Streets of Rage 2 – Review

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

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

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

Plot

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

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

Gameplay

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

What’s New?

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

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

Characters:

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

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

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

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

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

How Does It Handle?

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

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

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

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

Graphics

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

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

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

Music

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

Replay Value

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

Personal Thoughts

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

Did I Complete The Game?

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

What The Critics Said?

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

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

Bad Influence!Overall 9/10”.[3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awards:

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

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

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

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

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

My Verdict:

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

Rating:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonic Spinball – Review

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

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

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

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

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

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

Plot

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

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

Gameplay

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

There are only four levels:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does It Handle?

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

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

Graphics

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

Music & SFX

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

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

Replay Value

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

Did I Complete The Game?

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

What The Critics Said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Verdict:

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

Rating:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonic 3D Blast – Review

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

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

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

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

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

Plot

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

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

Gameplay

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

Sonic must navigate his way through the following levels:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does the game handle?

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

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

Graphics

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

Music

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

Did I Complete The Game? (Spoiler Alert)

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

What The Critics Said:

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

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

My Verdict:

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

Rating:

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


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

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

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.

Golden Axe II – Review

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

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

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

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

Plot

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Does It Handle?

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

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

Graphics

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

Music

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

Replay Value

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

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, I have completed it on Normal Mode.

What The Critics Said:

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

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

My Verdict:

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

Rating:

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


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

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

Fatal Labyrinth – Review

Some gamers love nothing better than to take control of an individual or a group of fighters and battle through endless dungeons gaining experience points, better armour, better weaponry and even stronger magic spells. To me, these games feel a tad monotonous and I rarely complete them purely because I don’t have the desire to spend hours fighting the same monsters to gain a few levels to help defeat a big boss only to have to do the same again soon after. It feels like a waste of time to me. Fatal Labyrinth, although containing RPG elements, is an alternative to these types of games. A sort of RPG-lite if you will. The question is, is it any good?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Fatal Labyrinth is a single-player RPG developed and published by Sega. It was released on the Mega Drive in 1991 and appears on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It was also released for Microsoft Windows in 2010 and can also be found on the Nintendo Switch. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate genesis Collection (2009) on the PlayStation 3.

Plot

One day, in an unnamed village in a faraway unnamed land, the monstrous castle of doom known as Dragonia rises from the earth. Ghouls from the castle pour out and head towards the village. They steal the Holy Goblet, a sacred artifact and source of light in the world, and take it back with them to the castle leaving the villagers in a state of terror.

One man, Trykaar, volunteers to take up arms and infiltrate the castle to steal back the goblet. To find the goblet, he must search through 30 levels of labyrinth that are filled with all manner of creatures hellbent on stopping him.

Beware the wizards, for they can paralyse you, leaving youu open to attack. (Screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

Throughout the labyrinth, you can pick up various weapons, shields, body armour, helmets and bows to defend yourself with. You can also find many magical items such as canes, potions, scrolls and rings. Initially, you don’t know how strong each weapon is or what each of these magical items do until you use them.

You do not automatically pick up these items though, and only have limited numbers you can carry. However, rather than just discarding them, you can choose to throw them at the enemy which I think is a nice, realistic touch. Afterall, having a metal helmet thrown at your face isn’t exactly going to tickle.

Like other RPGs, you gain experience points when you kill enemies. You start as “Beginner” and as you level-up progress onto “Valet” and countless other names. With each level you increase your attack, defence and HP also increase.

When battling the monsters, they will only move in response to you moving. When you take a step, they will take a step at the same time. Some need to be next to you to attack, and others can throw projectiles at you. This means that once one is chasing you, it’s incredibly difficult to lose them so you may have to simply fight them.

Every five levels is an automatic checkpoint so that if you die, you will go back to Level 5, 10, 15 etc. You seem to have infinite continues so in theory can play until you get tired of the game. If you stay on the same level for too long, then the screen flashes and the monsters will respawn.

Food is a vital part of the game. When fed, the hero slowly regenerates health. If unfed for extended periods of time, the hero becomes hungry and loses health. If too much food is eaten, the character’s movements become sluggish due of overeating. This is an unnecessary addition to making the game even harder.

Throughout the levels, you can pick up gold. This has very little benefit in the game other than when you die, your gravestone is more elaborate, and more mourners attend your funeral. It’s almost as if the game creators know you are going to die a lot during this game.

Features to watch out for:

Secret Doors – You actively have to press the ‘Pick Up’ button (the square button on the PlayStation joypad) when you are next to a wall to find these secret doors.

Trap Doors – Occasionally, you will fall through the floor to the level below. You simply have to find the stairs again to take you up.

Booby Traps – You may also set off an alarm which causes enemies to respawn and surround you.

