Hey, welcome to this list of games you probably have never played or heard of. This list exists to offer up some of the most rare and awesome games that just did not get the break they deserved. If any of the games here became more successful then they initially enjoyed, then the gaming industry would have turned out very different. GTA would likely have never existed, Sonic might still be awesome due to the fact that there were other games amongst the "cute anthromorph starring platformers" that were awesome on the ol Genny, and Sega might have a better reputation for RPG goodness then it does now. Oh yah, you may have noticed one of the games here is a Master System game. Well, it's not like there's ever going to be a "Master System Week" is There? so dammit, Zillion belongs on a list featuring awesomely unappreciated Sega classics.
And with that bit of self justifying rhetoric said and done, on with the show.
Rocket Knight Adventures
Sparkster vs Metal Gear.
Developed by Konami
Ripping off Sonic was all the rage back in the early nineties. The furry blue rodent propelled Sega out of the Number 2 spot and was kicking Marios ass up and down the block. So in much the same way people ripped off Mario 64 and GTA in the following generations in order to sell a few more copies than they should, companies made a quick buck ripping off Sonic's look and attitude. Sadly, that would be why this awesome game got left by the wayside. Konami took the cutesy look of a Nintendo game, took an anthromorphic hero in the nature of Sonic. Then they stuck a jetpack on him to ape The Rocketeer, a halfway decent Disney bomb that went down in flames a few years prior to this game, and then gave him a cool sword, a suit of armor, and a Darth Vader esque rival who worked for an evil Empire of pigs.
Yet another awesome boss fight.
Okay, so as far as concepts go, this game was NOT original. I know that, you know that, everybody knew that. But as far as game play goes, well this was KONAMI folks! Back in the 16-bit era these guys did NOT make bad games. And even though the concept behind RKA was derivative, the execution was everything but. One thing the 16-bit era had down to a science was that when a developer really aimed to make stages that demanded unique and varied game play strategies, the result was almost always an awesome and unique game. There was just no shortage behind the cool things Sparkster could do. Every boss battle was unique in the same way that Boss fights in Metal Gear Solid are unique, level design was exceptional, and it felt like in every stage you did something different, but very cool. The cutesy tone lended itself well to being humorous and whimsical in the same way the initial Harry Potter books were, and the game just looked and sounded gorgeous.
Look folks, I don't pimp for derivative games. Thats why I knock on Final Fantasy, Halo, and other big names. This games concept was not original, but the execution was awesome and well worth your attention. Sadly it sold like utter ass, and seeing it in a compilation is about as likely Sakaguchi begging Square to take him back. so you can either hunt it down on Ebay, or if you're dishonest like that, just find a ROM and give it a whirl. You owe it to the grandness of 2D gaming to give this masterpiece some of your time.
Gettin' your GTA thuggin' on about eight years before GTA did. I love me my Genesis
Developed By Blue Sky Software
I hate Grand Theft Auto, I really do, and Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis is the reason why.
I mean oh sure, part of it is that GTA is thoroughly drunk on it's own pomp and circumstance. It goes around trying to act like that because it REHASHED shadowruns shtick in 3D and threw car jacking into the mix, that their franchise is some huge gaming juggernaut and the two prior shitty GTA games that came before GTA III didn't happen. I mean, vice city wasn't called GTA IV, it was Vice City. The series had transcended it's past numerical shortcomings thanks to hype and wanna be gangsta trailer trash being a viable gaming market. They think that they invented the fucking free roaming game play engine when that shit was being done in the 16-bit era. The only reason that GTA got away with this preposterous self-aggrandizing posturing is that they pumped millions into marketing GTA III, while Shadowrun pimped for a magazine ad in the back of gamepro for a month or two. Dammit there is just no justice left in the gaming industry.
Okay, so forget GTA, we're talking about Shadowrun. It's a post apocalyptic future, and huge corporations run everything. The matrix, a computer realm that links all the world together (this was before the internet took off) is what keeps things altogether. And into this shady future, comes you and your kind. Shadowrunners. The mercenaries of the criminal underworld. Some specialize in making matrix runs, hacking into databases and stealing secret files for interested parties. Some specialize in a little breaking and entering, with a little grand theft or larceny thrown in for the profit of it. Others specialize in just running around and making things either dead, blown up, or both.
So yeah, you're supposed to be a shadowrunner of some repute. But on the 11:00 holonews you see a team of runners getting gunned down in the woods by an unidentified party, one of those runners was your brother. So you spend your last bit of coin to fly out to Seattle where your brother was last known to be operating, and get to work finding out what was he involved with that killed him, and making what killed him just as dead, but with much more pain.
