Mega Archive: Part XI: From Raiden Trad to Riddle Wired

The eleventh part of the Mega Archive moves into the August of 1991: a month that is a black mark for US Sega fans, as it heralded the retaliatory shot from Nintendo after so many "Does What Nintendon't" ads with the North American debut of their own even more powerful 16-bit system, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Up until now Sega had lorded over their technological superiority over the humble NES, but the SNES was a different beast entirely. Fortunately for them, between the surprise success of Sonic and the savvy leadership of Tom Kalinske as CEO of Sega of America, SoA manages to hold onto a superior market share in the States irrespective of how much the SNES outshines the Genesis in every department (fine, fine, my bias is showing). It'll be a fascinating transitional period for the Mega Drive moving forward here, as they fight against an equal rival tooth and nail.

Of course, there's a lot to be said for creature comforts also, which is why this month features multiple instances of two old Mega Archive stand-bys: the compact online games of the Game Toshokan service and arcade shoot 'em up conversions. We also have the debut of one gigantic sports franchise and the tardy appearance of one of Sega's best known arcade hits. We'll get right to them in a moment, but first here's all the previous Mega Archive entries for those just joining us:

Part XI: 161-175 (July '91 - August '91)

161: Raiden Trad / Raiden Densetsu

My eyes!
My eyes!
  • Developer: Seibu Kaihatsu
  • Publisher: Micronet
  • JP Release: 1991-07-06 (as Raiden Densetsu)
  • NA Release: September 1991 (as Raiden Trad)
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Raiden
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: So an electric guy in a coolie hat, a robot ninja with a vibrating sword, and a well-regarded arcade shoot 'em up series all walk into an MMO dungeon. The guard at the door says "Raiden?" and the three of them reply "nope, just visiting".
  • Availability: The older Raiden games might take some hunting down - they're available in English in various forms, including Trad, but I don't think they've been rereleased for decades - but if you wanted to enjoy a modern Raiden game the Switch port of Raiden V came out just last month (July '19, if you're reading this in the future).
  • Preservation: Raiden Trad, despite the odd name, is the 16-bit console version of the original arcade Raiden, only with a few tweaks and concessions for the home market. I've heard tell from those in the know that the Mega Drive Raiden Trad is better than the SNES one, as the arcade game's developers (Seibu Kaihatsu) received either some or all the credit for the MD port. The system isn't hurting for shoot 'em ups at this juncture, but at least Raiden is a franchise with a pedigree.

162: Kyuukai Douchuuki

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Namco
  • Publisher: Namco
  • JP Release: 1991-07-12
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Baseball
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: When Namco's not making Famista games, they're shoehorning other franchises of theirs into that trademark Famista model. I wonder if they were hoping to create some kind of baseball-themed Namco multiverse?
  • Availability: Nada. The majority of 16-bit baseball games haven't held up all that well, and even with its baked-in silliness this game is no exception.
  • Preservation: The joke might not play overseas, but Kyuukai Douchuuki sounds a lot like Youkai Douchuuki: Namco's arcade platformer based on the wholesome idea of a little boy who dies and subsequently tries to escape hell and eternal torment, released here as Shadow Land. That little boy is also in this game - I guess the first thing you do after coming back from the afterlife is to join a baseball team, probably because there's nothing else that will make those precious minutes of life stretch out into hours - but I can't tell him apart from all the other melon-headed scamps here. If I had to guess, Namco wanted a baseball game for the Mega Drive that wasn't called Famista - because the "Fami" specifically refers to Nintendo's Family Computer (Famicom) brand - and figured a pun based on one of their obscure arcade games would suffice.

163: Master of Monsters

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Opera House
  • Publisher: Toshiba EMI (JP) / Renovation (NA)
  • JP Release: 1991-07-26
  • NA Release: November 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Master of Monsters
  • Genre: Strategy
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Do you have what it takes to become the titular Master of Monsters in this wizardly war game of global domination? I know I don't. I'm barely a Middle Manager of Monsters.
  • Availability: Master of Monsters aficionados can also look out for the PlayStation sequel, Disciples of Gaia, or try Falcom's freeware spin on the idea by searching the web for "Vantage Master Online".
  • Preservation: Though it resembles something a bit flightier like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, MoM is still a fairly serious game that is really just SystemSoft's Daisenryaku military strategy series with a fantastical facelift. Lots of raw numbers and logistics to follow, though anyone familiar enough with Pokémon's monster-raising and/or the merry dance of "rock-paper-scissors" elemental superiority tables should feel right at home.

