Mega Archive: Part IX: From MegaMind to Sonic the Hedgehog

Here we are at the third and final part of this mini-season of the Mega Archive, covering the remainder of the pre-Sonic library of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. We're seeing a lot more variety in 1991; not only in genre terms, but also from new third-party developers branching out to the system with ports of their computer or arcade games, and a few even creating games specifically for the 16-bit console. It seems like the industry is used to the Mega Drive being a contender by this point, though it would soon rise to even further heights with the arrival of their killer app.

Covering the second quarter of the year has been challenging because we've seen a number of American-made games fall into a general summer slot that's hard to pin down. It wasn't until I took another pass at the games on the 1991 list that I realized how many likely arrived in June: we'll see a great number of ports from Accolade (who were still going the unlicensed route) and Electronic Arts land on that month.

The Mega Archive will go on hiatus after this entry. When we come back to the second half of 1991 later this year, it'll prove to be even more eventful. Not only will there be twice as many releases (necessitating twice as many of these Mega Archive entries) but the end of 1991 will see the launch of a certain compact disc peripheral that perhaps promised more than it delivered. But hey, here we are putting the cart before the unusually fast hedgehog, so let's just push on with the list.

Part IX: 131-145 (May '91 - June '91)

131: MegaMind

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: May 1991
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Abstract
  • Premise: Will Ferrell stars in this outrageous animated comedy of a blue guy with a big brain but an even bigger heart wh- wait, no, this is just some Mastermind knock-off for the Game Toshokan service.
  • Availability: The service has been shut down for a long while, so little chance of finding a legal version.
  • Preservation: We have our sole Game Toshokan appearance for this episode of Mega Archive, and boy is it... nothing to write home about at all. If you've ever played Mastermind in its physical form, or come across it as a hacking mini-game, you know the drill: guess the combination through trial and error. Hours of fun. One almost interesting inclusion is that there's multiple image sets the game can draw from for its codes: fruit, mahjong tiles, flags, and signposts. All right, how about a slightly better fun fact: According to the game's attract screen, the game's planner was one "Kyamura" a.k.a. Atsuhiko Nakamura, the director of Ristar and Sega Rally Championship (and many others). Gotta start somewhere, I suppose.

132: PGA Tour Golf

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sterling Silver Software
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: May 1991
  • EU Release: May 1991
  • Franchise: PGA Tour Golf
  • Genre: Golf
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: What is Ball Chess but a good walk spoiled?
  • Availability: None, besides other ports on contemporary systems. As an iterative franchise built on realism, you're probably better off with a more recent golf sim anyway.
  • Preservation: I've determined that PGA Tour Golf was probably released in May given it has reviews from around that time, but take that with a grain of salt. The SNES version wouldn't appear until March of the following year so that window is fairly large. PGA Tour Golf is another step in EA's plan to corner the entire market of annualized sports games, following Madden NFL for football and NHL for hockey, and like those franchises it was a reliably solid and accurate representation of people playing with balls in a certain manner. Later years would see PGA Tour Golf officially endorsed by the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. EA developed the original PC version but the console ports were the work of Sterling Silver, who we last saw with Hard Drivin' (Mega Archive #6) which would also be an appropriate title for a golf game.

133: Bonanza Bros.

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: ITL
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-05-17
  • NA Release: May 1991
  • EU Release: November 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Action
  • Theme: Crime
  • Premise: Robo and Mobo are professional criminals out to make a mint through a series of daring heists. Unless it's the wussy international version, in which case they're "security experts" hired by the rich guy whose properties they're robbing. Oh, we can't teach our children to steal, but we can teach them to slam doors in peoples' faces. Double standard if you ask me, and most people would.
  • Availability: Can be bought standalone on Steam or part of the Sega Genesis Classics compilation for current consoles.
  • Preservation: Bonanza Bros. was a big deal in my household growing up, but that was due to its Atari ST port rather than this one. It was one of those rare side-scrolling shooter types that wasn't at all violent - enemies only ever get stunned - which gave it a certain lighthearted Lupin the Third charm to its larceny. I was surprised to learn a few years ago that it received sequels, sorta, with the proto-WarioWare mini-game collections Tant-R and Ichidant-R. Sega developed the original arcade game, but ITL were the ones behind this port (as they were with Mega Archive #8's Ultimate QIX). As for Mobo and Robo they were last seen in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, taking off in a suitably speedy getaway vehicle.

