Grade: A
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 8th
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 1991
Genre: Mining

Whether or not you enjoy Starflight might come down to one important question – are you the kind of gamer who relishes the idea of keeping a notebook handy in order to jot down important information about the game they’re playing? Most people don’t remember this anymore, but in the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for an adventure-type game like this to require some serious note-taking skills. Starflight is one of those types of games, and in fact, it’s a big part of its gameplay.


Pictured: gameplay.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not so militantly old-school that I somehow find the journals, quest logs and other note-keeping methods included in modern games offensive somehow. For the most part, I find them quite handy, and huge games like Mass Effect or Skyrim would be pretty much unplayable without them. Seriously, could you imagine having to write down “Ysolda needs a Mammoth tusk”, and “check out the crashed satellite in the Horsehead Nebula” and the hundreds and hundreds of other little notes those games would require? By the time you were done, you’d have binders, notebooks, and flowcharts and would probably have to hire an intern to organize it all. Games would be sponsored by Office Depot.

Starflight013Still, these handy automatic note-taking features have one critical side-effect – they filter out all the unnecessary information and focus exclusively on exactly what you need to know to progress through the game. And again this is handy for most games. To go back to my Skyrim example, your quest log would be a lot less useful if it includes tidbits like “Belethor would sell his sister if he had one” or “Aerin is hopelessly stuck in the ‘friend zone’ with Mjoll”.

(Quick Skyrim related aside here – Seriously, Mjoll? Aerin pulls your near-lifeless body out of a trap-infested Dwarven ruin, nurses you back to life, let’s you live with him, follows you around all day and listens patiently while you complain ceaselessly about the corruption in Riften, and you won’t even go out to dinner with him. But you’ll run off and marry the first person who retrieves your sword? That sucks. Aerin would have loved you unconditionally until his dying day and you could have gone on countless adventures together. I, on the other hand, kept you as a housewife in my manor in the middle of nowhere, and then stuck you with two random kids I adopted on a whim without asking you first. Meanwhile I’m off doing quests with Aela the Hotness and running special errands for any random chick who happens to be wearing a tavern dress. Hope you’re happy with your sword, though.)


Wait, what were we talking about?

Anyway, unlike most other games, Starflight absolutely would not work with any kind of an automated quest log. The whole point of this game is to gather information, and a big part of the “gameplay” is trying to determine which information is useful and what’s just extra dialogue. There are times when I’ve gotten stuck because I ignored an important clue I had been given, and other times where I’ve gone on wild goose chases following what I should have realized was a bad lead. If the game filtered out and recorded all the useful information for you, there wouldn’t be much of a game left.

This makes Starflight an adventure game in the truest sense, and while that term might conjure up bad memories of illogical puzzles and insane logic, I’m talking about something else entirely. The focus of Starflight is really on exploration, information gathering, and understanding a threat to the universe before it’s too late. There isn’t a lot in the way of twitch action, or stats-building, or strategy. This game is more story driven, and more focused on solving a mystery. You follow up on the few scant leads the game gives you to start off with, chat, threaten, or bribe the aliens you come across for useful information, and track down lost settlements. It’s like a bizarre mixture of sci-fi and a detective noir.


No, you may not land on a star – unless you want to be awesome.

In terms of structure and gameplay, I’d say that the game that Starflight is most similar to is Rings of Power. Which isn’t a very helpful comparison considering that even fewer people have played RoP than have Starflight, but it’s hard to compare Starflight to a game more of you might be familiar with, because they don’t really make a lot of games like it any more. Though to be fair, they didn’t really make a lot of games like it back then, either. That’s part of what makes this game special.

Starflight038The defining trait of Starflight, which is so exceedingly rare in gaming that I can only compare it to other obscure 20-year old Genesis games, is how completely unstructured it is. Most games, even ones that are built around the idea of being open-world and nonlinear, still at the very least have a main storyline with a series of objectives or missions that need to be completed in order to beat the game. Even Rings has some of this, though it’s disguised by the fact that you can pursue multiple objectives at once. Not so with Starflight. You’re given a ship, a brief outline of the plot, and a couple of leads. Then it’s up to you to go explore. If you know what you’re doing, you can beat the entire game in a few minutes.

Of course, pulling off such a feat is pretty much impossible until you learn the necessary steps. And in order to do that, we’re going to have to do some mining in order to upgrade the ship to  a vessel capable of exploring the far reaches of the galaxy through what can often be hostile territory. What, did you think the government just starts handing people spaceships just because nearby stars keep going supernova and nobody can figure out why? Hell no. If you want to save the galaxy, go grab a shovel and start digging. The apocalypse is not the time to start turning into a bunch of socialists.


Explore the galaxy. Discover new worlds. Drive around on them and try to dig up plutonium.

No seriously, this is a game about space travel and saving the universe, in which you spend a not-insignificant time mining for rare minerals. I’ll admit that sounds pretty awful, but bear with me here. First of all, going against anything I know about game design or just logic in general, it’s actually kind of fun. And no, it’s not fun because the mining is a cool little minigame or something; you just drive around on the planet and press the “B” button, and sometimes it tells you you found minerals. That’s about all there is to it (you do get a scanner to show you where the minerals are supposed to be). There aren’t a lot of sights to see (Oh hey, green terrain! And there’s some brown terran. And this ground is a little wavy. Woooo!), or enemies to fight or anything like that.

Don’t ask me why this is fun. Maybe the random nature of finding the minerals makes it feel like gambling. Or the sense of progression that comes as you sell these minerals and upgrade your ship from a small freighter to a fully equipped battlecruiser. I can’t quite explain it but, for a little while at least, the mining really is kind of enjoyable.


Not as enjoyable as discussing the engineering of heaven with robots, but then again, what is.

The other thing to keep in mind about mining is that you only have to do it for a little while. After an hour or two of mining, just when it starts to get a little old, you’ll have earned enough money to get the most important upgrades for your ship (engines, shields, a fully pimped out mining vehicle), and can get on with the important business of saving the galaxy. After this point, mining becomes something you only have to do occasionally to buy more fuel, and it’s more of a “well, as long as I’m on this planet anyway” kind of thing. The pacing in Starflight is one of its best features – in the beginning, it’s really just about going to nearby worlds, harvesting minerals, and trying to earn enough money to upgrade your ship. This will help you learn how the game works and get the hang of things. Then, as you get better equipped, your range gradually expands, and the focus shifts from making money to exploring the universe and trying to solve the mystery at the center of the plot.

One of the neat things about Starflight is that it let’s you pick out your own crew, and some of your crew members can – and absolutely should – be alien species. Each alien race has natural inclinations, so it’s important to choose the proper one for each task. We suggest a human scientist, insectoids for engineer and navigator, and sentient plants for communications and as your doctor. Plants make great doctors, because in a pinch, they can just grind up their limbs to create medicine and grow them back later. I’m not sure why the game also favors them so much for communications, but it’s possible that the most forms of expression throughout the galaxy involve fragrances and bright colors.


Plants and insectoids also get along really well, due to the latter’s willingness to help the plants “pollinate”. They’re like the wingmen of the galaxy.

