Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly #84
Moving right along with the EGM recaps, we come to issue 84 for July of 1996. Our cover story for this issue is a series of Star Wars previews. To be specific, among other things, the big Star Wars mega-event Shadows of the Empire is coming out, in comic, novel and now video game form. Our Editorial from Ed Semrad talks about this year’s E3, which is also the second E3. Already it’s gotten really big really quick. On a bigger note, the Sendai Publication era of EGM is over. Ziff Davis has bought out Sendai Publications. I don’t want to be all cynical and grim and say that this was the beginning of the end for EGM or anything. However, the reason 1up was sold and EGM was closed, was because of the massive debts that Ziff Davis had incurred and poorly managed. Former EGM staffers like Dan “Shoe” Hsu have gone on record on podcasts about this. Unless Sendai Publications had the same debt problems (or worse), Ziff Davis hadn’t bought Sendai, EGM wouldn’t have ceased operations a year or so ago. That said, I am pleased as punch that it’s back, and that Steve Harris is back at the helm (though I should note that Steve Harris is still on the masthead as the Publisher for EGM on this issue). Anyway, with this issue, the roster of EGM that would later carry on to 1up continues to grow–Crispin Boyer is now on-board as an Associate Editor. I have no idea what he’s up to now. He left Ziff Davis in 2008, before the Great Purge.
E3 1996 basically threw the price wars between Sega and Sony into sharp relief. Sega slashed the price for the Saturn in the US to $249 earlier in the year in an immediate price cut, and at E3 Sony did one of their own, slashing the price of the PlayStation to $199. Meanwhile, people finally got to take a look at the Nintendo 64, and they’re not too impressed with it from a hardware standpoint. From a software library standpoint, the system’s killer apps at this point are Shadows of the Empire and Super Mario 64. All that said, this is still just a hands-on demonstration of the system at E3. The N64 still isn’t in stores yet and reviewers haven’t gotten their debug units (to my knowledge).
Also, Nintendo is announcing the Game Boy Pocket. It is what it says it is, a Game Boy that can fit in your pocket. Smaller, thinner, and with a better screen resolution. The Game Boy Color comes shortly later. Meanwhile, 3DO finally made a profit. No, really, it had never, ever, in the company’s history, made a profit, and it only made a profit this time because they licensed some of the technology behind the system to other companies. The system itself is not able to stand on its own.
Going back to the Saturn, it’s getting a modem. My concern about the design is that the modem goes into the system’s console cartridge slot (the system has a cartridge slot and a CD-ROM Drive). Basically, this means that if you’re doing a game that’s designed for online multi-player, you can’t do it as a cartridge game.
This issue the Review Crew has been dramatically changed from last issue, to a form more familiar to EGM readers who came aboard more recently. The crew this issue is Shawn Smith, Dan “Shoe” Hsu, Crispin Boyer, and Sushi-X.
- Fade to Black (Electronic Arts, PlayStation): Flashback has gotten a narrative sequel, one that changes the game-play style to a side-scrolling action game to a 3rd person action game. The game has excellent animations, like the earlier 2 games in the series. Also, like the earlier 2 games, this one controls well, at least by 1996 standards. The game gets an 8.5 from Shawn and a 7.5 from Shoe. Crispin gives the game an 8, and he also mentions that a lot of the traps tend to be instagibs. Sushi also gives the game an 8. Overall: 32/40, and it receives the Editor’s Choice Gold Award and is Game of the Month.
- Arcade Classics (Sega of America, Sega Genesis): This is a collection of various other arcade classics from developers other than Sega. Stuff like Pong, Centipede and Missile Command and that’s it. The problem is that all the ports are bad. Shawn, Shoe and Christian give the game 4s, citing bad graphics on the ports, limited selection (compared to the other retro arcade collections, and the controls aren’t very good as well. It doesn’t help that 2 out of 3 of these games used track balls in the arcade, and the 3rd used a paddle controller. Sushi feels that these games should never have been re-released at all and gives it a 3.5. Overall: 15.5/40.
- Shining Wisdom (Working Designs, Sega Saturn): We have a new game in the Shining series, and it’s not being published by Sega. The problem is that it’s semi-generic. Shawn doesn’t like RPGs very much, but he doesn’t like the fact that this RPG rips on another RPG and gives it a 5.5. Crispin also gives it a 5.5, finding that the game doesn’t really cut it, particularly considering the poor music, and ultra-linear plot. Shoe finds it very generic and without much character, and gives it a 5. Sushi has the highest score with a 6, saying that if the game had come out a year or two prior, on a cartridge, it would have been much more highly regarded, but now it’s just behind the times. Overall: 22/40.
