Mega Archive: Part X: From Pyramid Magic to Turrican

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Segageeks, we're now living in a post-Sonic the Hedgeog world. Well, at least in the timeline of this particular Sega Mega Drive/Genesis feature we are, as we now get deeper into its eventful summer of 1991 following the June 23rd debut of everyone's favorite blue rodent. The launch of the SNES in North America is a mere month away but it's clear Sega isn't going down without a fight, and this new batch of fifteen has at least one Sega Mega Drive exclusive I might argue is every bit as formative and beloved as Sonic itself.

Today's mix is again weighted heavily towards North American and European developers: the Mega Drive was a tempting prospect for those looking to port over their Amiga and Atari ST hits, since the MD used the same 68k processor. A few new developer names appear this episode too, so even if this isn't the system at its best it's an indication that it was constantly growing in relevance and market dominance.

If you're new to this feature, be sure to catch up with the previous parts here:

Part X: 146-160 (June '91 - July '91)

146: Pyramid Magic / Pyramid Magic Special

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-05
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Pyramid Magic
  • Genre: Puzzle/Platformer
  • Theme: Egyptian
  • Premise: An archaeologist enters a cursed pyramid for the Pharaoh's famed treasures and will break every object and artifact inside to get to it. Talking of which, this game probably belongs in a museum.
  • Availability: Upon release it was only available via Japan's digital-only Game Toshokan service. It has since been included in a few retail Sega-CD compilations, however.
  • Preservation: The Pyramid Magic games have been a black mark in my notes for a while now, because it took some time to properly figure out its full extent, based on the fact it was an iterative digital release. For Satellaview, for instance, games often came out in multiple parts across several months; I think it was their way of assuring that people kept their subscriptions going so they could see how their games end. Pyramid Magic has three sorta-sequels which are really just continuations of the same game and its mechanics. I've decided that the first of these, Pyramid Magic Special, isn't its own game but simply a tougher remixed version of the original - it even has the same rooms, just with new obstacle layouts. I'll probably have to create separate pages for Pyramid Magic 2 and 3 though. As for the game itself, it is what it is: one of those hard-as-hell puzzle-platformers where everything has to be moved just so or you're forced to start over, like a side-scrolling version of Sokoban or those Toki-Tori indies that came out a while back. The insidious part is that you have limited lives and a very restrictive password system, making forward progress more painful than it perhaps needs to be.

147: Alien Storm

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-06-28
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: September 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Sci-Fi
  • Premise: The Alien Busters are finally called into service when various xenoforms drop from the sky onto a terrified populace. It's time for some close encounters.
  • Availability: Alien Storm's one of those first-party Sega Genesis games you can find anywhere. Grab it off Steam or try that recent Sega Genesis Classics compilation.
  • Preservation: Though its Genesis port was a little eclipsed by Sonic's release three days earlier, Alien Storm is one of Sega's more reliably entertaining arcade brawlers though perhaps doesn't stand the test of time as well as its spiritual predecessor Golden Axe (it's still a lot better than Altered Beast though). Alien Storm tried experimenting with a few alternative gameplay modes between brawler stages, including on-rails light-gun sections and auto-running sequences, but neither felt all that great. The Genesis port, like most early 16-bit Sega arcade conversions, is nearly identical to the real thing but for some missing cutscenes and graphical flourishes.

148: Fastest 1

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Human Entertainment
  • Publisher: Human Entertainment
  • JP Release: 1991-06-28
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Racing
  • Theme: Pro Racing
  • Premise: With its distinctive three-layer presentation, this is the Neapolitan of F1 games and the only racing game Human Entertainment thought to release on the Mega Drive.
  • Availability: Japan-only cart, though there's a few box shots for a North American localization that never transpired. Might be there's a prototype floating out there.
  • Preservation: Most know Human from either the Fire Pro Wrestling series or their few odd attempts at adventure games, like SOS and Clock Tower, but they also made a hell of a lot of F1 racing games. Most of these were for TurboGrafx-16 and SNES though; this appears to be the only one Human developed for a Sega console. Human didn't dip their toes into the Sega waters until well into the Saturn era. They sadly went defunct around the same time as the Saturn itself did. As for this game, the triple-band thing was meant to be an innovation that would allow three players to compete simultaneously; with the Mega Drive version only having two players (at the time) it just feels like a lot of wasted space instead. It's also not clear if the game was an adaptation of their earlier F1 Triple Battle or a straight port: there are enough differences with the format and presentation that I opted for a separate page instead.