One last thing about Starflight – it has one of the best plot twists I’ve ever experienced in a game. The surprise ending seems so obvious in retrospect (there is even a species of aliens who do nothing EXCEPT give away the ending, albeit in a not entirely clear way), yet it still managed to catch us completely unprepared. I won’t give anything away here, but I will say it made us question the righteousness of our endeavor.

Availability: Spiral notebooks and pens can be found at any office supply store, or even most supermarkets, for next to nothing. If that somehow shouldn’t work for you, you can always use some scrap paper and, I don’t know, steal a pen from a coworker or something. Seriously, if you somehow don’t have access to PENS, you might need to stop playing Genesis games and refocus your priorities. I mean, even people in jail get access to pens, and they mostly just use them to stab each other.

Oh wait, were we supposed to be discussing the availability of Starflight?


The space squid is not amused by our foolishness.

Well, unfortunately, Starflight falls into the same gap as many other EA-published Genesis titles, such as Road Rash, Jungle Strike, and Rings of Power – it is not available for modern consoles in any shape or form. This means you’re going to have to find a Genesis copy of Starflight which, even back in the Genesis days, was a tough game to find. I remember trying to track a copy down back in 1996, and it took a while. The passage of time certainly hasn’t made the game any less rare since then, but the growth of the internet has at least made it easier to find. Nice copies can be bought online for less than $20, and cartridge only versions often less for $10. Still, if you’re feeling lucky, or live near a really good used game store, you might be able to find an even better deal that way – I got my copy (box, but no instructions) at a store for $8.

The game originally came with a star map that had some important information and locations on it. It’s nearly impossible to find a copy with the map these days, and without it, the game does become quite a bit more challenging. Fortunately, the internet is here to save us. I especially recommend this site when you get stuck (don’t scroll down on that page until you’re ready for spoilers).


Alternately, you could try to find the PC version of the game, which actually has more features, more worlds, and is overall a bigger game. Many gamers consider the PC versions of the game to be superior, and while I understand why they feel that way, I actually prefer the more simplified and streamlined Genesis version myself. Compatibility may also be an issue – getting games from two decades ago to run on modern PCs can sometimes be… problematic.

Light Crusader

Grade: A
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 9th
Publisher: Sega
Year: 1995
Genre: Tricky

What if The Immortal hadn’t sucked? I know that’s a tough concept to grasp, but let’s just think it through for a moment. What if, instead of a poorly controlled nightmare where you got killed every two seconds for things that you could hardly be faulted for, it actually lived up to its potential as a solid action RPG with furious combat, dungeons to explore, and devious puzzles that maybe didn’t insta-kill you if you got them wrong? The kind of game Will Harvey could put his name on the cover of without having to worry about me throwing garbage at him. Wouldn’t that game have been wonderful?

What are you asking him for? All townspeople are idiots.

In other words, what if it had been made by Treasure?

I only ask because that’s essentially what Light Crusader is – a game made by Treasure that’s an awful lot like the Immortal. Except good. So, nothing like The Immortal, actually. Still, both games feature isometric perspectives, and the gameplay is a blend of combat, exploration, and puzzle solving within an RPG setting; so conceptually, at least, the games really are pretty similar. The main difference between them is that the execution on Light Crusader is miles better than that of The Immortal. By the way, that sentence is one of the few instances where I would ever speak out against the execution of the people who made The Immortal.

Still, that’s not exactly saying much, and Light Crusader is a good enough game that it deserves recognition for feats far more impressive than simply being less terrible than The Immortal. For one thing, it has some of the most ingenious puzzles ever seen in a game of this type. We’ve pointed out before the general lack of any kinds of false leads or red herrings in games like this before. Even in really innovative, challenging games that blend action with problem solving, such as Portal or Braid, you can usually figure out the solution to a challenge by looking at the level design. Once you realize that every object, every room, every ledge, nook, and cranny has been included for a reason, and has some important part to play in completing a puzzle, it’s generally not too hard to put them together. For instance, if you’re stuck in a room which also has a crate and a small ledge sticking out of one of the walls, it’s a pretty safe assumption that whatever you need to get through that room will ultimately involve the ledge and the crate somehow. Someone could make the most challenging adventure game of all time just by adding in a few extra pieces that don’t do anything other than throw off the player, much the way Ikea thwarts my efforts to put together their furniture by tossing in some additional random parts that I may or may not need to assemble it. Some of them I don’t even think are furniture parts at all, so much as some kind of naturally occurring debris that Sweden has an excess of and furniture stores are their gateway to getting rid of it. But I’m getting off topic here…

Sadly, Sir David is nowhere near tall enough to go on the worm-people themed roller coaster.

Light Crusader doesn’t go as far as to try to throw you off with a bunch of excess items and unused areas, but it does force you to use objects in ways you won’t expect to. Explosive items aren’t just useful for blowing up barriers, but also for triggering switches. That’s not much of a stretch, but things get tricky when they are also used as mobile platforms to step on, or barriers to block off an area. Because other objects in the game already serve these purposes, it messes with the player’s expectations. You see an explosive barrel and assume you must need it to blow something up, so you look for something to blow up. After all, if all they wanted it to be used for was as something to jump on, they would have just used a non-exploding box, like they did in the last room. Except no, it really is just a stepping stone in this case. Or you need to roll a giant boulder onto a trap door to activate something, then another time you might need to roll it into the spot behind the trap door, so it will stop a second boulder you’re rolling, and sometimes you need to use it to do one thing, then the other. Adding multiple possibilities for each piece of the puzzle makes the solution far less obvious than games where every object only has one specific purpose. This makes Light Crusader one of the trickier adventure games out there, but also one of the most satisfying.

If this were Zelda, those barrels would be torches and you could just light them and be on your way.

One of the pitfalls of making a game that combines platforming with puzzle solving and action is that if it isn’t designed well, it can be hard to tell whether you’re stuck because you haven’t figured out the right solution to the problem, or if you have the right idea but aren’t able to pull it off properly because you’re mistiming a jump or something. This could be especially perilous in a game like Light Crusader, where the puzzle solving is generally less obvious than, say, pulling on every statue in the room or breaking the correct vase to reveal a button. LC handles this pretty well, partly thanks to some well-thought out balance (few areas in the game simultaneously challenge both your skills and your brainpower – the hardest to figure out puzzles generally don’t feature any tricky jumps or timing issues, and vice versa), and partly due to responsive control and good level layouts.

Yes, he’s fleeing in terror. But to be fair, that is a giant spider with purple flame legs.

LC is surprisingly efficient in its design for an action/RPG. There’s only one town to visit, and it’s pretty sparsely populated since the story revolves around trying to figure out why people keep disappearing. Which turns out to not be really much of a mystery seeing as the town has been built over a giant network of monster infested catacombs. City planners really need to stop doing that (see also: Diablo) – not only does it drastically increase “the villagers abducted by monsters” potential, but it’s probably not a great idea from an engineering standpoint. If some water starts getting into those catacombs, they’ll collapse and then the whole town will turn into a sinkhole. That’s a disaster no amount of magic swords is going to save you from. In fact, that should really be the plan the villains in these games are going for – instead of raising some long-lost evil deity with dark magic, they really just need to start digging a tunnel over to the closest body of water. Much easier that way; instead of needing black magic or ancient artifacts or human sacrifices, you just have to go to Home Depot and pick up some shovels and maybe hire a few of those day laborers that are always standing around in the parking lot. That would cost like, maybe $200 bucks.

