Mega Archive: Part II: From Truxton to James "Buster" Douglas Knockout Boxing

Welcome back, Gen-heads, to another edition of the Mega Archive: a chronological journey through the library of the Sega Genesis a.k.a. the Sega Mega Drive. I've tried to pack these entries with as much info as is healthy, but I'd highly recommend Player One Podcast's video series Generation 16 which covers these games in more detail, with video footage even. This fortnight's entry includes fifteen games (episodes 005-007 of Generation 16, for the record) and covers the end of the 1980s and the first quarter of 1990.

For some historical context, the SNES was still several months away from its Japanese launch as the Super Famicom, and Sega was poised to convert a lot of Nintendo kids to its shiny and new cause, even if their "killer app" starring a certain blue mascot was still more than a year away. Incidentally, the TurboGrafx-16 had been launched in North America a few months prior to this particular batch, but it wasn't doing so great.

(Before we start, a quick note about this blog's format: I've dropped down to fifteen games because I'm busy with other projects this week - namely the Wiki Project I take on for every GDQ event, where I ensure our Twitch-affiliated database is all set for the SGDQ 2018 charity stream starting this weekend, as well as a certain E3-related feature regarding the 200 trailers uploaded to the site during that time. If the workflow ceases by the next update, I might bump it back up to 20 items per entry or maintain this far more manageable number. We shall see.)

Part I: 001-020 can be found here.

Part II: 021-035 (December '89 - March '90)

021: Truxton/Tatsujin

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  • Developer: Toaplan
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 12/09/1989 (as Tatsujin)
  • NA Release: 1989
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: Truxton
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Gidans, Dogurava, Borogo - fit any of those in the generic synposis of "the evil [Blank] lead by [Blank] is invading planet [Blank]". This is an arcade conversion that Sega helped port to the Sega as an alternative to their compromised super scaler shooters.
  • Availability: Toaplan vanished long before the age of the Arcade-perfect compilations, alas, so this Mega Drive/Genesis port is your best bet in the west. Japanese players, meanwhile, can also opt for the PC Engine version.
  • Preservation: Truxton isn't going for anything pretentious with its standard vertical shoot 'em up fare, it's just a solid conversion of one of Toaplan's lesser known franchises. It's going for a "tough but fair" approach (its Japanese name means "Expert") with a one-hit-destruction format, but you only lose a fraction of your power-ups and no level progress, provided you still have lives left.

022: Mahjong Cop Ryuu: Shiro Ookami no Yabou

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  • Developer: Whiteboard (Megasoft)
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 12/14/1989
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Mahjong
  • Theme: Crime. Mahjong crime!
  • Premise: Mahjong crime is rampant in Tokyo, or wherever this game is set. That's where Mahjong Cop Ryuu comes in to capture all the ron-doers. (This is a killer joke if you know Japanese rules mahjong terminology.)
  • Availability: Japanese Mega Drive cart only.
  • Preservation: It's a mahjong game that's so old that we're still only doing one-on-one games because three CPU opponents would be too much for the game's coding to deal with. The weird framing story about mahjong crime might make it entertaining for a spell, but I don't really see this being a lost classic.

023: Herzog Zwei

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  • Developer: Technosoft
  • Publisher: Technosoft
  • JP Release: 12/15/1989
  • NA Release: 01/10/1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: Herzog
  • Genre: RTS
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Control an entire army from the relatively safe confines of a transforming mecha, one that can cover the battlefield in a flash in its jet form or march into battle with its soldiers as a bipedal mech.
  • Availability: For a game that was such a big deal, it's surprisingly difficult to find. The original Mega Drive/Genesis cart is your only option.
  • Preservation: I imagine Technosoft, the developers of this game, could see where the wind was blowing with the reception of dry, grown-up strategy games on kid-friendly consoles and figured it might be a smart idea to make it more action-like by having everything move and fight in real-time. Thus, the RTS genre was unwittingly born. Since then, it went on to inspire Dune 2 which in turn led to Command & Conquer and Warcraft, and the rest is history. At least, that would be the official story if its predecessor Herzog wasn't also of the same genre, and there were a few other "proto-RTS" games around that time too. At any rate, it's a little rudimentary and obtuse now compared to what came after, but having a protagonist "hero" unit that could monitor the battlefield and take part in fights is still a recurring element of modern RTS games, especially MOBAs.

024: Sword of Vermilion/Vermilion

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 12/16/1989 (as Vermilion)
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The Prince of a conquered Kingdom is told of his destiny by a dying retainer, and takes off on a quest to recover a bunch of rings (hmm) and stop the evil King Tsarkon.
  • Availability: Sword of Vermilion's been made available on Wii Virtual Console, the PS2-era Sega Genesis Collection, and the more recent Sega Genesis Classics compilation. You can also buy it on its own from Steam.
  • Preservation: I gotta say, I've heard the title of this game many times before but never thought to try it. The game takes elements from contemporaries like Ys and the first Phantasy Star to create a fairly novel package, and the involvement of Yu Suzuki has me curious. It's also one of the Mega Drive games I own on Steam, so I might have to bust it out one of these days. Graphically a bit simple and apparently a bit of a chore in spots, but an intriguing departure nonetheless.

