Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly #34

Cover of EGM #34
Cover of EGM #34

So, we continue with our Electronic Gaming Monthly recaps and reviews with issue 34 – the issue after what was, perhaps, EGM’s most famous April Fool’s Joke Ever! Did anyone get the joke, or did people around the world feel the wind rustle through their hair and wonder what that was?

Our cover art this issue is for Super Double Dragon. That’s right, the founding brothers of the beat-em-up are back, and now in 16-bit. Can the Double Dragon franchise (one which is, as of this writing, dead, beheaded, and buried at a crossroads with a wooden through its heart, a holy wafer in its mouth, and a crucifix pressed into its cold hands – right alongside the Battletoads. This issue is about 148 pages long, smaller than last issue. Our first ad is for Ultra Golf, for the Game Boy – from Ultra (which isn’t apparently, as dead as I thought it was last issue).

Insert Coin: Our editorial this issue comes from Ed Semrad, discussing the use of CD-ROMs for console gaming and the difficulty of getting the software to support the system, as well as getting it at a price that’s affordable for the public – without rushing the games. I’m going to be honest, Cartridge graphics with CD Music and animated cut-scenes is not necessarily a bad thing. Particularly if you look at, say, RPGs like Lunar: Silver Star Story, or Suidoken, or even Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Interface – Letters to the Editor: We start off our letters section with a bit of a correction – Street Fighter 2 has been delayed, and will not be coming out until July, rather than in June like was printed last issue. Our first letters ask about why Sushi-X is so mysterious, will we be getting a arcade stick (instead of having to play on a 4-direction control pad). Well, Sushi isn’t secretive, he’s just shy, and if you’re going to CES you’ll have a chance to meet him for yourself, and Capcom will be bringing out a 6-button arcade stick for the SNES, with an 8-direction analog stick, which will work for any game on the SNES, though no price has been announced yet. Oh, and the soundtrack is out on CD (though you’ll probably have to find an importer to bring it in from Japan.) We also get a boatload of requests for information on the Super Famicom CD-ROM system. Unfortunately, they don’t have any more information than they’ve already given out – not that it matters – it never comes out.

We also get another pair of letters bitching about system coverage. One letter wants more Genesis coverage, the other says there’s too much. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the Console Game System theater of the Fanboy Wars did not start with the Internet. We also get a letter complaining that the Fact Files (the in-depth previews with copious amounts of pictures) are too complementary. The argument raised in favor of the existing format is that they do not pass judgment until the game is complete – something that has definitely changed over EGMs life, where, before the end, they were not afraid to say if a game was looking like a piece of crap if it honestly looked like a piece of crap – but not without saying why it looked like a piece of crap and what needed to be done to improve it (and for the good games, later builds corrected those issues). We also get a letter about, basically, Rom Rippers – devices that copy the game’s ROM to a floppy disk. They don’t recommend buying them and, without the SNES hardware, I don’t know how well the game would work, unless you had a PC that had better specs than the SNES and without some sort of emulation software – and this is before the wide spread of the Internet – presumably you could find the software on a BBS at that time, but you’d have to know somebody to get it.

We get a letter lauding how this year the Summer CES is open to the public, and how the writer is looking forward to it. Why didn’t they think of this for E3? Oh, right, because people were complaining about the riff-raff getting in, making it more difficult for the media to play games, so they clamped down on who could attend, and less people consequently attended, thus less people looked at publishers’ games, and so publishers started abandoning E3 for cons with… wait for it… bigger attendance. We also get a letter complaining about the cost of the Sega CD/Mega CD, when it’s not actually out yet in the US – all costs listed are guesses based on how much it costs in Yen. The previous estimated price was about $380, but on their last trip to Japan they were running for about $250.

Review Crew: The Review Crew is, as always (thus far) Steve, Ed, Martin and Sushi.

  • Super Scope 6 (SNES, Nintendo): A collection of mini-games using their new Super Scope peripheral, which also comes with the game. Ed gives the game a 3, citing that the game itself is rather dull, and not anticipating a lot of support from 3rd parties for the device (see R.O.B. and the Power Pad). Well, it wasn’t a pack-in light gun, so that does make it difficult for developers to support it as the primary control device, because your install base is certain to be smaller. Steve and Martin give the game a 5, commenting that the pack-in game is good, but gets old quickly, and there’s no certainty of additional software support. Sushi doesn’t like the pack-in game that much, but he does think the light-gun is very accurate and very high quality – though he too worries about support for the peripheral. The problem with worrying about peripheral support, is that developers and publishers will only support a peripheral if they know there’s the install base to support the peripheral. Consequently, if you give a and a device low review scores because of the potential lack of software support from 3rd parties, then people won’t buy it, and then the 3rd party support won’t materialize. Take a look at the balance board for the Wii, which, is similar in that it’s a gimmicky peripheral, but the game got 3rd party support through more than fitness games, because it got a big install base. Ditto with Namco and their Gun-Con – Namco put a lot of support into the peripheral, and ultimately so did other publishers, with the House of the Dead games supporting the light-gun, in addition to Namco’s own first party titles (like the Time Crisis series). Overall: 19/40.

