Tag Archives: sega

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

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This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

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Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

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Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

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Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

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Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.


Catching up with ESPN NFL 2k5…Again!

nfl 2k5The NFL season has come to a close and now it’s onto the playoffs. Twelve teams will battle for the opportunity to be called champion, guaranteeing that the fanbases for 31 NFL franchises will be disappointed, but one will not! After going my entire childhood without being a part of that one, I’ve enjoyed an embarrassment of riches as a football fan for my hometown New England Patriots have had a pretty incredible run of luck. Yes, that means a bunch of people now hate me because the football team that is geographically closes to where I reside happens to be both good and therefore detestable, but so be it. It will all end one day and this unprecedented run of success will become a story I tell my grandkids as my own grandparents did of the Boston Bruins of the 1970s or the Celtics of the 60s. For now I will continue to savor the ups and the downs as the season goes on.

Every football season I inevitably return to an old, beloved, game:  ESPN NFL 2k5. This was the last Sega-produced NFL title before the league entered into an agreement with EA which would make it the sole holder of the NFL and NFLPA license to this day. It was a disappointing day for me, and it took me years to move on and actually buy a Madden title. And I still don’t purchase one annually as I haven’t bought a copy in 3 or 4 years. And it took me awhile to admit that Madden had finally surpassed my beloved 2k5, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy playing it to this day.

I enjoy it enough that I’ve done this post before. When I first posted about the game I was basically just dabbling with it momentarily. Since then though I have actually played it more and more to the point where I’m actually in year 2013 with the Patriots and an aging Tom Brady is still leading the charge against an NFL that has become nearly unrecognizable due to retirements across the league. I’m actually curious when this virtual Brady will tell me he’s hanging up his spikes as the real life version is still going at age 42. Surely, the video game version will not last that long because no one has. I assume I’m nearing the end, but who knows? The only non-game created players on the roster right now are receivers Deion Branch, Antwaan Randle El, running back Tatum Bell, and defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. Everyone else is some game-generated character, many of which share the same fake portrait image so it looks like I have a pair of identical twins starting in the secondary (which is kind of funny because the current version of the Patriots can say the same thing).

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Yeah, I like the Pats. Boo me all you want.

In playing a game that is now more than a decade old it’s interesting to see how much the real version of the NFL has changed. Take the shotgun formation as an example (I’m going to assume if you’re reading this you’re familiar enough with football to know what I’m referring to with “shotgun”). In 2006, after this game came out, the average NFL offense utilized shotgun for 19% of its offensive snaps. I don’t know if this data strips out kneel downs and spikes, but it will work here. In 2016, the average team utilized the formation 68% of its snaps! One team, the San Francisco 49ers, even used it for 99% of its plays. And why is that? Well, the game has opened up. Rule changes that went into effect during the offseason before 2k5 was released emphasized illegal contact by defenders which helped boost offense. Over the years, those types of calls have been helped along by additional safeguards for receivers as well as quarterbacks. Teams found that it was now efficient to simply spread defenses out and throw the ball, leading to an emphasis on receivers of all kinds, especially slot receivers, and a deemphasis on runningbacks and fullbacks. Most teams in 2019 don’t even have a true fullback on the roster anymore, but every team in 2k5 does with the game recommending that two be carried at all times.

This is amusing to me because the real life game has come to more resemble video games in some respects. Players often played these game in what purists would call an unreal manner. Lots of throwing, especially deep balls, with quarterbacks taking huge drop-backs and punting practically unheard of. I’ve personally never gone that crazy in my playing, but I also rarely play human opponents. Even playing in a more pass-friendly and aggressive scheme though, it’s actually hard to replicate the modern game in 2k5 largely because defenders can jam and impede receivers down the field without fear of a penalty. Maybe if I tweaked the penalty sliders I could pull that off, but I also think part of the “jamming” is just limitations with the animations and collision detection of a PlayStation 2 game released in 2004. Receivers in general are also notoriously bad at catching in this game so it would be hard based on that reason alone to replicate the high percentage throwing offenses of today.

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You don’t see too many plays out of the I-Form these days. Especially on 1st and 10.

In playing the game, I find route combinations with receivers are especially more vertical than the modern game probably features (unless you’re in a Bruce Arians offense). In the entire Patriots playbook, I can’t find a proper mesh concept, for instance, which is hugely popular in today’s game. Teams love crossing routes because they create natural pick plays, though the few plays of this type in 2k5 usually just lead to a jumbled mess. I find it’s much easier to to go with posts, go, and the occasional out and slant when playing this game. Fast receivers matched-up one-on-one on the outside are often pretty good at beating their man on a go route, and if you have time, the double-move can be effective. It’s just funny because it’s nothing like what the Patriots currently run, or really ever ran aside from when Randy Moss was in town, but it works here.

More and more though, it’s just interesting to notice the quirks that come up when you’ve played nearly ten seasons of virtual football. I play every regular and post season game on the schedule, only skipping the preseason. In game, few frequent bugs show up. There is one that I’ve noticed where a tight end just won’t be covered by the opposing defense. It always happens when I run a trips-bunch to the right with a single tight end on the left. Sometimes that guy is just all by himself for an easy completion (unless the tight end is stone-handed, a frequent problem with computer-generated tight ends where every pass is an adventure). The funny thing is this only crops up in certain seasons. It was basically one season where it happened a lot, to the point where I stopped using the formation because it felt like a cheat. It stopped once I finished that season, though recently popped-up again, but with the formation flipped and the tight end to the right. The receivers also had normal spacing and weren’t bunched. My current tight end has a horrible catch rating though so I actually didn’t even complete the pass, but I’ll be on the look-out to see if it comes up again.

By far though, the weirdest bug I’ve encountered concerns Philip Rivers. You know Rivers as the quarterback of the LA Chargers. In 2k5, he’s a rookie playing behind Drew Brees. I think he ascended to a starter at one point in my game, but he’s now a backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Weirdly though, if I look at league leaders he’s usually near the top – in rushing. Now, as afar as I know, there is no way to play a quarterback at runningback. Maybe if all of your backs got injured in a game the backup Qb would end up there, but I doubt it. I’d guess another skill position player would inherit the role before a Qb. Anyways, that’s not the only thing that’s weird here. What is odd is that his statistics are a mirror image for whoever my starting running back is. I even played Tampa and can confirm that Rivers did not have a single carry in the game, but when it was over he was tied with my back for whatever ranking he was at for various categories. It’s truly bizarre, and just doing a google search on the same returned nothing, but I’d be surprised if this was unique to my game.

2k5 brady steelers

Tom Brady, just like in real-life, is still going in my game as a 13 year man. I doubtt he catches up to the real version.

Another glitch, this one more annoying, is that I basically lost my fullback position. I don’t know why, but starting at around year 7 of my franchise my backup runningback assumed the fullback position. If I try to edit my playbook things look fine, but when I play a game the problem persists. It essentially has rendered fullback useless as I can’t get the guy into a game. And it means that I need to prioritize run blocking with my third string RB. The only fix I have found is if my starter gets hurt. Tatum Bell recently broke his hand and will be out for 4-6 weeks. For those games I actually get to trot out a legit fullback, who after going years without even a snap to his name, now has two receiving touchdowns. I’ve found he’s a pretty terrible blocker though, despite his rating, so my ground game has actually been pretty awful lately, but at least I have a fullback! A similar, but less annoying, bug is that my third string TE takes all of the I-Formation snaps. If I try to edit the personnel for that package I simply can’t swap him out for anyone else. It’s weird.

