Tuesday, July 10, 2018

All 32 Sega 32X Games RANKED! (Part Two - #016-#001)

Taking a look back at the much-maligned console's ENTIRE library ... and the number of games that DON'T suck might just surprise you.

By: Jimbo X

The Sega 32X is generally considered one of the worst home consoles ever released. Even hardcore Sega fanboys like myself have a hard time justifying its existence (a brand new 16-bit add-on released just months before an all new 32-bit console? BRILLIANT!) but by that same token, it's not like the 32X was totally devoid of quality software. In fact, the unit actually had a pretty respectable library, with only a handful of outright sucky games and quite a few titles I'd feel comfortable labeling as legitimately awesome.

Of course, considering the 32X's lifespan was barely a year, less than three dozen cartridges actually made its way to the system in North America. Factoring out the re-releases of such Sega CD "classics" as Night Trap and Slam City with Scottie Pippen and the Japan-only Sangokushi IV (don't worry, you didn't miss much ... it was just another Romance of the Three Kingdoms game), an ironically apt 32 games got released on the 32X. While we'll always lament never being able to play a treasure trove of planned games that got the axe when Sega pulled support on the 32X (including an original Castlevaniaa whole slew of Sega Saturn ports and whatever the hell Virtua Hamster was supposed to be), at least we can take solace in knowing that the games the 32X DID get were, for the most part, not THAT terrible.

As one of our patented public services here at TIIIA, we've decided to go on ahead and rank ALL 32 games released on the 32X from worst to first. Part one of our special two-parter will examine the lesser half of the console library, as we slum our way through games #032 through #017 on the countdown, while part two takes a gander at the considerably better games on the console, as we waltz our way from game #016 to the absolute best title to be found on the much maligned system (and yes, it IS exactly what you think it will be. Sorry for the lack of drama, kids.)

So, with all of that out of the way, who's ready to party like its 1994? That's right … don't you kids raise your hands all at once!

BC Racers (1995)
Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Front Street Publishing

Let’s get it out of the way early. Yes, BC Racers IS nothing more than a brazen ripoff of Mario Kart. But you know what? It’s certainly one of the better Mario Kart klones from the time frame, and I might even go as far as to say it actually OUTDOES Mario Kart, in some regards. Granted, characters with such god awful names as Brick Jagger and Sid Viscous are nowhere near as fun to commandeer as Toad and Yoshi, but I actually liked the pared-back, gimmick-free, Road Rash lite racing gameplay. Throw in some well-designed courses, some surprisingly solid lighting effects (yep, it even has night-time stages) and some character designs that border on being blatant minstrel show material and you have all the makings of a game that could qualify for “hidden gem” status. You know, pending you’re able to overlook its choppy frame rate, and all …

Blackthorne (1995)
Developer: Paradox Development
Publisher: Sega

This iteration of Blackthorne plays very similar to the SNES and Genesis version of the game, albeit with some minor audiovisual upgrades. Some people consider it a minor action classic, but I’ve long considered it a pretty overrated game that’s nowhere near as fun as stuff like Flashback: The Quest for Identity. Still, considering the dearth of action-platformers on the system — not to mention the admittedly awesome gun play — it’s pretty hard to hate on this one too much. Minor qualms with the control scheme aside, the level design is very good and the overall gameplay is rock solid; the combination of Oddworld with Contra is undoubtedly an uneasy one, but it’d be untruthful to say it isn’t fun in short spurts. Plus, your avatar kinda' looks like 1990s WWF champion Bret Hart, which definitely nets it some points for style.

Space Harrier (1995)
Developer: Rutubo Games
Publisher: Sega

Well, it only took them seven or eight years, but Sega FINALLY got around to giving us an arcade port of Space Harrier that was actually on par with the original game. The sound and graphics look very much like the old school coin-op we all know and never really liked that much, but it’s the sense of speed that really puts this one over the top. Forget the molasses-slow Genesis iteration, this version is positively hopping, which makes me REALLY lament the fact we never got a proper Outrun or Super Monaco game on the system. By no means a truly great game, it’s nonetheless the best version of the game you’ll likely ever play without the need for a roll of quarters in your pocket; well, that, or a still-functioning Dreamcast unit with a copy of Shenmue on deck …

After Burner Complete (1995)
Developer: Rutubo Games
Publisher: Sega

Despite the name, this is actually a port of the SECOND After Burner game, not the first one. Like the 32X port of Space Harrier, this is a vast improvement over what the Genesis got, and while it’s not quite arcade-perfect, it’s nonetheless a very solid port of the coin-op classic, complete with a couple of new tweaks and additions thrown in the mix to give us our money’s worth (well, not really, but almost.) The graphics are sharp, the audio is great and the sense of speed is just superb; too bad you can beat the whole thing in less than 30 minutes, though.

Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000 (1995)
Developer: CRI
Publisher: Sega

What a weird, weird SHMUP. Aping the isometric perspective of its ancient arcade inspiration, Motherbase plays like an iffy combination of Einhander and UFO: Enemy Unknown. Except, uh, without the RTS elements, or all of that German stuff and Eurotrash rave music. By and large, the controls are pretty smooth, although the mostly blocky and gray graphics become an eyesore quick. The level design does get a bit better in the final half of the game, but unfortunately, the pace and tempo of the gameplay doesn’t really get any better after stage one. And chugging along at a brisk 20 frames per second, expect this game to slow down to fattest kid in class speed whenever there’s more than four enemies onscreen at once — and don’t even get me started on how sluggish the boss battles can become.

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (1995)
Developer: Acclaim Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment

Despite the more powerful hardware, I nonetheless consider this one inferior to the Genesis iteration. Why? Well, while the core gameplay is identical, the graphics and audio are hardly that much better than in the 16-bit version (and in fact, the music may actually be even worse, somehow.) But what REALLY puts the dagger in the heart of this one is the glitches and slowdown. For whatever reason, this port of the game seems to have penchant for momentary crashes and some pretty severe frame rate droppage, and while that doesn’t necessarily break the game, it certainly makes for a less desirable player experience. But if you CAN overlook those hiccups, it’s still a fun arcade hoops title, and one of the few coin-op games from the era whose nostalgic appeal is equally matched by core gameplay mechanics that remain solid 25 years down the road. And yes, in case you were wondering, I can still kick your ass with John Stockton, seven ways from Sunday.

Mortal Kombat II (1995)
Developer: Midway Games
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment

The only real advantage this one has over the Genesis version is a slightly better frame rate. Overall, the graphics, animation and sound are only marginally better than the 16-bit iteration, and I might even go as far as to say this version pales a little bit compared to the SNES version. That said, it’s still a perfectly fine port of the degenerate arcade classic, and it’s easily the best 2D fighting game on the system (you know, like it had stiff competition to begin with.) And it's certainly worth checking out if you're a hardcore MK fan with a fervent Sega brand loyalty, since it has a ton of graphical additions that the iteration on the Genny didn't — especially when it comes to background details.

Star Wars Arcade (1994)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: LucasArts

No, it doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the actual arcade game, but for what it’s worth, it’s not a bad little home port. The polygonal visuals are a tad underwhelming, but the core gameplay is quite solid, and you really can’t argue about the quality of the presentation to any degree. The levels aren’t too impressive (really, it’s an all black backdrop interspersed with various shades of blocky gry and brown) but the speed of the gameplay is actually kinda’ impressive, and the don’t-think-just-blast hare trigger action is undeniably a hoot and a half. That said, to this day I have no idea why Admiral Ackbar sounds like he’s Dr. Girlfriend from The Venture Bros. — how THAT slipped past Sega’s voice acting QA standards is just beyond me, folks.

Doom (1994)
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Sega

No, it’s not the ideal way to play the game, but it’s a lot better than you’d probably expect it to be. The levels are severely trimmed down form the iconic PC version, and even compared to the SNES and Jaguar versions of the game this port feels relatively pared back, with far fewer enemies onscreen and a sense of speed that feels a couple of steps behind those aforementioned versions of the game. That said, the core controls are good, the lighting effects are surprisingly great, the textures are richer and more detailed than you’d assume and I just fuckin' LOVE that creepy, chiptune soundtrack. Like I said, it’s nowhere close to being the BEST way to play Doom, but considering the hardware limitations? You’d have to give this one at least a B- for effort.

Virtua Fighter (1995)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

If you ever played the suckfest that was Virtua Fighter 2 on the Genesis, than you’d automatically foster a fondness for this FAR more faithful and accurate port of the original arcade classic. By no means an arcade-perfect adaptation, the visuals and core gameplay nonetheless feel authentic, and the frame rate holds up surprisingly well considering what’s inside the hardware. Of course, we’d have to wait for the advent of the Saturn before Sega gave us three-dimensional fighters that were TRULY going out of our way to experience, but all things considered? This is certainly a worthy small-screen translation of one of the most important video games ever, and one of the few titles released for the system that truly justified the 32X’s consumer existence.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire (1996)
Developer: BlueSky Software
Publisher: Sega

Yes, we’ve already covered this one in-depth here at TIIIA, so we won’t bore you a rehashing of what we’ve already said. But to summarize for those four years late to the party, this is a very, very good action-platformer that’s effectively a merger of The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin and Vectorman. Yes, it does have its problems — some fugly enemies here and there, some wonky scaling effects and what HAS to be the worst gauntlet of C-tier villains in the history of ANY comic-based video game — but by and large, the controls are great and the gameplay (especially the web-slinging and the hand-to-hand combat) is undeniably satisfying. Of course, this being one of the rarest games on the 32X, picking up even stray carts on the second-hand market will cost you a pretty penny these days; and while we can vouch for the game being very, very good, we can’t exactly say it’s, you know, $150 good or anything like that …

