Super Thunder Blade

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Played on: Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection

Sega's Super Scaler Technology engine is known for powering 80s arcade classics like Outrun, Hang On, Afterburner and Space Harrier. However, some of its titles fell into relative obscurity. Often, the reason behind this was due to poor home ports in the west.

I've previously reviewed Thunder Blade for the Sega Master System and as one would expect, it was a farcry from the arcade original. It was a decent vertical SHMUP with some truly terrible and choppy 3D-ish sections.

Super Thunder Blade however was a Japanese launch title for its successor, the Mega Drive. If Sega intended to show off the power behind its new 16-bit system a proper port of Thunder blade would have stood out from the crowd. Sadly, Super Thunder Blade brings mixed results; while anyone could tell at a glance this was not running on an 8-bit system, it also made it abundantly clear the Genesis could not properly emulate its arcade counterpart.

Much to my dismay, the vertical scrolling sections found both in the arcade and Master System versions of Thunderblade were removed. The 8-bit version lacked scaling graphics during these segments, but despite this, they were the still most entertaining part so seeing them removed  from its 16-bit descendant automatically raises a red flag. This would have been acceptable had the pseudo-3D portions remained intact, which unfortunately, they do not.

Yes, graphically, this game is leaps and bounds ahead of the Master System port, it also runs much smoother though that's not saying much. With all that said, this game is still pretty ugly, buildings look like they're paper cut outs and the scrolling is still nowhere near as fluid as one would hope. This problem becomes especially pronounced during the second stage where players are expected to dodge pillars that provide little to no reaction time.

Engaging in combat is simple but boring. All shots are aimed at where your helicopter is, conversely, you are armed with a limitless supply of seeking missiles. As a result, enemy fire can easily be avoided by circling around the screen while letting your home shots do all the work, this technique also applies to mid-level bosses making them ridiculously easy. The few times I died were most often associated with environmental hazards on level two or end-stage boss fights. 

Towards the end of a mission Super Thunder Blade shifts its perspective to that of an overhead shooter, similar to its arcade and Master System equivalents. However, during these segments your helicopter is stuck to the bottom of the screen, meaning the player is only allowed to maneuver left or right. Why Sega decided to limit player control like this is beyond me. Another strange design decision lies with its difficulty curve. The difficulty reaches its apex at level two, once past that hurdle Super Thunder Blade becomes relatively easy.

Sadly, there is little else to say about the game. With only four short missions, Super Thunder Blade can be finished in under half an hour and considering there are no power-ups to pick I found myself simply circling around the screen and taking out everything in my path.

From a technical standpoint, Super Thunder Blade features impressive visuals which could never be reproduced by Nintendo's Famicom. On one hand it showed just what the Sega Mega Drive/ Genesis was capable of, but it was just as successful in displaying its limitations. It's true games like Outrun and Panorama Cotton did a much better job at pushing the pseudo-3D limits of Sega's blast processing machine, but these would not be launched for another three and six years respectively. In the end, I think it speaks volumes that I would rather play the 8-bit version instead of its 16-bit sequel.

Trivia: Despite Thunder Blade being a fairly popular arcade game in the 80s it wasn't until 2015 that western audiences finally received an arcade-perfect port.

Pros:
- As a Japanese launch game for the Mega Drive it can be considered a historic title
- Scaling graphics hold a certain charm despite being subpar by Genesis standards


Cons:
- Graphically below average when compared to latter Genesis/ Mega Drive titles
- Choppy scaling effects make it difficult to avoid environmental hazards
- Only four levels which can be finished in under half an hour

Final Grade: D


Sym


I reviewed Sym over at Tech-gaming.com

Sym is a hauntingly beautiful game that provides a solid platforming experience but is lacking in content and hollow in its message.

Full review HERE

Virtual Hydlide

Developer: T&E Soft Corporation
Publisher: Sega/Atlus

Often the butt of every joke, Virtual Hydlide, like the rest of the series has gone on to live in gaming infamy. Many popular YouTubers have already given their comedic take on these games, which only served to raise the series' notoriety.

I'll admit even I was tempted to rip this game a new one at first, but eventually decided against it and review it as I would any other title.

Virtual Hydlide is a remake of the original NES title, Hydlide. This bit of trivia is likely to slip by many players neither the game nor its European manual state this information.

