No, no, not the line of Kalashnikov assault rifles, but Alex Kidd: Sega's elfin eared would-be mascot. While Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a fine attempt at an action packed side scrolling platformer, this episode of Chronsega finds him starring in a game that seems designed to waste any residual feelings of goodwill from the first title. You can see for you own eyes by downloading it at Chronsega Episode 3 over at archive.org.
This episode covers from March to July 1987, with a few stray, undated non-Japanese releases thrown in. Episode 3 contains a bit of bonus content; it features a total of 17 titles rather than the usual 15, but still comes in a little shorter than your typical Chrontendo. Once again we find Sega treading water, with no really excellent titles coming out during those five months. Instead we have some quickie sports titles, a few arcade ports, some fun light gun games, and a few more ambitious original titles, three of which were based on animated TV shows.
I don't want to come across as some Sega-hating Nintendo fanboy; that's definitly not the case. But comparing the Master System's release schedule with that of the Famicom during the same time period shows the inadequacies of Sega's console in sharp relief.
The same period of time saw 81 releases for the Famicom. Among these were well-remembered titles like Rygar, Goonies II, Renegade, Double Dribble, Rad Racer and Section Z. There were titles from names with substantial followings in Japan: Yuji Horii and Nihon Falcom. Also found were such quirky and original games like Otocky, plenty of ports of computer titles, both eastern and western, as well as a handful of arcade ports. And for the less discriminating gamer, there were tons of crappy games featuring licensed IPs. The Famicom catalog had enormous depth and featured literally something for everyone - all the way from prestigious releases from big publishers to RPGs to adventure games to silly stuff like Pachinko and horse racing games.
A lot of virtual ink has been spillt by folks on the internet wondering why the Master System failed to find an audience in Japan. But comparing the consoles side by side at any point in time seems to unearth an obvious answer: Sega didn't offer anything that Nintendo wasn't already providng in greater quality and quantity. The sole exception being ports of Sega arcade games and slightly better graphics and sound. In every other field, Nintendo held a clear advantage. Sega themselves must have realized this. Two years after the launch of the SMS, they were already preparing to replace it with a new, 16-bit console.
But enough of all that! What about this episode's games? The game I liked the most this episode was, somewhat sadly, Wonder Boy - a port an arcade game that had already been released for the Famicom, in a somewhat altered version, six months prior.
The great thing about Wonder Boy is how faithful it is the original arcade version. The Famicom first announced itself to the world with its strikingly accurate versions of such arcade games as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. But since then a huge gap had emerged between technological capabilities of arcade machines and home consoles or computers. Wonder Boy closes that gap almost entirely, despite a few minor changes to the gameplay. The bottom line: at this point in time Wonder Boy was the only home version of a game in recent memory to be virtually indistinguishable from the arcade original.
Not so much with Out Run, but still, you have to hand it to Sega for trying.
Sega's arcade classic is filled with a ridiculous number of detailed sprites whizzing across the screen at great speed. The Master System version can't even come close to reproducing Out Run's crazy sprite scaling, but the result is still quite playable and impressive for the time. A little more convincing is Out Run's music; it was the first Master System game to take advantage of the new Yamaha FM sound chip found in the redesigned Japanese Master System console (which wouldn't hit the shelves until September). The Yamaha chip was able to introduce clear, deep percussive sounds, completely unlike the typical beeps and bloops previously heard on 8-bit consoles. From this point on, almost every Japanese SMS title will make use of the chip. Unfortunately, in the west, we go the shaft again, as only the Japanse console contained the FM chip.
Episode 3 sees a spate of unremarkable sports titles, but one stands above the crowd: Great Baseball/The Pro Yakyuu Pennant.
The original, Japan-only Great Baseball was a standard clone of Nintendo's Baseball. One of the very first games released for the SMS, Great Baseball was deemed unsuitable for US release. A new, greatly improved Great Baseball was released here in June 1987, and then in Japan two months later after some additional redesign. The game bears quite a bit of resemblance to Jaleco's Moreo!! Pro Yakyuu/Bases Loaded (recently covered in Chrontendo 19), which also came out in June, though I like Sega's game a bit more.
