The Friends (Kazumi Yumoto)

Kazumi Yumoto | May 11, 1998 | 170 pages
Kazumi Yumoto | May 11, 1998 | 170 pages

Nothing beats discovering an obscure video game that turns out to be a “hidden gem” and then sharing it with the community. It’s no different with books, as I have found out over the past year or so. And God, there are so many books out there. So many great ones. So many bad ones. But every once in a while, you come across one that leaves a lasting imprint long after you’ve read it. It magically leaves you feeling nostalgic about the story as soon as you finish that final fateful page. Kazumi Yumoto’s The Friends took me back to the good old days of boyhood summers and crazy adventures shared among friends under a scorching sun. More than a summer of fun, it’s a summer of life lessons that shape your world views, helping you to take steps toward adolescence.

FriendsBook1

Last year I found myself browsing the middle grade fiction aisle when I first ran across The Friends. Even though I’m in my mid 30s, you can never be too old for a good book with a message that even adults can appreciate. The simple title and the cover grabbed my attention. Looks like an easy read about 3 Japanese boys having random adventures in the suburbs of Japan. But what’s that boy pointing at, and what’s written on the list the other boy is holding? And good God, look at those haircuts. I swear almost every Asian boy had that hairstyle at some point in the mid ’90s! I know, because my brother had it! I flipped the book over to read the synopsis on the back. It had vibes of Stand By Me meets Tuesdays With Morrie in a Japanese setting. TAKE MY TWO BUCKS!

A Japanese Stand By Me? Say no more, fam
A Japanese Stand By Me? Say no more, fam
When the night has come, and the way is dark, And that moon is the only light you see. No I won't be afraid, no I-I-I won't be afraid Just as long as the people come and stand by me.
When the night has come, and the way is dark,
And that moon is the only light you see.
No I won’t be afraid, no I-I-I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand by me.

Summer has once again arrived. But for 12-year-old Yamashita, this is no regular summer. His grandmother has passed away. Yamashita and his two best friends, Kiyama and Kawabe, are suddenly interested in what death entails. Do the dead go on to become ghosts… or what? It isn’t long that they spot a very old man who looks like he’s on the verge of crossing over to the other side. Morbidly fascinated, they begin watching him. But soon, he begins watching the boys back, and they ultimately become friends. Life lessons, both fun and hard, naturally ensue.

FriendsBook2

I read this book last June, and coincidentally enough, it opens in June. I love when that happens in books. It makes me feel like it was “meant to be.” I’m a dork, I know! :D But yeah, Kazumi Yumoto’s writing is simple and flows easily. It is a comforting read, even though the book touches on some deep and heavy themes. I’m actually glad I read this one first as an adult, as I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much if I had read it as a kid instead.

FriendsBook3

The bond shared between the 3 boys is endearing and nostalgic. It takes me back to my childhood summers, long and lazy hot days that seemed like they would never end. No school, no homework. Just all the hours in the day to hang out with your buds and do nothing and everything. Ahhh. Even though I didn’t grow up in Japan, I can still relate to Yamashita, Kiyama and Kawabe. They feel like friends I grew up with. Heck, at times I felt as though I were one of them. It carries the book from beginning to end, and throwing the old man into the mix gives the concoction the right amount of spice it needs. Life is not all rainbows and sunshine, and I love how Kazumi Yumoto walks that fine balance between simple and nuanced. For a middle grade book, this is a remarkable achievement!

THIS REVIEWER SAID IT PERFECTLY

FriendsBook4

FriendsBook5

I couldn’t have said it any better. There is something special about the way this book was written. It came from a time when cell phones, social media and such did not exist. When boys went out of the house to hang with their best friends and find adventure together. The humanity behind this book, and the relationship between the boys and the old man is touching and magical.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I love this cover so much more than the other one
I love this cover!

If you enjoy coming of age stories about best friends, or if the idea of Stand By Me meets Tuesdays With Morrie peaks your interest, then I cannot recommend The Friends wholeheartedly enough. It’s only been a year since I read it, and already I have — illogically perhaps — an immense amount of nostalgia toward it. It’s definitely because of the way Kazumi Yumoto wrote this book. There is a timeless quality to it… the kind of book that begs to be read every few summers or so. In another author’s hands, The Friends could have been cheesy or hokey. Luckily, Yumoto found a way to make the lessons land without being overly preachy.

4HalfStars

Hit and Run (R.L. Stine)

Author: R.L. Stine | Published: 1992
Author: R.L. Stine | Published: June 1992 | 164 pages

R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run holds quite a bit of nostalgic goodness for me. It was the very first teen thriller I ever read, and I’ll always remember it fondly as such. One day in 1995 my dad took me to the local library and I spotted it on the shelf. The covers for the older teen thrillers always used to creep me out a bit, and I guess on that particular night I finally felt brave enough to give one of his “scarier” books a try. I remember feeling excited and a little anxious on the car ride home. I read the blurb on the back feverishly, and couldn’t wait to read it and see how it would compare to his Goosebumps books.

HitAndRunRL1

The back had me hooked from the start. I knew it was going to be more intense than any of his Goosebumps, but just how much was the question. I remember running into my room as soon as we got home. My brother recently moved out into the bedroom down the hall because we were old enough to have some privacy of our own. And boy, was I ever glad for that. I would be able to devour this book in peace and quiet. Though I loved Boyz II Men and Selena almost as much as the next guy, it’d be awfully difficult to read a book while my brother blasted Dreaming of You or End of the Road for the 150th time.

HitAndRunRL2

By the way, I always got a real kick out of spotting the blood stained “Thriller” label on these teen books. It was always like a quick instant adrenaline pump. It was a simple symbol that gave me that extra jolt whenever I saw it on the shelf.

HitAndRunRL3

I also loved how at certain angles the fancy embossed title and R.L. Stine’s name appeared silver…

HitAndRunRL4

… while at other angles it appeared purple. I must have wasted 5 minutes gawking at this color change before I began reading the book in 1995! Good times.

HitAndRunRL6

And who could forget the classic list of other teen horror books at the back of these novels? It was fun to see all the titles and even check off the ones you have read. Sad but true: I own all of those titles above :P

HitAndRunRL7

Hit and Run is about four high school friends who love to play ribs on each other. Cassie Martin is the only girl in the group — her 3 friends are Scott, Eddie and Winks. From the first page we find out that Cassie has a crush on her friend, Scott. One of the biggest differences between these YA (Young Adult) thrillers and Goosebumps was that the characters are older and they do things teenagers in high school would do, such as kissing. I’m pretty sure the kissing scene between Cassie and Scott was the first time I read about two characters lip locking. Needless to say, as an 11 year old I remember thinking I was reading something that maybe I shouldn’t. It’s super tame now looking back on it, but that was all part of the fun and innocence of it back then reading it as a kid.

IKWYDLSPoster

One wild night while the 4 friends are out driving, they hit a creepy looking guy on an isolated stretch of road. Stricken with panic that their futures would be over if anyone ever found out, they decide to make a pact to keep it their secret. A deadly secret that each of them would take to the grave. Only, they soon find themselves terrorized by the man they supposedly killed. But the dead can’t come back to life… or can they?

WillSmithNah

I read it in one long sitting back in 1995 and absolutely loved it. After finishing it I could almost feel the sudden growth of a few whiskers on my chin! Just 2 short years later, I Know What You Did Last Summer came out with basically the same premise. I remember thinking that they stole their ideas from R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run

What a star studded teen heart throbby cast!
What a star studded teen heart throbby cast!

Four young friends (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr.), a hit and run, one supposedly dead body and a pact to take it to the grave. But soon thereafter they’re relentlessly stalked. Yeah, stop me if you’ve heard that one before! It was only in recent years that I found out I Know What You Did Last Summer was based off the book of the same name by an author named Lois Duncan. Oops, so much for being a copycat of R.L. Stine’s Hit and Run! Maybe it was the other way around…

My sincerest apologies, Mrs. Duncan
My sincerest apologies, Mrs. Duncan

Lois Duncan was a popular writer of teen thrillers back in the ’70s and ’80s.

IKWYDLS2

I bought this book last year and it’s on my to-be-read list, along with like 5,000 other books! I’m curious how similar it is to the 1997 movie.

DarkHallLD

Speaking of Lois Duncan, that wasn’t her only teen thriller converted into a movie. In 2018, Down A Dark Hall was converted from the page to the screen. Of course, I bought this book last year as well, but I digress :P

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I see you, Newton. Nice way to sneak it in!
I see you there, Newton…

I recently read Hit and Run for the first time in 25 years. Like a total dork, I read it late at night and tried to blow through all 164 pages in one sitting like I did when I was 11, as if to recapture some long lost magic. Alas, I had to tap out about halfway as Mr. Sandman came knocking on my door. I finished it the very next morning. It was a nostalgic read and hardly anything more. Being Stine, you can expect plenty of short paragraphs, tons of dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and fake out “scares” galore. He had a formula that worked for me when I was a kid. Now as an adult, clearly nowhere near the target demographic range, I didn’t enjoy Hit and Run as much as I did 25 years ago. It definitely loses something reading it as an adult, but I enjoyed the trip down memory lane nevertheless. You can see the “twist” coming a mile away, and I’m tempted to give it a ho-hum middle of the road (no pun intended) 2.5 out of 5 stars rating but for nostalgic reasons I’ll bump it up half a star.

3Stars

Return To Fear Street

LibraryNight

As a kid I loved going to the library. My mom and dad would take me there at least once a week. I always made a beeline for the scary books. Anything that had to do with ghosts, monsters and the macabre — I was there. Over time however, namely around high school and college, I fell out of love with reading. Reading became a chore. Something I had to do in order to ace a test. I lost my way with reading, and every year “reading more” became a New Years resolution that would inevitably crash and burn by February. But as readers of Adventures in Book Shopping know, over the past year I’ve rediscovered my passion for books. So much so that I decided to add a brand new category to RVGFanatic: BOOKS R US.

Missing3

I understand this may seem like quite a deviation as for the past 13+ years I’ve used RVGFanatic mainly as a platform for all things Super Nintendo. However, I have never shied away from writing about other random things. I will continue to write SNES game reviews and articles when I feel inspired to. But to be perfectly honest and frank, over the past year the bulk of my down time has been devoted to reading the many books on my to-be-read shelf. Due to this rediscovered passion of reading, I’d like to share some quick thoughts about the books I read. I hope this addition to RVGFanatic will serve you in some small way, whether it conjures nostalgic memories about books from our youth, or simply gawking at the trashy, pulpy horror fiction paperbacks that proliferated bookstores throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. I hope you will come along for the ride! Now, let us continue on with the main show…

HOW THE FEAR BEGAN

Gooseb4

My love for R.L. Stine began in the early-mid ’90s, when I, like countless other kids, fell helplessly in love with his Goosebumps series. My best friend Nelson and I devoured them often in one sitting.

FearStreeta

But I knew Goosebumps weren’t the only “scary” books R.L. Stine wrote. Prior to evil talking dummies and egg monsters from space, R.L. Stine wrote scary books for a slightly older audience. His Point Horror books (such as The Babysitter series) and his Fear Street franchise were popular sellers back in the day. Reading one was sort of like a rite of passage. After consuming Goosebumps by the dozens, Fear Street was the next natural step.

gooseb15

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Fear Street novel. One day in late 1992, Nelson and I were on our way to the kids section. But you could never get there first before passing by the aisle displaying the latest teen novels. Remember those movable glass panels libraries used back in the ’90s? It afforded you a glimpse at those teen covers and it was here that Nelson and I had our very first Fear Street encounter. The cover showed a high school cheerleader, possessed by an evil spirit, clutching her pom pom. But there was something eerie and unnatural about the pom pom. We did a double take and realized there was a skull staring back at us. Nelson and I, in our typical exaggerated dorkiness, looked at each other, looked back at the book cover, then looked back at one another with our mouths wide open. We forced ourselves to creep toward the teen section to get a closer look. The forbidden book stood high on the top glass panel as if not to be touched. He dared me to reach up and take it down. Naturally, I countered by double dog daring him. Finally, after some back and forth ribbing, we agreed to call it a tie. Maybe one day we’ll both read it, but for now, hey, we were only 9 year old kids…

WaldenBooksST3

There was nothing like going into Waldenbooks and heading straight for the horror section. There was a new Goosebumps book published each month, but perhaps even better than that was scanning the covers of all those teen thrillers. When you were only 9, it felt like you were getting a glimpse behind the curtain.

Seeing them on a shelf never ever got old
Seeing them on a shelf never ever got old

RETURN TO FEAR STREET

My girlfriend curses this damn bunny :P
My girlfriend curses this damn bunny :P

In January of 2019, my girlfriend and I were out for lunch one day. We ordered some Chinese food and picked up some Popeyes fries since the two stores were in the same plaza (nothing like combining different comfort food together). We had about 15 minutes to kill and saw that there was a Goodwill nearby. We checked it out and I ended up buying a book and an Ernest collection DVD for $2. The very next month we found ourselves back in that plaza and I came across an old childhood book, Bunnicula. I bought it for a buck and thus began the nostalgic book hunting adventures.

I sensed magic in the air that cloudy afternoon...
I sensed magic in the air that cloudy afternoon…

April 13, 2019. My girlfriend used to live about 2 hours away, and she worked on Saturdays until 8 PM. Both were less than ideal but we worked around it. It was on this fateful cloudy Saturday afternoon that I met up with her during her lunch break. Before heading back to work, she loaned me the key to her apartment so I could hang out at her place to watch sports or play my Switch until she gets off at 8. Before heading to her place though, something told me to check one of the Goodwill stores near her place. I had never been there before, and I kind of had this crazy feeling that I was going to find some nostalgic books from my childhood there. After pulling into the parking lot, I noticed two things right away. Number one, it was FREAKING HUGE and second, it was one of those beautiful lazy cloudy spring afternoons you never wanted to end. The good gut feeling I had prior to entering the parking lot had just multiplied tenfold! There was going to be a special find inside that Goodwill store. I could feel it in my bones…

GoodwillHunting3

I was speechless when I arrived at the books section. It was a freaking gold mine. Most of the books were in great condition, and each book sold for $1.99. It wasn’t long before my eye caught sight of the wonders hidden within.

WAIT A MINUTE! WHAAA?!?!
WAIT A MINUTE!  WHAAA?!?!
Even more!
Even more!
Still more...
Still more…

R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers and Fear Street franchise haunted me as a kid, but I didn’t get to read very many of them. Mostly, I remember gawking at their gaudy covers as a kid and wishing I would be able to read them. I never got around to, other than reading maybe 5 or 6 of them. So seeing all this left me speechless. Talk about taking a time machine and rewinding the clock some 25, 30 years!

Good God Almighty
Good God Almighty

For those counting at home, there are 52 teen thrillers in the cart, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. I bought most of the Fear Street books in one fell swoop. All of them were in good to excellent condition, and it felt like one of those lucky legendary finds that you’ll never forget. I was at the right place at the right time.

What an epic haul
What an epic haul
Crazy? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!
Crazy? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!

In addition to the 52 books, I found 15 other books from my childhood. Stuff like Old Yeller, My Teacher is an Alien and Aliens Ate My Homework. I spent $133.33. Each book sold for $1.99. It was insane to buy 67 books, and I remember laughing to myself at what a stupid crazy find this all was, as well as how to break this to my girlfriend :P

CLOSING THOUGHTS

GoodwillHunting11

Last month, it hit me that it was the one year anniversary since I bought these books. April 13, 2019. What an incredible haul, and what a fateful Saturday that proved to be. It made me recall that day and weekend with a deep fondness. Truth be told, I haven’t read any of these books in the past year until recently. But that’s the thing about a library… just as it is with video games… it’s nice knowing you have a copy for whenever the urge strikes to read (or play) a certain title. Now that I’ve added a section devoted entirely to books on RVGFanatic, be on the lookout for random book reviews and such. I’m sure I’ll end up writing about some of the books you see above. So until next time, happy gaming AND happy reading!

Interview with Sega Saturn Magazine

The magic all began here
The magic all began here

I recently posted Sega Saturn Magazine’s Top 50 Saturn Games. Sega Saturn Magazine, affectionately known as SSM for short, was a UK publication that ran 37 issues from November 1995 to November 1998. Despite a short 3 year run, SSM has never left the memory of its readers. Pick up any issue and it’s easy to see why. Their undeniable passion for all things Sega Saturn bled off the pages. Their screenshots were phenomenal, always showing off the best parts of a game. Their definitive showcases, in-depth reviews and exclusive insider interviews all helped to make SSM truly legendary. Best of all, their sense of wacky humor. They always brought a smile to my face and I found myself occasionally chuckling at their silliness. In short, Sega Saturn Magazine was and forever will be, unequivocally, the best gaming magazine ever.

The glorious final issue
The glorious final issue

On October 12, 2003, I began sharing SSM’s Top 50 Saturn Games list on the Neo Geo forums. Posting two entries a day, it ran for a month and went viral in the retro gaming community. Stirring much Sega Saturn discourse, the thread eventually caught the eye of two former Sega Saturn Magazine contributors: editor Richard Leadbetter and writer Gary Cutlack. Imagine my sheer joy and shock when almost exactly one year later, them SSM boys reached out to me to applaud my efforts in recreating their Top 50 list for all to partake. This led to an interview with both Gary Cutlack and Rich Leadbetter. We reminisced about all things Sega Saturn — their favorite Saturn games as well as recounting their halcyon days writing for the famed publication. So grab a cold one and kick back for a little stroll down memory lane :)

The sad final page of SSM
The sad last page of SSM :(

From: Gary Cutlack
Sent: Sunday, October 10, 2004 3:28 AM
To: Steve
Subject: Sega Saturn Magazine

Dude,
Just had to say how much I enjoyed reading your incredible series of posts on the Neo-Geo forums about SSM’s top 50 Saturn games.

Playing and writing about Radiant Silvergun was by far the happiest period of my entire writing career, and although I’m still writing about games for UK mags, nothing will ever come close to those Saturn glory days again — and we were doing it for fans like you!

Those glorious scans you shared of Radiant Silvergun brings a tear to my eye, they really do..

Credit Archive.org for these sexy scans
Credit Archive.org for these sexy scans

SAGE SaTRUn 4 EvaaaAAH,
Gary (Cutlack, formerly of SSM)

GaryCutlack

Then shortly following, Rich Leadbetter sent me this…

Hey Steve,
Just like Gary, I’ve just checked out your brilliant SSM Top 50 thread on the Neo Geo forums. I remember the feature very well. In the run-up to Christmas we had to get issues out of the door in an insanely short amount of time, so we’d “bank” pages in the preceding months by coming up with the likes of Tips A-Zs and retrospective pieces.

Your presentation of the Top 50 in that thread was superb, and I also greatly enjoyed the excerpts of other parts of the magazine. Brought back many memories long since buried and could well inspire me to venture into my attic and dig out a few issues.

SSMRSG3

I must salute you for truly capturing the spirit of what the magazine was all about. To be honest, I think we were fortunate in that we were writing when Sega’s AM and CS teams were at their very best, when quality gaming had a certain purity to it untouched by the seismic changes to the market (and the accepted idea of what makes a “good game”) that Sony brought about. It was a golden period and I think that the magazine worked because we knew it, and the readers knew it.

Anyway, thanks for a very welcome trip back in time…
-Rich

RichLeadbetter

This led to me interviewing both men. Let’s begin with Gary Cutlack.