The game literally plays out like GTA III. It starts out with you making runs for a small time crime lord just to work up the funds to get a hold of that Mcguffin that will advance the story and lead to your becoming a such a big shot in the Seattle crime scene that your brothers killers will practically trip over you wearing name tags and red shirts with bulls-eye's imprinted on the front and back. You'll do every possible morally reprehensible thing that GTA III did, except doing it better in a 16-bit action/RPG-ish setting. You'll be looking up crime lords, making errands for them, leveling up, and getting involved whatever random bit of business that happens to cross your path be it a random frisking by the corrupt cops on the scene, or helping out a woman being harassed by local toughs. Seattle is a big bit of real estate, and while the Genny didn't have the horsepower to render it all in real time, it did break it all up into seven various districts that you fly to (AKA, switch screens) by calling for a cab at a local payphone. Each districts has it's own gangs, corps, various institutions for you to break into via the front door or the net, crime bosses, and shops to upgrade yourself. Some of the crime lords have a bit of a Robin Hood shtick going on, where they are actually having a noble cause, but have to resort to crime to accomplish it. These guys will give you extra Karma points (the games version of exp) if you complete jobs for them. Other crime bosses are just out to watch the world burn, and these guy pay much better but won't bump up your levels more than per usual if you work a job or two for them. Then, when your done upgrading your arsenal, outfitting yourself with cybernetic parts, getting your "deck" which you use to hack the matrix, and have gotten yourself leveled up a bit, you can then get back to unfolding the mystery of who and what killed your brother, who and what was he working for, why was he killed, where was he killed, and when did these deals go down.
No one can tell you what the matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.
I know what your thinking. "Wow, this game sounds mature, deep, and interesting" and it was. It had so many great ideas, but there faults to be found in shadowrun. Three of them in fact. The first is that this game just played kinda funky and weird. It came out just before the six-button control pad hit, so all this depth had to go down using just three buttons and the start button. So the game was heavily menu driven. You wanna talk to someone, you gotta run into them. You wanna shot at someone, press B to target and press A to use whatever weapon your holding to shoot, or if your not holding a weapon you will punch. To follow conversations and select what direction you want the interactions to go in, you gotta access a menu. To upgrade and level up, Menu. To select a weapon, go see what's being served in the menu. Wanna heal? head straight to menu, do not pass "go" do not collect $200, go to menu. And this being the genesis era, and Shadowrun being a game of minor importance, these menus weren't terribly intuitive or good looking either.
Another reason the game didn't exactly make a big splash, was that well... it was a mature game at a time when games were considered to be a childs hobby. So guess how many parents want to buy their child a crime simulator? Or how many children knew this game existed and knew enough about it to ask their parents for it? Yeah, thought so. Even if you got a job mowing lawns, odds were heavy you'd shell out for Mortal Kombat or Phantasy Star IV rather than this game.
And the last reason this game failed, well it was HARD. The Karma system was a real bastard because to get high Karma, you gotta complete the hard jobs, to complete the hard jobs, you need good equipment. To get good equipment, you need to finish jobs successfully so you can be paid. And to do that, you need Karma and good equipment. So now you see the ultimately self defeating cycle here? Sure you can take A LOT of low paying jobs that are more simple and just work for nights just to accomplish the same ends, but then that just turns into one of the most inane level grinds ever. It can take a good couple of months to finish this game without a cheat code.
Fortunately, FASA (the developers) knew they had created a monstrously tough game, so they threw in a very simple debug code. Just input this in and choose from one of the options that will instantly make this game just that much more easier on you. A buncha Karma, a crap load of cash, all the contacts you will need to make your criminal life easier, hey... it's all in the Debug code baby. With that bit of godhood under your belt, what becomes an insanely challenging and possibly tiring games becomes "manageable". Meaning if you use the code only every so often, you can finish the game and all the myriad side quests in a few weeks.
Graphically and audio wise... well the game is disappointing in both affairs. Menu portraits are decently made, but the onscreen action is stiff and primitive looking. The sounds, are awful. Gunshots and explosions only sound like farts at their best. Music is bland and repetitive.
But you know what, I still love this game and play it every so often. THIS game is the true pioneer of the criminal sandbox genre. And it's actually a very cool one too if you can just deal with the faults. I don't mind menu's, I enjoy a challenge, and presentation doesn't mean much compared to game play. This game had it where it counts and thus deserves to be recognized before the next time you boot up that hot coffee video on youtube.
Blowin' stuff up with giant mechs is still really awesome in 16-bits.
