Bug Too!

Developer: Realtime Associates
Publisher: Sega

You may find this hard this hard to believe, but 'Bug!' was a critical success back in 1995! Critics would praise the innovative gameplay and superb 3D graphics. It must've sold pretty well too because a sequel was out a year later.

This time the story makes a lot more sense in a cartoony sort of way, after the success of the first Bug movie, you and your friends are enlisted for seven new feature films all of which are shot on location with little regard for the actor's safety. I'm glad Bug Too! took a few seconds to explain the story a little better this time around, the first game was really needlessly confusing.

The game starts out well enough as it prompts you to pick one of three characters, Bug from the first title, a 1970's style disco character and a talking dog that sort of sounds like Scooby-Doo. Unfortunately, as it turns out they all play the same, none of them have any exclusive abilities, stats or moves.

You're then brought to the first series of levels which  parody horror movies, they're not done as well as Gex, but I did get a chuckle at some of the monsters, namely the ghosts who chain you, call you 'loser' and then release you. I have no idea why that costs you health points but I don't care either, it's funny and that's all I need. The first three levels are much more interesting than any of the worlds in the first game with actual background, walls and a generally more interesting art style.

Unfortunately once you finish the first world disappointment sets in quickly as the game quickly returns to the bland look and style from the first game. Even the movie parodies are completely forgotten! How can you have a space world parody with no references to Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey or really anything at all? It's just a generic level set in space! The desert levels could have parodied Indiana Jones or Lawrence of Arabia, but again, none of that actually happens, it's just a group of generic stages featuring none of the original enemies, walls or decorations from the first three levels.

None the issues from 'Bug!' were addressed either, levels become frustratingly difficult not just because of the enemies and death pits but also due to their sheer size and maze-like design, it also suffers from the same repetitive design

Graphically there are little to no differences from the first game once you beat the first world (yes I know I sound like a broken record here), meaning you'll soon return to the boring featureless corridors which seem to do a good job at getting you lost. The music isn't bad, though I noticed Bug re-uses a lot of the same one-liners from the first game and the recording equipment sounds noticeably different than the newly added ones.

It almost feels like the developers wanted to create a game that parodies pop-culture but ran out of time, so you get a really fun first world followed by six boring, generic worlds that look like they were ripped from Bug! If you enjoyed the first game you might as well view Bug Too as a mission-pack, however, if it's a full-fledged sequel you're after, prepare for disappointment.

- First few levels are fun and quirky
- Fun gameplay in short bursts
- Character models look pretty good and are nicely animated for the time

- It's easy to get lost and the high difficulty can be frustrating
- Gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive after a while
- Visually the maps start out interesting but quickly become dull and boring

Final Grade: C+

The game may not be much of improvement over its prequel, but the cover sure is! Look at that, color, backgrounds, actual stuff going on! I love the box art's color balance and there's so much going on in the background that the cover always draws my eye onto it.

The manual isn't bad either, there describing the backstory and items with a few black and white screenshots here and there. Nothing ground breaking but it does its job well enough. A shame it still comes in an early Saturn packaging meaning it's too fragile for its own good. Regardless, the cover alone makes this packaging an improvement over the previous one

Packaging Grade: C+


Developer: Realtime Associates
Publisher: Sega

Playing the Clockwork Knight games and 'Bug!' back-to-back really makes me appreciate not only what Mario 64 brought to the table. 3D was this new exciting technology and developers knew they wanted to implement it in their games, but weren't quite sure how it would apply to the platform genre.

Clockwork Knight was a 2D game a few 3D elements graphical elements thrown in, 'Bug!' however tries to take it a step further by creating a (almost) fully 3D game and as a result we got a very experimental game. In a way I do miss the experimentation period of this era, once Mario 64 became the standard it was pretty much expected of every game in the genre to draw some influence from it.

In 'Bug!' you play as well, a bug who is tasked with saving his family... in a movie he's shooting. Yeah it's never really clear if it's just a movie or if you're actually rescuing anyone, I mean if it's just a movie why do the enemies kill you? Maybe I'm just over-thinking this.

As previously mentioned, this is an early 3D platformer, meaning you can movie in any direction, however, much like Clockwork Knight, every character in the game is a pre-rendered sprite. The makes the characters seem very clean and nicely animated but has the downside of making it hard to judge depth and distances between characters. To reduce this issue, most of the levels consist of narrow corridors and walkways, which does help, but the occasional judgement error will still take place.

