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Syd of Valis

I’ve never understood the appeal of the whole super deformed thing. I get the whole “cute” angle of it but aside from the novelty of seeing chibi renditions of your fan favorite characters (as SD is usually applied to popular properties) it does nothing for gameplay. The only time I guess it added any benefit to a game would be Super Puzzle Fighter. Syd of Valis is one of the few SD games to reach America and is a prime example of what I mentioned. Aside from the cute graphical overhaul this is simply a bad version of an already middling game.

The name Syd of Valis might lead you to believe that this is a new installment in Renovation’s series when in actuality it is a repurposed port of Valis II. The name is unfortunately a localization error; apparently the staff at Renovation thought Syd sounded close enough to “SD” that they chose to rename the game, completing defeating the purpose of its original name. That wouldn’t be so bad if they also hadn’t changed Yuko’s name to Syd as well. As an unintentionally funny port of Valis II this port opened the game up to a larger audience as there weren’t many who owned a Turbo CD. It’s admirable but would have been better appreciated if it fixed the flaws of the original game rather than adding even more of its own.

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The graphics, while stylized, are an improvement on the original. All of the character sprites have undergone a cuddly makeover with large eyes and over the top expressions when hit. The big head/small body look is not to everyone’s tastes however it looks good here, especially since the sprites are so large.  This is most evident with the bosses. The backgrounds have at least one layer of scrolling in comparison to the flat backdrops of its Turbo Grafx counterpart. Unfortunately the long cutscenes and extensive voice acting were lost in the process but given the game’s look I don’t even want to imagine how those would have turned out.

What little story remains in the game has been butchered pretty heavily which is just sad. For a game with so little text the fact that it has been mangled is simply baffling. The series followed anime tropes through and through but the fact that there were extended cutscenes at all at least provided some impetus to continue through the average gameplay. There are spelling errors and repeated dialogue throughout the game which shows just how little care was put into this package. It’s doubly disappointing as Renovation at least did a solid job with all of the other installments in the series.

Where the story and such have taken a large step back Yuko remains largely unchanged. Yuko moves at a brisk pace but also slides around a bit due to the bad physics. The slide attack is gone but in its place is a very useful double jump although platforming isn’t called on too frequently. You can also attack upwards which doesn’t sound like much but is a big deal considering the number of flying enemies and bosses in the game.

One noticeable improvement in the gameplay department would be the inventory of armor and weapons brought over from the MSX and PC88 originals. The different suits of armor modify your base defense, attack power, and speed with very tangible results although to be honest I stuck with the basic Valis suit until I received the ultimate armor with no major impact on my progress. They’ve even added an exclusive Chinese dress for some creepy fan service. The three additional weapons are earned at set points and can be switched at any time. There is some strategy to using the appropriate weapon to trivialize a boss encounter (usually the three-way shot) and the game does a good job keeping even the basic fireball you start with relevant by making it the most powerful.

In all other respects however the game has been overly simplified. While the levels are largely based on the originals they have been streamlined; gone are the separate paths through most stages as well as nooks that hid items. Most stages are a simple straight path and incredibly short. Were it not for the game’s sloppy physics and insane difficulty at times I wager most would finish the game in thirty minutes or less. Speaking of difficulty the game has notable spikes that will make you wonder what the hell just happened. Nearly all of the bosses hit hard and fast with some possessing attacks that are almost impossible to judge. The first boss moves so quick I honestly thought you were supposed to lose! Later bosses have two or three forms that require near perfect execution to defeat. In all other respects however the game is simple with frequent life restoring hearts and weaker midlevel bosses that refill your life bar after death.

Syd of Valis is a different take on a classic game but that doesn’t make it good. The myriad number of problems, from its ridiculous challenge, sliding physics, and boring level design make it an average game in a library full of far better titles in the same genre. There is no reason to ever bother with this subpar effort.

5-out-of-101

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Mugen Senshi Valis

It’s strange; by any metric the Valis series is nothing but a bunch of solid and sometimes below average games yet I love them to death. Maybe that love stems from their uniquely Japanese aesthetic or the fact that they make use of extensive cutscenes which to my teenaged mind was the greatest thing ever. While I was familiar with the Genesis version of the original it would be many years before I would have the chance to play its other 16-bit counterpart. As a port/enhanced remake this is definitely the better of the two titles although that still means it is just solid.

This would actually turn out to be the last console port of the original game, even after the fourth installment. Why Telenet felt the need to go back and remake the game is a mystery but their efforts are welcome. Valis in its original form on the MSX and various Japanese PC formats was an insipid game, even worse than the confusing Famicom installment. The Sega remake was decent for the time but has definitely aged badly and while this version is undoubtedly the best it also suffers the same fate to an extent. While good there are still far better action platformers on the same platform.

Although they share many of the same stage themes and bosses this version of the game is overall quite different from its Sega counterpart. At first glance Yuko seems to control identically to the Genesis game but numerous small improvements have been made that create a smoother experience. The default jump no longer relies on pressing up to gain height and is instead based on how long the button is pressed. Most importantly the slide move has been better integrated into the game with plenty of low ceilings and gaps that require its use to cross. It can also be used to attack. Yuko still runs pretty slowly unfortunately but this is not supposed to be a fast paced game anyway.

