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Sega at 60: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Sega Saturn

Released in 1994 in Japan and 1995 in North America and Europe, the Saturn was Sega’s follow up to the massively successful Mega Drive. The system, however, never had the same success as Sega’s 16-bit behemoth. Much is documented about its launch in North America (E3 1995, $299 anyone?) and about how the hardware was difficult to design for, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have some excellent games. The machine has definitely garnered a cult following in the west and although it couldn’t quite do 3D like the PlayStation or Nintendo 64, it could still design visually spectacular worlds. One of the biggest disappointments was the fact the Saturn never got a new Sonic platformer. At the time when Sony had Crash and Spyro, and Nintendo had Super Mario 64 and their collectathons, it would have been interesting to see Sega’s 3D take on the blue hedgehog.

No doubt you’ve realised that the Saturn is the Sega system I’m least familiar with. During the fifth generation, my systems of choice were the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. I only ever recall seeing Saturn being sold in one shop. I remember they had a wall of televisions (which was the style at the time!) displaying Sonic R. The Saturn was the retro console I was last to experience so my memories of the games below are quite recent and wouldn’t hold the same nostalgia as someone who grew up with the machine. For a real glimpse into some of the excellent games the Saturn has to offer, I’d recommend following Dan D on Twitter.

Sega Rally Championship

“Game Over, Yeaaaaahhhhhhh!” These are probably the words that spring to mind when you think of Sega Rally, which is odd since it’s the Game Over screen. Released in 1995, this excellent port of the Arcade has you rallying around the Desert, Mountain, Forest or Lake. Although not powerful as the Arcade game as noticeable in the frame rate, it still looks incredibly impressive for an early Saturn game (it also shows the Saturn can render 3D graphics well). Control-wise it’s what you’d expect from an Arcade game, easy to pick up but difficult to master.

This was one of the games I got with my Saturn and probably the one I played the most. Its addictive game-play makes me want to come back for more, practicing again and again so I can get a bit further each time. While my preference has always been for racing simulators like Formula 1, this is a refreshing break.

Die Hard Arcade

In the Rocky Review, this game is described as WTF and that’s pretty much accurate. This 1996 arcade beat’em up sees you and a friend control John McClane and Kris Thompson as they try to save the President’s daughter. The combat is your typical beat’em up, fast paced and easy to grasp. The game also includes Quick Time Events that can help you get through it faster if you get them right (some are also hilarious). It’s not a long game and thanks to the Deep Scan mini game, you can make the game as easy as you want.

I haven’t quite had the chance to experience the multiplayer mode but I did enjoy single player. I found its length just right as the problem with some beat’em ups is they can become monotonous after a while. One thing I was thankful for was the static camera. After playing Fighting Force in multiplayer and seeing how it handles the camera in boss battles, this is a welcome change. It’s a game that’s definitely worth having in your collection.

Policenauts

This is a 1994 point and click graphic novel from the mind of Hideo Kojima that sadly was never officially released in the west. You can find an English ROM and even a reproduction copy on disc. The game-play is minimal, which is standard for these type of games, but there are moments of gun action where you can use the Sega Saturn Stunner. What really sets this game apart is the narrative. You play as Jonathan Ingram as he must head to Beyond Coast for the first time since his accident. I don’t want to give too much away.

I managed to track down a physical Saturn copy on Etsy. It’s spread across three discs and works well. The translation is pretty good too. I have played some point and click games in the past, such as Monkey Island and Broken Sword, but never a graphic novel. It was strange at first but the story kept dragging me back for more. The shooting sections are a great addition that help to break up the game-play. I don’t have a Stunner but using the D-Pad and shoulder buttons worked surprisingly well. I’d recommend trying this game if you can.

Sega Dreamcast

Probably the best looking console on this list (or the best ever according to MAZ Gaming), the Dreamcast is also one of the saddest moments in Sega’s history with it being their last console. Released in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in the rest of the world, the Dreamcast had some stand out features. The VMU not only acted as the memory unit but could also display certain objects (such as health bars) and be used to play mini-games. The Broadband and Modem adapters opened up the console to a whole host of new opportunities. I personally never got the chance to play online but the fact you can still do so through a Rasperry Pi just shows how determined the community is. Despite these features and some excellent games, the Dreamcast had its problem. Third-party support was lower than other machines (most notably EA was absent), its disc format opened it up to piracy and then there was the absolute juggernaut, the PlayStation 2.

I didn’t own a Dreamcast until recently (I got it for my 30th birthday) but I would rent the console religiously back when renting consoles was a thing. Every two or three weeks, I would rent it with Sonic Adventure, Jet Set Radio or Phantasy Star Online. The controller felt odd to me. There were definitely times having just the one stick made things difficult and the wire entering the bottom of the controller was a strange choice. My current machine may be noisy but I don’t find it anywhere as bad as my Xbox 360.

Sonic Adventure

Another Sega console and another Sonic game but this one has a twist. Sonic’s first proper jump into 3D was also probably his best. The game is split into six stories that interlink. Complete these and you’ll access the final boss. Each character has their own style of play, for example, E-102 Gamma has you firing projectiles while Knuckles uses his gliding ability to find Emerald pieces. There are some camera issues as a result of the Dreamcast only having one analogue stick but nothing too major to hinder your adventure. The game would eventually see a release on the GameCube and PC as Sonic Adventure DX: Directors Cut.

Renting this game presented one massive challenge, not being able to save. Therefore, every time I picked it up, I had to replay everything. I didn’t mind as I really enjoyed it. My favourite character to play as was Sonic just for his sheer speed. Big the Cat was a strange addition that I never really warmed up to but the other new character, E-102 Gamma, did add a new dimension to the game-play. I’ve always liked how Sonic Adventure looked, even if the facial animations can be odd. The music is cheesy but that’s why I love it.

