Alphabest: Mega Drive – H

H is for Hip Replacement

It’s pretty slim pickings in the H pile, it would appear. Not so much a pile, more a few things on the floor huddling together for warmth. Look at them. Piteous little games.

H

To start with, there are several Hardball baseball games under the letter H. Baseball games are not great, so none of them make it onto the shortlist anyway, but the very first Hardball! (with a ! no less) is of minor interest as it was one of Accolade’s unlicensed Mega Drive games. This means Sega didn’t produce the cartridges, and it comes in a cardboard box much like computer games did at the time rather than a plastic clamshell type affair. Interesting fact. Crap game. Next!

High Seas Havoc is a platformer that unashamedly tries to be Sonic the Hedgehog and fails spectacularly. As a 16bit platformer you really needed to be something pretty special to stand out from the crowd (there were a LOT of platformers back then) and High Seas Havoc doesn’t.

Head On Soccer, Hit the Ice and the two Home Alone games aren’t really worth mentioning, and Heavy Nova was… well. Imagine Rise of the Robots had a single player story mode and oh, your brain has melted. Sorry about that.

The shortlist!

HellfireHellfire is a well respected classic in the shoot ’em up genre. It’s hard as nails, has an unusual mechanic where you can reconfigure your weapons on the fly, and is a lot of fun to play. The music is a bit tinny and the backgrounds a bit bare, but it was a pretty early Mega Drive game.

Herzog ZweiHerzog Zwei appears to be yet another Mega Drive shoot ’em up at first glance, but in actual fact it’s one of the very first “Command & Conquer” style real-time strategy games. It’s utterly confusing at first, and second, and probably third, but eventually managing your units becomes fun. It was definitely an unusual experience at the time!

And the Alphabest?

Not a great deal of choice is there, really? It absolutely has to be Hellfire. Sure, Herzog Zwei is unusual and everything, but until I actually went to write this post I’ve always thought it was called Hertzog Zwei and that upset me so I’ve disqualified it.

Anyway, Hellfire is more fun and easier to get into.

Let’s hope “I” provides us with a better selection of games, eh?

Alphabest: Mega Drive – G

G is for Gowan Gowan Gowan

It’s the letter that brought you what is probably the easiest game ever created – The Great Waldo 1 Search! Not only was it easy, you could make it even easier with a “helper” Player 2. And it was rubbish.

G

Obviously that won’t be winning here, but then neither will Golden Axe (any of the three) because they’re not actually that good. They’re not terrible, far from it, but I’ve never understood the pedestal they’re always placed on.

Also cut are Greendog (terrible platformer #643), General Chaos (too cluttered and confusing), and Galaxy Force II (like Thunderblade and Afterburner, the Mega Drive port was a bit of a mess). No, those that made it through are:

Gunstar HeroesGunstar Heroes is a Treasure platform shooter with a novel power-up mechanic (you equip up to two at a time and their powers mix). It, like most Treasure games for the Mega Drive, does incredible technical things, and the bosses especially are incredible. It’s fast, varied, and in places very silly.

Gauntlet 4Gauntlet 4 is at first appearance slightly misnamed, as it’s actually a virtually arcade perfect port of the original Gauntlet game. This in itself is great, but what really puts Gauntlet 4 on this list is the fantastic Quest Mode. It’s virtually an RPG with puzzles played out as Gauntlet levels, with equipment and skill upgrades and a story and everything.

GynougGynoug is a side scrolling shoot ’em up with the unusual concept of a winged angel as the protagonist rather than some sort of aeroplane or spaceship. Yer man Wor has variants of all the classic shoot ’em up weapons, and the game features some immense bosses, most of which, like the smaller foes, are faces. It’s a bit gruesome, actually.

And the Alphabest?

I know Gunstar Heroes has a more vocal following, and it is an excellent game, but it just can’t come close to Gauntlet 4. Gauntlet was always one of my favourite arcade games (even if it was unashamedly designed to guzzle your money), so to have an almost perfect replica of that on my console was great. But then to add Quest Mode which is worth the cost of admission alone. And! There’s even a multiplayer Battle mode as well, where you fight each other! Frankly, it’s pretty much perfect.

Next time – G+1 = H!

Notes:

  1. More correctly, we call him “Wally”, as in, “Where’s Wally?”, but this was a Genesis only release.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – F

F is for Farquhar

FIFA begins with F, and as a result most of the F games are FIFA. Blimey, there were a lot of FIFAs. I’m pretty sure the final commercially released Mega Drive game was FIFA ’98 too. FIFA. FIFA FIFA FIFA.