Developed By Malibu Games
Battletech is better known these days as the Mechwarrior franchise. The series has been put to sleep as far as PC's are concerned these days. Straight up mecha simulation titles like the mechwarrior series have been retired to make way for RTS and FPS games. Mechwarrior or Battletech has had a few console games over the years, with the Genesis title standing tall as being the most fun to play. Being a 16-bit title It forgoes FMV and fancy effects and uses the graphics engine from the strike series (desert, Jungle, Urban) and uses it to show a giant mech, sieging enemy bases, fighting off similar mechs, all while maintaining ammo supplies and armor levels. The graphics are gorgeous for 16-bit. There's a great amount of detail such as your mech spouting black clouds when damage gets to the red zone, and interesting game play details such as swamps where your mech slows down and choosing between different armanants before a mission, each with their own tactical advantages and disadvantages. It's very short at only five levels, and maybe a little to simple for todays mech fans who would pay $200 for a controller just to get their mech to activate it's windshield wipers, but if you do the 16-bit thang then this would be a great way to get your mecha freak on.
Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole
Developed By Climax Entertainment
Landstalker is something of the Un-Zelda. It's like Zelda, an elfin boy raiding tombs, fighting off monsters with magic and swords, aided by a fairy and solving mind-busting puzzles and braving dastardly mazes... but it's not Zelda at all. Sega managed to take all the pieces of Zelda, and remix them so that they feel very unique and original.
It all starts with the games main character, Nigel, plundering some treasure from his latest tomb. He even ups the ante on Indiana Jones by dodging multiple rolling bounders to his one. Back in town Nigel makes a killing on the treasure, but then a fairy flies into his backpack, seeking protection from a group of thugs. Nigel is of a mind to hand her over and be rid of the trouble, until the fairy, Friday, lets slip she knows where to find the lost treasure of King Nole. This guy was ancient tyrant who was reportedly richer than god but nowhere near as nice. Nigel agrees to hide Friday out until the heat is off, then shells out every dime he's got to get a ride on a giant eagle to the island where King Nole is said to have hidden his treasures. But while exploring the caves Nigel is caught in a trap, and literally flushed out of the ruins via a river and lands in a strange rustic village, which is clearly on the other side of the island. What follows is typical ye-olde-school RPG offerings in which Nigel has to explore the land, and help out every one horse town he encounters in order to get to the treasure while dealing with corrupt backstabbing kings and Bounty Hunters along the way.
And lemme say something about the presentation, Landstalker features one of the more detailed graphical engines ever presented in a 16-bit action RPG. While animation is very stuff, the characters themselves all have a very cool "action figure" quality to them that really captures a persons inner child. And when the game wants too it can dish out hitherto-unprecedented details in an RPG. Once again, if you were to compare this graphic engine to Link to the Past, there would be no contest. Link and his crew of monsters may have more animations, but they are all relatively lacking in finer detail. The music has it's standout moments when you really wish game music was as big a phenomenon during the 16-bit days as it was now, and you could just buy the soundtrack to relive the money shots, but for the most part it does it's job without being intrusive.
Trust me, gettin to this chest is A LOT harder than it looks.
Now, Lets talk game play. You spelunk tombs like zelda, Fight monsters on an overhead action/RPG plaine like zelda, you even have a fairy that will revive you upon death like zelda so long as you got some healing herbs, but there is one element in the game play that makes Landstalker truly come into it's own, for better and worse, and that is an isometric perspective.
Now, you young padawans out there are probably all going "isometric whaaatsis" right now. It's a gimmick game developers used in the nineties to simulate a 3D environment. The key word in that previous sentence being "simulate" the screen was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and with this angle developers were able to make the game have a vertical dimension to them. Whereas in most Zelda games, you would only have to worry about going left to right, now in Landstalker there are options to ascend or descend thanks to the perspective. It allows to add much more variety to the dungeon designs and Landstalker worked this gimmick brilliantly, which is why it's such a lost classic.
However, the downside to this engine, was that while in overhead and side scrolling titles, platform jumping and combat is a simple affair of lining up your shot with the creature breathing down your throat and letting er rip. With the isometric perspective, everything got shifted around and planning your jumps as well as combat is a whole new ball game. You now have to be able to think according to the isometric perspective, and jumping to a platform that seems just above you, may indeed be actually way out of your reach and you will have to get to that platform through other means. Even the act of moving meant pressing the control pad (analogue controllers had not been invented yet) in the diagonal directions you wanted to move in for the entire game. Which definitely took some getting used to, especially in some of the games early, timed puzzles.
Whether you sing Landstalkers praises, or toss your controller through the television screen while playing it, is all dependent on whether or not you can acclimate yourself to it's unique take on the Isometric perspective. Landstalker did some great things with this gimmick that no other game in history ever has. However, to get the most out of this game you will have to adjust to it's unique play style. If you can, you will fall in love with this game. If you can't, you will give up and wonder why you bothered.
Developed By Sega
Note, yes I know zillion is a master system game. But dammit, it deserves to be here and get mentioned in a list of rarely played Sega classics.
Ah Zillion, I have many fond memories of you. I found you at a flea market the day my parents decided to make a field trip to a new one that opened up. and when they offered to buy me one of the discounted Master System games there, you were best deal I could find. I was fascinated by the promises of multiple characters, a challenging labyrinth, and puzzle laden game play. I was not at all disappointed. Frustrated? Yes. Challenged? Yes. But not disappointed.
