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Platypus Musings: The Wily Wars

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Ah, 1994. As I waxed in a previous post, I consider that year to be one of the most memorable in my thirty-plus years of existed. I traveled to Kauai as part of what one could describe as a grandiose family reunion, toured the American Midwest and Ontario, and most of all, solidified my identity as a Sega enthusiast. Unfortunately, it was also the same year that solidified my interest in the Blue Bomber, Megaman. My cousin and I played Megaman 2 endlessly when were staying at my uncle’s in Mississauga and I even got a taste of Megaman 6 when we visited the Nintendo pod at Ontario Place. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to reconcile my enjoyment of both Sega and Megaman because the latter was Nintendo exclusive. Imagine my excitement when I saw Megaman: The Wily Wars listed as future release in a Consumers Distributing catalogue…

…Only to face disappointment as the game never saw a physical North American release, though it was available on the short-lived Sega Channel.

While ROMs of the Japanese and European versions circulated on the Internet via emulation, I never found myself too immersed in the game when playing on an emulator. I am a proud console/retro gamer and it feels too unnatural to play the game on a keyboard in a tactile sense. Hence why I turned to the Virtual Console re-releases for the Wii/Wii U/3DS for my fix of the original three games. However, I found a reproduction cart of the game at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo last year and did not hesitate in buying it. So how does the remake compare to the originals?

It is certainly beautiful from a graphical standpoint; the Genesis’ superior palette makes the classic “trilogy” more vibrant than its NES counterparts. Plus, the added power of the Genesis allowed for more detailed backgrounds, tiles, and sprites, which is quite apparent in the original Megaman where the backgrounds were mostly solid colors with a few exceptions. Wily Wars adds a nice rippling “heat wave” effect for Fire Man’s stage or scrolling clouds for Elec Man’s though the graphical enhancements for Megamans 2 & 3 are not as eye-catching. I would say that I prefer the look of Wily Wars to Megaman 7. While the SNES packed more of a punch in the graphics department, Megaman 7 was my least favorite of the classics because the larger sprites made the screen appear more cramped and the cartoony look always seemed more exaggerated whereas Wily Wars seemed more balanced and the colors bold compared to 7’s semi-pastel look. Megaman X still outshines this game though not only in graphics but also music, which bring me to my next point…

Say what you want about the Genesis; it may have lacked the sound chip the SNES possessed, but it could send Nintendo packing in the right hands. Listen to Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for Streets of Rage, Masato Nakamura on Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel—hell, Tommy Tellarico pumped out some good tunes for Global Gladiators and Disney’s Aladdin, which outshone some the SNES’ best music. None of that is present in Wily Wars, which I would describe as serviceable but generic for the Genesis. I like to believe that each Megaman game had its own character. 2 had an exciting, blood-pumping track that made you believe you kick the gate open when you stormed Skull Castle; but it sounded much more subdued when I played Wily Castle 1 in Wily Wars. While the quality varies, the general feel from the music is something I would expect from a middle-of-the-road Genesis game and not something that is of Capcom’s caliber.

I suppose I can blame of that and the game’s other “quirks” on its troubled development, which Keiji Inafune described the debugging as a nightmare (according to Megaman Complete Works.) Though I can only speculate, I assume that many of the game’s drawbacks are a result of the developer’s unfamiliarity with the Mega Drive’s hardware. The biggest of them is slowdown, which is very prevalent in the game though it is your saving grace against the Yellow Devil without the classic pause/resume trick from the NES original. Oddly enough, the Wily Wars is easier than the originals in some respects. Remember how a game over meant losing your E-Tanks in Megaman 2? That is not a problem because of Wily Wars’ save feature. Otherwise, the Wily Wars difficulty is identical to the originals’, even Megaman 1’s unforgiving difficulty.

Though what makes Wily Wars a must have for me is the inclusion of Wily Tower. Wily Wars draws many comparisons to Super Mario All-Stars and for good reasons (graphical and audio upgrades), thus Wily Tower functions as the Lost Levels in that it offers extra content. However, unlike Lost Levels, you need to unlock Wily Tower by completing the first three games, which separates the diehards from the casual players. It (and a bout of insomnia) motivated me enough to slog through Wily’s domain in the game: a gauntlet of four robot masters fought consecutively with no health refills with one that can clip off a third of your lifebar in one hit if your jumps are not pixel-perfect. It was worth it so I could mix and match weapons and items from the first three games to use against three new bosses and another Wily castle. Though brief, it feels like the game tosses you a bone for playing through the slowdown.

So in the end, was it worth the twenty-year wait to plug it into my Genesis? As a fan of both Sega and Mega Man, I would say yes. More fair weather fans would be better off playing the NES orinals, the devoted can go download the ROMs, and the truly diehard should either import or by a reproduction cart. It is an interesting if not obscure piece of Megaman history that deserves at least one glance.

