game where the frame rate plummets and the game almost grinds to a halt. Thankfully these places are not in the middle of a dungeon where you’re surrounded by enemies, but they really stand out and show poor optimization on Sega’s original team. I enjoyed the game overall but there was a distinct lack of polish in places and it was just too easy for my tastes. Given its price tag I would say pass on this unless you must find and own every Working Designs release or every Saturn game.

Psychotic Reviews: Sega Rally Championship

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Normally when I do a review I beat the game and then go about reviewing my experience with it. With RPGs it makes sense, since I’m investing at least two dozen hours into the recent ones I’ve been playing. Sega Rally Championship can be beaten in less than ten minutes. Its an arcade checkpoint racing game, one of the best of them in fact. I remember in the mid to late 90’s when arcades died down to the point where it was basically nothing but these checkpoint racers, fighting games, and NFL Blitz. That was about it in my hometown, and by that time we had already lost one of the two arcades here.

I never did play Sega Rally Championship in the arcades, I did play a ton of Hydro Thunder. In terms of Sega I played more Daytona USA. Anyway, now I have a Sega Saturn, and Sega Rally Championship is one of the absolute cheapest games for the system. I paid $4 for my copy, and it was complete with an excellent, non broken case! But is this game cheap for the wrong reasons, or the right reasons? There’s only one way to find out!

When you first start the game you have a menu of choices like the arcade mode, time attack, options and other normal console game selections. Time attack is just setting a course record and then racing the ghost. Once you’re in the arcade mode you can choose whether or not to practice individual tracks, or jump straight into the race. There are only a grand total of four tracks in the entire game. Now it makes sense why the game is only ten minutes long. There are also only really two cars to choose from, with each car having an automatic or manual transmission option. There is a third unlockable car though.

Once you get that picked you’re off to the races! In order the tracks go Desert, Forest, and Mountain. Each one is harder than the last. Even though Mountain is smaller than Forest it is jam packed with quick turns that can throw you off and have you crashing into the walls repeatedly. Desert is designed as the easy track to help you get used to the game mechanics. The first time you play the game don’t be surprised if you get a Game Over on Desert, this game is a bit harder to master than most racers.

Drifting around Medium, Hairpins, and Fades are absolutely essential. Even on some of the Easy turns you’ll need to do a bit of drifting. Don’t worry, the game literally tells you what kind of turn you’re getting close to and how long it is. The ones you have to be even more careful on are the turns where the announcer says “Maybe” at the end. He’s not lying, “Long Easy Right… Maybe” might just make you hit the wall hard.

The music in the game, at least the Saturn port, is just there. Its good but its there as a background noise instead of something to bump the speakers to. There’s a lot going on in this game in terms of audio, so not having too much too much to focus on at any one time seems like it was a smart move overall. The bad part is that the Saturn port of the game has music played by Joe Satriani, and its just there in the background.

If you do get a game over, well, then you’re treated to the greatest game over screen in the history of gaming. Its so nice that it just makes you want to keep playing not because you’re angry, but because it kept you happy. This game is not trying to rub your failure in your face and make you feel worthless because you couldn’t get to that checkpoint in time, it makes you want to try again!

To really beat the game requires mastery of it. These three courses are much deeper than they appear, and memorizing the layout is only one half of the equation. The other half is learning how to properly take these memorized turns and practice it until you can do it in your sleep. Actual execution is just as important as track memorization. These two features mesh well together and working on perfecting turns and the drifting mechanics after memorizing track layouts is actually fun and rewarding when switching between modes like ghost racing in Time Attack.

Sega Rally Championship is a game worth every penny. Even though it can be beaten in a few minutes it will take hours to master, and almost every second will be enjoyable. Any annoyance is pressed onto yourself for not having perfect control. If you have a Saturn and haven’t picked this up and played it, and are mildly interested in racing games or arcade games in general, this one is worth every single penny and then some.

Psychotic Reviews: Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean

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Albert Odyssey is one of those pesky Working Designs games for the Sega Saturn. It is a classical styled turn based RPG which is actually a departure from earlier titles in the series. The Albert Odyssey series started on the Super Famicom, developed and published by NES favorite Sunsoft. These are tactical, strategic RPGs in the vein of Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle mostly. There was also a sequel made for the Super Famicom, but both of these were never released outside of Japan. Albert Odyssey: Legend of Aldean began development for the Super Famicom as a side story to the first two games, but that version was cancelled and ported to the Sega Saturn. In Japan this game was released as Albert Odyssey Gaiden ~Legend of Eldean~, and was developed and published by Sunsoft as usual.

In comes Working Designs, finally moving beyond the limited audience of the Sega CD and onto Sega’s new system. This audience would also be quite limited, and the Saturn’s short life would eventually move the company onto the juggernaut Playstation. But before that happened the company managed to localize and release 6 games for the Saturn. Albert Odyssey is the first one that I am playing.