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1995)
Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision

Now here’s a game that exemplifies what the 32X SHOULD’VE been. This iteration of Pitfall simply outclasses its 16-bit forerunner in every category, with greatly improved graphics, better sound and significantly faster gameplay. With rich, detailed visuals, some truly harrowing action-platforming sequences and huge levels to explore, this is one of the few games on the 32X that truly gives you your money’s worth in terms of replay value, and after getting your hands on this iteration it’s almost possible to go back to the versions on the Genesis or SNES. The Genny version was already pretty good, but the technical upgrades here pushed it into legitimately great territory. Tis a pity we never got an opportunity to see other 16-bit standards — can you imagine Gunstar Heroes or M.U.S.H.A. or Splatterhouse? — getting the same treatment.

Tempo (1995)
Developer: RED Company
Publisher: Sega

Imagine what would happen if you merged Sonic with Jet Grind Radio, with a little bit of Toejam and Earl and Dynamite Headdy thrown in for good measure. That, folks, is ostensibly the recipe for this sorely underrated 32X platformer, which certainly deserved far more appreciation than it (didn’t) receive way back when. With beautiful sprites, a great sense of speed, terrific music and well-designed levels that are a hoot to explore, there’s no denying Tempo is one of the absolute best games on the 32X — had this thing been released on the Genesis a year earlier, we’d probably be talking about it as unsung genre masterpiece on par with Ristar. Alas, while time has all but forgotten this charming platformer, any serious 32X collector would be wise to add it to their collection; hell, ANY fan of great 2D gaming would, for that matter.

Kolibri (1996)
Developer: Novotrade International
Publisher: Sega

This is the game Ecco the Dolphin WISHED it could’ve been (which, uh, I suppose makes sense, since it was made by the same design team.) The absolutely gorgeous art style is complimented by a great ambient soundtrack, but where this game truly shines is in its frenzied SHMUP mechanics. Yeah, it might be an artsier kind of shooter, but this game is nonetheless a great, balls out blast-a-thon, proving once and for all that the subgenres of shoot-em-ups and exploration-centric action/adventure aren’t totally incompatible. The game isn't without its demerits — the level design does get a little repetitive and, at just an hour-long, it won't take you long it all to polish off — but for the most part this is a superb, innovative little game with smooth controls, satisfying mechanics and an overall atmosphere I don't think I've ever seen another video game emulate quite the same. Yeah, it might be a bit artsy-fartsy for some tastes, but for those of you who enjoy games that bring both the style and the substance, this is definitely a hidden gem not to be missed.

Knuckles Chaotix (1995)
Developer: Sega CS
Publisher: Sega

For whatever reason, a lot of pretentious dingbats have retroactively cited this as one of the WORST 2D Sonic platformers. And although the “chained tandem” mechanic admittedly takes some time to get used to, once you get into the full swing of things Chaotix unquestionably turns into one of the funnest and most frenetic platformers of the post-Sonic CD, pre-Mario 64 years. As expected, the level design in this one is downright fantastic, and the addition of multiple playable characters actually gives the game a level of depth missing from most platformers from the era. But what really makes this is a game worth going out of your way to play (especially if you're a hardcore Sonic junkie) are the OUTSTANDING pseudo-3D stages, which feel like a trippy combination of Crash Bandicoot and Tempest 2000. And unlike most games on the 32X, you're actually getting a little bit of replay value here; indeed, if you manage to beat this one in less than five hours, consider yourself all kinds of fucking elite.

Virtua Racing Deluxe (1994)
Developer: Sega CS
Publisher: Sega

Well, this one should've been a no-brainer, shouldn't it? Virtua Racing Deluxe is pretty much the reason the 32X was created, and for all the shit the system gets — both deservedly and undeservedly — there's no denying this is an outstanding port of the arcade favorite. Hell, not only is it vastly superior to the version on the Genesis, it even looks and plays better than the version released on the Saturn! For starters, you get a couple of neat game modes to tinker around with, including a console-exclusive "stock car" mode, which to me, is actually more fun than the standard "formula" mode. Oh, and if you like speed, the "prototype" mode is basically a turbo version of the original arcade game, and yes, that IS as much fun as it sounds. And if that wasn't enough, this iteration even throws in a couple of exclusive tracks, which — coupled with the game's outstanding two-player mode and surprisingly advanced multi-camera setup — ensures you'll be playing this one plenty. If there is any game on the ill-fated 32X that could rightly be called truly great, this is pretty much the cartridge to prove the haters wrong; the console, on the whole, may have been a flop, but this top-tier racer is undoubtedly one of the best of its breed, on any retro console.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.