Platypus Musings: The Better Sonic Game (For The Genesis.)

I am a Sonic the Hedgehog fan and I am not ashamed of it, despite the fandom’s rather unpleasant reputation it has earned over the past few years. Allow me to make my intentions clear: this post is my opinion, which–for better or for worse–is largely influenced by nostalgia and sentimentality rather than objective analysis. I have no specific area of interest; I read the comic books published by Archie; I play whichever games I find appealing; and I am a fan of the animated series that aired on ABC back in the nineties. However, the original Genesis trilogy (I lump in Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 because they were intended to be one game) will always hold a special place in my heart. When I look at “Top XX Sega Genesis Games” list online, it usually comes to either Sonic 2 or Sonic 3&K. Both are awesome games in my books with colorful and vivid graphics that were an improvement over the original game (which was no slouch either) as well as memorable music and tight controls. But when it comes down to which game I prefer, I would go with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles. While the first two games were iconic, the combine third and fourth games were an experience.

My affinity for Sonic 3 goes back to late January of 1994 when my family went to the Garden Island, otherwise known as Kauai, to escape the bitter Canadian winter. I recall visiting the Sears at Kukui Grove Shopping Center in Lihue (which has since closed, sadly) where I found Sega Genesis on display with Sonic 3 in the cartridge slot, the strange part is that it had a copy of the game running days before its official release date: February 2, Groundhog Day–make that Hedgehog Day. Though my 10-year-old self probably did not care, he just blasted through the Angel Island Zone and Hydrocity. Well, to tell you the truth, I sucked at the game at the time but it left an impression on me. It was part of a larger experience that included fun at the beach, parties with the whole family, and enjoying the verdant beauty of the island, which is part of the reason I asked for a Sega Genesis that Christmas–so I could get a copy of Sonic 3 to remember that trip in some small way. Unfortunately, that did not happen until eighteen months later until Mom bought me a copy of the game from a Kaybee Toys in Washington State though I do not recall the exact location. 

Sentimentality aside, there other reasons why I preferred Sonic 3 & Knuckles to Sonic 2. In terms of graphics, the sprites where slightly more detailed with a gradient that made Sonic and Tails stand out better against the background, and speaking of which, the levels–The Angel Island Zone had quite a lot to live up too considering the Green Hill’s iconic status as the tropical wonderland. Personally, I preferred Angel Island slightly more. While I love the checkered landscape of the Green Hill, Angel Island seemed more more lush with its verdant foliage (the reminds me a bit of Kauai) with the mellow beat of  the bongos. Emerald Hill, on the other hand, was a rehash of its predecessor whose background music lacked the “get up and go” of Green Hill. Another aspect that I like about Angel Island ties into another part I liked about Sonic 3. Back when I was playing through Sonic 3 in the Sears at Kukui, I (finally) reached the halfway point of Act 1 where the mini-boss descends from the sky. I try to hit him when a whole fleet of mini-bosses firebombs the stage. My thoughts at the time were probably this:

10-Year-Old Me: Holy $#!^!

Mom: Watch your language!

Something I believe many people overlook about Sonic 3 is that it was the first game that was trying to tell a story. The first two games broke the action when you finished a level or beat the boss by showing the title card for the next level and BAM! you are in the next level without the game telling you why. Whereas in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, after you beat the boss for each level, there is a reason why you ended up there and why you needed to be there. For example, after you beat Robotnik in Angel Island, Knuckles blows the bridge and Sonic (with Tails) plunge down a waterfall to Hydrocity. Similarly, in Hydrocity, after Robotnik runs away with his tail between his legs, a large jet of water sends the two flying toward Marble Garden and in the case of Sky Sanctuary, Knuckles takes Sonic and Tails there so they can catch up with and board the Death Egg. Momentum was always an integral part of the Sonic games and the story told in Sonic 3 & Knuckles gives the game a larger sense or momentum and urgency to it. Factor in the addition of the three shields (Fire, Lightning, and Water), the different gameplay mechanics of Tails and Knuckles, and the larger levels with more branching paths, the game feels like a more complete experience than its predecessors.

That is not to say the first two games are not as fun to play, they are every bit as entertaining. As an aspiring writer myself, I like it when the game attempts to frame a story around it without becoming cumbersome, and despite the comparatively primitive technology at the time, Sonic 3 & Knuckles performs admirably well, especially without using dialogue and letting the player’s imagination fill in the gaps. Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 simply do not engage me that way. I enjoy blasting through the Green Hill or Chemical Plant Zones as much as any Sonic fan. I plan to dust off my Genesis and play them again in the future but Sonic 3 will always be my favorite because of the impression it left on me.