Alphabest: Mega Drive – P

P is for Pudding

Ruh roh! P is another one of those letter with a big pile of sports sports sports games. Perhaps I can deftly hit the fairway without ending up in a P bunker?

P

PGA Tour Golf. I don’t like golf, I don’t watch golf, I don’t really understand why people like golf. At least, not in real life. But I am partial to the odd game of golf when it’s a veedayoh game. There are five or so PGA Tour games on the Mega Drive, and really, there’s very little difference between them. Some have more courses and modes, and the later ones look a bit better, but the core ball-smacking mechanic remains much the same throughout. My favourite was PGA European Tour, mainly because it was the first one I played (albeit originally on the Amiga). If you like a bit of golf in your games, you can’t go wrong with a PGA title. That said, they’re still golf, so they ain’t winning anything here.

More sports sports sports games include Pete Sampras Tennis and Pelé! (with a !). The former is not bad for a tennis game but suffers from the fact that, yes, it’s a tennis game. Pelé! (with a !) and it’s sequel Pelé II (without a !) don’t hold up to pretty any other Mega Drive football.

A trio of unrelated “Pro” games next: Pro Moves Soccer, Pro Striker Final Stage, and Pro Quarterback. All three are poor replicas of the sports they represent and there are far better examples for the console.

Moving away from sports sports sports, The Punisher is a decent Streets of Rage style side scrolling beat-em-up. Faster paced than that game, but not as impressive overall. I think the original arcade version may have been put together by the same team as Final Fight, so although you know it isn’t going to be a duffer, it’s not the best game beginning with P.

Pit-Fighter was a forerunner to Mortal Kombat, with big digitised sprites that looked fantastic until they moved and you realised there were virtually no frames of animation. On a similar topic, Primal Rage is a one-on-one fighting game with dinosaurs and monsters instead of shotokan experts and ninjas. It’s crap. Almost Rise of the Robots level crap too.

That leaves us with Pocahontas (16bit Disney platformer, so no), Powermonger (doesn’t work well on a console, so no), Pirates! Gold (not great on console either, so no), Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (overhyped platformer, no), Prince of Persia (looks lovely, fantastic animation, frustratingly hard, stupid game time limit) and a couple of Premier Manager titles (Football Spreadsheet Simulators – I’ve dabbled, they’re not bad, but not really my thing).

The contenders, then:

Psycho PinballPsycho Pinball is a bright, colourful pinball game with arcade minigames. Very much like Crüe Ball, only with a different skin. That sort of thing, anyway. There’s a plot about you being an armadillo or something, but that’s irrelevant: it’s the fun ball pinging around the four different tables that’s important. Pinball games are generally great anyway, but this is one of the better Mega Drive pinball titles.

PuggsyPuggsy is a very underrated and mostly ignored puzzle platformer from Psygnosis. You use items to trigger switches, shoot targets, find secrets and so on. There’s clever use of throwing and stacking items, loads of bonus levels and alternative routes, and it’s all quite original and unusual. And HUGE – there are so many levels! It’s slightly overshadowed by the MegaCD version though, which is even bigger and has CD music and FMV.

Phantasy Star IIIPhantasy Star III is the very first JRPG I ever played. Probably one of the first RPGs of any sort, actually. It was a surprise present one Christmas, and although I was totally confused for ages with how it worked, when it clicked I was hooked. The three generations of characters and four possible endings gave it a huge amount of replayability too. I’ve since played the other Phantasy Star games (lets ignore the PS Online titles – they’re not canon) and they’re all excellent, with PSIV possibly even the better game, but PSIII beats them on length, variety and fond memories.

And the Alphabest?

As soon as I realised P was up, I knew the winner without even needing to remind myself of the other games starting with the same letter. It’s a game that brought me into a brand new, to me, genre and opened the door to so many other games I’d probably never have touched otherwise. That’s right – the winner is Phantasy Star III.

As I write this, I’m working through a current JRPG – Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, and I know full well that it would totally have passed me by if I’d not been introduced to JRPGs all those years ago.

Join me again same (different) Bat time, same Bat channel, for Q. Oh my is that going to be a difficult one.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – O

O is for Oh Oh Oh It’s Magic

The problem with games that start with the letter O, in particular games for the Mega Drive that start with the letter O, is that there really aren’t very many at all.

