Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Sega Genesis 25th Anniversary Mega-List: 25 great games

25 years ago today, the Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive to you Europeans, you) was released in North America. I've played most of the major consoles from NES through XBox One, but if I could only play one system for the rest of my life, the Genesis is the one I'd keep coming back to. Let's take a look at some of my favorite games.

25: Bubsy (1993)

This game gets a lot of hate, and it's understandable. Bubsy is a poor attempt at creating another Sonic, down to the insufferably smug smirk (which you just want to smack off his stupid little kitty face), and he's limited to one offensive capability: jumping on stuff (Mario can get away with this because he's Mario ... but Bubsy is NOT Mario). One hit can kill this poor cat, and he does NOT start off with nine lives. And yet ...

You smirking little sack of crap ... and your overly phallic vegetable friend.

I like Bubsy. I didn't want to like it ... shoot, I didn't even want to play it when I found the odd-shaped cartridge among the games in the box when I bought my Genesis at a yard sale 11 years ago. The level design is clever and fun. I like gliding and leaping and picking up yarn and dodging bizarre obstacles. I like the cheesy music. I like the weird bosses. It's simple, innocent fun, which is what some games need to be. It's not Sonic-good, but it stands on its own fairly effectively.

24: Bass Masters Classic (1994)

Some games are just guilty pleasures. This is one of them. It's about as exciting as it sounds (not very), but there's something about it I really like. There is a fun assortment of characters to choose from, each with their own specialty (I'm not sure it really matters which one you pick), and there's the outlandish side goal of catching the legendary "Fishus Monstrositous" (which is exactly that ... a HUGE fish that takes a lot of effort to reel in).

90 percent of the game is just this ...

It's dumb. It's dull. It's strangely satisfying when you actually bring in a fish. I liked it, at least.

23: Vectorman 2 (1996)

Not as good as the first one, but still fun to pick up and play, Vectorman 2 allows the main character to morph into a number of weird insect forms to better mulchify his enemies. The graphics are very good, and it's a hoot blasting the crap out of enemies.

It's a simple, straightforward shoot 'em up.

22: Splatterhouse 3 (1993)

While not as dark, disturbing or even gory as its predecessors, this one made the list because the awkward jump mechanics were finally fixed. Also, this game allows for alternate outcomes depending on what you do and how fast you do it ... many of these outcomes are truly horrifying. One may involve undead flatulence. And then there's this:

Clearly the writers were listening to The Wall on repeat when they wrote this.

It's a great game, but it's highly unlikely you'll end up with a good ending.


21: Vectorman (1995)

Fun and simple yet deceptively difficult, this game was definitely ahead of its time. It allows you to take control of the spherically-comprised Vectorman literally as soon as you see him on the screen, and as you pick up power-ups he can change his form with various offensive capabilities. It's a fun one to pick up and play, although you'll grow very used to the sound of Vectorman splattering apart in defeat.

And this bone-crushing CLANK will haunt your dreams forever.

20: Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball (1993)

Exactly what it sounds like, as unlikely as that sounds. It's Sonic ... pinball. Except he spins ... so ... Spinball. Yeah ...

It's pretty fun, though. Not one of my favorite games of all time, but it's fun to pop in and play for a bit. Moving on!

19: Wolverine: Adamantium Rage (1994)

There are two games by this title, one for Genesis and the other for SNES. If you recall the game being supremely crappy and hard to control, you were probably playing the SNES version. If you recall it being complicated and frustrating, but grudgingly enjoyable, this is the one you remember. It really is a pain in the butt at times, and the time limit makes it even harder, but there are some really clever things hidden in this one, and it forces you to strategize, as when you find out you literally cannot hurt the adamantium-skinned Cyber. Many of Wolverine's classic foes show up in this one, including Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike and this guy, Bloodscream:


You can also tear through a bunch of scientists in the Weapon X level (you get to go back to where it all began and lay waste to the facility) because SCIENCE IS EVIL.


But whatever you do, don't take too long, otherwise cute li'l girl robot Elsie Dee will chase you down and hug you ... which doesn't sound so bad until you realize she's loaded down with plastic explosives.

"Crap ..."

18: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

One of the last Genesis games turned out to be one of the best. It's a fun top-down shooter that requires you to strategize your approach to capturing dinosaurs and also lets you hop in a jeep and drive around the island (!). For a Genesis game, that in and of itself is an awesome stride.

Also, the stegosaurus will freaking murder you. 

