Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly Issue #23
So, as some of you may have heard, EGM, like the Undertaker, cannot stay dead for long (which is, by the way, a good thing). Steve Harris, former EIC of EGM during the era of the magazine which I am currently recapping, has got EGM back from Ziff-Davis, and will start publishing new issues later this year. Does this mean I’ll be stopping my recaps, which I started in remembrance of EGM? Nope, because there’s a lot of history to cover, and, frankly, I like to think this recap series has branched out into something bigger, focused on the history of video game journalism in general. So, with that in mind, we move on to EGM issue #23, for June of 1991. This issue is about 133 pages long, and our cover story is a preview of the upcoming Hudson Hawk licenced game, with Bruce Willis getting his first appearance in a video game.
Insert Coin – Editorial: This issue’s editorial is from Ed Semrad, celebrating the fact that EGM now has, including news-stand sales and subscribers, over one million readers. Further, they’ve gotten feedback from the readers service cards, leading to an expanded import section, plust a longer page count and additional inserts (though the inserts don’t last long fortunately – they’re a pain to recap).
Interface – Letters to the Editor: We get a letter asking for more reviews of SuperGrafx games (when they come out, you’ll get the reviews). There also are a couple questions about who owns the rights for Double Dragon and Y’s – the writer was confused and thought the rights belonged Sega, when Sega simply did the prior ports to the Master System (due to hardware familiarity and, I suspect, Nintendo of America’s licencing policy). We also get a bunch of letters about their the April Fool’s joke from 2 issues prior, which I must admit I haven’t read. We also get a very useful warning about the 50-in-1 and 100-in-1 carts that occasionally get listed by some of the advertisers in the magazine – those carts are illegal, do not buy them (and presumably those advertisers won’t be advertising in EGM anymore). Also, those ad-inserts are doing some good – the Atari ad insert from the April issue got a few new buyers for the Lynx. We also get a request for a EGM TV show (GamePro tried a TV show later and it… well… no longer exists. As far as I know the only remaining video game TV shows are X-Play on G4 and GameTrailers TV on SpikeTV, unless someone knows of another similar show that’s still televised on the US that I don’t know about – if so, please post something in the comments).
Review Crew: The crew for this issue is, as before, Steve Harris (who is now on my friends’ list on Facebook, so hopefully he’ll be reading this – Hi Steve!), Ed Semrad, Martin Alessi, and Sushi-X.
- Battletoads (NES, Tradewest): Very good scores for this game, with 9s across the board. They love the graphics, they love the personality (which I have to agree), they love the challenge. They even like that you can smack around the other player in 2-player mode. I don’t think that they could disagree with the Angry Video Game Nerd’s review of Battletoads more. Overall: 36/40.
- Ultimate Journey (NES, Bandai): Looks like an action platformer. Gets 7s from Steve, Martin, and Sushi – commenting about good gameplay and graphics, but rather lackluster control, particularly with regards to jumping. Ed doesn’t mention any of the control problems, and gives it an 8. Overall: 29/40.
- Monopoly (NES, Parker Brothers): I have some personal fondness for this game, as this is the only video game I ever played with my grandfather on my Dad’s side (who has since passed away). Martin gives it a 4, basically saying it doesn’t work as well as the the actual board game, and recommends just getting the board game instead (for the record, I found auctions worked better in the video game than when actually playing the board game.) Sushi gives the game a 5, saying some board games shouldn’t be ported to consoles. I would have to say that now is the era for the console ports of board games, thanks to the options for online multiplayer. Ed and Steve give the game 8s, finding it to be a decent port of the board game (though still not as good as the actual board game – though it’s harder to cheat at this version – though it can be done.) Overall: 25/40.
- Lolo 3 (NES, Hal): Puzzle game that’s somewhat similar to Bomberman. Martin and Sushi give the game 7s, finding it a very well done puzzle game, though Martin finding the lack of replay value (once you’ve beaten it) to be a not-insignificant negative. Ed and Steve give it 8s, with Steve commenting on the change of pace with Lolo getting captured part of the way through the game, leading to a change of perspective from Lolo to Lala for the rescue attempt. Overall: 30/40.
- Lone Ranger (NES, Konami): Action game (with action-adventure and, IIRC, light-gun segments). Martin finds that the game gets repetitive over the time, though the change up between gameplay types does help change it up a bit, and gives it a 5. The other three members of the crew give the game 6s, with Sushi finding having the Lone Ranger needing to buy his Silver bullets to be a bit hard to believe and Ed ultimately lost interest in the game. Steve describes it as Metal Gear in the Old West. Overall: 23/40.
