Category Archives: Sega

#85: Sega Superstars

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Party Released: 2004 Developer: Sonic Team (Sega)

When I was teaching in Japan, I lived in the party house. Whereas most of my fellow assistant language teachers (ALTs) were living in one-room apartments, by sheer luck I was placed with a school that owned a two-bedroom house, so naturally I ended up playing host to lots of parties (thankfully, I had very understanding neighbours).

The Japanese cover art for Sega Superstars.

I loved my house. When I first arrived, my supervisor couldn’t stop apologising about it: she kept saying sorry for how old it was, and how the school was sorry that it couldn’t get me a new apartment, and there’s me thinking, “Blimey, I’ve got a house, woohoo!”. Of course, it wasn’t all brilliant – although I loved living in a traditional Japanese house with wooden walls and tatami flooring, this meant there wasn’t much in the way of insulation, and it got so cold in the winter that my olive oil actually froze solid in the kitchen.

But the fact that I had so much space more than made up for the lack of creature comforts, and as an added bonus I had cupboards full of random stuff that had been left by previous residents. As well as piles of books and suspicious looking bottles of spirits, I inherited a huge collection of Friends episodes taped off Canadian TV, as well as about a year’s worth of Hawaiian local television broadcasts (which were strangely compelling).

I don't fancy the bloke on the left's chances.

But the main plus to having a house was that fact that I could invite people over without any worries about fitting them all in, and I played host to a fair few parties: as well as my birthday, I held the Festivus (for the rest of us) after-party at my house, we shaved off Matt G’s massive ginger beard for charity (and everyone turned up at my door with fake beards), and of course there was the legendary Halo 2 gaming night. But whatever we were doing, we always seemed to end up playing Sega Superstars sooner or later.

I first saw Sega Superstars at the Tokyo Game Show in 2004: the game is basically a collection of twelve Sega-themed minigames, all of which are played using the EyeToy. To be honest, not all of the minigames were up to much: in particular, I remember the game based on Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg was almost unplayable (what do you mean you don’t remember Billy Hatcher? Come on, surely everyone remembers Billy Hatcher? No? OK, moving on…). However, most of the games were pretty good fun, and a few were absolutely brilliant.

"Take that evil undead!" The zombies were as surprised as anyone when the 100-ft-tall Japanese woman loomed over the hill.

The House of the Dead game was the one that initially drew us in at the Tokyo Game Show booth, and it also proved to be one of the best on the disc. There wasn’t much to it really – just whack the zombies as they amble onto the screen – but it was compelling, and whenever we had a party, this was always one of the first games to be played. The other big hit with party guests was Virtua Fighter, where you had to punch and kick your computer opponent, occasionally raising your hands to block. This one was a constant source of hilarity for onlookers, and it led to several ‘near miss’ incidents involving wildly mistimed kicks and desperately fragile paper screen doors.

The control system wasn’t perfect though – often the EyeToy found it hard to tell whether you were punching or blocking, which led to some frustrating losses. The Space Channel 5 dancing game suffered particularly from this: the dance moves required pinpoint timing and accuracy, but sometimes the game just wouldn’t register your move, making it all but impossible on the higher levels. This was a real shame because along with HOTD and Virtua Fighter, Space Channel 5 was one of the games people often requested.

This was actually one of the weaker games in my opinion - you were simply required to move Sonic around a tunnel by waving your arms.

I know I moaned about Kinect earlier this week, but it would be great to see an updated version of Sega Superstars released for Microsoft’s system. I have such fond memories of this game that it would be fantastic to play it again, and playing it on Kinect would (hopefully) eliminate all of the annoying flaws of the original, whereby the EyeToy would struggle to disentangle your impressive kung-fu moves from the outline of the sofa behind you. Having said that though, Sega Superstars was undoubtedly the best EyeToy game out there, and although many of the games were fairly similar to previous EyeToy offerings (in particular, HOTD was almost exactly the same as that ‘whack a ninja’ game from EyeToy: Play), the slick presentation and the use of Sega characters really made it stand apart.