O

Let us start with Onslaught, a not very popular Mega Drive game (although I believe it sold better on the Amiga). It’s a cartoony platform hacky-slashy sort of game, and although it looks lovely it’s terribly repetitive and the animation is awful. I won’t be including this, although given the shortage of Os, there may be no choice…

The Ooze is an interesting game, and fairly unique. You control a sentient puddle of slime, getting larger when you collect more bits of ooze, and smaller when attacked. Unfortunately, being an amorphous blob means it’s pretty hard to reliably control, and the game premise itself doesn’t actually make for a fun title. It was released late in the life of the Mega Drive and was pretty much ignored.

A game called The Ottifants, based on a German cartoon or comic or something is the very definition of “generic platform game”. It feels exactly like several hundred other games, only with different (or not) sprites, and there’s literally no reason to recommend this for anything other than the bin.

Finally, a pair of games with the same parent: OutRunners, and OutRun 2019. Now, if you know me you’d know I’m a big fan of Out Run. OutRunners, however, changes the game into a two player racing title rather than a simple time checkpoint driving game. The graphics take a massive hit over the original, but worse is how the draw distance for other traffic is virtually point blank. As for OutRun 2019, which was never intended to be an Out Run game at all and it shows, meh.

Which leaves:

Out RunOut Run itself, which is a pretty good conversion of the arcade game but does suffer, like most Super Scaler arcade titles, from not having sprite scaling. That said, it has all the routes, music and fun of the coin-op, and it was a long time before a better conversion was available at home. Magical Sound Shower fo’ lyfe, yo.

Olympic GoldOlympic Gold (FX: SPORTS GAME KLAXON) is a compilation of Olympic events in the time-honoured tradition of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. It includes a few events that often don’t make it into these sorts of games, like archery and diving, and most of the gameplay involves hammering the buttons, or skinning your knuckles if you use the Pro Technique. I borrowed it from a rental shop as a kid and surprised myself at how much I enjoyed it. So much so, that not only did I rent it again, I ended up buying it. Unfortunately, the pole vault was virtually impossible. The 1996 Atlanta sequel was pants, incidentally.

And the Alphabest?

Both Out Run and Olympic Gold are good games, but neither are outstanding in any real way apart from they’re the best the letter O has to offer. I’d be happy playing either one, but for the music and the memories, the winner has to be Out Run. I could listen to Magical Sound Shower all day. Every day.

Can you guess what’s next? Spoiler: P.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – N

N is for Nom nom nom

Hope you like basketball because oh my are there some basketball games. Hopefully, there’s some other stuff too. Shall we look?

N

NBA Action, NBA Hangtime, NBA Jam, NBA Live and NBA Showdown. Oh, and NBA All-Star Challenge. Most of these have several yearly versions too, so there are hundreds. Millions of hundreds. “Football” that isn’t real football and “hockey” that isn’t real hockey are also represented heavily with NHL and NFL and NSPCC and NRA and whatever. All these in the bin.

Which doesn’t leave a lot else, unfortunately. There are a few utterly baffling Nobunaga titles, which although have a following (and even now are still going strong) I’ve never understood them. Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing isn’t a patch on Monaco GP 2 either so the letter N is left with…

Normy’s Beach Babe-o-Rama?! God no. I played it “for fun” a few weeks ago and it was perhaps the worst game I’ve ever experienced. It looks, controls and plays terrible.

Thankfully, these exist:

The New Zealand StoryThe New Zealand Story is one of the cutest platformers ever created. You’re a kiwi who must rescue other kiwis from the clutches of a nasty walrus. Its cuteness belies its difficulty, though, and many stages feature ride-on balloons and spikes to avoid making it incredibly tough going.

NBA Jam TENBA Jam Tournament Edition may well be on my List of Dross higher up, but it honestly doesn’t deserve to be. Unlike other basketball games from that list, this 2-on-2 variant is fast, allows a degree of violence, and has incredible and impossible dunks. It removes all the rubbish from the sport and leaves a superb reduced ruleset game which is just pure fun. And some excellent soundbites too – “He’s on fire!”.

And the Alphabest?

I threw you off the scent a bit, but yeah, the best by a comfortable margin is NBA Jam Tournament Edition. It isn’t vastly different to the original NBA Jam, but adds more players and modes so wins out. New Zealand Story is also great, but later levels are too frustrating to be fun.

Who’d have thought a basketball game could ever come out top in one of these posts, eh?