Availability: Light Crusader hasn’t been included in any retro compilations, but is available as a download title for the Wii. Those of you who don’t have a Wii will have to pick up a Genesis copy, though, and that’s where things get tricky. Let’s see – quality game, not available on two of the three current consoles, came out late in the system’s life, kind of obscure, created by the beloved developer Treasure… this is like a checklist of things that make a game hard to come by. LC probably goes for about $70 online, right?

And it has dragons? Tack another $10 onto the price.

Well, no, actually. Call it some kind of gaming miracle, but copies of Light Crusader are actually inexpensive and not that hard to find. I bought my own personal copy at a flea market for $4, and a recent search of revealed multiple copies selling for less than five bucks. We’re not going to tell you how to spend your money, but c’mon, $5 for one of the Genesis’ Top Ten games? If you don’t already have this game and aren’t willing to pay such a paltry sum to obtain it, you should probably just give your Genesis away to someone who might actually use it.

Jungle Strike

Grade: A
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 10th
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 1993
Genre: Helicopter

Jungle Strike is a tough game to talk about. Not because it isn’t awesome or interesting, but because this is a game that opens with terrorist attacks on Washington DC, has you preventing multiple attempts to kill the president, and includes a mission where your enemies attack the White House with nuclear missiles. Those are phrases that once you put them into an article, your chances of being put onto some kind of government watchlist and maybe even receiving a surprise visit from the Secret Service go up dramatically. So let me just make a quick aside to all the government agents who found this page by Googling the things they’re trying to prevent: I’m only talking about a video game – it’s those maniacs over at Electronic Arts who made it that you ought to be looking for. Also, this game came out in 1993, and Clinton is still alive and well almost 20 years later, so I think you can file this one away as successfully prevented. Unless you suspect this game was portraying attacks against the current president, in which case the people who made it are either time travelers or witches, and either way you definitely should be going after them.

Anyway, Jungle Strike is the sequel to 1992’s Desert Strike, a game in which you took control of an Apache helicopter and pretty much single-handedly won the Gulf War. This time, the son of the “Desert Madman” is out for revenge, and he’s teamed up with the infamous South American drug lord, Carlos Ortega. Finally, we can wage war against drugs AND terrorism at the same time! If only we could get some kind of third villain to represent poverty, then we could fight all of America’s wars against general concepts simultaneously. Then again, a game where you fly around and mow down hordes of poor people might not be something a lot of people would run out and buy.

Whatever you say, guy who almost certainly was just of the people working on the game.

And yes, it is safe to call our enemies in this game terrorists, as the game begins with every American’s worst nightmare, and every movie and game designer’s favorite scenario – a surprise attack on Washington DC. You immediately take off from the White House (which is kind of strange, considering the White House isn’t an army base) and head off to stop the Madman’s army from attacking the various monuments around the city. Yes, the president’s life is in danger, and we’ll get to that if there’s time. Don’t forget – we have a back-up president; but there’s only one Jefferson Memorial.

It’s interesting to note that the terrorist’s attack vehicles of choice are green station wagons, RVs, and freaking surface to air missile launchers. It’s like they couldn’t decide whether to go with weapons that were easy to sneak into the capital, or ones that might actually be effective in a fight, and settled for kind of a self-defeating mix of the two. At some point as they were entering DC, towing their SAM launchers in little trailers behind their fleet of identical Chevy Caprice wagons, one of them should have looked around and thought “Hey, this probably isn’t going to work.”

Besides attacking various tourist destinations around the city, the terrorists also attempt to assault the president’s motorcade, since apparently nobody bothers to check out the route ahead of him, or you know, tell him to turn around and stay the fuck out of the city that’s under attack. Jeez guys, do you make him drive his own limo, too? Anyway, it’s up to you to destroy any of the terrorists attacking the motorcade. Considering that this mission involves shooting missiles at vehicles that are driving alongside the president’s limo, it goes a lot better if you chose the co-pilot who was an accurate shot over one with good winch skills.

C’mon, man. That’s not even close.

One of the trademarks of the Strike series is blowing up background buildings to uncover hidden supplies. The southern part of DC is a suburban area with several houses including one that you can blow up to reveal an ammo crate being defended by a guy with a gun. Is he one of the terrorists, or just a paranoid conspiracy theorist who had been hoarding weapons in his basement for the day the government sends their secret helicopters after him? Because if it’s the latter, it turns out he was actually pretty justified in those beliefs, which must make the attack on his house one of the most terrifying “I told you so” moments in his life.

With Washington DC secured, it’s on to mission two. This is known to Strike aficionados (ie – me) as the “goddamn hovercraft level”, and has you landing your helicopter and using a hovercraft to… well, die a lot, mostly. Also, to recover some stolen plutonium before it gets turned into nuclear weapons. But mostly dying.

It’s not even that the hovercraft is a particularly weak vehicle. It’s just that it must be backed into anything you want to pick up at just the right angle, and the slightest wrong move will cause the object in question to explode.This makes it very difficult to refuel or get more ammunition. It is also not, perhaps, the ideal vehicle for recovering crates of stolen plutonium.

Look at the size of that fucking shark! Let’s just use the winch to airlift it, then drop it on the enemy camp and call it a day.

Actually, you know what? hovercrafts are stupid. Here’s a password to skip to the 3rd mission: 9V6CR9WNMCZ

Things pick up in the next mission, in which we attack the madman’s training camps. And despite being able to buy a small army and nuclear materials, the budget for training camps apparently wasn’t quite enough to buy anything more than a handful of haphazardly placed tents that are easily destroyed. Perhaps the drug lord is just trying to get the new recruits prepared for the eventuality of a helicopter coming along and blowing up all their shit. Because that seems to be an inevitability for these guys. There are also some nuclear reactors here which need to be recovered. For obvious reasons, it is extremely important that you do not destroy them. Fortunately, they are surprisingly resilient to having the warehouses they are stored in blown up around them.

These reactors will later be used to convert the souls of the recently deceased in Mako energy.

The fourth mission has you going on a daring night raid to rescue kidnapped nuclear scientists. At this point, with the nuclear materials recovered, you’d probably think that the threat is neutralized and you could just ransom the hostages. And sure, if you were some kind of socialist, I guess that could work. But the US does not negotiate with terrorists. No, the US comes in the middle of the night and takes its scientists back by force while risking as many lives as possible. And we do it without relying on technological crutches such as radar or spotlights. The explosions of our missiles and the burning wreckage of our foes are all we need to light up the night sky. (Note: that actually is about the only way to see anything on this level).

So has anyone else noticed that in this game about flying an attack chopper over the jungles of South America, the only level that has actually taken place in the jungle so far was a night time mission where you couldn’t actually see if it was the jungle or not? Well, the fifth stage takes place in a city. Oh, and you drive a motorcycle for a while. Jungle Strike!

