System Spotlight: Sega NetLink
Before Xbox 360. Before Xbox. Before PS2. Before Dreamcast. As early as the 32-bit generation, Sega became the pioneer in the console online gaming revolution with the Sega Saturn. In 1996 Sega released the NetLink (or Seganet as known in Japan) forever changing the console gaming world. Originally slated at the retail price of $99.99, the Netlink is a 28.8 kbit/s modem that fits snuggly into the cartridge port at the top of the Saturn.
With the introduction of the NetLink Sega had two goals in mind. One was to create an alternative for surfing the internet. The thought was that computers were retailing around $1,200 at the time and the Saturn/NetLink combo would serve as a cheap, affordable alternative. This is evidenced by the fact that it was packaged with a web browser from PlanetWeb and that later a mouse and keyboard adapter was also made available. Of course the second more obvious goal was online gaming. While limited in library, sporting only 5 compatible games, the NetLink titles were more than proficient. Gamers had Duke Nukem 3D, Daytona CCE Championship Edition, Saturn Bomberman, Sega Rally, and Virtual On to sink their teeth into.
Alas, success was not in the cards for the NetLink, as very few units were sold during the Saturn’s lifespan. Due to the high price (Yes, $99 was far less than a grand for a PC, but that cost was on top of buying the actual console. And we’d be silly to compare the functionality of a PC to the Saturn.) along with the very limited selection of compatible online games, for many gamers the NetLink just wasn’t practical. Sega learned from some of its mistakes and later rectified this problem with the ill-fated Dreamcast including a modem right out of the box and offering a far larger range of available online games.
So yes, it all started right here, kids. The NetLink is just another reason why the Saturn was so revolutionary. The Saturn was the first console with a 1st party created and supported online gaming peripheral. It was also the first console to allow players to use their own internet service provider. Gamers take this sort of stuff for granted today but this was HUGE for its time. The NetLink pioneered the online gaming phenomena starting a chain reaction that continued with the Dreamcast and has passed down to our current console generation. It paved the way for the SOCOMs, Project Gotham Racings, online EA Sports titles, and HALOs of our day. So next time you boot up Xbox Live or upload your Final Fantasy XI persona, please remember where it all started… and pay homage.
– Bebito Jackson
The first time I played Virtual On, at all, was at a Best Buy demo kiosk. At the time, while on a lunch break, I stopped by to try it out, having absolutely no idea what sort of game it might be, but finding interest in the giant robots. After four or five lunch breaks, I was hooked, and I bought it the next chance I could. Since then, I’ve had my fun with the original game, and while I’ve purchased VO:Mars and VO: Oratorio Tangram, the first edition still remains my personal favorite. Maybe it’s because it was the first, maybe it’s because I’d never really had a chance to play anything quite like it before, or maybe it’s because it was yet another game to justify my love of the Saturn. And hey, it is because of VO as a franchise that I’ve developed interest in similar titles, like Armored Core and Gundam titles. Whatever the case, make no mistake: when it comes to giant robot fighting games, VO is easily one of the best. If you’ve never played VO before, here’s the deal: pick a robot, drop into an arena, and beat the hell out of the opposing robot. The robots themselves were your standard Gundam-esque battle robots, from the more heroically designed Temjin right down to the traditional female robot, but they were all chock full of personality. It didn’t hurt that VO was damn sexy. The battle environments weren’t super great, but each of the robots looked great, whether stationary or in motion. The controls were complex (partly because the arcade machine had dual stick design, which the Saturn controllers didn’t emulate), but before you knew it, you’d find yourself madly dashing around the arena, trying desperately to nail your opponent before he or she nailed you. It was a definite rush at the time, and still holds up pretty well today. And this is expanded further by the Netlink Edition, which basically allowed you to play Virtual On, ONLINE, against others. While the systems were nowhere near as fleshed out as, say, XBOX Live, and yeah, you were playing with a 28.8 connection, for a primarily console gamer, this was a serious innovation, one that I embraced whole-heartedly. It doesn’t hold up as well today, sadly, but nothing really compares to getting online and jacking someone up with Temjin (yes, he’s my favorite, no shock there). Bottom line, if you played Virtual On, you remember it. It was far and away ahead of its time in design and gameplay, and with online play available, it remains one of the most entertaining Saturn games ever made. While its legacy has been eclipsed by more developed products over the years, fans know and respect what Sega accomplished with this title in creating the very first mech fighter that allowed movement in all three dimensions. Its legacy and impact lives on.