  • The Rocketeer (SNES, IGS): Spinoff game from the movie, except instead of fighting Nazis, you’re fighting terrorists, thanks to Nintendo’s policies on what you can or cannot show in a game, despite the fact it’s based on a Disney movie, they have to be more draconian in their content restrictions. It makes no sense to me too. Anyway, Steve gives the game a 4, saying the graphics are decent, but the gameplay itself is underwhelming. Martin agrees, but finds that the multiple types of gameplay (shump, action-platforming and first-person segments, much like Vice: Project Doom) are enough to bump it up another point. Ed and Sushi give the game a 6. Ed found some difficultly learning the controls – which, when you consider that he’s been doing this for a living for 5 years now, is quite impressive (though the SNES controller, at the time, had more buttons than any other controller since the Crash). Sushi-X loved the graphics, loved the music, found the game as boring as hell. Overall: 21/40.

  • Spanky’s Quest (SNES, Natsume): Platformer which was previewed last issue. I already mentioned the possibly unintended innuendo around the monkey’s name. Steve and Martin give the game a 6 based on the light difficulty the light difficulty and graphics, though it still is interesting. Sushi and Ed give the game a 7, commenting that while the game is very “kid friendly”, it still has some challenge and innovative gameplay elements. Overall score of 26/40.

  • Might and Magic (NES, American Sammy): NES port of the PC RPG. Martin gives the game a 3 – commenting that he hates RPGs, and he hates RPGs for the NES even more – the nice thing about the later days of EGM is you’d have a rotating cast of critics, so that if you’ve got an RPG on the docket to review, you could make sure that guys like Martin were kept well out of sight of it, so we don’t have the overall score potentially being knocked down, say, 4 points because you’ve got somebody who hates RPGs reviewing it (because really, if you have a guy who hates RPGs review an RPG, he’s probably going to give the game a bad score. It’s fairly simple logic. This leads me to the next lowest score – Steve’s. Steve gives the game a 5, commenting that while he doesn’t like RPGs, he expects people who are fans of the genre will find a lot to like here. Sushi-X (at least this version) on the other hand, likes RPGs, and loved the PC version of Might & Magic, which is also why he’s disappointed by the decrease of quality in both graphics and music for the NES version of the game and gives the game a 6. Finally, we get Ed’s score – Ed loves the game, gives it a 7, finding the graphics lacking, but the complexity of the game makes up for it. So, to break down the perspectives, we have a guy who hates RPGs with the fire of a thousand suns and gives a score to match; a guy who doesn’t like RPGs, but thinks people who like RPGs will find something to like here and gives it a middle-of-the-road score; a guy who liked the PC version and was disappointed with the port (and giving a score to match), and finally someone who wasn’t familiar with the PC version who loved it. I’d say that pretty much runs the gamut. Before I give my overall score – if Martin Alessi is on the review of Final Fantasy III/VI when that comes out, and he gives it less than a 4, I will travel back in time and kick him in the head, and then give EGM’s EIC a boot to the noggin to for good measure, for not realizing that Martin’s intense dislike of RPGs would color his review of RPGs to the point that his review would be entirely meaningless and useless to anyone, while bringing down the overall score for the game. Overall: 21/40. Had Martin given the game a score to match Steve’s the game would have received 23/40 – not much of a difference, but better. Less like it’s skating on the thin ice of mediocrity.

  • The Blues Brothers (NES, Titus): Rare is the licensed game, based on a movie, which has nothing whatsoever to do with its source material. Such it is with The Blues Brothers – an action-platforming game. Sushi and Martin give the game a 5 for exactly that reason – no similarity with the movie, and a generally mediocre platformer. Ed and Steve give it a 6, but mainly because they think it’s a little better than mediocre, but not by much. Overall: 22/40.

