01 July 2015


Publisher/Developer:  Sega
Format: Cartridge
Game Size: 256K
Rarity:  2
Game Type: Side Scrolling Arcade Action Platformer
Region: USA
Other Ways to Play:  LOTS!  Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, MSX, NES, Turbografx 16, ZX Spectrum, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 (On Sonic Genesis Collection)
Power Base Convertor Playable?: Yes, 6 button controller works.

Price I Paid: 15 Dollars maybe?
Price I Would Pay: 10 Dollars.
Condition: Game, Case, Manual, Ad Poster
Game Rating: Ok*
Game Completion/Desire to: Yes/
My History:  Its a port of an arcade classic I first played at a laundromat in town that got great games in all the time.  And eventually died because apparently they did a lot with drugs.  (RIP Sudsy Sammy's.)  I got this port at a nearby Flea Market that still exists to this day but this game was one of the only things I bought in one of the only times I went into said Flea Market for nearly twenty years.

  The legendary Shinobi!  Similar to Namco's Rolling Thunder, you take your lone hero through your basic left to right (and sometimes up and down and right to left on more maze like stages) platforms, avoiding or killing enemies while pressing UP/DOWN with your jump button to switch to a higher or lower level which allows for some strategic gameplay.

  Unlike Rolling Thunder, Shinobi skips the limited ammo for shooting, but adds in children to rescue in between timing jumps to avoid attacks while using cover, and gives you a close combat attack when you get close to the enemies.  Oh, and the odd bit of NINJA MAGIC to clear out the screen or get a couple extra hits on end bosses which you will need thanks to no continues.

  As a change from the arcade original, this port adds in a life bar which can be expanded like weapon increases and healing of said bar by rescuing those captive kids.

Four screenshots from the Kega Fusion emulator.
 Rescue the kids, avoid annoying dudes shooting at you.

 Bonus stage with ninjas moving around.  Kill em for bonuses!

 Attack ninja enemies low.  Try to avoid dying so you can keep your sweet upgraded gear.

The final boss.  Because beating Mandala wasn't enough misery you have this SOB you need to memorize.

Arcade Game Via a MAME variant because I can't be bothered to load up and photograph my HDTV running the Genesis Collection on the Playstation 3.

   While getting a higher score eventually nets you additional lives, the odd control feature to activate your NINJA MAGIC in this game is nearly impossible as you have to hit and hold buttons to use it, and only on normal stages after you have killed a number of enemies.  And earned said magic from the Bonus Stage where you throw shuriken at Ninjas coming at you.  No using it on the bosses where you actually NEED IT, especially given how some magic isn't even offensive in nature and you have to use your magic in order.

  Another problem is the power up system.  You see the children you can rescue in each level provide one with a random power up or bonus score.  It is RANDOM by and large.  And you lose all your power ups if you die.  Some power ups degrade what you already have such as the shorter range close combat weapons replacing longer ranged ones.  (If you get close to an enemy you attack them with a close combat attack as opposed to your shurikens which can eventually be upgraded to knives then grenades, then bullets.)  This can lead to the videogame power up FAILURE CASCADE syndrome wherein areas of a game go from easy to impossible if you die, practically necessitating you to restart the entire game, especially if the game uses checkpoints.  Which Shinobi does.  Though any kids rescued don't respawn but thankfully neither do the shield and boomerang sword wielding guardians who tend to camp around them.

 Outside of the weird way you get the magic to work (you don't basically!) control is overall very good and responsive.  The music and graphics are pretty good too outside of the odd bit of sprite flicker.  And a couple of jumps that need to be nearly pixel perfect.  

  And this is the SMS Shinobi.  So close to good but just enough annoyances to keep it from there.  No continues either.  Which WILL make your life hell with the third and final bosses.

 Game contents.  An old game that was clearly left in the sun for many moons before I bought it.

Genesis Power Base shots up first

 Bosses don't really flash weak spots, allow you to use NINJA MAGIC on them, or even show how many HP they have left which is something the arcade did.

 Dodge guardian shield dude boomerang swords and shoot em while their shields aren't out.

 Want useless magic?  Complete the bonus stage!

Thankfully the water isnt instadeath here.  

This boss is the bane of my existence and all but ruins the game singlehandedly.

And a few SMS shots:
 Also unlike the arcade the gun dudes don't have reload pauses.  You just have to time their wee shots and attack aggressively.

The second stage is complete!  I appreciate the game keeping the stage map introductions even if the bosses don't make appearances through the three main sections of the level before the boss part.