17: Earthworm Jim (1994)

This is a REALLY weird game about a wisecracking earthworm in a cybernetic super-suit, which also features limited voiceover from Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta. Weirdness ensues, and it's a little difficult at first to figure out what the controls actually do (shooting is easy, but it takes a while to figure out how the whip works). It's still a lot of fun, though, and the weird factor alone is good for some quality enjoyment.

What more can I really say? A cow gets launched for apparently no
logical reason whatsoever. 

16: Earthworm Jim 2 (1995)

Another weird one, perhaps even weirder than its predecessor in that it somehow manages to include stairlifts, cows and blind cave salamanders, but it's a lot of fun. As absurd run-and-gun games go, this is definitely one of the best, and it barely edges out the first one to make my list. It also throws in some crazy levels to mix up the run-and-gun action.

And you'd better catch every single puppy, too ...

15: Ranger X (1993)

This is an underrated game for sure, and one I'd never heard of when I got it (it was in the same box as Bubsy when I got my Genesis, for whatever that's worth). The way it works is pretty nifty. Basically, you're a guy in a solar-powered flight suit fighting back an alien invasion. You've got a nice variety of weaponry at your disposal, and best of all, you have a neat little not-quite-motorcycle called "Indra" that provides some additional tactical cover as well as firepower.

Admit it: this would make an AWESOME movie. 

14 RoboCop vs. The Terminator (1993)

The music. Ehrmahgehrd, the music. Very techno, very awesome, and it also has voiceover repeating "Terminator" in a seductive tone. Then we have the action ... you control RoboCop as he kicks the crap out of various incarnations of Terminators in an urban environment, opening up whatever cans of whup-@$$ the situation calls for and picking up various weapon upgrades along the way. The graphics are fantastic, the sound is more than adequate and the brutality is quite delightful. And, if you know the cheat code, all your enemies end up looking like this:

Yeah ... 

13: Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition (1993)

Although The New Challengers is probably my overall favorite version of the game (mmmm ... Cammy), on the Genesis the best gameplay experience is the "Special Champion Edition" for one key reason: turbo mode. Ye gods, the turbo mode! You can have a lot of fun with high-speed combat (Blanka's head-bite maneuver is a lot more terrifying when he's munching away at your face like a squirrel with an apple), and the roster is more than adequate since you can still play as bosses M. Bison, Sagat, Vega and my perennial unlikely favorite, Balrog.

Who needs to be able to kick when you can just crotch-punch a guy in the
middle of his shoryuken?

12: Sonic and Knuckles (1994)

For many, this is the best Sonic game ever. It's easily my second favorite, but it falls a little short of my true favorite. In any event, this one was the first to let you play as Knuckles the echidna, whose climbing abilities made him a fun alternative to Sonic's running and spinning antics, which had surely grown a little stale by then. The bosses and hazards had a bit more of an edge to them, and there were new ways to traverse the stages.

"'Climb the wall,' he said. 'It'll be fun,' he said ..."

But by far the most innovative concept this game introduced was the ability to play other Sonic games as Knuckles. You could literally plug Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 into the top of the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge and then play those games as Knuckles ... which was a novel and exciting idea and something that had never been done before.
Admit it ... you tried plugging Shaq-Fu in there at some point ...

11: Mortal Kombat II (1994)

Is the Genesis version as good as the arcade version? Of course not. Is it better than the SNES version? Debatable. But there is one thing the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat II has that for better or worse, all other versions lack: the Fergality.

What in the name of God ... ?

There's not much else I can say about this. It is what it is.

10: Streets of Rage 2 (1992)

Another fantastic beat-em-up, Streets of Rage 2 has four playable characters, each with specific strengths and weaknesses. I tend to like big bruiser characters, and this game features a hulking wrestler, which worked out perfectly for me. You can brawl your way through the stages bare-knuckle style or you can pick up weapons from time to time. My only qualm is that some of the bad guys get pretty repetitive (how many ninjas are there in this city? Good grief!), and some of the baddies are a bit derivative (pretty sure Blanka shows up at one point, or at least his slimmer cousin), but overall it's a great way to kill a couple of hours, especially if you've got a friend to play with.

 And why is there always a jetpack guy? Nobody likes jetpack guys!

9: Battletoads & Double Dragon (1993)

One of the weirdest crossovers ever, this is one of those games that was actually better on Genesis than it was on SNES (and obviously, it's better than the NES version, too). The team at Rare really outdid themselves making a fun (yet frustrating) crossover experience for fans of both Battletoads and the Double Dragon twosome. There's a totally unexpected (and freaking HARD) space shooter level, and the game as a whole is nearly impossible to beat without cheat codes (unfortunately, the game knows if you've been cheating, and chides you for it after you "win.").

Oh, how I hated the obstacle run ...