  • Lemmings (Genesis, Sunsoft): Console port of the PC puzzle game. 7s from Steve, Martin and Sushi. The general consensus from them the graphics and sound aren’t stellar but the gameplay is fantastic and addictive as hell. Ed kicks the score up a notch with an 8 due to finding the game superior to the SNES version, which is apparently also out – that’s right, we’re getting near simultaneous ports of a game for the Genesis and the SNES – that chill up your spine, that’s hell freezing over, at least for this time in the game industry. Overall: 29/40.

  • Earnest Evans (Genesis, Renovation): Action platformer, and prequel for El Viento. The game was originally released for the Mega CD, which isn’t out in the US yet, so they’ve taken the CD graphics and sound, and gameplay and cram it onto a cartridge. It didn’t work quite as well as planned. Martin gives the game a 5 due to the major flicker and other animation issues, and general control problems, which is a shame because he was really looking forward to it. Steve gives it a 6, finding it slightly above average, due to good animation and gameplay, but some control and graphical hangups (which sound like they’re related to the transition from CD to cartridge). Sushi and Ed find basically the same thing as Steve, though they find the animation more of a concern – but otherwise they like it enough to give it a 7. Overall: 25/40.

  • Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun (Genesis, Sega): That’s right, first party Dungeons & Dragons game for the Genesis. Martin hates RPGs gives it a 4, see my criticisms under the Might & Magic review. Steve gives it a 4 as well, but his reasons aren’t much better than Martins actually – not that he hates RPGs, but because he is entirely unfamiliar with Original D&D (or OD&D), and wonders why it’s not in an established setting – when it is, the Hollow World setting used for OD&D, which has some of the setting details included in the Rules Cyclopedia as well as other supplemental materials. Ed and Sushi found it much more enjoyable and each gave it a 7. Overall: 22/40 – with Martin’s dislike of the genre, and Steve rating the game down based on his own ignorance.

  • Jordan vs. Bird (Genesis, Electronic Arts): 1-on-1 basketball game. Steve gives the game a 6, finding it too short, as you’re either playing as Michael Jordan or as Larry Bird. Everyone else gives the game a 7, finding the game fun and enjoyable, but after a while the game gets old. Overall: 26/40.

  • Star Save (Game Boy, Taito): Shooter-platformer a lot like Mega Man, but according to the Crew, not as good as Mega Man – or rather, according to Steve, who gives the game a 5. Sushi gives it a 5 as well, due to the horrible graphics of the Game Boy, and he hopes they get the color version out soon so he can get something a little crisper – sorry mate, that’s not coming until the late 90s. The Mid 90s will get the Game Boy Pocket which is smaller and does have a crisper picture than the original gray brick (which I have sitting on my bookshelf next to the window). Martin and Ed give the game a 6, basically for the same reasons that Sushi gave the game a 5. Overall: 22/40.

  • Top Gun (Game Boy, Konami): Dogfighting flight sim. In general, everyone is surprised that they managed to make a flight sim for the Game Boy, though they all agree that they didn’t quite pull it off, due to the graphical and control limitations of the system. What they disagree on is how badly they missed the mark, with a 4 from Steve and Martin, and a 5 from Ed and Sushi. Overall: 18/40.

  • Batman: Return of the Joker (Game Boy, Sunsoft): Action Platformer. Sushi gives it a 6 due to the poor graphics but he generally likes it. Martin gives it a 7, finding it not quite as intense as the GBA game, but still pretty good. Steve and Ed give the game 8s, saying the graphics are decent, the difficultly curve alright, and while Steve doesn’t find it as good as the first Batman game for the GBA, it’s still alright. Overall: 29/40.

  • Outrun Europa (Game Gear, U.S. Gold): The road race series comes to portable platforms. Steve gives it a 5, finding it incredibly underwhelming. Everyone else gives it a 7 finding it a solid 8-bit racer. Overall: 26/40.

  • Hydra (Lynx, Atari): 3rd person jet-ski racing/combat game. Martin gives the game 6, finding it enjoyable in the short term, but not in the long term. Everyone else gives the game a 7, find it a good, solid port of an arcade game to a hand-held system. Overall: 27/40

Ad for Empire Strikes Back for the NES
Ad for Empire Strikes Back for the NES

We finally get another ad of note – for The Empire Strikes Back for the NES, with an excellent picture of Rebel troops running past the twisted smoldering remains of an Imperial Walker. We also get a “Critics are Raving” two-page commercial for the Rocketeer game, which must be using text from previews, because they certainly didn’t use “Awestruck” in this issue’s reviews.

Quartermann: Once again, Quartermann steps up to the plate, and steps up quickly with his first swing.

  1. Nintendo and Capcom are setting up a pack-in for Street Fighter II to bundle it with the SNES. Miss! – No such bundle came out.

