Marvel Land (MD): COMPLETED!

Marvel Land is a game I had as a kid, but never completed. A while after the original release, it appeared outside of Japan as “Talmit’s Adventure” or something, but I always preferred the Japanese original. So the Japanese one is what I played through here.

It’s a happy fun blue skies platformer with slightly slippy physics. You know the sort – where floors don’t have quite enough friction when you land. It certainly took some time to get used to. Marvel Land’s “thing” is the bizarre attack you can perform by flinging copies of yourself around yourself. You need a power-up to give you a “chain” of clones, and then by pressing up or down you spin them around you, collecting items and attacking baddies. It’s very odd.

marvel land

Sometimes, you can use these clones to grab a node, which lets you swing around and cross gaps or jump high. The more clones you have (attacking with them depletes them) the higher or further you go.

The other “thing” with Marvel Land is all the warp doors. As is common in many platformers, there are hidden (literally) or hard to reach doors that warp you to other parts of the level or even other levels. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Only in this game, some of the warps take you back to the start of the level. Or back a whole level, or several levels. There’s one particularly evil one in the penultimate level. It takes you right back to the very start of the game. I’ll not deny I reverted to a save state for that one.

marvel land

Boss battles are a bit strange and thoroughly Japanese. One involves playing Janken, another is a bit Whack-a-Mole. Only the final boss actually involves a fight of any sort!

Marvel Land is a fun, happy, difficult, nonsensical platformer. It reminds me a lot of Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure, and that’s a good thing.

marvel land

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (MD): COMPLETED!

I have never played a Ys game before. I don’t even know how to pronounce it. “Wise”? “Ees”? “Why Ess”? Who knows. Something else I also didn’t know: Ys III is a Castlevania game.

Not an actual Castlevania game from that series of course. No, Ys III just plays a lot like one. There’s a castle, a clocktower, and even a boss that is very much like Dracula. It has the same mechanic for walking up and down stairs. Grinding to level up, just like the Metroidvania CV games, is also a thing here. Even the music sounds like it has comes from a Castlevania game, with a couple of the tracks sounding almost identical to music from that series. It’s also hard as nails. Castlevania, see?

ys iii
Another Castlevania, another Clock Tower.

Before I started playing it, I was expecting a party based RPG. Imagine my surprise then, when it was a side scrolling hack and slash game. And that was before I realised the Castlevania parallels. There’s some Zelda II in there too. Unlike those games, however, Ys III is pretty short. There are only four levels, one of which you do twice, and each is impossible until you’ve levelled up enough. The bosses ranged from laughably simple to nigh-on impossible (I really struggled with the fire lion thing), and in Castlevania II tradition poor translation meant I was clueless how to progress at least twice while playing.

ys iii
Dancing on the sand.

Graphically, the sprites are not exactly the Mega Drive’s best, but the parallax backgrounds – especially the sunset – are incredible. Sound effects are nothing special, in contrast to the epic soundtrack. I found the controls a little unresponsive when it came to jumping. This made climbing up out of a cave more difficult that it really should have been.

ys iii
Gotta gets me some harb.

On the whole though, Ys III is really rather good. If nothing like what I was expecting. There’s a remake available on the PSP and on Steam, the latter of which it seems I own somehow, so I might give that a go.

Super Fantasy Zone (MD): COMPLETED!

Run out of straplines for Fantasy Zone games, sorry.

More Fantasy Zone! Only this time, Super Fantasy Zone! Yes, it’s more of the same, but that is no bad thing at all. It is most similar to the arcade version of Fantasy Zone II, sharing a handful of baddies and of course a similar level of graphical fanciness.

super fantasy zone
Paint the whole world with a Rainbow!

Oddly, there are no permanent “gun” power-ups, unlike all the other games, and since the temporary ones run out so quickly they’re mostly useless: You’d benefit most from being able to use them on bosses, but of course they expire well before you make it that far.

super fantasy zone
Shop ’til you drop.

