Feature: ROAD TO STREET FIGHTER 4

With Street Fighter 4 just around the corner, we take a look at how the franchise has punched it's way through to a fourth round on the home consoles.

Gamers from the early 90's will fondly recall the day Street Fighter 2 made it's debut on the Super Nintendo/Famicom. This technologically advanced 16 bit fighter had it all from great graphics, superb sound and possibly the finest gameplay, comparable to an intense game of chess.
Endless playground fables of Sheng Long appearing out of the bell on the final stage and Guile's hidden pistol attack kept us all hanging in there until Street Fighter 2 Turbo was announced.

The runaway success of SF2 ensured that even Sega wanted a piece of the action with plans to release a Special Championship Edition announced for the Mega Drive/Genesis to the gaming press.

Both versions were met with praise, even though gamers argued for months after launch as to which version was better. In Japan this dispute was alittle more complex as the Championship Edition also saw a release on the PC Engine - HU Card format.

Super Street Fighter 2, the third incarnation of the series was met with a luke warm response by all but the hardest fans. The game was only stocked at selected retailers in the west and generally slated for flogging a dead horse even though a further four character were added to the mix.

There have been many spin offs as console hardware made the transition to the 32 bit era and beyond. The Street Fighter Zero/Alpha line up of games were a nice one step back and two steps forward for the franchise, although the EX series of games proved Street Fighter was not suited to the 3D world.

The lowest point in thw series has to be Street Fighter 3 that went largely unnoticed by the gaming world. The introduction of a parry system with cheesy rap music did little for a game that was stuck somewhere between SNK's King of Fighters series and some kind of Guilty Gear clone.

The highlights have to be the great cross over games such as Capcom Vs SNK, XMEN and Marvel which have rekindled the flame to make gamers stand up and take notice again. Most recently the Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix released on XBOX Live and the Playstation Store has done a great job of gearing us up for Street Fighter 4.

Feature: DOSHIN THE GIANT 2 (N64 64 DD)

Now, if I said to you "Name me a few gaming grails?" - Somewhere in your answer Taromaru, Burning Rangers R2, Final Fight Tough, Border Down, Kizuna Encounter (euro) or one of the Nintendo Competition Carts would surely be mentioned..

Yet, how many of you would say 'Doshin the Giant 2' for Nintendo's ill-fated 64DD add-on?

PK Taromaru for it's ability to demand silly sums of money should prepare to stand aside! - The 7500 print run of Taromaru is no match for the meagre 3000 of Doshin the Giant 2 which launched shortly after Nintendo suspended the 64DD RandNet service in Japan.

The 64DD hardware is hard enough to acquire at any rate, being that it was long overdue and more of an online guinea-pig project of Nintendo's to assist future R&D. Reportedly 85.000 unsold 64DD units were scrapped even after the hardware was made available for retail outside of the initial online subscription configuration. Approximately 15.000 64DD exist, although there were reports that Nintendo bought back alot of the hardware when the Randnet service was disbanded, so this figure may be considerably less!

Now that little history lesson is over, this obscure god style game is known to fetch in the region of $300~$600, with most sales settled privately. Doshin the Giant 2 - More than a Giant (translated from Japanese) requires the first 64DD Doshin the Giant game to work, also largely unplayable without a keen grasp of Japanese, or zen like patience.

Rest assured that Games Grail has this majesty under lock and key, well that is unless someone comes up with the king's ransom?!

Review: BATTLE GAREGGA (Saturn)

Background
This is a wonderful little shooter developed by Raizing for the ST-V arcade system and was ported a year later to the Japanese Saturn, distributed by Electronic Arts.

The Wayne Brothers set out to destroy weapons and vehicles they create during WW2 for a federation who approached them some months before. With skies left shattered, this evil federation plots to increase their stronghold by invading neighbouring cities, leaving the duo no choice but to honour the skills passed down to them from their late father to save their small town, who is next on the agenda!

We're putting the Saturn version through it's paces to see if it manages to retain all the manic tank blasting action of the vertically scrolling arcade hit.

You get the choice of four planes each with their own style to attribute battle. As you select an aircraft you're plunged straight into the action which can take place in hangar areas, open landscapes and even urban environments through a top-down perspective.