Still, regardless of whether it was any good or not, Sega Superstars made my life better because it reminds me of all the fantastic times we had in my little wooden house in Japan: the party house.

A scene from the 'Wear An Engrish T-Shirt' party (I think Laura's T-shirt says 'Let's Playing In The Dramas'). I've just been given the underwear as a present.

Two years after I left Japan, my successor, Eben, got in touch to bring me the sad news that the party house was scheduled for demolition. In the end the school had decided it was costing too much to maintain, and Eben was left with the sad task of sifting through all the many years of ALT detritus left in various cupboards and crannies around the house, selling what he could and binning what he couldn’t (history doesn’t record what happened to the Hawaiian local programming). I was pleased to find out that Eben had continued the tradition of partying in the house, and he was just as devastated as I was to find out it was going to be knocked down after he left – he even offered to send me a piece of the roof as a memento.

It’s sad to know the party house is no longer with us… but the good times were fun while they lasted.

Lewis

(Screenshots from puolenkuunpelit.com)

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Filed under 2004, Party, Playstation 2, Sega, Sonic Team

#66: Emergency Call Ambulance

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

Failing to complete a level in most arcade racing games results in little more than the inconvenience of having to insert another credit. But failing to complete the first level of Emergency Call Ambulance results in nothing less than the death of a ten-year-old child called Jack.

In what has to be one of the most macabre game set-ups ever, this coin-op sees you take the wheel of a Chicago ambulance with the aim of rushing various patients to hospital without them expiring en route. A heart-rate monitor at the top of the screen reveals the patient’s condition, and a little inset in the top right shows you what’s going on in the back of the ambulance. Take a corner too wildly or collide with another vehicle and the patient’s condition worsens – take too many hits and they kick the bucket.

Unfortunately, the floaty handling of the ambulance combined with the tight time limit and abundance of other road users means that it’s almost impossible to actually get the patient to hospital without them moving on to a better place. In fact, this game has to rank as one of the hardest driving games of all time – in the many, many times I’ve played it, I’ve never once got onto the second level. (Although perhaps that says more about my driving skills than anything else.)

It’s almost heartbreaking to hear the long ‘beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep’ as the heart-rate monitor flatlines and you know you’ve failed to save Jack yet again, but there’s something compelling about the game that kept me coming back time after time.

“If only I hadn’t hit that car on the last corner… I know I can save him this time. Don’t worry Jack, I’m coming!” [Inserts coin]

Of course, I’m kidding myself – if I really cared about Jack I’d leave the machine well alone and let someone a bit more skilled in the driving department deliver him safely to hospital.

Still, the fatal [no pun intended] allure of this game is that it gives you the opportunity to be a hero, and how many driving games can you say that about? That’s what makes it so addictive – every driving game from Gran Turismo to Pole Position gives you the opportunity to win a championship, but how many driving games give you the chance to save a life?

Or, in this case, cause the repeated death of a critically injured child through reckless driving.

In many ways I’m glad I never got past the first level; apparently a later level sees you transporting a badly burned woman who’s pregnant with triplets… It’s bad enough my conscience has to deal with the death of a ten-year-old – I’m not sure I could deal with the deaths of three unborn children too.

(I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the video clip by the way – it was the only one I could find on YouTube…)

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games: http://www.arcade-museum.com/)

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Filed under 1999, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#58: Star Wars Arcade

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1993 Developer: Sega

For a long time I thought I’d just imagined this game. Whenever I asked people whether they’d played Star Wars Arcade, they always thought I meant the 1983 version, then they’d start going on about how the vector graphics were way ahead of their time and how the digitized voices were amazing, yadda yadda yadda. And I’d just sit there going “No! No! The other one, the one set during Return of the Jedi…” and they’d look at me like I had a screw loose.

