Publisher: Sega (1986)
Its name would suggest a side-scrolling brawler, but Action Fighter is actually a vertical road shooter along the lines of Spy Hunter. Its bright, colorful arcade graphics feature inviting palm trees, building-lined city streets, and ports with shimmering blue water. And there's certainly no shortage of action. You begin on a red motorcycle, where you tend to be knocked around by other cars and cyclists on the road. As in real life, you need to retaliate by shooting them from behind. This is the first game I've played when you earn points by shooting ambulances
. Your speed is determined by how high you are on the screen, and it's best to move at the same rate as other traffic. Keep an eye out for the red Sega truck, which effectively upgrades your weapon from a weak peashooter to devastating rockets. Collecting letter icons in the road lets you upgrade to a sports car and eventually a jet! At that point, the game turns into a Xevious clone as you shoot down aircraft and bomb targets on the ground. The concept behind Action Fighter is absolute money
, but a few rough edges prevent it from being an elite Master System title. First off, I hate how you instantly explode when you touch a freakin' guardrail. Since the road tends to suddenly branch or become narrow, you'll be crashing on a regular basis, disrupting the flow of the game. If the guardrail just slowed you down, that would have made the game much
better. By the same token, I found the controls to be extremely touchy. There's nothing worse that being outfitted with brand new weapons, only to suddenly veer into a guardrail accidentally! Other flaws include the cheesy looping soundtrack and the fact that your score doesn't truly seem to convey how well you played. Action Fighter is fast and addicting, but could have benefited greatly from some fine tuning. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1987)
The Master System was in way
over its head trying to handle a graphically intensive shooter like Afterburner. You view the action from behind your F-14 Tomcat, shooting down enemy planes that quickly scale in from the horizon. You can fire machine guns or unleash missiles that lock onto enemies. The action begins with an animated sequence of your plane taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier, and I have to admit it looks pretty cool. The graphics are not the problem with Afterburner - it's the animation that sucks. The frame-rate is so choppy it's hard to tell what's going on in the heat of battle. When your plane goes down in flames you usually have no idea what the [expletive] hit you. There's little sense of speed or control. You can survive by shooting like a madman and continuously performing barrel rolls, but that's not much fun. Your heads-up display is sparse with a useless map in the corner and no score displayed. The planes are exceptionally well detailed but the flat scenery is dull. Are those trees
sticking out of the ocean?
Those gray "smoke" circles that trail your plane before you crash look absolutely pathetic. The music sounds like it's being played on a toy piano, so unless you're a toddler it's not likely to pump your adrenaline. Lacking even a minimal degree of playability, Afterburner for the Master System should have never seen the light of day. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 231,700
Alex Kidd in High Tech World
Publisher: Sega (1989)
The first two Alex Kidd games were nothing to write home about, but Alex hit rock bottom
in High Tech World. If making bad games was a crime, the designer of this one would have gone to the chair
years ago! High Tech World is a clumsy combination of puzzle solving and platforming. The main character is "Prince Alex" who resides in a sprawling mansion. In the first stage he discovers there's a new arcade in a nearby town, but the only way he can locate it is to find and assemble eight pieces of a map. That's the kind of stuff people had to do before we had the Internet. Fortunately for Alex, all of the pieces are conveniently located in his house. To gather them up you'll move between floors, explore rooms, speak with people, and collect random items. It's like Maniac Mansion, except for the fact it makes no sense
. If you try to put on a suit of armor, you die. If you turn on a computer, you die. There are bizarre messages posted on the wall like "Sega #1" and "Katie is the fattest". When you ask your father for a piece of the map, he'll give you a "fake" one the first time, so you have to ask a second time
. Who came up with this garbage? In one case a lady won't give you an item unless you take an actual test
with math, science, and history questions! I actually failed
the first time! Stage one is mainly trial and error, so thank goodness you get a password after completing it. Stage two is a shoddy side-scroller where you battle ninjas in a forest. It's crazy hard thanks to unforgiving collision detection and deplorable controls. A single hit sends you all the way back to the beginning of the stage. The final two stages include a village area where you need to "pray" exactly 100 times
in order to acquire a critical item! This game is an atrocity, and I'm still
trying to figure out why it's called "High Tech World". I've played my share of bad games, but this one is Verizon Customer Service bad!
© Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Publisher: Sega (1986)
Was Alex Kidd really supposed to be Sega's answer to Mario? Really
Sega? Miracle World's bright graphics and happy-go-lucky theme are appealing, but the control and stage design is pretty shabby. Alex Kidd is supposed to be human, but he looks more like a monkey (or Monchichi) with those big ears and red suspenders (which seem to be all the rage in the monkey world of fashion). The game's opening stage makes a terrible first impression as you make your way down a series of platforms nestled between two cliffs. Instead of bumping blocks and pouncing on creatures, you use your fist to break blocks and defeat enemies. Hitting certain blocks reveal a bag of money, but sometimes a "phantom" will appear and take your life. The controls are not exactly crisp and the collision detection is also erratic. My friend Chris noted that the control scheme is the exact opposite
of Mario, which can be a little disconcerting. The first stage is a bear, but if you survive that, things improve dramatically. You can shop for items between stages, and if you can afford a motorcycle you'll be able to plow through stage two with no trouble at all. The boss encounters are literally rock-paper-scissors contests. Who could have possibly thought that was a good idea?! I can see how someone who played Miracle World as a kid would have fond memories of it, because the game has an innocent charm. But any objective observer would have to agree that this has some serious issues. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 11,000
Alex Kidd in Shinobi World
Publisher: Sega (1990)
It's a shame this game is so rare, because of the four Alex Kidd titles made for the Master System, this is the only one truly worth hunting down. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World ditches the puzzle-solving garbage of High Tech World in favor of good, old-fashioned hack-n-slash action. Think of it as Shinobi Light
. The levels are thoughtfully designed and the graphics are simple yet fun. Alex looks awfully funny with those big red ears though. My friend Chris thought he had a flower
in his hair! In the first stage you battle ninjas in the streets and the colorful scenery looks terrific. It's easy to slash bad guys with your sword and there are plenty of power-ups including darts and a screen-clearing "tornado". Best of all, you can transform into a fireball by swinging on poles and fence posts! Not only is this a great attack, but it also lets you break through walls or soar over dangerous obstacles. The collision detection is very forgiving, and you can even fall into water without dying! Alex is easy to control, with the exception of when he's on a ladder, in which case he tends to get very squirmy. Advanced levels are tricky to navigate (plenty of spikes and pits) but there are plenty of hearts to replenish your life. The stages are reasonable in length and even contain hidden areas and alternate routes. There's no password, but a limited number of continues are available. Alex Kidd has put his fans through hell and back, but those who kept the faith are in for a pleasant surprise. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 26,200
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
Publisher: Sega (1988)
I'm not sure why this is called "the lost stars" since your objective is clearly to collect magic balls
. Whatever the case, this second Alex Kidd adventure represents a major overhaul. The objects are much larger and Alex himself is easily twice
as big. He must have had a growth spurt. The stages are nicely detailed but ugly
. There are too many bright fluorescent colors and flashing objects. Stage one is practically blinding
at times with its pink and yellow color scheme. There's a modest amount of voice synthesis ("find the magic balls!") but the piercing sound of Kidd's digitized scream will make you cringe. The more you hear it, the more you want him to suffer. The stages feature a hodgepodge of disjointed themes including a toy land, an aquarium, a desert, a forest, and a space station. There are some truly bizarre sights, like the dog who regurgitates the letters B-O-W-W-O-W, and a naked guy
in the Halloween stage who farts bubbles
in your direction. Stay classy, Sega!
