Game Opinion Summaries, Part 12: Letter So-St

14 this time.  Getting closer to the end of letter S…

Games in this update

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic & Knuckles
Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Sonic 3D Blast
Sorcerian (J)
Space Harrier II
Spider-Man — X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Spider-Man and Venom: Separation Anxiety
Splatterhouse 2
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — Crossroads of Time
Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
Streets of Rage (Sega 6-Pak)
Streets of Rage 2

Sonic 3 & Knuckles – 1-2 player simultaneous, cartridge save (FRAM in the Sonic 3 cart).  Sonic 3 & Knuckles is Sega’s best game ever, and one of the great platformers as well.  S3&K has great graphics and music, a lot of variety, very good level designs, a long quest for a Genesis platformer, a solid difficulty level, saving so you don’t have to start over every time you play with six save slots available, the series’ best bonus minigame, and so much more.  This game is built on the back of its sequels.  The gameplay, including physics, controls, level design concepts, and the rest, is very much like the previous two games, and Sonic 2 in particular, but improved in little ways.  The controls are as good as ever, but the characters have more moves now, and there are three characters to play as.  The levels are classic Sonic stuff, focused on speed and challenging platforming, but they are bigger and even more fun to explore than before, and there are more secrets to find as well.  You now get Chaos Emeralds by finding giant rings which are hidden around each stage.  Each level has several, and you’ll need to look everywhere, try to walk through seemingly solid walls, and more to find them.  Some are obvious, others well-hidden.  I really like this; getting rid of the requirement to have 50 rings in order to go into the bonus stages was a very good idea and it improves the game.  The Blue Spheres minigame is great, too, better than those in its predecessors.  You play from a third-person view behind your character, and navigate a maze of blue, red, and bounce spheres.  Your goal is to touch all blue spheres, which turns them red, without touching a red one.  If you hit a red sphere you fail the bonus game and are sent back to the main game, but if you turn them all blue, you get an emerald.  If you make a square of blue orbs red by going around the outside edge only, the whole square will turn into rings, and you get continues by getting enough points in bonus stages.  Continues are useful despite the save system because they let you continue from the checkpoint you died at, instead of the beginning of the zone, so you will have a bit of an easier time at the end of the game if you play the whole long game in one sitting than if you play it in parts.  You can get through the last level with practice even without continues, though, so the game works great either way.

This is a long game, and there are 12 zones, two acts per zone in all zones except for some of the last ones, bosses at the end of every act including a miniboss after each first act and a Robotnik fight at the end of each second act, and 14 emeralds to find.  Yes, 14; getting the first seven unlocks Super Sonic, and the second seven Hyper Sonic.  Getting all 14 in one run would be a real challenge, but fortunately the game does save how many you’ve gotten.  Until you beat the final boss on a save file you are locked to the current stage, but once you win, you unlock a level select.  At this point you can go back, get all the emeralds, then come back to the final level and play the real final fight, which requires all emeralds.  All that effort is worth it, because it’s a great, epic final battle!  There are many checkpoints along the way, and like in Sonic 2, if you touch one with enough rings, a warp to a special stage will open.  These are not the Emerald stages, though, of course; instead they are three separate games where you can get points, rings, and lives.  One is a slot machine in a Sonic 1-style rotating area; the second has you hitting a dial to knock gatcha-style balls out of a machine to get the prizes inside; and the third is a terrible one on these lightning orbs where I always immediately touch the rising line.  There is a trick to it, but I’ve almost never managed to avoid near-instant failure.  Ah well, it doesn’t matter much.  As for the main game, many of the setings along the way are pretty great.  This game has more stages which actually change as you progress than before, including areas where sand filling in behind you as you try to escape in the tombs, the ground itself is moving upwards, crushing you if you don’t get out of there fast enough, and more.  The large levels have some minor puzzle elements as well which you can usually engage with or ignore.  One level has these simple elevator-lifts that let you go up a level of platforms, but you can choose to use them or not.  In another, you have to stand on a giant spinning, flying top to fly around and find the route forward.  This part is pretty cool, flying through the air on a giant top is fun.  And there’s more.

The game has short cutscenes, as well.  Once again Robotnik is doing evil stuff and you need to stop him.  In the Sonic 3 half, new character Knuckles works as your main antagonist.  He’s an Echidna, and guards the Chaos Emeralds, but has been conned by Robotnik into thinking that Sonic is the real villain.  After messing with you to make your route longer all game, at the end of Sonic 3, Robotnik’s true evil is revealed, and in Sonic & Knuckles, Knuckles became playable for the first time.  Of course, in the combined game you can play as Knuckles from the beginning, not only in the second half.  As described above in Knuckles in Sonic 2, Knuckles has a shorter jump height, but can glide and climb walls.  His powers make playing the game more fun, for me.  Tails now can fly anytime, which is great.  Tails is sort of ‘easy mode’ here as a result.  Sonic is mostly the same, but does have some new powers: he gets additional abilities from the games’ three powerups.  In addition to the water-bubble orb from Sonic 2, there are now also lightning and fire orbs.  All three characters get the basic function from these, but Sonic gets an exclusive second ability from each as well, such as a double jump from the lightning orb, on top of the basic it-attracts-rings power.  There is even a boss fight that plays differently if you have Tails in the game.  So, all four play modes, Sonic, Sonic & Tails, Tails, and Knuckles, are distinct and play differently, for additional replay value.  This game does multiple characters right, in a way that its 3d sequels would often fail to match.

