Wiz N’ Liz: The Frantic Wabbit Wescue

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 28th

Publisher: Psygnosis

Year: 1993

Genre: Hoggit

When I was in fifth grade, our school was one of many across the nation that enrolled its students in the DARE program. For those of you who don’t know, DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and the basic idea is to teach kids about the dangers of illegal drugs, usually through a combination of watching movies from the early 1970s and lectures from a member of the local police force. This was considered to be the only way to save our generation from drug addiction, as our hippie parents surely couldn’t be expected to do this sort of thing.

It was also up to the schools to explain to us how rabbits managed to reproduce so quickly.

As noble as the program sounds, the effect ended up being the exact opposite of what was intended. Before the DARE program, all I really knew about drugs was that they killed all of our really good rock stars and comedians, turned your brain into fried eggs, caused your crazy girlfriend to smash up all your shit with a frying pan, and would make you jump off a skyscraper because you thought you could fly. Those are some pretty strong disincentives. DARE build on that foundation by teaching us that drugs could also give you feelings of euphoria (we didn’t know what that word meant, so it was described to us as “the feeling that everything is awesome”), cause you to write really great rock songs, see things you’d never be able to see in the real world (they left out the part that most of these amazing hallucinations would eventually turn into a pile of cobras), stay up all night, be better at sports, and make pain go away. You can see where that information might have confused the message a bit. We also learned a whole bunch of really outdated “street terms” for drugs, which may have been a last line of defense to prevent kids from getting them, as the dealers of 1989 probably wouldn’t have known what to make of a bunch of 11 year olds trying to buy “red devils” and “black beauties”. On the plus side, learning this lingo made episodes of Starsky and Hutch a little easier to follow.

Nevertheless, I am thankful for what I learned in DARE because without a solid understanding of narcotics, games like Wiz N’ Liz would be impossible to understand. Don’t get me wrong, Wiz N’ Liz isn’t Grand Theft Auto. This is a kid-friendly game with almost no violence at all and has absolutely nothing at all to do with drugs – there’s no references to drugs, or addiction, or magic pills that make you “feel good” or grant you “powers” or anything like that. It’s just that whoever designed it must have been tripping balls at the time.

Really, it’s less disturbing than the idea that they came up with this without chemical assistance.

Wiz N’ Liz is a game about two wizards who run around at a frantic pace collecting rabbits while hopping around like a couple of meth-fueled lunatics. Doing so allows them to spell made-up words, such as Hoggit, and collect fruit, which they mix in a giant cauldron to cast spells which do things like turn all the rabbits blue or let them play a knock-off version of Space Invaders where they shoot at the bunnies they had been trying to rescue a few seconds earlier. And as insane as that probably sounds, it really can’t do the game justice. The characters run around at incredible speeds, and the stages are looped so there’s rarely a reason to slow down, all the stuff you’re trying to collect floats, so you have to jump constantly, and the whole thing is going on so fast that you barely have time to comprehend it. Which is probably for the best, because none of it makes any damn sense anyway.

How do you even classify a game like this? I’d call it a puzzle game except there’s nothing to figure out. There’s also no enemies to fight, no obstacles to overcome, and for most of the game, the only way to die is when you fail to collect all the items within the game’s merciless time limit. You could almost call it the most abstract racing game ever made. It’s also part tribute to the generation of games that came before it, since between stages, you mix the fruit you collected and try to unlock various mini-games that are based on the arcade hits of yesteryear (you can also unlock other “prizes”, but why would you want to?). The whole thing is vibrant and upbeat, and the stages go so quickly that it’s like the game equivalent of eating M&Ms. It’s basically fun boiled down to its purest components.


Or as Stryker so eloquently put it when I asked him for an opinion, “I don’t know, this game just makes me happy.”

Anyway, God bless Psygnosis and their odd little hearts. Yes, the company published some of the worst games I’ve ever played, but their willingness to touch things no other company would also brought us the only halfway-decent demolition derby game ever made, as well as Wipeout, and this little gem.

Availibility: As far as we know, Wiz N’ Liz wasn’t released as part of any compilations, or been made availible on download, so if you want to play it, you’re going to have to dig the Genesis out of the attic. However, finding aGenesis copy of the game is fairly easy. We were able to locate it in multiple used games stores being sold for just a of couple of bucks, and online prices seem to be in the sub $5 range as well. Outside of a DARE class, you’re not going to find out about too many others ways to have fun for so little cost.