There are lots of items to search for and pick up throught the labyrinth. Beware, as not all items will aid you. Some are cursed! (Screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

Disappointingly, There is very little intro to this game. You simply speak to a few people in the village before heading off to the castle. They don’t confide any information that is particularly helpful, and it all feels like a half-arsed afterthought.

This game is simple enough to play. The not knowing the strength of the weapons or what the magical items do works well as it forces you to experiment with your items and adds an element of danger and risk.

An annoying aspect to the game is that when you are approaching an enemy to attack, they will move aside one square and so you’ll turn to face them but they will move again meaning that you also move a square. It is as if you are engaging in a medieval dance with a monster. It’s very frustrating. Also, when you do get hit, you are frozen for a split second, and this makes it very difficult to escape, especially when surrounded by multiple enemies.

Graphics

Personally, I feel the graphics leave a lot to be desired. The initial top down view is similar to other games such as Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1991), but that is all you get. There are no additional battle scenes where player and foes are seen with more elaborate illustrations and animations. The game also lacks the scary atmosphere of Shining in the Darkness (1991).

Music

The music in this game is very unassuming and very repetitive. You won’t need SFX or the music anyway for this game as they add very little to the atmosphere, so I just turned down the volume and listening to a podcast.

Replay Value

This game has plenty of replay value. Although it only has one difficulty setting, the levels are randomly generated so that every time you play, you are greeted with a new labyrinth, and the items will never be in the same place twice.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I couldn’t get past Level 11.

What The Critics Thought:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Even though the mazes change constantly, the gameplay itself never changes, let alone the music! How Irritating! The price is right, however, for the Gauntlet fan who hates playing the same levels over and over. Since no passwords exist, you can only finish in one sitting. Yikes! Overall 20/40.[1]

Mean Machines Sega: “This Cross between a scrolling beat ‘em up and a role-playing game fails to deliver in both categories. The RPG aspect is dull and limited and slow, boring action fails to offer any thrills and spills. Overall 51%.”[2]

SegaPower: “Addictive roam around the labyrinth and collect the goodies RPG. Overhead graphics reveal themselves as you enter each room, which is nice, but it’s just too easy. Overall 2/5.[3]

My Verdict:

“Sadly, this game is rather monotonous and lacks atmosphere. The constant “swing and a miss” dynamic of the fighting is downright tedious. Mediocre graphics and dull music mean that you won’t be missing much if you give this game a miss. Pity really, as the concept had potential.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Fatal Labyrinth? 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 – Fatal Labyrinth’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). Issue 21:22.

[2] ‘Review: Mega Drive – Fatal Labyrinth’. Mean Machines. (October 1992). Issue 1:138.

[3] ‘The Hard Line – Fatal Labyrinth’. SegaPower. (October 1991). Issue 23:53.

Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time – Review

It is natural that the financial success and popularity of a video game should beg the question if a sequel (or prequel) will be wroth the investment. After all, I’m sure all game developers wish to be known for creating a successful franchise spanning generations of video gamers. The issue is that sequels are, more often than not, flops. Ecco the Dolphin was a huge success. So why not create a sequel?

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time is a single player action-adventure game. It was developed by Novotrade International and published by Sega for the Mega Drive, Game Gear and Sega CD in 1994, and for the Master System in 1996. The version I chose to review can be found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Plot

Tides of Time picks up where the first Ecco game left off. Having saved his pod, and coincidently the world, from an alien vortex, Ecco retains the powers bestowed upon him by the Asterite that allow him to stay underwater indefinitely without the need for air. His sonar also produces a blast wave stunning enemy sea creatures. Things are peaceful in Home Bay.

One day, a powerful earthquake hits the underwater cave that Ecco is exploring. Unsure how, Ecco soon learns that his powers have left him and that the Asterite has been killed. Ecco soon meets an unusual dolphin named Trellia, who informs him that she is from the future and one of his descendants. She brings Ecco back to her future where he learns that the Vortex Queen survived, followed him back to Earth and killed the Asterite in Ecco’s time. After travelling back to his own time, Ecco must search for the globes of the Asterite that have been scattered throughout the ocean and bring them together. Only then can he learn how to defeat the Vortex Queen and save the Earth…again.

The graphics for the Mega Drive versions of the Ecco series are truly stunninig (Screenshot taken by the author).

Gameplay

The game play is the same as the original Ecco game. When pressing a direction, Ecco will swim in that direction. When you stop swimming, Ecco will drift, adding some realism to the game, 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 (tap twice for double charge). This is mainly used to attack the many dangerous and deadly creatures he encounters, as well as, breaking down shelled walls.

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.
  • 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.
  • Pressing ‘B’, followed by ‘A’, Ecco releases a sonar charge that will kill his enemies.

So What Is New About Tides Of Time?