This installment in the series is far more focused on combat than platforming with a suitable array of weapons for the task. There are a variety of weapons that produce different projectiles from the Valis sword such as homing arrows, the wide shot and my personal favorite, the sword shot. Collecting the same power-up three times will max out its power for devastating results. New magic spells are learned after defeating each boss although I’ll admit I forgot they were even in the game since you won’t really need them.

I found the difficulty overall to be pretty low. Yuko’s life bar is pretty long and while there are a number of cheap hits to be found life restoring hearts can be found everywhere. The bosses do put up a bit of a fight but their patterns are easy to discern making these encounters fairly routine. The game does not refill your health between levels but that poses little obstacle since it is better to simply die for a fresh start. The levels are a bit sparse compared to your typical action game and only pick up slightly in the latter half. Even then with full power you’ll breeze through this in less than an hour, especially since it is shorter than the other versions.

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As an early PC Engine CD Valis has a mild presentation. Yuko and the various enemies she faces are comprised of medium sized sprites. The backgrounds range from pretty detailed to just barely above Famicom level. The lack of any scrolling in these flat backdrops is pretty noticeable but the game’s excellent use of the system’s color palette helps somewhat. Compared to the MSX and PC-88 originals the visual leap is pretty significant as the color palette isn’t a garish nightmare. There is a gratuitous amount of fan service in the game that is pretty surprising. Every time Yuko jumps her dress flies up giving you a full view of her panties. The cinemas also revel in lingering on her body whenever she is getting dressed or changes outfits. Honestly it’s nothing out of the ordinary considering the popularity of anime but is still hilarious to see in action.

The added CD space was definitely put to use in the game’s many cutscenes. The end of every act features a few minutes of animation as the story progresses although the amount and length is surprisingly less than the Genesis game. However all of it is fully voiced. In fact there is a fair amount of voiced dialogue between Yuko and each of the game’s bosses although sadly it is lost on those of us who don’t speak Japanese. The soundtrack is fantastic, with excellent remixes of the cartridge music remastered in redbook audio.

As the original game in the series Mugen Senshi Valis is not an exceptional game by today’s standards and is merely adequate. It isn’t as great as later titles such as Dracula X (then again what is?) but is a very solid second tier release for those looking for more action platforming.

7-out-of-10

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Psycho Dream

When Sega bought publisher Renovation they inadvertently screwed many SNES gamers out of some pretty cool imports. Arcus Odyssey was cancelled (but the full game still exists online), The Journey Home’s localization went kaput, and the subject of this review was also canned. Psycho Dream should have been released here as Dream Probe but sadly wasn’t meant to be. It doesn’t matter though as it can still be enjoyed regardless; the only text is in the intro and is inconsequential. Similar in style to Valis and El Viento (all developed by the same company) it is just as good if not better than those titles and worth tracking down for fans of action games.

While the game does not have cut scenes to drive along its plot the story is fairly in depth. Sayaka Kaori has fallen into a coma, with the only means of reaching her being a machine that can peer into dreams. The National Public Safety Commission are the only ones authorized to enter people’s minds and sends two of their best officers, Ryo and Maria, to hopefully save Sayaka’s life.

The fairly in depth plot provides a perfect backdrop for the proceedings that follow. Because the game takes place in Sayaka’s mind there’s a dream like haze to the action that is surreal. The game takes place in a mix between modern day locations that have been overrun by dream demons like something out of a Megaten game. Both Ryo and Maria take on alternate forms to better deal with the chaos in Sayaka’s mind and how you approach the action is slightly different depending on who you’ve chosen.

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Both heroes have their own individual weapons and gameplay differences that make playing with each a unique experience. Ryo is a cyborg who starts out with a sword but gains a sickle that increases in size and the arc it covers as it levels up. The sickles annoyingly don’t cover the same length as the default sword however at its max level it becomes a whirlwind of lasers that rebound off nearly every surface. Maria starts out with a Belmont style whip but trades it for a mean pair of claws. They are powerful but also force you into close range which doesn’t make sense in my book; it should have been the other way around. In her ultimate form she gains butterfly wings that slow her descent after jumping.

Collecting blue crystals rather than yellow will send your weapon down a different evolutionary path. Blue crystals grant a laser gun that is exceedingly weak at first but becomes better as it levels. For Ryo it will eventually become a more focused three way laser; for Maria it gains homing capabilities but is weak. While I found it useful in spots having to wait until it is fully powered before it becomes useful means you’re better off sticking with upgrading your standard weapon.

This is a slower paced action game, one that is more focused on combat than platforming. Each level is comprised of multiple segments and fairly long with plenty of enemies to kill along the way. It bears a heavy resemblance to Valis, another Riot/Telenet game. Unlike those games however Psycho Dream comes up short in enemy variety and interesting creatures to kill. You’re mostly fighting slugs, snakes, and gelatinous creations that seem indifferent to your presence. There are occasional flashes of inspiration, such as stage 5’s high speed run up to the final stage but these moments are fleeting. You’re given a lot of powerful weapons but outside of the boss battles you’ll be hard pressed to find interesting enemies to use them against.

