Thursday, February 9, 2012

Five Awesome Sega Genesis Games...

...that, for some inexplicable reason, never made it to the U.S.


In case you didn’t know it, the Sega Genesis (or for all you limeys out there, the Sega Mega Drive), was pretty freaking awesome. This is a fact validated by scientists many, many moons ago, and if anyone argues to the contrary, they are most likely suffering from a severe mental disorder. But yeah…this is all stuff you probably already know.

In today’s absurdly polarized, historically revised, hyper-obsessive fan boy gaming culture, a lot of people tend to discount just how bloody brilliant the Genesis/Mega Drive actually was, with many post-16 bit gamers thinking the machine was gloriously substandard compared to the Super Nintendo and its “awesome” Mode-7 chip that made things all blurry and shit because that’s clearly the best way to represent depth in a video game experience.

If you’ve never had your hands on a Sega Genesis before - and most certainly if you didn’t play the console during its heyday - then I think it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to underrate the Genesis to such a ridiculous extreme that you deserve a good slapping or two until you come your senses. For my money, not only was the Genesis one of the greatest consoles ever made, I think it had pound for pound, the absolute greatest library of games on any console ever. It doesn’t matter what you’re into, whether it’s sports, racing, action, RPGs, puzzlers or fighting games, the Genesis had you covered and then some.

When it came to sports games, racing games, action titles and fighters, it wasn’t even close: the Genesis kicked the SNES’ white and purple ass all over the place. “Road Rash,” “Super Monaco GP,” “Shinobi,” “Splatterhouse,” all of the Treasure developed games, not to mention all of the EA sports titles that were far superior to the lacking ports released on the Super Nintendo. While “retro enthusiasts” go on an on about how great “Super Castlevania IV,” “Contra III” and “Turtles in Time” were, they seem to completely forget that the Genesis was home to “Castlevania: Bloodlines,” “Contra: Hard CORPS” and “The Hyperstone Heist,” which in my humble opinion were every bit as good - if not BETTER - than their widely revered SNES counterparts.

The Genesis - with four proper “Sonic the Hedgehog” titles, the “Rocket Knight Adventures” games and tons of fantastic licensed titles, like “Castle of Illusion,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Taz-Mania” - was easily on par with the SNES when it came to platforming games, and while it’s pretty easy to declare the SNES the victor when it came to role playing games and puzzle titles, you really can’t count out the greatness of the “Phantasy Star,” “Columns,” and “Shining” titles, either. And with so many fantastic, genre-defying titles like “General Chaos,” “Ecco,” “The Haunting!”, “Beyond Oasis” and “Toejam and Earl” residing on the Genesis, you even had a wealth of original games to root through, too.

And let’s not even get started on all of those AMAZING shmup games, like “MUSHA” and “Thunder Force,” or all of the utterly sublime adventure games like “Rise of the Dragon” and “Snatcher” on the Sega CD, or all of the forgotten-yet-still-sublime series like “Streets of Rage,” and “Vectorman,” and “Kid Chameleon” and…well, let’s just say there was a LOT of great games to be found on the Genesis, and if you haven’t given the console a fair shake, you are really doing a tremendous disservice to yourself as a gamer.

One of the peculiar things about the Genesis is that, for reasons that remain unclear to this day, an inordinate amount of great - not just good, but in the eyes of some, console-defining - games never made it Stateside.

In many ways, these are the great “lost” Sega Genesis games, the super-awesome titles that, for some inexplicable reason, us Yanks were never given the opportunity to play (even though, for all intents and purposes, everybody else got to.)

The following are five Genesis/MD cartridges that, unfortunately, never got an official  release in the North American market, proving, once and for all, that Genesis does…have a lot of games that really, really should have gotten proper U.S. distribution deals.

Alien Soldier



If you’ve spent any considerable time around a Sega Genesis, you probably know (and revere) a little developmental house called Treasure. Simply put, Treasure were responsible for not only some of the best games to be found on the Genesis, but some of the absolute best 16-bit games of all-time, including “Gunstar Heroes” and “Dynamite Headdy.”

Considering the pedigree of Treasure, you would think that “Alien Soldier” - an action-packed, hyper-speed run and gun action-platformer hybrid - would have easily gotten a U.S. release. However, the game was only granted an official release in Japan and the U.K., because…well, nobody really knows, to be honest. Now, saying that the game never made an appearance in the U.S. is a mild misnomer, since the title WAS available the Sega Channel, an early, pre-pre-pre-Broadband online gaming service that three people in the country had back in the mid '90s. Eventually, the game was included on a Sega Ages compilation disc on the PS2 (with the two aforementioned Treasure releases), but...yeah, nobody really played that, either.

Ultimately, the game didn’t make a WELL publicized, sanctioned appearance in the States until the title was released as a Virtual Console offering on the Wii a few years back - and yes, in case you were wondering, the game itself does indeed rule.

“Alien Soldier” is a game sort of in the vein of “Contra”, but I would describe it as a more straightforward, less-platform heavy “Gunstar Heroes” with a little bit of "Ninja Gaiden" thrown in for good measure. Considering the number of onscreen enemies you encounter, deeming the title a more serious version of “Metal Slug” is also pretty apropos. Oh, and for historical value, the video game record division of Guinness gave the game official status as the run-and-gun title with the most per capita boss fights EVER (as within the 25 stages, you end up battling 31 different boss characters.)

You really, really need to play this one, if you haven't.  The music is outstanding, the graphics - especially the BLAST PROCESSING effects - are utterly sublime and the game play - which is essentially what would happen if you merged "Strider," "Burnout: Revenge" and "Shadow of the Colossus" into a 16-bit goulash of awesome - is something you just have to experience at least once before you kick the bucket.