Jet Set Radio

Jet Set Radiooooooooooo! Tag your way through Tokyo-to with your gang, the GGs. Along the way you can unlock new characters to play as. This game has one of the best soundtracks on the Dreamcast. The cell-shaded art style is top notch and holds up incredibly well today. Being able to customise your own tags also adds a level of personality to the game. The controls can sometimes feel a bit like off. One minute its smooth, allowing you to grind through Tokyo-to with ease, the next its janky, where you’ll struggle to get your character to go where you want. The main cause behind this is the camera. Of all the games that needed a second stick to control the camera, this is probably the one that needed it the most. However, it’s easy to look back on now and say this but at the time it felt so natural.

I would stay up all night with my cousin creating “hilarious” tags (they were not hilarious) and then taking turns to get through the game. Although the levels are restrictive by today’s standards, at the time it was exciting being able to explore parts of the city. Playing it now, I still enjoy the graphics and the music but there are times when I get frustrated with the controls. Thankfully, there is a PlayStation 3 port available if anyone would like to experience it but for me, nothing beats the original.

Power Stone 2

“When are we going to get Power Stone 3? Why aren’t we getting Power Stone 3 now? And so on”. Power Stone 2 is the follow up to Capcom’s 1999 unfriending simulator. You and up to three friends can take place in manic brawls set in an ever changing arena. Smash your friends faces in, get the Power Stones, then smash their faces in some more. Simples. The game is incredibly addictive and easy to pick up. The constant changing stages keep you on your toes, and there are 14 characters to choose from.

When I first got my Dreamcast, I would bring it and Power Stone 2 in to work to play. It was hectic during lunch but it was great. We would spend weeks getting to know the controls (or in the case of Phil, how to avoid fighting) and slowly started to get better at it. Yet, no matter how good we got, the matches still sort of descended in to chaos. I think this is what is Power Stone 2‘s best quality, the ability to bring people together with different levels of skill and have everyone enjoy it. I have briefly flirted with single-player mode and enjoyed it but it doesn’t have the same impact as playing with three friends.

Sega Third-Party

Sega as we know it today is a third-party developer and publisher. While it’s sad that their console manufacturing days are behind them, it’s still great to see they’re making games. They’ve also allowed some of their legendary franchises to be revived by other developers, such as Sonic Mania and Streets of Rage 4. Hopefully Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX will be another smash hit.

Over the years I’ve collected a lot of Sega third-party games. Some have been excellent, some have been mediocre and some have been Sonic Unleashed (I don’t own Sonic 06, thankfully). Thankfully, there has been a good variety amongst the games. Sega also has a range of subsidiaries, including Atlus and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. Below are three of the games I’ve enjoyed but there are many, many more.

Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing Transformed

Outside of a few exceptions, Mario Kart has had a stranglehold on the mascot racing scene for a while. 2012’s Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing Transformed looked to challenge that. Taking what worked in Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing, Transformed added a unique new feature… eh… transforming. As the race progresses, the track will change requiring you to switch between car, boat and plane. Although Diddy Kong Racing had allowed you to drive multiple vehicle types 15 years earlier, these were chosen before the race.

It’s surprisingly smooth when the transformations take place. Although each mode has its own control scheme, they’re easy to get to grips with. World Tour is also a welcome addition. It encourages you to try the harder difficulties in order to unlock more content. It is important to obtain the stars on the higher settings as these are needed in order to gain access to the late game content. I’d recommend this out of the three Sonic racing games as it’s quite an interesting premise.

Persona 5

Although Persona is an acquired IP, I think it merits a place on this list. It is perhaps the most stylish game on the PlayStation 4. The combat is turn-based (as a JRPG fan, it’s nice to see on a curret gen machine). You can acquire new personas through combat or fusion. Perhaps its biggest strength is how you interact with the characters around you. The confidant system is something which Persona fans may be familiar. You use this to build relationships with people which can have added effects on you and your party.

As mentioned above, the game oozes style. The graphics are incredible, the music is amazing and the characters (for the most part) are fun to be around. This was my first experience with the Persona series and while certain aspects took time to adjust to, such as balancing your time between dungeons and real world activities, the game never felt overwhelming. I’d highly recommend picking this up as it’s one of my favourite games on the PlayStation 4.

Yakuza 0

Yakuza is a series I was incredibly late to. I am currently playing through the series (I’m on Kiwami 2) after much persuasion from a friend. I’m glad he pestered me for years, because I’m loving it. I’ve picked the one I started with, Yakuza 0. Set in Japan during the “Bubble Economy”, you control two characters with their own distinct fighting styles. Kiryu’s story mainly takes place in Kamurocho, while Majima is trapped in Sōtenbori. The combat really depends on the style you choose. You can be quick but do less damage, or you can be destructive but slower.

The game features a ton of side missions and mini games (you can play Out Run!). While the game’s main plot is serious, there is enough humour mixed in to lighten the mood. Graphically, both cities look great and the music is very 80s (keep an eye out for Miracle). I sunk almost 100 hours in to this as I tried to do as much as possible. The Cabaret mini-game is a nice distraction and the side mission don’t feel like filler. I’m delighted I started this series and I’d recommend anyone who hasn’t tried a Yakuza game, to start here. You won’t regret it!

Well, I’ve rambled on enough but I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. What are some of your favourite Sega memories over the years? Which console did you like best? You can let me know in the comments.

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Sega

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