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.

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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!

Karnov (NES)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEVEL ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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See? Welcome to bizarre-o world!

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

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

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

LEVEL TWO

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

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

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

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

Such a classic SNES game
Such a classic SNES game

LEVEL THREE

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEVEL FOUR

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

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

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

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

Human Centipede vibes...
Human Centipede vibes…

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

LEVEL FIVE

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

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

LEVEL SIX

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

EVIL KARNOV

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

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

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

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

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

OVERALL: 7.5

Craigslist Memoirs

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

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

Timing is everything...
Timing is everything…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Finding everything good?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CollectStory

Yeah... no thanks!
Yeah… no thanks!

CollStory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not yet…”

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

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

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

Twenty five dollars?! Nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpyCamp

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

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

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

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I looked at her. “Judy??”

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

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

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Thanks for the memories, Craigslist.

And glad you didn’t kill me :P

Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (SNES)

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

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

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

RPG: REAL POOR GAMES?

MQFF

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

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

THE STORY GOES…

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

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

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

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

USE YOUR HEAD, SON

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

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

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

MAP QUEST

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

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

THE CAST

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

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Soooo, nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

*vanishes*

“Okaaaaay. That was not creepy at all.”

MQFF32

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

FF2RVGF14

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

MQFF34

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

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

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

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

MQFF39

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

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

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

MQFF42

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

MQFF43

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

MQFF44

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

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

MQFF48

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

MQFF49

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

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

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

MQFF53

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

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

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

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

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

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

MQFF58

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

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

“But we’re not dead!”

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

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

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

TRISTAM TEAMS UP!

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

FF2RVGF7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FF2RVGF8

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

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

MQFF74

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

MQFF75

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

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

FF2RVGF9

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

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“I’LL NEVER DIE!”

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

“WE SHALL SEE ABOUT THAT!”

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

FF2RVGF10

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

MQFF80

“WHOA, take a look at this, kid!”

“!!”

“NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!”

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

MQFF83

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

“Yeah, that’s pretty good.”

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

MQFF84

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

“HA HA HA, nice try, kid!”

*SHRUG*

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

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

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

FF2RVGF11

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

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

MQFF97

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

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

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

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

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

FF2RVGF12

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

MQFF100

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

MQFF101

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

“I wonder what’s inside that chest?”

“Only one way to find out…”

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

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

“Yes?”

“That better be a flashlight!”

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

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

MQFF104

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

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

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

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

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

  • So who are the jinns?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MQFF118

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

MQFF119

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

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

MQFF127

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

“Of course!”

“Well… you can’t have it.”

“What? Why not?”

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

“Oh THAAAAT… haha… yeah my bad.”

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

MQFF134

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

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

M*AD*NESS

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

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

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

USA VS. JAPAN

Speaks for itself...
Speaks for itself…

FINAL FANTASY: LINK TO THE MYSTIC PAST?

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

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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

FFMQSPRe

CLOSING THOUGHTS

MQFF144

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

MQFF145

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

FFMQPic

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

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

Overall: 7.0

FINAL STATS

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

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

Thunder Spirits (SNES)

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

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

RAINING GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS

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

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

THE STORY

ThuSpir2

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

ThuSpir3

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

ThuSpir4

ThuSpir5

ThuSpir6

OPTIONS

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

FIREPOWER

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

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

THE MISSION

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

ThuSpir11

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

ThuSpir13

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

ThuSpir16

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

ThuSpir18

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

ThuSpir21

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

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

ThuSpir23

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

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

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

ThuSpir25

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

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

Overall: 6.5

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

Halloween Books

BooksEx27

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

HALLOWEEN by Curtis Richards

HalloBook

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

HalloBook4

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

HalloBook3

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

HalloBook2

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

Halloween II film cover
Halloween II film cover

HALLOWEEN II by Jack Martin

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

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

Hallow2Book6

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

Hallow2Book7

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

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

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

Hallow2Book

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

Hallow2Book2

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

Hallow2Book3

Hallow2Book4

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

Hall2Death

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

Hallow2Book5

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

HALLOWEEN III by Jack Martin

Hallow3Book

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

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

Hall3Box

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

Hallow3Book2

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

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

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

Hallow3Book3

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

Hallow3Book5

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

Hallow3Book6

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

Hallow3Book4

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

HALLOWEEN IV by Nicholas Grabowsky

HorPB13

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

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

Hallow4Book

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

Hallow4Book2

Hallow4Book3

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

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

HALLOWEEN (2018) by John Passarella

HallowPassarella

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

HallowPassarella2

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

IconicHall27

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

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

H20Shot9

  • Top 5 favorite Halloween films from the franchise?