Overall Psycho Dream is a bit easy and worst of all short. You have infinite continues and although you are kicked back to the beginning of the current stage that is a minor impediment. The 300 second time limit I guess is supposed to instill a sense of urgency however it resets whenever you enter the next block of a level. With that in mind you can very easily sit and kill fodder enemies to refill your life bar in most spots with little fear. The only real challenge comes from the boss battles and that has more to do with the spotty hit detection than any complicated patterns of attack. These bastards are extremely cheap, inflict massive damage with every strike and are near impossible if you aren’t decently powered up. However it is never so bad that you won’t feel like giving up out of frustration. With only six levels it can be completed in a short afternoon which sucks as it is a solid game.

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Graphically Psycho Dream is carried by its art design. The creatures you’ll encounter among the various landscapes don’t resemble any of the typical demons you find in most games. The enemy list mostly consists of what appear to be floating amoeba and various demon world insects. While it eschews gimmicky special effects the game leans heavily on transparency effects. It’s pretty cool if a bit overused. The standard enemies aren’t anything to write home about but the large bosses certainly make up for them. These mayors are huge, screen filling monstrosities that every bit as terrifying to look at as fight. The only area the game comes up lacking is in its music, which isn’t terribly exciting. Surprising as I’ve enjoyed Michiko Naruke’s work on the Wild Arms series tremendously.

With greater enemy variety and another stage or two this could have been excellent but instead is merely solid. Although it stayed in Japan the only text is in the intro making the game extremely import friendly. It’s probably dirt cheap too and worth tracking down.

7-out-of-10-1

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Final Zone II

It really is a shame that the Turbo Grafx-16 and its CD add-on never achieved the level of success it deserved.  Now I’m not saying that the US library was in anyway comparable to the Genesis or SNES but it deserved better, especially from its parent company.  If even a fraction of the games released in japan came to the US the system wouldn’t be so obscure.

As is there are large gaps in its library, most prominently the side scrolling action genre.  While shmups were in ready supply gamers in the US were left with tripe such as Shockman and this travesty, Final Zone II.  This average title would normally be forgotten in history however it lives on in infamy due to its legendary English dub, one of the worst atrocities known to man.

Captain Bowie and his squadron of commandos are preparing to quell a rebellion on a remote island from space but are attacked first, leaving a hole in the hull of their ship.  Nearly everyone dies aside from a few who were lucky enough to be in their NAPS suits.  Picking up the pieces it’s up to Bowie and his comrades to piece together who is orchestrating events to try and kill him.

The story is a confusing mess that isn’t told very well despite the abundance of cut scenes.  Since the first game never saw release in America the ties between the two games are lost on us.  Even in spite of all this you can’t say they didn’t try.  There are an extensive number of cinemas in the game that, while badly animated (if at all) and lacking any context can at least be considered a reward, although not the way the developers intended.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Final Zone II has one of the top ten worst English dubs ever recorded, up there with Resident Evil and Deep Fear.  It’s apparent the cast were given no direction as there is absolutely no emotion in any of the line readings; it seems more concern was given to enunciating the words rather than emoting.  The game’s script doesn’t help of course but that is only a small part of the problem.  In addition to the lack of care in any of the performances the mouth flaps don’t match the dialogue and is worse than in any Kung Fu movie I’ve ever seen.  It isn’t all bad on the sound front however as the soundtrack is actually pretty nice but it doesn’t save the game aurally.

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The game itself abandons the ill-conceived squad tactics of its predecessor for straightforward top down shooting action.  Regardless of the character chosen each moves pretty fast and can fire in eight directions.  Unlike most action games your weapons are actually fired from each arm with your main gun coming from the left side.  It’s weird and takes some getting used to as your bullets come from off center.  The few power-ups will extend your life bar, refill health or replenish your secondary ammo.  The game is fairly balanced in that these will usually appear at just the right time.

Although their general mechanics are the same what separates each member are their selection of weapons.  Everyone has a primary armament that has unlimited ammo and a secondary that is more powerful but limited.  There are pretty major differences between characters with Hansen’s spread gun working well at clearing groups but lacking range, Hannah’s’ unlimited range laser, and Velder’s short range light saber.

For the first half you are stuck controlling a given character in each stage but the second half allows you to choose from at two.  There is some strategy to choosing the right hero for a given mission but to be honest with a little bit of skill you can use anyone.  Enemies tend to attack in groups for the most part although certain stages do vary it up somewhat.  While it is typical of the genre the lack of enemy variety really becomes grating within short order.  It isn’t until the games latter half that new enemies are introduced at which point these are repeated for a few more stages.  The final level takes a weird turn into sci-fi territory which does vary it up a bit although it comes out of left field.

From all accounts issuing commands and trying to coordinate your team members in the first game was a nightmare so excising those elements makes for a more solid product.  However if they could have corrected the flaws in the system it would have really helped the game stand out because as is it is a typical run of the mill shooter.  Competent, but not very exciting.  The only detour in gameplay comes in stage three which is a forward scrolling helicopter chase.

With a little more variety in its gameplay this could have risen above its average status.  What’s here is serviceable but not something you’ll go out of your way to track down unless you want to experience its bad voice acting firsthand.  And we have youtube for that.