The villains were pretty awesome, and included the terrifying not-Shredder figure known as Shadow Boss, the mutant rat Blag, the gunslinging Roper and the Dark Queen ... and if you haven't seen her before, well, there's a pretty good reason to play the game right there.

You can rule my earth anytime, my Queen ...

8: Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition (1994)

The first Jurassic Park game on Genesis was a piece of crap. Virtually anything could kill you if you were playing as Dr. Grant (including stumbling), and although the idea of playing as a velociraptor was pretty sweet, you couldn't freaking bite anything.

Enter Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition. Ohhhhh, yessssssss. This one fixed everything that was wrong with the first one, including making Grant tougher and giving you the ability to use your chompers as the velociraptor.

Although you could still kick if you wanted ...

There were also all kinds of ways for Grant to get around the island stages, including by running, letting a pteranodon carry you to its nest or even riding a friendlier dinosaur.


You even got to ride in a boat in the final stage ... although that wasn't without its own hazards.


7: Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)

This game is wonderfully gory and tons of fun. It's plagued by a pretty unnerving passcode system and EXTREME difficulty, but you can mow through legions of the undead with either a hulking bruiser with a whip or a spear-wielding prissy-boy in a skirt (who nonetheless kicks butt). It also has some really weird bosses, most notably a hulking Frankenstein monster, a bat-form Dracula who shoots projectiles from his crotch, and ... wait, what the heck is THIS thing?!

And we shall call it "Gearhead."

6: Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (1992)

Let's face it, Columns sucked. Like, horribly. But that's not the only Tetris/Puyo Puyo type game out there on the Genesis. Give Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine a try. Yes, the concept is ridiculous, and it's only a Sonic game by association (why Robotnik cared about mutant beans all of a sudden is anyone's guess, although it's fun to pretend you're Sonic as you foil each of Robotnik's robot minions), but it's a LOT of fun, especially with two players.

"Darn you, hedgehog!"

5. X-Men (1993)

I know I'm biased, but most of the Marvel games on the Genesis are awesome (with the notable exceptions of Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade's Revenge and the Spider-Man animated series game. Those must be destroyed with fire). X-Men is one of the best, with a very cool comic bookish feel, a fun cast of characters and a decent story (from his headquarters on Asteroid M, Magneto has infected the X-Men's Danger Room training center with a computer virus, causing it go go haywire and trap them in a series of deadly simulations). Playable characters include team leader Cyclops, clawed curmudgeon Wolverine, teleporting acrobat Nightcrawler (who is surprisingly hard to maneuver in this game) and Cajun charmer Gambit. Assist characters include Iceman, Storm, Rogue, Archangel and Jean Grey (who rescues you if you fall off the screen, and is one of the reasons why the game is a pain in the butt in 2-player mode). And the assortment of villains is where it really shines, with heavy hitters like Magneto, Juggernaut and Apocalypse along with second-stringers like Sabretooth, Mojo and Deathbird and unexpected foes like Zaladane and Ahab. The music, too, is a hoot, particularly in the Shi'ar level, and I'm pretty sure they stole the Excalibur's Lighthouse theme from The Odd Couple.

"Not so unstoppable now, eh, mon ami?"

Cyclops tends to be the best overall character due to his double-jump and ranged attack, but Wolverine has some really fun claw attacks and Nightcrawler can get you some really cheap wins (he's super-effective against Apocalypse, and his teleport ability allows you to bypass a lot of hazards ... sometimes even entire stages). All in all, it's a really fun (yet very difficult) X-Men game, and it even has a bizarre twist of its own at the end of Mojo's level.

4: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

The first Sonic game I ever played is also my favorite. A lot of it does seem to be a retread of previous games in the series, but it still manages to put a new spin (heh) on things. Of particular note are the 3D "Special" stages, which are quite intense and can be a real pain in the butt if you don't know what you're doing (I'll freely admit I have yet to pick up a Chaos Emerald in ANY Sonic game other than Sonic Spinball). The bosses are a lot of fun, and for the first time ever you can actually utilize Tails' flying ability to either carry Sonic from point A to point B OR play as him yourself to avoid a lot of hazards and fly straight to some boss fights.

"Get back here, you!"

The one downside of this game: you know how every Sonic game has a water level of some sort, forcing you to watch your step so you don't fall in and drown? You know how annoying they can be? Well, this game takes it a step further with the Hydrocity Zone. That's right, the entire level is underwater. If you're playing as Tails, no worries; you can swim. But Sonic ... has to be reeeeeally careful to maintain his air bubble shield or he's in trouble.


For extra fun, attach the cartridge to Sonic and Knuckles and play as everyone's favorite cartoon echidna (if not the only one).