Master System Play:  Outside of the usual SMS bleed it is quite fine though obviously emulator play with save states is the only way to play without losing one's sanity.  Most controllers are good outside of the Control Stick because of how hard diagonals are to pull off.  Diagonal down movements are needed for crouching moves which are all but essential in some areas.

Rating:  The sheer lack of continues plus the power up system/doom spiral turns what could have been a Good game into one that is merely OK.  It is just tedious to have to replay and all but perfectly memorize and play an entire game and it turns fun into a painful slog.  It is so close to good.  So.  Very.  Close.  Play in an emulator or play the arcade game which you can unlock on the Genesis collection available on the 360 or PS3.  Even with the arcade's lack of a HP system it is a lot more playable overall.  

Next Time:  I continue to be busy and slacking, especially in convention/tax season.  So Mickey Mouse & the Castle of Illusion is up next!

23 June 2015


Publisher/Developer:  Sega
Format: Cartridge
Game Size: 512K
Rarity:  4
Game Type: Top Down/First Person RPG
Region: USA
Other Ways to Play:  LOTS!  But English language ways I know of include: Game Boy Advance, PS2 (remake fan translation and SMS original), PS3/360 (Hidden unlockable on Genesis collection), Wii (SMS emulated)
Power Base Convertor Playable?: Yes, 6 button controller works.

Price I Paid: 35 Dollars maybe?
Price I Would Pay: 20 Dollars.
Condition: Game, Case, Manual, Ad Posrer
Game Rating: Good*
Game Completion/Desire to: Yes/
My History:  Its the reason I bought a Master System!  Sadly the freshman who was gonna sell it to me just before I graduated in 1992 chose not to show up on my last day taking the bus and I didn't get a chance to play it at all till it was a rom dump in the late 90s.  I would purchase my own copy off ebay a short time later, and wouldn't finish the game until the collection on the Game Boy Advance in the mid 00s.

Game and contents.  

  Now this is what I am talking about.  The reason I got the SMS even if it wouldn't be nearly a decade or so before I actually had the opportunity to play the game in our pre digital download/pre ebay time where if a game wasn't available locally or somehow in a mail order catalog we were lucky to even know it existed, much less be able to buy the thing.

  You see I was a super early adopter of the Genesis because even in the 80s I really wasn't a brand loyalist.  If something is new and cool I wanted to check it out.  And well early in the Genny's first US full year the best game magazine at the time Videogames & Computer Entertainment gave Phantasy Star 2 a very positive review and gave it awards and everything.  I had a chance to rent it one weekend to at least sate my RPG hunger but wouldn't actually own it until that Summer.  It was amazing.  And well I loved it so why not play the original?  And at that time RPGs weren't a massively large genre so even with a Genesis, NES, and Commodore 64 there wasn't a massively huge selection, especially in the 1990-1992 timeframe.  You pretty much played as many as you could find and afford if you liked that sort of game.

  But my actual playing of it didn't happen until the age of emulators and the Internet, albeit the dial up era of it.  I quite liked it and was rather impressed!  But then as now as a working (semi mature) adult with lots of interests and limited time I never finished it, not even when I finally bought the game.  Thankfully the Game Boy Advance collection of the first three Phantasy Star games and Gamefaqs and similar Phantasy Star fan websites gave me printable maps and whatever help I needed as I played the game in 10-16 minute chunks at work on my breaks over the course of a couple months, allowing me to finally complete it.

  Anyhow Phantasy Star is in the Ultima wheelhouse with a top down perspective overworld and absolutely amazing for the time and platform first person scrolling dungeons, albeit ones that are all identical in graphics outside of the color of the walls.  (But given how the Wizardry franchise were still using step move wireframes and Dungeon Master was still step move and one basic dungeon tileset graphic even as a 16 bit game at the same time?)  Sadly there is no automap in the dungeons but the maps are generally simple enough to hand map even with the odd pit puzzle here and there.  (It is no Bard's Tale Scepter Snare.)

They see me scrollin, they hatin! Something something on Zee Eighty!

  For an RPG in 1987 Phantasy Star is probably one of the most technically advanced titles out there especially in the graphics and music category.  It wouldn't look out of place on an Amiga or Atari ST!

  In this game you play Alis(a) Landale, a young woman dressed sensibly for adventuring on the three planets of the Algo star system as you avenge the death of her brother who was trying to bring down the tyrannical reign of Lassic.

What madness is this?  A 1987 Japanese RPG and the female lead is SENSIBLY DRESSED FOR ADVENTURE?  (We will get into that whole SMS Power part.)