F

FIFA is crap.

Another common F is F1, as in, F1 Circus and F1 Grand Prix, the tenuous Fastest 1, and, er, F1. Formula 1 games back then were OK, but they’ve mostly not aged well. “F1”, based on Vroom! on the Amiga was one of the best, although Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP 2 perhaps pips it. Regardless, none of the F1 games are going into the shortlist.

Also not making the top table are Fatal Fury (rubbish, sorry), Fatal Fury 2 (better, but still no), Flink (no) and Frank Thomas (whooooo) Big Hurt Baseball.

That narrows things down to:

FlickyFlicky is an early Sega arcade game, predating the Mega Drive and as a result the Mega Drive version is pretty much arcade perfect. The idea is to collect up little birds and take them to the exit, avoiding cats. There’s not a lot to it, but it’s surprisingly good fun. And hard.

FlashbackFlashback is a fantastically animated sci-fi platform adventure game with an incredible feel and setting. It has a great story, varied locations, and I can’t overstate enough how excellent the graphics are. If your man Conrad moved any more fluidly, he’d be a damn waterfall.

fireshark1Fire Shark, a parallel world 1942-style vertical shooter is fast and frantic with some lovely power-ups (including the best of all – the spread shot) and cute tiny little soldiers that run around the airfields you land at after missions.

And the Alphabest?

FIFA of course! Hahahahano. Never FIFA. No, the real actual Alphabest is Flashback. Back then, games with a deep story (especially those which were platformers) were few and far between, and not only did Flashback manage to have that, but it was beautiful and clever and polished too. And at one point Conrad has to get a job and actually go to work.

Next time, the letter G!

Alphabest: Mega Drive – E

E is for Eunuch

Until I looked, I was pretty sure there were a lot more E games for the Mega Drive, even if it was just 34 variations of ESPN game titles. It seems not.

E

Obviously, most people will be expecting me to put Ecco the Dolphin in my shortlist. I will not be doing this, because Ecco the Dolphin is crap. It’s not even slightly good. In fact, bar the fun leaping out of the water to do flips, which makes up less than 1% of the gameplay, it’s one of the most boring, tedious and stupid games Sega have ever had anything to do with. Look, I played Normy’s Beach Babe-o-Rama last week and that was leagues ahead of Ecco. And Ecco 2 was even worse. Stop kidding yourself if you actually thought you enjoyed these games because beyond the idea they’re awful.

Also not making the cut are any of the ESPN games. Why? Because sports sports sports sports sports. Eternal Champions is out too, because even though one games magazine (I expect it was Official Sega Magazine) said it was better than Street Fighter II. Guess what? It wasn’t.

The shortlist:

Earthworm JimEarthworm Jim is a funny platform shooter featuring a worm in a spacesuit and a cast of purposefully obtuse and nonsensical characters. It’s also a great platform shooter, which was unusual at the time when platformers seemed only capable of being one (Sonic) or the other (Boogerman). There was a sequel which although still pretty good, isn’t quite up there with the first game.

ESWATESWAT: City Under Siege is another platform shooter, only with the emphasis on the shooting rather than the platforming this time. You’re a policeman who sometimes wears a massive mech suit, and you fight criminals, soldiers, aliens and all sorts. It’s a lot of fun, and reminds me quite a bit of recent-obsession Midnight Resistance, although it’s actually probably closer to Shinobi.

And the Alphabest?

Just two in the shortlist? Poor show, E – poor show. The better of the two is, of course, Earthworm Jim. Of course it’s going to be Earthworm Jim. That game has baddies called things like Professor Monkey-For-A-Head and Bob the Killer Goldfish, and it has a bungee jumping level: No contest.

Next time! F!

Alphabest: Mega Drive – D

D is for Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan! He can’t hear me.

Could you imagine if I said that the best D game for the Mega Drive was Dark Castle? Wouldn’t that be a fun little jape? Dark Castle with its utterly terrible control scheme and the way you can die by tripping over a pixel-high step. Hahaha! That would be hilarious.

No, instead I’ll do it properly.

