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The Fourth Generation

Here we are at part two of my “Generations” month and this time we’re looking at the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. Again, I’ll only be looking at consoles and games that I’ve played. It’s a bit of a shame because there are so many great games from this system that I haven’t had the chance to experience but I don’t think it would be fair to comment on them without actually trying them. I’ll also be grouping series together rather than listing each game out separately.

The Fourth Generation of consoles launched in 1987 with the arrival of the PC Engine. A year later, Sega would throw it’s hat into the ring with the impressive Sega Mega Drive. Nintendo wouldn’t be far behind, bringing it’s 16-bit masterpiece, the Super Nintendo, to the market in 1990. 1990 would also see the release of the Neo Geo (a console that I’d love to own) and the CD-i wouldn’t be far behind. Of the many machines around at this time, I had both the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo. Both would help to shape my early love of gaming and I still enjoy playing them to this day.

Sega Mega Drive

I figured for consitency sake, I’d go with the Sega consoles first. These were often the first to launch even if they weren’t the first machine of the generation I got. The Sega Mega Drive made it’s debut in 1988 in Japan before heading to North America in 1989 and Europe in 1990. The Mega Drive, rebranded Genesis in North America, was a huge success for Sega. While it’s predecessor, the Master System hadn’t quite gotten a grip in some markets, the Mega Drive paved the way for Sega into many homes. It’s excellent graphics, amazing arcade ports and diverse colour pallet helped it to stand out. The system would also see the arrival of Sega’s chief mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, in 1991. The blue blur would be bundled with the console going forward. Sega also employed an edgy advertising campaign, something which got me hook, line and sinker. I loved everything about the console and Sonic the Hedgehog. I would pester my parents for the machine and we would eventually find one in a car boot sale for £50. I was hooked instantly. I only had the one game but I made sure to use my local rental store to play some of the greatest games ever made. I would give away my original Mega Drive to my niece but I did get another one while living in London and started to seriously build up my collection.

Sonic the Hedgehog

I may as well start with the one game I had for the system all those years ago – Sonic the Hedgehog. To say I was obsessed with this game was an understatement. Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 1991 and became an instant classic. Built around the concept of speed, it was a thrill to blast through the levels. The graphics looked beautiful, with a wide range of colours, the music was fantastic (especially Star Light Zone) and Sonic controlled incredibly well. The game wasn’t without its issues, with Marble Zone and Labyrinth Zone pushing against the game’s high-speed nature. A year later, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 would hit store shelves just in time for Christmas. It took everything about the original and improved upon it. The levels felt more free-flowing but still maintained the multiple paths through, the graphics were improved and the sound quality was upped. The game also introduced Super Sonic (and the seventh Chaos Emerald), the spin-dash and Sonic’s loveable side-kick, Tails. The game featured a two-player mode where you could compete against each other or the second player could take control of Tails in the single-player mode. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 showcased what the Mega Drive could really do and it was one I rented regularly. In 1994, Sega would embark on Sonic’s most ambitious adventure yet. Split into Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3 & Knuckles was a massive game. Each of the zones felt connected as you transitioned from one to the other with ease, the boss battles were more inventive, introducing more robots outside of the usual Dr. Robotnik. Knuckles was introduced as a playable character and his path through levels would be different from Sonic’s. The game looked beautiful and sounded great, not least helped (or inspired) by a particular pop-music icon. The game did feel slower though but I didn’t care. I would rent either Sonic the Hedgehog 3 or Sonic & Knuckles separately but wouldn’t experience the true Sonic 3 & Knuckles until I finally got around to buying both games for the system. I admire Sega’s ambition with this game and I love trying to compete it (a task I have yet to accomplish). Out of the three (or four) 2D Sonic’s on the system, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is by far my favourite.

