Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: Bonus Stage!

LifeLessonsHeader

While Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were locked in deadly battle for arcade supremacy other franchises came and went on the console market.  TMNT Tournament Fighters, Clayfighter, and the dreaded Shaq-Fu all appeared to take advantage of the fighting game popularity.

One franchise stood out to me and, though it’s vanished into retro-obscurity, it is probably my favorite of the bunch.

Eternal Champions

Eternal Champions showed up as a Sega-only franchises on the Genesis and utilized the same aggressive marketing campaign that Sega used to fight Nintendo.  I remember seeing the plastic clamshell box stalking around the residential hallways chasing down other fighting games throughout the house.  Admittedly these kinds of ads are a turn off to me.  I’d rather not compare one item to another, just let me know what’s good about the one you’re selling me.  But Eternal Champions won me over.  It combined the cartoon-style animations and unique character styles of Street Fighter with the brutality and violence of Mortal Kombat.

The premise was terrific.  A group of warriors, all throughout time, each meets a premature demise . The Eternal Champion has offered them a chance to return to their respective time, moments before their deaths, and have the chance to prevent their deaths before they happened.  I loved the premise, and when the Sega CD sequel offered more fighters and more options I jumped on that version too.

Eternal Champions CD
My copy of EC: Challenge from the Dark Side

At the time reviewers, who are always an annoying snarky bunch I’ve found (and I still maintain it’s easier to write a bad review than a good one…recently reviewers don’t think it’s “cool” to like things they review), called it a Mortal Kombat rip-off, based solely on its bloodiness.  But the gameplay and presentation was FAR closer to Street Fighter than Mortal Kombat.

The special moves, character movement, and attacks all resembled Street Fighter.  I remember playing as a caveman named “Slash” (I was then and am still a GnR fan I had to play as Slash) and how incredibly hot the portrait of Shadow Yamoto looked in the game, so much so that I hated to beat her up.  My favorites on the Genesis were RAX, the futuristic kickboxer and Midknight, the vampire.  In the Sega CD sequel Challenge from the Darkside I added Chin Wo and Ramses III to my favorites list.  They all used specific martial arts styles as well and, since I was deep into Tae Kwon Do at the time, I loved the variety.

The kills that were the most fun came from the environments.  I remember the car in Larcen’s stage riddling you with bullets and getting sucked into the big fan on Blade’s.  Dinosaurs ate you, you got electrocuted, and burned.  The tricky part was getting your opponent into the right position to meet their destruction.

Eternal Champions CD
Description of moves including some of the kills!

UN-like Mortal Kombat, it required the strategy and techniques of Street Fighter to defeat an enemy.   Often killing your enemy was just an awesome bonus.  The Challenge from the Darkside offered more kills, challenging, but terrific if you pulled them off, and often related to stories.  Sometimes a new event happened you’d never seen before and, remember this is PRE-INTERNET, you had to figure out how that happened.

Added to this was the secret element.  Eternal Champions was loaded with secret characters.  From a Senator (taking potshots at political anti-game violence grandstanding) and my favorites, the animal characters, a chicken named Crispy, a monkey named Zuni , an owl (loved the owl) named Hooter, a snake named Slither, and a dog named Yappy.  These were simple diversions from the regular game…but brought humor and replay value into the fighting game, which can be sorely missing in some of them.

Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Darkside, along with Sega Saturn’s X-Men: Children of the Atom, remain my favorite non-Street Fighter fighting games.  It doesn’t suffer the same “Duke Nukem” effect I mentioned that impacts Mortal Kombat for me and is still loads of fun to play.  I personally would like to see a return to the Eternal Champions franchise.  Updated in the same way as Street Fighter IV, keeping true to 2D fighting roots but updating the graphics and gameplay.  The premise, characters, and styling already exists.  You’ve got a foundation, gaming industry, get to it!

So while Street Fighter reigns supreme in my fighting game memories…Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side holds a special place as the potentially the best fighting game no one remembers…and potentially a challenge to SF’s throne…

For a full look at my love for classic Sega check out my love letter to the Genesis-Saturn days!

Off the Top of My Head #7: Parental Christmas Cleverness

Off The Top of My Head

Every family has holiday traditions that are unique.  My family used to go for Chinese food every Thanksgiving and play Trivial Pursuit (the adults anyway) on Christmas.

Though we weren’t a rich family, I always credit my parents for doing whatever they had to do to make holidays as perfect as possible.  My mom fought parents during the Cabbage Patch craze, called toy stores and had clerks acting as informants looking for me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Leatherhead” figure, and even bought an 11 year old a set of swords from a xeroxed mail-order catalog.

She also liked to have fun with our presents.  She had a couple of sneaky-snooping kids who were home alone all day during Christmas and Summer Break (both my sister and I have summer birthdays) while she and my father worked.  She knew we’d snoop around for our presents…and so she set about hiding them in creative places.  She somehow managed to hide two bikes, a skateboard, and a scooter in the late 80s in our mid-sized condo.  I still don’t know how she did that…

To this day I can say, though my presents were always around the house…I only ever had access to one, the swords.  I was there when they were delivered, and I checked them out before she put them under her bed til my birthday.  My favorite hidden present is from Christmas…circa 1992.

I was a Sega player.  Since my mom got me that Sega Game Gear and I traded my NES for a Genesis, I loved Sega products, games, and franchises.  That year I asked for a Sega CD.  My mom played it cool with me and didn’t let on that I would get it.  I remember searching everywhere for that thing.  We set up our tree (we were using a little 4′ one at this point), laid out the crocheted tree skirt (which was made the the GIANT 6′ tree we used to have! and is still awesome…), put presents underneath, but nothing that looked like a Sega CD to me.  I dug through the house, looked in closets, under beds…nowhere to be found.