149: Marvel Land

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: TOSE
  • Publisher: Namco
  • JP Release: 1991-06-28
  • NA Release: October 1991
  • EU Release: August 1992
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The evil Mole King has kidnapped the Princess and the hero must traverse a magical theme park in order to rescue her.
  • Availability: Surprisingly for Namco, no. While you can still get the original MD carts in any region (theoretically), Namco's never deigned to put Marvel Land in any of their many arcade compilations and the only time it appeared on Virtual Console was in Japan only.
  • Preservation: Though a little generic by today's standards, and way harder than it needs to be between the floaty jumps and preponderance of enemies, Marvel Land has a number of neat ideas that pre-empts a few bigger platformers: seesaw-type structures, for instance, that use sprite-scaling/rotation to tip from side to side, or a roller coaster stage that is similar to the notorious minecart levels of Donkey Kong Country. Your little guy can pick up some valuable if temporary power-ups too, like dragon wings and a series of shadow clones that make the jumping and combat far easier, respectively. The Mega Drive didn't have a surfeit of platformers, unlike the NES and SNES, but there are worse options to be saddled with (this Mega Drive port did make the slight tactical error of coming out around the same time as Sonic, though, and it doesn't compare too well).

150: Saint Sword

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Cyclone System
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 1991-06-28
  • NA Release: October 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The Titan Macress must take on the hordes of the wizard Gorgan in this action/brawler game from Taito.
  • Availability: Original cart only.
  • Preservation: Taito worked with frequent collaborator Cyclone System to produce this original game for the Mega Drive, which was exclusive to the console and the first of Taito's MD output not based on any existing arcade property. It's a lot like Rastan, in that you have a dude with a sword running around levels chopping up stuff, but there's a few distinctive quirks to set it apart. The most overt of these is the ability to change shape: the hero Macress can turn into a centaur, which improves his running and jumping; an angel, which allows him to fly around; and a merman, which greatly increases his mobility in water. There's also a slight levelling system - you become stronger after a number of kills, but the effect reverts upon death - and a magic system that expands after every level. It's not what I would call an essential Mega Drive exclusive, but an effort was made here to produce something original that could play to the system's strengths.

151: Wrestle War

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-06-28
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: October 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Wrestling
  • Theme: Pro Wrestling
  • Premise: Shoot yourself into your work, or work yourself into a shoot, in order to conquer the Sega Wrestling Alliance belt against a rogue's gallery of fictional yet familiar wrasslers.
  • Availability: Good luck finding its arcade cabinet. The Mega Drive port didn't make it to North America for some reason (I'd imagine it was copyright-related) but the game does appear in the Sega Smash Pack compilation for Dreamcast, which was released in North America.
  • Preservation: I'm not one for wrestling games, so I can't tell the difference between a good one and a bad one, but I did like this game's giant and expressive sprites. It feels like Sega wanted in on Nintendo's Punch-Out!! but felt that making their own direct boxing clone would be too much. Even if I can't appreciate the game's dubiously-legal ersatz versions of many famous WWE figures, I can appreciate it when a game is released everywhere but the United States. Doesn't happen often.

152: 688 Attack Sub

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: MicroProse
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: September 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Simulation
  • Theme: Modern Military
  • Premise: Nuclear submarines lurk in the depths in this Cold War simulator where players take on missions as either the titular United States sub or the Alfa-class Soviet sub.
  • Availability: Original cart only. You could always hope that the PC version makes it to GOG or somewhere. Or just pick up one of the Silent Hunter games instead.
  • Preservation: We'll be seeing more PC sims and RPGs come to the Mega Drive in the weeks and months to come, largely because these games were established successes on other platforms and it seemed reasonable to expect the same would be true here. Instead, most 16-bit console adaptations of PC games tend to suffer from the lack of memory, processing power, and an expansive enough control scheme (going from keyboard to gamepad is limiting to say the least). Still, 688 Attack Sub accounted for that with a more console-intuitive interface and there aren't a whole lot of other nuclear sub simulators on the Mega Drive, so it reviewed well at the time. All the same, I'm falling asleep just looking at the title screen.

