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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus








Dragon Force (1996, J-Force, Sega and Working Designs)

Whenever I play Dragon Force, I am easily overwhelmed by the scale of this world and the challenge in leading armies against eight kingdoms composed of dozens of generals, thousands of soldiers and a dozen military classes, all while managing domestic politics, rogue elements, random invasions and desertions. I sometimes feel like the dog wearing a neck tie while sitting in front of a computer: "I have no idea what I'm doing."

For fans of role-playing, strategy and war games, Dragon Force is just about the greatest thing that has ever happened. It plays out like a mashup of Tolkein novels, anime movies and Avalon Hill military simulations, with a dash of the board game Risk for flavor. There is enough depth to keep players happy for years and years. That it took 20 years for the sequel to receive a proper English translation is fitting, because 20 years is just about how long it will take for you to finally wear yourself out on the original.

In this adventure, you play as one of the eight feudal rulers in the realm of Legendra, who must conquer the lands and unite the realm to defeat an ancient and powerful evil force that threatens the world. You choose your kingdom, select your generals and begin your conquest of the rival armies.

The battles are the heart of the game, a spectacular display of 2D sprite graphics where vast armies meet, running, attacking and defending in real time. As the general, you choose the tactical formations and give orders to your troops. Depending on the conditions, you may choose a defensive formation and let the enemy come to you, or you may order your soldiers to disperse and hide from projectile attacks. You may order your armies to advance in rows or all at once, or you may order an all-out melee against the opposing general. If the battle is being lost, you may order a full retreat and return to fight another day.

All of these armies move around on their own, and I'm reminded of those old electric football games with the large metallic stadium that you'd plug into the wall, and watch the little football players shake and roll around. In addition to choosing tactical formations, your generals can use magic attacks against the rival generals (and sometimes their armies as well). If both armies are eliminated, the contest will be decided by a duel. The battle is ended when one general's life bar is depleted. The loser will either be captured or killed.

Meanwhile, back at home, you begin each "turn" by tending to domestic politics. This includes consulting your generals for advice, trying to recruit captured generals to your side, fortifying castles or searching the kingdom for lost items. Based on the number of battles you've won, you can hand out medals to your generals, which will increase the size of their armies. As always, you have to manage your resources carefully as your kingdom grows, to ensure your armies are growing and healthy, and to ensure that your castles are well protected from invaders.

Dragon Force is blessed with an epic storyline involving dozens of major and minor characters. Each of the eight kingdoms follows its own story thread and each ruler has their own motivations and goals. Many cut-scenes occur during the weekly politics sessions as well as before and after battles, and often capturing rivals will create new plot twists, such as rescuing a city from foul invaders. Because of this, it is worth playing through the game with each kingdom, expanding the replay value exponentially. It certainly helps that the kingdoms are wildly diverse in armies and powers. Some are best for beginning players, while others are more suited to experts.

Military classes include soldiers, monks, magi, archers, horses, samurai, harpies and even dragons. Each class has strengths and weaknesses against other classes as well as the local terrain, be it valleys, forests, deserts of castles. Because of this, you must be mindful of where to move your armies, when to attack the rival kingdoms and when to defend your territory. All the while, the other seven kingdoms are constantly on the move, and you can watch their actions on the world map in real time. And have I mentioned that the evil Madruck will send armies and assassins against you when you least expect it? Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? It's okay. There's a lot to digest and learn, and it will take a long while to unite all eight kingdoms.

I am greatly impressed at the ambition of this game. The battles become larger and larger, with as many as 200 sprite characters on screen at once, and it's an amazing sight to behold. We are reminded how Saturn was first conceived as a 2D-based console, a direct successor to the Genesis, and Dragon Force is the perfect example of that alternate timeline. It's a thrill to see large numbers of soldiers, samurai, monks and harpies battling one another, and there is a genuine feeling of accomplishment when your depleted armies overcome overwhelming odds, thanks to a combination of tactics, terrain, magic attacks and dumb luck. I am also greatly impressed by the many story threads involving the large cast of characters. It will probably take players a few complete playthroughs before all of these stories can be told.

Sega Saturn is home to a vast library of Strategy-RPGs, only a few of which were released in the West. Some excellent examples from Japan include Terra Phantastica, Wachenroeder, Soldnerschild, Solo Crisis, Tactics Ogre, Shin Megami Tensei, Super Robot Wars F, Langrisser and Sakura Taisen. In the US, we were blessed with Shining Force 3 and Iron Storm, and some of the Koei simulations. Dragon Force stands up with the best of them, and is easily the most polished and refined. One of the system's very best titles.
 
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RedSquare

Member
Showed my appreciation over the past week by converting my Hori VLX to a Sega Saturn exclusive stick now.

I made an aluminium block off plate for the turbo panel and cut down an old HSS-0154 twin stick PCB to fit in an old Radio Shack (R.I.P.) project box and then finished with a chrome SS decal from eBay.


 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus








Tempest 2000 (1996, Llamasoft and High Voltage Software)

I remember the exact moment when Llamasoft's Tempest 2000 was dropped on the Atari Jaguar in 1994. The 64-bit system was treated with indifference and open sneering from most videogame players, largely due to lackluster launch titles and little interest from developers. Even a famously drug-fueled review of the pack-in game Cybermorph by Diehard Gamefan's Dave Halvorsen failed to change minds. To hear it at the time, Atari's final console adventure was dead in the water on day one. In a flash of genius, programming legend Jeff "Yak" Minter turned all that around, and for a brief, shining moment, Jaguar became a true contender.

The original Tempest Atari arcade game was created by Dave Theurer in 1981 and became a beloved hit and early pioneer in 3D computer graphics. It is a contest of speed and reflexes as you guide an abstract C-shaped spaceship across a series of abstract grids to shoot an array of abstract geometric shapes before they destroy you. The vector display graphics are very clean and sharp, which is in keeping with similar arcade games of the era such as Battlezone, Asteroids, Omega Race and Space Duel.

Tempest 2000 isn't just a "modern" update of a classic videogame. It's a psychedelic techno masterpiece of action, adrenaline and suspense that reminds you why you love videogames. Here is Exhibit A for why you "don't find a better hobby," to quote the normals. Minter takes everything great about the original and pumps up the adrenaline tenfold. The abstract designs are modernized with impressive color shading and an amazing array of particle effects that build and build as players progress. As your spaceship collects power-up rings, the screen flashes with congratulatory messages of love and encouragement and 1-ups. Mysterious voices excitedly chant, "Yes, yes, yes!" A thumping rave soundtrack pumps away with merry abandon. One almost expects to hear the voice of Terence McKenna whispering through the cosmos, offering insights into culture and language and self-transforming elf machines.

As a classic shoot-em-up, your reflexes are constantly tested as you must glide the edges of the many-shaped space webs and shoot the geometric foes as they crawl their way to the top. Your basic gun can be upgraded to a Technicolor pulse rifle, and you can also earn "electric death" smart bombs, the ability to jump above the webs, and are even joined by a cube-shaped A.I. droid who joins you in battle. At the end of each stage, your vessel slides down the web to travel the galaxy for the next challenge. Be careful not to hit any spikes on your way out.

Early stages are simple and easy but the difficulty and intensity rise and rise with each destination. Before long, you will find yourself overwhelmed by enemy aliens from all angles, including the Red X, Spikes, Pulsars and the dreaded Demonic Head of Plastic Mediocrity and Doom. Okay, that's not its real name, but it ought to be. Everything in this game should be given a trippy 1960s Austin Powers name, don't you think? Eventually, after acquiring a sufficient number of warp tokens, the player is taken to one of several extremely trippy bonus stages which serve as a pause in the action.

Tempest 2000 was ported to the Sega Saturn in 1996, courtesy of software developers High Voltage Software, who is probably best known for creating The Conduit on Nintendo Wii in 2009. This translation is nearly identical to the Atari Jaguar cartridge, save for the omission of the third bonus stage and some resampled digital speech samples. The terrific rave music and blistering speed is still fully intact, and thank your trippy stars for that.

This game arrived at a time when "retro gaming" was still a very new concept, and software developers were searching with ways to preserve the industry's early glory days. Yak understood precisely how to augment the classic formula (geometric abstraction, arcade gameplay) with modern values (power-ups, bonus stages, wild visuals). The result is a definitive interpretation of a true classic, and one of the greatest arcade videogames ever created.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Showed my appreciation over the past week by converting my Hori VLX to a Sega Saturn exclusive stick now.

I made an aluminium block off plate for the turbo panel and cut down an old HSS-0154 twin stick PCB to fit in an old Radio Shack (R.I.P.) project box and then finished with a chrome SS decal from eBay.
Looks great RedSquare. Geez, that is such a good stick. Did you also keep the same guts (Hayabusa Hori parts) or did you swap them out for something else?

Curious why you went with the full Saturn pad-hack conversion instead of doing an MC Cthulu board or undamnded decoder or something. Not that I'm judging. I have plenty of pad-hacks in my arsenal, too.
 

RedSquare

Member
Thank you sir. This VLX is from before they came with Hori parts. BTW, it's currently rocking Hori parts now.

My reasoning for not using a multi-capable PCB is because I really felt the Saturn deserved a premium and exclusive stick:p Also, the PCB used was from a pad hack I had laying around and wanted to put to good use.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Thank you sir. This VLX is from before they came with Hori parts. BTW, it's currently rocking Hori parts now.

My reasoning for not using a multi-capable PCB is because I really felt the Saturn deserved a premium and exclusive stick:p Also, the PCB used was from a pad hack I had laying around and wanted to put to good use.
Ah, so it had the Kuro buttons. Nice. I have two of those myself. Probably the last arcade sticks I'll need to own.

Totally understand wanting to do a dedicated Saturn build. I ended up doing an undamned USB decoder wired up to a Saturn pad to convert my sticks over.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
I have a Hori Fighting Stick SS, and is there any easy/cheap and effective way to reduce the deadzone a bit?
The cheapest and easiest way to reduce deadzone is by getting a larger actuator for your stick. This is a hollow, hardened plastic piece that sits between the shaft and the actual joystick switches. A larger actuator will increase the amount of space the center of the shaft takes up or reduces the amount of space between the shaft and the switches, however you want to look at it. I have enlarged actuators on both of my Hori Hayabusas.

Another option that helps but doesn't specifically reduce deadzone is a stiffer spring. 1-pound tension is the standard. 2-pound springs are what I prefer. They cause the stick to snap back to center with more force. Stronger springs also help you get out of the habit of riding the gate, if you have that problem.