Graphics

On par with the likes of Radiant Silvergun these are some of the best graphics on the SS that make good use of the system's colour palette. Explosions are nice and bright while the rest of the proceedings are satisfyingly moody and grey which gives it that 1940's war feel.

One criticism of BG is that the bullets should have been rendered using lighter colours to make it evident where the arsenal is coming and going. You can forgive this little nuisance as brighter bulllets would have taken away that satisfyingly moody feel I mentioned earlier, although it may remain a nuisance for the Treasure crowd.

Gameplay

Taut, tense and terrific best describes this gameplay which is more accomplished than Radiant Silvergun. This brave remark above comes from the fact people have often expressed to me that Treasure try too hard to be a cult designer, with which I agree! - Treasure's excessively linear elements and stop~start formula can annoy the player through leaps of one extreme to another. BG excels with a far more grounded experience, concentrating on non-stop action that relies heavily on tactical formations to dodge random bullets, rather than having to negotiate set mazes mid-level (ala: Radiant Silvergun & Ikaruga) when adrenaline is running high from previous battle.
With a good assortment of power-ups and weapons to pick up along the way, you can tailor the gameplay to suit your style as you gun to victory.
Controls are the usual shmup three button combination of shoot, special attack and formation change, with eight way control provided through the d-pad, although better achieved using an arcade stick.
Sound

With excellent music and mind blowing sound-fx this really showcases the Saturn's capabilities.

Music is full of drama and sound-fx are nicely digitised to capture the feel of a manic~crowd pulling arcade shooter like BG. The fx of bullets making contact is very pleasing with those giant aircrafts flying ahead, hangar areas opening to expose enemies and an assortment of fx that never fail to dazzle.. Bravo!

Conclusion

An excellent shmup and faithful translation of an ST-V classic, losing nothing in this Saturn conversion.

Battle Garegga is a title fast becoming rare as it's quality is realised, rarely surfacing on auction sites compared to Radiant Silvergun. I have to say that you see this as much as Hyper Duel on the web, although the latter seems to fetch more when it does surface and is equally a fine game.

Hyper Duel possibly demands more as it had a lower production run as developer Techno Soft took a chance and produced it between the Thunderforce series, although it shot to underground stardom resulting in the hefty asking price that rivals the infamous RS..

Although the reason you have to sharpen your hunting skills to track down a copy of BG is because gamers tend not to part with the game, being that it is one of the finest shooters around!

No collectors cabinet is complete without this.. Truly Superb!

Collector's Spot: FINAL FIGHT REVENGE

Revenge is a dish best served cold, which is exactly what Final Fight Revenge on the Saturn is.. Cold!

As the game features no storyline to follow, a loose translation from the game manual leads us to believe that Mad Gear has assembled once again to form an uprising with Cody framed by the corrupt cop Edi-E - meaning all this revenge business falls somewhere between the events of Final Fight and Street Fighter Zero 3, upon which Cody escaped prison.

FFR is a Street Fighter EX rip-off that lacks Capcom's usual nitro and charm. I'm convinced they produced this one rainy afternoon after finishing up on Street Fighter EX3 for Playstation 2.
As you've probably guessed? - this game doesn't deserve a formal review, so I'll press on with why it still deserves to make your Saturn collection..

FFR has an approximate production run of 15.000, with speculation that only 5000 pcs were produced of the compulsory 4M RAM cart version, naturally making the latter far more collectable.

This was also the last game produced for the system in 2000 and quite affordably available up until 2005 when importers realised the limited numbers and began to horde the available inventory.

A reputable importer in the UK also had sealed copies of the game stocked for around £50.00/$100~120.00 up until 2005 but it went largely unnoticed for years, both on their website and instore, until the hysteria mentioned above started.

FFR isn't an awful game by any stretch of the imagination. There are moments when you see Capcom's signature style shine through with interesting backgrounds and moves.

It's a shame they didn't touch it up from the ST-V version that made it's debut a year earlier.
A perfect example of an area that could have been improved are the 3D rendered character models - Damnd from FF1 just looks a polygon mess!

Backing sound is okay and speech is fairly cheesy as one expects from Capcom. It would have been nice to have seen Q-Sound used in this game. Overall this is a mediocre 32bit sound-stage.

Back to why you should be buying this?!..

