Streets of Rage 2 – Review

There’s very little argument to be had. Streets of Rage (1991) was one of the finest beat ’em ups produced on the 16-bit console in the early 1990s., and I will not hear a bad word against it! Wanting to cash in on it’s success, Sega produced a sequel and released it the following year. Surely the creators couldn’t improve on such a near perfect game…or could they?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Streets of Rage 2 (known as Bar Knuckle II in Japan) is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up. The sequel to Streets of Rage (1991), it was developed by Sega, Ancient Corp., MNM Software and H.I.C.. It was published by Sega in 1992 and was released for the Sega Mega Drive in North America in 1992 and Europe and Japan in 1993; the Game Gear and Master System in 1993, and the Nintendo 3DS in 2015. For this review, I revisited the Mega Drive version.

Plot

It has been a year since ex-law enforcement officers Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter defeated the Syndicate and restored peace to their city streets once more. The morning after the one year anniversary of their bringing down of the Syndicate, Axel receives a phone call from Adam’s younger brother, Eddie “Skate” Hunter. He tells Axel that upon returning from school, he found that the house had been trashed and that Adam was missing. Axel and Blaze visited Adam’s house and sure enough, the place had been wrecked. Whilst looking for clues as to the culprit, Axel and Blaze find a photo showing Adam in chains lying at the feet of the Syndicate boss who they thought they had defeated the previous year. That very day, swarms of the Syndicate’s henchmen returned to the streets wreaking havoc once more. Axel and Blaze contacted their old friends at the Police Department, but they had either been fired or transferred to another department and so could not assist. Luckily, one of Axel’s friends, Max, agrees to help them rescue Adam. Skate also joins the trio to help rescue his brother.

There are four characters to choose from each with differing stats (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

Very little has changed from the first instalment. The game can be played in single or two-player mode and you must use your hand-to-hand combat skills to battle through hordes of Syndicate gang members. Along the way you can pick up and use weapons such as metal pipes and knives. These have limited use and will disappear once they are used up. When smashing up items such as sandwich boards and bins, you will also find money which goes towards your overall score, and apples and turkeys which help restore your energy.

What’s New?

The special attack has been changed for this game. Instead of a back-up Police car raining down fire in the form of napalm or bullets from a gatling gun, you perform a special move. However, every time you use this move, you will lose a bit of energy.

SOR 2 also introduces a Duel Mode where you can fight other characters one on one. If you choose the same character, a colour palette change distinguishes the two of you. This is a nice little addition to the game but cannot compare to the likes of Street Fighter II (1992).

Characters:

Axel Stone – Ex-Police Officer and skilled martial artist. Currently working as a bodyguard. A good allrounder.

Blaze Fielding – Ex-Police Officer and Judo expert. She is currently teaching dance. Agile, but not as strong as Axel and Max.

Eddie “Skate” Hunter – Teenage brother of Adam Hunter. He is an inline skater and break-dancer which allows him speed and agility but also the weakest character.

Max Thunder – Friend of Axel, Max is a former wrestler and extremely strong. His size does make him the slowest character though.

Axel giving a baddie a knuckle sandwich (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The game plays very well. The controls are responsive and the differences between the characters are very apparent meaning you will need to change your fighting tactics based on who you are. You can still hit your team mate so be careful when you’re swinging that metal pipe.

The game also has a flatter perspective, so it feels as though there is less room to move around, encouraging you to engage in fighting quickly.

I like the fact that the energy bars of the enemies are now shown. It enables you to tactically work your way through enemies, perhaps killing the lesser henchmen before moving on to the tougher ones so that you are not so overwhelmed by their number.

One annoying aspect to the game is the once you are at the end of the level and have beaten the last enemy henchman, your player will automatically walk to the exit. This can be annoying if you’ve been trying to save an apple or turkey for health and it ends up just being left.

Graphics

As with the Streets of Rage (1991) the graphics look awesome. The levels are incredibly detailed and colourful (some with parallax scrolling in the background and foreground), and the sprites are larger, allowing for more detail. One nice little touch is the slight up and down motion when on the boat level.

Many of the baddies have been lifted directly from the original which is a little cheap I guess, but they still look great so, I’m my opinion, the creators can be forgiven. Maybe this was a case of If it ain’t broke, don’t fix!

Beware…these buggers can breathe fire (screenshot taken by the author)

Music

The music takes on a similar style to the original game. It is upbeat and fits well into this style of game. I can’t say that the music is as memorable for me as the original but this is just a personal preference.

Replay Value

The fact that the characters have very different stats and move sets, as well as the difficulty settings, two-player option and Duel Mode, adds lots of replay value. This game will become a staple for Friday night gaming with your friends.

Personal Thoughts

Throughout many of the reviews below, there seemed ot be a constant comparison with Street Fighter II (1992), which I found odd. They are two different styles of game. To compare them is to compare apples to oranges. I appreciate that this was at the height of the Sega/Nintendo wars, but the comparison is a nonsense.

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, I have completed the game many times on Easy. I will no have to try it on Normal.

What The Critics Said?

Computer & Video Games: “The hyper-violent gameplay grabs you by the throat from the very moment you pummel your first bad guy, and don’t expect it to end there. Overall 95%.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “Let’s make no bones about it, Streets of Rage 2 is the greatest sequel we’ve seen for ages and is certainly the best scrolling beat ‘em up to ever hit a home console! Overall 90%”.[2]

Bad Influence!Overall 9/10”.[3]

Mean Machines – The Essential Sega Guide: “The Megadrive really shows off with Streets of Rage 2. Cool beat ‘em up action, about double the size of the average Megadrive game. Overall 92%.[4]

Mega Play: “The graphics are very good and the animation superb. The music is complex and upbeat, and the sound effects are great. The moves are simple and there are enough techniques to keep it from getting repetitive. Overall 84%.[5]

Mega Play: “This is a solid action fighter with a good variety of moves. However, I found that the special moves gave you too much strength and made the game too easy. Less power and more technique would have made it more challenging. Still, It’s a solid two player game. Overall 80%.[6]

Sega Force: “Sega have come up with the goods! Wipes the floor with Street Fighter II. Overall 93%”.[7]

Sega Power: “The best scrolling beat-‘em up around – and big improvement on the original. Time will tell whether it’s the best yet though (Street Fighter 2 is on its way, after all). Overall 92%.[8]

Sega Pro: “Forget Sonic 2, this has to be the best game to date. Overall 96%.”[9]

Awards:

EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992 – Hottest Video Game Babe (Blaze)[10]

Mega Reader Awards ’92 – Beast Beat ‘Em Up[11]

Golden Megawards Game Fan’s Best of 1992 – Best Game

Golden Megawards Game Fan’s Best of 1992 – Best Game Music

Golden Megawards Game Fan’s Best of 1992 – Best Action Fighting[12]

My Verdict:

“Although I still prefer the original (purely from a nostalgic point of view), I have to confess that SOR 2 is a superior game. More moves, slightly better graphics, and more characters, it is easy to see why this has gone down as one of the greatest 16-bit beat ‘em ups of all time.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Streets of Rage 2? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review – Streets of Rage 2’. Computer & Video Games. (February 1993). Issue 135:26-28.

[2] ‘Streets of Rage 2’. Mean Machines Sega. (December 1992). Issue 3:136-139.

[2] Bad Influence!. ‘Bad Influence! Series 1 Episode 11’. Bibilography.com. Uploaded by retro Pixels. Wed, 01 Nov 2017. https://ghostarchive.org/varchive/JgNu9HIEXEI.

[4] Rignall, J., & Leadbetter, R., ‘Streets of Rage 2’ Mean Machines: The Essential Sega Guide. :97.

[5] Alessi, M., ‘Streets of Rage 2’. Mega Play. (February 1993). Volume 4 Number 1:52.

[6] Grossman, H., ‘Streets of Rage 2’. Mega Play. (February 1993). Volume 4 Number 1:53.

[7] ‘Streets of Rage 2’. Sega Force. (April 1993). Number 16:28-31.

[8] ‘Streets of Rage 2’. Sega Power. (April 1993). Issue 41:30-1.

[9] ‘Streets of rage 2’. Sega Pro. (February 1993). Issue 16:28-9.