In terms of the best fit, seems like an enlarged actuator for a Seimitsu LS-56 should do the trick with a bit of modification (guessing you'd have to file it down). I am basing that off this blog post:
http://hibachicandy.tumblr.com/post/70204101194/the-stock-joystick-in-the-hori-fighting-stick-ss

Good luck!
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR




DoDonPachi (1997, CAVE)

"Shinu Ga Yoi"
("Dying Is Good")


DoDonPachi's motto -- "dying is good" -- not only encapsulates the punishment you'll endure when trying to master its levels and mechanics, but it also teaches the player a fundamental lesson of the shmup genre: dying is a good thing if you can learn from it. Moreso than any other genre, shmups force the player to play and replay and replay each level, over and over, repeating the same sections dozens of times. It is a tedium that most gamers do not find entertaining. On paper, shmups don't seem like they offer much in the way of content. After all, you can typically credit-feed a shmup and beat the final boss within 1 hour. However, when you aim your sights on 1-crediting the game or even going for a top score in your country, the genre reveals a deep cistern of challenge. In this context, if there was ever a pantheon of "shmup greats", a Mount Olympus of shmup dieties (if you will) that holds sway over the genre, DoDonPachi would certainly be one of the top Divine Powers. Its influence is felt far and wide.

When I encountered this game in my youth, I was mesmerized by the weaving bullet patterns, wailing guitar-rock soundtrack, and gritty science-fiction aesthetic. Sure, I'd tackled plenty of sci-fi shmups in the past, but DoDonPachi (and what a weird name!) was so...Japanese: over-the-top, handcrafted, demanding, elegant. I didn't own a Saturn or a PS1, so I had no access to the game other than the local arcade. Ah, what fleeting pleasures! The arcades in my area either vanished or converted to prize-counter machines and with them so did my only means of playing DoDonPachi. The Saturn port is still one of the best ways to play the game (if you have the right hardware, which I'll get to later).

DoDonPachi offers you three ships (A, B, or C) and two weapon boosts (Laser or Shot) for a total of six configurations (which are often annotated in playthrough videos as A-L, C-S, A-S, and so forth). Three buttons and a D-pad control the action of moving, shooting, and setting off a Bomb. Y'know, normal shmup controls. One "quirk" is that holding down the shot button (default: A) will slow the ship and focus your laser into a never-goes-out-of-style mega-laser-beam. Bog-standard nowadays, but definitely an important innovation when this game came out in 1997.

Loop 1 has six stages but to see the true ending (something that not many gamers manage to do) you need to meet certain conditions during the first loop and then beat the seven stages of Loop 2. This is the only way to face off against the true final boss. I've never seen it myself. After 100 hours (easily; I'm likely underestimating my time) of playing DoDonPachi, I'm not anywhere close to reaching that goal. Some might find that a bother. I find it a far-off goal that I am slowly working toward. As mentioned, many gamers lost their appreciation for this type of difficulty and DoDonPachi won't likely change your opinion. Take it for what it is.




You can think of this game as the result of a rivarly, a bet, a frenetic desire to do better than the other guy. That "other guy" was Battle Garegga, another influential shmup. DoDonPachi's chief programmer, Tsuneki Ikeda, insisted that "we won't lose in terms of bullets!". DoDonPachi is passion in a bottle. It is one of the most ambitious games of the 90s, a marriage between heavy-metal coolness and arcade refinement. Not a second moment is wasted during the ~25-minute first loop. The enemies are all beautiful, fat sprites that churn out thick streams of flourescent bullets. Mid-bosses and bosses often have multiple points of destruction and numerous attack patterns. The levels each have a distinctive theme yet never distract from the action.

And the bullets. Bullets everywhere. Sure, there are now shmups with denser clouds of bullets, but DoDonPachi is no slouch even 21 years later.

I've mentioned the music. It's a key piece of the game's intensity and never grates on the players. The sound-effects are equally satisfying: exploding enemies go CHUNK CHUNK, your rapid-fire shot puts an A-10 Warthog's BRRRRT to shame, all the pick-ups ding and swoosh when you pick them up. Sound-effects and music might come off as the least important parts of a game -- especially a shmup -- but when you're repeating levels for dozens of hours, it really helps to not be annoyed by the finer details.

Even for the spectacle of it all, DoDonPachi is hard to match. It came out in that awkward era at the end of 2D dominance. 3D shmups like RayStorm, G-Darius, Einhander, and R-Type Delta were hitting the market but DoDonPachi stuck to its 2D roots. The resulting graphics speak for themselves and require no pomp or explanation. It remains one of the best-looking all-2D games, in my opinion.

Start to finish, DoDonPachi is a phenomenal shmup. It may be short, but it's pure entertainment carved onto a plastic disc.

But what about the rest of this "depth" I keep mentioning? Well, that's beyond the scope of this review. What you'll find if you happen to 1-credit the game and you're looking for more to do is that the game keeps score. In case you're unfamiliar, "Score" is an archaic method of tracking how well you performed at a game, and it is alive and well in the shmup genre. To score with the best players in the world, you need to memorize chains between waves of enemies, pick up Bee emblems with just the right timing, not die, not use your bombs, get the second loop, not die again, not use your bombs again, and clear the whole game in one go. Yeah, I told you it was too much to get into.

Your aim may not be to master the game and put up a world record. That's okay, too. The scoring system is still worth learning -- if for no other reason -- to provide two extra Lives during your playthrough (earned at 3,000,000 and 8,000,000 for the Saturn version). Players should learn the basics of mico- and macro-dodging the bullet patterns (also called tap-dodging or streaming) as well as misleading aimed shots. By the middle of the first stage, bullets will cover more than half of the screen, significantly reducing the number of "safe" spots that you can flee to. Eventually, you will have to learn to delicately weave in between bullets. It's tough, but the skill will translate nicely to other shmups, too.




DoDonPachi's depth still matters to the rest of us unwashed peasants. The depth is there, waiting for you. You can learn about DoDonPachi's deeper systems, you can patiently memorize your routes, you can pick up various tricks...it's all there for you to exploit. But unlike a loot crate or a cheat code, you have to earn it. The game rewards proficiency and nothing else. Does this cram the game with value? I think so. You might or might not think so. Buy the game anyway. It's awesome.

The Saturn version has a few additional modes and options beyond what you'd find in arcades. The true value is the fact that you can enable a low-res Tate mode. Meaning, it will display in 240p on a sideways CRT. The extra screen space and the 240p scan makes a tremendous positive difference to the experience, both in terms of its visual beauty and its playability. This is a Japan-only release, so you'll either need a Japanese Saturn or an Action Replay cart (or other various means, such as hard-modding your Saturn).

The most commonly-cited snobbery of shmup players is our insistence on not just a "proper" arcade stick but also a good display. This either means a low-latency computer monitor or a CRT monitor. Years ago, I never thought I'd be obsessing over the difference between 240p and 480i and hunting down good displays, but here I am. Unfortunately, the snobs are right on this one. Moreso than any other videogame genre (with fighting games and FPSs coming in next on the list), a shmup player will benefit from a good hardware setup that includes a responsive controller (typically a stick or a keyboard) and a responsive TV. Not necessarily a big TV or a 4k TV or an HDR TV...a responsive TV. Input lag will become a bigger enemy that any bullet pattern, so if you don't want that issue getting between you and a 1-credit clear, you'll need to be aware of the problem of input lag. This barrier to entry will turn away some players, but getting a good controller and a good display is the best way to play DoDonPachi.

My Saturn copy of DoDonPachi is one of my most prized games. That's not due to its aftermarket value as it is still safely below $100. I prize it because I know this game will last me a lifetime. If you want to enjoy DoDonPachi on your Saturn, get a copy now and worry about the display you'll play it on later. It still looks and plays great through an upscaler or on a non-Tate CRT. That said, it's worth (safely, cautiously) turning a CRT on its side to play it in Tate mode.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Oh DT MEDIA,

Wanted to say good job on the Dragon Force write-up. It's sad how ignored the title is while many contemporary RPGs on PS1 and N64 are still widely praised. Heck, it even got overshadowed by Panzer Dragoon Saga on the same console in spite of DF aging better and being an overall superior game (sacrilege, I know).

Those huge armies of sprites... still looks good to this day. I'd love a compilation port/remaster and a translation of the second one (Japan only I think?).

Both games straddle a narrow path between a lighter SRPG that's less simulation-y with story progression (Fire Emblem, Disgaea, FFTactics) to a full-scale Koei-style kingdom simulation games. I think DF captures the best elements of both styles of strategy game.
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus








Here are some new screenshots of Virtua Fighter 2 running on a Sony Trinitron CRT that I just picked up for free. I snapped these photos on my iPad, but I later switched to my iPhone 7, which has a much faster shutter speed and seems to work nicely. I also took a few closeup shots that show the scanlines, since that's something that retro gamers today really love. As you can see, Sony's Trinitron picture was a step above their competitors, allowing for images that are immaculately crisp and clean. Once those Sony patents ran out in the late 1990s, everybody immediately jumped on board. Oh, and those vertical lines are reflections of the window blinds in the background, pay no mind.

----------

Now for the quick backstory. I recently began a new day job as a temp sales position for the Chicago Tribune (I cling to the fantastical idea that I could get a paid writing job if I just showed somebody my books). Last Friday, they completed their move away from the iconic Tribune Tower (built in 1925) and moved to new offices at the Prudential building down the street. During the move, the employees cleaned out all their junk, and I scored a number of cool freebies...including a 13" Sony Trinitron CRT from 1994. Yay! The TV has very slight burn-in at the top-right corner (always press the "display" button on your CRT remote, kids), but otherwise is in perfect condition.

I spent much of today taking new screenshots from a number of Sega Saturn games. It's a bit trickier to snap photos of a CRT, as there is a light source blaring at you, and you may have to deal with reflected light in the background. I'll need a little more practice on these, and almost certainly a proper digital camera, but the camera on my iPhone 7 works very well. It's clearly better suited than the camera on my iPad, which is what I used to take screenshots from my 42" Sony Bravia HDTV.

One thing that immediately impresses me is the rich colors that just pop from the Trinitron. Everything is much bolder and richer, with a clear "warm" bias. In addition, the picture quality for "SD" videogames is much more clean, clear and crisp than on the HDTV. The Bravia images are very close, closer than one would expect, and it's a testament to the advances in modern TV tech. Older HDTV sets were absolutely merciless on retro games. That said, all my classic game systems appear a little soft and smudgy on the Bravia set. This is partially because I use many filters and tricks to smooth out the picture and avoid the over-pixelation that comes as a result of upscaling a 240/480 screen image. I really don't like the mega-pixels, because that's not how the classic videogames really looked, and many of today's kids are unaware of this.

Another thing that surprised me is how quickly I readjusted to playing on a smaller screen. Most of us who played videogames in the 1980s and 1990s had 13-inch TVs, and most households never had anything bigger than 19-inch. But you're normally playing within two feet of the screen, so you're fine. I really do enjoy playing on the larger Bravia screen, but the Trinitron works just as nicely, and when you add in the crisper display and sharper color palette, it's clearly the better choice.