But look carefully upon the picture above all ye doubters – it does exist! Thanks to The Internet(TM) I’ve unearthed proof that in 1993, ten years after Atari released the insanely popular Star Wars Arcade, Sega released… Star Wars Arcade. Thus proving that although the game may have been erased from the collective memory of everyone else on the planet, I AM NOT GOING MAD. Phew.

A slightly dark screenshot from the arcade version.

Presumably the game was a massive flop – partly because no-one seems to have ever heard of it and partly because I only ever saw it in one arcade (in Barcelona of all places, seven years after it was released). I only have very vague memories of playing the game, although I remember being impressed by the graphics (considering it was a seven-year-old game) and disappointed about how difficult and expensive it was. It kept me coming back though and, along with Time Crisis 2 and Jambo! Safari (another brilliant but obscure Sega arcade game), it sucked up a goodly percentage of my pesetas.

The Sega 32X version of Star Wars Arcade. Or is it the arcade version? Er...

Apparently Star Wars Arcade was converted to the Sega 32X in 1994, although seeing as only around ten people actually bought a 32X, I’m not surprised that the game has had such little impact on the popular consciousness. I’m almost tempted to get hold of a 32X just to have another go on it, although inevitably I think I’d be disappointed.

Perhaps it’s better just to keep the memory of a frustrating, fleeting and above all fun arcade game that’s been – for better or worse – lost to the world…

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games.)

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Filed under 1993, Coin-Op, Sega, Space Combat Simulator

#56: Out Run

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1986 Developer: Sega (AM2)

Back in the very first post on this blog, I said that all racing games before about the mid-nineties were “pretty rubbish”. I stand by that comment, but with two obvious exceptions: Chase HQ, which we’ve already covered, and the mighty mighty Out Run.

Out Run was amazing. The graphics were phenomenal (for the time), and it had a fantastic sense of speed – the gorgeous scenery whipped by you at an eyeball-spinning rate. Add in the wonderful music (which I’ll come back to in a minute) and you end up with one of the best arcade games of all time. And it was way ahead of its time too – things like branching levels were pretty much unheard of in games in 1986, and even the behind-the-driver viewpoint was a new and exciting concept (it had been pioneered by Pole Position in 1982, but by 1986 had only been used in a handful of games – many racing games still had a top-down view).

Blue skies - check. Palm trees - check. Ferrari - check. Yep, definitely Out Run.

The whole thing had a kind of holiday feel to it (which was probably helped by the fact that I mostly played it in beach-front arcades whilst on holiday with my parents). There you were in your Ferrari Testarossa, cruising along sun-drenched highways with an unnamed blonde woman at your side and not a care in the world… except the odd Volkswagen Beetle and generic truck of course, which had a nasty habit of getting right in your way at a crucial moment and triggering a spectacular crash.

I’ve got to admit though, watching the smug git of a driver get totalled was a source of secret satisfaction to me, even if it meant a Game Over screen. He was obviously a smug git – I mean, he had a Ferrari.

Thankfully, despite what the map screen suggests, not all corners in the game were at right angles.

Out Run‘s graphics may have been astounding, but its crowning achievement was without doubt its music. The game gave you the unique option to choose which background track you’d like before you started the race, and all four tunes were absolutely brilliant. My personal favourite was ‘Magical Sound Shower’, which is still as intensely catchy today as it was nearly 25 years ago (scroll down the page to have a listen). It’s a real tribute to Sega’s sound engineers that they were able to come up with such infectious tunes with the limited technology available to them.

Yeah, 'Passing Breeze' is good, but let's face it, it's no 'Magical Sound Shower'.

There are very few games that stand the test of time. The games industry moves at such a blistering pace that games can look horribly dated within a couple of years, but there’s something about Out Run that means it still looks fresh today. Maybe it’s the eternally blue skies so beloved of the designers at AM2… whatever it is, Out Run remains a stone-cold classic that reigned supreme in the arcades right up until the 3D big boys (Ridge Racer, Daytona) came knocking at the door in the nineties.