164: Thunder Fox

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Aisystem Tokyo
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 1991-07-26
  • NA Release: 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: '80s Action Movie
  • Premise: Two buff dudes, Thunder and Fox, are the only defense the world has against terrorism. Fight a helicopter with a knife because why wouldn't you.
  • Availability: Thunder Fox appears in the first Taito Legends compilation for PS2 and Xbox, which would probably be easier to find now than the Genesis cart.
  • Preservation: I don't imagine Thunder Fox was a huge hit in the arcades, but even so what happened to this port is almost criminal. Anything worthwhile in the original game - the crazy background details like flaming soldiers falling out a flying fortress you just exploded or lightning hitting lampposts as you walk past them, or the vehicle sections where you chase after submarines in a speedboat - are missing, leaving only the many run-and-gun (or run-and-stab, since your guys only have knives as default) sections. It even lacks a two-player mode. While the arcade game has some potential as an endearingly macho subject of a future "This is the Run" series, I can't say the same for this weak conversion.

165: NHL Hockey / EA Hockey

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Park Place Productions
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: 1992-11-20 (as EA Hockey)
  • NA Release: August 1991 (as NHL Hockey)
  • EU Release: Late 1991 (as EA Hockey)
  • Franchise: NHL Hockey
  • Genre: Hockey
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: Strap on your skates and try to remember what "Icing" means in the first game of EA's juggernaut ice hockey sim franchise, also known as NHL Hockey '92.
  • Availability: Just buy NHL 20 instead, it's out next month. If you really dig that Genesis NHL feel though, probably go for one of the later ones like NHL '98? People seem to really like NHL '94 too.
  • Preservation: Though I don't have much truck with EA's annual sports licenses, NHL Hockey is a major staple of many a Mega Drive owner's history and this game deserves notice for being the first of its name. International audiences didn't get the NHL license - I guess EA didn't see the point? - so instead got "EA Hockey" which featured international teams instead (but in the original NHL teams' colors, so whatever). NHL Hockey would become an indomitable brand after this, along with EA's Madden NFL and FIFA, and it's hard to imagine the Mega Drive without it. It wouldn't have had that cameo appearance in Mallrats, that's for sure.

166: Fantasia

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Infogrames
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-11-22
  • NA Release: August 1991
  • EU Release: August 1991
  • Franchise: Disney
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Mickey, as the Sorcerer's Apprentice, has to enter his own dreams to save the soundtrack for the movie Fantasia, of which he is a part. This is even more meta than Kingdom Hearts.
  • Availability: Since the game was recalled, you're less likely to find carts in the wild.
  • Preservation: I suppose I should be surprised that the erstwhile Infogrames (Atari SA these days) teamed up with Sega for a Disney platformer based on the 50th anniversary of the movie Fantasia, but then I recall there being a pretty strong Disney presence on Genesis despite all its promotional posturing that it was the tough console for big kids compared to Nintendo's baby crap. We're between Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion at this point in time, both of which are far better than this awful, floaty, incoherent, and pointlessly difficult platformer. Most of its copies were recalled and destroyed post-launch due to the orders of Roy E. Disney (nephew of Walt, to whom he promised no licenses would be provided for Fantasia) so now it's become a relatively rare piece of media. As is often true with collectible video games however, rarity does not always equal quality.

167: Pyramid Magic II

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Pyramid Magic
  • Genre: Puzzle / Platformer
  • Theme: Egyptian
  • Premise: Raid some tombs very, very carefully in this Game Toshokan sequel. Hey, if there's a more realistic archaeology simulator than one where you curse under your breath every time you break something, I'd like to hear about it.
  • Availability: The Mega Drive version was online only, so any legal copies of that have long since evaporated. A sole Sega-CD compilation released in 1994 (in Japan only) is its only physical presence.
  • Preservation: It's unclear when in 1991 Pyramid Magic II (and III) debuted on the Japanese Game Toshokan service. I half suspect they each came out a month apart, since that's often how these sequential games worked on platforms like the Satellaview with their monthly subscription plans, which is why I'm dumping them in consecutive episodes of Mega Archive. As we discussed in Part X, Pyramid Magic is a 2D puzzle-platformer than demands a certain level of precision from the player: not just in the sense of putting items down where they need to be but in how the player must meticulously follow the correct series of commands needed to reach the end of the level, where a single error could lead to a stalemate situation where you're forced to hit the suicide button and start over. As might be expected from a sequel, Pyramid Magic II is a lot harder than the first right off the bat, but otherwise structurally identical. I'm not convinced these aren't all chapters of the same game, but the separate releases and title numerals make that an awkward theory to champion.

