Grab Bag: Mega Drive/Genesis "First Impressions"

Not too long ago, I took three NES titles I'd never seen before and played each one for a minimum of one hour. Then I shared my experiences with you folks via a lovingly crafted article on our internet computer website. As we put a stake through 2016's black heart and decapitate it to make sure it won't rise again in the sequel, I thought it'd be fun to repeat my “grab bag” routine by dipping thrice into the game library of another well-loved classic console.

The Genesis/Mega Drive has an astounding number of arcade ports, and also boasts a bounty of left-field games straight from its Japanese homeland. I did my best to choose three I'd never messed with or even read about before, which meant picking three titles that run the gamut of genre and style. “Eye-opening” is a gentle word to describe this little journey; let's just say that while some relics should be studied and shared, others should perhaps never be found.

Make sure your straitjackets are securely fastened... here we go.

 

El Viento (Wolf Team, 1991)

Allow me to give you my guess at what seems to be going on in this game BEFORE having looked at any official literature: You are a beautiful and agile elf creature, one who love boomerangs and hates 1930s gangsters. You have a little bit of magic at your disposal (which is to be expected, since you are clearly some kind of fairy warrior), but you have a little trouble with stairs sometimes – especially when several men on motorcycles are trying to kill you.

Well, according to several sources, I was close on the time period; the game is set in the late 1920s. I was way off with my appraisal of the main character, though... apparently you're a Peruvian sorceress descended from the bloodline of Hastur. You know, the Cthulhu Mythos entity also referred to as the King in Yellow. Apparently his cult has teamed up with a Chicago gang (the gang leader is named DeMarco in the US localization, but source material names none other than Al Capone) to bring about some heavy end-times shit.

Let's put that one back up on the billboard for a moment. You're a Peruvian sorceress descended from the King in Yellow himself who runs around killing Al Capone's boys with razor boomerangs in 1928.

The artwork for the US localization makes her look a lot more Latina. I guess it's because they washed off all the anime.

All that aside, the game plays really well. Once I got the hang of how the boomerangs functioned, I was moving through at a pretty quick pace. “El Viento” means “the wind” in Spanish, and the name is fitting; the character is very fast and agile. This got me hurt a couple of times as I accidentally bulldozed my way into trouble or dropped into a hail of bullets from above, but it also let me pick and choose my battles to some degree once I got used to things. I found myself surprised at not only how many purple cars Capone had on hand for me to destroy, but also how many shirtless men carrying machetes he had on his payroll.

Hey, maybe Wold War 2 is shorter in this timeline if we have shit like this in 1928.

Then I got killed by a very futuristic tank, apparently the boss of the first set of levels. Bullshit. But then, things ARE pretty anime up in this game.

 

Curse (1989, Micronet)

I've had this in the MD/Genesis ROM folder for a while, and its incredibly generic name had inspired me to save it as a surprise sometime in the future.

Holy shit is this game a nightmare within a dream.

I powered on and was pretty delighted to find a shoot-em-up. Not only that, a side-scrolling one instead of overhead view. Not to brag, but I am better at shoot-em-ups than almost any other genre of classic game, so I set to seeing just how far I could make it. The difficulty was pretty tough, but I never felt like like I was being hardcore spammed or cheap-dicked. The difficulty climbed as I reached the third and fourth levels, but I noticed something rare in a shooter: as the heinous crowds of enemies and huge fuckoff minibosses continued to intensify, the powerups and goodies kept up. The game is pretty generous even as it challenges me.

I took a brief break to make a cursory Google search about this game. It has interesting artwork... maybe even a little ominous. Nothing I'd seen yet seemed to correlate with this box art:

curse cover.jpg

I also found out the game has a built-in stage select, so like a dumb-ass Icarus soaring full-tilt toward the Sun, I went to the fourth stage again and tried to beat the game. The fifth stage is pretty hardcore, and I found myself barely squeaking by. I was eventually confronted with a near-spitting image of the box art, which both fascinated and bothered me.

Then, in a span of moments now woodburned into my grey matter, as a 16-bit video game legitimately frightened me for the first time in memory:

I did not defeat whatever that thing was, and I'm not sure I want to try again. This was a Japan-only title; apparently an American company showed interest in publishing it but that never panned out. Maybe the saw the shit-your-pants horrifying final boss and reconsidered.

 

Sword of Sodan (1993, Innerprise)

I just realized this screenshot snapped a second before the dithering effect finished. Her face is doing some Cronenberg shit.

I just realized this screenshot snapped a second before the dithering effect finished. Her face is doing some Cronenberg shit.

A long time ago I had read a review of this game completely trashing it. I figured I'd give ti a try; after all, it was sword-and-sorcery theme, so it couldn't be all too bad. Its overall reviews were mixed, and the small handful of screenshots I looked at made me want to try it.

I chose the female warrior for my first try, and headed out into some kind of wilderness. A steady stream of armed men tried to murder me, and some succeeded in injuring me through sheer attrition. I was pleased to discover that I could swing my sword a couple of different ways by manipulating the D-pad while attacking. After a while, I made it into a walled city whose entryway included gratuitous spike traps. I'm not sure how that's conducive to foot traffic for any of the citizens, let alone merchant wagons or caravans, but I braved the obstacle in order to make it into the city...with very poor results.

Battered and bloodied, I randomly drank some of the potions I'd been picking up. I finally found the one that replenished health and moved on... straight into my own doom.

There's a lot of them, and they all do the same thing: murder you.

There's a lot of them, and they all do the same thing: murder you.

Things quickly went from militiamen and soldiers to tandem giants and huge metallic monsters. A pair of the giants slowly wore me down with repeated clubbings until I was hopelessly dead. Sword of Sodan had just told me, “that first bit was a good warm-up, but we're through fucking around here.”

I tried with the male character and achieved similar results. The movement controls are strange, requiring you to sort of tap the Jump button to turn around yet allowing you to leap roughly five times higher than any real human. As far as I know, there is no way to block; you just have to murder someone fast or play the reach game with them. Obviously, that's not going to work on a lot of the non-human monsters you eventually encounter... especially not the ones that dwarf you in size.

Abort. Cancel. Fuck this. I have a sword with pitiful reach and exactly four little potions. Bye.

Abort. Cancel. Fuck this. I have a sword with pitiful reach and exactly four little potions. Bye.

I quickly lost interest in Sword of Sodan, because games that use a difficulty curve as a “members only” door are like public toilets that don't flush; they're full of shit and it's best not to be near them.

 

THE AXE COMETH DOWN:

El Viento – 7/10

Curse – 8/10 except for the visceral and haunting finale

Sword of Sodan – 4/10

See you in 2017. So, you know... in a couple days. Stay Retro!