5-out-of-101

 

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Gaiares

Thanks to its relatively fast processor the Genesis is home to nearly any incarnation of the shooter genre.  You like space ships?  Thunderforce.  You like cutesy shit?  Panorama Cotton (which is incredible by the way).  Arcade ports?  Afterburner 2.  You get the point.  For a game to truly stand out in a sea of similar fare it has to be special.  Gaiares is not only just that but one of the absolute best shooters ever released for the console.  That’s hefty praise but the game itself lives up to the hype and then some.

Gaiares does nothing to hide its anime inspired roots and actually uses that as a distinguishing point in its intro.  In the distant future Earth has become a wasteland due to man’s hubris.  A space pirate group named Gulfer has plans to harvest the planet’s waste to create WMDs.  An ultimatum is issued to Earth from the United Star Cluster of Leezaluth: destroy Gulfer or they will make the Sun go supernova and do it for us.  That’s a bit extreme don’t you think?  The exchange isn’t one sided however: Leezaluth offer to restore Earth if they are successful and offer an experimental ship to help in the process.

Despite Gaiares’ quality it was criminally overlooked by the masses.  There are a number of factors that led to this of course.  The game was released in 1990, a year before the Genesis would explode in popularity due to a certain blue hedgehog.  But if you ask me Renovation’s marketing of the game certainly didn’t do it any favors.  Observe:

Why they thought a dude with a mullet was such a perfect shill for the game I’ll never know.  But what I do know is that the campaign failed, leaving Gaiares a cult classic beloved by all who sampled its greatness.  Aside from the punishing difficulty Gaiares has something for everyone and has earned its place among the Sega shooter elite.

While most shooters were content to put their own little spin on the R-Type style power-up system Gaiares went for a different tact.  Aside from a shield that will protect you from a few hits and missiles your only weapon is the TMZ system that functions a bit similar to the Force in R-Type.  While it doesn’t attach to your ship it can be used a shield to block projectiles, adds extra firepower and can be shot out to destroy enemies.  It’s most important function is that it can latch on and steal enemy weapons.

Years before Square would experiment with this mechanic in Einhander Gaiares did it first.  The vast majority of enemies you come across will have some form of weapon you can capture and its one of the coolest weapon systems of all time.  As an added bonus, copying the same enemy type more than once will increase its level.  The weapons are fairly typical, ranging from thin lasers and homing shots to spread shots and wide beams.  Overall there are close to 20 weapons and the levels are long enough that you’ll have multiple opportunities to switch if you so choose.

The speed of the game takes some adjusting to.  Gaiares is a fast game, with the levels alternating between slower paced segments that emphasize careful maneuvering and break neck sections that literally don’t allow you to blink lest you die.  The background graphics feature tons of asteroids and warping effects, making it very easy to get lost in the chaos.  There are a few truly awesome moments in the levels such as navigating through a sea of black holes but the rest of the game doesn’t manage to keep up that level of creativity unfortunately.  Unlike the majority of space shooters out there the enemies you face are mostly robotic and feature a ton of really cool mech designs.

As you can imagine between the game’s speed and level design this is one tough beast.  You will literally earn every square inch of progress as the enemy assault is relentless.  Depending on the weapon you’ve captured the game can be mind-numbingly easy at times and controller smashing hard.  While the homing fire is incredibly useful for individual targets once they’ve separated into different groups around the screen you’re screwed.  The laser is powerful but covers so little screen real estate you’ll have to risk stepping in the line of fire to make it effective.  Each weapon is equal parts risk/reward but it sucks if you’ve chosen unwisely and can’t snag a replacement.

There are very few checkpoints in each level and you don’t respawn upon death.  The levels are a bit long and its soul crushing to die with a weapon you’ve maxed out and can’t immediately replace.  This is the type of game that revels in showing you an otherwise empty corridor only to slap you down for not noticing the loose bricks on the ceiling.  It might seem unfair but there are enough subtle visual cues that you can avoid the traps if you are patient.  There’s a hefty amount of trial and error involved in reaching each area’s conclusion.  There were plenty of Genesis shooters that allowed you to vary the speed of your ship but Gaiares is one of the few where it’s actually crucial to survive.  The bosses in particular move faster than you and the near uncontrollable max speed is the only means to keep up.  At 8 levels with limited continues I can safely say few will see the end of the game without cheating.

This is a tough one to grade.  On one hand it has everything that would place it in classic status, excellent graphics, innovative gameplay, and good controls but the challenge is higher than the average gamer is used to.  If you’re the type that can stomach a game that puts up a fight Gaiares is everything you can possibly want.  But if you’re a weak sauce gamer who needs his hand held look elsewhere.

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Elemental Master

I’m pretty sure very few have played this great shmup.  Technosoft were no stranger to the genre and some would say they were the undisputed master during the 16-bit era.  This little known gem slipped under the radar somehow which is a shame considering its creator’s pedigree.  The Thunderforce series is legendary and while this does not reach such lofty heights it still manages to be an enjoyable experience all the same.