|MEGA MAN 8
Mega Man’s appeared on many different platforms in his fifteen-plus years of existence, but during his 10th anniversary celebration in 1997-1998, Capcom saw fit to release Mega Man 8 on both the Playstation and the Saturn. Say what you will about Sega’s doomed console, but if you’re going to play MM8, the Saturn version is indeed far superior. The Saturn is and always was designed to be a 2D powerhouse. MM8 makes excellent use of this; the graphics actually do look a bit crisper and more fluid than its PS1 counterpart. Not only that, there’s a few in-game alterations, as well: the music in Tengu Man’s stage is different, and most importantly, there’s two extra bosses! But we’ll get back to that in a minute. MM8 is considered to be a “love/hate” game. While Mega Man fans as a whole couldn’t complain about an eighth installment in their favorite series, many also despised the “cartoony” look that the Blue Bomber and friends had been given. Everything was in extra bright vibrant colors, with rounded edges and pastel shades that nearly push the game into the infamous “kiddie” category. While previous Mega Man titles had their somber moments and scenes, MM8 really doesn’t. One thing all players could agree on, though, was that the dubbing was atrocious. MM8 was the first Mega Man title to feature anime cutscenes, but the English voice work was laughably bad. Why? Because they had Japanese voice actors record the English lines! Dr. Light’s voice in particular sounds like every stereotypical Asian guy you’ve seen in crappy movies. “L” and “R” are one and the same, my friends, and I’m not talking about the triggers on your controller. Comedy aside…what about the gameplay? Luckily, that’s where MMM8 really shines. Control was spot-on, and Mega Man’s new abilities (like the Mega Ball and various forms of his dog, Rush) were a thrill to experiment with. Classic baddies like Cut Man and Wood Man even showed up, and they were a Saturn exclusive. Of course, they were a cinch to defeat with your powerful new weapons, but the fact that they were in there, complete with remixed theme music, was a nice tip of the hat to longtime fans. Finally, this was the first US Mega Man title to use save slots, rather than an irritating password system. Elsewhere on the Mega Man front, US Saturn owners also got Mega Man X4, which was identical to the PS1 version. Japanese Saturn owners were more fortunate, though, as they had Rockman X3 and Super Adventure Rockman to get their Mega Man fix. The former was a port of the SNES title Rockman X3, but with anime cutscenes and a completely remixed soundtrack (which the original game sorely needed!). The latter was a rather cheesy interactive movie of sorts. But getting back, if you’re any fan of platforming games, then Mega Man 8 belongs in your library. The definitive Saturn version is an absolute must.
SAKURA TAISEN II
Red Company’s first Sakura Wars was a smash hit beyond anyone’s imagination. In time the Sakura series would become ranked up there with Phantasy Star, Sonic, and Alex Kidd as iconic Sega games.
Sakura Wars 2 is actually the fourth game in the series. Right after the first game, Sega and Red Company released a version of columns featuring the ST characters, and also “Steam Radio Show” which is really just a goofy picture disc/overpriced collection of voice acting and animation to hold people over until a direct sequel was made.
Sakura Taisen II takes place shortly after the original, aka right after WWI. Much like the original Sakura Wars, the game is a combination strategy RPG mixed with Dating Sim elements. The game feels like an interactive TV show, with “Next Episode” clips after each of the chapters. This time the Teikoku Kagekidan Hanagumi have a new enemy to face; The Black Dragon Society.
There are two new characters as well in ST2, but to be honest neither of the two do anything for me. One’s Italian, one German, and both are interesting additions, but in the end they’re nowhere on par with the original gals. Maybe it is just because Soletta, the half Italian-half Japanese new character sounds awful… British. Little things like that, you know?
