Golden Axe II (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’ll axe you again.

I was pretty sure that Golden Axe II was a better game than Golden Axe I. And I’d remembered correctly – as it is. But it’s still almost exactly the same game only with more pink and purple, a better (for Gilius at least – I only ever play as him) special attack.

Both “tricks” from the previous game still happen here, and for this one Sega Mega Drive Classics actually has an achievement for doing it enough times:

A hole new world

The other trick is the “running headbutt” one, and that’s still alive and well here too. Some of the baddies have evolved to make it a little harder – the giant dog things with maces, for example, now try to Tiger Knee you mid-dash. I also found a new trick which I don’t think worked before:

Mmm, pink

The bosses were also quite a bit easier than the original game, especially the final boss who rarely actually hits you. The big headless knights can’t be beaten like their headed counterparts (headbutt or jump-slash), but if you walk diagonally into them you can axe them before they attack so they’re actually easier to dispatch.

Graphically, the game seems better looking but the giant turtle and eagle based levels are replaced with just normal paths and caves, and the previously mentioned pink and purple enemies are a bit garish. The music, as ever, is great though.

Golden Axe (Switch): COMPLETED!

Golden Axe is not a good game. It’s a clunky, short, repetitive arcade game with some stupid AI and just isn’t fun.

Take this “trick” for example, where you beat baddies by them jumping to their doom:

Or this easy way to fight one or two baddies:

Stupid. But I completed it anyway.

ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron (Switch): COMPLETED!

I never got on with this previously. I think the main issue was that it didn’t feel like a proper sequel to the original ToeJam and Earl, which was one of my favourite Mega Drive games. It had the same funk, but it was a totally different experience.

Ditching the roguelike trappings of the first game, which was set on Earth (sort of), Panic on Funkotron instead became a platformer set on ToeJam & Earl’s home planet. The Mega Drive was swamped with platformers, so that didn’t help it stand out. Many times over the years I’ve tried to play through this and given up before the end of the first level because it just wasn’t what I wanted to play. But this time, something clicked.

One of the new baddies is a ghost cow who possesses you. Because of course it is.

The main gameplay is to explore levels finding earthlings to throw jars at. Jar them enough and you can capture them. Capture them all, and you can move on to the next level. Often these earthlings are hidden in trees and bushes, as are presents and traps. Presents don’t work like they used to, giving you random points, coins (for parking meters that trigger secrets), funk (for special moves) and a few powerups and special attacks (like one-hit jar captures).

This bonus game pops up frequently. It’s pretty hard and mostly pointless.

So it’s different. Some things are the same, like the characters, general graphical style and of course the music, but it plays out totally different. In the original, combat was rare and earthlings were generally just avoided. Here, you need to take the fight to them, and there’s some skill involved for taking out each type. It’s also quite a lot easier, so long as you take your time and don’t rush into areas in case of hidden baddies. Panic on Funkotron is also much, much longer – so it’s a good job there’s a password system in place. Of course, on the Switch version you can just use save states, but it took me six or seven hours to complete the game. Some of the levels are huge and the earthlings well hidden!

Alright old man.

It’s a shame I never got on with this originally. Maybe if I’d never played the first game I wouldn’t have had the problem with this being different. It’s still not as good as the first game (but to be fair, very few games are), but it’s much better than I ever previously gave it credit for.

Altered Beast (Switch): COMPLETED!

As it’s Easter it makes sense to play a game about a man who is resurrected.

And that’s the best thing to say about Altered Beast. We all know what a bad game it is. It’s even worse than The Story of Thor. It hasn’t improved with time and was never any good to begin with.

I can’t be bothered writing any more about it.

The Story of Thor (Switch): COMPLETED!

Which Norse god bit his tongue? Thor. Note: the game is not about Norse gods.

Let me start this post with a couple of points. Number 1, it’s called The Story of Thor even though Mega Drive Classics calls it Beyond Oasis. I’m aware it’s called that in the US, but this is MEGA DRIVE Classics, not GENESIS Classics. Number 2, it is Not A Good Game.