What is this, a shooter with a plot and cutscenes?  The evil king Gyra and his followers were sealed under the kingdom of Lorelei long ago.  That much power is too tempting to resist and it’s only a matter of time before someone covets it, in this case the sorcerer Aryaag.  Aryaag is attacked by Laden, the kingdom’s most powerful sorcerer only to reveal himself as Laden’s brother before banishing him.  And so the journey begins. Don’t get too caught up in the story, it’s there simply to set up the conflict but it is a nice touch.  Similar in style to Namco’s Phelios but much better in execution Elemental Master is one of the most enjoyable shooters around due to its balanced action and mechanics.

Laden isn’t exactly a powerhouse at the start.  You are armed with just a double pea shooter that is supplemented with additional elemental powers after each level.  More than just cosmetically different each has a different range and power and is useful in many situations.  The 3-way fire covers a wide range and has rapid fire while the fire spell is powerful but only travels in a straight line.  In addition each spell can be charged for a massive attack.  There isn’t much in the way of power-ups aside from health and mirror images that function like options.  However after your first level the fairy Neena will assist you and later on massively upgrade your standard shot.

The journey to gain the power of the elements allows you to choose your starting level from the 4 elemental planes.  The corresponding element informs some of the hazards you’ll face as you progress through each level, culminating in a battle against one of Gyra’s generals.  Because you’re on foot even the terrain poses a threat.  Enemies will assault you from all sides and contrasting other shooters you can turn around and fire behind you.  I wonder why every other shmup doesn’t let you do that.  Oh wait, I know, because intentionally gimping you is supposed to be intense.

The strongest aspect of Elemental Master is its level design.  Despite its status as an overhead shooter the choice to have all the action focused on the ground means the game can throw all manner of traps such as lava, falling rocks, and even spiked walls.  And the game does a brilliant job of tempting you with power-ups set in tricky spots that force you to consider risk versus reward.  With 7 levels and limited continues you’ll get some mileage out of this before seeing the credits roll.

There’s a ton on intricate little details in the immediate surroundings if you pay attention.  Tons of cast shadows, bubbling lava, and even water ripples from fish (or whatever the hell they are), it’s all there.  The dark art style suits the Genesis’ limited color palette well and the bosses are huge and lavishly detailed.  For a game originally released in 1990 it holds up pretty well.  The soundtrack as well is suitably gloomy to match the environments but still manages to be upbeat.

If there is one negative it would be that the game is a bit easy.  The limited continues might deter you somewhat but in the end Elemental Master will go down, sooner rather than later.  There’s a hidden option menu that will allow you to up the difficulty which introduces new enemies in the game but that life bar is generously long.  But even in spite of that I’d still recommend Elemental Master.  Like Magical Chase this is simply an enjoyable ride from beginning to end.

 

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El Viento

Good side-scrolling action games weren’t exactly overflowing in the Genesis’ early years.  While the likes of Mystic Defender were passable classics like Revenge of Shinobi were practically events.Renovation, one of Sega’s biggest supporters in those days tried to fill that gap with El Viento and while it doesn’t reach the heights of Joe Musashi’s adventure it still provides many hours of platforming greatness.

Combining modern day (well 1928) with elements of fantasy is a strange mix but if it works for Indiana Jones why not El Viento?In the 1920s a religious cult seeks to resurrect the evil god Hastur.Hastur’s bloodline passed through the generations giving its owners magical powers.One such descendant, Annet seeks to use the powers his blood has granted her to stop him from being reborn.

The second in an official trilogy of games, El Viento fares much better than its predecessor, Earnest Evans.Rather than the gimmicky animation technique that ruined that game Renovation has instead gone for a straightforward action platformer and the game is much better for it.The ties between the two games are minimal so anyone can preferably jump in with this game rather than that POS.

The name El Viento means the Wind and the game lives up to its namesake.The game moves at a brisk pace; Annet is extremely fast, her boomerangs are pretty much retractable bullets, and enemies have a tendency to “rocket” in from nowhere.Aside from running you are equipped with a peculiar crouching dash that is actually useful in tight spaces.The action isn’t so fast that you’ll be at a loss to react however.While the controls are somewhat loose it never gets in the way of the action.In addition to the boomerangs Annet will learn up to five spells that are unlimited in use but need to be charged first. It’s a great way to balance power over practicality in my opinion and makes their use more strategic.

Making the most of its setting the locales you visit are varied and large in scope.One minute you’re dodging mobsters in the streets of New York then you’re whisked away to South American ruins.There’s even variety within the same level; level 3 begins on the upper levels of Chicago, progresses to the sewers and ends in a subterranean cavern full of Ice Dragons and a gelatinous cube boss.It’s a bit absurd and reminds me of Shadow Hearts which also takes place in a similar period.The mixture of fantastical elements and real world motifs ensures you’ll never get bored with the levels.

Graphically El Viento is a mixed bag.This was an early Genesis game and it shows.There’s a great amount of detail in the backgrounds and there are some nice animation touches but the overall presentation is dark.By 1993 Sega and most of its partners were able to squeeze more out of the Genesis’s color palette but those early years were a bit rough, of which El Viento is a member.The animated cutscenes are on the same level as Valis but suffer from literal localization, meaning the dialogue is stilted.While I like many of composer Motoi Sakuraba’s works this isn’t one of his more memorable soundtracks and at best doesn’t offend your ears, that’s the only praise I can dish out.