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

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

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

ILATrip15

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

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

NewHallo

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

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

NewHallo2

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

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

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

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

HalloErnie9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Advice for aspiring authors?

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

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

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

Withers

  • What’s next for John Passarella?

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

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

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

HalloErnie2

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

I see you, Michael
I see you, Michael

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

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

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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

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

HalloErnie7

BONUS: THE PAPERBACK HUNT

HorPB6b

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

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

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

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

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

The Sporting News Baseball (SNES)

Pub: Hudson | Dev: Now Production | June 1995 | 12 MEGS
Pub: Hudson Soft | Dev: Now Production | June 1995 | 12 MEGS

Yesterday marked the official end of Major League Baseball’s 2019 season. It was the last day of ball for 20 MLB teams. Now 10 teams have emerged victorious and are prepping to do battle in the postseason. My team of choice, the Oakland A’s, will be taking on the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, October 2nd. As an A’s fan for most of my life, I’ve witnessed some epic choking. Sadly, there’s a reason why they’re known as the Chokeland A’s. They make the playoffs fairly consistently but never quite make it far. Hopefully things turn around come Wednesday. At any rate, as I gear up for the big game, it made me think of an old obscure SNES baseball game that my brother and I enjoyed playing back in the day. I recently played it again after not doing so for over 20 years. Much to my pleasant surprise, it’s still a fun little baseball game even nearly 25 years on.

Brutal :
Brutal :(

EDIT: October 2, 2019. DAMN. The A’s just dropped the Wild Card game 5-1 to the Rays. The A’s are now 0-9 in elimination games, setting a MLB record. Damn. Feels like they’re cursed. But that’s baseball. There’s always next year!

A FIELD OF DREAMS

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In the summer of 1995, my brother had me rent The Sporting News Baseball. We both grew up baseball fanatics. I’ve been a fan of the game ever since my 5th grade class went to a ball game in 1994. The Sporting News Baseball isn’t the most refined baseball game on the SNES, but one thing it definitely had going for it was being able to play on that magical cornfield featured in Field of Dreams. Although I had yet to see the movie at that time, I knew it was an iconic field and it absolutely captivated my imagination. My bro and I played on that field every chance we got. There’s something truly magical about launching one deep into the corn stalks on a starlit night.

MLB LICENSE

Mode 7 Madness
Mode 7 madness :P

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Back in the ’90s, there weren’t too many MLB licensed games. But this one had the real players and the real teams. It was always nice when you ran across a baseball game featuring the real deal.

The Sporting News POWER Baseball
The Sporting News POWER Baseball

This game came out in Japan originally as Super Power League, so perhaps Hudson Soft forgot to remove the Power there from the title screen.

The Iron Man himself, Cal Ripken Jr.
The Iron Man himself
Typical modes of play
Typical modes of play
Up to 4 players can partake
Up to 4 players can partake
Adjust the roster as you wish
Adjust the roster as you wish
Only 3 ballparks, sadly
Sadly only 3 ballparks
At least you get night options
At least you get a night option
Dome with artificial turf
Dome with artificial turf
The best ballpark, hands down
The best ballpark, hands down
Majestic at night
Even better at night. Majestic
Players are huge!
Players are huge!
Swung at a pitch in the dirt
Swung at a bad pitch in the dirt
*Glaring intensifies*
*Glaring intensifies*
Dont let the ball get to the corn
Love that cornfield
Grabbing the ball or taking a dump
“Shouldn’t have ate that burrito…”
The ball cant roll into the cornfield
Ball can’t roll into the cornfield
Déjà vu
Déjà vu
Whew, close but no cigar
Whew, close but no cigar
OUT!
OUT!
SAFE!
SAFE!
As take the early lead
A’s take the early lead
Uh oh...
Uh oh…

Matt Williams puts a charge into that baseball as he launches it high into that starry night. The irony? Matt Williams, most well known for his Giants stint during his playing days, is now the Oakland Athletics’ 3rd base coach. You can’t make this stuff up. Such is life. Such is life.

Will it fall short?
Will it fall short?
I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT!
“I GOT IT, I GOT IT, I GOT IT!”
Nevermind...
Nevermind… my bad y’all
The Giants tie it 2-2
The Giants tie it 2-2
Love how they give "the finger"
Love how they sorta give the bird
Or at least kind of :P
Best home run trot ever
The As grab the lead right back
The A’s grab the lead right back
Good eye, Brosius!
Good eye, Brosius!
Bases loaded walk, baby
Bases loaded walk, baby
4-2 As
4-2 A’s
BIG MAC!
BIG MAC!
Doing what Mac does
Doing what Big Mac does best
583 career home runs to his name
583 career home runs
He hits it high, he hits it deep!
Blasted into that majestic night
Good luck catching that, pal
Good luck catching that, buddy
Way back in the cornfield
Way back in the cornfield
Deep into the night
Deep into the night
Talk about crushing it
Talk about crushing it
Screw ya, pal!
“Screw ya, pal!”
Look at my big boy helmet!
Look at his big boy helmet :P
"HE HITS IT HIGH!"
“HE HITS IT HIGH!”
"HE HITS IT DEEP! -Ish..."
“HE HITS IT DEEP! -ish…”
Love when it barely clears
Love when it barely clears
Mike F'N Bordick of all people
Mike F’N Bordick of all people
"UP YOURS, MAN!"
“UP YOURS, MAN!”
The previous ABs are a nice touch
Damn he almost got the cycle