Oh sure, it looks nice with its big sprites and Link to the Past-like overworld. It’s sort of clever with its four special spirits you can summon (once you’ve collected them all, at least). It also has some really impressive looking bosses. But, sadly, everything else is rubbish. The combat is woeful with only four directional attacks when eight are really needed, and it’s made worse by the terrible collision detection. The sprites being huge means screens are cramped with both a small viewport and too many baddies squashed up together. I suspect the animation suffers too, with some creatures having hardly any frames.

The Little Shop of Horrors “spirit” is called Bow, for no sensible reason.

Your inventory is too small, and success on some parts of the game rely on having certain weapons. The problem is, you can only hold so many and each has a limited use. At least twice I needed bombs but had none, nor space to carry them even if I did, which was a pain.

I’m on a boat!

Also a pain is how the spirits you can summon can only be summoned by “shooting” specific things. For the fire spirit, you have to shoot some fire, for example. Frequently, this is the basis of a puzzled and often that means either being psychic and triggering a summon when you can and bringing it along, or backtracking to where you’re able to trigger. Making use of the spirits is hit and miss too, especially when trying to get the fire one to light bonfires and torches (necessary to open doors or solve puzzles) as it wanders around with a mind of its own.

The final boss, who looks like Dark Force, is actually the easiest one in the entire game.

The bosses, as I said, are mostly pretty impressive. Several are as large as the screen, but most are very, very easy to beat. It’s actually swathes of minions which are the hard bits, and sometimes these appear to be infinitely regenerating and other times there’s just hundreds of them. There’s no way of telling if it’s necessary, or even possible, to defeat them all, and sometimes you need to for an important item to appear.

I’ve often seen The Story of Thor in lists of the best Mega Drive games, and I recently saw it in an article about “games for other systems that are similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past”, and it’s baffling that it’s in either of these. It’s nowhere near good, let alone “best”, and, a slight graphical nod aside, not really much like Zelda either. It’s not fit to lick Zelda’s boots.

And no, I don’t know why I played it to completion.

All the spirits leave you in the end. Oh, spoilers, I suppose.

Bonanza Bros (Switch): COMPLETED!

I don’t think I’ve ever completed this before. But now I have.

It was actually a lot easier than I remember. Although there’s a level timer, the trick is to take your time and don’t panic. It’s only on the final level I came close to running out of time!

Phantasy Star III (Switch): COMPLETED!

Let me three your phantasy.

I wasn’t going to move onto Phantasy Star III so soon after Phantasy Star II, but there it was on the Sega Mega Drive Classics menu, winking at me, so I didn’t really have a choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, Phantasy Star III was my first JRPG. It’s still my favourite, and although Phantasy Star IV is probably technically better, it’s III that I have more fondness for. Back in the day I completed it many times. The first time, it took from Christmas to August, but after a few more I could do it in a single 24 hour sitting. This is the first time I’ve completed it in probably two decades, and it took perhaps 15 hours, but there’s a reason for that: I played most of the walking and some of the fighting on Fast Forward (an option in the Mega Drive Classics). If there’s one thing that hasn’t aged well in RPGs, it’s how slow you move.

Gianticorn and Wolfsnail was a short lived kid’s cartoon in the 1990s.

Surprisingly, I still knew almost all of what I needed to do in the game. Even the routes through some of the dungeons was still etched in my brain. I also found the game much, much easier than I ever remember it being, with much less grinding too. I seem to recall always needing to level most of my party up to around level 55 for the final dungeon and boss, but here I walked it at around level 48. Maybe I’m just better now.

For those interested, the characters I played as (the game spans three generations with a slightly different story depending who you marry at the end of each) were Rhys, who married Maia and had a son, Ayn, who married Thea and had a son Sean.

Now, do I start IV or do something else first?

Phantasy Star II (Switch): COMPLETED!

Phantasy Star II was never my favourite game in the series. It’s the one I’ve played the least, the one I struggled with the most, and the one which has the worst dungeons ever. But I still really like it.

Compared to the original, despite appearing on more powerful hardware, this sequel seems such a step backwards in many ways. The dungeons are no longer rendered in 3D, which is the biggest change, instead being the more usual JRPG “almost overhead” view. This would make them easier to navigate if it wasn’t for the fact many, especially those later on, are a total nightmare. Convoluted mazes with many stairs up and down and pits to fall in which are trial and error.

