Ecco the Dolphin – Review

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes in video games. Muscle-bound barbarians, ace spaceship pilots, martial arts experts, and yes, even Italian plumbers, to name a few. In 1992, Sega took a chance on a new hero. This one couldn’t wield swords or axes, or pilot machinery, or cast magic spells. It didn’t know kung-fu and certainly didn’t grow larger having eaten mushrooms. No, this hero lived in the ocean but needed air to breathe. He was agile, could swim at great speeds and leap from the water to soar above he waves like an albatross. This hero was a dolphin!

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Ecco the Dolphin is an action-adventure developed by Novotrade International and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in 1992, with versions also being released on the Master System, Game Gear, and Sega CD. Versions were later released for the Wii Virtual Console (2006), Xbox Live Arcade (2007), as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS (2013), and Sega Genesis Mini (2019).

Ecco is a dolphin. There is nothing particularly special about him other than the unique star pattern on his forehead. One day, whilst swimming with his pod, he leaps high into the air and at that exact moment, a vortex opens and sucks up his pod (as well as other ocean dwelling sealife). Ecco needs to find out what happened to his pod from creatures much older and wiser than himself. He embarks on a long journey into cold and unfamiliar waters, where strange and deadly creatures live.

Ecco can use his sonar to stun or to talk to other creatures (Screenshot taken by the author)

First, let me just say that the graphics of this game show the Mega Drive at its pomp. Bright and colourful, with incredibly detailed backgrounds and sprites. From the multi-coloured shoals of fish, to the array of seas sponges and plants on the sea bed, there is so much that draws the eye. An accurate and nice touch is where the deeper you go, the darker the background becomes, emphasising that light doesn’t penetrate that deep into the ocean.

I remember when a childhood friend of mine bought this game. We were stunned! Not only did the concept of controlling a dolphin seem unique (to us at least), but the attention to detail was at such a level that I think we firmly believed that gaming had reached its apex…how young and naïve we were.

The music is very understated in this game, but it works so well. Some of the music is very relaxing and calming, which is surprising because for most part, you are not very relaxed at all. In fact, the game will give even the most seasoned gamers anxiety.

Rather than have time limits for the levels, Sega offer us two energy bars. One is health and the other is oxygen. To replenish your oxygen bar, you need to find an area where you can breach the surface of the water or find where oxygen bubbles are rising from cracks in the seabed. This becomes challenging when you are deep under sea in a labyrinth of caves. To recover health, Ecco must dash into the shoals of smaller fish to gobble them up. If you die, you simply go back to the beginning of the level. You have infinte lives in this game and believe me, you’ll need the am all!

Eating the smaller fish helps Ecco restore lost health (Screenshot taken by the author)

The basics of the game are simple. When pressing a direction, Ecco will swim in that direction. When you stop swimming, Ecco will drift, adding some realism to the gave, since the sea is always moving with the tides. To increase speed, press the ‘C’ button, and Ecco will speed up, handy for when you’re almost out of oxygen or when you need to leap out of the water and over obstacles. The ‘B’ button makes Ecco dash. This is mainly used to attack the many dangerous and deadly creatures he encounters, as well as, breaking down shelled walls. The enemies include sharks, jellyfish, pufferfish, and crabs….those crabs can fucking do one! They come out of nowhere and make a ‘B’ line for you. I admit, I dropped the ‘C’ bomb several times during my playthrough due to those little wankers. Frustratingly, the enemies also respawn which pisses me off even more and makes the game even harder.

The ‘A’ button is Ecco’s sonar ability and can be used in several ways:

  • Press and hold ‘A’ until the sonar bounces back. This opens a map segment, again very handy for when you are lost in caves.
  • Communicate with other friendly sea creatures such as other dolphins and killer whales. These friends can offer advice and hints to you.
  • Move starfish circles that will eat rock and open previously blocked pathways for you.
  • Large glyphs are found dotted around the levels that offer tips or give Ecco a password so that when he comes across one that blocks his path, he can use his sonar to clear the way.
  • After the first few levels, Ecco gains the ability to use his sonar to stun enemy creatures.

This game may look cutsie, but it is fucking hard! Rage quitting is standard for this game, especially when you are near the end of a level and those fucking crabs come out of nowhere and kill you. I doubt you will finish this in one sitting, if at all. Thankfully, you receive a password after every level.

Another aspect of this game that is irksome about this game, is when you have to navigate through narrow caves and sometimes you need to manoeuvre through even narrower gaps past sharp coral. There are points where you cannot do this without injuring yourself, not matter how hard your try to avoid them.

The game only has one difficulty setting and so offer little in the way of replay value other than simply showing the awesomeness of the graphics to a friend.

Did I complete the game?

Nope, and I have never met anyone who has either.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “A Megadrive classic without doubt, and a strong contender for best game ever! A unique underwater experience for those tired of unoriginal pop. Overall 97%.[1]

MegaTech: “Original concept combined with wonderful graphics and amazingly engrossing gameplay make this a classic. Overall 94%.[2]

My Verdict:

“This is by far, one of the most original and best-looking games the Mega Drive has to offer. Incredible graphics and atmospheric music offer a unique gaming experience. The difficulty of the game is the only this that lets it down.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ecco the Dolphin? 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] ‘Ecco the Dolphin – Review’. Mean Machines Sega. (December 1992). Issue 3:24-8 (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-03/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 29th June 2021).

[2] ‘Game Index – Ecco the Dolphin’. MegaTech. (October 1993). Issue 22:99. (https://archive.org/details/mt-22_202005/page/98/mode/2up Accessed 29th June 2021).

ESWAT: City Under Siege – Review

Science-fiction movies have often toyed with the idea of a mechanised police officer battling huge crime syndicates in a dystopian future (1987s Robocop springs to mind). ESWAT: City Under Siege was one such game, with a storyline that felt like it came straight from a 1980s B-movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren.

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

ESWAT: City Under Siege (Cyber Police ESWAT in Japan) is a side-scrolling action platform game developed and published by Sega. Based on the 1989 arcade game Cyber Police ESWAT, it was released in 1990 for the Mega Drive and Master System. It was later released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007 and as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) found on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Global terrorist organisation E.Y.E is wreaking havoc throughout the world. To combat this terrorist threat, the governments of the world launch their ESWAT (Enhanced Special Weapons and Tactics) initiative. Selected from the bravest police officers, and sharpest shooters, these law enforcement officers don state-of-the-art ICE combat suits with advanced armour and weaponry.

In the early missions, you are a plain clothes officer (screenshot taken by the author)

There are eight missions for you to battle through:

  • Guard Silent City!!
  • Infiltrate Cyber Prison!!
  • Defend Neo Three-Mile!!
  • Attack Mad Scientist!!
  • Destroy Dark Base!!
  • Penetrate Secret Sewer!!
  • Destroy Tactical Complex!
  • Break E.Y.E’s Plan!

