It (Stephen King)

Stephen King | September 15, 1986 | 1,153 pages
Stephen King | January 5, 2016 | 1,153 pages

34 years ago yesterday, Stephen King’s It was first published. September 15, 1986. I had no idea that was the case until moments ago when I googled the original publication date for this review. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was just yesterday 34 years ago! What a random fun coincidence. Earlier this year I set a goal to read all 1,000+ pages of It, and I’m proud to say I did that. It was also the first Stephen King book I have read, and it definitely won’t be the last. This is often considered Stephen King’s most popular book. It has been critically acclaimed, has been translated into a mini series back in 1990, and also received two full length feature film adaptations. It is as synonymous with the words “horror novel” as any other horror book one could name. But did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look…

This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
High praise indeed
High praise indeed

IT MEMORIES

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I can vividly remember getting my dad to buy me the VHS of the 1990 movie at a Suncoast at the local mall. At the time I had no idea it was based off a book. I just knew there was a creepy clown on the cover and I was sold. I remember watching the movie with my best friend Nelson, and not liking it as much as I hoped. I was a kid at the time so I definitely didn’t understand all the complexities and subtleties. The best part for me of course was whenever Pennywise the clown appeared onscreen (played by Tim Curry). The other “boring” parts Nelson and I didn’t care much for, but like I said, we were just little kids at the time who wanted their horror films to be over the top.

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It was only years later that I found out It originated as a book. A really thick ass book. I was probably in junior high by then, and had no interest in reading a book well over 1,000 pages… especially when Goosebumps scratched my itch for the macabre at just around 120 pages per entry.

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Then It was released in theaters on September 8, 2017. A girl I had just started dating wanted to watch It, and so I took her. I wanted to see it as well, but kept my expectations low because of how disappointing I found the 1990 version to be. We ended up really liking the 2017 version and then earlier this year my wife and I watched It Chapter Two. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to tackle the book.

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At its core it’s a story about relationships: friendship and love. Loyalty. Courage. Overcoming fears. Regrets. Redemption. It was never meant to be focused on the clown, Pennywise, even though he does play a significant role. It is truly “The Losers,” as they’re affectionately called in the book, that make It work on so many different levels. It was that shift in mentality that allowed me to enjoy the movies and the book as much as I did. Of course, it helps to view things from an adult lens as opposed to the one we had when we were 9 or 10 years old. It follows these friends and their adventures in the small town of Derry both past and present, as they are haunted and stalked by a vengeful clown spirit that won’t let them go. Or, is it the kids then turned adults who won’t let It go? Hmm. It could be both…

Sorry Pennywise, It aint all about you
Sorry Pennywise, It ain’t all about you

There are large portions of this very large book that don’t implicitly involve Pennywise the clown. So if you go into It expecting a ton of scary clown thrills, you will likely be disappointed. To be sure, there are a fair share of chills, and the spirit of Pennywise permeates the subtext of the story, but as I said it is more about relationships and righting old wrongs. The more you care about the human characters, the more you will get out of this book. And for the most part, I was quite invested in the human characters, even if Stephen King does seem to go on and on and on at times. He is an exceptionally skilled writer, no doubt about that, but It easily could have been trimmed to around 700-800 pages without losing its soul. Hell, it would have been even better had it been!

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The first page sets up the infamous sewer scene, one of the most iconic moments in horror literature. Poor little Georgie just had to be on that rainy street on that rainy day, didn’t he? But in the famous words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” And what a struggle Georgie had with Pennywise! A struggle that would cost Georgie his arm and ultimately, his incredibly young life. And with that struggle, we get the progression that we need to drive the story forward. Georgie’s older brother, Bill Denbrough, and his “Loser” friends, are then moved to action and sworn to vengeance. Even if it does take them 27 long years…

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As I said, Pennywise doesn’t always show up, but man, when he does, he steals the scene. As you can see, Stephen King has a way with words. It’s nothing overly complex. In fact, it’s pretty straight forward and simple. But he has a way of painting these pictures in your head. At least here he does, anyhow. My favorite line from this page is a very simple but creepy one: “There was a clown in the stormdrain.” Like, what?! It conjures such an unsettling image in the mind that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy, especially if you were George himself. Six year old George, no less! So It definitely opens up with a bang. I won’t spoil the rest!

Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!
Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The best cover of It ever released
The best cover of It ever released (October 1, 1987)

The 2016 Scribner edition I read in particular is 1,153 pages long. Not every page is as thrilling as the first couple pages you see here, so some readers have expressed disappointment or even “bait-and-switch” in the most extreme cases. I don’t think it’s bait-and-switch. For example, look at almost any Godzilla movie. Godzilla rarely appears for a very long running time in his movies, yet they are not bait-and-switch. The same with It and Pennywise. You just have to be ready to dive into Derry and its world, its cast of flawed and imperfect human characters. If you want unabashed wanton clown terror mayhem, then go watch Art the Clown in the Terrifier movies. Don’t read Stephen King’s It because you would only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

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For those patient enough however to stick it through, I think you will find It to be a more rewarding read than not. I really enjoyed it, and would easily give it 4+ stars had it been trimmed down a good 250-300 pages or so. Also, toward the end, there is a certain scene with Beverly Marsh that thankfully did not appear in the movie that completely took me out of it and made me go “WHAT?!?!” I had to read that particular part 3-4 times to believe my eyes. WTF Stephen King?! You’ll know it when you read it. I found it gross and completely unnecessary to the story. Some have defended that part by saying Mr. King did his job — it is the job of the author in a horror book to shock and offend, but “that moment” came so out of left field for me that I cannot comprehend or defend it in any way. But It certainly has earned its place in horror literature lore, and I do recommend diehard horror fans to read It at least once before all is said and done.

3HalfStars

Boy’s Life (Robert R. McCammon)

Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 536 pages
Robert R. McCammon | April 28, 1992 | 578 pages

Over the past year, since getting back into reading, I’ve heard a lot of great things about Boy’s Life. McCammon was well known for his horror novels, but it really wasn’t until Boy’s Life that he reached new heights of reverence. Boy’s Life has elements of horror, to be sure, but it’s much more than just that. There’s a big mystery behind the core of this story, and although that mystery isn’t always the main focus, McCammon takes you on this wild ride of an 11 year old boy who comes of age in the south in the mid 1960s. It is also a powerful tale of a father and son who bear personal witness to a heinous crime and have to navigate life with all of that trauma weighing them down.

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I absolutely love that back cover. The praises, the summary… it all meshes and makes a strong declaration to the reader: READ ME!

What a gorgeous stepback art cover!
What a gorgeous stepback art cover!

MCCAMMON CANON

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After finishing Boy’s Life on April 2, 2020, I went on a “bit” of a McCammon kick. A month later, I was lucky enough to come across a lot of 11 Robert R. McCammon books for just $39.99. I’ve read one since and can’t wait to eventually read the rest. McCammon is a writer’s writer; he writes in a way that is lyrical and puts you right there at the scene of the crime. I’m a huge fan of his writing!

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This is my collection of 15 Robert R. McCammon books. Most of them fall under the horror genre. I’ve heard some amazing things about Swan Song, a tome that spans nearly 1,000 pages long. It is said to be a super epic tale about the end of the world, similar to Stephen King’s The Stand (which I am currently reading — what with COVID-19 and all), but I hear Swan Song is that much more superior.

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Look at all that amazing art work. The titles, the font, the colors… everything is just so gorgeous and striking. They sure as hell don’t make covers like this anymore! His earlier works are said to be weaker than his later entries, as McCammon grew as a writer with each passing book. But I digress. Back to Boy’s Life

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Boy’s Life opts for the first person narrative, and when done right, I really prefer this form of storytelling. Nothing puts you in the shoes and the heart of the main character quite like seeing and hearing things from their perspective. I like how Cory reflects on his younger life, as he rapidly approaches his 40th birthday. It is very reminiscent of Fred Savage’s character, Kevin Arnold, looking back on his formative years from the seminal ’80s TV show The Wonder Years. Being a huge Wonder Years fan, right away McCammon had me sold. Kevin Arnold living in a supernatural world? I’m *SO* there. Take my money, McCammon!

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McCammon’s prose is full of these rich, beautiful word pictures. He makes the reader see beyond the text and into the amazing world he has crafted. Often times, I stop after a certain passage and just have to read it twice. The writing has a timeless quality to it that pulls you in.

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At 578 pages long, Boy’s Life did admittedly drag slightly for me in a few places, but for the most part I was enthralled by the characters and curious about the mystery that wraps itself around the story. When McCammon nails a passage, man, does he ever stick the landing! For example, the excerpt you see above is perhaps my favorite from the book. It is just so haunting… so nostalgic… so full of kinetic energy that you can almost feel it pulsating off the page like fierce firecrackers spouting off in a barrel. “We pedaled on, four buddies with the wind at our backs and all roads leading to the future.” Powerful shit! Good shit!