Dezolians are a bit weird and don’t even understand you unless you’re wearing a Magic Cap or a Mogic Cap. Yes, a Mogic Cap. It’s the same as a Magic one, only you pay twice as much in shops if you’re wearing a Magic one.

The plot is fine but the things you’re asked to do are boring. Oh, a dam to explore. And another one. And another one. And another one. Now search all four of these dungeons for all the “nei” weapons, several of which you’ll never need to use but you can’t progress until you’ve found them. Rubbish.

Then there’s the fact that (spoilers), the entire planet of Palm (neé Palma) is blown up. You’d think there’d be more panic and outcry from the residents of Mota(via) and Dezo(lis), but no – barely a mention from anyone. In some ways it feels like it was cut from the game rather then specifically destroyed. You spend far too long on Mota before you’re able to travel to Dezo and once on Dezo there’s little point returning. In Phantasy Star, you were planet hopping all the time and had jumped from Palma to Motavia very early on.

Unlike the first game, you have a choice of party members here. Several of them seem completely unnecessary, but Shir is fun as she can nick stuff from shops. Randomly, unfortunately, and the things she steals are from a set list of items rather than what the shop may actually sell, but still – it’s a good way to make some money. Hugh and Kain though? Nobody cares.

Oh, it’s Dark Force again. I bumped into it accidentally (it hides in a chest) when I wasn’t on a hight enough level and he killed me. Some grinding later and he was a walkover.

But despite these issues, I must stress that Phantasy Star II is still great. There are improvements, such as each character having their own inventory, far more magic types (now called “techniques”), no annoying going into the inventory to get your ice digger or land rover or whatever all the time, and the dialogue translation is far better. I enjoyed the references to the original too, with shared place names, the main character’s recurring dreams about Alis, and the “is Lutz the same guy as Noah but Noah was a girl and does that mean Lutz is or was it a mistranslation?” thing.

Lutz is definitely a boy. Or a very rude girl.

So, it’s not as good, but it is still definitely worth a play.

ESWAT: City Under Siege (Switch): COMPLETED!

What does ESWAT stand for? Is it like SWAT only with an E like eBook and eLearning and eMail? Or are you supposed to say “es-what”? Who knows. But it’s certainly more interesting than the game.

Yes, friends, ESWAT is a proper stinker. A clunky platform shooter with rubbish weapon selection controls and boring levels. A game that suggests, from screenshots and the first level or so, it’s a bit like Rolling Thunder (which is a great game), but disappointingly, isn’t.

There are some positives, such as the very varied levels and a few impressive bosses, but your character is slow (both to move and respond), badly animated, and these issues make it difficult to avoid enemies. Later levels have you in a sort of power armour suit with more weapon options and a jetpack, but your weapons randomly disappear, and the jetpack is a nightmare to control.

I could say more but I’ve wasted long enough on this awful game already so I won’t.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Switch): COMPLETED!

The first of what will hopefully be many games completed on the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection on the Switch. I was going to play Fatal Labyrinth, but the lack of a manual and the terrible video options (which don’t affect Alex Kidd so much) put me off for now. Instead, this.

The Mega Drive Alex Kidd game isn’t as good as the Master System “Miracle World” title. There. I said it. It looks prettier (although it’s still almost Master System quality graphics), and it’s one hell of a lot easier, but it’s lacking something. I don’t really know what exactly, since it’s very much closer to a remake than a sequel, but there’s something. Heart? Soul? Blocks with stars on them?

Just the two of us. Building castles in the sky.

What it is, then, is a mostly generic platformer starring half boy, half monkey Alex, who suffers from wonky physics syndrome. Alex must unintentionally slide, over compensationally jump, and input lag his way around a number of platforming levels, mostly avoiding enemies as trying to hit them is much harder than just going around them.

He can collect money from defeated baddies and from treasure chests, and then use this money to enter janken (scissors, paper, stone) matches with people for power-ups. You also use janken to defeat bosses. So yes, it’s random as to whether you’ll win or not.

Alex thinking about punching ratboy over there. Sorry Alex! You can only play janken.