You begin the game at the rank of Captain and are a plain clothes police officer. Once you complete the first mission you gain a promotion to Chief. The completion of the second mission sees you promoted again to ESWAT and this is when you gain the ESWAT suit. The suit begins with your plain shot weapon but allows you to pick up a further four weapons:

  • Super – Shoots three shots at once instead of one, and includes rapid fire ability.
  • R.L. (Rocket Launcher) – Fire two powerful rockets in quick succession before needing a bit of time to reload.
  • P.C. (Plasma Charge) – Fires smaller shots but can charge up to fire a huge devastating ball of plasma.
  • Fire – The most powerful weapon in your arsenal, this weapon can only be used when your jetpack fuel is in the red zone (full power). You can also only use it once.
Once you reach the ESWAT rank, you gain the stat-of-the-art armour (screenshot taken by the author)

First, I’d like to rave about the graphics of this game. The sprites look incredible! The detail on your character’s uniform and the initial human enemies is top rate for 1990 (there is a nice little explosion once you kill the enemies too). Bright and colourful, and they have even captured the shadows on your attire (between the legs for example). The levels themselves, are also incredibly detailed and there is plenty that to attracts the eye. They really did go all in for this game.

The music sounds great too. Upbeat and funky, it’s the sort of in-game music that you’d listen to as opposed to muting the sound and putting on your own tunes.

In the first two levels, you only move a one speed: walking. As you progress and gain the ESWAT suit, you can also use your rocket pack to help evade hazards and enemy fire. My only criticism of the player’s movement is that I feel that your character walks a little too slowly for my liking and cannot shoot diagonally, which is a tad annoying at times. I also felt that the you are too zoomed in (if that makes sense). You are quite clsoe to the edge of the screen as you walk to progress. I’d have liked to have seen it zoomed out a bit more so that you can see a bit more of what’s going on around you and aren’t in a constant state of nervous surprise.

This is a tough game, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. If you complete the game and are a glutton for punishment, you can increase the difficulty and number of lives you begin with. This increases the replay value of the game.

Did I compete the game?

No, I could not get past mission five.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “ESWAT is s super-slick platform shoot ‘em up that simply oozes quality. The parallax scrolling backdrops and sprites are excellent, and the sound is great. Combine those with challenging and highly addictive gameplay and you’ve got a game that’s a must for your collection. Overall 92%.[1]

Sega Power: At first this Shinobi-style shooter isn’t too hot. Later on, though, it displays some of the moodiest scenes on the MD. Tried and trusted gameplay, plus a few shocks! Overall 4/5.[2]

My Verdict:

“Graphically, a superb example of the capabilities of the Sega Mega Drive with a knock out soundtrack to boot. This is a challenging game and you won’t simply finish it in one sitting.”

Rating:

What are your memories of ESWAT? 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: Mega Drive – Eswat’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n137/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[2] ‘The Hard Line – E.S.W.A.T. City Under Siege’. Rage Magazine. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.  (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 22nd May 2021).

De-Cap Attack – Review

The early 1990s were a great time for me. I was too young to be distracted by girls but old enough to be able to hang out with friends without the supervision of parents. I was also old enough to be half decent at video games. My friends and I regularly exchanged games (and cheat codes) but sadly we just didn’t have the money to buy many games. Having an older brother has its benefits. He may be mean and leave you out in the cold when his older, cooler friends are around, but he may also have access, and money, to borrow or buy more video games. One such game that my brother brought home one night was De-cap Attack.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

De-cap Attack is a single-player platform game. It was developed by Vic Tokai and published by Sega for the Mega Drive in 1991. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Max D. Cap has returned from the Underworld to wreak havoc with his army of evil monsters. His devastation has caused the island where you live, shaped in the form of a skeleton, to break apart. Chuck D. Head, that’s you, is the creation of Dr. Frank N. Stein and his loyal assistant Igor. They created you, a headless mummy, and sends you to defeat Mad D. Cap and his minions and return to the island to its original state.

The Skeleton Island (screenshot taken by the author)

Chuck can attack his enemies in three ways. He has a weird face in his chest that extends out and punches the enemy, he can jump on their heads and squash them into the ground, or he can acquire a skull that can be thrown at the enemy but will return like a boomerang. Chuck also has the added ability of slowing his descent by kicking his legs. This little feature has saved my life, and my sanity, on more than one occasion.

Along the way, Chuck can pick up several different potions to assist him. These give him abilities such as harnessing a lightning ball, speeding up his run, slowing down the enemy etc. You can also pick up gold coins to use in a post-level bonus game.

Your health unit, quite ingeniously, is measured by pumping hearts. Each heart is the equivalent of two hits. However, if you fall into lava you will die instantly.

Chuck can use his head to throw at his enemies (screenshot taken by the author)

Although this is technically a side-scrolling platform game, and mostly that’s left to right, there are several levels where you either climb or descend the screen and at least one or two where you go from right to left. Which is quite novel considering most platformers seem to go from left to right. Like most side-scrolling plaforms, there are higher parts to each level where more goodies and power-ups can be found.

Each “island” has three stages to complete. At then end of each island you will face a boss. To add an extra challenge to each island, there is a special object to collect so even if you defeat the end of island boss, you cannot progress without finding this object.

After your complete an “island” you are rewarded with a bonus stage. Each coin you gathered allows you to place a clone of Chuck on a path. You can place as many or as little as you want on each path. Everytime they reach a bridge they will cross it either to the left or right. When they reach the end of the paths, you need to stop a set scrolling bridges. If you place your clones correctly and timed your stop of the correctly Chuck will be rewarded with lives and potions. If not they fall down a hole and you win nothing.

Obligatory swimming level (screenshot taken by the author)

The controls are tight and responsive but when Chuck changes direction whilst running he skids in a very cartoony way which takes a bit of practice.

I think the graphics are fab! The levels are incredibly detailed and sprites are well animated. There is no flickering or slowing down when there are several sprites on screen and end of level bosses look great too.

The intro music to this game is pretty cool. Sadly, the in-game music is fitting but forgettable. However, the clever part of the music lies when Chuck dies. It plays a bar or two of Bach’s Toccato and Fugue in D Minor (skip to the 2.40), which is one of the creepiest pieces of classical music you’ll hear and works well in this game.

The difficulty of the game can be changed by altering the number of hearts you begin with. Don’t be fooled by the first few levels however, this game gets tough later on.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, and I will certainly play it again in the future.