153: Blockout

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: California Dreams
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: 1991-11-01
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: July 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Abstract
  • Premise: A 3D Tetris game for those who didn't think the original had enough depth. A brilliant idea that was clearly thought all the way through. Wait, how do you see where the gaps are on the bottom layers...?
  • Availability: You can actually download a freeware updated version for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It's out there, just check Sourceforge for "Blockout 2". The Mega Drive version is original cart only though.
  • Preservation: I don't think there's ever been a Tetris variant able to match the simple purity of the original format. That doesn't stop the pretenders from trying new spins regardless, and Blockout's probably the next best thing for Mega Drive owners given how the system's sole legit Tetris game is so rare that it carries a million dollar price tag last I checked. The Mega Drive's three face buttons are put to excellent use here, as each one rotates the falling 3D shape on a separate axis (X, Y, or Z) though it takes a while to get used to. Less clear is why the Start button was used for fast dropping blocks: what if you want to pause the game, perhaps to do some "fast dropping" of your own?

154: The Faery Tale Adventure: Book I

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: New World Computing
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: July 1991
  • Franchise: Faery Tale Adventures
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The sons of the slain Master of Arms set out to save their land of Holm from a wayward necromancer and recover the kingdom's protective talisman and missing princess.
  • Availability: Original cart only. GOG might get around to adding the PC or Amiga versions someday, but I wouldn't hold your breath.
  • Preservation: I knew about Faery Tale Adventure from the CRPG Addict's travails with it - his conclusion was the game world was far too big for what little content it offered and the combat system was mashy and uncoordinated. However, the graphics and smooth screen scrolling were beyond the capabilities of anything else at the time, using a top-down angled perspective that later Ultima games would borrow (not that Faery didn't "borrow" a lot from Ultima too, mind) and some programming tricks to reduce loading times while moving. From what I can tell about the Genesis version, it saw a few useful quality-of-life tweaks (you'd hope so, given there's a four year gap between its Amiga debut and console port) and some world shrinkage that helped make it feel a little less immense and empty. Of course, by 1991 the game had lost most of that wow factor that originally helped it stand out.

155: Might and Magic: Gates to Another World

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: New World Computing
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: July 1991
  • Franchise: Might and Magic
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The Might and Magic series comes to the Genesis! Well, by "series" I just mean this one game, which happens to be the second chapter in an ongoing story. Hey, you'll take what we give you and like it, console peasants.
  • Availability: I don't think the console ports of these CRPGs were ever worth the trouble of tracking down. Might (and magic) as well grab the whole series off GOG next time it goes on sale: you'll get all the superior sequels too.
  • Preservation: Honestly, the 16-bit console ports of M&M II were perfectly serviceable, given that the game itself wasn't terribly complex - hell, that was part of its charm. You could roll up a party, get to grips with the skill system and combat readily enough, figure out what menu icon does what, and be off exploring to your heart's content such was the accessibility of New World Computing's flagship darling. Curiously, though the Might and Magic games persisted well into the '90s and beyond, the second game was the only one ported to Mega Drive. The third would make its way to the Sega-CD at least, though only in Japan. This, plus Faery Tale Adventure and King's Bounty (see Part IX), was pretty much the extent of New World Computing's big push into the Mega Drive market: they never developed another game for the system.

156: Ms. Pac-Man

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Innerprise Software
  • Publisher: Tengen
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: 1995
  • Franchise: Pac-Man
  • Genre: Maze Action
  • Theme: Dots
  • Premise: Video gaming's premier feminist icon munches the patriarchy in this arcade sequel, now available for the Mega Drive a mere eight years after its original release.
  • Availability: While the Mega Drive version might be tricky to find, I don't think you'll have any problem tracking down a copy of Ms. Pac-Man. You could probably play it on one of those computer fridges that Bakalar's into.
  • Preservation: Not much to say here. The story of Ms. Pac-Man as a bootleg that turned legit is a fascinating one, and I'd argue it's a slightly better game than the original, but it wouldn't take much to translate a game so relatively rudimentary to a 16-bit console without screwing everything up. The port adds a few new grid variants and something called a Pac-Booster, as well as four difficulty modes which presumably futz with the ghost AI, but it's otherwise the same old Ms. Pac-Man you remember.

157: R.B.I. Baseball 3

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Tengen
  • Publisher: Tengen
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: RBI Baseball
  • Genre: Baseball
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: Runs Batted In Baseball doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but the RBI Baseball series has always been a balancing act of studious realism and arcade frivolity. With this sequel, the series jumps from NES to Genesis.
  • Availability: There are modern RBI Baseball games you can buy now - one came out earlier this year, even - though they're apparently not so great.
  • Preservation: Tengen's not done with the Namco knock-offs after Ms. Pac-Man: we also have the second sequel for what was once a Famista reskin. Everything I know about baseball couldn't fill a catcher's mitt, so I'm not the one to ask about the relative merits of this game compared to the few other baseball sims available on Mega Drive at this time (which for Genesis owners was really just Tommy Lasorda Baseball and Hardball). RBI Baseball would move in with Sega for a while after this: the next three sequels were exclusive to their platforms.