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I don’t want to spoil this beautiful story for those who haven’t read it, but I will reiterate that it really isn’t a horror novel. Sure, it has got some spooky and supernatural elements to it, but it’s really more about a boy coming of age in the mid 1960s, and his looking back on those formative years that shaped him into the man he would become. There is a definite nostalgic quality to the writing and storytelling. It may be dauntingly overlong to some, but I encourage you to give it a shot if anything in this review resonated with you in the least. It is truly a defining piece of work and often cited as McCammon’s very finest.

BOY’S LOVE

The praise for this book is seemingly endless
The praise for this book is seemingly endless
I'm so glad I read it in 2020!
The effusive shower of adoration continues

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This is the one I remember most, though. I remember when Boy’s Life popped on my radar. As per usual, the first thing I did was visit Goodreads to see the overall consensus. Now I don’t always base my feelings on what strangers think, but I think it’s a fun bar that can be factored in when deciding whether I want to buy a book or not. And I just remember seeing the insane amount of 5 star reviews for Boy’s Life. And how there were barely any 1 or 2 star reviews. No book is ever perfect, and most books will have its fair share of supporters as well as detractors (some far more than others), but Boy’s Life averaged a whopping 4.36 rating as rated by more than 25,000 readers. That blew my mind, and I knew right away it was a book I had to read in 2020. It was also Char’s highlighted review that inspired me to buy a copy that very day.

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Perfectly stated, Char. Indeed.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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McCammon does an excellent job of plopping you into the shoes of 11 year old Cory Mackenson smack dab in the middle of Zephyr circa 1964. The small sleepy town of Zephyr feels like a real breathing place. Themes of racism, bullying, injustice, social inequity and standing up for what you believe in rings loud and proud throughout the pages of Boy’s Life. It’s not perfect but there are many moments where I finished a reading session with one word ringing loud in my mind: “wow.” The story gets really heartbreaking at times and I love the ending where it fast forwards to the year 1991 and we get to see present day Cory Mackenson returning to his childhood town. That part filled me with so much nostalgia in spite of the fact that I am not Cory or never been to his hometown of Zephyr. It’s simply a testament to McCammon’s immense skill of making you feel like you know Cory and his town like the back of your own real life childhood hometown. Also love the father-son relationship in this story. Highly recommended for fans of coming-of-age stories, with a hint of the supernatural.

4Stars

Manitou Doll (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | May 28, 1981 | 236 pages
Guy N. Smith | May 28, 1981 | 236 pages

After devouring Guy N. Smith’s Cannibals, one thing was clear: I needed more Guy in my life. I won Manitou Doll and Cannibals from the same eBay seller, so naturally, Manitou Doll was the next book to be read. The cover piqued my interest immediately. It’s so exotic, so… EVIL. Just look at that glorious wooden carved doll, bursting to life with a demonic eye peering out of its shell. Top it off with the chilling silhouette of a mysterious woman worshiping in the distance of a gorgeous mountain range, and it instantly transports you back to those magical, halcyon days of browsing the horror section at your local mom and pop rental store, gawking at all the amazing and cool VHS covers that the ’80s had to offer. The little caption “Hell’s fury breaks loose on a holiday weekend” only further adds to the fun, promising much carnage and sinister shenanigans to come. It’s one of the most intriguing book covers I have ever seen, so I couldn’t wait to read it especially given how much I enjoyed Cannibals. Can Guy N. Smith go 2 for 2?

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The back cover suggests a seedy story taking place at a rainy fairground where shady happenings are the order of the day. Manitou Doll centers around the Caitlins and their daughter, Rowena (who is hard of hearing), and the deadly misadventures they find themselves caught up in upon stepping foot on the fairground’s foul and drenched soil.

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Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the horrific idea of killer dolls and such. Sure, Chucky from Child’s Play is arguably the most iconic of its ilk, but the Zuni warrior doll from Trilogy of Terror always haunted me. It seemed like Manitou Doll had all the potential to be an awesome story about a killer doll on the rampage.

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There are some scenes in the book describing the fair’s Punch and Judy show. Those things always creep the hell out of me!

Ugh!
Ugh!

I couldn’t wait to dive in. Let’s see if Guy N. Smith does killer dolls right.

