Tuesday, 21 July 2015

ReMEMBeR: May 1994, Game Players

 ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: Game Player
Cover Date: May 1994
Country of Origin: USA

Game Players was one of the many video game mags that surfaced in the late 80's and 90's, as the industry bounced back.  An independent publication that survived several console generations, it was a good source of news about the industry as a whole, without bending one way or another.

But enough about boring magazine history... let's talk about this issue, which is a phenomenal time capsule!

Next Gen was on its way and the headlines couldn't get enough of it!

By mid-1994, the Genesis had been on the US market for 5 years and the SNES was celebrating its third anniversary.  While the big two 16 bit systems had already buried the TG-16 and dominated the market, a slew of new consoles were beginning to appear and make waves.  1993 saw the launch of the 3DO and the Jaguar, and the Amiga CD32 had just launched in  Europe.  It was clear that a new generation of systems was inevitable!
Apparently black was in, but not very popular.

Sony is boasting a massive 110 licensees for their new Playstation system, which is getting great word of mouth in the developer community, while Nintendo shows off the Super Gameboy (lending new life to ageing handheld cartridge libraries) as well as talking up Project Reality (aka Ultra 64, aka N64), its next gen, cartridge only system.

Rumors about Sega's 32bit plans really grab the biggest headlines though, mainly because they come off as extremely complicated and confusing.  They have four new semi-connected pieces of hardware in the works: 1. Saturn, a CD and cartridge based home console, 2. Jupiter, a cartridge system with identical innards to the Saturn, 3. Titan, arcade hardware based on the Saturn architecture and 4. 32X, an add-on for the Genesis using the same core CPUs as the Saturn.
Sega's Next Gen line-up, Saturn, Jupiter, 32X and Titan
Obviously this line up, combined with their existing line up of systems (Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear and coming soon Nomad) made the editors wonder if the public was ready for such a schizophrenic product palette.

They weren't.

In hindsight the line up is an obvious fiasco-in-the-making, but at the time one could understand their concern and even the thinking behind the madness.

Sega was still the market leader (with eight of the top ten games in the sales charts) but they were still losing ground to Nintendo.  Nintendo's progress was due in no small part thanks to the SuperFX chip that had extended the life of the console considerably and worked as a stop gap measure against the promise of new 3D capable consoles.  Sega's own attempt at such a cartridge-based 3D chip resulted in only one game, Virtua Racing, which was impressive but extremely expensive.  The 32X is being sold as a solution to this, bypassing the expensive per-chip solution Nintendo pursued.

The Titan was meant to go up against the System 11 board, developed by Namco with Sony, which was based on the PSX hardware and was about to be rolled out in Dec. '94 with Tekken.  Sega was hoping to interest outside developers in the hardware and thus entice them to cheap and easy ports to the Saturn, but given that Sega was an arcade rival, and the Saturn was hard to program for, it ended up only being used by one licensee, Capcom, for titles that never saw release outside of Japan.

And finally the idea of both cartridges and CDs (with the Jupiter being cartridge only), while seeming a bit cowardly (pick one and go with it) was no doubt second guessing brought on by Nintendo's adherence to carts and the question "What do they know that we don't?"  And up until then the CD only systems (CD-i, 3DO, CD32) had all suffered in the transition to the silver discs.

Of course in hindsight, we know that Sega lost the 32bit battle to Sony, on Price ($399 to $299... the famous "price heard around the world" at E3), third party support and lackluster launch titles.

Oh, and Nintendo would be delayed for another two years and be an also ran with a system that never managed to impress technically, but did give us some amazing first party classics.

In other news, Virtual World Entertainment is launching "Virtual Theme Parks" using BattleTech Center pods with both the classic BattleTech game as well as a brand new hover racing game called Red Planet.  The centers are charging $7-9 for 30 minutes of fun (about the same as Disneyland... only sans lines) and they created one of the most mind blowingly awesome tutorial videos ever, featuring Judge Reinhold, Cheech Marin and "Weird" Al Yankovic!

Yes kids, the 90's were RADICAL!!

Mortal Kombat CD gets an MA-17 rating for its violent content, while Sega and Nintendo hold hands in front of congress and agree to voluntary ratings systems, similar to the movie industry.  And like the movie ratings, will become an instant "I must have this" sticker for bratty overly-sugared children everywhere.