Finally, you reach a castle where there is a bit of puzzling and more interesting platforming, before facing the final boss in more hand games and then an actual normal fight. After which, you “rescue” your Dad who hadn’t been captured after all making the entire game a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

But actually, I really quite enjoyed it despite all the terrible flaws.

Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

I alone am best.

I must complete this every year, I think. There’s little need to mention much about the game really, except to say that 1) I played as Scarlet, and 2) once again I reached the final level as the only person to actually put any of my men in suspended animation. Meaning another instant win.

One day, someone else will manage it. One day.

Pulseman (MD): COMPLETED!

But he’s a robot so doesn’t have a pulse surely.

What’s this? A Mega Drive game I’ve never heard of? Surely not. Especially since it was written by Game Freak and published by Sega themselves. How come I’d never seen it before? Perhaps it’s because it was Japan-only?

Well, despite being Japan-only, and all the dialogue in the game being in Japanese, all the speech (and there’s a lot) is in English. Which begs more questions – why wasn’t this released outside of Japan? Bizarre.

The game itself plays like a cross between Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Pulseman himself looks absolutely nothing like Zero from the Mega Man games, and none of the levels look anything like Aquatic Ruin, Green Hill Zone and Casino Night at all. Unlike both those games, though, Pulseman is badly animated and movement is jerky. He’s got a swipe attack and a weird backflip thing (during which he’s invulnerable), but the main gimmick for the game is his ability to charge himself up with electricity and use it mainly to become a ball that bounces round the screen.

To charge, Pulseman can either run a short distance or perform a dash. The ball he turns in to can then be used to reach higher platforms, break through certain walls, or travel along wires. There’s a power up which allows Pulseman to remain charged indefinitely, so long as you don’t die or finish the level.

Speaking of levels, they’re varied and some look incredible. In particular, backgrounds are often made up of the sort of sine-wavey trickery demo scene stuff tends to do. It’s occasionally distracting (on one later level seemingly on purpose) but it looks really clever. On the casino level you wonder how they squeezed so many colours out of a Mega Drive.

Jerkiness aside, it’s a fun game. Not too hard, sometimes frustrating (mainly due to leaps of faith or those baddies that follow you round discharging you all the time), and with lots of “wow” moments with the graphics.

Gynoug (MD): COMPLETED!

Or Wings of Wor, if you’re from “over there”.

Was this always so easy? I mean, it isn’t easy. Not at all. But I found it really hard back in the 90s yet somehow managed to finish it today without much of a struggle. Perhaps it’s because I now understand the concept of “bullet hell shooter” (which this isn’t really, but it helps) so I concentrated on watching bullets rather than enemies.

In fact, I didn’t even die until level 3 or 4, and even that felt unavoidable.

My memory is obviously faulty too, as I was sure that the bosses were much harder to hit when in fact most of them are shot accidentally as you avoid projectiles. Only the final boss caused an issue, and that was because his weak point is well protected and it just took ages more than anything.

I was also pretty sure there was a vertically scrolling level in there. Apparently not. Dunno where I got that from!

Mega-lo-Mania (MD): COMPLETED!

Alright, Why Not.

As I do every so often, I sat and played – and completed – one of the very best Mega Drive games: Mega-lo-Mania.

This time it was prompted by a conversation on Twitter, but I don’t really ever need an excuse to play it. It’s so good.

Once again, the CPU didn’t put anybody in suspended animation (see my previous post on this) and, since I’d expected it, I only put the bare minimum in myself. And then won.

Again.

Virtua Fighter 2 (PSP): COMPLETED!

Polygone.

Sort of prompted by the Virtua Fighter article in the current issue of Retro Gamer, when I opened up Mega Drive Collection for the PSP – on my Vita – I decided to play this.

It’s crap.

No, it’s really pretty awful. The animation is terrible, the controls are unresponsive, and the implementation of the game on the Vita/PSP is woeful, with horrendous slowdown and sound syncing issues.

It looks nice. But then everything moves and you wonder what the hell Sega were thinking when they thought the Mega Drive was a good fit for a Virtua Fighter 2 port. It didn’t have the oomph to push enough polygons, so they rendered the animation frames with sprites instead. Leaving a poorly animated version of the game and awful sprites that are laughable beside Street Fighter II or even Eternal Champions.

I completed it as Jacky, by the way.