Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly #81


Cover for EGM #81So, this week, with our EGM recaps, we’re skipping ahead another few months, to issue #81 for April of 1996. Our cover story for this issue is Street Fighter Alpha II, and I have to say that the cover art isn’t very good. Frankly, the mid-90s have not been kind to EGM’s covers.

Editorial

This issue Ed Semrad is taking up the pen for the editorial column. It’s been almost a year since the last issue of EGM I recapped, and the Nintendo 64 still isn’t out. That said, at the very least they have decided what they’re calling it now. Ed also has some complaints about Capcom’s inability to count to 3 with game titles, referring to Street Fighter Alpha II (and the lack of a proper Street Fighter III), and also warning Capcom that they should avoid from taking some of the mis-steps that Sega had taken with their Virtua Fighter series around this time (with Virtua Fighter Kids being singled out). The editorial column is much more stream of consciousness this issue. Additionally, they’ve taken to increasing the font size for certain words and phrases for emphasis. I don’t particularly like that. It disrupts the flow of the column, and makes it feel more like a rant.

News

The Ultra 64 is now the Nintendo 64. However, while it is getting a new name, what it’s not getting is a simultaneous launch in the US, Europe, and Japan. The Japanese launch is still on, while the US and European launch is delayed. Nintendo is not officially saying, at the time this issue came out, why. However, some information in the Editorial column suggests that the delay is due to a shortage of necessary components. Also, the Japanese system isn’t getting a bundled title, and apparently neither will the US. I do remember that we get some bundles later – however, I don’t remember if we got a pack-in at launch or not. Leading into this, we get a preview of the N64DD which, like the Super NES CD-Rom, is vaporware. As it is, from the specifications we get for the hardware, the system would almost be better off with a Zip Drive, except for the whole problems of the click-of-death.

On other news fronts, being that this is the age of the CCG (Customizable Card Game–think Magic: The Gathering) Boom, Topps is doing a Killer Instinct CCG. I can’t see that game having the same legs a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat game could have. Additionally, Psygnosis is porting some of their former Sony-exclusive titles to the Saturn, most notably Wipeout. We also have the launch of what would become one of the last great great cheat devices – the GameShark, from Interact. The GameShark, along with the Action Replay lasted until the current Console Generation. With the start of the current generation, with its heavy focus on online multi-player, the era of the game cheat device came to an end. Also, Sega is working with Matsushita (who worked on the 3DO – remember that?) on a system that will use the new Digital Versatile Disk technology to carry games and video. Oh, and we get an ad for gaming news site Nuke.com. I did some more checking and yes, Nuke.com became Gamespot.com, trusted home for Gaming news until Gerstmann-gate. Now, it’s just okay. I still check it out on occasion, but the people I trusted are no longer there, and I’ve noticed that their review style appears to have deliberately changed to make the reviewers less visible.

Review Crew

So, after the past few months, the Review Crew has been shaken up once again. The new lineup is the late Andrew Baran, Mark LeFebvre (which I’m not going to try to pronounce), Mike Desmond, and Sushi-X. I’d do a Where-Are-They-Now for Desmond and LeFebvre, but I can’t figure out what they’re up to. If Mark and Mike would like to give a shout-out to what they’re currently working on, and they read this, please feel free to drop a note in the comments.