Rock N’ Roll Racing

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 29th

Publisher: Interplay

Year: 1994

Genre: Radar Love

On paper, Rock N’ Roll Racing looks like the kind of thing we would have made fun of mercilessly back in the elimination rounds before unceremoniously revoking its Seal of Quality and never speaking of it again. It’s an overhead racing game who’s main selling point is that it features a handful of mediocre licensed songs that have been Genesynthesized into something that sounds like a ring tone from 2003. Rather than a straight up racer, this is “combat racing”, with wacky characters, “rock n’ roll attitude”, and tricked out cars firing weapons at each other.  Oh, and it takes place in space, obviously.

Let’s come back to the last point for a second – Rock ‘n Roll Racing takes place in a world where interstellar travel is commonplace, the galaxy is inhabited by all sorts of intelligent creatures, and… they all enjoy auto racing, apparently. Not racing in rocket ships, or planes, or futuristic hover-vehicles. Just regular-looking automobiles. Trucks mostly. And they do this while listening to George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”.

It’s certainly an interesting future we live in.

Of course, just because the idea behind a game sounds stupid doesn’t mean the game will be bad. In fact, some of our favorite games are based around unlikely-sounding premises. Pac-Man is about a ravenous yellow creature who lives in a haunted maze. Final Fight is the story of a mayor who cleans up the crime in his city by wandering around and punching people (presumably criminals) in the stomach. And one of our personal favorites, EA’s NHL series, is based around the far-fetched notion that people actually give a shit about the National Hockey League. So a weak concept doesn’t necessarily mean a weak game.

Rock N’ Roll Racing started out as the sequel to the SNES game RPM Racing, a game which, aside from the fact that RPM stands for “Radical Psycho Machine”, was a fairly conventional racer, set on earth, without any weapons or licensed music. It’s conceivable that those things were added after fans had complained that it wasn’t nearly radical or psycho enough. If that was the case (and it almost certainly wasn’t), you still have to think the game’s publisher would have gotten a little nervous about making such drastic changes for the sequel. Not Interplay, though. They must have had a lot of faith in the developers, a small, up and coming studio nobody had ever heard of, who had just changed their name to Blizzard Entertainment.

Yeah, that’s right – long before they drew their first orc, the company behind World of Warcraft and Diablo was making games about auto racing in space.

And considering their tendency to make drastic changes to their “sequels” and even rename them, that kind of makes Rock n’ Roll Racing a prequel to Starcraft.

So that probably explains how such a terrible-sounding game could actually turn out to be pretty fun. After all, Blizzard has never made a bad game, have they? Well, actually, they made a couple of pretty lousy superhero games, back in their early days before they stumbled upon the winning Warcraft/Diablo/Starcraft trifecta. In fact, going by their track record, I’d say pretty much every Blizzard game ever made is exactly one Superman appearance away from being awful. Which just proves my long-held belief that Blizzard is actually a shell company run by the Legion of Doom.

He’s on fire!

I suppose it would be inappropriate to discuss a game called Rock n’ Roll Racing without talking about the game’s soundtrack. RnR Racing features six real-life songs, dutifully translated onto your Genesis to sound vaguely like the song they originally were. It’s hard to get excited about this now, when video games not only allow you to listen to the real version of “Radar Love”, but also pretend to play it on a tiny plastic guitar, but this was a pretty big deal back in 1994. Then again, so was Urge Overkill. Anyway, here is the songlist for Rock N’ Roll Racing, with our own brief overview of each song:

  • “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath – Ozzy’s fairly accurate-sounding depiction of mental illness works surprising well as a driving song.
  • “The Peter Gunn Theme” by Henry Mancini – You probably know this one as “The Spy Hunter Music”, which raises an important point. If you’re going to use real songs in your video game, try not to use ones that were already prominently used in one of the greatest video games ever made. Especially if that other game was also about cars.
  • “Highway Star” by Deep Purple – Sadly, because of the technical limitations of the Genesis, all of the songs are instrumentals. It takes something away from most of them, but none more so than “Highway Star”, where you end up missing deep, meaningful lyrics like “Nobody gonna steal my head”.
  • “Radar Love” by Golden Earring – Originally, I thought this was a song about a guy who was trying to hook up with a policewoman, and he would drive really fast so she’d pull him over. Upon closer inspection of the lyrics, it’s actually about a guy who I guess can communicate telepathically with his girlfriend, but only while he’s driving. Pretty sure my version would have been better.
  • “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf – This is another one that loses a bit in the process of being Genesynthesized. The exaggerated “wiiiiiiiiild” in the song’s chorus ended up sounding like someone accidentally held down one of the buttons on their phone.
  • “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood – Surprisingly, this one sounds so natural as video game music, that you almost wonder if Thorogood originally wrote it to be background music in an shitty NES game, and then hastily added lyrics later on. Let’s face it, it probably didn’t take him all night to come up with “Ba-ba-ba-ba-bad.”

