Friday, 31 January 2014

Hello again! & Sega Master System Collection review #1: Action Fighter!

Hello all!

Its been a while. Like really, a bloody long time, but I made a new years promise to myself that I would get back to writing reviews. I know it's the end of January, but hey. LET US REVIEW!

I'm setting myself a task here, to review every Sega Master System game I own (don't worry, it's nothing like complete, we're talking ~50 games) in order to get myself back into regular writing and also to force myself to play one of my favorite consoles that I really don't make enough time for. 

Uni work must come first unfortunately, but I'm sure I can cut out some procrastination and squeeze in some awesome video game reviews instead!

Here's to getting this bloggy thing back on the road! Cheers!

A brief introduction to the SMS:

The Sega Master System, as I'm sure most of you are aware, was Sega's first cartridge based home video game console to have a worldwide release, and was one of the few major competitors to Nintendo's NES system in the 8-bit era. There had been the previous Sega SG-1000 released only in Japan and Australia/New Zealand, and it's successors the SG-1000 II and SG-3000, which were just improvements on the original model. The SG-3000 had a built in keyboard and worked more like a computer than a stand alone games console.

In 1985 came the Sega Mark III, a true home console with backwards compatibility with most of  the SG series, which served as the basis for the Master System.

Masterfully crafted by Sega

The Master System was released in the UK and Europe in 1987 with the above design. One quirk of the original Master System model is the ability for it to read both cartridge and card based games. Sega had first introduced the card game media type with the SG-1000 and a 'card catcher' peripheral, the Master System's built in card reader was almost identical. Unfortunately, I will be reviewing the games on my Master System II, which lacks the card reading ability.

Surely that's a card-inal sin, right? right!?

Fortunately, however, a) I don't own any card based games at the moment; and b) the later Sega Mega Drive has backwards compatibility with the Master System via a Base Convertor peripheral which does have a card slot, and I happen to have one. Noice.

Anyway, enough about the history of the console. It was Sega's answer to Nintendo's NES and it was a bit nifty. I never had any experience with one as a child, but in the last few years I've become attached to it. Sure, I play my NES more but there's something special about this, too. It might be the squishy d-pad, or the annoyance of having to get up and press pause on the machine rather than on the controller (why?), but there's something about this console that plays a jammin' riff on my heartstrings, and hopefully I'll get that across in these upcoming reviews. It seems to make sense to start at the beginning of the alphabet, but whether I actually do this series in alphabetical order remains to be seen.

Without further ado, here's #1!

Sega Master System Collection Review #1: Action Fighter!!!

The box reads: "Take the motorcycle from "Hang On", equip it with hi-tech weaponry and give it the ability to transform itself into an aircraft or car - and you've got ACTION FIGHTER!"

I say: "Yeah, dude! Yeah! Awesome! I'm pumped! Woo! I love Hang On! Yeah! "

Sorry, me. The box lied to you. Hang On was an incredibly fun and addictive arcade racer, and this is a kind of lame attempt at bundling together Spy Hunter and Zaxxon.

Action Fighter
Hang On

 One's a rear-view motorcycle racer, the other is a top down shooter. Pretty much the same, right?

It's not a terrible game, by any means. I've played far, far, worse. It just annoys me when games blatantly try to use another game's success to sell itself, especially when the referenced game actually has nothing to do with the game you're trying to sell. Action Fighter is similar to Hang On in that it involves a motorcycle for, like, the first minute of each level.

Ooh, well if you're ready, I'm ready!

Once you get over the initial feeling of general miffed-ness, however, Action Fighter is actually quite a novel experience. No single part of the game is original or particularly well done. The driving segments are straight out of Spy Hunter, and the flying segments are straight out of (insert generic top down shooter name here), but having both play styles in quick succession does give the game a bit of quirkiness and playability.

Pretty sure the B is for bum bum

Basically, you start the game as a motorbike. The control here sucks and whenever a car or another bike hits you, you're highly likely to get pinged into a wall and blow up. Fortunately, you can blast cars out of the way with your pea shooter (I assume that's what it is). The aim is to collect the little red power ups A, B,C and D so you can then transform into the car, giving you more stability, better control and better weapons. You can also power up your weapons by driving into the back of SEGA vans. The only problem with this is it's very easy to crash into them instead. As the manual states, you have to 'connect up to it at just the right moment', which is actually code for 'we couldn't get the collision detection right, so you'll have a really hard time getting this done'.

Once you've engaged super-mega-car mode, the driving segment is far easier, and goes from frustrating to boring in no time flat. You collect some more power ups and can upgrade your weapon again. The only reason I can see for this is so you can shoot the helicopter that occasionally hovers over you, but it doesn't actually pose a threat, its just there. Anyway, the quicker you can collect the power ups in this bit the better, because the following segment is the real bulk of the game.
Of course its blurry. You try shooting baddies with one hand and shooting pics with the other.
Once you've collected the power-ups to add jets to your car, the game suddenly resembles something fun. Your car takes to the sky and it the whole game changes from a fairly mundane racer to a traditional top down shooter like 1942, Twin Bee or Xevious. Its similarities to these games is in no way a weakness, but not necessarily a strength either. The shooter section of the game is delivered really quite admirably, while not being in any form particularly interesting. They have taken the basic formula and stuck to it, resulting in by far the strongest part of this game for me. Shoot flying things, pick up power-ups, occasionally drop a bomb on ground units, avoid enemy fire. Its simple but it works.

Eventually, you come across a boss battle which is just a variation on the theme. There's nothing spectacular like a super detailed gigantic boss with massive laser beams to fight or anything, just a bunch of submarines slowly emerging and submerging. If anything the first boss was actually far easier than most of the level. It took quite a few tries to actually get to the boss fight, but once there I breezed through it without getting hit once. Easy peasy.

Not the most awe-inspiring boss fight...

One thing that should be mentioned is that you don't really get lives in this game, you just get a time limit. This is kind of cool because it doesn't make you stress about being on your last guy or anything, but is also hella-annoying because it means that all the time you waste being bad at the driving segments eats into your chances of completing the more fun flying segments. I suppose having lives would work the same way in that respect, but it just feels different somehow.

Anyway, after the slightly boring boss and a little 'congrats on pwning the dudes' screen, the start of level 2 took me by surprise. I was expecting to be back on my motorcycle, but no! I was still a flying car, pea-shooting my way through hordes of helicopters and weird flying thingimajigs. Unfortunately, there were only one or two new enemy variations, minimal background variations and the same bloomin' music going round. Now this isn't a super catchy long tune that you can bear listening to for a long time. This is the same few bars of tinny tune that's been put through a blender. It sounds like you're trying to play a crap song on an even crapper keyboard, and some kid thinks it's funny to wobble the bend knob all the time.


Well, I'm done playing. I can't imagine anything particularly worthwhile happening and after losing and getting sent back to the main menu a few times, I really just can't be bothered. To be fair, it isn't an awful game, and I think I only spent a quid or two on it, so getting a few hours of slightly frustrating, slightly fun use out of it isn't too bad.

... but it's certainly not Hang On.

Cheers for reading,
Dusty Old Games.

1 comment:

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