By GunstarRed 7 Comments
This is something I have wanted to write about for quite a while now. I bought a Sega Saturn about a year ago and have wanted to talk about my newest-oldest console love affair. Immediately I hear distant chuckles and whispers of "The Saturn is a big pile of shit" but I'm here to tell you that the Sega Saturn is totally rad.
For many years I had it in my head that what I really, really, really wanted was a Sega Dreamcast. Everyone says the Dreamcast is awesome. It has that game with the fighty-fights and the shifty-colour spaceship game, and y'know the adventurey Sonicses. The Dreamcast had the internet and was like the future, but was cut down in its prime. Without the Dreamcast's online-ness my uncle would have never met his wife which was probably awesome for him, but I've not spoken to him in over a decade and maybe he stabbed her to death out of some Sega fanboy loyalty induced rage. Anyways. After I thought long and hard about this and a bunch of the best Dreamcast games have since come out on XBLA and PSN I decided that it wasn't worth getting a system to play a Treasure game and a couple of wonky 3D Sonics.
As a fan of the speedy blue mammal I have always been curious of the other Sonic Team games like Nights and Burning Rangers. (One day I'll get around to the Billy Hatcher game.) I remember being mesmerized by a video of Nights on a Saturday morning show that reviewed entertainment products, but beyond that my exposure to the Sega Saturn was pretty limited to me once staring at an unplayable version of Bug in an HMV and sitting watching the above mentioned uncle play the first level of the original Panzer Dragoon. I'm not going to say that I'm still bitter that he wouldn't let me touch his shiny new console, but he didn't so therefore he can die in a fire.
Early last year I was having a pretty bad day, so naturally all of my thoughts were on browsing Amazon and Ebay looking for things to cheer myself up. Somehow I ended up looking at Mega Drives, Mega CD's and Japanese versions of cartridges I'd never be able to play and then I saw it from the corner of my eye... it was like the internet was giving me a sign, my hand dragged the cursor over to the words that said PAL SEGA SATURN AND SEVEN GAMES. My eyes lit up, I felt a voice deep in my soul, my heart was in agreement. YOU.MUST.BUY.THIS! I looked at the listing and found myself unable to commit to this kind of relationship in such a short amount of time. So I closed the browser and went to bed.
I woke up the next day expecting my usual dose of self hatred, but the second my eyes opened there was only one thing on my mind. I jumped out of bed switched on the computer and hit the big old buy button without a single thought. I was met instantly with regret, but spending a year (ish) with the system I feel like I made one of the best gaming purchases of my entire life.
Yeah, so I bought a Sega Saturn.
The day I got the console was really fun. I had a bunch of flashbacks to opening up console boxes in my childhood. There was something really nice about opening up the old thing in its original box with all of the wires placed neatly into it. I wasn't expecting everything to be in such nice condition, and I really didn't expect the box and the manuals to be included. A couple of the games such as Wipeout and F1 Challenge didn't have boxes, but had manuals which was ok as I was never really interested in most of the games that came with the system and I had played the hell out of Wipeout on the PS1 when it launched. I really wish I'd have kept the PS1 version of the game to compare the two, but from my memory of that game it seems like pretty much the same thing although knowing how the Saturn wasn't so hot at 3D games I wouldn't be surprised if it was vastly inferior. The F1 game has Damon Hill in it and a wicked guitar solo on the title screen, but it's F1 so y'know...
All of the games I got with the system were pretty unremarkable. Virtua Fighter 2 is so common it seems that most places almost give it away for free and Clockwork Knight, a game which is one of the standout titles for the system according to crazy people on fanatical Sega forums. It is truly one of the most awful platformers I have ever played. No saves, awful visuals (but I assume great at the time) and unresponsive controls. It's apparently very short, but I couldn't make it that much further beyond the first boss as the music was driving me insane.
I got a couple of other games I messed with for fifteen to twenty minutes, but the new toy feeling had started to evaporate, maybe me and my new console weren't meant to be together, maybe I'd made a huge mistake. Over the next week I found myself devouring any information on the best games for the system. The same old names kept popping up, with many of them being imports or increasingly rare games with silly price tags. Luckily I had bought Burning Rangers at around the same time I bought the console and it came in the post a couple of days later. I braced myself for £50 worth of disappointment and put the disk into the drive... Within a minute of starting up the game I knew I had made a good decision.