Anyway, Rock N’ Roll Racing doesn’t do much to revolutionize the racing genre, other than adding a small bit of combat into the mix, but it’s good at what it does. Yes, like almost every racing game, you’re still trying to drive in a circle faster than other cars, but this game really has some pretty enjoyable circle-driving, plus the ability to occasionally shoot missiles at your opponents is extremely satisfying, even if it rarely affects the outcome of the race. Given the changes in technology since the game came out, it’s hard to get excited about the soundtrack, but then again, there’s a good chance people weren’t all excited about being able to hear Genesis versions of mediocre songs in even back when the game first came out, so it’s difficult to say whether that aspect of the game has truly aged poorly or not.

Dragon’s Fury

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 30th

Publisher: Tengen

Year: 1992

Genre: Pinball Combat Simulator

Game websites are ridiculous. You probably already knew that, but in case you needed any further evidence, IGN recently ran an article about whether the events in the game Homefront could actually take place.* For those of you who aren’t familiar with Homefront, it’s a game about the United States being invaded by a unified Korea in the near future. Not too surprisingly, the script to the game was written by the guy who also wrote the movie Red Dawn, presumably by taking that script, crossing out all the parts that said “Soviet Union” and replacing them with “Korea”. The author also gets credit for co-writing Apocalypse Now, but unless the other person who got a co-writing acknowledgment was Joseph Conrad, some of the credit there is being misplaced.

Yeah, apparently IGN thought that was a concept that needed to be explored in great detail.

Whereas this clearly requires no further explanation.

I only mention it because the game we’re discussing today, Dragon’s Fury, is about fighting wizards and demons. With a pinball. It’s a preposterous concept that absolutely defies explanation, one that nobody would ever write an entire article trying to analyze further. In this era of self-important gaming, I find that kind of refreshing.

Dragon’s Fury first appeared on the TurboGrafx 16 with its original name, Devil Crush. Although fairly well regarded, it didn’t sell a ton of copies because 1. It was on the TurboGrafx 16 and 2. It was fucking named Devil Crush. Tengen then decided to port it over to the Genesis in order to tap into that system’s pent up demand for a decent pinball game. I honestly don’t know if I meant for that last sentence to be serious or not.

You know what this system needs? A vase smashing game, so it can compete with Zelda.

Pinball games for consoles have always been a dicey concept. Part of the appeal of actual pinball machines is their physical presence and mechanical nature. They take up real space, and have moving parts and they… well, they’re real. When you hit the flipper button, an actual spring-loaded piece of plastic smacks into an actual metal ball, and causes it to bounce off of other actual things in accordance with real-world physics. Pinball occupies this weird plane of existence somewhere in between a regular video game, and games of skill like pool or darts. That’s something you can’t recreate in a console game, which are 100% imaginary.

Real is almost always better than fake. It’s why people prefer cedar Christmas trees over plastic ones, maple syrup over Aunt Jemima, the Detroit Red Wings over the Florida Panthers, and Katy Perry’s breasts over her music. Pinball video games are artificial reproductions of the real thing – the amusement equivalent of buying a ShamWow! knockoff that wasn’t even made in Germany.

King Dragon measures his life force in SKULLS.

On the other hand, their virtual nature also frees video game pinball from the constraints of the real world. You couldn’t make a really gigantic pinball table in real life, because it would take an aircraft carrier to transport it, and you wouldn’t have any place big enough to put it anyway. You can also make a video game pinball machine infinitely more complicated than their real-life counterparts, with hidden “bonus” tables, moving targets, and enemies to fight. Some of those things would be prohibitively expense to manufacture in the real world, and others are outright impossible.

This freedom hasn’t always worked out well for game designers. A lot of them go overboard and make virtual pinball tables that are too huge, too crowded, or have way too much going on to be fun (see: Sonic Spinball). EA went totally nuts and made a pinball game about Motley Crue, which turned out about as well as you might expect. One could argue that it’s entirely possible to have made such a thing in real life as well, but that overlooks the impact that seeing things live and in person has compared to seeing them on a screen.  Surely, upon seeing an under-construction Motley Crue pinball table in real life, one of the people working on it would have realized “Man, this is a really fucking stupid idea,” and canceled the project.

