Monday, 31 August 2015

ReMEMBeR: GamePro, November 1994

ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Magazine: GamePro
Cover Date: November 1994
Country of Origin: USA

Last month's ReMEMBeR (Game Player, May 1994) saw a world excited for new machines that were merely speculative sketches and great dreams.  Six months later the world had turned a few times and we had a somewhat different set of circumstances.  The wild speculation about next gen consoles has calmed considerably, turning more to concrete bits of info and greater focus is spent on the 16 bit games coming out for the holiday season.

There is a ton of content in this mag, with a lot of games reviewed.  I won't cover all, or even most of them but will try to look at the most interesting developments, especially from an historical standpoint.  So let's delve right in and see what was going on at the tail end of 1994.


Two more Next Gen contenders from Japan are entering the very crowded field (remember at this point we have CD-i, 3DO, Amiga CD32 and Jaguar already on the market and launch dates for Saturn, PSX and 32X are all less than a year away).  Bandai wants to make an FMV powered system called the BA-X (released exclusively in Japan in September of 1994 as the Playdia) which only got two years of full software support, with no third party developers showing interest.  The other contender is NEC, with a quasi followup to the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 called the NEC-FX that will be a 32 bit 2D console.  It's reliance on 2D and Japanese exclusivity meant it enjoyed little support and was discontinued by early 1998.

In other news, Panasonic decides to get into the game making business to help support the 3DO.  Titles like Guardian War, Burning Soldier and a golf game do not bode well for their efforts.  While in other 3DO news, the M2 Accelerator is announced as a way to keep the system up to speed with the new 32bit competition.  The M2 would soon morph into the 3DO successor console and fizzle out before ever hitting store shelves. (no doubt the 32X became a cautionary tale about power boosting add-ons).

Nintendo loses a suit against Alpex Computer Corporation over patent infringement.  The patent in question dealt with the displaying of bitmap images stored in RAM on a screen.  The damages awarded of $208.3 million were immense (especially since the company had long since gone out of business by then).  Nintendo appealed and later got the decision reversed.  And thus the big N won again!

Capcom and Data East were going to duke it out over a copyright infringement suit brought by Capcom due to what they claimed were "similarities" between Street Fighter II and Fighter's HistoryCapcom would lose the bout though because the similarities were too generic to be copyrighted.

In other Capcom news, a MegaMan cartoon is launching!  Here are some early pics to promote it.  It ended up running for two seasons and produce 27 episodes.

Here's a taste of the intro:
And yes, that IS the single most annoying theme song ever conceived by a five year with down syndrome... or a really bad Japanese translator.  Take your pick.

Primal Rage gets a preview, showing the behind the scenes model making going on.  The detail required to capture the 400 frames of animation per character shows how much the new generation of consoles (and Hollywood's growing reliance on CGI to dazzle crowds) were forcing game makers to push fidelity and realism in their games.  Probably even more interesting though (especially given the Previews use of the King Kong vs. T.Rex analogy) is that the article is immediately followed by a multipage ad for Donkey Kong Country, the first game where the graphics were made up almost exclusively from pre-rendered 3D models.  Pre-rendered CGI vs. Digitized real world graphics would be a battle that would last a few more years (MK3 vs. Killer Instinct) and ultimately be made mute with the advent of real time 3D rendering in the 32Bit generation.

The battle to make 16 bit graphics look more and more like 3D graphics, either through pre-rendering and/or digitization is really felt in another two page spread Nintendo bought in this issue. 

Just like in last month's ReMEMBeR, Nintendo has bought another double spread to "educate" consumers.  This time though the education component is less visible and they are clearly just bashing on the competition.  16 Bits is more than enough is their main slogan as they are touting the wonders of pre-rendered graphics, they attack the 32X head on, with side jabs at the Sega CD, Jaguar and 3DO.  There prediction of the 32X having a life expectancy of just a year was actually generous, it is still a bit galling of them to be poo-pooing everyone else.  They also claim that the SNES doesn't need extra chips, which is funny as just six months earlier they nonchalatntly mentioned Star Fox as a selling point for the system.  