Another thing about these screenshots: I'm using composite cables right now, and it appears clean when you sit a couple feet away, but the screenshots show a lot of the "dot effect" which is an issue with composite. This Trinitron doesn't have s-video output, so I'll look for an RF cable to see how that looks. ProTip: RF cables on classic CRT displays looks great, and almost always better than composite. HDTV is another matter entirely, of course.
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Sorry, the screenshots of Worldwide Soccer 97 are not cooperating, so I'll just have to cut this post down, sorry. Rest assured that I will try to snap some good photos for the official WWS 97/98 essay review. You can see photos of WWS 98 in the post directly below.
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus






Sega Worldwide Soccer 97 & 98 (1996, 1997, Sega CS1)

Sega's CS1 team were the brains behind the World Series Baseball series on Saturn, and so it is only fitting that they are also responsible for the equally amazing Worldwide Soccer series. Back in the year 2001, after my Sega Dreamcast was suddenly (and suspiciously) stolen, I picked up a used Saturn for myself and my housemates. Worldwide Soccer 97 and 98 were the most played games by far. This pair of sports games are among my absolute favorites for this system and remains highly playable all these years later.

Worldwide Soccer (aka Victory Goal) was a standout title for the Saturn's launch in 1995, thanks to its liquid-fast gameplay, brilliantly executed 3D graphics and a "Sega Rock" soundtrack in that Van Halen style. Many critics dismissed it, however, as a mere "arcade" sports game that failed to reach the standard set by Electronic Arts' FIFA series. Sega took the criticisms to heart, rolled up their sleeves and returned the next year with a sequel that substantially improved everything across the board.

The gameplay remains very fast and fluid, but your athletes have a whole host of offensive and defensive moves (including a number of maneuvers not shown in the US instruction manual...because reasons). Your players bob and weave with the ball in impressive fashion, as defenders attempt to shove or tackle the ball away. You have a number of different kicks, short-range, centering, backward passes, triangle passing among teammates, bicycle kicks and headers. In addition, you can add spin to your kicks, causing them to curve radically and surprise the other team.

The pacing is intense and highly competitive, and feels like a midway point between "arcade" and "simulation." It never becomes bogged down in complex maneuvers and midfield dribbling, yet also never devolves into each team taking turns sprinting their man down the field. Knowledge of your player roster and formations is key, but you won't need to become obsessed over stats and substitutions, that is, unless you're like me and wind up earning a dozen yellow cards. Whoops. I keep forgetting that I'm not playing NHL 94.

All great sports videogames deliver excitement and drama, which Worldwide Soccer 97 delivers in spades. Shots on goal can bounce off the bars of the net or fly overhead. Players can be knocked down by shots on goal (NHL Hockey also did the same, which is always a hoot). Freak shots from long distance can squeak by the goalie at the last second. And brutal slide tackles can result in the referees handing down a yellow or red card. Notice how the ref reaches into his pocket and waits a moment before revealing his card. That is dramatic tension, kids, especially when the match is on the line.

Worldwide Soccer 97 is a visual marvel for Sega Saturn, featuring polygon players and arenas (along with VDP2 bitmap planes for the ground). This was at a time when 32-bit sports games continued to use sprites for the players, such as World Series Baseball and NFL Gameday, and the move to full polygon graphics raised the stakes in the great poker match. Sega wanted to prove that they could beat Sony Playstation on 3D graphics, and in this instance, they succeeded. The character animation is extremely smooth and natural, and look absolutely magnificent in motion. You can even see some amazing shadows below the athletes during evening matches. Matches are played in three different stadiums, each very uniquely designed, and you can spot your country's flags waving in the stands as the fans sing and honk their horns in support.

Play-by-play commentary is offered by professional sports broadcaster Gary Bloom, who offers a very polished and heartfelt performance. His lines read very much like you hear on television, more of a conversational style than the quick one-liners you'd find in arcade games at the time. This, again, is quite the achievement for 1996 and always left me with a big smile on my face. The crowd chants are especially nice, and it appears that each nation has its own unique cheers.

In 1997, Sega released Worldwide Soccer 98, and it's another smashing game. The number of changes to this addition are slight, however, and fans will be happy to own both versions. The most notable additions are club teams (England, France and Spain, based on which language option you choose), two additional stadiums and a second audio commentator, Jack Charlton, who sounds like he's completely drunk off his ass and about to pass out. Three times as much recorded dialog appears in this sequel and it's just as impressive. A handful of teams have been replaced, such as Chile for Bolivia and Czech Republic for Turkey. There is one or two new player animations, including a short hop when you try to tackle your opponent. The computer AI is much smarter, and you can't fake out the goalie as easily as you could in WWS 97. I think the head shots and bicycle kicks are easier to perform this time, as well, but your mileage may vary.

Fans of FIFA and Konami's soccer games will point out that Sega's series lacks official teams or players, and the team roster is fairly small in comparison. And the gameplay may still be a bit too "arcadey" for the sim freaks. Whatever. Worldwide Soccer 97 & 98 are two of the most entertaining and engaging sports videogames of the Fifth Generation and an absolute must for Saturn fans. The final game in the series, World Cup '98 France: Road to Win, was released only in Japan to coincide with the World Cup. It's essentially WWS 98 with World Cup teams and Japanese audio play-by-play, and retains the classic gameplay.

Sega's CS1 studio was closed down after 1998, which likely explains why Worldwide Soccer and World Series Baseball never continued on the Dreamcast (the names were revived but created by Western studios). Why would Sega do such a crazy thing? What exactly were they drinking, I wonder? Turpentine? There's nothing else to do, I suppose, other than fire up the ole' Saturn for another quick match in the rain. Or two. Best three out of five. You don't need to work tomorrow. Sleep is for the week. Game on.
 
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mechafan64

Neo Member
DT Media, regarding video quality for the Saturn you have RF which is the worst, composite which is meh, S-video which is better, and finally RGB which is great.

Using RGB with the Saturn on a high-end Sony PVM is a sublime experience. Even if you were to get a Sony or a Toshiba CRT with component inputs for cheap via Craigslist, you could use an RGB-to-component transcoder and the results would be fantastic as well.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
DT Media, regarding video quality for the Saturn you have RF which is the worst, composite which is meh, S-video which is better, and finally RGB which is great.

Using RGB with the Saturn on a high-end Sony PVM is a sublime experience. Even if you were to get a Sony or a Toshiba CRT with component inputs for cheap via Craigslist, you could use an RGB-to-component transcoder and the results would be fantastic as well.


That sounds like a really good idea, thanks. Right now, I'm using Composite for Saturn and Dreamcast, and Component for Wii on the Bravia (composite on the Trinitron). The Atari 2600, NES and Genesis all use RF cables. The 13" Trinitron only has Coaxial and two composite outputs. As always, these things are subject to change.

My Saturn screenshots in this thread are mostly via composite connected to the Bravia HDTV. There were a few posts where I shared old photos of Saturn games running on an old '90s RCA TV with RF. My previous CRT television was a 27" Sony Trinitron (with a 24" Sony Wega flat-screen CRT before that), and I shared one Virtua Fighter 2 screenshot from that (I shared some screenshots of Streets of Rage 2 on my Twitter page some time ago).

Years ago, I had a Sony Wega HD-CRT, a massive beast that weighed over 200 pounds and featured a 36" square screen. The picture quality (1080i) was astonishing, and still beats nearly every digital HDTV display I've seen (aside from the beloved Pioneer Kuro plasma screens, which were fantastic). I used component (Wii) and s-video (Saturn) on that set and was very, very happy. But the massive weight and performance issues (those Sonys have a bad chip that shuts the TV down and is a monstrous pain to fix) just killed the experience for me. Also, you couldn't play lightguns on those beasts. Ugh.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus








Here's one final round of Sony Trinitron screenshots for now. This is Asuka 120% Burning Festival LTD, one of my favorite go-to Saturn games and probably my favorite 2D fighter on the system. Yes, I love the 4MB Capcom games, but I'm terrible at them without a joystick. Asuka is much easier for joypads and has enough frenetic action to keep me hooked. I snapped these photos on my iPhone 7, which turned out to be a really good camera. It's certainly much faster, which enabled me to capture some good action poses without getting blurry pictures.

As you can see, this Trinitron has the curved display, pure analog. This particular TV was built in September 1994 and is part of their successful '90s lineup. At the turn of the century, Sony introduced the Wega series, which were digital CRT televisions. The display was a flat-screen and the picture quality was a little bit sharper; component output was included, which was nice, but there is also a slight pixelation present when playing classic videogames. I also think the analog Trinitrons have the best black levels and color saturation, but that's also because those colors are bleeding a little. Retro gamers should be happy with either brand and hold onto them for dear life. Sony TVs will always be the best.

Seriously, somebody needs to throw money at Fill-In-Cafe and bring Asuka back to modern systems. Just put it on Switch and I'll be perfectly happy.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus






Strikers 1945 (1996, Psikyo and Atlus for Sega Saturn)

Strikers 1945 was almost a curio when it was released on Saturn in 1996, nearly a "retro" throwback at a time when the shoot-em-up genre was radically mutating and reinventing itself to compete in the Polygon Era. It doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel like Radiant Silvergun or Batsugun, nor does it overwhelm the senses like Dodonpachi or Battle Garegga. There are no spectacular showpiece moments like the planetfall stage in Soukyugurentai. It only offers an extremely vivid, solid and challenging arcade videogame and nothing more.

I realize that I am playing Pearl Jam's 2000 Binaural album as I write this and appreciate the parallels at play, veterans at the top of their game who are seemingly dismissed by snobbish critics and a clueless public always on the hunt for the next sugar fix of the latest pop trend. In their narrow-minded world, you either hop on the newest bandwagon or become dismissed as yesterday's news.

The punch line to this sick joke, of course, is that twenty years later, the pop bandwagon has tumbled down a mountainside, crashed and burned with all the bubblegum stars inside. Goodbye, frat-rock and boy bands. Goodbye, sloppy 3D polygons and ugly graphics. Hello to those grizzled, toughened veterans who ignored the popular crowd and stuck to their guns. There is a lesson in here for you to learn, kids.

Strikers 1945 is a vertical-scrolling shooter that fits perfectly in the world of Toaplan and Capcom and Data East, the world of the early '90s. You pilot one of many international fighter craft and set out to defeat armies of planes, tanks and giant anime robots. Because, of course, that's what everybody was doing back in 1945. Didn't you catch the program on the History Channel, the one with that "Aliens" guy with the wild hair? This is all based on a true story, don'tcha know.