  • Where the hell are Sam Hickman, Lee Nutter (Chewbacca!), and last but not least Richard Leadbetter today? (Note: This was before Rich sent me his email). Do you keep in touch with any of them?
The incomparable Lee Nutter
The incomparable Lee Nutter

Well Lee’s editor of PSW which is on the other side of the office from me, so I have no choice but to engage in occasional polite conversation with him in the kitchen on the odd days when we both make cups of tea at the same time. Rich still does freelance for several mags, plus I believe he’s now more of a DVD author making cover discs for US game mags. Sam was before my time, so I have no idea of her whereabouts.

  • What are your top 10 favorite Saturn games? Any region.

These are. I’ve even put them in reverse order to enhance the thrill. How anyone can prefer Virtua Cop 2 over the first one’s perfect score multiplier system I’ll never know.

10. Last Bronx
10. Last Bronx
9. NiGHTS
9. NiGHTS
Dead or Alive
8. Dead or Alive
7. Virtua Fighter 2
7. Virtua Fighter 2
6. Shining Force III
6. Shining Force III
5. Exhumed (AKA PowerSLave)
5. Exhumed AKA PowerSlave
5. Radiant Silvergun
4. Radiant Silvergun
3. Daytona USA
3. Daytona USA
2. Virtua Cop
2. Virtua Cop
1. Sega Rally
1. Sega Rally
  • What was it like working on SSM, and what were the last couple months like before SSM was laid to rest?

It was all right. I just sort of sat there very quietly writing enthusiastic things, getting angry at Matt for removing my jokes and adding spelling mistakes, and hoping that Ed Lomas wouldn’t come round from the CVG office and make me pull his finger. Doing the last issue was pretty miserable, especially as we were all so excited about the prospect of gradually morphing it into a Dreamcast mag and, obviously, ruling the world with it for a thousand years. But the Saturn was SO dead by that point (months after Sega had stopped releasing games for it in the UK) there was no hope of it carrying on.

  • How real was the rivalry with Saturn Power? (Note: Saturn Power was a rival UK publication). Any particular memories in regards to this rivalry?
Saturn Power was a rival mag to SSM
Saturn Power was a rival mag to SSM

It was more institutional than personal — we were EMAP they were Future, and nobody liked Future. They were moderately capable people making an acceptable magazine in typical Future style, whereas we were SUPERHARDCOREWARRIORS crafting the very best thing we could do each month. They might think otherwise, but put some of the screenshots from both mags side-by-side and you’ll be able to tell who cared most and put the effort in (it was us).

  • Final question: any Saturn games you think SSM might have overrated? Or, which Saturn games were very good back in the day, but haven’t aged very well?

None were overrated. The Saturn REALLY WAS THAT GOOD! :)

Especially Radiant Silvergun
Especially Radiant Silvergun

And now, my interview with Rich Leadbetter.

From: Richard Leadbetter
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 2:17 AM
To: Steve
Subject: RE: Message from Rich Leadbetter

  • Where the hell are Sam Hickman, Lee Nutter (Chewbacca!), and the rest of the SSM gang (the ones who matter, anyway) today? Do you keep in touch with any of them?
Matt Yeo(w!)
Matt Yeo(w!)

Sam Hickman is editor of several kids’ magazines produced by the BBC. Lee Nutter is the editor of the PS2 mag, PSW. Gary Cutlack is the deputy editor of the UK mag, Xbox Gamer. Matt Yeo has also moved on to editing kids’ magazines. I run my own multimedia company, Digital Foundry. Those DVDs that have been bundled with the last few issues of EGM? That’s our work.

  • What are your top 10 favorite Saturn games today? Any region.

To be honest, none of us are massive Saturn fans any more to the extent that we regularly play Saturn games. I haven’t touched my Sega stuff in years. But there’s no denying the POWER of the Saturn. A top ten, in no particular order would be…

Virtua Fighter 2
Virtua Fighter 2
Sega Rally
Sega Rally
Street Fighter 2 Alpha
Street Fighter Alpha 2
Radiant Silvergun
Radiant Silvergun
Exhumed AKA PowerSlave
Exhumed AKA PowerSlave
Death Tank Zwei (hidden within Duke Nukem 3D)
Death Tank Zwei (hidden within Duke Nukem 3D)
Panzer Dragoon Saga
Panzer Dragoon Saga
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem 3D
Virtua Cop
Virtua Cop
NiGHTS
NiGHTS

There are probably others but those are the ones that I still recall most fondly.

  • How real was the rivalry with Saturn Power? Any particular memories in regards to this rivalry?
Saturn Power Magazine is solid, but it's no SSM
The 10th and final issue of Saturn Power

There was never a rivalry in any real sense from our perspective. We got all the good games first, always sold far more copies and were totally focused on what we produced as opposed to looking over our shoulders at what other people were doing. We would spend hours getting the right screenshots, making the text entertaining and really working on championing some fantastic games. I simply didn’t see that in Saturn Power.

Saturn Power Magazine is solid, but it's no SSM
Saturn Power Magazine is solid but…
Compared to SSM, it's no contest
Compared to SSM, it’s no contest

In truth, the readers read Saturn Power more than we did and generally tended to email or write in to tell us about it. Since it struck a chord with the readers and it gave them a chuckle, we’d throw in the odd sly comment but in truth we didn’t really give a toss. Our focus was elsewhere. The only rival from a quality perspective we had at the time was from CVG magazine, produced in the office right next to ours. OK so it was a multi-format mag, but in terms of sitting down, poring over an issue, reading every word and admiring their work, they were our closest rivals. CVG was the only other games mag we wanted to read. The fact that we were friends and could go to lunch with them and talk games and have a great time was a bonus. We used to play Quake on PC a lot.

  • Final question: what Saturn games do you think SSM might have overrated? Or, which Saturn games were very good back in the day, but haven’t aged very well?
The almighty Saturn Bomberman
The almighty Saturn Bomberman

You probably have a far more encyclopedic memory of our review scores than I have. But you’re right in that Saturn Bomberman was underrated. In terms of stuff overrated, some of the PlayStation ports have aged badly, and some decent games at the time (e.g. Soviet Strike) are now forgotten and almost totally irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Some reviews may seem contentious now, but our primary focus in the mag was always the showcases. Our emphasis on dedicating more pages to the big games, championing them and making them feel more special was what we liked doing the most.

-Rich

Nothing beats 10 player Saturn Bomberman
Nothing beats 10 player Saturn Bomberman

Hope you enjoyed those two interviews! I was absolutely floored when they reached out to me more than 15 years ago, and reading those interviews again brings back a lot of fun nostalgic memories for me. Although Super Nintendo will always be #1 in my heart, the Sega Saturn and all its great games will always be #2 in my book.

Sega Saturn Magazine’s Top 50 Saturn Games

For my money, the best gaming magazine ever
For my money, the best gaming magazine ever

In these crazy uncertain times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are staying at home than ever. As a teacher I’ve been off work the past two weeks, and won’t be reporting back until May at the earliest. With most of us implementing shelter-in-place, this has afforded us more time to connect with those we hold dearest, as well as enjoy our indoor hobbies. Playing video games, binge watching shows and movies or reading a good book. For me, it’s all these things and a chance to update RVGFanatic a little more frequently. Work has kept me busy, as well as moving in with my girlfriend, so I haven’t been able to update as much as I would like. With all this extra down time, I can’t think of a better time than now to convert one of my most popular articles from my original site.

Their design and coverage was epic
Their design and coverage was epic

Sega Saturn Magazine was a UK publication that ran 37 issues back in the mid to late 1990s. It’s often considered the “Sega Saturn Bible” and is a favorite publication of many. Their passion bled through the pages, and to this day remains my favorite magazine, beating out even EGM, GameFan and Super Play.

Amazing stuff
Amazing stuff. Credit these shots to Archive.org
One of my favorite issues, thanks to the top 50
One of my favorite issues thanks to the Top 50

In issue #28 (February of 1998), Sega Saturn Magazine published a list of their top 50 Saturn games. I’ve always been a fan of top lists; I enjoy comparing my opinion to those of others. Not everyone will agree on every ranking, but that’s all part of the fun. Just keep in mind that this list was compiled in late 1997, so you won’t be seeing later Saturn releases on this list, such as Burning Rangers, Panzer Dragoon Saga or Shining Force III.

SSMTop50Cover4

I originally shared this Top 50 list on the Neo Geo forums back in October 2003. It became one of the most viewed links there. So popular, in fact, that two former Sega Saturn Magazine contributors (including the editor) reached out via private message to thank me personally for the fond trip down memory lane. Now, nearly 20 years later, I’m proud to share that list here on RVGFanatic. Enjoy!

#50: MASS DESTRUCTION (87%)

SSMTop50-50

Best described as Return Fire meets Soviet Strike, the unambiguously titled Mass Destruction is a technically outstanding blaster.

SSMTop50Pics

“Yeah, there’s a loose mission structure to follow, but the meat and bones of Mass Destruction is just that — mass destruction. Running at a super-smooth 60 FPS and featuring some of the most incredible pyrotechnics we’ve ever seen, it’s just a shame they missed out the all-important two-player mode.” -Lee Nutter

#49: THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’95 (89%)

SSMTop50-49

SNK’s greatest fighters from their legendary beat ‘em ups amass in this one 2D battling mega game! Action-packed fighting action guaranteed!

SSMTop50Pics1

“Capcom have virtually owned the 2D fighting genre on Saturn, but this one SNK release shows that when it comes to true hardcore fighting games, the underdog are in a class of their own. KoF ’95 is probably the most lastable fighting game on the system… if you’re into SNK of course.” -Editor Rich Leadbetter

#48: SHINING WISDOM (N/A)

SSMTop50-48

The last 2D game in the Shining Force series. Explore a fantasy realm and undertake a quest to save your homeland from destruction.

SSMTop50Pics2

“Sega have always produced quality RPGs and Sonic Software Planning’s epic is no exception. While the visuals may look pretty basic, Shining Wisdom’s playability and grand scale are second-to-none. There are literally hundreds of characters to meet and magical spells to master. A deserved addition to the RPG fan’s library.” -Matt Yeo

#47: ENEMY ZERO (88%)

SSMTop50-47

The best attempt yet at an ‘Interactive Movie,’ programmed by legendary Japanese nutters Warp. The 11th best selling Saturn game EVER in Japan!

SSMTop50Pics3

“The Japanese loved it. We quite liked it as well, come to think of it, as the smooth sci-fi action and top quality rendered FMV makes for an enjoyable and deep experience, with a pretty tough challenge for all you Saturn owning adventure fans.” -Gary Cutlack

#46: ACTUA GOLF (90%)

SSMTop50-46

Golf — hitting a ball around a field with a stick. Sounds crap, but it actually makes for a decent video game simulation.

SSMTop50Pics4

“To convince your dad that games aren’t just about shooting and fighting, it’s essential to own a golf game. And you might as well buy a good one while you’re at it — Actua Golf scored 90% for its attention to detail, smooth 3D graphics and great control.” -Gary Cutlack

#45: PANDEMONIUM! (90%)

SSMTop50-45

Resurrecting the neglected platform genre from its 16-bit glory days, Pandemonium! is the finest example of its kind on the Saturn.

SSMTop50Pics5

“Incorporating classic 2D gameplay into a luscious 3D environment, Pandemonium! is a speedy and visually astounding platformer.” -Lee Nutter

#44: ATHLETE KINGS (90%)

SSMTop50-44

One of the first games to be produced for the Saturn-based ST-V arcade board, and probably one of the best, featuring gorgeously smooth hi-res visuals… it’s AM3 magic!

SSMTop50Pics6

“Tasty athletic girls in high-cut Lycra gear… lovely! Of course we’re only interested in the gameplay, and the button-bashing action made for an excellent sports game. It’s not the biggest game ever made, but beating your personal (and buddies’) bests presents a decent challenge that can last ages.” -Gary Cutlack

#43: DARK SAVIOR (92%)

SSMTop50-43

Years in the making, this adventure has the same class and style as the epochal LandStalker on Mega Drive. Stunning adventuring, although RPG masters may find it too easy…

SSMTop50Pics7

“The sheer quest in Dark Savior is one that all die-hard adventurers will savor — it’s quality. I completed the Japanese import, then played it through again when it came out here. Excellent.” -Rich Leadbetter

#42: DAYTONA CCE (90%)

SSMTop50-42

The Rally conversion team tried their hand at recreating the awesome Daytona USA coin-op on the Saturn with mixed results.

SSMTop50Pics8

“The highly anticipated update of the often maligned Daytona conversion is a mixed bag really. The myriad of improvements (two-player mode, new tracks and improved graphics) is commendable, but somehow the superlative gameplay has been lost in the conversion. It’s not really Daytona anymore, but a cool arcade racer nonetheless.” -Lee Nutter

#41: SPACE HULK (90%)

SSMTop50-41

A corridor shoot ‘em up that tries to include more of a strategy element, with players responsible for positioning their troops as well as shooting.

SSMTop50Pics9

“Do we want strategy in our shoot ‘em ups? Well, if you’re looking for something that’s a bit tougher and durable than most games, Space Hulk’s very complex levels and massive alien sprites should do the trick. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of mindless blasting for you shooting fans.” -Gary Cutlack

#40: SOVIET STRIKE (90%)

SSMTop50-40

The inevitable 32-bit update of EA’s established Strike series arrives to much critical acclaim.

SSMTop50Pics10

“Soviet Strike adheres to the same basic gameplay principles of the previous Strike games, but running on Sega’s powerhouse console, everything is done far better. More weapons, FMV clips, photo-realistic landscapes and a greater variety in the missions culminate in an awesome addition to the series.” -Lee Nutter

#39: JONAH LOMU RUGBY (91%)

SSMTop50-39

The only authentic rugby simulation on the Saturn. Codemasters’ sporting star recreates the sights, sounds and smells of the big lads’ game. It’s a bit difficult to find in the shops, but the effort is more than worth it.

SSMTop50Pics11

“While the world goes soccer crazy, Codemasters take a stab at one of the world’s roughest sports. Actual team stats, spot-on gameplay and bone-crunching matches ensure Jonah’s reputation (and tackle) remain intact. A welcome alternative to all those footie games.” -Matt Yeo

#38: MANX TT SUPERBIKE (91%)

SSMTop50-38

The stunning Model 2 arcade racer was converted to the Saturn by Australian coders Tantalus, and they did a pretty good job too. But can they match the power of a true AM conversion?

SSMTop50Pics12

“The one complaint that stops Manx TT from being a bit higher in this listing is the ridiculous number of tracks — just two. The graphics were the closest a racing game got to Sega Rally standards (at the time), and the racing action played bloody well too. Shame about the number of tracks.” -Gary Cutlack

#37: SATURN BOMBERMAN (90%)

SSMTop50-37

The perfect party game. Hudsonsoft’s first Sega Bomberman outing offers loads of explosive fun with up to ten players trying to blow the living daylights out of each other. As Barry Norman would say: and why not?

SSMTop50Pics13

“Bomberman’s a hit on every system. Excellent long term playability, multiple weapons and battle arenas, multi-tap compatibility and replay value galore. Although let down by a weak one-player game variation, this is still an essential purchase and a great party game.” -Matt Yeo

#36: CROC: LEGEND OF THE GOBBOS (91%)

SSMTop50-36

Take on the evil Baron Dante in this multi-level, 3D platformer. Croc is set to be a big star and his first outing is a real hoot!

SSMTop50Pics14

“Owing a big thanks to Mario 64, Croc’s adventures are perfectly pitched at both young and old players alike. Huge stages, tricky platforming action and hilarious bosses await intrepid players. Not an amazing Saturn game, but certainly in a league of its own.” -Matt Yeo

#35: SUPER PUZZLE FIGHTER II TURBO (86%)

SSMTop50-35

Miniaturizing their cool Street Fighter characters (and others from DarkStalkers) and sticking them in a puzzle game made Capcom sound like they’ve gone mad…

SSMTop50Pics15

“Fortunately Capcom’s masterful coding skills ensured that another gameplay classic emerged. Super-cute versions of Ryu, Chun-Li and the gang battle it out for 2D supremacy, and the gem-dropping gameplay makes for one of the best puzzle games this side of Buckaroo and Connect 4.” -Gary Cutlack

#34: BAKU BAKU ANIMAL (93%)

SSMTop50-34

Not just another Tetris clone, as Sega’s cutesy Baku Baku Animal is arguably the finest example of the puzzle game genre.

SSMTop50Pics16

“I hate this game. Buying it was the single worst mistake I’ve ever made. Baku Baku has single-handedly ruined my sex life. My girlfriend loves it, more than she loves me if truth be known. Bitch. No, just kidding, honest.” -Lee Nutter

#33: BUST-A-MOVE 3 (91%)

SSMTop50-33

Another great puzzle game. Converted from the classic Taito arcade series, this one sees cute cartoon characters shooting colored bubbles all over the place… Intriguing…

SSMTop50Pics17

“Puzzle games are fun, aren’t they? The graphics are always colorful and nice, and most contain simple gameplay that even your mum could understand. Bust-A-Move 3 would be especially popular with your mum because it’s great fun, and contains one of the best head-to-head two-player games there is. Cool.” -Gary Cutlack

#32: FIGHTING VIPERS (94%)

SSMTop50-32

Tossing aside the realism of Virtua Fighter 2, Sega’s pseudo-sequel takes a more fantastical approach to the beat ‘em up genre.

FVSSM

“Adding weapons, barriers and armor to the established Virtua Fighter formula, AM2’s incredible Fighting Vipers conversion is a speedier and more brutal beat ‘em up than the more graceful VF series. Add to this the fact that as a conversion it’s virtually indistinguishable from the arcade, and we’re left with yet another top Saturn beat ‘em up. Ooh and you can watch AM2 play it too!” -Lee Nutter

#31: SEGA AGES (91%)

SSMTop50-31

AM2’s arcade classics of the eighties: Space Harrier, Afterburner II and OutRun are gathered in one outstanding retro compilation.

After Burner
After Burner II
OutRun
OutRun
Space Harrier
Space Harrier

“Sega’s graphics technology, coupled with AM2’s gameplay prowess, have led the arcade field for over a decade. These games (although aged) are still great fun — and OutRun in particular still ranks as one of the greats of the racing genre.” -Rich Leadbetter

#30: BOBBLE BUBBLE FEATURING RAINBOW ISLANDS (92%)

SSMTop50-30

Two epoch-making Taito platform games arrive on Saturn. The graphics might be crap, but the gameplay is golden.

Bubble Bobble
Bubble Bobble
Rainbow Islands
Rainbow Islands

“Bubble Bobble’s cool, but the real star of the show is Rainbow Islands. It might not be quite arcade perfect, but the depth of this game is astounding (there’s more to it than Mario 64). Couple that with perfect gameplay and I can’t recommend this enough.” -Rich Leadbetter

#29: LAST BRONX (92%)

SSMTop50-29

Big men, little girls, bulging weapons — sounds like a dodgy porn flick. But it isn’t, it’s the awesome Last Bronx.

SSMTop50Pics21

“The highly anticipated conversion of AM3’s first fighting foray certainly doesn’t disappoint. Excellent hi-res visuals, 60 FPS update and unequivocally violent gameplay culminates in one of the best 3D beat ‘em ups to grace the Saturn to date.” -Lee Nutter

#28: WIPEOUT 2097 (92%)

SSMTop50-28

A speedy racing game that was one of the few reasons to buy a PlayStation… until it was converted (rather well too) to the Saturn!