[10] ‘EGM’s Best and Worst of 1992: Best Video Game Babe (All Systems) – Streets of Rage 2‘. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 1993 Video Game Buyer’s Guide. (1993). :20.

[11] ‘It’s The Mega Reader Awards ‘92’. Mega. (March 1993). Issue 6:20.

[12] ‘Golden Megawards Game Fan’s Best of 1992’. Game Fan. Issue 16:28-9.

Sonic Spinball – Review

In a bid to cash in a franchise’s success, creators will often produce spin-off games that are usually inferior in quality to the main releases. Many would argue that these games are simply cheap and awful. However, occasionally you will find spin-offs such as Dr. Mario (1990) and Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (1993) that are actually worth owning (although this is likely because the Tetris (1984) like format had already been tried and tested and found to be successful). How would a Sonic themed pinball game fare?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball is cross between a platformer and a pinball game. It was developed by Sega Technical Institute and published by Sega. It was released in 1993 for the Sega Mega Drive and in 1994 for the Game Gear and Master System. It has also had multiple re-releases on the following:

  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) – GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) – PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Sega Smash Pack – PC (1999), Dreamcast (2001), and Game Boy Advance (2002)
  • Sonic Gems Collection (2005) – GameCube and PlayStation 2
  • Wii Virtual Console (2007)
  • iOS and Steam (2010)

For this review, I played the Mega Drive version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Sonic acts like a pinball throughout most of the game (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

On the Planet Mobius, the evil Dr. Robotnik is putting his latest dastardly scheme into action. He has created the Veg-O-Fortress, a monstrous machine built into Mount Mobius so that it can draw energy from the volcano via the lava flow. His plan is to entrap the wildlife of Planet Mobius and convert them into mindless machines. Knowing that Sonic and his friends may soon try to foil his plans, he has created a Pinball Defense System to protect his latest invention. As Sonic and Tails approach the mountain in their plane, they are shot down. After escaping a watery grave, Sonic must play the Pinball Defense System to destroy the Veg-O-Fortress and save Planet Mobius.

Although I think Sonic’s moving reflection is good, these bonus stages are a bit pointless (no pun intended) (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The levels are designed to simulate a pinball machine. You control Sonic and although he acts like a pinball for most of the game, there are times when you can walk/run. The aim of the game is to collect the Chaos Emeralds which will destabilize Mount Mobius and destroy the Veg-O-Fortress. After gaining all the Chaos Emeralds from one level, you must then fight and destroy one of Robotnik’s many boss machines.

There are only four levels:

The Toxic Caves – This is where Robotnik dumps his industrial waste. When you gain the Chaos Emeralds, Scorpius awaits. 

Lava Powerhouse – The heart of the Veg-O-Fortress where the lava-powered generators lie.

The Machine – This is where the inhabitants of Planet Mobius are held captive and where they are transformed into machines.

Showdown – Grab the last of the Chaos Emeralds and flee before the Veg-O-Fortress explodes.

At the end of every level, Sonic will enter a bonus stage which is also designed like a pinball machine. but where the view is different, and the object is to simply score as many points until you lose all three balls.

Up to four players can join in the fun but like pinball machines in real life, each player must wait their turn until the previous player loses a ball (Sonic dies).

The game also features some play firming elements too (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

Sonic’s move set is the same as it would have been in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, in that can still do the Spin Dash. However, when falling off an edge, Sonic will perform a Cliffhanger Flip that allows him to pull himself to safety. You can even control Sonic’s trajectory to a certain extent. For example, if he is falling back to the flippers, you can press left or right to make him veer in that direction which is incredibly helpful at times.

One incredibly annoying aspect to the game is that if Sonic dies, the level is reset and so you have to go through the whole rigmarole of pulling levels or opening doors again. I understand that arcade pinball machines are like this, but I think the realism actually is a detriment to the video game.

Graphics

I think the game looks great! The levels and sprites are colourful and very detailed. I particularly like the bonus stage where you can see Sonic move in the reflection which is a nice touch. However, when you defeat a boss and they begin to explode, the explosions can make the game slow down and blocks of exploding graphics can disappear.

Music & SFX

The music is pretty good and fits the game well. The funky music of first level in particular is distinctive enough to get stuck in your head.

Oddly, the sound Sonic makes when he performs a Spin Dash has changed. It no longer sounds like a bandsaw speeding up but more the sort of sound one would associate with a jumping action. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it.

Replay Value

This game does have some replay value. As well as the multi-player option, you can also change the speed of the game. I also find myself returning to this game generally. There is something about it which draws you back.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I haven’t yet gotten past Level 3.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic Spinball is definitely a new setting for the hedgehog and there are points for originality, but the overall execution of the game seems like an afterthought. The scrolling of the pinball boards is choppy and it’s hard to control what you want to do. As a plus, the boards are huge with lots of nooks and crannies with items to seek out. It’s worth a look. Overall 28/40.[1]

GamePro: “Some animals just refuse to walk out into the roadway when their time is up. Sonic is one of those critters, but, fortunately, the wizards of Sega have come up with a fun, fast and frenetic pinball game to offset all that running and jumping. Overall 17.5/20.[2] 

Mean Machines Sega: “Eminently playable, and full marks for the ingenious approach to pinball, but Sonic Spinball is not the Twix of Megadrive games. One bite and it’s gone. Overall 81%” .[3] 

Electronic Games: “Spinball’s graphics and sound, while not as impressive as Sonic 2, are very good…The sound and music effects not only maintain the game’s internal rhythm but also provide audio game clues. No Rating.[4]

Entertainment Weekly: The first, a video pinball game in which Sonic is the ball, boasts a terrific concept but an ultimately flawed execution — Sonic often moves like a leaden marble. Overall C.[5] 

MegaTech: “Sonic Goes Pinball with five huge levels and a good feel from the flippers and Sonic-ball. Fun and very addictive – the first four levels are pretty easy, but the last one’s dead hard. Not really enough there to warrant the asking price. Overall 86%”.[6]

My Verdict:

“I must confess, I actually like this game even though I can’t complete it and find it incredibly frustrating and cheap at times. It looks great, sounds great, and although the scrolling isn’t as smooth as it could be, I find that this game draws me back again and again. It has a certain charm that warrants a better reputation.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic Spinball? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Review Crew – Sonic Spinball’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1993). Number 53 Volume 6 Issue 12:48.

[2] Scary Larry. ‘Genesis ProReview – Sonic Spinball‘. GamePro. (January 1994). Volume 6 Number 1:48-9.

[3] ‘Megadrive Review – Sonic Spinball’.  (December 1993). Number 14:70-2.

[4] ‘Video Game Gallery – Sonic Spinball’. Electronic Games. (January 1994). Volume 2 Number 4:90.

[5] Strauss, B., (February 11, 1994). Entertainment Weekly. (https://ew.com/article/1994/02/11/sonic-cd-sonic-chaos-sonic-spinball-sonic-3/ Accessed 13th January 2022).

[6] ‘Game Index – Sonic Spinball’ MegaTech. (May 1995). Issue 42:30-1.

Sonic 3D Blast – Review

By the end of 1996, the Sega Mega Drive was nearing the end of its life. The PlayStation, Sega Saturn and N64 were leading the way to the future of gaming and were far more powerful machines and after 1996, the number of games released on the system would be greatly reduced as creators focussed more and more on the newer systems. Sega decided to release one more Sonic game for the Mega Drive. Sonic 3D Blast was that game.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic 3D Blast (Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island in Japan) is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Sega Mega Drive and Sega Saturn in 1996, with a Windows port being released in 1997. The Mega Drive It would be re-released as part of the following compilations:

  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube
  • Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2002) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Windows
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Wii Virtual Console in 2007
  • Steam in 2010

For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Plot

Whilst ever pursuing the elusive Chaos Emeralds, Dr. Robotnik discovers Flicky Island. The island is home to the Flickes, a genus of birds that are able to teleport using Dimension Rings. As is his usual custom, Dr. Robotnik proceeds to capture the Flickies and encase them inside his evil machines known as Badniks. He plans to use them to help him capture the Chaos Emeralds. It is up to Sonic to rescue the Flickies and defeat Robotnik’s evil machines yet again before they can find the Chaos Emeralds.