In January of 1994 they had declared 1994 the Year of the cartridge... while the best console software of the year would be cartridge based, someone was really hoping the future wasn't coming.

Considering the number of Genesis titles reviewed in this issue (and mostly quite positively, especially when both Genesis and SNES versions go head to head) and the relative dirth of SNES titles (FFIII being a notable exception), Nintendo was feeling the pinch and did NOT like being in second place after dominating the market so thoroughly just a few years earlier.

We also get an update on the Street Fighter movie, that is full of the color blue.... and Capcom confirms that there will be a Street Fighter the Movie arcade game, but it won't be an in-house development (you KNOW that can't be good) and an enhanced 32X version will be Capcom's first release for the system (Capcom would abandon all support for the system before releasing this or any other titles, sadly).

Which is a wonderful transition to the Arcade preview coverage....

Cruisin' USA, from legendary game design guru Eugene Jarvis (Defender, Robotron 2084), gets a nice colorful preview.  It was a fun arcade racer that went up against the likes of Ridge Racer and Daytona USA.  While not nearly as technically impressive, it combined 3D graphics with the fast and fun action of older sprite scaling games like Outrun to deliver solid fun in small doses.

Personally I always chose Cruisin' games over Daytona in the arcades because I could drive a big yellow school bus!

The fact that it was the first arcade game supposedly running on the Ultra 64 hardware from Nintendo, was just icing on the cake.  Of course the final home hardware wouldn't be nearly as powerful as this, and the cartridge based medium would force many of the textures to be scaled down dramatically, leaving us with a halfhearted port of a great arcade racer.
PSX gets a fat spread dedicated to its processing power.  Tech demos showing off the number of objects it can simultaneously render, including the famous T.Rex demo (yeah... Jurassic Park was still in the air) are shown as well as it's video playback capabilities.  No sign of actual games yet, but if you were a consumer you had to be wondering what was coming.

In the arcades, Darkstalkers launches another popular Capcom fighting franchise taking advantage of the new CPS3 board already in use with SSF2Turbo and introducing the now iconic out-lined anime art style that would be the hallmark of most CPS3 games, such as Street Fighter Alpha.

The often overlooked T-Mek gets a rave review.  While it is little more than an update of Battlezone, it still plays well with immersive surround sound in the cabinet and seat based rumble effects. 

I remember seeing this machine around 1996 and it didn't impress me much.  Then again I had my full long ago of Stellar 7.  :)

On the console front, Beavis and Butt-Head come home  with three games, each with a somewhat shared story (they want to get to the GWAR concert and can't afford it).

The SNES and GameGear variants are jump and run action games, while the Genesis gets a mix of object hunt and action gameplay that doesn't satisfy.

Sadly, like the show, it has a hard time maintaining a person's interest for long.  Do yourselves a favor and pick up Virtual Stupidity for the PC instead.
Earthworm Jim for the Genesis wows the reviewers.  The brilliant animation, insane enemies and scenarios, multiple pathways through a level and very high difficulty rating, make the game both a must have and value for money.  A classic that would sadly not spawn the massive franchise it deserved to birth.

The SNES port is lauded for much more colorful graphics but super sensitive controls make some levels more difficult than they have to be.

Genesis is definitely the way to go here.

Sonic and Knuckles is the fourth game in the series, adding another playable character, but also, due to a cartridge slot built into the cart, it allows for extra features to be unlocked in Sonic 2 and 3! New levels and areas are now playable with the Knuckles character.

Sega had a knack for innovative game ideas and this was a great brainstorm that showed their dedication to their 16 bit system, even though the Saturn was right around the corner.