- Shellshock (U.S. Gold, Saturn): This looks like a Tank simulator. Shawn & Dan give it 5s, with the main criticisms being with the pacing of the game, and the game tries to have some sort of bizarre hip-hop gangsta attitude. Crispin gives it a 6, adding to Dan’s criticisms the fact that the game’s levels are far too small, making it easy to accidentally stray from the level’s boundaries, causing an unintended Game Over. Sushi gives it a 4.5, finding the gangsta attitude grating and the game-play repetitive, though he does applaud the fact that U.S. Gold is willing to take risks with new game types. Overall: 20.5/40.
- Wipeout (Sega of America, Saturn): Port of Psygnosis’s high-speeds sci-fi racing game. Shawn gives the game a 7, lauding the weapons and the speed of the racing. Shoe considers the controls way too floaty, enough that it’s a deal-breaker, and gives it a 5.5. Crispin and Sushi give the game 8s, considering it an excellent successor to F-Zero. Overall: 28.5/40
- Golden Axe: The Duel (Sega, Saturn): Considering the failure of the brawler genre from around this time, I can kind of understand why they decided to make the next game in the Golden Axe series a fighting game, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good move. Shawn, Dan and Sushi give the game 6s, and the three agree that the game is fairly generic and uninspired. Crispin gives it a 6.5 for the same reasons. Overall: 24.5/40.
- Alone in the Dark (THQ, Saturn): The first Survival Horror game finally comes to the Saturn… after Resident Evil came out on the PlayStation. Shawn & Sushi give the game 5s, citing the fact that while Resident Evil included a certain degree of auto-targeting (if you were facing in the right direction) this doesn’t. Plus there’s a lack of clarity in some scenes. Crispin gives it a 4, because of the poor (even for the time) graphics and worse control, and he doesn’t like the fixed camera angles. Dan gives it a 3 for the same reasons that Crispin gave it a 4. Overall: 17/40.
- Top Gun: Fire At Will (Spectrum Holobyte, PlayStation): Combat flight sim. Shawn, Crispin and Sushi give it 6s, saying that the story is better then Air (Ace) Combat‘s story, but the missions are somewhat repetitive. Dan also gives it a 5 because of the repetitive missions. Overall: 23/40.
- Horned Owl (SCEA, PlayStation): This is a light-gun game. Or rather, since the PlayStation doesn’t have a light gun yet, it’s a shooter you play with the directional pad (D-pad). Ugh. I wouldn’t mind playing this with a light gun. I wouldn’t mind playing this with a mouse. I wouldn’t mind playing this with an analog stick. I’ll pass on playing this with a D-pad. Shawn gives it a 6.5, saying that while you’re playing this with the D-pad, the game still controls pretty well anyway, though it’s unfortunately too easy. The difficulty also leads to Dan giving it a 6 and, for that matter, Crispin giving it a 7. My mistake, Sushi is able to play the game with a Light Gun, and says it’s even more fun with the light gun, and gives it a 7.5. Overall: 27/40.
- Metal Slug (SNK, Neo-Geo): SNK’s longest lasting run-and-gun shooter series has begun. Shawn & Sushi give it 7s, but they disagree with why, sort of. Both think that the unlimited continues that all Neo-Geo games have slows the amount of time it takes to beat the game, and they also agree that it reduces the replay value. However, Shawn feels that it has no replay value at all. Shawn feels that there is some replay value, but not much. Dan and Crispin give it 7.5s, applauding the game’s character (as opposed to the characters in the game, though they tie togeather). Overall: 29/40.
- Kirby’s Blockball (Nintendo, Game Boy): This is basically an adaptation of Arkanoid with a Kirby theme. Shawn gives it an 8, lauding how the game puts a new spin the Arkanoid formula, and also appreciating the game’s save feature. Dan gives it an 8.5 for a similar reason, though he’d rather that the game’s ball physics were better. Crispin and Sushi give the game 7.5s, finding the game too easy (and Sushi has some problems with the controls). Overall: 31.5/40
Namco is working on Tekken 3. Q-Mann is predicting late 1997 or early 1998 for the release of Mortal Kombat 4 in arcades, which is a pretty good guess, Wikipedia says the game is released on October 17th in arcades. Sony has killed Vic Tokai’s entire lineup for the PlayStation, as well as Tecmo’s lineup. Capcom is also giving Sony an ultimatum – give us more latitude in making our next Mega Man game, or we jump ship and take all our IPs elsewhere, like the Saturn. Considering how console history turned out, I’d say Sony let Capcom have their way. Rare is working on Donkey Kong 64. Speaking of the N64, Nintendo is considering dropping the N64 to the $200 price point, with a $250 SKU with a Mario 64 pack in. Finally, Sony’s working on a modem for the PlayStation (which doesn’t amount to anything).