Christmas morning I awoke to find extra presents in the pile under the tree, we went through them and…still no Sega CD.  Eventually my mom, registering my disappointment, said “there’s one more.  Look under the tree.”  I did, confused, there was clearly nothing left…  She said, “No UNDER the tree!”  I lifted the heavy crocheted green tree-skirt and there, with the little Christmas tree standing directly on the massive dense box, was my Sega CD.

Sega CD
Mine actually came with “Sewer Shark,” which I played with my buddy Mike as navigator for months…

We still laugh about how my mom was so sneaky she once hid a HUGE present under the Christmas tree and I never knew about it until Christmas morning despite all my snooping…

So Merry Christmas to all the great, sneaky, fun parents out there.  The ones that give real presents like memories like that…long after present wrapped in colored paper has seen its last use.

Life Lessons Learned from Video Games #4: A Love Letter to Old School Sega

Though I have very little time to just kick back and play games like when I was a kid, I still follow the culture and play when I can.  I do have a current-gen PS3 but I find the most joy playing the games from my youth.  As I said in previous posts, I started with an Atari PC (and was roundly mocked by all the Nintendo kids), but eventually got an NES for Christmas.  I loved the system and played its games religiously.  Nintendo was so dominant, I didn’t even know what the “Sega Master System” was until I got a Sega Game Gear and it came with an attachment that let me play Master System games.

Game Gear
This IS my original Game Gear. I fell in love with Sega after playing it.

Shortly after acquiring my Game Gear in the early-mid 90s I discovered the Sega Genesis.  Unlike many, I don’t recall ever seeing the “Nintendon’t” or “Blast Processing” commercials.  I do remember seeing Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage 2 on the demo unit at Target.  The Genesis looked cool and the games were a lot of fun in the store.  I was sold.  I pawned my NES, all my games, and used some birthday money to buy a Sega Genesis (with Streets of Rage 2 included!!)  I loved the system, and began a rabid support of Sega.

Genesis Games
NES fans…I have nearly every great, classic NES game…and I think this collection is every bit as classic and no where near as complete…

In the early-to-mid-90s gamers were divided into Sega people and Nintendo people…I was a Sega person.  I played the fighting games, the Mutant League games, I LOVED the Genesis Shadowrun, and fought viciously with those who compared SNES franchises and graphics.  I so supported Sega I got a Sega CD one Christmas, and a 32X the next.  And I even enjoyed those systems.  I played and beat Sewer Shark; I was obsessed with Sonic CD and it remains the best Sonic game EVER in my opinion.  I had Doom on the 32X and a great little unknown game called Kolibri, a horizontal 2-d shooter where you and a friend can play as hummingbirds.  Don’t laugh…it was terrific…  I eventually bought the Saturn, which for its time was by FAR the best system out there.  It was well-supported and had great tech-specs, but lost out eventually to the N64, and eventually was crushed utterly by the new Playstation.  I even bought a Dreamcast…and only ever played Resident Evil: Code Veronica on it…before the PS2 did it in.

Sega Nomad
My handheld Nomad Genesis system.
Sega CDX
How I currently play my Genesis and Sega CD games on my TV. And a Slime PS2 controller. Because that’s where he lives and he’s photogenic.

Despite all their mistakes in business (Sega was obsessed with hardware and put games and software support secondary, blinded by competing with other companies they forever sought the “best tech” and rushed it out before the market was ready…barely supported it…then rushed out the next one and barely supported it) I have a lot of love for Sega.  After I set up my PS3, I played some Oblivion then, while filing the game away I found my Sega Nomad and spent the rest of the evening playing…you guessed it…Streets of Rage 2.  Still beat it too.  Sega lives in my gaming consciousness.  I still remember the Mortal Kombat blood code (Down-Up-Left-Left-A-Right-Down…memorizing codes from magazines in the grocery store…those were the days…), and playing as a raptor in Jurassic Park.  The GREAT X-Men Genesis games are still loads of fun to play and I still plan to invest time into eventually beating Shadowrun…if it’s possible.

Sega CD Games
To all those who criticize the Sega CD I thought I’d produce a STACK of some great Sega CD games. This pile doesn’t even include the great Terminator game…
Saturn Games
Some of my Saturn games. I don’t have the Panzer Dragoons (though I beat the first one in high school) nor do I have the fantastic “Children of the Atom” X-Men fighting game. I put plenty of time in on that in the 90s too.

Sega is now in software only and is a shadow of its former self.  With the Sony vs Microsoft competition dominating the market now it seems like history is repeating itself.  Sides are being chosen, graphics comparisons are appearing in articles, libraries are being compared, and tech specs have appeared in countless posts and forums.  What seems to be lost is competition is actually good for the market.  I see posts on game sites where rabid fanboys declare their hope that their side puts the other out of business.  Does anyone think that would be good?  A monopoly on game technology would only reduce quality and innovation.  The Wii’s motion control and rapid sales incited Sony and Microsoft into motion controls as well.  The handheld war continues with new innovations like 3d, HD graphics, and wi-fi capability.  Social gaming has gone from a second controller and split screens to worldwide gaming.  I for one am hoping the “big three” continue to produce successful systems and franchises for several “next-gens” to come.  And here’s hoping that none of them, like Sega, become lost relics, sacrifices to the gods of greed and commerce.

But for now I say, long live the memory of Sega.  Plug in some 16-bit fun some time.  The Genesis is every single bit the great, classic console the NES is.  And I’ll GRAND UPPER anyone who says otherwise!

Grand Upper!
GRAND UPPER!  Forward-Forward+B. You can beat the whole game with this one…
Mutant League Hockey
And I don’t care who you are…this is AWESOME…