Rainbow Islands Extra – Sega Megadrive / Genesis review

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System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Developer: Aisystem Tokyo / Taito
Year: 1990

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Rainbow Islands Extra - Sega Megadrive

‘There’s no place like home’

Taito’s 1987 arcade sequel to Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands, is a charming vertical-scroller which sees the player cast as a dragon-turned-human (yes, really) on a quest to defeat an evil monster named Krabo and save the rainbow sea. A platform-hopping search for seven mystical gems ensues across numerous thematically grouped levels including Monster, Robot, Toy, and Dragon islands, each sporting appropriately styled backdrops, enemies, end-of-level guardians and collectables.

Admittedly this abundantly saccharine world of spectral light may not immediately appeal to all, especially those whose virtual lives are spent at the darker end of the retro rainbow, embattled, perhaps, in Doom’s murky corridors; those willing to emerge bleary-eyed into the light, and to trade firearms for an altogether more novel weapon, may find themselves refreshingly rewarded by this gaming gem. 

Your protagonist, Bubby, is blessed with the ability to cast dual-purpose rainbows of solid light, utilised both for vertical movement and for fending off the cute-but-deadly enemy hordes. Collection of certain special items increases the number rainbow-weapon spans, whilst others confer the ability to project sideways arcs of destructive light. As the frenetic action builds, and the screen becomes wreathed in prismic arches, the effect is akin to psychedelic trip in a toy box.

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General Chaos – Sega Megadrive / Genesis Review

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System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Year: 1993
Developer: Game Refuge, Inc
Publisher: Electronic Arts

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General Chaos - Megadrive

War is Hell, a hell of a lot of fun that is, in Electronic Arts’ 1993 title General Chaos. The game immerses the player in a frantic small scale war raging across a wide variety of pseudo three-dimensional single screen backdrops; The battlefield is rendered in a bright, colourful cartoon style reminiscent of SNK’s supreme Metal Slug.

Prior to commencement of battle the players assemble a five-man squad of gung-ho heroes, mixing and matching at will from amongst machine gunners, flame-thrower bearers, grenadiers, and rocket launchers. The different soldier classes muster different capabilities, including varied weapon ranges and instant-kill attacks. One of the five available soldiers appears for all the world to be U2 front-man Bono’s evil alter-ego; sporting wrap-around shades and  wielding a flamethrower, world peace seems the last thing on this guy’s agenda.

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General Chaos - Megadrive - Squad Selection

The player’s squad is controlled via a simple and effective point-and-click interface; a large cursor is guided to a suitable location, to which the currently selected squad member can be commanded either to run, or directed to unleash their arsenal.

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Virtua Fighter – Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X Review

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System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X
Developer: Sega
AM2 (arcade, 32X)
Year: Model 1 hardware (arcade original) 1993
Year: 32X 1995

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The classic Simpson’s episode Treehouse of Horror VI sees Homer unexpectedly breaking through the 2D confines of his world to appear in the three spatial dimensions of ours, the juxtaposition highlighting the hitherto unnoticed confining nature of the previous reality; Homer’s revelatory sensation is one mirrored by first-time players of Sega’s iconic Virtua Fighter.

Often hailed as a breakthrough for the genre, the Model-1 powered 1993 arcade title dragged the one-on-one fighting game kicking and screaming into the third dimension, eschewing sprites for fully animated quadratic-surfaced mannequin fighters. Whilst rendered entirely in 3D, the action still ensues entirely upon a horizontal plane, much to the title’s credit.  As Bruce Lee once said:

‘Do not deny the classical approach simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there’

The polygonal nature of the game enables a true paradigm shift in gameplay. Unhindered by pre-drawn animation frames Virtua Fighter’s smoothly realistic movement conveys the satisfying solidity of its fighters, and the bone-crushing weight of their attacks,  whilst allowing a previously unobtainable fluidity and depth of gameplay. The resultant experience appears a different beast entirely from those iconic 2D brawlers Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.

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Virtua Fighter - Sega 32X

Bereft of fireballs and fatalities alike, Virtua Fighter’s strength lays not in what pugilistic purists may bemoan as gimmicks, but in a repertoire of over 700 moves derived from a variety of traditional martial arts, including boxing and wrestling;  training is the key to success as much in the Virtua world as the real.