  • Alien Trilogy (Acclaim, PS1): The “Trilogy” part is a misnomer. The game’s plot basically revolves around “Aliens”. However, Alien 3 came out 4 years prior, and Alien Resurrection is set to come out the following year, so the game’s title is going to invoke the idea of the trilogy. Anyway, this game is basically an Aliens First Person Shooter where you play as a Colonial Marine. It’s also EGM’s game of the Month. The Crew applauds the game’s slower pace and the game’s more lethal enemies–which plays up the fact that a Facehugger can (and should) be able to kill you. Additionally, the levels have objectives, as opposed to your standard “find the exit” game-play, with an occasional variation of “find the key to unlock the door so you can exit” game-play that you often saw the early first person shooters. Though, to be fair, while most first person shooters still have a certain degree of reach-the-exit going on, the use of objectives helps change things up enough to provide some variety. Anyway, they’re also impressed with the game’s lighting and level design. Andrew gives it an 8.5, while Mark, Mike and Sushi give it 9s. Overall: 35.5/40 and it receives the Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
  • Frantic Flea (GameTek, SNES): I remember GameTek. They did a lot of licenced trivia games – specifically with the Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy licences. I don’t recall any notable original IPs from them, aside from the Brutal series. This game is a mascot 2D platformer, one of the last as the genre starts to kind of burn out gamers, at least for a while. The complaints are, mainly, that the game is frustrating, the main character’s only attack isn’t very effective, and that you need to collect a certain number of fleas to progress, but if you get hit once you drop all your fleas, and thus have to start over. Andrew gives it a 7, Mark gives it a 5, Mike gives it a 5.5, and Sushi gives it a 6. Overall: 23.5/40.
  • Thunderstrike II (U.S. Gold, Saturn): Helicopter flight simulator. Frankly, I didn’t know that US Gold survived this long. I was sure they went under earlier. The consensus is that this is one of the best flight-sims for home consoles, though it still has it’s flaws. In particular, there is some graphical pop-up, some problems with slowdown, and an inability to change the target you’re locked on to. Frankly, that last one is a major biggie. Andrew gives it an 8.5, Sushi and Mark give it 8s, and Mike gives it a 7.5. Overall: 32/40 and it receives the Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
  • Defcon 5 (Data East, Saturn): This is a kind of base/tower defense game, but one that’s played in the first person. You are an engineer at a deep-space mining installation, but in charge of setting up, controlling, and repairing the base’s defense system, and trying to keep alien intruders from getting inside of the base and destroying it. The Crew generally likes the game’s take on the first person shooter genre (and frankly, it’s a take on the genre that’s still innovative – to my knowledge nobody’s tried to do a new combination of the tower defense genre and the first person shooter genre). However, there are some control problems. Andrew and Sushi give the game 7.5s, Mike gives it a 7, and Mark gives it a 6.5. Overall: 28.5/40
  • D (Acclaim, Saturn): This is a puzzle based horror adventure game with a time limit – you have to solve the game’s puzzles within 2 hours, and there’s no pause function, and you can’t carry over stuff between playthroughs. To me, that sounds like an exercise in frustration. It’s also (as many other adventure games from this period) FMV heavy. However, the Crew likes it. Andrew and Mark give the game 8.5s, with Andrew drawing comparisons with Phantasmagoria (a valid comparison). Mike gives it a 7, applauding the lack of load time between areas, and Sushi gives it an 8. Overall: 32/40 and it receives the Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
  • Clockwork Knight 2 (Sega, Saturn): Clockwork Knight got a sequel rather quickly. Further, the sequel managed to incorporate a lot of refinements quickly as well. In particular, the difficulty was tweaked for novice players, running is easier to do, and the graphics are adjusted to take better advantage of the Saturn’s potential. Andrew and Mike give it 9s, Mark and Sushi give it 8.5s. Overall: 35/40.
  • Johnny Bazookatone (US Gold, PlayStation): So, this is a licenced action game, and one that I’m not surprised that I’ve never heard of. All things considered, I’m not surprised that the game has some problems. To be specific, the game is very picky about what you can or can’t stand on and it’s picky about the collision detection. They cut it a surprising amount of slack though. Andrew and Sushi give it 7s, Mark gives it an 8.5 and Mike gives it an 8. Overall: 30.5/40.
  • Krazy Ivan (Psygnosis, PS1): This is a mecha simulator. We’re going to get a lot more of these as the 90s go on. They liked the game, though Mark and Mike thought it was a little short, and Andrew had a bit of a problem with the strafe controls. Specifically, instead of holding them down to constantly strafe, you have to mash the strafe button, which I can understand why that’s frustrating. The game gets a 9 from Andrew, 7s from Mark and Mike, and an 8 from Sushi. Overall: 31/40.
  • Braindead 13 (Readysoft, 3DO): A FMV-heavy adventure game – which is to be somewhat expected as this is the studio that brought you Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. It’s also a little less linear than those games, and it gives you unlimited lives. The crew does agree that there’s essentially no replay value here, except maybe going for a speed run later. Andrew gives it a 9, Mark gives it a 7.5, and Mike and Sushi give it 7s. Overall: 30.5/40.
  • Baldies (Atari, Jaguar CD): This is a real-time strategy game. That’s right – we’re getting into the heyday of the RTS. Mark compares it to Lemmings and Command & Conquer, Mike compares it to Lemmings & Warcraft. I’m suspecting the Lemmings comparison comes from the game’s lighter tone. There are some complaints about the controls being tricky to get the hang of, and the FMV cutscenes not looking very good. Andrew gives it a 9, Mark gives it an 8, and Mike & Sushi give it 8.5s. Overall: 34/40.
  • Tetris Blast (Nintendo, Game Boy): Basically, it’s Tetris with bombs, which allow you to clear ever more massive swaths of the screen. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as addictive as standard Tetris. The game gets a 7 from Andrew, 8s from Mark and Sushi, and an 8.5 from Mike. Overall: 31.5/40.

