Thursday, February 11, 2016

10 Sega classics you’ve never heard of

With every year that goes by, it gets harder and harder to believe that Sega used to be a cornerstone of the gaming industry. The arrival of the Master System in 1985 signalled the beginning of Sega’s golden age, and a ferocious hardware war with Nintendo where the likes of the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis in North America) and the Sega Saturn, and ended with the much-maligned Dreamcast – a console we can all agree deserved far more than it got.

But what about the games? Sure, we know about the Sonics, the Virtua Fighters, the Shenmues, and of late, the Football Managers, but there’s a whole world of quality Sega games you’ve probably never played, some of which, we’d venture, you may not even have heard of. These days, even some of Sega’s most popular franchises never make it to western gamers – we’re looking at you Phantasy Star Online 2 – and we’ve missed out on plenty of hidden gems in the past too. Take a look at our rundown of the 10 classic Sega games you might have missed...

Seaman


So, Seaman. If you don’t already know this game, well, get ready for something weird. Essentially, Seaman is a virtual pet – mainly fish, but with the face of the game’s producer Yoot Saito – that you have to look after by feeding him, cleaning out his tank and talking to him using the Dreamcast mic accessory, until he eventually evolves and leaves in his final form. As you interacted with Seaman, he would learn from you, and grow to like or dislike you depending on how regularly you checked in on him, and whether you were nice to him or not. And that conversation and interaction was actually pretty vital, because if you ignored Seaman for too long he’d die, though not before getting incredibly cranky and hurling insults at you. Obvious comedy value aside, Seaman actually attempted some pretty ground-breaking and unique stuff back in 1999. And here’s a bit of added trivia for you, the English version of the game was narrated by none other than Leonard Nimoy – surely the great man’s seminal performance.

Gunstar Heroes


Another one of Treasure’s wonderful Sega releases, Gunstar arrived on Sega Mega Drive in 1993, and was considered to be very technically impressive at the time, both graphically and in gameplay terms. The plot is almost undecipherable – another hallmark of a good Treasure game – but essentially, someone evil is trying to take over the earth and you have to stop him by blowing up absolutely everything in sight. Gunstar Heroes revels in the blowing up of things. It’s fast-paced, intense, explosive gameplay – alongside a clever weapons system that allows you to mix and match a variety of weapon properties – have made it a retro classic now, but it was actually rather underappreciated when it first came out, and met with mediocre sales. There have since been ports made for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and the Nintendo 3DS, so it’s easy enough to pick up a copy for yourself.

Samba de Amigo


Another off-the-wall Dreamcast creation, Samba de Amigo grabbed the music game baton from Sony’s PaRappa the Rapper and took things one step further, with maracas! These weren’t just your bog-standard plastic maracas, though – these came complete with a sensor bar that sat just in-front of your feet, and triangulated the position of the maracas via ultrasonic waves. That all sounds very complex for such a simple music and rhythm game, but it worked, and Samba de Amigo was undoubtedly an important influence for later music games like Guitar Hero and Nintendo’s Donkey Konga. The game featured 53 classic tunes, including Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No. 5’ and Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’ – at least, until Sony pulled Ricky from the game due to rights issues. You could even unlock extra songs by visiting the Samba de Amigo homepage through the Dreamcast’s internet browser – not bad for 1999.

Galactic Attack


Sega’s time in the limelight overlapped heavily with the golden age of the shoot-em-up, and that doesn’t just mean side-scrollers – we’re also talking vertical shmups. The likes of Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun and M.U.S.H.A. Aleste were all relative hits, but there’s a long list of quality vertical shooters that didn’t get the same recognition. Right near the top of that list is Galactic Attack (also known as RayForce, GunLock and Layer Section, depending where in the world you were playing it). It was the quintessential experience of the genre in many ways, fast, intense and tough as nails, but with an extra level of dimensionality provided by the slick transitions and variety of ground and aerial targets. It took a bashing on release for not pushing the limits of the Saturn’s hardware capabilities, but it’s well worth a play for fans of the genre.