Perspective has now changed from 2D side-scrolling to 3D isometric (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

Thus far, all Sonic the Hedgehog games in the franchise have been 2D (which the exception of some of the bonus stages which ventured into 3D). Sonic 3D Blast moves from side-scrolling platformer to isometric platformer. You still need to collect rings (which act like health). If you take damage without any rings, Sonic dies. Collecting 100 rings will gain Sonic an extra life.

Sonic must navigate his way through the following levels:

  • Green Grove Zone
  • Rusty Ruin Zone
  • Spring Stadium Zone
  • Diamond Dust Zone
  • Volcano Valley Zone
  • Panic Puppet Zone
  • The Final Fight

As with all Sonic games, there is a boss battle at the end of each zone consisting of one of Dr. Robotnik’s contraptions.

To progress through the stages, you need to rescue the Flickies that are trapped inside the Badniks. Once you destroy a Badnik, a Flicky will jump out. When you run near them, they will latch on and instantly start following you. You must then escort them to the Dimension Ring. You will need to find five Flickies in total per Dimension Ring. You can then progress to the next part of the level or the next stage. Beware, if you take damage, not only will you lose rings, but the Flickies will stop following you, so you’ll need to round them up again.

Throughout these levels, you will encounter Knuckles and Tails (sometimes in secret areas). If you hold 50 rings when you approach them, you will be transported to a special stage where you can win a Chaos Emerald. I was interested to not that the special stages have reverted to a similar style found in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). Only this time, Sonic is not running along a halfpipe, but a simple platform. You must still evade bombs and collect rings to progress to the next stage and win a Chaos Emerald.

The Chaos Emerald stages have reverted to a similar format as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) (screenshot taken by the author)

There are also plenty of items for you to pick up along the way to assist you:

  • Rings – Necessary for health, extra lives and to access special stages.
  • Super Ring Box – Gain 10 rings.
  • Invincibility Box – Makes Sonic invulnerable for a short period of time.
  • Power Sneakers Box – Makes Sonic extra quick for a short period of time.
  • Red Shield Box – Sonic gains a shield that makes him impervious to heat.
  • Blue Shield Box – Sonic gains a shield that makes him impervious to electrical attacks.
  • Gold Shield Box – Protects Sonic from one normal attack and allows Sonic to use the Sonic Blast attack.
  • 1-Up – Gives Sonic an extra life.
  • Sonic Icon – Gives Sonic a continue.

Hint: When Sonic has the Flickies following him and he jumps on a spring, you’ll notice that the Flickies will fly even higher. Use this to gain difficult to reach goodies.

For those of you who have played the arcade games Marble Madness (1984) and Flicky (1984), will recognise that the two games have basically been amalgamated to create this game, and that is not a criticism.

You need to rescue to the Flickies and take them to the large golden rings to progress (screenshot taken by the author)

How does the game handle?

The controls are very difficult to get used to. Sonic is very fast on screen and the camera angle is zoomed in so far that one is reluctant to use Sonic’s speed because you cannot see enough around you. Not being able to use Sonic’s speed defeats what gamers love about Sonic. Once you memorise the levels, I’m sure you can increase your speed and whizz through the levels. The Isometric view also makes it incredibly difficult to judge when Sonic is jumping. The shadow that Sonic casts doesn’t help either. A part of the game I found particularly frustrating is when Sonic must jump on platforms whilst trying to ascend a steep ramp or cliff. The physics of the game make this incredibly difficult to judge where Sonic will land before it is too late, and you fall to the bottom of the slope/cliff again. I’m afraid I may have dropped the C-Bomb once or twice during these parts of the game.

If you take damage while guiding the Flickies to safety and they scatter, you’ll need to round them up quickly as they have a habit of wandering off and are not easy to find again.

Graphics

Graphically, I think the game looks great. I’m pleased to see the creators try something different, although it is easy at first glance to recognise this is a Sonic game. I think it was a good idea to alternate the colours of the ground, making it look more like a chess board as this is more pleasing to the eye. I also think that the theme of each level was very distinctive, if a little predictable as with previous Sonic games. The addition of an ice level allowed the creators to really utilise the slipping and sliding mechanic. Interestingly, the platform that Sonic runs along during the special stages has been created in Mode 7 style.

Music

I think this game is also let down by the music. The main theme and the in-level pieces of music are just very…”meh!”…and fail to be as memorable as the music from previous games.

Did I Complete The Game? (Spoiler Alert)

Yes, I completed the game twice. Once with all the Chaos Emeralds and one without. The so called “Good Ending” is very poor! It is simply four or five slides showing Sonic and his friends free from the clutches of Dr. Robotnik. It is very underwhelming. Oddly, the bad ending is animated and has much more about it.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Blast has some of the best, most colourful graphics this old machine has ever seen. The action is fast, yet smoothed and refined. The levels are a bit too similar in design for my taste, but a couple of them will surprise you. The control takes a little bit of getting used to, but so are most games that are viewed from three-fourths perspective. I would’ve liked a map of some sort (I know – Sonic games don’t need a map), but the levels are bi; I’ve gotten side-tracked on a couple of occasions. Is this the Genesis’ last call? Overall 25/40.[1]

Entertainment Weekly: “Sonic the Hedgehog, whose sequel-spawning cartridge ignited sales of the 16-bit Genesis in the early ’90s, has been a conspicuous no-show on Sega’s 32-bit Saturn system. He’s back in Sonic 3D Blast, but he’s showing his age. The Genesis and Saturn versions are essentially the same: Rescue birds called flickies, collect golden rings, and bring down Dr. Robotnik. Problem is, while 3D Blast is super by 16-bit standards, it falls flat on Saturn, where 32-bit games with far more sophisticated 3-D graphics and gameplay are the norm. Genesis: B”.[2]

My Verdict:

“I actually quite like this game. It’s Marble Madness meets Flicky. A fun concept which is only let down by the physics of the game. Impressive graphics and a thumbs up for trying something new.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic 3D Blast? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Dan., ‘Review Crew – Sonic 3D Blast’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (November 1996). Number 88:90.

[2] Walk, G.E., (December 13th, 1996). ‘Sonic 3D Blast’. Entertainment Weekly. (https://ew.com/article/1996/12/13/sonic-3d-blast/ Accessed 12/01/2022).

Sonic & Knuckles – Review

I’m sure we’ve all said at one point in our lives, “Wow, we have reached the pinnacle of videogaming,” only to be proved wrong a year later. Innovation is the key to ensuring that gaming franchises don’t become stale. The introduction of new characters, new features and gameplay styles are all used in attempts to keep games fresh. But what if you could add new characters to older games? Well, that’s just what the creators of Sonic & Knuckles did.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic & Knuckles is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1994 and later on various compilations including:

  • Sonic Jam (1997) for the Sega Saturn
  • Sonic & Knuckles Collection (1997) for the PC
  • Sonic & Garfield Pack (1999) for the PC
  • Sonic Mega Collection (2002) for the GameCube
  • Sonic Mega Collection Plus (2004) for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC
  • Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Sonic Classic Collection (2010) for the Nintendo DS

The game would also become available on the Wii’s Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade, and Steam. For this review, I played the version found on the Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

No sooner had the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) been concluded, where once again Sonic thwarted Dr. Robotnik’s evil plans to steal the Chaos and Master Emeralds causing DeathEgg to crash land on Floating Island (Angel Island), Sonic must again act quickly to seek out the emeralds and recover them before Dr. Robotnik can find them. However, Sonic is now fighting a war on two fronts. He also needs to beat Knuckles to Echidna to them too. Knuckles is the Guardian of Angel Island and the Emeralds, and his mission is to stop any invasion by any means necessary.

You cannot fault this game’s beauty (screenshot taken by the author)

You can choose to play as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles in this game. Sonic and Tails have the same skill set as before. However, if you play as Knuckles, you may not be as fast or be able to jump as high as Sonic, but you do have your advantages. For one, you can glide! Secondly, you can climb walls using the spikes on your fists.

As is standard for Sonic games, you collect rings along the way. When you gain 50 rings you can enter the special and bonus stages. These are identical to those found in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) in that you must run around a globe and collect small blue spheres. The more you collect, the faster your run making it more difficult to control.