You might think this system makes the maps rather limited, but the developers actually did a really good job here! Yes, they consist mostly of corridors with the occasional wide room, but the stages are really quite expansive, twisting and turning you scale up or climb down between all the ledges, springs and moving platforms. It's really quite easy to get lost and some levels even place a map at random spots so you know where you need to go. Regardless, the game does become repetitive after a while and the high difficulty only exacerbates this issue.

Bug's actions are rather limited for the most part, he can walk, duck and jump on enemies. Thankfully there are a few power ups scattered about that add to his moves, you'll need them too because this game is HARD. At first it may seem like there's a shortage of checkpoints, but actually bug is kind of secretive in how they work. While there are some sparse checkpoints on most levels, you'll also occasionally run across some guy wearing sunglasses, if you give him a coin not only does it act as a checkpoint, it also sends you to a bonus mini-stage. Another strange design choice was the save option, your progress is saved automatically and it keeps track of your lives and continues, but you need to start each world from the beginning, so some degree of backtracking is involved.

Each stage has a few bonus mini-games as previously mentioned and if you finish three consecutive levels with over 100 gems you're also greeted to a flying stage similar to what you might find in Space Harrier (minus the shooting).

The character models are composed of pre-rendered sprites, similar to what you'd find on Donkey Kong Country or Clockwork Knight, though they are definitely much cleaner here. The environments however look rather dull as they're mostly composed of corridors and a static background screen. Even with the sparse graphics, there it still a degree of pop-in for any platform farther than 20 feet, it's not long before you get tired of watching the same corridors over and over again.

I found the music rather annoying and while bug's comments are fun at first they eventually repeat themselves a little too often.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised with 'Bug!', the gameplay and the graphics have aged a bit and repetitiveness does eventually. With that said, Bug's charm eventually grew on me somewhat.

Trivia: Despite being similar in theme and style to Pixar's 'A bug's life', Sega's game was actually launched 3 years before the movie. Between this and the Toy Story/Clockwork Knight scenario I'm starting to think someone at Pixar loved the Saturn.

Trivia 2: In one of the bonus levels, you get to race against Sonic the Hedgehog, it even uses Sonic 3's sprite and animations. It's kind of strange Sega would just let Realtime Associates use its mascot like that.

- Interesting take on the 3D platformer
- Fun gameplay in short bursts
- Character models look pretty good and are nicely animated for the time
- Mini-games and interesting level design help spice up the gameplay

- The Music can become rather grating
- It's easy to get lost and the high difficulty can be frustrating
- Gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive after a while
- Visually the maps look extremely dull and boring

Final Grade: C+

Mid-90s CGI cover with very little detail? Check! Blank featureless background? Check! Character(s) either staring blankly at the player or doing nothing that tells us what the game is about? Check! Yep! It's a mid-90s videogame cover with another one of those crappy early Saturn boxes no less.

At least the cover is a bit better than Clockwork Knight's though that's not saying much. The manual is pretty good though with backstory, character and enemy bios and a general description of every item and world.

Packaging Grade: D

Clockwork Knight 2

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

I guess Clockwork Knight must've turned a profit because the sequel came out only a year after the first title. Did they do a better job this time? Well actually, yes they did!

Taking place right after the events of the first game, it seems Princess Chelsea still needs Pepperouchau's help.

For the most part the sequel looks and plays exactly the same as Clockwork Knight, but there are a few subtle improvements. For starters, the graphics have improved slightly, now, the backgrounds are no longer comprised of a single static image, featuring instead moving objects or several images which move in parallax scrolling. Even the 3D polygon objects look a little better this time around as they're presented in greater detail and do not have any clipping issues.

The improvements don't stop on the technical level aspects though. While the gameplay itself is unchanged the levels are better designed this time around, providing several alternate paths and secrets. The maps are also much more interesting, while the first game was set in an ordinary house it seems the sequel takes place in a massive clocktower with allows for more interesting locales. Some stages require you to explore constantly change between the background and foreground similar to what you might find in games like 'Bug!', this can be a bit of a pain as sometimes you're forced to backtrack, but generally the feature never overstays its welcome.

Even the bosses are much more interesting now, these range from a karaoke singing snake comprised of building blocks to a rubber octopus-pirate. Now do you see what i mean by the 'toy' concept being underutilized in the first game? They took the concept and finally decided to have some fun with it and the game is better for it! There's even a few new forced-scrolling levels in which you get to ride a toy-horse, these are actually pretty fun and do a good job at spicing up the gameplay.