168: RoadBlasters

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sterling Silver Software
  • Publisher: Tengen
  • JP Release: 1992-02-28
  • NA Release: August 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Driving / Vehicular Combat
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Become King of the Road by destroying everything else on it in this vehicular combat game from Atari.
  • Availability: The arcade version's appeared in a few Atari compilations, most notably the first Midway Arcade Treasures for PS2, GameCube, Xbox, and PC.
  • Preservation: Tengen's back with more arcade conversions, this time bringing Atari's answer to an OutRun killer ("what if we added guns to the car?") to its rival's home turf. Despite lacking the arcade game's digitized speech, it's a faithful recreation with some decent sprite scaling and visual effects. The gun combat actually adds a level of strategic depth, as players are required to keep up a score multiplier - earned from shooting consecutive enemies without missing or crashing - to gain reserve fuel, which might make all the difference if your main tank runs dry seconds from the next checkpoint. One unusual piece of RoadBlasters trivia is that it shows up in Wreck-It Ralph as a relatively major plot point concerning that movie's antagonist: they went deep for a few of those arcade references.

169: Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Technopop
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-10-18
  • NA Release: August 1991
  • EU Release: August 1991
  • Franchise: Spider-Man / Marvel
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Superhero
  • Premise: Webhead has his hands full with his entire rogue's gallery out causing mayhem across NYC. All he has to do is stop Kingpin, save Mary Jane Watson, and clear himself of the theft of a nuke. Easy.
  • Availability: Licensed games don't get reissued often, but there's also the Sega-CD enhanced remake as a slightly more recent option.
  • Preservation: I've been let down by Spider-Man games in the past, but I've also come to realize just how difficult it was - especially in the pre-3D days - to render all of Spidey's signature moves in a way that's A) easy to control with a Mega Drive or SNES gamepad, B) looks cool, and C) doesn't cause major imbalances as you let players web-swing over all the carefully placed perils in your level design. With that in mind, and knowing the caliber of Spider-Man games out there around this time like Spider-Man and the X-Men or Maximum Carnage, this platformer - often known as just Spider-Man - does a fairly decent job adapting the character to a video game. It's ugly as hell and it's sometimes hard to tell where to go next, but Spidey controls well and they even try to factor in Parker's day job as a photog in an interesting fashion.

170: Dino Land

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Wolf Team (JP) / Renovation (NA)
  • JP Release: 1991-08-02
  • NA Release: November 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Pinball
  • Theme: Prehistoric
  • Premise: Save your dino girlfriend in this prehistoric pinball sim from Wolf Team.
  • Availability: Sadly, I don't think any pre-Tales Wolf Team games have ever been rereleased. It'd be cool (though highly unlikely) if Dino Land somehow showed up in Tales of Arise though.
  • Preservation: Wolf Team's back but we're still four years away from their breakout Tales of Phantasia, so instead here's a weird pinball game with dinosaurs. It is worth noting that this is the first pinball game to arrive on the Mega Drive: prominent later examples would include Crue Ball and Sonic Spinball, but the system had to start somewhere. Dino Land's not too bad, honestly, if a little limited and ugly (particularly the dirt-brown backgrounds). It has boss fights and little dinos roaming around the board, like a Devil's Crush for dinosaur fans (Jurassic Crush?), and I like any pinball game that incorporates elements that you couldn't have in a real table: it's taking advantage of the medium in ways sadly few modern pinball sims do. While working on the page, I found a lot of sites suggesting the North American release was January 1991, which is wild to me. Renovation was the US publishing branch of Telenet Japan, which handled all their English localizations as well as those from smaller Japanese studios. That meant the Japanese release, which Wolf Team self-published, had to have come first with Renovation putting out a translation a few months later. As a final aside, the full Japanese title of the game translates to something like Super Dragon Fight Chronicles Dino Land, which is a jumble of rad words that sounds like some kind of early SEO tactic.

171: Vapor Trail: Hyper Offence Formation

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Data East
  • Publisher: Telenet Japan (JP) / Renovation (NA)
  • JP Release: 1991-08-02
  • NA Release: October 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Kuuga
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Terrorists have taken over New York City and a trio of Special Forces jet fighters are flown in to fight them across the skies of NYC. Hey, guess what game you wouldn't have been able to make after September 2001?
  • Availability: Data East (or the current holders of their IPs) is usually good about modern emulation of their old arcade games, but no-one's taken a crack at this series yet.
  • Preservation: We're back with the arcade shoot 'em up ports - the Mega Drive's meat and potatoes. After watching a longplay of this (I suck too much at this genre to see much past the first level on my own), I've determined that I really like the soundtrack. Data East were clearly riffing on Raiden a bit, which makes the close releases of this and Raiden Trad an odd coincidence, but I'll give them credit for another solid shoot 'em up console port. In the meantime I've been trying to figure out the franchise name: Kuuga. There are two more games in the same series, both of which also include this word. A literal translation puts it as "Sky Fang," which is appropriate enough for a jet fighter, but other parts of the internet suggest it's a nickname for a Japanese stag beetle (kuwagata): an insect known for its ferocity and obstinacy, and a popular pet and icon in Japan. In the case of the latter, though, you'd think they'd give the ship two horns to make the comparison more obvious.

