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[ Writer ] = PurpGuy
[ 05/15/08 ] = The Downward Spiral

For most of my life, I have been an avid Sega fan. When I was 9 years old, and all of my friends had the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, I had the 8-bit Sega Master System. It even had 3-D glasses that, when used with the series of 3-D games, alternately blinded your left and right eyes as your television screen shook to the left and right, creating the illusion of true 3-D in such games as Zaxxon, Space Harrier, and Missile Defense. It was nothing short of revolutionary.

Then came the Sega Genesis, and the 16-bit console wars. It was during this time period that I discovered Street Fighter II, and it instantly became my favorite game ever. Of course, Sega also produced many of my other favorite games as well, such as AfterBurner, OutRun, Sonic the Hedgehog, Shinobi, and Streets of Rage. While I enjoyed the occasional SNES game, the Sega Genesis was the clear winner in my opinion.

Then there was the Saturn. Undoubtedly my most favorite Sega console of all time, and also undoubtedly the most underappreciated console ever made. The Sega Saturn was designed to be the ultimate 2-D platform, and in that respect, it succeeded tremendously. Capcom and Sega were the magic combination; Capcom for their Street Fighter games, and Sega for their top notch 2-D consoles to play them on. Capcom games comprised more than half of my total Saturn library, although I did have a handful of others. Virtua Fighter 2, and even Fighter's Megamix, were among my personal faves.

It was around this time, however, that things started to change.

The premature death of the Saturn (at least in the US) can be attributed to a number of factors. I feel that the single biggest issue has always been the lack of advertisement. In the heyday of the Genesis, not one day went by that you didn't hear the "Sega Scream." Commercials were all over television, with cosplay characters of all the best-selling games telling you that "Genesis does what Nintendon't." Every other page in gaming mags had a Sega advertisement. Sega games regularly made the feature articles. I remember reading a six-page review of Strider in a GamePro mag and thinking, "holy shit, I GOTTA get this game!"

Not so with the Saturn. There was such a lack of advertisement that I didn't even know that it existed until a year or two later. Oblivious to it all, I was still playing Super Street Fighter II on my Genesis up until about the time that Street Fighter Alpha 2 was released to the home console market. My brother brought a Saturn home one day and I was literally like, "what is that?" The television commercials had stopped. The gaming mags were full of PlayStation games. The genius of the Genesis marketing campaigns had long since been abandoned. Just what had happened anyway?

The Sony PlayStation was designed to be a true next-Gen console. In terms of 3-D, the Saturn was clearly the underdog. It utilized a dual-processor setup, which, when it worked, could produce amazing graphical results (as demonstrated by Sega's own games such as Virtua Fighter 2, NiGHTS Into Dreams, Burning Rangers, and Panzer Dragoon Saga). Unfortunately, most 3rd party developers wouldn't bother themselves with the dual processors, and instead made the Saturn versions of their games using only one of the processors.

This created not only inferior games, but tremendous amounts of bias from gaming mags and the players who subscribed to them. Regularly I would hear that the Saturn "sucked," and that just wasn't true. It was the 3rd party devs who sucked. In fact, I had quite the opposite opinion; my usual reply was to tell my friends that the PlayStation sucked for not having enough RAM for 2-D games such as Street Fighter to get proper ports. Their simple, indoctrinated reply to this was that 2-D sucked.

So why the lack of advertisement? Did Sega see this trend developing right from the start and give up the fight before the first punches had even been thrown? It's anybody's guess.

Sega's second chance came with the Dreamcast. In a departure from all of their previous American consoles, which had been black, the Dreamcast came to the US as Sega's pure white savior of perfection. While nothing like the Genesis days, a few minor advertising campaigns sprung up here and there. Sega had some great games to go with their shiny new platform, including Virtua Fighter 3, Skies of Arcadia, and Phantasy Star Online. Capcom was in for the ride with a slew of games such as Street Fighter III - Double Impact, Street Fighter Alpha 3 - Saikyo Dojo, Marvel VS Capcom, and Capcom VS SNK. Every third party developer seemed to be cozying up as well; even Lara Croft, who had, after the original Tomb Raider, been starring in a PlayStation exclusive franchise, made a few appearances on the Sega Dreamcast.

I'm not really sure what happened to the Dreamcast in the US Perhaps the North American gaming audience wasn't as forgiving as it seemed. Maybe the Dreamcast merely tided them over until the highly anticipated PlayStation 2. All I really know is that what started out as a promising comeback for Sega just kind of fizzled out and died. Sega announced that they were losing too much money to continue in the console market, and were becoming a 3rd party developer. At the time I thought this was a great move; since companies lose money on every console they produce, to make a tactical retreat from the frontlines and focus more on continuing to make great games.

That, unfortunately, hasn't been happening.