Another bizarre in-game bug concerns the kicking game. For whatever reason, it seems like one kick-off per game my controller will be near unresponsive. There’s a huge input delay often resulting in a brutal kick. Since I play on an old model PS3, I thought maybe my controllers were getting less responsive and started playing with my controller plugged in, but that didn’t solve anything. It’s just a bug. On the AI side, many teams for some reason have a lineman as their kick and punt returner. It looks pretty ridiculous to see a big man field a punt, and it also makes coverage pretty simple. Some teams also have a terrible kick-off person where the ball will usually land around the 30 or 35 yard line. It actually doesn’t lead to many long returns as the up-man often ends up catching the ball while on the run, but it is stupid to see. And in all of these seasons, I’ve never returned a kick for a touchdown. One of the criticisms of the prior game was that it was too easy and the designers basically over-compensated by making coverage teams spectacular. I have come close on a couple of occasions, but never sealed the deal.

2k5 kicking

There’s a bug that can sometimes make kicking a real adventure. Thankfully, it usually only happens on kickoffs, but it has cropped up during a field goal attempt as well.

One other bug I assume is quite common concerns the schedule. The NFL has a pretty simple formula where each team plays its divisional opponents two times each. It then plays one other division in its conference and one division outside its conference which is on a rotational schedule. The remaining games are commonly ranked opponents. For instance, the first place teams from the prior year play all of the other first place teams in the same conference, the second place teams play all of the other second place teams, and so on. This formula should be easy to program, but apparently it’s not or Sega/Visual Concepts got lazy and only programmed so many seasons. My Patriots have played the AFC North every year for the last I don’t know how many. The actual 2004 Patriots had to play the same, so maybe the game only programmed for one rotation through the divisions before it went back to the start and stayed that way. The NFC portion of the schedule generates fine, so I don’t know what the problem is. Maybe I just wasn’t supposed to play this long, but I have to believe there are people out there who have gone well beyond where I’m currently at.

Even though this version of the NFL is almost unrecognizable at this point, and the bugs I’ve encountered sometimes drive me nuts, I still have fun playing this one. I’m just going to keep on playing it until I don’t enjoy it anymore. Will that come with Brady’s retirement? Maybe, or maybe it won’t. I think at some point I’ll be sick of playing with all fake players, but I’m practically there now and still enjoying it. There are things I do miss from modern games that aren’t here. In 2004, this game was the best at granting absolute control to a pass via the Maximum Passing setting, but it’s not nearly as robust as current versions of Madden. There are times when I wish I could throw a proper back-shoulder pass, or I try to stick a ball out in front of a receiver, and the coverage, only to find the quarterback basically tries to make the pass too catchable and it gets intercepted when really I wanted to make a legal throw-away. It’s also hard to intentionally throw a pass high for a tall receiver to go up and get. And the running game, which felt dynamic and ahead of its time, is no longer that way and it can be frustrating to take a patient approach or to steer the back through a certain hole. Plus, lead blockers are often dumb and will just run past guys or into the back. It’s not as bad as Madden’s “suction-blocking” from the same era, but it’s noticeable.

At any rate, this is my second post on the topic and maybe there will be a third. Who knows? This game is still cheap and easy to acquire and if you were watching football back in 2004 then maybe consider dusting this sucker off and taking a trip down memory lane. You may even decide you never need to play another snap of Madden again.


The Sega Genesis Mini

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The Sega Genesis Mini has arrived, though Amazon wasn’t particularly careful about packaging…

When it was a hardware manufacturer, Sega was often the company first to market with new technology. The Genesis (Mega Drive for non North American gamers) beat the Super Nintendo to market, the Sega CD beat the never released Super Nintendo CD, the 32X aggressively tried to make the 32 bit era begin early, the Saturn beget the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and finally the Dreamcast arrived before the PlayStation 2 by over a year. When it came to the new mini consoles though, Sega was a laggard. I suppose you could credit the company with embracing this sort of plug and play retro gaming before the others as “flashback” systems have been at retail for years. Those releases were cheap though and the less said the better. Nintendo essentially saw what Sega was doing and decided to do it right when it released the NES Classic Edition in 2016 providing the blueprint for how these things should be done.

Sega saw the folly of its ways and for once decided to take things slow. The Genesis Mini was supposed to launch in 2018 and be yet another partnership with AtGames who had released the subpar Sega branded hardware already featured at retail. Sega understood the quality just wasn’t there, and the agreement between the two was either terminated or expired. Sega took development in-house, and also brought in M2 which had done the emulation for the well-received Sega Ages compilation. And thus Sega became a hardware manufacturer once again for the first time in nearly 20 years.

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That’s quite a lineup.

The Sega Genesis Mini is the latest in the mini console wave of devices that is now in its fourth year of relevancy. It follows the NES Classic, the SNES Classic, Neo Geo Mini, and PlayStation Classic and precedes the upcoming TurboGrafx-16 Mini which will bring this mini console era into 2020. The Genesis has been the missing link as it was one of the most popular video game consoles of its time and was arguably more deserving of such a release than the likes of the Neo Geo and PlayStation. There was considerably less demand for it though and I attribute that to the poor AtGames releases which really harmed the Sega brand in recent years.

Sega and its Genesis console have become a bit of a punching bag over the years. Most remember the marketing surrounding the machine than the actual games themselves. Sega was willing to go the distance to get noticed and basically every 90s cliché one can dream of can be found in Genesis marketing material. It aggressively promoted itself against the Super Nintendo by toting “Blast Processing” and that Genesis does what Nintendon’t. These marketing promotions are laughed at now because most admit that the Super Nintendo is among the greatest gaming devices ever invented. It’s almost absurd to suggest that the Genesis was superior, even if those marketing gimmicks kept Sega in the lead in terms of sales for much of the 90s.

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The size of these mini consoles will never not amuse me.

All of the retro silliness surrounding Sega these days tends to ignore the fact that the Genesis was pretty damn good in its own right. Sega was aggressive in acquiring licensed material for its machine and as a result the best selling Genesis titles tend to be not great. Those games overshadow the smaller releases that really were something special like Shining Force and Gunstar Heroes. Sega has either acknowledged that, or difficulties in getting those licensed games for its mini console has allowed the Sega Genesis Mini to function as a showcase for those forgotten gems. And the fact that the device comes packed with 42 games means there’s also plenty of room for Sonic.

If you have played one of the Nintendo mini consoles then you basically know what to expect with the Genesis Mini. It’s about half the size of the model one Genesis and comes with two controllers that connect via USB instead of the old Genesis pin connectors. The console looks great and it’s quite light because there’s really not a lot that needs to go into these things to make them functional. The device comes with an HDMI cable for hook-up to modern televisions as well as a USB to AC wall connector for power. The controller cables are about six feet long, which is neither good nor bad, and turning on the console brings you to a dashboard from which the games can be played. The Genesis Mini outputs an HD signal, but the quality of the emulation means there’s no input lag nor do the images look washed out. The games can be played in their native 4:3 aspect ratio, or zoomeded to 16:9 if you’re a monster. The games can also be played with a filter designed to mimic old scan lines if you choose, though I find the image to be darker and muddier as a result.

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It’s comparison time! Apologies for not having the US version of the SNES Mini

The Sega Genesis Mini doesn’t really distinguish itself from what Nintendo did in terms of function, and that’s because it doesn’t need to. This is an appropriate way to make these games available in 2019 and the emulation is top-notch. The controllers themselves feel a touch off when compared with the real thing, but they function perfectly fine. It is a shame that Sega included the 3-button controller instead of the six (which Japan received), but I suppose it was done to coordinate with the original release of the Genesis. It’s also disappointing that Nintendo utilized its own proprietary connector on its consoles instead of USB so the extension cables I bought for my Nintendo consoles won’t help me here. Sega did at least include a menu shortcut in its software that is achieved by simply holding down the start butto, something Nintendo didn’t even do with its SNES Classic. Where Sega differentiates itself from Nintendo further is in the celebration of the little things. The Mini is not region locked, and you can even experience this software in Japanese if you wish. This is pretty cool with a game like Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which was a re-skin of Puyo Puyo for the North American market. Changing the region to Japan actually changes Dr. Robotnik to Puyo Puyo, even though that game wasn’t even emulated for the Japanese release of the Mini.