One of the permanent “bomb” upgrades effectively makes the entire game a walkover too – the four-shot homing missiles. Constantly firing it invariably wipes out all the stray enemies, leaving you just the bases to destroy. These missiles also work on most of the bosses, allowing you to concentrate on avoiding their attacks while it automatically kills them for you.

In the dark, dark night
In the dark, dark night…

So yes, it’s probably the easiest of all the Fantasy Zone games (I didn’t mention, but money is no object in this one either), but it is still a lot of fun. I particularly liked both the nods to Space Harrier in the final boss rush, and lots of bosses from previous games in the background. Easter eggs!

James Pond II: Codename Robocod (MD): COMPLETED!

Part Fish, Part Machine, All Cod.

Robocod was one of my favourite Mega Drive games in the 90s. I loved the silliness and the stupid things you could collect, the themed levels, and the penguins. Sadly, over the years when Playstation, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS remakes were released, they ruined the memory of a once great game.

Robocod

Going back to the original (well, the Mega Drive version of the original anyway) I was hoping to show how awful the more recent versions have been, but unfortunately it hasn’t held up too well itself. Of course, it’s still far better than the others, but it isn’t quite as good as I recall. Too many instant unforeseen deaths (things dropping out of nowhere on your head, for example), dodgy collision detection, and even falling through floors – all things I’d either not cared about back then or have forgotten in the meantime.

Robocod is still wonderfully nonsensical though, with creative baddies (busses that spit out grannies being my favourite) and some decent bosses, but it perhaps isn’t the best Mega Drive platformer that isn’t Sonic any more.

Robocod

It didn’t take very long to complete either, so even though I died a lot clearly there was an abundance of extra lives (not to mention the ten minutes semi-invincibility you get at the start for collecting items in the right order). I got stuck on a level in the “transport” world trying to find a missing penguin, but eventually located it. Most of the rest of the levels were pretty straightforward. Fun but dated.

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Gauntlet 4 (MD): COMPLETED!

Try this level now

Gauntlet 4That was excellent! I’m really, really pleased that I’d not been misremembering how great Gauntlet 4’s Quest Mode was. I had been misremembering how easy it was, however. Or was I just being extra cautious, escaping from the towers every time my health was low and I didn’t have a healing potion? Either way, I didn’t die at all. Not even on the end boss. Or the end, end boss after him.

Gauntlet 4Oh yes, I had forgotten that too. You see, once you’ve beaten all the dragons in the towers and opened up the Castle, then made your way through that, there’s a final dragon boss. He’s much the same as the other four, only he also has four crystals in front of him. You have to shoot all of these crystals in order to be able to damage the dragon as he’s invincible otherwise, and after a few seconds the crystals reactivate. Once I’d got into a steady rhythm though, he was quite simple. After that you’re given the option of escaping from the castle, or learning the secret of eternal youth. Take the first option and you have to defeat the dragon again – the end, end boss (albeit without the crystals this time) – before you can run away. Take the second option and you’re turned into the dragon and have to kill adventurers.

Gauntlet 4

I consider this second option the “bad” ending, so went with the first. And that was it.

For those interested, I was Questor the Elf (I’m always the elf in Gauntlet – he’s the best character) and here are my end of game stats:

Gauntlet 4

Gauntlet 4 (MD)

Elf has eaten all the food lately.

It’s a bit good this, isn’t it? Why i’m asking you, I don’t know. You probably don’t know anyway, and I already know. In fact, it’s my third favourite Mega Drive game. At least, it was a very long time ago and when I started playing it again today for the first time in at least 15 years, I was a little apprehensive that it may have aged badly. Thankfully, I need not have worried: It’s excellent.

Gauntlet IV

Oh but wait – I’m not talking about the main game here. Arcade mode is essentially just the original Gauntlet arcade game, and although that is still an absolutely fantastic thing, the main game mode for me is Quest. Quest is almost an RPG, as your hero navigates four towers with ten levels in each, finding traps to open walls and allow progress to the final floor where a dragon resides. Yes, it has boss battles. As you beat foes, you gain experience which you can spend on improving your stats (shot speed, defence, magic power, etc.), and as you collect treasure you can spend that in shops to gain better equipment (which essentially also just boosts your stats).