Anyway, the UN has arrived on the scene with supplies and relief for the villagers. Unfortunately the drug lord has hidden all the citizens away in nearby missions. What a monster – hiding his own people away in safe places in the wake of an oncoming invasion force and a rampaging attack helicopter! I’m sure the civilians will be greatly relieved when you blow up the buildings they’re hiding in with Hellfire missiles and then kidnap, err… airlift the survivors to a heavily guarded UN security compound. Oh, and be sure to methodically level their homes and any other buildings in town, too – there might be some valuable supplies tucked away in some of the buildings. No, I have absolutely no idea why these people hate America. Probably because of the drugs.

Feel free to blow up some of those U.N. supply crates just to show everyone who’s boss.

The final part of this mission involves a high-risk raid to recover some nuclear detonators, because it’s clearly not enough just to simply leave the enemy without nuclear reactors, or plutonium, or scientists. Better to risk your life and the rest of the campaign to recover some impotent detonators.

Now it’s time to attack Carlos Ortega in his, uh… jungle snow fortress? Because apparently in addition to being the head of an international narcotics cartel, he’s also the boss from an 8-bit platformer game. Anyway, this mission is more of the same old stuff – blow up weapons systems, knock out some radar sites, take down a heavily fortified bunker.

You know, the old routine.

The most noteworthy thing on this level is the rescue of missing co-pilot Wild Bill, who is the game’s best gunner, and immediately takes over co-pilot duties mid-mission to upgrade to your capabilities. Which I’m sure that must have involved an awkward conversation with your previous co-pilot: “Hey, Annihilator, look you’ve done great and all, but now that we have a gunner here who can tell the difference between a tank and the president’s limo, um… well, I’m just gonna drop you off at the POW camp the next time we drop off the prisoners we captured. Make sure you tell the guards you’re on our side, or things might get a little ugly.”

Mission seven has you taking control of the F-117 Stealth Fighter, because hey, that controls pretty much like a helicopter, right? Never mind that each craft is from an entirely separate branch of the military, the important thing here is infinite fuel! And infinite missiles, which is important, because the fighter moves so fast that it’s near impossible to hit anything on the first try. Also, you crash any time you bump into something, which is probably another argument against flying a radar-invisible aircraft a couple hundred feet off the ground at high speeds. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the destructive power to level the entire Amazon basin, rainforests and ancient Mayan temples be damned.

“Sir, why are we flying the stealth fighter so close to the ground?”

“So that they can’t pick us up on their… SONOFABITCH WHY DID WE EVEN BOTHER GETTING A STEALTH PLANE?”

With that out of the way, it’s time to capture the Desert Madman and the Evil Drug Lord. Ortega goes into hiding in his mountain villa, while the madman retreats to his fortified bunker which, conveniently, is maybe a mile away. Rather than defend either of these fortresses with tanks or the newly introduced mobile SAM launchers (nasty, heavily armored missile launchers that are maybe the first enemies in the series truly capable of going head-to-head with you), the drug lord relies on a couple of guys in a pickup truck, while the madman defends himself with the same anti-aircraft turrets that you’ve been blowing up all game. The SAM launchers are instead used to guard some hidden weapon sites, a task their particularly ill-suited for, due to their complete inability to distinguish between an attack helicopter and the thing they’re supposed to be defending from attack helicopters. This goes about as well as you would expect, and it isn’t long before you’re heading back to the States to put these two on trial.

Where, ironically, they’ll sent to a prison more or less exactly like this bunker.

The final mission of the game begins with yet another attack on Washington DC because, I mean, you’re not going to go through the trouble of making a painstakingly sort-of accurate game version of nation’s capital and then only use that level once, are you? Of course not. Hell, Fallout 3 set their entire game there, and that game barely even had helicopters in it.

Anyway, the remnants of the Drug Lord’s and Desert Madman’s combined forces launch a combined attack on DC, because that’s what loosely allied mercenary armies usually do after their criminal warlord leaders get captured, right? Coordinated full frontal assaults on the capitals of foreign nations? As opposed to say, internal power struggles for new leadership, running off and counting their money, or going into hiding? Their attack allows both the madman and drug lord to escape, with the latter hijacking a bus and the former stealing a fuel truck. Now, you probably don’t need me to explain why a big, slow truck full of an explosive liquid might not be the optimal choice for fleeing from an attack helicopter. Still it’s worth pointing out that in addition to the obvious drawbacks, the tanker truck also has the disadvantage of being something we’ve spent the whole game blowing up as a means to get more fuel. Tip #1 for escaping pursuit is not to disguise yourself as something your enemy would attack anyway.

The very last part of this mission has you trying to prevent 4 semi trucks carrying the madman’s nuclear missiles from crashing into the White House. I’m assuming that since we’ve already recovered the plutonium, nuclear reactors, detonators, and scientists in previous missions, these are “nuclear missiles” in the sense that they are missiles that could have been fitted with nuclear warheads if the terrorists still had any. This would also explain why it’s perfectly safe to blow up the trucks. Still, having four trucks crash into the White House probably wouldn’t be good anyway, so if nothing else, this will save a lot of money on repairs.

Though considering how heavily armored they are, you’ll probably end up firing $1 billion worth of missiles to prevent a couple million dollars worth of damage.

Availability: Jungle Strike was a huge seller (its predecessor, Desert Strike, was actually the best selling game in the history of EA for a while), so finding a copy shouldn’t be too hard, and it’s not crazy to think you could get it for $5 or less. There was also a SNES version that isn’t significantly different, so that route is available, too. Unfortunately, those of you who only have recent systems are out of luck. Like many classic Electronic Arts titles, the series has not found its way into any retro collections, and isn’t available for download. I’ve never been able to say for sure, but I suspect the reason for this EA may have had some kind of unique publishing agreements with its developers, and didn’t retain the rights to the games they released. That’s only a theory, though. It could be that EA just has a grudge against me personally.

King’s Bounty

Grade: A-
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 11th
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 1991
Genre: Oppression

In King’s Bounty, you play the role of a hero charged with retrieving the Staff of Order on behalf of the noble King So-Unimportant-His-Name-Hardly-Appears-Anywhere. This is of the utmost importance, because without the staff, the land has descended into its natural state. By which I mean chaos – all the other lords are in open rebellion, roving groups of monsters wander the land, and packs of wolves are crossing the plains in covered wagons. Or else they’re attacking covered wagons… it’s kind of hard to tell. Either way, the landscape has turned into some kind of messed up version of the Oregon Trail and it’s up to you to fix it.

We’ve been over this before, but this is exactly why imbuing magical powers into small objects is generally a bad idea. As soon as it gets lost or stolen, everything just goes straight to hell, and this is especially true since the power in question is almost always something like creating order from chaos or preventing the end of the world. That’s not the kind of magic you should just carelessly shove into a staff or whatever else you happen to have lying around. Plan it out a little. Go and find something big and kind of immobile, like a mountain or a Soviet tank, and enchant that with your magic powers. Then you won’t lose it. I grew up right next to a big freaking lake, and we never – not once – ever misplaced Lake Erie. What we’re saying is, if you misplace something more frequently than, say, your sunglasses, you probably shouldn’t infuse it with the power to save the world.