 

By now you have likely also seen where Sega separated itself from the other retro consoles by making everything on the Genesis Mini semi-functional. That means the flaps on the cartridge socket work and the expansion port for the Sega CD is also present. These things don’t actually do anything, but it’s such a simple and appreciated touch. Sega has even gone way beyond the extra mile in Japan by releasing a mini Sega Tower. By that I mean you can actually purchase mini versions of the Sega CD, 32X, Sonic & Knuckles lock-on cartridge, and a mini cartridge of Sonic the Hedgehog to connect to your Genesis Mini. Again, these serve no functional purpose what so ever, but it’s Sega celebrating what it’s known for. If that silly thing does indeed earn a North American release, you can bet your ass I’ll be all over it.

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I don’t have a model one Genesis, so this is the best I can do.

The Genesis Mini would be nothing without quality software, and here Sega has delivered as well. I previously ranked each game set for release and as I get reacquainted with these titles I see little reason to change those rankings. There are a few duds I won’t ever play, but mostly this is a collection of the best games available for the system as opposed to the most popular. I’m sure there are folks who will say something is missing. I know a lot of people were surprised to see no Sonic the Hedgehog 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, but it’s not like the hedgehog isn’t well represented as-is. I’m quite surprised that Mortal Kombat wasn’t included because of how important that game was for the Genesis, but I also can’t say I miss playing it as the game hasn’t aged particularly well. Licensing issues obviously prevented Sega from including one of the many well-received sports titles as well. And as Nintendo did with Star Fox 2 on its classic console release, Sega has included unreleased titles on this one as well including Monster World IV and Mega Man: The Wily Wars, games not sold at retail in North America. And as for games never released at all on the Genesis, there’s the Genesis version of Tetris and Darius.

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And in case you were wondering, here is how the Mini compares with a Sega CDX.

All of this basically just means that Sega has gone out and released perhaps the best Mini console so far. The emulation is great and it’s packed with games that are still worth playing in 2019. Sega has also made sure to make this a fun release that celebrates both the Genesis and Sega as a whole. If you thought you didn’t need to experience the Genesis again then I encourage you to rethink that position.


Ranking the Games of the Sega Genesis Mini

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Commemorating 30 years of the Genesis, Mega Drive to you non-Yankees, in comes the Genesis Mini to go along with your other mini consoles.

Did you think the era of the mini console was over? You would be forgiven if you had. Last year’s Sony Playstation Classic arrived with a thud. Originally retailing for $100, you can probably score one now for less than half of that as they clogged shelves during the holiday season and failed to excite. And it wasn’t a surprise. Sony just didn’t have the software muscle to make the Playstation Classic a must-own console. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Sony’s part. There was a clear desire to have this device harken back to the early days of the Playstation as a celebration of one of the most popular gaming devices of all time. The problem was it may have been too reverential for those early days as a lot of the software just hasn’t aged too well. And the games that had have been readily available for download or in compilation packages for years. Top it off with no dual shock and a hefty price tag just made the console undesirable. Maybe Sony still made money off of the machine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the electronics giant took a loss either.

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Not to be confused with the awful other mini Genesis units out there.

If you thought that high profile failure would deter others from following suit, well then you would be wrong. Throwing their hats back into the ring is Sega, who has been licensing its old software and hardware for years as part of third-party plug-and-play devices of less than desirable quality. Even when the NES Classic was available, Sega had a Genesis Mini on store shelves that boasted wireless controllers and a port on the console for an actual Genesis cartridge. Everything about it though was clunky and pretty awful. Since it was licensed out, it likely cost Sega nothing aside from a hit to its brand reputation. Maybe Sega decided it needed to help that brand out while making another effort at tapping into that mini console nostalgia that has boosted Nintendo’s bottom line for a few years now.

To do so, Sega has sought the services of M2, the developer behind the Sega Ages compilations which have been universally praised for their emulation quality. Sega also is apparently handling the actual hardware in-house, and actual Genesis controllers will ship with the system this fall. This smells like an honest attempt at a quality device, the only question really is can Sega still manufacture and produce quality hardware? It’s not something the company has been involved with for decades now since the high profile failure that was the Dreamcast. Considering there isn’t much to these mini consoles, there probably should be some degree of confidence Sega can pull it off. By sticking with wired controllers there’s no worry about cheap, wireless, devices which plagued the prior models. And we already know the emulation end should come out quite well.

genesis mini tower

Sega is apparently going all-in on the nostalgia and even releasing a non-functioning Sega CD and 32X mini in case you want to remember this abomination.

What we also know is the price ($79.99, same as the SNES Classic) and contents of the package. The US version will include two classic 3-button controllers and 42 games. Yes, it would have been preferential to have the six-button controller, which will apparently be included with the Japanese version so perhaps there will be some six-button controllers for sale, but it’s not a deal-breaker since every game had to utilize the 3-button layout. Mostly though, look at that games total:  42! Where Nintendo seemed careful about what it included with the SNES Classic, likely wanting to adhere to placing a dollar value on each game, Sega has simply said “Screw that!” and put a vast collection of games on this set that well-represent what the Genesis was famous for. Sure, there are some notable omissions. Mortal Kombat was huge for the Genesis, so it’s surprising to see it excluded. Considering the game doesn’t possess the gameplay to match its visuals, it’s only a sentimental loss. An actual good game that is missing is Sonic the Hedgehog 3 + Sonic & Knuckles. It’s possible the lock-on function was difficult to duplicate, or maybe Sega just felt that would be too much Sonic. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of obvious omissions. Sports were huge on the Genesis, but licensing for sports titles is likely far too complex and expensive. Likely, most of your personal omissions are a preference for one game in a series (Shining Force vs Shining Force II, for example) vs another.

I’ve taken the time to rank the games of the other high-profile mini consoles, only skipping SNK’s, so I feel an obligation to do the same for the Genesis. This is the only negative for me of Sega including 42 games as I have to rank them all! This is no easy feat, but I’ll do my best. Now, I have played every game on this list, but that doesn’t mean I am supremely familiar with all of them. I’ll try to convey my familiarity where I can, but this is also just one man’s opinion so take it for what it is.

First of all, there are actually 2 games I have not played and they are the two most recent revelations:  Tetris and Darius. The Genesis Tetris was somewhat infamously discontinued before it got going. It’s one of the most expensive carts to this day. It’s Tetris, so you probably have played it before on another platform. I’m sure it’s good. The other game I have not played is the arcade-only Darius. A fan version of this game showed up on the internet and it’s speculated the version here is the same. It’s an auto-scrolling shooter from Taito so if you like that stuff I suppose you’ll be excited to play it. As for the other 40 games, well let’s just get right down to it.

altered beast boss 1

Altered Beast is memorable and was an early success story, but it was never really a good game.

40.  Altered BeastAltered Beast is an arcade classic, and as an early Genesis title, it does have some fans. On the other hand, it’s an example of how porting from arcade to the Genesis wasn’t entirely smooth and that arcade perfect ports were still years away. The transforming beast gimmick is neat, but everything else is rather terrible. It’s playable, and as a kid I liked it enough, so if it’s your worst title then that’s not too bad.

39.  Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – The mascot before Sonic, Alex Kidd is perhaps best forgotten, a super floaty platformer that is representative of a lot of the shovel-ware that would clog game systems during the era. There’s at least some skill to be formed while playing this one, hence why I put it ahead of the vanilla brawler, Altered Beast.

38. Virtua Fighter 2Virtua Fighter 2 is a late era representative of how porting from the arcade to the home was hard. This time, it’s because arcade hardware had more than lapped what was available for most gamers at home. If playing this title on the Saturn, then it’s pretty good. On the Genesis? Well, let’s just say it’s a shocker they even bothered.

