Junction

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 32nd

Publisher: Micronet

Year: 1990

Genre: Incoherent

Junction is a sliding block style puzzle game in which you navigate a ball through a series of checkpoints to complete a level. Each tile has a track on it, and the challenge comes from moving the correct tiles into place to form a continuous track before the ball hits a dead end. It’s sort of hard to describe, but anyone who played the original Bioshock will probably notice that it’s pretty similar to the hacking minigame.

This game also encourages you to use pyramids as ramps. I’m fairly confident that one day archaeologists will discover that the true purpose of the pyramids in Egypt was for doing kickass jumps, and all the bodies buried underneath the pyramids weren’t pharaohs, just people who were bad at landing.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Junction before. Before doing this project, Stryker and I hadn’t either. Puzzle games don’t get much buzz to begin with, and prior to Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, the mere existence of Genesis games was considered more of a theory than a proven scientific fact – scientists had the data to show that they must exist, but nobody had ever actually seen one.

That’s ok though, because you really only need to know a couple of things about Junction. First of all, it finished higher than any other puzzle game on our Top 50. I’m pretty rusty on the rules of logic they taught us back in 8th grade math class, but if I remember correctly, that proves it was our favorite puzzle game for the Genesis. If not, let me just come out and say it: Junction is our favorite puzzle game for the Genesis. It’s fun, it’s unique, and it tests your dexterity almost as much as your brain. Maybe it’s a little surprising that a genre that managed to get so many games into the Top 50 (six out of the 50 were puzzle games – and if you can’t figure out what percent that is, we’re not going to help you), couldn’t manage to crack the Top 30, but I guess puzzle games are like Big East teams in college basketball – a lot of them get into the tournament, but none of them get very far. Also, is that even remotely true? I don’t really follow college basketball. I just know they have a big tournament that Duke seems to win every year.

Anyway, Junction’s story is told to us through a quick intro scene, which we’ve summed up here:

Basically, a weird googly eyed robot armadillo is juggling apples, when a giant claw picks him up, and drops him into a hole. Then you roll a ball through a maze… for some reason. Now to be fair, this picture leaves out one key scene in which the robo-dillo gets turned into a giant red ball after falling through the hole. So we can assume that red ball you were navigating through the maze could be him. See? Now it makes perfect sense.

Or does it? This narrative never touches on why there was a robot armadillo in the first place, why it juggles apples, or what the purpose of picking it up and dropping it into a hole was. In fact, Junction’s underlying theme seems to be incoherency. There’s a lot in this game that doesn’t seem to make sense, such as backgrounds that include bubbling tar pits and the Wright brother’s plane, or its never again mentioned armadillo based storyline. Just as an example, the high score screen features a picture of a fighter jet in the background, in spite of the fact the game has absolutely nothing to do with fighter jets:

Why would they do that? Our first guess was that this game was made by Micronet, who had made some flight simulators previously, so maybe they just recycled a high score screen from another game, or even accidently switched them or something. Who knows? There could be a flight sim out there with a high score screen showing a juggling robo-dillo (which, by the way, is a word we need to be VERY careful about spelling correctly), much to the confusion of ace pilots everywhere. That theory holds up right until you get to the options screen and see this:

Junction019

Yeah, we’re pretty sure Micronet didn’t make any games about windsurfing. And should you lose, you’re treated to this screen:

Apparently the consequences for not navigating the ball through the maze successfully are that you die in the desert. What this has to do with the juggling robotic armadillo we saw earlier, I have absolutely no idea. This is actually only one of a number of Game Over screens, by the way. None of the others make any more sense though, including the one showing Stonehenge getting hit by massive lightning bolts.

In a way, I kind of dig this approach. Let’s assume that none of the people working on Junction were actually crazy. If that’s the case, then everything else seems like some kind of rebellion, as if they knew if they made the game fun enough they could get away with anything. I like to think the whole thing is a giant rebuke to the prevailing logic that every game needs a story and some interesting backgrounds if you want people to actually buy it.

Sadly, though, it appears they might have been wrong. Not many people did buy Junction, and even now demand isn’t very high. As far as I know, it hasn’t been included in any compilations or been made available for download. This creates sort of a weird situation where copies of it are kind of hard to come by, but are also dirt cheap when you do find one. After a little bit of searching, we found our copy (this was one of the few Stryker didn’t have already) at one of the bigger used game stores in the area for $3, and I’ve seen a few selling online for similar prices. Those are cartridge only – complete copies are harder to find, but still should be available for $10 or less. Highly recommended at that price.