In fact, here’s a picture I took the last time I was at Lake Erie. As everyone in the Rust Belt area knows, the Great Lakes are totally overrun with giant Vikings.

Then again, it’s hard to say how much these rebellious lords were really helping you run the kingdom anyway. For the most part, they’re all kind of shitty. One of them is an active pirate who makes no effort at all to hide that fact. That’s a counterproductive occupation for someone in a position of leadership within your kingdom, and even if it wasn’t, that’s still not the kind of experience that trains you to become a less than awful ruler. Another, Murray the Miser, is so useless that the fact that he’s openly committing treason is considered secondary to his more serious offense of committing petty crimes. Another of them is just a rotting skeleton, and I can’t imagine there’s much of a practical difference between having him on your side or opposing you.

Truthfully, it sounds like this rebellion was a long time coming. What kind of king grants titles and castles to pirates and skeletons in the first place? That’s probably not a sign of good mental health, let alone effective leadership. I’m guessing living conditions for the average citizen in this kingdom likely weren’t that great, and were probably especially bad if you happened to live a fiefdom ruled by some random cyclops that the King gave a fortress to and elevated to the title of Count Rhhaaargh!!!

You can tell when Murray’s in town based on the sharp increase in petty crime.

Sometimes a crisis can focus a person, allowing them see the mistakes that lead to this situation in the first place, and making the solution to the problems crystal clear. Losing the Staff of Order hasn’t exactly granted your king this sense of clarity. He sends you off with a vague notion that you should go reclaim his kingdom and puts you at the head of a massive army of 20 guys armed with pitchforks who will die the very first time you get into a fight. This is a guarantee. In fact, they’ll probably die at the very thought of a monster.

This can make King’s Bounty seem frustratingly hard to an inexperienced player, but there’s an easy, logical way to avoid being immediately killed. Your first stop on this quest should be to do what any rational person would in this circumstance – turn right around, go back to the castle, and ask the king “Are you fucking kidding me?”. You won’t get any kind of a satisfactory answer, but at the very least, you’ll have the ability to get some actual troops from him. For a price. Yes, you actually have to buy your soldiers from the king that, for some inexplicable reason, you’re still trying to save.

Once you get an actual army and head out on your way, things get more interesting. The game is kind of a combination of exploration and turn-based strategy. The goal is to recover pieces of a map that will reveal the location of the missing staff. A few pieces can be found out in the open, most of them, however, are earned by defeating the rebellious lords. A lot of the game focuses on traveling the map, finding the castles of the enemies you need to defeat, as well as places to recruit more powerful troops than the ones you can get at the castle, and various treasures to help pay for it all.

 Apparently the mayor of Xoctan is a vampire with laser eyes. Also, he’s run unopposed in the last several elections.

One of the fun things about this game is that you’re pretty much free to assemble any kind of army you want, as long as you can find a place to recruit that kind of creature. Some types of units won’t get along with others, and will make each other weaker, but as long as you find compatible units, there’s nothing in the game telling you you’re not allowed to conquer the world with an army of demons and vampires. In fact, the “evil” units in the game are generally so overpowered that it’s actually advisable to do so.

This raises the interesting possibility that you’re actually playing as (or at least for), the bad guy. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. A tyrannical king keeps everyone in line with the magical Staff of Order, then hands out castles and lordships to a bunch of criminals and monsters who further terrorize the peasantry. When the staff is lost and the people are able to rise up against him, he sends you out to put down the rebellion, and encourages – no, practically forces – you to do so at the head of a massive army of monsters. I mean, if the king didn’t want you terrorizing the countryside with a horde of orcs and a couple of dragons, he probably would have given you a discount on cavalry units, wouldn’t he? I get the feeling calling it “The Staff of Order” is a bit of clever propaganda. The Staff of Oppression is probably a bit more accurate. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s some kind of super-weapon, like a fantasy equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

Anyway, the gameplay. Combat, whether against an enemy lord in a fortress or just a wandering group of monsters out in the field, is relatively straightforward turn-based strategy with each group of units maneuvering around a battlefield. The isn’t a ton of depth here – most units don’t have special attacks, and there aren’t any advanced tactics (such as splitting a group of 50 guys into two groups of 25 in order to fight two different enemies at once), so it’s really just a matter of getting close and attacking. Once you get a feel for the relative strength of each type of soldier it’s pretty easy, and you can usually predict the winner of a battle before it starts. It’s a bit of a stretch to even refer to this as strategy.
That kind of sounds awful, but it works mainly because those battles are really just a sideshow. The true focus of the game is strategy in a broader sense – there is a time limit working against you, so the game really is about figuring out the most efficient way to recover the map pieces and find the staff. You have to manage the size of your army, put together an effective mix of troops, and navigate the landscape effectively. It’s important to know when to avoid a fight, where to find the best troops, and how to keep the gold flowing in order to pay for it all. Balance is critical; too small of an army will get you slaughtered, but too large of one will take too much time to recruit (and replenish), and will cost more. Sure, most battles are over before they begin. But whether they’re a cakewalk or a nightmare comes down to how well you’ve prepared your army beforehand.

Though you might still be a little surprised at just how many knights 2 dragons can slaughter.

The fact that most battles can be fairly easy works in another beneficial way, too. There’s something deeply satisfying abound running around, kicking 25 different types of ass, and clearing the landscape of monsters and enemy castles. It just works on a psychological level – people crave the tangible benefit that comes from actually seeing the game world get cleaner and cleaner as the game goes on. This is also a big part of the appeal of games like Diablo, where you go into a dungeon and exterminate all the monsters. There are times where you’ll be exploring and you’ll see a small group of roving monsters, and even though it’s a little out of the way, and the reward isn’t going to be anything great, you still wipe them out anyway, just to get them off your map.

Hmm, it sounds so bloodthirsty when I say it that way. And this combination orc/zombie/demon army behind me probably isn’t helping my image, either.

Did I mention the zombies are vengeful, too? Because they are.

Availability: Ok, the availability is a little, um, complicated for this one. We’ll start from the easiest and let it go from there.

Sega Genesis: The game came out pretty early in the Genesis’ life, and falls into that grouping of “games that are sort of rare, but not expensive because nobody really cares about them.” So if you want to get a Genesis copy, it might be a little tricky to track down, and you’ll probably have to resort to buying it online, but it should be obtainable for about $10 or less.

PC: The PC version of the game is pretty similar to the Genesis version, but not identical. It wasn’t a huge hit, except oddly enough, in Russia, where an unofficial sequel was made and later on, a Russian developer made a remake called King’s Bounty: The Legend. Come to think of it, it’s entirely possible that King’s Bounty wasn’t a big hit in Russia either, except for one really obsessive fan. Anyway, KB: tL is available in the US, and if you look for it online, you can probably get a copy for less than what it will cost to have it shipped to you. Hell, find a copy with free shipping, and it’s almost as if they’re paying you to take it off their hands. That usually isn’t a good sign though, so buyer beware.

Here’s an interesting side note – King’s Bounty was also the forerunner to the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and is even included with some of the HoM&M compilations. So you could also try to get it that way.