Quick news includes:  Jean Claude VanDamme will be starring in a Street Fighter movie, Robin Williams is up for the part of the Riddler and Robin is supposed to be played by an actual street kid... that would have been so much better than Chris O'Donnell.  3DO promises to boost its weak game library and mentions titles like ESPN Baseball - Hitting, Lower Your Score with Tom Kite and Silly Classix... At the Museum.  Oh yeah, true gameplay gems right there. (to be fair they also mentioned Star Control II and   The Even More Incredible Machine).

The rumor mill section mentions that Treasure, makers of Castlevania IV and Axelay have left Konami (actually Treasure was formed by programmers leaving the company and didn't exist before that, but its a minor squabble) and will now make games exclusively for Sega.  Gunsta Heroes would soon follow.  The SNES is to get a SuperFX powered Castlevania game (this sadly didn't happen), MegaMan 1-3 will be released as a single cart for the Genesis (this did happen) and Dracula X is some kind of new Castlevania-like game on the TG-16 (in fact it was an official Castlevania sequel and prequel to Symphony of the Night and would be released in North America on the Wii a mere 16 years later as Rondo of Blood).

The most insane news though is that LunaCorp, a weird, somewhat directionless private space travel company, wanted to raise $110 million to send a remote controlled buggy to the moon and then charge gamers to drive it around.

Yeah... wonder how THAT worked out for them....

Letters Page:
I normally don't cover the letters pages in these ReMEMBeR sections, because they typically just turn into a bunch of fan rubbish... kinda like comment sections on webpages today.  This issue's topic though is Saturn vs. Project Reality... A bunch of wild speculation and infantile moaning about which platform is better (something I never engaged in.... since it was painfully obvious that the Amiga was better than the ST!) but curiously not a single person even mentions Sony (even though there is one comment extolling the virtues of the Jaguar).

Also there's a section called The Pen Pal Connection where people can post their home addresses and names and their basic stats, asking to get in touch with like minded readers... and they are all boys between the ages of 8-13.  This of course is addressed in the Pen Pal Update section where Andrew Hill of Regina Saskatchewan writes that he got over 50 letters and some of the people "want to talk about things other than video games, if you know what I mean."  I think he's talking about paedophiles...And the editors even joke about this!  Were they trying to make NAMBLA's life easier?!?!

Also one kid is from my old hometown of Maple Valley, WA... freaky!

And best answer ever to a question:  "Is there a hidden secret between Mortal Kombat's Sub-Zero and Scorpion?  The secret is that you can save some memory space if you give two characters the same sprites."


An interview with the creators of Super Metroid, as well as Shigeru Miyamoto tries to answer the question of why it took so long for a sequel to emerge and whether or not there will be a sequel on Project Reality (N64).  Sadly there is no real info gleaned, other than gushing about how awesome the game is (and that it is!)

Tech Talk goes on about this impressive new thing called "polygons" and how they will make the world a better place.  Pre-rendered graphics being used in 2D games like Alien3 are mentioned, as well as Star Fox, Ridge Racer, Daytona USA and Total Eclipse on 3DO (not to be confused with the original Total Eclipse).

Other tech news includes an FMV add-on card for 3DO (that will cost you $250... appropriately rated only 30%), a knee hugging joystick add on that looks pointless, a rechargeable battery pack for the Gamegear and a few multiplayer adapters, which probably got close to no support.  So not a lot of tech.

Bubsy 2: One of the most annoying also ran platform characters returns to 16 bit platforms.  The only truly remarkable thing about this is that they mention the Bubsy TV show.  After a moment of googling, I was confronted by one of the most mind numbingly poor excuses of 90's animation known to man.

My eyes still haven't stopped bleeding.  At least Bubsy 2 wasn't as bad as Bubsy 3D.

Massive 16 bit RPGs are also all the rage at the time, a bit of a preview of the JRPG revolution that would arrive on PSX a couple years later.  Soul Blazer: The Illusion of Gaia and Breath of Fire are two SNES games that may or may not make it to the USA due to the massive size of the carts needed to store them (they both did).

Other games previewed include Asterix and the Great Rescue, Aero the Acro-Bat II, a never to be released Akira game by THQ for the SNES, cartoon tie-ins for Rocko's Modern Life, Itchy & Scratchy and The Jungle Book.  Death of Superman (a lackluster beat 'em up) by Blizzard is shown, as is Kirby's Battle Ball.

Obviously the month's cover story is Super Metroid.  The game is heralded as a masterpiece of gameplay, while still pushing boundaries in the realm of graphics.  The addition of auto mapping is more than welcome and it would be one of the enduring highlights of the SNES library.