Contra Hard Corps brings one of Konami's greatest franchises to the Genesis.  Brilliant graphical effects and amazing numbers of things going on on-screen, show the power of Sega's machine.  Sadly the difficulty level is so high that some of the enjoyment is lost in the process. (heck, they admit it!  Just check out this ad for the game!)

Urban Strike for the Genesis is a sequel to Desert Strike.  The action is once again shown from a 3/4 isometric perspective and you pilot a helicopter blowing up both air and ground targets.  This time you aren't repeating a thinly veiled version of the first Gulf War, but going after drug cartels operating out of cities such as San Fransisco and New York.  A great game, but sadly lacking the amazing MOD intro music from Desert Strikes' Amiga port.

Zero Tolerance, an FPS for the Genesis pushes the hardware as far as it will go, but mainly stands out for including a custom cable allowing two Genesis consoles with the game to be linked for co-op playthroughs of the game.  A nice feature I'd love to try out.

Rock n' Roll Racing is one of Blizzards greatest achievements.  A fast paced and fun game that looks a lot like RC Pro-Am, but classic computer gamers will instantly recognize the roots of the game in Racing Destruction Set.  The sci-fi atmosphere and weapons system make it a joy to play even today. 

Mickey Mania is a romp through the famous rodent's illustrious career with levels marking many of his cartoons, including Steamboat Willy and Jack and the Beanstalk and featuring his perspective defying ears (seriously look at 'em!)  Smooth animation and fun scenarios make this a great title on the Genesis, while the SNES version loses points for super precise jumps and a high difficulty level, even on Easy mode, especially considering that the game is targeting kids.

Lethal Enforcers II brings western style lightgun action to the Genesis.  The reviewer loves the game something hard and as someone who always fantasized about actually owning a lightgun for home, I am a bit jealous right now... But Lethal Enforcers was never really my cup of tea.

Star Wars Chess is an odd little game for the Sega CD.  Cashing in on the hype of games like Battle Chess, the advent of CDs to store massive amounts of non-interactive video and a lack of clues as to how to best use the Star Wars license, this game is an interesting historical remnant that is still entertaining for a quick round of chess today.

Demon's Crest for the SNES is the second followup to the original Ghosts N' Goblins spin-off, Gargoyle's Quest.  Beautiful graphics and depth almost on par with Metroid, help make this a classic.

Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures takes the basic mechanics of the Super Star Wars games and applies them to the Indy trilogy (yes, we do not count Crystal Skull, in fact the last person who tried to convince us it was part of the series is currently chained to a Gamecube in our basement and being forced to play Aquaman for all eternity!).  Ultimately the game, while good, never managed to be great and felt a bit rushed, despite having Factor 5 behind it.

Shaq Fu gets 4.0 out of 5 rating, in what I can only assume is a payola scam gone horribly wrong or the reviewer sees something in the game we all missed.  He mentions the extremely smooth animation and the ability to counterstrike while blocking.  I almost want to play this again to see if there is some level of detail I missed the first time around... or maybe not. 

Ghoul Patrol is an unofficial sequel to Zombies Ate my Neighbours, developed once again by Lucasarts and probably using the same game engine.  Nothing innovative, but given that we weren't going to see another good Ghostbusters game for a while, not too shabby.

Street Racer takes Mario Kart and doubles the number of players possible to four.  A game that often gets overshadowed but is loved by many (and got ports to DOS and even AGA Amigas).

A fun addition to the genre.

Aero Fighters 2 for the Neo Geo gets blasted for being just another shooter with nothing new to show for it.  I used to love playing this in the arcades, but then again it only cost 25 cents a go.  I agree, if I'd be shelling out Neo Geo cart prices for the game, it would have been way too little.  But as an arcade game,give it a go!

Road Rash for the 3DO is heralded as brilliant breakthrough in tech that it was.  The potential of 3D gaming is on display here, taking the already fun 16 bit mechanics and adding a buttload of digitized graphics and smooth background animations. 