Oh, and there’s finally another male character on the team. The German member of this international Alliance is named Leni, and they didn’t give him much of a personality. Or maybe that’s just because he’s quiet and waiting for old Adolf to come to power.
You will be playing through 12 “episodes” and then there will be a specific ending for yourself (The wacky character of Oogami) depending on which girl you will be hooking up with. The ending is actually chosen for you depending on which girl you have the highest rating with at Chapter 7. You’ll develop a special dual attack with them, and if you don’t like your lady of choice, well, you have five chapters to get used to the idea. And although some might be saying, “Man, 12 chapters? That sounds short!” Just remember this game spans several CD’s and that each chapter in SW2 is about as long as TWO from the original. So you are in for quite a long game. But don’t worry; every moment of it is wonderful.
In between each battle are the dating sims. You will be asked a series of questions by whatever girl you talk to. You’ll have a choice between 1-3 answers to select from. Choosing the right one makes the girl fall deeper for you, but also improves their battle ability. However there’s a new twist to the dating sim. In the original Sakura game, you had unlimited time to waltz around between battles and talk to everyone you wanted to. In Sakura Wars 2, you have a limited amount of time, meaning you’re going to have to pick and choose who you want to improve between each segment. The same holds true for specific questions you are asked. Not answering is now an option, and if you wait too long, some answers may no longer be able to be chosen. However in some cases, some new answers may appear. It’s a great twist instead of the dating sim (called LIPS by Red Company) feeling exactly the same as in the first game. Socializing with the girls between episodes can also open up character specific mini games, which again will increase characters relationships with Oogami.
The graphics are greatly improved from 1 to 2 (and the Dreamcast conversion is even better.) Where the first game was a bit grainy in terms of the animation quality, Sakura Wars 2 is seamless and feels even more like a cartoon/anime that you are taking part in. SW2 is strongly considered to be the best looking game on the Saturn, and you won’t get an argument from me on that point.
Battles are very much the same as in the original. Same combat, same choices, same everything. Okay, not 100% the same, as Oogami now has an option called “Kabu” greatly limited. Kabu/Protect allows him to protect one of the female characters. He can only do this three times per battle (which he could do 8 times in the original), but it raises the morale and affection of the girl he protects. However a new change is that if you have very strong feelings with a girl, there is a small and rare random chance, they can protect YOU.
The music is amazing as well, featuring an opening for each of the game’s discs, which again, really adds to the feel you have an interactive show that you are part of. Like with the original Sakura Wars, the music is infectious and really emphasizes the emotions and energy you should be feeling at all stages of the game
Although I still prefer the original, Sakura Taisen 2, is one of the best games made for the Saturn, and deserves the amount of verbal fellatio given to it. It’s funny, yet somber and almost dark at times. It’s beautiful to see and wonderful to hear. But most of all its amazingly fun and addicting to play. Keep nagging Sega until it’s released over here. After all, they’ve only been promising that for over half a decade now. BAD SEGA!
– Alex Lucard.
