Grand Slam Tennis on Nintendo Wii

I finally got around to playing EA’s Grand Slam Tennis for Wii. I’ve had this in my collection for at least two years, but never actually played it, probably out of worry that it would be terrible or low-grade shovelware. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here–this is a really great videogame.

You can play with basic Wiimote, Wii Remote Plus or nunchuck, each option offering greater precision and control. I played with the Wiimote Plus alone and was very, very impressed. The controls are very accurate and the ball goes exactly where you want it to go. Movements are very natural and don’t require any real thought. Just swing like you would with a tennis racket, twist the controller to add spin, making sure you angle your shots correctly. Compared to Wii Sports tennis, you have far more control which allows for more realistic volleys. I believe I was also able to make the player move more quickly by aiming the Wiimote, desperately catching up to that far corner at the last second, but I might just be fooling myself. I’ll need to play and experiment more to be sure.

Graphics are a little cartoony, and I will admit that this turned me off when this game was released. Wii was pegged as the “kiddie console,” and so everything had to have simple cartoon graphics with the exact same caricatures: spindly arms and legs, giant hands and feet, bulbous head. That is the case here, but it’s not too extreme and the colors are smooth and balanced with minimal details and textures. It’s not as garish as the hyper-cartoon look of Madden NFL 10 & 11, closer to the more balanced look of Madden 12 & 13 (assuming anybody here played Madden on the Wii…probably zero, I’ll bet, but whatever). In any case, everything looks very good, color design is very solid and the motion capture animations are superb.

Virtua Tennis on Sega Dreamcast remains my gold standard for the genre, and Grand Slam Tennis compares very favorably. Indeed, it might play better. I haven’t yet played Sega’s Virtua Tennis games on Wii, nor have I played 2K’s Top Spin series (despite only recently picking up Top Spin 3), but EA Sports’ effort is widely considered the best. At this point, I would have to agree. It’s just as good as NHL Slapshot and NBA Jam, two of my absolute favorite sports games for the Wii.

I bought this game from Gamestop for five dollars, which was an absolute steal. Its going price on Ebay now is ten dollars, still pretty cheap, but expect those numbers to rise.

While EA is today widely regarded as the Sith Lords of the videogame realm–and there certainly is good reason for that–it should be noted that they did an excellent job with Nintendo Wii. They really did put in an effort to exploit the new motion controls and appeal to the expanding mainstream audience. They are one of the most dependable third parties on the system and it really does feel like a golden age for them, or at least a silver age for those of us who remember the 1980s home computer and 1990s Sega Genesis days.

My only question at this point: Why hasn’t EA brought Grand Slam Tennis to the Nintendo Switch? That console is starving for sports games, and the only EA Sports title available is FIFA. What gives?! You’d think 2K Sports would leap at the chance to bring back NFL2K, albeit without official licenses–but when did that ever stop the first four Madden games on Genesis? Ugh, what a crooked mess. Thanks for nothing, Sith Lords.

Updates on Upcoming Books

I wanted to share a quick update on all the upcoming book projects that are currently working their way through the pipeline. I have been working furiously these past few weeks to complete the next wave of titles, as well as moving the following waves forward. At present, this is the publishing schedule that I have committed myself for the next 12 months. We will see how well that prediction holds.

Upcoming Book Projects

Book 20: Portraits – This art/photography book features 30 models and 270 pieces. All of the artwork has been completed and are ready for the page layout stage in Scribus. I have told myself that this would be the first entry in an ongoing series, but any future volumes will be largely dependent on sales and the public’s reaction.

Book 21: Anthology III – This art book features 102 works in pop art, graffiti and zine style, created at various points from 1998-2017, plus a mirrored set of 102 “remixed” pieces created exclusively for this release. All artwork has been completed and is awaiting the Scribus page layout stage. I still need a formal title and have been tempted to use “Graffiti Bridge” or something similar.