The game also sounds great.  For the Sonic 3 half, the soundtrack was mostly composed by the famous pop artist Michael Jackson and his songwriting team.  However, the game released shortly after Jackson’s first child sexual assault allegations, which is probably why Jackson’s name does not appear in the music credits.  His team does, though, and it has been proven that his songs are indeed in the game.  I’ve never been a Michael Jackson fan at all, but it is an interesting story.  The Sonic & Knuckles half was composed by the usual Sonic composers, and it’s also great.  The whole soundtrack is very good, and is more technically impressive than the first two even if the original main theme is probably the most memorable tune from the series.  The graphics are similar but a bit more detailed than before, too, and I think that they get slightly better in the second, S&K half of the game; those six months were used well.  For negatives about this game, there are few.  First, there are still places where you can randomly die for no fair reason because of crushing objects, or impossible-to-avoid obstacles or pits, or such.  That stuff is always frustrating even when you have a bunch of lives stocked up.  Yes, it’s a staple of most all Sonic games, but it is annoying.  And second, the final boss once AGAIN has no rings after the final checkpoint.  The game doesn’t take rings away that you have entering the (first) final fight, oddly, but you only get one chance per game at this boss with rings; die once and it’s back to the usual ‘fight this really hard boss with no rings’.  Things are different in the real final battle, but unless you get all 14 emeralds in one run, beating that ‘final’ boss may be tough.  It is worth the effort, though, and this game isn’t as hard as the first one.  Overall, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a classic which holds up extremely well.  Sonic Team found a fantastic formula with the original game, and this one shows the concept in its best form.  S3&K is not quite the equal of Super Mario World, my favorite platformer ever, but it is high on the list after that game.  It’s a great, must-play game.  Also available on PC.  That is the first version of the game I owned, back in the late ’90s, and it’s also great.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games, though it is worth noting that this combined game are often skipped over; only a few platforms, such as Wii WiiWare, actually have the full S3&K experience available.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – 1-2 player simultaneous, cartridge save (FRAM).  Either because the game was getting too large to reasonably fit on one cartridge or in order to make more money, Sega decided to release their third main-series Sonic game in two parts.  First came this game, Sonic 3, in early 1994, and then came Sonic & Knuckles about six months later at the end of the year.  That latter game has a cartridge port on top of the cart, allowing other games to be connected to it.  This ‘lock-on technology’ allows for Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles to be combined into one massive game, Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  That game is the biggest and best Sonic game of them all.  This is the first half of that, so it’s a must-have, but not on its own.  Sonic 3 is fantastic, as I describe above, and is the only Sonic game with Michael Jackson music for those that care about that, and there are eight save slots available in this game versus the six in S3&K, but alone you have no playable Knuckles, and the game feels a bit short, with a shorter length and no final boss fight as great as the ones in the previous games, or S3&K.  On the subject of those save slots, though, the two sets of save slots are separate, but S3&K will remember your progress from Sonic 3, I think, so those slots are copied to the new ones I guess.  S3&K progress is not copied back, however, understandably.  Sonic 3 is a very good game, but play the full game, not just this half of it.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Sonic & Knuckles – 1-2 player simultaneous,  has cartridge save when locked on to Sonic 3, via Sonic 3’s save chip.  Sonic & Knuckles is the second half of Sonic 3.  The graphics and gameplay are exactly the same as before, just with new levels.  This time, you can play as Sonic or Knuckles.  Knuckles was introduced as a rival in Sonic 3, but this time he’s playable and on your side.  I’ve always liked playing as Knuckles, he has some great moves Sonic doesn’t.  When you lock this cart on to Sonics 2 or 3, you can play as Knuckles in Sonic 2 and in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, which is great.  Unfortunately they couldn’t get Knuckles into Sonic 1 because of engine changes, but still, it’s great that it works in Sonic 2.  Sonic & Knuckles on its own, however, is a bit disappointing.  The game is a bit short, Tails isn’t playable without lockon, and you can’t save if you don’t have Sonic 3 locked on, annoyingly!  S&K is great fun, and I like its zones a lot, indeed maybe more than Sonic 3’s, but it’s the second half of a game, and you want to start from the beginning.  There is no better case of ‘better combined than separate’ than Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.  Both games are pretty good on their own, but individually I don’t think I could rank either one above Sonics 1 or 2.  Combined, though, they exceed them.  S3 and S&K are so much better when put together!  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.  Sonic & Knuckles is in lots of compilations that do not include Sonic 3, probably because the absence of saving makes it easier to deal with in things such as those licensed Genesis portables from AtGames which don’t support any saving and have a bunch of built-in games.

Sonic 3D Blast – 1 player.  Sonic 3D Blast is an isometric platformer developed by Eurocom and published by Sega in 1996.  This late Genesis release is controversial, but unlike some I do like the game.  I have finished this game on the Genesis, and I mostly enjoyed it along the way.  The game plays from an overhead angle, and you move Sonic around in three dimensions.  Yes, you only play as Sonic in this one.  You can jump and spin-dash, though your spin is a lot slower-moving in this game.  The slower pace of most of this game is surely one of the things a lot of Sonic fans dislike about it, but I’m fine with the game as it is.  Speed is fun, yes, but a slower-paced, more deliberate game can be great too.  In each level, your goal is to find all of the Flickies and then bring them to a goal ring.  So, yes, the game is a series of collection quests.  I don’t mind this, myself; both style have a place.  Each level is broken up into two parts, and you’ve got five or so flickies to collect in each part.  You’ll be wandering around levels, looking for flickies and rings, for quite a while in some stages, until you’ve learned their locations.  Backtracking and exploration are central to this game.  Levels are large and non-linear, so the game is not just about getting from point A to point B as it usually is in this series.  So yes, this game is very different from previous Sonic games.  And yes, it isn’t quite as great as the Genesis Sonic games are.  While 3D Blast is a good game, it’s not an all-time great like those are.  Even so, it is a good game and it is fun to play.