Ahh, Saturn Bomberman. The pinnacle of the series. Sure you had him on the Super Nintendo, the Nintendo 64, the Game Cube, the Game Boy, the TurboGrafx-16, the Sega Genesis, the PlayStation, the Dreamcast, the Sega Super Neo 32X 64 360, and just about every other blasted console since the original NES version, but Bomberman’s Saturn excursion stands tall over them all. Considered one of the greatest multiplayer franchises ever made, it’s little surprise that Saturn Bomberman’s greatness is in no small part attributed to its staggering 10 player Battle mode capability. That’s right kids, up to 10 players worth of frantic bomb throwing action. I remember buying Saturn Bomberman and on the same day I picked up four extra controllers and two six-player adapters, knowing full well that no other Saturn game would require that many peripherals. But no other game was necessary. This is literally THE REASON to own a six-player adapter. Hook up two of them, scrounge together 10 controllers and 9 friends and it’s sheer lunacy; the type of insane, addictive fun that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. And this is on top of the supported 4-player online play via the Saturn’s Netlink. For the unfamiliar, Bomberman’s gameplay centers on players navigating various mazes while using bombs to pave their way through the brick and any opponents. Besides battle, the game features a 1-2 player story mode where the objective is to defeat the diabolical plans of Bomberman’s long time rival Mr. Meanie. There’s also master mode, which is a series of courses in which you are rated according to how fast and how well you complete each course. Both pale in comparison to battle mode, but do provide a fulfilling single player experience. A unique addition to Saturn Bomberman is Dinosaurs which hatch out of eggs. Coming in 5 different colors, each type has a different ability from jumping over enemies and blocks to sending out a sonar beacon to tell which bricks are hiding power-ups, of which there are several to discover. And if you truly want to master the way of the bomb you must master the power-ups. There’s the Kick power-up that allows you to kick a planted bomb across the screen, sometimes directly onto the head of your enemies. You have the Power Glove which allows you to pick up and throw a planted bomb. And my personal favorite, the Remote, allows bombs to be planted and detonated whenever you wish. These among many others add endless strategy and excitement to an already frenzied game. The graphics are the best out of any 2D versions of the series with more animations, vibrant colors, and the best battlefields of any Bomberman title. But know this isn’t the most technically advanced looking game you’ll ever see. It’s not supposed to be. This isn’t some awkward looking quasi-3D version of Bomberman that hampers gameplay like Atomic Bomberman for the PC and PSOne. The art style, the fun, the effortlessness of gameplay stays true to the soul of the series. To get right to it, this is all about blowing the other guy up. That’s the beauty of Bomberman. Its simplicity. Its pick up and playability. Anyone can play and once they do they become uncontrollably addicted. And with more options, more new power-ups, and the most extensive multiplayer capabilities ever, it’s impossible not to become obsessed like never before. If you want a reason to own a Saturn, this is it. Saturn Bomberman is arguably the best Bomberman game ever created and as a result one of the best multiplayer games off all time.
Devil Summoner is a Shin Megami Tensei game, and like Persona, is a Megaten spin off not directly connected with the parent line in this franchise. The Devil Summoner line was a Sega Saturn exclusive (as Persona was the PSX spinoff) and like Persona, this spin off achieved a stronger level of popularity than the original SMT games, with Devil Summoner being re-released a whopping THREE times (The original, the special boxed version, and the Saturn collector’s edition). In Devil Summoner, you have a typical Megaten character (High School/College student) who is forced into events beyond his understanding and must come to grips with the fact reality is not as stable as he previously assumed. In the game, your main character is rescued by a mysterious Devil Summoner. Through a chain of wacky events, your soul becomes places within the Summoner’s body and you are infused with his powers. You and a girl named Rei, along with your demon horde must then save your girlfriend from Things That Should Not Be. Unlike Persona, which has a more Lovecraftian feel to it, and SMT which has a more apocalyptic theme to it, Devil Summoner is best classified as “Cyberpunk Horror” which recaptures the mood and feel of the very first Megami Tensei game. In Devil Summoner, there are a lot less random battles than normal, and like the Last Bible Megaten Spin off, you recruit demons, instead of gaining their ‘cards’ like in Persona. You can talk to demons instead of fighting them, which is a staple in Megaten games, but there is a loyalty system to boot, meaning that if your party or your main character has a different alignment from the demon you are trying to recruit, you will almost always be unsuccessful. You can also fuse your demons together to make a new, more powerful one. There are literally hundreds of demons that can join your party, all springing from mythology and folklore, another constant aspect of the Megaten series. In all, Devil Summoner is considered the easiest of the Megaten games, although there are a few tough dungeons. The game’s focus is less on man vs god, and a much stronger emphasis on humans vs. humans, with demons and spirits playing a minor role; an irony considered the title of this game. The one lone fault of Devil Summoner is that you really need a strong knowledge of Japanese due to the text heavy nature of this game. Conversing with demons about philosophical aspects on existence is far easier when you’re not playing “Random button pushing.” If you can read it, then by all means, track down a copy of this game (very cheap when you find it) and enjoy a well written, and enjoyable game that features a lot of customization and more demons than you can shake a stick at.
