Monday, May 4, 2015

The Genesis Arrives

OK folks, cool your heels. The new episode of Chronsega is available for your viewing pleasure. Youtube now offers 60 fps options, you can watch a pretty darn good streaming version there. Or you can download that same file directly from (It's the 1.4 gig MP4 file.)  More file sizes/formats will be available there soon.

Chronsega Episode 9 covers July through October 1989 for the Mega Drive/Genesis and "Fall 1989" for those increasingly rare and mysterious Master System games. One very important thing of note this episode is that the Sega Genesis was released in the US on August 14, supposedly only in NYC and Los Angeles at first. Sega of America was in an interesting position at this time.  They had only recently retaken over the Master System's distribution and marketing from Tonka. From what I understand, Bruce Lowry, formerly of Nintendo before becoming President of Sega of America in 1986, had quit Sega and gone back to Nintendo in mid-1988, thus leaving SOA headless for a year. Shortly after the Genesis' launch, former Coleco/Atari/Epyx executive Michael Katz stepped in to take charge of Sega's US branch. Katz developed much of what we think about  the Genesis when we consider its pre-Sonic era: The focus on celebrity sports figures. The emphasis on the Genesis' superior graphics.  The "Genesis Does What Nintendon't" ad campaign.

Katz was replaced after two years by Tom Kalinske. There are two schools of thought re: Katz vs. Kalinske. One is that Katz simply failed to make the Genesis succeed in the US; it was up to Kalinske to turn things around, and that Kalinske's tactics were directly responsible for the Sega's brief US dominance over Nintendo. The other perspective is that many of the seeds of the Genesis' success had already been planted during Katz's reign (for example, Sonic.) Those seeds just happened to bloom after Kalinske took over, thus Kalinske unjustly got all the credit. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between those two positions.

Sega of America did manage to get quite a few games on the market very quickly. The Genesis launched with five titles, then released another batch in September, then presumably kept new releases coming throughout the rest of the year. It's hard to say for sure what came out when, but this is the second Genesis ad to appear in Game Pro magazine:

This issue must have been on the shelves in Fall 1989, perhaps in November. The same issue mentions Katz' September appointment as Head of Sega of America as breaking news. This at least gives us some idea which titles were available shortly after launch.  It gives me the impression that a few titles, such as Golden Axe, Zoom and Revenge of Shinobi were released in the US before Japan.

Soon, Sega would launch it's own Nintendo Power style magazine called Sega Visions, release the Mega Drive in Europe, and eventually find massive success in the US, Europe, Australia an Brazil.  For the moment though, we'll look at the second batch of ten games released in Summer and
Fall of 1989. Three games stand out: a port of Sega's arcade hit Golden Axe, a Sega-published port of Capcom's Ghouls 'N Ghosts, and a console original, Revenge of Shinobi.

Golden Axe and Ghouls 'N Ghosts proved once again the system was capable very accurate ports of recent arcade hits, something that was out of the question for the aging NES. Revenge of Shinobi demonstrated what console action platformers could look like in the 16-bit generation. Other new titles this episode aren't as successful. Rambo III is a poor man's Mercs clone, padded with long, maze-like levels to stretch it to console game length. Forgotten Worlds is another Capcom port which isn't nearly as good as Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Super Hang-On is a much improved version of a game that was a launch title for the Master System, with a new career mode added on.

Other titles include Super Hydlide, a port of the computer game Hydlide 3, whose Famicom version we glossed over a few episodes ago. Super Hydlide has some interesting ideas, but its butt-ugly graphics, grindy nature and overall lack of personality will turn off most folks. The music on the Genesis version is fantastic, however. Hokuto no Ken/Last Battle is yet another dull Fist of the North Star beat-em-up, which somehow ended up being a launch title in the US.  We've also got a soccer and golf game.

With this episode, we've covered the first 20 Mega Drive/Genesis games released.  Here's the breakdown:

7 arcade ports
4 computer ports
9 original games, of which:
     3 were action platformers
     3 were sports games
     1 was a beat-em-up
     1 was a top down run-and-gun
     1 was an RPG

An interesting and varied assortment of games. As of yet we've only seen two third party publishers, and neither were big names in the videogame market. All this will change in 1990, as the likes of Namco, Taito and EA lend their support to the console.

Until then, head on over to Youtube or Archive and check out Chronsega Episode 9.