SSMTop50Pics22

“Cool futuristic racing, with eight tracks to race around. The hover cars handle really well, and the extra colorful courses all look fantastic in this Saturn conversion. Some of the special effects from the PlayStation version are missing, but who cares? It plays brilliantly and that’s what counts.” -Gary Cutlack

#27: MADDEN NFL ’98 (92%)

SSMTop50-27

It was compulsory for every Mega Drive owner to have at least one Madden game, and the legendary US football series continued on the Saturn — just about the only EA sports title to continue the quality in the move to 32-bit…

SSMTop50Pics23

“And it continued with style. One of the best multi-player games that consenting adults can enjoy, this ’98 update is faster, smoother and tougher than ever before. This year’s players and stats, and the ability to build your own team from scratch make Madden ’98 the best yet.” -Gary Cutlack

#26: STEEP SLOPE SLIDERS (92%)

SSMTop50-26

The first Saturn snowboarding game to hit the UK and it’s a blast! 17 characters, six challenging courses and hundreds of cool tricks.

SSMTop50Pics24

“Board stupid? You won’t be with Steep Slope Sliders, an amazing game that faithfully recreates the world’s most popular winter sport with incredible detail and much playability. Play the game as a straight forward racer and beat the clock or pull off blazing stunts to rack up massive scores. If you’ve never been snowboarding before, Steep Slope Sliders is the perfect downhill trainer.” -Matt Yeo

#25: WARCRAFT II: THE DARK SAGA (91%)

SSMTop50-25

Electronic Arts attempt to grab a slice of the lucrative Command & Conquer action more than makes up for the absence of Red Alert.

SSMTop50Pics25

“Taking a medieval slant on the strategy based Command & Conquer formula, EA’s Warcraft II plays virtually identical to Westwood Studio’s classic. With over 52 huge missions to complete and the Beyond the Portal expansion pack toss in for good measure, this is awesome stuff and well up there with Command & Conquer.” -Lee Nutter

#24: SONIC JAM (92%)

SSMTop50-24

Dubbed as the “ultimate retro pack” in issue #22 of Sega Saturn Magazine, Sonic Jam shows off the Sonic Team at their very best.

SSMTop50Pics26

“The Mega Drive Sonic series was the main reason that many people (myself included) first got into games. Putting all four games on one disc was a masterstroke for the Sonic Team, and with the mind-blowing Sonic World — this is an essential slice of the retro cake.” -Lee Nutter

#23: X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM (92%)

SSMTop50-23

Cyclops, Wolverine, Juggernaut and pals battle it out in one of the most outrageous 2D fighting games ever conceived.

SSMTop50Pics27

“Before X-Men: Children of the Atom, no one knew the potential of Saturn’s 2D capabilities. X-Men showed the world that no machine can match the Saturn (sans Neo Geo of course). When COTA appeared, work at EMAP stopped completely and many happy hours were spent pummeling CVG’s Tom Guise (and others) into pulp as he squealed like a stinking pig… but I digress…” -Rich Leadbetter

#22: DAYTONA USA (92%)

SSMTop50-22

The first conversion of AM2’s classic coin-op and arguably one of the finest racers on the Saturn.

SSMTop50Pics28

“Yeah, the graphics are looking a bit crap now and the PAL conversion is quite poor. But the fact remains that AM2’s Daytona conversion sounds, feels and plays just like the coin-op, not something we could say about the more recent conversion.” -Lee Nutter

#21: GUARDIAN HEROES (93%)

SSMTop50-21

Platform kings Treasure combine classic RPG elements with some hard-hitting, side-scrolling beat ‘em up action. Explore mystical lands inhabited by fair maidens and bizarre monsters.

SSMTop50Pics29

“Only rivaling Capcom in terms of 2D mastery, Treasure’s epic adventure is an innovative and challenging game. The fact that Guardian Heroes manages to breathe new life into the stale scrolling beat ‘em up genre can’t be a bad thing either. A truly ace game.” -Matt Yeo

#20: NIGHT WARRIORS: DARKSTALKERS’ REVENGE (93%)

SSMTop50-20

A classic 2D beat ‘em up featuring a gaggle of truly gruesome creatures. Capcom’s creature feature is also the first sequel to the demonic DarkStalkers.

SSMTop50Pics30

“What other game lets you beat the crap out of vampires, a werewolf and even Frankenstein’s monster? Amazing cartoon animation, completely over-the-top moves and Capcom’s trademark quality gameplay make this a must-have title. Unique amongst beat ‘em ups.” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50Pics30b

#19: QUAKE (93%)

SSMTop50-19

The impossible has been made real with Lobotomy’s translation of id software’s graphically amazing PC shooting game.

SSMTop50Pics31

“Quake on PC is my all-time favorite video game. There may be no Death Match (so Tom Guise AKA TipDrinker gets off lightly this time) but Lobotomy’s tweaks to the single-player game have made it a highly entertaining, challenging experience. And graphically speaking, this translation is untouchable.” -Rich Leadbetter

#18: SHINING THE HOLY ARK (93%)

SSMTop50-18

It’s a new Shining game on the Saturn from Team Sonic. It’s 3D and it’s quality. Enough said.

SSMTop50Pics32

“I didn’t want to review this because it started out so dull. Regardless I battled through the early stages and discovered what ranks as one of the single most compelling RPGs I’ve ever played. I’ve happy memories of this title — I love it loads and can’t wait for Shining Force III.” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50Pics32b

#17: SONIC R (93%)

SSMTop50-17

Designed by the legendary Sonic Team and programmed by British developer Travellers Tales, the first Sonic title to be programmed specifically for the Saturn is a joy to behold.

SSMTop50Pics33b

“Clearly the focal point of Sonic R is the mind-blowing graphics, with some jaw-dropping visuals and special effects rivaling those of Mario Kart 64. But rather than just being a graphical showcase for the Saturn, Sonic R is an awesome game to play. There’s a massive exploration element to it, secret routes to discover, hidden items to find and … well, let’s just say that this is fine Saturn gaming.” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50Pics33

#16: PANZER DRAGOON II ZWEI (93%)

SSMTop50-16

A brilliant blasting game, this game features astounding 3D effects that no Saturn game or indeed PlayStation title has managed to match. And despite being easy to complete, there’s tons of lastability in it too.

SSMTop50Pics34

“We all knew that this one was going to be awesome, but when we first sat down and played the finished article, Panzer Zwei was like a gift from the gods. The graphics redefined our expectations of what the Saturn was capable of — suddenly anything was possible. The different routes, morphing dragon and vast amounts of hidden stuff add immensely to the appeal.” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50Pics34b

#15: COMMAND & CONQUER (94%)

SSMTop50-15

PC games don’t convert well to consoles — most are way too complicated to appeal to us. So how did Command & Conquer score 94% in issue #15? Well, it’s a great game, that’s why.

SSMTop50PIcs35

“Beneath the bland exterior beats the heart of a warrior. A warrior of gameplay, because maneuvering your troops around the battlefield, building bases and attacking the enemy is simple to pick up, and the controls work perfectly. It even comes on two CD’s, each with different areas and scenarios for the two sides in the conflict. A very big game.” -Gary Cutlack

#14: SEGA WORLDWIDE SOCCER ’98 (91%)

SSMTop50-14

Raising a swift index finger to the established FIFA and Actua brands, Sega Worldwide Soccer ’98 out-quaffs them in every conceivable way, being the best footy sim around.

SSMTop50PIcs36

“The arrival of Sega Worldwide Soccer ’97 heralded a new standard in the footy sim genre, but the crap keeper AI and lack of Premiership sides was a real drawback. SWWS ’98 redresses these criticisms whilst retaining the graphical finesse and rampant playability of the prequel. If you don’t own the prequel, this is the only soccer game worth bothering with.” -Lee Nutter

#13: RESIDENT EVIL (94%)

SSMTop50-13

Genuinely frightening action adventure in which the sole purpose is to survive. Roam freely throughout the secluded mansion, mercilessly slaughtering the undead and solving the diverse range of puzzles. Awesome!

SSMTop50PIcs37

“For Capcom’s first foray into the realms of 3D, Resident Evil is an exceptional achievement. This shit-scary scenario, non-linear gameplay and tense atmosphere offers players an experience they’ll never dare to forget. Blasting the head clean off a zombie as a fountain of blood erupts from between its shoulders is quite simply the most satisfying moment in gaming history. Hugely ace stuff!” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50PIcs37b

#12: VIRTUAL ON (93%)

SSMTop50-12

Eight different robots battle it out over different stages in AM3’s robot battler. A game of strategy as well as reflexes, this is one of the best two-player games on Saturn.

SSMTop50PIcs38

“Virtual On is a game of strategy — of brains over brawn. It’s also one of the best one-on-one titles you can get for the Saturn. The amount of strategies and tactics found in this game is frankly amazing. Not many people bought this — a shame because it’s in a class of its own.” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50PIcs38b

#11: VIRTUA COP (94%)

SSMTop50-11

The first of the much vaunted “Big Three” for Christmas ’95, Virtua Cop is a staggeringly accurate conversion of the AM2 masterpiece which simply must be owned.

SSMTop50PIcs39

“After the appalling Lethal Enforcer games, Virtua Cop breathed fresh air into the dying genre. Using polygon-sensitive graphics as opposed to the dreadful FMV, players could reenact their favorite Tarantino shootouts in a socially acceptable way. It’s an absolute classic, though has been largely superseded by its mightily impressive sequel.” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50PIcs39b

#10: STREET FIGHTER COLLECTION (92%)

SSMTop50-10

The ultimate 2D beat ‘em up collection! Capcom’s finest titles meet head-on in a two disc extravaganza. Play the original arcade perfect Super Street Fighter II, Super Street Fighter II Turbo and an updated version of Street Fighter Alpha 2.

SSMTop50PIcs40

“If you’re a hardcore Street Fighter fan then Virgin’s retro beat ‘em up compilation is a must-have item. The game that made Capcom the giant it is today is still the classic it always was and its inclusion here shows just how far the series has come over the years. This collection is still worth buying if you already own Street Fighter Alpha 2, although both Super Street Fighter II and Super Turbo are really starting to look dated.” -Matt Yeo

SSMTop50PIcs40b

SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY #1

SSMTop50PIcs40c

Excluding the Tekken series, I’m not the biggest fan of fighting games. Now, it hasn’t always been like this. I really enjoyed Street Fighter II Turbo back in the day, and I considered myself halfway decent. I used to play it late into the night with my then friends. It was the standard “loser passes the controller” setup that we had going, and the level of competition — as fierce as it was — was pretty even. Few people managed to hold on to the controller for more than three matches. Those were the times, but they are gone now. After that initial Street Fighter rush, I never played a 2D fighter again. Ever. But I’ll always have the memories.

SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY #2

SSMSF2Tur

I have a confession to make… I can no longer be called a TRANSFORMERS collector. ::GASP:: Wait!! Come back!! It’s not what you think. Actually, as of yesterday, I’ve become a *Action Figure* collector. Why? Let me spin the tale…

TFToys2

You see, I love collecting Transformers. They were a huge part of my childhood. I can remember going to Toys R Us and buying the latest Transformers toy, going home and spending the whole day totally focused on the joy of that new toy. They were a defining part of my youth and I’ll collect them and enjoy them for the rest of my life. Now, after I had “shed” the toy thing, I had become like any other teen… on the hunt for exciting adventures. Sounds like a porno but this ain’t Emanuel, so let’s keep it clean… and as for that new, exciting challenge… I found it. It was Street Fighter II.

SFIIKenRyu

I had always loved video games, but this one was different… it totally consumed me. I can remember going to the arcade, after school, with my friends and playing for hours. I remember drawing all the characters during my spare time… and history class. I loved the game, the stories, and thus… Street Fighter is one of my fondest memories.

FlashKickSSM

#9: TOMB RAIDER (94%)

SSMTop50-9

Arguably the best game of 1996, Core’s multi-format platform adventure became a massive success, thanks in no small part to the gravity-defying chest of a certain Miss Croft.

SSMTop50PIcs41

“From virtually every perspective, it’s damn near impossible to find fault with Core’s first real hit. This game is big — like really big. Split into 15 differently themed levels, each feature enormous 3D environments, comparable in sheer scale to those of Mario 64. The gameplay is no slouch either, with a vast array of puzzles to solve, tasks to perform and endangered wildlife to kill. But the real star of the show is of course, Lara Croft. With a versatile array of superbly animated acrobatic maneuvers at her disposal, Lara certainly has great things in front of her (sigh). Unfortunately not on any Sega machine.” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50PIcs41b

#8: EXHUMED (94%)

SSMTop50-8

Lobotomy’s initial adventure was unfairly dubbed Doom in Egypt.” In truth it’s one of the deepest action-packed adventures money can buy. One of the most criminally underrated games of all time. Known as PowerSlave in America.

SSMTop50PIcs42

“It took the whining and moaning of our own “Manual” Daniel Jevons to convince me to take this game seriously. When I started playing — and playing it properly — I realized that this adventure is a work of genius. Sega Saturn Magazine got behind Lobotomy in a big way and our prayers for them to convert Duke Nukem and Quake were answered. It’s also extremely cheap at £20 in most shops, so there’s no excuse not to own this classic.” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50PIcs42b

Rich Leadbetter and the rest of the SSM staff really did a lot for not only Exhumed, but for Lobotomy, the Saturn, and Saturn owners. They pushed Exhumed to the moon. Even after a massively impressive 94% review in issue #11, Exhumed sales were quite low in the weeks following. So, Rich, being the high quality gaming crusader that he was, sought to seek justice. And in issue #13, this was his editorial…

ExhumedEditorial

Rich’s editorial went a long way. The UK masses went out and bought the damn game en masse. Exhumed became a hit as rentals and sales went through the roof following Rich’s passionate plea. Exhumed often appeared in the top 10 rental list. Nice job, Rich. Way to champion the little guys!

SSMTop50PIcs42d

And due to its smash success in the UK, GT Interactive saw fit to allow Lobotomy to program Saturn Quake. If it weren’t for Rich’s never-say-die attitude and Sega Saturn Magazine…

SSMTop50PIcs42c

#7: MARVEL SUPER HEROES (95%)

SSMTop50-7

The game they said couldn’t be done. Capcom’s most ambitious 2D fighting game arrives on the Saturn replete all the awesome visuals and playability that you could hope for. Senses-shattering!

SSMTop50PIcs43

“We got arcade Marvel Super Heroes in the office at about the same time that the finished Saturn X-Men appeared. I remember comparing the two and thinking, ‘no way will this ever come to the Sega machine.’ Whilst the conversion isn’t perfect, it’s incredible in every way that matters. The rich visuals are beyond compare, but it’s the combo system that really makes this game. And Doctor Doom is ace.” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50PIcs43b

#6: VIRTUA COP 2 (95%)

SSMTop50-6

Following the unprecedented success of the seminal Virtua Cop conversion, AM2 reaffirmed their position as the greatest coders of Sega’s machine with this stunning sequel. Time Crisis? HA!

SSMTop50PIcs44b

“The most important thing to mention about Virtua Cop 2 is that it is huge — approximately twice the size of its predecessor in fact. Each of the three levels feature multiple routes about halfway through, making the sequel a less linear affair than the first game. Each of these levels are densely packed with destructible scenery and of course, hod-loads of bad guys. There’s also some stunning set pieces in there — the car chase sequence in particular stands out in my mind. Yeah, it might not be as close a conversion as the less ambitious Virtua Cop, but AM2 have pulled off a miracle in getting the Saturn to emulate the Model 2 coin-op so well. Everyone must own this game.” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50PIcs44c

#5: FIGHTERS MEGAMIX (95%)

SSMTop50-5

AM2’s greatest creations clash in a 3D beat ‘em up of unparalleled proportions! Virtua Fighters meet Fighting Vipers for some hard-hitting 3D beat ‘em up shenanigans. If you want speed and action, get this!

SSMTop50PIcs45

“The Saturn is blessed with a number of awesome 3D beat ‘em ups but Fighters Megamix is something else. A staggering 32 characters, Vipers’ armor-breakers, Virtua Fighter 3 moves, enclosed arenas and secrets galore make this a premier Saturn title. Even if you own both Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, there are still plenty of new features and playable faces to get to grips with. Loads of depth and playability makes Fighters Megamix one game you can’t live without!” -Matt Yeo

SSMTop50PIcs45b

#4: DUKE NUKEM 3D (97%)

SSMTop50-4

One of the most action-packed politically incorrect 3D blasting games imaginable. Lobotomy promised us an excellent translation but the final product defies belief. The best game released this year.

SSMTop50PIcs46

“The speed and action contained in Saturn Duke Nukem just blew me away. Couple the playability with Lobotomy’s incredible 3D engine and you have a game that’s just as cool as the PC game — and sometimes superior. And it hoses down the PlayStation game. Completely. I honestly don’t think I’ve played a game quite as satisfying as Saturn Duke for ages. On the higher difficulty levels the sense of carnage you get is almost intoxicating. Awesome!” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50PIcs46b

97 freakin’ percent. That’s the massive rating Sega Saturn Magazine awarded Duke Nukem 3D. SSM were big fans of Lobotomy since the days of Exhumed. SSM was there every step of the way as Lobotomy converted Quake and Duke Nukem, with previews, showcases and interviews with the Lobotomy staff. Hell, Quake and Duke graced back-to-back covers! Fun fact #1: Lobotomy credited Rich Leadbetter under “Special Thanks” in Saturn Duke.

Good guy Rich!
Good guy Rich!

Fun Fact #2: Rich Leadbetter and Gary Cutlack contacted me back in October of 2004 to thank me for posting their Top 50 list. I had the extreme honor of interviewing both of them about their Sega Saturn memories — from working for the best magazine ever to their favorite Saturn games. Check it out here!

Crazy guy Gary!
Crazy guy Gary!

#3: NiGHTS: INTO DREAMS (96%)

SSMTop50-3

Quite simply the most unique, innovative and beautifully crafted video game of all time, from the crack development team that brought you Sonic the Hedgehog and the explosive Burning Rangers (coming soon!)

SSMTop50PIcs47

“Whilst many were quick to criticize the Sonic Team’s creation for being a tad short and easy, what they consummately failed to appreciate was the true nature of the game. Whilst the sumptuous 3D visuals are enough to draw most gamers in, it’s the superlative retro style of gameplay which keeps them engrossed. Pulling off massive links, racking up huge scores, performing a diverse range of aerial stunts and watching the artificial life system evolve as you play is only a minuscule part of what NiGHTS has to offer. Admittedly, the game concept may appear bizarre at first and ‘immature’ even, but NiGHTS is a unique and lasting experience which simply must be owned by everyone who is serious about games.” -Lee Nutter

SSMTop50PIcs47b

  • Sometime in mid-late ’96

I just got home from Toys R Us and have sampled both Mario 64 and NiGHTS. I came away impressed with both. Mario 64 is destined to become a classic for generations to come, and NiGHTS possesses a unique charm… the kind that might make it a cult classic for the ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if these two still have a large fan base decades later…
-Bruce

SSMTop50PIcs47c

  • 10-13-01

I remember the whole Mario 64 vs. Crash Bandicoot vs. NiGHTS thing. Good times those were. The battle of ’96. Each heavyweight representing its system. I’ll never forget that Saturday when I was at Toys R Us waiting in line to test play each game. It was an exciting time and rivalry — one I still have yet to feel in today’s generation of games. Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical. NiGHTS was something else to witness in 1996. It was poetry in motion. The music was off the charts. They sure as hell don’t make games like this anymore.
-Charlie

SSMTop50PIcs47d

  • I love NiGHTS! If they ever make another one, here’s an idea. Imagine finding a secret underground passage underneath a tree, filled with gems and power-ups, or even better, a clan of Nightopians living in seclusion.
    -Timothy

Nightopians

  • I loved NiGHTS so much that I bought the import. One of the most inspirational games I played in ’96. Only 2 games have EVER kept me up the entire night fueled from adrenaline… NiGHTS and the original Sonic. Yuji Naka and Sonic Team, thank you.
    -Michael Ko

SSMTop50PIcs47e

  • I just picked up my copy of the latest Next Generation magazine and along with it my copy of Christmas NiGHTS. What a great gift! I had forgotten how fun NiGHTS was to play. I couldn’t put it down last night until I had 23 of the 24 gifts. I was confused as to why I couldn’t get the 24th gift until I changed the date to earlier in the year and saw that the 24th gift was Christmas NiGHTS itself. I thought the Sonic into NiGHTS gimmick was a nice touch! I just want to thank Sega for giving me (and others) this very cool Christmas treat!
    -Keith

SSMTop50PIcs47k

  • 12-10-97

Being single and living alone, I usually don’t get into the Christmas spirit until I go to visit my folks a few days before Christmas. I just got Christmas NiGHTS and it actually gave me the Christmas spirit earlier than normal. Thank you Sega. Now I don’t have to buy a tree…
-Evan

SSMTop50PIcs47f

  • 12-15-97

Don’t forget people, Christmas is coming, and you know what that means:

Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams time!