Another bonus stage is similar to the emerald stages of Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) in that Sonic is curled up in a ball and must navigate a rotating stage. The aim is to stay as central as possible and enter a slot that spins fruit machine reels to win rings. This continues until you touch the outer edges a few times revealing red circles in the wall that make you exit the game when you land on them. As before, every 100 rings you collect gains you an extra life.

A third bonus stage sees you use glowing electrical spheres to catapult yourself up the screen. However, you need to be quick. A horizontally spiralling laser beam slowly moves up the screen. if you fall into it, you will exit the bonus stage.

The special stage where you can win the Chaos Emeralds (screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic & Knuckles must traverse the following levels:

Mushroom Hill Zone

Flying Battery Zone

Sandopolis Zone

Lava Reef Zone

Hidden Palace Zone

Sky Sanctuary Zone

Death Egg Zone

Doomsday Zone

Throughout the levels you must try to find the Chaos Emeralds. As with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), these are found in hidden locations. Once you obtain all the emeralds, you gain access to special abilities.

The power-ups are exactly the same as found in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994). The boxes contain:

  • Super Rings – 10 rings
  • 1-Up – Extra life
  • Invincibility – Invulnerability for a short time, however, you can still die if you are crushed.
  • Water Shield – Allows you to breathe underwater as well as bouncing on the heads of the badniks.
  • Lightning Shield – This magnetic shield attracts rings when nearby, can absorb energy ball attracts, and allows you to gain a little extra height with a double jump.
  • Flame Shield – Makes you impervious to lava and fireball attacks. You can also briefly turn into a fireball that will destroy badnisk.
  • Super Shoes – You can run at hyper speed for a short period of time.
  • Robotnik – Avoid these as they spell instant death if you break them.
Knuckles has the ability to climb and glide (screenshot taken by the author)

One of the biggest selling points of this game was that the cartridge was designed for you to attach Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) onto the top of the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge allowing you to play the previous games with Knuckles. This isn’t just a quirky feature either. It actually allows you to reach previously unattainable areas of the levels.

This is the title screen that appears when you attach the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge.
This is the title screen that appears when you attach the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles (1994) cartridge (screenshot taken by the author)

Although the gameplay is unchanged from Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the game has added a few nice touches to make the gameplay a little more interesting. An example of this can be found in Sandopolis Zone 2 where you need to pull down bars to light up the level. When the lights start to dim, you will begin to be attacked by ghosts and so you need to find more levers to pull down to scare the ghosts off.

Graphically, you can’t fault this game. Colourful, vibrant and detailed backgrounds, and gorgeous looking sprites. The levels have some nice touches too, such as Mushroom Hill Zone when you land on the green ground and what looks like yellowish pollen balls fly up.

The theme tune is the same as Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), and the music throughout the levels continue to be of a high standard as we have with previous Sonic games.

The replay value of the game is certainly there too. Not only do you have to ensure you gain all the Chaos Emeralds to earn the good ending, but some of bosses are different depending on if you play as Sonic or Knuckles which certainly warrants a play through as both characters.

My only criticism of the game is that I question whether the format is now becoming a bit stale. This is Sonic’s fourth instalment, ignoring Sonic Spinball (1993), and it feels like it’s the same game being rehashed over and over again. I appreciate that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) and Sonic & Knuckles (1994) were originally meant to be one big game, but one could be forgiven for wishing Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994) had added something to differentiate itself more from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992). Whilst the adding of a new character and creating a system where it can be played on older Sonic games is ingenious, I just think the format of the game needs a good shake up.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed the game with both Sonic and Knuckles and with both obtaining all the Chaos Emeralds.

What the critics said:

Computer & Video Games: “It’s over a year old now and you need to buy both Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles to fully enjoy it. That’s why it’s here at the bottom. But in truth, Sonic 3 and Knuckles is the best platform experience ever. It’s what video games were invented for. Overall 97%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic and Knuckles is the ultimate Sonic game. This is the best game of the series and the lock-on technology offers new life to older games. Many new games can be plugged in, too. Fantastic graphics, sound and game play make this Sega’s ultimate game and it gets my vote for Genesis Game of the Year! Overall 37/40“.[2]

Game Pro: “Sure, sure, it’s just another Sonic game. But this one’s got some revolutionary elements that make it another ground breaker for Sega. Overall 20/20.[3]

Next Generation: “A slot in the top accepts previous Sonic carts and enables you to play them starring Knuckles instead of (yawn) Sonic. Does this make Sonic 2 less Tedious? Well, no. But it is an impressive technical feat and if it points to a future where old games can be given a new lease on life with “mission carts” similar to the expansion disk that have long been available for PC titles, then NEXT Generation is all for it. Overall 4/5.[4]

Sega Magazine: “Slick and accomplished platformer which doesn’t quite catch the edge over the younger, fresher Headdy. Overall 92%.[5]

Sega Power:Excellent ideas, great game. A change in gameplay is needed soon. Overall 90%.[6]

My verdict:

“Another winning instalment from Sega. Fun, fast and furious, with great new bonus stages, plenty of replay value, and stunning graphics. I just fear that the format is begininng to grow stale. Let’s try something different next time.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic & Knuckles? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘The Computer & Video Games Christmas Buyers Guide’. Computer & Video Games. (January 1996). Issue 170:9.

[2] ‘Review Crew – Game of the Month’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1994). Issue 65:34.

[3] ‘ProReview – Sonic and Knuckles’. Game Pro. (November 1994). Issue 64:72-3.

[4] ‘Rating Genesis – Sonic and Knuckles’. Next Generation. (January 1995). Issue 1:101.

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic the Hedgehog’. Sega Magazine. (October 1994). Issue 10:81.

[6] ‘Mega Drive – Sonic and Knuckles’. Sega Power. (November 1994). Issue 60:35-6.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – Review

Who hasn’t fantasised about being a ninja? The idea of being a highly skilled assassin infiltrating an enemy base and dispatching your enemies using an array of weapons like the shuriken, katana, and kusarigama is a hero fantasy that I certainly had (and still do at times). The Revenge of Shinobi (1989) was a popular game. Would a third instalment prove just as successful?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Super Shinobi II in Japan) is a single-player hack-and-slash action game and a sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi (1989). It was developed and published by Sega and released on the Mega Drive 1993. It would appear as part of the Sega Genesis Collection (2006) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, on the Wii Virtual Console (2007) and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It would also be released for the PC on Steam (2010), iPhone (2011) and Nintendo 3DS eShop (2013).

After the events of The Revenge of Shinobi (1989), Joe Musashi also known as Shinobi, returned to Japan to recover from his battle with the Neo Zeed organisation. He soon learns that the Neo Zeed are rebuilding and that members of the organization have been sent to kill him. Once again Shinobi must prepare to battle for his life and stop the evil Neo Zeed once and for all!

Beautiful level and sprite design (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi must battle through seven Levels:

  • Zeed’s Resurrection – Battle through the forests and caves of Japan
  • Secret Entry – Infiltrate a high-tech facility
  • Body Weapon – Battle through a laboratory where biological weapons are being created
  • Destruction – Infiltrate a robotics factory
  • Electric Demon – Infiltrate and destroy a weapons facility
  • Traps – Descend into a gorge where Neo Zeed’s secret base is found
  • The Finial Confrontation – Battle through an air fortress to defeat the Shadow Master

As with the prequel, there are several items and power-ups to look out for:

  • 5 x shuriken
  • 20 x shuriken
  • Heart bonus (for health)
  • Extra Life
  • Ninjitsu – Adds a special ability for you to use
  • Time Bomb – Avoid these as they explode and cause damage to you

A new danger to look out for is mines and these aren’t always easy to see.

Throughout the game, Shinobi can use his sepcial powers:

  • Jutsu of Ikazuchi – Summons a bolt of lightning to create an electrical shield that gives you invulnerability for a short period of time.
  • Jutsu of Kariu – Summons four pillars of intense flame to incinerate your enemies
  • Jutsu of Fushin – Increases Shinobi’s jumping ability
  • Jutsu of Mijin – Shinobi explodes killing nearby enemies, however Shinobi will also lose a life.

These special powers can only be used once per level unless you find a box a Ninjitsu icon along the way.