El Viento is the strongest action game in the Genesis’ library and it is one of the few from its earlier period that still holds up today.  With only one life and 3 continues this will take longer than one evening to finish and can be found dirt cheap.There’s no reason not to give it a try if you’re even slightly interested in the genre.

Good side-scrolling action games weren’t exactly overflowing in the Genesis’ early years.While the likes of Mystic Defender were passable classics like Revenge of Shinobi were practically events.Renovation, one of Sega’s biggest supporters in those days tried to fill that gap with El Viento and while it doesn’t reach the heights of Joe Musashi’s adventure it still provides many hours of platforming greatness.

Combining modern day (well 1928) with elements of fantasy is a strange mix but if it works for Indiana Jones why not El Viento?In the 1920s a religious cult seeks to resurrect the evil god Hastur.Hastur’s bloodline passed through the generations giving its owners magical powers.One such descendant, Annet seeks to use the powers his blood has granted her to stop him from being reborn.

The second in an official trilogy of games, El Viento fares much better than its predecessor, Earnest Evans.Rather than the gimmicky animation technique that ruined that game Renovation has instead gone for a straightforward action platformer and the game is much better for it.The ties between the two games are minimal so anyone can preferably jump in with this game rather than that POS.

The name El Viento means the Wind and the game lives up to its namesake.The game moves at a brisk pace; Annet is extremely fast, her boomerangs are pretty much retractable bullets, and enemies have a tendency to “rocket” in from nowhere.Aside from running you are equipped with a peculiar crouching dash that is actually useful in tight spaces.The action isn’t so fast that you’ll be at a loss to react however.While the controls are somewhat loose it never gets in the way of the action.In addition to the boomerangs Annet will learn up to five spells that are unlimited in use but need to be charged first. It’s a great way to balance power over practicality in my opinion and makes their use more strategic.

Making the most of its setting the locales you visit are varied and large in scope.One minute you’re dodging mobsters in the streets of New York then you’re whisked away to South American ruins.There’s even variety within the same level; level 3 begins on the upper levels of Chicago, progresses to the sewers and ends in a subterranean cavern full of Ice Dragons and a gelatinous cube boss.It’s a bit absurd and reminds me of Shadow Hearts which also takes place in a similar period.The mixture of fantastical elements and real world motifs ensures you’ll never get bored with the levels.

Graphically El Viento is a mixed bag.

Good side-scrolling action games weren’t exactly overflowing in the Genesis’ early years.While the likes of Mystic Defender were passable classics like Revenge of Shinobi were practically events.Renovation, one of Sega’s biggest supporters in those days tried to fill that gap with El Viento and while it doesn’t reach the heights of Joe Musashi’s adventure it still provides many hours of platforming greatness.

Combining modern day (well 1928) with elements of fantasy is a strange mix but if it works for Indiana Jones why not El Viento?In the 1920s a religious cult seeks to resurrect the evil god Hastur.Hastur’s bloodline passed through the generations giving its owners magical powers.One such descendant, Annet seeks to use the powers his blood has granted her to stop him from being reborn.

The second in an official trilogy of games, El Viento fares much better than its predecessor, Earnest Evans.Rather than the gimmicky animation technique that ruined that game Renovation has instead gone for a straightforward action platformer and the game is much better for it.The ties between the two games are minimal so anyone can preferably jump in with this game rather than that POS.

The name El Viento means the Wind and the game lives up to its namesake.The game moves at a brisk pace; Annet is extremely fast, her boomerangs are pretty much retractable bullets, and enemies have a tendency to “rocket” in from nowhere.Aside from running you are equipped with a peculiar crouching dash that is actually useful in tight spaces.The action isn’t so fast that you’ll be at a loss to react however.While the controls are somewhat loose it never gets in the way of the action.In addition to the boomerangs Annet will learn up to five spells that are unlimited in use but need to be charged first. It’s a great way to balance power over practicality in my opinion and makes their use more strategic.

Making the most of its setting the locales you visit are varied and large in scope.One minute you’re dodging mobsters in the streets of New York then you’re whisked away to South American ruins.There’s even variety within the same level; level 3 begins on the upper levels of Chicago, progresses to the sewers and ends in a subterranean cavern full of Ice Dragons and a gelatinous cube boss.It’s a bit absurd and reminds me of Shadow Hearts which also takes place in a similar period.The mixture of fantastical elements and real world motifs ensures you’ll never get bored with the levels.

Graphically El Viento is a mixed bag.This was an early Genesis game and it shows.There’s a great amount of detail in the backgrounds and there are some nice animation touches but the overall presentation is dark.By 1993 Sega and most of its partners were able to squeeze more out of the Genesis’s color palette but those early years were a bit rough, of which El Viento is a member.The animated cutscenes are on the same level as Valis but suffer from literal localization, meaning the dialogue is stilted.While I like many of composer Motoi Sakuraba’s works this isn’t one of his more memorable soundtracks and at best doesn’t offend your ears, that’s the only praise I can dish out.

El Viento is the strongest action game in the Genesis’ library however it is one of the few from its earlier period that still holds up today.With only one life and 3 continues this will take longer than one evening to finish and can be found dirt cheap.There’s no reason not to give it a try if you’re even slightly interested in the genre.