37. Eternal Champions – Sega’s in-house fighting game entry, Eternal Champions was the straight to home fighting game that wanted to be violent and shocking. Instead, it’s just a one on one fighter with little charm that’s also some-what bogged down by overly complex mechanics. The fact that it was developed for the Genesis, and not the arcade, made it noteworthy at the time because that was practically unheard of for fighting games. It ended up being a harbinger of things to come as the arcades became more marginalized as the 90s wore on. Playable, but hardly memorable unless you really like the fatality-like Overkills.

36. Ecco the Dolphin – Pretty nice looking for a Genesis title and certainly unique given that you play as a dolphin and solve puzzles. It’s also one of the most boring titles I’ve ever played. Some people love it, and it was a huge seller, so maybe others will too.

35. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – I’m on the record as just not being a fan of this franchise. This version is naturally superior to what was on the NES, so if you like that game then you’ll love this one. I personally just find this game difficult to a fault, where it only cares about being hard and not being entertaining. Such a slog.

space harrier 2 4

Space Harrier 2 is certainly a unique shooter that was far more impressive back when it came out than it is today.

34. Space Harrier 2 – A strange behind-the-back on-rails shooter. You can move your character all over the screen to avoid attacks. It gets pretty chaotic, but if you’re a fan of on-rails shooters it might offer a nice change of pace from the typical approach.

33. Golden Axe – A solid arcade port that’s still plenty playable, Golden Axe is far more enjoyable with two-players. I’m surprised Sega went with the original here, but there’s not a ton separating the games in this franchise so I suppose it matters little. It’s fine, but I’ve played Golden Axe so much that it’s hard to get excited about it.

32. Kid Chameleon – A platformer in which you play as what appears to be a 50’s greaser and collect power-ups that impart new abilities. It’s a neat concept and if you stick with it you may find it rewarding. I’ve personally just always hated the “feel” of this one as the character is really floaty and slippery.

31. Comix Zone – One of the coolest looking games on the Genesis, Comix Zone has a great concept. You play as a comic book artist who gets sucked into his own panels. It’s just so unbelievably hard that all enjoyment is ruined. I guess you could save-skum your way through it, but that’s hardly what I consider fun.

30. Light Crusaders – An isometric RPG, it’s actually one of many RPGs on the Genesis Mini. It’s crazy how many there are. Is this one the worst? Probably. I’ve never spent a ton of time with it though so maybe I’m selling it short. I’m not a fan of the perspective or the visuals, finding it frustrating. It does at times feel like a precursor to the much superior Diablo given the perspective and the fact that there’s just one, really long, dungeon in the game. It did receive quite a bit of praise when it was released in 1995 so maybe I should give it another shot?

beyond oasis

Visually, Beyond Oasis strikes me as Secret of Mana meets Dragon’s Lair.

29. Beyond Oasis – A top-down action RPG, this one reminds me of Secret of Mana. It has some distinctive visuals, but the animations can be a bit chunky. Not the greatest controls either as you’re most likely going to find little snakes you have to crouch to hit to be the biggest annoyance. It’s an interesting game, but it’s somewhat made worse for its RPG elements as dealing with NPCs just feels tedious and dry.

28. Super Fantasy Zone – a shooter, but one in which you have full control of the vehicle similar to TaleSpin on the NES. It’s a pleasing title to look at and an easy one to just pick up and play when you have a half hour to kill or something. I prefer this style to auto-scrolling, even if it’s still not the type of game I seek out. It was also never released on the Genesis in the US, but was released on the Virtual Console in 2008.

27. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse – Disney and Sega had a nice thing going for awhile. Castle of Illusion was among the first and an early entrant on the Genesis. It’s a rather benign platforming title that might be easier than you remember if you last played it as a little kid. That is unless your skills in 2D have diminished, then it might be harder than you remember.

26. Earthworm Jim – This game was inescapable when it came out as the marketing was obnoxious. It’s a flashy looking shooter/platform type that gets pretty hard pretty fast. I think it’s a bit style over substance, but it does have an addictive quality to it. I know it still  has a strong fanbase to this day, which is probably why the character is set to attempt a comeback on the Intellivision Amico.

25. Thunder Force III – This game is a totally serviceable shooter in the same vein as R-Type. Not my cup of tea, but plenty fine. This is the best game in the franchise as it switched to the horizontal format and even introduced some elements that would be considered forgiving, a rarity in this genre.

24. Wonderboy in Monster World – Yet another RPG, this one is a side-scrolling action one. It’s perfectly playable and even enjoyable still today. It’s also a little boring when it comes to the RPG elements which is probably why Wonderboy never took off like Zelda did. Either that or it was because his name is Wonderboy. I mostly rank it this high on the list because I find the aesthetics of the game quite charming.

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Dynamite Headdy was a later arrival on the Genesis so it may have been overlooked by many.

23. Dynamite Headdy – There were so many mascot plaformer types in the 90s that it’s forgivable if you forgot about Dynamite Headdy. He’s basically a bug without a neck who can throw his head at enemies. Interesting concept, for sure, and a totally fine platforming title. Headdy handles well and the game is bright colorful, what more do you want?

22. Alisia Dragoon – It’s kind of like Castlevania with lightning bolts and dragons. Alisia Dragoon is a side scroller in which you have lightning powers and multiple dragon sidekicks to cycle through. Like Castlevania, there’s exploration elements and hidden places to find. It’s also pretty relentless about attacking from all sides making it imperative to use your powers judiciously so they have time to recharge and strike out in all directions. This is a game I’ll likely spend more time with should I get a Genesis Mini.

21. Sonic Spinball – It’s pinball, but with Sonic the Hedgehog instead of a ball. I’m actually not sure if this title is overrated or underrated. When it came out, a lot of people were a little irritated it wasn’t a proper new Sonic game, but it’s hard to deny it’s a rather fun experience. It won’t blow you away, but you’re unlikely to have a bad time at least.

20. Columns – A Sega classic, of sorts, Columns was the brick-falling game not named Tetris. It’s a match 3 type of puzzler and it’s fine. It won’t wow you, but it’s easy to get absorbed in. I’d much rather play this than something like Yoshi’s Cookie, though I’d prefer to play one other puzzler on this set over it.

19. Landstalkers – Another isometric action RPG, this one is just much more enjoyable than Light Crusader. It’s nicer on the eyes, and while the story isn’t anything special the world is far more interesting to explore. The perspective is still more annoying than fun, but this is a title in need of some added exposure so hopefully the Genesis Mini is a benefit for it.

monster world iv

Monster World IV features a colorful and cute design that I just find so charming.

18. Monster World IV – The last entrant in the Wonderboy series on the Genesis and a game previously unreleased on the console outside of Japan. It has been included on compilations in recent years, but this will be the first time US gamers will get to experience it on Sega hardware. It’s yet another side-scrolling RPG, but it has charm and looks great. A surprise, but worthy, inclusion for the Genesis Mini.

17. Mega Man:  The Wily Wars – This one is almost like cheating as it’s a compilation of the first three Mega Man titles ported to the Genesis with enhanced visuals. It should be awesome, but I’ve never liked how it feels compared with the NES games. It seems slower and more deliberate almost as if Capcom went too far in updating the visuals and instead negatively impacted the gameplay. Maybe that’s why it originally went unreleased, being only available on the Sega Channel. I’ll give it another shot, for sure, as it’s still Mega Man and those three games are classics in their own right.

16. World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – I’m probably ranking this one too high, but it was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. It’s Castle of Illusion, but with two-players and much improved visuals. It’s a fun, breezy, platformer that should be beatable for even those who have let their skills diminish over the years. It just might take some practice.

sonic 1 main

Sonic’s gameplay is somewhat divisive, but what isn’t is the impact he had on Sega and video games as a whole in the 90s.

15. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega’s first real answer to Mario, you either love it or you don’t. The game is a constant battle with the urge to travel at top speed, because once achieved, you open Sonic up to a world of hurt in the form of spike traps and death pits. It’s a game of trial and error, and had it not been a success back in the 90s we might not even be here having this conversation. Still very playable, just not the best Sonic title any longer.

14. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition – It’s the arcade classic now on the Genesis. This is about as competent a fighter as you’re going to find, it’s just hard to get excited about playing it in 2019. The 3-button controller is not the ideal way to experience Street Fighter, but it’s competent at least. It’s still Street Fighter II though, which is a nice floor to have.

13. Road Rash II – The motorcycle racer that was a staple on the Genesis, until it wasn’t. This game was largely popular amongst my friends because you could attack other racers, but even absent that it was still a damn good time and a fun racer. I’m a bit surprised it’s the only racer on this set though, but I’m not sure Outrun has aged all that well and Virtua Racing is probably too hard to emulate.

12. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – Another stacking puzzle game, this is just Puyo Puyo but with a Sonic skin. Specifically, it’s done in the style of the cartoon Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the rare puzzler that’s better with two players. Probably the only puzzle game I prefer to it is Puzzle Fighter, which isn’t surprising since they’re pretty similar. Definitely check this one out if you never have.

11. Contra:  Hard Corps – The venerable Contra series on the Genesis. Some Contra fans cite this as their favorite entry in the series. I’m no Contra expert, so don’t ask me. It’s a fun and challenging shooter though. Too hard for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Have fun using save states on this one.

strider

Strider is Capcom’s forgotten hit franchise. Its visuals are a tad dated as this was an early Genesis title, but its gameplay is not.

10. Strider – This felt like Capcom’s answer to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Strider is a bit more vertical and the main character Hiryu has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Strider controls well and offers plenty of action, a good one to get lost in especially since the challenging difficulty will keep you busy.

9. Vectorman – Speaking of hard games, here’s another. Vectorman is a shooter/platformer with some gimmicky stuff as well as the titular character can change form. Visually distinctive, Vectorman is a game I enjoy despite the fact that I suck at it. Maybe I just need more practice. I’ll probably play this one a few times and struggle to make it to level 3.

8. Shinobi III – A challenging platformer, but one more deliberately paced. I’ve always preferred Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden or Strider because of that pacing. It’s easier to plot out an attack and feel out a boss fight. It’s also still hard, but often fair. Smart move by Sega to go with the third entry over the other two as this one has always felt like the most balanced entry in the series.

7. Phantasy Star IV – A more traditional JRPG, this series is basically Sega’s Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I’m a bit surprised they opted to go with IV over the more popular II, but either one is fine. I wish it looked and sounded better, but it’s strangely addicting thanks to its combat system and I look forward to playing through it.

toejam_and_earl wiener

The only game brave enough to refer to its characters as wieners.

6. Toejam & Earl – Too high? Possibly. This game is just too weird not to love and represents the oddball nature of the Genesis so well. You practically have to play it with two players, but the journey to piece together the spaceship of a couple lost aliens is certainly memorable and humorous. This is also the rare game where the power-ups feel more like a curse as they make it so hard to control the characters. This is definitely the go-to game when a buddy stops over. Maybe now I can finally beat it?

5. Gunstar Heroes – A more forgiving run and gun game than Contra or SNK’s Metal Slug. It’s also faster and has its own distinct visual style. This is routinely cited by many as one of the best games on the Genesis so it was a must-include for Sega. It’s surprising that this series hasn’t been able to live on as a modern-looking version would be amazing. We’ll just have to settle for this release, I guess.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – It’s like the first game, only everything is better. Maybe you want to say the soundtrack is better on the original – that’s fine. Every level here though is probably superior to every level in the first game. The inclusion of Tails technically makes it two-player, but no one has fun controlling Tails. He’s the original “give this guy to your little brother/sister” character as he can’t die and has no control over what is happening on screen. Which is why if I play any game with one of my kids it will be this one.

streets 2 uppercut

Arguably the best brawler ever created, it’s amazing that Streets of Rage 2 has maintained a stranglehold on that title for so many years.

3. Streets of Rage 2 – Considered by many to be the best brawler ever created. Even better than Final Fight or Double Dragon II. Streets of Rage 2 stretches the genre about as far as it can go. It has a surprisingly deep combat system and it looks great as well. So many games have attempted to rip it off, and none have come all that close.

2. Shining Force – If Phantasy Star was Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest, then Shining Force was its answer to Fire Emblem. Shining Force is a criminally under-appreciated strategy RPG. Maybe we just didn’t have the attention span for it back in the day, which explains why Nintendo never bothered with Fire Emblem until much later, but I never knew anyone who talked about this franchise. It’s great though, but I’m surprised Sega went with the original over the better sequel. It’s not a big deal though. If you don’t like this style of gameplay, then Shining Force won’t win you over. I’m a bit of a junkie for this stuff though, hence the placement here.

bloodlines 3

Bloodlines was sort of dismissed upon arrival, maybe due to Castlevania fatigue, but it’s one of the best games in the long-running franchise.

1. Castlevania:  Bloodlines – The secret best 16-bit Castlevania? A lot of praise gets tossed at Super Castlevania IV, but Bloodlines is the superior game. It returns the player’s sprite to a more diminutive size giving the game more space. It features tried and true Castlevania gameplay and a great soundtrack as well. Like a lot of games on this console, it wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been at the time, but at least there’s time to rectify that. This is a fabulous game on the Genesis, and if you love Super Castlevania IV but haven’t played this one much or at all then now is as good a time as any to rectify that.

That’s my opinion of the Genesis Mini’s software. It’s a great collection of games and the sheer amount likely pushes this one ahead of the SNES Classic in terms of value. What remains to be seen is if Sega can deliver on the quality, and while I’m fairly confident the company can, it’s hardly a sure thing. Performing this exercise has, more or less, convinced me to get one myself. And thankfully, it looks like the Genesis Mini will be a lot easier to come by than either of Nintendo’s offerings initially were. And if you think we’re done with mini consoles, well you are mistaken. Konami just announced a TurboGrafx-16 Mini so there’s that to look forward to. And the specter of a Nintendo 64 Classic will continue to loom large over the market until it’s either released or we all collectively decide to believe Nintendo that it isn’t coming.


The Mini Console Wars are Upon Us

ps classicPlug and Play games have been around for several years now. They’re those cheap little Atari-styled joysticks you see at electronics stores that when plugged into a television allow one to play games like Pac-Man and Asteroid. They’re novelty machines and an inexpensive way to say to someone “Remember this?” I don’t know how successful they’ve ultimately been, but they’ve persisted and may be responsible for bigger publishers to look at and say there’s more here than meets the eye.

Companies love money, and they love finding ways to make money off of things that require little or no capital. When Nintendo launched its Virtual Console service with the Wii it was a simple and inexpensive way for the company to monetize outdated games. Previously, Nintendo’s path to doing so was via its portable line which was always a generation behind the main consoles in terms of power. Porting a SNES game to Gameboy Advance was cheap, and gamers liked playing games they enjoyed roughly five years past on-the-go. It was a novelty, but a good game is a good game. When consoles finally reached the point where DVD and Blu Ray mediums meant storage was no longer an issue, retro compilations came into fashion. Few sold big numbers, but they didn’t have to since the cost to emulate the software was fairly cheap.

pacman

The start of the retro craze?

All of that changed when Nintendo unveiled its NES Classic Edition System in 2016. The tiny device was immediately attractive to older gamers because it was so cute and tastefully done. Pre-packaged with 30 “classic” games at an attractive low MSRP of $60 helped to make it the hottest item of the 2016 holiday season. Nintendo famously could not meet demand, and it’s taken the company nearly two years to finally make the system readily available. Since then it’s also released the SNES Classic Edition. That came with a second controller and 21 games for the higher MSRP of $80, roughly approximating the price Nintendo has always placed on its NES games relative to its SNES games via the now dead Virtual Console service.