What the Critics Said:

Game Informer: “There’s enough originality to keep a gamer’s interest and the characters are really a scream (pun intended). If you like Mario and Bonk type games, You’ll love De-Cap Attack”. Overall 7.5/10.[1]

Game Informer: “The game is addictive. There’s enough to keep even the best player busy for weeks. Overall 8.5/10.[2]

Game Pro: “Decapattack breathes life into the worn out action/adventure theme. – you gotta admit, head tossing is a pretty innovative for of self-defence. It’s got all the makings of a superior game: great graphics, manageable challenge, ear-pleasing tunes, and , yahoo, endless continues. It’s well worth losing your head in Decapattack. Overall 4.6/5.[3]

Mean Machines Sega: “A fun-filled platform game which is basically identical to the old import game, Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure, except it has different sprites and backdrops. Platform fans will love it… Overall 82%.[4]

My Verdict:

“I love this game! Its fun yet challenging. It looks great, plays great, sounds great, and certainly is a cut above most other 16-bit platform games. It holds help well, even 30 years after its original release.”

Rating:

What are your memories of De-Cap Attack? 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] Rick, The Video Ranger. ‘Review – De-Cap Attack’. Game Informer. (Fall Issue 1991) :9. (https://retrocdn.net/images/5/52/GameInformer_US_001.pdf Accessed 26th April 2021).

[2] Andy, The Game Dandy. ‘Review – De-Cap Attack’. Game Informer. (Fall Issue 1991) :9. (https://retrocdn.net/images/5/52/GameInformer_US_001.pdf Accessed 26th April 2021).

[3] ‘ProRreviews – Decap attack’. Game Pro. (October 1991). Volume 3 Number 10:46. (https://retrocdn.net/images/f/f1/GamePro_US_027.pdf Accessed 26th April 2021).

[4] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Decapattack’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n137/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

Comix Zone – Review

By 1995, the lives of the 16-bit consoles such as the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were coming to an end. However, Sega still had a few tricks up their sleeve before ceasing production of Mega Drive games.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Comix Zone is a single-player beat ‘em up developed and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive and PC (North America) in 1995, and for the PC (Europe) in 1996. Later releases include:

Game Boy Advance (2002)

PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable as part of the Sega Mega Drive Collection (2007)

Wii Virtual Console (2009)

Xbox Live Arcade (2009)

PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)

iOS as part of the Sega Forever collection (2017)

Android as part of the Sega Forever collection (2017)

The manual contains a black and white comic strip offering a more in-depth backstory the game:

General Alissa Cyan and Topol are fighting an army of monsters abs in dire need of rescuing. Sadly, Topol is killed before they can be rescued. Later, back in HQ, Cyan is arguing with the emperor, urging him to provide her with back-up to help take down the evil Mortus and his renegade army. As the emperor explains his reluctance to agree to her request, messengers inform them that another army of mutants is attacking Tibet City and that a “Doomsday Device” has been located near New Zealand. General Cyan decides that enough is enough. They need a “special operative” to help them defeat Mortus.

Sketch Turner is a comic strip artist (and freelance rock musician) who lives in New York City with his pet rat, Roadkill. One evening, whilst working hard at his desk, he is drawn into his comic strip where General Cyan explains that if they cannot stop Mortus, his form will become real, and he will be able to conquer the Earth.

Speech bubbles appear regularly throughout the game (Screenshot taken by the author)

The array of attacks and movements you can perform is quite impressive for a Mega Drive beat ‘em up. However, even though there are multiple punches, kicks, jump attacks and even throws, there is very little finesse to the fighting. It quickly becomes a button masher.

Along the way, you are joined by your pet rat, Roadkill who can help attack the baddies, assist in solving puzzles (I use this term very lightly), and can even sniff out power-ups.

One nice innovation is that there are occasions in the game where you need to decide which direction to go next. Once you decide, you cannot backtrack. One of the paths is more difficult than the other and can offer better power-ups.

However, one gripe I have with this game is how easy it is to lose energy. Punching crates, doors etc. that you need to break for power-ups or to progress makes you lose energy, which I think is a bit dumb considering the lack of ways there are to regain your health.

Tip:

Don’t be afraid to use your power-ups because when you finish the level, you will lose them anyway.

I use the term “puzzle” lightly, but there are occasions when you need to use your loaf (Screenshot taken by the author)

The levels are designed in a the style of a comic strip which I thought was ingenious when it was released. The graphics are fantastic, and the game blew me away when I first saw it all those years ago. The sprites and backgrounds are very detailed and colourful, and sprite animations look fab. I love how the baddies are drawn by and artists hand rather than just appear on the screen, adding to the authenticity that you are in a comic strip.

Throughout the game, there is a running commentary. Either General Cyan gives you instructions, or speech bubbles appear as your character and the baddies engage in repartee. When engaging in fighting, “wacks” and “pows” appear again adding to the comic strip feel. Another nice touch, comes when there are times that you can kick you enemies through the comic border into the next scene. It look quite dramatic!

The music lets this game down. I found it dull and easily forgettable.

The above mentioned ‘choose your path’ feature and the fact that there are two endings, adds some replay value to the game. Sadly, there is only one difficulty setting.

Did I Complete the Game?

No, I could not get past the boss at the end of Episode 2. This game is very hard!

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is a very original game. Sure, it’s basically a side-scroller, but the comic look and frame concept works very well. Also, the graphics are very colorfuI, especially for the Genesis. There isn’t any exceptional fighting, but the look of the game carries it. The only drawback is the fact that you can get hit a lot, so you die a bit too often. Still, it has a fresh look to it, with a very original way of traversing to the next level. Comix Zone is a definite must-try. Overall 7.875/10.[1]

Next Generation: “A very cool idea for a game that wasn’t executed properly, Comix Zone is better than most. Overall 3/5.”[2]

My Verdict: “A fun concept for a game that still looks very cool today. Let down by the music and the repetitive nature of the fighting, this game just falls short of what could have potentially been a legendary game. It is also incredibly difficult.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Comix Zone? 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 – Comix Zone’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (August 1995). Issue 73:35. (https://archive.org/details/Electronic_Gaming_Monthly_073_August_1995_U/page/n33/mode/2up Accessed 15th April 2021).

[2] ‘Rating Genesis – Comix Zone’. Next Generation. (August 1995). Issue 8:75. (https://archive.org/details/nextgen-issue-008/page/n75/mode/2up Accessed 15th April 2021).

Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal – Review

Revisiting games can be fun…but it can also be disappointing. We romanticise games in our minds and revisiting them years later, especially when technology has moved on, often destroys these rose-tinted memories. Altered Beast is an example of one such game. When I revisited it, I was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I remember. No doubt, there will be many more to come. Will Shining Force II suffer when I revisit it with older eyes and a colder heart?

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal is a tactical RPG developed by Sonic! Software Planning and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1993. It was re-released for the Wii U Virtual Console in 2008, as well as being part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to Shining in the Darkness, and is set 40-70 years after the events of Shining Force Gaiden: Final Conflict (1995) on the Game Gear. although the stories consist of different characters.Although I did used to own the original Mega Drive cart, for this review, I played through the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for PlayStation 3.