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Contra: Hard Corps

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 33rd

Publisher: Konami

Year: 1994

Genre: Impossible

The best way to describe Contra: Hard Corps is to imagine what would happen if, at every point during a game’s development cycle, the person in charge kept demanding his team “put more awesome in it”. And each time, the development team went back to their drawing boards, adding as much awesome as they could, until finally, instead of repeating his request for increased awesomeness, the lead designer’s head exploded. I have no idea if that’s how the game was actually made, but it’s almost impossible to imagine any other method producing a game like this. Contra: Hard Corps is one of the most fast paced, intense, over-the-top crazy-ass games I’ve ever played, not just on the Genesis, but for video games in general.

And if it wasn’t for him, I’d have been married a long time ago.

For those of you who haven’t played it, he’s a quick recap: You begin the game running through a gauntlet of enemy fire while mowing down a small army, before fighting a giant metal ant that shoots lasers, and then run through an earthquake to fight a flame-throwing robot that breaks through a building just to get at you. Killing that tips over another building that you run up the side of in order to fight a 10-story robot that fucking throws cars at you.  From there you ride a giant propeller as it crashes into the ground, before fighting a guy in a metal combat suit with sword hands, which he uses to cut down a skyscraper.

That’s the first level.

Wait, is he throwing a car at you? Are you playing as a Wolfman? Holy shit! This game is insane!

Contra: Hard Corps almost entirely without filler. It doesn’t believe in giving you a chance to warm up, or throwing in a few slow sections after a tough battle to let you catch your breath. You just jump right in and go from a crazy boss fight, to an even crazier boss fight, to a “Holy shit, did that thing just burn down an entire city?” boss fight. In between there might be a few areas where you ONLY have to fight through a few dozen cannon-fodder type enemies while they try to fill the entire screen with bullets, but those are basically just there to provide a point of demarcation between one epic battle and the next. In a normal game, those parts would be a congratulations screen.

And in a normal plane, you’d stand inside.

And just when you think “How could this get any crazier?” you get into a fight against the signs of the Gemini. That means this is a game where you even kill constellations. There isn’t even a word for that kind of ultra madness.

Probably because this has never happened before.

Now anyone familiar with the series already knows that the word “Contra” is basically video game language for “ridiculously hard”. But not even the Contra name can come close to conveying the degree of difficulty we’re talking about here. Calling Hard Corps the most difficult game in the Contra series is like calling Michael Jordan the best player on the early 90s Chicago Bulls or The Fonz the coolest guy on Happy Days. All are true statements, but they fail to convey just how wide that gap is between it and whatever comes in 2nd (Contra III, Scottie Pippin, and Mr. Cunningham, respectively). Until you’ve seen it firsthand, you just have no idea.

You made it mad! Run!

Contra: Hard Corps is difficult on an apocalyptic scale. It’s so tough that even Randy “Macho Man” Savage would think twice about messing with it. Before operating, brain surgeons calm themselves down by telling each other “What are we so worried about? It’s not like we’re playing Contra: Hard Corps.” Loan sharks carry copies of this game around to intimidate people who owe them money. Advanced Calculus thinks this game should ease up a bit.

Don’t believe me? Keep this in mind: This game is so damn hard they had to make it easier for the Japanese market. That means somebody over at Konami took one look at the game and decided that even though it was good, there was no way anybody in Japan – you know, that country where people can actually beat all those impossible shooters like Ikaruga without continues and they had to invent 3 new letter grades above “A” to rank their performances in Street Fighter matches – was going to play it unless they made it a little easier. That’s how hard this game is.

All we’re saying is that we sure as hell wouldn’t buy a used car from anyone who’s ever claimed to have beaten this game.

Unless they were chasing us while holding a bomb over their head.

Anyway, whether or not this level of challenge appeals to people is largely a matter of preference, and in the game’s defense, it might be tough, but for the most part, it is fair. There aren’t many virtually unavoidable deaths or cheap shots, and as long as a player pays close attention, plays skillfully, makes good decisions, recognizes the boss’ patterns, and has ninja-level reflexes, he has a fighting chance of lasting more than two minutes. Still, this is a tough game to recommend wholeheartedly, as anyone other than the most hardcore gamers are going to struggle to get to even the third level. Stryker and I ranked it behind the similar but more approachable Sunset Riders (also from Konami) which, though less ambitious and certainly not as intensely paced, is also not nearly as demanding.