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The horror began on September 16, 1868. The prologue is a bit slow moving at first, but you can feel Guy slowly ratcheting up the tension as the inevitable “breaking point” event creeps ever closer. I felt a sense of impending doom building as I continued to read, waiting for that horrific “oh shit” moment.

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And whoop, there it is. A terrible raping occurs, and from that, a curse was born for future generations to come. And rue that day they did.

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Guy is no Ernest Hemingway, but I do enjoy his prose. He does a good job of dropping you in the middle of a creepy hamlet, or in this case, a rain soaked and rundown fairground. He has a certain way with words that puts you in the middle of the action.

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As with many horror books of the time, plenty of side characters are introduced solely for them to meet a bitter end not long thereafter. Enter Margaret Stott, who is about to suffer a most horrifying demise.

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These passages haunt me even now to this day, and it’s been a year since I’ve read this book. I will always remember this scene in particular. I could picture Margaret’s mind snapping, her will breaking and all her humanity stripped. It is as harrowing as it gets. The poor woman found herself trapped in an area where the air supply was limited, movement was restricted and she was at the mercy of darkness…

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Guy N. Smith has a way of burrowing underneath your skin. You just get that shiver running through your spine as you spiral deeper and deeper into the abyss. Not recommended for those with claustrophobia!

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Insane mirth — yes, indeed. That about sums it up! What a haunting passage. There are quite a few of these disturbing moments. Another one is the weird spook ride where young Rowena Caitlin ends up … well, I don’t want to spoil it.

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I just wish that there was more killer doll action. The cover makes it seem like it might be, but it’s more about the drama that exists between the Caitlin family and the strange doll carver, Jane. It’s filled with cliches and tropes as one might expect, but a little too much is focused on the humans than the doll. Maybe my expectations were too high. I just wanted straight maniac doll horror. Instead, it’s scattered among the human drama which at times felt like a bit of a slog to get through.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Manitou Doll had a ton of potential to be THE killer doll pulp novel of its time. But there isn’t enough doll action here for my liking, and too much human drama that I honestly didn’t care about much. The characters are flat, one dimensional and a bit annoying at times. There are some nice evil doll moments sprinkled throughout, but not enough for me to recommend this. It’s just an OK read; I wouldn’t go out of my way to track this one down. I do love Guy’s description of the decrepit fairground. And that cover is totally badass. What a shame then that the story didn’t deliver. Your mileage may vary, but for me this is definitely a case where admirable ambition was largely nullified by subpar execution. I didn’t have as much fun reading Manitou Doll as I had hoped. Not a terrible read — just disappointingly average!

2HalfStars

Cannibals (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | December 1986 | 186 pages
Guy N. Smith | December 1986 | 208 pages

Last summer I began my journey into the sordid and macabre world of vintage horror fiction. Browsing eBay late one night, I happened to come across an auction for a book called CANNIBALS. After Googling Guy N. Smith, I discovered that he was a rather popular English writer of pulp horror fiction. In other words, if you enjoy trashy and wildly graphic horror stories, Guy N. Smith is your guy (sorry). Guy is most well known for his infamous Crabs franchise, of which he wrote no less than EIGHT books about killer crabs. I knew then that I had to buy Cannibals. Put it on my watch list and a few days later, placed my bid at the last possible second and won the sucker. The excitement level was palpable — I couldn’t wait to read my first adult horror book, something long overdue. Did Guy deliver? Let’s delve in…

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Cannibals won’t win any awards for originality, but the plot is right up my alley. Of the many different horror sub-genres, I’ve always been a sucker for grotesque inbred creatures attacking poor unwitting fools. I love how the back of the book has the same killer art as the front cover. That hideous creature is just so gruesome. What is up with those webbed claws and that third eye?! Definitely not something you would want to run into late at night, or any other time of the day! I also love the simple plot and how you know there will be an uprising of the monsters. Much blood shed is promised, and much is spilled and splattered through the book’s 208 pages. It is a wild, bloody ride!

Guy N. Smith
Guy N. Smith

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…

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Wrong Turn opened in theaters on May 30, 2003. I scored two tickets for a special pre-screening the night before, and invited a good college buddy of mine along. It was a packed house! Lots of girls screaming in the audience and lots of funny comments like “OH HELL NO! GIRL YOU BETTER WATCH YO BACK!” made for a very fun evening of slasher movie madness. Cannibals is kind of like Wrong Turn and The Hills Have Eyes… but on steroids.