Each aircraft has its own unique weapons, including rapid-fire and charged attacks as well as a "smart bomb. You collect power-up icons but never acquire any new weapons, which not only adds to the replay value (as you find the right airplane for your tastes), but also adds a strategic value to two-player games. If your friend chooses a plane with spread shots, maybe you should pick one that shoots sideways to balance things out. The early stages are fairly easygoing, but by the fifth stage, the enemy blazes from all directions in hailstorms of bullets and missiles. You're going to find yourself overwhelmed very quickly if you're not careful.

I enjoy the military-themed shooters that studios like Toaplan and SNK used to deliver by the bucketload. Strikers 1945 is swift and nimble on its feet, its stages are fairly short and you'll reach the end-stage bosses while the beefier polygon games are still loading, and the later stages are challenging enough to keep you returning for another ride. It's best enjoyed with family and friends, especially if they're not shoot-em-up masters who can 1CC everything in sight.

Psikyo were the developers behind this game, which spawned several sequels and a number of hit shooters that appeared on the Saturn. They're dependable, reliable, honest. They always deliver the goods while never overreaching their grasp. Their programmers and designers know how to build the ideal thrill ride and keep the kids entertained. And if the kids are off chasing the next Pet Rock, whose fault is that?
 
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DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Nicely done with your coverage on Asuka 120% and Strikers 1945. I've never played Asuka but will probably add it to the collection (someday) because it seems like a solid fighter. Can't have enough 2D fighters, can you?

Out of curiosity, have you played Strikers 1945 II or Strikers 1999? I like the first Strikers, but the second and third games show a significant increase in quality for the series. 1999 is arcade-only, unfortunately, but 1945 II got a decent port on Saturn that's worth checking out if you can.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
Nicely done with your coverage on Asuka 120% and Strikers 1945. I've never played Asuka but will probably add it to the collection (someday) because it seems like a solid fighter. Can't have enough 2D fighters, can you?

Out of curiosity, have you played Strikers 1945 II or Strikers 1999? I like the first Strikers, but the second and third games show a significant increase in quality for the series. 1999 is arcade-only, unfortunately, but 1945 II got a decent port on Saturn that's worth checking out if you can.


I do have Strikers 1945 II in my Saturn collection and I've been meaning to give it a spin. I think the last time I played that game was a decade ago, so the memories are hazy (certainly doesn't help that Saturn has so many great shoot-em-ups). I did play all the arcade games on MAME years ago, but I haven't touched any emulators since I got an iMac (Apple sucks for emulators). One of these years, I'll have to get Boot Camp so I can run Windows for all the retro videogames. What I really ought to do is finally learn how to put all the emulators on my Nintendo Wii.

In any case, I do enjoy the Psikyo shooters. They belong to the 16-bit era, before everything went bullet-hell crazy, and I really enjoy the simplicity and polish of Strikers 1945. Fortunately, the original is still very affordable, so fans can grab a retail copy easily.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
I do have Strikers 1945 II in my Saturn collection and I've been meaning to give it a spin. I think the last time I played that game was a decade ago, so the memories are hazy (certainly doesn't help that Saturn has so many great shoot-em-ups). I did play all the arcade games on MAME years ago, but I haven't touched any emulators since I got an iMac (Apple sucks for emulators). One of these years, I'll have to get Boot Camp so I can run Windows for all the retro videogames. What I really ought to do is finally learn how to put all the emulators on my Nintendo Wii.

In any case, I do enjoy the Psikyo shooters. They belong to the 16-bit era, before everything went bullet-hell crazy, and I really enjoy the simplicity and polish of Strikers 1945. Fortunately, the original is still very affordable, so fans can grab a retail copy easily.
It's easy to turn your Wii into an emulator box, thankfully.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus






X-Men Vs Street Fighter (1997, Capcom)

Now we come to one of the key reasons why Sega Saturn retains its cult following to this day: Capcom's legendary arcade-perfect port of their arcade hit X-Men Vs Street Fighter. If you love 2D fighting videogames, it doesn't get much better than this. Welcome to the Promised Land, my friends.

At the close of the 16-bit era, gamers were feeling somewhat burned out by too many Street Fighter 2 sequels and an arcade scene flooded with bad fighting games. So Capcom doubled down and gambled hard on the future, reinventing their formula with Street Fighter Alpha and Darkstalkers and X-Men: Children of the Atom. They veered away from the "realistic" graphics of the 16-bit era in favor of a sleeker, four-color cartoon design, emphasizing fluid cel animation and painterly art design. The gameplay likewise evolved, adding layers of complexity to the time-tested formula. After finding themselves stuck in a rut, the studio found themselves rejuvenated with each new installment.

Embracing Marvel Comics was a masterstroke for Capcom and really allowed them to indulge their comic book leanings that were only hinted at in classics like Strider and Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Their only rivals in those days would probably be Konami's X-Men arcade, which was a pretty bog-standard side-scrolling beat-em-up that allowed for six players to fight together. It made more sense to add these characters to the tournament martial arts genre, which succeeded at bringing these great comic book characters to life.

X-Men Vs Street Fighter marks the first pairing of Capcom franchises. The "Versus" series would continue with several highly successful sequels that continually raised the bar, adding more characters from the Marvel Universe, Capcom's roster, even the anime characters of Tatsunoko Productions. All are thrilling, exciting and endlessly entertaining, yet do any of them match the simplicity and immediate appeal of the original? Many fans have argued for years that this title is the finest entry in Capcom's all-star series.

Essentially, this game is a mashup of X-Men: Children of the Atom and Street Fighter Alpha, meaning that the game delivers exactly as promised. You battle with the usual assortment of normal and special attacks, with a couple super attacks to unleash when the proper meter is filled. The stages are extra vertical, which enables you the opportunity to kick opponents high into the air for massive Dragon Ball-inspired beatdowns. And the best feature are the tag teams, which allow you to switch fighters on the fly, adding them to combos, or even including them in devastating attacks that might induce seizures or melt your television.

The roster is fairly large and varied yet never feels overly packed. You won't have to deal with multiple Shotokan fighters or clones like all those Mortal Kombat ninja. If anything, the cast feels sparse, as though a few more stars could be added to the party, and this is part of the game's charm. It hasn't yet become overwhelmed with itself or its own importance. What's the use in a fighting game with dozens of characters, especially when at least one half is just a carbon copy of the other? Much better to have a unique lineup where every player counts. There is only one Wolverine, only one Juggernaut, only one Chun Li.

X-Men Vs Street Fighter is a 2D masterpiece for Sega Saturn, thanks to the heralded 4MB RAM cartridge that is required to play (you can use the Pro Action Replay, which is the preferred choice for today's gamers). Thanks to this upgrade, this home translation is a perfect copy of the arcade, featuring all of the extremely fluid animations, attacks and maneuvers. Loading times are virtually nonexistent, usually less than three seconds. Music is rich and thumping through your speakers, with clean and clear voice samples from your favorite fighters as well as the announcer. I really love the detailed comic book design of these worlds with its bold colors and striking pencil lines. Many stages will feature changes during the matches, such as a power plant that is consumed by fire, or a fight on a city street that crashes into the sewers.

I cannot fathom why Capcom has not reissued this game on modern platforms. Surely there would be interest in a "Versus" compilation disc or digital release. Sega Saturn is the beneficiary of this policy, with the definitive home version (the Sony Playstation version is an embarrassment by comparison). If you want your hands on this fighting classic, there's only one place to go. Start saving your quarters.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
So, here's the deal:

X-Men Vs Street Fighter is Capcom's best Vs game. Yeah, it's a smaller roster, but the game is so well-balanced that it is endlessly playable. Plus, there are no throwaway characters. Sure, I love Dr. Doom, Cap'n MERICA, and Spidey . But there's no way I'm settling for Blackheart, Shuma, and Omega Red (who effing cares about these villains? No one even cared in the 90s, idiots) when it means I loose access to Rogue, Storm, Magneto, Sabretooth, Juggernaut, and Gambit. Even on the Street Fighter side, X-Men vs Street Fighter is superior: it has Cammy and Nash while M v SF has Dan (lol) and Sakura.

MvC might be flashier, but if my buddies and I wanna sit down and have a fair fight, we play X-Men Vs SF. The sprites are butter-smooth and emotive, plus you get destructible maps! C'mon, falling through the floor will never not be totally rad. Children of the Atom, Marvel Super Heroes, and Marvel vs Street Fighter are all fun in their own way but ultimately fall short.

Looking forward to your write-up.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR



Magical Drop III (Data East; 1997)

The arcades were a brutal environment in which to release a new videogame. Arcade games had to be flashy enough to attract that first quarter, challenging enough to earn money for the arcade proprietor (otherwise he wouldn't want to buy/rent the cabinet or kit), and engaging enough to keep the player dropping quarters. Magical Drop III launched during the decline of the arcades. Competition between CAPCOM, SNK, Konami, Taito, and other arcade veterans was red-hot as they fought over a diminishing market. By the time Magical Drop III launched for the Neo Geo MVS, the days "Quarter munching" games were decidedly over: the market simply did not tolerate those design flaws anymore. Instead, arcade games released during this little slice of time had razor-sharp gameplay honed from 20 years of arcade experience. Some of the best shmups, fighting games, and puzzle games of all time came out during this era.

Borne from this environment of fierce competition, Magical Drop III stands the test of time. The gameplay and responsive controls are simple to grasp: grab up to 5 same-colored orbs from the vertical play field and shoot them back up to make matches of 3 or more orbs. Any connected orbs will pop and potentially start a combo. Popping orbs will send more orbs to your opponent's field. You win if you can overwhelm your opponent with more orbs than they can clear. Or, you win if you clear 200 orb-matches (displayed on a counter between the playing fields) before they do. Novices will typically be defeated by better players about 10 - 15 seconds into the match and I'm not exaggerating on the brief playtime. Matches are fast, blindingly fast. The Saturn port captures this intensity without a hitch and also refines the core experience with some welcome tweaks. Since it's inexpensive to import, Magical Drop III is a worthy addition to any Saturn fan's library.

Three Single-player modes pad out the Saturn port, though the meat of the game is experienced when you're playing head-to-head against a human opponent. If you're learning or in the mood for some practice, there's enough content to keep you occupied between multiplayer matches. 'Adventure Mode' places you on a Mario Party-esque playing field where you and CPU-controlled opponents progress on the board toward 'The Empress', completing missions and battles along the way. Don't expect a lengthy story or a ton of unlockables. It's little more than a glorified Arcade mode.

Speaking of which, the traditional Arcade Mode in this version is inconspicuously labeled 'VS CPU'. You choose between Easy (4 stages; easy enemies), Standard (8 stages; the equivalent of a normal Arcade playthrough) and Difficult (8 stages; much more difficult) and fight against the roster of selectable characters. It's a good way to practice the mechanics and see how you fare against the variety of enemies.