Next time! The letter currently known as O.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – M

M is for Meh

Oh good. M is full of sports sports sports sprots sorpts strops. Luckily some other stuff too. Some proper good stuff.

M

Shall we get all the sprots out of the way first? Damn sprots. First up, 344 versions of Madden NFL, followed by a handful of MLBPA Baseball games and more American football in the form of Mike Ditka Power Football. There’s also a Mutant League Football game (Madden with monsters) and Mutant League Hockey (NHLPA with monsters) which although are more enjoyable than the “normal” sports they represent, they’re still rubbish. Sports, eh? Tch.

Other games that don’t make the cut include Marble Madness (not a bad game, but none of the home versions work as well as the trackball-equipped arcade original), Marsupilami (yawnsome platformer), Mega Man: The Wily Wars (ports of the first few NES games, but not as good despite the better graphics) and Mickey Mania (technically impressive but another 16bit Disney platformer).

Mortal Kombat 2 and 3 are actually pretty excellent, but unfortunately for them, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 exists making them redundant.

Good platformers include Marvel Land, McDonald’s Treasure Land (no, honestly – it’s by Treasure and very good) and platform/shooter Mega Turrican but there are better for M, as you’ll see in the shortlist:

Micro MachinesMicro Machines Turbo Tournament ’96 is the definitive Micro Machines game. It massively improves on the previous games, and doesn’t venture too far into weaponry which ruined later outings. It’s has fantastic tracks, a level editor and 8-player pad sharing is carnage. Probably my favourite 2D racing game.

Magical HatMagical Hat no Buttobi Tabo! Daibouken, perhaps better known as Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure, is an evolution of the Master System classic platformer Psycho Fox. Reskinned as the also excellent Decap Attack in the west, Magical Hat is, in my opinion, actually better and certainly sillier. Blue skies platforming!

Mega-Lo-ManiaMega-Lo-Mania is a real-time strategy game where you race to develop weapons from elements you dig up, then wage war on up to three other deities. It isn’t as deep as other resource management games like Command and Conquer, but it’s much faster and arcadey as a result. Excellently quotable soundbites and a hidden asteroids minigame just add to one of my most played games ever.

And the Alphabest?

All three of these games are absolutely necessary in any collection, and indeed two of them appear in my (quite old now) Top 10 Mega Drive Games list. The letter M also has some other great titles I’ve not mentioned which don’t quite reach the heights these three do (Mega Bomberman, Monster World IV and M.U.S.H.A., for example) which makes it a difficult choice.

However, I’ve gone for Mega-Lo-Mania, despite it not appearing on my Top 10. Why? Because it really should be on there. It’s endlessly replayable, it’s funny, it’s unusual and it’s simply one of the best Mega Drive games. You might think that controlling the on-screen pointer with a d-pad rather than a mouse (like on the Amiga version) would be a negative, but Sensible Software made the pointer “jump and snap” to all the icons, so it actually controls better than with a mouse. An almost perfect game.

In the next EXCITING installment of Alphabest: the letter N.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – L

L is for Lawks-a-Mercy

Let’s look at the list of L lettered leisure lovelies, and lesser (likely lacking) litter.

L

A game I remember that was universally panned at the time, was the western version of a Fist of the North Star game, called Last Battle over here. In many ways it was a lot like Altered Beast, with side scrolling punching and kicking, and shirt-ripping power-ups. You don’t turn into an animal though, and it’s a bigger and more involving game, but it’s still pants.

Film tie-ins to cross off the list include Last Action Hero, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and The Lawnmower Man. Mainly because they are film tie-ins, but also because they’re crap. Especially The Lawnmower Man.

The award for Most Boring Game Title goes to “Lakers Versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs” which, sadly, is just a limited scope basketball game and not a graphic adventure game similar to that Indiana Jones one.

LHX Attack Chopper was never going to work well, as it’s a helicopter simulation game on a pretty underpowered-for-polygons console that also lacks enough buttons. The PC version needed half a keyboard, and EA thought three fire buttons was enough? That wasn’t quite sufficient for Desert Strike and that wasn’t a simulation!

Also off the short list are: The Legend of Galahad, (a competent platformer but hasn’t aged that well, as I found when I played it recently), The Lion King (16bit Disney platformer, so BZZZZT). Lemmings 2 (too fiddly with a controller and not as good as the original) and both Lethal Enforcers games (the graphics are too grainy).