If you got this little gift of joy, whip it out. If not, go find it. Don’t look at me though. Mine ain’t going no where but inside my Saturn.

So, don’t forget…
-Will

  • 12-10-98

Don’t forget people, Christmas is coming, and you know what that means:

Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams time!

Still copyless you say? Fool!

So, don’t forget…
-Will

  • 12-11-99

Don’t forget people, Christmas is coming, and you know what that means:

Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams time!

You BETTER have a copy by now.

So, don’t forget…
-Will

  • 12-18-00

Don’t forget people, Christmas is coming, and you know what that means:

Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams time!

So, don’t forget… but I don’t think I have to repeat myself any more. It’s tradition by now ;)
-Will

SSMTop50PIcs47g

  • This might sound sad but I owe Sega some major thanks. In 2000 I found myself alone on Christmas Eve, with only Christmas NiGHTS to keep me company. And you know what, it was a pretty good Christmas, all things considered. So thanks, Sega.
    -Nelson

SSMTop50PIcs47h

  • 12-07-02

Wow, almost Christmas NiGHTS time already. I’ve played every year since its release on Christmas. Not only has it become tradition for me and many others, it’s become a staple for the holidays. When I was a kid growing up, Christmas just wasn’t Christmas unless you watched A Christmas Story, went to the parade, sang carols and sat on Santa’s lap at the mall. Well, for me anyhow, these days and, yes, still to this day — Christmas NiGHTS is the equivalent to all those, if not a little sweeter.
-Arthur

SSMTop50PIcs47i

  • 12-07-02

I agree! Christmas just isn’t Christmas unless you watch Mickey’s Christmas Carol, eat some gingerbread men and play some Christmas NiGHTS! It’s a legend all in itself. One in which I shall pass down to my kids and their kids. Sega made a lot of mistakes over the years but every time I play this, I say thank you for the great memories.
-David

SSMTop50PIcs47j

#2: SEGA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP (97%)

SSMTop50-2

Since its release in early 1996, Sega Rally has gone on to become the best selling Saturn game ever and the benchmark by which all other racers are judged. And rightly so, in our opinion.

Video game image #160397

“It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why Sega Rally is such an incredible game. Maybe it’s the flawless conversion of the twenty times as expensive coin-op. Maybe it’s the feeling of gritty realism the programmers manage to convey, making you think you’re actually driving a Rally car, but there’s never so much realism that you’d have to know how to drive one yourself to play the game properly. Or could it be the decent smattering of Saturn specific modes, from the awesome split-screen two-player mode, to the ghost mode and custom car option. Who knows? The point is, two years on from its release and Sega Rally is still the best racer on any console bar none. Whilst other racers may boast superior graphics (and only just), none have surpassed Rally in terms of sheer playability. It’s a classic video game of our time.” -Lee Nutter

Video game image #160398

  • 7-27-00

At one point in my life I poured so many hours into Sega Rally that, honest to gosh, I went out driving and heard a voice in my head say “Long medium left baby!” That’s when I knew I had crossed that line… no game but Rally has ever made me feel that way. Not even the almighty Tetris
-Scott

Video game image #160396

  • 8-21-03

Sega Rally was one of the few video games my father actually played. He couldn’t understand how a man in his late 20’s could be interested in playing video games (NOTE: He was addicted to computer golf, but did not think of it as a video game).

Anyway, my niece and nephew were visiting and he asked me to bring over some games for them to play. I debated for about 5 seconds before I packed up the Saturn, steering wheel, and several games — including Sega Rally.

Sega Rally hardly left the machine for the other titles. Everyone was trying to get the best score. The game is just pure fun. I played it last night just to see if my memory was holding it in too high a place. Nope. I played it for a good two hours, loving every minute of it again.

As for my father… I overjoyed him last Christmas by giving him a Golden Tee arcade cabinet for his den.
-Mike Andrews

SSMTop50PIcs48i

  • 5-28-96

After playing out my current batch of Saturn titles, I decided to start playing some of the older ones I hadn’t played in ages. I popped in Sega Rally, a game I had beaten many times before and much to my surprise it was just as if not more fun than it used to be. The excitement of Rally racing is still there after 6 months! I beat all my records and had a blast doing so. If anything this is a testament to its replay value and AM3’s care and love for the games they make.
-Jordan

SSMTop50PIcs48g

  • 9-8-99 (1 day before SEGA Dreamcast’s launch)

Nothing’s sweeter than practicing hard all night til you just manage to shave a half second off your career best. Man that is so satisfying. Words cannot do it justice. Even better is having a buddy watch you do it, trying to psych you out so you don’t beat his best time — and then handing the controller off to him with a smug smile saying “Your turn, champ.”

Rock on, SEGA Saturn.
Bring it on, SEGA Dreamcast!
-Jimmy Bakerfield

SSMTop50PIcs48k

  • 11-14-98

True story. One Saturday night I stood up my girlfriend. I had an hour to go before the date began. I thought “eh, a little Sega Rally never hurt anybody.” Right? An hour quickly became two. My girlfriend called my phone but I left it upstairs. Eventually she came over to my place. She was about to blow her top when I told her to sit down and play. She looked like she was gonna kill me but I continued quickly.

“Look, I’ll give you a BIG lead. If you can beat me, I’ll promise to go to that … opera with you.”

“You’re on.”

I caught up with her on the last lap and was in position to win. But, purposely, I bumped into one of the railings and let her speed ahead for the win.

But really… I won. The opera? It wasn’t so bad.

OK — it was really bad. I hated it.

But, I didn’t get kicked in the balls. Or have my Saturn and Sega Rally copy chucked out the window. It balances out…

A month later we got engaged and 8 months later we got married. I had an hour before the wedding started. I thought “eh, a little Sega Rally never hurt anybody.” Right? … ;)
-Luis A.

SSMTop50PIcs48j

#1: VIRTUA FIGHTER 2 (98%)

SSMTop50-1

Virtua Fighter 2 remains the Saturn’s finest hour, bearing all the hallmarks of greatness that the Saturn stands for. For starters, it’s an AM2 arcade conversion — quite possibly their best one to date. The Saturn’s high resolution mode is used to create the most lifelike fighters yet seen on the system, and the super smooth 60 frames per second movement is uncannily realistic. But for all its technical accomplishments, the real joy with this game is its playability. Each of the characters battles away with REAL fighting techniques, they move and react just like real fighters would. And the possibilities with the 2,000 moves in the game make it virtually limitless in terms of lastability. When this arrived in coin-op form, it was such a step forward that arcade-goers across the globe took notice. And the Saturn version, bar small graphical compromises, is identical. A mammoth achievement — still.

SSMTop50PIcs49

“I remember seeing the first demo of Virtua Fighter 2 in motion on the Saturn. You couldn’t play it — you could only watch as two computer controlled opponents slugged it out. But I was spellbound. Months earlier we’d seen the Saturn seemingly having difficulties replicating the first Virtua Fighter, which had no texture mapping and half the frame rate. To see Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn with all the techniques, characters AND in hi-res was a revelation. Plain and simple. But technical issues aside, VF2 is more than a game, it is an art. On a trip to Japan, my old MAXIMUM colleague Gary Harrod brought back videos of expert VF2 players getting to grips with Akira and Jeffrey (my favorite fighter and his, respectively). What I saw on this video was light years ahead of my own skills. Watching these Japanese masters playing VF2 was like watching an entirely different game to the one I was playing. It was another revelation. These guys had taken the game’s precision controls and stunning physics to awesome effect, with combos and techniques I would spend the next few months attempting to emulate. It’s this huge lastability that makes VF2 superior to Fighters Megamix in my eyes. True, Megamix has more characters, but it lacks the precision gameplay and thus the aspiration for true mastery that VF2 has. And that’s why I think Virtua Fighter 2 is the best Saturn game money can buy.” -Rich Leadbetter

SSMTop50PIcs49e

  • 12-5-95

Just the other day I was at my friend’s house. He showed me Virtua Fighter 2 and, remembering the disaster the first Virtua Fighter port was, I prepared myself for a good chuckle or two. Then I played it. Well I’ll be. Virtua Fighter 2 is quite impressive. I feel a little jealous it’s not on the PlayStation. Perhaps there is legit competition in the Saturn just yet. It certainly has changed this diehard PlayStation user’s perceptions on what the Saturn is capable of.
-Brent ‘The Bone’ Bonds

SSMTop50PIcs49g

  • 12-3-95

I finally got my hands on Virtua Fighter 2 (for $49) this past Friday, and I must say… this game is truly awesome. Virtua Fighter 2 has been the first game I’ve purchased that has made feel like “OH my God, this is incredible!” I look at this game and simply can’t believe I’m playing this at home and I’ve played a LOT of games on a LOT of systems, and this game is just AWESOME!

I’ve written quite a few programs, and worked with a lot of graphics applications, and maybe this is why I am so impressed. To realize what is going on and what has to take place in order to bring you a game of this magnitude is simply mind-blowing.

I’d post more, but gotta get back to my Saturn.

Game on!
-Dave Mann
Irvine Alumni, Class of 1994
University of Southern California

SSMTop50PIcs49d

  • 12-1-95

I just purchased a copy of Virtua Fighter 2 from Microplay and it is absolutely amazing!! At the first sight of the incredibly high-res display and fluid animation, I was blown away. What’s here folks is nothing short of a miracle. It’s the punch in the face Saturn owners have been waiting for! Here’s my quick review:

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Game Play: 10!
Replay Value: 10!

Overall: 98%

Definitely THE best fighting game on any home system to date, and it’s just so damn fun to play, I could go on FOREVER about how great it is! BUY THIS GAME!! If you don’t, I’ll hire midgets to burn down your house.
-Dan

SSMTop50PIcs49n

  • 2-2-01

In my gaming life, I can point to certain console moments that shall forever haunt me. Super Mario Brothers 3 on NES. Sonic the Hedgehog on Genesis. Street Fighter II on SNES. Add Virtua Fighter 2 on Saturn to that list. I went with my dad and three friends to Toys R Us to buy it. Then we got home at 8 PM and played against each other for five straight hours. Imagine… four 12 year old kids huddled around a 27 inch TV for five straight hours on a Saturday night. You know whatever’s keeping their attention for THAT long has to be pretty special.
-Ron

SSMTop50PIcs49i

  • 8-28-00

I was one of the biggest Street Fighter fans back in the early ’90s. Then came Virtua Fighter 2 and I found my new calling. I recall many hours spent at my local arcade attempting to master all 11 characters. I’d stay until they had to literally kick me out.

Then the Saturn version came out and blew away everything I expected. I swear I must have spent at least 1,000 hours on it. No game is perfect, but in my book Virtua Fighter 2 is VERY close.
-James Dat Nguyen

SSMTop50PIcs49l

  • 6-6-02

I don’t play games much today. In fact, the last game I really touched was Halo on XBOX when it came out. Yeah, it’s been a while. Anyway I still lurk from time to time and felt the need to chirp in.

There was once a golden age in gaming. It was the early ’90s. NES was still kicking, Genesis was coming into its own and SNES was just around the corner. Boy what great times. Then came the 32-bit war. It wasn’t quite as memorable as the previous generation of games but three words…

VIRTUA FIGHTER 2.

‘Nuff said.

This game has the kind of magic where, sadly, not everyone will understand. To fully experience it, you must have a gaming group of friends — all equally skilled — and have get-togethers on occasion where you just feast on this game. It really is a marvel. The bouts can either be snap-snap-snap or long drawn-out epics. It’s as fun to watch as it is to play. This is the only way to truly appreciate Virtua Fighter 2.

All the guys I used to play this game with back in the day — they all got married and became fathers. I still talk to them and we kid around sometimes about the “good old days.” We still get together to play Virtua Fighter 2 every once in a long while… but for sure those times in 1996-1997 were priceless.

We like to joke around that one day we might be as old as Shun himself :P
-Ben

SSMTop50PIcs49f

  • 11-5-03

I absolutely hated fighting games until I played Virtua Fighter 2 on May 1, 1997. I thought both 2D and 3D fighting games were stupid, boring and offered no depth whatsoever.

The day I got my Sega Saturn was the day that I changed my mind about fighters. I learned that deep fighting games did exist, I just had to find the ones made by Yu Suzuki. From 1997 up until 1999 my gaming group and I played on average six hours of Virtua Fighter 2 a week. That’s a lot of hours. The only reason why we stopped were due to life (marriage, college, whatever).

I used to feel the same way about racing games. I hated the genre. Thought it too was junk until I discovered my love of Sega Rally. Thanks to both these titles (both on Saturn of course) I “evolved” as a gamer.
-Glenn A. Rudy III

Long live the Sega Saturn!
Long live the Sega Saturn!
And thank you SSM for all the wonderful memories!
And thank you SSM for all the wonderful memories!

Karnov (NES)

Pub: Data East | Dev: SAS Sakata | January 1988
Pub: Data East | Dev: SAS Sakata | January 1988

My uncle, the same crazy uncle who introduced me to Halloween as a kid, took me and my brother to Target one night in 1989. At that time we had our Nintendo for a good two years. I vividly recall browsing the toy section, gawking at the latest in the DINO RIDERS lineup. I had just seen the cartoon which I thought was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. Then, as tradition dictated it, we migrated from the toy section to the video game center. Upon seeing the epic Karnov box, we immediately fell in love with the exotic art. Our uncle took notice of our excitement and bought the game on the spot without either one of us even needing to beg him. That was good ol’ Uncle Jimmy for ya, always the super cool uncle saint that he was.

The late '80s was an awesome time to be a kid
The late ’80s was an awesome time to be a kid

We came rushing home that night, mom in the doorway berating my uncle for buying us the game. As always, he played it cool and managed to diffuse the situation. Back then Uncle Jimmy played his fair spot of games too, and I fondly remember how the three of us retired to the gaming room for the evening. We began alternating play, though mostly my brother Kevin played. Luckily it turned out to be a good game and not a dud, which was always a risk when basing your purchase decisions solely off the art of a box cover. But that’s how it was in those olden days, you see. You relied on your friends, your local mom and pop shop, and your gut instincts. We never could beat Karnov, but we always had a blast trying. We’ve long since passed it on to our cousin David, Uncle Jimmy’s son, and David has long since lost the game to the sands of time. But I will always remember the fun times we shared with Karnov — from that innocent night at Target to all the evenings spent between the three of us trying our damnedest to beat the game once and for all.

KarnovHH

Anyone remember this? I wanted to buy it but since we had the NES game my parents never did.

Dinosaurs21-HH

Instead I got this lousy piece of crap. OK it wasn’t THAT bad; I spent quite a few road trips playing this in the backseat after all, but I bet it ain’t no Karnov!

KarnovFatFace

Long before he turned to the dark side, Karnov was a brave and vigilant soul. Let’s check it out…

LEVEL ONE

Karnov8bNES

Magically transported here via a lightning bolt, right away I knew Karnov would not disappoint. The dragon statue there set the mood proper, and the three of us — my uncle, my brother and myself — were off and running.

I want to be the very best, like no one ever was
I want to be the very best, like no one ever was

Karnov8bNES4C

These icons add some extra depth and strategy to the game. They have different effects and finding out which one works best where will go a long way in seeing you through. The ladder allows you to reach items you couldn’t otherwise. Simply climb down and the ladder is safely back in your inventory. Sweet.

Karnov8bNES3

Remember how they seemed to laugh at you as they threw their rocks? It’s funny how we recall the smallest most obscure memories…

Karnov8bNES5

Karnov8bNES6C

But as soon you open fire, it springs to life firing right back at ya. I love the bizarre baddies in Karnov. The game has a certain weird and charming quasi-Gothic atmosphere to it, and the enemy roster is one major reason why.

Karnov8bNES7C

See? Welcome to bizarre-o world!

This guy (er, girl?) is strange as hell.

THE MUTANT MERMONSTER!
THE MUTANT MERMONSTER!
We kids called it BIG FAT BOOGER
We kids called it BIG FAT BOOGER

As a kid I found this first boss wildly fascinating. What’s that funky green thing he shoots at you anyway? And where’s it coming from? Hmmm, perhaps better not to know eh?

LEVEL TWO

Karnov8bNES10

Let him live too long and chances are, you won't...
Let him live too long and chances are, you won’t…

Karnov8bNES12

In an era where many action games felt hindered by rigid control, maneuvering the fiery Russian was a breath of fresh air. Rarely did I feel like blaming my failures in this game on the control. For a big guy, Karnov sure can move!

Karnov8bNES13C

Duck and shoot rapidly left and right… Karnov can do it all.

KarnovSS2

This boss reminds me of Rowdain from Super Castlevania IV. I love the detail of the lion being green — the whole game just oozes an exotic, mythical atmosphere, as the box art suggested. Nice for a change that a cool box art did not deceive us!

Such a classic SNES game
Such a classic SNES game

LEVEL THREE

I am just going to ignore my editor's comment...
I am just going to ignore my editor’s comment…
Karnov is no tree hugger
Karnov is no tree hugger

You can either climb the tree or jump on it. The advantage of jumping is speed. You’ll get up a lot quicker and be less vulnerable. Sure, you can still fire while you’re climbing, but it’s safer to jump up it. I love when games give the player options.

Karnov8bNES18

Luckily, these rockmen are a different shade from the other rocks, so you can easily distinguish when danger is imminent. BTW, maybe it’s just me but they remind me of the villains from Matango (AKA Attack of the Mushroom People).

A very weird and quirky 1963 film from Japan
A very weird and quirky sci-fi Japanese film

[Their WHAT cousins?  ... Oh, I see -Ed.]
[Their WHAT cousins? … Oh, GRAY... -Ed.]
Don’t underestimate these bastards. Thankfully, you can shoot down the rocks.

Karnov8bNES20

Ol’ T-Rex here may not seem so imposing NOW but that wasn’t the case over 30 years ago, at least not for me it was. I marveled at his size and his simple but effective design was truly memorable for its time.

LEVEL FOUR

Karnov had enough secrets to satisfy
Karnov has enough secrets to satisfy
So what exactly triggers this? I'm not showing :P
So what exactly triggers this? I’m not showing :P

Karnov8bNES22C

Alright, I lied. Set up the ladder and hop on that little edge there. A red dot (Karnov’s power-up icon, if you need it) pops up conveniently, and the bombs will appear when you make your way across. It’s cool how they use the ladder to trigger secrets in this game. I remember how my brother and I gave each other a big hi-five like two geeks when we first discovered this secret over 30 years ago.

These guys reminded me of my M.U.S.C.L.E. toys
These guys reminded me of my M.U.S.C.L.E. toys
The WWF version!
The WWF version! “Ooooh yeah!!!”
The Centipede Womans as tough as it looked ugly
The Centipede Woman is as tough as it is ugly

I thought the T-Rex boss in the last level was nasty… turns out I hadn’t seen SQUAT yet!