172: Quad Challenge

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Now Production
  • Publisher: Namco
  • JP Release: 1991-08-06
  • NA Release: November 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Driving
  • Theme: Motorsports
  • Premise: Rev up for the next hot race and get ready for some radical air in Namco's arcade quad bike racer, now in an only mostly compromised console format.
  • Availability: It wasn't one of Namco's best and the original cabinet had some four-player fussiness that would be hard to emulate, so they haven't put it any of their compilations to my knowledge.
  • Preservation: Sure were a lot of OutRun style games out in the summer of 1991 including, as we'll discover in a moment, OutRun itself. Quad Challenge/MegaTrax was Namco attempting to map the distinctive behind-the-car view of OutRun to Nintendo's all-terrain fun of Excitebike with questionable results. The arcade original at least tried to set itself apart with its super wide four-player cabinets, but the two-player split-screen here is a mediocre substitute. It might be because I have a low tolerance for ATV games, where a single dent in the road is enough to send you flying uncontrollably into the aether, but this didn't seem like the best racer of this week's assortment.

173: OutRun

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-08-09
  • NA Release: 1991
  • EU Release: November 1991
  • Franchise: OutRun
  • Genre: Driving
  • Theme: Magical Sound Shower
  • Premise: Take your best gal on a Ferrari race across Europe in Yu Suzuki's arcade racing classic.
  • Availability: The best way to play OutRun today is through the Club Sega arcade of Yakuza 0, because at any time you can quit OutRun and be playing Yakuza 0 instead, and vice versa. Win-win.
  • Preservation: Honestly, it's kind of strange that it took this long for Sega's biggest arcade racing game (sorry Hang-On and Sega Rally fans; keep walking Sonic R fans) to hit the Genesis console - a console that, at least around launch, was explicitly built to deliver passable home conversions of Sega's super scaler arcade games like OutRun. Arcade OutRun debuted in 1986, five years prior to this version, and had seen a number of ports already on the PC Engine, Master System, and MSX2. Fortunately, that extra time was put to good use as the Genesis port of the game was considered the most arcade-perfect for a long while. It even got a special new BGM track, one able to stand alongside the great originals.

174: James Pond II: Codename RoboCod

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Millennium Interactive
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: 1993-06-09
  • NA Release: 1991-08-18
  • EU Release: December 1991
  • Franchise: James Pond
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Sci-fi / Comedy / Espionage / Fish
  • Premise: After James Pond was brutally murdered by Clarence Coddicker's gang (I guess?) he is rebuilt as RoboCod - the long torso of the law. But he's also a spy still.
  • Availability: RoboCod came out on everything, but I've heard its newer rereleases are kinda bad. Then again, the originals were kinda bad too.
  • Preservation: Uhoh, sounds like it's time for another episode of Mento's British Game Development Apology Tour. RoboCod is a neat enough concept - the guy can vertically extend his body like a telescope and grab onto higher platforms! - but the level design dial always seems stuck on "confusing nightmare maze" for every stage. It's a little better about that than the first James Pond at least, which had you diving in and out of holes every five seconds (very apropos to his namesake, in a manner of speaking). The one thing I remember vividly about this game was its prominent sponsorship by Penguin chocolate biscuits, which I imagine did not persist into the international versions. This was a running theme for games made here for a while, as also evinced by the Chupa Chups of Zool or the Snickers bars in the Biker Mice from Mars game. In retrospect, selling candy to an audience of sedentary kids playing video games indoors every day was shady as hell. It's a relief that game companies in this day and age take the moral high road and just get them hooked on predatory gambling mechanics instead.

175: Riddle Wired

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 1991-08-28
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Trivia
  • Theme: Sci-fi / Cyberpunk
  • Premise: Take on a series of generic cyberpunk opponents in this post-apocalyptic quiz game on the Game Toshokan service.
  • Availability: It's another Game Toshokan game, and not one that's ever likely to be rereleased. Pop culture trivia questions don't tend to age well.
  • Preservation: Unsurprisingly, this Japanese-only trivia quiz game wasn't one that I had any interest in playing more than the customary handful of minutes for the necessary screenshots. I think it may be the first quiz game for the system, so that's worth noting, but that wouldn't mean much to us as very few quiz games were ever localized (for good reason: there's a whole lot of text, and the Japan-centric questions would go over the heads of an international audience) and you don't really see many 16-bit quiz games made in the west unless they're attached to a TV show license like Jeopardy. I long for the day when I run out of these Game Toshokan non-entities.
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