Tag Archives: 1997

Merry X’mas!

While I had hoped to have a nice little piece on Christmas Nights up by the 25th, work and other non-festive things conspired against me. Instead, I offer you this – a hastily thrown together video of the hidden Christmas message from Enemy Zero:

I first discovered this back in 1997, shortly after finding this cult classic-to-be under the Christmas tree. It was the last time I would smile while playing this game. It’s hard to smile after you’ve soiled yourself in fear.

Here’s a static image, in case all that action was too much for you:

EnemyZeroXmas

 

I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to everybody who has read or watched anything I’ve put out over the last year. Happy Holidays to  you and yours!

Steep Slope Sliders

SteepSlopeSlidersCoverSteep Slope Sliders
Sega Saturn, 1997
Developer: Cave
Publishers: Sega/Victor

Note: This article in no way relates to the arcade version of Steep Slope Sliders for the Sega ST-V arcade system. If this in any way concerns you, consider yourself warned.

Commensurate with the mainstream acceptance of snowboarding as a legitimate sport, the “snowboarding game” really came into its own as a genre during the late ’90s. Sony’s Cool Boarders franchise saw the first of four annualized releases in the summer of 1996, and Nintendo released 1080° Snowboarding in early 1998. Numerous – otherpublishers threw their hats down the slopes as well. For my money, though, the best of the bunch was the Sega-published Steep Slope Sliders.

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 19-23-41

As the Saturn was well-into its protracted death throes in the Western market when SSS was released in late 1997, unless you’re a long-time Sega devotee, you’ve probably never heard of – let alone played – Steep Slope Sliders (which we will hereinafter refer to as “SSS“). But PLEASE trust me when I say that it is the best playing snowboarding game of its vintage. What SSS lacks in visual panache, it more than makes up for in pure playability. Offering fantastic controls and supreme replay value in place of graphical splendor, SSS remains a joy to play to this day.

At the heart of SSS‘ charm is its ease of access; the slopes may be steep, but the learning curve isn’t. Your boarder can perform three basic actions in SSS: jumping, flipping, and grabbing. Through the use of the Saturn’s shoulder buttons, you can spin clockwise or counter clockwise while performing any of those three basic tasks.

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 20-04-33
Surprisingly acrobatic for a man made of rectangles.

That’s it, and that’s all – there’s nothing else to learn. Got a hankering to try for that front flip 1080° indy nosebone you saw on last nights’ X Games? All you have to do is jump – if you get enough air, just lean on the shoulder button of your choosing, push ‘grab,’ and throw in a press of the ‘flip’ button when you’re good and ready. You’re only limited by your imagination and the game’s very permissive laws of gravity. This may not seem particularly revolutionary, but compared to the controls employed by SSS’ closest contemporaries, which relied on much more complex button inputs, it’s remarkably simple and intuitive.

Steep Slope Sliders! Clip 3 Screenshot 2015-05-05 19-41-10
Believe it or not, that sign says “Portland.” The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland.

But let’s just get right out and say it: compared to its competition, SSS is not a pretty game. 3D graphics were never the Saturn’s strong suit, perhaps due to the fact that the system was designed to render quadrilaterals, as opposed to the triangular polygons rendered by the PlayStation and… well, every other system ever. While SSS runs very smoothly for a 3D game on the Saturn, it could be considered be some of the best empirical evidence for the age-old “Saturn couldn’t do 3D” argument. Just take a look at the beautiful cubed heads on display on the character select screen:

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 19-24-35
Sometimes, I like to pretend that sweater-square-head girl is in a relationship with rectangle-face-goggle dude. It adds flavor to the game.

Screenshots do not do SSS justice, though – the game looks MUCH better in motion. SSS keeps its courses varied and interesting, and maintains a consistent frame rate when it counts. Things move so quickly, you barely notice that you’re sliding through an avalanche of chunky bitmaps. Take a look:

Additionally, to add an extra bit of visual flair, SSS makes use of the Saturn’s internal clock to simulate real world time zones. Playing SSS on the East Coast of the US at 8 PM? If you select the Japan course, you’ll be sliding down the slopes at 9 AM. For the most part, this is a fantastic feature, effectively giving you four different versions of each of SSS’ seven main courses.

Unfortunately, this cuts both ways. There’s a reason people don’t snowboard on unlit mountains at 4:00 AM – it’s dark. Really dark. I defy you to tell me what you’re looking at here:

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-05 20-35-28
Hope you packed your thermal goggles. It’s so dark you can’t even read the text.

Unless you answered “a rocket buggy doing a back flip with a 720º twist,” you’re wrong. If you did answer “a rocket buggy doing a back flip with a 720º twist,” put down your Saturn controller and go apologize to your parents. SSS’ time progression feature, while innovative and fun, renders roughly one third of the game’s courses unplayable at any given time. Fortunately, if you’ve got a burning desire to run any particular course, time progression can be disabled. The warm embrace of daylight is only a few button presses away.