Gaming Gossip

Being that this issue of EGM is undamaged, we have a full Gaming Gossip column this time. First up, rumors are already circulating about the PlayStation 2. That’d be a pretty fast turnaround time on console generations. Mind you, we do eventually get a PlayStation 2, but not for some time. Square is also considering releasing compilations of Final Fantasy through FFIV on the PlayStation. Not quite – we don’t get III, but they make up for it by giving us V, VI, and Chrono Trigger. Quake is rumored to get a home console port from GT Interactive. Well, we do get a home console port on the N64 and the Saturn, but Midway publishes the N64 version, and Sega publishes the Saturn version. Sega’s planning on putting out a web browser for the Saturn. Unfortunately that browser is vaporware. However, they do include Internet connectivity in the Dreamcast, the first console to do so. They even designed a mouse an keyboard for it, and first person shooters that were ported to the Dreamcast could be played with the mouse and keyboard, and played online, and played against PC gamers. Unfortunately, the Dreamcast was ahead of it’s time. And last, but not least, Atari is pulling out of the console market. So, for those playing the home game, that leaves Sega, Nintendo, Sony, and Matsushita left in the console market.

Feature Articles

We start off with our preview of Street Fighter Alpha 2. You know this is the mid-90’s when they describe the game’s visual style as being “Japanimation” instead of being “anime”. First off, the major differences between the versions are that Dan Hibiki, Akuma/Gouki, and M. Bison/Lord Vega are now playable characters, instead of being hidden bosses. This is kind of good, which considering that Dan Hibiki is a joke character, and bosses are always cranked up in difficulty, can you imagine getting beat by Dan Hibiki when he’s controlled by the computer? Getting beat by Dan while controlled by another human is humiliating enough. Zangief also returns, and with this game we get the additions of Rolento, Gen, and genki schoolgirl Sakura.

Next Wave

We have a much more in-depth article on Frantic Flea here. However, unlike the usual more “in-depth” coverage later in the magazine, the focus is more on talking about the game and the writer’s impressions about the game, instead of of using the magazine as a method of conveying screen shots. This is a good thing, considering that around the time of this issue’s publication, the Internet is becoming more wide-spread, and thus screen shots are becoming a little more accessible. However, magazines can still have higher quality screen shots, as they don’t have to worry about using a lot of bandwidth (since in 1996 broadband Internet wasn’t very common). Still, having more discussion of the game is very nice to have.

There’s also a preview of Guardian Heroes, a fighter/brawler from Treasure for the Saturn that can handle six-person free-for-alls, which is impressive, and also fits with the frantic tone that Treasure is known for. The game also has some RPG elements as well, in that you can level-up the fighter you play as. This sound pretty interesting, actually. However, being that is a brawler, it can get monotonous over time. That said, since it does support multi-player, that should help alleviate some of the monotony, as from my personal experience, brawlers like Turtles in Time were considerably more fun when you were playing with someone instead of playing by yourself.

Next up is Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge from Capcom. I’ll be frank, I’ve never really gotten into the Darkstalkers series. It just never quite worked for me – I’m not sure why. As far as over-the-top fighting games go, I prefer the Guilty Gear series to the Darkstalkers series. There’s also a look at Street Fighter Alpha for the Saturn. Apparently while the Saturn version has arcade-quality graphics and sound, what it doesn’t have is Arcade-quality speed. Now, I haven’t played the arcade version of Street Fighter Alpha, but I have played the version on the Street Fighter Alpha collection for the PS2. Hopefully that version retains the arcade quality graphics with the increased speed. Anyway, the Saturn version of Alpha has some problems. The controls are laggy, and there are problems with collision detection – which, because of the nature of fighting games, are big freaking problems.

