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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

February 17, 2011

Sega Genesis, How I Loved You

Not too long ago, I wrote about the fact that I grew up owning the original NES and how a lot of the games that came from that system hold a cherished place in my heart, beating out current titles in many ways.  I would be totally remiss if I didn't do at least a write-up of the only real competition that Nintendo had during those early years, especially since there are titles for which I have a soft spot from Sega as well.  So, let's take a look at what the Genesis offered back in the day.

First of all, I want it known that I'm not a videogame idiot, and I am perfectly aware that the Genesis was a next generation system from the original NES.  I put the two of them together in my mind due to the fact that these two systems were my first owned by these companies, even though Sega didn't get the Genesis going until the Super NES was on the market.  I only ever played the original Sega Master System when my current housemate Scott loaned it to me so as to provide a bit of variety one summer, while he tooled with Mario and friends on my NES.  As a result, I fell in love with exactly one SMS title back then in the summer of 1989, that being "Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap," now available as a Virtual Console downloadable title on the Nintendo Wii.  The gameplay still holds up; I suggest that if you own a Wii you grab the game and tell me it isn't still a fun title (except for trying to kill the pirate boss - he can be a real bitch to figure out where his weak spot is).

The Genesis itself had quite a few good titles, and often there were titles made for both the Genesis and the Super NES where the title shone brighter on the Genesis.  Anyone remember the original "Mortal Kombat" release debacle?  See, back then, this title in arcades was the most violent and realistic portrayal of blood in a videogame, and Nintendo simply refused to make the blood appear, so they changed the colour and made it resemble sweat.  Genesis owners weren't considered as young and family-based, so Sega gave them the blood as blood, and MK sold many more copies on the Genesis than on the SNES.  In fact, that might be considered Sega's first win over the more staid Nintendo.  This game, whether considering the arcade originals or the console versions, has stayed so popular over the years that games are still being made (the one at the side there is scheduled for an April 11th release this year), movies have been spawned, and a whole generation of adults still say 'Get over here' in Scorpion's gravelly bass.

However, there are two franchises that the Genesis really spawned, one that got a little too big for the confines of the original titles and as a result languished and died in later incarnations, another which is currently still producing new titles and remakes of older ones.  I'm talking about "Shining In The Darkness" and "Sonic The Hedgehog."  Just to be different, I'm going to cover the lesser-known franchise first, so there.

"Shining In The Darkness" was a great title, very similar in it's basic function as a little-known bare-bones minuscule title on a system I have yet to discuss, the TRS-80.  Now, the 'Trash 80," as those of us who owned it lovingly called it, was what is considered a second generation gaming system, like the Colecovision and the Atari 2600.  It came out in the early 80s, and was also sold as the Tandy Colour Computer, known as the CoCo.  The TRS-80 was sold in Radio Shack stores, and had a few features other consoles didn't.  First, it was also a living, breathing computer.  Okay, maybe not living and breathing, but whatever.  Second, and most odd for people born in 1990 or later, this system came with a cassette tape player that allowed you to take games off of CASSETTE TAPES and play them on your television.  I kid you not, go look it up if you don't believe me.  Anyway, this system predated the NES and SMS by one game system generation, yet one of the best titles that came out of this system was emulated in part by the Genesis nine years later.

The TRS-80 had an arcade title that came out, a real hot property called "Zaxxon."  Those who don't know of it would never consider playing it now; those who remember it recall it fondly.  yes, this system got a very popular arcade title added to the roster, and might even have had a second popular arcade title in it's fist with "Q-Bert," but that I'm not certain of.  Regardless, there was a hidden gem that was available back then, a simple dungeon-crawler titled "Dungeons Of Daggorath."  Using the most basic line drawings to simulate tunnels and creatures, DoD comprised 5 levels of quite intense gaming, with incredible glory for anyone who managed to survive to the end and incant the final wizard ring.  In fact, many a gamer never got further than the sudden shocking transition to the fourth level, and the daunting fact that one game, played in it's entirety from beginning to end without the ability to pause, could take as much as four to five hours depending upon how lucky you were with luring your needed drops to you successfully on the earlier levels.  DoD was not a game for the faint of heart, nor the ADD-riddled youth of today.  Patience, inventory management, and a spot of imagination were all necessary in order to successfully navigate and succeed in what I still consider one of the very best games I've ever played.  How good?  I currently own a rebuilt TRS-80 and a working copy of DoD, and have played the system within the last five years.  That's how good.  If the Wii Virtual Console ever released this title, gamers everywhere would learn what it really took to play old school titles.