Unknown said...

Great video. A couple of thoughts from my own recollections. The term LA area Probrably generally means CA or at least the Bay Area as a whole. I was able to get my Genesis 3 days after it become available on Aug 14 th at a Toys R US in the SF Bay Area. Which wouldn't be too suprising considering SOA was headquartered there. Had been saving up for it since previews in VG&CE and EGM. Also I distincly remember buying ROS in October when it became available. I don't k now if it came out before Japan, but I did have the coveted Rev 0 version that I just sold on eBay for a pretty penny.

As far as Forgotten Worlds, I adored the arcade game and thought the Genesis port was mostly good. The thing with the control is if you use a 3 button controller. The rotation works nicely with all 3 buttons lined up adjacent to each other. If you use 3 fingers to control, the middle fires and the 2 outside fingers rotate the shot, and release fire to rotate the option. It may be more ackward if not using a Genesis controller to play, say using a SNES controller meant for thumb control where the buttons are not aligned horizontally. The only complaint I had was it excised one level of the arcade game but otherwise I thought it was a fantastic port.

I hated Super Hydlide initially, it is hard to figure out when starting,. But once you level up some and beat the first dungeon and boss it gets much better and the weight and food restrictions seem more manageable. Sure the graphics look barely better than 8-bit but it eventually gets pretty fun. The music in that game is so good but you never hear many people talk about it. My favorites are the opening cutscene, the boss battle music, and the final boss music and ending. It's Japanese imitation of 70's era rock at its best. And one of the best synth guitar examples on the Genesis IMO. It's a game I would eventually grow to like but not love after playing through it.

Also I'm pretty sure in Ghouls and Ghosts you can get another weapon, you can require the pycho cannon from any magic treasure chest in the game , not just the first level one. It's a pain beating the worm boss which the short reach so I would switch out to daggers for it and then require the special weapon in the next stage. I gotta say for a launch game (well very close to launch in US, early Sept) it was fantastic looking and the a great early showcase of how much better 16-bit games could be. Even if there are better versions of that game to play now.

Anyone keep up the good work. Loved the episode.

Tork said...

What I think I miss most about the Genesis was not the games or hardware but the trash-talking campaigns. Fanboys are boring because they can only make so many arguments, but a confident company can introduce new stuff to argue about. Sega shot itself in the foot numerous times but I wish we could have more cockiness in our console makers.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I think the first time I ever heard of Genesis was through a show Nickelodeon use to do during that time that aired Sunday mornings called "Total Panic". This one episode from 1989 had a guy from a particular magazine come in and talk about the new game systems that fall. The Genesis was highlighted alongside a TurboGrafx-16, the Nintendo Gameboy and the Atari Lynx.

PaulNoonan said...

Sweet. My night is now set.

Anonymous said...

The top-down view of World Cup Soccer is what a lot of soccer games at the time used (see eg. Kick Off and Microprose Soccer). Is there any info on who actually developed the game originally?

Not mentioning that Forgotten Worlds is the game that gave the world the universal videogame currency "zenny" is a major omission.

PK Thunder said...

Great episode. Nice to see Super Hydlide treated with understanding and respect; it's a flawed game, but a far more interesting and adventurous one than the endless stream of cookie-cutter JRPGs we typically see.

BTW are your Sega and TG-16 chronological lists posted somewhere? The Nintendo one is a very helpful reference, and it'd be great to see them.

Anonymous said...

Great episode!

Raffa said...

Ooh, how I've longed for a new Cron...., Thanks Dr Sparkle for the new Cronsega!!
Is it the yearly video, or is 2015 the year you spoil us big time? ^_^

Chris Sobieniak said...

I hope the spoiling would continue as well, but I know how busy "Dr. Sparkle" can be these days and I really don't like to push him on these matters.

Unknown said...

