Episode 10: Sega 32X Part 2_Top 5 Games

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In Part 2 of Autofire Power Hour’s Sega 32X blowout, Brian and Ray give their Top 5 32X Games!

We will discuss and argue the merits of our Top 5 lists making and argument for why these games are must haves and validate, to some extent, Sega of America’s failed attempt to extend the life of the Sega Genesis.

Enjoy!

 

Top 5 32X Games Notes

 

Brian’s Top 5 32X Games:

  • Kolibri
  • Knuckles Chaotix
  • Virtua Fighter
  • Blackthorne
  • Tempo

 

 

Ray’s Top 5 32X Games:

  • Virtua Fighter
  • Knuckles Chaotix
  • Shadow Squadron
  • Kolibri
  • Blackthorne

 

 

Virtua Fighter – 1993, Arcade

Genre:  Fighting Game

Developer:  Sega-AM2

Publisher: Sega

Ports: Sega Saturn, Sega 32X

Story:

While much of the first Virtua Fighter’s story would be retroactively filled in by newer games and merchandise, the basic premise of the first game is that martial artist Akira Yuki, specialising in the forgotten art form of “Hakkyoku-ken” enters the World Fighting Tournament, in an attempt to be recognised as the greatest fighter in the world.  (segaretro)

Notable Releases in 1993:

Notes:

Virtua Fighter was also released for the Sega 32X, which in Japan debuted after the Saturn version (but before the Saturn version in other territories). Originally planned to be a Sega Neptune launch title, it suffers from even lower polygon counts than the Saturn version and various other cutbacks, but is otherwise relatively faithful to the original, subsequently being cited as one of the better games for the system. While the 32X renders fewer polygons at any one time, they are generally more “stable”, with clipping and flickering being mostly absent from port (although some animation issues still remain). It is also the only 32X game with support for 16:9 widescreen displays.  (segaretro)

 

Kolibri – 1995, Sega 32X

Genre:  Shooter/Puzzle Platformer

Developer:  Novotrade/ Ed Annunziata, József Molnár

Publisher: Sega

Ports: Sega 32X

Story:

Long ago, a crystal from outer space embedded itself in the earth and started creating life. Soon another similar crystal crashed to earth and started to destroy what the first crystal had created and started to sap away its strength. Before being totally destroyed the crystal gave a lone hummingbird its power. It is up to this hummingbird to save the earth.  (wiki)

Notable Releases in 1995:

Notes:

Developed by Hungarian studio Novotrade, Kolibri is a game that showcases the 2D capabilities of Sega’s 32X add-on while providing an engaging and original experience. The style of gameplay depends on the level. Sometimes the pace is fairly slow, with the goal being to figure out how to get to the exit. Sometimes it involves defeating all of a specific type of enemy. Other times it involves finding a key hidden somewhere in the oftentime maze-like levels to open a door. Most of the time it involves avoiding the hummingbirds’ natural predators, like frogs, scorpians, snakes and chameleons. (It’s tough being so tiny, after all!) Most than half of the game’s 19 stages consist of these nonlinear puzzle-solving style areas, though the rest of the stages are rounded out with typical sidescroller shooter levels.

The controls are pretty simple, and are rather reminiscent of Novotrade’s other acclaimed series, Ecco The Dolphin. A is the action button. You use it to activate doors (once you have the keys) and to drink nectar from flowers, which can produce health powerups. You can also press A to make your shield stronger, but this only works if you have the right powerup. The B button fires a weapon. If you hold the weapon while moving backwards, Kolibri’s facing will lock and you can move anywhere while facing the desired direction. Kolibri has many different types of lasers he can fire from his beak. Which one you have can be seen by his coloration. All of Kolibri’s colors are based off of real hummingbirds, which is a pretty cool bonus. Lastly, the C button is used to make Kolibri zip in any direction, similar to how Ecco The Dolphin could gain a burst of speed out of nowhere.  (Hardcore Gaming 101)

Interview with Zsolt Dvornik

Zsolt Dvornik is the man behind Kolibri’s unique and amazing soundtrack. He also did the music for Exo Squad and Cyborg Justice. As of 2012, he teaches jazz guitar.

How did you get involved with Novotrade and The Kolibri Project?

Well, I was responsible for music and sound effects. I had to write intricate programs and use difficult tools. There were no tools available. We had to write our own tools.

What was it like working at Novotrade? Was it easy? Hard?

Well, we were young. We really enjoyed making games. It was different than an everyday workplace. We were all very enthusiastic. We wanted to do our best. It was a really nice work environment with nice people. It was an office workplace. We were able to shape our workplace how we like. It was cool.

The music in Kolibri is beautiful. What were some of your inspirations when making the soundtrack?

Oh, thank you. We had to have the music sound like how it was supposed to sound. We had a set of instruments we had to use and used them to make the sounds and sound effects.

Was it difficult to translate your music to the Genesis synth?

We made all the tools ourselves. There was nothing to translate. It was all made for the 32X.

What were some other game related projects you worked on?

I did music and sound effects for Cyborg Justice. I also worked on Exo Squad.

I remember Exo Squad’s music. That had really good music too.

Well, that one’s different. It’s rock; it’s a different style of music. In an action game it almost doesn’t matter what it sounds like. If you need a trumpet, you’ve got a trumpet.

What was the gaming scene like in Hungary back in the late 80s and early 90s?

It was a long time ago. I wasn’t really into games. I was more into computers and music. The Nintendo and the Genesis were not that big at the time. Computers were more popular.

 

Knuckles Chaotix – 1995, Sega 32X

Genre:  Platformer

Developer:  Sonic Team

Publisher: Sega

Ports: Sega 32X

Story:

Knuckles’ Chaotix is set several months after Sonic & Knuckles, on an island known in-game as Newtrogic High Zone.

In the English manual, Knuckles guards Carnival Island, a large high-tech amusement park. Dr. Robotnik goes there to find the Power Emerald that supplies electricity to the whole island so he can use it to fuel his evil devices. Dr. Robotnik traps Vector, Charmy, and Mighty, who were visiting the island, in his Combi Confiner that freezes them in time and is about to do the same to Espio the Chameleon until Knuckles chases him away. Knuckles then discovers that he can rescue one friend at a time using Ring Power, which holds the two partners together like a rubber band. All the characters then work together to save Carnival Island from Robotnik before tomorrow’s grand opening.

The group travel through the island’s “attractions”, fighting Robotnik and his machines along the way. After finishing all levels, the Chaotix arrive back at the game’s main hub, only to discover that it has been hijacked by Metal Sonic. The Chaotix fight and defeat him, destroying the world entrance in the process. Metal Sonic is severely damaged, so Robotnik transfers his CPU to a larger, tougher body using the seventh Chaos Ring, trapping the Chaotix in a small room with the enhanced Metal Sonic. After another fight, the team manages to defeat him again. The ending depends on whether or not the player collected all of the Chaos Rings. If they are not collected, Metal Sonic is seen burning an entire city. If they are, however, Robotnik and Metal Sonic are repelled, and the Chaotix are seen standing in front of the peaceful city with Sonic and Tails.  (wiki)

Notable Releases in 1995:

Notes:

With the exception of Mighty, who was limited to a minor cameo on a ‘Missing Persons’ poster in Sonic Generations, all the Chaotix members have become recurring characters in the Sonic series. The group appears in Sonic Heroes, Shadow The Hedgehog, Sonic Rivals 2, and Sonic Generations; Espio is a playable character in the arcade game Sonic the Fighters and Vector is playable in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games and its sequels. The group has also had several storylines in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic series produced by Archie Comics.

In Sonic Generations, two songs from Knuckles’ Chaotix, “Tube Panic” and “Door Into Summer”, were included in the game in the “EggRobo Rush” mission and the Collection Room, respectively.  In 2017, hackers successfully ported Knuckles’ Chaotix to the NES Classic Edition through the use of RetroArch.  (wiki)

 

Blackthorne – 1994, Super Nintendo

Genre:  Cinimatic Platformer

Developer:  Blizzard (Paradox ported to 32X)

Publisher: Interplay

Ports: MS-DOS, Sega 32X, GBA, Windows, Mac-OS

Story:

Blackthorne is set on the planet Tuul, which has existed for centuries without human knowledge. All of this time, Tuul’s people have been ruled over by a single shaman who “was blessed with all knowledge”. Years before the game begins, Thoros, the latest ruler, finds it near impossible to choose between his two sons as the next ruler. Believing it will solve the dilemma, he leads them to the deserts and kills himself. His body becomes two stones, light and dark, and he gives one to each boy to rule their own kingdoms respectively. The people of the lightstone form the kingdom of Androth, and the people of the darkstone form Ka’dra’suul. But while Androth respects their stone, Ka’dra’suul reject theirs, and are eventually transformed into monsters by it. In this time, a ka’dra named Sarlac seizes power. He forms an army and leads them against Androth. Knowing of his people’s doom, the ruler of Androth, King Vlaros, with the aid of the Androthi magician Galadril, sends his son Kyle to Earth to save his life. Vlaros also gives Kyle the lightstone for safe keeping.

20 years later, Kyle has become a renowned military captain and mercenary. After breaking out of prison facing court martial, Kyle begins having strange dreams, and is eventually confronted by Galadril. He is told that it is time to return to Tuul and save his people. The game begins here with Kyle setting out to kill Sarlac and reclaim his throne.

Notable Releases in 1994:

Notes:

Blackthorne was initially released for the SNES and PC around the same time. It’s pretty clear that it was developed for the SNES then lazily ported to the PC – there’s no real save function, only passwords, and it’s lacking a real control config. On the other hand, the PC version has some gore effects that were censored out of the SNES version. The SNES version mostly has an atmospheric soundtrack, but the PC version is the only version with actual music running throughout the game. It’s all MIDI, but it’s pretty good. Also, since the game was designed for the low SNES resolution, the remaining portions of the screen in the PC version are taken up by the inventory bar. Otherwise, the games are essentially identical.

On paper, the 32X version should be the definitive port, considering it has better graphics and four new levels, which take place on a snowy mountain. In practice, though, it’s a bit lacking. The visuals are a mixed bag – the backgrounds look fantastic, and there’s a lot of extra detail that helps make the game look less drab. On the other hand, the sprites are terrible. Not only are they computer rendered, but the proportions are ridiculously off, so Blackthorne has gigantic shoulders and a tiny head, and Sarlac kinda just looks stupid. The soundtrack tries to be like the SNES version, but the FM synth of the Genesis sound chip just isn’t up to it, and it comes off as really quite pointless. (Why couldn’t they have just used the music from the PC game, which sounded perfectly okay even as FM Adlib?) There’s actually blood in this version, but it’s not quite as copious as it was in the PC release. The game was actually ported by Paradox Development as opposed to Blizzard themselves, which probably accounts for its sketchy quality. This version was also later ported to the Mac, running in double resolution. The backgrounds, however, are just upscaled and the hideous sprites look none the better.

Blackthorne was also ported to the Game Boy Advance, along with The Lost Vikings and Rock ‘N Roll Racing, two of their other 16-bit games. The major problem is that Blackthorne’s stages consist of static screens. Since the GBA resolution is too small to fit the entire screen, instead it zooms in and forces scrolling. In addition to looking exceedingly ugly, it also forces too many blind falls or jumps. The brightness has been turned up to nullify the lighting issues from the original GBA, but now it just looks washed out and nasty. The controls are awkward, since some of them are mapped to the shoulder buttons, and the animation has taken a huge cut. It’s pretty bad, mostly because it just isn’t suited for a portable platform without receiving a massive overhaul.  (Hardcore Gaming 101)

 

Shadow Squadron – 1995, Sega 32X

Genre:  Space Shooter

Developer:  Sega

Publisher:  Sega

Ports:

Story:

The player controls a recently promoted flight officer of the squadron charged with defending the critical “Outpost 51” from an invading alien fleet.  (wiki)

Notable Releases in 1995:

Notes:

The player controls one of two star fighters; like Star Wars Arcade and Star Fox, the ships are built with polygon type shapes. The player can control the tilt of the ship, and can fly in any direction. There is a target locking system that helps the player find enemies quickly, as well as shows which enemies are closer by a number at the target’s side. Besides lasers, both ships also have their own type of torpedo. An energy shield can be turned on and off when needed, to save energy. A circular radar display appears at the bottom of the screen, which also tilts as the ship does. A next target arrow shows the player which direction the nearest enemy is.

There are two main type of enemies, fighters and carrier ships. Both types of ships must be destroyed before the current mission is complete on some levels, others only the carrier ships must be eliminated. There are Easy and Hard settings, and an object viewer option to get a closer look at enemies. If the player chooses the second fighter they will have the option of choosing auto-pilot, which allows the computer to fly and the player to concentrate on fighting. In two player mode player one can control the gunner and the second can control the pilot. There are six missions, and before each a tactical display shows the player’s ship and all targets.  (wiki)

Things start out small, with a mere three capital ships, each with their own contingent of fighters. Once you figure out their weak points, the early capital ships are easy to dispatch and all of the fighters in this game explode after a single hit. This may sound easy, but it won’t be long before your taking on massive ships and loads of vessels single-handedly. This isn’t really a game we’re you’ll engage in intense dogfights with enemy fighters, since the fighters go down easy and are rarely even the designated targets. No, this game is about engaging in David and Goliath duels with ships ten to twenty times your size, taking them apart piece by piece, until they explode into a cloud of flat-shaded polygons.

These battles can get intense, as you go into each with only a limited amount of energy. Overusing the after burner, firing you’re weapons aimlessly, and firing your ships special weapons early and often will almost always result in a quick death. In this game, you have to ration your energy carefully. Even a single screw up can completely turn the tide of a battle. One moment you’re cruising around blowing up capital ships, carefully watching your reserves to make sure you have enough energy left to unleash a flurry of powerful shots against the mission’s most powerful vessel…then you accidentally bump into your next target and lose most of your shielding. Which is what also powers that big gun you were going to use. So you’re kind of boned. The two different fighters you can choose from deal with their energy reserves differently, but both punish reckless usage of the energy.  (segabits)

 

Tempo – 1995, Sega 32X

Genre:  Platformer

Developer:  Sega, Red Company

Publisher:  Sega

Ports:

Story:

The player controls a recently promoted flight officer of the squadron charged with defending the critical “Outpost 51” from an invading alien fleet.  (wiki)

Notable Releases in 1995:

Notes:

The animated backgrounds and imagery is similar to the Rayman games by Ubisoft. The game uses hand-drawn graphics for the backgrounds and sprites. In part because it was released on the failed 32X add-on, it failed to find an audience. Sega nonetheless tried again with two sequels: Tempo Jr. in 1995 for the Game Gear, and Super Tempo in 1998 for the Sega Saturn. Both likewise failed to find an audience.  (wiki)

Not only did Tempo show what the 32X could do in the right hands, but it also tried to expand on what mascot platformers were capable of.

That much is clear by looking at one of the game’s more distinctive features: its art style. At first glance, it looks like many of the game’s artistic choices were made to flex the 32X’s muscle. That’s why Tempo emphasizes its fluid animations, vibrant colors, and pre-rendered 3D bosses: because the technology made them possible. Look a little bit closer, though, and you’ll find the game has a more well realized art style than it initially lets on. Some levels make you feel like you’ve wandered into a music video; they bombard you with flashy pop art and rapidly changing colors, and you pass by enough conveyor belts and monitors to think you’ve stumbled upon a factory-turned-dance-club. (The stylish soundtrack only deepens the feeling.) Other levels are just cartoony, their soft pastels and curvy geometric backdrops resembling cartoons from the 1970s. In any case, the two work well together to create the exuberant dance vibe that Tempo thrives on. Even the bosses’ claymation appearance contributes to the game’s nostalgic overtones.

And we can’t ignore the game’s protagonist, either. His enthusiastic personality helps to set him apart from similar characters at the time. Where other characters were marketed largely for their attitude (think Bubsy and Aero the Acrobat), Tempo’s style is just one part of his personality. He’s also a joyful and expressive guy. Watching him run through the levels, you get the feeling that he’s happy to be here at all. And the animations only reinforce that feeling: Tempo’s loose, rubbery movements lend him both flair and a fun personality.

The only flaw with the game that’s worth addressing is the gameplay, strangely enough. Now this isn’t to say that Tempo is poorly constructed or anything like that. If anything, the game demonstrates a solid understanding of platforming principles. Yet for all its understanding, Tempo is unable to adapt those principles to its own circumstances. The story tracks the eponymous hero’s journey across a dance show called the Major Minor Show, but how much of that is actually reflected in play? Very little, from the looks of it. Gameplay consists of methodically exploring each level for hidden goodies and carefully navigating a sequence of tricky jumps. While such conventions would make sense for a traditional platformer, they lack both the rhythm and the expressive qualities that the disco motifs seem to demand.

Indeed, the game’s dance themes are less a vital part of the experience and more an occasional concession. Or at least they are where the gameplay is concerned. You’ll dance for a few seconds, sure, or maybe you’ll collect a power-up that replaces the music with yodeling, but these are temporary, and they do little to affect the game’s tone. After all, not many of the power-ups you collect actually change how you engage with the levels. They’re tools for tackling challenges, not tools for meaningfully expressing yourself through play. Katy (Tempo’s partner) proves this well enough; she serves the same purpose an option would in Gradius.  (Hardcore Gaming 101)

 

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