That’s what’s not. But what’s not not?

The Lost VikingsThe Lost Vikings is a platform puzzle game with a bit of a cult following. Each of your three vikings has a different skill, such as being able to jump, or fire arrows, and each level is based around using these skills to progress. It’s humourous and clever, although I never managed to find the solution to a late-game puzzle so it remains uncompleted!

LemmingsLemmings is, of course, Lemmings. Ported to every system under the sun, the Mega Drive version doesn’t differ much from other ports, although it does have a load of extra levels thanks to SunSoft who ported it. Unlike the sequel, using a controller rather than a mouse works just fine, and two player mode is incredible.

Light CrusaderLight Crusader by Treasure, who are seemingly unable to do any wrong, is a Zelda-ish action role-playing game played out in isometric, just like Head Over Heels on the Speccy. Switch and laser puzzles mixed with NPC conversations and swording bad guys make it certainly unusual, if a little tricky to control with the isometric viewpoint.

And the Alphabest?

Thankfully, L threw up a generally better standard of game than some other recent letters, but the clear winner is Lemmings. Oft copied, and with many versions through the years, the original is still the best almost regardless of platform. Even the Game Boy version is excellent. Good as The Lost Vikings and Light Crusader are, Lemmings was a revelation at the time – a genuinely new genre of game and still the best example of that genre.

Next time: M.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – K

K is for Kittens

Erugh. It’s pretty slim on the K front. Let’s hope there’s quality where there isn’t quantity, eh?

K

You know what block dropping puzzle games are good? Tetris. And Columns. And especially Puyo Puyo. And most of all an un-named game I pitched to Codemasters (on paper) when I was 14 that they lolled at and returned to me. You know what was never good but some people wrongly suggest is? Klax. Sure, being able to flick blocks back up for later is a great idea, but the game is boring.

King of the Monsters and it’s cleverly named sequel King of the Monsters 2 were ports of a not very good pair of Neo Geo games where giant Japanese B-movie monsters fight each other in slow motion while the surrounding area is levelled. They’re dire, so they’re binned off.

Kick Off 3 loses out because, once again, it’s a football game that isn’t Sensible Soccer, and Kawasaki SuperBike Challenge is yawn motorbikes. It’s basically the same game as F1, only with sprite changes.

That leaves… oh, just these two then:

Krusty's Super Fun HouseKrusty’s Super Fun House is an excellent reverse-Lemmings platform puzzle game. The aim is to pick up blocks, fans and bits of pipe to direct rats into the waiting death machine operated by one of the Simpsons family. Although not a Simpsons licence to begin with, and licenced games (especially platformers) often coming under the “godawful” tag, having the cartoon plastered on the game did it no harm and it turned out just great. It’s still one of my favourite Mega Drive games.

Kid ChameleonKid Chameleon is a massive platformer where the “hook” is different hats you find that give you different abilities. They let you fly, have a sword, smash blocks, fire lasers, jump higher, and so on. Some of the levels are a bit puzzley, others filled with pixel perfect jumps, and some have tricky foes or obstacles. I can’t stress how big it is though, as without warp cheats it’s hours long, with no passwords or save points. And it’s hard.

And the Alphabest?

Although K was a little short of games, both those I’ve shortlisted are truly excellent titles. However, the better of the two is Krusty’s Super Fun House. The only real negative for Kid Chameleon is the length of the game with no way of saving progress (not an issue for emulators now, of course), and although Krusty’s Super Fun House is also pretty big, it has a password system.

Next time! The letter known as L.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – J

J is for Jump Around (Try to play me out like as if my name was Sega)

There’s a lot of sports games beginning with J. And you know what sports games mean! That’s right – <fx:Family Fortunes Klaxon>.

J

Not all sports games are bad games of course, just look at the winner of Alphabest I last time, but many, many are. They’re also a genre which hasn’t really aged well over the years.

Representing Sports Games in J, are the likes of Jennifer Capriati Tennis, James “Buster” Douglas Knock Out Boxing, a few J. League football games, and a number of variations on the worst of all sports – John Madden and Joe Montana fronted American Football titles. Madden is supposedly excellent if you’re a fan of armoured rugby, but I’m not. J. League was a well respected series of football games, but it wasn’t Sensible Soccer. Boxing and tennis, nah thanks.

