I Miss the Sega GT Series. Part 2

When I finally got my hands on an Xbox one of the first games I bought was Sega GT 2002. Although Sega GT wasn’t perfect, I still have fond memories of all the time I spent playing it on the Dreamcast. I figured Sega GT 2002 could only be better since it’s on the Xbox, right? Well, I can’t say it’s a masterpiece but nor can I say it’s trash, it’s just different. I’m not sure where the development team was going with this one, but Sega GT 2002 feels hit or miss in many of its attempted aspects.

This time around the player is presented with Official races and Event races. Official Races are a prerequisite to unlock a license test, so yes licenses are still a thing, except they’ve become even more odd. In Sega GT you had a list of time trials to choose from, but only needed to complete one to acquire the license. In Sega GT 2002 you’re given a set amount of races that will unlock a single license time trial. During this license time trial you can do all the crazy wall banging and off track skidding you want, but this time there is a judgement bar on the right-hand side of the screen that will slowly reduce with each infraction. So while you can drive like a complete maniac, it’s ill advised to do so as once the meter is empty your attempt is disqualified. Even though these are a bit more restrictive than Sega GT, it’s far more lenient than Gran Turismo while still teaching us to watch out for small missteps. This is the way license tests should be done.

Event races are your basic races for money and prizes. The roster for event races isn’t very large, but most of them change up what track they’re at, giving the illusion of there being more content than there actually is. One thing that does excite me about event races is drag racing, something that even Gran Turismo couldn’t do. In terms of racing, in general, my only frustration is the fact that there is a damage meter on the right-hand side for all normal races that ticks down the amount of money you earn as prize money. You would think as long as you race a clean race you should be fine, right? Wrong! The AI in this game aren’t programmed to acknowledge your existence, causing them to crash into you and ruin your chance at a full payout in any given race. So you may run a very clean race, but you will rarely, if ever, come out unscathed at the end of a race thanks to the AI.

One thing that Sega GT 2002 tries to push, and if you ask me pushes it too hard, is the idea that the player is an amateur racer. The main menu screen, where you’ll spend all your off time between races, shows your car in your garage. A modest domicile with a modest garage, but once you step foot inside the garage, where you keep a bountiful amount of hidden cars apparently, you can decorate and show off all your race won trophies. To go a step further some vehicles can’t be sold at dealer ships, they have to be placed outside on your lawn with a For Sale sign in front of them. You can ask whatever price you want, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever get it.

Despite the amateur racer ideology, the AI that refuses to acknowledge you exist and the sometimes frustrating lack of variety of event races to compete in, Sega GT 2002 isn’t all bad. This time around the car models and the textures look really good. The vehicles handle as to be expected from a simulation game of the early 2000s. The game seems fairly well balanced in terms of progress. I love to grind races over and over and earn money to buy better cars and upgrade them before I actually take them on the track to compete, but the game doesn’t force the player to do that. I’m really impressed with the drag racing too! I know drag racing isn’t that impressive compared to circuit racing to most people, but the fact it’s here, it’s done well and it’s actually pretty fun is impressive.

To paraphrase what I said at the very beginning: Sega GT 2002 isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s not trash either, it’s just different. That’s the best way I can put it. The Xbox was filled with great racing games such as the Project Gotham series, Forza Motorsports, the Midnight Club series, the Rallisport series, the list could go on and on, but Sega GT 2002 held its own. I don’t like the frustrating AI. I don’t like the lack of variety being swapped out for the race track changing when I exit and re-enter the Event races menu. I don’t like the forced amateur racer aspect that feels tacked on at the last minute, but you know what? I do genuinely like Sega GT 2002. It brought some of what Sega GT had to offer to the Xbox and while I feel it failed at trying to do its own thing, I think it’s still a good enough game to play through. After playing this game for a few hours to write this editorial I found myself hooked all over again. If that’s not a good enough endorsement for this game, I don’t know what else I could say. There is a Sega GT Online, but I’ve never been able to find a copy. From what I understand it’s a bit beefier version of 2002 with a more online focused style.

Posted October 25th, 2021

Castlevania: The Adventure

Castlevania: The Adventure is a game I picked up almost 10 years ago and have played very little since. I saw this sitting in the little case at a Half Price Books store for $1 and figured I couldn’t go wrong. The label is very reminiscent of the NES Konami games, so I figured that alone should tell me all I needed to know about this gem. I felt like I had really scored here. A Castlevania game for a $1? I had to have gotten one over on old Half Price Books. I was ready to set off on a grand adventure, THE adventure as the game’s title assured me, but things weren’t as smooth as I had hoped they would be.

Castlevania: The Adventure isn’t exactly the same as the other Castlevania games of its era, especially considering it’s a portable version. The game consists of four fairly short stages filled with monsters to defeat throughout, each ending with a stage boss battle. The player starts off with three lives, consisting of ten hit points each, but this time around hearts are actually used to restore health. Along the way the player can also collect 1UPs as well as golden crosses that will grant the player temporary immunity to enemy attacks.

What would Castlevania be without a robust weapon system? It would be this game, that’s what. This time around there are no sub-weapons, but your whip can be upgraded by collecting crystals along the way. The whip can be upgraded twice, the final form being a flame whip, but any enemy damage will cause the whip to be downgraded.