For a puzzle game, the character selection matters quite a lot more than you would expect. The selected character determines how your opponent's field gets pushed down. In other words, the character you select is a purely offensive choice. Characters do not have additional defenses or tricks when it comes to clearing your own field. This can make certain matchups imbalanced (like Fool vs anybody else) but for the most part it only matters to experienced players.

The final single-player mode is called 'Puzzle Mode'. You survive as long as you can against a scrolling board with fixed patterns, clearing as many orbs as you can. It's pretty good for practicing your speed and accuracy.




Single-player is nice, but multiplayer 'VS MODE' against a human opponent is where Magical Drop III comes alive. There's a special sort of satisfaction when you crush your friend in 10 seconds flat and see the stunned look on their face. I can think of no puzzle game quite as fast as Magical Drop III. The speed of play rivals a fighting game, yet the simplicity opens up the game to just about anyone. It's just matching three orbs, right? What could be so hard?

It's not that this game is "hard" in terms of complicated mechanics or devious block-stacking combos (it's not). What makes it hard is the speed. Against skilled human opponents or more difficult CPUs, you will die over and over again unless you can manage to play the game at a minimum speed. Otherwise, you'll get overwhelmed too quickly.

An uncommon feature is the counter-stop: after each trio of orbs is popped, you have a brief window of time to rack up another set of matching orbs to keep the combo going. Orbs that scroll up and hit other matching orbs will also keep the combo going. Often, I will pop a group of orbs and -- in that split-second gap -- I then shoot the next set on top of the line of popping orbs. They'll slide up and add to the combo while I'm already moving to another part of my field to pop yet another set of orbs. Using the third button, you can add more orbs to your playing field at any time. It is usually better to "stack" your own field voluntarily and to clear it yourself than to wait for your opponent to send orbs your way. Players of Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack will feel right at home with the rhythm of popping orbs, frantically lining up more combos during the counter-stop, and manually adding more to the "stack" to keep the combo going. You can make combos in the more traditional way by carefully lining up colors, popping the lynchpin, and watching the combo take place. That sort of hands-off approach is a normal part of Puyo Puyo, Columns, and most other combo-based puzzle games. But in Magical Drop III, relying on that method is too slow at higher levels of competition. The combo system is far more hands-on, allowing you to rack up matching orbs mid-combo, stacking your field with more orbs, scrambling to grab more orbs, popping them, adding to the combo in those all-to-brief moments of counter-stop. Meanwhile, your opponent is frantically trying to do the same to you, throwing more orbs your way, messing up your rhythm, trying their hardest to either overwhelm you with orbs or reach that 200 orb-match limit before you do.

There's a physical precision and speed requirement to higher levels of play. Whether you're fast on the D-pad, the keyboard, or an arcade stick, you need to get fast and build endurance to play this game at higher competitive levels. This might be a turn-off for some, but if you've ever spent hours in a fighting game's training mode or perhaps practiced tap-dodging in your favorite shmup, the high skill ceiling in Magical Drop III will entice you to improve your combos and your raw speed. It's addictive in a way that many modern games are not.

At a certain point, I can only describe a puzzle game so much. The proof is in the playing. Magical Drop III's draw is tightly intertwined with the fast speed, so no amount of words can adequately convey how the game feels to play. You'll have to either get a better idea by watching gameplay footage or by playing the game yourself. Thankfully, it is available on several different platforms.

Graphics are bright and charming on the Saturn, and I've never noticed slowdown or other performance issues. Most other puzzle games have characters, too, but Magical Drop puts them front and center of your playing field. The huge sprites will laugh, wince, grit their teeth, and display a wide range of animations for all 18 of the characters. Certainly, the main draw of a puzzle game is not its graphics, but the sprite animations add a great deal of personality to the game as a whole, as you can see in the gif below. Sound design and music are functional but not particularly mind-blowing. While it's not a weak spot, I suppose Sound is one area where the game won't win any awards. One notable exception: I do like the escalating chime as you rack up a bigger and bigger combo. You'll come to crave the high notes of that chime when facing down a foe. It means a much bigger combo is headed their way.



For a single-player excursion, Magical Drop III is good. For a multiplayer game, Magical Drop III is a must-own. The gameplay is popular with veteran gamers and non-gamers alike. If you enjoy competitive puzzle games but you haven't given Magical Drop a try, please take a look at the Saturn version and consider picking it up.
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus










Here are some newly captured photos of the always excellent (and massively underrated) Burning Rangers on the 13" Trinitron. I calibrated the TV using the service manual and the images just pop with color and clarity. Sony made the best televisions in the world. It's quite a thrill to play classic videogames in their original format.

As always, it's very difficult to capture CRT images on camera. You need a camera with a stand, manual shutter and aperture controls, and a very dark room. These screenshots are just quick and sloppy, captured on iPad with the best effort to find the right balance between color, light and detail.

I really do wish Sega's current bosses would wake up and realize there are more titles in their back catalog than Sonic and Yakuza. Sonic Team should have reissued Burning Rangers years ago. It certainly should have been brought to Dreamcast, if only there were more time. But you can enjoy it on Saturn and be amazed at how far they push the system's hardware. It's always such a rush when everything in sight explodes in fire and flame and the floors collapse and the lights blow out. And the ingenious creativity is something to marvel. Today's videogame industry doesn't have a tenth the imagination of '90s Sega. Everything was better in the '90s. Right?
 

mechafan64

Neo Member
It may be minor, but what I really like about a lot of Saturn games is that their title screen tends to be in 480i; the more colorful ones such as Sonic Jam or Burning Rangers look really nice in high resolution mode.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus



Magical Drop III (Data East; 1997)

The arcades were a brutal environment in which to release a new videogame. Arcade games had to be flashy enough to attract that first quarter, challenging enough to earn money for the arcade proprietor (otherwise he wouldn't want to buy/rent the cabinet or kit), and engaging enough to keep the player dropping quarters. Magical Drop III launched during the decline of the arcades. Competition between CAPCOM, SNK, Konami, Taito, and other arcade veterans was red-hot as they fought over a diminishing market. By the time Magical Drop III launched for the Neo Geo MVS, the days "Quarter munching" games were decidedly over: the market simply did not tolerate those design flaws anymore. Instead, arcade games released during this little slice of time had razor-sharp gameplay honed from 20 years of arcade experience. Some of the best shmups, fighting games, and puzzle games of all time came out during this era.

Borne from this environment of fierce competition, Magical Drop III stands the test of time. The gameplay and responsive controls are simple to grasp: grab up to 5 same-colored orbs from the vertical play field and shoot them back up to make matches of 3 or more orbs. Any connected orbs will pop and potentially start a combo. Popping orbs will send more orbs to your opponent's field. You win if you can overwhelm your opponent with more orbs than they can clear. Or, you win if you clear 200 orb-matches (displayed on a counter between the playing fields) before they do. Novices will typically be defeated by better players about 10 - 15 seconds into the match and I'm not exaggerating on the brief playtime. Matches are fast, blindingly fast. The Saturn port captures this intensity without a hitch and also refines the core experience with some welcome tweaks. Since it's inexpensive to import, Magical Drop III is a worthy addition to any Saturn fan's library.

Three Single-player modes pad out the Saturn port, though the meat of the game is experienced when you're playing head-to-head against a human opponent. If you're learning or in the mood for some practice, there's enough content to keep you occupied between multiplayer matches. 'Adventure Mode' places you on a Mario Party-esque playing field where you and CPU-controlled opponents progress on the board toward 'The Empress', completing missions and battles along the way. Don't expect a lengthy story or a ton of unlockables. It's little more than a glorified Arcade mode.

Speaking of which, the traditional Arcade Mode in this version is inconspicuously labeled 'VS CPU'. You choose between Easy (4 stages; easy enemies), Standard (8 stages; the equivalent of a normal Arcade playthrough) and Difficult (8 stages; much more difficult) and fight against the roster of selectable characters. It's a good way to practice the mechanics and see how you fare against the variety of enemies.

For a puzzle game, the character selection matters quite a lot more than you would expect. The selected character determines how your opponent's field gets pushed down. In other words, the character you select is a purely offensive choice. Characters do not have additional defenses or tricks when it comes to clearing your own field. This can make certain matchups imbalanced (like Fool vs anybody else) but for the most part it only matters to experienced players.

The final single-player mode is called 'Puzzle Mode'. You survive as long as you can against a scrolling board with fixed patterns, clearing as many orbs as you can. It's pretty good for practicing your speed and accuracy.




Single-player is nice, but multiplayer 'VS MODE' against a human opponent is where Magical Drop III comes alive. There's a special sort of satisfaction when you crush your friend in 10 seconds flat and see the stunned look on their face. I can think of no puzzle game quite as fast as Magical Drop III. The speed of play rivals a fighting game, yet the simplicity opens up the game to just about anyone. It's just matching three orbs, right? What could be so hard?

It's not that this game is "hard" in terms of complicated mechanics or devious block-stacking combos (it's not). What makes it hard is the speed. Against skilled human opponents or more difficult CPUs, you will die over and over again unless you can manage to play the game at a minimum speed. Otherwise, you'll get overwhelmed too quickly.

An uncommon feature is the counter-stop: after each trio of orbs is popped, you have a brief window of time to rack up another set of matching orbs to keep the combo going. Orbs that scroll up and hit other matching orbs will also keep the combo going. Often, I will pop a group of orbs and -- in that split-second gap -- I then shoot the next set on top of the line of popping orbs. They'll slide up and add to the combo while I'm already moving to another part of my field to pop yet another set of orbs. Using the third button, you can add more orbs to your playing field at any time. It is usually better to "stack" your own field voluntarily and to clear it yourself than to wait for your opponent to send orbs your way. Players of Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack will feel right at home with the rhythm of popping orbs, frantically lining up more combos during the counter-stop, and manually adding more to the "stack" to keep the combo going. You can make combos in the more traditional way by carefully lining up colors, popping the lynchpin, and watching the combo take place. That sort of hands-off approach is a normal part of Puyo Puyo, Columns, and most other combo-based puzzle games. But in Magical Drop III, relying on that method is too slow at higher levels of competition. The combo system is far more hands-on, allowing you to rack up matching orbs mid-combo, stacking your field with more orbs, scrambling to grab more orbs, popping them, adding to the combo in those all-to-brief moments of counter-stop. Meanwhile, your opponent is frantically trying to do the same to you, throwing more orbs your way, messing up your rhythm, trying their hardest to either overwhelm you with orbs or reach that 200 orb-match limit before you do.

There's a physical precision and speed requirement to higher levels of play. Whether you're fast on the D-pad, the keyboard, or an arcade stick, you need to get fast and build endurance to play this game at higher competitive levels. This might be a turn-off for some, but if you've ever spent hours in a fighting game's training mode or perhaps practiced tap-dodging in your favorite shmup, the high skill ceiling in Magical Drop III will entice you to improve your combos and your raw speed. It's addictive in a way that many modern games are not.