Since Nintendo had such unbelievable success with its products, it’s no surprise then that other companies have followed suit. Sega has licensed its Genesis hardware for similar mini consoles with the added feature that most have contained an actual cartridge slot to play physical Genesis software. The results have been less well received though as the Genesis knock-offs have been rather clunky. Prior to that, Sega was arguably ahead of the curve by licensing its product for portable systems. They too were pretty clunky though and I’ve never had someone actually recommend one to me.

neo geo x

SNK and Tommo tried to make the Neo Geo affordable and practical, but it didn’t work out.

The newest entrant to hit retail is actually an older one as well. SNK too was ahead of the curve with its Neo Geo X released in 2012. The NGX was basically the precursor to the Nintendo Switch. It was a handheld console with 20 pre-loaded Neo Geo games and room for expansion via game cards. It came with a dock that resembled the Neo Geo AES console and once placed inside that dock the games could be played on a television with the included AES style joystick. It was an ambitious, and expensive (but what Neo Geo item isn’t?), toy manufactured by Tommo as opposed to being a true SNK console. The hardcore fanbase didn’t have pleasant things to say. From stretched visuals to input lag, the NGX was more of a novelty than a true way to experience the Neo Geo. After all, most of the system’s best games are available across many consoles now and emulated quite well. SNK was so dissatisfied with the machine that it eventually ordered Tommo to cease and desist production less than a year after release.

The NGX may have been a failure, but it didn’t discourage SNK from trying something similar again. Likely influenced by Nintendo, the Neo Geo Mini is now a thing set for release next month. Unlike the Nintendo machines, the SNK Mini is both a portable and a dedicated home console machine. It resembles a little arcade cabinet and comes with 40 games pre-installed. It looks like it will be rather clunky and cramped when enjoyed as a portable, but it supports standard Neo Geo controller pads so it likely will get the job done when plugged into a television. Like all things Neo Geo, it’s pricier than the competition and will set you back 90-110 dollars, but SNK has an extremely loyal fanbase that will likely guarantee this thing is a sell-out.

neo geo mini

The Neo Geo Mini certainly scores points for cuteness, but how functional it is seems suspect when not plugged into a television.

And of course, the impetus for this post, is the just announced PlayStation Classic. Unlike the Neo Geo Mini, the PlayStation Classic looks to be a straight-up knock-off of Nintendo’s products. A mini PlayStation with 20 pre-loaded games and a single controller for $100, it’s a fairly no-frills duplicate. Sony has only announced 5 of the 20 games, and they’re a pretty representative snapshot of what the original PSX offered:  Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4. Sony made the decision to package the system with one standard PlayStation controller, which means no analog. The choice to do so is being spun as a way to celebrate the original release of the console nearly 25 years ago, but I’m guessing it was really done for cost reasons. The machine also resembles the original launch model right down to the additional port on the system’s rear (it’s guarded by a removable plastic tab and I don’t know if its present for aesthetic reasons on the PS Mini or if it’s hiding an additional function).

genesis classic

Sega has made half-hearted attempts to duplicate Nintendo’s success, but the results have been subpar at best.

The PlayStation was the highest selling console of the 1990s so there’s likely a lot of gamers who hold the system in high regard. Even so, there are factors working against Sony with the PlayStation Classic. For one, Sony has actually been very good at making its classic games easily available. The PlayStation 4 may have been left in the dust in some respects, but both the Vita and PS3 can download and emulate almost all of the biggest games released for the original PSX. They’re not free, but they’re also not prohibitively expensive and the cost varies from publisher to publisher. Likely Sony’s biggest ally in those days was Squaresoft, now Square-Enix, which has made almost all of its PSX games available in Sony’s Eshop. And if you’re one of the few who (like me) purchased a PlayStation TV then you have yet another avenue for experiencing these games. Even games like the ultra rare Suikoden II can be played rather effortlessly these days.

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The PlaySation Classic is about what you would expect.

The other issue Sony is going to run into is its price point and lack of analog support. Some classic PSX games made full use of the Dual Shock controller including Metal Gear Solid and Ape Escape. Other games were retro-fitted to utilize the new controller and made better, like Resident Evil 2. Since the console does utilize USB for its controller input it’s possible it will support the Dual Shock 3 and 4 as an input method, but it stinks to not just include that out of the box. And of course, the $100 price point is another tough sell. It follows the path Nintendo laid out with its retro machines of adding another 20 dollars for each successive console generation, but it does feel like there is a limit for what people are willing to spend. Gaming enthusiasts will still have interest, but will Sony be able to successfully attract that casual crowd that really drove sales for the Nintendo units? Considering the Sony brand isn’t as famous as Nintendo’s, despite the obvious success of the PlayStation consoles, it would appear that this unit is destined to be less popular. And on the business side of things, Sony just doesn’t have as many firs-party titles as Nintendo making the licensing more expensive. That’s likely reflected in the price-point, but it’s also possible that Sony also just isn’t going to pull in the same profit per unit that Nintendo can manage.

Revealing only 5 of the included 20 games from the start feels like a gamble on Sony’s part. Does the company think that the excitement of the initial announcement will be enough to drive pre-orders into near sell-out numbers? It’s possible, but it also feels like there’s a lack of confidence in the software. A lot of Sony’s biggest games come with obvious licensing hurdles. Gran Turismo boasted hundreds of actual vehicles. Tony Hark’s Pro Skater contains the likeness of dozens of unaffiliated skaters as well as sponsorships as well. Even Jet Moto and Wipeout featured in-game sponsorships or licensed music. It’s unlikely these licensing agreements factored in new retail releases down the road and license holders need to be re-engaged in some cases in order to include them. All of these things cost Sony money and might discourage the company from including some of the system’s most memorable games.

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The choice of controller may be a hindrance, but we’ll see.

Just like the remaining 15 games, it also remains to be seen how Sony views its newly launched Mini Console business. Does the world really need a PS2 Mini at this point? I’d argue no, but I also would not be surprised to see Sony try. They may wait to see if Sega or Nintendo jumps into that generation first though before dipping their toe into those waters. It’s also possible Sony sees this as the first of multiple mini PlayStation devices. Perhaps a second could mimic the redesign of the PSOne and include analog support. Maybe this one due out in December is to be expandable or new versions could arrive that include a different variety of games. We don’t yet know if there will be regional differences with these consoles as there were with the Nintendo ones too. And lastly, we don’t know how well this system will be at emulating these games. While many hold up from a fun-factor perspective, visually they have not aged well and may look troublesome on modern televisions. Sony at least has experience with the PlayStation TV (I bet Sony really kicks themselves now for not designing the PS TV to resemble a mini PlayStation) so we know they can make a quality plug and play device at a modest price point, but we also don’t know if we can expect the same level of quality from this device. All of these questions, and the fact that I still own most of my favorite PSX era games in a physical form, has me less than enthused about the PlayStation Classic. I’m not pre-ordering it, but I’m also not ruling out a purchase somewhere down the road. It is fun to think about though, and it certainly reaffirms the notion that we’re not through yet with mini consoles.


Gaming Controllers: Your conduit to a virtual world

When it comes to video game development, there are a lot of factors to consider when crafting the perfect game. Visuals have always been a top priority as they’re the simplest way to demonstrate quality to the consumer so the necessary hardware is required to craft some pretty graphics. A fast processor is certainly required or else those pretty games will be choppy and slow. Audio is obviously important, as who would ever want to go back to mono? When it comes to actually interacting with a game and that little avatar on the screen, few things are as important as a controller. There are a lot of different factors that go into creating the perfect controller. Before the NES the joystick was the preferred input method, which was replaced by the directional pad or rocker switch, which has now mostly been supplanted by the analog stick or nub. Those early Atari controllers usually only featured one action button, now anything less than eight is unacceptable. As games have advanced through the decades, the controller has been asked to do more. Let’s pay tribute to those who have done it the best.