D

There are quite a selection of decent D games. One of the first I owned was Dick Tracy, which doesn’t play very well now but at the time was an unusual 2.5D platform shooter, not unlike Batman but with baddies in the background you had to shoot with a tommy gun, Cabal style. It was very stylish, but oh has it aged badly. Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine loses out because it isn’t Puyo Puyo, Dino Land is a fun but flawed pinball game, and Double Dragon is a classic, but alongside Streets of Rage or Final Fight it doesn’t stand up. Dune II is an excellent game but fiddly on the Mega Drive, and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story would be a contender if it wasn’t so limited – you can only be Bruce!

They’re the also-rans, what’s the shortlist?

Dynamite HeaddyDynamite Headdy is, not least because it’s made by Treasure, an excellent platformer. You gain power-ups that swap your head out for others with special skills, the graphics are amazing and colourful, and – like most Treasure stuff – it’s full of incredible ideas, bosses and effects.

Decap AttackDecap Attack is another head-based platformer. This time, you’re the terribly named Chuck D Head (go on, guess what he does), who travels through many levels that suspiciously look like those in Psycho Fox and Magic Flying Hat Turbo Adventure. Oh wait! That’s because it’s by the same people and is similar on purpose. It’s also fantastic. And the title is a great pun.

Dragon's FuryDragon’s Fury, also known on other platforms and/or in other regions as Devil’s Crush and Devil Crash (luckily, all D games) is an excellent pinball game. More organic and less metal than C’s Crüe Ball, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much. It’s still a worthy title, however.

And the Alphabest?

I would suspect most people would suggest that Dynamite Headdy was the best of those three, but I’d like to point out that those people are Wrong. The correct answer is, of course, Decap Attack. Dynamite Headdy may look more impressive and probably hasn’t aged as much, but Decap Attack was a revelation to me and has always been one of my favourite Mega Drive games. The nonsense, the setting and the power-up capsules you collect. The giant frog boss. I loved it all, and although it’s a little creaky now, I still do.

Next time, E. And E’s are good, right?

Alphabest: Mega Drive – C

C is for Craig David

Who knew we’d make it as far as the third letter of the alphabet? Certainly not me. The third letter being C, of course.

C

C is quite a popular initial in the world of Mega Drive games. Sadly, a lot of them are C for College, as in College Football, and if there’s anything worse than American Football it’s American College Football because of oh god it’s crap. There’s a C for Coach game too, which is Coach K College Basketball, and even though basketball is a trillion times better than American Football, it’s still College and still boring. Just so you know: sports games ain’t gonna feature positively for most of the Alphabest series.

Some games that avoided the shortlist, but you may have expected them to have made it, include Cannon Fodder (which is a great game, but not without a mouse), Castle of Illusion (which was pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the 8bit version which I played later rendering the Mega Drive version obsolete), Columns (two player mode is non-interactive so utterly pointless – get the Master System version instead) and Comix Zone (technically very polished and clever, but too hard to be any fun at all). That leaves us with these three:

Crue BallCrüe Ball is a Mötley Crüe themed pinball game, featuring some of their music and visually is a mix of metal and bizarre organic creatures (flying brains and stuff), and features bosses and all sorts. As well as (or despite, if you don’t like “Dr. Feelgood”) the Crüe overtones, it’s a great game of pinball too, with some arcadey sub-games (like a side on Breakout type section). Probably the best pinball game on the Mega Drive, in fact, although there aren’t that many to compete with it.

Columns IIIColumns III is slightly confusing because Columns II is virtually unknown. It finally becomes what the original Columns should have been (and was, on the Master System) by way of having Puyo Puyo style competitive two player. Building a massive combo to massively hinder your opponent never gets old, and in Columns III five players can play at once. If you have that many friends. There’s a decent single player “story” mode too.

CastlevaniaCastlevania: The New Generation, known as Bloodlines elsewhere, is not only better than Super Castlevania IV, it does things the Mega Drive simply isn’t supposed to do. Sprite rotations and warpy effects and scaling and all the sorts of things the SNES’ extra hardware was employed to do and provide the Nintendo Gloat Factor but apparently the Sega console can’t cope with. Well, it can. Oh boy can it.

And the Alphabest?

Both Columns III and Crüe Ball are excellent games, and a few also-rans are also well worth a play (Chakan: The Forever Man and Contra: Hard Corps, for example), but far and away the best C is Castlevania: The New Generation.

It’s an almost perfect platformer. It looks incredible. It has two different selectable characters who change the combat completely. And it’s Castlevania – one of my favourite game serieseses ever. It’s incredible.