Modern consoles: King’s Bounty hasn’t been made available for download on any of the current consoles, hasn’t been included in any kind of Greatest Hits anthologies, and nobody ever did a remake of it. Except for the time when they totally did for the PS2 and called it Heroes of Might and Magic: Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff. The game was not well-received (we haven’t played it, so I can’t tell you how faithful of a remake it is), and can be found online for next to nothing.

And you thought Shark Week was a big deal.

Overall, there are some options, but as long as you have access to a Genesis, we’d recommend going with that version ahead of any of the alternatives.

Gain Ground

Grade: A-
Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 12th
Publisher: Renovation
Year: 1991
Genre: Rescue

Renovation is one of those publishers that is beloved by hardcore gamers because they specialized in finding niche Japanese titles that nobody else wanted to release in the US, and brought them over here. Of course, there was often a reason no other publisher would touch these games, so their track record has been, to put it generously, kind of hit and miss. But not hit and miss in the sense that “They had some games that were pretty good and some that weren’t.” It’s more the way being attacked by a shark could be described as hit and miss – some of the bites hit you and some miss, but each one is being made with bad intentions, and the whole experience is both terrifying and scarring. Renovation is the publisher responsible for bringing Ernest Evans to the U.S. from Japan, and that damn game actually forced economists to start counting “human misery” as one of our country’s imports for a while. What I’m saying is that if hardcore gamers say they love Renovation’s games, it’s only because they harbor a burning disdain and hatred of humanity (all hardcore gamers are secretly witches), and try to trick the rest of us into playing games that will make us cry. This is also the same reason they occasionally try to convince people the Virtua Fighter series is remotely playable.

So coming from Renovation isn’t a particularly promising heritage for Gain Ground, and if that wasn’t enough to overcome, this game came out in 1991. For those of you too young to remember, take it from someone who lived through it – 1991 was not a good year. There was a recession, a Bush in the White House, and people wore Zubaz pants. The Top Five highest grossing films that year included both Hook and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.The Buffalo Bills were in the Super Bowl again, and the Detroit Lions were a game away from being their opponent. Yes, Bills vs. Lions. In the Super Bowl. That nearly happened. Also, Vanilla Ice starred in a movie.

So, no, 1991 was not a great year, except, oddly enough, for games. This was the year the Super Nintendo was released and Street Fighter 2 hit the arcades. On the Genesis, we had Sonic the Hedgehog, the original NHL Hockey, and Rings of Power. In fact, this Top 50 Genesis list features as many or more games from 1991 as any other year, with an impressive 11. Gaming was the one good thing going in an otherwise terrible year. Well, that and the emergence of grunge music and the alternative scene. But keep in mind that the whole alternative thing was basically built around the idea of “Hey, from now on let’s try to make things as unlike 1991 as possible.”

Still, to look at Gain Ground, you’d probably never guess that it was one of the titles that made ‘91 such a banner year for gamers. Well ok, technically, if you were to look at it, you’d probably just guess that your TV was broken, because for all its good qualities, Gain Ground looks like ass. I mean, really, we had about a dozen different screen shots in this review, but we had to get rid of most of them because almost all of them just looked like a giant green and brown muddle.

“Man, they really assed-out the graphics in this one.”

So what is it then? What does this game do so well that we felt it worthy of being the 12th best game ever released for the Genesis? It must be the story, right? Well… no. Gain Ground’s story is so bad, they make absolutely no mention of it within the game itself, figuring it’s better for players to just wonder what the hell’s going on and why than to actually tell you what the “writers” came up with. And it’s hard to blame them. Gain Ground takes its name from some kind of combat simulator that was built during an era of peace to make sure people still had the ability to make war should the need arise. Because that seems like a likely scenario, right? That after centuries of peace, people would say “Well, this is nice, but let’s go back to that thing where we all waste resources, kill each other, and suffer. You know, that thing nobody even remembers how to do it anymore.” Anyway, one day the simulator goes nuts (of course), and kidnaps a bunch of people. Now it’s up to the greatest warriors to rescue them. Good thing they had that giant war simulator to train them how to defeat a… giant war simulator.

The best problems are always the ones you unnecessarily create for yourself.

By the way, these “greatest warriors” include a robocop look-a-like with a laser cannon, a couple of dudes with rockets launchers, and a, uh, medieval wizard who casts spells at his enemies. Oh, and also a guy in a loincloth who throws spears at people. Yep, that’s your dream team. Don’t send in the SWAT team or the future version of Navy SEALs or anything. We’ll just fill out this lineup with Merlin and a caveman and everything will be fine.

Actually, though, that makes perfect sense, because the Gain Ground simulator was designed to recreate combat from all eras. You know, because when this futuristic society that no longer has war decides that it’s going to start it up again, it’s only logical to assume that they’ll be doing it using badly outdated technology. Or maybe they were afraid of being attacked by some intergalactic Vikings and wanted to fight them with the invader’s own weaponry instead of just blasting them with lasers. Yeah, I think we’re all beginning to understand why this story didn’t get mentioned anywhere in the game.

So if it’s not the graphics, and it’s not the story, and I’ll just save us the paragraph and come right out and tell you it’s not the music, then it must be the gameplay. I mean, it’s either that or the box art, right?

It’s definitely not the box art.

Gain Ground blends action and strategy in a way that few games even try, let alone pull off successfully. Your goal in each stage is to lead your troops, one at a time, across a battlefield littered with enemy soldiers. To finish a level, you either need to kill every enemy on the map, or get every one of your characters to the exit. Additionally, there are bonus characters scattered on some maps that you can rescue and carry to an exit, and any character of yours that gets hit by an enemy can also be rescued in a similar fashion. However, anyone left on the map when the last enemy is killed on time runs out is lost. So the objective is to come up with and execute a plan that minimizes casualties, rescues all of the bonus characters, and then either kills all the enemies or evacuates all your troops before time runs out.

That might not sound like much, but the key to this setup is the careful way the game balances the action and planning portions of the game. When a stage begins, you can spend as much of the time limit as you wish formulating a plan – your characters are safely off-screen until chosen and sent into battle. This means you also have an opportunity to reevaluate your plans after a character exits the battlefield. But the timer never stops counting down, either, meaning that every second spent figuring out how you’re going to clear a stage is one less second you can spend actually doing so. It’s a delicate balance.

And the “rescue” aspect of the game opens up further strategic possibilities. Will you open with an expendable character (by which I mean the loincloth wearing guy with a spear) and let him find the nasty surprises the stage may have in store for you? Or will you try to save time by starting with a powerful character? If he gets ambushed and killed, will you try to rescue him? How will you retrieve a bonus character way off in the corner while still leaving at least one enemy alive (so as not to end the stage before the rescue is completed)?

Your best bet? Don’t use the samurai. He can’t do anything.

The action portion of the game plays like an overhead shooter, and the many different characters all have unique qualities, which adds yet another level of strategy to the mix. Some warriors are faster than others, some can shoot over walls, and some have longer range, or the ability to strafe. The game is challenging enough that no matter how good your planning is, you’re still going to have to be good with a controller to survive, and some of the stage layouts are absolutely devious.