Simply put, this is fast becoming a games grail on the Saturn as copies rarely surface on the web, indicating the actual production run may have been considerably less than initially thought.
Definately one for a collector's cabinet, right up there with Taromaru, although hold out for the RAM cart box-set (if one surfaces) before taking the leap.

Article: THE DEMISE OF SEGA

Luxuriuous hardware developer Sega without whom the games industry today would cease to exist.

With the Sega Mark 3/Master System and late starting Mega Drive/Genesis successes, Sega demonstrated their ability of developing cartridge based systems and affordably bringing home the arcade experience. Although it was the release of the CD format that delivered a curve ball into Sega's court..

Pressure from Japanese rivals forced Sega to create the Mega CD/Sega CD add-on for the MD/G which marked the beginning of the end for this giant. The over priced, over hyped, under powered, under console device used the CD format as it's main selling point to lure in consumers who were already invested in Sega.

With just a small box full of games released for the system during it's life-cycle, this delivered a crucial blow which left Sega staggering for their corner and looking towards the heavens for guidance..

Sega failed to find solace in the skies above, rather they embarked on voyage to develop hopeware. The first attempt was project Mars, later known as 32x, the cartridge based add-on for the MD/G.

The second piece of kit that needs no introduction was the Saturn, and it's this voyage they never returned from!

Sega looked towards the original Playstation way too much for inspiration when developing their 32 bit Saturn. The ill-fated format started life in Sega's labs as a 2D only system. Maybe alot could have been achieved if it would have remained just that, a system expanding on previously established 2D franchises such as Street Fighter and King of Fighters, which it ended up being renowned for anyway.

Most of the memorable Saturn titles are 2D arcade fighters which out-perform their Playstation counterparts, not surprisingly turning to the cartridge input of the machine to deliver the goods.

After the Saturn's failure, Sega last attempt at console dominance was in the shape of Dreamcast. The DC was a superb machine that did away with the curse of CD by opting for GD ROM (GB sized discs) and the unique VMU (Visual Memory) LCD flash cards.
This DC launched Sega to stardom, gearing them up for a final showdown with Sony.

When the old adversary revealed details of the Playstation 2 (notably it's dvd playback) the following year, Sega were left flustered and unable to cope as the industry firmly placed all eyes on them.

The seconds were out for the final round, and we all know how the story ends..

Sega threw in the towel and pulled out of hardware by 2002, solely becoming a games developer.

Ask yourselves anytime you squeeze the L and R triggers on an XBOX joypad, would this have even been possible if Sega hadn't come along and invented the analog controllers for Saturn and Dreamcast?

Sega might not have got it right at times, but the industry owes them a debt as their hardcore gaming visions were ahead of their time!

Feature: VICTOR WONDERMEGA RG-M2

Not many of you will remember this sharp piece of kit that came along during the humble days of gaming..

The 'WonderMega RG-M2' was the second incarnation of the Sega/Victor WonderMega, the latter came with a motor operated CD lid that opened and closed to the symphony of neon LEDs positioned around the CD tray.

This model that Games Grail acquired recently is slightly less desirable than the first model for the fact it's missing the above gimmick, although does excel is in the controller department.


A perfect example of the RG-M2 should come complete with an infra-red joypad (pictured above) that also serves as a 2 player hub to daisy-chain an additional wired controller (ala: 3DO)

The M2 systems were only produced by Victor as opposed to the M1 which both Sega and Victor released. Sega's version of the M1 was far rarer as it entered the market later with lower production numbers (estimated 5000) - discontinued within a year due to poor commercial support for the Mega CD format.

A version of the WonderMega RG-M2 was also released in USA by Victor's western outfit JVC..

The 'X-EYE' looked exactly the same as the M2 but lacked infra-red support. As a result it came with a JVC branded 3 button pad reminiscent of the standard Genesis/Mega Drive pack-in. X-EYE inevitably failed due to a high price-point and once again poor support for the Sega CD (Mega CD) format.

The M2 comes with a built in S-Video port for superior picture quality, sadly there's no support for RGB through the incorporated Sega 'Din Type' connector without a modification.

There are also composite connections at the rear that do justice compared to the Mega CD bolt-on units that suffered from noise interference, evident even when using the grounding plate of the Mega CD/Sega CD 1 front loader model.