I work at a Movie Gallery, so I get to rent lots of games for free. I recently read a list of the top ten worst games ever made, and that got me thinking of my own list. It looks like this:

[ 1 ] = E.T. on the Atari (undisputed heavyweight champion of the world)
[ 2 ] =
Smurf on the Coleco
[ 3 ] = Pac-Man on the Atari
[ 4 ] = Star Trek Legacy
[ 5 ] = Assassin's Creed
[ 6 ] = Chrome Hounds
[ 7 ] = Armored Core 4
[ 8 ] = Any 3-D Sonic the Hedgehog Game

[ 9 ] = Phantasy Star Universe
[ 10 ] = Virtua Fighter 5

Half of this list is comprised of recent Sega games! How can this be?

[ 6 ] = Chrome Hounds
A totally miserable game. There is so much wrong with this game that I honestly do not know where to begin. You get a nice map, sectioned-off into a grid, with 9 or 10 things such as friendly mechs, enemy mechs, and mission objectives, that are supposed to show up on it. The problem is twofold: either they don't show up at all, or they show up in the wrong places.

I once had a mission to blow up an enemy mech factory where an endless stream of mechs were supposedly coming from. After 10 miles of marching down the road at 2 mph before realizing that my legs were on backwards, I swung them around and proceeded on down the road at twice the speed, on to my final destination: A... kind of, hangar, thing, barely big enough for my one mech to fit inside. Nothing was happening anywhere in the vicinity. There were no bad guys, no dots on my radar, and most importantly, no mechs. Aside from the endless stream of them that kept spawning another mile or so down the road, but that was out of bounds and I couldn't get there. That was the vital clue that I needed in order to ascertain that this lifeless, crescent-shaped scrap of sheet metal was, in fact, my mission objective, so I proceeded to shoot at it.

And shoot at it, and shoot at it. After running completely out of ammunition, that's rockets, bombs, and machine guns, the only visible change was that the air traffic control tower was apparently sending up a smoke signal for reinforcements. I quit the mission and tried again. After three or four unsuccessful tries, which spanned the course of three or four uneventful hours, I finally managed to blow the damn thing up. At least a HP bar would have been nice, so that I could 1, know that I was damaging it, 2, know how much I was damaging it, and 3, possibly figure out if I was SUPPOSED to be damaging it. After it was destroyed, the enemy mechs stopped showing up, so I guess in some metaphysical way it really was the place all those mechs were coming from.

Those mechs, by the way, despite having a clear advantage of numbers, elected instead to assault me in groups of two, once every ten minutes or so. I should also add that enemy mechs in this game are like wet tissue paper; if only they'd have been made out of the same stuff as the hangar, they might have provided a little bit more of a challenge.

The game tries, and fails, to have a storyline. Your character is known only as "Mercenary." Your character never talks, never shows his or her face, never really does much of anything. Except disobey orders. I went on a night mission where I was supposed to be a sniper on a hill while the main assault force proceeded down the road. I took out the entire enemy camp before they even gave me their signal, and despite my orders to not attack until said signal was given, I was not reprimanded for my actions. Instead, the commander's monologue remained exactly the same; he began shouting orders to his men and bragging about how many mechs he'd destroyed.

I'm not a programming expert, but a simple variable or two could have made such scenarios much more interactive, such as a variable that states if I fire a shot before the signal is given. (If A=1 and B=0 then C=0 and D=1, where A=Shots fired, B=Attack
command given, C=Normal monologue where attack command is given, which then causes B=1, and D=Alternate monologue where the guy yells at you for firing prematurely, and resets A and D to 0).

When friendly mechs are supposed to be destroyed, they are destroyed. By that I mean I could take out the entire enemy force, leaving nothing in my wake, and then a friendly mech spontaneously blows up from the supposedly "heavy fire" it's not receiving. Again, a simple variable could avoid inconsistencies such as this. It's as if the game was made on a three-month deadline; overall it just feels rushed and incomplete.

At the time that I played it, I had about ten more items on my list of issues with Chrome Hounds, but fortunately I've managed to purge them from my mind. A replay, even for clarification purposes, is completely out of the question. 1/10.

[ 7 ] = Armored Core 4
I saw the trailer for this on Xbox Live and it looked pretty darn amazing. But then again, that's what trailers are supposed to do. I thought that this might possibly be Sega's way of apologizing to us for the horror that was Chrome Hounds, but this game, too, falls flat on its face.

Basically, it's Chrome Hounds with jetpacks. The ability to custom paint your mech is great, but that's about the only fun this game provides. It employs the same "one super-uber mech versus a bunch of inferior vehicles" approach as Chrome Hounds, which makes the actual gameplay terrible (since there is no way to manually target enemies). Anyone who's ever played Robotech: Battlecry knows how convenient it is to be able to use left or right triggers to cycle through all available targets. In AC4, the left and right trigger buttons are used to switch between left hand/back weapon and right hand/back weapon, respectively. I would have preferred instead to limit the mechs to one back item total, freeing up one of the trigger buttons for target acquisition purposes. It's pretty frustrating when there are 10 tanks on the road 20 feet in front of me, yet my targeting computer elects to lock on to a helicopter 5 miles away. This happens all too frequently, and there is no way to acquire a different target other than to strafe around and try to get the current target to unlock. Failing a mission because I "left the mission area" because I flew over a building instead of around it was equally retarded. 1/10.