The Sega CD was hitting its stride about this time, with a lot of software appearing for the system.

Mortal Kombat CD gets trashed pretty badly, and rightfully so, for being nothing more than a cash grab.  The only real additions is the unlocked gore feature, a poorly digitized version of the Mortal Monday TV ad and extensive load times.  A sad example of CD shovelware.

 Mansion of Hidden Souls is a Myst style pre-rendered first person adventure game.  The critics love the gameplay but do bemoan its relatively short gameplay.  Tomcat Alley is seen as the poor FMV laden shooter that it is and compared to games like Mad Dog McCree (which isn't a good thing).

Heimdall, by Core Design, is a CD enhanced port of the Amiga title released two years earlier.  An isometric perspective action-adventure that would have felt at home in the Ultimate Play the Game days (that's what Rare used to be called, kids), but with colorful animated graphics.  Sadly the graphics alone won't salvage this game, and it quickly becomes a tedious, hard to control mess.

Strategy games aren't really a big deal on consoles in 1994 (or today for that matter).  Koei keeps giving it a go though, with Nobumga's Revenge, an extremely complex and deep console turn based strategy title, which goes over like a lead balloon with the reviewer.  The big sticking point is the very slow pace, forced on you by the one command per turn rule.

Liberty or Death is Koei's attempt to adapt the American Revolutionary War into a game, and in traditional Koei style it takes an ungodly number of hours to get through a game... something that you probably shouldn't be playing in front of an old flickery CRT.

Arcades weren't dead yet in 1994, but somehow there was a feeling they may be on the way out.  Arcade ports seem to be getting less and less love, seeing as they don't really feel right on home consoles where the manufacturer already got all your money upfront.

Knights of the Round gets a port to the SNES two years after its premiere in arcades.  The medieval setting is praised as a nice departure from the typical urban settings of most beat 'em up games, but the special moves are a bit too hard to pull off and in general its nothing new.

Joe & Mac 2 is more of the same, with a few extra additions, but it still is just a mediocre side scroller on the SNES.

Mega Turrican for the  Genesis takes the classic Manfred Trenz franchise in a new direction, adding a lasso device to the arsenal and delivering a somewhat difficult action platformer that may not rival Super Metroid in depth or size, but livens up the lives of Sega owners.  Only the high difficulty level is to bemoan, forcing some serious pattern memorization at times.

The Gameboy, which would still be going strong for years to come, is not fairing well in May of 1994.  Black Bass Lure Fishing fails to prove to have a reason to exist and Stop That Roach is a poor excuse for a puzzle game. 

Gamegear on the other hand gets a top notch port of the Genesis classic Aladdin (although the game received a pretty thorough once over) with amazing animation, if a bit too short. 

Sports games had already become yearly update factories by 1994, but there was another fad in the genre that really marked the 90's: Attitude heavy action sports games.

In this issue, we get Jammit (an inoffensive licensed Basketball game using digitized characters... yes it was the 90's and everything had to be digitzed), MegaMan Soccer (a sluggish waste of a license) and Mutant League Hockey (the second Mutant League game from EA takes a page from Speedball with ref bribing, extra violent moves and player customization for a really  fun action sport title with serious depth).

And of course there are your standard boring sports games like PGA European Tour, Jimmy Connors' Tennis, World Series Baseball, Pebble Beach Golf Links, PGA Tour Golf, Bill Walsh College Football (which added a nice spinning camera replay mode for the SNES version) and Fifa International Soccer (yes, the first in the now long running series).  Damn I don't care about sports...

Tie-in games are all the rage at this time, with most games clearly targeting kids.

The Genesis gets an Incredible Hulk game, based off the comics and featuring a bunch of the regular antagonists from the Marvel U, it fails to capture too much praise, being a fairly shallow affair with lackluster graphics, poor pacing and no real incentive to keep going.

A similar fate is bestowed on An American Tail: Fievel goes West, a SNES movie tie-in designed to appeal to kids, but due to frustrating controls and poor level design, ends up being a hot mess of a dud.

The Pirates of Dark Water, based on a short lived cartoon series fails to impress, despite high quality animation and multiple playable characters, sluggish controls and poor level design let this platformer down on the Genesis.