At a certain point, I can only describe a puzzle game so much. The proof is in the playing. Magical Drop III's draw is tightly intertwined with the fast speed, so no amount of words can adequately convey how the game feels to play. You'll have to either get a better idea by watching gameplay footage or by playing the game yourself. Thankfully, it is available on several different platforms.

Graphics are bright and charming on the Saturn, and I've never noticed slowdown or other performance issues. Most other puzzle games have characters, too, but Magical Drop puts them front and center of your playing field. The huge sprites will laugh, wince, grit their teeth, and display a wide range of animations for all 18 of the characters. Certainly, the main draw of a puzzle game is not its graphics, but the sprite animations add a great deal of personality to the game as a whole, as you can see in the gif below. Sound design and music are functional but not particularly mind-blowing. While it's not a weak spot, I suppose Sound is one area where the game won't win any awards. One notable exception: I do like the escalating chime as you rack up a bigger and bigger combo. You'll come to crave the high notes of that chime when facing down a foe. It means a much bigger combo is headed their way.



For a single-player excursion, Magical Drop III is good. For a multiplayer game, Magical Drop III is a must-own. The gameplay is popular with veteran gamers and non-gamers alike. If you enjoy competitive puzzle games but you haven't given Magical Drop a try, please take a look at the Saturn version and consider picking it up.


This is a really fantastic review, kudos. It's great to learn the subtleties of puzzle games like this, especially when there are so many available on the Saturn. The counter stop tips will be very helpful for me. I've always enjoyed Magical Drop 3 as one of the genre's standout titles. I can't wait to read your next Saturn essay.

Oh, btw, I recently added review essays for Worldwide Soccer 97/98, Strikers 1945 and X-Men Vs Street Fighter in the posts above. I wanted to conserve space on the forum and not pile on too much clutter, so be sure to check them out.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
This is a really fantastic review, kudos. It's great to learn the subtleties of puzzle games like this, especially when there are so many available on the Saturn. The counter stop tips will be very helpful for me. I've always enjoyed Magical Drop 3 as one of the genre's standout titles. I can't wait to read your next Saturn essay.
Thanks! Yeah, once you learn how to abuse the counter-stop that's where the game opens up. Magical Drop III is comfortably one of my Top 3 puzzle games of all time. It's a very good game.

Oh, btw, I recently added review essays for Worldwide Soccer 97/98, Strikers 1945 and X-Men Vs Street Fighter in the posts above. I wanted to conserve space on the forum and not pile on too much clutter, so be sure to check them out.
I'm always on the hunt for good SEGA sports games but it's a genre that I'm still unfamiliar with. Thanks for the Worldwide Soccer write-up, 'cause I'll likely end up picking up a copy.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR




Hebereke's Popoitto (Sunsoft; 1995)

Do you like Dr. Mario? Then you'll like Hebereke's Popoitto. This series is entirely unknown to Western audiences, but in Japan there were several Hebereke videogames released across the consoles during the early '90s. The main character -- Hebe -- is a spaced-out looking bird-thing wearing a blue winter hat. He served as Sunsoft's mascot for a number of years and appeared in numerous games bearing his namesake. The series includes a Smash Bros-esque fighter, a ripoff of Mario Kart, several more puzzle games, and even a side-scroller for the NES/Famicom. Hebereke's Popoitto closely follows in the footsteps of Hebereke no Popoon, another cutesy bubble-popping puzzle game.

Popoitto is not clever or complicated. At its core, the game is Dr. Mario except the "viruses" (knowns as Poro-porous in this game) shuffle around to increase the difficulty of navigating your pieces. When you drop a piece on top of a Poro-porous, it locks in place. Line up four matching blocks and blow the Poro bubbles up in spectacular fashion. That's about it. The goal is to clear all the Poro-porous on your side before the opponent does or before your field fills all the way up to the top. Mechanically, there isn't much for me to expound upon if you've already played Dr. Mario.

Stage 1 Gameplay | Stage 6 Gameplay

But don't hold that against Popoitto. In the same way that Puyo Puyo was cloned by Kirby's Avalanche and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Popoitto is a good Dr. Mario clone with a lot of charm. Granted, its on a system that is bursting at the seams with innovative and interesting puzzle games. But it's still worthy of your attention. While it might not impress you with innovative mechanics, it more than compensates with a charming graphical style and sugary-sweet sound effects. In particular, popping the Poro on your screen never gets old. I suppose that might seem like a mundane thing to mention, but puzzle games have always suffered from that a bit.

Versus mode is always entertaining if you have a worthy opponent to face against. Strangely, I cannot find good footage of the Vs mode (YouTube has a few videos of Vs battles in Popoon but no footage of Popoitto's Vs mode). Personally, I always enjoyed Dr. Mario as a single-player game first and a multiplayer game second, but your mileage may vary. Whether you're interested in single-player or multiplayer, the game provides enough content for you to keep yourself occupied.

Popoitto is not a must-have for the Saturn. It's a why-not-have-if-you-like-puzzle-games-anyway sort of game, the good ol' standby that you're happy to own. You'll likely never see it on a Top 50 List or even on most "hidden gems" lists. The charming graphics and time-tested gameplay are sufficient reasons to go out and get a copy. I'd recommend introducing it to friends who enjoy easy-to-grasp puzzle games.

Or to put it more succinctly: do you like Dr. Mario? Then you'll like Hebereke's Popoitto.
 

mechafan64

Neo Member
Not necessarily the most exciting photos, but here are a few Burning Rangers shots via RGB on a Sony PVM-20L5. Just as DT MEDIA suggested the images are considerably brighter and more vivid in real life. In my opinion however, the high TV line count look really isn't all that well suited for the SS/PS1/N64, since 240p is simply too low of a resolution for early 3D games.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
These images on the Sony monitor are very clean and crisp, and that excellent color that we always associate with Sony TVs. The scanlines appear to be a bit more pronounced on the PVM than on the Trinitron, but that is expected (and the Trinitron is much crisper than other TV brands of the era, with much less color bleeding). When you sit back and watch from a couple feet away, you won't notice all that much, but it does look terrific.

I tell myself that I should just hoard old Trinitrons and computer monitors and put them in storage for the future, like storing away spare light bulbs. I don't know if CRT TVs are being made anymore, but if there are still manufacturers out there, those days are numbered. 30 years from now, picture-tube televisions will be all but extinct. We need to save them for future generations, museums and so on.

I'm going to miss this technology once it's gone. Modern super-mega-high-definition flat screen displays are nice, but there's no substitute for a good picture tube, especially the analog TVs. And that goes double for classic videogames.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
These images on the Sony monitor are very clean and crisp, and that excellent color that we always associate with Sony TVs. The scanlines appear to be a bit more pronounced on the PVM than on the Trinitron, but that is expected (and the Trinitron is much crisper than other TV brands of the era, with much less color bleeding). When you sit back and watch from a couple feet away, you won't notice all that much, but it does look terrific.

I tell myself that I should just hoard old Trinitrons and computer monitors and put them in storage for the future, like storing away spare light bulbs. I don't know if CRT TVs are being made anymore, but if there are still manufacturers out there, those days are numbered. 30 years from now, picture-tube televisions will be all but extinct. We need to save them for future generations, museums and so on.

I'm going to miss this technology once it's gone. Modern super-mega-high-definition flat screen displays are nice, but there's no substitute for a good picture tube, especially the analog TVs. And that goes double for classic videogames.
If you think it would be valuable, I could throw together a post (or maybe post a new thread or revive an old one?) about CRTs and what to watch for. The time of snagging PVMs and BVMs is passed. You can find them, but it's very rare because people know what they are. Sony Trinitron's are a solid bet. So are the Toshibas from that era. Panasonic is pretty reliable, too, though the picture quality isn't as good. Reliable is slightly more important to me as long as the picture quality is acceptable because you can always RGB-mod these displays but you can't really do much if the CRT itself is low-quality and eventually dies out.

One of the best options for CRT lovers would be the range of 17"-22" CRT computer monitors. Sony and Dell both made Trinitron-style PC monitors, and ViewSonic's monitors were high quality. While they may not have built-in speakers, these monitors are considered garbage in most places yet are exceptional quality, easily surpassing any consumer-grade CRT. Heck, I would argue that they're superior to PVMs in many respects.

Those will be the next retro gold-rush. PC CRT monitors. Snatch 'em up!
 

mechafan64

Neo Member
To "spice" things up around here, here's a pic of my recently modded Hori Fighting Stick SS. I've added a PS1 plug in parallel to the Saturn one, in addition to replacing the original stick with a Seimitsu LS-56. I may tackle the buttons too at some point.

 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
To "spice" things up around here, here's a pic of my recently modded Hori Fighting Stick SS. I've added a PS1 plug in parallel to the Saturn one, in addition to replacing the original stick with a Seimitsu LS-56. I may tackle the buttons too at some point.

Looks great!
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus










Darius Gaiden (1995, Taito and Acclaim)

I remember Taito's Darius from the arcades in 1987, where it made an immediate impression with its massively large display screen that stretched across three monitors. Even at the very beginning, it was a classy shoot-em-up, stylish, slightly abstract and viciously difficult, aimed squarely at expert players who were looking for the next conquest after Gradius and R-Type. If nothing else, the Darius series has its own sense of style, as your hawk-shaped spaceship engages in battle against fleets of robotic alien fish creatures, each wave more relentless and punishing than the last. If you can master these games, then you have really earned your shooter stripes.

I was thrilled when Darius Gaiden arrived on Sega Saturn in early autumn 1995, offering a thrilling 2D visual showcase for the young system. If you enjoy the shooters of the 16-bit era, you'll absolutely love this title, which arrives in a perfect arcade translation that dazzles and amazes. Graphics are extremely polished and colorful, with a wide variety of worlds, landscapes and enemies to encounter and never a dull moment to be found. This game hails from a time when "next generation" meant the next generation of Sega Genesis and arcade-oriented games like Thunder Force 3, pure adrenaline and sugar rush with little need for much else. It is a bigger, badder roller coaster designed purely for roller coaster freaks.

The opening stage features highly colorful industrial landscapes, with large blue metallic structures in the background and a ground that scrolls with a perspective depth that reminds you of Street Fighter 2. Later, you will fly through the interior of an enemy base with turrets, tanks and ships hiding along the floor and ceiling. This is all standard fare for the genre, and has the feel of a familiar piece of music. Encounters with mid-sized robot fish change up the tempo and add variety. You make your way outside where you encounter an enormous yellow fish that smashes the surrounding buildings, kicks up dustbowls, and fires waves of rockets, energy bullets and metallic scales from its back. When he is defeated, he is shattered into spinning fragments followed by a fireworks display of explosions and plasma clouds.