I have a list here of the best games I have bought for the system over the last year. There are some other really good games like Radiant Silvergun, which is both insanely expensive (yet hardly rare) and available in an amazing version on XBLA, same for Treasure's other Saturn game Guardian Heroes.
The Burning Rangers are fucking awesome. I mean, they're a team of futuristic firefighters that save people by putting out fires on spaceships, defeating giant alien plants and riding through watery space-mazes on dolphins. How do the Burning Rangers put out fires? I hear you ask. They shoot them out with fucking laser guns. Space-fire explodes into jewels, and different kinds of jewels depending on how much laser you're shooting into its fiery face. It's real lucky as fire-jewels act as a form of health, the Burning Rangers are there to put out fires and save lives and unlike the vast majority of people you'll ever meet in your life they will never let you down, I know this because the nice rap-man in the song "We are Burning Rangers" says so. He also says something about nightmares and Wes Craves which is a bit weird, but the overall feeling is that you should want to be a Burning Ranger. If I was a child I'd want to be one and now realise this game features the role models I probably needed to craft me into a better person. There would also be a chance that I'd get a laser gun with a little picture of Sonic on it.
I have a lot of love for this game despite seeing all of the flaws that a lot of games from that era share. The camera is unfortunately controlled by the L and R shoulder buttons which is never fun and there are some issues with jumping to ledges in confined areas where the camera gets caught on stuff, but for the most part it moves really smoothly and works as intended. There's a nice focus on dodging fires and listening to orders and sounds in the environment to progress. There's no map, but the lady on the other end of your radio tells you to go left or right at the press of a button like you're in some messed up version of the Crystal Maze. The other thing I adore about the game is the whooshy backdraft noise before fire pops out of a wall or consumes a room. If you hit back as soon as you hear the noise start you can do a fancy dodge move that even Kurt Russell would be proud of.
Burning Rangers is a weird game, but one that shows that Sega were full of creativity once upon a time. Full of colour and strange bosses, It's a short game with an odd lack of music for the majority of most levels, and packed with a ton of optional people to save for extra lives and thankful emails after the mission ends. If you weren't told that it was made by Sega or Sonic Team you probably wouldn't know it was by the same people, but the way fire-jewels work like rings or the loading screen art are nice little giveaways. Burning Rangers is a flawed game and I don't know if it's enough to warrant the purchase of a Saturn, but I would LOVE an HD version. One of the most enjoyable games I played in 2013... who couldn't love a game with a character with a mohawk made of metal tubes called Big Landman?
Panzer Dragoon/ Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei.
Dragons are cool. People seem to be way into that Cucumberbatched up dragon in the film about the tiny people. What the Sherlock-dragon (With a name that's pronounced way differently to how I did as a kid.) sucks at is shooting lasers. Panzer Dragoon dragons have giant horns on their heads and shoot mutliple lasers out of their mouths. Fire-dragons suck, well maybe not that one in Dragonheart... or Dragonslayer... or that cool one in the boring film with Baldy Mathew McConoughey and Batman. Oh, whatever, Panzer Dragoon dragons shoot lasers and have riders that shoot their own lasers and sometimes walk and stuff. It is really rather wonderful.
For such short games that are mostly on rails the amount of personality in the world they created is amazing. Both the Saturn games have this very alien atmosphere with stunning music that alternates between energetic synth sounds and beautiful orchestral pieces. The way the dragons weave in and out of the scenery through the ruins of past generations or through alien forests full of giant acid spitting wildlife is fantastic. I really can't stress how much of a unique atmosphere these two games give off. The hints of old magic and futuristic weaponry mixed with dragons is so strange, yet fits perfectly.