025: Golden Axe

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 12/23/1989
  • NA Release: 12/22/1989
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: Golden Axe
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Death Adder has kidnapped the King and the Princess, taking possession of the legendary Golden Axe in the process. Only three warriors, each with their own motivations for seeking revenge, can stop him.
  • Availability: Golden Axe and its two sequels appear in the Sega Genesis Collection, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection and Sega Genesis Classics. It was also on Wii Virtual Console, and the original arcade version is on PS3 too.
  • Preservation: Golden Axe has to be Sega's biggest brawler, right? Streets of Rage certainly had its day, but it didn't have the global impact Golden Axe did, which would find its way onto every home system active in 1989 and the early '90s. It's a difficult but short game, so you could theoretically beat it without too much trouble. The Mega Drive version suffers a little in comparison to the arcade version but it also had the courtesy of additional content to justify the home cart price, including a competitive duel mode and a surprise final boss (well, as surprising as a palette swap can be, anyway).

026: Curse

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Micronet
  • Publisher: Micronet
  • JP Release: 12/23/1989
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Two planets, Parceria and Seneca, maintain a peaceful relationship until Parceria suddenly goes barren and lifeless. Centuries later, the Parceria military re-emerges to conquer the helpless Seneca with overwhelming force. But hey, Seneca found a ship somewhere, so maybe they still have a shot.
  • Availability: Japanese Sega Mega Drive only. Plans to release it in North America fell through.
  • Preservation: It's another side-scrolling shoot 'em up for the system. It's short and ugly, but I like what they did with configurable options that can be placed in front to protect you from enemy projectiles. I certainly liked it when R-Type already did it. It has "also-ran" written all over it, but maybe it has some hidden depth only shoot 'em up fans would appreciate.

027: Tetris

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sanritsu
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1989
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Tetris
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Abstract
  • Premise: It's Tetris.
  • Availability: Japan-only, which is why no-one's ever heard of a Tetris game for Mega Drive. There was a Tetris SEGA AGES compilation for PS2 that included it, but that was Japan-only too.
  • Preservation: Besides the terrible dropping noise and the fact you can only spin in one direction, there's nothing too objectionable about this particular version of Tetris. It even has a little chart to tell you how many of each block type you've dropped, which helps to prove or assuage any paranoia you might have about a lack of I-pieces. One odd thing about this game is that no-one's quite sure when it released, or if it released at all. It may well have dropped out of the sky like the blocks it features.

028: Shove It!...The Warehouse Game/Shijou Saidai no Soukoban

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  • Developer: Masaya
  • Publisher: Masaya/Dreamworks
  • JP Release: 01/30/1990 (as Shijou Saidai no Soukoban)
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Sokoban
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: I dunno, soul-crushing blue-collar employment?
  • Premise: In this reworking of Thinking Rabbit's puzzle game Sokoban, the player has to push all the boxes in a warehouse onto their designated spots without making an error. All this to buy a nicer car to impress a girl.
  • Availability: Mega Drive/Genesis only, but you could probably find all manner of Sokoban games and clones on mobile devices or as browser games, not to mention how often it appears elsewhere as a mini-game (such as Nier Automata or Deadly Premonition).
  • Preservation: There's a certain timelessness to Sokoban's simple but excruciatingly difficult gameplay that has allowed it to survive in various forms to the modern day. This version has a few bonuses like a level editor (though I don't think you could save them; maybe the idea is to copy patterns you find in magazines and solve those?) but it's nothing special. This was Masaya's first Mega Drive release, and we'll be seeing a lot more from them shortly.

029: Sorcerian

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 02/24/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Dragon Slayer
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Originally developed by Nihon Falcom as part of their Dragon Slayer franchise, Sorcerian is a side-scrolling action RPG in the same mold as Xanadu. A group of player-made adventurers band together to take on a selection of disconnected campaigns.
  • Availability: This one's a Japan-only port, but Nihon Falcom's franchises tend to get remade or rebooted a lot. The only English version of Sorcerian is for DOS, but if you can read Japanese you might also want to track down the improved Windows remake Sorcerian Original.
  • Preservation: Sorcerian's deliberately built like a western CRPG of the late 80s. What that essentially means is that it's complex as balls and requires a manual the size of a phonebook to understand. That said, it's also similar to an action RPG with the way you control a team of characters directly as they run around 2D dungeons, with separate buttons for attacks, jumping, and spells.

030: Pat Riley Basketball/Super Real Basketball

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 03/02/1990 (as Super Real Basketball)
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: 1990 (as Super Real Basketball)
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Basketball
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: Eight teams compete to become the Hoop Gawd, but it turns out to have been Pat Riley all this time. The final boss fight of the game involves throwing three-pointers at Giga Pat's glowing weakspot on his forehead. None of this is true by the way; it's just another basketball game.
  • Availability: Mega Drive/Genesis cart only.
  • Preservation: There's a stage in every young console's life where its manufacturers decide they need a game for every major professional sport. A console library's incomplete until it has at least one moderately competent baseball, golf, soccer, football and basketball game. Beyond that, there's nothing really remarkable about this one except for the half-decent graphics on the close-ups for dunks and lay-ups.