Careful readers of the last paragraph may have noticed that SSS lets you play as a rocket buggy. It also let’s you play as a penguin…

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 19-47-03

… and a dog on a snowboard…

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-05 21-00-05
Trust me, it’s a dog on a snowboard. Why would I lie?

… and an alien, an anime girl, a UFO, and all sorts of other crazy characters, some of which are remarkably full-featured. The developers really piled it on in terms of unlockable extras, including four bonus courses, some of which are set in space.

And I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Steep Slope Shooters, the unlockable “snow shooter,” which features the greatest two-sentence plot ever conceived:

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 20-03-13
If I wanted to avenge my brother, I would probably decided to entry the badminton game. Much less risk of injury.

So, SSS plays like a dream, and has more than enough character to make up for its visual shortcomings – but how does it SOUND you ask? Well, if remarkably well-composed electronic music is your thing, you’re in luck. SSS has nine such tracks, which provide a wonderfully appropriate “late 90s’ extreme sports” vibe to the snowboarding action. You can even listen to them through a neat visualization feature in the option menu! Personally, though, I don’t know why you’d listen to those songs, particularly where the soundtrack features two perfectly good Engirsh j-pop ballads which have absolutely no place in a snowboarding game:

The music in SSS really is fantastic – but the only things you’ll ever remember about the soundtrack, no matter how hard you try, will be “Hold Me Close” and “Kiss.” I have friends who haven’t played this game in over a decade that still can’t forget these songs. To be honest, somewhere in the back of my mind, I think they’re why I come back to SSS every once in a while – and that kind of scares me.

Steep Slope Sliders! Screenshot 2015-05-03 20-24-30
Given the circumstances, “Salvation” does not appear to be an appropriate name for this trick.

SSS really doesn’t offer much in the way of “game modes” – you just pick a course and try to rack up the fastest time and largest score you can. Since all you’re really going for are skill and speed, SSS’ remarkably robust replay editing suite is a welcome inclusion. With the replay editor, you can save your best performances and play them back ad nauseum for any of your friends that happen to be stuck hanging out in your parents’ basement with you back in 1997. No, I never did that. Why do you ask?

In any event, the replay editor isn’t exactly final cut pro, but it lets you put together some pretty impressive music videos, at least by late ’90s game console standards:

Despite its rough appearance, SSS shreds by on the strength of its gameplay alone. Throw in a host of extras, solid music, and a dash of that late ’90s Saturn innovation/weirdness, and you’ve got yourself the rare extreme sports game that stands the test of time. If you’ve got any fondness for the Saturn, or snowboarding games in general, Steep Slope Sliders is definitely worth your time. Trust me: it never gets old.


If nothing else, I am confident that Steep Slope Sliders is far more enjoyable than Heavy Shreddin’. Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?

MacrossCoverChō Jikū Yōsai Macross: Ai Oboete Imasu ka
Sega Saturn, 1997
Developers: Sega/Bandai Visual
Publisher: Bandai

Note: The videos in this article contain spoilers for 30-year-old anime and 18-year-old space shooter. If that’s the type of thing your sensitive about, consider yourself warned.

Macross: Do You Remember Love is one of the first animes I can recall watching. Released in 1984, Do You Remember Love (hereinafter, “DYRL“) is a cinematic adaptation of the popular Japanese television series, The Super Dimension Fortress MacrossDespite its Japanese origins, it’s not uncommon for American children of the 80’s (such as myself) to have a tangential memories of the Macross franchise: the original television series was heavily adapted for US audiences in the form of the first 36 episodes of the popular cartoon, Robotech.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Do You Remember Love Screenshot 2015-02-25 22-50-34

It had to be about 1991 when I first set eyes on DYRL. Back then, my older brother was an avid collector of anime (back when we still called in Japanimation, junior), and it was not uncommon for him to come home with blurry VHS fansubs of all manner of Japanese cartoons. DYRL was a bit more complex than your typical American cartoon: characters fell in love, died, got involved in love triangles, dealt with the horrors of war… it was some heavy stuff. But what do I remember the most about DYRL, and every other entry in the Macross franchise? The missiles – check it out (all 20 minutes not required viewing): 

SOOOOO many missiles. 9-year-old Steve was in heaven. Giant transforming robots and missiles.

This isn’t an anime website, though, so let’s get down to business. In 1997, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Macross franchise, Sega and Bandai teamed together to develop a space shooter based on DYRL, which is commonly referred to by English speakers as “Saturn Macross.”[1] Containing over 30 minutes of footage from the film, licensed music, and additional dialogue recorded by the original castSaturn Macross is a fitting tribute to DYRL. And did they nail the missiles?

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Do You Remember Love Screenshot 2015-02-25 22-33-53

You’d better believe it.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Do You Remember Love Screenshot 2015-02-25 22-37-28In Saturn Macross, the player takes control of the VF-1 Valkyrie unit of the film’s protagonist, Hikaru Ichijo. The VF-1 Valkyrie is more or less what we’d call a transformer: a jet fighter that can also morph into a battroid (giant robot) and a GERWALK (a sort of bipedal flying tank). For much of the game, the player can freely switch between all three forms through the use of the Saturn’s trigger buttons, but the plot often mandates that your Valkyrie is restricted from doing so.

