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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Saturn Reviews H

Hang-On GP
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (1995)
Posted: 2023/3/11
Rating: Kids to Adults

Saturn steering wheel When I think of Saturn racing, big names like Sega Rally Championship (Sega, 1996) and Daytona USA (Sega, 1995) come to mind. But remember all those good times you had playing Hang-On on your Sega Master System and Genesis? Well this arcade-style motorcycle game showed up on the Saturn too, this time sporting polygon graphics.

As soon as I fired it up I was totally pumped! Its sunny, colorful graphics are practically blinding! You have to love that arcade aesthetic. The intro music has an exotic, middle-eastern vibe that's very unique and appealing. There are three attractive courses to choose from including a beach resort, a "great wall", and a port city. I love the lighting effects in the tunnels.

As soon as you begin racing however, you notice some glaring flaws. First, your motorcycle looks awfully boxy. I guess we can overlook that for an early Saturn title, but did you notice how the edge of the road seems to be getting sucked into the ground? It's like racing from one continuously encroaching sinkhole! Oh well I guess it adds excitement.

Steering your bike with a digital pad feels all wrong. You're tapping it constantly to make slight adjustments but it doesn't feel natural. When you hold the pad in your bike veers too sharply. It's all or nothing without that sweet middle ground. Rubbing against a wall will usually slow you down but sometimes your bike will "pop" into the air for a very unnatural-looking wipeout.

What saves the day is the Sega Arcade Racer steering wheel. This thing was made for Hang-On GP, and if you don't believe me, check out its picture on the back cover! As soon as you make the switch to this controller, all is right with the world. Now you can effortlessly weave through traffic and make sharp turns with ease.

I can't assume everyone will own one of these steering wheels, but if you do, bump up the grade by two full letters. Sadly, this game does not work with Sega's 3D analog controller, introduced years later. Hang-On GP is an uneven effort, but Sega would later redeem themselves with Manx TT Super Bike (Sega, 1997). © Copyright 2023 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Heir of Zendor
Grade: D
Publisher: Koei (1996)
Posted: 2005/1/11
Rating: Kids to Adults

screenshotHere's an unusual air combat game that most people will probably hate. I was secretly hoping that Heir of Zendor was a 2D shooter, but it's actually a rather sloppy turn-based strategy game (ugh!) The gameplay involves deploying and directing squadrons of planes against invading enemy aircraft. What's peculiar about Zendor is how you maneuver your planes as if they were mere tokens on a board.

The 2D graphics don't exactly flaunt the Saturn's hardware capabilities. Although the battles are supposed to take place in the air, the planes have black shadows directly beneath them, making it look like they're sitting on a table cloth. Their animation is slow and jerky, and the action takes place entirely on a 2D plane. As an unfortunate side effect, aircraft tend to bump into and rub against each other as you guide them into position.

Heir of Zendor could have been a complete disaster, but it's not a total loss. Each type of aircraft you deploy has its own attributes such as size, speed, and weapon range, and winning battles requires a heavy dose of strategy. The game is pretty easy to learn and there are minimal lulls in the action, thanks to a streamlined menu interface. Elegant orchestrated music plays in the background during the battles, and it's genuinely satisfying when you knock out your last enemy. As you might expect, the battles are sandwiched by obligatory cutscenes and excessive dialogue.

The epic background story tells the tale of a colonized planet and ancient technologies discovered and resurrected. The dialogue is far too philosophical, with boring diatribes about God, technology, and mankind. These grandiose cut-scenes stand in stark contrast to the simple, pixelated game graphics, and the disparity is almost comical. But despite its pretentious trappings and mediocre programming, Heir of Zendor's gameplay did manage to hold my attention for a while. Gamers who prefer strategy over action may find this mildly amusing if you can pick it up cheap. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Raven Software (1996)
Posted: 2022/11/17

screenshotThe success of Doom (1993) led to a steady stream of cutting-edge first-person shooters, each trying to slightly outdo the last. In my college days my buddy Steve S. always had the latest FPS running on his turbo-charged PC. Hexen sticks out in my mind because Steve made a big deal about the orange leaves falling from the trees. Melee played a major role in combat, which was unusual for the time.

You begin by selecting between a warrior, cleric, or mage class. For beginners I would recommend the warrior. They can kill a two-headed orc with two punches, as opposed to four swings of a cleric's mace. When I used a green potion as a cleric, it dropped at my feet, killing me! The warrior can toss those things like grenades. The mage can fire magic projectiles but is very weak.

Hexen thrusts you into a dark, hellish world with dimly-lit, multi-tiered medieval fortresses. The grainy brown and gray walls are depressing, but what did you expect, the Holiday Inn? I love those stained-glass windows which sound amazing when they shatter. Sadly, the falling leaves don't look so hot in this version.

There are a lot of scary creatures to fight including centaurs, flaming birds, and serpent warriors. The melee style of combat rewards good timing as you weave in and out. The collision detection is extremely forgiving, and the "death blows" are immensely satisfying.