Streets of Rage

During this generation, there were many beat’em ups. Some absolute heavy hitters including Final Fight, Golden Axe, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time and Captain America and the Avengers. Then there was Streets of Rage, probably the greatest beat’em up series ever. Debuting in 1991, the game allowed two-players to select from three characters, each with their own stats. You would then battle your way through the various stages before confronting Mr. X. It sounds basic yet its excellent controls, reasonable challenge and fantastic soundtrack propel it to stardom. The fighting is solid, with each character being easy to control. You have your standard attacks as well as a special to help you out. Each stage has its own theme and ends with a challenging boss fight. My friend would bring this one over all the time and we’d just play it for hours. In 1992, Sega would unleash Streets of Rage 2. It had new characters, new stages, new abilities (the old specials were gone) and it looked stunning. To this day, its probably one of the best-looking games on the system. The music was just as fantastic as the first one. This was probably my most rented game of the generation. I rented it all the time. Even when I didn’t own a Mega Drive, I would rent it and bring it up to the local youth centre where there was one. It was that good. Even now, it’s probably my favourite game on the system. Streets of Rage 3, the final entry in the Mega Drive trilogy, was released in 1994. The Western versions of the game would be incredibly divisive, with characters removed and the difficulty ramped up. The game also stopped you from completing it on the Easy difficulty and the Normal was a challenging experience. It’s one that many feel was a step down from the second. I tried to purchase this one on eBay and when I missed out (it’s an expensive game), I decided to grab an English reproduction of Bare Knuckle III, the Japanese version. This is perhaps the definitive version to play, it has all the characters and a properly balanced difficulty setting. The game itself is incredibly fun, with the six-button controller being put to great use. I’d definitely recommend the Japanese version of this classic.

Illusion and QuackShot

While not necessarily the one series, I thought it would be best to include the Illusion series and Quackshot under the same heading for two reasons: 1) Castle of Illusion and QuackShot were sold as a bundle and 2) I wanted to make sure the post wasn’t too long because I have a lot of memories from this generation. Castle of Illusion is a wonderful platformer starring Mickey Mouse. Sega would license the character from Disney but were restricted in what they could do. They would create his infamous butt-stomp so that he could attack enemies. The game features a multitude of inventive stages to traverse. It can be a bit of a challenge in laces but with perseverance, you will triumph. After the success of Castle of Illusion, Sega would then turn their hand to Donald Duck and give us the fantastic QuackShot. QuackShot arms Donald with a plunger gun to use as a weapon and a tool. It can be used to freeze enemies and to reach high platforms. The game features multiple locations that allow you to acquire new upgrades for your gun. This then encourages you to revisit previous areas to find secrets or to unlock new areas. It’s use of the plunger gun along with its solid platforming controls make this one of the best gams on the system. The colourful and well detailed backgrounds, the charming music and the nice challenge made this an instant classic. A year after QuackShot, Mickey Mouse would return in World of Illusion, my favourite of the bunch. You could play as either Mickey or Donald in this whimsical adventure or team up with a friend. Depending on who you played as or if you were playing with a friend, the path through the levels would change. By being based around magic, the game’s levels really do open up and create a unique adventure. It’s the easiest of the three but it is no less enjoyable. I wouldn’t get to experience these three gems until much later but I’m glad I did. They’re probably some of the best licensed games ever made.

Earthworm Jim

Groovy! There’s insane and then there’s Earthworm Jim. From the minds of Douglas TenNapel and David Perry comes this whacky intergalactic adventure. A 2D run and gun platformer, Earthworm Jim has you control Jim and his super suit across a variety of, well, unique levels. You’ll battle Bob the Killer Goldfish, race against Psy-Crow and face off against Queen Slug-For-A-Butt. It’s a strange adventure but strange in a good way. Jim’s controls are incredibly responsive, which is good because this is a challenging game. The levels across the two games also have a good bit of variety to them. You’ll be bouncing puppies to safety, bungie jumping, exploring the underwater in a submarine and battling filing cabinets. Its humour is very abstract but that’s what makes it so memorable. Each level is something that you’ll probably never find anywhere else. It’s also accompanied by a fantastic musical score (as well as lots of “groovy” from Jim himself). The first game would see ports to multiple systems in the mid-90s, with the Mega-CD version probably being the best. I’ve played both the Mega Drive and SNES versions but when it game to buying one, I opted for the Mega Drive version as it has slightly more content available to it. I still haven’t cleared either of these but one day I will rescue Princess What’s-Her-Name…