Gauntlet IV

So far, I’ve completed the Fire and Water towers, and am about a third of the way through the Earth tower.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure (MD): COMPLETED!

The plot is all in Japanese but frankly, I don’t think it’d make any sense in English either.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure
Swimming with Dizzy the Egg

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure (there’s some debate as to the correct order of the words in the title) was always one of my favourite Mega Drive games, and I’m pleased to report it hasn’t aged a bit. It’s still just as good as it ever was, although it seems far easier. Running out of lives was never an issue before as they’re so plentiful, even if you don’t make use of the springy poles that can give you about 15 lives each. Every level has two or three that are easy enough to find, and the bonus levels can net you up to five at a time without much difficulty, and up to 25 if you’re a gambler and are lucky.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure
Land directly on the top of these to light up the dots – they’re worth a life each!

All the lives in the world are not much use if the levels are impossible though, but there’s not. Even the bosses, several of which I’m pretty sure were really difficult back in the day, were complete walkovers. I remember I used to same some of my power-up potions for them, as one gives you a homing fireball and another turns you into an invincible rocket-launching mechanical monkey for 15 seconds, but in fact I only bothered with those on two or three of the bosses. I swear this game used to be more difficult. I think I only died twice.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure
Metal Monkey With A Gun

If you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking, “hmm, this looks familiar”, then you may be thinking of either Psycho Fox, which is a similar game by the same development team (which I played recently too), or Decap Attack, which is essentially Magical Flying Hat reskinned for western tastes.

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Sonic 3 & Knuckles (MD): COMPLETED!

Sonic is best of all the animals

I’ve completed this many times through the years, but it’s been quite a while since last time, and even longer since a full all-emeralds run. So I did that.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Hey Knuckles – punch Tails for me, would you?

It’s clear that Sonic 3 & Knuckles is still the best Mega Drive game. It looks and sounds incredible, has varied levels, gimmicks and bosses, and is actually huge. Yes, I know it sort of cheats by spanning two cartridges, but that’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned as together they are the best game. Some people will say Sonic 2 is better. Those people are wrong.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Hey Eggman – could you laser Tails for me please?

In total, it probably took about four hours. I’d forgotten just how big it was. I only died three times, one death being a Time Over on Flying Battery 2 (I’d spent ages looking for Super Emeralds, and just squeaked past the final lamppost when the time ran out – lucky!), but then the game was never really difficult – especially once you’re able to be be Super or Hyper Sonic. Nor does it matter that it wasn’t hard – it’s just great. Apart from Tails. Oh god does he need to die. He actually killed me on one of the end boss fights as he hit Eggman first and I fell through him instead of bouncing off.

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Streets of Rage 3 (MD): COMPLETED!

Very little actual rage on the streets. Not that many stages set in the street either.

SOR3-0507-201834Streets of Rage 3 is certainly the hardest of the trilogy. As far as I recall, I’ve only completed it once before, and then I don’t think I got the best ending.

And so it is that I didn’t get the best ending this time either, unfortunately. I reached the chief in Stage 6 too late (and only just too late as well), and so Shiva was the final boss for me. It’s frustrating, as I played through the game three times today, and on the second attempt I did save the chief – then died on Stage 7. On my third and final try, I didn’t save him. Annoying.

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Streets of Rage 3 probably isn’t as good as Streets of Rage 2. It has lots more moves, bigger sprites and in some parts (like the disco) some incredible graphics, but SoR2 plays better and has more variety and much, much better music. Also, Zen (in 3) is rubbish. Where has Max gone, anyway?

The Legend of Galahad (MD): COMPLETED!

It’s pronounced Fishnoses, you know.

Legend of Galahad
Before each level you’re told the fetch quest you’re on.

With Puggsy completed, I was reminded of The Legend of Galahad on the Mega Drive. The main character actually appears as a statue in Puggsy, and I think both games, and Wiz ‘n’ Liz, were developed around the same time by pretty much the same team. Oddly, the game is only known as The Legend of Galahad on the box, bearing the shorter title of “Galahad” in-game. It’s also the same game, bar some minor differences, as the Amiga title Leander.