Human Centipede vibes...
Human Centipede vibes…

It lunges and moves in a way you wish it wouldn’t! This is what a terrifying and unsettling boss looks like.

LEVEL FIVE

"Well it WOULD be a shame if I just stood here eh?"
“Well, it WOULD be a shame if I just stood here, eh?”
Just because your family couldn't doesn't mean...
Hey! No room for fat shaming in 2020
Diving and shooting underwater, what skills!
Diving and shooting underwater, what skills!
Always love me a good old fashioned mid-boss
Always love me a good old fashioned mid-boss

Karnov8bNES32

Thank God Karnov can’t lose those fancy trousers. We don’t need to see no Sir Arthur here, no siree. Instead he goes gray when he’s down to his last hit.

LEVEL SIX

Find out yourself! [Or see YouTube -Ed.]
Find out for yourself! [Or see YouTube -Ed.]

EVIL KARNOV

FightersHistoryArt

Back in 1993, during the golden days of the fighting game genre, Data East threw their name in the name they released Fighter’s History. The final boss of that game saw the return of Karnov. Fighter’s History is most well known for its lawsuit with Capcom. Capcom felt that Data East ripped off the “feel and spirit” of the almighty Street Fighter II. Capcom lost the case in court. Fighter’s History to this day remains a guilty pleasure of mine.

Hmmm...
Hmmm…
I "barely" see the resemblance.... O_o
I can hardly see the resemblance….
Click on this or zoom in for the dirty details
Click on this or zoom in for the dirty details
Played this to death with Nelly in the summer of '94
Played this to death with Nelly in the summer of ’94

FHShots13

32 years now and counting
32 years now and counting!
[Ah, my favorite book, Karnov Runner -Ed.]
[Ah, my favorite book, Karnov Runner -Ed.]
A must read for all who haven't read it yet
An absolute must read if you haven’t yet
The sequel to Fighter's History
The 1994 sequel to Fighter’s History

KarnovFIRE21

I enjoyed the sequel as well, though I prefer the original. Karnov’s Revenge, AKA Fighter’s History Dynamite, was actually the second Sega Saturn game I ever bought way back in June of 1999! Who knew a fat bald fire breathing pixelated Russian could bring such joy? :D

CLOSING THOUGHTS

KarnovNEStitle

Back in the late ’80s to early ’90s, my brother and I only received at most 2-3 NES games a year. So the ones we did get we had to make sure would be worth it. Usually we relied on friends or on renting to determine if a game was worth owning. In the case of Karnov neither my brother or I had previously played it, or even heard of it. However, the art on the front and back had us sold. Going by such and only such usually spells disaster but thankfully Karnov didn’t disappoint. This game has sort of a Gothic atmosphere that is unlike many other NES games. Its various locales, strange enemies and bosses, not to mention its very distinctly middle Eastern musical styling, evokes a mythical almost goth-like air of mystery that permeates throughout the game’s nine levels. There are also multiple paths and plenty of secrets to encourage repeated play. Icons add further depth and strategy. Plus I always found myself pulled to the portly protagonist. There’s something about the bald Russian that is oddly appealing. It’s not a great game, but I find it to be rather solid and a notable effort in the vast 8-bit Nintendo library.

OVERALL: 7.5

Craigslist Memoirs

Wow, it’s hard to believe we’re now in the year 2020, and even harder for me to fathom that RVGFanatic turned 13 years old earlier this month on January 7, 2020. My baby is now a teenager! :P But in all seriousness, with well over 200 SNES reviews and a slew of random articles written over the past 13 years, it’s been quite the ride. Usually, I would probably roll out some kind of retrospective, but there’s been plenty enough of those over the years! Instead, I’m going to repost (and slightly retweak) one of my earliest articles from my original site: Craigslist Memoirs. There will be a small update at the very end, because just earlier today, January 30, 2020… I had my first Craigslist transaction for the first time in over 12 years! Enjoy this trip down memory lane…

1. OLD FRIENDS AND OLD GAMES
Saturday, March 25, 2006 @ 12:27 PM

Timing is everything...
Timing is everything…

In January 2006 I was struck hard by an overwhelming desire to revisit my childhood in the form of one, the Super Nintendo. There were so many great games from my youth I wanted to play again and even more that I always wanted to play back in the ’90s but never did. Early 2006 was a special time. Most SNES games sold for a measly $5. There was a paucity of nostalgic collectors back then; the market had yet to explode. It was a classic case of right place, right time. I acquired most of my SNES games on the internet, but I also bought more than my fair share in real life. And there’s something special about that. It’s kind of like playing a video game with your buddies in the same room rather than online play. There’s a purity to the real life exchange that simply can’t be beat. I’ve had some great deals and met some interesting cats in those early days of 2006. One of my favorite memories was the day I ran into an old college acquaintance while out hunting.

March 25, 2006. 12:27 PM. Two months into my SNES resurrection, I left my house that Saturday afternoon full of hope and optimism. Burnt out on Saturn gaming, it was during a long University winter break that the urge to play my childhood favorites, and discover the gems that I missed back in the day, hit me like a ton of bricks. But I digress. Back to March 25. The night before I made my local rounds on Craigslist and found an ad of some guy liquidating all his old 16-bit games. I emailed him and he promptly replied, asking me to come visit his store (a good 45 minute drive both ways) on Saturday to browse his selection. He promised to give me a good deal.

And so the next morning I was off on yet another trek. I fondly recall those early hunting days. There was sort of a magic to it all… like the possibility that anything could happen and any game on my want list was lying out in the open. Having a want list of literally hundreds meant a good chance I was always going to find something. It was a peaceful spring Saturday morning. Listening to my blaring music, windows rolled down, driving all over town to reclaim bits and pieces of my childhood… there was something very ‘romantic’ about those early days.

Upon my arrival I met Aaron, the guy whom I had been in contact with. He looked oddly familiar… I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d seen this fool somewhere before. As I browsed his SNES offerings it suddenly hit me. I had a college class with him back in the spring of 2002! In fact, we were groupmates for the final! How’s that for a weird little story? It had to be destiny.

He was looking at me sort of funny too. It had been four years since we seen each other. As we looked at each other my memory started flowing back to me. For our Final we had to share with the class something we were passionate about (it was a rec class). I talked about my love for playing basketball. At that time my love with the game was at its peak (thanks largely to Coach Butler and 9/11). Meanwhile, Aaron shared with the class his passion for video games, which included Nintendo, Sega and even the Atari Jaguar.

As I stood there recalling to myself exactly who this guy was, as if on cue, he came over to break my train of introspective thought.

“Finding everything good?”

I answered his question with a question of my own. “Hey man, didn’t we take a rec class together in college like four years back?”

“Man, I knew you looked familiar! … Steve, right? Yeah I totally remember that class… easiest A+ of my life! How the hell ya been?”

We chewed the fat for a while. So random and crazy! Turns out Aaron’s dream has always been to own his very own game store. And at just 22 years young, he was the manager of this little gaming store. I was happy for him. We were never best buddies in college but we were cool, and just seeing him randomly on this day and finding out that he achieved his dream at just 22 years old, that was sweet. It’s always nice to run into an old face and find them doing well in the game of life.

Found my shining knight...
Found my shining knight…

I eventually brought these four games to the counter. I was so excited to dig up Knights of the Round; it was my first time in two months spotting a copy in the wild. Such good childhood memories spent playing it and Super Baseball 2020, which I also bought and ironically it’s now actually the year 2020 — hey where are my robot baseball players?! Never got to play the SNES port of Power Instinct but I always wanted to. Aaron gave me a good deal. Knights of the Round was priced at $8 but he sold it for $6. Power Instinct was $8 but he took $4. Super Baseball 2020 went for just a measly $1 (!) and Super Soccer Champ ran $2.

What a wild trip, all courtesy of my checking Craigslist the night before. Little did I know I would run into an old face from my early college days, see that he was doing well and that life had been good to him, and get a nice little deal in the process. Driving home that Saturday afternoon, I rolled down the windows with the radio blaring. There was such a feeling of excitement in the air back in those early days of retro game hunting. It was a fascinating time in my life; I was getting ready to wrap up college and look to the future, yet at the same time I was also looking to the past. Glancing over at the four games sitting on my passenger seat, a big fat smile crossed my face as old fond memories of playing them began surfacing. It was the perfect drive home. Those early hunting days… man, I’ll never forget those exuberant days. The feeling of excitement in the air… reclaiming my childhood… running into old faces… crossing want after want off the list. Good times indeed they were.

2. MY NEXT (SHADOW)RUN
Sunday, March 26, 2006 @ 4:45 PM

CraigslistSNES

No rest for the nostalgic! The very next day I drove out 45 minutes to meet a guy for Shadowrun. At the time it was going for about $15-$20 and the guy was offering it for $10. It wasn’t the greatest deal factoring in gas, so why did I do it? It was a lazy Sunday late afternoon and I felt like going for a drive, hitting up the local Game Crazy stores in that region and looking for more SNES games to add to the ever growing library. At that time, I was just a couple months into my Super Nintendo resurrection. There were two Game Crazy locations near his place, and I knew even if I found nothing, I still had Shadowrun to come home with. Good stuff, I figured. At the second Game Crazy I bought Inspector Gadget for $5.39, which was a harder to find game and a decent deal at the time. It wasn’t mint but that was alright by me. I was just happy to cross off yet another want.

CraigslistSNES1

Then I drove to his place to pick up Shadowrun. His house was on this lone stretch of road, kind of isolated and in the middle of nowhere. I was a bit paranoid at first naturally, but at no point did my “alarm in my gut” go off. Thus, I kept proceeding… of course, maybe I was just young and (game) crazy. Just normal slight paranoia, I told myself. But it was getting dark…

As I pulled up this long stretch of road, I saw him walking out of the driveway. He looked nothing like what I imagined, based on our phone calls. Scruffy looking fella in his mid 20s. I handed him a $10 bill, he handed me Shadowrun (which was in great condition), we thanked each other and I drove away, happy to be heading home at long last. It was a scenic drive and I had no idea that first weekend of Craigslist dealings would lead to a spring and summer full of them…

3. RAINING GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS
Friday March 31, 2006 @ 3 PM

Less than one week removed from my first Craigslist dealing, I was back at it again. This time it was a 20 minute drive. I was going to meet Kevin to buy some Genesis games for $20. Based on the titles he had, it was a hell of a deal. In February 2006, I bought a Genesis to complete my 16-bit journey. I felt it was only natural. However, no sooner than 7 months later, I sold my Genesis and all 130 games. I just couldn’t get back into it like I hoped — not like how I did with the SNES. The last Genesis game I sold? Ghouls ‘N Ghosts — one of the games Kevin sold me. I suppose it was only fitting. But I digress.

ThuSpir

Kevin and I met up at a local grocery store. I remember it well. It was 3 PM on a Friday afternoon, and it was raining cats and dogs (or ghouls and ghosts, if you will). I met Kevin in the parking lot. He waved over to me as he sat in his red Toyota pick-up. I suppose he could tell who I was based on my nostalgic (and searching) eyes. Standing outside his truck, umbrella in hand, I watched as he spoke fondly of the games he was selling to me, mentioning how they had been sitting up in his attic for years and years now, and how they were all purchased brand new back in the day. A small cute beagle stood on the passenger seat, its head tilted as it looked at me quizzically. I bought all five games for $20.

Kevin told me these games were bought back when they first came out. He told me how much he loved them but alas it was time to move on. He picked up Ghouls ‘N Ghosts specifically and said, “This is one of the best games I’ve ever played.”

SGNG2

It was this experience that really tuned me into what Craigslist was all about. There are a ton of older guys out there, who still have their old games lying around in the attic somewhere. They just don’t have the time or energy to list them on eBay, so instead dump them on Craigslist in hopes of selling them off quick and easy. Usually looking for the first suitor. And not really looking for equal value either.

So there I was, holding an umbrella as the rain was cascading like crazy. As I handed him a twenty, he told me how happy he felt knowing that no longer would these games collect dust and someone was finally going to play these masterpieces once again.

I’ll always remember this because it was a great deal, sure, but it was nice to meet the people behind the games as well. It’s the human element — something you can’t get through eBay.

Two days later… I had my fourth Craigslist experience, and boy… was that one something else…

4. THE PAUL GIAMATTI EXPERIENCE
Sunday, April 2, 2006 @ 2:25 PM

Around this time I was going through the final stages of getting rid of some excess Saturn games. 23 American games in their bulky cases to be precise. Saturn fans KNOW what a big pain in the butt such an ordeal would be. 1). These largely common and unwanted games have a value of very little 2). Their bulky fragile cases make it a bitch to ship and not break.

So after my three successful Craigslist romps, on Saturday April the first I posted an ad of said undesirable games. Chris called me Sunday morning around 10. He and I agreed on the price of $125. I was pretty shocked, because that was WAY better than I was hoping for! That meant I would get about $5.43 per title. Factoring in 1). he’s coming here 2). I don’t have to spend time packaging the games 3). or spend money on shipping — I was over the moon with his offer. I don’t know why he wanted such bad games, but he was clearly a Saturn fanatic who wanted to round out his collection with the more fringe titles of its library. AKA exactly who I was back in the early to mid 2000’s.

CraigslistSNES2

I was waiting outside my house talking to a friend on the phone. At 2:25 he pulled up with his girlfriend. She stayed in the car while he walked up to my porch to greet me. Wow. He looked EXACTLY like the actor Paul Giamatti. In fact, I was almost expecting Thomas Haden Church to come popping out of the backseat going, “C’MON MILES! LET’S GO FIND SOME CHICKS!”

HadenChurch

I had the box of 23 Saturn titles lined out for him. As he sat down to further examine the box, he and I chatted about the Sega Saturn. He asked if I had Panzer Dragoon Saga — assuming I might be one of those ex-gamers with “gold in the attic.” I told him I had it but it wasn’t for sale :P At the time it was going for around $150 for a complete mint copy. I just did a quick eBay check and in 2020 it goes for around $850!

Halfway through the process he told me, “Wow you’ve kept these in great shape.” He looked like a kid in a candy store as he was opening each case, removing the disc and examining them up to the light.

CraigslistSNES4

I just love when everything fits perfectly, like those games did in that box. I threw in some extras for him. He asked if I had any blank cases for sale with no cracks. I had five, sold him each for a buck. So in all, I walked away with $130, a lot less clutter off my mind and another memorable experience courtesy of Craigslist.

Before he left, I asked him if the lady waiting in his car was his wife. He looked at me and said with a smile “I’m hoping so.” I wished him the very best and watched as he carried the box to his trunk. His girlfriend waved at me and I waved back. What nice people.

Another awesome Craigslist deal in the books. It’s more than simply exchanging goods, although that is the main goal. The rest is a mere bonus if you meet a guy as nice as Paul, er, Chris!

"What can I say Conan, I just love the Sega Saturn!"
“What can I say Conan, I just love the Sega Saturn!”

5. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASS… MAGAZINES
Sunday, July 23, 2006 @ High Noon

CollectStory

Yeah... no thanks!
Yeah… no thanks!

CollStory

That's a nutty day I'll never forget!
That’s a nutty day I’ll never forget!

Looking back on it all, I definitely wouldn’t do that today. I think it had a lot to do with being young and dumb. I was a lot bolder then, willing to drive long distances and meet God knows who in the name of immortalizing my childhood. It was just the excitement of getting back in the fandom, getting out there and reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood. Safety was not a priority — getting the goods was. Like I said, there was an energy and buzz to those early hunting days that will never be replicated, and I’m glad those days are over with. I’m so happy to be retired from collecting video games. I got back at a good time too, when things were still cheap and affordable. Prices these days are outrageous!

Here are some of the magazines and guides the guy sold me:

Hey, I remember that Jeff Rovin guy!
Hey, I remember that Jeff Rovin guy!
He wrote one of my favorite childhood books!
He wrote one of my favorite childhood books!
Ah, good times
Of all places, my dad bought me that book here!

Back in the late ’80s to early-mid ’90s, Suncoast was a staple of my childhood. It was always the first store I visited whenever my mom or dad took me to the local mall. It was en route to other classics such as SOFTWARE ETC., Walden Books, B. Dalton, Sam Goody, and of course, the awesome CYBERSTATION arcade hall on the upstairs wing.

This was THE place to be on a Saturday night back then
This was THE place to be on a Saturday night back then

Upon hitting Suncoast, I would raid their vast horror and Sci-Fi section, drooling over the mesmerizing horror movie boxes and reading the back of every Godzilla VHS box I could find. There was a definite sense of idyllic innocence to those olden days that a small part of me still misses to this day. Jeff Rovin’s Monsters book was one that my friends and I devoured each time they visited my house. Fun times :)

We probably memorized the book word for word!
We probably memorized the book word for word!
So many cool vintage ads. It blew our little minds
So many cool vintage ads. It blew our little minds
As well as fun myths and legends!
As well as fun myths and legends!

CraigslistSNES11

CraigslistSNES13

CraigslistSNES14

CraigslistSNES15

CraigslistSNES16

Love the artwork
Love the artwork
Can't beat this stuff, no sir
Can’t beat this stuff, no sir

CraigslistSNES19

CraigslistSNES22

CraigslistSNES23

CraigslistSNES24

CraigslistSNES25

CraigslistSNES26

CraigslistSNES27

The seller and I flipped through each guide as we reminisced about the good old days. We exchanged shared memories and the like. It was an incredible stroll down memory lane. The final guide at the bottom of the box was Chrono Trigger. He flipped his lid when he saw it, admiring it for what felt like an eternity.

stevecoll16

“A whole decade ago,” he started. “A whole summer bro. Summer of ’96… was totally devoted to this game. This guide helped me like you wouldn’t believe. Have you played Chrono Trigger before?”

“Not yet…”

“WHAT?! Oh man, are you in for a treat. Damn. I’m jealous. I wish I could play this again for the very first time. You’re gonna have a blast with it.”

We stood there further recollecting past gaming memories, and how fast the years go on by. Finally, the discussion of price came up.

“I tell you what, you can have everything for twenty five bucks.”

Twenty five dollars?! Nice.

“Wow, that’s a great deal. Thank you bro.”

“Ah don’t worry about that. I know they’re going to a good home, and that’s all I could ever ask for them,” he smiled. “Someone who will love ‘em as much as I once did. That’s what it’s all about.”

Hell! The Chrono Trigger guide, which I was looking for at the time, one ended at $40 on eBay a few weeks earlier! He helped me carry the two boxes to my trunk, which included the crapload of Nintendo Power magazines from their glory 16-Bit days (not shown).

We chatted for another minute before I told him to enjoy the surprise birthday party later tonight which he had mentioned during our conversation earlier. He told me to take care of the guides. It was another great Craigslist story.

I cannot begin to describe what it was like driving home that day. It wasn’t just the incredible deal he gave me… it was the sheer experience itself. You definitely can’t get that human connection through online purchasing. Oh, and I finally did play Chrono Trigger not that long after. What a game indeed…

SPTop100-31

6. THE GREAT EGM SCORE
Wednesday, May 16, 2007 @ 4 PM

CraigslistSNES28

This was it. The final Craigslist transaction of my career (or so it was for 12+ years). I owned all the EGM issues from 1992-1994 but was missing much of 1995. Randomly one night I decided to browse Craigslist. As luck would have it, I found a guy selling off his old EGM issues, all of which were mint and even still had the wrapper. He sold me 16 issues for $29. I was happy and at this point in mid 2007, I was pretty much done with my collection. It was a good way to go out.

CraigslistSNES29

EGM’s quality started to decline in 1995, but they were still a decent read. I actually thought they were decent up through 2003. But I digress. I bought this lot mainly for the ’95 issues, but I didn’t mind the mint ’94 doubles.