  2. Capcom will not be bundling their arcade with the game, and will instead be selling it separately. Hit! – It was sold separately in the US.

  3. Nintendo has come up with a new development system called the Quad which will allow developers to design games with higher quality graphics and sound. I can find nothing on this system, so I’m calling it a Miss!

  4. The only other rumor of note is that Sega’s got a secret new game in the works called Dolphin. Hit! – That would be Ecco the Dolphin.

Overall: The Q-mann gets a 50%. 2 out of 4 ain’t bad.

Preview – The WonderMega: The WonderMega is a new all-in-one unit that combines the Sega CD satellite unit and the core console into one big unit, being put out by JVC, not Sega. The unit features a Dynamic audio processor which increases the dynamic range of sound, thus improving sound quality, and a Super VHS (S-Video) connector, which cutting edge if you think about it, sort of like the inclusion of HDMI on modern consoles. This never came out in the US. A similar unit called the X’eye came out which was also a Genesis/Sega CD combo unit, but didn’t have the S-Video connector, and later versions only came with infrared controllers which really aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. Originally the WonderMega ran about $625, now you can find one on eBay for about $349.99 (w/ 11 games) or $269.99 (w/ 7 games), though the system has to be imported from Japan.

International Outlook: Our previews of note are for Konami’s new SNES shump, Axelay (remember when Konami used to be the go-to guys for shumps?), and a preview of Hudson’s Adventure Island 3, featuring he who can mash a button on a NES controller the fastest – Master Higgins. We also get a preview of Konami’s parody of a shump, appropriately titled Parodius, after their most popular series of shumps. Hudson has a licensed Macross shump for the PC Engine CD-ROM. Lucasfilm (they have yet to change their name to Lucasarts) has also ported Loom to the TurboGrafx CD-ROM as well. Sega is putting out After Burner III for the Sega CD as well as putting out a cartridge version as well – after hearing how well the cartridge version of Earnest Evans turned out, I’m not holding my breath on the quality of the cartridge version.

Tips and Tricks: Again, I normally don’t pay attention to the tips and tricks unless there’s anything of note and there isn’t anything of note.

Leading Edge: We’ve got previews of some of the new games in the arcades in the US. We have a shump from Atlus – Blazion, this being before Atlus became more well known for porting JRPGs to the US, and before they became known over here for the Shin Megami Tensei series, which, considering Nintendo of America’s licensing policy, would have probably made Howard Phillips’ head explode if they had tried to port it to the US – which, now that I think of it, would not necessarily be a bad thing. Well, if I’m traveling back in time later, I might as well stop by Atlus USA’s offices and suggest that they try to port it over. Seibu Kaihatsu has a soccer game coming to arcades, appropriately titled Seibu Cup Soccer – you don’t see to many sports games in arcades anymore, and even when you did see them, they were generally either boxing or basketball (particularly NBA Jam). Irem also has a new brawler, Undercover cops, that looks absolutely georgeous.

We get an ad for Star Odyssey, a Sci-Fi RPG for the Genesis that I’ve never heard of before.

Next Wave: On to our previews of upcoming titles coming to the home. Of note we’ve got Return of Double Dragon for the NES – the founding Brawler making a 16-bit run back at its former title. There’s also an American Gladiator’s licensed game, which looks like it’s taking advantage of the Mode-7 capabilities of the SNES in a practical fashion.

Culture Brain runs an ad for Baseball Simulator 1,000 – a realistic stat-heavy baseball game – hopefully we’ll get a review of it to see how well it actually plays.

In Depth Previews: On to our longer, more in-depth and picture intensive previews of various games. Jaleco’s got a new brawler for the SNES that looks interesting – Rival Turf. We also get a preview of Garry Kitchen’s Super Battletank: War In the Gulf which is the first console game I’ve seen to feature the name of a game developer on it – Kitchen wrote the Atari 2600 port of Donkey Kong, as well as Keystone Kapers for the Atari 2600 from Activision, and A Boy And His Blob, which is getting re-made for the Wii. This is a sequel to Battletank which came out on the NES back in 1990. We also get a preview of Jack Nicklaus Golf for the SNES, which features a create-a-course option, and another golf game, Pebble Beach Golf Links. It bears mentioning that while Jack Nicklaus Golf appears to represent the course through Mode 7 graphics, Pebble Beach Golf Links appears to represent the course using polygonal graphics, including the use of a wire-frame grid laid onto the green once you get there to help you judge your putt. There’s no create-a-course mode in Pebble Beach though, while there is one in Jack Nicklaus.

