Shining Force 2

Grade:  A

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 26th

Publisher:  Sega

Year:  1994

Genre: Child Labor

Shining Force 2, much like its predecessor, proves once and for all that the best people to handle a dire situation are almost always whoever happens to be standing nearby.  Skill, training, experience… those things are all well and good, but when it comes right down to it, proximity is really the most important quality for a hero to have. Never mind if he looks like he’s about 10 years old and is armed with a stick.

Hey, before we head off with PETER, would it be too much to ask if I could go the armory and get a real sword? It would, huh? Well, ok then, hopefully those devils that are taking other the world will be discouraged by a good bonk on the head.

This is the protagonist of Shining Force 2. Let me give some advice to all the up-and-coming rulers of RPG kingdoms: do not send 4th graders on quests to save the world. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: if the kid gets killed, the world will end, so you don’t have to worry about writing an apology note to his parents. But that’s exactly the kind of “glass is half empty” mentality that is constantly putting the world at risk in the first place. Let’s have a little optimism and maybe send someone who has a chance of surviving. I mean, it’s not like it’s hard to find qualified heroes – the little kid seems to stumble into at least one in every town he visits. Then again, he’s a child, so his judgment of who a “qualified hero” is might be a little off, too. Not sure I’d run into battle with a dagger-wielding giant rat or my pet bird.

Shining Force 2’s story revolves around two gems, the Jewel of Light and The Jewel of Evil, which seal the doorway to the Evil World. You can probably already guess where this is going, and yes, the jewels are stolen. Not by an evil guy or anything, either – just some jewel thief who apparently wasn’t very big on research. One thing video game characters never seem to learn is that you probably shouldn’t use valuable objects as a means to seal away evil. Gigantic jewels, golden axes, fancy ninja swords – those are the kinds of things that if you just leave them lying around in the open, somebody’s eventually going to walk off with them and unleash hell. Maybe next time use one of those extra vases or crates that seem to be stacked in everyone’s houses to seal the evil gate. Or if that’s not possible – you know, if the evil power or whatever you’re sealing away is really materialistic and DEMANDS to be imprisoned in only the finest of gilded cages – at least maybe post some guards nearby or put up a sign saying “Hey, don’t steal this or we’ll all die.”

Why would someone steal the Jewel of Evil anyway? It can’t be worth much, you know, being an evil jewel and all.

The most honest way we could describe Shining Force 2 is to say that it’s almost exactly like the original Shining Force, except that the first Shining Force is just slightly better. We’re well aware that a lot of Shining Force fans – probably a majority, actually – disagree with us on that point, and prefer the sequel to the original. It’s not hard to see why – Shining Force 2 has more characters, more battles, a more fleshed-out narrative and overall is just a larger game than its predecessor. But a fair amount of that “extra stuff” felt like filler to us. There are sections of the game’s storyline that feel like it could have been cut out entirely without really impacting the narrative, and were probably included as a way to lengthen the game and add a few more battles. Battles which, in more than a few cases, weren’t all that memorable anyway. By contrast, the original Shining Force seems a bit tighter and better designed.

Having said that, if we were restricting our list only to games that we liked better than the original Shining Force, we would have had to cut it from a Top 50 to about a Top 5 or so. Which, in hindsight, might not have been such a bad idea, since we’d maybe be done by now.

He’s just jealous – it’s the Beastie Boys.

Ultimately, I suppose this reveals some irony in the way our Top 50 was set up.  Shining Force 2 was too good on its own for us to shrug our shoulders and say “Eh, just lump it in with the first one, they’re both pretty much the same thing.”  But by breaking it out, we also put it into an indirect competition with its predecessor and, not wanting to place them too close together, SF2 ends up just barely missing out on the top half of out list.  Had this been the only Shining Force game ever made, it would have been a shoo-in for the Top 10 (you might have noticed that its letter grade is higher than the other games in this part of the list). Instead, it will have to settle for being one of only two franchises with multiple entries on our Top 50.  The only other series to pull off that feat was Sonic, so at least it’s in good company.

Two centaurs, a bird, a rat, and a chick with blue hair. Oh yeah, we got this.

Availability: Luckily, experiencing Shining Force 2 for yourself isn’t an expensive proposition. Admittedly, Genesis copies of Shining Force 2 are somewhat hard to find, and the prices can get pretty high. But unless you’re either a collector or a Genesis purist, you can just pick up a copy of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PS3 or Xbox 360. It’ll probably cost about the same as buying a copy of SF2 online, and comes with BOTH Shining Force games, as well as a decent number of other games that made our Top 50. Alternately, Wii owners can get this for the Virtual Console for $8.