Enemy Zero


Love it or hate it, Enemy Zero is a woefully underappreciated and forgotten landmark of survival horror gaming. Released in 1996 on the Sega Saturn, Enemy Zero treaded new ground for video games, blending interactive FMV and real-time exploration to create an experience that is hauntingly similar to that of Alien Isolation, but nearly 20 years earlier. As you sneak around your space ship searching for help and a way of escape, you’re armed only with a proximity sensor – which tells you when the alien is near, but helpfully, not where it’s coming from – and a gun, which may as well be firing witty retorts for all the good it’ll do you. The ping of that proximity sensor, as well as the aggressive opening and closing of doors is all you’ll ever hear, except for the gargled screaming of the alien when it’s nearby. Sadly, Enemy Zero is tough to get hold of these days, and rather expensive, but it’s still worth every penny for survival horror fans, especially if you managed to make it all the way through the recent Alien Isolation (another Sega game) without triggering premature hair loss from stress and fright.

Space Channel 5


Dance Dance Revolution took the Japanese arcade scene by storm the same year as Sega’s Dreamcast arrived in stores, so it’s no surprise that the likes of Samba de Amigo and Space Channel 5 tried to bring the trend onto home consoles. The plot revolves around ‘Ulala’, Space Channel 5’s funkiest reporter, who is sent in to report on a set of hostages who have been kidnapped by a strange alien race (called the ‘Morolians) and are being forced to dance against their will. Well, turns out these Morolians have messed with the wrong reporter, as Ulala has all the funky moves to dance battle them straight out of town. The gameplay was pretty straight forward, and just involved matching combinations of directional and button inputs to the right rhythm, but Space Channel 5’s charm was really in the kooky plot and cutesy graphics. Plus, there’s even a Michael Jackson cameo near the end – you can’t get better dance credentials than that. Ulala still appears in the odd Sega game as a playable character, but we're still waiting on a true sequel, 15 years on.

Alien Soldier


Check out the video above and you’ll see some immediate similarities with run-and-gun games like Gunstar Heroes and Contra – Alien Soldier was very fast, and very hard, which is no surprise when you consider that this was another side-scroller from legendary developers Treasure. The differences that make Alien Soldier so revered among fans though are subtle, and not limited to the fact that the game was produced in very low quantities. Alien Soldier’s original Mega Drive incarnation featured outstanding graphics and animation that really wouldn’t look out of place on the Sega Saturn, and very different pacing to many genre-counterparts. Whilst most similar games were level based, Alien Soldier was built around its boss fights – 31 in total – ranging from Metal Gear-style mechs to giant katana-wielding monster Shoguns. Fancy a go? An original Mega Drive copy will cost you a couple hundred quid, but there’s a perfectly good PC port available for just £2 on Steam.

Pulseman

Ok, sure, Pulseman is very clearly a ‘reimagining’ of Capcom’s Mega Man who, when Pulseman arrived on Mega Drive in 1994, was already a household name. That doesn’t detract from the quality of this game though. Pulseman is absolutely gorgeous, with vistas that spanned the rooftops of Blade Runner-esque future-cities as the protagonist – also called Pulseman, funnily enough – jumped, zapped and tackled his way through the evil Dr Waruyama’s Galaxy Gang. Pulseman is sadly dismissed these days as a simple Mega Man clone, when it’s actually far more respectable than that, mixing traditional platform gameplay with the frenetic pace of something like Sonic the Hedgehog. And who’s responsible for Pulseman, you ask? Only a little-known Japanese dev studio called Game Freak, who two years later would making gaming history when they released Pokemon Red and Green to the world.

Shadowrun


Shadowrun’s cult status was solidified when developers Harebrained Schemes used Kickstarter to bring the franchise back to life in 2012, raising $1.5 million from backers to create Shadowrun Returns, and then follow up with Shadowrun Dragonfall and Shadowrun Hong Kong. The original version on Mega Drive wasn’t without its issues – after all, it was an incredibly complex and detailed top-down RPG on a 16-bit console – but Shadowrun’s deep RPG mechanics, fast-paced real-time battles and beautiful dystopian setting made it an underground hit with western RPG fans, and far superior to the original SNES version too.

Herzog Zwei


Herzog Zwei is notable for being one of the very first attempts at creating a real-time strategy game, a genre so reliant on precise mouse clicks, on console. Naturally, in a sea of side-scrolling shooters, action and fighting games, Herzog Zwei was received with a lot of confusion back in 1989 (or 1990 in North America and Europe), and its sales suffered accordingly, which is a shame given the excellent game that hid under the surface. The controls were simple and easy to get the hang of, battles were complex to win but easy to understand, and in hindsight, Herzog Zwei is rightly seen as a huge landmark for the RTS genre, and a key influence for the likes of Dune II, Command & Conquer, and even modern day MOBAs like Dota 2 and League of Legends. Sadly, no other version was ever made, but there are enough second hand cartridges around that you can pick one up fairly easily.

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