  It is kind of a typical JRPG outside of its' odd Science Fantasy setting though.  You level up, buy ever increasingly expensive weapons and armor, cast spells, and talk to townsfolk as you search for whatever doodads you need to open dungeon doors or find various foozles to get you through the three worlds.  (Including things to get on shuttles to the other planets and even a cake.  Seriously.)

  While you start out with only Alis, as you explore you will find three companions you have to find to join your party with some nice text and graphics cut scenes which is again incredibly amazing for 1987.

  Combat is done in the standard style of Dragon Quest, going to a first person viewpoint.  Although yet again Phantasy Star does it classier with monster animations, graphical flashes of your party's weapons hitting, and even some animation in the background!  If you are fighting on a beach, the water will wash upon the shore.  Heck, sometimes you will even meet friendly NPCs if you have the right spells who might help you out a little!  Combat is sped up through just having the damage taken and you see your numbers go down or the enemy HP.  Why waste time?

Yes, I do know UTINNI.

  As usual in these sorts of games you can buy weapons and armor in towns, much of which is dedicated to one of your four characters, although some weapon choices have different effects in combat such as the various firearms.  It is still a 1987 game however so you have to pay attention to the manual or your stats to see what your gear may or may not do for you.  

Tylon wants a gun.

  It is hard to explain but the game is just so damned POLISHED, especially for its' time.  The only caveats are mostly in the official English translation which uses different terms and writing for almost everything which really clashes with the later games.  (Instead of the mono/di/tri-mate healing items, the original translation has us eating BURGERS.  Seriously.)  Oh, and the music merely being quite good.

  However the SMS Power Retranslation is your best bet.  It tries to be closer to the Japanese script, and allows you in an emulator or with an FM sound module to get the absolutely OUTSTANDING music that Japan got to enjoy.  Here, let me show you a video I made a while back:


  It is just a quality game!  If you want to deal with Playstation 2 emulation fans have fully translated the modern Phantasy Star remake which is basically the same adventure and story with expanded everything including an automap.  I would show some screenies but as I do not own a copy of the PS2 game (yet) I will just merely link to information on this version and the translation:  http://pscave.com/psg1/download/

  Of course if you just want to play the legitimate US releases you will still be fine as it is still a damned great game.  Just look out that the Game Boy Advance collection sometimes has a save game bug with this title where it will lock up when you try to save every now and then.  However that is the version I finally completed so it is still more than manageable.  I just saved quite often so at worst I never lost more than 5-10 minutes of progress.

Master System Play:  It and the Genesis basically play exactly the same outside of the usual SMS color bleed issues.  But the game generally looks excellent either way.  Any controller will work as this game is another RPG with four cardinal direction only movement.  The Epyx 500xj and Genesis Six Button were the only ones I bothered to test for the review because anything is gonna be fine!  ITS A TURN BASED RPG.  
Next four shots are from a camera pointed at a composite monitor from a real SMS.
 Title screen.

 "I saved your furry ass so time to fight alongside me!"

 Known as Mota in Phantasy Star 2.  Translations didn't really get GOOD in Japanese games into English really until the early 00s.

Combat in action.  I was hoping to get some spot animation in the shot but it didn't come out too well.

Now a couple Genesis with Power Base shots and we can bring it all home!
 Yes there are Sandworms on this desert planet.  But mostly Antlions.  So many of them.

That original translation in full effect.  Whee.

Rating:  While not perfect and a little long in the tooth, compared to its' contemporaries and even some games of the same genre on 16 bit consoles this game really holds up and is still great fun to play.  The grind isn't too bad!  The exploration and adventure aren't abusive or obscure.  It just does everything right.  Good.  I can give it no less of a score.  I would say play the PS2 or SMS Power retranslation over the US original but you just can't go wrong if you like JRPGs.

Next Time:  As I have been kind of busy July will be another Games I Already Finished month.  Except this time we get some action going with side scrolling!  Shinobi and Mickey Mouse & the Castle of Illusion.  I meant to have this review up last week but some home issues and the like delayed me.  One of the two above should be up some time next week however, probably the first Wednesday of the month!

03 June 2015


Publisher/Developer:  Sega/Falcom
Format: Cartridge
Game Size: 256K
Rarity:  4
Game Type: Top down Action RPG
Region: USA
Other Ways to Play:  LOTS!  But English language ways I know of include: PC DOS, PC Steam, PSP, Turbografx CD-ROM, Nintendo DS, Wii (Virtual Console Turbo CD)
Power Base Convertor Playable?: Yes, 6 button controller works.