As an interesting side note, this was one of the only games on our Top 50 that was also released for the Sega Master System, though this was only in Europe. So if you happen to be a European SMS enthusiast, you could try to track down a copy. However, given the unlikelihood of finding Master System games at any time other than late 80s, that option might only available to British time travelers.

 I suppose you could ask for a copy if you ever meet Dr. Who.

Availability: Gain Ground came out too early in the Genesis’ life to be a big hit, and as a result, copies of it are kind of rare. Maybe not “travel to an ancient Inca temple and recover it from a chamber full of traps” rare, but definitely “pay $8 on eBay for a cartridge-only copy with a torn label” rare. Fortunately, Gain Ground was included as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, which is available on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Wii owners can also snag a copy for the virtual console. If you have the option, we’d recommend the Ultimate Genesis Collection, since it has a ton of other Top 50-worthy games and is an absolute bargain at the price. Also, it gives you the ability to save whenever you want, which is a worthwhile feature we only wish the original game came with. Believe me, you’ll be glad for the ability to save after every stage the first time you lose your archer and can’t rescue him.

Castlevania: Bloodlines

Grade: A-

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 13th

Publisher: Konami

Year: 1994

Genre: Exterminator

World War I doesn’t get a lot of attention in history books or other media, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t significant. Most obviously, it set the stage for World War II. But there were a lot of other historically important consequences of the Great War. It was essentially the final blow to any kind of meaningful aristocracy in Europe, led to the collapse of some previously powerful empires, and ushered in a modern era of warfare, with astronomically higher casualty rates than nearly any previous conflict in history. Perhaps most significantly, it nearly led to the premature resurrection of Dracula.

Ok, so that’s not something they teach you in school. When we about learned the the four “-isms” that led to World War I, Vampirism wasn’t on the list. And our history books never told us anything about the sorceress working behind the scenes, creating tensions between nations and plotting the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to start the war, so that Dracula could harvest millions of souls and return to power. I had to learn that lesson from the intro to Castlevania: Bloodlines.

It does start to seem pretty obvious once you think about it, though.

Fortunately, the Belmont clan is there to stop Dracula before his resurrection. Well, not the Belmonts exactly, but a distant relative, John Morris, a fully trained vampire hunter living in Texas. Kind of interesting that even vampire hunters eventually started immigrating to the US in the late 19th century. I guess it truly was a land of opportunity, where even the most humble killers of the undead could have a fresh start, and with hard work and a little ingenuity, could slay their way from rags to riches.

That’s one thing that’s always overlooked in these Castlevania games is the professional aspect. I imagine hiring a Belmont (or a Morris) to clear out all the skeletons and mummies in your haunted castle would probably be a pretty expensive undertaking. It would be like hiring a really specialized exterminator, except the work is extra dangerous and one family has a monopoly on the entire industry. I’d love to see one of these games end with a scene where the protagonist is going over the invoice with the owner of the infested castle: “Well, you had a lot of zombies in your basement that I took care of, and there were some mermen in your underground lagoon. And up on the roof, there were a bunch of harpies dropping tiny men armed with swords. I think I got all of them, but I left some traps, so check those in a week and call me if any more turn up. Also, your main dining hall is full of pits – I don’t know if maybe your last slayer made those to try to get some of the werewolves to fall into, but if so, it’s not working. You might want to call a carpenter and get those fixed up – I had to swing on chandeliers to get across the room. And actually you should probably have someone look at your foundation, because this whole castle is built on top of a series of caverns, an abandoned mine, and some catacombs. The last place I was in that was like that actually collapsed right behind me moments after I killed the head vampire. Besides, caves and stuff like that very attractive to undead, so there’ll be more infestations unless you get that taken care of… Anyway, the total comes to 50,000 gold, but with our Spring Special promotion, it’s actually only 45,000. And actually, I’m going to knock another 200 off that price, because I destroyed just about every candle in the place. I… I really just hate candles.”

…and the moon. That was the real reason I took this job.

Yeah, in my imagination, the Belmonts are very honest vampire slayers, who explain all the charges, pay for anything they accidentally damage, and offer unsolicited advice to their clients on how to prevent more attacks, even at the cost of future business. They would get really good reviews on Angie’s List.

Of course, Angie’s List doesn’t cover vampire hunters, since that’s not a real profession and you should be extremely suspicious of anyone claiming to be one. Nor do they review video games. Luckily for you, we do, and I can tell you that Castlevania: Bloodlines is excellent. The visuals and music are great, there are some really creative boss fights, and the entire thing is just well-designed and executed.

Look out! A boss who can argue with himself constantly.

There are also some really innovative touches.  What’s interesting about the special effects in this game is that few of them rely on some kind of revoluntionary technological breakthrough. Rather, it was a lot of taking things we knew the Genesis could do and using them in a unique way – tricks like upside down rooms, or un-aligning parts of the screen to disorient the player. It’s less “I’ve never seen that before” and more “why hasn’t anyone else thought of doing that?”

Still, gameplay is what counts in the end, and Bloodlines is one of the most well-balanced games we’ve played. The game is extremely challenging, yet at the same time, there are very few times that you take damage where it feels like you couldn’t have avoided it. This, combined with a limited number of lives and very few healing items, turns this into a quest to make near-perfect runs. You only get  two continues to complete the game’s 6 stages, which means only 15 lives (assuming you go into the options and set the lives from three to five which, for the love of God, just swallow your pride and do that),  to complete the game. In most other games, this would seem impossible, but because Bloodlines is so well designed, it never gets frustrating. You will do better almost every time you play it, and with a little practice, this impossible feat doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

Admittedly, it’s not the best game in the Castlevania series, or even the best Castlevania of its generation (the SNES’ Super Castlevania IV is a little bit better). But that really says more about the utter dominance of this series than anything negative about this particular entry. Until the past few generations of consoles, Castlevania was consistently one of the best games on any system it appeared on – the NES, the SNES, the Genesis, even multiple evolutions of the Gameboy. And don’t even get me started on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which is not just the original Playstation’s finest moment, but one of the greatest games ever made. Bloodlines may not be a masterpiece, you can see the connections between it and the later games that were.

The detailed sculpting around the clock face is a nice touch you don’t see in many games.

Availability: Castlevania: Bloodlines never made it to any platforms other than the Genesis, hasn’t been included in any compilations that we know of, and is not available for download for any of the current consoles. This means that if you want to play it, you’re going to have to track down a Genesis copy, and that’s not going to be easy. Well ok, in the internet era, it’s extremely easy to find a copy, it’s just not going to be cheap. The game is slightly rare, and this combined with its quality and dedicated fan base mean prices can get a little out of hand.

A quick search online revealed several copies going for more than $100. Now, I’m not one to tell you how to spend your money, but good lord, don’t do that. Seriously, if you’re even thinking about spending that much, I’ll sell you my own copy for $60. More realistically, most copies tend to fall into the $20-25 range, though patience and persistence might lead to better results. I picked up a copy a few years ago for $15, which I suppose makes my offer to sell it for only $60 seem a little less charitable.

Flowers may not seem like a fearsome enemy, but these are evil flowers.