The Revenge of Shinobi

For a number of people, the Mega Games collections were probably something they owned. There were a few of them but Mega Games 2 and Mega Games 3 were probably the stand outs. They had terrific games on them. Mega Games 2 would be home to Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and The Revenge of Shinobi. The Revenge of Shinobi was released in 1989 and became an instant must-have for the system. An impressive looking game, especially when you consider how early in the systems life-cycle it was released, The Revenge of Shinobi gave us a glimpse into the power of this 16-bit beast. The game is split into eight districts (with a final area) and each district contains three zones. Players control Joe Musashi through this thrilling adventure. The game’s combat styles are fluid, with the player able to throw multiple shuriken or attack with his katana. There were also special Ninjitsu techniques available to the player to help make the game easier. There are multiple revisions of the game, some with Spider-man and Batman as a boss. Of course, if you’re like me and have the Mega Games 2 version, you won’t be encountering these. The ease at which you can move through the well detailed levels is a joy to behold but be careful, its not as easy as you think. It provides a reasonable challenge and has a variety of difficulty selections to choose from so you should be able to find one that suits you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Okay, so I’m kind of cheating with this one. Rather than split out the two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games into the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo sections, I said I’d just lump them in here. Let’s start with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist first. It’s a side-scrolling beat’em up starring everyone’s favourite reptiles. You can choose from each of the four Turtles and play alongside a friend. This game was released during the time when it wasn’t unusual to see two different games for the Mega Drive and SNES that followed the same formula. It features a variety of fun levels to traverse as well as villains from the hit cartoon series. It stands out among the crowd due to its bright visuals and smooth gameplay. As a child, this was the TMNT game I rented constantly. I loved its style, its surfing level and its multiplayer experience. It’s a great effort from Konami. The other TMNT game from Konami this generation was the much more widely known Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. It’s a port of the arcade game that does a fantastic job of translating a great arcade game to a 16-bit system. It drops the 4-player aspect of the cabinet for 2-players but keeps everything else pretty much intact. Again, it features enemies from the cartoon but this time it has a time-travelling twist. This allows it to play around with different levels, from prehistoric times to a train in the old west. Its scaling is also impressive, with the player being able to throw enemies into the camera. Its visuals look brighter than its Mega Drive counterpart and the music is just as wonderful. No matter which TMNT beat’em up you choose, you’re going to have a great time.

Super Nintendo

While Sega were eating into Nintendo’s market share with the Mega Drive, Nintendo were working on their own 16-bit powerhouse. Releasing in 1990, the Super Nintendo was an impressive piece of hardware, especially with its Mode 7 graphics. It would play host to some of the generation’s greatest games, especially JRPGs. Nintendo’s Third-Party policies would also see them getting games that would be absent from the Mega Drive. The Super Nintendo was the first 16-bit console I owned. My parents went away one weekend but my mother felt so bad, they came back the next night with a Super Nintendo for me. It came with Super Mario All-stars bundled in the box. Across its lifetime, I would get some games for it but would be primarily reliant on renting games or playing my cousins in order to truly experience what the console had to offer. In more recent years, I would acquire reproductions of some of the great JRPGs that were never released in PAL regions. I have such fond memories of this console.