First, let’s also make some dishonorable mentions, those controllers that failed to impress.

nintendo-64-controller-gray-flatNintendo 64 – How to rank this one? You all know it, that oddly shaped, three-handled device released in 1996 alongside the Nintendo 64. It wasn’t the first controller to feature an analog thumb-stick, but it certainly made it standard, which is about the only good thing I can say about it. It was chunky, the face buttons felt cheap, and the shoulder buttons offered little satisfaction. The Z-trigger was a nice touch, but unless you were playing one of the many 3D platformers featured on the N64, this one was lacking.

images-222Atari Jaguar – Just look at this thing. If you never handled one consider yourself lucky. Ignoring that the system was a terrible waste of money, this controller was a beast of unwieldy proportions. See that key pad? Of course you do because it’s gigantic. That thing had inserts that could be snapped over it depending on the game, but it was mostly a tacky, useless feature that just made the controller obtuse. The cheap feel didn’t help things either.

All right, with those out of the way let’s move onto the top five. For the controller to be considered, it had to be a “stock” controller during a system’s lifespan, meaning it came bundled with a new console. I also tried to give some deference to the controllers that paved the way, otherwise this top five would be really slanted towards the modern additions since developers have naturally had many opportunities to improve upon the designs of yesterday. Before I get to the top five, let’s first pay homage to the godfather of the modern controller:

nes-controller-flatThe NES controller – It’s the one that standardized the modern layout of basically every controller. The d-pad on the left, and action buttons on the right. Maybe the squared edges weren’t the best idea but the re-designed “dog bone” bundled with the later model NES rectified that mistake. It’s been improved upon by leaps and bounds, but few people thought at the time there was anything wrong with it.

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5. The Neo Geo CD Controller – Neo Geo is the console for SNK and their many arcade games. It was a high-end console for arcade enthusiasts as the giant cartridges were essentially identical to the arcade counterpart. As such, it was really expensive. It was also heavily populated by the fighters, and since every arcade cabinet is equipped with a joystick, the Neo Geo was bundled with one as well. When the Neo Geo CD came out though, it came with a more traditional controller. The layout is the standard established by the Super Nintendo with four face buttons arranged in a diamond shape, but the thing that stands out is that analog slider type of input on the left. Quite simply, it’s the finest analog stick or slider I’ve ever encountered, which is incredible since it’s over twenty years old at this point. It has a satisfying click to it and enough resistance for more precise actions. I’m not sure how well it would hold up with modern 3D games, but for 2D games it’s flawless. And best of all, it’s the only analog thumb-stick I’ve ever encountered that’s usable with fighting games. Anyone who tried to play Street Fighter IV on an Xbox 360 can tell you how impossible a task that is.

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4. Sega Genesis Six Button Controller – Not a stock controller initially, the six button version of the Genesis controller was the preferred controller by gaming enthusiasts who had a Genesis. And if you were really into fighting games, it was probably your favorite across all consoles. It maintained the standard Genesis d-pad, which included easy diagonals making it superior to the one offered by the Big N. The three buttons layout though was suboptimal, and the six button controller rectified that shortcoming. The layout made it super easy for games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat to access the strongest punch and kick attacks. By the time the Genesis 3 and the CDX came to be the controller even came with a turbo function (in case you forgot, gamers in the 90’s thought turbo was the greatest)! The only criticism that can be levied on this one is the size. Being quite small, it takes some getting used to in the hands of an adult male.

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3. The Xbox One – It’s more or less the same as the 360, which is probably what most gamers wanted. The ergonomics of the controller are pretty tried and true and this point, though while most controllers are trended more towards the smaller side, Microsoft still likes to keep their controller a little thicker than others. While the original Xbox controller was too much like the Dreamcast in that department (which was a contender for a dishonorable mention), the Xbox One controller has found a nice balance. The only thing holding it back is that damn D-pad. One of the measuring sticks of a controller is how well it handles all genres of games, and the Xbox One’s inability to properly control a quality 2D fighter is a hindrance carried over from its predecessor. If you don’t like 2D fighters though, a genre that has certainly seen its popularity apex long ago, then you’re probably good with this one.

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2. The Super Nintendo – The Super Nintendo is essentially the root of all modern controllers (excepting, of course, the oddball Wii controllers) as it established the preferred layout for virtually every game. A directional input on the left, diamond shaped action buttons on the right, and shoulder buttons for easy trigger finger access. The rounded edge made it comfortable, and the center of the controller was open for less important buttons and functions which is something future controllers took advantage of. The Super Nintendo controller was essentially perfect for its era. While most gamers would agree the the d-pad on the Genesis controller was superior, it wasn’t able to match the feel of the SNES controller, nor was the d-pad advantage enough to make up for the extra buttons. Oddly enough, Nintendo has been the one company to not really carry forward the SNES controller’s design. After it came the N64 and Virtual Boy, which also featured a terrible input device, before the Gamecube sort of brought Nintendo back to the old design. The Wii and Wii U obviously went in completely different directions for their input device, but at least they’ve had secondary controllers that resemble the SNES one. Sometimes it’s better to just stick with what works.

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  1. The Dual Shock 4 – Stick with what works seems to be an unofficial motto for Sony and its Playstation controllers. The original Playstation featured a controller that was essentially a SNES controller with two extra shoulder buttons and handles for added comfort. After the N64 made analog a big deal, it was replaced by the Dual Shock which added a vibrating function and twin analog sticks. The PS2 and PS3 did little to change from the Dual Shock, but the Dual Shock 4 brought about some slight modifications that have helped to make it gaming’s best all-around controller. The D-pad is still placed in a prominent spot despite the fact that it’s utilized less than an analog stick, but the analog input manages to remain in a thumb-friendly zone. The rear triggers are comfortable and responsive, and the diamond layout for the face buttons is preserved. Sure, the touchpad in the center of the controller is a novelty addition, but it’s not one that takes away from the controller’s main functions. It’s the one controller I really can’t complain about as it has a nice weight to it, it’s durable, and never lacking for buttons. Good luck to those who try and top it, but hopefully Sony continues to stick with what works.

The Complicated Legacy of Sonic the Hedgehog

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If you were playing video games in the early 90’s you’ll know that finger wag from a mile away.

When it comes to video game characters, the most popular one of all-time isn’t up for debate. That would be Mario, the man of many occupations who first thwarted the mighty Donkey Kong to save his love (or was a pusher of animal cruelty depending on your point of view). Mario is a character that passes the grandparent test, which is, even your grandparents know who he is. For a time though in the early 90’s, a character rose up to rival Mario’s popularity and may have even eclipsed it for a brief moment. That character is Sonic is the Hedgehog, the mascot for the Sega company who’s responsible for putting a Sega Genesis into the homes of more Americans than the Super Nintendo.

Sonic was a hit, and he always was supposed to be. Look up how a character is created and you likely won’t find a more formulaic character than Sonic. He epitomized 90’s “edge” and “cool” and kids were supposed to love him and think he’s way cooler (way past cooler?) than that pudgy plumber on the other guy’s console. He starred in his own gaming franchise and made the leap to television and basically soared through the first half of the 90’s, but sadly his popularity would not last.