The popularity of Nintendo's Duck Hunt resulted in the release of a handful of light gun games being de rigeur for young consoles. The Master System was no exception, and this episode sees the release of three more: Shooting Gallery, Gangster Town and Missle Defense 3-D.
Shooting Gallery is nothing special, but Gangster Town is quite cool - a ramped up version of Nintendo's Hogan's Alley. Performing well will even allow you to level up and increase the length of your life bar.
Missile Defense 3-D makes use of Sega's high-tech new 3-D glasses for the SMS. The whole 3-D thing was underutilized, much like Nintendo's R.O.B., but Sega did put out a few games that made use of the technology, including Zaxxon 3-D, Out Run 3-D and Space Harrier 3-D. Unfortunely, Missile Defense 3-D can't really be emulated properly, so the only way the play the game is to find a pair of working glasses.
On the flip side, Chronsega 3 has its share of failures and disappointments. I suppose that's true of every episode in this series, but this time around the bitter dregs of disappointment taste twice as bad.
First up is Zillion, one of the fruits of a bizarre collaboration between Sega and animation studio Tatsunoko Production, that also included an animated TV series and a toy gun. Unfortunately, this particular fruit rotted on the vine. Zillion was discussed in much detail on the previous post.
Equally troubling in Anmitsu Hime, based on the long lived franchise of comics, live action TV shows and animated series. For western release, the sprites were altered (some just barely) and the name changed to Alex Kidd : High-Tech World. Aside from the seriously ugly cover art, High-Tech World's most heinous crime is its irritating, simplistic and non-intuitive graphical adventure style segment which makes up its first half.
Granted, many early adventure games, such as those published by Sierra Online, are noted for their surfeit of unexpected deaths and "puzzles" solved by guesswork or repetition of a certain action. High-Tech World has all that in spades, but minus the creativity and wry sense of humor that (sometimes) redeemed Sierra's games.
The second half of the game features three short, almost identical, platforming levels whose length is stretched out by a number of cheap hits. These levels fall far below the standard set in Miracle World. I'm not sure what Sega's intentions were by releasing this as an Alex Kidd game, but its only effect could have been to dilute the value of the Alex Kidd brand. Imagine if Konami bought the rights the Bandai's Hokuto no Ken and released it as a Castlevania game.
Some offerings show glimmers of hope through the muck. At least Sega was learning how to utilize the Master System's graphical power. Earlier SMS games sometimes resembled Famicom releases with brighter colors. Yet, with titles like Makai Retsuden/Kung Fu Kid, the programmers were now creating detailed graphics with rich, eyepopping colors. Compare with 1985's Pit Pot:
While Makai Retsuden still plays like old fashioned proto beat-em-up in the My Hero vein, it sure looks pretty.
Other, minor disappointments this episode:
Sega releases a few more installments in their Great Sports series: Great Football, Great Volleyball and Great Basketball, before bringing the series to a close with (Great SoccerWorld Soccer in Japan). There is nothing particularly special about any of these games, other than Great Basketball being the first basketball game of the 8-bit console generation, and Great Football just being sort of an odd game.
Other games featured:
Woody Pop - A charming looking Arkanoid clone only playable with the special controller packaged with the game. The last game released in the MyCard format.
Rocky - A rather basic boxing game with very nice graphics. Let down by having only three opponents and irksome, button mashing, Track and Field-like "training sessions."
Sukeban Deka II - Much like High School Kimengumi, an odd adventure/action game mashup based on a licensed property. In this case, it's a TV series featuring a female high-school detective armed with a Rygar like yo-yo weapon.
Enduro Racer - A pseudo-port of Yu Suzuki's cool super-scaler motorcross racing game. For reasons known only to Sega, the SMS version dropped the 3-D graphics and became an isometric, vaguely Excitebike-esque racer.
Well, another half-year of the Master System come and gone. Once again, Sega doesn't come up with anything with the potential to challenge Nintendo's hegemony. But... I feel that change is just around the corner. The next episode of Chronsega will be an important one, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where Sega is headed. For now, go over to archive.org and get Chronsega Episode 3.