My kingdom for a horse! (screenshot taken by the author)

New additions to traversing the levels that break up the monotony include a horse and jet-ski. On the horse you must be aware of enemies hanging from kites. You need to dispatch them whilst keeping an eye out for tripping hazards. The jet-ski level sees enemies riding futuristic hover bikes whilst you keep an eye out for ramps that allow you pick up goodies and avoid enemy mines.

The creators have added some nice new moves to the game to make things a little more interesting. For example, Shinobi can now perform a mid-air flying kick, can jump off walls to gain higher ground, can hang from the ceiling (which I don’t recall him doing in Revenge of Shinobi (1989), and a running slash that makes him temporarily invincible.

There are four difficulty settings: Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert offering plenty of replay value to the game. You can also choose how many shuriken to start with, adding a further layer of difficulty should you wish it.

That’s one ugly-assed monster! (screenshot taken by the author)

I think this game looks great! The sprites look fantastic and are very detailed. I particularly like how the enemy sprites explode, reminiscent of many arcade games. The levels are also incredibly detailed with many having multi-layered parallax scrolling. In Level 1 when you enter the cave, the transition in the background is very smooth. The background of the forest fades and after a brief black backdrop, the interior of the cave fades in. I also really liked Level 5 where you are battling through a forest that is ablaze. The oranges and reds of the background really give you a sense of heat from the inferno. You can almost feel it coming through your TV screen!

The music is actually pretty cool. There are some nice upbeat electronic tracks similar to what you’d find on Streets of Rage (1989).

One issue I have with the controls is that in order to perform a somersault, you need to press the jump button a second time when Shinobi is at the peak of his first jump, else he will just begin to fall as normal. I found this frustrating, especially when the levels scrolled up or when you had to jump onto the falling rocks. I lost many lives on these levels and I felt that the window with which you needed to perform the somersault was a little too narrow.

I also have an issue with the fact that Shinobi can still only through his shuriken in one direction…the way he is facing. I think it would be time for him to at least be able to throw them straight up by now. Sadly, this lack of progression in his move set loses them game some points for me.

Did I complete the game?

As of yet, I can’t get past Level 6.

What the critics said:

Computer and Video Games: “As good as Super Shinobi II is it just doesn’t have that awesome mix of action and graphical excellence that the first one was full of. The graphics look a little better with some topper backdrops and Joe himself has had a bit of a facelift and been given Ultimate Warrior type arm-ties. Once again the music is absolutely superb with some really hard thumping rock tracks and some brilliant effects. Game play has been made a little more involving with some new moves and other treats but there’s just something missing to make it a classic. Overall 84%.[1]

MegaTech: “One of the best MD action titles around. Great, fast-paced action, briliant graphics and sound and a few new tricks up Joe’s sleeve make this a must for all atcion fans. Overall 93%.[2]

Mega: “As much fun as the previous Shinobi games and a bit better besides. Why the, didn’t they make the bloody thing a bit harder? Overall 74%.[3]

Sega Power: “Shinobi is to predecessors what Kellogg’s Special K is to cornflakes – same ingredients but with a different shape. It’s very playable, but unremarkable, performing title. Overall 79%.[4]

GamePro: “Just when you’re getting bored with similar-looking-and-similar-playing action games, along comes Joe Musashi to shake things up. Mind-blowing backgrounds, great new moves, a horse-riding sequence, and hot music push this Genesis to the max. III cheers for Shinobi III. Overall 19/20.[5]

My Verdict:

“This game looks great with some stunning levels and backdrops. It is enjoyable to play too and contains some fab music. Although there are some new moves, I still think they could have allowed Shinobi to throw shuriken in more than on direction. Apart from a few small gameplay gripes though, it’s defiantly worth playing and I will not doubt return to conquer this game at a later date.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] Anglin, P., ‘Three Page Review – Super Shinobi II’. Computer and Video Games. (February 1993). 135:22-4.

[2] ‘Game Index – Shinobi III’. MegaTech. (June 1995). Issue 42:30.

[3] ‘Game Review – Shinobi 3’. Mega. (October 1993). Issue 13:34.

[4] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shinobi 3 – Return of the Ninja Master’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:38-9.

[5] Slasher Quan., ‘Genesis ProReview: Shinobi: return of the Ninja Master‘. GamePro. (August 1993). Issue 49:58-9.

Premier Manager 97 – Review

Managerial games have always been popular amongst sports fans. In real life, us armchair managers always know best and regularly converse with others about the failings and shortcomings of our respective teams and question why managers aren’t playing a certain player or a certain way. Managerial sports sims allow us (in a small way) to put our money where our mouths are.

Oddly, Premier Manager 97 doesn’t seem to have a title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

I struggled to find much information on Premier Manager 97 other than it was developed and published by Gremlin Interactive and released in 1996. As far as I can tell, it was only released on the Mega Drive (although I have seen screenshots for it on PC), so that is the what I will review.

The object of the game is straight forward. You manage a team and must lead them to the glory by winning leagues and cups whilst not over spending in the transfer market.

When the game opens, you have the choice of how many players who wish to play (1 or 2), what type of game (full or demo, although why you’d buy a game only to play the demo is beyond me), to start a new game or to load a saved game. 
 
Once you enter your name, you can choose to manage any team from the Third Division. These were the days when teams like Brighton and Hove Albion were nowhere near the Premier League. Other teams who have competed in the Premier League in the past few years such as Hull City, Swansea City and Fulham can also be found wallowing in the lower leagues.

The main menu helps you navigate the game (screenshot taken by the auhtor)

Once you have choose the team you wish to manage, you are taken to the home screen which contains a text box at the top explaining your name and the team you manage, your position in the league, what competition the next match will be for (league or cup) and the date. Below that, you can choose from 12 icons. From left to right and top to bottom, these icons:

Transfer Market – Where you can choose to buy and sell players.

Stadium – Invest money in your stadiums to improve its capacity and facilities.

Club Finances – Best keep an eye on your ingoings and outgoings.

Squad – Where you can see your squad and player stats and change formation and tactics.

Cup – Shows you the fixtures and results of the two domestic cups.

Sponsorship – Choose which companies to advertise in your stadium. All monies go towards your club revenue.

Phone – Hire and fire backroom staff, set up training for players, see injured players, see who your scout is recommending and how your youth team players are progressing. 

League Tables – Keep an eye on your league position.

Save Game – Save or load a game.

Question Mark – Choose to turn off game animations, and which league and cup results you see.

Fax – Keep an eye on the latest news.

Whistle – Play your match day fixture

See the stats of your squad (Screenshot taken by the author)

When the match starts, you are taken to a screen that shows the name of the two teams playing and a gauge with a ball that moves left and right showing where the ball is on the pitch. When action happens, a simple animation appears in the style of an old dot-matrix scoreboard. There are several animations but the main ones you’ll see are either near misses, saves or goals. Occasionally you see a booking, where the referee appears and holds up a card, and/or an injury where an ambulance parks up and opens its rear doors.

You also have the option to adjust the game speed. I personally prefer to put the speed on Ultra speed. At any time, you can stop the game to make tactical changes. Your squad team screen will automatically appear at halftime, if you have an injury or a sending off.

If an event happens such as a goal or booking, the description of the event (goal, booking etc.), the name of the player and minute will appear under its respective team.

The stadium screen allows you to make improvments to your groun to increase capacity and upgrade facilities (screenshot taken by the author)

One of the aspects of the game that I didn’t understand was that not only does each player have several numbered stats (Handling, Tackling, Passing Shooting etc) but they also have an overall rating of:

  • Fair with up to four stars
  • Good with up to four stars
  • Very Good with up to four stars
  • Superb with up to four stars
  • World Class
  • Outstanding
  • The Ultimate

I don’t see the point of this overall rating as you can see the stats you need. The stats are more valuable (and clearer) as to how good a player actually is.

One of several animations that appear during the match (Screenshot taken by the author)

Compared to the likes of Championship manager 97 (Champs) and Ultimate Soccer Manager 2, Premier Manager 97 may look crude and seem rather basic. To my mind it is a simpler introduction to the world of football management and is certainly quicker to play than Champs.