What little story there is told through two intro videos, the first being a silent cutscene featuring a real life actress in front of a green screen and the second a text crawl explaining what we just witnessed. I've noticed several users who played this game were completely unaware of a subsequent introduction, one can hardly blame them as Virtual Hydlide boots up the start menu when the first FMV sequence, giving no hint of a follow-up. Why the developers didn't choose to simply join both videos as one is beyond me, though this is the least of Virtual Hydlide's problems.

Upon entering the main menu we are greeted with what is perhaps one of the only two veritable strong points of this game: its music. While this soundtrack does not hold a candle to Enix's or Squaresoft's musical offerings these are still enjoyable and fitting tunes in their own right. All melodies were clearly created digitally though they try to emulate real life instruments with mixed success. Still, regardless of whether these tunes sound orchestrated or synthesized, they are still pleasant. 

Players may start a new game by creating a new randomly generated overworld or inputing a code of their own. A new world to explore on every playthrough may seem like an enticing gameplay mechanic, but sadly these maps are always barren offering no towns to explore or quests to undertake. Instead you are on a constant, linear fetch quest going from dungeon A to dungeons B, C and always in the same order. This is only the beginning of Virtual Hydlide's issues of which sadly there are many.

The game's graphical style is often derided. It features a digitized main character exploring 3D-ish environments. While the hero looks photo-realistic every other asset was clearly drawn, making the main player stick out like a sore thumb. Not only that but everything has a pixelated, low resolution look to it, even by 32-bit console standards. The visuals seem reminiscent of what you would find in a 3DO title and I don't mean this as a stab to Virtual Hydlide or the 3DO, it's a graphical style I've always found charming but is clearly not for everyone's cup of tea.

What shouldn't be anyone's cup of tea is the frankly, shocking framerate which the game runs. Up this point I could have forgiven many of Virtual Hydlide's faults, even with all its issues there were still positives to find (to which I'll address later). If the gameplay .gifs seemed choppy, I assure you it's not due to the image quality, it really runs that poorly. Sadly, this uneven experience is the definitive deal breaker, it kicks in as soon as you start playing, running at what I assume is a paltry 5 frames per second and it only gets worse from there. While exploring one of the final dungeons there was a point where I'm sure gameplay stuttered below a single frame per second, it got to the point where it wouldn't even register button presses anymore. Generally speaking, the more enemies and polygonal objects appear in the camera, the worse it gets.

I cannot emphasize enough at how horrific the framerate is or how it affects gameplay. If an enemy attacks you from behind, the mere act of turning around becomes a patience-testing task. The camera can also choose the poorest of angles when navigating through tight spots, often times I couldn't see where I was nor where my enemies were placed. It doesn't help due to your character essentially being a 2D digitized sprite it's often hard to judge distances when swinging a sword. Now, add all that to the fact enemies sometimes appear to clip between walls (a bug not a feature, I assure you) and you've got a recipe for disaster.

Weapons, armor and non-quest important items are randomly placed in each dungeon. This adds a roguelike element to the game as you don't know if a weapon is cursed or carries any bonuses unless you equip it or use a magic scroll on it. Fighting enemies can also be fun when they are not swarming our main character and lowering the framerate even further. Unfortunately, there is no reward for killing enemies save to increase your score. Now granted, points can be traded for better weapons and items, but even this shop is easy to miss, it's entirely likely most players will finish the game before even coming across that particular location which leads me to my next point: the sense of loneliness.

This is the other strong point in Virtual Hydlide, the feeling of loneliness. At no point will the player ever meet any helpful or neutral NPCs. Instead we explore cemeteries, abandoned mansions, mines and dungeons, but all of its beings, living or undead are out to get you. It genuinely made me wonder where is everyone and why am I the only human left in the world. Yes, the intro explains the princess was turned into three fairies, but it doesn't specify what happened to her people. Of course none of these questions are ever actually addressed in the game.

Monsters and enemies generally feature poor A.I. as most of the time they seem to have as hard a time hitting me as I do hitting them. Often they even seem to "forget" about me, attacking me once or twice and then moving on as if nothing happened. At least the game is mercifully short, it took me a little under three hours to finish it on my first attempt.