7. THE REUNION
Thursday, January 30, 2020 @ 4:30 PM

SpyCamp

As readers may know, I’ve been on a major book binge as of late. I’ve always loved books as a kid and last year, I rekindled that love. So one night I decided to hit Craigslist randomly to see what books I might find. I found someone selling the Spy School series by Stuart Gibbs. It’s a popular series for middle grade readers. We agreed to meet outside a local post office.

SpyCamp2

She was a nice lady and the transaction took all of 15 seconds. We greeted briefly, I handed her a 20 and we thanked each other. It was a crazy day because my girlfriend JUST moved in last night. I wanted to get home to make sure she was adjusting OK but she told me to take my sweet time and do what I need to do. There was a local bookstore nearby that I hadn’t visited yet, and it advertised used books for cheap. I spent about an hour there and by the time I drove back in town it was dark already. I decided to buy pizza for me and my girlfriend. Getting out of the car, I saw a lady in her mid 30s disciplining her son, who looked to be 7 or 8 years old. She was laying into him pretty harshly, and I remember thinking to myself, “DAMN. I wonder what that kid did to deserve that!”

I head into the store and the cashier tells me my pizza is about 5 minutes away. Then the door opens and in walks the same lady who was yelling at her son just half a minute ago. She looked oddly familiar, and the pizza place has a screen where their patrons’ names are listed. She was listed as “Judy.” Oh my gosh, could it be? Judy from high school?! My biggest crush senior year!?

Hourai7

I looked at her. “Judy??”

She looked back. “Yeah… hey! Oh my God, Steve!?”

What followed was a lot of life updates and reminiscing for the next 5 minutes that we both waited for our pizzas. It was our first time seeing each other in damn near 20 years! She married her high school sweetheart, has two kids and the whole nine. I was so happy for her, and she was so happy for me that my girlfriend just moved in last night. What a random and crazy experience! What a way to close out my Craigslist career. You really can’t top that one!

SpyCamp3

Thanks for the memories, Craigslist.

And glad you didn’t kill me :P

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (SNES)

Pub & Dev: Square | October 1992 | 4 MEGS
Pub & Dev: Square | October 1992 | 4 MEGS

Before there was Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI)… following Final Fantasy II (AKA Final Fantasy IV)… was Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. It was a sidestep in the beloved franchise, being an entry level based RPG aimed toward a younger crowd (and those new to the genre). It has been deemed by some as the black sheep of the Final Fantasy family; some go as far as to call it an albatross and a waste of cartridge space. But surely, being from Square during their hey day, it can’t be THAT bad, can it?

I wonder if they were fans of Mystic Quest? [Probably not -Ed.]
Were they fans of Mystic Quest? [Probably not -Ed.]
Of course, as it often is the case, with one extreme you have the flip side. There are many Mystic Quest defenders who not only proclaim that this game isn’t bad but rather it’s actually pretty good. As it is with many things in life, there’s only one way you can find out for certain: by experiencing it yourself. And way back 12 years ago, during the Christmas season of 2007, I set out to do just that.

RPG: REAL POOR GAMES?

MQFF

Growing up I was a huge fan of any game that granted instant explicit gratification from the moment I pressed start. Fighting and action games were my main go-to genres when it came to video games back in the ’90s. My brother, on the other hand, was obsessed with RPGs. I never could understand why as a kid. Why would anyone want to spend all day conversing with boring townsfolk, or engage in slow, plodding turn-based combat? What the heck is SO appealing about that, my 10 year old brain at the time wondered. I couldn’t figure it out. As far as I was concerned 25 years ago, the acronym “RPG” might as well stand for “Real Poor Games.” But in late 2003, SEGA SATURN MAGAZINE’s constant championing of RPGs slowly but surely opened up my eyes. Suddenly, and for the first time in my life, I began to see RPGs in a new light. It didn’t take me long to procure all the Sega Saturn RPGs, from Albert Odyssey to Panzer Dragoon Saga. Sadly, I never got around to playing any of them thoroughly. Flash forward to January 2006. Upon rediscovering my childhood love, the Super Nintendo, I was determined to finally beat my first RPG. Super Mario RPG perhaps? EarthBound? Chrono Trigger? None of those, actually. I knew in my heart my first RPG could only be… FINAL FANTASY: MYSTIC QUEST.

FFMQEGM

Sure I had read some negative opinions on it and heard through the grapevine it wasn’t worth playing, but that didn’t sway me one bit. Ever since I first laid eyes on the Mystic Quest blurb in EGM issue #43 (February 1993), part of me was always a bit curious about it, despite my disdain of RPGs even back then. There was just something about Mystic Quest that appealed to me and stood out from other RPGs. I guess part of it was the whole training wheels approach. I’d decided that if I were to ever play RPGs, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest would be the very first. Besides, it’s not a bad idea to start at the “bottom” and work your way up. This whole SNES resurgence of mine was another chance at gaming redemption and fulfilling the wavering fantasies of my youth. In December of 2007, I decided it was time to finally quell a near 15 year curiosity. Having experienced the likes of Brandish, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Soul Blazer (and enjoying those adventures immensely), the time had come to ‘level up’ and conquer my very first RPG. All things considered, I can’t think of a more “perfect” RPG to begin with.

THE STORY GOES…

MQFF3

For centuries the Focus Tower stood at the very heart of the World. It had been a center for trade and knowledge, and the people of the World met there to peacefully settle their differences. But on one warm summer day, the Tower was suddenly transformed into a symbol of the purest evil. For on that day, vile monsters battled their way into the Tower, stole the four Crystals of the Earth, and took off with the magical Coins that had kept the Tower’s doors unlocked.

MQFF4

With the Tower doors sealed behind them, the monsters relaxed their guard and turned their attention to the Crystals. As they basked in the radiant glow of the Crystals, the monsters grew stronger and even more wicked than they already were. The more light the monsters consumed, the more the World was drained of its warmth and color. Tremors soon shook the land. The sky grew cloudy and dark. The seasons went berserk. Monsters then appeared everywhere and terrorized the people. The World was thrown into total chaos. Something had to be done. A hero was much needed…

MQFF5

Enter Benjamin, the most normal youngster you could imagine. Like most responsible villagers his age, he arose at the crack of dawn to lead his family’s livestock to the upper meadow to graze. Other kids teased him because he read while tending his herd, and because a village Elder had taken him in as a promising student. Although he seemed mature beyond his years, he still dreamed of being more than he was: faster, stronger and more daring.

Ask and ye shall receive
Ask and ye shall receive
[FINAL MY ASS -Ed.]
[FINAL MY ASS -Ed.]

USE YOUR HEAD, SON

RPGs require a little extra thought than other genres
RPGs require a little extra thought than other genres

MQFF9

In battle mode you can attack with your weapon or by conjuring a variety of magic spells. Spells are usually stronger but eat up magic points. Also, some enemies are immune to certain spells, further adding to the strategy. Gotta use your noggin’ a little bit!

Resident Evil item management this ain't
Resident Evil item management this ain’t
Well you don't hafta, but I like knowing my stats
Well you don’t have to, but I like knowing my stats
Very nice. You're given every chance to succeed
Very nice. You’re given every chance to succeed

MAP QUEST

FFMQMap

Starting out at the Focus Tower, before all is said and done you’ll travel to 29 regions, ranging from ice pyramids to volcano mines. Unoriginal but hey, all the classic themes are represented.

RoadSignsFFMQ

Having the novice RPG player in mind, your movement on the overworld map has been simplified. You’re quite restricted but at least you’ll never get lost.

THE CAST

MQFF13

MQFF14

MQFF15

Your party can only contain two members at any one time, and not by your choice. Along the journey various characters will join you for different reasons. Discover many items, weapons, magic spells and armor. It’s nowhere as extensive as other RPGs, but again, this was made with the novice in mind. Let the journey begin!

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

MQFF16

In the words of Van Halen...
In the words of Van Halen… JUMP!

Follow the old geezer and leap safely to the other mountain before the one you’re on crumbles. Unlike many other RPGs, you can jump in Mystic Quest. Jumping serves a very handy purpose.

MQFF18

“Look over there. That’s the Focus Tower, once the heart of the World. An old Prophecy says, “The vile four will steal the Power, and divide the World behind four doors. At that time the Knight will appear!” The Prophecy has now come true. Four monsters have locked the doors of the Focus Tower and escaped with the keys. They’re draining the light from the 4 Crystals of the Earth, and the World is in chaos. The people are in extreme desperate need of help. STEVE, only you can save the Crystals and the World, AND ONLY YOU.”

MQFF19

MQFF20

But before the Old Man and Steve can chat some more, BEHEMOTH shows up! The screen shakes and roars. It’s time for Steve to prove his worth…

MQFF21

MQFF22

You have the option to attack, use an item or spell, or defend yourself.

MQFF23

After your choice of command is selected, a big yellow square appears on-screen. Place it over any enemy, yourself or your traveling companion, in case of using the Cure spell, f’rinstance.

Behemoth strikes first with Atrocious Morning Breath!
Behemoth strikes first with Atrocious Morning Breath!
The Swift Sword takes off 25 health points
The Swift Sword takes off 25 health points

FF2RVGF3

Occasionally, a critical hit occurs, accompanied by a flash. Triple damage!

BEHEMOTH vanishes after that final critical blow.
BEHEMOTH vanishes after that final critical blow
Well, actually it was more of a guess... -Old Man
Well, actually it was more of a guess… -Old Man
Like a true Millennial
Like a true Millennial

Ah, the infamous heroic shrug of our main chap! It adds an enjoyable and quirky touch to the festivities. Any time that Steve is confused [Oh boy -Ed.], he’ll look at you and give a stumped shrug of the shoulders.

MQFF29

“That depends. What do I get out of it, gramps?”

“… Something more valuable than your eyes will ever believe!”

“Soooo, nothing.”

“Precisely. No! I mean uhhh… something beyond your wildest dreams!”

“I’m just fuckin’ with ya. My pleasure! Step aside.”

"I'm a man of my word. Here ya go, TAKE THIS!"
“I’m a man of my word. Here ya go, TAKE THIS!”

MQFF31

“A withered piece of wood… gee… thanks…”

“Silly kid. Open your eyes, and open your heart. Then find the young girl in Foresta. The rest is up to you, son…”

*vanishes*

“Okaaaaay. That was not creepy at all.”

MQFF32

Treasure chests are littered across the land. Items actually regenerate, so you can abuse the system if you so desire. Cures are invaluable [You don’t say -Ed.]

FF2RVGF14

Speaking of cures, there’s a certain bed in a certain town that won’t cost you a dime and will fully recuperate our hero. Judging by the look of ecstasy on his face, I think he did more than take a nap, if ya know what I mean.

MQFF34

Well, you heard the old fart — off to Foresta with the Tree Wither in hand.

"Right sure, now listen. Where can I find a cheesesteak?"
“Right sure, now listen. Where can I find a pizza?”
No cryptic clues in Mystic Quest
No cryptic clues in Mystic Quest
"Sure thing granny, that's what they all say..."
“Sure thing granny, that’s what they all say…”

Some folks give you a valuable clue to progress the story while others simply add to the atmosphere of the town, and ultimately, the game itself.

You'll meet up with Kaeli here
You’ll meet up with Kaeli here

MQFF39

“KAELI! Don’t you dare storm off with this stranger! You DO remember what happened last time, don’t you?”

“Awww, mom. Look, I have to do this. I hope you’ll understand some day.”

Your first traveling companion
Woot woot
"OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH!"
“OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH!”

MQFF42

“Yes yes, down a little more, Steve. You’re doing very well my son!”

MQFF43

“No, up some more now. Up up, THERE ya go.”

MQFF44

“On second thought, it’d look real nice to the right…”

"MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND! ARRRRRRGH!!!!"
“MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND! ARRRRRRGH!!!!”
Hard work always pays off
Hard work always pays off
Go ahead an' jump!
Go ahead and jump!

MQFF48

One thing I hated about RPGs as a kid whenever I watched my brother play were the insane amount of random enemy encounters. Sometimes it seems like you can’t take 3 steps without the screen flashing into battle. In Mystic Quest however, there are no surprises since all enemies are shown on-screen. In the words of Borat, “IZZ NICE!!”

MQFF49

Speaking of cool touches, here’s another one. This is a typical enemy screen in any RPG, no? Sure but…

MQFF50

Wait, what’s that? Yep, enemies show wear and tear as the battle progresses. Some of the weakened states are rather amusing to behold, such as the band-aid this goof sports. What a git!

[Oh... where to even begin?  -Ed.]
[Oh… where to even begin? -Ed.]
One of the most vital Man Laws to live by, folks
One of the most vital Man Laws to live by, folks

MQFF53

Unfortunately for our diplomatic hero and lovely heroine, their moment is shattered by the appearance of a most vile creature.

The gradual deterioration is a thing of beauty, folks
The gradual deterioration is a thing of beauty
After a brutal battle with the Minotaur, Kaeli faints
After a brutal battle with the Minotaur, Kaeli faints
Much like jumping, it's another cool feature
Much like jumping, it’s another cool feature
Though optional, it's wise to clear all battlefields
Though optional, it’s wise to clear all battlefields
Adventurers never return from these hellholes...
Adventurers never return from these hellholes…

Scattered across the land are battlefields. These regions host monsters dwelling deep below the surface. Not only do you gain experience points from killing the monsters, but you may win key items as well. You don’t have to fight them all at once, so make sure you heal up when your health runs low before reengaging in battle.

Hey who's that new guy? Find out soon
Hey who’s that new guy…

See the importance of clearing out the battlefields? Here you’ve won the Charm Necklace, which protects you against *drum roll* charm attacks. Don’t be a sorry wimp, kill ‘em all — courage and bravado pays off!

Tell me about it. Where have I seen this before?
Tell me about it. Where have I seen this before?

MQFF58

“I just wish I knew what was inside that temple…”

“YOU ARE INSIDE IT! IT IS THE PLACE OF LOST SOULS. ALL NEW SPIRITS MUST PASS THROUGH THERE…”

“But we’re not dead!”

“OOPS. WELL, NOBODY’S PERFECT YA KNOW. OH, AND BY THE WAY, NO ONE STILL ALIVE HAS EVER COME OUTTA THERE IN ONE PIECE!”

Ah, Ghostbusters. What a big fun part of my childhood you were.

Not looking so tough now ARE YA?! Hmph
Not looking so tough now ARE YA?!  Hmph

TRISTAM TEAMS UP!

What a powerful ally, that Tristam!
What a powerful ally, that Tristam!

FF2RVGF7

As Steve is confused and perplexed [what else is new -Ed.], a strange fella appears seemingly out of nowhere. Who is he, and what are his motives?

"I'll sell you some for, say, 90,000 GP. Well?"
“I’ll sell you some for, say, 90,000 GP. Well?”
"But my allowance is only 2 GP a month!"
“But my allowance is only 2 GP a month!”

[HA! I smell what that guy's cooking, and I like it! -Ed.]
[HA! I smell what that guy’s cooking, and I like it! -Ed.]
MQFF62

It would be loads of fun if you could hack the enemies there, but an action RPG this ain’t! If you’re in the mood for one of those, might I recommend any of the following: Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma, Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3 (AKA Secret of Mana 2) or the criminally underrated Gunman’s Proof.

MQFF63

Personally, I enjoy taking my time and not rushing to the exit or end of a game. Taking side trips to stock up on items and such makes the game easier not to mention more enjoyable for me. I like taking my time and exploring the game’s world!

Plus you could use the EXP points before the first boss
Plus ya could use the EXP points before the first boss

MQFF65

This ugly Sand Worm (Beetlejuice, anybody?) is basic yet effective at conveying the kind of nasties you’ll be up against. Just wait until you see some of the boss characters. The graphics won’t blow anyone away, but they get the job done.

MQFF66

Loading up on Tristam’s ninja stars is your reward for taking this little road trip. I find it most gratifying to take your time and really feel the ‘pulse’ of a game rather than rushing for the exit.

Bone Dungeon has some memorable moments
Bone Dungeon has some memorable moments

FF2RVGF8

You’ll come to an entrance blocked by a ton of rocks. Never fear, for Tristam shows off his handy bomb attack. He will then offer to sell you 50 bombs for 30 GP. Buy it!

Let's check out the bomb in action
Let’s check out the bomb in action
Connects on all and is quite powerful to boot. Nice!
Connects on all and is quite powerful to boot. Nice!
HE-MAAAN! [Don't EVEN start -Ed.]
HE-MAAAN!  [Don’t EVEN start -Ed.]
"IMPOSTER! DOWN WITH YOU, YOU VILE SWINE!"
“IMPOSTOR! DOWN WITH YOU, YOU VILE SWINE!”
Use your bombs to blast that rib cage to pieces
Use your bombs to reveal the open path
"Sounds like a good pla -- HEY WAIT A SECOND!"
“Sounds like a good pla — HEY WAIT A SECOND!”

MQFF74

Aw bummer, I thought you meant the first person shooter.

MQFF75

At the far northern region of the Bone Dungeon lies the final skull cage. What horrible creatures lurk beyond these realms?

"I HAVE THE POWER OF THE CRYSTAL OF EARTH!"
“I HAVE THE POWER OF THE CRYSTAL OF EARTH!”
Defeating Rex earns you the Sand Coin
Defeating Rex earns you the Sand Coin
Easier said than done. Naw, it's easy :P
Easier said than done. Naw, it’s easy :P

FF2RVGF9

The best thing about ol’ Rex is seeing his sorry sack of bones deteriorate bit by bit. Mystic Quest is no visual tour de force, but this is a great touch you don’t see in many other RPGs.

MQFF79

“I’LL NEVER DIE!”

“Well, I hate to break it to ya bud but you’re breaking up.”

“WE SHALL SEE ABOUT THAT!”

Rex battles to his grave. You gotta admire that about him.

FF2RVGF10

Slaying my first RPG boss. I know it sounds corny but you never forget your first time.

MQFF80

“WHOA, take a look at this, kid!”

“!!”

“NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!”

"Uh Tristam, I think you better look at this instead"
“Uh Tristam, I think you better look at this instead!”
"I've already seen the Kingdom of Crystal Skull, kid!"
“I’ve already seen the Kingdom of Crystal Skull, kid!”

MQFF83

“Now this Dragon Claw on the other hand… now THIS is something to gawk at! Check out the reach on this baby!”

“Yeah, that’s pretty good.”

“Oh yeah kid, don’t forget our deal now ya hear.”

MQFF84

“I know I know. I keep everything. Well thanks… for everything!”

“HA HA HA, nice try, kid!”

*SHRUG*

“Here ya go. Your very own bottle of Elixir. But the Dragon Claw, I KEEP.”

“Aw gee, THANKS. I’m overwhelmed by your generosity, really I am.”

Back to a party of one  [Story of your life -Ed.]
Back to a party of one [Story of your life -Ed.]
What else to do but shrug
What else to do but shrug
Oooh, things are back to being alive and lush
Oooh, things are back to being alive and lush
"Hard to believe this but I've been called strange!"
“Hard to believe but I too have been called strange!”
[OH PUH-LEEEEASE -Ed.]
[OH PUH-LEEEEASE -Ed.]
Give her a sip of your magic juice -- the elixir that is!
Give her a sip of your magic juice — the elixir that is!
But you WANT to, right? ... Hello? Hello?
But you WANT to, right? … Hello? Hello?
"Sorry, I swung it by AXE-cident..."
“Sorry, I swung it by AXE-cident…”
Time for funny business is over
Time for funny business is over
That Phoebe lass comes in super handy
That Phoebe lass comes in super handy
The non-battle scenes are much appreciated
The non-battle scenes are much appreciated

FF2RVGF11

Before you go charging into battle, be sure to switch out the Cat Claw to your bombs — bombs are far more effective. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the difference in the ATTACK ratings above. Also, because you can see enemies on the map, you’ll know when to switch. You can also switch on the main screen without having to flip to this menu.