Legend of Galahad
This guy is supposedly an otter.

It’s also an annoying platformer filled with too many unexpected deaths. You can’t look up or down, so many leaps are into the unknown. Some pits are spike-filled, but others are not. Baddies respawn, some after a few minutes and some almost instantly. Some spikes that spring up from the ground can be destroyed, some cannot. And there’s know way of knowing any of these things without trial and error!

Buy all the things.
Buy all the things.

Thankfully, it’s actually quite enjoyable despite the frequent deaths, and lives and energy are plentiful so although it’s a challenge, it’s not too difficult. Money, to improve your armour and weapons, is incredibly easy to come by and once I’d found the first shop in the game I’d more than enough for the best sword already – making most of the baddies simple one hit kills. With the rest of my money spent on bombs (which make you immune for a few seconds in addition to causing massive damage) even bosses were a walkover.

Look at my horse my horse is amazing
Look at my horse my horse is amazing.

Except the final boss, where your ability to use bombs is removed! I had 40+ bombs to use up on him and couldn’t activate any! In the end it didn’t matter as although I died five times to him, the damage you’ve inflicted carries over when you die, so it was a simple case of just having enough lives to sustain myself while I chipped away at his energy, which didn’t take long.

The Legend of Galahad was never a “top tier” title at the time, and it’s not surprising it has probably been forgotten by most people now. It has problems, but it’s not a bad game. Has it aged? A little, yes. More so than Puggsy, certainly.

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Time Gal (MegaCD): COMPLETED!

It’s a Saturday morning cartoon you can control! Only it isn’t.

First up, let me say this: I completed Time Gal in Easy mode. I’m not proud, but any other mode is completely impossible. You simply have no way of reacting correctly to the action, and it’s unplayable in the same way Dragon’s Lair is.

Time Gal
It is not explained why Time Gal is warping from near-death to near-death across the ages like a crap Sam Beckett.

With that confession out of the way, I’d also have to say it wasn’t worth it. Like Dragon’s Lair (and other FMV games of this kind), it doesn’t work. You see, it’s two things: A reaction (and/or memory) tester game, and a film. As a game, remembering every button press, in order, for 30 minutes of gameplay is not fun in any way, shape or form. As a film, it’s not possible to enjoy it because you have to concentrate on the button presses. As a result, it’s best to experience via watching someone else – who has memorised the entire sequence so they don’t fail too often – play it instead.

Time Gal
Nor why she is wearing such a skimpy outfit. Oh wait! It’s because she’s a woman in a video game.

Time Gal is a stupid relic of an age where video was impressive and what seemed to be an interactive cartoon wowed everyone, but it’s boring, shallow and annoying. And the MegaCD version has terrible grainy FMV anyway. What a waste of everyone’s time.

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Puggsy (MegaCD): COMPLETED!

Everyone’s favourite sentient space hopper.

PuggsyPuggsy was probably my most played, and certainly one of my most enjoyed, MegaCD games. It was huge, and had even more levels and bosses than the plain Mega Drive version, some of which made use of the MegaCD’s hardware with sprite manipulation and FMV.

I’ve been picking away at it over the last couple of weeks, finding it generally easier than it ever was back then, but struggling to find the secret or alternative exits in some of the levels so progress was less quick than you’d expect. Some I could remember, some I could remember but not how to do it, and some I had no recollection of at all – the final boss for instance was not the final boss and I’d totally forgotten about the real final boss. Even though I remembered the really annoying level with the spiky ball you can’t pick up, which comes after what I thought was the final boss.

PuggsyAnyway! It was a lot of fun to play again after such a long time, and I’ve completed about 45 of the 51 levels so may return to finish off the final few. There are some more secrets I’d like to re-see, like some of the bonus levels (I got the Jetpac one, but know I’m missing the Arkanoid one and at least one more) and the Wiz ‘n’ Liz reference. I found Galahad (aka Leander) in one level so that’s prompted me to add that game to the list of must-plays too.