There are three main forms of attack in Saturn Macross: the Valkyrie’s gunpod (in practice, a standard “vulcan gun”), lock on missiles, and bombs. Each weapon has two forms – a weaker form with a larger area of effect, and a stronger form that targets a more concentrated space of screen real estate.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Do You Remember Love Screenshot 2015-03-01 13-31-49

Each form of the Valkyrie utilizes the gunpod differently, with the GERWALK and the battroid sacrificing the mobility of the fighter for the ability to aim your shots with greater precision.

The action in Saturn Macross takes place across three planes, a foreground, middle ground, and background. The player is restricted to the middle plane, but enemies can freely travel between all three. Only lock on missiles and one form of the gunpod can target enemies in the foreground and background, requiring you to utilize the full extent of your arsenal.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Do You Remember Love Screenshot 2015-02-25 22-39-00

For the most part, this is a nice effect which makes excellent use of the Saturn’s 2D capabilities.  At times, though, it is difficult to discern exactly which planes your enemies are on, resulting in more than a few bogies flying right by you or scoring the occasional cheap hit.

“Why would I care if an enemy flew right by me,” you ask? Because many of the game’s levels revolve around defending the Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the titular flagship of the series, which is constantly under assault. The SDF Macross has its own life bar, which slowly decreases each time you fail to shoot down one of your targets. This adds a nice bit of tension to the gameplay, and encourages you to perform to the peak of your ability. If you watch the video below, you’ll see this mechanic in action each time I fail to shoot down an enemy craft.

What Saturn Macross does best, though, is capture the spirit and feel of some of the more memorable moments of DYRL. While it’s only a 2D shooter, Saturn Macross makes liberal use of voice acting and integrated clips from the film to give each level a unique feeling.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s last level, which beautifully recreates the climactic battle from DYRL as the movie’s theme plays in the background.

Saturn Macross is not without its faults, though. Often times, the sprites seem a little too large for the screen. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver your Valkyrie when things get hectic. For that reason, I rarely found myself utilizing the battroid or GERWALK forms; it was always easier to play as the far more mobile fighter plane. There are also control issues: the game requires the player to double tap buttons to activate certain attacks, which is a strange design choice, as the game leaves two buttons on the Saturn controller unused. Additionally, the game also runs on the easy side, and anyone remotely skilled at space shooters should have no problem clearing it in under 5 hours.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Do You Remember Love Screenshot 2015-02-25 22-26-11

That being said, Saturn Macross is a highly enjoyable game that really captures the spirit and feeling of DYRL. I’ve replayed it three times, and I’ll probably have a few more go-rounds before I’m done with it. If you’re a fan of Macross, or shooters in general, it’s more than worth your time, if for no other reason than the missiles!

Played on original hardware, upscaled to 720p through a Micomsoft Framemeister. All footage and screens captured through an ElGato HD60.


[1] Despite this moniker, the game was also ported to the Playstation in 1999. I have not played that version of the game – all opinions in this post are based solely on my experiences with the Saturn version.

Last Bronx

Last Bronx CoverLast Bronx
Sega Saturn, 1997
Developer: AM3
Publisher: Sega

Recently I acquired a handful of Saturn imports, one of which was Sega’s Last Bronx. An early attempt at bringing the weapons-based fighter into the third dimension, Last Bronx is a game that is oft-forgotten by Western audiences. While it lacks the luster and epic scale of its closest genre contemporary, Namco’s Soul Edge, Last Bronx is a technical achievement in its own right, and a solid entry in the Saturn’s vast catalog of fighters.

Originally released to Japanese arcades in 1996, the Saturn port of Last Bronx is quite possibly the best looking 3D fighter on the system. Though the Saturn wasn’t known for being a 3D powerhouse, it was quite capable of producing visually stunning ports of games originally designed for Sega’s Model 2 hardware. Last Bronx appears to run at a constant 60 FPS, and the animation (all of which is motion-captured) is extremely fluid. It almost pains me to say it, but Last Bronx simply does not look like a Sega Saturn game, and I don’t think that anybody would assume that it was without prior knowledge.

Unfortunately, Last Bronx’s gameplay is nowhere near as stellar as its visuals. Though it is a more than competent 3D fighter, it’s ostensibly a simplified “Virtua Fighter with weapons.” While Last Bronx has 9 characters (two of whom are basically clones), their movesets are relatively limited. Additionally, outside of the presence of weapons, Last Bronx has no truly unique gameplay systems to set it apart from the pack. Last Bronx is by no means a shallow fighter, but it unequivocally lacks the depth of its contemporaries.

Last Bronx Character Select
The roster is small, but varied and colorful.