It is a dark, stormy night. A small band of thieves led by Slade, break into an ancient shrine looking for treasure. They happen upon two coloured jewels: one blue and one red. Upon stealing the jewels, they unwittingly break a magical seal that has held the demon King Zeon captive. With the seal broken, but not yet at his full strength, Zeon orders his minions to find the Jewel of Darkness so that he can restore his power and conquer the world.

The sprites and overall design are almost identical to Shining Force (Screenshot taken by the author)

Main Characters:

Bowie is the main character (although you can choose to change his name). He is a student of Astral the Wizard, is a human and a swordsman. He is an all-rounder and can be promoted to Hero.

Jaha is a dwarf and a warrior. He is very strong but his movement is limited. He is also a student of Astral. He can be promoted to Gladiator, but with a special item, can become a Baron.

Chester is a centaur and a knight. He is also a student of Astral. He can use either a lance for short range attacks or you can equip him with a spear for longer ranged attacks. When prompted he becomes a Paladin but with a special item, he can become a Pegasus.

Sarah is an Elf and a priest. She is also a student of Astral. She is not very good in hand-to-hand combat but she is great for casting spells and healing your injured party. When promoted, she become a vicar, but with a special item, she can become a Master Monk which greatly increases her hand-to hand combat skills.

Kazin is an Elf and a mage. Once promoted he becomes a wizard.

There are many other characters who join your party along the was but I won’t discuss them here.

During battles, you must be careful to position your stronger units where they can defend your weaker units (Screenshot taken by the author)

The menu is exactly the same as Shining Force. That is, when walking around both urban and rural areas, you begin with four boxes that are animated when your cursor is over them These options are:

Member – Check the status of member sof your party

Item – It will take you to another menu where you can choose to use an item, pass an item to someone else, equip an item or drop one.

Search – Use this when you come across chests, boxes and vases. In fact, there are lots of hidden items in odd areas, so use this option freely.

Magic – Takes you to a menu where you can cast spells. In non-battle scenarios, only the detox spell works.

During your adventure, there are plenty of opportunities to visit shops where you can buy new weapons and sell old ones. You can also buy provisions such as herbs that help regain health, an angel wing which acts like an Egress spell and an antidote for poison. There are also options to repair your weapons (I’ve never had to use this) or to ask for deals. The deal option is pretty pointless because, as far as I can tell, items only appear there when you have already sold those special items to the shops.

The battle scenes are beautifully illustrated (Screenshot taken by the author).

Again, the combat is exactly the same as SF, in that it is a turn-based tactical affair where you must manoeuvre members of your party into good tactical positions before engaging the enemy. Depending on the type of fighter, certain members have a much larger movement range that others. When attacking an enemy, you can opt to use yor primary weapon, cast a spell or use an item. If you do not wish to attack you can simply press “stay” and that ends that character’s turn until it comes around to them again.

Like SF, I think this game is beautiful. The environment in the overworld maps (forests and trees) have been improved, but the sprites themselves and the battle scenes are practically the same. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as they are a great improvement on games like Phantasy Star IV (1993), and better than the graphics of games like Earthbound (1994), Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager (1994) and Final Fantasy VI (FF III in North America). Yes, I personally prefer Shining Force II‘s graphics to FFVI.

Whereas SF was a very linear game, SFII involves more free-roaming. There are many places you need to return to in order to find special items or for the game to progress.

There is also more than one way to promote members of your party. Like SF, you can promote your party when visiting a priest, once your party member has reached level 20. However, there are instances when you can promote your party member to a different class of fighter with the help of special items. 

Did I complete the game?

Yes!

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “A worthy follow-up to the first RPG, with bigger areas to explore and characters to meet. This will definitely appeal to the fans of first one, and RPG fans in general. It assumes you’ve played the first Shining Force, but the story could use a few more twists and turns. The music is very good, as is the easy-to-follow configuration. Overall 34/50.[1]

My verdict:

Personally, I think this is a great sequel. I enjoyed the story, the battles, the graphics and music. Hardened RPG fans may think this too easy, but I think it’s a game for the average gamer to enjoy, and maybe a nice introduction to RPGs.

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining Force II: The Ancient Seal? 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 – Shining Force II’.Electronic Gaming Monthly. (September 1994). 62:36. (https://findyourinnergeek.ca/wp-content/gallery/egm-issue-62-september-1994/electronic_gaming_monthly_62_36.jpg Accessed 27th November 2020).

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – Review

It must be difficult for game creators. Do they stick to a winning formula for a sequel and run the risk of the concept becoming stale, or do they gamble on new features that have the potential to disgruntle loyal fans to the franchise? It’s a hard balance to get right as many games have shown over the years. The question is, will Sonic 3 fall foul of over-zealous creators or will they get it right for a third time in a row?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is a platform game developed and published by Sega. It was released in 1994 on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and latterly for Windows in 1997. Later, it would be made available for the Game Cube, PS3 and Xbox 360. For this review, I revisited the Sega Mega Drive version.

Visually, very little has changed between Sonic 1, 2, and 3 (Screenshot taken by the author)

After Sonic 2, Dr. Robotnik’s spaceship crashed into the mysteriously floating Angel Island. He meets and tricks the island’s guardian, Knuckles the Echidna, into believing that Sonic is trying to steal the Master Emerald. Sonic and Tails must once again defeat Dr. Robotnik who is being aided by Knuckles.

There are several new features to this game. Sonic can attain three shields: lightning, bubble and fire, each giving him a unique ability when using them. The giant gold rings, which are portals to finding the Chaos Emeralds, are now found in secret locations.

The bonus stages themselves are much for interesting and fun than Sonic 2. They consist of Sonic and Tails running around a globe in third person view. The object is to collect all the blue spheres. If you hit a red sphere you fail. The more blue spheres you collect, the faster Sonic runs, adding some difficulty to the harder bonus stages.

Once Sonic gains all the Chaos Emeralds, he can become Super Sonic, making him invincible for a short period of time.

The new bonus stages are so much more enjoyable than the tunnels of Sonic 2 (Screenshot taken by the author)

As expected, the game looks great. Lots of beautifully designed levels for you to navigate through, and plenty of unique sprites to evade or destroy. However, I feel that if you were to be shown screenshots of Sonic 1, 2 and 3, there are times you’d be hard pressed to distinguish between the three. This is certainly not the case with the Mario franchise where the graphics of each game are very distinguishable. Now, I concede that Super Mario 1, 2 and 3 were all released on the NES and Super Mario World on the SNES, and so is bound to look different. However, even when comparing Super Mario World to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, there is a clear distinctive design to the levels and enough gameplay changes so that both games can stand on their own.

The all too familiar underwater levels…you’d have thought he would have learnt to swim by now! (Screenshot taken by the author)

One of the issues I have with this game is that the levels are so much bigger than previous games, but are filled with slopes and shoots and other features that you feel like you’re just whizzing through the levels without actually doing much. I appreciate that the whole appeal of Sonic is that he is fast, but sometimes it feels like you’re just on autopilot because he just whizzes through the game. Along with this speed comes another issue that the creators have yet to rectify…when Sonic is going at full speed, the game lags and the sprites flicker.