"Shining In The Darkness" for the most part is a remake of DoD with better graphics.  There are differences: the creatures in SITD don't come to you, you have to go to them.  You can also leave the dungeon in order to buy items to help you on your quest, including (if I remember correctly) armor and weapons.  DoD started you with one torch, one sword, and you had to kill to get anything else, that's it.  The other major difference, the only other one worth mentioning, is that DoD was freaking HARD.  SITD was less so, and didn't require a dedication that few games expect of a player these days.

Now, the interesting thing that happened with SITD is that it spawned two sequels that played 100% unlike the original.  "Shining Force" and "Shining Force 2" were turn-based strategy battle titles, and could not have been more different than the franchise's original title.  This isn't to say they were bad titles, quite the contrary, but the dungeon-crawling days were certainly in the past.  TBS (Turn-Based Strategy) fights sprawling over ruins of cities or across huge outdoor battlefields were the focus of SF and it's sequel, with periods between fights to explore towns, purchase items, and find hidden characters in order to add them to your interchangeable roster of ass-kickery.  While being so different from what spawned it, the game was incredibly fun, had a lot of humour, and was a pleasure to play.  The fact that RPG elements were added to the mix as well aided any challenges by giving your characters experience that they kept even if the current battle was lost.  Additionally, after achieving a certain character level, you could change the profession of the person or creature in order to give them new abilities and higher stats, so that ultimately the entire game could be successfully completed with perseverance.

"Shining Force 2" was the same kind of deal, but the problem was that the original game was very much on rails, which works for this particular genre.  SF2 made the environments so big, the world so large to explore, that the continuity between battles was completely lost and the title was more of a failure than a success in comparison to the preceding title.  However, 20 years after SITD was released, all three of this franchise's titles are in the top ten games list on GameFaqs for the Genesis system.

Then there was Sonic.  "Sonic The Hedgehog" was created for one reason and one reason only: to counter Mario's hold on the videogame frontier.  Mario was obviously a mascot for Nintendo, and Sega decided that in order to really compete they needed one of their own.  Hence, in 1991 Sonic was born.  Featuring speeds that previously just weren't seen in a platform-style game, Sonic soon begat multiple sequels and a following all his own.  There isn't really much needed to be said about this series of titles.  The popularity of the character, just like Mario, has never faded - even when the parent company dropped out of the console-making business as a result of later hardware missteps, rendering the little blue guy's raison d'etre non-existent.

The fact that as of this writing the first episode of what is being called the 4th title of the franchise (though there were five titles featuring him on the Genesis alone) has only recently been released across multiple current generation consoles as a downloadable game proves that old-school titles still have an influence, even after two decades.  While ultimately Sega lost out big time to Nintendo, the iconic mascot keeps the memory of cartridge-based consoles alive and well, and should continue to do so for quite some time.  I loved the NES, I loved the SNES, and I loved my Genesis.  Guess that's why I still own working versions of all these systems.  When it comes right down to it, whether you believe it or not, today's games owe everything to us older gamers who remember when fun was ALL it was about.  No matter what genre the current game is from, there was an original title that percolated an idea that spawned it, and more than likely that original title came from the 1980s-1990s.

For example, I give you Exhibit A:

Now, I'm going to go play CoD and attain Prestige level 5.  Gamerscore ho!

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