Month: January 2005

January’s Twilight

With January finally coming to a close, it’s time for more releases to start trickling out. January is always slow since just about every developer wants to make sure their big game was out before Christmas.

And while January was slow for Sega as well, we were treated to one release – the elusive Virtua Quest.

Despite the rather negative reviews the press has given the game, I think it deserves more credit than it has been given. It certainly isn’t the breakthrough game of 2005, but there is quite a bit of enjoyment to be had once you get past the rather poorly implemented camera system.

It has the very distinct feel of Phantasy Star Online, but with elements of platform action games. And while nowhere as deep as Phantasy Star Online in regards to character customization and equipment, Virtua Quest isn’t asking you to spend hundreds of hours with it. In fact, Sega couldn’t have timed its release better. It’s the perfect January game – sort of like ordering an appetizer while waiting for your main course to arrive.

The combat system is quite simple, yet it’s varied enough to allow you to make it your own. Sega fans who are expecting the depth of Virtua Fighter will be disappointed, but if you go in expecting a snack rather than a meal, you might just be pleasantly surprised.

I often wonder how much a project changes from the time it gets the green light to the time it goes gold. Virtua Quest seems like a title that probably started off completely different than how it ended up. Whether it was due to budget constraints or the Sammy deal or something else entirely, we may never know. But while it’s an entertaining title, you can’t help but admit that Sega could have done a lot better – and HAVE done a lot better in the past.

At the very least, this is not the Virtua Fighter RPG that Sega fans wanted, not is it a game that most of today’s gamers will appreciate.

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Well, it was supposed to be a slow day…

I honestly thought I wouldn’t have a whole lot going on today so I could continue my diatribe about the Gamecube pleasure cruise I’ve taken the past couple of days. However, it seems Sega has pre-emted that by releasing a new video for the Sega Ages 2500 remake of Phantasy Star 2. (currently the Movie of the Moment over on the sidebar). The game’s Japanese release date is March 24 of this year, and you can bet your trousers that I’ll be picking that one up.

It’s true that Conspiracy Games‘ website says that they’ll be releasing a Phantasy Star Trilogy (containing all 3 of the Sega Ages 2500 Phantasy Star games), but I’m not so sure it’s Conspiracy that will be releasing it. Their website is horribly outdated, and the Q1 2005 release date for the trilogy seems laughable considering that Phantasy Star 4’s release date has yet to be announced in Japan. Their site still lists the Sega Ages Classic Collection for Q3 2004, and Sega reclaimed the publishing rights to those games. In fact, that particular compilation (featuring remakes of Out Run, Golden Axe, Space Harrier, Columns, Alien Syndrome, Fantazy Zone, Monaco GP, Virtua Racing, Tant-R and Bonanza Brothers) is due for a US release this coming March.

Since we’re on the subject of the Sega Ages 2500 games, Sega has announced the release dates for two more games in the series. Both Dragon Force (another hot title) and Fighting Vipers (hope it’s as good a port as Virtua Fighter 2) will be released in Japan on April 28. No movies of those games are available yet, but you can bet I’ll be adding them to SegaFans as soon as they are.

Can’t you just smell the nostalgia in the air?

As a special bonus just for you, I’ve added yet another new section to the Vault, called Doujin Games. Anyone familiar with the Manga industry knows that doujinshi are fan-made manga. A smart SegaFan such as yourself has by now naturally deduced that doujin games naturally would be fan-made games as opposed to official Sega releases. I have asked the authors if they would allow me to host these games here at SegaFans, and they have graciously allowed me to do so.

The nostalgia never ends here at SegaFans, and here are remakes of two of Sega’s beloved games.

ANSI Shinobi is a remake of the original Shinobi done completely with ANSI (i.e. plain old colored text). It’s extremely well done and very playable, although not yet finished. The author, Rockfistus, has just sent me the latest version of the game, so this is a SegaFans exclusive for now. Though he doesn’t yet have a website, he does have an email address. I’ve opted not to list it here for spambots to harvest, but it’s in the readme file included with the game. Be sure to send him your thoughts on it.

Push Push Penguin is a lovely remake of Sega’s arcade classic Pengo. It’s cute and it’s cuddly and it’s highly addictive. It’s done by talented Army of Trolls. Their whole website is pixellated fun. Don’t forget to send them your compliments and comments on it.

I’ll leave these direct downloads up for the next few days, after that, you’ll need to go through Fileplanet.