For all its faults, I truly believe Virtual Hydlide was a labor of love. A mere glance at its credit sequence shows it was created by a small team who dreamed big but could not fulfill their vision. This game fails on every technical level but the concept ideas were solid, just awfully implemented. It's easy to forget the original Hydlide preceded the Legend of Zelda and that for its time, it was a solid release when compared to competing MSX and Apple II RPGs. Sadly, Virtual Hydlide is much like that kid who fell behind the rest of his class, he may have genuinely tried his best to catch up and get a passing grade, but it was already too late.

Trivia: Though it's never stated in the game or PAL region manuals, Virtual Hydlide is a remake of the original Hydlide.

Pros:
- Successfully captures a feeling of loneliness in a hostile world
- The music while not deserving of an award is pretty good in its own right
- For better or worse, it's still a unique experience


Cons:
- A constantly terrible framerate completely destroys any chance this might have had.
- Underwhelming graphics
- Despite featuring a randomly generated overworld, each playthrough is exactly the same

Final Grade: F

Oh dear, this cover is... not good at all. I'm not even sure where to start. We have the main bad guy, Varalys represented through poorly aged mid-90s CG. As if that weren't enough, he's flying while spreading his legs wide open, that does not seem comfortable at all.

Then we have a knight and I assume the evil wizard boss standing in front of Varalys via poorly done photoshop job. Worse still, both the knight and wizard seem to present themselves in a far more realistic look than Varalys, making the demon stand out for all the wrong reasons. Finally, we have a blurry photo of a random castle at the bottom. Essentially we have three different art styles all within a single cover all clashing with each other. This image is so crowded and busy I don't even know where to focus my eyes on, its composition is a mess.

The packaging comes with the bare basics: manual, CD and an early Saturn game case. By now I've made it abundantly clear I am not a fan of early PAL region Sega Saturn cases. These have a tendency to break and/or rip easily.

Its manual is a bit of an oddity, half of it is spent discussing obvious settings like the sound, brightness and saving options while dedicated very little information to game itself.

What little backstory we get is just a retelling of the intro video (which already has its own in-game retelling though a FMV cutscene). It does provide some useful information but it's written in such a way that one could easily mistake it for meaningless fluff.

The first time I read the manual I completely missed the instructions how to regenerate health simply because of how padded out the text was (see fourth paragraph on the image). With all that said, it does provide plenty of screenshots and generally does a good job at introducing newcomers to Virtual Hydlide. It's not a terrible booklet, just short with only 13 pages and padded out.

I wish the packaging would have at least redeemed Virtual Hydlide, but between a terrible cover, a short booklet with meaningless padding and no extras I can safely say not a lot of effort went into the European edition.

Packaging Grade: D

Flight of the Amazon Queen

Developer: Interactive Binary Illusions
Publisher: Renegade Software

When it comes to adventure games, it's safe to say that for many gamers, LucasArts has become the de facto standard upon which other releases are judged upon. I'm sure many will disagree and raise valid points in favor of Sierra On-Line or other prominent studios. I would however argue LucasArts seems to hold a more widespread influence currently rivaled only by Telltale Games.

I bring this up simply due to how much Flight of the Amazon Queen resembles a LucasArts title. It features an art style, humor, gameplay and story that is best described as Indiana Jones meets Monkey Island with a dash of Sam & Max.

The tone quickly is established in a comic book style intro featuring several clich├ęs one would expect from a vintage Saturday morning cartoon. Despite being chuckle-worthy, most cutscenes sadly feature an unappealing art style, simply put, the character's faces and expressions look off. Taking place in the 1940s-1950s players control Joe King, pilot for hire who is tasked with flying fictional movie star, Faye Russel to a photoshoot in South America. Joe never reaches his destination though as he soon crashes his airplane, the titular Amazon Queen deep in the Amazon jungle.

Before reaching that point, the game's mechanics and controls are subtly introduced during the first 20-30 minutes of gameplay which take place in Rio de Janeiro hotel. It's here I realized the inventory management leaves something to be desired. Only four inventory items can be shown at once, but considering how much stuff there is to collect, cycling though them soon becomes a thankless task. Although this area serves as little more than a tutorial its bohemian visuals and characters were in stark contrast with the jungles and temples permeating the vast majority of the game. In fact, I was a little disappointed Joe never got to properly explore a 1950's Rio, a location and timepiece which to my knowledge has never been featured in any title.