- TV Basketball (TurboGrafx, NEC): It’s a basketball game with 5 player support with the TurboGrafx’s multi-tap (appropriately called the “Turbo Tap”). Also, according to Martin it doesn’t particularly play very well and the graphics aren’t very good – 4. Sushi finds the game’s perspective changes rather annoying, and the sound in general (both music and sound effects) cheesy, with the 5-player support the main redeeming factor – 5. Steve considers it to be a decent port of the Cinemaware game to the TurboGrafx, but the graphics are pretty poor – 6. Ed basically agrees with Steve, but gives it an 7 instead. Overall: 22/40.
- Sherlock Holmes (TurboGrafx, NEC): Port of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective to the TurboGrafx. Martin noticed some lip-flap in the animations, and found the game a little too easy, and gives the game a 6. Sushi also likes the animation, and finds the mysteries to be well written, though the limitation of only having 3 cases makes the game very short, so he gives the game a 7. Steve considers the game to be kind of rough, but is impressed by the game’s technical leaps (as this is one of the first home console CD games) and gives it an 8. Ed finds the game to very Holmsian in it’s spirit and it’s content, and gives the game a 9. Overall: 30/40
- Batman (Genesis, Sunsoft): Licenced action platformer game, based on the movie, and probably one of the better Batman games of all time. Thus, it’s unsurprising that the game gets 8s across the board. The general consensus is that the game could have been longer and the bosses could have been tougher, but otherwise it’s fun. Overall: 32/40.
- Midnight Resistance (Genesis, Sega): Contra-style shooter, sequel to Heavy Barrel. The game also gets 8s across the board, with some complaints about the game’s control and the game being too easy, but otherwise being as fun as Contra. Overall: 32/40.
- Twin Cobra (Genesis, Sega): Top-down helicopter shump. Ed and Sushi give the game 7s, commenting that the game is a solid shump, though the two-player mode from the arcade version is notable by it’s absence (and not in a good way). Steve and Martin are able to over-look the absence of multi-player and give the game 8s. Overall: 30/40.
- Wings of Wor (Genesis, DreamWorks): This DreamWorks has nothing in common for the film studio. Fantasy shump. 7s across the board – from the looks of things the game is solid, but the amount of competition in the shump genre makes it difficult for the game to stand out. Overall: 28/40.
- Mickey Mouse (Game Gear, Sega): Port of the Master System game. Steve finds it to be a solid port of a the Master System game, though it does lose a bit in the translation, and he gives it a 7. The rest of the Crew gives it 8s, finding it, overall, one of the best games on the Game Gear as of press time. Overall: 28/40.
- Revenge of Drancon (Game Gear, Sega): It’s Wonder Boy/Adventure Island, and not a great port. Martin gives the game 5, basically recognizing that it’s Wonder Boy, and the first one at that. Sushi gives it a 6 for the same reason. Ed and Stve give it 7s, basically saying that while this is yet another Wonder Boy game, it’s still a good game. Overall: 25/40.
- Punisher (Game Boy, LGN): It’s Operation Wolf, with a Marvel License and on the Game Boy. Steve gives it a 4, as it’s an Operation Wolf clone with no light-gun on a tiny, greyscale screen. Martin gives a 5 for the same reason. Sushi and Ed give the game 6s, with their main problem being the poor sound quality that the Game Boy has at this time. Overall: 21/40.
The Games of June 1991: Of note of the games coming out this month are Vice: Project Doom (which I’ve previously played) for the NES, and Raiden and Turrican for the Genesis.
Quartermann: Quartermann goes up to bat once again. For issue #37, the last issue I recapped, Q-Mann managed a decent 1.000 batting average. Let’s see if he can keep up the average this issue.
- Camerica is going to put out a hand-held NES system. Well, they are working on one, but ultimately, until recently the only ones that were actually available were fan-made mods (with the exception of the one for sale from ThinkGeek.com). So, Miss!.
- Camerica is also coming out with a Game-Boy-to-Nintendo Converter, to allow you to play your Game Boy Games on your NES. Well, we do get such a converter, but it works with the SNES, not the NES, and it’s not by Camerica. Miss!
- The Super NES has 2 SKUs planned for launch – one bundled with Super Mario World, and another less expensive SKU without games. The 4 planned launch titles are Pilotwings, F-Zero, Super Mario World, and Pro Challenge Golf. Well, the bundle-free SKU doesn’t come out until a few months to a year after launch, and Pro Challenge Golf isn’t a launch title in the US, replaced with Gradius III and SimCity (which are decent replacements) – I’ll give this to you. Hit!
- Sega has plans for a CD-ROM add-on for the Genesis, though they’re still working on the design before actually starting making it. Hit!
