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 and Golden Axe II (screenshot taken by the author)

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.

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

The gameplay is very simple, if not a little repetitive due to the limited move set that each character has. The enemy 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. You can now block enemy attacks, but it doesn’t work very well. To block, you need to push the D-pad backward away from the enemy. However, 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.

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.

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.

Annoyingly, you 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 as this adds strategy to the game.

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. 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.

Speaking of riding Bizzarians, 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.

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.

Spoiler alert!

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.

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!

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

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.

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)

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.

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

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.

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, meaninig that you cannot ambush him in two-player mode.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 this 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.

Gain Ground – Review

As you can imagine, thousands of video games have been created since they became a thing way back in the 1960s. So, it is perfectly understandable that with great regularity you may come across a game that you have never heard of. However, just because you have never heard of a game doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth playing. After all, it may be one of those “hidden gem” games that one finds every now and then. Could Gain Ground be one such game?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Gain Ground is an action-strategy game developed and published by Sega. It was first released for the arcade in 1988 before being ported to the Master System and Mega Drive in 1991. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version found on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

In the year 3000AD, there is no poverty. There is no war or discrimination. Humans finally live in a time of total peace…but…with total peace comes a price. Without the threat of violence, humans have forgotten how to defend themselves, leaving them vulnerable. To retrain humans how to fight, the United Earth Government create a war simulation run by a supercomputer called Gain Ground. During testing, an error occurs, and its creators are taken hostage. A rescue party is also captured. The government have one final chance to rescue the creators and stop the computer.

Mediocre graphics but this is a highly addictive game (screenshot taken by the author)

The game can be played in single and two-player mode. Even though you are competing for the highest score, the two-player mode is co-operative. There are five rounds, with each round having 10 stages. The last stage of each round being a boss level. The rounds are as follows:

Round 1 – Dark Ages

Round 2 – Middle Ages

Round 3 – Pre-Revolutionary China

Round 4 – Present day

Round 5 – Future

The on-screen information allows you to see the time limit for each stage, the number of enemies left to kill, the character you are using, how many of your soldiers you have left to escape, how many have already escaped, and your score.

There are two ways to complete each stage. You can either destroy all enemies on screen or you can guide all your soldiers safely to the exit. At the beginning of each stage, you have the opportunity to choose which soldier you wish to use. If that soldier is killed by an enemy, they will turn grey before becoming an icon on the screen. You then pick another soldier to complete the mission. You can pick up your fallen comrades and finish the level to ensure they are available in the next stage.

Each character has unique weapons, special weapons, abilities, and weaknesses, and so it is important to use each character where they will be most useful. For example, some are powerful but slow. Others are weak but fast…you know…the usual trade off.

You must choose to either run the gauntlet to escape or kill all enemies on screen (screenshot taken by the author)

The game is very easy to learn. You can move and fire in all directions, but when using some of the special weapons, you will automatically orientate yourself to fire up the screen. This can be a great help at times and a hinderance at others. You also have to be accurate with your shots and this will take some getting used to. It can be frustrating when you miss the enemy by a hair’s breadth and he is able to kill you.

The graphics are just what you need for a game like this. They are mediocre but detailed enough so that the game is playable. They won’t win any awards, mind. However, this game isn’t about graphics. It is about the action and there is plenty of that!

I actually enjoyed the music, especially early on. The music has a typical arcade-style upbeat tempo that gets your blood pumping for the action. Upon completion of each stage, you are rewarded with a nice little victory riff.

There are three difficulty settings to choose from. Easy offers you up to eight continues and the game ends after Round Three Stage 10. Normal offers up to four continues, and hard gives you no continues but you have all 20 of your soldiers available to you from the beginning. These changes with each difficulty level offer a good level of replay value.

I had never heard of this game before reviewing it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. This is just the sort of game that I would have played with friends for hours and hours in my teenage years. It is fun, challenging, and highly addictive like all arcade games should be.

Did I complete the game?

No, I couldn’t get past Round 3 Stage 4. I will, however, definitely be returning to this game.

What the critics said:

Sega Pro: “Great two-player action as you battle through multiple levels of complex action. You control a band of warriors from ancient times right through to the future. Detailed graphics and very addictive gameplay. Overall 89%.[1]

Raze: “…the graphics are very small, and the sound not too spectacular. But a closer inspection reveals some great animation on the characters and their weapons, and a splattering of colour and variety all through the game. Overall 92%.[2]

Computer & Video Games: “It’s very simple and very boring. You’d have to be stark raving mad to part with thirty quid for this… Overall 49%“.[3]

Mean Machines: “A very accurate conversion of an obscure and hopelessly crap arcade game which features the average graphics, rubbish sound and boring gameplay of the original machine. Overall 43%.[4]

Sega Power: “Choose the right soldiers in this intriguing flick-screen combat game. Heavy on strategy, its slower pace might make a change from alien death. Unusual two-player mode. Overall 3/5.[5]

My verdict:

“Pleasantly surprised by this game. Although the gameplay is simple and the graphics won’t blow you away, I found it enjoyable, challenging and highly addictive.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Gain Ground? 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] ‘Gain Ground – Mega Drive’. Sega Pro. (December 1991). Issue 3:18.

[2] ‘Gain Ground’. Raze. (May 1991). Issue 7:64.