At the end of each stage, you have a choice of two branching paths as you work your way to the end of the alien invasion. This is the hallmark of the Darius series, and there are 28 stages available, only seven of which will be seen in a single mission. This greatly expands the replay value as you will want to explore all of the locales and worlds. It also empowers you to choose stages that are better suited to your skill level and experience. Some stages are more difficult than others,

Your weapons are upgraded by collecting red, green and blue shields that are uncovered when destroying key spacecraft as they fly by. These power-ups are vitally important for your survival, and that goes double for the shields. The game also scales the difficulty based on your ship's power level and how long you have survived without being destroyed. This is a feature that becomes standard on many Saturn shooters, although I have never lasted long enough for this to become a major factor.

The most valuable weapon is the smart bomb that unleashes a black hole that pulls everything away in flashes of lightning and color. The effect is highly psychedelic and only adds to the trippy Pop Art groove of this game. I remember reading about a legendary story long ago where Diehard Gamefan founder Dave Halvorsen penned a rambling love letter to Atari Jaguar's Cybermorph after ingesting LSD. I wonder what he would think of Darius Gaiden. This videogame is fully immersed in the Electric Kool-Aid, and it's potent enough for even the most sober of us to get a contact high. There are a number of impressive visual effects as backgrounds morph, warp and distort as decidedly avant garde music -- a wholly unique fusion of DEVO techno-pop, trip hop and opera -- plays in the background.

Darius Gaiden is extremely challenging, like most arcade shooters of the era. With practice, I can make it through a few stages before running out of continues. My strategy for survival mostly involves dropping black hole bombs as often as possible, especially during the battles with the giant fish bosses. This is one of those videogames where you can manage as long as you collect power-ups and never get shot. If you lose ships and all those weapon upgrades, you're doomed. Just hit the reset button and start again from the beginning.

There once was a time when "videogame" meant spaceship shoot-em-ups, and kids were perfectly happy to play such games all day long. Then the Sony Playstation arrived and signaled a paradigm shift towards sprawling, epic adventure games. The immediate soda rush of the arcades soon fell out of fashion, which spelled the end for 2D games and especially shooters. Sega Saturn was also a major casualty of this shift. The system had one foot in each world, 2D and 3D, but the kids of the '90s didn't have patience for half measures. You were either on the bus or you were off the bus. Companies like Sega, Taito and Acclaim found themselves off that bus. No more Electric Kool-Aid. No more Merry Prankster-isms. No more shooting giant walleye with a bird that spits out localized black holes while Diva Plavalaguna serenades you. Welcome to the adult world, kid. Sucks to be you.
 

DGrayson

Mod Team and Bat Team
Staff Member
DT MEDIA DT MEDIA care to describe your Saturn setup? What kind of TV do you play on?

Awesome write ups as usual.


Nevermind just saw on the last page you said its a 13" Trinitron?
 
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DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus
DT MEDIA DT MEDIA care to describe your Saturn setup? What kind of TV do you play on?

Awesome write ups as usual.


Thank you very much for the support. I'm grateful that NeoGAF allows me this little space to write all these crazy essays.

My main television is a Sony Bravia HDTV, 40-inch widescreen. It's one of the lower-end models with only one composite, one component and five HDMI outputs. The picture quality is very good and does a very good job of upscaling SD sources without introducing a lot of input lag. I have a Japanese Saturn, one of the eggshell white models that you can import from Japan for $75, which is connected to the TV via composite cables (I have s-video but this TV doesn't have inputs). A Pro Action Replay cart is installed, which allows me to play all regions. Nearly all of the screenshots that have appeared in my essay reviews were taken directly off this television using an iPad camera.

Recently, I also received a 13" Sony Trinitron CRT for free, which sits in the bedroom and is connected to the Nintendo Wii (mostly for Netflix). I have the Saturn plugged into that TV right now, as you can see from the recent screenshots. This TV has coaxial and composite inputs only, and I recently purchased an RF cable for my Saturn, mostly out of a desire to recreate the videogame setups I had many years ago, and also just out of sheer curiosity. I also really don't like the hyper-sharpened, over-pixelated look of modern emulators and digital displays. Today's indie gaming scene is largely based on this misconception that retro games were very blocky, which was never the case. Most gamers in 1995 would have been horrified at the sight of large pixels.

It's much more challenging to capture screenshots from CRT than HDTV, and for the Saturn book project I might have to return to using the Bravia for photos. In terms of picture quality, I do prefer the Trinitron, as that is the native resolution for the system. The images appear very crisp and clean with a minimum of pixelation, even with the RF cable attached. Compared against composite, RF has more color bleeding and a smoother image, but lacks the "dot crawl" effect that irritates me so much. The Trinitron's display is extremely sharp, and you can easily see scanlines, which is usually not the case with most consumer CRT TVs.

I was a Saturn owner since the very beginning at the Summer of 1995, and I bought and sold (or broke) several Saturns over the years. My current collecting wave began in 2007 when I began to discover the Japanese library, thanks to a few Twin Cities videogame stores that stocked import games. Fortunately, I started collecting before everything became monstrously expensive. Thankfully, there are still many great software titles among all regions that are easily found for $10 or less, and I strongly recommend that option for all Saturn fans.

Hope that helps.
 

DGrayson

Mod Team and Bat Team
Staff Member
DT MEDIA DT MEDIA great write up thanks.

I loved my Saturn but I got it late and didnt play all the games. XMen vs SF probably got the most play, I also had the action replay 4 in 1 cart. I eventually sold all my software (including Dragon Force) and I have one broken Saturn and one working one left, but I will sell them eventually.

Luckily Saturn emulation is ok, but reading your write ups really take me back to that Saturn vs PS1, Electronic Gaming Monthly sort of time.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus














Street Fighter Zero 3 (1999, Capcom)

Thank Heavens for Capcom and their dedicated support for Sega. They were essential partners on Genesis, Sega CD, Saturn and Dreamcast, offering many of their greatest arcade hits that helped propel these systems to success. I can't imagine a world where the two companies are not close partners; indeed, a vital part of both parties died when Sega fully retreated from the hardware realm in 2001. Neither have been the same ever since.

Street Fighter Zero 3 is Capcom's farewell love letter to the Saturn. The title was heavily rumored during the system's final year, only to suddenly appear on the Sony Playstation to rave reviews, followed closely by a Naomi-adapted Dreamcast release in July 1999. Then the "lost" Saturn version miraculously appeared in August, one of the very last videogames released on the system. And wouldn't you know it, but it's the best home version of them all.

This is a spectacular arcade fighting game. For many years, Zero/Alpha 3 was near-universally regarded as the greatest Street Fighter ever made, and one can appreciate how Capcom really swung for the fences, throwing in dozens of stages, three separate special attack playing styles (called "-isms") and nearly every character ever seen in the series to that point. This home version even adds an additional eight characters to the roster. Multiple gameplay options include standard Arcade mode in which you face off against ten opponents (varying based on which character you use), a sprawling World Tour that rivals the legendary Soul Calibur, and Survival, Dramatic Battle and Reverse Dramatic Battle modes.

Each of these gameplay modes are also found on the Sony Playstation release, but the Saturn version uses the 4MB RAM cartridge which enables a nearly pixel perfect translation of the arcade, with stunningly fluid character animation and stage designs, and loading times that are virtually nonexistent. There are loads of voice samples of the upbeat announcer, who reminds me of the tournament scene with his over-caffeinated demeanor. Where Street Fighter 3: Third Strike captures a 21st Century hip-hop mood, Zero 3 captures the dynamic spirit of turn-of-the-century futurism. "The Year 2000" was still a fabled paradise in our imaginations, the realization of our Star Trek utopian dreams, an electric spirit that flowed through our fingertips. The future was here and we were the lucky ones to experience it firsthand.

I always appreciated how the Street Fighter Zero/Alpha series focused its energies on creating new characters (or reviving lost fighters from the original, slightly obscure Street Fighter). I felt particularly burnt out on the series after Super Street Fighter 2 with its lackluster new characters (the only one anybody remembers is Cammy because, let's face it, she's a hot chick in a skimpy swimsuit); new characters such as Rose, Adon, Gen, Birdie and especially Sakura helped to breathe new life into the franchise, to say nothing of the recurring cast from Final Fight. Zero 3 adds a few interesting new brawlers such as Karin and R. Mika and Cody (who is now a depressed jailbird) and I really enjoy playing them a lot. That said, who am I kidding? I'm going to be playing Honda and Blanka and Ken every chance I get.

The gameplay of Zero 3 is honed to perfection, with all the techniques and maneuvers acquired through the series. Veterans will know understand the nuances between the -isms, know how to pull off reversals and how to cancel normal attacks into supers. More casual players who used to pump quarters into the original Street Fighter 2 will get to speed easily, and will certainly feel overjoyed to see how large the cast has grown (they'll probably ask at some point why Mike Haggar doesn't jump into the fight, instead being content to watch on the sidelines). My own skills lie somewhere in the middle, having played the arcade version to death on MAME in the early 2000s (the arcades were already extinct by that time), shortly after Sega cut the Dreamcast loose. I wouldn't last very long on the tournament circuit, but I could handle myself as long as I had a good joystick or Saturn "model 2" controller.

I think it can be said that one buys a Sega Saturn just to play Street Fighter Zero 3. This was especially true in 1999 and remains so today, despite the fact that the title is now widely available on any number of compilations. Of course, you can also say the same thing about a couple dozen other titles, and time hasn't diminished any of the appeal or energy, provided you are in the mood to appreciate the effort. The only problem is that a Japanese retail disc is frightfully expensive and has been so almost since the beginning. This was one of the first Saturn games to hit that $100 milestone. That price has since exploded sixfold, despite its wide availability on the used market. "Rare," my eye. If that isn't a crime, I don't know what is. There are, as they say, other methods to get around that problem. If you happen to be sitting at a corner cafe and a burned copy of Zero 3 suddenly drops into your lap, well, I didn't see nothing and I won't raise any eyebrows. Like Dylan said, to live outside the law you must be honest, and you can't help it if you're lucky.

(Edit: Added a couple new photos from the Trinitron.)
 
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mechafan64

Neo Member
Here are some photos of a higher-end VGA monitor (Iiyama Vision Master Pro 450) running Retroarch in 240p. Unfortunately the colors came out rather desaturated when in fact the monitor is *very* bright and yields a great, colorful image. Of course, even a real Saturn via RGB on a D24 BVM would never be as sharp, but I think it's still fun to see detailed spritework displayed on high TV line/high dot pitch monitors that didn't exist when these games came out. After all, that's what Friday nights are for, right?

 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Here are some photos of a higher-end VGA monitor (Iiyama Vision Master Pro 450) running Retroarch in 240p. Unfortunately the colors came out rather desaturated when in fact the monitor is *very* bright and yields a great, colorful image. Of course, even a real Saturn via RGB on a D24 BVM would never be as sharp, but I think it's still fun to see detailed spritework displayed on high TV line/high dot pitch monitors that didn't exist when these games came out. After all, that's what Friday nights are for, right?