Contra: Hard Corps is a somewhat rare game, which I find a little bit surprising because when I worked at EB, the company discovered a huge cache of them (along with Jungle Strike) in one of their warehouses back in 1999, and sent them off to stores at clearance prices, despite it being five years after the game had come out, and also long after EB had stopped carrying anything Genesis (we weren’t even sure where to put them). So I had always assumed that this was a game for which there were more copies made than people who wanted them. Apparently not – this game is hard to come by. Stryker only had two copies come through his store while it was open, and expeditions I’ve made to local stores proved fruitless.You might be able to find a copy at a really good used game store, and there are a few floating around online, but be ready to pay at least $10, and probably closer to $15 (or upwards of $20 if you want a complete one, with a box and instructions). As far as I know, it isn’t available to download for any console (though the game’s sequel, Hard Corps: Uprising was just released for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3), and hasn’t been included in any kind of compilation.

Personally, I think that’s a little steep for a game that you might not get very far in, especially when you can get a better price on Sunset Riders and can download Gunstar Heroes or Contra 3. Still, if you can find a good deal on it somewhere, or can borrow it from a friend like I did, it’s definitely worth a look, if only to see just how outrageous a Genesis game can get.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2


Grade: B+

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 34th

Publisher: Sega

Year: 1992

Genre: Sonic

As weird as this may sound, Sonic kind of reminds me of NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. That might seem like a stretch comparison since neither of them share the same defining characteristic – Jay Cutler can’t run at incredible speeds, and Sonic doesn’t have the ability to unleash the intercepocalypse – but they do seem to have similar personalities. One thing that drives fans nuts about Cutler is that he constantly seems disinterested, if not just outright bored, by all the awesomeness going on around him. Here’s a guy with what many of us would consider the most desirable, exciting job in the world – starting quarterback in the NFL – and yet he seems to find each game to be about as dull and tedious as an real estate seminar. You’d almost expect him to start leafing through a magazine on the sidelines. There’s a rumor that he has a tendency to interrupt fans that try to talk to him in mid-sentence by shouting “DON’T CARE” in an obnoxious monotone, and while I can’t confirm that to be true, you have to admit it doesn’t seem all that implausible.

With that in mind, let’s look at some pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Here he is, coming face to face with a dragon that lives in lava:


Whatever.

And this is Sonic on the continue screen, trying to convince you to press start so he can get back to his adventures:

If we must.

Perhaps he shows a bit more interest while exploring underwater ruins?


He does not.

In fact, no matter how crazy the adventure he’s on gets, Sonic can’t even be bothered to feign interest. Here he is standing on the roof of a biplane while incoming fighters take strafing runs at him…


DON’T CARE!

…being targeted by some kind of super-weapon:


You gonna shoot me or what?

And clinging to the outside of a spaceship.  IN SPACE:



To be fair, by the end of Sonic 2, I was starting to feel the same way.

Speaking of outer space here he is in orbit:


This view is ok, I guess.

And finally, this is what happens if you go too long without touching the controller. Be sure to note the time:


Yep, that’s right, it takes a whole 19 seconds of inactivity to get Sonic to  go all the way to laying on the ground from boredom. Even Tails looks embarrassed by his behavior, and from what I’ve read in Sonic/Tails fanfiction, Tails doesn’t embarrass easily.

If you needed any proof of how good of a game Sonic 2 is, you have it right there  – you’ve got to be pretty good to act like Sonic does and have people love you.

Not that you need us to tell you if Sonic 2 is any good. Basically, everyone who has ever touched a Genesis has played it. Between selling about a billion copies when it first came out, and being the free pack-in game that came with the Genesis during the time when the system was most popular, this is quite possibly the most played game for the Genesis. Still, this is a good thing if you’re a collector, as obtaining a copy should be about as easy as going to a used game store and finding their overflowing bin of copies of Sonic 2. It’ll likely be next to their stacks of Mario/Duck Hunt.

EA Sports NBA (Series)

Grade(s):

Lakers vs. Celtics (1991): C+

Bulls vs. Lakers (1992): B-

Bulls vs. Blazers (1993): B

NBA Showdown ’94 (1994): B

NBA Live ’95 (1994): B

NBA Live ’96 (1995): B-

NBA Live ’97 (1996): C+

NBA Live ’98 (1997): C+

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 35th

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Years: 1991 – 1997 (see grades above for exact year for each game)

Genre: Endorsements

Note: Of all the games in the series of EA’s NBA titles, these were the Editor’s favorites:

Brad: Bulls vs. Blazers

Stryker: NBA Live ‘95

With all due respect to the Shining Forces and Sonics of the world, it was really sports games that made the Genesis successful. They translate well to video games since they are, you know, already games. Most importantly though, they appeal to that 14 to 21 year old demographic that had grown up on NES, but were getting a little too old to take an interest in the adventures of effeminate wood elves and, crucially, had money of their own to blow on games (and not much else). Never underestimate the chilling effect that a mother saying “You want me to buy you another game? Didn’t I just get you a new one 6 months ago?” can have on game sales.