The game is also much harder this time around which brings up a new issue: the lack of checkpoints. Having to start a level from the beginning every time you die is really frustrating. A lot of the old issues do make a return as well, namely the game's length and the fact that at its heart, it's still a very basic platformer with no new moves or power-ups added to your character.

I thought the music was a bit more grating this time around with the exception of the intro theme, which was cheesy yet catchy salsa theme.For the rest of the game though, I would find myself turning down the sound on certain stages.

While by no means perfect Clockwork Knight 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor, the overall difficulty, stage music and relatively basic gameplay boggle down the experience somewhat, but the interesting levels and original boss designs make up for it.

- Slightly improved graphics
- Better level design with more variety
- Some pretty original boss designs
- Gameplay is still too simple for its own good
- Music can get a little grating
- Lack of a checkpoint can lead to a frustrating experience

Final Grade: B-

Now this is a definite improvement! The cover is bright and colorful and it really draws you in with all the action going on. The manual is similar to that of the first game though it replaces the highscore page in favor of character bios. 

Being an early Saturn game it comes in a flimsy box that if not treated with care will eventually disintegrate.

Packaging Grade: C+

Clockwork Knight

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

Clockwork Knight was a Japanese launch title for the Sega Saturn that while upbeat and colorful, failed to make a splash.

Sporting a style similar to Nintendo's Donkey Kong Country, Clockwork Knight is a 2D platformer featuring pre-rendered graphics with the occasional 3D-polygon object thrown in.

The game boots up with an artifact ridden FMV which quickly establishes the mood, theme and plot. You play as Pepperouchau III (try saying that three times fast), a wind-up toy soldier on a quest to save Princess Chelsea. It's definitely a cute idea for a platformer, but unfortunately, it never quite reaches its full potential as most of the levels, backgrounds and enemies feel generic and uninspired.

The gameplay doesn't fare much better either, you can run, jump and attack. You're also given a throwing move, but I felt this rarely came into play save for one or two boss fights. The woes don't stop there though, the platforming sections are all very basic and there are absolutely no power-ups save for the stock temporary invincibility item, this coupled with an extremely forgiving difficulty level and you're left with a short, forgettable experience.

At the end of each room you can play a magic cup game for extra lives, it brings in a little variety, but I would've preferred if each zone had a specific game.

The boss fights at least are pretty interesting, I definitely enjoyed fighting the transformer knock-off (he even looked like Starscream) but many of them have the annoying habit of attacking from the background. These can be hard to dodge due to your character essentially being a 2D sprite, making it hard to judge distances.

Graphically the pre-rendered sprites were very impressive for the time, but look a little on the blocky side now. You also get some polygonal items here and there, however, due to the rest of the game being in 2D they tend to stick out like a sore thumb and on some cases even create clipping issues. The backgrounds are colorful but completely static and feature a generally unappealing art-style, I can only look at pink or blue wall for so long before I get tired, though thankfully the kitchen and attic levels do a look a bit more interesting.

The soundtrack is upbeat but and does a good job at keeping the tone light and cheerful... perhaps a bit too cheerful. The intro theme has jazzy feel to it, complete with synthesized trumpets but it's a little too cheesy for its own good. The sound effects all do a good job at reminding you that you are in fact fighting toys with overly exaggerated springing noises or hollow plastic sounds.

It may sound like I'm being harsh on Clockwork Knight, but really it's not a bad game. It's just an average title with a cool theme that was sadly, left underused.

Trivia: Did you know Clockwork Knight was actually launched a year before Toy Story? I bet you thought Sega was just copying Pixar didn't you?

- Easy to pick up and play
- Fun in short bursts
- Bright and colorful

- The gameplay is too simple for its own good
- Graphically it hasn't aged well
- You'll probably finish it on your first try

Final Grade: C-

We have yet again another 90s CGI cover. The models are clean enough and actually have quite a bit of detail when compared to Virtua Fighter's cover. Unfortunately, they're not really doing anything interesting, they're just standing in a blank background, resulting in a really boring cover.

Thankfully, the manual fares a little better. It fills you in on a little backstory, goes into great detail on how to play the game, provides tips and even has a page where you can write down your high-scores. As with all early Saturn titles released in Europe, Clockwork knight comes in a very flimsy case.

Packaging Grade: D-

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Chaos Rising

Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ

The expansion pack to Dawn of War 2 picks up where the previous game left off, the Blood Ravens saved Aurelia sector from the invading Tyranids but now find themselves sieged by the Chaos Space Marines' Black Legion.