[ 8 ] = Any 3-D Sonic the Hedgehog Game
I love the old 2-D Genesis games. Sonic 1, 2, and 3, Sonic and Knuckles, and Sonic Spinball. These are all classic games that helped to define Sega during that time period. The 3-D Sonic games are continual proof that 3-D does not automatically make a better game. Where once I was proud to say that I loved Sonic the Hedgehog, I now would be ashamed to say so. 1/10

[ 9 ] = Phantasy Star Universe
Again, a formerly great series of 2-D games that has been exploited simply for the sake of exploitation. The 2-D RPG series was great; when Phantasy Star Online came out I hated it at first, for it's total departure from the original storyline. After time though, it grew on me, and proved to be lots of fun for several years. Phantasy Star Universe, conversely, was everything I'd originally feared Phantasy Star Online would be: cheesy and immature. The one good thing I can say about Phantasy Star Universe is that the character classes are more balanced. My brother said it was an easy 1000 Gamerscore, and all I had to do was play through the story one time. I made it to 200 points or so before the pain became absolutely unbearable. 2/10.

[ 10 ] = Virtua Fighter 5
You know something is wrong when even Japanese players are retiring from Virtua Fighter. Everything that made the series great was totally abandoned in VF5. The core, fundamental gameplay element of creating a +2 Nitaku situation (making the opponent guess between an elbow or a throw) was tossed right out the window, as throws were increased in execution from 8 to 14 frames. True, Nitaku now starts at 7 or 8 frames, making the game much more strike-oriented rather than mindgame-oriented. What's more, if a strike and a throw collide, both characters simply "clash" and back up a few feet. In layman's terms: VF5 is for scrubs. It caters heavily towards button mashers, abandoning many of the nuances that made it a deep game. This is probably a result of Yu Suzuki leaving the series. I wonder why he did that? 3/10.

For the span of 22 years, Sega has been one of my favorite developers. But recent releases have me seriously reconsidering whether or not they still are. Once there was a time when the Sega logo on a game meant I would probably love it. Now it means that I will probably hate it. The only recent Sega games that I have actually enjoyed were the Virtua Fighter 4 series, and OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast. I have been sorely disappointed in their other offerings.

But there is much more to this story than consoles and games.

Phantasy Star Online has enjoyed years of Online support... everywhere except North America. The US Dreamcast servers shut down years ago, and the PC servers are currently meeting the same fate. Sega insists that it is due to a problem with the billing system, a problem which they say they absolutely cannot resolve. Whatever the undisclosed problem is, it apparently has been working good enough for the last 8 years, and it's apparently still working in Europe and Japan. The truth of the matter? The American gaming market isn't profitable enough for Sega. So why make up such a ridiculous lie? Could it be because they realize it's their own fault for not actively promoting themselves to the American market?

Another dubious issue is the "black screen" bug in VF5 arcade machines. Numerous arcades are telling of a bug where the entire screen goes completely black, leaving the players fighting in the dark. Sega has been denying that there is any problem at all, and it seems that they have been secretly replacing the machines in their own arcades with fixed ones, while insisting that whatever the problem is that other arcades are having, that it is their fault.

Then there was the XBox Live version of Streets of Rage 2. Some simple network code would have been great for an online game, one would think. Instead it looks like they simply did a straight port of the Genesis version and didn't even bother making any adjustments for online play. The host of the game is always fine, but the player who joins gets 2 seconds of lag the entire time. Comparable titles such as Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game do not have such issues, let alone next-Gen titles such as Gears of War. It's not like the old 2-D side-scrollers are resource hogs. No, it seems Sega was just too lazy to set the game up properly. Lazy seems to best describe a lot of the things they have been doing lately.

So my question to Sega is this: What the fuck in God's name is going on over there? You once were the kings of arcade games, the kings of consoles, the kings of console games, and the name that once pulled me in now, instead, pushes me away. It seems that most of your games now would do fine in an arcade, except that arcades these days are virtually nonexistent. Games like the ones on my above list I might pop a quarter or two into, but I certainly would never buy them. Even the $8 or so that it costs to rent them would be too much. If I didn't get them for free I would never play them at all. This, unfortunately, I seem to be saying about nearly every game you make now.

Maybe someday you'll pull yourselves out of this slump. Maybe someday American gamers will appreciate you again. But for that to happen, you've got to get your shit together and remember how to make good games. You've got to advertise. And you've got to stop lying to everyone around you and take some goddamned responsibility for yourselves. That's something I would expect to have to say to a stupid teenager, but not to a multimillion dollar company who used to be the best in the industry.