Through a little bit of planning, and some good fortune, the Genesis established itself at the outset of the 16-bit wars as the place for good sports games. The SNES had a few decent efforts, but nothing that could compare to Genesis’ offerings. Oddly enough though, it was EA – a third party publisher with no interest in either system doing better than the other – that was putting out the “gold standard” for sports game during that era. All of EA’s sports franchises were on the Genesis first, and even when they became available on other platforms, the Genny version was always better (and if someone says otherwise, it’s a legitimate reason to throw down).

Out of all of EA’s sports franchises, the NBA Live series was kind of the least appreciated. It wasn’t the juggernaut that Madden was, and it wasn’t a bestselling game based on a sport nobody actually watches in real life the way the NHL series was. That’s a shame too, because the games themselves are good enough to get someone like me – who can’t do a lay-up, has never watched an entire basketball game, and lives in a Canada-bordering city with a team that left town the same year he was born – to enjoy basketball. It takes some goddamn magic to pull that off.

Pictured: some goddamn (Orlando) Magic.

Of course, it was easier for a basketball game to have crossover appeal back in the Genesis era. Like I said, I don’t really follow the sport, so I can’t say for sure if the talent level was really any higher in the early 90s, but there sure seemed to be a lot more superstars. The Dream Team probably helped some players become more famous, but this popularity was mostly thanks to corporate America – just about every team in those days had at least one player with some kind of endorsement deal. Charles Barkley appeared opposite Humpty in Nike commercials. You know, when he wasn’t trying to get you to buy Right Guard or telling you he’s not a role model. Larry Bird starred in McDonald’s ads, playing one-on-one against Michael Jordan, who also showed up in ads for everything ever. Beyond helping sell cheeseburgers and Gatorade, this exposure also raised awareness of the players and the sport, too. Let me put it this way – when my Mom knows Larry Johnson is the guy in the old lady wig and dress, you’re reaching out into untapped markets.

Was David Robinson a better player than Tony Parker? I’ve barely seen either of them play, but I did see David Robinson’s Nike commercial like 100 times, so I’m going to say yes.

Anyway, the NBA series sticks to the formula that worked so well for most of EA Sports’ games in the 16-bit era: a near-perfect blend of simulation and action-packed fun. The games tend to get the fundamentals of the sport right, without getting bogged down in frivolous details and unnecessary realism that detracts from the fun. As a result, instead of being a hardcore basketball simulation, or a over-the-top arcade-style dunkfest that barely resembles the NBA at all, these games end up occupying a coveted middle ground.

It’s basketball-ish. Or… basketball-y?

This approach of being realistic, but not so realistic that it isn’t fun, probably explains a lot of the game’s appeal. You don’t need a soaring basketball IQ to understand concepts like “get open” or “don’t let the guy on the other team get open”. Even more advanced strategies like “Don’t pass to the white guy” are easy enough for anyone to pick up and play. Later games in the series incorporated more strategy and improved AI, but never to the point where it got overbearing for the casual fan.

Oh, and the graphics. EA Sports had kind of a unique art style back in those days, and it’s oddly beautiful in its own way. You won’t hear many people going on about the graphics in Bulls vs. Blazers the way they might for Phantasy Star or something, but there’s something about the pixel art in these games that really, just seems “right”. Just like the gameplay, it’s a cross between being realistic enough that you know what it’s supposed to be, but just unreal enough to let you kind of imagine how it would look in real life. The NBA games are littered with awesome animations, and even after playing several games, Stryker and I were finding new dunks, shots, and other unexpected movements. And the “signature dunks” that appeared in the early games? Things of beauty.

Drink Gatorade and wear Hanes underpants!

The soundtrack to most of the games in the series screams “classic EA” as well. Hard to describe, but you know it as soon as you hear it. At times, the whole franchise feels like a basketball-themed orgy for EA fanboys. Best not to think of that literally.

Availability: The really good news is that if you’re interested in buying any of the games from this series, it’s definitely a buyer’s market. Finding a copy of any of these games should be about as easy as going to any place where they sell Genesis games, and a copy shouldn’t set you back more than about $4. The earliest or latest entries in the series might be a little bit rarer, but they’re also the least fun of the series, so unless you’re a collector, that’s not really an issue.