But then again, Ridge Racer didn’t have ‘Magical Sound Shower’…

And as a special treat, here’s the legendary S.S.T. Band (Sega Sound Team Band) performing ‘Magical Sound Shower’:

Lewis

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Filed under 1986, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#44: Dog Walking

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 2001 Developer: Sega

As I’ve said before, this list isn’t just about the best games ever made – it’s also a chance to honour games that might not have won any awards but that nonetheless improved our lives, if only by raising a smile. Sega’s utterly random ‘Dog Walking’ coin-op (or ‘Inu No Osanpo’ to give it its Japanese title) is just such a game – hardly a world-beater, but bonkers enough to merit induction into the 101 Video Games hall of fame.

A wonderfully random promo pic for Inu No Osanpo.

I first encountered the game in 2004, when I was living in Japan. It became something of a hobby of mine to search out random Japanese arcade machines and, despite fierce competition from various taiko drumming simulators and trading-card-based soccer games, Inu No Osanpo stands out as one of the most bizarre – and compelling – coin-ops I’ve ever played. Naturally, it was only ever released in Japan.

The aim of the game is to exercise a dog by walking (or running) on a treadmill. The on-screen dog is controlled by a lead originating from the neck of a plastic dog in front of you, and the aim of the game is to steer the dog away from danger (like cars or other, bigger dogs) and towards points of interest (like cats). The idea is to get the pace just right so that the dog is happy – walk too fast and you end up dragging the dog along behind you, but walk too slow and it pulls at the lead impatiently.

Here's me suffering on Inu No Osanpo back in 2004.

In practice, playing the game is utterly exhausting. (See? Way before the Wii came along games were keeping people fit.) The treadmill is quite stiff, so getting up to speed is quite an effort, and slowing down is just as hard. The controls are also fairly lackadaisical – your dog never seems to go in the direction you want it to (a bit like the real thing I suppose).

But whether or not the controls are any good is rather beside the point – this game made it onto the list because it’s totally unique and brilliantly fun to play (and even more fun to watch, especially if someone falls off the back of the treadmill). Sega, we salute you. Now can you release this game in Europe please? Thanks.

(Here’s some (American?) guys playing Inu No Osanpo. They haven’t quite got the hang of it… The dog starts barking when you’re walking too slow or fast, and the musical notes appear when you’ve got it just right.)

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Coin-Op, Miscellaneous, Sega

#43: Skies of Arcadia

Format: Dreamcast Genre: RPG Released: 2001 Developer: Sega (Overworks)

Yes, that’s right another Dreamcast game for the list – no complaining back there. Hey, look, it’s not my fault that a signficant proportion of THE BEST GAMES EVER MADE were released on one particular console. (Funnily enough, I was never a big fan of Sega consoles before the Dreamcast came along, but I became a bit of a DC fanboy after I got one. Ah, Dreamcast, you were taken far too young! May you rest in peace in forgotten console heaven…)

In terms of set-up, Skies of Arcadia is pretty much your standard Japanese RPG fare:  a young boy from a small village is summoned by destiny to save the world by fighting random, turn-based battles across strange new lands filled with a multitude of manga-style characters, and so on, and so forth. We’ve been here before (Grandia, Final Fantasy, etc. etc.), but the difference with Skies is the sheer imagination that has been poured into the game world, along with the strong sense of ownership you feel over the characters.

The game world is composed of a series of floating islands that you navigate between using your trusty flying pirate ship. I couldn’t really find the screenshots to do it justice, but this floating world looks fantastic, and there’s a real sense of wonder as you explore new continents and find hidden treasures. In fact, finding the hidden ‘discoveries’ became such a distraction for me that I regularly abandoned the main plot in favour of locating these hidden gems, which were revealed by vibrations of the joypad.

Then there’s your ship’s crew – as you progress through the game you can recruit more and more members to your crew, each of whom provides some sort of boost when battling an enemy ship. (Incidentally, the ship battles are fantastic, and make for a diverting change from the usual monster battles – see the video below for an example.) The personalities of each of the characters really shine through, and by the end of the game you find yourself becoming quite attached to your motley crew of air pirates.