The controls are improved from the first game. You can't punch but you'll collect some kind of weapon during each stage. It would be nice if you had that weapon up front so you didn't have to sustain so many cheap hits. The stages are now timed - and they don't leave you a second to spare! Each stage feels like a speed-run
, with each hit knocking a few seconds off the clock. The game features fourteen stages, and with unlimited continues, it's quite possible see them all. Whether you'll want to
is another story, because this weird platformer is more obnoxious than fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13,400
Publisher: Sega (1988)
This overhead shooter has elements of Berzerk and Robotron, but doesn't come close to delivering the frenetic action of those classics. Your mission in Alien Syndrome is to rescue the crews of seven alien-infested space stations. Moving your soldier between contiguous rooms, you must locate and touch each crew member before the exit opens. Alien Syndrome's graphics are pretty slick, and pulsating background music ratchets up the intensity. The space stations look generic, but each stage introduces a new set of large, colorful aliens. Predictably, the first set is inspired by the creatures from the Alien films (except they are red). Although the aliens look terrific, they aren't very bright and tend to wander aimlessly. Your initial firepower is woefully inadequate - a peashooter that fires about three feet. The severely limited range forces you approach aliens to kill them, and it's usually safer to avoid them altogether. I recommend you upgrade your weapon as soon as possible to lasers or fireballs. Each stage ends with an obligatory boss encounter on a black screen with just you and the monster. I will admit that some of these shape-changing freaks are pretty disgusting. The one thing I hate about Alien Syndrome is how the aliens simple materialize out of thin air with little warning. Not only does it look cheesy, but it accounts for too many cheap deaths. I also found the controls to be somewhat slippery and inexact, making the game harder than it really should be. Alien Syndrome is certainly playable but ultimately unremarkable and forgettable. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1986)
This is a generic shooter if I ever saw one, but that doesn't mean I didn't have any fun with it. Astro Warrior is a vertical scroller that gives you full range of movement around the screen. The game throws waves of choreographed enemies at you (like Galaga). You also fly over pseudo-3D platforms with plenty of squares to shoot out (like Xevious). And naturally there's a big ol' boss at the end of each stage. The first thing that bugged me about this game was the lack of a rapid-fire button. In order to get off a lot of shots, you need to tap the fire buttons incessantly, which is annoying and hard on your hand. The gameplay is good though. The enemies come in all shapes and sizes and there's never a dull moment. The bosses are large but static; they simply float side to side while dropping bombs on you. The repetitious background music got on my nerves. The best aspect of this game is the power-ups. In the first stage, you can accumulate a great deal of firepower, and this can carry you a long way. Unfortunately, once you die, it's back to the weak single-shots, and after the first level the power-ups are few and far between. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Batman Returns (Europe)
Publisher: Sega (1993)
I was pretty psyched up about this European import, but I held off playing it until my friend (and renowned Batman expert) Eric arrived in town. The opening stage of Batman Returns looks inviting. Christmas decorations adorn the streetlamps and the dark background makes the purple and red accents really pop. The characters are small but nicely animated, and I like how Batman's cape flutters in the wind. In terms of audio, Eric described the theme music as "the same song they use in all Master System games". He has a point. Using your Bat-a-rang to defeat the Penguin's lackeys is fun. You'll take down bomb-tossing acrobats, trigger-shy bozos, and fat rolling clowns. You'll battle through the streets of Gotham, Shreck's department store, and the rooftops before descending into the sewers. Swinging between platforms with your grappling hook is an integral part of the game, but the controls are absolutely abysmal.
Sometimes you can pull yourself up onto a higher ledge, and sometimes you can't. All too often you'll just plunge into the abyss. Touching a villain means instant death, and even touching a parked truck
is fatal! C'mon now!
In the department store clowns spring out from any door you approach, so keep your distance. Collecting bat-shaped icons let you improve your speed, increase your Bat-a-rang damage, or earn a new life. The best part of the game is how each stage offers two routes to choose from. I like how this adds challenge and variety, but Eric was not impressed. The game has no score and no password. Batman Returns isn't a bad-looking game but its clumsy controls and one-hit deaths prove a lethal combination. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1986)
Black Belt features the worst box cover art
in the history of games, with a single foot
in the lower left side of its plain white box. How lazy is that?!
The game itself isn't half bad. Black Belt's fighters are realistically-proportioned and the kung fu action is non-stop. The first stage takes place in a courtyard as a parade of henchmen who all look exactly the same
approach from both sides. You can punch and kick in a rapid-fire fashion, causing foes to literally shatter into block-shaped chunks!
Good times! The real challenge is trying to snag the food icons that occasionally travel across the top of the screen. You need to press down-and-up to leap, and it's hard to get the timing right in the heat of battle. Periodically the thugs clear out and a sub-boss appears to break up the monotony. These specialized martial artists each have their own distinctive fighting style, and many carry weapons. At this point Black Belt is already on par with most fighting games of its era, but then it takes things to the next level
. The end-of-stage boss battles are presented in a "close up" view with larger, more detailed characters! They don't exactly fill the screen, but for the Sega Master System, they look positively huge
. And these guys really mean business! The best strategy is to let the boss unleash his fury, and then move in to land a few quick hits when he's catching his breath. Upon defeating a boss, your character will automatically unleash a flurry of rapid-fire kicks or punches as a "finishing move" of sorts. It's kind of awesome, but mostly silly. Black Belt won't win any awards, but if you can embrace this game in all of its absurdity, you might be surprised by how much fun you have. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 195,400
Publisher: Sega (1988)
I'm going to venture a guess that this was Sega's first foray into 3D, because they clearly had no idea what the [expletive]
they were doing. Blade Eagle 3-D is your standard vertical space shooter with formations of alien ships and cannon-fortified space stations. But there's a twist. Using button 2, you can toggle between high altitude and low, making your ship appear larger (closer) or smaller (further away). In theory, you can attack aliens on two separate planes, but it's never quite clear which one you're lined up with. The 3D effect is not good
, and it made my eyes dry out. You'll experience a lot of double vision that will have you wondering if you're looking at a pair
of objects, or just bad 3D. Not only is it hard to tell what you can or can't shoot, but you also don't know what things can hurt you! Unfortunately, that means you'll need to assume that everything
can hurt you all the time!