Basically, the game was Metal Gear Solid mixed up with Metroid. A evil space empire calling itself "Norsa" has super plans to build super weapons to conquer and rule the super galaxy. The Neo Nights (it was a cool name in the eighties) are the only ones who can stop them. Too bad two of their operatives, the agile and speedy Apple (the chick is always the quick but weak one) and the slow but powerful champ (Now we got the proverbial tank. Stereotypes are fun no?) got captured while trying to infiltrate the base. You start the game playing as J.J. (the balanced one) who has to go in, navigate the labyrinth that is the Norsa empires home base, rescue the other two operatives, and work together to collect the five hidden disks with the secret info and set the bases self destruct (cuz a self destruct switch system comes standard in every evil empire HQ) and get the hell outta there before the place blows. Simple.
This was one of the first games I ever played where the developers thought of this many options. You level up by finding Opa Opa icons (Segas mascot at the time, from the awesome Fantasy Zone series) around the base, which increase the character's stats. All three characters can level up their stats by eight levels, and by the time your entire party is fully leveled up even Apple can take a solid hit or two before folding like an origami crane, and champ is no longer the slow ass useless tank that has the jumping height of a rooted pine tree. You also utilize equipment you find on the base to level up your firepower and to discover and avoid enemy traps. If things are getting hot for you, you can always use a computer terminal to input a code to warp back to your ship to fully heal, and when you re-enter the labyrinth your progress was not erased so its little trouble to get back to where you ended up. Also every room is a puzzle that you need to navigate. Some rooms can have a super damaging laser barrier or two, others can have automated cannons, infra-red lasers that set off alarms and send in a platoon of guards, moving floor panels that can slow you down by moving in the opposite direction. Later in the game the traps will get more devious, and you will have often have to strategically decide if it's worth it to sacrifice one of your valuable and limited discs that you "procure" from the empire in order to input the code into a terminal so you can get by the trap unharessed or gamble that your platforming skills are up to the challenge of making it through that particular gauntlet unhurt.
Laser barriers, automated cannons, guards, moving walkway, captured comrade, locked door.... You want some fries while I'm up?
Okay, now lemme just get the games most glaring flaw out of the way. You see, progressing through this base is not like Metroid where you shoot the door to proceed (though wouldn't real life be fun if thats how we all entered rooms? By shooting the doors?) Every time you enter a new room in the base, you will often find that the exit to every room is locked, and you need to shoot open canisters, navigate the traps, grab the four digits to the secret code, input and input it correctly into the rooms computer terminal to advance. This does get tedious sometimes, especially if you are the sorta gamer that wants to just shoot their way through the base. But the whole "find the four key icons" thing begins to fade out towards the final segments of game time, as the game switches to a more maze like formula that is way more fun.
All these segments really turn Zillion into one of the most varied puzzle games ever first and foremost, and a spy/action game second. There is really only ONE boss battle which occurs AFTER you begin the unstoppable self destruct timer. The focus on puzzle based platforming and computer hacking could have been really lame, but everything was so well done and challenging and interesting that I could not pull myself away. Hell, the game even gives your characters a limited amount of times that they can be revived (five). So it's possible to finish the game with actual casualties in your party. This makes Zillion the first game I ever played to offer up multiple endings, thus making it that much cooler.
The graphics in Zillion were great for their time. The characters animated well (for an eight bit engine) and the design for the Norsa base was awesome. It starts off at a light blue for the beginning (easier) segment. It switches to Red for the more puzzle based (medium) segment that has a focus on trickier traps and slightly more tougher guards. It's in this segment that you will free Apple, if you want. Lastly the game uses a dark blue hue for its final segment, where the game relies less on computer terminal usage and more on fighting dangerous enemies and figuring your way around a tricky maze like structure. Oh yah, it's here that you will find Champ. Character portraits and some slick, space aged 8-tunes round out a overall grand level of 8-bit presentation values.
Seriously, there are only two things you may not like about Zillion. The puzzle based game play, and the fact that there is no save feature whatsoever. The game takes about 90 minutes to beat once you know where everything is and what you gotta do, but figuring all that out can keep you seated in front of this game for a while. It's challenging and unique, but I frankly love it and think that since there will NEVER be a Sega Master System week, it needs to be here to get the love it deserves.
Oh, and there was TECHNICALLY a sequel.... But they gutted the game play that made Zillion so awesome and made it a mostly derivative platform shooter thats been done a billion times and a billion times better. Some blame the fact that Zillion was licenced from a lesser known anime of the same name, and that Zillion II was what the developers of the anime really wanted to see in order to advertise the anime... but that still doesn't justify how badly Zillion II sucked. So just play the first one and just forget about the sequel.