The menu is user friendly, and the game is easy to learn. The hardest aspect of the game is simply working out your tactics and keeping an eye on your bank balance. You don’t have to deal with disgruntled players, or with bigger clubs swooping in to tempt your better players away from your club.

The music and SFX are pretty much non-existent but then you are not playing this game for those.

I owned this game back in the 90s and found it very addictive. I got very good at the game and used to win all the trophies and competitions. Revisiting the game, I can’t remember how I did it and certainly have not been as successful. I found the balancing of your money very difficult and failed to attract more fans through the gates. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something very simply and it will no doubt dawn on me at some point.

Did I complete the game?

If by complete you mean win all the trophies, then yes, certainly in my youth, I did.

What the critics said:

At present, I cannot find contemporary gaming reviews for this game.

My verdict:

Easy to learn with intuitive menus. Not as comprehensive or as difficult as Champion Manager 97, but can still be a challenge and fun to play. It’s easy to dip in and out of too. Mediocre graphics though.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Premier Manager 97? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.

Ristar – Review

By 1995, 16-bit gaming was in its descendancy. The PlayStation and Sega Saturn had been released, demonstrating the future potential for video gaming to the world. The 32-bit era had arrived!!! Technology had finally reached a stage where 3D polygonal graphics were actually beginning to look good, and gamers were demanding longer more complex challenges. However, there were still a few gem 16-bit games in the wings, waiting to make their appearance.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Ristar is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega and released on the Mega Drive for 1995. You can also find this game on various Sega compilations on systems such as the PlayStation 3 and 4. For this review, played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

In a far-off galaxy, a band of space pirates led by their tyrannical leader Greedy is brainwashing the leaders of a nearby solar system and forcing them to do his bidding. On the planet Flora, Ristar, son of a captured space hero has pledged to travel from planet to planet to rescue his father and free all the brainwashed leaders which will in turn loosen Greedy’s power.

Superb graphics! (screenshot taken by the author)

There are seven worlds for you to save from Greedy:
 
Planet Flora
Planet Undertow
Planet Scorch
Planet Sonata
Planet Freon
Planet Automation
Greedy’s Space City

Ristar’s unique way of attacking any foe he encounters is by extending his arms to grab them and bring them towards him in what can only be described as a headbutt. Since his hands can be made to extend in all directions, this can make for some incredibly acrobatic gameplay.

There are times in the game where you will come across a Star Handle. By grabbing this, Ristar proceeds to swing like a gymnast. By pressing a direction button you can pick up speed until tiny stars start to appear. This indicates that Ristar is now a shooting star and when he lets go of the bar, will fly at great speed and will be able to reach very high places as well as kill any enemy he comes into contact with. You will find Star Handles at the end of each level where the higher you exit the screen the more points your earn.

There are also hidden Star Handles that allow you access to bonus stages. Each bonus stage has a treasure that you must find within a time limit. I’m unsure if collecting all these treasures makes a difference to the ending of the game.

Along the way you will find power-ups to help you on your journey:

Little Star – Yellow and black gives you an extra life, and black and white helps you through traps.
Restore Star – The gold star adds one more hit to your Gold Star count and a silver star resets your Gold Star count to four hit points.
Yellow Jewel – Collect these to gain points.

Ristar is an incredibly acrobatic sprite (screenshot taken by the author)

This game is fun and very enjoyable to play. Oddly there is no run button, so Ristar will always run at the same speed (unless using the Star Handle, of course). The controls are easy to learn but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay as there are plenty of enemies and handholds to grab thorughout the levels allowing Ristar to show off his agility. The controls are tight and the physics of the game are easy to get used to. However, one annoying aspect to the gameplay is that when you kill and enemy, Ristar backflips. You have no control over this and it leaves him vulnerable if another enemy is nearby.

For the most part the game is easy enough, although, I found the boss at the end of Planet Freon difficult to get past and it took me several attempts to defeat it.

Unlike many platformers which keep to the same formula of simply running and jumping through the levels, there is a puzzle aspect to Planet Sonata. You must find metronomes and take them to weird singing bird creatures that block your way.

There is little argument about it. This is one of the most beautiful Mega Drive games you will see. The levels are incredibly detailed and colourful with multi-layered parallax scrolling, and the sprites look superb. on occasion when Ristar is sliding on ice, or jumping from springs, he rotates which allows the Mega Drive to show of its graphics capability.

During the swimming levels when Ristar swims deeper, the screen becomes darker as it would in the real world adding a touch of realism to the game. Although, it would make sense to keep a circle around him which is brighter since he is a star and he emanates light. Ristar swims very well and doesn’t need to breath underwater either…which is a relief to platformer fans everywhere no doubt.

When Ristar has been standing still for too long, he begins to amuse himself in different ways depending on the planet you are on. For example, on Planet Freon, he will begin to make a snowman.

I can understand how this game has been criticised for being a Sonic the Hedgehog clone. The animations that appear at the beginning of every level telling you the stage are almost identical to what you would see in Sonic. The music, whilst being upbeat and enjoyable to listen to also reminds me of the Sonic franchise. This doesn’t bother me though as good music is good music.

Did I complete the game?

Not yet, I couldn’t get past Planet Automation.

What the critics said:
Computer & Video Games: “At first glance it just doesn’t have any original features, which is the real lifeblood of a decent jumpy game like Ristar. However, despite the absence of any real gaming inspiration so far as the format goes, Risatr is actually a pretty darned playable title. Overall 83%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “An excellent new character, Ristar requires more technique than the typical run-and jump action titles. The stages are very colourful, with good graphics and control. The sounds could be a bit pumped up. Overall 38/50.[2]

Next Generation: “Ristar borrows heavily from Sega’s other budding mascot, Dynamite Headdy, but it still contains enough original gameplay, solid action, and fun to escape the ‘copy-cat’ labl and be one of 1995’s more promising games. Overall 3/5.[3]

Games World: “Beautiful and enjoyable platform adventure in true Sega style. No attempt is made to hide the fact that Ristar takes most of its influence and style – no all of its influence and style from the Sonic games. The idea for his telescopic arms has been lifted from Dynamite Headdy, (although he didn’t use his arms mush of course). Very playable but maybe a little easy to finish. Overall 83%.[4]

Mean Machines Sega: “Likeable, if not exactly lovable, and pretty interpretation of the old platform chestnut. Now does anyone have some new ideas? Overall 84%.[5]

Sega Magazine: “A highly polished platform game. Not up there with Headdy or Earthworm Jim, but Ristar has its own charms. Worth giving a try. Overall 87%”.[6]

Sega Power: “Far too close to Sonic to be judged on its own merits. It’s not as good as Sonic either – which doesn’t help. Overall 74%.[7]

Sega Pro: “A promising debut by RIstar, this guy will go far. Good stuff, but a touch more originality would have made it even better. Overall 90%.[8]

My Verdict:

“I really enjoyed playing this game. It looks gorgeous, is fun to play, and has a good soundtrack. It shows how incredible 16-bit games can look.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ristar? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘CVG Review – Ristar’. Computer & Video Games. (February 1995). Issue 159:66-7.

[2] ‘Review Crew – Ristar’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (February 1995). :36. 

[3] ‘Rating Genesis – Ristar’. Next Generation. (March 1995). Issue 3:101.

[4] Reviews – Ristar‘. Games World. (March 1995). Issue 9:12.

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Ristar’. Mean Machines Sega. (February 1995). Issue 28:60-2.

[6] Mega Drive Review – Ristar’. Sega Magazine. (January 1995). Issue 13:889.

[7] ‘Mega Drive – Ristar’. Sega Power. (March 1995). Issue 64:50-1.

[8] ‘Review Mega Drive – Ristar’. Sega Pro. (February 1995). Issue 41:40-1.

Kid Chameleon – Review

16-bit consoles are never short of platform games, all with varying degrees of popularity and success. Once you have a game like Sonic the Hedgehog, all platformers will naturally be compared to it. Originality isn’t always easy to produce and so many will naturally fall short.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Kid Chameleon is a platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1992 and latterly as part of the Sega Smash Pack 2 (2000) for the PC, Sega Genesis Collection (2006 for the PlayStation Portable and the PlayStation 2, on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 260 and PlayStation 3, and on the Sega Forever service in 2017.