134: Fire Mustang

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: NMK
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 1991-05-31
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: World War 2
  • Premise: It's WW2, the Axis are threatening to spread darkness across the world, and you are the only pilot able to stop them. The question is: are you a Fire Mustang, or a Fire Mustn'tang?
  • Availability: None. A little too obscure to see any kind of rebirth.
  • Preservation: Ahh, it feels like it's been a hot minute since we've seen some random arcade shoot 'em up plucked from obscurity and deposited onto the already busy battlefield of similar games that was the early Mega Drive library. This game has no real distinguishing features besides maybe the slightly more uncommon WW2 setting and there's plenty of other, better horizontal shmups to have graced the Mega Drive before and since. This is the first time we've encountered NMK though: they're another one-and-done developer as far as the Mega Drive was concerned and was better known - if at all - for their many other arcade shoot 'em ups, or maybe the Rolan's Curse RPGs for Game Boy if you want to get real wild.

135: Zero Wing

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Toaplan
  • Publisher: Toaplan
  • JP Release: 1991-05-31
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: July 1992
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: Sci-Fi
  • Premise: Intergalactic villain and style icon CATS has taken not just one base, not just some of the bases, but all of the bases. And that's terrible.
  • Availability: I think there was a window where everyone would've willingly bought a copy of this again, and that window has long passed.
  • Preservation: The best known Toaplan shoot 'em up ever released internationally, though not for the reasons they intended. No, this would be the infamous "All Your Base" game: a line taken from the poor European Mega Drive localization (the game was never released in North America, at least not for the Genesis). This introductory cutscene was added to the home console versions, which include this and one released on TurboGrafx-CD with more anime and redbook audio. It's also one of the few Toaplan shoot 'em ups for Mega Drive ported by Toaplan themselves, which presumably meant they signed off on that English localization at some point too.

136: Centurion: Defender of Rome

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Electronic Arts
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: June 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Strategy / Action
  • Theme: Ancient Rome
  • Premise: A lone centurion is determined to become Caesar someday. Won't you make his humble wish come true? By killing and enslaving lots of people?
  • Availability: The original computer version is probably more accessible. It has to be on Origin these days, right? EA must have picked their back-catalogue clean for stuff to put on there.
  • Preservation: This felt very familiar while I was playing it for screenshots; it's only after doing some research and realizing it shared a director with Defender of the Crown did things click into place. It's like a Koei strategy game with the requisite host of menu options for your next big operation except for whatever reason almost all the player actions require completing an action mini-game - racing chariots, battles over sea and land, and so on. These mini-games are tough and probably not something the more strategically-minded are willing to suffer through for the sake of their campaign, which was an issue for Defender of the Crown too. EA brought this to the Genesis/Mega Drive themselves perhaps in the belief that its action aspect would play better to a console crowd.

137: HardBall!

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Accolade
  • Publisher: Ballistic
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: June 1991
  • EU Release: June 1991
  • Franchise: HardBall!
  • Genre: Baseball
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: Why should someone take you out to the ball game when you can take the ball game to you with this, a baseball video game.
  • Availability: Not presently available in any commercial form, but you might be able to buy it from a collector provided they aren't playing hard ball. (Sorry.)
  • Preservation: Accolade's back with their vaguely sketchy unlicensed carts (see Mega Archive #6 and Ishido for more info), adapting the first game from the classic '80s computer baseball series HardBall, which is best known (maybe?) for being the game that Fred Savage is playing before Peter Falk wanders in to read him the book of The Princess Bride in the movie The Princess Bride. That's more interesting to me than the game itself, which was apparently the first to combine managerial baseball simulation with arcade-style baseball action. Oddly enough, HardBall! 2 would not be released on Genesis, but the next several sequels would be.