Hexen's minimum graphic resolution is probably as low as you can get before becoming objectionable. From a medium distance the creatures look fine but up close they are pixel city. When facing a wall it looks like an Atari 2600 game.

Rooms are exciting to explore, as floors rise and fall, and walls slide open. There are plenty of switches to activate, but they are often hard to see - even when you know where to look! I also found the "ethereal travel" portals to be confusing. Level two really goes overboard with those things, bouncing you all over the place.

The complicated control scheme is dictated by the fact that Hexen was designed for the PC. You'll need to memorize some odd button combinations, like Z and C to bring up the map. Speaking of which, the map is pretty amazing; it looks hand-drawn! Saving your progress requires a whopping 3600 blocks on your RAM cart, which is pretty much the whole thing. Fortunately a password option is also included.

Hexen is fun to play due to its tight controls, smooth animation, and intense atmosphere. The fantastic orchestrated score, combined with the spooky sounds of crows, owls, and thunder, will have you cranking up the stereo. Hexen makes you feel fully immersed in a perilous mystical realm, and really, isn't that the point? © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: password,memory cart
1 player 

Grade: F
Publisher: Bullfrog Productions (1995)
Posted: 2020/3/21
Rating: Kids to Adults

screenshotHi-Octane takes you back to the days when 3D racers were slow and clunky. You remember those early days when you steered an angular car and the road was magically rendered just in front of you as you drove. I'll give Hi-Octane some credit for ambition. It attempts to simulate vehicular combat on twisting futuristic courses. The textures are rough but the explosion effects are pretty cool.

You can destroy other vehicles with guns and missiles but a choppy framerate makes it hard to tell if you actually hit anything. Another problem is the perpetual thick fog. The tracks incorporate a lot of 90 degree turns and even a few ill-advised 180's. By the time you see them coming you're headed straight into a wall. At least the game is forgiving, allowing you to gracefully slide off the wall and back onto the track.

The controls feel very sluggish and you'll want to select the alternate control scheme from the options menu. The default scheme requires pushing up on the directional pad to accelerate, and that hurts your thumb. Individual races are tolerable but the championship mode requires you do 11 laps on each track, which is about ten too many! I can barely stomach two laps! Hi-Octane took me back to a place that time forgot, but frankly it was a place I really didn't want to go to. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

High Velocity: Mountain Racing Challenge
Grade: D
Publisher: Atlus (1995)
Posted: 2019/5/2
Rating: Kids to Adults

screenshotI'm always on the hunt for arcade racers in the style of Ridge Racer (PS1, 1995) but my searches usually end in disappointment. High Velocity first grabbed my attention with its flashy graphics. The subtitle "Mountain Racing Challenge" is no joke. The harrowing tracks have steep, winding hills that run along the edge of cliffs. A bright city skyline lights up the horizon, and I had to pause the game just to get a good look. That town looks so amazing - too bad you never quite get there. Day tracks tend to have boring mountain scenery instead.

The primary "king battle" mode is a series of one-on-one heats. The heat selection screen is a confusing checkerboard of squares, and I couldn't make much sense of it. Instead of selecting between a manual or auto transmission, you hold A while driving for manual acceleration and C for automatic. You can even switch back and forth. On the road the cars look boxy and the scenery is chunky, but at least the framerate is smooth. The steering could benefit from analog control, and the steering wheel only works marginally well. The brake will send you into a long slide, so sometimes it's best to just scrape the guardrails.

There are three tracks and you only race against a single opponent. The long laps aren't really a problem because there are only two of them. I find it funny how the indicator on the little map is the word "YOU". Some of the music cracks me up. Man (shouting): "Do that! Do that thing!" Woman (singing): "Yeeeeaaa yeaaah". Best times are recorded along with initials. High Velocity may be shallow, but it's just weird enough that Saturn racing fans might want to consider giving it a test drive. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Highway 2000
Grade: B-
Publisher: Natsume (1998)
Posted: 2010/6/15
Rating: Kids to Adults

screenshotWhen I first spotted that bright red sports car on the back of the Highway 2000 box, I had flashbacks of Ridge Racer. Could it be that Natsume hired the developers of that 1995 Playstation hit to produce a similar racer for the Saturn? Could be! And as a rabid Ridge Racer fan, I enjoyed the colorful, arcade-style of Highway 2000.

You get a nifty behind-the-car view as you navigate tracks that wind through five urban environments. The textured road surfaces convey speed and the frame rate remains steady. A few boxy buildings are sprinkled around the course but the bulk of the scenery is rendered via a digitized backdrop. It may sound cheesy but the layering technique is effective. On the Bay Side Highway, you really feel as if you're racing along the water's edge.

The courses look good although they can't quite match the quality of the PS1 Ridge Racer titles. The tracks can be raced consecutively in a tournament format or individually in time trials. Before attempting the tournament I'd advise changing the difficulty to easy, because this game is crazy hard! The steering is very sensitive and unfortunately the analog control is not supported. By tapping the brake, you send your car into an extended fishtail, making it possible to maneuver through several tight turns in succession. If only the tracks weren't so narrow!