I have the Xbox sequel which crashes on the third stage on European 360's unfortunately, and Panzer Dragoon Saga the RPG that some swear is better than the PS1 Final Fantasies is insanely expensive if you want to play it with English subtitles (Japanese version much, much cheaper.) The two Saturn rail shooters are among the best games I have played for the system, and while I really like that the second game (which is weirdly titled 2-2) has unique dragon leveling and incredible visuals, I think I like the simplicity of the first game. It's hard to explain, but it feels like it has more grace than the sequel.
Oh, and DRAGONS THAT SHOOT LASERS!
Thunder Force V
Ok, this was the most expensive game I bought. I know that it came out on the PS1 in the US, but the only way to get it here is to import it. If a lot of these games tell you anything about me, it's that I like lasers. Thunder Force V has THE laser. The CRAW laser which can be rotated 360 degrees in this side scrolling shooter is ridiculously powerful. If you know where to aim it, a bunch of the bosses in this game can be beaten in seconds.
There's not really a lot to say about this game other than it's probably one of the best side scrolling shooters I have ever played. It's full of incredible, fast paced music and brilliantly designed bosses like giant manta-ray-bird things and wire frame butterfly-robots. It is super fun despite its incredibly high difficulty. I like that it lets you play through the first three stages in any order you like so if you really struggle you can see more than just one level.
The Saturn is packed with 2D shooters and Thunder Force V is pretty special, even with it's slightly crude polygonal visuals. Normally I prefer the horizontally* scrolling games, but if you've read this far you know how partial I am to the laser beams, and this is one of the best laser beam parties I've ever been to.
* Edit - I think I mean vertically scrolling here. My mind is telling me that the horizontal screen scrolls up, but then I think about it and I'm probably wrong... I'm pretty stupid *shrug* I like the scrolly-uppy games more. I should have said that in the first place.
Do you know what would make Shinobi games better? Digitized actors and live action FMV. Obviously those things would never be better than fighting the deadly trio of Godzilla, Spiderman and Batman, and the idea of a Mortal Kombat-ified Shinobi sounds like the dumbest thing ever, but this game is 100% Shinobi.
The game in the US was known as Shinobi Legions and is generally thought of as weaker than the European version which has a unique soundtrack by Richard Jacques who went on to work on the synthy music for the first Mass Effect. This game is craaaazy hard and I have only seen the end of it due to cheating with Action Replay codes. (I can get to about the halfway point before I want to snap the controller in half)
I'm a huge fan of the Mega Drive games and this feels almost identical to them despite the graphical style. Gameplay revolves around throwing Kunai and slashing things with your sword. Every so often a giant statue pops out of the ground after collecting a certain amount of what look like giant blue Smarties. It just sort of floats around the screen killing things which is weird, but when placed next to some of the other stuff in this game it seems pretty normal. There's a mission in a lab where you have to fight off what seem like toy Brontosaurus heads that pop in from the side of the screen every so often.
But the one thing that makes this game special is the cheap, Power Rangers-y FMV cutscenes. These are some of the most wonderfully bad examples of this lost artform. Don't worry as I have included a video with all of them above!
The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?
So, this (mostly) side scrolling shooter is a strange movie tie in game that is pretty good. It's real easy and would make absolutely no sense if you haven't seen the movie ( I'm pretty certain it isn't easily available anywhere outside of Japan these days.) It follows the movie almost exactly and spans two disks despite only being a handful of hours long, probably due to all of the movie FMV between stages.
There's something really endearing about old, pixelated anime video at the start of games. It's something I'm hugely fond of along with early polygonal character models... but back to the game. Macross lets you control a mech/jet hybrid and you basically blow up everything on the screen with infinite missiles which require you to constantly keep holding the button down to lock onto everything. This will probably give you some pretty bad hand-cramp.
Every so often the characters need you to know some pretty important story stuff so you have to guide missiles or avoid a boss without using weapons for some reason or other. Either way it's pretty story/talk heavy for this kind of game and probably only has any real value if you are a fan of the movie. I think it's a pretty lovely movie so I guess I'm pretty much the target audience. I knew there was a reason why I bought it!
It plays the song from the movie that means nothing to 99% of the people reading this (And if you got this far thanks!) over the final battle which is really rather wonderful.
Asuka 120% BURNING Fest LIMITED.