That being said, I enjoyed playing Sonic 3 much more than Sonic 2, but for the reasons stated above I cannot give Sonic 3 5 stars.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, with all Chaos Emeralds captured.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Sonic 3 is simply the perfect Sonic game. It beats out all previous Sonics with outstanding graphics, more hidden items and new items like many types of shields…The bonus rounds give the average player a fair chance this time, unlike “those tunnels” of part 2. It seems unlikely that Sega will be able to top this one. Overall 38/40.[1]

Gamepro: “Sonic 3 proves that you can teach the old hedgehog new and exciting tricks. Take that old Sonic magic, add fun new variations, and you have another spectacular game. Overall 19/20.[2]

Hyper: “Everything you expect from a Sonic game, nothing more. If it was just me, the score would be lower, but Sonic freaks are going to go off. Overall 90%[3]

Entertainment Weekly: “Sonic 3, by contrast, represents the apotheosis of the Sonic concept: Unlike previous games, the stages are linked cinematically (Sonic and Tails literally tumble from one scene to the next), and the characters have some stunning new techniques — I, for one, never thought I’d see a spiny blue hedgehog on a pair of skis. Ovearll A+[4]

Mean Machines Sega: “Sonic’s Back! Back! Back! This game re-establishes him as King of the Hill, Top of the Heap and Life Emperor of the Platform Universe. Huzzah! Huzzah! Overall 94%[5]

Sega Power: “No radical changes to the game, but its sheer size, super graphics, wealth of imagination and above all playability, guarantee Sonic gold status. Overall 90%.[6]

Sega Magazine: “An amazing release and serious contender for Best Platform Game ever award. Overall 95%.[7]

My verdict:

“Sonic 3 is a very good game. If you like the solid formula of speed, ring collecting and bonus stages that the creators have been successful with in their first two outings, then this game is for you and you’ll enjoy every second of it. Personally, I worry that there aren’t enough differences between this and the previous two games and it’s in danger of going stale.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Sonic the Hedgehog 3? 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] ‘Sonic 3’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1994). Volume 7, Issue 3:30. https://retrocdn.net/images/a/ae/EGM_US_056.pdf Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[2] ‘Proreview – Sonic the Hedgehog 3’. (March 1994). Gamepro. Issue 56:42-44. https://archive.org/details/GamePro_Issue_056_March_1994/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[3] ‘Sonic 3’. Hyper. (March 1994). 4:26-29. (http://sost.emulationzone.org/sonic_3/scans/sonic3hypermarch943.jpg Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[4] Strauss, B., (February 11, 1994). ‘Sonic CD; Sonic Chaos; Sonic Spinball; Sonic 3’. Entertainment Weekly. (https://ew.com/article/1994/02/11/sonic-cd-sonic-chaos-sonic-spinball-sonic-3/ Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[5] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic 3’. Mean Machines Sega. (March 1994) Issue 17:49. http://www.outofprintarchive.com/articles/reviews/MegaDrive/Sonic3-MMS17-6.html Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[6] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic 3’. Sega Power. (March 1994). Issue 52:30 (http://sost.emulationzone.org/sonic_3/scans/segapowermar943.jpg Accessed 23rd November 2020).

[7] ‘Mega Drive Review – Sonic 3’. Sega Magazine. (February 1994). :87-88. https://archive.org/details/sega-magazine-2-february-1994/page/n87/mode/2up Accessed 23rd NOvember 2020).

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention – Review

RPG fans like nothing more than to take control of a character or group of characters, and immerse themselves fully in a fantasy world where they can increase their character’s stats, find magical and rare weapons, and rescue a kingdom or two. It’s pure hero fantasy…and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention is a fantasy turn-based tactical RPG. It was developed by Climax Entertainment and Camelot Co. Ltd., and published by Sega in 1992 in Japan, and 1993 in North America and Europe. Released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, it would later be released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 (under the title of Shining Force: Resurrection of Dark Dragon), Wii Virtual Console in 2007, iOS in 2010 (discontinued in 2015), and Windows, Linux and Mac (Steam) in 2011. It can also be found as part of the Sega Smash Pack Volume 1 on the Dreamcast, Sega Smash Volume 2 for Microsoft Windows, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation3. For this review, I revisited the version found as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3.

Millenia ago, in the Kingdom of Rune, a battle between good and evil took place. Dark Dragon, who led the forces of evil, was defeated by the Warriors of Light who cast him into an alternate dimension. Dark Dragon vowed to return in 1000 years to once more wreak havoc in Rune. 1000 years later, in which time peace and tranquillity existed in Rune, the Kingdom of Runefaust attacked Rune hellbent on helping Dark Dragon to return.

Taking to people in the towns help you progress further in the game (Screenshot taken by the author)

A young man named Max, who lives in the Kingdom of Guardiana, is sent to defeat the evil warrior Kane and his army. Along with an army of his own, Max soon discovers that Darksol is behind the plot and pursues him throughout Rune to stop Dark Dragon’s ressurection.

Just so there is no confusion, Dark Sol from Shining in the Darkness is the son of Darksol and Mishaela from this game, meaning that Shining Force is a prequel to Shining in the Darkness.

Meet your party:

Max (You): Max is human and an all-round fighter, both fast and accurate. If things are looking bleak during a battle, he can cast Egress to whisk your party away to safety. Be warned, if Max is defeated in battle, you automatically lose the confrontation, and are sent back to your last save spot minus half your gold! To prevent this, keep an eye on his health and don’t be afraid to use Egress or keep a supply of Angel Wings for each member of your party (Angel Wings have the same use as Egress).

Luke: Luke is a dwarf and a great warrior. He cannot cast spells and his movement is limited, but he is strong.

Ken: Ken is a centaur and a good fighter. Centaurs have quite a long movement range so be careful he doesn’t go too far and get separated from the group.

Tao: Tao is a young elf who is training to be a mage. As she gains experience, she will be able to cast spells from afar but she is weak in hand-to-hand combat. Make sure your protect her.

Hans: Hans the Elf is an archer, perfect for ranged attacks. Again, protect him from hand-to-hand combat.

Lowe: Lowe is a halfling priest. Although weak in attack, his skill lies in healing your party during battles.

There are nine other characters who will join your party along the but you’ll have to wait to meet them to find out who they are.

An easy to use menu system helps you keep track of the stats of your party (Screenshot taken by the author)

For the most part, the game takes place from an almost top-down view, in the traditional Japanese-style RPG. There are no labyrinths, and only a few puzzles to solve. You must make your way through various towns and through the overworld map in pursuit of Darksol. In the towns, you can talk to the citizens, some of whom offer insights to help you progress. You can buy and sell weapons and items from the shops to assist you on your quest. You can also find priests who can resurrect fallen characters, cure them of various ailments, promote those who have reached level 20, and record your progress.