- The epic saga of Nintendo vs. Tengen is over. Nintendo won its suit against Tengen, and Tengen will be leaving Nintendo Platforms behind for the Genesis. Meanwhile, Nintendo of America came to a settlement in the FTCs suit against it for price fixing – ultimately leading to Nintendo shelling out $30 million ($46,969,163.01 in 2009 dollars, approximately) by giving everyone a coupon for $5 ($7.83 in 2009 dollars) off the purchase of any NES game – all without having to admit wrongdoing. Nintendo of America got off disgustingly scott free here – your punishment is to sell more NES games, and possibly even get a few more system sales by people who got the coupons but didn’t have a NES yet. This isn’t the FTC’s darkest hour, but not their shining moment either – and Q-Mann agrees with me. Hit!
So, Quartermann has 3 hits, 2 misses, out of 5 at at-bats, for a batting average of .600. Ahh well.
EGM Express: We get a picture of the pre-production model of the Camerica’s planned NES handheld, and it’s hideous. This episode of Angry Video Game Nerd has in it, coverage of Batman for the Atari Lynx, as well as a picture of the Lynx hand-held, in the AVGN’s hands. What does this have to do with Camerica’s hand-held? To give you some perspective. Camerica’s planned handheld looks a lot like a Game Boy, except it playes NES games, complete with being scaled so the NES games would go in a slot in the back about as far as the Game Boy carts did on a similar system. Further, at present this model has no control buttons on the face, just the start and reset buttons, requring you to have a NES controller to play the games, partially defeating the purpose of a portable hand-held system in the first place. I do recognize that this is a pre-production model, and presumably a later prototype would include controls on the face – but, frankly, the positioning of the buttons is something you need to get straight sooner rather than later. Much, much sooner.
Camerica also plans to release a series of NES games not bearing the Nintendo seal of approval – though apparently rather than circumventing the NES’s authentication chip like Tengen’s games, the cartridges were set up put out a small electric pulse to glitch the chip and keep the system from recognizing that the game wasn’t a legitimately licensed game (which can also potentially damage the system – which is why that, while this workaround was known when Tengen was putting out their unlicenced carts, they opted to try and reverse engineer the chip instead, thus avoiding consumer liability issues – though ultimately opening themselves up to legal action from Nintendo). Camerica’s unlicenced carts also used a cartridge design that was slightly different from the cartridge design of official NES carts.
We also get a picture of the prototype Gameboy to NES adapter. Basically, imagine a NES cartridge, with an open space where the cover art would go, and on that is a little slot to slide your Game Boy cartridge into. Other than those design elements, it’s identical in concept to the Super Game Boy. All that said, the slot on the adapter doesn’t cover as much of the Game Boy cartridge. While it’s unlikely that the cartridge could pop out while the game is running, it does break the 8-year-old test – “How hard would it be for an 8-year old to remove the cartridge incorrectly and possibly break the thing?” Answer – I could easily see an 8-year old trying to tilt the cartridge out, rather than slide it straight out in it’s current design. Though, again, this is a prototype, and this could have been addressed as the peripheral approached production (although it didn’t reach production). Moving on to something a little less vaporware, Konami has several games already in the works for the SNES – Gradius III (which becomes a US launch title), Super Castlevania III, a port of Wanderers from Y’s, and Goemon.
Next Wave: Moving right along to upcoming titles. Of note this issue is a port of Smash TV for the NES (don’t know how well that will work without a second stick for control – Smash TV was, basically, the first hit twin-stick shooter), and that’s pretty much it.
Tips & Tricks: Nothing particular of note here – no really famous tricks stand out this issue.
16-Bit Entertainment Buyer’s Guide: This would be the first of our inserts, introduced by none other than Ken Williams of Sierra On-Line, with a quick description about what makes 16-bit systems special, without getting into technical terminology like “Memory addressing”, or even terms like “Ram” or “Clock speeds”. We’re saving the technical terminology for the system specific sections – starting for the SNES. In theory, the SNES’s specs are pretty stellar for the time, though to younger gamers, they’d a little less stellar – A maximum of 128 on-screen sprites (I don’t know if that includes projectiles, I presume it does – no bullet hell on this system) at a maximum of 64 by 64 pixels, and it can display 256 colors of a possible 32,768 color palatte. Plus the system runs a WDC 65816 processor, that has a clock speed of 3.58 MHz (sarcastic whistle), and can supports 24-bit memory addresses, for a max of 16 MBs of memory, with a maximum screen resolution of 512 by 478 pixels. Plus, the system has a dedicated sound processor, to take some of the burden off the CPU. No dedicated processor for graphics though. Most gamers already know about Mode 7 graphics technology, which was exclusive to the SNES, allowing an image to be used in another graphical layer to create the persception of a 3-dimentional space by scaling it and rotating it to reflect the location of the “camera”.