We also get a preview of Might & Magic II for the SNES from American Sammy – hopefully the 16-bit version of the game will address the complaints about graphical and music quality on the NES version. Electrobrain has not given up on the NES with Stanley in the Search For Doctor Livingston, a platforming adventure game in which you play as Henry Morgan Stanley as you search for Dr. David Livingston. Romstar is putting out Baseball Stars II for the NES, perhaps one of the first baseball games I’ve seen on consoles that don’t have a MLB license, but has an option to change the name of your players, the name of your team, and the stats of the players on your team, so, in theory, a diligent player with an expansive collection of baseball cards (this being before the Internet) can use those to get the stats for his the players on his favorite team, and thus, in theory, slip the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox (or Seattle Mariners) into the game. Camerica also has a helicopter based shump for the NES called Fire Hawk, which, like Choplifter, has you (in addition to blowing up enemy aircraft and facilities) rescuing operatives trapped behind enemy lines. Is it just me or do game designers think Apache Gunships have more passenger space then they actually have.

We get an ad for Kid Chameleon for Genesis which I’m only particularly mentioning because it’s included in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and I’ve never gotten around in any of these reviews of slipping in an Amazon Affiliate link – money-grubbing capitalist (and broke schmuck) that I am.

Meanwhile our previews go to the Genesis as we get a preview of Splatterhouse 2 from Namco and Bulls vs. Lakers from Electronic Arts. Virgin has Cybercop, which looks almost like a combination of The Terminator and Eye of the Beholder. We also get a preview of fantasy action game Cadash which, writing it, I feel like should have a “K” at the beginning instead of having a “C”.

90s-licious Future Bonk from Bonk III
90's-licious Future Bonk from Bonk III

Turning to TurboGrafx our previews go to Bonk III: Panic Cyborg – with a nice exclamation point saying title subject to change, because they’re doing a contest to determine the future version of Bonk’s name, with the winner getting a free TurboGrafx CD-ROM and some games to go with it. I must say the appearance is very ’90s. We also get a preview of Parodius. For the Neo-Geo we have a preview of Mutation Nation, a brawler, which right of the bat makes itself notable by having a 54-Meg cart. By comparison, every other cart this issue has generally been 8 Megs… unless it’s 4 Megs. That is a lot of information crammed onto that cart – and when many new cartridges for the Genesis and the SNES were running $40-$50 or more (and potentially $80 for Street Fighter II), the insane amount of money Neo-Geo carts were running for starts to make more sense. It doesn’t necessarily make the games good, but it makes the cost for the carts understandable – and in the case of the Neo-Geo, you have to remember that you were getting arcade quality ports in the days before they were as common as they are today.

For the Game Boy, Data East has Nail ‘n Scale, a platformer. LJN has NBA 2 – All Star Challenge. It’s a 1-on-1 basketball game with, unlike Jordan vs. Bird, 25 players to choose from. Why the 1-Meg game on an 8-bit hand-held system has more players than an 8-meg game on a 16-bit system is entirely beyond me. Okay, not entirely – Jordan vs. Bird has superior graphics. However, it was also criticized by being rather dull and monotonous – and ultimately short – something that the longer lineup of NBA 2 should rectify. Nintendo has a 1st party puzzler featuring Yoshi which involves you having to match characters. On the Atari Lynx we have Basketbrawl, which is a basketball game with street-fighting, and where shiving one of the players on the opposing team is a valid tactic. Tengen has Rampart, which is really, one of the first Tower Defense games. That’s right, the genre that has become such a big deal now in 2008 was around back in the early 90s. It’s not so much that it came about nowadays, as much as it experienced a renaissance.

On the Game Gear we have, George Foreman’s Knockout Boxing. Odd seeing these boxing stars who, when I was more aware growing up, was less involved in the ring, and became less famous for their boxing than for other things. George Foreman may be remembered more for his grill than for putting his fists into the grills of his opponent. Mike Tyson shall forever be remembered for beating those who loved him than for beating his opponents. Finally we get a strategy guide for Contra III, including maps of all the levels, and ratings of the various guns (so you know what weapons power-ups you really should skip – which is more useful than it sounds), and strategies for beating the bosses. Finally, we wrap up the issue with a strategy for the boss fight against Dracula in Super Castlevania IV and then finally the leaderboards – concluding the issue.

So – nobody wrote in to notice that they spotted the Sheng Long April Fools joke in this issue, so nobody wins their prize. Ah well. Next issue will be #35 – unless an earlier issue goes up on Retromags before then.