Unlike many other RPGs, there are no random battle encounters as such, but there are areas where you can find battles should you wish to increase your stats before progressing in the game.

Battles take place on a square-grid system. Depending on their stats, characters can only move a certain number of squares at one time. Depending on your proximity to an enemy, you can either attack with a weapon, cast a spell, use an item or choose to do nothing. If you are adjacent to a member of your own party, you can swap items. This does not class as a move, and so items can be exchanged without losing your turn.

When an attack occurs, a beautifully animated action scene appears with a blue dialogue screen explaining damage given or accrued, and experience points and money earned etc. When an enemy is hit by your weapon or spell, your attacking character will earn experience points for themselves. When an enemy is defeated, a larger amount of experience points will be awarded to your attacking character and the money earned will be added to your party’s kitty. For every 100 points accrued, that character will level-up increasing their attack, defence, MP, agility etc. Once a character reaches level 20, they can be promoted to a different class of fighter.

This game has beautiful fighting animation scenes (Screenshot taken by the author)

What can I say other than this game looks beautiful. The overworld map and village scenes are bright and vibrant, and detailed with clear distinction between the sprites and environment. The fight scenes are beautifully illustrated and animated with incredible looking sprites, action shots and backgrounds. I really cannot compliment this game enough on its graphics. For me, they are superior to games like Final Fantasy V (1992), Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992) and Paladin’s Quest (1992). However, by the time this game reached North America and Europe, the SNES was beginning to take the graphics up a notch with games like Secret of Mana (1993) and Illusion of Gaia (1993). Had Shining Force been released a year or two later, it would have looked a but dated.

The only thing that lets this game down for me, is the music. By 1992, Both Nintendo and Sega had released games with fantastic 16-bit soundtracks like Super Mario World (1990) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) respectively. Now I know that these are different genres from Shining Force, but it is an indication of how good the music could be in games. I just feel that Shining Force loses a few marks in this department.

Did I complete the game?

Yes

What the critics said:

Mean Machines Sega: “A beautifully crafted piece of Megadrive software with just the right balance of action and adventure to satisfy all needs. Overall 91%.[1]

Sega Power: “A beautifully produced RPG. Great tactical battle sequences. Loads of unique, cute characters, speedy gameplay and lots to see ‘n’ do. Gorgeous to play and look at. Overall 89%.[2]

Megatech: “Finely presented combination of exploration and fighting leads Shining Force to victory. Overall 90%.”[3]

My verdict:

“Blood, death, war, rumpy-pumpy, TRIUMPH!!! I love this game. Shining Force looks beautiful with great graphics, illustrations and animations with plenty of different characters to get to know. The chess-like manoeuvring during battles is challenging and enables you to prepare your army for strategic assaults on the enemy. However, hardened RPG players may find this game a tad easy though.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining Force? 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] ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Mean Machines Sega. (May 1993). Issue 8: 74-6. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_7_1302171993.pdf Accessed 11th November 2020).

[2] ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Sega Power. (July 1993). Issue 44: 58-9. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_8_1302172014.pdf Accessed 11th November 2020).

[3] Davies, P., ‘Mega Drive Review – Shining Force’. Megatech. (May 1993). Issue 17:76-8. (https://www.shiningforcecentral.com/content/magazines/magscan_9_1302172042.pdf Accessed 11th November2020).

Golden Axe – Review

Video games set in fantasy lands have always been popular. There is something enthralling about controlling musclebound and bronzed barbarians, big-breasted Amazonian women and axe-wielding dwarves who can not only hack their way through masses of monsters but also use incredible magic when the situation warrants it. I mean, who doesn’t want to play a video game like that?

Titlescreen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Golden Axe is a side-scrolling arcade hack ‘n’ slash developed and published by Sega, and released for the arcade in 1989. Over the next few years, it was later ported to the following:

Mega Drive/Genesis

Master System

Sega CD

IBM

PC

Amiga

Atari ST

Amstrad CPC

Commodore 64

Turbo Grafix-16

Wonder Swan

ZX Spectrum

For this review, I replayed the Mega Drive version from 1990.

You can choose to fight as either Ax Battler, Tyrius Flare ot Gilius Thunderhead (Screenshot taken by the author)

Set in a high-fantasy land of Yuria, the evil Death Adder has risen to power. His soldiers are responsible for the massacre of thousands of peaceful villagers. Soon, he kidnaps the King of Yuria and his daughter and steals the Golden Axe. Thankfully, three warriors emerge who are capable of saving the kingdom:

Ax Battler – a mighty barbarian from the far plains. He seeks to avenge the death of his mother. He is brave and strong, and wields volcanic magic.

Tyrius Flare – an Amazonian from deep within the jungles whose mother and father were killed by Death Adder. She has skill with the sword and possesses immense magical power that can rain down fire upon her enemies.

Gilius Thunderhead – a dwarf who wields a mighty axe and uses his speed and cunning to defeat his enemies. He seeks to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Death Adder. His magic ability sees bolts of lightning strike from the heavens.

Together, they have sworn to purge Yuria of the pestilence that is Death Adder’s army and rescue the king and princess.

My personal favourite is Gilius Thunderhead (Screenshot taken by the author)

To progress through the game, your heroes must battle through hordes of Death Adder’s ugly minions. Along the way, you will come across elves whom you can attack for magic and food. If things become too desperate, all three can use their individual magical powers to destroy their enemies. Galius is limited to three bars, Ax to four bars and Tyrius to six bars. Tyrius magic is the more powerful out of the three.

Some Bizzarians can come in very useful (Screenshot taken by the author)

The controls are slick and responsive, and the hit detection is spot on. The two main tactics you will use is to either hack and slash your way through or charge at your enemies from a distance and either kick, shoulder barge or headbutt them. So, it’s not just a case of button mashing. You need to change your strategy depending on the enemy you’re facing. Occasionally, you may capture a Bizzarian. These weird creatures consist of one weird pink creature with a beak that uses its tail to swipe at your enemies, or dragons who breathe fire (blue = flame, pink = fireball). Interestingly, thetail swiping Bizzarian looks similar to the one’s seen in Altered Beast. Could it be that Golden Axe and Altered Beast are in the same universe?

The graphics look fantastic, expecially the backgrounds which are very detailed. The sprites look great and are animated well. Interestingly, Gilius Thunderhead seems to appear as a shopkeeper in Shining in the Darkness. Even one of his sacks in the store contains a face of one of the elves from Golden Axe. Again, does this mean that Golden Axe, Altered Beast and Shining in the Darkness are all set in the same universe?

Naturally, the game can be played in one- or two-player mode. There are three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal and Hard, and you can adjust the number of life bars you begin from three to five. You also begin with three lives and three continues. Watch out though, in two-player mode as you can damage your co-op buddy.