At first glance, Dragon’s Fury would seem to be an equally stupid idea. This is, after all, pinball “combat” in a fantasy setting.  The entire game is based around shooting enemies with a pinball, including one section where your goal is to repeatedly hit a woman in the face with your balls until she turns into a hideous lizard creature (paging Dr. Freud…).  You have to admit that on paper, it doesn’t sound like a very good idea.

See?

Fortunately, good gameplay wins out here. Dragon’s Fury is easily the best pinball game on the Genesis, mainly because it strikes that tricky balance between “making pinball more awesome than it could be in real life” and “being completely ridiculous”. The table is bigger than what you’d see in a real pinball machine, but not so huge that you need a GPS to find your way around. There are lots of targets to hit, and objects to bounce off of, but not so many that it stops being interactive – if anything, the game has significantly more “flipper play” than most other pinball games on consoles. There are six bonus mini-games to discover, but accessing them doesn’t making the game overwhelmingly complex.

Dragon’s Fury is a somewhat rare game, but not impossibly so. We were able to find a copy at a used game store (without box or instructions) for about $8, which is right on the upper threshold of what I’d be willing to pay for it, though still a bargain compared to buying it online, which seems to cost in the $10 – $15 range. The sequel, Dragon’s Revenge, is the same idea and nearly as good of a game, but generally sells for significantly less, so those of you looking for a Genesis pinball fix might be better off going that route instead. Alternately, you can buy it for the Wii’s Virtual Console for $6 (in its original form, as Devil’s Crush on the TurboGrafx), which might be the best value of all.

*By the way, despite what IGN’s article might suggest, the answer to the question of whether Homefront could really happen is “No,” followed by “you’re not serious, are you?” followed by a brief pause, a concerned look, and then “maybe it’s time for you to stop getting high.”

Populous

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 31st

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Year: 1991

Genre: Genocide

Populous is an interesting little game. It’s a real-time strategy game in which control over your units is indirect – you can influence their behavior in a general sense, but they behave on their own, leaving the micromanagement largely out of your hands. The PC version also came out a little bit before Herzog Zwei, meaning that all of the people who credit Herzog Zwei as being the first RTS really ought to be giving that acknowledgement to Populous. Well, actually, they really should be giving that credit to The Ancient Art of War, but since only about 10 people have ever even heard of that game, let alone played it, we’ll just pretend AAoW is imaginary. Populous was also one of the first games designed by overambitious genius (or pathological liar, depending on your point of view) Peter Molyneux.

It was also widely recognized as the first game where you play as God, though that distinction should probably be considered a tie with SimCity, which also came out around the same time (1989 was kind of an awesome year for games). Technically, in SimCity you play as a mayor, not God, but anyone familiar with city governments knows it generally takes divine intervention to get even minor tasks done in local politics, let alone build an entire city. Chucking around lightning bolts and flooding the entire world are nice tricks, but getting a new train station built into an already developed downtown area is closer to an actual miracle.

Sims are also less impressed by log cabins.

Anyway, Populous is a game where you play as God, or more accurately, a god, because on each level you’re competing against a rival divine being for control of the world. As the Blue (or Good) God, your objective is to lead your followers (the blue tribe) to victory over the competing red tribe, who naturally worships the Red (Evil) God. Each level is completed once the Red God no longer has any followers.

In other words, you win by having your followers kill every single person that is a different color and worships a different god than they do. Your opponents don’t even have the chance to surrender or be converted over to your side, their only option is death. If this is starting to sound disturbingly similar to committing genocide, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that the red tribe is trying to do the exact same thing to you, and also that they are “evil”. Yep, you just keep telling yourself that.

Wait, if you’re supposed to be a god, who’s this guy – your boss?

Your quest to wipe out an entire race of people is made easier thanks to some divine powers. After all, what is a God without powers? Hephaestus, that’s what. And nobody wants to be lame old Hephaestus. That’s why Populous gives you the following kickass abilities:

Change elevation – What do you do with the awesome powers of a god in Populous?

Mostly, you make nice, flat land for your followers to settle on. Flat land is really important, because it allows your people to build settlements, which generate mana, which is your power source. More flat land means bigger settlements, which generates more mana. It may not be glamorous, but it is the backbone of your overall strategy and a critical part of the game. Just don’t ask me why you didn’t make the land flat when you created the world in the first place – maybe you didn’t have enough mana then or something.

Maybe you could make it a little warmer, too?

As you’re about to see, this is pretty much the extent of you benevolent powers. You don’t really get to do much to help your people – there’s no healing the sick, or giving them something to wear other than loincloths, or sending your only son down to them to absolve their sins. Nope, in the world of Populous, God’s power for good is pretty much limited to being a divine bulldozer.