Build quality of this WonderMega is good and we applaud the ability to turn the console on and off by holding the function button and hitting the corresponding key on the wireless joypad.

Overall the WonderMega RG-M2 is a nice piece of kit, providing you can acquire one at a reasonable price.

Feature: THE MOST INFLUENTIAL GAME FROM THE MOST INFLUENTIAL DECADE (Top 10: 1990~2000)


10 - Street Fighter 2 (1991/1992 Super Famicom/Nintendo)

Possibly the defining factor why the Super Famicom/Nintendo managed to install such a large user base. Street Fighter 2 was 'the' must-have of the 90's boasting 16 bits of graphical splendour with versus matches often comparable to a tactical game of chess.

You could say the term 'Boss' came from this game as you battle past four of them to be crowned the World Warrior..

A real knockout!

9 - Mario Kart (1992 Super Famicom/Nintendo)

A somewhat simple looking racing fare, but peel back and you have one of the deepest multiplayer experiences known to man.

Single player time attacks were strangely addictive as gamers attempted to prove their worth by shaving seconds off lap times. Well balanced gameplay with a strategic weapons system made it anyone's race.

This iconic racer has been copied shamelessly by rival developers..

We salute it's horse power!

8 - Donkey Kong Country (1994/1995 Super Nintendo/Famicom)

Possibly one of the finest landmark moments in history when developer Rare bought CGI to the masses.

Still looks and plays great and this game deserves a place in any gaming library. Many aspects of DKC have been borrowed by rival developers as platform games made the transition to 3D..
Truly the King of Swing!

7 - Virtua Fighter (1994/1995 Sega Saturn)

Hit the power button on the Saturn and it was testament that we had evolved as a species.

Doing for gaming what colour television did for the broadcasting, Virtua Fighter left players in awe as camera angles changed to lock onto the action, even if you required sea-sick pills during some of the replays!

Gameplay was tight and sound was streamed straight from the CD, delivering the next generation fighting experience that had been eagarly awaited..

A Hard Hitter!

6 - Ridge Racer (1994/1995 Sony Playstation)

The Saturn got in there weeks ahead with Virtua Fighter but Namco supplied the racing dose for generation 5 of gaming.

You could be forgiven for cranking up the volume to hear the sampled speech from the race commentator over the synthetically glossed CD soundtrack while drifting around Seaside Route 765..

"Next corner's tough.. Watch Yourself!!"

5 - Super Mario 64 (1996/1997 Nintendo64)

Correctly defining the term '3D' - Super Mario 64 offered the complete freedom to go where you want in an immense world laden with baddies, traps and events posing as the essential competency test on how to negotiate the next generation of platformers and RPGs.

Truly jaw dropping moments awaited players using the precision N64 thumb-stick to creep upto enemies, tight walk and master the toughest of courses...

An experience never to be repeated again!

4 - Resident Evil aka Biohazard (1996 Sony Playstation)

Proof that a game could give you nightmares, Resident Evil took the Amityville concept and fused it with the zombie stylings of Romero to create a truly terrifying experience!

This game set a trend that has been followed ever since by games such as Silent Hill, but only masters Capcom could have done it with such style, played to the tune of deep musical notes such as a haunting renedition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata..

'Welcome to the World of Survival Horror.. Good Luck!"

3 - Legend of Zelda - The Ocarina of Time (1997/1998 Nintendo 64)

From the point the great Deku tree dies to time travelling at the Temple of Time, Miyamoto San's masterpiece is a console classic that rewards you with 60+ hours of gameplay that stays long after the end.

Not much more can be said about this game..
Playing is believing as even non RPG fans have been converted when giving this a go..

Nintendo's magnum opus!

2 - Metal Gear Solid (1998 Sony Playstation)

A well written narrative, great voice acting and Hollywood production values launched creator Hideo Kojima to stardom. He pushed the Playstation hardware to its limits to create an action blockbuster that raised the bar for other stealth games.

The first time gamers had to cope with emotion and adrenaline in battle.
Oh the confusion as Psyco Mantis read your mind - well your memory card atleast!

"Have at you Snake!!"

1 - Shenmue - Chapter 1 (2000 Sega Dreamcast)

The most under-rated, unique and finest game developed with no room for improvement.
Yu Suzuki reinvented the RPG genre with something so deep that you experience the emotion of meeting people and parting in a fully living, breathing world.