We start out with our run down of all the upcoming Star Wars games. We get some coverage of Shadows of the Empire and Rebel Assault 2, as well as Dark Forces, with the first and the last game getting the most coverage. I’m surprised they don’t mention the Live Action video cut-scenes for Rebel Assault 2, especially considering that the game had the first new life-action footage shot for any official (as opposed to fan-made) Star Wars related project after the release of Return of the Jedi. We also get a look at the newer, “ultra-realistic” (uh-huh) fighting game Kumite: The Fighter’s Edge, which is also vaporware. Considering how much they’re hyping it over not only Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, but Tekken and Virtua Fighter as well, they set themselves a very high bar to beat.
We continue with the more direct E3 coverage. The notable games getting some coverage include Killer Instinct 64 (the system’s first fighting game listed), Mario Kart 64 (the system’s first racing game), Blast Corps (a game which requires that you destroy everything in the way of a rampaging vehicle), Starfox 64, Cruisin’ USA (yeah, it’s a racing game too, but Mario Kart is a lap-based racing game, while Crusin’ is more point-to-point). There’s also in the FPS front Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Doom 64. Williams is publishing War Gods and Mortal Kombat Trilogy. There’s also a Robotech game which I think becomes vaporware. For the SNES we have another Donkey Kong Country game. The PlayStation is getting a Batman Forever fighting game, or maybe it’s a brawler–the screen shot makes it look like a fighting game. Psygnosis is working on a City of Lost Children licensed game. I have to admit that’s probably one of the movies that I can’t imagine getting a licensed game.
The PlayStation is also getting ports of Final Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, as well as Quake. Crystal Dynamics is working on a Ghost Rider licensed game (which I think becomes vaporware). Sony Interactive is putting out Twisted Metal 2, and Williams is also putting out Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the PlayStation as well. Mindscape is working on a game based on Marvel’s cyberpunk-ish Marvel 2099 universe. On the Adventure game front, we’re getting a second Diskworld game. Square is branching out into fighting games with Tobal No. 1, and Konami’s getting into RPGs with Suikoden. Frank Miller’s comic through Dark Horse Hard Boiled is getting adapted to a video game. Command & Conquer is getting ported from the PC to the PlayStation. There’s a licensed game based on the second The Crow movie. Policenauts is set to get a US release on the Saturn, but it doesn’t pan out. Koei’s porting PTO 2 and Aerobiz 2000 to the Saturn. Tecmo’s also putting the first Dead or Alive game out on the Saturn.
We’re starting off with Kirby’s Super Star for the SNES, which is 8 different games in one. Or, to be more accurate, it’s 8 different Kirby stories in one game, each with a limited number of levels, with some having different game mechanics. The Genesis is getting Bugs Bunny in Double Trouble, which adapts several Bugs Bunny cartoons to video game levels (including Duck, Rabbit, Duck — the “Rabbit Season! Duck Season!” cartoon), which requires the player to beat the level in a similar way to the way Bugs triumphed in the cartoon. There also is some coverage of Arcade Classics for the Genesis–coverage that looks much more favorable then the final Review Crew scores were. Anyway, moving on to stuff that wasn’t in the Review Crew section, Virgin Interactive is working on Hyper 3D Pinball for the Saturn, which has at least 4 tables, going by the pictures, though they don’t give a precise number. Virgin’s also working on the Smash TV-style shooter Grid Runner for the PlayStation. We also get a proper preview of Iron Man/XO-Manowar in Heavy Metal for the PlayStation, which is a crossover game with the indy comic Power Suited hero and the Marvel Comics Power Suited hero.
We start off this issue with another political controversy over video games. Specifically, this is related to Primal Rage. You see, one of the characters has a finisher where he urinates over his opponent. It’s bathroom humor and I’m not a big fan of that sort of thing. So, a mother saw this finisher, was upset about this (not that I avoided the obvious joke), and passed around a petition (signed by, among others, Bob Dole) demanding that the game be pulled off store shelves. Best Buy (the retailer who the mother got the game from for her son) complied, and the game was re-submitted to the ESRB for re-rating. The game had previously received a teen rating, and still received a Teen Rating. However, Best Buy still kept the Genesis copy off shelves, because that’s the copy the mother was most upset about, even though the finisher is in all the other versions of the game as well. Tempest in a teapot. We also get a brief discussion of texture mapped polygons, and how they’re used for providing realistic graphics (and still are). We also get a letter from a spelling Nazi taking them to task for misspelling Sakura’s name in their coverage of Street Fighter Alpha 2. Of course, any Grammar Flame would not be complete without a spelling or grammar error, and this one the world misspell misspelled. Also, the version of X-Perts that EGM reviewed last issue was incomplete. They will re-review the game when they get a finished version.