A couple of thoughts on Last Battle. Being a big Hokuto No Ken fan (Fist of the North Star in the West) This game was very confusing. First off, although the manga might have been available, the U.S. release of the movie didn't come out till 90 or 91. Which was itself was was a retelling of the first arc of the first show. I think the only other media exposure we had was the NES game. So I guess based on that they could have used the liscense based on the NES game recognition. But honestly I can see why they changed the story. When the movie did cme out,mit become pretty obvious that this game was a FOTNS game, and in retrospect the Black Belt as well. But the story made no sense. The movie showed us Kenshiros companions Bart an Lin as kids. But in Last battle they are recognizable, but adults. (Max in the video is actually adult Bart.) Then the story and characters in last battle were nothing like the ones in the movie. Except the Last boss who is looks like Raoh. Very confusing. So actually in Japan there were 2 FOTNS series. The first part roughly ends with Kenshiro beating Roah. (Black Belt on the SMS actually roughly follows the plot of the movie version) The TV series was never released here until maybe late 90's. So there is no way you could connect thelot of the game to it. And then, Manga entertainment never finished releasing the TV series. Maybe got through half of the first series. Last Battle actually takes place during the second TV series,mr lightly 10 years after the first one. I watched it fan subbed about 6 or 7 years ago. The lot is basically Kenshiro goes to the land of Ashura (China?) to find his brothers. The characters in Last battle are all from this second TV series, even the boat Captain I. The game, and his son, that take you to Ashura. The last 3 bosses are your brothers, and Roahs older older brother. So it wasn't until maybe 2008 that the story of Last Battle actually made sense. It follows the second TV show (which ended in 1988) pretty well. A TV show that never saw a U.S. official release. So it took 20 years for Last Battle to make sense and reconcile its story with the anime for me. (To make matters more confusing in the late Aughts they made a series of 5 new movies retelling the first TV series.) As a fan the game would have been pretty cool. As a game thoigh , and with no reference point for the story, it's a pretty subpar game. Even though they changed the characters, they leave out too much of the story that a fan of the show would be expected to know. For instance if you had seen the show you would know when meeting Max, that he was the kid from the movie and longtime companion, and that he was an adult and a resistance fighter (the leader actually) So the statement of how you've become a true warrior now upon their meeting after 10 years would make total sense. With no context, it's just like who the fuck is this guy and why am I telling him he's become a true warrior now when I've never met him before.

Anonymous said...

So, I've been thinking for a while that I'd love to be able to buy you a beer for these episodes. Is there any chance of that happening in the future?

Something like a tip jar, or a Patreon, could be cool. I totally wouldn't want anything in return. The episodes are plenty.

Nathan Daniels said...

Hello Dr. Sparkle,
I was introduced to Chron____ via retronauts. Thank you for doing the Sega thing. I fall in to the camp that loves Revenge of Shinobi; it was the first Mega Drive game I remember seeing pics of, I think in about February of 1989. It was the first game where I thought game music sounded like real music. Those muffled drums still get my heart rate up. Incidentally, this was the first game to my knowledge that had the composer's name on the title screen. Also incidentally, there is a Mega Drive game(I think it's called Battle Golf) that uses Yuzo Koshiro's Super Shinobi sound library. Look for it whenever you get to that one.

I still remember the unlimited shuriken trick. The other way I used to cheat was at the very beginning of the factory level, double jumping with the shuriken spray reveals a 2-up just to the left of the conveyor. If you get it, you die, but end up ahead. Do this about 30(!) times, and you have enough lives to use the Kamikaze exploding ninja magic on the end boss pretty much enough to kill him.

Nathan Daniels said...

Oh, and when you eventually cover the Transformers Mega Drive game, you're pretty much going to have to call that segment Unicronsega. It's only proper.

Nathan Daniels said...

.....February of 1989 was when the EGM 1989 buyer's guide supposedly came out, although I swear I saw it around Christmas of '88. It's amazing to me that pics of Super Shinobi existed by late '88, when the original only had been out since November of '87.

Nathan Daniels said...

And one more thing: Regarding Rambo III, you hit the nail on the head about the point of the knife(pun): you get arrows and bombs from fallen soldiers. When I used to play it with my friend, we would alternately yell, "Stab n' grab!" or "Kill and collect!" Whenever we'd immolate an enemy.

Unknown said...

Hey Dr. S,

I'm listening to you now on Retronauts, having watched all of your videos earlier this year. I just wanted to say; keep up the good work. You're providing hours of entertainment for anal pedants the internet over.

Chris Sobieniak said...

The short-lived Michael Katz era of the Sega Genesis always came off rather interesting to me, in how much those ads reminded me of the same pitch Coleco had with their Coleco Vision console. Namely using the phase "We bring the arcade experience home".
Coleco Vision:
Sega Genesis: