Console:  Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo

Grade:  B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 44th

Publisher:  Viacom New Media

Year:  1995

Genre:  Depressing

Puzzle games occupied a relatively high number of spots on our Sega Genesis Tournament, especially considering how few were released as a percentage of the Genesis’ library.  The same will probably hold true if we ever get around to doing a SNES version, too.  If you find that to be a bit surprising, keep in mind that we focus on which games are still fun to play even now, and puzzle games tend to retain their appeal better than most other genres.  The reason is simple enough – more so than any other type of game, puzzle games depend on their originality for appeal.  You can’t just throw in some prettier graphics or add a movie license to Tetris the way you might for a platformer.  And while that makes it a lot tougher to make a good puzzle game (not all of these original ideas are great, after all), the ones that succeed are less likely to be made obsolete a few years later.  Good puzzle gameplay is timeless.

Just about everything else about Zoop, however, is not.  This game screams mid-90s, from its stupid name, to its visual style, to the simple fact that it was published by Viacom during that era when big media companies (Fox, Virgin, etc.) all tried their hand at publishing video games.  It is, in nearly every way, a great big corporation trying to capitalize on the whole “alternative” trend in style but not in substance.  Which is really what the mid-90s were all about – mainstream “non-conformity”.  Corporate-sponsored counter-culture.  What?  You thought all those identical, tuneless alt-rock bands you were watching at Woodstock ’94 or on MTV were really preaching an anti-establishment message?  Don’t be so mayo.

Garish colors and weird level select screens?  This is Viacom being edgy.

For people around my age, seeing a throwback like this can actually be a bit disquieting.  Everybody likes to think that things haven’t changed that much since their teenage years, but the15 year mark is kind of that point where the delusion starts to reach a breaking point.  Things change so gradually you don’t even notice them when its happening, but after this much time it gets harder not to notice.  It’s not that you’re in complete denial, sitting around in a flannel shirt at a coffee shop listening to Tripping Daisy, it’s more that you’ve completely forgotten that’s what people used to do back in 1995.  Admit it – you think that the way things are now was basically the way they were back then.  Oh sure, we have a better internet and more people have cell phones and stuff, but from a non-technological standpoint, everything else stayed the same, right?  It’s only when you catch a rerun from the first season of Friends or youtube a Smashing Pumpkins video that you look at it and notice that the haircuts and clothes look really stupid.  And then you dig out the yearbook and realize that you and your friends all had those same stupid haircuts and clothes back then, too.

What happened?  You used to be young.  And hip.  I mean, you wore grunge clothes and rocked that shaggy, center-parted haircut like nobody’s business.  Then somewhere along the line, buying clothes at the thrift store became something you did out of necessity rather than fashion.  You told the barber to cut your hair differently than the last time (unless you’re David Spade).  Got a job (again, unless you’re David Spade).  Turned thirty.  Probably got married and had some kids. And now they’re the cool ones and you’re just… old.

God, could this box BE any more mid-90s?

So yeah, play Zoop.  It’s quite possibly the most unintentionally depressing game ever made.

Editor’s Note:  Writing about puzzle games turned out to be a less interesting read than being bummed out about getting old, so sorta forgot to spend much time actually discussing the gameplay of Zoop.  If you’re really interested, here’s a pretty good review from Sega 16, although they didn’t enjoy it quite as much as we did.


Chase HQ 2

Console:  Sega Genesis

Grade:  B-

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 45th

Publisher:  Taito

Year:  1992

Genre:  Budgetary Misdeeds

Words can’t accurately convey just how insane Chase HQ 2 is, so today Stryker and I will be discussing some screenshots.

Brad: We were going to write a long article about what made us like Chase HQ 2 enough to include it on our Genesis Tournament, but as soon as I took this screenshot, I realized we wouldn’t have to.  Everything you need to know about why this game is awesome can be seen in this picture.

Stryker: Every game designer should keep this picture somewhere on their desk, with the quote “More like this.”  That’s the problem with games these days – too many cutscenes, pretentious narratives, and failed attempts at being highbrow, and not nearly enough chasing purple vans in a Ferrari while guys shoot rocket launchers at you.