Your only saving grace are the power-ups. If you can crank up your firepower and tack on a few escorts you can inflict substantial damage - at the cost of substantial slow-down. Unfortunately, you'll often pass through a vital power-up because you're on the wrong plane!
Ugh! The visuals improve with the second stage which features metal towers rising out of water, but the steep difficulty makes it hard to get that far. Blade Eagle 3D is an ill-advised title that serves as a cautionary tale for future shooters with 3D aspirations. Note: This game requires the Sega 3D glasses. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 38,200
Publisher: Activision (1988)
I enjoy games with depth and intricate strategy, but sometimes I just want to blow [expletive] up. Bomber Raid gives Master System fans the destruction they crave. This vertical shooter puts you in a WWII bomber against plane squadrons, tanks, destroyers, and submarines that actually submerge
. The vibrant graphics are extremely easy on the eyes with bright orange beaches, deep green foliage, and inviting blue waters. The action begins with a nice cut-scene of your plane taking off as your crew waves you on. Once in the air you can fire your cannon rapidly, but alas, there's no rapid-fire option. That said, I felt lucky as hell
to own a rapid fire attachment (bump up the grade by a letter if you own one). The second button is used to unleash cluster bombs. Bomber Raid's gameplay is simple and fun as you blast targets over jungle, desert, and sea locations. The looping enemy planes and huge destroyers look great, but what in the heck
are those rotating flying square things supposed to be? Keep moving when tanks or cannons are in the vicinity, because their turrets are always trained on you. Bomber Raid's power-up system is bizarre. The icons appear almost constantly!
Most reveal either a weapon boost (P) or speed increase (S). At first the weapon icons cause your narrow missiles to become longer
, which frankly doesn't make much of a difference. After collecting a few more your shots become wider, and eventually you're firing large circles. Enjoy it while it lasts, because losing a plane puts you all the way back at square one. The speed power-ups are helpful at first, but eventually your plane becomes hard to control, at which point you'll want to avoid them like the plague. On rare occasions you'll encounter a special power-up which adds an escort plane (or two) by your side. These escorts would be great if they didn't tend to fire sideways and backwards!
WTF? Also annoying is the monotonous, happy-go-lucky music. Your high score is displayed at the end of each game, egging you on to try again. Bomber Raid could have been better designed, but at least its heart is in the right place. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 122,600
Publisher: Sega (1989)
Long before pirates were cool, Captain Silver ruled the Sega Master System. This captivating side-scroller isn't a perfect game, but it's damned close, and probably the most compelling adventure I've played on the system. Assuming the role of an old-world adventurer named Jack Avery, you jump and swordfight your way through towns, pirate ships, tropical islands, and caves. The rich background graphics are superbly illustrated and bursting with color. The two buttons are used to attack and jump, and power-ups (purchased or found) will augment these abilities. You'll also collect letters along the way, and it's fun to spell out "Captain Silver" to earn a free life. Your first few foes are pretty tame, including giant wolves (which resemble teddy bears), green pumpkins, and Cheshire cats, but later you'll battle bloodthirsty buccaneers, skeletons, and witches. Five fierce bosses include a Cyclops, dragon, and a pirate ghost. Captain Silver's elaborate musical arrangement really embodies the feel of a swashbuckling adventure. On the downside, there's no score to gauge your progress, and no password to save your progress. You'll contend with occasional cheap hits as well, such as touching a small bird (ouch!) or falling into a fountain (whoopsy daisy!). But these are pretty minor complaints when you consider how immensely playable and madly addictive Captain Silver can be. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 41,800
Publisher: Sega (1985)
This action-packed helicopter game was available on many systems, but this version is easily the best. It's also the most difficult. Your mission is to rescue hostages in enemy territory while avoiding enemy fire. The graphics are sharp and well defined. From the architecture of the buildings, to the clouds in the sky, to the tiny animated people, there is plenty of attention to detail. A nice surprise is the ocean level, in which you need to rescue prisoners from ships at sea. This is a great idea, and although it plays the same as the land levels, it looks fantastic. As I mentioned before, the difficulty is fairly extreme; you'll take ground fire from cannons, tanks, and jeeps, as well as air fire from enemy planes. You can't stay in any place for long, especially when picking up prisoners. This is one exciting game. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1989)