3: Spider-Man and Venom in Maximum Carnage (1993)

My personal favorite beat-em-up, this is quite possibly the best Spider-Man game I've ever played (Spider-Man on Playstation and Spider-Man 2 on PS2 being the closest competition). The combat system is straightforward yet nuanced, with noticeable differences in how main characters Spider-Man and Venom handle (Spider-Man is quick and nimble while Venom is a bruiser with a distinct swagger to him).

Solving his problems through interpretive dance.

Aside from Carnage, there aren't any A-list villains to speak of, but that's okay. D-listers like Shriek, the Doppelganger Spider-Man, Carrion and Demogoblin really get a chance to shine here, and each comes with a unique way to hurt you (Shriek shoots sonic blasts, Doppelganger bear-hugs, Carrion swoops in and drains your life force and Demogoblin throws pumpkin bombs as he flies by). Goons can be a little repetitive, but you have plenty of ways to dispatch them so it stays fairly interesting. Mini-bosses consist of random civilians driven mad by Shriek's powers, including obese longshoremen, old men with umbrellas and beret-wearing women who ... ermm ... do this. And then there's the Muzzoid.

Pretty sure this wasn't in the comics. And ... wait, isn't that the robot
from Vectorman?

You also have quite a few assist characters to choose from, including Cloak and Dagger, Black Cat, Deathlok, Firestar and even Captain America, to name a few (but no Nightwatch, unfortunately. DARN IT, I WANT NIGHTWATCH!). This gives you a nice feeling of connectivity to the greater Marvel universe, as does the cameo from a certain super-team at the end. And remember ... "The End" is NOT truly the end.

Probably the biggest complaint most people have about this game is the lack of two-player co-op, which you'd think would be a given considering it stars Spider-Man AND Venom. Indeed, it seems like kind of a no-brainer. A sequel, Separation Anxiety, was released in 1995 to rectify this problem ... unfortunately it was garbage.

Same thugs. Same levels. None of the fun.

Seriously, stick with Maximum Carnage. You'll be a whole lot happier.

2: NBA Jam (1993)

This is one of those games I can alway pop in and enjoy. Twenty-some years later and it's still my favorite NBA game (and I'll have a blog post specifically on that subject soon, too). It's over-the-top, it's hilarious, it's exciting and it's by far the best port of the original arcade version (for one, you can actually tell what the announcer's saying as opposed to the muffled SNES version, and shot blocking has been simplified).

And the glorious, glorious defiance of gravity ...

There's just something wonderful about being able to pulverize your opponents with reckless abandon, doing whatever it takes to get the ball and score a rim-rattling dunk (except goaltending. God help you if you get caught goaltending). It's awesome watching a tiny player like John Stockton pull off an epic backward-facing dunk, or watching Vlade Divac put the fear of the beard into a hapless defender with some vicious elbows. It's also hilarious watching massive players like Bill Laimbeer somehow fail to complete a dunk ... it's the little things that make the game special.

1: Eternal Champions (1993)

The best fighting game I've ever played (and yes, I've played the rebooted Mortal Kombat, which is a wonderful and well-deserved second in my book), Eternal Champions gives us nine distinct fighters with nine distinct fighting styles plucked from various points in time and hailing from different parts of the world. The story's fairly straightforward, but the fighting mechanics, surprisingly catchy music and highly impressive fighting system are what keep bringing me back for more, plus the chance of pulling off one of the nine stage fatali--er, I mean, Overkills.


The style of the game is a pleasant blend of the two major franchises of the time, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. The visual presentation is middle ground between the cartoonish Capcom games and the photo-realism of Midway's fare, giving us a nice comic bookish feel. It's not as violent as Mortal Kombat but it's not as tame as Street Fighter, ultimately giving us the best of both worlds.

The game gives us a neat feature, the Battle Room, which allows you to choose from a list of hazards what horrible things you want the room to throw at you and your opponent while you duke it out. It's a lot of fun and also a little unnerving to dodge your opponent's attacks AND the buzz saw in the floor AND the freeze ray from the ceiling AND the flying saw blades. It's a clever touch.

Because a mere roundhouse kick to the face is not punishment enough.

Also innovative for its time is the training system, which manages to actually be kind of fun, especially when you start smashing training spheres out of the park with the caveman, Slash.

Another interesting feature is the nature of the final boss fight. The Eternal Champion himself has to decide if you're worthy of returning to life and changing the course of history (long story), and he does so ... by beating the crap out of you. If you somehow manage to defeat him, he ... takes on a new form? What?! No!