Regardless, exploring the Amazon and meeting its cast of colorful characters provides an entertaining and fulfilling experience, reminiscent of the third act in Secret of Monkey Island. Unlike Guybrush Threepwood's simian populated island, the Amazon is surprisingly densely populated with explorers, natives, amazonian tribes and even an evil organization bent on taking over the world. The latter quickly takes precedence as Joe soon forfeits his task of escaping the jungle in favor of preventing an evil scientist from creating an army of amazon/dinosaur hybrids. 

Yes, the plot is very silly and makes very little sense. The villains take a cue from Indiana Jones who while are essentially Nazis despite never being directly referred to as such. Even their leader, Dr. Ironstein's goals are never entirely made clear; At one point he urgently declares the need for more amazonian test subjects, but once his forces capture the entire tribe he is content with holding them ransom.

It's easy to ignore all plot faults simply because this is not the sort of game one takes seriously. All characters share a fair number of jokes and situational humor is very present. In one early example, players can logic an ape out of existence when informed the species hail from Africa, not South America. The dialog is witty and often hilarious, my favorite part being when Joe meets the Grim Reaper and successfully teases him. 

The humor and puzzles can be surprisingly adult at times. This includes an inventory puzzle featuring a presumably ex-girlfriend taking a shower and the amazonian mating rituals. The latter becomes something a running gag as you come across male prisoners who refuse to escape their shackles due to constant copulation with their all-female captors. This is a style of humor which may not appeal to everyone though nothing is ever explicitly shown or told, just heavily hinted at.

Complementing the strong writing is an equally capable voice cast. Joe features a strong, almost comedic Brooklyn accent, Dr. Ironstein is clearly doing a cartoony mad scientist routine while his soldiers all share over-the-top German accents.

MacGuffins are often introduced at the last minute with little rhyme or reason. One example of this is during the second half when Flight of the Amazon Queen becomes less Monkey Island and more Indiana Jones. Here, Joe has to track down a Crystal Skull (a full 13 years before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull I might add) by exploring a vast intertwining temple. Sadly this point features a massive tonal shift. Suddenly there are hardly any NPCs to dialog with and what few you meet have a tendency to wander off and disappear. Instead you must discover explore, backtrack and discover the solution to dozens of puzzles all by your lonesome self. Sadly, this was when Flight of the Amazon Queen started to lose me, this section was by no means bad, just underwhelming when compared to the first half.

Flight of the Amazon Queen can almost be considered a stealth LucasArts release, all its missing is the famous logo. From humor to graphical style, everything is made to emulate their formula going as far as to thank them during the credits sequence. Its humor may border on the adult at times and the second half may be quite as good, regardless, this a hidden gem more people should experience. Thankfully, the game is free on both GOG and ScummVM.

Trivia 1: Did you know the CD version contains a short 15 minute mini game? Here, players control Joe King once more and interview the game's creators. The creators mention Monkey Island as one of the inspirations behind Flight, and even show a sneak peak at their next title which sadly was never released. To my knowledge this demo is not in either the GOG or ScummVm releases.

Trivia 2: Did you also know Dr. Ironstein is played by William Hootkins? He also played Jek Porkins in Star Wars: A New Hope.

Pros:
- Captures the LucasArts style of advemture games
- Good humor and witty dialog make all character interactions a joy
- Strong voice acting


Cons:
- Second half of the game is a little underwhelming
- Inventory management is needlessly tedious
- Some humor can border on the adult and may not be for everyone

Final Grade: B+


The cover features a realistically drawn Joe King and Faye Russel staring into what I assume it to be Sloth Island temple entrance. Of course the issue here is that Faye never actually accompanies Joe when this happens but we can chalk that up to artistic license.

I find myself conflicted regarding the art style. On one hand it's colorful, visually appealing and well drawn, however, it's juxtaposed with the cartoony approach featured in the game. I assume this was a decision based on Monkey Island 1 and 2's covers who also featured realistic covers, contrasting with the games contained within, an artistic choice which I was never fond of.

Inside the box for this Ms-Dos CD version you'll find a manual and jewel sporting the same previously mentioned cover, an installation reference card and a Time Warner registration card.