First off I want to say that graphically this game is a slight upgrade from its Super Famicom roots, but it certainly feels like it would be right at home for that system. As a result of the Saturn’s strong 2D capabilities the pixel count is much higher than you would see on any Super Nintendo game. There are little bits of 3D perspective on the world map that the Saturn was able to soup up a bit, but these would have looked fine with the Mode 7 capabilities, much like Final Fantasy VI’s airship traveling. The music is all Sega Saturn though, with nice CD quality audio and high quality, crisp voice acting from time to time. There’s not much voice acting in the game, but what is there is quite enjoyable and fits the characters rather well. Not susprising since Working Designs was one of the first to utilize voice acting for their CD games.

What really bugs me about this game, and this was also a complaint from reviewers when the game released, is the localization. Its not a direct translation with a few cultural phrases, superstitions, and such changed so the new audience would understand them, oh no. Some of the dialogue, especially NPC dialogue, is a poor attempt to garner laughs, chuckles, and such, but it is poorly executed and a vast departure from the original Japanese script. I even saw one of the main characters say “Holy Sh-nikes” to which I replied, “Holy 90s localization!” Another NPC blatantly breaks the fourth wall by saying she doesn’t remember her lines in the script. This was the furthest thing from funny I’ve seen. Everybody calling Pike, the main character, fat gets really old, really quickly. Its because of games like this that have RPG fans so adamant about the differences between translation and localization. This is an example of a localization that just went too far and Working Designs is the prime reason for this.

See what I mean?

The story is a typical save-the-world from big evil bad guys scenario at first. Later on however, there is a twist where you must go on a manhunt, again looking for a big evil bad guy because kidnapping and such. At least this is a bit different. You not only have to save the world from certain conquest and destruction not once, but twice! I wonder what would happen if you failed in taking down the first threat, would the two bastions of evil then decide to fight it out to determine who shall be the supreme evil overlord of all beings of this world? Would they enter some sort of endless Blood War using pawns of little evil underlings for various schemes and maneuvers? That would be some Baatezu vs. Tanar’ri style warfare there.

One feature I do enjoy about Working Designs games of this time period is a section of the manual where they explain what changes were made to the gameplay. Some of the things they did included cut down on the encounter rate while increasing experience gains, decrease load times, fixing diagonal movement, and adding shoulder button support to change between characters in the equipment and magic menus. I really can’t imagine why a game would originally release without shoulder button support for character switches but hey, they were still kind of new in 1996, by five years. This at least gives you an idea about some of the changes, and helps you realize how some minor changes like L + R button support can shave a lot of time off of menu navigation.

Overall this game is quite easy. It starts off impossible to lose but does increase in difficulty as you get stronger and add more members to the party. It never gets overbearing though, and you’ll only really grind for about 10 minutes here and there to squeeze out an extra level or get a little bit more money. The characters are quite interesting from a narrative standpoint, with Pike being one of the most boring ones. He was a child when his hometown was invaded and destroyed, so he was raised by peaceful harpies and carries a magical sword. Eka is a beautiful singer who joins Pike and the two end up getting married and living happily ever after. Leos is a charismatic priestess who becomes renowned for caring about all the people and races of the world, and going above and beyond to help them. Gryzz is a Dragonman who joins after the party saves his people from certain death, he’s young but is a bastion of honor and the party’s heaviest hitter. Amon is a metrosexual Birdman who joins because he’s hot headed and tired of the personal politics of his tribe, so he joins the group without even really knowing them too well. Kia is a young magician who joins the party for their second quest. She has the power of the teleport spell and adds a rather naive young voice to the party.

The gameplay is solid, yet simple. This game is quite short, so if you’re looking for an RPG that you can sink your teeth into, play casually, and beat without much of a time investment then I would recommend this game. If you’re somebody who wants more value for your buck then I would pass on this game, as it regularly sells for over $80 nowadays. The packaging is quite solid and beautiful, with shiny lettering and a much higher quality manual than most Saturn games received, so this game has a crossover appeal between RPG fans and collectors since it looks so good on a shelf.

Why Did I Play This? Episode 10: Stargate

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The series returns with a nice look at one of the many ignored movie licensed games of the 16 bit era. Stargate was made by Acclaim and released for the SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive in 1995, but not all was well in this land of milk and honey.

What happens when your low class nametag goes away and you can’t use it anymore? Well it looks like you just have to use your own name and hope nobody notices and ignores such MEDIOCRITIES!

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Psychotic Reviews: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

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Right then, we’ve all had our fun with the ol’ point ‘n click right? Well we’re not going to monkey around ‘ere and take a good, wholesome look at Discworld, released for almost everyfin’ out in ’95. You can find this ol’ game for DOS, Mac, Playstation, and the Sega Saturn (if you live in Europe or Japan).

Ok, I’ve had my fun trying to act like I have an unspecified English accent, my fake accent is better in person I swear, you twat! Since the game is based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels you can expect the same writing from the books. The plot is mostly based on the novel Guards! Guards! but Rincewind is the main protagonist of the game. No complaints in the writing and story department.