Results for previous at-bats are cited, which makes for a nice touch.

Bleacher just like the movie
Bleacher just like from the movie
Love the accuracy
Love the attention to detail there
Home Run Derby's a lot of fun
Home Run Derby is a lot of fun
Pick from ANY player
Pick from ANY player
Nice for a lazy Sunday afternoon
Nice for a lazy Sunday afternoon
"Oooooh yeeeeeah!"
“Oooooh yeeeeeah!”
Love the night time
Love the night time
Aim for the windows!
Aim for the windows!
Pitcher be like "Fuck this!"
Pitcher be like “Fuck this!”
Ball heading for the building
Ball heading for the building
Then disappears. What a moon shot
What a majestic moon shot
White Bread? I rather be macho man
The 100 pitches go by fast

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I love how the camera pans down to give you the full scope. The Field of Dreams ballpark at night in particular is simply majestic.

Talk about a serene evening
Talk about a serene evening
Time to let it rip!
Time to let it rip!
The ball soars into the night
Watch the ball soar into the night
Love the center field HRs best
Center field home runs are best
You get to see everything
Brings out your inner child :)
So damn satisfying
So damn satisfying
All night!
All night, son. All night!
Games can range from 20-25 minutes...
Games can range from 20-25 minutes…
Or 45+. It all depends on the amount of offense
… to even 45+. It all depends on the amount of offense
I like the blurbs :P
Uh, the National League won so… :P
What a game this was
What a comeback win this was
Now there's a choke job for the National League
Now there’s a choke job for the National League
Love that you can edit your own All Star team
Love that you can edit your own All Star team

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you build it, he will come
“GO THE DISTANCE.”

My brother and I had more than our fair share of fun with The Sporting News Baseball back in the mid ’90s. Having played it recently in late 2018, I’m happy to say that for me at least, it’s held up pretty well. Granted, you’re probably not going to play this over the better baseball games available, but there is a quirky charm to this game. It’s definitely the cornfield — who doesn’t want to play a ball game on the iconic Field of Dreams cornfield? It just takes me to a happy place and makes Sporting News Baseball, at the very least, a notable effort. Speaking of which, it’s also the only 4-player baseball game on the Super Nintendo. Real players and teams, and plenty of editing options, round out the package. Unfortunately, there are only 3 ball parks to choose from. But in its defense, when you got the cornfield option, there could be 100 different ball parks to select from and I’d still pick the cornfield one 99 times out of 100. If you’re into old school 16-bit baseball games and you love Field of Dreams, Sporting News Baseball will likely entertain you enough for a few hours. It’s no Ken Griffey Jr. but what is? This certainly isn’t the worst alternative out there.

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

Overall: 6.5

Timeless!
Timeless!

Field of Dreams

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It’s been called America’s National Pastime. A game that turns grown men into innocent children. I love baseball. I have since I was a kid and that love continues to this day more than 25 years later. There’s something pure and magical about the game. As it’s been often quoted, “It’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.” Being that we’re now in the dog days of August and the final days of summer, it brings to mind an unforgettable baseball season my pals and I participated in 25 years ago. This article is dedicated to baseball and its fans all around the world.

RISE OF THE BULLDOGS

OK maybe not so much a rise :P
OK maybe not so much a rise :P

In April of 1994 I found myself in the thick of 5th grade, and enjoying some of the best times of my young life. That year and that grade had it all. Best friend, check. Best teacher, check. Two cutest girls in the school in the same class, check. Life was pretty good. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, it did. That spring the two 5th grade classes began a baseball tournament. Teams were evenly spread out so there would be a fair number of random boys and girls on each team. 8 teams in all. 8 games to be played. Top 4 teams advance to the playoffs.

To call it an exciting time would be an understatement. I was a pretty competitive kid, and so I couldn’t wait to get started and help lead my team into one of the top four positions. And luck be my lady, Jennifer (one of the aforementioned “two cutest girls”) was on my team. I wasn’t sure if Jennifer was any good at baseball, but at least she’d be easy on the eyes. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to bond sitting next to each other in the dugout, talking about whatever.