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Castlevania: The New Generation (MD): COMPLETED!

Boldly going where nobody without the surname Belmont has gone before.

Or Castlevania: Bloodlines, if you prefer. Personally, I think both names are rubbish, and pretty much irrelevant.

Castlevania: The New Generation
Castle? Tick. Whip man? Tick. Moon? Tick. CASTLEVANIA.

My experience of this game previously has been that I own it, I’ve played it a few times, but because it wasn’t a Metroidvania style Castlevania (which I used to prefer over the older linear type) I never persisted with it. Of course, these days I enjoy most 2D Castlevanias, and since I just read about Castlevania: The New Generation this week in the excellent Hardcore Gaming Castlevania book and remembered that I’d never finished it, I thought I’d give it another go.

Castlevania: The New Generation
Nice doggie.

It’s excellent. Perhaps better even than Super Castlevania IV on the SNES. The graphical tricks the game pulls (sprite rotations and so on) were very unusual for the Mega Drive, not least because – as SNES fans would gleefully remind Mega Drive owners – there was no Mode 7 on the Sega console. The music, a vital ingredient in the series, is also incredible although perhaps not as iconic as in other Castlevania titles. It’s also a lot easier than Super Castlevania IV, which surprised me.

I played through as John Morris – the guy who isn’t a Belmont in name but is by blood, apparently, so can wield the Vampire Killer. He was in the original Dracula book too, apparently. The other character you play as is Eric, who has a pike or something. So yeah, I didn’t bother with him. Why would you? Tch.

Castlevania: The New Generation
Now… kiss!

There were some great bosses, marred slightly by Death’s Tarot Wheel of SuckySuck(TM), most of which I don’t think I’ve seen in other Castlevania games. Dracula also suffered from Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché #3, which was a shame but pretty much expected. I’m tempted to play more CV games now, but there aren’t any on the Mega Drive and that’s what I’m focussing on right now. There’s a sort of clone on the Master System though? Hmm.

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Batman (MD): COMPLETED!

Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

This used to be one of my favourite Mega Drive games, not least because of the tiny Sunsoft box it came in, but over the years time has not been so kind and it isn’t as good as I remember it being.

Batman
You’re going down, I’m yellin’ timber.
Batman
That’s how it starts, but later there’s running and screaming.

Part of the problem I’ll say upfront: I totally forgot, until the final level where I did it by accident, that it was possible to double-jump. This afforded Batman a bit more height, a bit more distance, and the ability to damage baddies on contact as he somersaults into them. The other problems were things that have worn me down in more recent years, like bosses that require you to repeat the same action, in exactly the same way, over and over again and leaps of faith. Or grapples of faith, on some of the levels – there’s no way of knowing if you’ll grapple up into a baddie or some spikes until it’s too late. And there’s a SuckySuck(TM) bit, only made worse by the repetitive boss fights. The batmobile and batwing levels should have broken up the mostly dull platforming sections, but the former was way too long and easy, and the latter way too hard and frustrating.

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I suppose not all games I loved when I can younger can still stand up these days, unfortunately.

Strider (MD): COMPLETED!

A future land of backward time.

Strider
This also happened in parliament after this week’s budget.

Strider was always a nonsensical game. Set in 2046’s Russia but with giant robot gorillas, Amazonian warriors, wolves, an entire senate which transforms into some sort of caterpillar, and dinosaurs. There’s no cohesion, and levels flit from organic to techno and back with gay abandon. It’s utter nonsense.

The Mega Drive version, which was the first Mega Drive game I ever bought having received the console for Christmas a couple of months before, was fun at the time but still a bit janky. The collision detection is miles off, Strider himself has about four frames of animation, and the sound effects randomly vanish. Periodically, usually as a giant boss is about to appear, the screen just pauses. I’d like to say it’s crap, because all signs point to crap. But it’s not.

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There’s just something about Strider’s acrobatic prowess and the baffling list of baddies that makes it enjoyable. Even if there’s the SuckySuck Bit(TM) to end all SuckySuck Bits(TM) on the final level. Heavy boss after heavy boss. That was tricky.