The game has pretty good graphics and solid music as well.  Aurally, the game has good music, but it isn’t as great and memorable as the main series on the Genesis. The graphics are similar, but perhaps better.  The game clearly wasn’t done by Sonic Team, but the look is Sonic-like, and doesn’t look like a generic Euro-platformer or something; the developers clearly were given assets from Sega of Japan to work from.  Each world looks different.  They are the usual settings, including forest, cave, ice world, and such for locations, but all look pretty good.  This is a late release for the system, and it looks it.  The flickies make a return from their game Flicky, which I haven’t played much of.  Sonic has always been saving the small animals that Robotnik uses to power his machines, and you’re doing that again here.  They follow Sonic around once rescued, which is kind of cute.  Sometimes this actually matters in game strategy, as a flicky is rescued if it touches one of your flickies, which can bounce above you on springs for example.  In addition to the main game, 3D Blast has a bonus game as well.  In order to enter a bonus stage, you have to find characters such as Tails or Knuckles hidden around the levels.  If you get to one of them with the required number of rings, you go into a bonus stage.  Here you are running towards the screen on a twisting track that stretches in front of you.  The perspective here uses some nice graphical tricks, and the bonus stages are fun.  They can be tricky, though, as there are raised platforms to jump to, pits and spikes to jump over, and more.  Just like the 2d games, I’ve never gotten all of the rings in a single play through this game.

The level designs in Sonic 3D Blast are good.  Levels are designed to be fair, and aware of the challenges of jumping in isometric 3d, this game has few to no instant death pits.  There are spikes, but they just make you lose your rings like usual.  Instead of pits, you usually just fall to a lower area and have to go around and try the jump again.  You can die, but this makes the game much better than it would be if it was loaded with instant-death pits.  While the open, exploration-focused stages can be annoying if you can’t find that one Flicky hiding away somewhere, most of the time finding how to get to all the Flickies while staying away from or defeating badguys is fun.  Collecting rings and looking for bonus stages also is good fun.  The game isn’t Sonic-fast, but it is good and well designed.  However, it is unfortunate that the game doesn’t have saving.  While good, and not one of the harder Sonic games, Sonic 3D Blast is a somewhat slow-paced game, and it can get boring after a while.  It’s really unfortunate that even in 1996 Sega STILL didn’t understand that games need to have saving!  It’s unfortunate, and does hold the game back.  Still, overall, Sonic 3D Blast is a good isometric platformer.  The game looks nice, controls well, and is fun to play most of the time.  Yes, it isn’t 2d Sonic, but anyone who likes some exploration and collection in their games as I do definitely should play this game, it’s a fun one.  Other people should try it, and see if they like it or not.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.  There are also Saturn and PC ports of the game released in the 1990s.  They have CD audio music, improved graphics with some quite nice CG-rendered sprites and backgrounds, and new bonus minigames, slightly different but both 3d takes on the tube-running minigame from Sonic 2.  The Saturn one is in polygonal 3d, though the main game is of course still sprite-based, while the PC version uses sprites.  The PC version also adds a save system, thankfully, though for some insane reason the Saturn one doesn’t.  However, getting the PC version running on a modern PC might be tricky; it has issues on new OSes.  If you can get it to run, though, it’s probably the best version of the game, though the Saturn bonus game might be best.  Still, the Genesis version is also fun, and it’s definitely worth playing.  While I have all three versions of the game, this is the only one that I’ve beaten.

Sorcerian (J) – 1 player, battery save to cartridge.  Sorcerian for the Genesis, released in 1990, is a conversion by Sega of the Falcom computer game of the same name.  This Genesis version is mostly a port of the computer original, but has some new missions included.  Sorcerian is one of several side-scrolling action-RPGs made by Falcom.  Originally released in the 1980s, this later port has improved graphics and those new missions, but the graphics are still dated and basic with very small sprites and subpar art design, it’s hard to play for the non-Japanese speaker, and I’m not convinced by the gameplay either.  Despite this, for some reason I got several Japanese versions of Sorcerian, including this and the Turbo CD version.  This games’ box-art is great, but the game, not so much.  If you are going to play this game, there are guides for the main menu options, but figuring out what to do in some quests may be tricky.  At least there is some help for that menu, though;  The main menu has a good 12 options, all in Japanese text, and you’ll need to use and understand all of them and their submenus.

Sorcerian has two elements, the missions, which is mostly simple and straightforward, and the aforementioned menu system between missions.  Here you create characters, buy items and equipment, develop magic towards the games’ over a hundred spells, build character stats, and give your party members regular jobs.  There are four classes, fighter, wizard, elf, and dwarf, all male or female, available.  Now, by “jobs” I do not mean classes, Final Fantasy style; I mean civilian occupations you choose in a menu back at base, in order to make money and build their stats.  These jobs are different from the characters’ class, and some jobs are gender-specific.  As characters do jobs they build stats.  So, these are not full-time adventurers like in your usual RPG, they need other work too.  This unique system is a centerpiece of Sorcerian’s design, and it’s kind of odd.  Characters will age as you have them work and go on missions, and eventually get too old to continue adventuring.You can always create new characters, though, and you have three save slots in this game and quite a few characters allowed per file.  There are a lot of professions available, each with different rewards, and eventually I’m sure this element of the game becomes required in order to progress.  Of course, figuring out any of this is difficulty through the language barrier, even with a guide; I haven’t gotten deep into this game.

