Retro Rewind: Sega Master System

When it comes to the 1980’s, I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo emerged as the clear winner in the home console market. Once the NES overtook the Atari, nothing was able to stand in their way. But every story has an underdog. In this case, it was the Sega Master System.

I remember seeing the television commercials and I even had a few friends that owned one of these systems. But personally, I never had much hands-on experience with the console. In truth, the Master System just couldn’t compete against the vast library and developer support that Nintendo was able to garner. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of your attention. The Master System did actually have a handful of games that would go down as classics. Games like Alex Kidd, Wonder Boy, and of course, Phantasy Star. These titles still rank up there as some of the best home console titles ever.

Phantasy Star

For me, Phantasy Star is of particular interest. It is an odd mix of first-person CRPGs like Wizardry and Ultima, and overhead RPGs like Dragon Quest. But despite having roots spawned from other classic games, it was groundbreaking in so many other ways. The game launched a whole franchise and it is still hailed as one of the most legendary RPG titles to date. As far as I’m concerned, Phantasy Star was THE only reason I wanted to get my hands on the Sega Master System. But to date, I still have yet to experience this legendary game. Thankfully, the game has been ported a number of times and is pending a digital release on the Nintendo Switch in the very near future. So getting a copy to review isn’t going to be very difficult.

If you’re curious about other games from the Master System, getting a hold on them may prove to be a bit challenging. While Sega has made it fairly easy to enjoy their older games historically, (almost every “essential” Master System title was made on the Wii Virtual Console), there’s really no good way to enjoy the majority of them on today’s hardware. Hopefully, this is going to change very soon. As I mentioned above, Phantasy Star is about to become available on the Switch as part of the Sega Ages collection and a few other Master System games have been announced as well. So, time will tell. I certainly hope to see some of these older games made more widely available, otherwise emulation will continue to rule the roost and Sega will lose countless dollars to piracy.

Project: Retro Rewind

Now that I’ve completed all the games on my 64-bit Generation playlist, I’m excited to announce a new project. Before I dive into what is, for the lack of a better term, the “128-bit era”, I’m going to take some time to do a bit of a refresher on some of the generations I’ve already covered on this site.

In one of my very first posts, I lamented about my experiences as a child with various arcade games. Having been born in 1978, I grew up in the golden age of video games. The first video game I ever had the pleasure of playing was the arcade version of Centipede. The local Pizza Hut had one and I remember being seduced by the flashing lights and hypnotic sounds. Then, by the time I was in the first or second grade, my parents got tired of all my begging and pleading and finally brought home an Atari 2600 console. And as they say, the rest was history.

As I mentioned above, I briefly touched on this in some of the earliest posts on this site. But instead of discussing the Atari-era at great length, I jumped right into my NES playthroughs. So, what I’m going do is “rewind” the discussion on this site for a bit. I’m going to go back and revisit each of the classic retro consoles. For the systems I didn’t talk about the first time around, I’m going to discuss some of their most iconic titles. This means I’m going to be taking a a closer look at the Atari 2600 and the Sega Genesis, for example. For consoles that I did discuss, I’m going to be digging up some of the more obscure, but still classic titles. I’m going to do the same with some of the classic PC games that neglected to mention.

I’m also going to discuss how players today can best experience these retro classics. I feel that the time is right for this discussion. At the time I started this blog in 2012, retro gaming was still something that only us old grognards seemed to care about. Now, it has reached the mainstream.  Retro console reissues like the NES Classic and the Atari Flashback are flying off the shelves. Collected works like the Mega Man Legacy Collection are seeing the light of day all the time.

I’m going to take a brief pause from the backlog to discuss some of this, before resuming my regular routine. Stay tuned!

Review: Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania_Bloodlines-5B1-5D

This installment is a rather obscure chapter in the history of Castlevania. Today, I’m going  to discuss Castlevania Bloodlines. This title was released on the Sega Genesis, and for this reason alone, went largely ignored by many.

This title takes place in 1917. You can choose to play as either Jonathan Morris (son of the Dracula character; Quincey Morris), or strange spear-wielding vampire hunter known as Eric Lacarde. (Often believed to be Alucard is disguise… although this is not confirmed in the game in any way)

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It is through some unknown twist of events that Morris possesses the legendary Vampire Killer whip, and when the evil countess Elizabeth Bartley tries to resurrect the soul of her uncle Dracula, John takes up arms to stop her. The general consensus seems to be that the Morris family branches-off from the Belmont family tree. Hence the title: Bloodlines.

This game starts at Castlevania itself, but when Jonathan learns that Bartley has fled, he chases her all over war-ridden Europe. Finally catching up with her in London, just in time for the final showdown with the newly resurrected Count Dracula.

This game was Konami’s attempt to link the Castlevania storyline, with the actual Dracula novel by Bram Stoker. Admittedly, it is was a good attempt, although several plot holes do exist,. But, the fact that they tried can at least appreciated.

Overall this installment is similar to previous Castlevania games, but to me, at least, it just didn’t feel right. The graphics on the Genesis, while just as good as the SNES, felt different, maybe a little too polished. Also, for the most part, I found the soundtrack to be somewhat lacking.

In my opinion, the first and the last level in the game are by far the best. The whole rotating staircases, and warped/upside down levels seemed more about showing off the 16-bit power of the Genesis, than about actual gameplay value. All that aside, on its own, I think Bloodlines is a solid title – but perhaps a little overshadowed by the legacy of the franchise itself. At this point, I think it is safe to say that the formula is starting to get stale.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lacarde vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Medium Very similar to Rondo and Super Castlevania in terms of difficulty. By now, if you’ve played through the other games, there’s not much that will surprise you.
Story: This title is unique for it’s attempts to link Bram Stoker’s vision of Dracula to the Castlevania series. Most of the game takes place during World War I, and countess “Bartley” is really believed to be Elizabeth Bathory.

Originality: Aside from the story elements and the historical settings in the game, there’s really nothing new brought to the table with this title.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is pretty mediocre in my opinion. The new music in the game is not very attention grabbing in my opinion. The few throwbacks that are included sound watered down. I’m wondering if perhaps the soundchip of the Genesis was a bit more limited than the SNES. That may be the problem here.

Fun: The game is itself is sadly more of the same. But I did take some enjoyment seeing the design of the various European-based levels. The game takes you exotic locations such a Greece, Germany, and Italy. Many of the token landmarks appear in the levels.

Graphics: Visually on par with most other titles of the 16bit era. Perhaps, maybe even a bit sharper than the SNES titles. It seems like the designers took a lot of time in the presentations of the game stages. High marks here.

Playcontrol:  The controls in this game feel a bit wonky. I think this may be by design but I cannot be sure. There is a definite difference in the feel of the two lead characters. But many of my deaths were the result of a misplace jump that just didn’t really feel misplaced. — That being said, I have to confess I do not own a Genesis. Therefore, I have to admit that I was relying on an emulator for this title. My problem with the playcontrol could be nothing more than bad emulation.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This was one of my least favorites so far. While undoubtedly “Castlevania” – something didn’t feel right and I can’t really put my finger on it. I do think that stage-by-stage concept of the Castlevania series was starting to grow old by this point.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II