The manual briefly provides a brief Flight of the Amazon Queen synopsis going as far as to dating its events to 1949, something the actual game never does.

Most of its the manual's contents are relegated to control mechanics, moving, interactions and dialogs. While the information isn't terribly interesting the writers were kind enough to wrap it in a humorous tone, making for a smooth, light reading.

Each page is adorned concept art for several characters and locations, all of which drawn with the same realistic style and proportions found in the cover. This actually makes me wonder what Flight of the Amazon Queen would have looked like had it taken a more serious tone.

It may not come with any unique extras, but the manual and box art are well rounded enough to stick out on a shelf and serve as a conversation piece. I may not like how the cover clashes with the game, but by itself, it's still an attractive, nicely drawn depiction.

Packaging Grade: B






Shadowrun

Developer: Blue Sky Software
Publisher: Sega

PAL Region Warning: Shadowrun was only launched in the US and comes with regional copy protection. You can get around this via an Action Replay cartridge though though then the game will run at 50HZ (slower music and image will be slightly squished). Instead, I recommend a 60HZ switch instead which bypasses regional protection and runs the game as intended.

Generally speaking, it's easy for me to review a game and give a detailed opinion of whether or not the title at hand is well designed. Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis however is an odd exception in which most elements need to be deconstructed individually.

Every great idea implemented here is offset by a frustrating flaw, some intentional while others were an oversight by the development team likely due to time, budget and other resource constraints though perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

Shadowrun for Sega's 16-bit console was the second game ever made based on Fasa's pen & paper role-playing game. The previous title, also named Shadowrun had launched exclusively for the Super Nintendo a year prior, despite sharing a name and universe, these were completely different games in both story and gameplay. At the time, Nintendo's version garnered a positive response by the press and Sega, not wanting to be left behind commissioned the version we see today.

To this day there is still an open debate on which game is better, Nintendo fans argue their version features a better story and superior graphics while Sega supporters defend this game for its gameplay and adherence to the pen & paper's rule-set. Having never played the Super Nintendo version I can't comment on which is the superior version, though after finishing Sega's rendition I can easily see why many swear by it as a hidden gem in the Genesis' library while others quickly dismiss it as an ugly, boring and over-complicated game.

Starting the game, you're asked to choose between three 'classes', Street Samurai, Decker and Gator Shaman with no choice of race, instead limiting players to playing as a Human. Right off the bat the selection seems paltry, at first I assumed this stemmed from cartridge space limitations, until I discovered you can hire other shadowrunners to join your crew who feature difference races and classes including an elven mage, troll samurai and even a dwarf rat shaman. Why the developers chose to limit the main character's creation process is beyond me.

Another issue I ran into was the class balancing system. Simply put, I see no reason why players should choose any class other than Gator Shaman. With enough grinding any character can max out the firearms, hand-to-hand combat and hacking stats while spells remain exclusive to magic-wielding users. Now granted, installing cyberware will decrease your magical prowess, but a simple matrix-jack implant has such a low cast on this that I eventually had a magic user, who was an expert hacker and was a master at both hand-to-hand combat and SMGs.

Street Samurai is perhaps the worst starting class to pick, not due to a design decision, but rather because of a game-breaking bug. Out of 8 possible cyberware enhancements, the three most powerful ones, Enhanced Reflex, Muscle Replacement and Dermal Plating break the game and produce the opposite effect; instead of making characters more powerful, they die in one melee hit. This is only one of several bugs I ran across, most are minor though others were annoying including one where runners I had hired for life suddenly leave my team after a single shadowrun job, at its worst Shadowrun feels broken and unfinished.

Yet, for as many issues as Shadowrun has, it offsets them with sheer moments of brilliance and attention to detail I never would have expected to find in a 16-bit game. Initially, the quickest way to gather money and experience is to take on shadowrun jobs, these are given to you by Mr. Johnsons who can be found in bars throughout the city. these run from low-level escort and/or delivery missions to high level hacking, VIP extracting or company sabotage and this is where the game gets interesting. 

Depending on your skills and shadowrun team, there are so many ways of doing one job it's astounding. Need to break into a corporation headquarters? You can go in guns blazing, killing everyone in your path or you could cast an invisibility spell, learn guard patterns and sneak in. Or you could buy fake ID's, boost your fast-talking skills and let the everyone think you work for the company. Alternatively you could get into the headquarters, find a computer, hack the system to shut down cameras and learn where your target is, and complete your job in five minute or less. The offset being you can get your team stuck if you don't prepare in advance for a sshadowrun. The degree of freedom is staggering!