"You can't start a fire without a spark..."
“You can’t start a fire without a spark…”

MQFF97

I get up in the evening, and I ain’t got nothing to say.
I come home in the morning.
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain’t nothing but tired.
Man I’m just tired and bored with myself.
Hey there baby, I could use just a little help.

You can’t start a fire.
You can’t start a fire without a spark.
This gun’s for hire.
Even if we’re just dancing in the dark. Even if we’re just dancing in the dark. DAAAAANCIN —

[Ahem. THIS boss says you’re fired, again -Ed.]

Actually, the Centaur is on fire, hahaha…. ahem, I’ll go pack my bags now.

Work your way through. At the end, Squidite awaits
Work your way through. Squidite awaits at the end
"THAT WORKS FOR ME!"
“THAT WORKS FOR ME!”

FF2RVGF12

An eyeful of arrows is not a fun way to spend a Tuesday night, or any other night for that matter. Quite a strong mini boss this one is. Well, looks like squid soup for dinner!

MQFF100

You gotta use your head a little bit, knowing when to attack and when to heal.

MQFF101

“Well STEVE-O, let’s see what we win for slaying that stupid squid, shall we?”

“I wonder what’s inside that chest?”

“Only one way to find out…”

“Uhhh, you first, Phoebe. After all, ladies first!”

“Alright, just stay behind me….. !! STEVE!”

“Yes?”

“That better be a flashlight!”

Can you revive the frozen town of Aquaria?
Can you revive the frozen town of Aquaria?
Ice Golem is one bad mofo
Ice Golem is one bad mofo
Be sure to keep your cool. Sorry
Be sure to keep your cool. Sorry

But before traveling to the Ice Pyramid you must pass Falls Basin. Push ice pillars to solve puzzles and slay the evildoers that stand in your way.

MQFF104

The enemies get bigger, badder and a whole lot uglier!

Such a smooth cat, that Steve [In his dreams -Ed.]
Such a smooth cat, that Steve [… in his dreams -Ed.]
"I got the ugly one!" "Er, which one is that?"
“I got the ugly one!”
“Er, which one is that?”
Watch yo step!
Watch yo step!
Always equip yourself properly before a boss fight
Always equip yourself properly before a boss fight
Beat him and earn the River Coin for your troubles
Beat him and earn the River Coin for your troubles
[No worries, Steve knows a thing or two about weird -Ed.]
[All good, Steve knows a thing or two about weird -Ed.]
"Yeah, that's him. Said his names Barry or something..."
“Yeah, that’s him. Said his name’s Barry or something…”
"IVE GOT ANOTHER CONFESSION TO MAKE!"
“I’VE GOT ANOTHER CONFESSION TO MAKE!”

“Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, THE BEST OF YOU?”

This is the mine [How much am I paying you again? -Ed.]
It’s the mine [How much am I paying you again? -Ed.]
BEWARE OF DOG JINN
BEWARE OF DOG JINN
"Great, look who let the Jinnie out of the bottle!"
Great, who let the Jinnie out of the bottle?

Jinn is actually nothing to make fun of. Jinn refers to a form of demon. Back during my college days, I met a pretty interesting friend who knew a lot about the supernatural. He emailed me about the Jinn once. Here’s what he wrote:

  • So who are the jinns?

The jinns have long accompanied the fantasy and magical world of the human imagination for centuries. They compromise the world of fairies, genies, wish masters, aliens, ghosts, demons, and other supernatural beings. Humanity has long been interested with the jinn and has placed them into films, stories, legends, and even beliefs. We have all seen Aladdin with his genie that would spring out of the lamp, we have all seen Alice and her dreamy “wonderland,” and other such tales. In Christianity, when they warn against doing salvation or having trust in SPIRITS besides THE HOLY SPIRIT, they are talking about these dudes.

Ultimately, the jinns are mortal, carnal, lower spirits that dwell in the lower heavens and on earth amongst mankind. Rather than regarding them solely as demons, Islam regards them as a race or life form that dwells in a world parallel or maybe even perpendicular to that of mankind. This world called “The World of the Jinn” is also referred to as the SUPERNATURAL WORLD.

The word jinn in Arabic means “the unseen.” Therefore, we cannot see the jinn. The light that illuminates off their forms have different wavelengths from visible light (they’re either infrared or ultraviolet).

When a jinn possesses the living, it can make them ill both physically and mentally. That’s why possessed people act crazy. They can also tempt or convince them to do things to other people or themselves that may be bad for them.

Because they are mortal, jinns like humans copulate, consume and drink. They need to survive just like human beings.

They have their own customs, languages, rules, and beliefs. Their ways are different, however they can learn and follow our customs, languages, rules, and beliefs. They can follow our ways because they can see, hear and sense our presences, but we can’t do the same to them. HOWEVER, they can make their presences known to us by taking on the forms, voices and smells of things familiar to us. Never do they ever show their true faces; nevertheless, so forever they remain the UNSEEN [I see, or not, rather -Ed.]

Because they can hear, they can learn and speak our languages and religions. Jinns that dwell in England can speak English, those that live in China can speak Chinese, etc. There are jinn families, boyfriend and girlfriend jinn, young and old fart jinn, nerd and jock jinn, etc.

These spirits are also associated with curses. They dwell in places that are filthy, old, dark and abandoned (public baths, public bathrooms, caverns, deserts, historic ruins, sewers, garbage disposals, shit tanks, etc.). People should avoid entering such places where they dwell for it can harm their well being. In fact, most jinns don’t like it when humans enter their dwellings and can hurt or even kill those folks who trespass into their lairs! People in the past especially archeologists have died soon after picking up cursed ancient artifacts.

[Who is this guy?! Your friend huh? ‘SPLAINS A LOT! -Ed.]

At any rate, when I fought Jinn in Mystic Quest I immediately thought back to that email my college buddy sent me so many years ago. Pretty cool to see folklore make its way into the enemy roster.

Speaking of folklore, up this hill awaits Medusa
Speaking of folklore, up this hill awaits Medusa

MQFF118

This is a good time to stock up, refill, take a leak, do whatever you gotta do. Being able to see where enemies and bosses are on the map is extremely helpful to RPG virgins who detest random battles. So before tackling Medusa or any other (sub)boss, make sure you’re at maximum power.

MQFF119

Sure, she doesn’t look too hideous here, but wait ’til you see her second and third forms — ugh!

Aw see, that Tristam cat ain't all bad
Aw see, that Tristam cat ain’t all bad
Dare you find out what lies behind that door?
Dare you find out what lies behind that door?
Not exactly a brand new Corvette is it?
Not exactly a brand new Corvette is it?
HAIL HYDRA!
“HAIL HYDRA!”
Talk about a hoss! Good luck
Talk about a hoss! Good luck
Reminds me of King Ghidorah. Well, minus a head
Reminds me of King Ghidorah. Well, minus a head
Boy, video games used to be so subtle
Boy, video games used to be so subtle

MQFF127

“So Steve, you want my magic potion do ya?”

“Of course!”

“Well… you can’t have it.”

“What? Why not?”

“My tree friends, you’ve chopped them down!”

“Oh THAAAAT… haha… yeah my bad.”

Doesn't the head on the far left remind you a lot of...
Doesn’t the head on the far left remind you a lot of…
King Ghidorah? Yes, again)
King Ghidorah? (Yes, again)
Nice to see a game not take itself too seriously
Nice to see a game not take itself too seriously
Looks like the time has come...
Looks like the time has come…
Not a bad statue, if youre going for that Duplex look
Not a bad statue, if you’re going for that Duplex look
So cute and cuddly...
So cute and cuddly…
Play times over. Youre in the Dark Kings backyard
Play time’s over. Welcome to the Dark King’s backyard

MQFF134

The Dark King is easily the strongest foe in Mystic Quest and it’ll take much healing to get through this one. Oh and fair warning… if you hate spiders, you’ll love his later forms…

A guy can get used to this captain business, cant he?
A guy can get used to this captain business

M*AD*NESS

They don't make 'em like they used to
They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to

Who could forget these strange Mystic Quest ads back in late 1992? It caught my eye back then and has stuck with me ever since!

Fun looking back on vintage stuff like this
Fun looking back on vintage stuff like this

USA VS. JAPAN

Speaks for itself...
Speaks for itself…

FINAL FANTASY: LINK TO THE MYSTIC PAST?

The manual art for Mystic Quest is impressive
The manual art for Mystic Quest is impressive
In fact, its highly reminiscent of Link to the Past
In fact, it’s highly reminiscent of Link to the Past
Link uncovers a treasure chest...
Link uncovers a treasure chest…
DEJA VU!
DEJA VU!
Prepare for battle, Link!
Prepare for battle, Link!
Hey, wait a minute here
Hey, wait a minute here

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Mystic Quest fared well with the critics. EGM gave it scores of 8, 7, 7 and 7 while Super Play rated it 79%.

FFMQSPRe

CLOSING THOUGHTS

MQFF144

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is one of those divisive games that has as many supporters as it does detractors. Myself, I quite enjoyed it. I’ll always remember it my first official RPG playthrough. And as an RPG starter kit sort of game, it does its job rather well. Enemies can be seen on screen. There aren’t a load of characters or items to tinker with. It’s about as bare bones as a 16-bit RPG can be, and for me at least there’s a certain amount of charm to that. Mystic Quest isn’t your typical epic RPG… if you want something along those lines then try Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger or EarthBound. But for those seeking a basic beginner’s RPG, look no further. Mystic Quest is a good “gateway” game for those new or unfamiliar to the genre.

MQFF145

Graphically, it won’t blow anyone away. Yet the visuals get the job done. Our protagonists are small but adequately detailed, and things such as the !! bubble and shrug add a nice touch. The monsters are well detailed, particularly the giant bosses. I was in awe the first time I laid eyes on the first boss, Flamerus Rex. Speaking of bad guys, you can see the physical deterioration on them as battles progress. Some bosses display as many as four different health status stances, and some of them are very cool. A perfect example being the Ice Golem, who almost melts but hangs on by a feeble grasp of what remains of his once giant hand. It’s a superb touch that adds to the fun of dismantling all the nasties found within. The game’s music is flat out terrific. Battle themes are appropriately intense while towns have a more subdued theme, adding to the adventurous atmosphere of the game.

FFMQPic

In terms of difficulty, Mystic Quest is a cake walk. The plot is simple and moves along at a brisk pace. Sure, it doesn’t have the most elaborate plot in the world and granted, the character development isn’t as in-depth as what’s found in other RPGs, but I ask you this… what other 16-bit RPG allows you to see all your enemies on screen, jump, move pillars, or chop down trees as you’re walking about town? Don’t forget about the ability to hook on to platforms high above with the grappling hook either. There’s plenty to do in the short time the game lasts, which is roughly 8-12 hours depending on your play style. If you can ignore the lofty Final Fantasy label and take the game for what it intended to be, you just might enjoy it as well.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 7
Longevity: 6.5

Overall: 7.0

FINAL STATS

Level 37
HP: 1480
Attack: 230
Defense: 128
Speed: 90
Magic: 51
Accuracy: 93
Evade: 46
GP: 22,288
EXP: 762,582
Time: 17 hours, 5 minutes*

*Most people finished it a lot faster, but I typically enjoy taking my sweet time ;)

Thunder Spirits (SNES)

Pub: Seika | Dev: Toshiba Emi | June 1992 | 8 MEGS
Pub: Seika | Dev: Toshiba Emi | June 1992 | 8 MEGS

As a kid growing up in the early ’90s I can remember dreaming about the Genesis games that I wanted to see “souped-up” on my SNES. Thunder Force III was one of them. I would have given an arm and leg for a Super Nintendo version of Thunder Force III, figuratively speaking of course. I was blown away when I first played Thunder Force III on the Genesis in 1990. It was totally badass. SNES owners received Thunder Spirits in the summer of ’92. It was more or less Thunder Force III. Sadly, less… but I digress. First, let us take a trip down memory lane.

RAINING GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS

Geddit? Sorry, Ill see myself out
Geddit? Sorry, I’ll see myself out

In early 2006 the SNES bug bit me hard and I began reclaiming bits and pieces of my childhood. It started out innocently enough with a mighty comeback to the SNES on January 17, 2006. Not before long I found myself repurchasing all things 8-bit NES and Sega Genesis as well. On March 31, 2006, I met up with a stranger outside a local grocery store. I remember it well. It was 3 PM on a Friday afternoon, and it was raining cats and dogs (or ghouls and ghosts, if you will). I met Kevin in the parking lot, a guy I had been communicating with off Craigslist. He waved over to me sitting in his red Toyota pick-up. I suppose he could tell who I was based on my nostalgic (and searching) eyes. Standing outside, umbrella in hand, I watched as he spoke fondly of the games he was selling to me, mentioning how they had been sitting up in his attic for years and years now, and how they were all purchased brand new back in the day. A small cute beagle stood on the passenger seat, its head tilted as it looked at me quizzically. I got all five games for $20. Thunder Force III was a game I used to watch and play all the time back at Tommy and Denny’s, way back in good old 1990. The game was mind-blowing and really brought home the arcade experience that a home system had yet to deliver at that point in time. I had always wanted to play the SNES version that went by the name of Thunder Spirits, but never did back in the ’90s. Less than a month then into my SNES resurrection, I picked up a copy.

THE STORY

ThuSpir2

The cybernetic computer that controls the planet Orn has long held a disdain for humans. It has surrounded itself with a formidable automated defense system consisting of four planets: Hydra, Gorgon, Saline, and Ellis. Motivated by its fear of the Commonwealth of Humanoid Planets, the computer has initiated a systematic plan to destroy the Commonwealth and enslave its members. The only hope for the Commonwealth is to intervene quickly and destroy the cybernetic computer at the Orn-Core!

ThuSpir3

The Commonwealth has pooled its resources to develop its most technologically advanced fighter, the Vrax. This ship’s diminutive size coupled with advanced stealth technology make it difficult to detect. Equipped with some of the most powerful weaponry ever to be deployed, it is easily the equal of ships many times its size.

ThuSpir4

ThuSpir5

ThuSpir6

OPTIONS

Be sure to turn rapid fire on. Its a life saver
Be sure to turn rapid fire on. It’s a life saver

FIREPOWER

This is just one of quite a few
This is just one of quite a few
Love that cool voiceover "SHIELD!"
Love that cool voice-over effect of “SHIELD!”

Be sure to blast these red ships. They carry new weapons, shields and the CLAW, a special and extremely valuable weapon. It attaches two orbiting drones to your ship which can intercept enemy attack. In addition, these drones will fire the same weapons as your ship, increasing the effectiveness of any gun you use. Sweet! As for the rest of your weaponry, discover them on your own :)

THE MISSION

I nearly crapped my pants the first time I saw him
I nearly crapped my pants the first time I saw him

ThuSpir11

I sure do. It was a great time to be a carefree kid
I sure do. It was a great time to be a carefree kid

ThuSpir13

... too bad the same quality didnt transfer over here
Too bad the same quality didn’t transfer over here
Youll see BIGGER twins soon...
You’ll see way BIGGER twins soon…

ThuSpir16

Saline is one of my favorite levels of the 8
Saline is one of my favorite levels of the 8

ThuSpir18

[Actually theres three -Ed.]
[Actually there’s three -Ed.]
Discover #3 on your own!
Discover #3 on your own!

ThuSpir21

Its up to you to save the galaxy!
It’s up to you to save the galaxy!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

ThuSpir23

For a Thunder Force game hitting the SNES, Thunder Spirits shockingly received very little fanfare. EGM gave it lackluster ratings of 5, 5 and 4. Super Play scored it 73%. On the internet, everyone highly prefers Thunder Force III. Though to be fair and more accurate, Thunder Spirits is technically a port of Thunder Force AC rather than Thunder Force III. Thunder Force AC was released in the arcades after Thunder Force III, and is largely based upon said game. Therefore, players expecting a magical carbon copy of Thunder Force III with SNES trimmings are likely to be quite disappointed.

Here’s a handy cheat to help maximize enjoyment of Thunder Spirits: during the game pause and press select 10 times followed by L, R, R, select. Now you can press Y to add a shield, X to add a Claw, and A to add and upgrade weapons. Try beating the game on Maniac mode with these cheats to help even up the odds!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Still damn impressive to this day I say!
Still damn impressive to this day I say!

For nearly 20 years I wondered if this was *THE* ultimate Thunder Force game… a dream game which would combine one of my favorite Genesis titles with the souped-up capabilities of the almighty SNES. So much for that dream. When I finally played Thunder Spirits in the fall of 2011, I was sorely disappointed. The graphics and sound fail to meet SNES standards, and it pales in comparison to Thunder Force III which came out two years earlier. Then again, keep in mind that Toshiba Emi programmed the SNES version, not TechnoSoft (who did the Genesis game). Maybe the quality would have been vastly different in their hands. At any rate, the bosses here don’t look nearly as impressive or intimidating as they did in the Genesis version. The music is actually somewhat solid, but slightly tarnished by the weak sound effects that accompany it. I really like the first three stages, but the rest leave something to be desired… with too many similar space stages.

ThuSpir25

Still, at its core, it is Thunder Force. That alone is enough to carry some merit. The game does suffer from the sporadic spot of slowdown here and there, but it’s certainly playable and has its moments. It’s pretty cool being able to switch weapons and ship speed with the shoulder buttons (as well as during the pause screen). It also presents a fairly stiff challenge, especially on the Maniac difficulty level. Unfortunately, you can’t help but feel this was a rushed programming job, and certainly one that was handled with a lack of expertise and knowledge of the Super Nintendo’s inner workings. Thunder Spirits should have been an awesome shooter. Instead, it’s rarely mentioned whenever folks talk about the best SNES shooting games. It doesn’t do anything special. Even worse, you know the game didn’t live up to its potential. There are too many moments where you just fly around waiting for enemies to show up. It’s not the frenetic in-your-face shooter that, say, Space Megaforce is. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Thunder Spirits. It’s just difficult to hide my disappointment that this game didn’t knock it out of the park. But hey, can’t win ‘em all!

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 6.5
Longevity: 6.5

Overall: 6.5

Sorry SNES, Genesis wins this round!
Sorry SNES, Genesis wins this round!
Um, yeeeah. No comment...
Um, yeeeah. No comment…

Halloween Books

BooksEx27

This past year I got back into books big time. For years on end my new years resolution would inevitably be to read more. But that never happened. But 2019 proved to be different. I began reading again. And once more, I’ve become a book fiend. I love paperback novels. I love the way they feel. The way they smell (as long as it’s not rancid). The way they transport me to magical far away places. Being a massive Halloween fan, when I found out earlier this summer that the first 4 Halloween movies were novelized, naturally I was all over that like white on rice Michael’s mask. As I write this intro, it’s late Halloween night. I spent the past 3 weeks reading the 4 Halloween novels, having just finished Halloween IV. I had a blast with each of them, some more than others. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the first novel, Halloween.