Arcade mode sees you play through all the stages whereas Beginner mode only takes you to level 3 where you fight Death Adder Jr. Duel mode sees you fight in 12 consecutive battles against increasingly harder opponents.

I have a lot of memories with Golden Axe playing with my siblings. Again, it is a game that has given me many hours of fun, and I have returned to year after year, even though I can easily complete the game. When I play in two player mode, I don’t necessarily think it is about the challenge, but more trying to recapture an adventure with my younger brother.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years on easy. Strangely, I don’t think I have ever played this game on the Normal or Hard settings. I must remedy that.

What the critics said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “The screen graphics are perfect, with exceptional detail in in both the characters and background. The game is almost exactly like the arcade, with endless fighting filling each round. Axe moves slow, but has all the hack and slash action you could ask for. Overall 29/40”.[1]

Mean Machines: “A flawless conversion that even improves on the arcade game! Superb! Overall 91%”.[2]

Game Machine: “The character sprites are all big and bold, with more than a rainbowful of colours. The pounding soundtrack only adds to the involving and inviting atmosphere of the game. Fast action, superb attention to detail in the fight sequences and some breathtaking magical spells makes Golden Axe a must for all arcade action fans. Overall 92%”.[3]

Zero: “Everything about this game is good; graphics, sound and playability. One-player is brill; two-player is unbeatable. Overall 94%”.[4]

Wizard: “Again, another first generation Sega game. Medieval action game. Overall C”.[5]

Sega Power: “Hack-‘n’-slash with all the frills of the classic coin-op. Two-player mode isn’t as smooth as expected and for one it’s easy to finish. Still, hugely playable and addictive! Overall 4/5”.[6]

My verdict:

“An excellent coin-op conversion. It looks great, plays great and the two-player mode will have you coming back again and again.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Golden Axe? 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: Genesis – Golden Axe’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (March 1990). Issue 8:22.(https://retrocdn.net/images/6/6e/EGM_US_008.pdf Accessed 23rd September 2020)

[2] ‘Mega Drive Review – Golden Axe’. Mean Machines. (October 1990). Issue 1:42-4. (https://archive.org/details/Mean_Machines_Issue_01_1990-10_EMAP_Images_GB/page/n43/mode/2up Accessed 23rd September 2020).

[3] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. Game Machine. (March 1990). Issue 28:30-1. (http://amr.abime.net/issue_841_pages Accessed 24th September 2020).

[4] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Golden Axe’. (April 1990) Issue 6:74. (https://archive.org/details/zero-magazine-06/page/n73/mode/2up Accessed 24th September 2020).

[5] ‘Game Reviews – Golden Axe’. Wizard. (January 1993). Issue 17:24. (https://archive.org/details/WizardMagazine017/page/n27/mode/2up Accessed 24th September 2020).

[6] ‘The Hard Line – Golden Axe.’ Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 6th October 2020).

Shining In The Darkness – Review

Shining in the Darkness (Shining and the Darkness in Japan) is a role-playing game developed by Climax Entertainment and Sonic Software Planning, and was published by Sega in 1991 for the Mega Drive. This was the version I chose to review.

Shining in the Darkness doesn’t have a title screen as such (Screenshot taken by the author)

In the Kingdom of Thornwood, the king’s daughter, Princess Jessa, has disappeared whilst visiting the shrine of her deceased mother. Mortred, one of the king’s most brave and trusted knights, was charged with escorting her to the shrine. He is also missing. You take control of Mortred’s son and agree to be the search party.

Shining in the Darkness is a real dungeon crawler that sees your character, along with friends Milo and Pyra, exploring what seems like endless miles of dungeons. Along the way you have random encounters with all manner of ugly beasts. Deafeating these will help your team gain experience points and level up, increasing stats and allowing new spells to be learnt. Gold is also acquired which allows you to buy new weapons and armour.

When leaving the palace, a map appears showing you the three locations you can visit: the palace, the town or the dungeons. In the town you can visit the shrine to save your progress; enter the tavern to talk to some interesting character and regain your health with an overnight stay; visit the weaponry and armoury where you can upgrade to stronger weapons and armour; and buy antidotes and healing potions needed for your adventures in the dungeon from the Alkemist (not alchemist I might add).

Isn’t that the same guy from Golden Axe? (Screenshot taken by the author)

Moving through the dungeons is simple. You can move forwards, walk backwards and turn left or right. The interactive menu consists of four boxes at the bottom of the screen and can be called upon at any time. It allows you to check your party’s status, use items, equip weapons and armour etc. When confronted with enemies, the menu changes to include attack, use item, use magic and flee options. When attacking, you have the option to choose which groups of enemies to attack first, but sadly, you cannot choose which individuals to attack within a group. If your health gets too low, you can spirit yourself out of the dungeons using the egress spell or angel feather.

The music sounds great and has heroic air, fitting for such a game. The graphics are awesome. The palace, tavern and shop scenes are bright and colourful, and the dungeons themselves and the enemies are well illustrated. There really are no complaints here. The game looks gorgeous!

To arms! (Screenshot taken by the author)

Although it is easy to learn, the game soon becomes too monotonous in my opinion. Having to navigate the same dungeon levels to gain enough experience points to fight deadlier opponents and raise enough money for better weapons becomes a real drag after a while. I know this is the whole point of RPGs but I found myself losing interest, especially when you have to traverse the same dungeons you’ve completed to reach the next dungeon. There are also times when it is unclear where you should go next. I definitely recommend you drawing your own map else you will get lost.

A nice little Easter Egg is that the dwarf who sells you your weapons seems to be the same dwarf from Golden Axe. One of his sacks on the left in the background even has a picture of one of those little imps who you steal magic potions from. Does this mean that Golden Axe and Shining in the Darkness occur in the same universe?

What the critics said:

Mean Machines: “A reasonable, but pricey RPG with impressive graphics, let down by combat system that soon becomes a chore. Overall 69%.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “A role-playing game with excellent graphics and a brilliant window system. Shining in the Darkness is recommended to RPG buffs. Watch out though for irritating combat, reliant on luck than the player’s skill. Overall 72%.[2]

Dragon: “The game combines the icons and combat of Phantasy Star III, the first person perspective of Phantasy Star I, and the great close-up graphics of Phantasy Star II. The combat can sometimes be tedious without the battle animation so well programmed in Phantasy Star II. Overall 4/5.[3]

Sega Force: “Shining in the Darkness is the most colourful, enchanting RPG I’ve played on the Mega Drive – I enjoyed it even more than Phantasy Star II and III. Overall 90%“.[4]

Sega Pro: “RPG’s and great graphics don’t usually go together but Shining in the Darkness breaks the mould. Loads of playability and potential addictiveness will make this RPG a game to remember. Overall 93%.[5]

Sega Power: “Startling graphics, super smooth animation and brilliant labyrinths to explore. A corker! Overall 5/5.[6]

My Verdict:

“This is a beautiful game! It is easily to learn and there is plenty there to keep hardened RPG fans interested for hours and hours. For the average gamer though, monotony and frustration at repeating the same areas again and again soon becomes tiresome. However, this game is definitely worth your attention”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shining in the Darkness? 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] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines. (November 1991). Issue 14:112-3. (https://ia800308.us.archive.org/3/items/mean-machines-magazine-14/MeanMachines_14_Nov_1991.pdf Accessed 11th February 2020).