[3] ‘Byte Size Mega Drive Review – Gain Ground’. Computer & Video Games. (March 1991). Issue 112:72.

[4] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Gain Ground’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:139.

[5] ‘The Hard Line – Gain Ground’. Sega Power. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six – Review

I love a superhero game. I imagine nearly everyone wishes they had some kind of superpower (although whether you’d use your powers for good or for evil I can only guess). Superhero games, although popular are, for the most part, disappointing. Why is it so hard to get superhero games right? Is it because they are difficult to translate into video games? Are they just a quick money grabbing scheme on an unsuspecting public? Are our expectations simply too high? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six is a single-player action-adventure game developed by Bits Studios. It was published by LJN for the NES in 1992, and Flying Edge for Master System and Game Gear in 1992 and 1993 respectively. For this review, I played the NES version.

The game is based off the story arc found in The Amazing Spider-Man #334-339. The plot sees Doctor Octopus attempting to take over the world with the Sinister Six (Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, Vulture, Hobgoblin and, of course, Doctor Octopus himself).

I think the graphics and animations are pretty darn good. Although when standing still, Spidey looks like he has developed a bit of a paunch (Screenshot taken by the author)

There are six levels which will see Spidey swing through. At the end of each level, you will face one of the Sinister Six:

Level 1: The Power Station

Level 2: Toxic Waste Dump

Level 3: The House of Illusion

Level 4: Streets and Rooftops

Level 5: The Forest & Hobgoblin’s Cave

Level 6: Doc Ock’s Castle

Throughout the levels, There are two types of pick-ups available to you. Attack Web Fluid (which one can only assume is different from swinging web fluid), and a special item which is different on every level. This item needs to be found for you to progress to the next level.

Spidey takes on The Sandman (Screenshot taken by the author)

First of all, let me get this out the way…the music sucks! Nuff said!

The graphics are pretty good. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed and the animation of Spidey is smooth, although oddly, when he stands still, it looks like he has bit of a paunch and not like the svelte superhero we are all used to.

Before each level, there is a very brief illustration letting you know which member of the Sinister Six you wil be facing next. The illustration looks good but I feel the cutscenes should have been a bit more in the comic-strip style with more than one slide, which in turn would give the story a bit more depth.

The gameplay is a let down. Firstly, the buttons have been mapped incorrectly. ‘A’ is punch and ‘B’ is jump. This may seem pedantic to some, but it makes the game feel “unnatural” and less intuitive. Spider-Man’s flying kick needs to be surprisingly accurate to cause damage. So many times you completely miss the enemy and fly straight past them.

Spidey is only able to shoot a web at his enemies when he picks up web packs…oddly, he seems to have an endless supply to swing around the levels. Whilst we’re on the subject of web-swinging, this is supposed to be a Spider-Man game, but you really don’t need to use your web-swinging or wall-climbing skills at all. Why Spidey can climb some walls and not others is anyone’s guess. At least the jumping is easy to control I guess.

For the most part, Spidey’s movements are very quick as one would expect, but he is quite slow when turning around. This frustrating, particularly when fighting The Sandman.

Interestingly, the enemies only inflict damage on you when they actively strike you. You can easily run and jump past them with no damage taken.

This game DOES win back points with me because the levels aren’t simply a case of running through, evading enemies and reaching the end. You actively need to find objects to help you progress in the level. For example, on Level 2, you need to find dynamite and a detonator in order to porgress.

There is only one difficulty setting which limits its replay value.

I really didn’t spend that much time on this game, nor did I wish to. Where was the need for using your web to swing over large gaps or over pools of deadly lava or fire? Why couldn’t Spidey hand upside down on the ceiling to avoid enemies or to crawl into small spaces? This game is not fun and I found it very disappointing.

Did I complete the game?

Nope, at present I’ve been unable to complete Level 3.

What the critics said:

Nintendo Power: “George: ‘The graphics are good and the villains are great, but play control is a little rough’; Rob: ‘You can release what looks like a perfect punch and end up releasing right past your enemy. That gets kind of frustrating, but otherwise it’s a fun game. Overall 2.925/5.[1]

Electronic Games: “The graphics are average for the NES, though the flicker is excessive in a few spots. The Spiderman figure is failry well animated and holds together during leaps, climbing, and somersaults. As in many 8bit cartridges, it isn’t always easy to tell three dimensional objects from non-interactive backgrounds. Overall 72%.[2]

My verdict:

“Initially, I disliked this game outright. After revisiting it, it has gone up a little in my estimation. The game looks good, but is let down by the gameplay and the music. You really could take a character from another game and swap them for Spidey because his special skills of web-slinging and wall-climbing aren’t really needed for this game. It’s not a game you’ll be returning too. Unless you’re a Marvel fan, I’d not bother with this one.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six? 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] George & Rob., ‘Now Playing – Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six’. Nintendo Power. (October 1992). Issue 41:103 &105. (https://archive.org/details/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20041%20October%201992/page/n113/mode/2up Accessed 1st January 2020).

[2] Stevens, S., ‘Video Game Gallery: NES – Spiderman: Return of the Sinister Six’. Electronic Games. (December 1992). Volume 1 Issue 3:61-2. (https://archive.org/stream/Electronic-Games-1992-12/Electronic%20Games%201992-12#page/n61/mode/2up Accessed 25th February 2020).