Already puzzling just to leave the room!

I recently found the Playstation version, which was only ever pressed and released in the old longbox form in the USA. This is an incredibly early game in the Playstation’s lifecycle, but it was primarily developed for DOS. Even though the game is 2D the optimization for the PS1 is not smooth, and slowdown occurs seemingly whenever anything of note happens, even if it repeats constantly.

Saving and loading is annoying in this game, to save the game you have to reformat the save seemingly randomly, which erases the file, just so you can save another file. Its strange and just too many steps to save a game to a memory card. Loading is also stupid, you have to let a new game start, open the menu, then load the game from there. This just shows how poorly optimized the game is, but since its one of the first PS1 games ever can it really be blamed? I say yes.

I will say that the voice acting in Discworld is amazing. The game was developed by British companies Teeny Weeny Games and Perfect 10 Productions, and published by future Sony studio Psygnosis (RIP). The British is strong with this one, and the cast shows its brilliance throughout the game. Rincewind is (mostly) voiced by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, who is a great fit for the humor of Pratchett’s writing style.

He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways.

Like any point and click adventure you will be charged with solving many puzzles, both large and small. Some of these puzzles are insanely easy, the item to use will be glaringly obvious, other times you’ll have to really sit down and go through your entire inventory to exhaust all your options before you come across the correct answer. If you’re a fan of Pratchett’s work you may enjoy this game if you have any bit of love for point and clicks, if you can’t stand the genre at all then this game could become quite the nuisance and annoy you.

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that despite its technical problems I still find the PS1 version to be quite playable. The bad news is the price. If you’re going online to buy this the cheapest and easiest option is to buy the Playstation release. The price could still run you $30+ though if you’re wanting the box and manual, and its sequel is not far behind. If you luck out like me and find it in nice shape, and complete, for $5 at a thrift store then take that sucker home!

Now I’m really in the mood to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Happy 2013 to my followers! Here is my gift to you while I go watch the full movie.

Spooky Plays: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

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I would have loved to play some more survival horror games this year, especially with the relevant holiday this month! Driven by time constraints I decided to pick my halloween game based on the ability to pick up and play, so a good childhood classic came up as the forerunner.

You can smell the cheese through the monitor!

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a tongue-in-cheek top down maze like action game for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (just called Zombies for the MD players out there) that released in 1993. The game is meant to be a spoof of old drive-in monster movies, putting the player in charge of a boy wearing 3D glasses, or a girl with a pony tail and baseball hat. Armed with only your trusty squirt gun you must go around and save all the civilians in each level while staying alive and avoiding all the monsters, or killing them for points.

No teens were harmed in this game.

Zombies is packed so full of levels it is ready to burst, boasting 49 on a regular playthrough, but 55 counting all bonus levels! That is a long haul for even some of the most dedicated gamers, thankfully the game has a password system that works. All you need to do is write down the 4 letter password you get after completing every few levels. 4 letters. Its glorious. All of these levels are built from many different tilesets which are smartly spread out through the entire game, no 5 hedgemazes in a row here.

Cliches are this game’s best friend, the team at Lucasarts really showed their love for all of those old cheesy monster movies by putting nearly all of them in the game. Secret areas are where many large nods are placed, the first one having a big Frankenstein’s monster guarding an extra life in the lab. Of course every game has its own first enemy, and in this one the choice is as clear as day, the name is in the title! It will not take long to encounter more difficult and annoying enemies though, like all the Evil Dolls, werewolves, chainsaw maniacs, mummies, and martians among others.

Others like gigantic babies for like, no reason.

In order to deal with all these enemies the developers gave you a ton of weapons to use, but first you have to find them strewn about or hidden in the various levels. One should never run out of ammo for their squirt gun, soda cans are used as grenades, popsicles can be thrown, paths can be blown open with the rocket launcher, forks and plates can be thrown, footballs can kill zombies. There is so much hidden around to find that the fun might never end! On top of weapons there are several secondary items to find, such as first-aid kits, keys, potions, shoes, and lazy clowns to name a few.

The game’s controls are smooth and responsive, the only real problem comes with the perspective. Since it is top down and some of the weapons require precision then sometimes you’ll shoot something and it will just barely miss. Think of beat’em-ups and how you have to be perfectly lined up with your opponent to hit them. The music and sound effects in this game are amazing, perfectly fitting given the game’s background and goal.

Now so far I’ve just been laying down my thoughts and a review of the SNES release of ZAMN but as of this writing I do not own the Genesis version, so can’t reliably comment on it. The Super Nintendo version is a must play, whether it is around Halloween or just at some random time. It is easy to pick up and play and get into, it doesn’t matter if you start from the beginning or use an old password, there is plenty of variety and challenge here to keep anybody busy until the dead return to their eternal slumber. Go play this classic right now if you have it for SNES, Genesis/MD, or Virtual Console!

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