The Hills Have Eyes, a cult classic
The Hills Have Eyes, a 1977 cult classic

ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

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Most horror books open with an excerpt from later in the book. It’s usually a nasty bit that the author wants to highlight right from jump street. The one in Cannibals is no exception; it is a particularly abominable excerpt…

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The first page introduces us to Doug Geddis, an elderly member of the hamlet known as Invercurie. We find out he’s in his late 50s and that he’s seen through shit. He is clearly apprehensive, and praying that whatever was lurking outside were villagers rather than… well, you know. Right away Guy N. Smith paints a desolate scene. One that feels hopeless, isolated from civilization and ripe for some inbred monster mayhem.

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It isn’t long before readers find Doug Geddis is up to no good. Greedy to make a buck, he’s willing to risk the lives of careless holidaymakers. What a great word, by the way. You gotta love English writers; they use certain words and phrases American writers don’t. Little details like that can make a book feel “exotic” and extra fun to read. I also love his wife’s accent and how Guy writes it as how you would hear her speak it: “Douglas, ye can nae bring outsiders to Invercurie, ye can nae risk them seeing…” and then ol’ Douglas the mad lad telling her to shut up. Or think it, anyhow. The page ends on this chilling line: “Death would always stalk the night hours in Invercurie.” Ooh, spooky! Even the word “Invercurie” seems to curdle the blood… it just sounds like the sort of place where really bad and awful things happen… the type of place that deserves to be blotted off the map and blown to bits. A region where no God of any kind exists…

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Soon we get some foolhardy holidaymakers crashing the scene. They’re needed for the body count, y’know. Once again we get another chilling line in italics: Invercurie ceases to be a place of beauty after dark. Ye mustna go up into the mountains. Creepy stuff!

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Be ready for a lot of words written in italics. I suppose it was Guy’s way of being extra dramatic and look-at-me. Whatever the odd case may be, I find it works. My eyes were always drawn to the italics, and I knew anything in italics usually meant some sort of vulgar language or graphic description. Guy’s vivid description of the beasts is second to none. He really excels at grossing you out and making you feel super glad you’re anywhere but Invercurie!

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When shit hits the fan, it really hits the fan. This is like nothing I’ve ever read from R.L. Stine, that’s for sure! Oh no, people die here and die in very gruesome ways. It is not for the faint of heart. Cannibals is balls to the walls horror and depravity personified. Being my first adult horror book read, I could not believe how vile and despicable it was. Each reading session concluded with me wanting to thoroughly scrub myself clean!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Guy N. Smith is a savage. The story moves along at a brisk pace, there is plenty of monster mayhem and it never drags. This isn’t one of those lame horror stories where it’s 80% buildup and then finally the monsters appear during the final 20%. These godforsaken creatures show up early and often. At first it’s a bunch of slaughtering up in their dank decrepit cave. But before things come to a fiery conclusion, the creatures shamble out of their cave to wreck havoc and smash shit up down in the village. This was no lame first book in a series where it sets up events for the middle book. This is a standalone where Guy unleashed all hell and said, “Here, have some more hell! And take another heaping of hell after that!” I enjoyed the hell out of it, pun intended. It’s way better than any Hills Have Eyes or Wrong Turn movie. Sometimes, it’s a lot more frightening imagining something with your mind than it is to see with your eyes. Cannibals is damn bloody fun, full of wanton destruction and chaos. I was sad when it finally ended, but also relieved. I needed a shower badly! This is just one of those books… it’s completely vile and foul… and I loved every friggin’ second of it :P

5Stars

Spiders (Richard Lewis)

Richard Lewis | June 3, 1980 | 153 pages
Richard Lewis | June 3, 1980 | 153 pages

I hate spiders. The mere sight of one is enough to make me squirm. They’re just so creepy looking, with those eight freaky legs and the way their bodies scurry so erratically… ugh! Arachnophobia? Who, me? Get outta here! Naw, I’ll be the first to admit that spiders simply scare the shit outta me. And I know I’m not alone. Millions of people are afraid of spiders. I remember watching Arachnophobia as a kid in the early ’90s and barely being able to watch the movie without diving behind the comforts of my family couch. Spiders have frightened millions of people for centuries, so it’s only natural for someone to write a scary book about them. And in the summer of 1980, a sick and twisted man named Richard Lewis did just that. Just last week, Spiders celebrated 40 years since it was published. For 40 years it has terrorized readers, and here’s to 40 more!

