Tag Archives: Sonic Team

#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

#2: Phantasy Star Online

Format:Dreamcast Genre:RPG Released: 2001 Developer: Sonic Team (Sega)

I obviously play a lot of video games (I can’t think of too many other people I know who have a blog dedicated to reminiscing about old games), but there aren’t that many games I would say I’ve been truly addicted to. Phantasy Star Online, however, is one of them.

I must have been addicted to it – how else can you explain the fact that I spent nigh on 80 hours hacking and slashing through repetitive enemies, all for the dubious glory of occasionally finding a ‘rare’ weapon – which was usually the same as the normal weapons, albeit with slightly higher numbers attached to it. Let’s face it, PSO has got to be one of the thinnest RPGs out there – no extravagant plot lines, no branching skill trees, no complicated levelling system, no option to do anything but hack, slash, hack, slash, ad inifinitum.

Ah, those Sega-blue skies...

But it was brilliant, and perhaps its simplicity was the reason why. It was the first MMORPG for consoles, and as such it was designed for the masses. Compare it to something like EverQuest or Ultima, the PC equivalents at the time, and you can see what a breath of fresh air it is: with no fiddly navigation through reams of meaningless menus it was an RPG that anyone could pick up and play. What’s more, it looked fantastic (and, in my opinion, still does today). For a start it was set in space, which makes a change to the usual parade of orc-filled dungeons and castles, and the whole thing was awash in classic Sega-blue skies and crisp green meadows. Lovely.

I have three stand-out memories of PSO. The first is the (almost) brilliant translation system, the idea being that anything you typed in was instantly translated into the other users’ language. I remember the first time I went online and ended up hanging around with some Spanish guys – I thought it was absolutely amazing that I could be having a conversation with someone who spoke a different language and who lived hundreds of miles away… It was at that point that I first glimpsed what Sega was attempting to create – an online community of Dreamcast gamers, unseparated by language or country. Of course, it wasn’t perfect – I remember having some amusingly unintelligible conversations with a few Japanese gamers (although whether or not that was because I’d just got back from a night out in the pub is open to debate), but overall it worked pretty well, and the implications were huge. I suppose the technology has now been surpassed to some extent by headsets, but it’s a shame that the translation ability has been lost.

There were millions of these gits all over the place - and they just kept coming. Well, respawning.

The second memory is the worm-type boss thing on the second level – which took FORTY-FIVE MINUTES TO KILL. No joke. I suspect that it took so long because my character wasn’t sufficiently levelled-up to fight the boss at the time, but even so it ranks as one of the most simultaneously intense and frustrating gaming moments of my life (punctuated by shouts of disapproval from my house mates, who had wandered into the lounge to watch The Simpsons and were instead treated to watching me club a giant slug to death).

The worm boss thingy

My third memory isn’t so rosy. PSO was notoriously easy to hack, and this caused several problems when playing online. I remember one bizarre episode where another player ‘lost’ a weapon and accused me of stealing it. Of course, I’d done nothing of the sort, and I’ve no idea what happened to said weapon, but he didn’t believe me and soon the situation escalated to the point where I was surrounded by several players who were threatening to ‘wipe the save game from my memory card’ (I’m not even sure if that’s possible, but after all the other dodgy hacks I saw in PSO it wouldn’t surprise me if it was). It was a pretty nasty episode – it felt a bit like I was being mugged. However, unlike a real mugging, the problem was easily solved by simply switching off the console. If only real life was that simple.

It was partly because of several incidents like that and partly because of the repetition that I eventually stopped playing the game, but Phantasy Star certainly ranks up there as not only one of my favourite gaming experiences but also a game that was way ahead of its time.

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Dreamcast, MMORPG, RPG, Sega