Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hidden Gems of Genesis (Part 1 of 2)

Growing up in the 80s I never actually owned an NES.  I played a bunch Nintendo games at friends' houses, but truth be told I went directly from an Atari 2600 to a Sega Genesis (although I also had an Apple IIc).  Because of that I think my experience, compared to other millennials, is a bit different than the norm.  So getting to the point here, I want to talk a bit about Genesis games.  But rather than talk about well known entries such as Sonic or Streets of Rage, I want to focus on some of the more unusual unique titles that did not get as much attention as I though they deserved, hidden gems if you will.

German for "Duke Two" this obscure early release title for the Sega Genesis was essentially a console exclusive RTS (CE-RTS?  Sound like a chemistry term...) with a lot of the basic elements that would become prominent in titles like Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander.  I actually never owned this game, but I had a friend who did.  He never learned how to prononce the title though.  It wasn't much of a financial success despite having a split screen versus mode and cool box cover art.  Perhaps it was ahead of it's time or maybe the console crowd was more interested in platformers which were in vogue at the time.  Then again it could simply be the odd title choice.  Regardless, it has just recently gotten a remake of sorts in the form of a micro-transaction driven "free-to-pay"...Ahem...I mean "free-to-play" game called Aeromech.  So if your curious to try this game out I highly recommend checking that title out provided you have a PC that has enough processing power to handle it.

A title commonly bundled with the Genesis was a bizarre side scrolling title by the name of Altered Beast.  Following that was Golden Axe which was what my friends always wanted to play whenever they came over to my house.  Then finally came Alien Storm.  Thus making a trio of games from the mind of Makoto Uchida, who has since faded into obscurity despite releasing seven other titles on various platforms. Oddly enough this last entry was probably better than the more famous Golden Axe in a number of respects. The gameplay is more varied, animations smoother and environments more interactive. Sadly, few people remember this title. Yeah, I know there's at least one person who's reading this and thinking "I played that game to death! What are you talking about, dude!?!" I should also mention that this and its two predecessors were also arcade titles among other things. Although the Genesis version tended to have more content in the form of additional levels, modes, or even enemy variants and boss presentation.

Out of the 915+ titles to be released on the Genesis my favorite by far was a self explanatory title called Gain Ground.  It was essentially a top down shooter but featured a number of unique gameplay aspects.  For one, the area of each stage was fixed to one visible location enabling two players to work together to a much greater degree than in other similarly themed games.  Another interesting feature was the types of units available.  Twenty in total each had their own unique strengths and weaknesses which made them more or less useful depending on the current situation.  Setting the game on easy or normal difficulty would allow for the rescue of new units on the battlefield, as well as the recovery of units who had been downed in action via towing their diminished forms safely to the exit.  This sometimes created a crazy dynamic in which players had to find ways to recover units without killing all the enemies, since that would end the stage prematurely.  Alternatively it was also possible to simply lead all your units one at a time to the exit, thus clearing the stage with minimal bloodshed.  However if time ran out for the stage only units which had made it to the exit would then advance.  On hard this could be problematic since players would start with a full set of units but would receive no additional reinforcements which altered the dynamics considerably. After clearing ten stages the theme would also alter from the Stone Age to the Iron Age then to the Industrial age followed by a post-modern era and finally a futuristic sci-fi setting. On a side note the arcade version allowed for three players though it lacked one of the level themes and its corresponding stages. A remake was also released on the PS2 in Japan.

That's all for this week, but I want to talk a bit more about the Genesis next time.  Although I'd like to shift themes a bit.  So think of this post as being divided into two parts.  Until then, check out some of the titles I've mentioned above if you haven't already.

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