The original Sonic the Hedgehog released in 1991 is a pretty simple game at its heart. It was a platform game by name only. Very little time was spent navigating floating platforms and hunting for power-ups and warp zones. Instead Sonic just wanted you to hold down on the Right button and power on ahead. Sonic was fast, even though hedgehogs aren’t known for their speed (or for the color blue), and the object of each level was simply to get to the end. Sure there were rings to collect which triggered bonus rounds, but that stuff was secondary. Some levels would slow things down, such as the dreaded water ones, but never to the point where Sonic ever felt like Mario. Sonic would race through the level, leap over enemies, shoot through loops, bounce off springs, and really only pause to battle the villainous Dr. Robotnik (referred to as Eggman in Japan and in all modern Sonic games).

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Sonic 2 introduced Tails, Sonic 3 would add Knuckles, Sonic CD would bring Amy. Now there’s like thirty more clogging things up.

Sonic games were like an adrenaline rush. It was both exciting and nerve-racking to have Sonic zipping along at top speed knowing at any moment an enemy could pop out or a spike pit could be looming. Besting the levels was one part reflex and another part repetition. There was an element of trial and error to Sonic that rarely become frustrating. Sonic was also a single player game, but Sonic 2 would introduce the character Tails and shoe-horn cooperative play into the game. As player 2, Tails was not fun to control because the game followed Sonic and only Sonic with Tails often getting left behind off camera. He couldn’t die, so that was a plus, but he didn’t really bring anything to the gameplay experience. Players could elect to control Tails and only Tails, but he was basically just a palette swap of Sonic, only cuter. Sonic 3 would improve on the co-op dynamic by allowing players to control Tails in flight. He could lift Sonic to hard to reach places which made the Sonic and Tails adventure a little different from the Sonic solo mode.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its sister title, Sonic & Knuckles, probably represents Sonic’s peak as well as his fall. The game became bigger and introduced a new character, Knuckles the echidna (whatever that is) who could glide and climb walls with his spiny knuckles. He was an antagonist in Sonic 3, and a playable character in Sonic & Knuckles. Sonic 3 was a big game compared to the previous titles. There was more emphasis placed on exploration which slowed things down just a touch. The graphics were also overhauled and allegedly Michael Jackson was responsible for most of the soundtrack. It was also meant to be bigger, as Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were supposed to be one game, but Sega likes money so it rushed the game to market. Sonic & Knuckles was the only game to feature Sega’s lock-on technology which allowed players to attach the prior Sonic games to the cart in a pretty ingenious maneuver. For Sonic 2, this meant gamers could play as Knuckles for a new take on things. For Sonic 3, this essentially opened up the whole game and allowed for saving as well which finally made collecting those pesky chaos emeralds worthwhile.

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Sonic wasn’t content to dominate just games, he had to have television too.

While this was all going down, Sonic was also succeeding elsewhere. On television, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was airing on weekday afternoons. Featuring everyone’s favorite nerd Jaleel White as the voice of Sonic, the show was a pretty typical children’s cartoon with cool protagonists and dim-witted villains. On Saturday mornings, a separate Sonic cartoon, simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog, was airing on ABC. It too featured White as the voice of Sonic but this show struck a more serious tone. Robotnik was the antagonist seeking to “robotocize” the population and succeeded in doing so with Sonic’s beloved Uncle Chuck in the first episode. Sonic was joined by Tails as well as a cast of character not featured in the games. Together they referred to themselves as freedom fighters and often employed guerrilla tactics to stop Robotnik and slow his progress. It was actually a pretty cool show, and both looked and sounded better than Adventures and the serious tone helped make it stand out. It doesn’t quite hold up for adult viewing, and Sonic for some reason needed to have a food obsession (chili dogs) like a certain group of turtles, but it’s still a pretty interesting interpretation of the games. Also of note, is Sonic’s solo adventure for the ill-fated Sega CD peripheral. I covered that in a full review years ago but it’s often heralded as Sonic’s best outing, it’s just too bad so few got to play it since the Sega CD was both pricey and awful.

Together with Sonic, Sega was able to claim a partial victory, though not a resounding one, in the 16 Bit Wars, but victory would be short-lived. Sega hastily tried to bring Sonic into the third dimension with Sonic 3D Blast, a dreadful top-down platformer released on the aging Genesis and ported to Sega’s new console. The industry moved on and Sega tried to stay one step ahead of its rivals with the Sega Saturn, a CD based system ill-equipped to handle the demands of 3D processing. The Saturn quickly fell behind not only Nintendo and its Nintendo 64, but also new-comer Sony and its Playstation. And in a truly puzzling maneuver, Sonic never had a true outing for the Saturn. He would skip the whole console generation while his old rival Mario wowed industry insiders and gamers alike with his performance in Super Mario 64. Sonic would not receive a full-fledged outing until Sonic Adventure in 1999 for the Sega Dreamcast.

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If we want to be positive about Sonics more recent adventures, Sonic Generations wasn’t too bad.

Sonic Adventure was the hedgehog’s proper introduction to 3D and the results were a bit mixed. People at the time seemed to be pretty delighted with the return of Sega’s mascot, and the game looked great. The title was a hit and helped get the Dreamcast off to a decent start, but the momentum died quickly as the shadow of the Playstation 2 loomed large. At that time, people seemed willing to overlook Adventure’s short-comings, namely the giant cast of characters that forced non-speed related gameplay into the mix, but they were less willing to do so when Adventure 2 arrived in 2001. Most agreed that playing as Sonic was still fast and still fun (and newcomer Shadow played exactly the same), but 2/3rds of the game was devoted to scavenger hunts as Knuckles/Rogue and mech battles as Tails/Eggman. Those slower segments were mostly panned, and rightly so. This is about the time people started yearning for Sonic to go back to his roots.

There was a brief reprieve for Sonic via Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance. By now, Sega had folded as a console manufacturer and turned to publishing its games on other systems. This helped to land Sonic on handhelds where he was free to be himself. A series of games on both the GBA and the Nintendo DS were mostly well-received, if not spectacular. Simultaneously, Sonic continued to spin his wheels on the home consoles. Games like Sonic Heroes, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic and the Black Knight were mediocre to just plain awful. Sega seemed willing to try everything and anything with Sonic, and few times did it work out.

Meanwhile, Nintendo has mostly kept its star happy with quality main titles. Yeah, Mario has been whored out to the dreaded spin-off more times than can be counted, but the main titles in the Mario franchise have mostly been great. I’m talking about games like Mario Sunshine, Galaxy 1 and 2, 3D Land, and so on. Sonic has even struggled when going back to the well with 2D as Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was a pretty big bummer of a game. Sonic’s brand and reputation has been so tarnished that it’s now a surprise when he stars in a legitimately good game.

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Archie, which has seemingly never stopped believing in Sonic all these years, is celebrating his 25th in style. Odds are their comic will be better than whatever piece of crap game Sega offers up.

So what is Sonic’s legacy? Is Sonic one of the most beloved characters in video game history? A symbol of quality and excellence on par with the rival he will be forever linked with? Or is Sonic more of a flash in the pan; a product of the times that failed to adapt with the changing tastes of the masses? Is Sonic the video game equivalent of disco? When I think of Sonic the Hedgehog I’m taken back to many days and nights with my Genesis. I remember playing the original title at my nana’s house and running out of the bedroom announcing to all of the adults that I had finally beaten the game. I remember seeing Sonic transform into Super Sonic for the first time while playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and being totally captivated. I remember days spent mastering the bonus stage of Sonic 3 in my quest to collect all of the chaos emeralds so I could experience Super Sonic in that game (I also remember doing the same with Tails hoping to uncover a Super Tails, I was very let-down with the end result). That’s the Sonic I choose to remember. Thankfully, I haven’t had many extended experiences with the modern titles, or even the modern cartoons like Sonic X and Sonic Boom. I still know Sonic’s brand has suffered irreparably. I loved Sonic when I was 10 and I imagine most ten year olds today think he sucks, and it would be hard to argue with that. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, and Sega is reportedly planning some big announcements. Hopefully they focus less on the glitz and just make a good game already. Sonic can’t take much more of this.


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