In his new form, he administers an entirely new can of whup-@$$, but maybe you'll get lucky and beat him again ... only for him to take on another form. And another. And another.


But it's totally worth it. For real, Eternal Champions is not just my favorite fighting game of all time, but also my favorite Genesis game of all time. It's not for everyone, but it'll always hold a special place in my heart.

Monday, August 4, 2014

WE ARE GROOT - The "Guardians of the Galaxy" review

2014 has been a really good year for Marvel fans, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 notwithstanding. This year we have been blessed with arguably the best Marvel Studios solo film to date (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), an X-Men film that managed to rejuvenate the entire franchise without simply rebooting everything (Days of Future Past, taking the Terminator approach to render the abomination that was X-Men: The Last Stand null and void), and a sci-fi action film that even gives The Avengers a run for its many fat stacks of money (Guardians of the Galaxy). It is Guardians that I intend to review today. 

My expression through pretty much the whole movie. 

First off, the poster’s tagline says it all: “You’re welcome.” True, nobody asked for this movie to be made, and odds are nobody even expected it to be made, but somehow … it happened. And somehow it managed to exceed any and all expectations to become the Star Wars of the 21st century. Director James Gunn, a goofball after Joss Whedon’s own heart, truly outdid himself.

Thank you. Thank you so much. 

Indeed, the film does borrow heavily from Star Wars, but only in the best possible ways. Rocket Raccoon and Groot (voiced very effectively by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) are basically funny CGI versions of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, a.k.a. “Star-Lord” (even if only to himself), who has the wonder and bravery of Luke Skywalker but none of the whininess. And Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the most dangerous woman in the universe due to her fighting ability and the fact that she is the adopted daughter of the intergalactic conqueror Thanos (Josh Brolin, who may have been miscast ... an excellent actor, but he didn't sell me on the character in his brief appearance), is a useful version of Princess Leia. 
Some critics expressed dissatisfaction with the casting of Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, the fifth member of the Guardians. I felt he was one of the better-rounded characters of the film and found him to be quite entertaining. He is motivated by grief for his family, murdered by the arrogant Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) on orders from Thanos. Drax is focused on revenge alone, no matter the cost, and that nearly costs him his own life and the lives of his companions. But he is not incapable of humility and even shows a softer side when comforting Rocket in a moment of grief. 
The film balances slapstick comedy with action, intrigue and most importantly heart. As outlandish as Rocket and Groot are, they become the most beloved characters, particularly Groot, who manages to convey a great deal of emotion despite his vocabulary being limited to “I am Groot!” It’s reminiscent of the Hellboy films in that the most inherently inhuman characters manage to be the most endearing. Pratt, too, is a joy to watch, and the character of Star-Lord is equal parts cocky, kind and self-deprecating. 

Oddly, this "censored" version from the trailer is funnier
than the version in the movie.

The lovely Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) plays Thanos’ biological daughter, Nebula, although there’s not much biological about her at this point due to her many cybernetic implants. She’s the evil flipside of Gamora, and although their confrontation in the film is brief, it sets up a pretty great conflict for future films. I would have liked to see their fight run a bit longer, though. 
Nathan Fillion provides voice-over for a blue-skinned prisoner on the receiving end of a painful game of “I’ve Got Your Nose” with Groot when the crew gets taken into custody by the Nova Corps. Glenn Close plays the head of the Corps, and John C. Reilly is surprisingly effective and likable as one of the Novas. I was a little disappointed to see the Novas presented as pilots rather than superheroes in their own right, however; hopefully we’ll get a spin-off solo film for Richard Rider, the original Nova of Earth. 
And no James Gunn venture would be complete without Michael Rooker in a memorable role. Rooker, who appeared in Gunn’s Slither, plays Star-Lord’s deranged friend/nemesis/father figure Yondu, a blue-skinned, red-Mohawked space pirate with an affinity for dashboard knickknacks. He’s often unpredictable, usually vicious and always wonderful, chewing up and spitting out the scenery as only he can. He also whistles really well. 


Also memorable, despite only appearing for a few moments, is Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, a hoarder on a cosmic scale who is interested in buying the trinket Star-Lord finds at the beginning of the film (this trinket ends up having a great deal of significance, and is sure to cause comic readers delight when they find out what it is and what it means for future films). And do stay after the credits … the little Easter egg has no real bearing on anything but it’s entertaining, and has a very surprising cameo. 
Overall, I’d give Guardians of the Galaxy an outstanding 4.8 out of 5. It didn’t make my childhood nerdy dreams come true like The Avengers, but for what it was, a delightful and unexpected treat, it made me very happy, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for these wonderful characters. 

If only ...