When you choose a team and enter one of the ten available missions, you’ll notice how tiny the sprites are.  This game was originally an 8-bit computer game, and it shows.  While the graphics are improved over the original and the added parallax scrolling is appreciated, Sega had to stick with the small sprites in order for everything you need to see to be visible, but still, the game looks dated and ugly.  The music is average; it’s nice, but nothing great.  Characters do move quickly, though, in that classic Falcom way, so gameplay is fast.  For controls, the d-pad moves your whole party, with one leading and the others following; Start is a menu for selecting a spell, quitting the mission, and such; A switches the order of your party; and B and C have all characters use magic and weapon attacks, respectively.  Characters of different classes have different attacks, so some have magic while others use melee or ranged weapons.  If a character runs out of health they die, though you can resurrect back in town between missions, but if you stand still you will recover health and mana.  Enemies spawn at the edges of the screen and attack quickly, so if you’re not over-leveled, battles can be tricky even with all the ranged attacks.  The fast-paced combat is simplistic, but is probably the best thing about the game.  It feels very Falcom-like, similar to something like Ys III but with multiple characters.  There are also people to talk to in the missions, so you’ll need a guide sometimes to figure out what to do if you can’t read Japanese. Your goal is to beat all ten missions, but you can keep going after that if you want.

Overall, Sorceriean is an okay but odd game.  While the action can be fun, the game has little depth in-game and gets repetitive quickly.  And in town, there is a huge language barrier making doing much of anything a challenge even with a guide.  The bland, tiny graphics are not appealing either.  Falcom fans who can read Japanese will surely like this, but for the rest of us the getting to the overall-average gameplay may not be worth the hassle.  If you want to play the game in English, Sierra did release versions for the PC.  It has worse graphics than the Genesis or Turbo CD versions, but at least it’s in English.  Other versions of Sorcerian in Japanese are available on the Turbo CD, MSX, PC-88/98, and Sharp X1.  The later Turbo CD version is similar to this one but with some different missions, no parallax but improved ingame graphics apart from that, and better, CD-quality music.  There are also sequels and a remake for the PC and Dreamcast, again in Japan only.

Space Harrier II – 1 player.  Space Harrier II is a rail shooter, and a sequel to the great Sega arcade game from several years earlier.  This game has gameplay identical to the original, but with new stages to shoot through.  You are the Space Harrier, flying forward as you shoot a wide variety of colorful and weird creatures and objects.  The original game is a real masterpiece and one of the all-time great rail shooters.  The later 32X version is also fantastic.  However, this game is kind of bad.  Space Harrier II is one of the first games released for the Genesis.  That is important to keep in mind, but even so, the horrendously choppy graphics make this game very hard to play.  As with Sega’s other early scaler-style games on the Genesis, Space Harrier II has horrendous software scaling.  As always the game uses differently-sized sprites the system flips between as you get closer to things, but some games are much better than others at making this look smooth.  This game, like Super Thunder Blade or Super Hang-On, fails to do this acceptably.  The sprites bounce between sizes in a way which looks awful, and gameplay is very choppy even beyond that.  Space Harrier II was one of the first games I got for the Genesis when I got the system in ’06 and I was hopeful that this followup to an arcade game I love would be good, but it isn’t, at all.  The sprite-art does look decent to good in still pictures, but as soon as you see it moving it looks awful.  Gameplay is much more difficult than it would be with scaling sprites, too, since the lack of smoothness drags everything down.  Space Harrier II is a frustrating, ugly-looking game which is not worth playing even for serious series fans.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Spider-Man — X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge – 1 player.  Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge is an extremely difficult platformer from Acclaim.  This multiplatform title is a crossover between two major superhero universes, and you play as both Spider-Man and four X-Men: Wolverine, Storm, Gambit, and Cyclops.  The game has okay but slightly smallish graphics, average music, and good controls.  The game doesn’t look great, but I do like the varied settings, and it’s reasonably well drawn.  “Difficult” is the operating word here, though.  The first level in the game is a level where you play as Spiderman and have to disarm some bombs in the correct order before time runs out.  It’s not difficult with some practice.  After beating it you go to a level select where you can choose between all five characters.  Each has two levels to try to complete, designed just for them in a unique setting.  These stages are all much harder than the intro level, and dying is easy.  If you get through all that through some miracle, there’s a final level, I believe, where you face the main villain here, Arcade.  Each character has their own powers, such as web-swinging and wall-climbing for Spiderman, throwing cards for Gambit, slashing things (including walls, as well as enemies) for Wolverine, eyebeam blasts for Cyclops, and flying for Storm, making each set of levels different, even beyond the different settings.  Storm’s flight-based stages are the most different, but all characters are distinct in both movement and in combat styles.  The game has solid graphics, okay though imperfect controls, and decent music.  It can be fun to play.  Levels are varied, and are large in that Western platformer style.  You usually have an objective beyond just reaching the end, so in the first level Spiderman has to reach a bunch of bombs before they explode, for example.  You’ll need to play each level a bit to learn what you should do in it and where to go, and the learning process there is fun, and is helped by the good level designs.  Levels here are large and open, in that classic Western platformer fashion, but the stages are reasonably fun to explore and are mostly well laid out.  Difficulty aside this game is above average.