We also have a look at Revolution X, Aerosmith’s first try at a console game – one that failed pretty badly. Cheer up guys, you’ll do better once Red Octane comes around. There’s also a preview of the Saturn port of Magic Carpet. Meanwhile, we have the first Namco Collection for the PlayStation. I have to say that the Namco Collection series, early on, had some of the best presentation in its little genre (Compilations of Classic Arcade Games). This collection contains a few games that I haven’t seen in later collections – specifically Rally X, New Rally X, Pole Position, Toyopop, and their shump Bosconian. The PlayStation is also getting a port of Myst (just like just about every other disk-based system).

There’s also the PlayStation port of the first-person shooter (by the way, gaming has progressed enough that they’re willing to call it a “First Person Shooter” now, instead of a Doom Clone) PO’d, which really doesn’t look very good. Frankly, it looks downright terrible. Vik Tokai has the point and click (or in this case, press), adventure game Silverload, which is rare among video games because it’s set in the Old West. Mindscape has the space sim Raven Project. It looks like the game works okay in the levels that are in a planet’s atmosphere. However, when the game is in space, it apparently runs into problems, as the engine doesn’t work well for three-dimensional combat, ala Wing Commander and X-Wing.

Moving away from games that are in a more Western themed design idiom, there’s Horned Owl from Sony Computer Entertainment. This is a sort of shoot-em-up like Virtua Cop, except you’re controlling a cop in powered armor. The mechanical design is even by Masamune Shirow, which is nice. They oddly don’t name-drop Ghost in the Shell, but they do name-drop Appleseed. To be fair, Ghost in the Shell was only out for a month, and none of the mecha from the manga made it into the film. Meanwhile, the Japanese PlayStation has its first platformer in Floating Runner. The game looks pretty generic, and if it got a stateside release, I’d be surprised.

We have a new sub-section of this called “Protos”, for games that are very early in their development. This section has screen shots and some notes on the games. This issue has coverage of Ultimate Mortal Kombat III for the Saturn, and the announcement that the game will have a 22 character roster (one of the biggest fighting game rosters for the time). There’s also a look at a licenced game based off of Congo for the Saturn, and a game from Atlus titled Devil Summoner (or, rather, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner) the precursor to the later Raidou Kuzunoha games in the series – though unlike those game, Devil Summoner’s protagonist isn’t an Onmyoji (or Onmyoji-knockoff). We also get our first look at Final Fantasy VII and it’s protagonists Claude, Ealis, and Barrett. Well, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad…. yes it is.

There’s also a new Top Gun flight sim, and a Warhammer RTS in “Shadow in the Horned Bat”. I’m eternally amused by the fact that the Top Gun franchise, despite being spawned by a movie, is made up almost entirely of arcade-style fight simulators. Speaking of sims, Wing Commander III is getting a PlayStation port, FMV cut-scenes and all, including the perfomances of Malcolm McDowell & Mark Hamill. I really hope that this makes it to PlayStation Network eventually. Also, the Playstation is getting the Arc The Lad Strategy RPG. I haven’t played the original game – just the most recent game for the PS2, which I wasn’t impressed with. SCE is also putting out a more sprite-based traditional RPG in Beyond the Beyond. Meanwhile, Virtua Fighter is getting a fighting game with Super Deformed characters (set to be released in the US as Virtua Fighter Kids), and Sonic The Hedgehog, of all of Sega’s franchises, is getting a fighting game. It all goes downhill from here folks. On the bright side, SNK’s got a new fighting game coming out called “Ninja Masters”.

Once again, we’re skipping the Sports coverage, and moving on to the letters column.

Letters

This issue they’re saving the best for last, sort of. The letter of the month is voicing a complaint that EGM’s own editorial staff has expressed – one of exasperation with Nintendo’s constant delays for the release of the Nintendo 64. Frankly, I would say that part of the reason why the N64 didn’t do well on the market was the fact that the system’s launch lineup really didn’t compensate for the constant delays. With the SNES, we had titles like Super Mario World, Super R-Type, and Castlevania IV that really made up for it. The N64 had Mario 64, Pilotwings and (a little later), GoldenEye. That’s it. There’s also a question about whether Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 will be ported for the N64. The response is that Midway is working on a port – but it never materializes. The N64 doesn’t get a Mortal Kombat game until Mortal Kombat 4.

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