Basketball is represented by Jordan vs Bird, but basketball that isn’t NBA Jam is completely funless, and Jerry Glanville’s Pigskin Footbrawl is a prehistoric take on more American Football, and is rubbish. Sports games, eh?

Thankfully, there are J games that aren’t sport related. Joe & Mac is a caveman platformer, which is fondly remembered by many (but not me – Chuck Rock is better), and James Bond 007: The Duel is a pretty looking platform shooter with some nice animation (especially running down stairs) but is ultimately unremarkable. Jeopardy! is what we now term shovelware, and the two Jurassic Park games (the latter essentially being a re-release of the first, only improved) are nothing special.

Which leaves…

Jimmy WhiteJimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker is, yes, a sports game. If you class snooker as a sport, that is. It remains my favourite snooker game, and not just because the balls pull funny faces if you leave them alone: It was the first to offer complete 3D freedom of view, and unprecedented control over your shots. The only thing was… the Amiga version was better than the Mega Drive one, which chugged a bit.

Jungle StrikeJungle Strike is the sequel to Desert Strike, swapping the Gulf for, er, the jungle. It’s more of the same, albeit in a different location, and plays just like the original. The graphics are better and more varied (it’s not just jungles), and a few tweaks help it rise above the original a little. I found it a little too difficult, though.

James Pond IIJames Pond II: Codename Robocod is a platformer followup to the original James Pond game. The bad guy has taken over the North Pole and threatens to ruin Christmas, so it’s up to you – a fish spy in a in infinitely stretchy robosuit – to collect penguins and navigate silly levels based on sports, bathrooms, a circus and more, beating bosses and stuff. It’s utter nonsense and a lot of fun.

And the Alphabest?

Jimmy White really is an excellent game, but it’s also not as good as the Amiga version (which is where I played it most) partly because it’s less jerky and partly because you control it with a mouse. On the reverse, James Pond II is actually better on the Mega Drive than the Amiga, with far better controls and much better backdrops, not to mention no loading times. I played it again just last week and although it isn’t quite as good as it once was, it’s still the best game here. James Pond II: Codename Robocod is therefore the Alphabest.

For what it’s worth, although the first and third James Pond games are also pretty good, Robocod is the best of the three.

Next time… K!

Alphabest: Mega Drive – I

I is for Igor

If you thought the list of games beginning with H was pretty poor, then you ain’t going to like the list of games beginning with I.

I

It’s not a great list, it has to be said. There aren’t many, for a start – just 11 at my count. I know quality is more important than quantity, but that’s not really happening either.

Take Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings for example. It’s yet another dire 16 bit platformer, with this one starring the mascot of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Because of course it is! Or take Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s yet another dire 16 bit platformer, with this one starring Indiana Jones! Released around the same time as the computer graphic adventure game of the same name, it’s clear that version is the better choice. Or take The Incredible Hulk. It’s yet another dire 16 bit platformer, etc., etc. Rubbish.

International Rugby is rugby, and therefore is not going on the shortlist, and although International Superstar Soccer Deluxe isn’t a terrible football game, it’s not one I’ve ever enjoyed.

With options rapidly diminishing, The Immortal is also ditched. Yes, I know it was widely regarded as a good game at the time. Thing is, it isn’t. It’s annoying and jerky and boring and the isometric view doesn’t offer anything.

What does that cull leave us with of value, then?

International Sensible SoccerInternational Sensible Soccer (or more correctly, International Sensible Soccer Limited Edition: World Champions) is Sensible Soccer. More commonly known as The Best Football Game Series. It doesn’t have everything the slightly later Sensible World of Soccer update did, but the gameplay is intact and superb.

IshidoIshido: The Way of the Stones is another of Accolade’s unlicenced Mega Drive titles (see Hardball! in a previous post) and is a puzzle game that plays out almost like a cross between dominos and a reverse Shanghai. It’s very simple, and although it’s no Puyo Puyo, it’s pleasant enough. Look, I said I[ref]The letter I, not me. How very dare you.[/ref] was lacking in quality, OK?

And the Alphabest?

Obviously, it has to be International Sensible Soccer. There’s no competition for the letter I, and so there isn’t really much choice. Thankfully, International Sensible Soccer isn’t a cop-out. It’s still an excellent game (as are most of the Sensi series, actually), so it’s a deserving winner.

Next time! J!

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