Next time! D! If I can be bothered.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – B

B is for Banyan Tree

Can you guess which letter follows last week’s A? Can you? Well done! It’s:

B

When I originally thought of this series of posts, one game that immediately came to mind for B was Batman. I used to love it, being a great little platformer with some fantastic music and best of all, I had the Japanese Sunsoft version so it came in a tiny box. Unfortunately, when I played it recently for the first time in many years, it hadn’t aged well, so that’s Batman in the bin then. The other Mega Drive Batman games aren’t even as good as the first one so they’re out too.

Many people would suggest Battletoads here, but it’s rubbish. It always was, even the NES version, and I’m amazed anyone ever thought otherwise. TMNT and Streets of Rage are both much better. Bubsy and Bubsy II can both do one as well, for obvious reasons if you’ve ever played either of them. Ballz 3D? Clever idea, but impossible to play. Barkley Shut Up and Jam? Hahaha, no. That doesn’t leave a lot left that’s actually any good. Damn you, Batman.

Here’s the top two (there were going to be three, but well, Batman) of what’s left:

Bonanza BrosBonanza Bros is a 2.5D heist game, with lovely cartoon graphics. Two player mode is where it shines, but dodgy collision detection and some really frustrating sections are off-putting – especially the springs you have to jump on (but can’t see!). It’s funny though, and flattening guards or slamming doors open in their faces never gets old.

Bio-Hazard BattleBio-Hazard Battle isn’t an early Japanese spinoff of Resident Evil, instead being a side scrolling shoot ’em up. It isn’t my favourite genre, and it isn’t my favourite game in that genre, but it is fun and has some interesting organic enemies and some gorgeous backgrounds. And it begins with B.

And the Alphabest?

I’m disappointed that B gave such a poor selection of titles. Even the two I’ve narrowed it down to aren’t especially great, but needs must so the winner is:

Bonanza Bros. Despite the flaws, it’s a jolly arcade game with blue skies and comic slapstick, and is especially good in two player mode. So play it in two player mode.

Next time! C! Bet you didn’t C that coming. Ahoho.

Alphabest: Mega Drive – A

A is for Apple

Hello! Welcome to a new series which I will probably give up on long before I reach the end, where I tell you – the uninterested reader – which games for the Sega Mega Drive are best. But not a best of, or a top ten, or by genre, oh no! By letter! What a great idea. Until I get to Q or something. And Alphabest is a portmanteau of alphabet and best, just in case you were wondering. This week:

A

On the one hand, A is pretty easy to deal with because there are quite a few A games. On the other hand, one of them is Art Alive! and another is Altered Beast. Add those to both Aero the Acrobat games and Ariel the Little Mermaid and it isn’t looking good. Maybe a “least worst” is needed.

Then I realised there are a few gems in there, so the article is saved!

Atomic Runner, Alisia Dragoon and Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle are all potential winners based on my knowledge of them back in the day. I’m sure you’re yelling “Aero Blasters!” at the screen right now 1 but I’m not including that because I’ve never actually played it. My feature, my rules. Don’t make me tap the sign.

Atomic RunnerAtomic Runner is a fun little shooty platformer not vastly unlike Gunstar Heroes. Your little man, Chelnov (after whom other versions of the game are named) runs through levels with a wide array of different weapons, shooting robot insects, robot samurai, robot spiders, robot rabbits and, er, robots, as well as organic enemies and some big bosses. It’s a little jerky, and compared to most other similar games Chelnov is a tiny little sprite although he’s pretty agile and can jump and backflip pretty much the height of the screen.

Alisia DragoonAlisia Dragoon is a game about one girl and her dragons. Despite what this might suggest, she manages to keep her clothes on and isn’t invulnerable to fire. She does shoot varieties of lightning bolts though, and her dragon familiars also have assorted powers. The game itself is actually broadly similar to Atomic Runner, being that it is a platform shooter, but it’s more fluid and has larger sprites. Alisia is less gymnastic than Chelnov, however.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted CastleAlex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle is almost a remake of the Master System game Alex Kidd in Miracle World. It has a similar structure, and relies a lot on Scissors Paper Stone for boss battles. The graphics are big and cartoony and it’s fun to play, especially when you buy yourself a pedalcycle in the shop.

And the Alphabest?

Alisia Dragoon. It’s technically superior to the other two games, it’s not as regulated by luck as Alex Kidd and it does a lot of what Atomic Runner does only better. And it has dragons.

Join me again next time for (spoilers!) the letter B! Woo.

Notes:

  1. and at least one person, one poor deluded person, is screaming “Awesome Possum” – please seek help.