031: The New Zealand Story

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  • Developer: Taito
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 03/03/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: The New Zealand Story
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: The adorable Tiki is forced to rescue his kiwi friends from a villainous leopard seal in this ridiculous platformer. TNZS was arcade legend Taito's first coin-op conversion for Mega Drive, with many more to follow.
  • Availability: It's one of Taito's bigger titles fame-wise, so you can find it in a bunch of arcade compilations like Taito Legends for PS2 or Taito Legends Power-Up for PSP. This particular Mega Drive version was only available in Japan, though.
  • Preservation: The New Zealand Story is Taito's spin on a scrolling platformer with some odd mechanics like a set of flying machines that the player could steal from enemies and ride around in. Levels could be maze-like at times, requiring some exploration before you found your captured friend and could move on. I'd say the cute graphics and catchy music have aged as well as Bubble Bobble and its sequels; just be aware that these all started as arcade games, so the difficulty is fairly high. Gotta earn those quarters somehow.

032: Air Diver

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Copya System
  • Publisher: Asmik Ace/Seismic
  • JP Release: 03/09/1990
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Air Diver
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up
  • Theme: Modern Military
  • Premise: A terrorist organization has grown large enough to threaten the world's peace, and only one guy in a stealth bomber can hope to bring them down.
  • Availability: Asmik's too busy producing movies to care too much about rereleasing their old so-so action games, so this one's Mega Drive/Genesis cart only.
  • Preservation: It's nice that the Mega Drive finally has a proper military flight sim, but this one's a little too limited and silly for true proponents of the "thinking man's shoot 'em up". For one, this game has huge boss fights at the end of each level, which look even more ridiculous from a cockpit view. It's also kind of dull looking and repetitive. I can tell you with some authority that its SNES-only sequels aren't much better.

033: Target Earth/Assault Suit Leynos

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  • Developer: Masaya
  • Publisher: Masaya/Dreamworks
  • JP Release: 03/16/1990 (as Assault Suit Leynos)
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Assault Suits
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up
  • Theme: Sci-fi/Mecha
  • Premise: Mankind is getting their space colonization on when a massive alien cyborg army shows up and attacks their bases on Jupiter's moons. Thankfully, we have the impressive Assault Suit mech fighting in our corner.
  • Availability: Target Earth isn't widely accessible any more, but the recent remake Assault Suit Leynos - released on Steam and PS4 - is about as accessible as you can get.
  • Preservation: Target Earth and Cybernator (its SNES cousin) have become cult favorites since their release; the sort of hardcore mecha shooters that appeal to a certain subset of fans that can keep all the Gundam generations straight. I know it's one of Jeff's favorites also - there's an Encyclopedia Bombastica on the site if you want his deep dive on its lasting appeal.

034: After Burner II

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 03/23/1990
  • NA Release: 03/22/1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: After Burner
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up (Z-axis)
  • Theme: Modern Military
  • Premise: I have a need, a need to go real fast, with the last of the big Sega-AM2 super scaler arcade games to reach the Sega Mega Drive.
  • Availability: Oddly, perhaps because of the third-party publisher, After Burner II managed to skip all the big Sega compilations, but a 3D version is available on Nintendo 3DS. You can also get a modern interpretation of the series, After Burner Climax, for PS3, Xbox 360, and mobile devices.
  • Preservation: This one's usually touted as the best of the various early super scaler ports for Mega Drive, which also included Space Harrier II, Super Thunder Blade, and Super Hang-On, at least in terms of visual fidelity to the original arcade version. Its appealing breakneck pace and vertiginous barrel rolls have been replicated with little slowdown here, though it still has that challenging arcade sensibility. Of note is that the game's core gameplay conceit - that you need to quickly move your cursor over enemies to lock on to as many as once before firing missiles - would also become the basis of big Sega shooters Panzer Dragoon and Rez.

035: James "Buster" Douglas Knockout Boxing/Final Blow

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Taito
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 03/23/1990 (as Final Blow)
  • NA Release: 06/01/1990
  • EU Release: 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Boxing
  • Theme: Martial Arts
  • Premise: Take on (brief) heavyweight champ James "Buster" Douglas in this home version of Taito's arcade boxing sim Final Blow.
  • Availability: Besides the original Mega Drive/Genesis carts? Nada. This one doesn't even appear in Taito's many compilations. Sports games, which rely so much on realism, tend to age far more rapidly than others.
  • Preservation: The Mega Drive now has its own boxing game, checking another box on the list of big sport adaptations that every console needs. Can't help but feel Sega honed in on this particular endorsement deal because of Buster Douglas's big win over Mike Tyson, who of course was headlining Nintendo's own successful NES boxing game Punch-Out!!. As boxing games go Knockout Boxing is fairly standard of the genre: it depicts the two boxers from a horizontal perspective, similar to fighter games, and there's a lot more chaotic jostling for blows and defending same that's more realistic than the over-the-top and quirky attacks of Punch-Out!! (but, it has to be said, way less entertaining).
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