Alone in the Dark for the 3DO gets blasted for being slow and clunky, which it was.  I've never played the 3DO port, but I can imagine that it wasn't quit as fast as the PC game, and the slow plodding nature of the mechanics would not have gone over too well in the days of the 16 bit consoles.
RPGs were still a niche market in 1994, so they get their own review section at the back of the mag, which only includes one review in this issue, but damn is it a doozy!  Final Fantasy III (aka 6) on the SNES.  The epic game gets the accolades it deserves, as well as a five page review.  Historically it is scene as the game that popularized JRPGs in the west, but while looking through this mag, I found a slew of other RPGs being advertised, which makes me think that the breakthrough was just a matter of time.
Most telling is the Lord of the Rings ad, where the headline reads:  "Before Zelda, Before Secret of Mana, before Seventh Saga there was..."  The revolution was coming... Final Fantasy was to JRPGs what the Silver Surfer was to Galactus.

Clay fighter 2 is parodying terminator 2... gotta give 'em credit here... while the game wasn't really all that good, this is kinda cool.

Final fantasy 3(6) gets a nice two page teaser ad, which shows their confidence in the games' success.

Rocket science was a development studio that came on the scene with a lot of hype, but failed to really deliver.  They launched a few interesting games, but lots of features like multiplayer functionality ended up not making it sadly.  They were also mainly a PC developer, making their choice to advertise in a console gaming mag a bit odd.

Still the ad is pretty 90s radical.

WildSnake:  Alexey Pajitnov could finally start to profit from his games and his name appeared on a mess of puzzle games in the 90s.  Obviously none of them approached the popularity of Tetris, but they definitely made him some cash while he waited for the rights to revert back to him.

Kasumi Ninja desperately tries to sell some Jaguars.  Why they didn't include a shot of the Angus MacGregor upskirting his opponents and firing fireballs from his crotch is a mystery to me.

The Marvel Masterpieces collectible card series, featuring the Hildebrandt Brothers (famous for their Lord of the Rings artwork) reminds us that the 90s was also the time of the comic book speculator bubble.

Accolade tried desperately to break into the console market in the 90s after being a major player in the computer market throughout the 80s.  Here is there pretty cool add for the Genesis FPS Zero Tolerance.

A rumble backpack that will give your back a massage if your game is loud enough, called the Interactor gets a two page spread.  These guys actually had a five million dollar ad campaign and signed a deal to feature MKII in its ads.  Kinda weird.

Blizzard's second game published under that title, is Blackthorne, a blood and guts heavy take on games like Flashback and Prince of Persia.  An awesome game that would give us our first glimpse of the company's now famous Orcs, while the cover exuded 90s Jim Lee style comic book artwork.

Have I mentioned that the comic book speculator market was big at the time?

Sega is still hawking the Sega CD, saying it is already delivering the next generation experience and that you'll get old waiting for someone to top it (of course they would be stocking Saturn's on US shelves by May of 1995, just 7 months after this ad was published).

And at the same time, 3DO is also making you feel like you'll be wasting your life if you don't buy their console now! (or maybe they just mean they will cease to be a credible option within 6 months...)

Konami is promoting their amazing Batman & Robin for SNES, by pointing out how close the games graphics are to the animated series... and boy did they look pretty.  Great game too.

Snatcher, an unapologetic Bladerunner rip-off for the Sega CD, gives us one of the freakiest ads I've seen in a LONG time.

God bless them.

Battlecorps is an ad that does a good job of selling the awesome Mech based Sega CD game... just look at that guy...

Sega gets an exclusive with Mighty Mophin' Power Rangers.  Wonder how much that cost them.

And even more important, how much did it piss Nintendo off?

This ad for Viewpoint, the super fun 3/4 view space shooter from the NeoGeo, is absolutely crap at explaining or making me interested in the game at all.

Bad Sammy.... very bad!!
This is the mid 90s so we get a slew of cute mascot jump 'n run games with "attitude":
Radical Rex is a firebreathing skateboard riding dinosaur... oh my god, why would you let marketing people come up with game concepts?!?!