Fancy steering away from the narrative and hanging out at the local arcade?.. no problem! - Also, take a moment to stand by the way-side and watch in awe as this virtual world goes about their business.

Among this dark tale of revenge there also resides a subtle romantic tale that Yu Suzuki handles perfectly, demonstrating he's a masterful storyteller.
We are further taught that revenge is never a straight line, and behind every action there is a consequence.

Do not expect a game of this caliber to come along again..

A well accomplished masterpiece!

Review: IKARUGA (DreamCast)

Background

Cult producer Treasure rolled out approximately 50.000 copies of this spiritual sequel to Radiant Silvergun, still regarded as the greatest shoot'em up of all time, so there was little doubt that unscruplous importers and collectors horded most of the stock with hopes of auctioning later at similarly high prices to it's predecessor..

Unfortunately this game is not as collectable as RS for the fact that it later saw a worldwide release by Atari on the GameCube. Ikaruga also made it to XBOX Live in 2008, although the DC version is still the tightest being that it's the original canvas this masterpiece was created on, even if the X360 incarnation bought HD graphics to the party.

The game itself is a horizontal shooter allowing players to tilt the screen (if they desire) to play as the developer intended. This is a nice feature as industry standard LCD/Plasma panels are lighter than previous CRT models. I must confess the vertically cropped option is satisfying enough without having to wrestle a state of the art 52" upright at the risk of it toppling over and killing your family outright!

Gameplay

Ikaruga uses no power ups, rather it introduces a unique light and dark phase style of play where you switch the colour of your aircraft to become impervious to attacks of that colour. As you progress each chapter (level) hitting a light phase enemy when in a dark phase mode and vice-versa allows you to generate higher points, making this is alot more interesting if you partner up with a friend in two player mode to tear apart the CPU with your strategic attack formations.

In later stages you will find yourself gunning and negotiating the light and dark puzzle element rather like a nail biting game of chess, struggling to blend under enemy fire, then rapidly switching back to counter alternate attack patterns.

Ikaruga engrosses you to such the extent that one play becomes ten as you inevitably fall deeper and deeper into this addictive switch'n gun formula.

The two player game is a real lesson in comaraderie as you battle side by side to victory.

Graphics

Testament that the DC was a far practical machine than the PS2 to get results, what we have here is a fast paced, smooth and lush piece of programming with 3D backdrops and special effects that could pass as PS3 material.

If you are lucky enough to have a VGA set-up for your DC then Ikaruga really comes to life with smooth 480p rendering that adds to the overall genius and eye candy.

Developer G-Rev's input in this game is evident as graphical effects and lighting resemble Border Down which came along two years later. Explosions, light beams and futuristic buildings look familiar, although the enemies and bosses are definately RS territory, just alot better looking!

Sound

A fine example of the Yamaha sound processing abilities of the DC, Ikaruga has a pumping techno soundtrack that builds the pace as you progress further into the game, steering away from Treasure's usual orchestral compositions.

Explosions are satisfying and the robotic commentator who announces each individual number of a chained hit works well.

Arguably one of the best audio examples on the DC that's up there with Street Fighter Zero 3 and Daytona USA 2001 for arcade quality sound.

Lastability

Like the maiden voyage of Star Trek, this one will fly around your DC for quite some time with it's sci-fi charm and high score chasing.

Admittedly you have to be a hardcore shmup fan to get the most from this title but novices will find enough to hone their skills as Ikaruga does away with power-ups and endless weapon choices to defeat enemies.

The difficulty curve is just right to keep you hooked, yet tight enough to reward players who dedicate around 30 hours to master this game and dazzle on-lookers.

Collectability

Do not expect this game to fetch vast sums of money upon a large investment to secure one of the many sealed copies currently in circulation (2008)

It would appear that the horded copies from 2001 are now out for sale by the unscruplous types who can make around 50% profit over what they initially paid back in 2001.

This has turned out to be no Radiant Silvergun, although the DC copy will become more scarce in time, demanding higher prices for mint copies on the weight of it's hardcore reputation among shmup fans.

Once again, games collecting should be regarded as a passion, not a business opportunity. If you want to watch your money grow, buy shares! - If you want to own one of the finest import only DC games then add Ikaruga to
your list.