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A Gamecube renaissance of sorts, and some shooters, too

A couple of days ago, turbos and I were hanging out and decided to play some Super Monkey Ball 2 on the Gamecube. We stuck to Monkey Billiards, partly because it doesn’t require the super precise control of the main game, and partly because it’s a fun game in its own right.

We played a 3 set match of US 9 Ball. This popular billiards variant is quite simple to learn and the games go fairly quickly, which makes it ideas for tournament style play. Essentially, there are two major rules to the game. Number one – you must hit the cue ball so that the first ball it touches is the lowest numbered ball. And number two – if you sink the 9 ball in one of the pockets you win. There are other rules, mostly relating to fouls, but those two are the big ones.

Sadly, I did not win (although I would have had I not scratched on the break that I aced the 9 ball, thus causing a foul), but at least I lost to a worthy foe.

At any rate, I’ve been playing my Gamecube quite often since then. Lots of Monkey Ball (both 1 and 2) for the most part, but also a good bit of Lost Kingdoms (another excellent title for Nintendo’s machine). I keep meaning to play more Billy Hatcher, but with Virtua Quest and Monkey Ball, I’m not terribly interested in playing another game with the same child-friendly graphic look at the moment.

On another note, I recently came into possession of two Saturn shooters that I had not previously played – Blast Wind and Terra Cresta 3D. You can naturally expect SBG entries out of them within the next few days as I get a chance to scan their contents, but my impressions so far are as follows.

Blast Wind – I haven’t played most of Technosoft’s games, but I have played Thunder Force II, III and IV. It was somewhat interesting to see a vertical shooter from them, and it’s decidedly better than average as far as modern shooters go. It hasn’t grabbed my interest the way Layer Section did, but it does have a pretty cool power up system featuring lots of different levels of powerups instead of the 3 or 4 you’d find in similar games.

Terra Cresta 3D – Long has it been since I played such a basic shooter. Essentially, it’s the same game as the 1985 arcade game, but with a graphical makeover into 3D. The difficulty has been toned down from the coin-op, though, and there is very little to like about the game. Fans of the original Terra Cresta might get a kick out of it, but it’s defnitely not for the shooter connosieur.

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The tale of the Illegitimate Hedgehog

Recently during one of my attempts to play video games with friends, we decided to play Sonic Advance 3 on the Game Boy Advance. As we wanted to play together, we decided to link our copies of the game together.

After we were done, I happened to catch a glance of my friend’s copy of the game and noticed that the art on the cartridge looked different than the one I owned. Intrigued, I asked him about it and he said he had won an eBay auction for it.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see the box and manual for the game, and they too were far different than what I had from my copy of the game. After a bit of research I was able to determine that his game was, in fact, a bootleg copy.

How was I able to reach this conclusion? Well, here are the major points:

1 – This purports to be a US copy of the game, but the front cover of the game has the European way of rating the game. Instead of the “E for everyone” tag, it has the ISFE’s “3+” tag. Yet, on the back it has a version of the ESRB’s content box, including the “Everyone” description.

2 – The manual is only 6 pages long and features the same picture on every two page spread with English Text. It’s worth noting that the Sonic picture in the spread is from Sonic Battle. The real manual is over 30 pages long and has all sorts of pictures scattered throughout.

3 – The manual repeats itself – using the exact same paragraph twice in a row, then using a few other paragraphs 3 times in a row! What’s more, it seems to be describing the gameplay of Sonic Heroes instead of Sonic Advance 3. In fact, the last two pages of the manual are a review of Sonic Heroes (which complains about the game more than anything else).

4 – The UPC codes don’t match – the one used on the bootleg is actually the UPC code for Mario Golf – Advance Tour.

5 – A design very similar to the “Official Nintendo Seal” appears on the back of the box, but it says “Official Nintendo Seal of Quality” instead.

6 – The back of the cartridge says NINTONDO.

After a bit more research, I discovered that bootleg Game Boy Advance games were much more common than I had previously thought.

This has inspired me to create a new section of the site dedicated to helping you avoid getting bootleg games. You can find pictures of all the discrepancies I’ve just described there.

On an alternate note, do you like the daily news updates I’ve been doing here on the front page? Would you like to see them continue or would you prefer a weekly summary of things? Send in your comments!

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The Sunset of the Sega Sports legacy

News travels fast around these parts, and if you’re here, chances are you’ve already heard that Sega has sold Visual Concepts, the developer for their now legendary Sega Sports games.

