Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 30th
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.
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.”