Looks great! And Keio is such a fun game. That monitor looks like it belongs on its side permanently in tate to play shmups... :D
 

mechafan64

Neo Member
DunDunDunpachi, you should definitely write up that CRT summary you had mentioned previously - it'd be cool if we could all contribute Saturn pics to distinguish the different video cables and monitor types! Something like a mini-crowdsourced album to keep this fun thread going? Or just post how we each have our Saturns hooked up?

Personally, I have a US Model 1 + Rhea hooked up via RGB to a Sony PVM-20L5, and a Japanese Model 2 (I payed a bit extra for the whitest looking unit I could find on eBay) + Phoebe, which is right now a backup system not connected to anything.
 

DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
DunDunDunpachi, you should definitely write up that CRT summary you had mentioned previously - it'd be cool if we could all contribute Saturn pics to distinguish the different video cables and monitor types! Something like a mini-crowdsourced album to keep this fun thread going? Or just post how we each have our Saturns hooked up?

Personally, I have a US Model 1 + Rhea hooked up via RGB to a Sony PVM-20L5, and a Japanese Model 2 (I payed a bit extra for the whitest looking unit I could find on eBay) + Phoebe, which is right now a backup system not connected to anything.
It will take me a bit, but yeah I would likely make a post out of it instead of a full thread.

Your setup sounds great! I'd like to RGB-mod my tubes, but that won't be a priority until I begin building the frames and panels for their arcade chassis.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus








Battle Garegga (1997, Raizing/Eighting)

There are hardcore videogames, and then there are hardcore videogames, the ones that break down all but the most stubborn and defiant of players. Ninja Gaiden on NES is one example, Battletoads is another. Raizing's Battle Garegga easily belongs in this club.

For the last 15 years, the Shmups.System11 forums have conducted an annual poll to rank the 25 greatest arcade shooters ever made; Battle Garegga nearly always finishes in first or second, losing only to Cave's DoDonPachi. This game has become a holy grail for the genre thanks to a combination of brilliant audiovisuals, a deep and richly complex gameplay system, and absolutely crushing difficulty that rewards patience and practice. It inspires and frustrates in equal measure, and I'm not just speaking for myself. Even if you find yourself overwhelmed and pulling the hair out of your head, you have to enjoy the ride and respect the effort.

Battle Garegga is a vertically-scrolling military shooter that reminds you of the classic Toaplan classics like Twin Cobra as well as Capcom's 194x series. You fly an assortment of fighter planes across skies, mountains, forests, oceans and industrial bases. The game's design feels like a 1940s version of steampunk, World War II mashed up with futuristic anime machines. Each of the four main fighter planes have their own unique attacks as well as "option" fighters who accompany you in a number of aerial formations. Sneaking through the options menu reveals four extra fighters who originally appeared in the 1993 fantasy-themed arcade shooter Mahou Daisakusen, as well as a host of customizable options that will keep everybody happy for a long time. Believe me, you'll need some of 'em.

Visually, this game is a sprite-crushing masterpiece for Sega Saturn, pushing the system's 2D powers to its limit. All of the enemy ships, tanks, bunkers and aircraft shatter and explode in bursts of shrapnel, sometimes falling slowly out of the sky, sometimes exploding in a burst of fire. Add to this the impressive number of bullets filling the screen at any given time, as well as their varying shapes and sizes, in addition to your own cannons, fireballs and smart bombs. Saturn takes all of this in stride. I can only imagine how badly the 16-bit consoles would have choked trying to handle these graphics.

Note the first stage boss battle against an large bomber armed with multiple gun turrets and cannons, each of which fires dizzying rounds of bullets in your direction. As you shoot out the engines, rolling walls of flame erupt from the wings. Eventually, a large cannon emerges and fires mortar shells at you. After that is destroyed, another weapon emerges that unleashes spread-shot patterns in your direction. All the while, dark clouds race below you as a deep canyon stretches in the distance. It's quite an impressive feat; if anything, it's a little too impressive at times.

This brings up a common sticking point with this game: it's very to lose track of who's shooting at what. The shrapnel blends into the bullets which hides behind the explosions which gets lost in the rust-colored backgrounds. Expert players and those who have devoted months and years of playtime will manage nicely, but what about the rest of us? Tough luck, kid. Tell it to all those GIs who were cut down on Normandy Beach without warning. This is war. Also, and this is the more honest answer, this is a video arcade game, and the manufacturer requires you to drop another two quarters into the machine every sixty seconds. Indeed, Battle Garegga's ranking system is designed specifically to punish you for not dying on cue, ramping up the difficulty based on a number of factors. Again, the experts have learned how to game that system and manipulate it for maximum effect (such as knowing when to avoid power-ups and when to lose a life), which is one key reason why they love it so much.

Battle Garegga is one of those videogames that I deeply respect and admire, but only play on rare occasions. The difficulty is simply too far off the charts for me, and I say this with the awareness that I could become better if I just sat down and practiced more. If I were still ten years old, I would probably have this game wrapped around my fingers. That said, whenever I pop the disc into my Saturn, I quickly find myself wondering, Hey, why am I not playing this more often? It's certainly a better waste of my time than channel surfing the idiot box or flipping through Twitter in the vain hope I will learn something. Toss in a tall glass of Guinness and Pearl Jam on the turntable, and that's a pretty good evening.
 
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DunDunDunpachi

Patient MembeR
Great write-up on Battle Garegga! You really captured how crazy the game gets. I love how it becomes harder the better you do. Every bullet your ship shoots, every Power Up you receive, every Bomb you hoard, and every Life you have in stock will increase the Rank. Bullet speed goes up. Number of bullets go up. Even the rate at which the items fall off the screen speeds up! Time-honored strategies actually encourage you to suicide your ship at regular intervals to balance out the Rank. It's insane...

While this is a Saturn thread, it's worth pointing out how expensive a copy is on the Saturn. If you just want to play the game, there's an exceptional digital version made by M2 ShotTriggers on the PS4. You can get it physical, but you'd have to import from S. Korea.
 

DT MEDIA

GAF's Resident Saturn Omnibus






DoDonPachi (1997, Cave and Atlus)

Oh, Yeah! DoDonPachi, Cave's manic, bullet-hell masterpiece. The heaviest, loudest, fastest, most intense shoot-em-up ever created. It's such a wild ride, so gloriously and insanely over-the-top, so wildly colorful and luminous. This is the videogame equivalent of chugging down Red Bulls and Jolt Colas at a rave party like Party Pete five minutes before he explodes. It’s a gloriously chaotic roller coaster thrill ride that you can barely control, and it's just about the most exciting game ever made for the Sega Saturn. I can barely understand what I am doing. I cannot last ten seconds without being blown to pieces. I burn through all my credits by the fifth stage. I don't care.

One does not "conquer" or "master" DoDonPachi so much as simply survive. This game is an exercise in the delicate art of cheating death, as your spaceship faces endless waves of enemy aircraft, battleships, tanks, fortresses and enormous bosses and massively enormous bosses. And every single one of those enemies are firing bullets, lasers and rockets at you. How the heck did I escape that?! Literally every pixel on the screen is moving, flashing, firing, or exploding. And you're always caught in smack in the middle of the mess. This feels like an arcade shoot-em-up that begins where all the other genre titles ended, cranking all the dials to maximum, gleefully reveling in the beauty of pure chaos.

Cave was a new software studio founded by staff from the legendary Toaplan, who were the masters of arcade shooters. Their first title DonPachi is an excellent debut that continues the old tradition while also looking towards the future. DoDonPachi fully embraces that future and stands as a landmark in the emerging "danmaku" or "bullet hell" style, known for its overwhelming waves of enemy bullets and tiny "hit boxes" that enable your ship to narrowly dodge those assaults. Everything in this game is over-sized and over-the-top. Even the basic enemies such as helicopters and tanks, foes that are smashed to the sound of shattering glass, are fairly large and entire squadrons take up the entire screen. Mid-bosses of various shapes and types pour pink bullets from their cannons and dominate the landscape. The end-stage bosses are enormous machines that often must be dismantled piece by piece, allowing for some epic fights.

There is a destructive glee in smashing these armies with your massively overpowered laser cannons, as though you were set loose in a glassware shop with a baseball bat and given free rein to wreak havoc. Of course, with DoDonPachi, the glassware can fire back in equal measure. As early as the second stage, you will find yourself outgunned and barely escaping one attack after another, and it's quite a thrill to miraculously cheat death. Many times, I have survived a seemingly impossible wave of bullets and lasers and have said to myself, well, how did I get here? This is not my beautiful house.

This game is fairly short, offering only six main stages (although the "Saturn Mode" includes an additional introductory stage at the onset), but true mastery requires you to successfully "loop" the game at least once before reaching the final end boss. The secret to unlocking this second pathway to victory is itself a challenge, as you must do one of the following: lose up to two lives; score at least 50 million points; collect all 13 hidden bee icons in four of the six stages; earn a maximum hit count of 270 hits (Fighter A), 300 hits (Fighter B) or 330 hits (Fighter C). An elaborate scoring system allows you to chain together attacks for score multipliers, which is how you can reach those points and hits goals. Skilled players will know when to use bullets or lasers, know which enemies to avoid and which ones to attack, and know how to wear down the bosses for maximum gain. With enough time and practice, you will be able to successfully "chain" an entire stage.

The Saturn version of DoDonPachi remains overly expensive, despite the fact that dozens of copies are easily available on eBay. If you can find a retail copy for under $80, you should probably pick it up. The aforementioned Saturn Mode enables an extra stage an easier challenge, which is great for beginner or casual players. Like all the vertical-scrolling shooters on the system, two-player games are highly encouraged, and you have the option of playing in "yoko" (standard) and "tate" (sideways) modes. Compared to the Sony Playstation version (also available only in Japan), this version features slightly pixelated explosions, which really isn't an issue unless somebody points it out to you, but allows you to select your fighter when continuing. The PSX version has the smoother explosions, but you cannot change aircraft when continuing, and some changes were made to score-chaining. Console fans on both sides will argue which translation is best (and diehard DDP fans will only play the arcade original), but the truth is that they're both equally brilliant and smashing good fun.

I cannot complete any report on DoDonPachi without praising its searing rock soundtrack, which has always been a highlight of the best shoot-em-ups. It's the next best thing to having Eddie Van Halen torching his guitar in your living room while you're blasting aliens, and I cannot imagine this game any other way. This game will sound sensational pouring through your home theater system, matching the adrenaline thrills of the gameplay perfectly. It is no coincidence that guitar rock and video arcades declined at the same time. Can you imagine playing a Cave shooter to some pre-packaged boy band? Ugh. Shudder the thought.
 
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