HALLOWEEN by Curtis Richards

HalloBook

Penned by Dennis Etchison using the pseudonym of Curtis Richards, this book was released in October of 1979, one year after John Carpenter’s Halloween made a killing at the box office. A rare and collectible piece of Halloween memorabilia, the book closely follows the film but adds in enough details to differentiate it from the movie. Namely, it provides a little more background information into what makes Michael Myers tick, and it really takes on a Celtic perspective. You’ll read words like SAMHAIN and “The Druid Festival of the Dead.” It’s the perfect companion piece to the film itself, moreso in my estimation than the actual Halloween II movie sequel. It’s rather well written too, and isn’t merely a throwaway movie novelization. Check out Chapter 1 below for instance…

HalloBook4

Not bad, eh? Really sets the mood and evokes that autumnal feeling of late October and sleepy suburbs where danger lurks in the darkness. Curtis Richards, er, Dennis Etchison, was something of a proficient horror writer in his day so it’s nice to see someone so professional handle this project.

HalloBook3

Unfortunately, being out of print and rare, copies of this book go for a pretty penny. It seems insane to drop triple figures on a book — a rather thin 166 page book at that — but this is a nice prize for diehard Halloween fans. From now on, every October I’ll be watching the movie and reading the book. There’s something about reading the movie in written form that is immensely satisfying. It’s one of those concepts that work equally well as a novel or as a film. I’m glad we have both — the best of both worlds, as it were.

HalloBook2

Following the smash success of Halloween, Halloween II hit theaters on Halloween Eve of 1981. The movie novelization, penned once again by Dennis Etchison who changed his pseudonym from Curtis Richards to Jack Martin, soon followed.

Halloween II film cover
Halloween II film cover

HALLOWEEN II by Jack Martin

The book cover was vastly different from the film
The book cover was vastly different from the film

Although certainly cheesy, I appreciate the creative deviations the novelization made in comparison to its film counterpart. Seeing a human face screaming out in agony covered by a carved jack-o-lantern is quite the gruesome sight. It’s exactly the kind of cover that would stop me dead in my tracks walking by a bookstore or newsstand.

Hallow2Book6

As it is with movie and video game boxes, in addition to the front cover I love admiring the back as well. The summary gives you a good idea of what you’re in store for, and the back cover of Halloween II is at once simple but effective and enticing. The perfect sort of book to read snuggled up by a roasting fire on a cold October evening.

Hallow2Book7

Like many movie novelizations of its time, Halloween II featured some photos plucked straight from the film. That or publicity stills, such as this eerie shot of The Shape’s evil presence looming over the desolate Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.

Who in the BLUE HELL is Launie? Oops...
Who in the BLUE HELL is Launie? Oops…

A recurring error were the photo captions which mostly spelled Laurie as Launie. How no one in editing caught that is practically inexcusable. Thankfully, they get the name right in the book and it’s a small misstep that’s mostly harmless. I get a kick out of it every time that I see it, though. Launie Strode? Get out of here with that :P

Hallow2Book

Halloween II begins with this prologue. I love the part that goes, “You know what it is like.” YOU DAMN RIGHT I DO. And it’s practically the best time of the year for me. Dennis Etchison (or Jack Martin if you will) does a fantastic job of painting the scene for us. It’s Haddonfield. It’s Halloween time. It’s irresistible. Vivid sentences like “the broken moon drifting like a gauze-covered face” bring to mind gloriously rich pictures. Mr. Martin sets the mood right off the bat. You can’t help but want to read on.

Hallow2Book2

Chapter One opens with the haunting line, “There was a shape in the bushes.” This is followed by letting the reader know that the dead walked in Haddonfield that night. The lines about the Devil first being seen on Lampkin Lane and being a four-foot-tall version jumps off the page to me as well. Good stuff by Etchison.

Hallow2Book3

Hallow2Book4

Here’s the infamous opening scene of Halloween II where the neighbor comes out asking Dr. Loomis what is going on out there. It’s always been one of my favorite scenes from the entire franchise. I just love when the neighbor goes, “Is this some kind of joke? I’ve been trick-or-treated to death tonight” followed by Loomis saying “You don’t know what death is” as he runs around the house and the Halloween theme plays. Gives me the chills every time!

Hall2Death

But notice in the novelization it gives a little more character insight. After the neighbor asks the question, in the film Loomis answers immediately. But here, the reader can read Loomis’ most inner thoughts… how he held to the gun, the empty gun… how he thought to himself this is it. How he should have known that Michael was a force beyond human. And how Halloween is over. The games. The roles. The cheap thrills. Now it really begins. This is what I love about novelizations. The writer can color between the lines and give you a little more depth than the film does.

Hallow2Book5

Here’s another shining example of more character insight. After Sheriff Brackett asks Loomis if he knows what Haddonfield is, we see that Loomis is at the point of exasperation with the Sheriff. How one can never expect more than a grunt from a pig, how it’s not the Sheriff’s fault that he is merely a pig in a game ruled by lions, tigers and boogeymen. And how the Sheriff’s very own term “slaughterhouse” is an appropriate metaphor for what might possibly come. God save us all. Loomis benefits greatly from the added insights that Etchison weaved in throughout, making Halloween II a wonderful companion piece to the film itself.

HALLOWEEN III by Jack Martin

Hallow3Book

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a polarizing and controversial film in the franchise. That’s mainly because it does not feature Michael Myers outside of a meta cameo. The producers had the idea of turning the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. It was universally panned when it originally came out in 1982 as moviegoers wanted more Michael but were instead given a movie about killer masks. Over the years however, namely in the last 15 years or so, Halloween III has earned something of a cult following. It is now viewed in the eyes of many as an underrated horror film that would have worked so much better if it were given any other name other than Halloween III.

Beware them creepy masks...
Beware them creepy masks…

Hall3Box

I have vivid memories of renting it from Hollywood Video 25 years ago in 1994. Back then there was no internet, no YouTube, no Twitter. I had no idea the movie didn’t feature Michael Myers. I just thought from the cover and title that it would be about a killer witch teaming up with Michael to slaughter the denizens of Haddonfield, and that idea captivated the shit out of me as a 10 year old kid. Alas, there was no evil witch (in the sense that I was imagining at least) and certainly no Michael. I was PISSED. However, I finally rewatched Halloween III this past October for the first time since that disappointing night and I have to say, I really enjoyed it as an adult who was now able to get pass that whole Michael thing. It truly is an underrated horror film.

Hallow3Book2

Ooh, how creepy! The back cover makes you want to snuggle up in bed and read. Alright, never mind that the description is grossly inaccurate to how the actual story goes…

Their silhouettes always gave me the willies
Their silhouettes always gave me the willies

Something about those shapes… downright demonic. The witch in particular with its sharp pointed hat… it’s an image that has burned itself into my retina from when I first saw it in 1994. Say what you will of Halloween III, it has a badass cover and the tagline “The Night NO ONE Came Home” is a clever play off the original film’s tagline “The Night HE Came Home.”

Hallow3Book3

I love the scene in the movie where the homeless guy in Santa Mira — you know, the ONE guy in town who isn’t brainwashed by Silver Shamrock — tells Cochran to go fuck himself. It was a joy reading it in the novelization. Could totally visualize the actor shouting that line with rebellious fist thrown in the air and all. The paranoia is real, bleeding off the pages, and with good reason. Some shady shit is happening in the small cultish town of Santa Mira, and it’s up to Dr. Dan Challis to find out why…

Hallow3Book5

Here’s a nice added bit by Dennis Etchison. The actual film only showed a small snippet of the first Halloween film, but here Etchison dives in a little deeper. You might be wondering why, or if it’s just a bit of fan service, but the next paragraph reveals the true reason why…

Hallow3Book6

Challis’ wife in the movie, Linda, was played by Nancy Kyes. She also played Annie Brackett in the first Halloween film. So after Etchison wrote about the teenage girls walking down a street in the sleepy suburbs of Haddonfield, Dan Challis sees Annie and thinks to himself, “Hmm. I know the type well. Reminds me a bit of old Linda. I’ll bet that’s what she was like at that age. Always on hand with the right remark to shoot down anybody in sight.” That part made me laugh out loud. That alone is worth the price of admission!

Hallow3Book4

As Etchison wasn’t shy on doing, Halloween III has its quiet moments of introspection and philosophy. It added a lot of extra depth to the characters than what the movie was able to portray. Books can just describe a character’s innermost thoughts in a way the film medium simply cannot. While I enjoy the movie itself, the novelization of Halloween III is definitely a hit and one I plan to revisit in the years to come.

HALLOWEEN IV by Nicholas Grabowsky

HorPB13

The first Halloween novelization not written by Dennis Etchison (AKA Curtis Richards AKA Jack Martin) was Halloween IV. While I find the cover to be simple and cool, I wish Grabowsky had gone with the classic poster version of the actual film.

One of the best covers of all time
One of the best movie posters of all time

Hallow4Book

The back is a bit wordy one might say, but you gotta love that bright orange for the title and the font itself.

Hallow4Book2

Hallow4Book3

The book starts off with this stellar prologue, immediately hooking the reader in. Once again, as with the other Halloween novelizations, there are some extra details here and there that help to better flesh out the various characters. My favorite example of this was when Brady was brawling with Michael Myers. Before he bites the dust, Brady thinks to himself for a second HEY… what if I actually put an end to this guy and become a folk hero of Haddonfield lore? It’s small stuff like that that makes it a little more interesting.

Sadly, this is where the movie novelizations stopped for Halloween. It ended at Halloween IV in 1988. There was no novelization for Halloween V in 1989, or Halloween 6 in 1995. And so forth. Who knows why? Maybe Nicholas Grabowsky’s novel didn’t sell as well as they were hoping. Or maybe the (horror) movie novelization business as a whole was starting to die out a bit. Well, the novelizations for Halloween stopped until 30 years later, anyhow…

HALLOWEEN (2018) by John Passarella

HallowPassarella

The 40th year anniversary saw Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her beloved role as Laurie Strode. A new Halloween movie was finally coming out and it wasn’t being directed by Rob Zombie — score! Naturally, it called for a novelization, and John Passarella was the man for the job.

HallowPassarella2

Weighing in at a hefty 371 pages, Halloween (2018) is no lightweight novel. John Passarella was not shy on describing set pieces or adding extra depth to the characters. If you enjoyed the film then I think you’ll enjoy the novel too. As long as the page count does not intimidate you, I’d recommend it to all fans of the film. Best of all, it’s readily available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. It won’t cost you an arm and a leg, either. I recently reached out to John Passarella for an interview and he was kind enough to accept. Enjoy the Q&A!

IconicHall27

  • When were you first exposed to Halloween (1978), and what were your thoughts?

JP: I don’t recall the first time I watched it, but it wasn’t in the theater. My guess is that I first saw it at home, probably a video rental. My mother was a big fan of horror movies at the time, while I was more of a science fiction/fantasy fan. She always had horror movies on the TV while I spent most of my free time reading. When I first saw it, I thought it was stark and effective, with a understated supernatural quality to it, while other “slasher” movies that followed seemed more interested in violence/gore for its own sake. Even then it felt unique.

H20Shot9

  • Top 5 favorite Halloween films from the franchise?

JP: I am so bad at picking favorite things, let alone ranking them. The original stands alone at the top. I enjoyed H20 when it first came out. For the Halloween (2018) novelization, since I was pressed for time (less than 2 months to write it) and was told that the movie would ignore all the sequels, I didn’t take any time to re-watch any of those films. My wife watches the original movie every Halloween season, so I watched that again this year, but I definitely need to reacquaint myself with all the sequels.

Titan Books also published Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Titan Books also published Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  • How did you get involved in the process of penning Halloween? Did you have to make some sort of pitch or did Titan Books reach out to you?

JP: Titan Books approached me. Probably the best early email I’ve ever received! I had done several original Supernatural tie-in novels for them, plus an original Grimm novelization. And I had worked with several editors there. The editor for the Halloween novelization thought it would be a perfect fit for me.

ILATrip15

  • How long did it take for you to write the book? When did you first start drafting it? How many copies have been sold as of November 2019?

JP: I’d have to check my first contact emails, but I think it was either late March or early April of 2018. After I agreed to write the novelization and the studio approved me, I had to wait for the script to get started. I think that came in the first week of April. The novel was due by the end of May, so it was a compressed time frame. I received access to the daily film photo archive after I had already started writing the first draft. I had to backtrack and rewrite some scenes after I saw the photos of those sets/scenes. They reshot the ending and added some other scenes, mostly flashbacks and some of those still didn’t make it into the final film, but I was fortunate in that I hadn’t gotten to the ending before it was changed. I only had to write the ending once. As far as sales, I have no idea how well it did overall. It has gone into a second edition. For these work-for-hire projects, writers don’t get royalties, so we don’t get royalty statements which would show sales to-date.

NewHallo

  • How did you feel watching the movie for the first time? Was it surreal to see your (novelization) words (more or less) being played out in front of your eyes in a capacity-filled theater?

JP: Surreal is a good word for it. I did not see the film until the premiere. At the time, I had three versions of the story bouncing around in my head. The script and revision, my novelization, and then what actually made it into the final film. There were things that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the film. Other things, mostly additional dialogue made it into the film, but wasn’t in the script at all. I made a point of including all the script dialogue, while adding a bunch of my own. Whole scenes were cut from the final film. Other scenes were really truncated. A few played out differently than they had in the script. They added a lot more humor via dialogue. And the editing of the movie had a thriller feel to it, rather than a horror/suspense film.

NewHallo2

  • There were obviously some cuts made from the movie (script) as compared to your book. Was there any one thing in particular that stuck out to you as you watched the film? Any part or scene omitted from your writing where you wish made it on the big screen? For me, I have to say the book definitely made me care more about Dana and Aaron. They were fleshed out a lot more (naturally) in your book than they were in the film. Understandable, but unfortunate nevertheless.

JP: I think the filmmakers made a choice to make the film mostly Laurie’s story, so a lot of the character development and scenes involving other characters were trimmed. Reading the script, I had this idea that Allyson was the star, so to speak, and it would be a passing of the torch from Laurie to her granddaughter. But the film leans more on Laurie vs Michael, so a lot of Allyson stuff, early on and at/after the dance, got cut to keep a reasonable running time. And, yes, Dana and Aaron had more “screen” time on the page, more scenes, more character development. That’s one thing that helps give the novelization some life and purpose outside the film. Fans can delve a bit deeper into the story and the characters.

Classic Budd...
Classic Budd…
  • In the restroom scene, Dana reads a message scrawled on the side that recites Budd’s infamous “amazing grace come sit on my face” line from 1981 Halloween II. Was that in the original movie script or did you add that in? I couldn’t help but smile when I read that, and was a little saddened realizing it didn’t show up in the movie.

JP: I can’t take credit for that line. It was in the final script.

HalloErnie9

  • It’s been a year since your novel came out. How do you feel about the book overall? Is there anything about it you wish you could have written differently or is it how you wanted it to be?

JP: I don’t know if I would have written it differently if I had seen the movie (a rough cut maybe) before I finished, but maybe. What I enjoy the most in books is suspense, so I naturally tried to create as much suspense as possible. The original film relies heavily on suspense and I took that as my model (since I knew I wouldn’t see the finished movie until its release). A couple scenes (conversations) changed a good bit from script to screen and I would have liked the book version to be closer to the finished film versions but that was out of my control. I didn’t have time to stray too far from the script’s plot, to explore any side roads or backstory, so I may always wonder about that. And in a couple places, I probably described a set in too much detail. Usually the “sets” are only in my head. This was the first time I had actual photos to describe to the reader!

HalloweenKills

  • Have you been signed on to write the movie novelization for Halloween Kills and/or Halloween Ends?

JP: I’d certainly be interested in writing those novelizations, but I haven’t heard anything about them yet. The second film has finished filming but won’t be out for an entire year. The first film came out several months after filming wrapped and everything on the novelization side moved quickly so that it could come out the same time as the movie. Right now, we still have a long window, so I’m not surprised I haven’t heard anything yet. If Titan Books is planning a novelization for the second movie, I may not know until a few months into the new year.

"You cant kill the Boogeyman"
“You can’t kill the Boogeyman…”
  • What do you think it is about Halloween and Michael Myers that has endured with so many fans 40+ years later and counting?

JP: The primal nature of the fear that Michael Myers represents, an unstoppable, merciless, and unknowable evil, represented by the unchanging, unflinching mask. He seems to be so much more than what we see on the surface. Loomis decides after years of examining him that he is simply evil, possibly evil incarnate.

Gooseb4

  • Advice for aspiring authors?

JP: Finish what you write. Once you finish, you have something you can use to get representation, to sell to a magazine or book publisher. And if it doesn’t sell or work for you, finish the next thing, and the next. I started writing at the age of 11, but didn’t publish my first novel until I was 37! I like to think it wouldn’t take so long if I started writing today. When I started, I relied on Writers Digest and Writer magazines, a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias (and my local library) for research, and a manual typewriter (I taught myself to type before they offered a course in school) with actual carbon copies as my only backups. These days, you have webzines, online writers groups, self-publishing tools, social media for marketing and networking, etc.

TwitterBooks

  • Have you, by chance, read any of the other Halloween movie novelizations by Dennis Etchison or Nicholas Grabowsky?

JP: No, though I’d like to hunt down a copy of the original movie novelization. It seems they are hard to come by these days.

Withers

  • What’s next for John Passarella?

JP: Thanks for your interest in my writing and the Halloween novelization. I’m working on a fourth novel in my Wendy Ward (Wither) series right now, but it’s not under contract, which means I don’t have deadline pressure pushing me to the finish line. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, per se, but procrastination is a real hurdle. I work much better and faster when there is a looming deadline!

Thank you once again to John Passarella for taking time out of his busy schedule. All the best in your future projects!

HALLOWEEN: THE CHANGING SHAPE OF AN ICONIC SERIES by Ernie Magnotta

HalloErnie2

Last but not least, we come to Ernie Magnotta’s Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series. This is a comprehensive retrospective on the series that covers the entire franchise sans Halloween III and the 2018 version (it came out just one day after that film premiered). It’s an impressive tome of Halloween knowledge that comes highly recommended. It’s currently on sale on Amazon as of this writing. Its original price is $49.99 but it’s been slashed to $36.47. I bought a copy earlier this year and it’s definitely a must-have item for any diehard fan of the franchise.

I see you, Michael
I see you, Michael

Although not a novelization, being so damn impressive, I had to list and feature it as well. No Halloween fan is complete without it!

I never knew this before reading Ernies book
I never knew this prior to reading Ernie’s book
Its full of fun information and callbacks
It’s chock full of fun information and callbacks
A shot and scene I shall never grow tire of, ever
A shot and scene I shall never grow tire of, ever
Suitably spooky!
Suitably spooky!
Giving some love to the novelizations, did Ernie
Giving some love to the novelizations, did Ernie
I only wish I could have read em as a kid
I only wish I could have read ‘em as a kid!
Nearly 400 pages and towers over mere novels!
Nearly 400 pages and towers over mere novels!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

BooksEx27

I enjoyed reading all five Halloween novelizations this past October. They’re worth seeking out if you love the movies and you enjoy reading. The older ones will be a bit pricey, but c’mon, it’s HALLOWEEN. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare! If I had to rank and rate each book out of 5 stars, it would go as follows:

1. Halloween ****½
2. Halloween IV ****
3. Halloween III ****
4. Halloween (2018) ***½
5. Halloween II ***

HalloErnie7

BONUS: THE PAPERBACK HUNT

HorPB6b

So with these older books, it’s always fun to find a stamp inside the book telling you which paperback store it once belonged to eons ago.

HorPB12

Two of the Halloween novels I bought off eBay came courtesy of Westgate Book Exchange in Las Vegas. What a trip!

There it is again...
There it is again…

A quick online search and I found the place! It was fascinating to see the store pictures and visualize where my Halloween books came from however many years ago. Sadly, they seemed to have closed some time in 2015.

The scene of the crime
The scene of the crime
Out there in hot North Las Vegas
Out there in hot North Las Vegas, but now defunct
So thats where someone bought the books from :P
So that’s where someone bought the books from :P