I like the Sega Mega Drive as much as the next person… actually, that’s not true. I like it a lot more than the average person.
Amazingly, it’s possible to pick up a new Mega Drive in GAME for only £40 which plays the original cartridges. However, every silver lining has a cloud and every decent Mega Drive game has twenty crap ones lurking behind it. Picture this: you’re on eBay looking for presents for your loved ones and presented with listings like “RARE MEGA DRIVE DARK CASTLE A+++ MINT”. How are you meant to separate the wheat from the chaff?
Luckily for you, I’m here to help! Rather than actually having to sit down and play these monstrosities, I’ve done the hard work. Read on at your peril.
“WWWIIISSSEEE FWOM YOOOAA GWAAAVVEE!” When Zeus commands you to rise from the dead and rescue his daughter, you know this shit is serious. After roughly fifteen seconds of playing Altered Beast, you’ll know this shit is just shit. The vague objective is to meander from left to right through each flat, drab landscape, punching and kicking the denizens of hell and collecting power orbs along the way. These cause your character to buff up until his rippling pectoral muscles tear his clothing apart (I couldn’t make this up).
Collect three orbs and you’ll morph into the eponymous beast, leading to a fight with a gigantic pus-beast who throws heads at you. That’s just the first level. Needless to say, I didn’t venture much further than that. The controls are so terrible that it’s safer to aim your fists in the general direction of enemies, close your eyes and wait for the quick release of death. In the game.
Aesthetically, Altered Beast looks like it was drawn by a five year old whose big brother stole all the best colours of crayons. Crudely-drawn skeletons, wolves and monsters oscillate between two frames of animation, while the skyline resembles living room wallpaper from the Fifties. The music sounds continually out of tune, which is admittedly impressive from a technical perspective. All in all, it’s a flesh-rending assault on the senses.
Some people out there would like you to believe Altered Beast was actually good, saying “Aha, but the arcade version was great!” I’ve played the arcade version and it’s awful, too. These people are not to be trusted. This game was originally bundled with the Mega Drive as an incentive to purchase it, before being replaced with Sonic the Hedgehog. Perhaps they should have included a bag of soiled nappies instead- at least that would have provided an incentive for retailers to shift units. Given the quality of early Mega Drive titles, it’s amazing anyone bought the console at all.
It sounds innocuous at first: a holy goblet which normally illuminates the presently mud-brown world has been stolen. The legendary castle of Dragonia has risen again and so it falls to you to enter it, slay the dragon and save people from a fate worse than death. It turns out that a fate worse than death is several hours locked in a room with Fatal Labyrinth.
It certainly lives up to its name; the castle is indeed labyrinthine, with every single room having identical wall textures and two-tone bathroom tiles from a medieval inventory clear-out. A thick black mist permeates the labyrinth, forcing your character to shuffle along every wall in search of the next corridor. With two whole frames of animation, our hero walks like a wind-up toy. When I was young, I’d make my Lego figures walk around by bending the legs back and forth with my fingers. Their motion was more fluid than this.
The labyrinth is filled with monsters: bats, slimes, worms, ninjas, sorcerers, robots, ice crystals. You know, the usual rogue’s gallery. In an unholy marriage of turn-based and real-time game mechanics, enemies move one space when you do. However, when they’re right beside you they attack with impunity while their mates encircle you. There’s no dedicated attack button and you simply run into the enemies: it’s a bit like jousting, only without the horses or excitement.
Everything about Fatal Labyrinth is rancid. I hate the ten second loop of music masquerading as a soundtrack. I hate the way every item you pick up has a mysterious function until you’ve first used it, by which point IT IS ALREADY GONE. I hate that the levels are randomly generated and it can be literally impossible to complete the game. I hate that it’s possible to eat too much food and die of indigestion. I hate that the gold you collect serves no purpose except to increase the number of people attending your funeral. Although perhaps the latter two features are quite realistic.
A friend insisted that the game couldn’t possibly be that bad and had a go for herself. As she ascended to the fifth floor of the labyrinth, she became trapped in a sealed crypt with the stairs nowhere to be found. With no hope for survival, she uttered the immortal line “Oh well, I could just wander around until I starve to death”. That’s what playing this game feels like.
Chester Cheetah’s Wild Wild Quest
OK, I admit it. I cheated. You see, Chester Cheetah’s Wild Wild Quest isn’t a game. It’s an empty husk of an advertisement; the product of a committee meeting that probably went like this:
Marketing Executive: “What do the kids like these days? Video games? Let’s make a video game that’s cool so the kids eat more Cheetos!”
Game Developer: “Uhh… I’m not sure if this is a good use of your money.”
Executive: “Shut up and take our money, nerd! Here’s ten thousand dollars. Put Chester Cheetah in it! Make sure he eats plenty of Cheetos!”
And so it came to pass that Wild Wild Quest was pumped out of the platform game factory. It’s a bit like Pizza Hut’s ice cream factory: generic slop dribbles out of a lukewarm orifice until it spills out of the bowl, before being covered in lurid coloured shiny bits. Good taste doesn’t come into consideration.
Chester Cheetah is one of the worst brand mascots ever conceived. He has all the personality of a soggy cardboard box and the charisma of tinfoil. Do I even need to describe what this game is like? The aim is to jump on the heads of various enemies and collect as many Cheetos as Chester can fit into his magical hamster cheeks. His only super power is raw metabolism.
Someone has stolen Chester’s map to ‘Hip City’, tearing it into various scraps and spreading them around the continental USA. Rather than stop and ask for directions, Chester decides to travel the country and reassemble his map instead. His mission is rendered impossible by one problem: controlling Chester is like steering a barge through thick sewage. It is so sluggish and unresponsive, you may as well be using a giant mechanical lever to signal which of his legs moves first. There’s a dedicated button for running, but it doesn’t actually make Chester run any faster.
Contact with any animated character in the game will cause Chester to crumble into cheese dust and die; unless of course Chester’s carrying a bag of you-know-whats, which will replenish his health and cholesterol levels. If you manage to summon the fortitude to actually finish one of the stages and jump through the finish line, Chester gets stuck in mid-air and stands grinning moronically. Then you’ll be treated to a special enemy like an overweight woman carrying an umbrella or a submarine that shoots fish at you. It’s just so mind-bogglingly crap.
I’ve got a better idea for a Cheetos-themed game: it’s basically just Katamari Damacy, except you push Chester around the house hoovering up the snacks while he gets progressively fatter.
If this game were a cheese, it would be consumed by spraying it directly into your mouth from an aerosol can, at which point you’d realise it was actually made from crushed Cheetos and dead cats.
I tried to play Shaq Fu. I really did. While most of the games in this feature suffered the indignity of being played with a keyboard through an emulator, for Shaq Fu I constructed a custom setup worthy of this all-time classic:
Our hero Shaq is on his way to a charity basketball game in Tokyo and doing a little sightseeing. He meets a man who is not only suspiciously Chinese, but speaks English. I’ve actually visited Japan and, contrary to popular belief, this is not a normal occurrence. Anyway, faster than you can say boom shakalaka, Shaq is shunted through a portal and charged with rescuing a young boy called Nezu. He arrives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by various freaks who all want to engage in one-on-one combat. There’s a woman who can turn into a panther, a hunchback who seems to use his own vertebrae as weapons, the evil cousin of Slimer from Ghostbusters and a man whose special ability is being named Diesel. Cue the violence!
Well, it’s more a theoretical kind of violence since Shaq is much better at throwing a basketball than a fireball. According to GameFAQs there are some special moves Shaq can pull off, but I just couldn’t manage them. You can defeat some enemies by working them into a corner, crouching and mashing the punch button. Getting attacks to connect is half the battle as although Shaq may be a giant back on Earth, here he’s just a midget in a silly pair of shorts. Others will spam projectile attacks that can’t be blocked: instead, you’re meant to punch them back at your foe. It took ten frustrating minutes to work that out.