This was an early Genesis game and it shows.There’s a great amount of detail in the backgrounds and there are some nice animation touches but the overall presentation is dark.By 1993 Sega and most of its partners were able to squeeze more out of the Genesis’s color palette but those early years were a bit rough, of which El Viento is a member.The animated cutscenes are on the same level as Valis but suffer from literal localization, meaning the dialogue is stilted.While I like many of composer Motoi Sakuraba’s works this isn’t one of his more memorable soundtracks and at best doesn’t offend your ears, that’s the only praise I can dish out.

El Viento is the strongest action game in the Genesis’ library however it is one of the few from its earlier period that still holds up today.With only one life and 3 continues this will take longer than one evening to finish and can be found dirt cheap.There’s no reason not to give it a try if you’re even slightly interested in the genre.

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Super Valis IV

Time certainly can be cruel.  I remember Valis as a kick butt series of action games for each platform they graced.  However as time passed and the bar was raised they were simply competent in the face of such classics as Earthworm Jim, Gunstar Heroes, etc.  While Valis IV is one of the stronger entries in the series it is still only a solid game at best.

Enjoy, cuz that’s about all you’ll get.  Disappointing.

Super Valis IV was released by Atlus in 1992.  Prior heroine Yuko has moved on and become the goddess of the Vecanti world, leaving a new protagonist to take up her sword.  Lena, the new Valis warrior, has little time to adjust when King Gallagher takes over the world, leaving her the only one to stop him.  A port of the import PC Engine CD version Super Valis IV was unfortunately mangled in the process and is inferior to its original and creates some problems of its own due to the changes.  It isn’t an outright bad game or anything but they could certainly have done a better job when converting the game to the SNES; the system is capable of better.

The standard projectile attack is decently powerful but for extra punch you can collect a large arsenal of spells to compliment your primary attack.  These spells range from force waves, 3-way fire, to extra armor and health.  Unlike the original game they are not governed by a magic meter but instead have a limited number of charges you can increase and you can hold up to six at a time.

Although there isn’t a time limit, there is an energy bar in the corner, representing the boss’s life.  The longer you take the higher it gets, also increasing their power and number of attacks.  For the most part you’ll have enough time to accrue weapons in preparation for the battle to come. That does end up creating a problem in the long run though: the bosses and later stages are absolutely brutal.  Although there are only 6 or 7 levels they are long as hell, and unless you rush through each the bosses will become absolute monsters by the time you reach them.  And even that isn’t possible because of the number of enemies and how many hits it takes to kill them.  Blindly running into danger is a recipe for disaster.  By the end of the game the bosses are so hard that it requires near perfect execution to win.  Dying sends you back to the beginning of a level so thankfully you have unlimited continues but that is little consolation.

A number of cuts were made in the porting process, all of them unnecessary.  2 of the playable characters were removed; come on, even the Genesis version of Valis 3 kept all 3 characters.  This robs the game of some much needed variety.   A new level, Castle Vanity, was added but when you’ve chopped so many out of the game that’s little consolation.  All of the cutscenes were eliminated as well, a fact that is evident at the end of each level when it tells you where Lena is headed next without any context.  The cutscenes were a staple of the series going back to the first game; that’s like releasing a new Ninja Gaiden without the cut scenes to move the story along, blasphemous.

While it isn’t the prettiest game Valis IV does still impress at times.  The environments border on fantastic and the boss designs are Japanese character design at its finest.  What is phenomenal though is the soundtrack.  An eclectic mix of somber tunes and more upbeat action game music punctuate the action and at least make trucking through the game somewhat enjoyable.

It’s a shame the version we received was tainted since the original was left in Japan.  When judged on its own merits it’s a pretty decent game but isn’t a match for the console’s finest action games.  Not many people are even aware Valis IV exists but even so it’s pretty cheap.  However this is strictly for fans of the series, if they still exist after that porn game they put out on PC.  What a sad end for a once proud series.

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Exile

Remember when old video game magazines would have numerous screenshots of cut scenes?  These were never labeled as such and often times would be mistaken for actual gameplay.  At least I did, but maybe I was just a dumb kid.  From the Y’s series to Cosmic Fantasy I would see these games and thought they were the most awesome creations known to man.   Of course the truth is a lot of them were terrible once I got to play them, but one game that bucked that trend would be Exile.

When I was 12 cut scenes like these were the coolest thing in the world.

Exile was released in the US by two publishers: Renovation handled the Genesis version while Working Designs had the TG-16 CD version covered.  The basic framework of the game is exactly the same for both however there are some stark differences of which I’ll cover later.  This is actually the second game in the series, as we never received the first due to the MSX and PC-88 computers never crossing the Pacific.  That would actually be a blessing as this installment is a complete 180 in terms of quality.

The Exile series is somewhat controversial for various reasons: the drug references, the religious overtones in the story and so on.  These seem quaint today but back then were a concern. Our hero Sadler is a Syrian assassin investigating rumors of strangers lurking near his hometown.  Panic is in the air as stories of Christian crusaders (renamed Klispin crusaders to avoid controversy) rampaging throughout the continent and conflict with them is inevitable.