Sega fans all over the world didn’t want to see this coming, and many think it was a mistake.

I think Sega finally made the right call.

Electronic Arts has the NFL locked up in a 5 year exclusivity deal, which pretty much means that the only successful football game for the next 5 years will be Madden (or whatever EA decides to name it). I abhor this decision by the NFL to operate on an exclusive arrangement with EA, as it sets a precedent. It puts a price on competition, or rather, a price on ensuring there is no competition. The yearly NFL Football games are the biggest moneymakers in sports games (at least here in the US), and with that route no longer available to Sega, they had the option of calling it quits or pushing for better games in other major sports, such as NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey, and MLB Baseball.

Another turn of events transpired, however, that pushed Sega even further back. Their contract with ESPN expired. Electronic Arts once again swiftly moved in and snatched that license up for the next 15 years. Any brand recognition that Sega might have earned over the past couple of years due to the ESPN license would now go to EA. Naturally, the hardcore Sega fan would know the difference, but our numbers are insignificant when it comes to game sales. I don’t blame ESPN for this decision, though. The ESPN license has changed hands so many times over the years, it was inevitable that EA would one day decide to claim it for their own. 15 years is a long time, though.

Interestingly enough, Take 2 (the publisher for Sega’s 2k5 sports lineup) decided to play hardball with EA, and managed to secure exclusive rights among third party publishers (i.e. anyone but Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft) to Major League Baseball for the next seven years. I feel that this move is also bad for the industry in general, but with the precedent set by EA, it was only a matter of time until another sport buckled and gave in to the promise of large amounts of cash. The trend is set, and I speculate that within two years, all major American sports will have exclusivity deals with one publisher or another.

Sega’s sports games haven’t been profitable for years. Even though the $20 price point on all the 2k5 games shifted a lot of units, the amount of profit actually made from these games was relatively little, if any. At $20 a game, there really isn’t much money to be made from high quality titles like these. Take 2 gets a cut for their publishing and distribution of the games, ESPN got a cut for use of their properties, Sony and Microsoft get royalties, and there’s also the cost of marketing the game.

I thing Sega’s getting out while the getting’s good. They put up a valiant fight, but they are a business and need to be profitable in order to keep the shareholders happy. With the cards stacked against them, Sega would have needed killer marketing campaigns for their 2006 sports titles if they had wanted them to even be remotely successful. And as we all well know, Sega’s marketing department has been and continues to be their weakest spot as evidenced by my actual quest to buy Virtua Quest.

Now that they don’t have to worry about sports games, perhaps we’ll get to see a few of those games that have so far remained Japan only releases. I’d really like to see a Sakura Taisen game come stateside.

As a final note – you may have detected a slight change here on the front page, but weren’t quite sure what it was – well, the mailbag is officially discontinued due to a lack of responses. You’re still welcome to send me email with whatever’s on your mind, and I may feature some of it here on the front page, but there’s just no longer any real justification to keep a separate section for a mailbag. Most topical discussion happens in the forums anyway.

I’m looking forward to adding more lifestyle articles to the site, as well as reviews of sega’s current games (with game of the moment entries for older titles), but I’ll be retiring anything that just isn’t happening anymore (like the mailbag for example). I’ll leave it on the site, but it will be in a place dedicated to our retired sections.

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Power to the Gamer?

Way back in October, the gaming community was abuzz about the latest advance towards making video games more valid as a hobby because was taking votes on what games, characters, and industry personalities should be honored with a star on the Walk of Game, a landmark similar to Hollywood’s own Walk of Fame.

The story is told on their website thusly:

Walk of Game is the first-of-its-kind landmark honoring the icons and pioneers of the videogame industry.

Every year, gamers worldwide select six inductees to receive a permanent star on the Walk of Game.

Each October, accepts votes in the categories of Game/Character and Lifetime Achievement. The top four Games/Characters and the top two lifetime achievers are inducted into Walk Of Game and have a 24″x 24″, customized, brushed-steel star installed on the floors of Metreon.

The list of nominees is compiled from a survey of industry members, and technology, entertainment, and gaming media. SCA Interactive, a leader in online promotions, powers the Walk of Game voting interface.

The physical Walk of Game landmark is located inside Metreon, a 350,000 square-foot entertainment complex at Fourth and Mission Streets in the heart of downtown San Francisco.