Update (5/10): I came up with a good title for this book: Riot Act: Anthology III. A nice nod to my current “favorite” Pearl Jam album, which I recently purchased on vinyl LP. I think it fits nicely. As for future anthology books, I still have a number of digital artworks created in 2004-05 and the 2007-2017 “desk calendar” series. Not entirely sure how to proceed with the former, and the latter will prove a great challenge for the digital version, as I would need a large enough resolution for the calendars to be seen properly on mobile devices. We’ll see how things go.

Book 22: Immersive Van Gogh – This photography book is based on the interactive art exhibit currently running in Chicago. I am currently working on the mastering and editing of photos. It will take readers through the journey of the show, as well as a look at the gift shop. Once that has been completed, we will move on to page creation on Scribus.

Book 23: Lost in the Long COVID Winter – This photography book features 150 color photos that were taken from January-April 2021. Mastering and editing is now complete, awaiting the page layout stage.

Book 24: The Loop – This photography book features monochrome images of downtown Chicago, specifically the area known as “the loop” south of the Chicago River. Two photo sessions have been completed and another one or two will be needed to capture more locations and landmarks. I am aiming for a final photo count of 150. Once that has been completed, we will move on to the page layout stage.

Future Book Projects

University of Chicago – This photo project will feature shots taken around the University of Illinois-Chicago campus located on the city’s south side. One photo session has been completed but several more will be needed. Final image count and mastering choices have yet to be determined.

The Misadventures of Mattie Rose – This photo project features photos of my baby daughter, nicknamed “Shark.” This will be the first of an ongoing series, as we will capture her life growing up into adulthood. This first volume will cover her birth in July 2020 to April 2021. Photos need to be pruned down and edited, and final mastering decisions have yet to be made, although I would prefer to keep the pictures as close to “raw” as possible. The title is still tentative and is subject to change.

Sega Genesis: 500 Greatest Video Games – This nonfiction book will feature a collection of the 500 most popular videogames for Sega Genesis, based on comprehensive polling of players, industry insiders, magazines, websites and social media influencers. It will feature full color screenshots, most likely captured from actual hardware. The database has been completed and properly ordered, and the next stage will involve writing the essays and capturing screenshots.

Conversations on Ghibli: The Works of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata – This nonfiction book will examine the careers of Japanese animation filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, whose iconic works include Horus, Prince of the Sun, Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Studio Ghibli. This project has been long in production but frequently stalled. I just need to sit down and write chapters, and I tell myself to finish one or two essays per week.

Adventures in Laserdiscs – This nonfiction book will offer film essays based on the titles in my personal laserdisc collection, which includes beloved classics, modern (1980s-1990s) movies and over a dozen titles published by Criterion Collection. This project has not formally started, beyond my stated intention, but I’ve wanted to write another movie book for quite some time and this feels like the perfect hook. As with the Ghibli book, I just need to sit down and write something every week. Baby steps. That’s how you achieve any major goal in life. Baby steps.

How to Make Art & Photography Ebooks – This tutorial book will show readers how to create art/photo ebooks that are optimized for mobile devices and affordable for Amazon and consumers. In other words, I share all my secrets, and at this time, it appears to be a genuine secret. There ought to be hundreds, if not thousands of art and photo gallery ebooks available on Amazon today for five dollars or less. I may make this title Book 25, if just for the milestone, and the length should be pretty short and simple.

What Killed Sega Dreamcast? A Few Thoughts

Sega Dreamcast, released in Japan in 1998 and the US/PAL regions in 1999, discontinued in 2001.

What killed Dreamcast? In a single word, hype. Massive, staggering, bewildering hype for Sony’s Playstation 2.

From my own experience in Minneapolis, Dreamcast was really popular in 1999. Sega appeared to achieve a successful comeback after five years of fading away. Most kids never knew the Saturn even existed and simply stopped caring after the Genesis days were over. DC was bright, stylish, the console looked terrific, and most importantly, Sonic was back and US Football was back. I cannot emphasize how important that was. Add in excellent show-off hits like NFL/NBA2K, Ready 2 Rumble, Power Stone, Hydro Thunder and especially Soul Calibur, and Sega was back in the groove. The future looked bright.