Really, any game where you can yell at a bird is automatically worth eight bucks.


Super Off-Road

Grade: B

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 27th

Publisher: Ballistic

Year: 1994

Genre: Bikini

Brad: Super Off-Road is one of those “guilty pleasure” kind of titles – the video game equivalent of watching a marathon of Melrose Place reruns or going back and listening to pop music from when you were in Jr. High. It’s the sort of game you know in the back of your mind isn’t supposed to be very good, but you still find yourself enjoying it anyway while your brain screams out “screw you, better judgment!”

Fun fact: the conversion to the Genesis was so half-assed that they forgot to change the year and publisher on the title screen from the SNES, neither of which was correct for this version. Oops!

When we originally came up with the idea for doing this Top 50 list, the plan was that each game on the Top 50 would get a long, loving tribute talking about it’s history, it’s impact on gaming, and what made it better than at least 657 other Genesis games. But I think we’re going to end up cutting things a bit short for this one. I mean, what is there to say? This is an old coin-op game about dirt track racing. There’s no story to analyze, no innovative features to discuss, and the main character is a red pickup truck. It’s a simplistic, straightforward arcade game, and almost nothing was added to the home version to make it deeper or add variety.

Though to be fair, “trucks driving in mud” is kind of a hard concept to really expand on.

So how did a game like this end up not only getting onto our Top 50, but almost cracking the Top 25? Super Off-Road may not be sophisticated, but it delivers simple pleasures rather effectively. First of all, the game is flat-out fun to play – there might not be much to it, but it’s an enjoyable racing experience that anyone can pick up and play, and somehow stays challenging in the long term. It’s also one of the few overhead racing games that lets you see the entire track at once. This avoids one of the biggest frustrations of most games of this type – the tendency to suddenly throw an unexpected sharp turn at you without giving you a chance to prepare for it. Each race is only about 30 seconds long, which is kind of the ideal length of time for something like this. You do a race, upgrade your truck with the money you won, and head on to the next race to see what those upgrades did (spoiler: not much, just buy a bunch of nitros). Oh, and in between races you get to look at some girls in their swimsuits, so there’s that too.

Super Off-Road might be simple fun, but it’s still fun. It’s a really good way to kill a few minutes, or even and hour, and the sort of game you can come back to after a long break without feeling like you forgot something or lost some critical skills. Games like this went out of vogue a long time ago, but to be perfectly honest, I think the hobby loses a little something when there isn’t room in the marketplace for games like Super Off-Road.

Having said all that, this is still the kind of game that I take out of my Genesis and hide in a drawer any time I have company coming over.

Stryker: Rather than dig into the specifics of Super Off-Road, I wanted to just highlight one of the most significant changes between the Genesis version of the game, and the Super Nintendo. Here’s the awards screen you see after winning a race in the Super Nintendo version:

And here’s that same screen on the Genesis:

Oh I see, they made the girl on the right’s hair a lot redder.

I suppose this makes sense. The Super Nintendo had more powerful hardware, so it’s entirely possible that the Genesis was simply incapable of processing all those clothes without getting glitchy or having a massive slowdown. Then again, another explanation is that the designers were simply trying to distract us through the gratuitous use of breasts. Tough to say for sure what the motivation was, but I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. It’s just like Napoleon once said: “Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by boobs.”

Still, for what it’s worth, I actually just enjoyed this game for it’s hot racing action and dirty tracks  featuring tight curves and voluptuous mounds.

Like this one.

Mr. Do!: The Genesis version of Super Off-Road came out 3 years after the SNES version, and the only real change was the bikini girls Stryker mentioned. That comes out to roughly one year per girl which, even for video game programmers, seems like an awful long time to get a woman to take her clothes off.

Availability: Super Off-Road is dirt cheap, but also sort of hard to find, so you’ll probably have to pick one up online. Not a bad value, if you don’t mind seeing “People who looked at this also looked at” banner ads featuring Larry the Cable Guy merchandise. Alternately, it’s also included in the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 anthology for PS2 or Xbox (it’s not Xbox 360 compatible, though), which is pretty inexpensive and also includes the long-lost arcade hit Badlands, a game that is basically Super Off-Road except with missiles and destructible scenery.