This is another one of those weeks where I’m away from home on business, and the SD card on my Switch died, so any entertainment I can get for the time being is whatever is on my laptop. Not too much of a difference between this and what I do at home; I mean, I’m always playing retro shit, but it’s still not the same as being in my Gamer Chair with a monitor that has a higher resolution and also having the option to also play fighting games and immersive sims when the mood strikes.
I figured that I would take this time to explore a gaming blind spot that I have: the Sega Master System, or the better named Sega Mark III in Japan. Much as I love me some Sega, this is the one system I have the least experience with; I could tell you more about the SG-1000 and the Nomad than I can this one. With a lot of time on my hands, and an inability to do any cool, creative work in said time, I thought I would bring back the old gimmick of playing a bunch of games, and giving some thoughts on them.
Alex Kidd in Shinobi World
In this day and age, people only see Alex Kidd as Sega’s failed attempt at a mascot until Sonic came along. This is a pretty fair assessment: Alex Kidd games were fucking terrible. Except for this one. Somehow, Alex Kidd wound up in a good game. Like, a really good one. Turns out all you needed was not have terrible controls, give Alex an attack range of more than half a pixel, and have level design that suits his abilities better. Who would have thought?
The whole point of this one is that it’s a cutesy take on the original arcade Shinobi, but now with Alex in place of Joe Musashi. Even if this game were terrible, I love the idea of it. Maybe if there were more Alex Kidd games that weren’t dogshit, Sega could have explored this idea of cutesy cross-overs more often. Alex Kidd in Outrun World, or Alex Kidd in Alien Syndrome World, or even Alex Kidd in Teddy Boy Blues. I think that could have worked, and Alex could have been a nice companion mascot for Sonic, instead of being relegated to fucking nothing.
Anyways, this cutesy take on Shinobi is really fun. Plays well, and is short enough (4 zones, with 3 stages per zone) to not drag for too long. I’d rather have a game leave me wanting more, than something that never fucking ends and winds up in your backlog for life. But I must say again that it’s a shame that we didn’t get more of these Alex Kidd cross-overs.
It is no secret that I love me some Taito arcade games. Rainbow Islands is a certified all-timer, and I will take any opportunity to play it. Having played through to the end (including the secret 8th world), I can say that this is an extremely good port, only a step behind the PC-Engine CD version, and the original arcade game (naturally). Given that you don’t have to jump through as many hoops to get to the secret levels, you can even argue that it’s better. I mean, you probably shouldn’t, but you can.
Rainbow Islands is a cutesy sequel to Bubble Bobble where you kill monsters with
chemtrails rainbows, collect fruit and colorful gems, all while listening to a peppy chiptune rip-off of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Well, at least in the original versions: the SMS port changes the music slightly; I imagine someone somewhere, whether it was Taito or Time Warner Media, figured out that there could be some legal trouble with flagrant disregard for copyright law, and made some changes. Sure, it’s not the same without that classic tune, but it’s fine. At least it’s still leagues better than whatever that fucking audio disaster was on the Playstation and Saturn versions.
Like Alex Kidd, Rainbow is more bright, colorful, cutesy stuff that I’m quickly realizing is the Master System’s forte. A lot of stuff that plays well and looks nice. However, Rainbow Islands has something very ahead of its time: MORAL CHOICES.
Making the wrong decision does in fact give you a bad ending. You might become the president, or marry the hottest idol singer Japan has to offer, but you left your friends behind. What a jerk!
I should also point out that the original English release of this game is bugged, and you can’t actually get to the final world. The game will crash and send you back to the title screen, leaving a whole generation of kids confused at a very abrupt ending. You can remedy this by playing the Brazilian release, or downloading a patch.
Psycho World/Psychic World
Oh hell yeah, this game owns. The Master System does not have its own Mega Man game, but Psychic World is more than worthy of filling that role. You run around as this chick with psychic powers, shooting monsters and picking up new abilities from defeating bosses. Sounds fairly routine, and it kind of is in the sense that it is very much a shooter-platformer of the era. It slightly differs in that there’s some light puzzle solving: using your wind blast to turn vapor into ice, giving you platforms to jump on. Or having to use your flight ability to find hidden areas, or to destroy obstacles before they impede your progress three screens later. Or using an ability that gives you temporary invincibility to walk through level hazards. Fairly simple stuff like that. But the level design is really good, and does a good job of teaching you what your abilities do “on-the-job.”
Plus, the bosses are large and cool looking. Even the smaller mid-bosses.
Now, I have been told by The Internet that the Game Gear version of the game has better graphics, and the original MSX2 game has multiple paths in its levels, so I will have to give those two a shot at some point. That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the SMS port; I might even put this up there with all-timers like Phantasy Star or Golvellius. Great game on a great system that definitely deserves better than its reputation as a low-rent NES or “lol Brazil likes it.”
I still have more of this system’s catalogue to explore; apparently this is home to the best version of Ultima IV. Maybe this could become a recurring feature on the site as well.