In the first Ecco game, there were Key Glyphs that when you sang to them, would offer clues or give you a specific song to pass through Barrier Glyphs. Power Glyphs would give you invincibility for a short period of time. In Tides of Time, there are now:

Puzzle Glyphs – Join with others to help release their powers

Cracked Glyphs – Similar to Barrier Glyphs but will only open for a short period of time; Broken

Broken glyphs – Fit the pieces together to Ecco receives a gift

Milestone Glyphs – Act like save states

Another new addition to the game is the teleportation sub-stages. The view changes so that the camera is behind Ecco as he travels forward. Dodging seaweed and jellyfish, you must watch out for rings that Ecco must swim or jump through. If you miss too many, you will go back to the beginning of the level. It doesn’t really add that much to the game, but changes it up enough to be worth including as a new feature.

Several new features include new level types (Screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The game handles pretty much the same as it’s predecessor…and is just as difficult.

The Sky Tides level was tough because it is a scrolling level and there is lots of trial and error when it comes to finding the best way to navigate through the level. If you fall out of the sides of the tubes, you fall back to the ocean and back to the previous level.

On the next stage, Tube of Medusa, if you get grabbed by the Medusa’s and flung out of the tubes, you go back two stages!!! Luckily, the Barrier Glyph is still open so you can swim straight back to the Sky Tides level, but it is still incredibly frustrating.

On some of the levels, there are helium bubbles in the sky. When you leap into the air and use your sonar on them, they fling you across the screen to either a floating pool or another set of helium bubbles. On another level, when you leap out of the water to where a larger bubble is floating in the air. When you touch it, you turn into a seagull and need to fly over cliffs to another body of water. What on Earth were the creators smoking when they came up with ideas for this game?

Graphics

The graphics still look top rate. The sprites all look a little smoother and the colours and detail of the sprites and backgrounds still look incredible. Now, I may be crazy, but the game perspective feels like you have been zoomed in slightly…or am I imagining it?

Music

The music just does not fit the game. In the original you had either a soft Caribbean melody or a low-key track that almost buzzed, giving you the feeling of being along in a scary and unfamiliar environment. Some of the weird new music feels like it should fit better in a run-and-gun shooter.

Replay Value

To add to the replay value of this game, at the begining you can choose to swim in four directs. Left leads to the password screen, top left is difficult, top right is easy and right is normal. Normal adjust the game difficulty based on your ability and how well you’re doing.

Did I Complete The Game?

Not yet. At present, I am stuck on Four Islands where you need to follow a friendly dolphin who will show you the way. When following the dolphin, if it disappears off your screen, it will go back to where you found it. It is rather unforgiving.

What The Critics Thought:

GamePro: “There’s no doubt that Tides of Time offers a lot, providing a scenic variety of levels for the player to swim through and solve. Occasional control glitches do bring their share of frustration, but you still get a solid does of entertainment. This sequel proves that Ecco’s not washed up yet. Overall 85%.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Ecco: Tides of Time really shows that Genesis games can be colourful, The backgrounds and animation are simply beautiful, with lots of eye-popping graphics. The quests are a lot harder than before, and sometimes you are left without a clue as to what to do. I like the fact that you can transform into different creatures I’d have to say that I really like Ecco and his adventures. Overall 7.25/10.[2]

Next Generation: “Taxing puzzles, RPG elements, shooting stsgaes, and some of the best Genesis graphics to date make you want to reel Ecco II in, but it’s certainly not a keeper. Overall 3/5”.[3]

My Verdict:

“I’m not sure what to make of this game. The graphics, as with the original, are glorious. The change in music doesn’t work well for me, and some of the new aspects of the game like the helium bubbles and turning into other creatures seems a bit dumb. Having said that, it’s a perfectly good game. Challenging, great to look at, and is certainly a worthy addition to the Sega Mega Drvie library.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time? 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] LaMancha, M., ‘ProReview – Ecco the Dolphin: The Tides of Time’. (December 1994). GamePro. 75:86-7.

[2] ‘Review Crew – Ecco: Tides of Time’. (December 1994). 65:40.

[3] ‘Rating Genesis – Ecco: Tides of Time’. (February 1995). Next Generation. 2:100. (

Dynamite Headdy – Review

I’m often conflicted when rating video games. I tend to give my personal rating before I read the reviews of contemporary critics so as not to affect my personal rating. For the most part, we are in agreement. However, on occasion, I disagree with reviewers rating a game either higher or lower than expected. Dynamite Headdy is one such game.

Title screen (Screenshot taken by the author)

Dynamite Headdy is a single-player platform game developed by Treasure Co., Ltd and published by Sega. It was released for the Mega Drive in 1994 with an 8-bit version being ported to the Game Gear and Master System soon after. It was later released for the Wii Virtual Console (2007), the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 via Sonic’s Ultimate Gensis Collection, and the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsift Windows Mac OS X and Linux in 2018. For this review, I played the Mega Drive version.

(Screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

Life was fun at the Treasure Theatre Show until Dark Demon began converting its inhabitants to evil minions. It’s up to Headdy to pursue Dark Demon and defeat him in order to save his friends.

Gameplay

You play as Headdy, a puppet who has the ability to throw his own head at his enemies or to use it to grab Hangmen (round balls) to help him climb to higher parts of the level. Headdy also has the ability to change his head to other heads that give him special abilities, similar to Kid Chameleon (1992). For the most part, there are up to 14 different heads that can be utilised by Headdy. In some later levels, another three are utilised to help Headdy fly.

At the end of each level, Headdy must face a Keymaster. His friend Beau usually shows up to direct Headdy as to where he must hit the Keymaster to defeat them.  

(Screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The controls are tight and the gameplay relatively simple. I like the fact that Headdy can throw his head in all directions and can be utilised as a weapon or as an aid to reach higher platforms.

The numerous heads with their unique abilities make the game play quite fun. Although, I wish there they were more integral to the game. Although there are times when swapping heads is necessary, and allows your to pick your route based on the head you pick, I felt as though the game could be beaten with using minimal head swaps when the game really should be full of areas where you cannot progress without acquiring the correct head.

What spoils the game for me, is that it feels very chaotic and discombobulated. The levels seem quite short and just when you’re getting into it, it ends or changes scene. There are also seems to be endless boss battles and although some are quite quirky and ingenious, they grow tiresome as oppose to simply being a good challenge.

The so called “treasures” are not really worth the effort to get as they add very little to the game.

Graphics

The graphics are bright and colourful. The sprites look great and there is enough variation to keep the game interesting. The animations are quite cool too, like when Headdy has been idle for a while, he’ll take off his head and bounce it like a basketball.

Music

I found the music is down right annoying and I found that soon, I’d turned the volume down.

Replay Value

The game itself is quite long, but offers little in the way of replay value.

Personal Memories

I owned Dynamite Headdy as a teenager and remember playing it over and over again but never completing it. Having revisited the game, I’m sorry to say that I just didn’t enjoy it at all. I actually found the game annoying and it felt like a half-baked idea to me.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I couldn’t get past level 6-2.

What The Critics Said:

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Another unique title from the folks at Treasure (the company that gave us Gunstar Heroes). The main character, Headdy, has several excellent attacks (using different “heads”), and the levels are very colorful, with some knockout visual effects (like the rotating platforms, and the giant blimp dog Boss). This is a top action title for the Genesis. Overall 7.6/10.[1]

Gamesmaster: “Is it going too far to suggest that this is Treasure’s contractual obligation game? Probably. Nevertheless, it doesn’t shine like their previous projects. Let’s hope their next one is more of a return to form. Not a disaster but should have been so much better. Overall 76%. [2]

Mean Machines Sega: “If you have your head firmly screwed on, you’ll get Headdy as soon as it comes out. No ifs, no butts! Overall 93%.[3]

Next Generation: “Unlike most games, no two levels or bosses look alike. Most importantly, Dynamite Headdy is loaded with good old-fashioned fun, and that’s what gaming is all about. Isn’t it? Overall 4/5.[4]

My Verdict:

“This game is chaotic, frustrating, and feels you’re just being carried through the game as oppose to navigating it yourself. The levels are very linear and rather small when compared to games like Sonic the Hedgehog 3. It’s a Marmite game. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it.”

My Rating:

What are your memories of Dynamite Headdy? 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 – Dynamite Headdy’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (September 1994). Volume 7, Issue 9:36.

[2] Tucker, T., ‘Review – Dynamite Headdy’. Gamesmaster. (October 1994). Issue 22:52-3.

[3] ‘Review – Dynamite Headdy.’ Mean Machines Sega. (November 1994). Issue 25:74-7.

[4] ‘Rating genesis – Dynamite Headdy’. Next Generation. (January 1995). Issue 1:99-101.

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)

Plot

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 and 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)

Gameplay

Sketch must fight his way through a number of comic scenes using hand to hand combat. 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.

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.

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.

How Does It Handle?

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.

Another 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.

Graphics

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.

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!

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

Music

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

Replay Value

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.

[2] ‘Rating Genesis – Comix Zone’. Next Generation. (August 1995). Issue 8:75.

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 (1988) 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.

Plot

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)

Gameplay

The menu is exactly the same as Shining Force (1992). 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 (1992), 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.

There is also more than one way to promote members of your party. Like SF (1992), 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.

How Does It Handle?

Whereas SF (1992) 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. The menu system is very intuitive and the controls are easy to learn.

Graphics

Like SF (1992), 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 (1994) (FF III in North America). Yes, I personally prefer Shining Force II‘s graphics to FFVI (1994).

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, more than once!

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). Issue 62:36.