The Samurai helmet transforms you into Red Stealth (screenshot taken by the author)

In an unnamed town in the US, a new and exciting game has hit the arcades. Wild Side uses holograms to create a fully immersive video gaming experience, much like the holodeck from Star Trek. Soon children start to go missing once they enter Wild Side and they are never seen again. It is soon discovered that the boss of the game, Heady Metal, has escaped the confines of his programming and is kidnapping the children once he defeats them at the game. Kid Chameleon is the toughest and coolest kid in town. He agrees to take on the challenge of Wild Side, defeat Heady Metal and rescues the children imprisoned within the game.

The controls are simple. You can walk, run, crawl and jump. Like many platformers, you need to hit the blocks from below to gain whatever bonus is inside. The bonuses you receive will increase your time, contain different helmets to transform you and gain different abilities, and diamonds. Collecting diamonds helps energise your abilities. If you have 2, 5, 20 or 50, then you can engage your Diamond Power which is dependant on what sort of helmet you are wearing. You can also find Ankh’s which give you extra lives and coins which give you extra continues. Once you collect a helmet, you will automatically transform into a new character and will be bestowed unique abilities.

There are nine helmets that Kid Chameleon can wear, and they all have unique powers:

Iron Knight – Enables you to climbs walls.

Red Stealth – Samurai that can use his sword to attack or as a pogo stick to smash blocks below your feet.

Berzerker – An American football helmet with horn on the top. When you run at walls, he can smash them to break through.

Maniaxe – Jason from Friday 13th’s mask. He throws axes.

Juggernaut – Turns Kid Chameleon into a tank that fires skull bombs.

Micromax – Shrinks Kid Chameleon to access smaller places. He alsouses wallas to jump higher.

EyeClops – Allows Kid Chameleon to see invisible blocks.

Skycutter – Enables you to fly upside down and traverse ceilings.

Cyclone – Enables you to fly.

When you aren’t wearing a helmet, you can still attack some enemies by jumping on them (screenshot taken by the author)

Kid Chameleon can be played in one- and two-player modes. In two-player mode, each player simply takes turns. The physics of the game take some getting used to. When you begin to move, he starts slowly and quickly gathers speed. This sounds pretty straight forward but it just feels odd in this game. The physics when jumping are very unforgiving and I found him difficult to control. An interesting option is that you can choose whether to have Kid Chameleon walk and then use the speed button to speed up, or to run all the time and use the speed button to slow down.

I thought the graphics were pretty good. The sprites are clearly defined, colourful and are nicely animated. The levels and background are also colourful and very detailed. A nice touch is where on the first level, the reflections of the trees on the water are moving.

The music is fine for the game, no complaints here. It just hovers in the background not imposing itself too much on the game.

Interestingly, there is only one difficulty setting which obviously limits its replay value.

There is something about this game that just didn’t click with me. I liked the idea of the helmets giving you unique powers, but I felt the way they were used fell short of their initial vision. At the end of the day, I felt that the physics of the game made it feel that you weren’t really in control of the character. That could just be me sucking at video games of course.

Did I complete the game?

Not yet, I am currently unable to get past the Bagel Brothers level.

What the critics thought:

MegaTech: “Kid C is a platform game with a novel twist, the hero can change his form by collecting hats. This power lets him masquerade as a samurai, a tank, a psycho and a host of other characters. What lets it down is the lack of challenge which persists throughout the game bar one level. Overall 64%.[1]

Sega Force: “Aesthetically its ok: backgrounds are good, sprites are excellent, tunes and FX are reasonable – there’s nothing fault. Hardened platformers will take to this, those looking for the next Sonic should wait. Overall 82%.[2]

Console XS: “Above all, the kid is cool. With his Ray-Bans glistening in the midday sun, he must venture over and underground to rescue his mates. Best of all, kid can change his persona, resulting in constant variety. Overall 89%.[3]

My verdict:

“Great graphics but I don’t think the physics of the game is very good and the game can be very unforgiving at times. Other than that, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this game, but it lacks a bit of the “WOW” factor for me.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Kid Chameleon? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Game Index – Kid Chameleon’. MegaTech. (May 1992). Issue 5:77.

[2] ‘Reviewed! – Kid Chameleon’. Sega Force. (April 1992). Issue 4:12-16.

[3] ‘Console XS AZ – Kid Chameleon’. Console XS. (June 1992). Issue 1:12-131.

Golden Axe III – Review

Golden Axe (1989) has gone down in history as being one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash games of its generation. Golden Axe II (1991) was a respectable sequel but isn’t held in as high regard as its predecessor. The arcade sequel Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder (1992), wasn’t released onto home consoles until decades later. Naturally, one can be forgiven for thinking that the franchise had ended. However, Sega decided to have one more stab at rivalling the original.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe III is a side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in Japan in 1993 and north America in 1995 for the Sega Channel. For some reason, it didn’t get a European release until it became available as part of Sega Genesis Collection (2006) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009). It can also be found on Wii Virtual Console. I chose to review the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

The sprites are more detailed than in Golden Axe (1989) and Golden Axe II (1991) (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

It has been many years since Gilius Thunderhead, accompanied by Ax Battler and Tyris Flare, retrieved the Golden Axe from Dark Guld. Both Battler and Flare has since passed away, leaving only Gilius, a dwarf whose life expectancy is greater than humans, to relive their battles alone. Gilius vowed to travel to the ends of the Earth to find the Gods who had bestowed the Golden Axe among the humans to return it to ensure that future dark powers could not use it for their evil ends. As his ship sailed across the ocean and mighty tempest sank his ship. The next thing he knew, he had awoken in a land he had never been to before. He may have imagined it, but he could have sworn that the last thing he heard before losing consciousness was an evil laughter. There was one thing he that he is sure of. The Golden Axe he was carrying to the Gods has been lost…

Half a year later, Gilius’ injuries are healing and he feels strong enough to set out again in search of the Golden Axe. He is soon caught up in war between good and evil. The Kingdom of Splash Hill where he had been recovering is under attack from the armies of the evil Damned Hellstrike who has conquered and enslaved the people. The king is missing and the queen is confined to the castle. Gilius soon puts two and two together and realises that Damned Hellstrike is in possession of the Golden Axe. However, Gilius is too old to go into battle and must seek out four warriors to go in his place.

These four warriors are:
Kain Gurindaa – A soldier who wields a battle sword. His closes friends were killed by the Demon Army and he is seeking revenge. He is basically Ax Battler.
 
Sara Baan – Once part of a troupe of travelling entertainers, her friends were killed when the Demon Army invaded. Possessing the Blue Dragon Sword given to her by her father, she too seeks revenge. She is bascially Tyris Flare.
 
Puraudo Kuragga – A descendant of the giants, he lends his strength to the cause after Gillius rescued him from the Demon Army where he was being held captive.
 
Kuronosu “Ibiru” Reito – This half-man half-beast was once a human. He has been cursed by the Demon Army and seeks to regain his human form.

Gameplay

As with the prequels, you must battle through a variety of areas using hand to hand combat and magic. You can now block enemy attacks. To do this, you need to push the D-pad backward away from the enemy.

One nice addition to this game is that there are times when you can choose which path to take. Some paths will be easier, but the harder paths yield better power-ups, so the choice is yours.

Once again you can use Bizzarians. There are four types. The Red Dragon who fires flames, the Green Dragon that bites, the Purple Snail that uses its tongue to attack, the Green Snail, which is superior to the Purple Snail, because it has a longer tongue. Unlike Golden Axe II, if you are riding a Bizzarian and you get hit, you WILL lose some of your health. If you wish to mount one, you will need to press the action button near one. You will not mount one automatically. This also goes for picking up potions and health.

As with previous games in the series, you can gain potions to increase your magical power (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The gameplay is very simple, if not a little repetitive due to the limited move set that each character has. The enemies are wiser to your offensive tactics and defend themselves better than in previous instalments. This is particularly noticeable when fighting the skeletons who have shields, and the big bosses who are exceptionally good at defending themselves.