Price I Paid: 20 Dollars maybe?
Price I Would Pay: 10 Dollars.
Condition: Game, Case, Manual
Game Rating: OK*
Game Completion/Desire to: Yes/
My History:  One of the games I got when I purchased my Master System circa 1991-92.  Completed it at the time, have completed the superior remake versions at least three times with a number of partial playthroughs.

  Ahhh Ys!  The legendary Action RPG poster child!  Known for its' red haired protagonist Adol Christin (Aron in this version.  Yay pre 00s translations!) and the combat system of RUN INTO THINGS TO KILL THEM.  A game that has been remade and ported almost more times than Wizardry Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord yet still holds up.

  Well, the non SMS ports hold up.  Our review subject?  Not particularly.  Its OK on its' own, BAD when you compare it to how damned GOOD the Turbografx CD and PSP ports I own are.

  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let's take it from the top!

  As I said, you play a red headed young adventurer named Adol/Aron who ends up in a town besieged by monsters that are mostly coming out of a massive tower that reaches into the sky.  You start out with a little bit of money and at the main town.  Well the larger of the two towns in this version.  Accomplishing some small tasks in the town and walking into random townspeople will give you some basic idea as to what is going on.  Provided you pay attention before spending your starting cash you can get yourself fully equipped with a sword, shield, and armor and get a level advancement before going outside of town to grind another level or two.

  This is the BIG problem with the SMS port.  Grinding is slow, tedious, and you only level up around nine total times till you reach the level cap.  While each level is a massive upgrade in attributes from the previous one the combat system is mostly based around running into enemies, ideally from the back, side, or slightly off center to hurt and eventually kill them for a microscopic pittance of money and XP.  A few items can be found hidden here and there to sell to the town shops for the crucial money you need for the gear sold in said shops, but in general you grind, grind, grind on that super painful cardinal directions only movement/combat system.

  Then you move on to the next town where more information and items are given before you are sent into one of the two dungeons in the game.  The main one which is the massive tower full of multiple levels, key and item requiring chests and hidden doors, and the covered in darkness mine.  Kind of like a Metroidvania the main dungeon has things keeping you from exploring all of it until you have a needed item which will allow you to progress further or open a chest with a key that has the item you need or a townsperson needs who then gives you the item to move upwards through the mazelike corridors, sometimes solving simple puzzles.

  Every now and then you run into a boss which depending on your equipment and level are either complete pushovers or practically if not actually impossible to defeat.

  It is basically a bog standard JRPG just in real time.  The graphics are nice and the audio and play control are fine though like everything else in the game the later versions of the game do better.

  You see later versions tend to bundle this game in with its' direct sequel which takes place immediately after this one and you keep your level advancement as the level cap is MUCH higher going through both games as one, with the latter game having a magic system and a far more expansive and interesting quest.  (Its roughly three times larger than Ys 1 is, though the Turbo version plays faster and seems to shrink the dungeons a little bit.  It roughly takes a third of the time to complete the Turbo Ys 1 over the SMS.  The PSP version is a compilation of a pair of at the time Japan only PC remakes with options for various graphics and sound choices.)

  Its a fun little game but the SMS version is just too grindy for its' own good and I cannot recommend this version of Ys over the more modern ones.  Even at the time I took issue with Ys' grinding requirements.  Honestly the other ports are better in every way.

Well let me show you four screenshots from the PSP port.  Which was me pointing my camera at the screen.
 The iconic opening screen to Ys 1.  A blue haired naked goddess with an orb in front of her goodies.  (It IS a Japanese game alright.)

 Townsfolk in the bar.  

 The ring start not only still works, if you keep declining you can get a 100 GP off!

The main game mode and graphics got a MASSIVE overhaul.  And even options to have your gear listed on screen with stats.  I LIKE NUMBERS.  DON'T JUDGE ME.  Also I watch horsie cartoons for people thirty years younger than me.  Don't cry for me.  I am already gone.  :(

SMS contents.

The vastly superior PSP and Turbografx versions.  Animated cut scenes!  Amazing CD music! The sequel game!  

I'm not exactly sure what NEC PC 88/98 RPG megapublisher Falcom did that made me enjoy their stuff so much but here is my current collection of Falcom games.  I would like to own more of them of course but I think I have a bit more than half of their physically released in English titles.  Unless I am nutters enough to want every Ys 1 release in English.  I am not quite that mad thankfully.  Game collection tip: Oath in Felghana is the best game in this picture, and I would say Xanadu Next is the worst.   Of the Ys games not counting the SMS port, Ys Seven is probably my least favorite of that series so far.  