International Sensible Soccer



It’s one thing to never receive a localized version of a great game, but when you never receive a localized version of a game many publications consider the single greatest video game ever made…well, that’s something entirely different.

Considered by most footy purists to be the most influential soccer game ever made (and by proxy, far and away the greatest 16-bit football non-Americana title of all-time), “International Sensible Soccer” was a game that not only gave players the most realistic, nuanced and dynamic virtual soccer experience to date, it was also an early pioneer in regards to the management aspect of sports titles. Not only could you have a tremendous game or 300 of soccer, you could also spend hours and hours in the game’s management mode, making “International Sensible Soccer” one of the first games to truly meld sports and simulation into a singularity (and most certainly, one of the first games to get the formula right, too.)

To the best of my knowledge, the original 16-bit game never made it to the U.S. in any incarnation during its heyday (although, at one point, Virgin Media was going to distribute the game in North America, but the developer objected to their request to rename the title “Virgin Soccer”, as legend has it.) In other words? Yeah, this is a game you need to find on an emulator ASAP.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars



OK, so peddling an unproven, original sci-fi shooter IP or a soccer game to a market that generally detests the sport are somewhat logical reasons for never sending the two afore-mention games across the ponds, but in the case of “Mega Man: The Wily Wars,” there really isn’t a reasonable excuse to be found anywhere for the game not making it stateside.

“Mega Man: The Wily Wars” sounds like a bona-fide U.S. hit if there ever was one: dude, it was a 16-bit remake of the first three “Mega Man” titles, which, as it turns out, are considered to be three of the absolute greatest video games of all-time. How could something this awesome never get a North American release, you may be wondering?

The short answer is…nobody has any damn clue. Despite rumors to the contrary, Nintendo did not have an exclusive deal with Capcom to produce “Mega Man” titles on the SNES, nor was there anything perceptibly wrong about the finished product released in the UK. The most logical answer is because Sega, in their infinite wisdom, decided to ONLY release the game in North America through the afore-mentioned (and doomed-from-the-get-go) Sega Channel, which was readily accessible to both customers in the country. 

Rent-A-Hero 



Alike many games that have the audacity to do something “creative” and “unique,” the early, early ‘90s cartridge “Rent-A-Hero” was never really destined to find an American audience anyway. That’s a shame, really, because the title stands out as one of the most original offerings to be found in the Sega Genesis library. 


What makes “Rent-A-Hero” different, you may be wondering? Well, for starters, it’s essentially a full-fledged RPG with a superhero hook, as you take on the role of a very Clark Kent-ish type that juggles a newspaper job alongside his less-paying gig as part-time ass kicker/defender of freedom. The game utilized a top-down perspective (in fact, it was developed by the same folks that gave us the criminally under-appreciated third Phantasy Star title), only in this one, combat is completely in real-time, so every time you engage an opponent, the screen shifts into a “Street Fighter” like mini-battle. The more I think about it, the more this game reminds me of another absurdly underrated hybrid title – the beyond kick-ass “Nightshade” on the NES, which a grand total of eight people probably played back in the day.


As with “Nightshade” (seriously, a game you NEED to check out), “Rent-a-Hero” is said to be a fairly comedic game loaded with all sorts of inside, meta- humor. Of course, I have to take a bunch of bilingual nerds’ word for it, since I kind of have a hard time reading kanji as it is. 


Oddly enough, this non-translated Genesis game isn’t the only title in the “Rent-a-Hero” series, as a 128-bit re-make was released for the Sega Dreamcast…and ironically, that one never made it out of Japan, either. Ultimately, the Dreamcast game was ported over to the Xbox in an enhanced form around 2003…and would you believe that game got nixed for an American release, too? 

Just cross your fingers that the inevitable Xbox720 re-re-make will ultimately find its way stateside…

Zero Wing

 

For a game that inadvertently kick started one of the longest running (and perennially irritating) memes in Internet history, it’s sort of surprising to note that “Zero Wing,” one of the most infamous Sega Genesis releases of all time, never actually made it to the United States. 


The history of “Zero Wing” is just a tad complicated. It was originally an arcade game published by Taito (they of Bubble Bobble fame), before it was ported to the Sega Genesis two years later (it eventually wound up in Europe a year after that) before getting yet another re-release on the short-lived (but WELL worth researching) PC ENGINE


Perhaps the absolute most shocking thing about the title – which is something all of those 4Chan dweebs never got around to telling you – is that it’s actually a pretty outstanding SHMUP title, with fantastic music, vibrant graphics, and more than enough challenging boss fights to keep your perpetually blistered thumbs tapping away on that lima bean shaped control pad for a fort night. Granted, there were already about a million zillion fantastic space shooters on the Genesis already, but come on – like we’re not going to mope about not getting awesome horizontal scrolling blast ‘em up number one million zillion and one in the U.S. of A. 




Surely, there has to be more great Genesis games that never arrived in the U.S. out there, but to the best of my knowledge – and remember, this is all my opinion – these were the major five we Yanks ought to be the most pissed about missing out on.

If there’s a silver lining to be found in this charcoal-black cloud of missed opportunities, it’s probably the reality that, thanks to the miracle of emulation software (which you should never, EVER use, by the way), you have the chance to play all of these games, and several of them have even been shipped over as virtual titles you can play on your modern gaming consoles. 

So here's to the Sega Genesis: a decade and a half after the console was discontinued, and it's still giving us fantastic games we've yet to fully experience. Genesis does, indeed...friggin' rule

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