Brad: The next time you hear about your local elected officials wasting a bunch of taxpayer money on some kind of foolish public works project that does more harm than good, just be thankful you don’t live in whatever city Chase HQ 2 takes place in.  In the wake of a huge surge in crime, they decided to take bold action.  So did they hire more police officers?  Install security cameras?  Invest in community watch programs?  No.  They bought the cops a Ferrari.

Stryker: And not just is that they didn’t just buy any ol’ “normal” Ferrari either.  Not a 308 or a Testarossa that only costs a mere couple of hundred thousand dollars.  No, they went all out and got the F40, the million-dollar street legal race car of which fewer than 1,500 were ever made.

Brad: It’s so rare and so expensive that it’s really more like a work of art than a vehicle – a little piece of automotive history that should probably be displayed in museum or, failing that, rammed into a criminal’s getaway car at over 200mph.

Brad: See?  This is why you shouldn’t build bridges at sea level.

Stryker: And since they spent all their money on the Ferrari, the city hasn’t been able to put up guard rails.

Brad: The Ferrari which, it’s worth pointing out, the cops aren’t even using here.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents would buy you an expensive toy, but then, because it was expensive, they expected you to play with it 24/7?  I kinda feel like that’s how the taxpayers would feel about the police department’s F40.

Stryker: “I don’t care if you need 4 wheel drive to get through the water on the incredibly dangerous bridge we built!  We spent good money on that Ferrari, and you’re going to drive it!”

Stryker: Apparently, instead of constructing overpasses, the city decided that simply putting a ramp in the middle of the road any place where two freeways intersect was a viable alternative.

Brad: Really though, the citizens should have expected this when they made Evel Knievel their Highway Commissioner.

Brad: Aha!  So that’s what became of the blue guy from Double Dragon!  He went on to become a police officer.

Stryker: Both games have a Taito connection, so that’s sort of possible, I guess.  And the way he’s pointing at himself almost seems to say “Yeah, that’s right, I’m the guy from from Double Dragon.”

Brad: Apparently, the entire police force consists of four people.  When you consider one is the chief and another the dispatcher, this means that blue guy and the dude with the mustache are the only 2 patrol officers.

Stryker: Well, as long as all the crime in the city is being run by the Shadow Boss, it ought to be enough.

Brad: Even so, I’m sensing some misplaced priorities here.  In addition to the Ferrari, they also have the option to drive either an SUV or a semi, meaning that the police force actually has more cars than they do officers to drive them.

Stryker: Perhaps when the mayor hired his budget director, he shouldn’t have gone with the guy who just drew pictures of cars all over the job application.

Brad: Illegal practices?  Is that what you do while you’re trying to get better at breaking the law?

Stryker: Hmm, back when I played little league baseball, the league had rules on how often the coaches could hold practices, so that there wouldn’t be any dictator-style coaches who would work the kids night and day to create of superteam of miserable, but unbeatable baseball players.  Maybe they’re arresting him for breaking that rule.

Brad: Or maybe he was the coach of a dog fighting team.

Golden Axe Series

Console: Sega Genesis


Golden Axe: C+

Golden Axe 2: B-

Golden Axe 3: C-

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 46th

Publisher:  Sega

Years: Golden Axe – 1989

Golden Axe II – 1991

Golden Axe III (Sega Channel only) – 1995

Genre:  Crowd Management

Although this review was supposed to be about the entire Golden Axe series, we’ll be spending almost the entire article discussing our unanimous favorite of the trilogy, Golden Axe 2.  The original Golden Axe, while a solid game, is basically a more primitive, less fun version of its successor, with no significant differences in terms of game design or mechanics, and Golden Axe 3 was only available via the Sega channel.  Considering that few people had the Sega channel to begin with, and it hasn’t been around for over 10 years, that’s kind of like saying that the game was only ever able to be played at Better Than Ezra concerts.

