The Master System was the only serious challenge to Nintendo’s dominance from the mid ‘80s onwards. Due to Nintendo neglecting Europe/UK and Australasia (PAL regions, my friends) the Master System was able to defeat or at least achieve parity with the all-conquering NES. However, in North America and Japan, children would be beaten up and left for dead if they were found to have a Master System.
I owned neither an NES or Master System (now unfortunately abbreviated to SMS), but I did borrow a Master System in the early nineties. I think the friend who lent it to me even offered it, since he had the superior Mega Drive. Even though this console was obsolete by five or six years, I was very excited to try it out.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World was of course included, since this game comes built in to the console. It was an enjoyable game, as was Shinobi, although both I found to be very difficult. I’m sure there were other games that I borrowed, but the most important game that I played was Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.
Wonder Boy III is a side scrolling, open world, role playing adventure game. You control Wonder Boy through his adventure by killing monsters, collecting money and upgrading your gear, the usual RPG tropes. The twist in this game begins with the prologue. Wonder Boy easily defeats the game’s first boss, Mecha Dragon, but Wonder Boy is cursed and transforms into a lizard! The journey to become human (or Hu-Man heh) again is on a grand scale, especially considering the limits of the Master System.
Each dragon that is defeated (at the end of a castle or other grand structure) allows you to change into a new form. Lizard, Mouse, Piranha, Lion and Bird. All with different abilities, they allow (or block) progress to certain parts of the world. After changing form, you can go back and change your form at will, allowing a return to otherwise restricted areas.
In scope, the game seems small and quaint but is actually a large world that will take completionist first time players around ten to fifteen hours to complete.
The colours, controls and sounds of this game all combine to create a wonderful experience. In my opinion this is the apex of the 8-bit era. Although it was greatly appreciated at the time, I feel that Wonder Boy III is underappreciated by most retro gamer enthusiasts.
If I ever try to do an all time top ten, this one gets in there. Somewhere below Total Annihilation, but above Dead Space.
Play this classic 😀
A couple of years ago, I posted a most amusing find on this blog; a piece of my childhood being auctioned off at a ridiculous premium. What I failed to do then was speak about this terrific game and my experiences with it.
Recent events have also led me to acquire a copy of Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday for the Mega Drive, a version I have been very curious about for close to twenty years, but I digress!
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday was a complete triumph in SSI, TSR and all those concerned. It adapted a futuristic role playing setting (based loosely on the TV show and novels of the same name) into a traditional Gold Box Dungeons and Dragons rule set.
Besides the setting, there were two important changes between the Buck Rogers series and the older Forgotten Realms games. The player’s character ‘pieces’ were no longer customisable, but instead were picked from a selection of 40-50 preset designs. This might seem restricting, but the results were far more impressive. There was enough variation to make a great looking crew. Some of them even had headbands! Treasures of the Savage Frontier came out two years later and had far poorer looking icons.
The most important change in this game is the inclusion of class specific skills. Ten years later Third Edition D&D rules would introduce skills, but Buck Rogers would use this very well in 1990. Skills ranged from Rocket Piloting and Zero G training, to First Aid and Leadership.
The game features some idiosyncratic character classes, really capturing the comic book future. Rocket Jocks are your party leaders, rocket pilots and second tier fighters. Generally good with a firearm, it is best to not have them in the front lines.
Engineers keep your ship running, as well as being important in laying explosives as well as programming things. Rogues are the same as they are in regular D&D, except they bypass security doors/cameras as well as cut people when they aren’t looking. Medics, weakest of all, are vital as healing in Buck Rogers isn’t as simple as drinking a potion or sleeping for weeks inside a dungeon.
Apart from Terrans, playable races in the game are based on genetically modified humans. Venusians, Mercurians and Martians are all slightly modified or have simply changed over the hundreds of years living in and around their respective planets. More interesting are the Desert Runners (half beast men/women who inhabit the deserts of Mars) and Tinkers (half chimp mini people who are great engineers and medics, because of their dexterity and diminutive size).