However, the game has one major flaw: it’s absolutely insanely difficult!  You get three lives and no continues or saving in this game.  That’s it.  There are no cheat codes to help you out, either.  There are some rare extra lives to be found, but with at least a dozen tough levels to get through, Arcade’s Revenge is a somewhat stratospheric challenge.  It’s a shame, too, because based just on the core gameplay, this is probably my favorite of the Spiderman or X-Men games that I have played on the Genesis.  I don’t find the Sega CD Spiderman game all that fun, and the two Genesis Spiderman beat ’em ups below are average at best as well, and the Genesis X-Men game is okay but also has issues.  This game, however, really is good sometimes.  Sega’s X-Men game has better graphics, but this game controls well, and the combat is good and levels are fun to explore.  I like the variety between the different characters too.  Searching through the levels looking for stuff and beating enemies is fun.  With a password save system and continues, it’d be a pretty good game.  Playing a game this difficult with no continues or saving is extremely frustrating.  This game is a fun platformer, but beware the difficulty level.  Maybe play it in an emulator with savestates, or something.  Overall I do like this game, it’s good, but beware!  Also available on SNES, Game Gear, and Game Boy.  I also have the Game Gear version, and it’s a downscaled version of this same exact title, just as difficult as it is on the Genesis.

Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage – 1 player, 6 button controller supported.  Maximum Carnage is a decent-looking, but subpar, beat ’em up published by Acclaim.  In this game you play as Spiderman and Venom, each in separate levels, but not both at the same time, as for some dumb reason the game is single player only.  The game has nice-looking comic-book-style cutscenes, but the story feels rushed and confusing.  I presume it makes sense for those who know the comicbook storyline, but I’ve never cared for superhero comics, and just in this game things happen too quickly to make sense.  This is a beat ’em up, though, so that’s not a big problem; this genre is about hitting people, not following a plot.  The game has large sprites, decent but not great graphics with okay backgrounds but somewhat ugly, super-’90s punks for enemies.  The art design leaves something to be desired.  There are a handful of different enemy types which repeat a lot in different colors, as usual.  The music is average, too.  Gameplay is also average at best, though it is a bit harder than it reasonably should be.  and the controls are much less precise than they are in Sega beat ’em ups.  It often feels like you take unfair hits because of the sometimes-iffy controls, though there are just enough health-ups to keep you alive if you don’t mess up much.  If you do, though, it’ll be Game Over fast, because you get only one continue for the entire game!  The game does have some variety and can be fun to play, and beating it will be a challenge for sure.  This game has more negatives than positives, overall, though.

Levels usually just scroll to the right, freezing on each screen until you beat the enemies there as usual in the genre, but sometimes you have to climb buildings instead.  You can climb on walls and swing on web-lines in this game, you see.  The 6-button controller is useful because the web-swinging function requires a button combination, but with the 6-button pad the Y button lets you use it with one press.  The wall-climbing segment in level two is very frustrating and I’ve lost many lives there, though a sometimes I get lucky and get past it.  It is far too easy to be knocked off the wall and back down to the ground!  The regular beat ’em up segments are better, but are average at best.  You have several moves you can do beyond basic punches and jump-kicks, and with C you can grab enemies long-distance or use a shield, both of which are very useful moves.  Those large but badly-drawn enemies constantly attack from both sides, though, and it can be hard to not take damage, and you can’t take much damage before you lose a life.  The game has no difficulty settings either, and you only get that one continue.  You need more than that in a game this hard.  Overall, the high difficulty, flawed controls, absence of badly needed co-op play, and frustrating wall-climbing segments hold back an otherwise average game with okay graphics and sometimes-fun action.  Spider-man and Venom in Maximum Carnage is below average.  Maybe pick this up if you like Spiderman; otherwise pass.  The bright red cartridge might be the best thing about this game.  Also on SNES.

Spider-Man and Venom: Separation Anxiety – 1-2 player simultaneous, password save, 6 button controller supported.  This second Spiderman isometric beat ’em up from Acclaim is a lot like the first one, but with multiplayer, smaller graphics, and passwords between levels.  The web-swinging element of the game also seems to be gone, but you can still climb on walls, though.  The rest of the game is similar as well, just a bit zoomed out, perhaps to better fit two player characters.  A lot of people greatly dislike the graphics of this game compared to the first, and I see their point, but the art design is similar; it’s just smaller.  This game does look worse than the first one, but enemies look bad in both games, not only this one, and the heroes here don’t look too much worse.  If this is what it took to get multiplayer in I don’t mind much, but both games could have used better graphics.  Since this game is co-op, you now can play as either Spiderman or Venom in all levels, which is nice.  The story presentation is weaker than before, though, as now the intro is mostly text; the comic-book cutscenes are gone.  The story was confusing before, but this is not better.