Notably, every attack in Last Bronx deals big damage. It’s not uncommon for matches to be over after one or two combo strings. Matches move at a brisk pace, and each hit feels like it counts. Unfortunately, this very trait also makes play against the CPU a pretty unrewarding affair – it’s very easy to spam your way to victory.

Last Bronx Tommy Zaimoku

But then again, the endings are so short, there’s virtually no reward for single-player play to begin with.

The Japanese home version of Last Bronx also features a host of extra features, including an extremely robust training mode, where super-deformed versions of the characters give you a series of “lectures” on high level play. It’s more or less indecipherable without a working knowledge of Japanese, but it’s certainly a novel concept.

Last Bronx Training Mode
Ring the bell, school’s in sucka.

Also, these are my three favorite stage names in game history:

While Last Bronx never quite achieves greatness, it’s quite easy to find it out in the wild for an affordable price. I’d recommend that anybody with more than a passing interest in the Saturn give it a shot. If you’re interested, I’d highly recommend Harry Nezumi’s extremely thorough writeup over at Hardcore Gaming 101 – it’s about as comprehensive as it gets.

 

 

All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua: Rise! Dolphin! (Part 4)

In which Dolphin attains a modicum of fame.

IntroPart 1Part 2Part 3

So Dolphin dropped a match. No big deal. You don’t set the Canadian record in beanballs taken without learning a thing or two about suffering. Dolphin is used to physical abuse, and the way he views it, the neck is the most overrated part of the body anyway. As long as his hips can still swivel, he’ll be fine.

AJPWPaper1

But if there is one thing Dolphin won’t stand for, it’s DISRESPECT. Dolphin can’t read a word of Japanese, but he sure as hell doesn’t see any nice pictures of himself on the cover of this Puroresu Weekry Illistratedu. Who do these fans think they are? He could have easily passed up this gig. He could be back in Durham, Ontario working at his buddy Tad’s Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He could be halfway to assistant regional manager of the year by now.

But Dolphin knows, deep inside, that the only way to win over the fans is hard work and dedication. Plus he can’t afford airfare back to Canada. Time to get an education in wrestling.

AJPWLevelupAnd by “get an education in wrestling,” Dolphin means “pick wrestling moves randomly from a confusing list he cannot read.” Looks like there’s a DDT in there. That’s a nice move. We’ll figure out the rest as we go. MONTAGE TIME!

Music: The King of the Streets by Lazerhawk.

Dolphin’s opponents, in order:

  • Gary Albright – Gary Albright looked like he crawled right out of the Double Deuce, and wrestled like he read every chapter of How to Kick Ass and Eat Steak.  A legitimate college wrestler and American bad ass, Gary Albright was famous for dropping people on their necks. Thankfully, he settled for dropping Dolphin on his spine, for the most part.
  • Johnny Ace – We already know all about this guy.
  • “Dr. Death” Steve Williams – Gary Albright read every chapter of How to Kick Ass and Eat Steak, but Steve Williams wrote the whole damn book. Also a legitimate amateur wrestler, Steve Williams was a huge star in AJPW. Further, his theme music was by Gene Simmons, which probably makes him even tougher, somehow. Not pictured in the montage: the additional 15 ringpost shots it took to put this behemoth away.

This clean sweep came at a high cost. Fortunately, neck points are strong against the yen in 1997, so Dolphin’s got that cost covered. A few notes:

  • By the time he got midway through his rematch with Johnny Ace, Dolphin’s neck was hanging on by a thread. His neck heals slightly every three matches, but he’s going to be hovering at about 98% neck damage until he develops some reversal skills.
  • Dolphin was able to score a relatively clean win against Albright, but the repeated and continuous attacks to his neck left him with no choice but to resort to the ringpost. Somersault kicks are pretty cool and all, but they’re the last thing a man with neck problems should be doing.  Until he expands his arsenal, that post will be his home away from home.
  • If you look at 4:22, you’ll see the exact moment Dolphin learned how easy it is to pull off ridiculously devastating maneuvers outside of the ring. Once a wrestler’s momentum meter is full, their full arsenal of finishing maneuvers becomes available to them, and for whatever reason, they are about ten times easier to perform on the concrete floor.

So, did Dolphin’s hard work pay off?

AJPWPaper2

That sexy blurred out face in the bottom left corner says “yes.”

NEXT TIME: TOURNAMENT!

 

All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua: Rise! Dolphin! (Part 3)

In which Dolphin undergoes new employee orientation.

IntroPart 1Part 2

Improbably, Dolphin has won his first match.  Since there are no other discernible options, and Dolphin can’t read Japanese, ON TO THE SECOND MATCH.

BabaIntro

Labor relations sure work differently in Japan. It appears Dolphin’s second opponent will be his boss, Giant Baba. As this game takes place in 1997, Baba  should be about 60. Jeez. While Dolphin is keenly aware that fighting your boss is a time-honored pro wrestling tradition, and he probably wouldn’t be doing this had he not shoved that pine tar down his third base coach’s throat, this is ridiculous. Giant or no, he shouldn’t be fighting a 60-year-old man.