Not only is it difficult to pass other cars, but bumping one pushes it further ahead of you! Highway 2000's musical score sounds like something from an 80's action flick, and I actually like it! The worst aspect of the game is the two-player split-screen, which is best described as "pixel soup". It doesn't help that it forces you to use the first-person view. As a single-player game however, Highway 2000 delivers substantial arcade racing thrills. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

The Horde
Grade: D
Publisher: Crystal Dynamics (1995)
Posted: 2001/4/24
Rating: Teen

screenshotI gave the Horde a good try, I really did, but I just couldn't get into it. The game tries to combine the action of fighting games with the strategic building elements not unlike Warcraft. Initially I was surprised to see an elaborate video introduction starring Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains! There are actually several video clips interspersed in the game, and while they're mildly amusing, they don't contribute much to the actual game.

The Horde is played in turns. At the beginning of each turn, you spend money to protect and maintain a little village. At the end of the turn, a "horde" of monsters comes along to wreak havoc on what you've constructed. With weapon in hand, you go around slicing these baddies up before they can level the whole place. It's not a bad concept, but there are major problems. First, the village seems to develop out of your control, undermining your strategic moves.

When the action kicks in, it's hard to locate where the oncoming monsters are attacking. The early waves of monsters are easy to take out, you are soon confronted with unstoppable titans who immediately pulverize you and end the game. The graphics are very nice, and the sound effects are exceptional. The renaissance-age music is well orchestrated but somewhat repetitive. The Horde has a good concept, but the gameplay couldn't quite live up to it. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

The House of the Dead
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (1998)
Posted: 2011/10/20
Rating: Mature (animated violence, blood and gore)

screenshotAs the first in a series of zombie-shooting light gun titles, House of the Dead delivers brain-splattering mayhem with branching routes and some of the worst dialogue ever recorded for a video game. Panned by critics when first released on the Saturn, House of the Dead is rough around the edges (literally) but easy to get into. As you are automatically guided around a huge mansion, all sorts of ugly ghouls pop up at every turn.

The shooting is pretty much non-stop as the green blood flies and heads get blown off with extreme prejudice. You fire off-screen to reload, and it seems you need to almost constantly. Shooting boxes and barrels reveal health and power-ups, but they're usually only visible for a split second. The character models are chunky as hell, but it's the sloppy, pixelated scenery with unsightly seams and clipping problems (objects that don't overlap correctly) that make this game look so ugly.

The degree of pixelation is alarming, and some of the chunky trees would look more at home in an Atari 2600 game! Considering it came out late in the system's life cycle, you'd expect Sega to have done a better job. The graphics don't matter so much now, but when Saturn was going head-to-head with the Playstation, a title like this could only hasten a system's demise.

The accuracy of the gun is very good (no need to calibrate), but hardly precise enough to target the tiny weak spots on some of the bosses. Despite its flaws, I enjoy playing House of the Dead, especially since the changing paths make each play-through slightly different. After plowing through your limited continues you enter your initials on a high score screen (which is saved). House of the Dead has its share of issues, but if you can look past its rough exterior you're in for some good 'ole Halloween fun. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: arcade
Our high score: SDZ 7805
1 player 

Hyper Duel (Japan)
Grade: A-

screenshotIf any Saturn fans are wondering where all the side-scrolling shooters went, the answer is Japan, apparently. Hyper Duel is another terrific 2D shooter that somehow never arrived stateside. In some ways it's a pimped-out version of old favorites like Thunder Force III (Genesis, 1990) or R-Type (Turbografx-16, 1989). We're talking more intense firepower, hulking enemies, bigger explosions, and coop play. I love how you can collect multiple ally ships and robots that will fight by your side, helping you clean out every nook and cranny of the perilous space stations you venture through.

Button A button unleashes your forward rapid-fire, often augmented with missiles. The B button turns you into a mech that can unleash a short-ranged attack in any direction, like an intergalactic bitch slap. Holding A and B unleashes an unholy barrage that damages just about everything on the screen, if only for a limited time. I love how your firepower actually neutralizes many incoming missiles. With all the frantic action, it's easy to lose track of your ship, especially with similar-looking support ships by your side.

The chaos can be overwhelming but the stages are less spectacular. The scenery appears static and grainy, and the audio rings strangely hollow. But you probably won't notice once you get caught up in the exuberant rapid-fire mayhem. I remember playing this for the first time and saying "this is so [expletive] awesome." The game also offers two-player coop and saves high scores. Big on intensity and bigger on fun, Hyper Duel is a shooter fan's dream. Note: I reviewed this reproduction via a Pseudo Saturn cartridge. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of Moby Games, Shinforce, Games Database, Video Game Museum, GameSpot, Rotten Tomatoes, Racket Boy, GameFAQs.com, Old Games News, Hardcore Gaming 101, IGN.com, Alvanista.com, YouTube, Sega Retro, LaunchBox Games Database, Retroplace