Then the year 2000 rolled in and everything just dropped dead.

Sony were masters of hype. They did a great job overselling the original Playstation (500k polygons, the dinosaur demo) and they steamrolled into overdrive on Playstation 2. Just take a look at their famous 1999 tech demo that drove gamers into a frenzy.

We were told that these were actual games that were coming out for PS2, that these were the kind of graphics you would get, not pre-rendered, but in-game. How’s that for a bullpucky sales pitch? And then we were told the system could generate 88 million polygons per second. By comparison, gaming magazines were constantly telling you that Dreamcast could only draw 3 million. “Only three million” became the DC’s “can’t doo three dee.”

My favorite line was when Sony claimed that they might not be able to bring PS2 to the USA, because the machine would have to be classified as a “supercomputer.” The PS2 was so powerful, in fact, there were rumors that Saddam Hussein wanted to steal the technology for use in his secret nuclear weapons program. These things that actually happened.

When PS2 finally launched, supplies were low and it was hard to find one. That only added to the frenzy, as the console became this almost-legendary relic. One night, somebody brought their newly-bought PS2 to the Dinkytown Pizza Hut where I worked and the guys were just crowded around it, like those apes with the monolith in 2001. It didn’t matter that there were only three games available at launch, while Dremcast had a large and growing software library. Aside from NFL2K1, Virtua Tennis and Crazy Taxi, Sega was already tossed aside and forgotten.

And, of course, let’s not forget Sony’s secret weapon: DVD. This was a massive win, as the new format was just beginning to take off and PS2 was the cheapest player on the market. You can thank The Matrix for making that happen. “Does this thing play DVD?” the kids would ask of Dreamcast. The answer was no. “Sorry, not interested.” 

Moving along for other subjects to blame…

The question of Electronic Arts has long been debated, and while we cannot prove that their withholding support from Dreamcast killed the console, that perception immediately took hold and it had long-reaching repercussions. According to Peter Moore, the sticking point was Visual Concepts. EA wanted to have exclusivity on all sports titles and specifically demanded that NFL2K and NBA2K be cancelled. Sega refused and EA walked away from negotiations. Two years later, DC is cancelled, Sega bows out of the hardware market and EA earned a reputation as stone-cold killers. Within a few years, Sony and Microsoft killed their own sports franchises in order to keep the mobsters happy. After all, you saw what those guys did to Sega. And let’s not get into that whole 2005 NFL licensing catastrophe, which killed off the NFL2K series for good.

Piracy is another controversial issue surrouding Dreamcast, and it’s one with a very deep irony, as the very thing that caused piracy to explode on the system–the lack of any copy protection–is what created the console’s post-2001 indie gaming scene that flourishes to this day. Indeed, in the last two decades, new videogames are created for nearly every classic console and home computer format. The idea of playing new games for “old” or “obsolete” systems was unimaginable before Dreamcast. Today, it’s as common as snow on Christmas Day, and nobody even bats an eye when they learn of an indie programmer or software team publishing games on older formats.

In 2000, software piracy exploded on Dreamcast as someone (whose name I’ve long since forgotten) learned how to rip the original discs and compress the files to fit onto a CD-R. This quickly spread like wildfire and there were many websites where you could download everything. And this was happening just as Napster was spreading like wildfire across college campuses, so we all had this new idea that we could get literally anything we wanted off the internet for free. That had to have impacted software sales, if only a little.

Peter Moore once remarked that Dreamcast was actually selling pretty well by the start of 2001, around 50K units per week. It just wasn’t enough to cover the staggering losses suffered in Japan, where the console pretty much tanked. For that, you can definitely blame Sega of Japan’s bosses, who clearly learned nothing from the Saturn era and made the exact same mistakes: to few launch games, nothing in popular genres like RPGs (you’d think they’d port over Shining Force 3, Wachenroeder or Panzer Saga), an over-reliance on Virtua Fighter 3 to save the day. Sonic Adventure was rushed to market and plagued with glitches and bugs, Virtua Fighter 3 didn’t even have a proper two-player mode (or any modes at all). Honestly, if I were living in Japan in 1998-99, I wouldn’t have bothered with Dreamcast. Saturn had all the best videogames.