What starts out as a simple fact finding mission turns into a worldwide quest to recover 3 artifacts needed to complete the Holimax (more or less the Holy Grail) and bring about world peace.  The game is rife with cameos from numerous historic figures, such as Pythagoras and Mani.  It was all of these elements combined that would cause such a stir, and both versions have been censored to a degree.

Gameplay is split into 2 parts.   You wander around towns and fields in an overhead perspective like many RPGs of the time.  Although you travel with 3 other companions for most of the game, they are useless, as Sadler is the only one playable.  They exist simply to espouse advice.  These segments lead to the action portions of the game where it becomes a side-scroller.  These portions of the game take place in maze like structures as you enter various doors that teleport you around the levels.  You can attack in front or below you and have access to 7 or 8 different spells but these are completely unnecessary as the game is quite easy.

This games lack of difficulty can largely be attributed to the numerous areas where enemies will spawn infinitely, allowing you to grind a few levels away by holding the attack button.  Even the bosses pose no real challenge if you are at the appropriate level or above.  The only challenge will come from surviving long enough to find your objectives as the layouts of each dungeon can be confusing.  Teleporters are a constant element and will necessitate the creation of maps to avoid wandering in circles for no good reason.  Once you’ve figured out the correct path you’ll realize how short most of the dungeons are.  It’s too bad the action segments weren’t longer as they are a brief but enjoyable relief from information gathering.

 

Jesus Christ it’s like they used Babelfish before it ever existed.  The last scene was cut from the Genesis version.

In terms of graphics both versions are near identical, with the TG-CD version having a slight edge in terms of color.  The cut scenes are also fully animated with voice acting in that version as well.  The soundtrack is excellent for both games, and once again the CD version wins, but that’s a no brainer.  The biggest difference comes from the translation.  The Genesis game is nigh unintelligible; Engrish doesn’t do it justice.  The degree of censorship is also distinct.  The CD game remains almost unscathed in terms of content; the only changes made were to drug names and religious references.  The Sega game fared worse; there’s an entire town missing, and the naked, drunken festival is covered up.  If you have a choice definitely go for the Turbo Grafx version.

While not ground breaking in any way this remains a fun game to plow through in a few hours.  It has a unique setting and story elements and as a whole is polished.

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Neugier/The Journey Home

I remember wanting to play the Journey Home so bad but fate decided it was not meant to be.  An interesting bit of history behind this game.  Once scheduled for release in the US it was cancelled when Sega bought out its publisher, Renovation.  Man what a dick move.  There were a few reviews of the game, notably Game Informer and Gamepro, so somewhere out there an English ROM of the game exists.

 

Exiled from his country long ago, when Prince Duke hears about the mounting problems plaguing his homeland he resolves to return and offer his assistance. On the way his ship is attacked by pirates, setting in motion events that will enlighten him as to how far the kingdom has fallen and the role he will play in its salvation.

Neugier: Umi to Kaze no Kōdō was released in the beginning of 1993 in Japan.  It was due to be released in the US as the Journey Home: Quest for the Throne but was cancelled although complete due to the above mentioned factor.  Thanks to Rom hackers online an English patch was released allowing everyone to play the game.  I remember being intrigued upon reading the reviews of Neugier but having played it now I have to be honest, what happened to it was a mercy killing.  While it’s a decent action RPG the game’s inhumanly short length would not have justified it’s $50 or $60 price back in the day.

The closest comparison to Neugier would be A Link to the Past or oddly enough Lagoon. You have a throw chain that can be used to push enemies away, push or pull objects, and to carry boxes for later use. The chain is used primarily to solve puzzles throughout the game as it does not cause any damage to enemies by itself.  My Lagoon comparison comes from your standard attack; in both games the protagonists suffer from a ridiculously short attack range but at least here it can be upgraded.

Leaping attacks and normal attacks are tracked separately and level up the more they are used. Annoyingly there are platforming sequences with increasing frequency the farther you progress in the game.  Due to the viewpoint aligning your jumps can be a disaster.  While it does get tedious it isn’t necessarily a problem you’ll have to deal with for long; while the game as a whole is competently made it suffers from one critical flaw: it’s too short.

 

Yes that really is my total playtime.

I wish I were exaggerating when I say I finished it in an hour and a half but I’m not.  Upon completion you are given a rank but these have no real benefit.  Because of the length (or lack therof) none of the gameplay ideas are fully exploited.  There are a few tricky areas that require creative use of the chain but I can count these instances on one hand.  You don’t even keep an inventory as there are only a few items in the game.

Another consequence of the game’s brevity comes in its balance, namely its flying enemies.  Late in the game there are segments in which you’ll face flying enemies exclusively but because you’ve never encountered them prior your jumping attack skill is not sufficient to deal with them, creating moments of frustration.  The game as a whole moves at a brisk pace, largely because there is so little of its content do dwell on.  If the game were longer its puzzles and combat could have been greatly expanded on.

For a game that would have been called The Journey Home that trip is all too brief.  While it isn’t necessarily a bad game it would have retailed for $60 back in the day and there just isn’t enough to have justified that price.  It almost feels like a demo more than a complete game.  I suppose there are worse ways to kill an hour, especially since playing it in English will cost you nothing.

6-out-of-101

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