This doesn't apply just to shadowrun jobs either. Companies, gangs and factions will remember your actions. Get caught carrying an illegal weapon and suddenly you're wanted by the police, expect frequent ambushes. Want to stop these raids? Find a contact within city hall and bribe him to delete your criminal record. You can even pay gangs protection money, learn who controls them and ally yourself with them, though now you can expect the rival gang to do anything in their power to kill you. As you progress, you soon build a network of contacts, friends, shadowrunners who provide you with legal and illegal weapons, hacking gear, friendly discounts, cyberware, fake permits, company keycards and more. Corporations will often start targeting you if you accept too many shadowruns targeted at them and they don't forget as easily as the police.

If the real world is a becoming a tad too dangerous you can also try to jack into the matrix. There, the world radically shifts both graphically and gameplay-wise. Suddenly, the ugly top-down view is replaced by an over-the-shoulder perspective with scaling effects. Combat changes from real-time to a Final Fantasy-esque active turn-based system. It feels completely different from the real world while still holding enough a strong connection to it. There, you can try to access random or previously discovered fixed points in the matrix and data-mine, that is, steal private, valuable information and then sell it to the highest bidder. This can range from company marketing, security and top secret data to police records, prison records and more. 

Data-mining is so profitable I eventually stopped doing shadowruns altogether. While the highest paid jobs will usually net you between 5.000-7.000 Nuyen, a single data run on a high level corporation's top secret files could net me anywhere between 2.000-30.000 Nuyen. There's more to the matrix than just data runs though, while physically infiltrating a company you can jack into the company's computers to disable alarms, alternatively, you might also download files that provide hints on what you need to do to progress the story or simply provide extra lore to the world.

Unfortunately, as is custom with this game, for each great idea implemented there is another concept in which Shadowrun drops the ball. Although the game doesn't directly explain this, jacking into the matrix is not advisable until you get at least mid-tier equipment and you maxed out all hacking related skills. Worse still, hacking related items are the most expensive in the game, with the best deck costing around 200.000 Nuyen and that is with your bartering skill maxed out. Hacking programs can be upgraded up to 8 times, maxing just one of these costs about 100.000 Nuyen, no matter how you slice it, becoming a great hacker is a costly, time-consuming process. 

The issues don't end there though, at times you may encounter an IC with a defense called 'Tar Pit' this deletes a program from your deck, meaning if you had a fully upgraded attack skill, not only did you just lose all the money and time investment required to install it, you are also now defenseless and must jack out. Frustratingly, you can't delete your own programs when you want to. Even the highest deck has a limited disk space and certainly not enough to fully upgrade every program there is, this means if you made a poor choice you might not have room left to get a program you want or even have enough room left for profitable data-mining.

Jacking out into the real world is a quick endeavor though it's also a grim reminder of how below graphically disappointing this game is. Streets and characters look very muddy and dark to the point where it's hard to make out characters, buildings or locations, while this may have been done on purpose, the artists went overboard. Dialogs are handled on a black choosing your line of dialog. Oddly enough, each character portrait seems to having been drawn on just one layer, meaning they are limited to a mere 16 colors and generally lack detail, palette swaps of said portaits are also common, likely to save cartridge space.

You'll notice I have yet to mention Shadowrun's main story, this is due to how uninteresting the plot itself is. The main plot largely consists of fetch quests with some combat in between. Hacking and any non-combat skill rarely if ever comes into play when following the main story-line. You may be on a quest to find your brother's killer, but characters rarely ever feel real, providing very little dialog or backstory. Instead, the true star here is the mood, tone and setting the game provides. Visiting a cyberpunk dystopic Seattle, discovering how Native American tribes have since flourished in this new world and the control corporations have over the average citizen play front and center turning the plot itself into more of an afterthought.

Occasionally you'll come across a few cutscenes, mostly consisting of still screens with text explaining the plot as you progress. One aspect the story gets it right is making you feel like a detective tracking down your brother's killer. It may lack any human touch or connection but considering how most tasks can be carried out in any order gameplay soon becomes a matter of putting clues together and deducing where to go next.