Another notable issue: Sega’s toxic reputation with gamers. Magazines and websites were convinced that Dreamcast was about to be dumped at any minute. “Sega’s going to quit the hardware business!” “They’re going to release a Dreamcast 2!” And can you blame gamers for feeling paranoid? After Sega CD, CDX, Menacer, Activator, Pico, Game Gear, 32X and Saturn, anyone would feel a bit skittish about buying a Sega system. The 32X especially left players feeling burned and betrayed and although it seems a bit overblown in retrospect, it caused a real and lasting grudge at the time.

Finally, I will offer one more culprit for Dreamcast’s demise: the hardware. Compared to PS2, Gamecube and Xbox, Sega’s console is the weakest of Generation 6, and it’s not even close. In fact, the system could almost be classified as Gen 5.5, and if you really want to be brutal, you could say the machine was built for upgraded PSX and N64 ports. Which is precisely what we got. Yes, Soul Calibur looks fantastic, as does Skies of Arcadia, Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Ferrari F355, Crazy Taxi, Test Drive Le Mans and Phantasy Star Online. But look how quickly Playstation 2 surpassed them with Madden 2000, SSX, Metal Gear Solid 2 and Gran Turismo 3. Gamecube was still further ahead. And Xbox was in another league entirely.

Dreamcast just couldn’t compete. That was obvious by the end of 2000, and when you look at what followed several years later, well…have you seen Shadows of the Colossus, Halo 2 or Zelda: Twilight Princess lately?

Here’s my own controversial pet theory: Dreamcast was never meant to last for more than a couple years. Sega was hoping to put their finances in order, repair their damaged reputation and–most importantly–find a buyer. The videogame industry was becoming too expensive and they simply didn’t have the chips to remain in the poker match. The success of Sony, the threat of Masushita and I’ll bet a million dollars they were looking for Microsoft to buy them out, and I’ll bet another million dollars that MS today wishes they made that purchase 20 years ago. You sell the Xbox in Japan under the Sega banner, with exclusive access to their vast software library? That would have been a game changer.

Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Four

Welcome to the fourth and final installment on our series on Sega Saturn videogames with notable or impressive 3D graphics, involving either polygons or bitmap sprites. This list includes software titles released in North America, PAL regions of UK/Europe and Japan, ranging from well-known classics to the most obscure hidden gems.

So why the need for such a comprehensive rebuttal? Why did Saturn struggle and vanish so quickly?

More than any major console, Sega Saturn was crippled from the very start with a toxic reputation among software developers, industry insiders, retailers, gaming magazines and the general public. The hardware design was universally derided as a mess, a half-baked machine whose parts were thrown together in slap-dash fashion at the eleventh hour in response to the arrival of Sony’s new wonder machine, the Playstation. Saturn was seen as inferior in nearly every way that mattered in 1995, and while it was recognized for its superiority in the realm of traditional 2D graphics, such videogames were being pushed out the door by the same mob mentality, driven away as “obsolete” in the new age of realtime 3D polygon worlds.

Saturn was quickly branded the “Can’t Doo Three Dee” machine, a reputation partly earned by early rushed software (notably Daytona USA), but also due to inadequate and insufficient software development tools that held back many early games. Documentation was left untranslated from the original Japanese. The use of the Saturn’s multiple processors, including its twin Hitachi SH-2 CPUs, was not properly explained by Sega. Source code to Sega’s own games was never provided to developers, which would demonstrate how to create quality games on the system. Many software teams felt overwhelmed and frustrated, even going so far as to turn the second CPU off. As a result, a number of early third-party games looked sluggish, roughshod, half-baked and notably inferior to the highly impressive suite of launch games for Playstation.