BabaSuplex

1:06 – Yep, easier than medicare fraud. Dolphin starts off with a strong German suplex. Don’t go anywhere kids. You might not have too much more time with granddad.

BabaBodySlam

1:14 – Well…

BabaChop

1:19 – That’s….

BabaBackDrop

1:31 – Something else.  Hmm.  Dolphin is really getting flogged. Looks like Baba has no intention of collecting a pension any time soon. This is no good. After dealing with roughly a minute and a half (including intros) of punishment at the hands of his forbears, Dolphin does what any self-respecting member of the younger generation would do – he starts taking any advantage he can get.

Babapost1

1:46 – Yes, Dolphin just rammed a 60-year-old man’s head into the ringpost. Dolphin reminds you that anybody that gets in that ring knows the risk, and he had nothing to do with those recent updates to Baba’s life insurance policy.

Baba100

2:51 – Let this be a lesson to you folks. You can lose all of your neck in less than three minutes, if you’re not careful. The fans seem to love Dolphin’s strategy. I hear “acromegaly” is Latin for “head filled with candy.” Let’s find out if that’s true!

Babareverse1

4:01 – It appears that Dolphin does not fare so well when he employs legitimate tactics. Baba is reversing everything in sight.

7:08 – You know, one of the more popular features of this game is that “every move can be reversed!” Dolphin is beginning to wonder if “every move will be reversed” would be more appropriate.

BabaSTF

8:25 – Great googledy moogledy. After Dolphin’s 19th attempt at a Dolphinplex, Baba slaps on an STF and Dolphin’s neck jumps immediately to 74% damage.  It appears that Dolphin’s spinal trauma has carried over from his last match with Johnny Ace. Whatever; we’ve still got 26% neck left.

Dolphindirtbag

9:49 – Listen, Dolphin doesn’t have much going for him. He’s got an ICS degree in gun repair, two families in two different Canadian provinces, a failed stint as a shortstop, and a mastery of approximately four basic wrestling moves. One of those moves is the Irish whip to the ringpost, and he’s not getting back in the ring until he’s sure he’s squeezed everything he can out of that inanimate metal column.

BabaDDT

12:34 – Well, it was a nice run, wasn’t it flipper? You just had your neck completely destroyed by a crippled sexagenarian. No way you’re living this one down.

BabaPin

13:48 – Sweet fancy Moses! It took nearly 15 minutes, but Dolphin finally did it! Did Baba’s heart give out? Did he age himself out of contention? Dolphin doesn’t care though, because he just bought himself his second ‘W,’ all for the low, low price of his neck.

If you’d like to stare into the abyss for about 14 minutes, here’s the full match:


Two matches in, and Dolphin has already secured his future in a cervical halo. Nevertheless, Dolphin understands that the only way out is through: No neck, no skills, no problems. MATCH 3!

JunEntranceThis is Jun Akiyama, and his theme is titled “Shadow Explosion.” Dolphin has never seen a shadow explode, but he assumes that it is worse for him than a standard explosion. Youtube research reveals that Jun Akiyama has a proud tradition of dropping people on the back of their heads.  This, of course, bodes well for Dolphin.

junhiptoss

1:23 – Not off to a bad start. Dolphin is able to string some offense together right out of the gate.

junneck

1:33 – Two moves. It only took two moves for Akiyama to snap the stack of dimes Dolphin calls a neck. It’s gonna be a long career (mode). Dolphin is tempted to hit the reset button.

1:49 – Dolphin has quickly abandoned any pretense of winning this match legitimately. TO THE RINGPOST!  It only took him three more seconds than last time to come to this conclusion!

Junpostneck

2:56 – YES! So long, and thanks for all the fish! Dolphin’s catch phrases admittedly need work. If the last match is any indication, we’ve only got about eleven minutes of sustained neck damage remaining before Dolphin puts this chump away.

jungerman

4:22 – Blowhole plunge! Dolphin is swimming down the road to victory!

junexploder2

4:48 – Err… the announcer just yelled “exploder” in English. This is probably not good for Dolphin’s neck rating. This suspicion is confirmed by Dolphin’s pained squeals.

6:06 – This time it sounded like “exploiter,” which is appropriate, because Dolphin is starting to feel more than a little used up.

junsuperplex

6:38 – Dude, dolphins are a threatened species. You’ll burn for this.

juntope

6:54 – As he’s going nowhere fast, Dolphin decides to roll to the only place where he seems to be worth a damn – outside the ring.  Well guess what: you can never go home again.

8:55 – Dolphin is beginning to wonder if it actually means anything when your neck gets broken in this game, as he has to give up the ghost to Akiyama at about the 9 minute mark, despite dropping him on his 0% neck several times.

Well, to quote Dolphin’s favorite artist, Meatloaf, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.  At least he didn’t lose to the geriatric.

Grab a handkerchief and cry yourself to sleep as you watch Dolphin’s heartbreaking loss:

NEXT TIME: Montage!