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Paperboy – Sega Megadrive / Genesis Review

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System: Sega Megadrive /Genesis
Developer: Tengen
Year: 1991
Genre: Frustration

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Paperboy - Sega Megadrive / Genesis - Mean Streets

Saddle up

To anyone with memories of the often cold and wet chore of the Great British paper round the digital recreation promised by Atari’s all-American Paper Boy is alluring. Grab your papers and hurtle along on a bmx throwing news-filled projectiles at your designated customers’ homes; apparently there’s none of your ‘actually walk up to the door and post the paper through the letterbox’ shenanigans for our Stateside cousins. Added to the thrill of (relatively) high-speed delivery is the positive encouragement to smash the windows of non-customers’ abodes, and to attack burglars, drunks, break-dancers, and wayward pets.

Despite the incredibly promising premise, Paperboy can be an insufferably frustrating experience, mainly due to the desperately uncontrollable nature of your protagonist’s transport; unlike a real bike the virtual incarnation proves harder to control with increasing velocity, forcing progress down to a snail’s pace to give a sporting chance of survival.

Whilst the coin-op sported a responsive handlebar controller (adapted from the Star Wars arcade machine’s analogue yoke), Tengen’s 1991 port of the 1985 Atari original is limited to the Megadrive’s lowly joypad; the resultant fight for directional precision engenders an experience making the execution of Ryu or Ken’s Dragon Punch seem simple in comparison.

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Space Harrier – Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X Review

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System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X
Year: 1984
Publisher: Sega
Developer: AM2

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Space Harrier - Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X

Enter the Dragon

Back in 1984 it was possible to Chase the Dragon and experience a full-on psychedelic trip for a paltry 50 pence, all thanks to Sega’s legendary AM2 team, creators of Space Harrier; this technicolour wonderment provides an early glimpse of magic from Yu Suzuki, author of the yet-to-come coin-op classics Outrun, Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop, and groundbreaking open-world extravaganza Shenmue.

At my local arcade Space Harrier attracted long queues, being both a spectacular introductory showcase for Sega’s System 16 Super-scalar sprite-scaling technology (long before the infamous SNES mode 7 made such effects ubiquitous) and among the earliest articulated sit-down cabinets. Each credit for the deluxe incarnation cost a small fortune in comparison to contemporary machines and, for the average punter (well, for me at least), yielded a scant 30 seconds of gameplay in return.

In this early example of the rail-shooter the player is cast in the role of the eponymous Space Harrier, rushing into the psychedelic chessboard screen by means of a combined jetpack and laser-canon device. A frankly insane collection of enemies assaults the player, ranging from alien spacecraft to psychotic green heads (possibly modelled upon the mentally-challenged Gizmo doppelganger from Gremlins II. Then again, possibly not).

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Super Monaco GP – Megadrive Review

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System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Year: 1990 (JP, US) / 1991 (EU)
Developer: Kaki
Publisher: Sega

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Super Monaco GP - Sega Megadrive - Title

For those of a certain age the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain will be forever associated with an era in which Sega’s Super Monaco GP wowed in the arcades and impressed on the Megadrive.

The splendid 1989 arcade machine utilised the same Super-Scalar sprite scaling technology as the acclaimed Outrun to render detailed and recognisable trackside features, recreating the famous buildings of the F1 street circuit. It should be noted that, as with Sega’s later phenomenal Manx TT Superbike, the titular track is not faithful to the real circuit, rather it is designed to maximise the racing experience.

The Monaco Grand Prix is often the most interesting of an arguably increasingly boring parade of shiny multi-million pound cars (it is a true achievement to create vehicles capable of velocities of 200+ mph, and then make racing them appear dull); the coin-op thankfully delivers the excitement of F1 at its best.

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Super Monaco GP - Sega Megadrive - Race

The 1990 Megadrive conversion is necessarily stripped of virtually all trackside detail, not unlike Atari’s 1982 Pole Position, a sacrifice which enables the console version to retain all the crucial speed of the original. Although visually the resulting experience is more akin thrashing around a home-counties go-kart track than the jewel in the F1 crown, the conversion successfully retains much of the thrilling and satisfying gameplay of the original.