The big downside to the game for me was the random battles – I’m not totally against random battles per se, but there should be an option to avoid them if possible. Later on in the game you can purchase items that let you avoid all confrontation, but earlier on you have no option but to plough through whatever the game throws at you, which got frustrating at times. The hardest part of the game occurred about a third of the way through, when you were tasked with finding an item among a series of floating rocks. The trouble was, you were constantly attacked as you flew your ship between the rocks, and this one section became so frustrating that I almost jacked the game in right there. Thankfully I perservered, which was a good thing since the game got a whole lot better from then on in.

It’s difficult to say exactly what sets Skies of Arcadia apart from its JRPG ilk – it could be the imaginative setting, or the neat mixture of ship and monster battles, or perhaps the excellently crafted characters. Whatever it is, it had me totally hooked, and if you’re an RPG fan it’s an absolute must buy. (NB. If you’re planning to get it, you might want to look out for Skies of Arcadia Legends, an improved version that was released for the GameCube/Wii.)

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Dreamcast, RPG, Sega

#37: Sega Bass Fishing

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fishing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

I love this game because it’s just such an unlikely concept: who’d have thought fishing could be so much fun? It’s a bit like the TV show Late Night Poker – explain the concept to someone and they’ll probably roll their eyes in boredom, but when you see it in action you suddenly find yourself addicted. Likewise with Sega Bass Fishing – get past the naff-sounding concept and one go is all you need to get you hooked (sorry).

Sega Bass Fishing Dreamcast Box

The best bit about the whole game is the sampled speech – I’ve no idea where they found the guy who does the voiceover, but he’s absolutely priceless. I’ve never heard anyone strangle the English language in quite such a fantastic and delightful way as he does – just click on the video below and have a listen to him say “select a casting point” to hear what I mean. The best bit is when you catch a big fish, which triggers a crescendo of J-pop guitar riffs followed by the voiceover guy excitedly booming “WOOOAH!!! A BIG ONE!!!” as your avatar struggles under the weight of an enormous bass.

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The game is so dependent on sound that if you took away the wonderfully over-the-top music and speech, I reckon the game’s appeal would easily be halved. The act of reeling in a fish would actually be quite dull without the blare of hyperactive guitars reverberating in your ears and some ambiguously accented narrator demanding that you “LOWER THE ROD!!!” (with ‘rod’ pronounced ‘raaard’). Perhaps real-life fishermen would do well to hire someone to stand behind them and excitedly comment on everything they’re doing – it might make the time pass quicker.

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In addition to the sound, the other main appeal of this game is of course the motion-sensitive fishing rod controller (dubbed the ‘Fission Controller’ by some wag). Motion control is two-a-penny now, but it was a real novelty back in 1999, and anyone who saw me playing with my rod would often be astonished by its capabilities (sorry, couldn’t resist). I seem to remember that the controller wasn’t all that sensitive, and it was certainly nowhere near as responsive as the Wii controllers, but it did the job well enough. And let’s face it, the game wouldn’t be half as much fun without the plastic fishing rod.

Speaking of which, has anyone played the Wii version? I’ve been very tempted to buy it for old time’s sake, but I’m not convinced that it would be quite the same without the proper controller…

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Of course, the game wasn’t without its down sides. The chief disappointment was that it became repetitive quite quickly, although this was diminished somewhat by the ability to unlock extra lures. Even so, the game was quite limited in that it only had three levels (actually, I think it was four including the special stage) and just one type of fish to catch – after hours and hours of fishing for bass I was crying out for a bit of variety (“A perch! A perch! My kingdom for a perch!” etc.).

That said, the game had excellent pick-up-and-play appeal, and I found myself dipping into the arcade mode again and again, long after I’d grown tired of most of my other Dreamcast games. A true classic.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.ign.com)

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Filed under 1999, Dreamcast, Fishing, Sega