All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua: Rise! Dolphin! (Part 2)

PART THE SECOND:
In which our intrepid hero finds no practical use for his decaying infielding skills.

The first and second posts in this series will undoubtedly increase your enjoyment of this installment.

Now that he’s successfully completed his mandatory new hire processing and and picked out some sweet threads, it’s time for Dolphin to step into the squared circle. Sure, he’s a little long in the tooth, and he’s got no real practical experience, but with nearly a decade of single A under his belt, he’s got some fundamental athletic prowess that will undoubtedly carry the day against whatever jabroni the higher ups toss his way.

Caring not who he will crush, Dolphin makes his way to the ring:

AJPWHeracles

Clearly, great things are expected of Dolphin. He’s already got his own theme! Prepared by the legendary Sega Sound Team, the driving force behind such hits as “Green Hill Zone,” “Space Harrier Theme,” and “Game Over Yeah,” no less! Note that Dolphin is so manly he uses the original Greek “Heracles” instead of the far less tough “Hercules” as the basis of his theme. No one stands a chance. Who will Dolphin be using as a springboard to glory?

Well, turns out it’s Johnny Ace, better known to US wrestling fans as John Laurinaitis, one time director of talent relations for the WWE. Turns out he actually had a serious run in AJPW back in the 90s. Also turns out he was a wrestling aqua sock enthusiast.  Having a past as an actual legitimate sportsman instead of some lame extreme “athlete,” Dolphin has to have a bit of a leg up here. Enough blabbering. TO THE MATCH!

0:29 – Dolphin is demoralized as he quickly realizes that Sega Sound Team has also done Johnny Ace’s music. Wikipedia reveals that Johnny Ace’s theme was actually Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crüe. This can only be a mind game. There’s no way anyone would otherwise be willing forgo such a grand entrance song.

1:30 – Things get off to a rocky start, as Dolphin’s clumsy first move is reversed into a swinging neckbreaker. Dolphin starts to take a pretty serious beating at the hands of big Johnny. Good thing he pre-loaded on those pain pills. Note that as Dolphin takes a beating, his life bar drops, but the meter directly above his name increases. This indicates that the crowd is behind him and his momentum is building! They must be remembering that time back in ’88 when he set the single season hit by pitch record. Dolphin’s past in baseball has apparently garnered him some goodwill with the fans.

2:39 – The crowd appears to be very impressed with Dolphin’s apparent love of taking unanswered blows to the face. With each elbow crammed down his throat, Dolphin can feel a groundswell of support rising from the crowd. As they begin chanting his name, Dolphin wonders why they aren’t cheering for the clearly superior athlete. Johnny must be pissed. Dolphin also notes that the crowd is a flat bitmap, and begins to wonder if he is in some kind of existential hell.

3:00 – Realizing his dream is fading, Dolphin digs deep into the bag of tricks he learned at wrestler’s correspondence school, and he starts to mount some offense! The crowd support is making it a little easier for him to time his moves – he’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s narrowing the gap.

4:00 – Dolphin begins to notice that every successful hit he lands on Mr. Ace seems to be increasing the crowd’s support of him as well. Dolphin is confused about Japanese culture and wonders if he should have eaten all that octopus before his match.

5:00 – Ace damn near takes Dolphin’s head off with a lariat from hell, and goes for the cover. Dolphin kicks out before 2, but only at the expense of some of his crowd support. Dolphin fails to see why escaping defeat would somehow lessen his crowd support. Then again, Japan is a strange place. They eat with sticks.

5:25 – Dolphin has had enough of this crap. If he loses this first match, he’ll have wasted five minutes of his life, and he’ll have to cancel Christmas for at least two of his families. He rolls out of the ring.

5:34 –

AJPWAceStunnerYep, that was a Stone Cold Stunn…. Ace Crusher. Crap.  Can’t get worse than that, though, can it? Nobody can pin you outside of the ring, and there doesn’t appear to be a countout here. Dolphin will just sit tight for a bit.

5:45 –

AJPWAceNeckSWEET LORD.  Do you SEE that thing? CLEARLY, this second Ace Crusher has done some serious damage to Dolphin’s neck. Why else would it say “Danger” three times and have a little picture of a bomb? Presumably, this means that Dolphin only has 70% more neck left before he explodes. This is not a positive development.

6:10 – After ambling around aimlessly, pondering how to win this match with only 70% neck remaining, Dolphin manages to ram Ace’s head into the ringpost with a satisfying thud. This seems to yield positive results, and Ace doesn’t seem to have been programm… er, trained to deal with this. It isn’t long before Ace is receiving warnings about his cervical spine as well.  Weirdly, the crowd loves it. Sick.

8:00 – Hey, we’re starting to have a nice little back and forth here. Maybe now that Mr. Ace fully appreciates that Dolphin is a scumbag who is willing to do anything (within his limited four move arsenal) to avoid defeat, he’s treating him with a little too much respect. Dolphin is not to be respected. Ace will learn this the hard way. Nobody respects Dolphin and gets away with it.