The game gives you (after a few introductory missions) a whole solar system to explore, a multitude of secondary missions (all of which should be taken) and a great cast of characters. Buck Rogers himself makes an appearance. I have many good memories of this game back at the end of primary school, particularly how long it took Chooie and I to beat the second part of the game. No GameFAQS in 1992!
I saw this game, a year or so after playing the Amiga version, on a Mega Drive in a shopping center. It looked so different! Rather than static pieces moving across the game board, the characters animated when they walked, and the map view was isometric! This fascination stuck with me until last month, when a happy series of accidents happened and I managed to acquire a copy! When I get my Mega Drive up and running, I’ll report back!
I brought my Dreamcast home!
It had languished in my parent’s spare room for the last three years or so, gathering dust. I’ve owned it for around five years, going through a big Sega binge in 2007-08. I played a lot of Crazy Taxi, Resident Evil: Code Veronica and most of all Jet Set Radio. Jet Set Radio is easily my favourite Dreamcast game, although I’m pretty hopeless at it. I never bought any Sonic games for the system, thinking Sonic Adventure to be more than a little cheesy.
I like the system a lot, but it suffers from a few too many Arcade conversions and games that rely on Co-Op multiplayer. Co-op is a problem because you can’t always have a friend over. It was a pioneer in online multiplayer, but fast internet had not yet found its way into many houses and Sega communicated the Dreamcast’s potential rather poorly.
It may have lost out to the PS2, but it’ll always have a home with me.
Also I think it was $70 2nd hand, good value!
For its thirty year life, the video game industry has gone through innumerable changes. Changes that I’ll be listing over the coming years as I try to remember the ‘good old days’ as my senility rapidly sets in.
It’s surprising that more isn’t made of the changes that box art has gone through over the life of the industry. You’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, and the same should be said of any video game. But today it’s what I’ll do! For much of the 8bit era, Sega, kept to a very rigid box art formula.
For whatever reason Sega elected to use a very austere grid background for much of their catalogue. It certainly is a product of its time, when the grids were the way to say ‘hey, electronics!’. Sadly, except for a select few covers, the grid background has aged poorly and makes Master System games look like anything but a collector’s item. This game was Rambo in the US, but Sega forgot to buy the rights in Europe and Australia. Terrible stuff.
The clear winner of the 8bit era, Nintendo had very different ideas when it came to Box Art.
Nintendo and their ‘Entertainment System’ catalogue show a far less restricted choice of styles in their box art. While many of the early releases (for the US market at least) have the diagonal writing and real graphics theme, there really isn’t much of a set style once most of the later third-party releases come out.
The eventual difference between early and later NES are quite remarkable. It seems Nintendo did not enforce much in the way of box art guidelines to Konami here. Some of the later Master System releases moved away from the simple cartoon images for some of the third-party releases for their console. But still, with the grid lines behind the picture. It isn’t a good look. It’s a CATastrophe!
A smaller player during this time is the game publisher and developer Epyx. Well known for their Impossible Mission and Pit Stop series, Epyx also created some of the more memorable box art of the era. With a highly distinctive wire frame neon style, their game boxes stand out even today.
Great colours and very distinctive covers. You still have my heart Epyx.
On the left we have Impossible Mission. I know I’d be staying forever with a fantastic cover like that. Every version of that game used this cover-art. Except one. Yes, Mr. Sega Master System on the right, instead of missiles and explosions and a cool neon effect you choose a gay gymnast jumping a broken fire hydrant.
It’s completely unfair of me since this is from about fifteen years later, but I’ll throw in one of my all time favourites. Circle of the Moon Japanese person version.
So what’s the verdict on a good 80’s ish cover? It doesn’t matter if your cover art lies about what the game looks like, but it should be something fairly simple and not too mired in the contemporary. Avoid the semi realistic cartoon style, unless you’re making a He-Man game.
Also don’t make a He-Man Game.