For most gamers, Sega Saturn’s reputation was set in stone in 1995 and it never fully recovered. Despite a number of impressive first-party games like Panzer Dragoon, Worldwide Soccer and Virtua Fighter Remix, it would take until the Christmas season for the triple punch of Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop and Sega Rally Championship to turn heads and prove exactly what Saturn could achieve when understood and programmed properly. Unfortunately, any favorable attention quickly evaporated in 1996, as the spotlight shifted to Nintendo’s imminent invasion of the next-generation war, armed with a revolutionary new analog controller and the revolutionary Super Mario 64.

It’s a cruel irony that Sega found themselves ignored and left for dead just as software teams had managed to crack the hardware, providing many quality videogames that could run even with Playstation and sometimes even pull ahead. Saturn most definitely could “doo three dee,” despite the naysayers, but nobody was interested in looking anymore. In an industry obsessed with chasing the newest, hottest fad, Sega was yesterday’s news, shackled to an expensive albatross and sinking fast. By early 2001, the company would exit the hardware business entirely while barely avoiding bankruptcy, and Saturn would take much of the blame.

Whenever the topic of Sega Saturn arises, this story of chaos, disunion and eventual breakup is all that anyone ever wants to talk about. Not unlike the melodrama behind the making of The Beatles’ White Album in many ways, and maybe that’s the perfect comparison to be made. I’ve often made the comparison to The Velvet Underground, the legendary rock group that failed spectacularly in their day, only to inspire and spawn an entire generation of indie- and alternative-rock. But maybe Saturn is closer to the White Album: a giant, sprawling mass of good, bad and ugly, an endless reservoir of surprises and discoveries, a living encyclopedia of every genre in the form assembled into one place. It stands outside of time, somehow embracing the nostalgic past and avant-garde future equally, demanding to be respected long after its rivals have turned to dust.

If I handed you a $500 budget to buy any videogame system today, you would most likely choose a Sony Playstation 5, Microsoft Xbox One X or Nintendo Switch. That would be money well spent. But you would be much happier and wiser to spend that cash on a Sega Saturn. You know it. In your very bones, you know it.

What can I say? The heart wants what it wants. And the heart is always right.

Continue reading “Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Four”

Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Three

Welcome to part three in our four-part Sega Saturn 3D showcase. In this episode, we dig a little deeper into the software library, highlighting a few popular hits, a number of Japanese imports, at least one PAL-exclusive title, one videogame that recently received an English-language fan translation, and one beloved classic that currently sells for more money than your first year of college.

One of the things I love so much about Sega Saturn is its seemingly inexhaustible supply of hidden gems and happy surprises that just pop out of nowhere. I don’t think anybody Stateside has ever heard of Seabass Fishing 2, Side Pocket 3 or World Cup France 98, much less imagined that they could be really fun and enjoyable and show off the console’s 3D hardware abilities so nicely. It makes one wonder just why Sega of America did such a poor job in selling the system, why they never effectively pushed back against the toxic meme that Saturn “can’t doo three dee.” An obsession with grungy visual designs that shunned color, a need to translate and publish Sony Playstation games that were never quite as good as the originals, a determination to shun anything that used 2D graphics–all of these were contributing factors that dug Saturn ever deeper into its hole.

The brutal truth about Generation Five is that most kids never looked at Saturn beyond its early 1995 titles, especially once the Playstation arrived on store shelves. They looked long enough to see that Ridge Racer, Battle Arena Toshinden, Warhawk and Wipeout looked better than Daytona USA, Virtua Fighter, Wing Arms and Cyber Speedway, and concluded that the harping critics were right: Sega Saturn was a broken mess of computer chips that couldn’t stand up to the competition. The Christmas triple-punch of Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Cop and Sega Rally Championship turned a few heads, but the console’s second-class reputation was already set in stone, and these visual masterworks were soon dismissed by the critics as lucky breaks that could only have been coded by Sega’s most skilled programmers.