Whether or not this is a good value to you depends on a lot of things, but it’s worth taking into account the availability and cost of other Castlevania games out there. Super Castlevania IV is available for the Wii for less than ten dollars and is a slightly better game. Symphony of the Night is available on the Playstation (and by extension, the PS2), and used copies sell online for about the same price as a copy of Bloodlines, and it’s also available for for download on the Xbox 360 for a mere $10, despite being pure heavenly glory translated into game form. And the series has several entries available on the Gameboy DS (and Advance) which are also less expensive and arguably better games. With those considerations, Bloodlines is probably best left only to Genesis enthusiasts and hardcore Castlevania fans who have already played most of the aforementioned titles.

Having said that, the offer to buy my personal copy for $60 is still on the table. It doesn’t have the instructions, but I’ll throw in a poster for the Game Gear that probably didn’t originally come with it. Hello? Anybody?

Greatest Heavyweights

Grade: A-

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 14th

Publisher: Sega

Year: 1993

Genre: Punching

Someone once asked me what the best fighting game on the Genesis was, and when I told him it was Greatest Heavyweights, he told me, no, Greatest Heavyweights wasn’t a fighting game, it was a boxing game. It was at that point that I began to wonder if I had somehow fundamentally misunderstood the sport of boxing. But I stand by my assessment – Greatest Heavyweights is the Genesis’ best fighting game. Given that the console’s emphasis on sports games, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that its best fighting game is also a sports game.

Now I could go on and tell you all about GH’s gameplay, career mode, and other features, all of which are brilliant. But let’s leave that to the experts. What really stands out to me about Greatest Heavyweights, and what I think helps put it near the front of the pack of so many other really well-made Genesis games, is just how unapologetic macho it is. This shouldn’t come as a complete surprise – it is after all a game about really strong dudes punching each other in the face for money, starring some of history’s most skilled face-punchers. That alone should already gives it a ranking of “Tom Selleck” on the Machismo Scale, and it only gets tougher from there.


Steak is For Training, and Stamina is for Wusses

I love training with the Power Glove. It’s so bad.

How do you become a great boxer? Spend countless hours in the gym? Spar to work on your technique? Greatest Heavyweights says to hell with all that and gives you the only training option anyone should ever take seriously – eating a ton of steak. In the game, this is referred to as “Protein Diet” but what it essentially comes down to is eating a dead cow for every breakfast lunch and dinner, along with a side of a dozen eggs and a tall glass of milk. This is the way all the great boxers trained. Sure, the game gives you plenty of more “traditional” training regimens, like exercise bikes or wearing sneakers, but any boxer worth a damn knows you can’t get into fighting shape without devouring several hundred farm animals in the process.

See, you train your boxer in three different skills – power, speed and stamina, and all that steak gives you a big boost to power and speed. Which is the perfect balance, because stamina is pointless. Greatest Heavyweights doesn’t get all caught up with nonsense like “proper boxing technique” or winning on points. Sure, you could try to box effectively by keeping your guard up, waiting for an opening, and countering your opponents punches, but that approach is just going to get you killed. Instead, you need to learn how to fight like a man. By which I mean sucker punching your opponent in the gut, and then caving in his face with an uppercut while he’s doubled over.

It’s also not a bad idea to fight someone much weaker than you.

It Features Some of the Toughest Guys Ever…

As the title implies, Greatest Heavyweights features some of the most successful boxers of all time, including Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Jack Dempsey. As somebody who is only old enough to remember the Mike Tyson era and everything after, it’s kind of interesting to see these guys in action. Although every legend has maxed out stats, the game still makes each of them unique by recreating their signature style. If the game is accurate, then Floyd Patterson was completely unafraid of being punched in the head, and Joe Louis was a boxer, not a Hall of Fame center for the Detroit Red Wings, as I had previously assumed.

But with clubs, while riding dinosaurs.

Each legend has unique taunts as well. Evander Holyfield quotes MC Hammer (seriously, saying “It’s Hammer Time!” is a coincidence. Saying both “It’s Hammer Time” and “You Can’t Touch Me” is not), while Rocky Marciano (not that Rocky) likes to tell his opponents “I’m gonna embarrass you” in what sounds like a bad Marlon Brando impersonation. While I assume he meant he planned to embarrass me by beating me up and displaying my lack of boxing skills, as opposed to, say, pants-ing me in the middle of the ring, it’s still not as effective of a threat as “I’m gonna punch you in the face a whole bunch of times,” which is what he actually ended up doing.

…And the Computer Isn’t Even a Little Bit Afraid of Them

What’s surprising is how little respect the fictional computer opponents give these legends. Imagine what you would do if you found yourself in a boxing ring with Muhammad Ali – and not modern day, wheelchair bound, crippled by Parkinson’s Ali, but the “I’m the Greatest of All Time”, George Foreman slaying Ali, in his prime. I like to think I’m not a total coward, but even so, I’m fairly certain I would spend the entire match apologizing and trying to find the softest part of the ring to fall down onto.

Not the computer, though. In one fight, a CPU controlled opponent by the somewhat less than intimidating name of Sleepy Crowe got into the ring with Ali and managed to get himself knocked down in about 30 seconds. Rather than doing what a rational person would do and staying the fuck down, Sleepy Crowe popped back up and began calling Ali a pansy. Ali, never one to shy away from trash talk himself, responded by punching all the knowledge out of Sleepy Crowe’s head.

Admittedly, what’s manly isn’t necessarily what’s wise. In fact that’s rarely the case. Which is something Crowe would do well to remember if he still had that capability.

You Can Hit Somebody So Hard That They Start to Like It

That brings me to the manliest thing Greatest Heavyweights – it’s sheer savagery. Generally, the violence in fighting games is either a bit understated, with guys shrugging off blows that would put a person in the hospital in real life. Or else the violence is so completely over the top that it’s cartoonish. But the violence in GH feels very real. Landing a knockdown punch usually results in a little grunt from your opponent as he crashes to the canvas, but sometimes you’re rewarded with a much more satisfying yelp that lets you know that your foe probably just received some significant loss of brain function.

But even that pales in comparison to the time I managed to land a right hook that sent my opponent crashing to the floor while he screamed “YEAH!” That’s right, in Greatest Heavyweights, I once punched a guy so hard that even he was excited about it. This is normally the point where a responsible referee would stop the fight, but the refs in this game are apparently paid by the round,so after an eight count, my opponent got back up and the fight resumed. A few seconds later, he was on the mat again, and did not do so much as lift his head.

I’m pretty sure I killed him.

Availability: Greatest Heavyweights has not been included in any retro collections or made available for download. If I had to guess, I’d say the licensing for the boxers probably expired. However, the game is relatively common, and a copy of Greatest Heavyweights should only set you back a couple of bucks and be easy to find online or at a decent used game store. If that should somehow become impossible, you can also scoop up the game that GH was a sequel to, Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing. Greatest Heavyweights is the better game, but if you’re not really into the legendary boxers, improvements between the two games are slight.

Wait, Dixon does what?

One side note, Greatest Heavyweights supports the Genesis 6 button pad, but we actually found it easier to play with the standard 3 button controller. So you might want to pick one of those up too, if you don’t already have one.