10:00 –

AJPWWinplex

Improbably, after getting elbowed in the face and taking a vertical suplex in the middle of the ring, Dolphin hits a relatively routine belly-to-back suplex…. and then….

AJPW Pin

Wow. This makes absolutely no sense. Dolphin had absolutely no skill going into this match, the little noise meter at the top of the screen seems to indicate the crowd is fully behind Ace, and Dolphin had just eaten a series of devastating maneuvers right in the middle of the ring. If Dolphin didn’t know better, he’d say this was fixed. Dolphin is silently thankful that this is all happening in 1997, and the Internet wrestling community is not well developed enough to complain about this kind of lazy, disappointing booking.

AllJapanDolphinFeatured

Tune in next week, as Dolphin perfects his craft,  attempts to scale the language barrier, and considers taking out a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy!

 ON TO PART 3!

 

All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua: Rise! Dolphin! (Part 1)

PART THE FIRST:
In which we start an aging shortstop down the path towards championship gold.

If you haven’t already checked it out, take a look at the first post in this series.

No sense in delaying thiokngs; let’s get right to it. The quest for the Triple Crown Championship starts now, and I’m already 17 years behind schedule. Time to dig into AJPW’s charmingly titled “Featuring Mode” and grab that belt.

AJPWtitle

Featuring Mode is equal parts “create-a-wrestler” and “career mode.” Rather than let you choose the appearance and attributes of your character outright, in a design decision I can only describe as “innately Japanese,” AJPW requires you to fill out a job application in order to determine what type of grappler you’ll be portraying.

All right, let’s get…

AJPWHuh

Huh.  Well, that’s something else.  Fortunately, the same translation guide I used back in 1997 is still publicly available.  ECrouser, I may never meet you in person, but when I win the gold, I’m dedicating it to you.

First,  we’re presented with a list of names for our wrestler:

GREAT JUMBO METEOR
BOMBER BLAZE PHANTOM
TORNADO CANNON SAVIOR
CYCLONE DEVIL SATAN
PUNISH BASTARD CRUSH
TIGER DRAGON BISON
JAGUAR JACKAL RABBIT
BEAUTY CUTIE DOLPHIN
SAKURA RAIDEN NINJA
X OHTORII UFO
NIIMURA

Back in 1997 I’d have been inclined to pick “Bastard.” That’s a name that inspires fear, respect, and paternity suits. But this is 2014, baby, and I need a name that says “experience.” I need a moniker that says, intelligence, experience, and general superiority. They often say that the majestic bottle nose is the most intelligent mammal on the planet, so let’s go with “DOLPHIN.” Remember that name, for it is the sound of your doom.

Next option: Choose your wrestler’s age. As I’m writing this, I’m 32, so my wrestler is 32.  Easy choice. Next question. Let’s just ignore the fact that 32 is the maximum age the game lets you choose, because that is not depressing at all.

So we’re a 32-year-old wrestler named Dolphin. The game now wants to know what prior sports experience our majestic Dolphin is bringing to the dance:

GYMNASTICS SUMO DRUMMING
??? TENNIS CHINESE KEMPO
BASEBALL AMATUER WRESTLING BASKETBALL
KARATE SOCCER ARM WRESTLING
JUDO RUGBY STREET FIGHTING

One can assume that if Dolphin is entering the ring as a second career at the ripe middlish age of 32, things probably didn’t end up so hot for him during his first athletic endeavor.  Much like me, returning to AJPW 17 years after the fact, Dolphin is looking to recapture faded glory. Of all the sports on the list, baseball would have probably garnered him highest base level of glory from which to fade. No disrespect to arm wrestlers, drummers, or ???ists, but chicks dig the long ball. Dolphin used to be a shortstop.

Now we’re on to the substance of our job application – a personality test of sorts. Dolphin used to bat 6th for the Blue Jays’ Single-A affiliate. He’s used to dealing with the tough questions, so this should be no sweat.

AJPWQuestion1

Question: All Japan Puroresu is Giant Baba?
1) Of Course
2) It is the four lords of heaven
3) It is Rusher Kimura

Crap. Dolphin was not prepared to respond to any queries of an existential nature. Thankfully, Dolphin has access to a smartphone. It appears that Giant Baba was the founder of All Japan Pro Wrestling, essentially making him Dolphin’s boss.  Dolphin knows where his bread is buttered, so Giant Baba it is.

Question: How should a Pro Wrestler win his matches?
1) Pretty (Technically sound) Suplex should decide
2) The big move done in the heat of the match should decide the victory
3) It does not matter

Dolphin is in this for the money. He’s got three kids in Durham, Ontario that don’t know his name. There’s child support to pay, and it just does not matter.

AJPWQuestion3

Question: What technique do you like?
1) Counter attacks
2) Throwing
3) Stretching

Baseball. Throwing. Duh.