This is a super fun, fast paced fighting game. This is probably the best 2D fighting game nobody has ever played. That's a fact which I made up with statistics and science and stuff. Apparently it plays like the Street Fighter Alpha games or something. This might be true or someone else might have made up facts about it so who knows. It's basically about an all girl school where the different classes beat each other up for fun times. It's like Rival Schools, the Capcom fighting game that isn't Darkstalkers or Street Fighter... only that that's a lie and it's absolutely nothing like Rival Schools and has 2D hand drawn sprites with massive hands.
I really wish the Saturn had online as this game is super fun and all of the girls have a ton of personality in their design. The girl from what I assume is science class throws a frog at you and another aggressively whacks flaming tennis balls nonstop at your face. There's a tiny cheerleader girl that is ridiculously hostile even when you knock the difficulty down to one star. In fact the way the super "120%" burning moves work is that they seem to be on a timer for most characters which means that you can do as many super moves as you want before the time runs out. (I think?) The A.I spams that shit nonstop. The fights are pretty flashy with a bunch of super moves being thrown out on both sides for a vast majority of most matches.
I looked up what Ganbare meant using the Googles. Apparently it means do your best. It's good to know what it means when it is being shouted after every other punch thrown. It's nice that all of your school friends are behind you when pummeling another girl in the face, maybe if I had a little more support like this I wouldn't have gotten the shit kicked out of me at school so often... or if I had a weaponized frog.
This is probably one of Sega's best and least known 2D platformers. If you look around the internet typing into the search "Wot is the bestest Saturn games to buy with money?" Astal is often one of the top answers. It was not released in Europe so I had to import it. Luckily Astal is super cheap in Japan and has fantastic box art. The story doesn't make any sense, but it's a short 2D platformer so who cares.
You play a little man that might have a hood or a cape that's probably his hair, and you can pick up trees and rocks, throw people, fistpound them in the air and blow real hard at like hot things all while hopping on platforms... y'know platformer things. You also have a little bird with you that can apparently be controlled by player two with a second controller. Also, during one boss fight where Astal is trapped you get to use your dashy beak attacks. I dunno what happens at that point in two player. I assume the second player fights the boss, I guess I'll never know so I'm not entirely sure why I'm typing this.
When not controlling the bird it will bring you health items that look like eggplants which is pretty nice. It's not the hardest game in the world and a lot of the challenge comes from cruelly placed enemy placement in the more precision based levels. It's pretty varied from start to finish, sometimes you ride a water dragon and other times you're protecting yourself from meteor showers or avoiding giant rock monster legs. Astal is a gorgeous looking game. The closest comparison would be the artwork from Vanillaware games with its big detailed sprites. It has this wonderful style to it that makes me sad that so few people have seen it.
Along with the beautiful visuals is maybe one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard in a game. Soft electric guitar solo's and floaty bass. It's super pretty and reaaally 90's, but sets the atmosphere perfectly. I adore this game and it was the first Saturn game I finished. It's such a shame Sega never got to do anything with this character. I love the Saturday morning cartoon-esque animated intro to the game. (Reminds me a little of the Sonic CD intro... kinda.) If you ever buy a Sega Saturn buy this game first.
So that's my blog. I had some thoughts about Nights, but realised very quickly that although I think that game is visually great and full of creativity, it's utter nonsense and not a lot of fun to play. Die Hard Arcade is full of all my favourite sequences from the movie like the part where Bruce Willis beat a man to death with a grandfather clock and fought a couple of mechs, but yet again not a lot of fun to play. Deep Fear is like Resident Evil with infinite ammo, a monkey and would give Naughty Dog a run for its money in the acting/storytelling department, Rayman still looks nice despite a lack of limbs and After Burner 2 will always be super fun.
I had a lot more things to say about my lovely Saturn, but this is probably far too long already. I want to blog more regularly and will hopefully stick to a semi regular schedule. For some odd reason I feel like I should apologize or something before I have even started. Maybe I'll get around to examining all of that hostility directed at family members I'm pretty indifferent towards and maybe next time I'll have things to say about shiny new games on shiny new consoles.
Thanks for reading. Be excellent to each other.