In other words, today’s gamers get to choose who gets honored with a star on the walk of game, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Video gaming as an industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades, so much that it has surpassed the movie industry in terms of gross sales. It’s about time someone decided to make a monument for our industry’s heroes. But gamers shouldn’t be the ones holding the reins of power. Looking back at Hollywood, it’s not the moviegoers that decide who wins at the Oscars, but a group of professionals who know the job better than the vast majority of people. The video game industry should be no different in that respect. A Walk of Game star shouldn’t just be for what’s hot at any given moment, which is what gamers as a whole would be inclined to choose. The Walk of Game was an attempt to further legitimize gaming, but in giving the power to choose to the gamers, it depreciates itself immensely.

I’m not saying this because I’m bitter – Sonic the Hedgehog was one of the first round of inductees into the Walk of Game, so it’s not that Sega’s being ignored. I’m saying this because I don’t think consumers have the right to choose who gets these high honors. We haven’t earned it.

The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences is the most legitimate group we’ve got. Their annual video game awards ceremony is scheduled to take place on February 1, covering not only great games, but also great art direction, storytelling, and other aspects that are overlooked by everyone else.

They also induct one video game professional into their Hall of Fame every year.

For the sake of the video game industry, I urge all of you to consider the AIAS awards the Oscars of video games.

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Sega No Hi

There have been a lack of content updates to the site lately.

This is in part due to the lack of new Sega games this year – the only one so far being Virtua Quest. It took several days, many phone calls and a lot of driving, but I finally managed to secure a copy of this game. I didn’t have a hard time finding the game because it was sold out everywhere – my plight was much worse.

When I first began inquiring about the game back on the 11th of this month (this was the release date posted on Sega’s web site), I knew I was in for a struggle. Of the eight stores I called (Best Buy, Circuit City, two Electronics Boutiques, Game Square, Gamestop, Target, and Toys R Us), not one representative had so much as heard of the game.

When they went to look it up in the system, they invariably typed Virtual Quest, and I had to correct them before they even told me what they had typed. None of the stores had it, and in fact Gamestop and Target didn’t appear that they would even be carrying the game. Undaunted, I made a trip down to Electronics Boutique and asked about the game in person. The gentleman behind the counter looked it up and it seemed to have been pushed back a week.

Fine. I can deal with that. After all, Resident Evil was getting released the same week, so maybe Sega wanted to push it back to give it a fighting chance.

So I decide to start searching again on the 18th and got similar responses – nobody had heard of the game and a couple of people suggested that it had even been canceled. I tried again on the 19th. Same response.

On the 20th, I got off work in the early afternoon and decided to drive down to the local mall and see whether anyone had it in stock. Best Buy? Nope. Gamestop? Nope, although the guy there had heard of the game a couple times before (likely because I had asked him about it over the phone for the past week and a half). Electronics Boutique? Nope. Hang on, wait, they were just receiving a shipment. The guy opened up the box and pulled out a few DS systems, several miscellaneous games, and one copy of Virtua Quest for the PS2. Nothing for the Gamecube. In a county that roughly 3 million people call home, I find one single copy of the game.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a man has to work this hard just to play his Sega.

Anyway, the content drought has ended, and I bestow upon you a new Sega no Hi article.

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New Years Resolutions

I don’t know how many of you stayed up until midnight to ring in the new year, but I conked out early.

Anyway, I woke up at 6 AM, turned to the first page of my brand new Sakura Taisen 2005 calendar and decided to share my New Year’s Resolutions for SegaFans.

1 – eliminate all old/broken links by fixing them if they’re here on SegaFans or deleting them if they’re non-working external links.

2 – turn all disabled links into working links by putting content in every single section of the site.

3 – Surpass the 200 entry mark in the Sega Buyer’s Guide.

4 – Make more regular content entries in the vault (videos, wallpapers, art, etc.)

Anyway, last week I promised everyone that there would be a special update here for new year’s day, and so I’m here to deliver on that promise.

Today marks the unveiling of benstylus’ next hare-brained scheme™.

Yes, as of today, SegaFans now has a Dreamcast compatible mirror. So if you ever find yourself browsing on your dreamcast, be sure to visit!

Alternatively, even if you’re never going to browse on your Dreamcast, the new DC site is extremely low bandwidth, so it may be a great alternative for those with AOL or other dial-up ISPs.

Of course, it’s not finished yet, but I’m taking great care to make sure that I have no broken links or other problems. This brings us to my New Year’s Resolution #5 – make the SegaFans DC site a full mirror of the Dreamcast compatible content on SegaFans.

I look forward to making this year our best one yet.

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