Each stage has, what feels like, an erroneous time limit in which to complete the level. Even with this game being as slow as it is, which can sometimes be painfully slow, it doesn’t take anywhere near as much time as you’re given to complete each stage. And that’s where things fall apart for me, the speed of this game. Every Castlevania I’ve played has felt smooth, but this game is so slow. Was this a limit of the hardware? Maybe, but I feel it was done more to stretch the gameplay out since this is such a really short game.

For what Castlevania: The Adventure is it’s not terrible, I mean it’s slow but the graphics are actually really good. Considering the Nintendo Game Boy was released merely months before this game was released shows Konami took their time making it look good, but didn’t seem to worry about it being as smooth as its NES siblings. The game is extremely short and replay value is kind of there, I guess. Again, this game isn’t terrible it’s just different to the point that I feel one time around is enough.

Posted October 18th, 2021

Super Mario World: Return To Dinosaur Land

Super Mario World: Return To Dinosaur Land is a ROM hack I was aware of, but never got around to trying. That all changed when I found out it was included on the SNES multicart I bought earlier this year. I assume whoever was in charge of putting games on this cartridge mistook it for being the actual Super Mario World. Since I’ve been having a lot of fun playing, or more accurately replaying, through Super Mario World, and now that I can play this ROM hack on my SNES, I figured now was as good a time as any to sit down and give it a proper go.

Much of Super Mario World’s core gameplay elements, enemies and power ups remain intact, but the world map and level designs are where this ROM hack grows into its own. There always seems to be a secret somewhere in these levels. Many levels are straight forward, making this feel more like a sequel to Super Mario World, but some levels will require a little more thought and awareness. One level requires the player to go all the way to the end of the level and return to beginning to find the exit. Another requires the player to traverse the level at the very top of the screen while using what’s on the screen as a map. Some levels can be frustrating, but not much more frustrating than levels from Super Mario World itself.

Remember the secret level in Super Mario World with power ups and a Yoshi? I haven’t found one here, and power ups seems to be a bit more sparse in Return to Dinosaur Land. To circumvent this I use the old start and select trick. Once I’ve finished a level with the power up I need I go back to that level, obtain it and use start and select to leave the level early. Saving the game however seems to be in no short supply. In Super Mario World saves are reserved for after you beat a boss or mini boss, but in Return to Dinosaur Land saves seem to pop up at random and often, which is a nice addition.

I still have a ways to go with Return to Dinosaur Land, but I’m finding it to be incredibly fun. Admittedly I’m not familiar with many Super Mario World ROM hacks, but if most of them are anything like Return to Dinosaur Land I would gladly give them a try. I feel this ROM hack is a perfect example of creativity within the community, taking a well loved classic and giving it extended life by rearranging levels and adding new challenges. I truly think Super Mario World itself is a classic and has tremendous replayability already, but with the ROM hacking community continuously adding and updating the game it helps breath new life into a game so many cherished from over 30 years ago.

Posted October 11th, 2021

NES Point and Click Games

As I’ve mentioned before I was always late to the party when it came to video games and video game technology. Our first family computer had Windows 3.1 for the OS, but this was well into the lifespan of Windows 95. We did eventually upgrade, but along the adventure I remember a lot of software being handed down from my more tech savvy relatives. Some of these games were point and click adventure games, one of them being Leisure Suit Larry which was quickly snatched up and thrown away by my mother once she figured out what it was all about.

Fast forward to the year 2000 when I was more focused on the NES and trying to find out which games were worth buying by testing them through emulation. Although primitive by today’s standards the emulators in those days seemed like modern miracles; being able to play any NES game you could ever imagine on a computer was amazing. After finding a list of every NES game ever released I trundled through the list to see which games might spark my interest. It didn’t take long for my past and present to meet up when I found a game called Deja Vu.

By this time I was more interested in games like Super Mario and Final Fantasy, since these games gave instant feedback when a button was pressed. Point and click had kind of fallen by the wayside, but I decided to give Deja Vu a try. It wasn’t long before I was hooked by the story, searching for clues and loving every bit of it. I didn’t complete the game, for one reason or another, but I do remember it feeling odd to play a point and click game on (an emulator of) the NES and it feeling so smooth and well done. What I thought would be clunky controls, certainly weren’t.

A few years later I found there were a few other point and click games for the NES, such as Maniac Mansion. Maniac Mansion was a game I had heard of, mostly due to the hamster part, but had never actually played, not even on PC. I tried giving Maniac Mansion a try but for some reason I just couldn’t get into it and I honestly don’t know why. Now that I actually own a copy of Maniac Mansion I might sit down and give it an actual try.

In the years since then I’ve found many more games such as King’s Quest V were released for the NES, as well as some games that incorporate point and click elements such as Dr. Chaos and The Goonies (both one and two). As these games include platforming and other elements I wouldn’t classify them as strictly point and click, but a hybrid of platforming with point and click elements thrown in, and I believe they are done very well too.

Initially, probably like most people, when I thought of the NES I thought Super Mario, Tetris, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Castlevania, etc. After playing Deja Vu I try to include these games into the fold as well. It’s easy to forget how experimental the NES was when platformers and RPGs took over, but there are definitely some great games with gameplay elements that aren’t jumping over mushrooms or punching in someone’s face and collecting the coins that bounce where their corpse once laid before it quickly decayed and disappeared. Deja Vu, Maniac Mansion, Shadowgate and Uninvited, among others, are all games that I may have missed out on, had I not given NES point and click games a chance.

Posted October 4th, 2021