138: King's Bounty: The Conqueror's Quest

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: New World Computing
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1991
  • EU Release: June 1991
  • Franchise: King's Bounty
  • Genre: Strategy (Real-Time)
  • Theme: Medieval
  • Premise: Before there were the mad stackz of Heroes of Might and Magic, New World Computing dipped their toes into the turn-based strategy arena with King's Bounty.
  • Availability: King's Bounty actually got rebooted fairly recently, with Steam-accessible games like King's Bounty: The Legend and King's Bounty: Armored Princess. There's also the spiritual successor franchise Heroes of Might and Magic too, all of which are available across GOG and Steam.
  • Preservation: I knew King's Bounty already existed - that revelation happened when the Steam reboots came out about a decade ago, and I wondered what they were rebooting - but I didn't know the first game made its way to the Mega Drive. That there's two degrees of separation between Heroes of Might and Magic and Sega's console seems wild to me, but then it's not like Might & Magic games haven't been receiving console ports since forever ago. This version of the game tries to be more arcade-y than its computer twin by pulling an Ogre Battle and having its enemy units move around the world map in real-time.

139: Onslaught

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Nextbrand
  • Publisher: Ballistic
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: June 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Action / Platformer
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Barbarian hordes and psychic overlords are clashing in sprees of blood and gore, leaving naught but destruction and carnage in their wake. Would someone find these guys a puppy to play with?
  • Availability: Briefly showed up on XBLA via the Xbox Live Indie Games service, but that marketplace shut down in 2017.
  • Preservation: Oof, Onslaught. I spent hours trying to figure out how this game worked back when I owned it for the Atari ST (sort of a running theme this entry) but I came to the same conclusion both then and now that Onslaught is a poorly-conveyed mess of systems and ideas that didn't coagulate as well as its grisly visuals and moody chiptune music did. This port's developer, Nextbrand, is a complete mystery: I'd never heard of them before this entry, and there's no data anywhere on the internet as to who they might be. Chances are good that it's some in-house Accolade studio that was created and dissolved for this game alone. Yep, Accolade's grody fingers are all over this one too: it's another of theirs that side-stepped the official Genesis cart production process, meaning it won't work on newer Genesis models with their many protective upgrades.

140: Star Control

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Toys for Bob
  • Publisher: Ballistic
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: June 1991
  • EU Release: July 1991
  • Franchise: Star Control
  • Genre: Strategy / Shooter
  • Theme: Sci-Fi
  • Premise: The Alliance of Free Stars and the Hierarchy of Battle Thralls are fighting it out for galactic dominance in this strategic space shooter. Given how Star Control II starts, I might not put any money on the Alliance winning this one.
  • Availability: The Star Control franchise is going through some licensing weirdness right now between Toys for Bob ( the games' original directors) and Stardock with their Star Controls: Origins reboot. No clue when it'll be sorted out and the games can be added to GOG again, unless it was fixed years ago because you're reading this from the future. Hell, maybe in your time the Earth really is at war with an alien empire.
  • Preservation: I have a lot of affection for Star Control II - I consider it one of the finest games from the PC DOS period - but I can take or leave the original, which was a more straightforward shooter with a few strategic aspirations. SC2 did a much better job establishing the universe of all these odd alien races, giving you a sense of their personalities and cultures and how you might win them over in Earth's fight against the oppressive Ur-Quan or otherwise pacify them. The Ballistic publisher credit means we're once again talking Accolade and their not-entirely-legal cart production, so be sure your Genesis model is old enough to run this.

141: Street Smart

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Treco
  • Publisher: Treco
  • JP Release: 1991-07-19
  • NA Release: June 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Martial Arts
  • Premise: Conquer the street fighting circuit the old-fashioned brawler way, with z-planes and four different moves max. Don't get intimidated when you start reaching opponents that are seven feet tall and made of pure muscle.
  • Availability: It was originally a SNK game, so while Hamster hasn't rereleased it yet as part of their Neo Geo/Arcade Archives series it might only be a matter of time.
  • Preservation: I feel like I've seen Jeff play this before, but there's no videos attached to the page. Street Smart is an early intermediary between the belt-scroller brawlers and the fighters that eventually replaced them, working with one-on-one battles with brawler-style z-plane movement and a basic assortment of attacks. There's also odd additions like gambling on the first round (you can throw the first round for the bet money, then win the next round to move on) and upgrading your character after every fight. There is a two-player mode, but it's some pass-and-play business where both players go through the same circuit of CPU goons. Not something that'll qualify for Ranking of Fighters, but there are hints of SNK's famous later work with Art of Fighting/Fatal Fury that can be spotted here.