Ingame, the controls are the same as before, which is not good.  You still take damage far too easily, but the enemies feel even more aggressive now, and I take damage even faster than in the first game; this game is absurdly difficult.  Indeed, where I’ve rarely beaten the second level of the first game, I don’t think I’ve ever beaten the FIRST level of this one!  And I have tried; it’s just unfairly hard thanks to how many enemies attack you from both sides at once.  There isn’t much you can do in that situation other than take damage, unfortunately, and it’s frustrating.  If you ever do manage to beat a level at least you will get a password, thankfully — and that is great, passwords are quite rare in 4th-gen games in this genre — but getting to that point is harder and less fun than it should be.  Versus the first one, putting in a password system helps, but does not entirely fix, the games’ somewhat broken difficulty level.  Enemy graphics are a bland assortment of nameless thugs, too, as enemy names, present in the first one, have been removed; this game looks and sounds average, and that’s it.  Some of the songs, such as the intro music, are good, but others are kind of bad.  Overall, Separation Anxiety is a below-average disappointment.  The game fixes some of the first games’ problems, but not enough of them, and introduces some new ones, so it’s hard to say which of these two games is better overall.  The first one may be for one player, but this one obviously is for two.  Better yet, though, play something better, such as the Streets of Rage games below.  As with the first one, this game is only for big Spiderman fans, and even they probably will be disappointed.  Oh yeah, and the game is in a regular black cartridge too, not the bright red one of the first game.  Also on SNES and PC.

Splatterhouse 2 – 1 player, password save.  This second game in Namco’s horror-themed action series is a side-scrolling beat ’em up with a bit of platforming.  Just like in the first game for arcades and TurboGrafx-16, the second Splatterhouse game is a memorization-heavy sidescroller.  You walk to the right, hitting enemies or jumping over obstacles as you go, and your goal  is to memorize exactly when you have to hit each button to avoid taking damage.  Gameplay is simplistic and quickly gets boring; I don’t like this game that much.  It’s not awful, but definitely is not good.  You play as Rick, a bulked-up muscleman with a mask on who looks like a horror movie villain but here is the hero, and need to save your girlfriend from a mansion full of monsters.  There are new areas and foes to see as you progress, but the game also has a somewhat consistent visual look to it.  The graphics and sound are fine, but nothing great; in visuals and music this game is average.  I dislike horror movies and never watch them, so all the references to popular horror movies mean little to me, but the overly simplistic and repetitive gameplay definitely means something.  As much as I like isometric beat ’em ups, when you flatten them down to a single plane games usually get too simple to stay fun, and this game is no exception.  The numerous traps and pits to jump over  give this game a much stronger platformer element than most beat ’em ups, but it just adds to the required memorization.  You do have a health bar in this game, there are weapons to find as you progress, and if you beat a level the game does give you a password to start from the next stage, and those features are both welcome, but it’s still a difficult, and boring, game.  I got to the second level back when I bought this game for cheap in 2006 or so, and never have gotten past it, not because it’s impossible or something, but because it is just challenging enough for me to not find it worth the effort.  Still, Splatterhouse 2 is an okay game.  Yes, it’s a pure memorizer to a degree beyond most platformers or beat ’em ups and it’s pretty difficult, but the game has variety, nicely-drawn graphics, and some conceptually interesting bosses to fight.  Overall, though, it’s a poor and tedious well-below-average game, and considering that it now goes for a crazy-high price, save your money and don’t buy this game, you’d be wasting your money.  This is a game a lot of people like more than I do, though, so maybe try it if you think it sounds interesting.  I think it’s kind of bad, though.  The game is available on Wii Virtual Console; if you MUST buy it, get it there.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — Crossroads of Time – 1 player, password save.  Star Trek DS9: Crossroads of Time is a mediocre and frustrating puzzle-adventure game from Novotrade that was published by Playmates.  As much as I love the TV series, this console game is not my thing at all.  This game is one part Prince of Persia and one part annoying maze-exploration puzzle game, and I dislike both elements of it.  You play as Benjamin Sisko, commander of the space station Deep Space Nine, and questionable things are going on that you’ll need to investigate.  The game controls very much like Prince of Persia, so C+forward jumps forward a set distance, Up jumps up to grab on to a platform above provided that you are facing the right way and are lined up just right, Down ducks, and hitting down several times will drop down a level, provided you’re facing the right way and such.  You also have items, and switching between and using them doesn’t always work well.  The controls are clumsy and frustrating; I’ve never liked PoP-style game controls.  Give me standard Mario or Sonic platformer controls any day!  Combat is even worse, if you need to fight with your fists.  While the phaser, once you get it, will drop basic foes quickly, trying to fight by punching them controls badly, is no fun, and will result in you taking as many hits as you give out.  The graphics here are dark and average looking, but at least the sprites are somewhat recognizable as the characters from the show.  The music is fine, but not great.  The presentation here is average but decent enough, it’s the gameplay that is a problem.

The level designs and gameplay are the worst thing about this game, though, particularly once you get past the station-exploration segments between action missions and get into a mission.  Those station exploration parts can be a bit confusing, but just talk to everyone and go everywhere and you’ll find your way eventually.  In missions, though, you may have a time limit, an overlarge stage to explore, and no clear way to progress.  After a while stuck in the first level I gave up and looked at a walkthrough video online; I had missed an invisible phaser that I needed, apparently.  After getting stuck again in the much, much larger second level, I gave up on this game.  You do get passwords between levels, which is good, but this game needed better level layouts and game design.  I could go back to that walkthrough and figure out what I was missing, but playing a game that way isn’t rewarding or fun, and and the game doesn’t give you enough, or any, clues to help you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing on your own.  There is no quest-log, no pause menu with info, or anything; just a vague mission, and a level to explore.  You do have a tricorder which can can to find certain item types, but good luck actually getting to them.  Stations can move moving platforms around which you can then stand on and control, and I’m sure later in the game there will be some quite annoying mazes with these as well.  This game feels designed to annoy and confuse the player, and I don’t like that.  I like mazes, but in a maze you know what to do, the challenge is to get through!  Here you don’t really know what to do, and with controls and design as subpar as they are in this game I don’t want to stick around and figure it out.  Star Trek DS9: Crossroads of Time is a subpar disappointment that borders on bad.  Pass unless you’re a big Prince of Persia fan who likes confusing games with bad controls.  Also available on the SNES.

Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition – 1-2 player simultaneous, 6 button controller supported.  Street Fighter II’: Special Champion Edition is a port of several versions of Capcom’s great classic one-on-one fighting game.  This has always been my favorite home port of pre-Super SFII.  It’s a great game!  Some time after Nintendo got its exclusive port of Street Fighter II, in mid 1993 Sega and, in Japan only, NEC also got versions of the game for their platforms for the Genesis and PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16).  Nintendo also got a second release on the SNES, SFII Turbo.  This Genesis version is the best version of home SFII available at that time, though, in my opinion at least.  With good graphics and music, great controls provided that you have some 6-button controllers, fast, accurate gameplay, all twelve playable characters, eight levels of turbo available right on the main menu, two different versions of the game playable, and almost everything from the arcade classics, SFII SCE is fantastic!  Really the only issue with this fantastic game is that you need to have six-button controllers, but really, for anyone who doesn’t, just buy some.  You won’t regret it; the Sega version of the 6-button Genesis controller is one of the best and most comfortable controllers ever designed.

The gameplay here is very accurate to the arcade original.  There are two modes here, for SFII’: Champion Edition and SFII’: Hyper Fighting, aka SFII Turbo.  Each mode has some different character colors available, though each character only has two colors per mode unfortunately, and some balance changes I believe.  More importantly, only the latter has turbo-speed options available.  All 12 characters are present in both modes, as Champion Edition added the 4 minibosses as playable characters on top of the 8 characters from the original game.  All of the moves are in both modes as well, though there may be slight differences.  Characters in this game only have a few moves each, so it’s not nearly as difficult to learn a characters’ basic moveset as it is in a more modern fighting game, which is nice.  The controls are great, and the gameplay is about as fast as it is in the arcade.  Indeed, with eight levels of turbo available, this version of SFII can play very quickly indeed!  Actually playing the game at max turbo is difficult, but it’s am amusing way to play the game for sure.  On the SNES you need a code to get over three levels of turbo, and the max is not quite as fast as it is in this game, and all other SFII games on 4th-gen systems don’t have even that many levels of turbo, so this is the fastest 4th-gen console version of SFII.

The game really does look nice, too.  This is the only 4th-gen console version of SFII with the original SFII arcade intro in the game.  It’s a very short little scene, but it is cool to see.  It’s weird no other version had it, but they don’t.  Ingame, while the graphics have, of course, been simplified from the arcades, the game doesn’t feel quite as stripped-down as Samurai Shodown does; SFII holds up better on the Genesis.  Some graphics have been simplified, so for instance there are now only two elephants in the background in one stage instead of three and only one or two background laters per stage, but everything important is here.  The music is very accurate to the arcade as well, within the limitations of the Genesis of course.  Whether the Genesis or SNES music sounds better is a matter of opinion, as both sound great.  This version may sound a bit more like the arcade game than that one, though, which is nice.  Overall, SFII Special Champion Edition is a great game.  Because of how many versions of SFII there are for so many consoles this game probably isn’t a must-have, but it is a great version of the game and one of my personal favorite versions of SFII.  Really the only bad thing I can say about it is that I like the characters added in Super SFII, so as much as I like lots of levels of turbo, I like the added characters even more.  Still, apart from that SFII SCE is fantastic, and it’s certainly a must-play game, at least.  Fighting game fans should certainly have it, and anyone else should consider getting the game.  It’s one of the best versions of a classic this side of the original arcade game.  Arcade port.  Versions of these games are available on many other consoles, including the TG16 for Champion Edition and the SNES for Hyper Fighting (Turbo), though no other version is exactly the same as this one.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Streets of Rage (Sega 6-Pak) – 1-2 player simultaneous.  Streets of Rage started one of Sega’s more popular series on the Genesis, at least among its fans.  The game is an isometric beat ’em up with a modern-day street-crime theme, and as with most games in the genre, you move from screen to screen punching everyone out as you try to save the city from thugs led by the evil Mr. X.  There are three playable characters, two male and one female, and each has slightly different stats.  The game has two player co-op, as you hope for in this genre.  Inspired by Capcom’s classic Final Fight, Streets of Rage takes that game and improves on it in pretty much every way.  While Final Fight is good, Streets of Rage is better.  This game has good graphics for an earlier Genesis game, good, precise controls, a fantastic soundtrack that is in the top tier for the system, and decent graphical and enemy variety.  The game is mostly great, but it does have a few drawbacks, most notably a very annoying, and hard, boss-rush section in the last level, dated visuals versus its sequel, and mostly straightforward corridors for levels.  I’ve never finished the game due to how tough the final level is.  Even so, this game is one of the better beat ’em ups out there.  Streets of Rage is a straightforward and repetitive game, as this genre almost always is, but it’s one of the more fun beat ’em ups around… or would be, if not for its all-time-classic sequel.  This game is a pretty good game, but that one is better.  Still, both games are worth playing.