Poor, poor Dan Mason...
Poor, poor Dan Mason…
The book opens with this alarming statistic
The book opens with this alarming statistic

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The first page of Spiders introduces us to 67 year old Dan Mason, who retired 2 years ago from a managerial position in the sugar industry. The story takes place in Kent, a county in South East England. I love how this first page paints a perfect picture of late autumn in the Kentish countryside. It really sets the stage for the horrors to come… invading… crawling… swarming…

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It doesn’t take long before the first spider comes creeping along. Dan was tugging out weeds in his farmhouse garden when he accidentally unearthed a strange looking spider. He tried killing it but to no avail. I love how Lewis describes the action. How Dan felt an involuntary shiver of fear run down his back as he saw the 8 eyes staring unblinkingly at him… as if the creature was thinking hate. Ugh, my skin is crawling already! Unfortunately for our man Dan, before he can flick the injured spider off his glove, it jumped high in the air and landed on his uncovered arm. The nightmare begins!

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But our man Dan manages to survive the stinging bite. However, later that evening, the injured spider and hundreds of his wicked friends decide to pay ol’ Dan a late night visit. The descriptions of the spiders and the way they deal with disposing of humans is vile and despicable. This is trashy pulp horror at its best. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for damn sure! And with the demise of Dan Mason, we are then introduced to his son, Alan Mason. Soon, Alan and the whole countryside will be fending off the creepy crawlers. It’s a wild and fast-paced ride!

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And when I say it’s vile, I mean IT’S VILE. Not even babies and toddlers are safe! The scene of poor Sheila and her little boy, Damien, haunts me to this day. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. This book will make you fear spiders even more! Poor Damien too… all the little tyke ever wanted was to play with the “piedah”…

Oh HELL no
Oh HELL no

CLOSING THOUGHTS

What an awesome cover!
What an amazing cover :D

I first read Spiders last summer and absolutely loved every blood dripping second of it! It is a harrowing and unsettling read from the first page to the last page. And at a mere 153 pages, it won’t take you long to blow through it. Lewis designed the book in a way where it feels like a series of short stories, but they’re all connected with a central plot weaving a common thread (no pun intended). The protagonist, Alan Mason, is very believable and someone you root for. You feel his struggle, his pain and his elation at various points of the story as he attempts to go from dad avenger to nation savior. The spiders are brutal and horrifying. No one is safe from having their flesh ripped apart. Spiders does fetch a fair penny, as copies on eBay currently go for around $20. As a big fan of “when animals attack” pulp fiction, Spiders hit the mark BIG TIME for me. I can’t wait to read its sequel, The Web. If that one is anywhere near as fun as Spiders, then I’d be more than satisfied. Fantastic job, Richard Lewis, you mad mad man you!

5Stars

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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

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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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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

#44: ATHLETE KINGS (90%)

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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!

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“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%)

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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…

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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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.

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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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.

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“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%)

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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?

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“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%)

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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?

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“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%)

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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!

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“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%)

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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…

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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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…

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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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!

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“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%)

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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…

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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%)

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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.

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“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%)

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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.

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“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

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#19: QUAKE (93%)

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

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“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%)

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

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“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

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#17: SONIC R (93%)

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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.

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“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

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#16: PANZER DRAGOON II ZWEI (93%)

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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.

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“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

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#15: COMMAND & CONQUER (94%)

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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.

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“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%)

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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.

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“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%)

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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!

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“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

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#12: VIRTUAL ON (93%)

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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.

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“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

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#11: VIRTUA COP (94%)

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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.

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“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

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#10: STREET FIGHTER COLLECTION (92%)

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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.

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“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

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SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY #1

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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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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#9: TOMB RAIDER (94%)

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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.

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“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

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#8: EXHUMED (94%)

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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.

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“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

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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…

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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!

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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…

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#7: MARVEL SUPER HEROES (95%)

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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!

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“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

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#6: VIRTUA COP 2 (95%)

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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!

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“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

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#5: FIGHTERS MEGAMIX (95%)

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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!

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“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

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#4: DUKE NUKEM 3D (97%)

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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.

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“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

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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%)

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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!)

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“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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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#2: SEGA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP (97%)

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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.

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“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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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#1: VIRTUA FIGHTER 2 (98%)

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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.

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“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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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!