142: Arcus Odyssey

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Wolf Team (JP), Renovation (NA)
  • JP Release: 1991-06-14
  • NA Release: October 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Arcus
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: An evil sorceress threatens the kingdom with her magic, her dragons, and her gothic chic. It's down to a pack of heroes to take on her forces and send her packing back to Hot Topic.
  • Availability: No rereleases as far as I know.
  • Preservation: The Arcus games are top-down action RPGs that Wolf Team created before they embarked on their Tales franchise, and play like 16-bit isometric versions of Gauntlet. Kind of rudimentary, but there weren't too many RPGs for the system and certainly none with this type of arcade-action bent so I imagine it was a refreshing change for audiences at the time. There's actually at least four Arcus games and this is the only one that ever saw a localization.

143: Advanced Daisenryaku: Deutsch Dengeki Sakusen

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-06-21
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Daisenryaku
  • Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
  • Theme: World War 2
  • Premise: The German Wehrmacht of WW2 is poised to take over most of Europe. They just need the player to assist them in one of the most brutal and morally corrupt military campaigns in modern history. Boy, where do I sign up.
  • Availability: It was later featured in a PS2 "Sega Ages" compilation but that, like this Mega Drive original, is in Japanese only.
  • Preservation: The Daisenryaku games were prized for their accuracy and seriousness, and were fairly agnostic as far as "sides" were concerned. Many Japanese WW2 games were, understandably, played from the perspective of the Axis forces - usually as themselves or their closest allies Germany - which made it slightly awkward to promote them in big overseas game markets like the USA, the UK, or France. Deutsch Dengeki Sakusen began the "Advanced" spin-offs of the core Daisenryaku games, all of which were developed and/or published by Sega themselves with Systemsoft's blessing - most of these were Saturn or PlayStation 2 games, however. Incidentally, we last saw this franchise back in Mega Archive #1 with Super Daisenryaku; it was, in fact, the system's first ever third-party game.

144: Star Odyssey / Blue Almanac

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Hot-B
  • Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Super Fighter Team (NA)
  • JP Release: 1991-06-22 (as Blue Almanac)
  • NA Release: 2011-06-22 (as Star Odyssey)
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Sci-Fi
  • Premise: In this Japanese sci-fi RPG, set many years after mankind has colonized the stars, it falls to one boy and his hoverboard to rescue the titular Blue Almanac from the clutches of Biff Tannen.
  • Availability: Sort of! You can buy a physical copy of the unlicensed (but official) localized version from the site of the translators, though it's presently out of stock.
  • Preservation: Weird story behind this one. Blue Almanac was a Phantasy Star clone that didn't really light up the galaxy like its inspiration did, and plans to localize it for western markets ultimately fell through at the time in part because no-one involved wanted to pay any money to make the translation good. Super Fighter Team, a group of fan translators who have sold other physical versions of games they've translated with the blessing of the original publishers (or the license holders, at least), eventually finished the job and released their localization on the game's 20th anniversary.

145: Sonic the Hedgehog

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-07-26
  • NA Release: 1991-06-23
  • EU Release: 1991-06-23
  • Franchise: Sonic
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Chili Dogs
  • Premise: Who does this blue hedgehog think he is, wagging his finger at me from the title screen? He's so proactive. We're talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.
  • Availability: Either from Steam directly or on current consoles via the Sega Genesis Classics collection.
  • Preservation: So here he is. In many ways, the Mega Archive has been building up to this moment. There are so many places where you can get the deepest dives into where Sonic came from and his lasting impact on Sega's fortunes, let alone the one he had on their moderately well-established 16-bit console, that I'm not going to do the little guy justice with a single paragraph blurb lost in a huge list of also-rans. His fame is such that I didn't even need to touch the wiki page: it's been so carefully and lovingly curated all these years that it's perfect, more or less. An equally auspicious debut here is that of Sega's Sonic Team. An unofficial name for this internal division for many years, the team that created Sonic would be graced with their present title around 1996 as a way to promote the non-Sonic games they started creating, as if to suggest these new IPs would be equally significant. That started with NiGHTs Into Dreams for Saturn, and later Burning Rangers, Chu Chu Rocket, Samba de Amigo, Phantasy Star Online, and many more. Really, for as many ups and downs and loop-de-loops that the blue blur's been through, nothing about where Sonic might be heading to next would surprise me. Now to take a big sip of coffee and check out the latest movie news...
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