In previous Golden Axe games, the attributes of the characters were clear. Gilius Thunderhead was the strongest in hand-to-hand combat but had the weakest spells, Ax Battler was in the middle ground and Tyris Flare was weaker in battle but had the strongest spells. In Golden Axe III it is unclear who the strongest is in hand-to-hand combat. To me, it seems that it’s Puraudo Kuragga as he seems to take less time to kill the evil minions. However, each character seems to have the same number and strength in spells, which doesn’t make sense as this means there is no advantage in playing with Sara Baan who is weaker and has less of a reach even though she wields a sword.

The new blocking action doesn’t work very well. You need to guess when they are going to attack else your fighter simply turns around and starts walking the other way. This method of defence is fine for one-vs-one fighter games when attack will only come from one direction, but when attacks can come from multiple directions, its just doesn’t work. It would have made more sense and would have been more intuitive to have a button to act as the blocking function. Also when fighting the baddies, they have the odd ability to be either slightly high or lower in the foreground and can still hit you with an attack which is incredibly annoying.

Annoyingly, you now seem to have no control over how much of your magic you use. I don’t understand why they didn’t keep this in from Golden Axe II (1991) as this adds strategy to the game.

The Bizzarians really are pathetic in this game and really are not worth the hassle of mounting them only to get knocked off almost instantly.

One good feature of this game is that you can rescue villagers to gain extra lives (I think it’s five per extra life). You can also find hearts which increase the size of your health bar.

Graphics

The graphics, as far as the sprites are concerned, are much larger and more detailed than in previous instalments and look great! However, the backgrounds are very lacklustre (only occasionally is there parallaxing), and the animations of the spells are really crap!

Out of the four characters, I preferred weather playing as Kain Gurindaa or Puraudo Kuragga; the former because of the reach of his sword, and the latter because of his strength.

Music

The music is more fitting than it was with Golden Axe II (1991), but again, is very forgetable.

Replay Value

There are two endings: one good, one bad. To get the good ending, you’ll need to reach the final boss with at least one continue left. Incidentally, when you do die, a message appears on the screen stating “And You Dead!” which made my brother and I laugh. It must be a translation issue.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I made it the castle but have not gotten any further as of yet.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly “The graphics are by far some of the most plain looking on the Mega Drive. Plus, the new magic effects aren’t as impressive as before. No rating given.”[1]
  
Sega Power: “Not the sequel we expected, I’m afraid. Everything about this game smells. If you’ve got the superior Golden Axe II, be content with that – you won’t find anything here. Overall 34%.[2]

Sega Pro: “The competitive two player mode still remains, but the moves are limited and the control a little too shabby in comparison to modern head-to-heads we see today. Again, the challenge is far too easy and the gameplay soon becomes repetitive and boring. This is one too many. Overall 54%.[3]

Computer & Video Games: “Loads of levels and stacks of moves. Boring, tedious, dull, unattractive. Is that enough? Overall 62%.[4]

My Verdict:

“A disappointing sequel. This game is just not fun to play. Which is a shame as the graphics of the sprites are greatly improved from the previous instalments. There is more wrong with this game than right.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe III? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Golden Axe III’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (December 1993). Issue 53:111-1.

[2] Mortlock, D., ‘Mega Drive Review: Golden Axe 3’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:50-1.

[3] ‘Short Reviews – Golden Axe III’ Sega Pro. (September 1993). Issue 23:84.

[4] Anglin, P. & Rand, P., ‘Review Mega Drive – Golden Axe III’. Computer & Video Games. (September 1993). Issue 142:54-5.

Golden Axe II – Review

Golden Axe has gone down in history as arguably one of the most famous hack ‘n’ slash videogames ever to grace the arcade, warranting its conversion to the 16-bit consoles. With such success, questions surrounding sequels are bound to be asked. Can lightning strike twice or will Golden Axe II be nothing but a damp squib?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe II is a side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash game that can be played in single and two-payer modes (Be careful in two-player modes as you can damage the other player if not careful). It was developed and published by Sega and released solely on the Mega Drive in 1991. It would later be released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009), as well as iOS. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Although this is the sequel that was released on home consoles, in 1992, another sequel, Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released but only appeared in the arcade. As far as I can tell, this sequel was set after the events of Golden Axe II.

Plot

A few years after the defeat of Death Adder, evil once more rises to threaten the world. After many years imprisonment, Dark Guld escapes and steals the Golden Axe. With his army of evil demons, he terrorises the world bringing death and destruction to peaceful villages everywhere. Once again, it is up to the mighty barbarian Ax Battler, the Amazonian Tyris Flare and the dwarf Gilius Thunderhead who defeated Death Adder, to come forth once more and reclaim the Golden Axe, defeat Dark Guld and bring peace to the world.

Ax Battler once again swings his mighty sword against the armies of evil (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The three playable characters from the first Golden Axe, Ax Battler, Tyris Flare, and Gilius Thunderhead, return in Golden Axe II to take on Dark Guld and his army of evil minions. The game features a total of seven levels: six scrolling levels and a final end of game boss battle against Dark Guld:

  • Ravaged Village
  • Ruins
  • Tower
  • Dragon’s Throat Cave
  • Castle Gates
  • Castle
  • Dark Guld’s Chamber

As before, each character has a unique move set and magic spells. Gilius Thunderhead is the strongest and so has weaker spells. To cast spells you first need to collect spell books. These can be found either lying around, or will be dropped by evil mages when you attack them. In the option screen under the magic heading, you can select ‘Special’ or ‘Normal’. When ‘Normal’ is selected and you use your magic, you will automatically use the strongest level of spell you can according to the number of spell books you have acquired. When you select ‘Special’, you can press and hold the ‘magic’ button in order to select how strong you wish your spell to be. This is a nice new feature as it adds an element of strategy to the game and means you don’t have to waste your strongest spells on the lesser minions.

The Bizarrians (Chicken Leg, Green Dragon, Red Dragon) are also still available. When you find these along your journey, it is advisable that you ride them and use their abilities. If you get hit whilst rding a Bizzarian, you won’t lose any of your life bars.

An additional sub-game is The Duel. In one-player mode you must fight total of 15 rounds against ever increasingly strength of opponents. In two-player mode player one and two fight each other.

Amazonian Tyrius Flare also returns to fight Dark Guld and his evil army (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

I did notice a slight change in the tactics of the computer sprites, in particular, the bosses. In the original, you simply kept the bossses on either side of you and ran back and forth using your diving attack. However, in this game, the sprites are wise to this and move slightly up or down the screen to avoid this tactic. The final boss also seems to stay half off the screen, meaning that you cannot ambush him in two-player mode.

Now, is it me, or is this game very short? Both this game and the original can be completed within 25 minutes, but for some reason, this game feels shorter. In reality the game length is around the same as the original. Funny how the mind can play tricks on you, but then again, humans are notoriously bad at gauging time without the aid of a clock. Either way, as a sequel this game should be longer.

Graphics

There seems to be very little improvement in the graphics (if any), although parallax scrolling has been added on the Dragon’s Throat Cave level and the spell graphics have slightly improved. Other than that, there is very little to discuss here.

Music

The music over the title screen does not fit with the theme of the game. It sounds like it would be more fitting in a game associated with crime such as Dick Tracy (1991) or Bonanza Bros. (1991). The in-game music is very…meh. It is easily forgettable and a little annoying. You’ll be forgiven for not recognising it when you hear it again.

Replay Value

This game has plenty of replay value. When playing the single or two-player standard game, you can change the difficulty setting to either ‘Easy’, ‘Normal’ or ‘Hard’, as well as adjusting the number of life bars you have per life.

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, I have completed it on Normal Mode.

What The Critics Said:

Mean Machines: “A disappointing sequel which lacks new ideas, and challenge, and is just too similar to the original to be really worthwhile. Overall 69%.[1]

Mean Machines: “What a con! Golden Axe II is almost identical to the original game. It follows the same formula, has virtually no new features and certainly isn’t worth the money. Buy the original if you haven’t already got it. If you have, look elsewhere for your beat ‘em up thrills. Overall 69%. [2]

My Verdict:

“There is nothing glaringly wrong with this game. The issue is that there is very little to distinguish it from its predecessor. It’s almost an exact carbon copy and just feels like a lazy money-grabbing move by the creators. A disappointing sequel.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Megadrive Review – Golden Axe II’. Mean Machines. (December 1991). Issue 15:142-4.

[2] ‘Game Index: Mega Drive – Golden Axe II’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:139.