As mentioned this is an earlier Genesis game, and it does look rougher than its sequels visually.  Sprites aren’t large or as detailed as in the second one, and environments are fairly simple.  All stages in this game are either horizontal corridors, excepting only the one elevator level.  A few later stages do have traps or pits, to give the game a bit more variety, but its sequel or Golden Axe have far more interesting stage layouts than this game.  The basic controls are simple: you can walk, jump, jump-kick, and use a superbomb move which has a backup police car shoot a rocket-launcher at the screen, damaging all enemies present.  You can’t use that last move in the last level, just to make things even harder.  There are a few moves beyond those basics, including a backwards kick on punch+kick and some grab and throw moves to give the game a bit more variety, and that is appreciated.  All moves control well, and the fighting action is fun, at least through the second-to-last stage.  As with most beat ’em ups, regular enemies come in a handful of constantly-repeating varieties and are mostly easy to beat, while bosses are much harder.  The bosses in this game include a tricky guy who breathes fire, a tall guy with some weapons, and many more.   Between the hordes of enemies and tricky bosses, you can’t win this game just by mashing attack; some strategy is required.  I do like that, but sometimes it’s a bit frustrating.

Overall, Streets of Rage is a very good game.  The game looks nice, sounds fantastic, and plays well.  The basic fighting gameplay here is great fun, and is better than classics such as Final Fight or Golden Axe based on the mechanics, even if I love Golden Axe’s fantasy setting the most over this.  Streets of Rage game is difficult and having to beat bosses without the bomb is annoying, and the level layouts are mostly too much of a straight line, but this is a great game in almost every category.  With either one player or two, Streets of Rage is a must-try classic.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

Streets of Rage 2 – 1-2 player simultaneous.  One of the best beat ’em ups ever made, Streets of Rage 2 is one of the all-time classics!  This game takes its predecessors’ foundation and builds on it.  This time the graphics, level designs, gameplay, enemy variety, music, and controls are all improved.  Streets of Rage 2 is fantastic in all of those categories, and more besides.  Once again, Mr. X is causing trouble.  He kidnapped one of the guys from the first game, and the other two characters plus the kidnapped guys’ little brother and a big muscleman are off to rescue him, and stop Mr. X as well.  It’s a simple plot, but it works, and I like that it’s not a girl kidnapped like in most games.  There are eight levels to fight through, and four difficulty levels available.  You only get two continues, but even so, the difficulty levels really make a big difference.  On Easy the game isn’t hard to finish, but on the higher settings it will take skill and practice to get anywhere near the end.  This game is easier than the first one, particularly on Easy, and it’s appreciated.  It’s still plenty tough on the higher settings.  This is not a long game, but for the genre, the length is just about right.  The game ends just when it should, and every level is fun and very well designed.  The controls are also great.  They are very responsive and precise, and there are a good number of moves to use beyond the basic ones.  Each character has some character-specific special moves.  While this game is still repetitive, it has more variety than earlier beat ’em ups.  There are also weapons to use, including knives and pipes, for some added fun.  The ‘bomb’ attack from the first game is gone, but the added moves make up for that.

Indeed, I really like the level designs here.  While most stages are a path to the right and this game does not have Golden Axe-like pits in the stages, unfortunately, the several elevator segments excepted, there are parts where the screen moves in a diagonal direction, and there are many screen transitions, doors, stairs, and such along the way.  The graphics are very good as well, and this really helps keep things interesting.  You aren’t just looking at the same backgrounds all the time, but instead environments change regularly and each look quite different and very well drawn and detailed.  There are some nice surprises too, I was not expecting one of those elevators to be there when I first played the game!  There is as much enemy variety here as you’ll find in the genre, too.  Enemies are more different than in some beat ’em ups.  There are little guys, dominatrix women, big fat guys who can breathe fire, guys on motorcycles who zoom in and try to run you over, and more!  The game re-uses many bosses as regular enemies too, which really helps with the enemy variety.  You have to be constantly on your toes in this game, and can’t just get into a basic rhythm because of the different approaches for different enemies.  Of course you punch them, but you’ll need to jump-kick the motorcycle and flying guys, run from the big guys when they attack and then hit them when you can, use the fantastic ‘sweep’ attack (press two buttons together) to hit people on both sides of you when surrounded, and more.  Enemy AI is good, and enemy placements keep pacing just right.  And even though this is a game about fighting modern-day thugs, there is an ‘alien’ and a ‘pirate’ area as well, with the excuse that both are rides in an amusement park you travel through.  I really like them, they add to the game for sure.

The soundtrack in this game is a legendarily great one, also.  The game has a very good videogame-soundtrack score.  While this is not my very favorite kind of Genesis soundtrack, techno soundtracks like Adventures of Batman & Robin or such are, it is a very good soundtrack which adds to the game for sure.  SoR2 has some memorable music, and it pushes the music chip, too.  Overall, Streets of Rage 2 is a very good game in every category.  The game is well-balanced, fun, easy on Easy and yet hard on Hard, is just the right length, has varied environments and enemy types, more moves than early beat ’em ups, four playable characters who each play differently, has good graphics and outstanding music, and just generally maybe the best overall gameplay in any beat ’em up ever.  I much prefer Golden Axe thematically over this game’s sometimes bland modern setting, and that counts for a lot, but I do have to admit that Streets of Rage 2 has the better, more complex, and more evolved gameplay, and is the better game overall.  And the best of other developers in the genre, including TMNT III (NES), my favorite Konami beat ’em up, and Shadows over Mystara (Arcade), my favorite Capcom game in the genre, probably don’t quite match up to this game.  Streets of Rage 2 is a must-play classic for everyone, regardless of if you like beat ’em ups or not.  This game is available in collections and digital re-releases of Sega’s Genesis games.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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