150 bucks. Sure, that amount could buy you some form of bliss or take your worries away. During the Clinton administration, you could get 300 cheese burgers from McDonalds. Today, that fee could cover three municipal parking ticket fines in my fair city of Santa Monica California with roughly two dollars left over (damn vultures!!!
). Heck- if you don’t live in “the OC,” you can probably find yourself a damn good no-frills fare from the point A of your residence to the point B of your choice
But if you’re reading this, you’ve already said “Hell no!” to the burger surplus and economic flying. You want to drop 150 USD on a single game. No, we’re not talking about Steel Battalion after Capcom’s price drop. Neither are we talking about an arguably fair price on the US AES version of Samurai Shodown III. And Shaq Fu wasn’t released on the Saturn. And when it comes to dropping mad cash on ludicrously-overblown traditional shooters, there’s only one name to know: Radiant-f’ing-Silvergun
Released in Japan on July 23rd 1998, Radiant Silvergun is to shooter fans as Guinness beer is to frat-boys: a luxury that, if afforded, delivers the best ounce-for-ounce experience that could be conveyed through the medium. That is, this title was, and still, holds up today as one… if not the– quintessential shooter that every fan and disciple of the genre should have, or at the very least, try. The game is an amazing work in and of itself, being a textbook example of quality and art that Treasure (Castlevania IV (SNES), Sin & Punishment (N64)) has become known for. When it came down to crafting the zenith of the 2D shooter in EVERY respect, Radiant Silvergun reigns supreme. It is only fitting that such a brilliant work ended up on the Sega Saturn.
Gameplay is an indispensable part of any shooter, and Radiant Silvergun brings it in spades. Playing against the signature backdrop of an impending doom befalling Earth, you suit up in a rather slick-looking fighter and take to the skies shooting everything that fits the description of looking cool and evil at the same time. Treasure made damn good use of the control pad, because there are as many unique attacks as the Saturn controller has face buttons, each affording a competent degree of utility. That is to say that as the game progresses and gets increasingly more difficult, you’ll never find yourself staring at your controller thinking “Dude, that V-shaped laser is as useless as a copy of St. Anger.” Not only that, but Radiant Silvergun makes use of the Saturn’s onboard battery-backed memory which keeps track of how long you’ve played the game and what weapons you’ve used. Every time you play through your credits, the firepower of your guns increase, allowing you to progress through the game at a fairly quicker pace. You can also absorb parts of your enemies’ attacks to charge up the requisite huge-ass attack, which might afford you a certain degree of restraint when fighting the elegantly obscene bosses this game will toss at you.
Speaking of which, the graphics and sound are top-notch. Aside from being the best shooter the Saturn has to offer, Radiant Silvergun is probably also the best-looking and sounding as well. The compositions denote a mix of urgency and heroism that most games of the genre try to convey, and you even get a rather mysterious Japanese voice-over as the game begins. Visually, the game was the at the best of it’s form, orchestrating 3D elements against a largely 2D playing field with the surgical precision and anal-retentiveness of the production team that worked on Linkin Park’s Meteora; an almost scary attention to detail that more frantic shooter fans might have missed. In true shooter fashion, the bosses are dealt out large and in charge, and make every use of what hardware the Saturn had to offer.
The only real shames that plague Radiant Silvergun are the ones that surround it’s storied legacy. Despite being recognized as a great shooter both far and wide when it first came out, Sega opted not to bring it to American shores. According to my source for the game, only 50,000 copies were produced, which makes trying to find a copy of this wonderful gem a real bitch to find. While I was fortunate enough to get my copy at a reasonable rate, it is unfortunate that the trinity of unchecked capitalism, Al Gore’s internet, and the “collector mentality” routinely prices this game at 150 USD or higher on eBay. As I type this, there is an auction currently going for 212 USD, which is a damn shame because a game as great as Radiant Silvergun shouldn’t be confined only to those with a collectors’ budget. Games this great deserved to be played by all. So, if you can find it for a price you’re comfortable with, Radiant Silvergun will not disappoint.
– Frederick Badlissi