Wow! The second episode of Chronsega is now ready and available to stream or download. For those just tuning in, Chronsega, is the companion series to Chrontendo, and is covering every release for the Sega Mark III/Master System in Chronological order. Episode Two examines 15 games released from September 1986 to February 1987, including the first US/Europe only releases. Unlike Nintendo, Sega wasted no time getting the Master System to the US, debuting it in October 1986, a year after the Japanese release. Before the year's end, Sega had 20 games on the US market; strangely enough, only 16 Mark III games hit the shelves in Japan that year. So from the very beginning, Sega was focusing very strongly on the Western market. As it happened, the Master System was most successful in Europe, Australia and Brazil.
In Chronsega Episode One, I lamented that most of the Mark III's releases seemed like rejected arcade games (along with a handful of ports of actual Sega arcade games.) The situation does improve somewhat this time around, with the November release of one of the Mark III's most fondly remembered games. Also on the board are an honest-to-good Portopia-style adventure game from Sega, as well as the usual arcade ports, US computer game ports, and so on...
Gold Medal goes to:
Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Our uncontested winner this episode is Sega's attempt at a Super Mario like killer app for the Mark III/Master System. While Alex Kidd sold only a fraction of the copies that the Mario game did, it remains (along with Phantasy Star) one of the few "must have" games for the system. The first Alex Kidd title, an arcade release called Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars, was a straightforward run and jump scrolling platformer. For the console-only sequel, Sega added some more advanced components into the mix. Alex Kidd now smashes blocks looking for items, collects money to spend in shops, rides a motorcycle and a helicopter, travels through vertical and horizontal levels, and explores maze like castles filled with some seriously tough platforming. While far from perfect - the controls are way too loose - Alex Kidd in Miracle World is slightly ahead of its time; it reminds me a little of Kid Icarus, which would be released a month later for the Famicom. Sega has proven they can make an excellent console game. Let's hope they pull this feat off again in 1987.
At the end of 1986, the Mark III is finally graced with a port of one of Sega's greatest arcade games, Space Harrier. When Space Harrier first hit arcades in 1985, it was bleeding edge: incredibly fast action, amazing sprite based 3-D graphics, convincing speech. Can the Mark III hope to replicate this on a console? Definitely not, but it certainly tries its hardest. While the home version suffers from slower game play and problematic handling of sprites (see the image above), the fact even a semi-successful attempt was made to bring Space Harrier to a home console in 1986 is impressive.
The Circuit/World Grand Prix
The Mark III's first auto racing game plays like a four-wheeled version of Hang-On, but with a difference. After each race points are awarded based on your finishing time. After accumulating enough points, you can buy upgrades for your car. That's right, you can power up your car! However, these power ups only last for one race, thus preventing any progressive improvement of your stats. Still, it was a nice idea, and quite unusual at the time.
Terrible name, but surprising decent game. Certainly The Ninja is much better than the other vertical run and gun on display this episode, Ashura/Rambo/Secret Command. Your Ninja only has one weapon, but, to compensate, has the special ninja power to vanish momentarily. While most levels are standard Commando-style fare - you move upward, shooting at enemies that come down from the top of the screen to attack you - there are some more interesting, and more difficult levels thrown in. One level finds you running horizontally dodging enormous boulders; another places you in the middle of a horse stampede. All in all, The Ninja is better than its somewhat tarnished reputation would lead you to believe.
Brown Medal Games:
A terrible Commando/Ikari Warriors clone that manages to be less playable than than the Famicom/NES Ikari, Ashura is mostly notable for the fact that it was released in three different versions in different territories. In the US, it was Rambo: First Blood Part 2, in Japan, Ashura, with slightly different characters sprites, and in Europe, it was known as Secret Command. As if running around in broad daylight killing hundreds of people with machine guns and explosives could possibly be described as secretive behavior. At any rate, the game seems so Rambo-esque, down to the explosive tipped arrows, that I assume it was developed for US release as Rambo, then converted to the more generic Ashura for Japan, rather than vice-versa. Either way, this game is not a lot of fun.
The box for Astro Warrior should be labeled, "Marginally better than Satellite 7!" Yes, its another original vertical shooter for the Mark III. It looks and plays better than Satellite 7, but is absurdly easy, short and boring. While the Saturn, Dreamcast and even the Genesis had some excellent shoot-em-ups, the Mark III/Master System fell way behind the Famicom in this genre.
Port of Sega's four player arcade game, except that only two people can play! Quartet unsuccessfully tried to ride the wave of revenue generated by Atari's Gauntlet, but providing four player simultaneous action and an oversize cabinet. The Mark III port has been seriously cut down: the number of players reduced to two, the speech synthesis removed, and the graphics and music downgraded. What is left is the most unremarkable sidescrolling platforming imaginable, not really any better than the stuff Bandai was releasing for the Famicom around this time.
Also this episode:
Great Ice Hockey - A decent looking ice hockey game that requires a special controller, the Sega Sports Pad, to play. A US only title.
Great Golf - Sega chose not to simply rip off Nintendo's Golf for this release. It seems the Great Sports titles are showing some improvement.
High School! Kimengumi - The second game based on a licensed property ( the first being last episode's Hokuto no Ken), Kimengumi is a weird graphic adventure type game involving running around, collecting, then using various items.
Marksman Shooting/Trap Shooting/Safari Hunt - Combo cart only relased in the US (without Safari Hunt, which was included on a pack-in cart with Hang On) and Europe. To be used with Sega's light gun accessory.
Loretta no Shouzou - Sega makes a Japanese, Portopia style adventure game. Involving Sherlock Holmes!
To download Chronsega Episode 2, head on over to archive.org.