Today, we can confidently say that what Saturn suffered from was a hardware design with a steep learning curve, a lack of proper development tools and documentation, and a gaming public with little patience and zero attention span, always hunting like sharks for the next big fix. By 1996, these issues were being overcome and many software teams were able to crack the Saturn hardware, and third-party titles reached a parity with their Playstation rivals. Unfortunately, this would occur just as Nintendo would arrive with their much-hyped next-generation console, the Nintendo 64, joined by what was being called “the greatest video game of all time”: the groundbreaking and revolutionary Super Mario 64. Once Mario hit the streets, it was game over for Sega, and the Gen-5 gaming market was simply not large enough to support three main consoles. Somebody had to bow out, and it wasn’t going to be Sony or Nintendo.

I think much of the reappraisal of Sega Saturn comes from our ability to finally, so many years after the bloody console war, carefully examine these software libraries, find all of these unknown gems and overlooked classics, only to realize just how good the system really was. Naturally, having access to the vast–and to many gamers, vastly superior–Japanese software library was a major turning point. Who knows what the kids might have said if they had seen Radiant Silvergun, Thunder Force 5, Dead or Alive, X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, Grandia, Psychic Killer Taromaru, all of those great shoot-em-up and fighting games? And what about the PAL exclusives like World League Soccer 98, Jonah Lomu Rugby and Virtual Golf? Would Saturn have fared better? Would it have become more successful and sell more than two million units in North America (lower total sales than the Sega Master System, Atari 7800 or Lynx), or would the kids from 1997 brush it all aside, anyway, remembering those choppy Daytona graphics, repeating the eternal mantra: “Can’t Doo Three Dee, Can’t Doo Three Dee”?

Impossible to say. But I do think attitudes are slowly turning around, which is why Saturn is now, strangely enough, more popular than ever.

P.S. One short note about the screenshots: if they appear a touch on the fuzzy side, it’s because I captured them from YouTube videos, and there is always a degree of video compression at hand. Bear in mind that the images on a real Sega Saturn will be more clear, crisp and detailed. If you want me to sit down and carefully capture screenshots from my 13-inch Sony Trinitron television, well, you’re just gonna have to pay me.

And by the most amazing coincidence, I now have a Ko-Fi page.

Continue reading “Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Three”

Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Two

Welcome to part two of our four-part showcase of memorable 3D videogames for Sega Saturn. Once again, we will be taking a look at a variety of titles that were released in North America, Europe and Japan that demonstrate the console’s under-appreciated powers. This episode will include many of the most popular games in the Saturn library, the ones that most gamers think of whenever they remember Sega’s fifth-generation console, but will also showcase a number of third-party and import titles that you may have missed the first time around.

When writing these articles, I am constantly reminded of a famous phrase once spoken by Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former god-emperor of Nintendo. I’m paraphrasing a little, but the quote went something like this: “A games console is nothing more than a box you need to play Mario.” That may be the greatest and most profound statement ever said about videogames.

There are two meanings in that statement. First, Software is King, Queen and the Jack of Hearts. It is absolutely everything in this business, the alpha and omega, the beginning and world without end, amen. People don’t buy computers and videogame hardware just to admire the box. They don’t care about technology. They don’t care about technical specs or hardware designs. They only care about playing great videogames. They are not interested in technology, but what that technology can do for them.

Now the second meaning is more profound: Nobody Knows What’s Inside the Box. This is especially true when it comes to Sega Saturn, the Generation Five console cruelly smothered with a toxic reputation for poor performance and inferior technology compared to Sony and Nintendo. The system was almost immediately dismissed as second-rate by consumers and the gaming press, and once that reputation had settled, it was impossible to shake.

One of the great unspoken truths is that the average person has no idea how computers work. They might as well be run by little animals who live inside the casing and make wisecracks like The Flintstones. This is especially true in Gen-5, as home videogame hardware designs became immensely complex and complicated, featuring multiple specialized processors and experimental designs that varied greatly from one platform to the next. To that complexity, add a much steeper learning curve, greater emphasis on integrated software development tools, and the various challenges in using technology that was both cutting-edge and inadequate. The gaming industry was entering its awkward teenage years and it was going to be a glorious, pimply mess.

The kids had no idea how any of these machines worked. All they knew is that Sega forgot to put in the “3D Chip” and that’s why Virtua Fighter didn’t look as pretty as Battle Arena Toshinden, and that Sony had that really cool dinosaur demo, and that Super Mario 64 could never be done on the 32-bit systems because, well, “64” is a bigger number than “32.” Like, duh.