I wasn't sure what to make of this game the first time I played it. Dead Angle is a cross between a first-person shooter and a lightgun game, and you can see the yellow outline of your character's upper body in the middle of screen. You move a crosshair around to aim, and by pushing the crosshair against the sides of the screen, you can scroll the scenery side to side or up and down. When gangsters in suits emerge from the scenery (and sometimes from thin air), you use one button to shoot and the other to duck. Apparently you're only susceptible to incoming fire when a bad guy is positioned directly in front of your outline, which is when you're suppose to hit the duck button. Dead Angle constantly warns, "Do not stand in front of enemy", but that's easier said than done. The duck button doesn't seem very effective, and I prefer not to use it. Dead Angle is certainly unique, but I don't think it turned out as well as Sega had hoped. For one thing, the crosshair movement is clumsy, making it hard (if not impossible) to aim precisely. Occasionally you'll find a machine gun that lets you spray bullets, which is easily the highlight of the game. The gangsters are large, realistic-looking, and nicely detailed (some in pin-striped suits), but their movements are awfully choppy, making them much harder to hit. Once you die, your character yells "ouch!" in a wimpy, high-pitched voice. The scenery includes the streets of Chicago, the docks of New York, and a hotel, but there's not a whole lot to see. I'll give Sega credit here for trying something different, but Dead Angle is only mildly amusing. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Aypok (2011)
It's rough around the edges but I love having this homebrew in my collection. Digger Chan is a brand new
Sega Master System game that comes complete in a case with a glossy, full-color manual. Heck, there's even a Usage and Precautions
booklet! (Side note: Do not
submerge this cartridge in water!) The game's premise will be familiar to those who've played Mr. Driller
(Dreamcast, 1999). You control a little guy digging into the earth by making groups of colored blocks disappear. Destroying larger groups of contiguous blocks lets you descend quicker and rack up more points, but you'll need to keep a close eye on your "milk meter". If you spot a bottle of milk, be sure to work your way over to it so you can replenish your health. Occasionally you'll stumble upon a bundle of dynamite, and when that happens you'll need to run for cover. Digger Chan is easy to grasp and fun to play for score, but its controls are a liability. It's easy to get stuck on the edge of a block and occasionally you'll even get stuck in mid air!
Scientists have been unable to explain this strange phenomenon. The erratic controls are especially frustrating when you uncover dynamite and Digger is suddenly less-than-responsive. In terms of graphics the colorful blocks look nice but the animation is pretty stiff. The music that plays throughout the stages sounds a little random, but the tune that plays between stages strikes a nice old-school chord. My friend Scott made a good point about the main character. Could they have come up with a less-Asian-looking
guy to play the part of Chan?
I mean, the guy has blonde hair and blue eyes
for Pete's sake! Was the name "Digger Olaf" already taken? And don't get me started about that haircut. Despite its quirks this game is a commendable effort that deserves support from classic gamers. For more information check out the official Digger Chan web site
. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Arcade
Our high score: 4967
Publisher: Sega (1988)
This is a lousy version of the classic two-player fighting game. The characters aren't very detailed and the backgrounds are plain. There is a tremendous amount of flicker, which makes the two-player version nearly unplayable. The control is fair, but this game doesn't deliver much in the way of fun. Too many hits are required to take out the bad guys, and they always manage to get in a few cheap shots. Throwing barrels and using weapons provides the most satisfaction, but these are sparse. When there's only one bad guy left, he tends to hang out at the edge of the screen, making you wait for him. The sound effects and background music are both pathetic. This game is a chore to play. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1987)
This motorcycle game reminds me of Excitebike for the NES. You ride on a diagonal-scrolling screen, jumping ramps, passing other vehicles, and trying to make it to the finish line before time runs out. The ten levels take you through five environments, including country, ruins, desert, marsh, and mountains. The graphics are nice, but the scenery isn't very spectacular; basically trees and rocks. And what's up with the color? The trees and the mountain trails are both blue, which makes it look like I need to adjust my TV. It's really an endurance test to make it through all ten races. Each race lasts a minute or less. Between races you can use your bonus points to upgrade your bike, and the upgrades make a dramatic difference. I wasn't exactly hooked on Enduro Racer, but trying to make it through all ten races is a worthy challenge. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, GameSpot