As with the arcade parent, CPU cars can still be rammed out of the way, causing them to spin out, issuing forth clouds of smoke, and can be found to crash of their own accord, which is always enjoyable to witness. Also retained is the rear-view mirror which allows for the application blocking tactics (a feat not even the mighty Saturn Sega Rally conversion was able to achieve).

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Streets of Rage II – Megadrive Review

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System: Sega Megadrive/Genesis
Developer: Sega, Ancient
Publisher: Sega
Year: 1993

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Streets of Rage II - Sega Megadrive

* Please note, this review was written in 2008 – certain dates and prices are accordingly now incorrect!

Very nearly 16 years ago Sega unleashed Streets of Rage II, the title promising an entire 100 per cent more angst than the original. Why so much Rage? Perhaps because back in 1993 when this bone-crunching side-scroller fought its way onto the Megadrive games regularly hit the £45 mark; according to a very, very dull House of Commons Library report, that would set you back roughly £80 today. That’s enough to wind anyone up.

Feeling like an evolution of the ZX Spectrum’s iconic Renegade, Rage II is set on the mean streets of a violent metropolis, seemingly a ghastly premonition of contemporary urban Britain; stabbings, hooliganism, and discarded KFC abound – but this is surely fantasy not prophecy, as the enemy reprobates are unable to hide behind their ‘human rights’, and beatings, not ASBOs, are meted out by the player’s character of choice (all, thankfully, more vigilante than Community Support Officer).

Most of us who grew up in the ‘70’s remember the institution that was the ‘roller disco’. Part of me likes to think that one of the game’s two new characters, eight-wheeled Eddie ‘Skate’ Hunter, was inspired by memories of pugilistic mayhem witnessed at just such an abomination (hopefully set to the sound-track of Saturday Night Fever).

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Streets of Rage II - Sega Megadrive / Genesis - Mean Streets

Even more so than the fine original, the sequel’s game-play is immediate, relentless, and deeply satisfying. The four playable characters deliver convincing blows both with limbs and a variety of weapons, ploughing through the interactive stages and enemies alike – can any guy not wince at the knee-in-the-groin manoeuvre?

The action is complemented by an aural and visual feast in which fantastically atmospheric early 90’s dance music provides the backdrop to a cacophony of visceral, oddly satisfying thuds, cracks and screams. The graphics are at once vibrant and gritty; a walk amongst these streets is like a brawl in Tech Noir, without the Terminator as bouncer.

If you don’t have your Megadrive to hand then fire up your favourite emulator and transport yourself back to an era when rage-fuelled punishment beatings kept the streets clean for the good people of the land.

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Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition – Sega Megadrive / Genesis Review

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System: Sega Megadrive (Genesis)
Developer: Capcom
Year: 1993
Genre: One-on-one fighter

Street Fighter II - Megadrive - Ryu vs Ken
Street Fighter II – Megadrive – Ryu vs Ken

Enter the Dragon (punch)

The seminal one-on-one martial arts fest that is Capcom‘s Street Fighter II: Championship Edition (SFII:SCE) hardly requires introduction. Arriving long after the SNES version the 1993 Megadrive port most likely staunched a haemorrhage of 16-bit gamers jumping ship to Nintendo’s platform simply to play the greatest fighter the world had ever seen.

SFII:SCE combines elements of two sequels to the all-conquering arcade machine Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, namely the Championship and Hyper editions; the former bequeaths playable bosses, the latter ten user-selectable speeds providing a gaming experience ranging from ‘snails on Valium’ to ‘Benny Hill on speed’.

Combat ensues against an array of stages set throughout the globe, incorporating impressive parallax scrolling and animated background characters (many of which inexplicably perform unintentionally amusing hand movements). The arenas are sharp, vivid and colourful. Whilst the anime-styled fighters are similarly well portrayed the necessary omission of animation frames lends a staccato feel to the bouts, but not to the detriment of the tremendously visceral gameplay.

Street Fighter II Special Championship Edition - Sega Megadrive
Street Fighter II Special Championship Edition – Sega Megadrive

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