Once you start to win and get your opponent on the ropes, this builds up a ‘rage meter’ which makes them even stronger. As you lose, Shaq’s mugshot in the corner of the screen gradually melts and withers, along with your resolve. I could feel my rage meter building up as I was mentally pummelled. My hands were crude, misshapen stumps slapping against the joystick like an excited sea lion’s flippers. My opponents taunted me with hilariously-stilted dialogue:
The sounds of foot crunching into face and snapping of bones are muted relative to the awful techno soundtrack. The music sounds like it’s assembled from other games’ menu and selection noises. Given that the fighters spend most of the time leaping around each other, swinging wildly in the air, it’s less fighting game and more a dance-off at a rave in hell. Shaq even dances when he’s idle, which adds to the illusion.
There’s no skill in playing Shaq Fu: it’s a random flailing of limbs and a vicious barrage of expletives. In another words, it’s just like a real fight, but that doesn’t translate into a good video game.
Electronic Arts (or as they’re now known, EA) were infamous in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s for their constant stream of conversions from other computers onto the Mega Drive. Some, such as Road Rash and James Pond, were great. Then there’s Dark Castle, which is so unfathomably awful it beggars belief that it was ever released.
Dark Castle originally started out as a game for the original Apple Macintosh, which nowadays has the computing power of a pocket calculator. It didn’t have any colour graphics and instead of a real soundtrack, the opening bars of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor play on a loop. In the Mega Drive version there are a whopping sixteen colours, but the music sounds even worse than before and will etch lasting scars into your memory.
You’ve entered the castle to stop the presumably evil Black Knight. Unfortunately, you’re the clumsiest hero ever to appear in a video game. Jumping from one platform to another becomes a Herculean task, where falling even a couple of feet will kill you. As will falling down a staircase, touching anything that moves, blinking at the wrong time or inappropriate standing. Your character is also prone to bouts of intense dizziness when he sees a rope or ladder. Couldn’t they find anyone better? It’s like sending an epileptic engineer to investigate a malfunction at the strobe lighting factory.
Eyeballs with wings glued on inhabit every last crevice, making a strange high-pitched “NE NE NE NE NE” noise. There are also rats, bats and zombies- although the latter may be other adventurers delirious with sheer excitement at the whole thing. You have rocks with which to defend yourself, but instead of throwing them, you rotate a mechanical slingshot shaped like a fake arm instead. At least, that’s what it looks like. Every uneven paving slab is a lethal hazard, each enemy an impossibly small target to hit, every blade of grass a potentially fatal laceration for our intrepid adventurer.
There are four potential choices of level, each more boring than the last. Traverse the castle’s outer wall and struggle to climb down the three staircases without tumbling headfirst like an absolute tit. Visit the collection of antique ropes. Try your hand at a poor man’s Donkey Kong, with the loveable gorilla replaced by a semi-naked man in a gimp mask. Travel to the dungeon and see the same gimp whipping the chained prisoners- don’t stop and ask if the torture is consensual!
When you finally meet the Black Knight, he’s drunk. He probably thinks you’re a health and safety inspector about to subpoena him for the shoddy state of the stairwells. You pull a couple of levers while dodging the flying beer steins (no, really) and he plummets to his death. Then a message flashes up saying “Congratulations! You have defeated the Black Knight!” That’s it. That’s the whole game.
Depending on how good you are at the game, it can be beaten in under two minutes. However, I find the best way to beat Dark Castle is to put it inside a bag and smash it with a rolling pin until it resembles silicon breadcrumbs. Alternatively, it’s absolutely perfect for that wobbly coffee table. It’s a mediocre doorstop. But it’s a useless game.