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Shining in the Darkness’. Mean Machines Sega. (October 1992). Issue 1:140. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n139/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[3] ‘Reviews – Shining in the Darkness’. Dragon Magazine. (February 1992). Issue 178:60. (https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg178.pdf Accessed 14th June 2020).

[4] ‘Reviewed – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Force. (January 1992). Issue 1:52-3. (https://retrocdn.net/images/2/27/SegaForce_UK_01.p Accessed 14th June 2020).

[5] ‘Proreview – Shining in the Darkness’ Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:58-60. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 15th June 2020).

[6] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Shining in the Darkness’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:54. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed on 29th July 2020.

Alien Storm – Review

By the early 90s, multiplayer beat ‘em ups/hack and slash games such as Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Final Fight were growing increasingly popular. The increasing array of characters and fighting moves kept gamers playing these games time and again, using all characters in a bid to master them. The multiplayer modes meant that you could play with friends and spend countless rainy afternoons and cold winter evenings in imaginary worlds saving the planet, defeating crime bosses or rescuing royalty.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by author)

Alien Storm is a beat ‘em up/shooter hybrid developed and published by Sega for the arcade in 1990, and ported to the Mega Drive and Master System in 1991. It was later released in the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, and as part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For this review, I chose to play the original Sega Mega Drive version.

Earth is being invaded by an army of incredibly ugly and aggressive aliens. A team of crack special force operatives known as the “Alien Busters”, comprising of the flame-thrower wielding Karen; the hunky Garth (Gordon in some versions) with his electric rifle, and Scooter (Slammer in PAL version) the robot, are sent to repel the invasion. Eight missions sees them battle through cities and towns, laboratories, electronic goods stores and eventually a UFO.

Oddly, the main character looks like Elvis Presley in his profile picture (Screenshot taken by author)

The game is mostly a linear beat ‘em up which sees the players fight from left to right. There are sections of the levels where the game changes to a shooter style game which adds a nice bit of variety to the action. Each character can attack, run, and perform a running attack. There are two bars: life and energy to keep an eye on too. When using your weapon, the energy bar begins to deplete. If you use your special attack, the energy bar depletes more quickly. Along the way, you can pick up medicine and batteries to replenish your life and energy levels. There are a few end of level bosses in the game which take a long time to deafeat if you don’t have special attacks, so I recommend not using them until the boss fights. The controls are very easy to learn, and the game quickly turns into a button masher with little strategy required.

Alien Storm incorporated elements of the rail-shooter genre (Screenshot taken by author)

The graphics are great! The levels contain detailed backgrounds and the sprites are bright, colourful and well designed with clear outlines. As the game progresses the increased difficulty of the aliens is noted by a colour palette change.

Each character has an individual move set and special attack but there doesn’t seem to be a difference in strength, agility etc. Interestingly, if you look at the profile picture of Gordon in the bottom left corner of the screen, to me, he looks unmistakably like Elvis Presley.

Watch out for the alien marsupials!!! (Screenshot taken by author)

Before beginning the game, you can choose between three difficulty settings: easy, normal or hard. To add an extra element of difficulty, you can also set your energy bar levels to either easy, normal or hard. When you complete the game, after the end of game scenes and credits, you get a score and a rating. As far as I know, your score makes no difference to the game ending. This adds to the replay value of the game as it encourages additional run throughs.

As with these types of games, two-player co-op modes only add to the fun. To further increase the replay value of the game, the Mega Drive version also contained a Duel mode and a Player v Player mode. In the Duel mode, you select a player and must compete in fights with differing numbers and strengths of aliens. The more rounds you win, the higher your overall score at the end. I received a score of 82 and the title “Champion”. During these battles there is no way to regain your energy so use your weapons sparingly. In the Player v Player mode, you and your opponent select one of the three main protagonists each to fight in a one on one battle. The first player to win two rounds, wins the fight. Sadly, this is a bit naff due to the fact that you only have a limited move set. There is not enough variation in attack combinations to make these battles interesting.

Did I complete the game?

Yes, I have completed this game many times over the years in both one and two-player modes, but only in easy mode.

What the critics said:

Mean Machines:An absolutely outstanding conversion from the coin-op, with great graphics and highly enjoyable one or two-player action. The big problem is that it’s just too easy. For some unknown reason, the import version was harder, but even then, it’s not that difficult to finish. Those new to the Mega Drive scene will really enjoy the action – experts, though, are warned that they might just find themselves finishing this prematurely. Overall 78%.[1]

Sega Pro: “A space age Golden Axe. One or two players can choose from three characters and then walk through eight levels packed with superbly animated and intricately detailed aliens. Great fun as each of the players has a special weapon and executes them in an amusing way. For instance, the robot takes off his (head) and self-destructs as he walks off screen. Way too easy, though. Overall 79%.[2]

Sega Power: “The game is, if anything, pitched a little too easy, and although the sound effects, music (especially the dance tunes) and graphics are excellent, there is little left to grab you after you’ve heard and seen them all. But as an original theme for a blast-‘em up, it’s got a lot of guts (urgh!). Easily a worthy of addition to your Sega collection. Overall 83%.[3]

Sega Power: “Horizontal scrolling blast-‘em up in the vein of high-tech Golden Axe.Great 3D shooting sections and ultra-high-speed scroll, but crippled by easy gameplay. Overall 3/5.[4]

My verdict:

“I have great memories playing this game with my sister and brother. Its looks great, plays great, and the mix of beat ‘em up and shooter adds some nice variety. The replay value is there too, and I think this is an underrated game from the Mega Drive catalogue. However, it must be said that titles such as Golden Axe and Streets of Rage are still superior in every aspect: Story, graphics, music…the lot.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Alien Storm? 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: Mega Drive – Alien Storm’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:137. (https://archive.org/details/mean-machines-sega-magazine-01/page/n135/mode/2up Accessed 16th February 2020).

[2] ‘Sega Showdown – Alien Storm’. Sega Pro. (November 1991). Issue 1:19. (https://retrocdn.net/images/7/75/SegaPro_UK_01.pdf Accessed 15th June 2020).

[3] ‘Reviews – Alien Storm’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:40. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).

[4] Jarrett, S., ‘The Hard Line – Alien Storm’. Sega Power. (April 1991). Issue 23:52. (https://retrocdn.net/images/8/89/SegaPower_UK_23.pdf Accessed 29th July 2020).