Zero: The Kamikaze Squirrel... because it's never to early to teach kids about suicide....

And Aero the Acrobat gets a sequel (yes, they were even doing sequels at this point... fortunately the trend would not survive the transition to 3D graphics... thank you Sofia from Toshinden for making anything wholesomer than a whip wielding dominatrix look uncool)

The originator of the trend, Sonic, gets a GameGear sequel with not one, not two, but THREE attitude animals on the cover...

Earthworm Jim proved he was too cool for flashy graphics (and as the harbinger of the end of any trend, mercilessly mocks the entire concept of the mascot game by being neither cute, nor fuzzy, but otherwise adhering to all of the genre's staples and doing them wonderfully in the process).  The sarcasm is palpable in these simple black line drawings.

 And finally, Rayman teases his debut on the Jaguar.  Ok, this mascot was cool and would go on to feature in a bunch of cool games.  Guess something good did come out of the Jaguar original titles after all...

And speaking of failed 90s consoles...
Mutant Rampage: Body Slam... a fighting game for the CDi... oh my goodness, I forgot that anyone had tried to market that as a game system!

And BurnCycle gets a  CD-i ad too.  My goodness... you might almost think the thing was capable of playing games!

That was until you tried a demo of it at Sears.

Creative is hawking their 3DO compatible PC add-on card.  In the day and age before 3D accelerators there would be more than one attempt to merge video game console tech with the PC, but this was a fun looking bit of kit, that had the system gotten more quality exclusives, could have really sold well.

The Jaguar's finest hour, Alien vs. Predator, gets a beautiful two page ad.  I actually wanted a Jaguar back in the day just for this game... it would have been my first console.  Fortunately sanity prevailed.

And Sega sets up a free telephone hotline so you can get "the scoop" on the 32X before all your friends do.... I wonder if someone has a recording of that service....

 To close it out, we have the obligatory ad for a Don Bluth game on CD-Rom!

Oh, Dexter, will you ever beat Borf?

In conclusion:

Late 1994 was a time when everyone knew 16 bit was coming to an end.  Sega was launching gimmick after gimmick, some good (co-op FPS gaming via connector cable), some bad (vibrating backpacks), but they were trying to guess where the future was without sadly developing the ideas to their conclusion.

Nintendo was stubbornly pretending that there was no next gen coming, that pre-rendered graphics were a perfect substitute and that family friendly entertainment would continue to appeal to the ever ageing gamer demographic.  They would succeed in many ways and deliver some beautifully polished experiences, but the future missteps of the N64 are being broadcast in a most agitated and almost childlike way.

The "next generation" consoles already on the market were failing because they either cost too much or did little innovative with their tech as far as the games they could produce, or were ignored by the big publishers who were still busy pumping out titles for 16 bit hardware that were still impressing.

And third party publishers were tickling the last few tricks possible out of the 16 bit hardware, with games like Contra Hard Corps, Earthworm Jim and Final Fantasy III pushing the limits of 2D sprite based cartridge gaming.  Brilliant gems, both technically and gameplaywise that would live well beyond the hardware that birthed them.

Oh, and we could go to the movies and see Melissa Milano make a fool of herself in the first video game to movie adaptation the world would get the dubious pleasure of seeing.


  1. Great post Karl. It seems a plethora of good games were released in 1994 - sadly I was purely a PC gamer at that point in time, so I missed out on a lot of them it seems :-) But I did love Blackthorne on the PC, and I played a lot of great adventure games around that time. But to be honest I didn't do a lot of gaming around this time - I was too busy trying to be a rock star and impress the girls :-)

  2. I was a PC gamer at this point as well... but I just impressed the ladies with my winning smile. ;)

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  6. This was the first issue of GamePro I ever owned and man, did this article bring back some memories! So many great titles got covered in this issue. Also, the Shaq-Fu article was hilarious.