Howabout seven PC Engine (Turbografx) CD ROM shots from the Ootake emulator, most in X2 with scanlines mode?

 Cinematic cut scenes!  This fellow is quite important.  And he really hates silver for some reason...

 Another thing the later versions do is add in game engine events to add some more to the story.

 You can even change the font and gameplay speed of the TG version.  

 Certain items have puzzle solving uses.  Now on a composite or RF TV of the time this might not be quite so noticeable and even with these simulated TV output thingies hard to tell but with the statue right there it is a clue..

 Now you cannot see enemies but you can now walk through this hidden doorway!

 A nice screen showing exactly what the region you adventure in looks like.  And that big ass tower you get to explore.

Townspeople who show up and have stuff to say.  You even have some COMMUNIST CHOICES that annoy me in so many JRPGs.  Why even ask me if I am basically forced to choose the obviously heroic one Japanese RPG makers?  And it really started ticking me off in the Playstation/Windows 98 era.  Games like Ultima and Fallout spoiled me.

Now it is time for a whopping TWELVE SMS screenshots from the Kega Fusion emulator.  (And this was supposed to be the easy month!)
 In the SMS you just start out in town.  Keeps the Adol sprite without shield or sword until he buys them.

 The bar patrons again.  Take your initial 1000 gold.  Buy a ring.  Bring it here.  Get 1500 gold.  A simple puzzle/reward but I like it anyhow.

 Find goodies to sell for more money.  Equipment is expensive in this game, especially for there only being three purchasable weapons, shields, and armors.  And a couple other things.  

 A nice bit is that you actually see the various goodies you find.  The graphical representation brings a level of class to things.

 The first mention of Adol's hetero life mate DOGI.

 These guys give eff all for XP.  But almost nothing in this game really does.  Some of the quests give more than these 1-5 XP per critter shmucks do.  The other ports give more xp and sometimes scale it too.  More gold too.

 Notice we are merely third level with the lowest level of equipment.  We started with 10 in STR and DEF.  Each level is a MASSIVE update to the last in this version.  And look how far our life bar is already.

 The room people talk screens look a lot less anime in this port too.  This guy reminds me of something...  I feel like listening to some 80s Queen though.  Huh.

 Locked chests and doors.  The favorite of RPGs everywhere.  You will get a lot of keys in this game.

 The first boss.  In this port victory is more based on level than your skill at taking it out.  The wall is a hint as to boss two.

 We take a break from the tower to go into the mines.  Visibility is seriously reduced in here.  And the mine is damned massive, especially because of the darkness.

And the title screen of our subject.  God lady, put some clothes on!

  I know I am being hard on the SMS port but well.. there have been some vast improvements to this game, some of which were released only a year or two later.  Ys is a damn good game even for the time.  But there are superior versions.  Let me show a couple in console screenshots so we can put this baby to bed.

Four Genesis shots through Power Base Convertor and my trusty(ish) Commodore 1084
 Lots of naked women in Japanese RPGs back in the day.  Well hopefully they were women and you know, not younger...

 Wow.  I last properly remember playing this game in 1992 I think?  It is now 2015.  THE SAVES STILL WORK.


Our pals at the bar.

And now three SMS shots.
 Such goddess.  Much Ys.  


And the Seer. 

Master System Play:  Pretty much exactly the same as on the Power Base.  There is a fair bit of color bleed on either machine.  I only tested the 6 button pad and the Epyx stick for speed's sake since well?  Its all cardinal direction movement and the buttons are only used to open menus and select items really.  Nothing too difficult.  Anything that isn't Grade Z garbage has your back.  

Rating:  Damn.  This is a toughie!  Why?  Well the game was OK back in the day on the SMS, but the Turbografx and PSP/PC Steam versions are honestly GOOD albeit not UBERSUPERBESTGAMEEVER levels of Good.  Even the SMS version looks pretty nice and sounds pretty nice.  Its just a bit of 80s JRPG and for some folks the combat even in the remake versions isn't going to appeal.  Yet for folks like me something about this game is just so.. RIGHT.  It is kind of hard to explain.  It just feels good to play when you need to scratch that RPG itch but don't want to run a full multiple character party or deal with the total randomness of a Roguelike game or whatnot.  It is just fun to explore and level up and get new and better gear.  It is just the SMS version isn't the most ideal version to play these days.  

Next Time:  My birth month of SLACKING BUT STILL OVERDOING IT continues with the whole reason I bought a Master System.  The one, the only PHANTASY STAR.  Thrill to me complaining about how Sega hates me only slightly less than current Konami hates everyone!