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Psychotic Reviews: Gungriffon

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In the middle years of the 1990s every company that had not already done so built a 3D engine to enter the new world of gaming. With 3D arcade games wowing audiences worldwide it was natural that everybody would be excited to see this new dimension come home on the next generation of home consoles. Gungriffon started off as one such project at Game Arts, starting its development with the vague working title 3D Polygon. The game released exclusively on Sega’s Saturn worldwide in 1996. The game’s events take place in 2015 (what???); so when you play it, make sure the right side wins this mech war!

Gungriffon is a game that would feel right at home as an upright cabinet in an arcade. It really has that feel to it. It is a mech combat game, with a fairly limited set of controls built around the Saturn’s controller. This actually helps the game keep a simple design while still giving the player tools to easily navigate the levels. There are only six levels in the game, and each one is essentially a box you can openly move around in. Most of them will last less than ten or fifteen minutes.

[b]Why did Star Wars Battle Pod have closed levels instead of a big box to fly around in?[/b]

This game is a popular import. It requires little Japanese, and the only text you have to worry about is a mission briefing before each level. The first batches of levels just involve you killing every enemy in the level, but the objectives of later levels varies from destroying a specific target, to protecting your allies. This could confuse those who opt into a cheaper Japanese copy and wonder why they keep failing some of the levels.

By virtue of being a mech combat game the controls do take some getting used to, but once you do its quite easy to maneuver and make your way from one end of a stage to the other in a much smaller amount of time than you’ll think. The music in the game is excellent, and I found myself just relaxing at the mission select screen for a few minutes between every stage. Gungriffon goes for a more realistic atmosphere when you’re on the ground stomping around and blowing up enemy tanks, transports, air support, and mechs! You hear a lot of radio chatter and the sounds of your mech whirring as it walks like the giant robot it is.

This game does have some of the best 3D on the Saturn, with all enemy designs being clear and detailed for its time. It even looks better and runs smoother on the Saturn than the Mechwarrior ports to the Playstation! Game Arts always manages to pull the most out of the systems they work for, and its quite surprising to see this run so smoothly on a Saturn. A common thread I’ve noticed in games for the system is that there are small areas in games that just weren’t fully optimized, and slowdown occurs as a result. I never encountered any slowdown in Gungriffon, and its more detailed than some 2D Saturn games I’ve played that have this slowdown problem!

If you’re looking for a great game to add to your Saturn collection then consider Gungriffon, its a joy to play and is not too pricy. North American copies are around $25 right now, with import copies from Japan running around half of that after shipping. Gungriffon is easy to pick up and play in short or long bursts, and it may help to satisfy an itch to fire up the Saturn if you’re not in a fighting game mood.

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Psychotic Reviews: Virtua Cop

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Help Wanted: Those who prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. Virtua City is looking to hire special detectives for missions that require fast trigger fingers. Recruits will be highly trained and put in great peril as they tackle the most dangerous missions to clean this city’s dirty streets. Are you man enough to be a hero? Play as special detectives Michael Hardy and James Cools and take on a huge job that will clean the streets of futuristic, man-made Virtua City.

Again we travel to the lonely lands of Sega’s oft forgotten home console, the Saturn. Virtua Cop started its life in the arcade and upon release became the latest in a long string of hits by Sega Amusement Machine Research and Development Department 2, or AM 2, in 1994. Virtua Cop is a genre defining game, as it broke new ground for on-rail light gun shooters by allowing far more interactivity with the enemies, based on where they are struck by a bullet. Different animations and scores come out for hitting different parts of the bodies of Virtua City’s criminal scum. The graphics are also full, 3-D polygons, which is obviously what Yu Suzuki and crew used after the massive success of Virtua Fighter a year earlier.

Virtua Cop became the primary influence for light gun shooters after its release. Sega would use the game as the backbone for The House of the Dead, Namco came out with its long running Time Crisis series, and even Goldeneye’s aiming on N64 is basically Virtua Cop, admittedly so by the developers. This success is likely a result of the jump to 3-D, which made Virtua Cop feel much more modern than even the best 2-D, arcade light gun shooters that came out just a few years earlier. The extra interactivity adds a layer that makes the game feel fresh even though its based on patterns and memorization to get through the levels. The levels are the basic style of Sega’s arcade level design of the time, with a Beginner, Medium, and Expert stage.

Many shortcomings for the Saturn are well known, but one thing that AM 2 nailed were the console ports of their own arcade games. When other teams were struggling to make use of the unique and confusing arrangement of the Saturn’s hardware, AM 2’s arcade ports were all games that are now staples of the modern Saturn collector’s library. Surprisingly, all these arcade ports are some of the most common and affordable games for the Saturn in all regions where it was released! Despite the less than stellar success of the Saturn outside of Japan, the arcade scene itself was experiencing a revival in North America at the time Virtua Cop released. Street Fighter II’s success got a new generation, myself included, to visit the arcades that had defined cutting edge game design and technology for almost 20 years. The remaining Western arcade developers took advantage of this revival to limp their way into the 21st century, while the Japanese developers flourished as a result of a stronger showing in what is only one of many markets for them.

Playing the game and hearing the soundtrack again caused memories of sights and sounds of the mid 90’s to come flooding back. During this time, I started visiting my local arcades weekly until both of them closed their doors in the early 2000’s. Part of my revived sensation comes from the fact that Virtua Cop, enjoyed with the Saturn’s Stunner light gun, feels so authentic to the original arcade experience. The soundtrack is a giant dose of 90’s nostalgia, and fits the pacing of each stage perfectly. The action is wonderfully framed, and all the different enemy spawns and shooting timers make use of different reaction speeds and player instincts. The Saturn release has many different difficulties to select from, so you can play around and find the one that gives you the perfect challenge. Like all arcade games, practice makes perfect!

Standing up, shooting bad guys, and having to fire off screen, all with the non-stop action of enemies popping up in front of you, makes Virtua Cop stand out as one of the arcade classics of the mid 90’s. If you don’t want to haul around an arcade cabinet, then owning the Saturn port is a fine consolation. Another port was released on the PC a year after the Saturn release, but this version only has mouse support. Another version was also released by Tiger for its R-Zone.

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.

Gaming Dramatic Read 2: Rampage World Tour

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This is a series where I read the story and sometimes the character section of the manual of some random video game, in a dramatic fashion. The main goal is to bring attention to how good or bad some of the manual stories can be, and also how well they can prepare a player for a game.

Of course sometimes the dramatization ends up being completely uncalled for, and that’s where the real fun begins.

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Prepping for a hardware review!

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So I have an interesting piece of hardware from a local thrift store. All of my Google powers have left me with no information about this strange piece and little more based on the manufacturer. My plan is to give some history of the product (if I can find any) and then review it based on the many things that would be relevant to this style of control scheme.

Do I have you in enough suspense yet? So what am I planning to review you ask? Well its an interesting little arcade stick called the Pro Player. It was manufactured by Naki International in 1993 according the box. What makes it interesting? It is compatible with the SNES, SFC, Genesis, and Mega Drive. So any gamer in the early to mid 90’s would have an easy time finding a use for this stick which was the “Choice of Fighting Game Experts!” And that’s about all the information I have for it, every detail coming from the box I bought it in.

Does anybody have any information on this to help me out? I would like to keep pictures secret until the video comes out so everybody can see how… nostalgic the box design is.

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