Golden Axe 2 tells the story of three brave warriors as they attempt to defeat the evil lord Dark Guld.  Dark Guld, possibly upset over having such a silly name, has been leading his army of evil creatures across the land, spreading chaos and destruction in his wake.  Also, he has taken the powerful Golden Axe, which is a symbol of peace and prosperity.  Shockingly, it turns out that an axe can also be used for destructive purposes.  The game never really explains how he managed to obtain the Golden Axe in the first place – maybe after they recovered it in the first game, the good guys had left it laying around in the mud or something.  Who knows.  This introduction also doesn’t give us much insight into our characters or what their own motivations might be, but come on, it’s not like we needed some kind of explanation for why a barbarian known as Axe-Battler wants to chop guys up with an axe.

What it lacks in story, it tries to make up for in awesome racks.

Not like anybody cares, though.  I think it’s safe to say that very few people pop Golden Axe into their Genesis expecting a riveting tale with interesting characters that will make them feel emotions other than “SMASH!”  What you get with the Golden Axe games are some of the finer entries in the beat ‘em up genre.  Do you want to experience “games as art” or do you want to kick the living crap out of somebody with medieval weaponry, while listening to music that you’ll be able to recall 15 years from now?  I know what I’d rather do.

See, back in the days of the Genesis, we didn’t have a class of asshat “game journalists” trying to make our hobby out to be more than it was.  Nobody talked about the emotional impact of Double Dragon, or the underlying themes of Barkley! Shut Up and Jam! (which included the importance of keeping one’s mouth closed.  Also, dunking.)  If you wanted a great story you read a book or watched a film.  Life was better this way – games could focus solely on being fun, and our literary standards hadn’t been lowered to the point where you can walk into a Borders and buy 30 different books written about Halo.

The Golden Axe series is a throwback to a simpler, and in some ways better, era when games didn’t have to take themselves so damn seriously.  Golden Axe 2 excels because it’s a well-designed game, supported by some neat graphical effects (the lava cave has a background “heat haze” effect that ought to thrill enthusiasts), a kickass soundtrack, and a few minor gameplay refinements, such as magic spells and better enemy AI.

Don’t get me wrong on that last one, though – the enemies you fight aren’t exactly Harvard graduates (or maybe they are are – does attending Harvard make you better at fighting?), which is actually for the better.  The last thing you want in a beat ‘em up is a bunch of bad guys who know how to block and avoid getting their skulls cleaved.  Comix Zone had that, and it was a slow-paced grind.  Golden Axe 2’s enemies are still dumb enough for you to split them like firewood, but use a couple of clever techniques, most notably, constantly trying to surround you.  It’s just the right amount of smartness from your enemies, and it turns every skirmish into sort of a weird puzzle game, where you’re constantly trying to maneuver in a way that keeps everyone on the same side of you.  The game is designed around this principle, so that you’ll almost never encounter a lone enemy.  Even bosses fight in pairs or at the very least bring along some underlings.

The woman and old man are fleeing to a place where the typical greeting involves less weaponry… so probably not Oakland, then.

Golden Axe 2 begins in a village that’s being overrun by the enemy horde, with your heroes arriving just in time to save some of the populace.  From there, you’ll travel across some ruins, then through a lava cave that leads to Dark Guld’s castle, and then finally into the castle to face the dark lord himself.  After each of these stages will come a short cutscene, which fleshes out the story by giving you important plot details like “We went through the ruins” or “Now we’re going into a cave”.  You could argue that these little interludes don’t really tell us much we couldn’t have figured out just from playing the game, but again, you probably shouldn’t expect too much from a story starring characters named Dark Guld or Gilius Thunderhead.

Axe-Battler and his pink chicken/rhino dare you to take this game seriously.

Actually, the more I think abut it, I’m starting to think these guys might have intentionally let the Golden Axe get stolen, just so they’d have an excuse to run around killing stuff.  It’s not like barbarians, dwarves, and amazons have a lot of marketable skills in peacetime, so once they recovered the Golden Axe in the first game, there probably wasn’t much for them to do other than sit around and wait to die of plague.  The intro mentions that Dark Guld was supposed to be imprisoned, but somehow he got loose and started wrecking havoc everywhere, so it’s not hard to imagine one of our protagonists sneaking into the jailhouse, covertly unlocking his cell and then slipping a note under the door saying “By the way, the Golden Axe is sitting in a crate down at the end of the hall.”