If you finished the original Dawn of War 2 you can import your saved game, allowing you to start off with better gear and at a slightly higher level, it's a nice feature but it's not mandatory as your old gear quickly becomes outdated due to power creep.

At first not a lot has changed in the campaign's gameplay as you're only given a few new locales as well as a new unit to control, the Psyker Jonah whose role is similar to that of a spellcaster. As the story progresses you learn of missions and combat gear that can either corrupt or purify your squads. Depending on how these are played out, the plot will branch somewhat and can even result in one of your officers betraying you.

Unfortunately this corruption/purity mechanic is severely underplayed, even while playing on the hardest difficulty I never felt pressured to follow either side. Considering how one of the characters keeps warning you how the forces are chaos can easily corrupt any man I was expecting missions with catch-22 type objectives, difficult moral choices or really, anything that would 'force' the player to become corrupted, but those never occurred. 

Even worse is the fact this campaign is painfully short, the original Dawn of War 2 took me two to three time longer to finish and while the different endings and slight branching paths bring some replay value, I'd sooner recommend you just watch these on YouTube.

I also didn't really like how most of your missions are relegated to you fighting Chaos Space Marines, the Orks, Eldar and Tyranids barely make an appearance and when they do it often comes with a really flimsy excuse plot-wise. Despite all this, the developers did try to mix it up a bit, one of the new areas has you doing missions in a Space Hulk! Sure it played just like every mission, but as a fan of the old Space Hulk videogame (I never played the boardgame) I loved walking around in terminator armor gunning down genestealers.

Multiplayer-wise very little has changed other than the addition of the Chaos faction and a new unit or two for every army, though none of it matters considering Games For Windows Live will shut down next year, ending any possible multiplayer interaction with it.

Overall, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Chaos Rising is a nice enough expansion, it had great ideas and its heart is in the right place, but the campaign is too short, the corruption mechanic is underdeveloped and while I appreciate the different endings, they're not really enough to warrant a second playthrough. Still it is a nice addition to original game, if you enjoyed Dawn of War 2 chances are you'll enjoy this one, if you didn't care for it or were on the fence, I doubt there's anything here that will sway you.

- Same tactical gameplay, albeit somewhat improved
- Slight branching paths and different endings encourage replay value
- Corruption/Purity mechanic can be interesting at times...

- ...but it's underdeveloped
- Short campaign
- Orks, Eldar and Tyranids are mostly forgotten in the campaign

Final Grade: B-

Packaging review to come soon

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ
Played on: Dawn of War 2 Complete Collection

The original Dawn of War was a fun game though a bit low on content, but, once all three expansion packs were installed, the sheer ammount of content coupled with the perfectly balanced gameplay turned into one of my favorite games in the genre.

Now, rather than making yet another expansion (which I'd be perfectly fine with) they decided to launch a full-fledged sequel... which I'm also perfectly fine with.

The story is completely unrelated to the previous Dawn of War games, here, you assume the role of a silent character commanding a different chapter of the Blood Ravens who must battle an invasion from Orks, Eldar and for the first time ever in the series, the Tyranids. I didn't care much for the plot itself, but I definitely enjoyed the character interactions as your squad leaders didn't always see eye to eye with their comrades or other outside forces.

Plot isn't the only aspect where Dawn of War 2 breaks away from the prequel as the gameplay is now radically different, especially in the single player campaign. For starters, there's absolutely no resource collecting or unit production in the campaign mode, they are however available in the multiplayer modes, but even then there's still no base building. instead, when tackling the campaign, you will control a limited number of squads in a gameplay mix of RTS with dungeon crawler. This means each squad acts as a different 'class' as they level up, are assigned stats and equipped with better gear. 

You can assume a total of 6 squadrons though you can only take four with you, this army size limitation forces you to think tactically as you try to complete each objective and I was very surprised at how flexible your teams were. Depending on the gear, teams and stats chosen, I could easily shift between a heavy attack force capable of dealing high damage to most enemy types, or change to a nimble and stealthy approach. Should one of your squads be destroyed you can easily revive its sergeant, though you'll have to capture specific points if you want to recover any other lost soldiers.

I did get to play a bit of the campaign through co-op, but I didn't much care for this mode. I was expecting the second player to bring in squad reinforcements, but instead, all it does is halve the available units for each. Needless to say, if you're not perfectly in tune with your co-op buddy chances are the game just got a lot more difficult.