Oh, well, a little food for thought. Let’s take a look at some great videogames. Enjoy Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Two:

Continue reading “Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part Two”

Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part One

I have a great enduring affection for classical or “retro” videogames of the 1980s and 1990s, the days of plugging a large box into a picture-tube television, renting games from the neighborhood videostore and dropping spare quarters into machines at the local mall. Those were the days of school children endlessly feuding with one another over whose home system was “better” or “more powerful,” the days when one would eagerly visit the nearest bookstore for the latest issues of splashy, loud and trashy videogame magazines. It was wild, colorful time to grow up and come of age.

If I were asked to name my all-time favorite games console or computer, I would probably name the Atari 8-bit home computers I owned as a boy and teenager. But if I were to name the machine I’ve played the most, the one with the largest software collection, the one that keeps my heart racing, there’s no question it would be Sega Saturn. One key reason for this is because of my love of its time, the days of “Generation Five,” when the videogame industry entered its awkward teenage years, embracing new frontiers of technology and innovations in design, a freewheeling sense of experimentation and anything-goes, where there was music in the cafes at night and music in the air.

A second key reason is a simple one: I always root for underdogs. And for a variety of reasons, real and imagined, Sega found themselves suddenly cast from the group of popular kids in Generation Five. Saturn was widely criticized, mocked, ridiculed and dismissed, pushed aside in favor of flashy new transfer student Sony Playstation, the all-varsity teen who could do no wrong and whose sins could be easily forgiven. Saturn was branded the “Can’t Doo Three Dee” machine, and any imperfections or missteps was immediately pounced upon as proof: Daytona USA, Battle Arena Toshinden Remix, Doom. Meanwhile, pretty boy Sony was a stumbling drunk who couldn’t draw a straight line to save his life, and suffered endless breakdowns from overheating, but nobody cared and such incidents were wished away.

Recently, the topic of “Saturn 3D Games” popped up on the NeoGAF forums, and so I decided to help set the record straight and offer examples of the console offering visuals that equalled, if not surpassed, its rivals. I only planned to list a handful of examples, but as the saying goes, the tale grew in the telling, and eventually I found myself with four volumes and over 120 videogame examples, which even then is not a complete listing.

Saturn “Can’t Doo Three Dee?” Please, spare me. This is a crank notion that seriously needs to go away. Even loyal Sega fans find themselves repeating the mantras out of habit. They need to stop doing that and finally embrace this machine as the great and powerful innovator it always has been. Here is the proof.

Please enjoy part one of our four-part Sega Saturn 3D Showcase:

Continue reading “Sega Saturn 3D Showcase, Part One”

Bases Loaded 96: Double Header

Bases Loaded 96: Double Header
Jaleco for Sega Saturn
Release Date: 1995

I recently saw a copy of Jaleco’s Bases Loaded 96: Double Header at an Exchange store in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, and was very curious to see if it was any good. The game was selling for $25, which is a bit too rich for my blood–especially when I own the spectacular World Series Baseball 98–but somebody ended up buying. Heck, complete copies on eBay are selling for at least $80, so I assume it must have some fans. Everybody loves someone, everyone has their reasons, nobody’s perfect. Pick yer catchphrase.

The Bases Loaded series is best remembered on the 8-bit NES, where it was among the best baseball videogames of the 1980s. It then continued on the Super NES, retaining the classic arcade feel and its cult status, yet never quite made the same impact. This seventh and final entry in the series was released on Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn in late 1995, where it quickly found itself outpaced and outdated by more modern renditions of the sport.

Today’s retro gamers, I think, would be much more receptive to a videogame such as this. They’re not looking for a comprehensive simulation or a game that requires a long-term investment. They just want to pop in the disc and play a friendly game every now and then. In that regard, I think Bases Loaded 96 works pretty well. It plays very much like an arcade sports game from 1985, and if you go in with that mindset, I think you’ll have a very good time.

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