At best, Shadowrun is brilliant and engaging, at worst it's a frustrating, broken experience. This could have been not just the best role-playing experience on the Sega Genesis, but the best 16-bit RPG, period. Even despite all its bugs and glaring design flaws there is still enough here to make it one of the best RPGs of its time. Shadowrun is what Fallout or The Elder Scrolls would have been had they been created for a 16-bit system. If you have a high tolerance for the occasional bug and questionable design decision track Shadowrun down.

Trivia: During the Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter campaign of 2012, the developers promised the new game would be connected to both Genesis and Super Nintendo Shadowrun games. In the Genesis case, this was done by the introduction of Harlequin in the 2012 game.

Pros:
- Engaging roleplay mechanics with a surprising amount of freedom
- Multitude of ways tasks and missions can be carried out make for a fresh experience
- Hacking feels like a completely different world to discover
- Imagine if Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls had been created for a 16-bit system. This is it


Cons:
- Occasionally buggy and with some questionable design decisions
- Main quest and plot hold very little interest
- Graphically below average

Final Grade: B+

For a console game, Shadowrun brings a lot of extras. The full packaging comes with the box, game, black and white manual, a free 6-month subscription to Sega Visions magazine and a double-sided catalog/Eternal Champions poster.

I quite like the game's cover even if it was directly taken from the first and second edition shadowrun books. It's a testament to the game's quality when I feel the cover so accurately reproduces what actually goes on in the game. Both the cartridge and manual feature the same design though sadly the latter is completely in black and white.

I quite like the Eternal Champions poster, the first time I saw it seemed very reminiscent of Boris Vallejo's style. Upon a short Google search I quickly discovered the artist behind this was Julie Bell who happens to be Vallejo's wife. I'll admit I'd much rather see Julie's skills put towards a Shadowrun themed poster but it's hard to deny just how striking the image is. I don't quite understand what that white thing coming out of the guy's watch is, but I don't care, it's cool, it's 90s and I love it!

The other side of the poster features a catalog with Sega's latest offerings including Genesis, Game Gear and Sega CD titles. I'm surprised at how little I care for the Genesis offerings in this poster, that's what happens when half the games you're promoting are sports and racing titles.

At least they took the time to show off Sonic 3, Aladdin, Toejam & Earl, Sub-Terrania, Sonic Spinball and Eternal Champions.

Not too impressed by the Game Gear catalog either, most of the games there I could probably find for the Master System without having to worry about battery life. Still, Sonic Chaos, Jurassic Park and Deep Duck Trouble look pretty good.

Finally we have the Sega CD catalog and I'm glad to say, it's not all FMV games, in fact, games for that ill-fated adapter are looking pretty good! The standout title for me would have to be Final Fight which is still considered one of the best home ports to this day. I never really cared for Sonic CD, but I know it has quite the cult following. Lastly, there's Silpheed which I'd love to get my hands on should I ever own a CD adaptor for my console.

Shadowrun's manual comes in a poor quality paper, made even worse by the fact it's not in color, despite this, the information contained within should be a mandatory read before playing the game. 

It accurately describes every facet of gameplay, tells you what to do and where to go and is even kind enough to provide maps for all the major regions.

I'm not used to Sega games containing so much information, I guess this only shows we European users got the short end of the stick with our VCR style manuals.
I like how they took the manual's back cover to sneak in an ad for Landstalker, another game I'd love to own, hopefully one day. Though again, the ad is also in black and white so some of its flash is instantly lost.

Overall I'm quite impressed with Shadowrun's packaging, its cover fits the gameplay quite nicely while still providing an actually useful manual and beautiful if off-themed poster. Had the manual been in color and in a slightly higher quality paper I probably would have given it a maximum score.

Packaging Grade: A-

Age Of Wonders 3


“ A new class and two new races may not sound like much, but when combined with previous releases Age of Wonders 3: Eternal Lords becomes one of the most complete experiences in recent memory. “

Full Review here.

Westerado: Double Barreled


I reviewed Westerado: Double Barreled by Adult Swim Games and Ostrich Banditos over at Tech-gaming.com.

Westerado: Double Barreled may have begun as a free flash title but it’s worthy of a purchase regardless of whether or not you’re a western fan. “