Super Mario World

There are some games you instantly think of when you hear a consoles name. Super Mario World is definitely one of them. Released in 1990, Super Mario World is the fourth (or fifth) entry in the plumber’s platforming adventures. This time, Mario is in Dinosaur Land, where he once again must save Princess Peach from Bowser. The world map returns, with players able to select what levels to undertake and in what order. Some levels even feature hidden exist that lead to even more levels. It’s a huge adventure and thankfully there’s a save feature included. Even to this day, Super Mario World looks impressive. Its use of sprites and scaling, colour pallet and level design are simply amazing. Mario can acquire new abilities and even a new companion in the form of the loveable Yoshi. This adds a new dimension to the game, where you can use Yoshi to clear out enemies or sacrifice him to make a jump. I never owned this game originally but I would play it with my cousin regularly. It’s a fun adventure that’s easy to pick-up and play but challenging enough to keep you engaged. When you’re finished with the main levels, you can always try your hand at the difficult hidden ones, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Super Mario Kart

There are a few games that have had a monumental impact on me. It’s odd to say but when I look back, I can pick them out. One of these was Super Mario Kart. I must have worn out the rental store’s cartridge, I rented it that much. When I wasn’t playing it on Super Nintendo, I was playing “Mario Kart” in the playground. I bloody loved it. Super Mario Kart is a weird premise. Take eight of the series famous characters and shove them into karts to race against each other. Lob in a battle mode, some items to use and challenging gameplay and, bang, Super Mario Kart. It sounds like it shouldn’t work and yet it does, spectacularly. Its use of the systems Mode 7 graphics helps it to stand out as the tracks rotate around. It’s wonderful. There’s not a lot of variety in the tracks but what’s here is great. You have the likes of Koopa Beach, Donut Plains, Bowser’s Castle and the infamous Rainbow Road split across four cups. There are three difficulty settings as well. In multiplayer, you can undertake the Grand Prix mode together or go head-to-head in Balloon Battle. Balloon Battle sees you try to burst the three balloons of your opponent. The game’s graphics are based off of Super Mario World so there’s plenty of colour to go around. It might have been surpassed by later entries in the series but its still a classic, especially if you want a challenge.

Super Street Fighter II

I’m not the biggest fan of fighting games. I could never get my head around them and my cousin would always trounce me in them. Nonetheless, even I have to acknowledge the greatness of Street Fighter II. Released in arcades in 1991, it would become an overnight sensation and spawn multiple copycats. Its fluid combat, excellent combo system and fun multiplayer had players hooked at it wasn’t long before it was ported to home consoles. I have played many of the different versions over the years but have gone with Super Street Fighter II because it’s the one I own. This version would refine the combat of the original but also give us new fighters and stages. It would be the third version to be released for the Super Nintendo. Its roster had a good variety to it so there’s was something for everyone, including novices like me. The game’s sprits and backgrounds are well detailed, with all sorts of hidden features. While not the best at the game, I still enjoy playing it as it has an easy to pick up but difficult to master style. Special moves can be pulled off by input certain button combinations and each fighter has their own moves to master. My fondest memory of this is when I set up a tournament in work. I didn’t win (I don’t even think I made it out of the first round) but I had an absolute blast playing it, and in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Chrono Trigger

One of the many games to not arrive in PAL territories, Chrono Trigger is an epic time-hopping JRPG from Square. The player starts out attending a festival but before long they must travel through time to recue their friend. This starts a chain of events that will have an impact on the future. You’ll encounter the usual JRPG tropes here, Medieval villages, turn-based combat, a big bad entity of immense power, etc. The game has a certain charm to it, helped by Akira Toriyama’s wonderful designs. The game also features multiple endings depending on the actions you take. Along the way, you’ll recruit new party members, each with their own skills to learn. You can even perform combo attacks with them to inflict more damage. The game keeps you moving forward, requiring little to no grinding on the player’s part. Battles aren’t random but instead the enemies appear on the screen, triggering a battle when you get close. Battles don’t switch to another screen either, instead your stats bar pops up and your party moves into a combat stance. It’s an epic JRPG full of twists and turns to keep you entertained and is well worth playing if you love the genre.