Martin Alessi writes the Sega Genesis section. Just going on the hardware standpoint, the Genesis’ Motorola 68000 processor gets the edge in clock speed with 7.8 MHz. It can address the same amount of memory as the SNES though. However, the maximum screen resolution is smaller, just 320 by 224 pixels, and only 64 displayed colors out of 512, and a maximum of 80 on screen sprites with a maximum size of 32 by 32 pixels, giving the SNES the brute-force graphical edge. The Genesis has a few software tricks, like Parallax scrolling (no relation to the entity that posessed Hal Jordan – it basically allows for multiple scrolling graphical layers), and support for polygonal 3d graphics out of the gate. However, the Genesis has 10 sound channels to the SNES’s 8, so it’s got the edge in terms of music.
Next up is what I must admit is a bit of a surprise – coverage of PC games. They can’t really go too in-depth from the hardware standpoint, at this time, the IBM-Compatible PC was rising in terms of popularity for home gaming, and there were starting to be more IBM-compatible systems out there, so hardware wasn’t so uniform between manufacturers, though there were some constants like Intel processors, and so forth. At the moment though, PC gaming hadn’t quite gotten the new renaissance that it would get later, particularly with the advent of online multiplayer gaming, and a certain duo of game developers by the names of John Carmak and John Romero.
International Outlook: Well, in Japan they had the Tokyo Computer Software Group Trade Show (which is one heck of a mouthful, though it probably has a better ring to it in Japanese), and EGM got the scoop on the Japanese games being demonstrated, including Super R-Type, Sonic the Hedgehog, Double Dragon II for the Genesis, Ninja Gaiden III for the NES, and a shooter whose translation would lead to one of the first internet memes to hit the mainstream – Zero Wing (All Your Base anyone?). It does also bear mentioning that they Sega spends 6 half pages doing a Burma-shave style ad (or as close as you can get in a magazine), for Sonic The Hedgehog 1. Now, being that this is the first Sonic game, it’s probably worth it, but still, it’s a bit much.
System Specifc Previews: At this point in EGM’s history, if you recall from my review of issue #25, EGM still had the console previews divided up by specially titled sections (Super Famicom Times, etc.) – I’m not going to be using those titles, because, frankly, it makes organization for this a pain. Instead, I’ll just be going over notable titles (either because they’re significant, or they catch my interest). Right off the bat we’ve got a preview of Super R-Type for the SNES. I still find the Heat-Ring laser utterly pointless, and on several occasions found myself missing enemies because they were within the laser’s rings, as well as UN Squadron – based on the anime and manga Area 88 (which has the main character as a mercenary, rather than a pilot for the UN – ain’t Nintendo of America great). We also get a feature article on Icom Simulations, which produced the recent wave of CD-ROM adventure games for the TurboGrafx, as well as other adventure games before that. Icom is, unfortunately, out of business, with their IP currently being held by Infinite Ventures, which apparently has also vanished into the ether of the internet (if anyone has any info about their status, please let me know).
Moving on, we get a preview of The Rocketeer for the NES, with no mention of the removal of the Nazis from the game – though they might not have made it to the dirgible stage yet. The game is described as being out now – so I’d hope they’d make it that far eventually (and call them on it – The Rocketeer needs to have Nazis as the bad guys as much as Indiana Jones 1 & 3.) After a preview of Battletoads and Ultimate Journey, we get to the preview of Hudson Hawk, the one billed on the cover – all 1 page of it. I know page space is at an premium, but if you’re putting a game on the cover of your magazine, you’d think you could get 2 pages of coverage. Actually, going by coverage for determining the game to go on the cover, probably The Rocketeer would be a better pick (and you might even get some better art out of the deal). We also get a preview of Midnight Resistance and Alien Stormm the latter of which is in Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection – and frankly, I’d prefer Midnight Resistance, but hey, if Sega can’t get the rights, they can’t get the rights. The Genesis also is getting baseball game Hardball, which boasts a batting practice mode – though, just to go back to my prior rant over 8-bit and 16-bit console games, a fielding practice mode would probably be good too (though it’s a bit late to make that kind of suggestion).
The Genesis is also getting it’s first fighting game – Street Smart. Remember, this is before Street Fighter II came out and set the gaming world on fire. The animation looks good, though I imagine the game hasn’t aged well at all. We also get a not un-substantial strategy guide for Batman for the Genesis, with maps and boss strategies for the first 3 levels. We wrap things up with the Top Score Club and the ending cutscene (as well as strategies for the final boss fight) for Super Mario World – which isn’t even out in the US yet! And that wraps up this issue of EGM. Next up will be issue #5 of Nintendo Power, featuring Ninja Gaiden (and which was also featured in an somewhat recent issue of Angry Video Game Nerd).