Changing land elevation is generally limited to areas near your citizens, so don’t get any ideas about going deep into enemy territory and digging a bunch of pits right at the beginning of the game. Once your followers and your enemies begin competing for the same land though, you may find the Red God trying to build up land at different elevations than you. Like most things in Populous, this problem is best solved by killing the fuck out of his guys.

Move Ankh – The Ankh is your holy landmark, and serves as kind of waypoint for your followers. Remember, for the most part you have kind of indirect control of your people, so moving the Ankh and telling everyone to go to it is a handy way to get them to migrate to a certain area. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting godly superpower, but it does have a functional aspect to it. Plus, I like to imagine your priests trying to explain to your followers why you just declared the Post Office a sacred landmark that everyone needs to flock to immediately.

Quick, everyone to the lava lake!

Also, since societies in Populous are a Firstocracy, whoever touches the Ankh first gets to be your leader.

Earthquake – Now we’re talking! Earthquake is first real destructive power you get to unleash on your enemies and it is… well, it’s kind of annoying, I guess. Earthquake immediately alters the elevation of all land within a certain area, upsetting settlements and generally making a mess of that nice, flat ground your rival worked so hard to build.

Earthquake isn’t a bad way to slow down your enemy’s mana generation, but it’s really not much more than the equivalent of shaking up his ant colony.

Swamp – Creating swamps basically transforms an area of land into Florida, though with fewer flea markets. Not only do swamps interfere with settlements, but any person who steps onto a swamp dies instantly, regardless of how strong they are. Every so often, your enemy might build up a really strong leader who seems unbeatable in combat, murdering your followers and taking their houses at will. Let’s see how many fights he wins at the bottom of a bog.

For this reason, you might be tempted to use swamps defensively, like some kind of a moat. Unfortunately, swamps kill indiscriminately, so putting a few anywhere near your own land is just asking for your own followers to wander into them. Depending on the world, swamps are either shallow (once a person steps in them, they go away), or bottomless. Bottomless swamps could still fill the role as moats, with the added bonus of helping thin out the dumber members of your flock. Shallow swamps however, will clog up with idiots rather quickly, and disappear.

Knight – Using the this power instantly turns your leader into a Knight, a one-man wrecking crew intent on finding your enemies, killing them, and burning down their houses for good measure. These genocidal little maniacs can be devastating, but require a strong leader to be effective, which means sacrificing a large portion of your population in order to build them up. They also can’t swim, so if your enemies are on a separate island, Knights can’t do much until you build a land bridge, other than pace the shore impotently and wait for your rival to put a swamp in his way.

Goddamn knights.

Volcano – Rivers of boiling lava run through your enemies towns. Clouds of burning ash incinerate your rivals instantly. The landscape is choked with poison… well, not really. Volcano just raises the elevation of the land in one area fairly significantly, and dumps some rocks onto the landscape. Volcano tends to be one of the Red God’s favorite tactic to use against you. Practically harmless, unless you get hit with a bunch of them all at once.

Volcanic eruptions occasionally result in giant cow skulls.

Flood – Flood basically raises the sea by one level, which causes everyone at the lowest level to start drowning. Depending on the world, they will either die instantly, or swim briefly, giving you precious time to find your followers and mock their plight as they struggle in the water. Guess you should have prayed a little harder, little blue guy. Or you can raise the ground underneath and save them, you know, if you’re one of those touchy-feely type Gods.

Look at those idiots trying to swim.

Flood requires a lot of advance planning (make sure your settlements at least one level higher than your enemy), but can be devastating. Even on worlds where followers don’t die immediately, your rival will probably still only save half his population, lose most of his land, and spend a ton of mana in the process. That’s a crippling setback, and Populous isn’t a game that lends itself to comebacks.

Armageddon – Killing an enemy tribe all the way down to the last man can be an exhaustive, time consuming process. If the genocide is starting to take too long, it might be time for Armageddon.  This ability to forces everyone in the world to immediately drop whatever they’re doing and start fighting each other to the death. Stryker refers to this power as “turn the world into Oakland”.

Populous is oddly fun for a game in which you spend much of your time landscaping. As a early RTS, it’s fairly simple, which may be a letdown to gamers with experience playing stuff like Starcraft or Age of Empires, but that also makes it a really good game to get started and learn on. As a 12 year old playing this game when it was still newish, I had no trouble picking it up and getting the hang of it. Why a 7th grader felt the need to play a game where he gets to be God is a question best saved for another day.