At first I found the game quite boring, but the campaign really picked up in intensity as you're given sets of story based missions coupled with randomly generated side-missions that need to be completed in a certain amount of time. Unfortunately, there aren't there aren't a lot of maps or objectives to accomplish so repetition does set in quite quickly as you find yourself running through the same locations killing the same enemies over and over.

Over on the multiplayer side of things the game changes to a more somewhat typical RTS style. While there is still no base building, you can capture various points throughout the map that automatically collect resources which can in turn be used to purchase or upgrade units. Despite this gameplay change, you have a population cap of a mere 10 squads per player, and considering there are no modes featuring more than 3 on 3 skirmishes, the battles will always at a small/medium scale. 

Dawn of War 2's most dire issue isn't in the game though. Instead it's in the online services it uses, namely Games For Windows Live which will be shut down in July of 2014 and with it goes any chance of online interaction with other players.

Overall I quite enjoyed Dawn of War 2, though the game is far from perfect. The campaign is fun but it becomes a bit repetitive, you can play it in co-op if you want but I'd really advise against it. The competitive online portions on the other hand are very fun but feel like an entirely different game altogether. Unfortunately as stated before, Games For Windows Live will shut down next year and with it, any chance of online play, so yes, I'm making the decision of including the end of GFWL as a con in the review.

- Fun and enticing tactical gameplay that's easy to learn and hard to master
- Campaign is a nice mix of RTS and Diablo style gameplay
- Competitive Online modes feel entirely different, but are still very fun

- Campaign gets repetitive after a while
- Co-op mode isn't very fun
- When Games for Windows Live shuts down all multiplayer mode will be gone forever

Final Grade: B

Packaging review to come soon

Manx TT Superbike

Developer: Sega AM3/Sega-AM4/Tantalus Interactive
Publisher: Sega

If there’s one genre where Sega dominated back in the mid 90s that would have to be the 3D arcade racer and Manx TT Superbike was no exception.

I’m just going to say it: The arcade feel and gameplay of Manx TT Superbike is perfect! The speed, the flow, the racing it’s extremely fun and addicting with that “one more race” factor. 

Adding to the wonderful gameplay are the colorful graphics, these are not all that great on a technical level due to low polygon models and 2D trees and buildings, but are still very pretty to look at thanks to mix of colors and general summer/spring feel of the game, however, I did notice some slight frame rate hiccups now and again, though nothing too serious.

The soundtrack is mostly composed of rock tunes which do a good job at getting you pumped and ready to go, though when I reached speeds of upwards of 190MPH my bike starting sounding more like a vacuum cleaner… that was kind of weird.

Unfortunately for all the praise I just gave the game I have one major issue, there’s only two tracks! Oh sure there’s also a mirrored version of said tracks and I admit, it’s kinda neat seeing these from a reversed perspective, but really, once you master the regular version it’ll likely only take you one or two tries to dominate its mirrored counterpart.

There are a few other modes like the superbike challenge or the time trial modes, but really these add very little in the way of replay value, so far the best the biggest drive I get to replay it (other than the gameplay that is) is to beat the dreaded superbike, an NPC player with an overpowered bike, that’s faster and handles better than anyone else’s.

Overall, I freaking love the gameplay here, but really, there’s only enough content here to last you two days if that. With that said, this is my default Saturn game, it’s the perfect title for when you have 5 minutes to kill, but anything over that and you’ll likely get tired of the same two tracks over and over. A shame too, there was potential for an A+ here.

- Attractive, colorful graphics
- Fast and addicting gameplay
- While a bit limited, the Soundtrack is pretty nice

- Only two tracks (four if you count the mirrored tracks)
- Very little replay value once you finish in first place
- Bike models are very low poly

Final Grade: B-

I generally don't like mid 90s CGI covers, but on the other hand I am a sucker for pleasing vibrant colors and this one is chock full of them!

Inside you'll find a pretty barebones manual, it starts off by telling you something about Norse kings gutting their defeated foes to please Odin and I'm really not sure how any of this is related to bikes. Outside of that weird introduction it explains you how to play the game and what each mode does, though it doesn't tell you too much, likely because there's not that much to talk about to begin with. It also doesn't really help the manual is in black and white with extremely minimal decorative art on the bottom right and left corners.

I did like the "coming soon" section as it showed off the box art for Torico, Mass Destruction, Saturn Bomber Man and Fighters Megamix, though a few screenshots would've been nice

Overall the manual is a bit disappointing, but the cover is pleasing and it does come in a sturdy late-life plastic Saturn casing, so it's not all bad.

Packaging Grade: C+