Question: What should the Pro Wrestler's goal be?
1) Strength
2) Championship Belt
3) Fans enjoying the match

Well, Dolphin is in this first and foremost for himself. Undoubtedly, he’s already strong, and fans will probably enjoy the match no matter what if he obtains the Championship Belt, so let’s go with option 3.

AJPWQuestion5

Question: Tomorrow is your Pro Wrestling debut. What are you thinking?
1) Think positive
2) Concentrate
3) Win at all costs

Dolphin has got child support to pay. Number 3! It’s all about that cheddar. Win at all costs.

AJPWQuestion7

Question: Why did you become a pro wrestler?
1) To become strong
2) ( Not Sure )
3) To become a famous wrestler

You know, I’m not really sure why I’m doing this at all. Whether it’s a translation error or not, we’re going with option 2.

Question: To become a strong wrestler requires endless stamina and techniques. How do you do it?
1) Extra long training
2) ( Not Sure )
3) Eat three times as much

As a former professional baseball player. Dolphin understands that physique does not matter. He will eat three times as much as the normal human.

Question: Your opponent misses a wild attack. So your counter attack begins. How do you start?
1) Yell to get your ki up
2) Slap your face to get your ki up
3) Do a surprisingly cold and precise counter

Like his namesake murdering sharks with a nose to the abdomen, Dolphin will be dispatching his foes with precise counterattacks.

Wow! Those were some intense questions. Based on our responses, we’re now presented with some cosmetic choices:

AJPWZubaz

Way too Zubaz. Dolphin knows better than this.

AJPWMask

No sense in wearing a mask. The good people of Durham, Ontario already know what Dolphin looks like. Plus, hiding from child support payments is downright shameful.

AJPWIrish

Nope.  Dolphin is a lot of things, but Irish isn’t one of them.

AJPWDolphin
Oooh. Perfect. Simple, yet stylish. Beautiful magenta tights with a zebra print accent? Western efficiency meets eastern style. We have our Dolphin, ladies and gentlemen.

Next time, we’ll be leading our newly minted wrestler into battle. Tune in next time – same Dolphin time, same Dolphin channel!

Onward to Part 2!

All Japan Pro-Wrestling Featuring Virtua: The Legend Begins

AJPWCoverAll Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua
Sega Saturn, 1997
Developer: Scarab
Publisher: Sega

The late 90s were a great time to be a fan of pro wrestling video games.  As the red-hot ratings war between the WWF and WCW escalated,[1] the genre started receiving an unprecedented degree of attention and care from western publishers. Companies such as Acclaim[2] and THQ[3] began packing their U.S. wrestling games with true to life wrestler entrances, detailed creation suites, motion captured animation, and a degree of graphical polish previously reserved for simulations of legitimate sports. Yes, publishers were finally treating wrestling games like big ticket releases, and PSX and N64 owners were in the midst of a golden age of virtual wrasslin’.

Saturn owners, like me, however, were not so lucky. The Saturn began dying a slow death in North America right from its surprise launch in May of 1995, and by the time pro wrestling’s renaissance had begun, Sega’s 32-bit workhorse was little more than an also-ran in the console race. The big WWF and WCW titles never landed on Saturn, and unless you had access to imported games, you were stuck watching the rebirth of the pro wrestling genre from the Spanish announce table.

AJPWcharselectFortunately, I had a very generous older brother who did have access to imported games, and on Christmas morning, 1997, I unwrapped a pristine copy of the Saturn classic, All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua. I was ecstatic. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to play as Stone Cold, Scott Hall, the Rock, or any of my other favorites – but I’d finally be able to play as Stan Hansen, Kenta Kobashi, that dude that got knocked out in the Brawl For All, and countless other combatants that guys on geocities sites swore were the greatest wrestlers on the planet. Strangely, that last sentence was not sarcastic in the least.

Kenta & Ace
Every red-blooded American wanted to see these guys wrestle back in ’97.

All Japan Pro Wrestling Featuring Virtua is a true Saturn classic which took a completely different approach to the pro wrestling genre than its western contemporaries. I spent countless hours playing AJPW, trying to master its deceptively complex grappling mechanics and intricate damage system, but the rigorous pressures of being a teenager in suburban Philadelphia proved to be too much for me to handle. I couldn’t balance my hectic high school schedule with my virtual pro wrestling career, and I had to put down my controller before I could achieve the game’s ultimate goal: the Triple Crown Championship.

AJPW Belt
Nice hardware.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be replaying AJPW in an effort to slay that white whale; I’m finally going capture that championship belt that eluded me all those years ago. In the process, I also hope to shed some light on what a weird and wonderful experience it was being a Saturn owner in the late 90s. Crack open a Steveweiser and dig in.

Onward to Part 1!


[1] At the peak of the “Monday Night Wars,” approximately 10 million viewers were watching wrestling per week.

[2] WWF Warzone, WWF Attitude, ECW Hardcore Revolution, ECW Anarchy Rulz

[3] The WWF Smackdown series, WCW vs. the World, WCW vs. NWO World Tour, and many others.