158: Stormlord

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Punk Development
  • Publisher: RazorSoft
  • JP Release: 1992-03-27
  • NA Release: July 1991 or August 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Action
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The legendary Stormlord is called into service by the queen of the fairies to rescue her subjects from an evil witch, as the world will wither and die without their protection. In return she will... take her top off? What kind of game is this?
  • Availability: Besides the original cart, you might try to hunt down any of the game's home computer incarnations. It came out on nearly everything available in the late '80s.
  • Preservation: I had to go with a best guess for the right release date for this one. With many RazorSoft releases, you can only find the year alone from most online data sources, but Stormlord happened to spark a controversy around its topless fairy statues that came into public focus around June of 1991 when Sega flat out refused to allow its nudity on their system, which led to a bunch of lawsuits flying back and forth that finally culminated with Sega producing the carts with the censored statues. This happened across July and August, so the eventual release date falls somewhere in that summer period - some internet sources say it was released in 1990, but it doesn't appear in any game press until January 1991 when it was previewed during that year's CES event. As with most of Razorsoft's other Genesis games, and in tune with their whole punk aesthetic, it's an Amiga/PC conversion of a game more notorious for its violent content than famous for its quality; more Edgelord than Stormlord. It's funny: the Genesis got such huge traction in the States because Sega painted itself as the bad boys of the console scene compared to Nintendo's "boring" family-friendly wholesomeness, but I suppose even Sega had its decorous limits.

159: Streets of Rage / Bare Knuckle

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-08-02 (as Bare Knuckle: Ikari no Tekken)
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: October 1991
  • Franchise: Streets of Rage
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Crime
  • Premise: Criminal kingpin Mr. X rules the city with an iron fist, and three young impassioned cops decide to turn vigilante in order to take him down once and for all.
  • Availability: Streets of Rage has been on multiple Sega compilations, including Sega Genesis Classics, and is also available standalone on Steam and 3DS (where it's part of a 3D-enabled range of Sega classics). The long-awaited fourth game should be out any day now.
  • Preservation: Streets of Rage! Almost certainly the biggest game of this episode's batch of fifteen. I was skeptical about that NA July release date - I figured the August 2nd Japan release of Bare Knuckle would be the original one - but Sega sometimes put games out in the States first if they thought the aesthetic would appeal to that audience, and there's more evidence behind a July release than the September one that Wikipedia has listed. An unsubtle stab at Capcom's Final Fight dominance, and Technos's Double Dragon before that, Streets of Rage establishes its own flavor with heightened risk vs. reward mechanics and a rad but limited "get out of jail free" card where your fellow officers show up with a rocket launcher to clear the screen of enemies for you. Why try to convince Capcom, who were solid with Nintendo at the time, to port over their big mean streets brawler hit when you can simply make your own? Especially if your 16-bit console brawler actually delivers on a two-player mode, unlike the SNES Final Fight? Gotta admire Sega's moxie here, but then Golden Axe proved that they're no strangers to solid brawler gameplay.

160: Turrican

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: The Code Monkeys
  • Publisher: Accolade (NA)/Ballistic (EU)
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: September 1991
  • Franchise: Turrican
  • Genre: Shooter
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: The colony world of Alterra has been twisted by the sophisticated AI originally used to terraform it, and only the bio-engineered mutant warrior Turrican can shut it down.
  • Availability: Turrican's been out of print for a while, but its relative ubiquity should make finding versions of it easier. This unlicensed Genesis cart might be a tough find though.
  • Preservation: Turrican is more or less Contra for the Amiga/Atari ST crowd, though is considerably less linear. You really have to explore each stage for the power-ups you'll need to take down the challenging boss fights, and the world of Alterra is inhospitable towards strangers at the best of times. I won't argue that Turrican is some lost classic that Americans and console-owners can't appreciate - the fantastic music does most of the carrying, if I'm being honest - but between the speed and absurd weaponry you can find there's enough to recommend it to the dedicated run-and-gun crowd, as long as they don't mind getting lost occasionally. As stated above, the Mega Drive version of the original Turrican was unlicensed: it wouldn't be until 1994's Mega Turrican that the series saw its official debut on Sega's platform.

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