Star Trek The Next Generation on the SNES is praised as a faithful adaptation of the series, even if that does mean that there are a lot of slow missions, and often even some waiting around.  But the variety and scope of the game are praised, as well as it's graphics.
There is also a Gameboy title based on the license which they praise fairly highly, but trust me, as a gamer AND as a Trekkie, this one is not the game you are looking for. (ok, that last bit was little too star wars-y but it worked... ok?  You can like both, right?  I am SO getting my membership card revoked...)

Last month's ReMEMBeR was light on ads... but oh, MAMA!  This baby is teeming with awesome adage! (I don't think that word means what I think it means)

First off we have an awesome two page spread titled Smashing.  It is an "infotainment" piece launched by Nintendo to fight the evil legend of Blast Processing!  In this piece Nintendo tries to "educate" readers about the superiority of the SNES and its inherent superiority over the Genesis.

Desperate move or words of truth?

You decide!

Sony is touting the sweet tunes of its star game music composer Tommy Tallarico, with a collection of remixes from some of his games.  The varsity jacket, super ripped jeans and mullet are more impressive than any synth music he could ever produce though.  Yeah, hang those shades down low, Tony... hang 'em low!

Software Toolworks is organizing a great sweepstakes where you could win a multimedia PC and a $1,000 shopping spree!  All to promote their awesome fun games Mario's Time Machine and Mario is Missing?

Oh, you don't want the taint of those horrid games sticking to you, trust me kids!
The in-retrospect somewhat maligned Sega CD really did have a lot going for it.  This add for Dune, Terminator, Chuck Rock II and Heart of the Alien would have had me drooling back in the day.

Star Trek TNG gets a nice two page spread... yeah, I'm a Trekkie.

And I'm writing this so I get to add whatever I want... So THERE!

Vay and Lunar both get big hype as massive RPGs with CD sound.  The SNES had taken the lead in RPGs at this point and it was a smart move to position the Sega CD as the platform of choice for this genre... now if they had only managed to get Square to come over and join the party...

This ad for Clayfighter makes NO SENSE!  What do they mean if I snooze I lose?  Will there only be a limited number of carts?  will they seriously not print more if the game is successful?  Talk about lame frickin' ads. While...

Rebel Assault is probably the most perfect ad ever for a game!

I'm excited to play it just by looking at it now, and I know the game pretty much sucked balls!  Damn you George Lucas and your brain washing machine!!!

Space Ace for SNES was a complete and unmitigated disaster, on par with the cartridge based Dragon's Lair ports.

But I'm still a sucker for Don Bluth, so here's an ad.
Did I mention that I'm the writer here and get to add whatever I want?

Heimdall tries to sell the idea that its onscreen menu system makes it an accessible, fun game... Lies I tell you... LIES!!
Super Metroid gets an awesome ad that I really have to salute for being completely unrelated to the game, but simultaneously awesome beyond reproach.

The 90's was a very special time, that really should have included more psychotropics... it would have dulled us down enough to avoid coining phrases like Skitchin'.
Sewer Shark gets a port to the 3DO... as if that system hadn't already suffered enough...

Maybe the rat is supposed to represent plague, like "dying of bubonic plague would be better than playing this FMV travesty against all things gaming."

I'm not quite sure what Psygnosis was thinking with this ad for Microcosm, but I guess this was the era of Renn & Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead cartoons... so any mention of body parts counted as a joke.

Dragon's Lair on CD-Rom... My Don Bluth addiction is on the record.  Obviously I wasn't alone, as the legend of the game lead the SegaCD version of this to number 3 of the sales charts!

THAT is impressive!

Or sad... take your pick.

Equinox is selling itself as a super long, super hard action adventure.  Sadly the only reason it'll take you that long is because of the crummy isometric perspective that will kill you on jumps over and over again.
Cute ad though.

Shadowrun for the Genesis, a terribly underrated adaptation of the pen and paper game gets a nice one page ad, that sadly doesn't sell the awesomeness of the setting as well as it should have.

D&D tries to go high tech with First Quest, an audio CD enhanced AD&D Boxed set... cause nothing says high tech like an audio CD...

Next Gen fever was in the air, but it was also far enough away that speculation did not get in the way of playing some great games.  The best 16 bit had to offer was still ahead of us and we were going to enjoy the heck out of it!

It was the best of times (Super Metroid), it was the worst of times (Bubsy cartoons)...

1 comment:

  1. 1994 is my favorite year in retro gaming.... So many great memories and that article brought them all flooding back.... Great read Karl, as always keep up the top notch work!