Earthbound

Another JRPG that didn’t grace our shores, which is a pity because its bloody fantastic. Earthbound is the second entry in the Mother series and the first to be released in the West. It follows the adventures of Ness across his weird and wacky world. Unlike other JRPGs which are often set in fantastical kingdoms, Earthbound has a very grounded setting to it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any far out moments but that you’ll be exploring towns and shopping malls over castles and dungeons. Ness is joined by three others on his adventure, each with their own uses in battle. Battles themselves are triggered when you run into an enemy on the map. Here, you’ll enter into a battle where you can see your own hit counter as well as the enemies. When you get hit, your hit counter will start to roll down. Taking advantage of this, you can reduce damage by ending a fight quickly or even save yourself from death by healing before it hits zero. It’s a system I’ve never seen implemented before. The world of Earthbound is pleasant, with colourful locales to explore and secrets to find. The music is catchy but not as memorable as some of the more grandiose soundtracks of other JRPGs. It’s a great game that’s sadly gotten very expensive. I opted for a reproduction cart and I don’t regret it one bit.

Donkey Kong Country

In 1994, we were gearing up for the Fifth Generation of consoles. The PlayStation and Saturn were just around the corner but Nintendo wasn’t done yet. Rare would develop Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo, making use of pre-rendered 3D graphics. It was amazing for the time. The characters looked great and really stood out among the other sprite-based platformers. Donkey Kong Country would have a map-based level-select similar to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, albeit a lot more linear. Levels would range from the jungle to factories and even underwater, with players able to control both Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. Each Kong had their own uses, Donkey Kong was strong but Diddy Kong was nimble. The levels were fun but challenging. They did have some secrets for you to find, including bonus areas and shortcuts. Despite being released near the end of the generation, it showed that the Super Nintendo still had some tricks up its sleeve. A year later, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest would be released. Donkey Kong has been captured and its up to Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong to rescue him. Again, each Kong has their own abilities, with Dixie Kong able to glide for short amounts of time. The game retained the graphical stylings of the first game but added in some new animal buddies to collect. The levels were still exciting yet challenging, requiring some trial and error to get through. For many, this is the best in the trilogy as its gameplay is more refined than the first entry but not as sluggish as the third one. Speaking of the third game, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble would arrive in 1996, well into the Fifth Generations life cycle. Both Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are absent, with Dixie Kong joined by Kiddy Kong. Kiddy Kong plays the role of the brute, similar to Donkey Kong in the first game. It may not have been as well received as its predecessors but I still enjoyed this game. It has the usual challenging gameplay and secrets to find but its level design wasn’t quite as strong as the previous games. The music was also a little bit of a let down compared to what came before.

Super Castlevania IV

A remake of the very first game in the series, Super Castlevania IV has players once again stepping into the shoes of Simon Belmont. This time, instead of starting out at the Castle, he must now make his way to it before scaling it to Dracula’s Keep. Super Castlevania IV retains a lot of the earlier games’ charms, from the gothic settings to the brutal enemies but gives it a beautiful 16-bit coat of paint. Simon’s whip can now attack in multiple directions, making it easier to hit enemies. Bosses are challenging but never feel unfair. The sprites are well detailed and the levels are wonderfully laid out, presenting a fair challenge to players. The musical score is amazing, mixing both classic and new tracks together. The game also takes advantage of the systems Mode 7 graphics to present some truly unique levels. It’s a game I came to very late, buying it while I lived in London. I had never played it before but spotted it in CEX for cheap enough so took the plunge and, boy, am I glad I did. I haven’t finished it yet but I do love throwing it into the Super Nintendo every now and again and just traversing through its wonderful locations. A must own for Super Nintendo fans.

There are of course, many, many more great games on these systems. Classics such as Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Phantasy Star II-IV, Shining Force 1&2 and others but I haven’t spent much time with them I purchased them while I lived in Londion and sent them back home to store. One day I’ll get to them and maybe, I’ll update this list. I hope you enjoyed my picks from the Fourth Generation. What are some of your favourite games from this era?

Categories

Nintendo, Sega

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