Watching and talking from the dugout. Good stuff
It promised to be a baseball season for the ages

At the time the possibilities seemed endless. It was classic 10 year old fever… the thrill of growing up while still remaining very much so innocent. The first order of business was to decide on a team name. We agreed upon THE BULLDOGS. Unoriginal, I know, but hey it was a proven classic.

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I remember lunch that very same day. My best friend, Nelson, was on another team. That was about the only thing that didn’t go my way. Well, it wouldn’t hurt if the other cute girl was on my team too, but hey, you can’t get too greedy now, can ya? Anyway, Nelson was what you would call “big boned.” His team was indecisive and still hadn’t come up with a team name. I was sitting next to him in the cafeteria that afternoon when he suggested to his teammates, “How about the Orioles?” He was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, or their team logo anyhow. Or, at least he liked the name anyway.

A fair play of homophones, good sir. Oh that Joshua....
A fair play of homophones, good sir. Oh that Joshua…

His teammate, and resident class clown Joshua, said jokingly “Oreo’s? Can you please stop thinking about food for ONE second?!” Everyone at the table cracked up. Nelson took it in stride. The great thing about the 5th grade classes that year was we all shared a common bond. We had a camaraderie that was truly special; after all, most of us had known each other since Kindergarten. And anyone who came into the fold after that was immediately taken in with arms wide open. So our ball busting jokes never carried any ill intent in the least. It was a bit like CHEERS to be honest. Everyone knew everyone’s name and a little (or a LOT) about one another.

The first game was set to be played next week. I remember hanging out with Nelson that weekend, talking excitedly about how we would both start out 1-0 (1 win and 0 losses). We were probably shooting the shit, playing SNES together, or off at the mall being carefree kids. Spring was in the air, Major League Baseball was just starting, summer was right around the corner… it was a great time to be 10 years old enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

SEASON OPENER

Some folks just don't take losing too well
Some folks just don’t take losing too well…

The first game of the season came and went. The Bulldogs won 8 runs to 5. Herman, my friend and teammate, was even more competitive than me. I never met anyone so crazed about winning than Herman. Little did I know then that it was a major foreshadowing of events yet to come…

In contrast, Nelson’s team lost their first game. Imagine the bragging rights I had that afternoon!

Playing sports can teach you a lot about life itself. You learn about fair play, how to win (and lose) gracefully, how to work together with different teammates, and so forth. There was a real beauty to it, but especially when you came out on the winning end.

A BULLDOGS IMPLOSION

Things went south and fast
Things went south and fast

It’s amazing how quickly the tide can turn. We went from playoff darlings to the laughingstock of the league. The Bulldogs went on to set the school record for longest losing streak. We started out hot smelling like a rose, but it all went downhill from there. And no matter how hard we tried, or what we tried, we couldn’t stop the losses from mounting like a snowball rolling downhill.

At first we dropped game 2 and fell to an even 1-1 record. Ah no worries, we thought at the time. It was a close loss, but surely we’ll get ‘er next time!

But then it happened. The ship was sinking fast and so was team morale. The results of the next handful of games were not pretty. In fact, they were downright brutal. We were…

Slaughtered in game 3.
Bludgeoned in game 4.
Annihilated in game 5.
Crushed in game 6.

And then… Game 7 happened…

That’s when things really hit the fan…

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There I was guarding the 3rd base line on a hot spring afternoon. As usual, we were down, but lo and behold, we were in the game. For the first time since game 2, we had a shot to win the game. It was in the later innings. We were only down by one run. But they loaded the bases with 2 outs. If we could just escape this inning unscathed, Herman and I would be batting the next half inning down only one. We could actually pull it off!

I pounded my fist into my glove, anticipating the play. The runner on 3rd base started chirping, talking trash, but it fell on deaf ears. The pitcher went into his wind-up motion. Here we go…

CRACK!!
CRACK!!

It sounded like a gunshot reverberating through the hills. The ball was smacked into center field where Herman was fielding. Like everyone else, including the base runners, I stood there and watched with eyes and mouth wide open. Herman was streaking back as fast as his legs could take him… he had a chance to make the CATCH OF THE CENTURY.

We all watched the ball sail....
We all watched the ball sail high…
Herman streaking back...
Herman streaking back…
And what a catch! Well, I wish
And what a catch! Well, I wish…
Herman reached out and...
It felt as if time had froze for all eternity

As Herman made a diving attempt for the baseball, I watched in horror as it sailed JUST PAST his outstretched glove. The runners were off immediately. I heard a sickening THUD as Herman’s body pounded the grass like a car falling off the Empire State Building. It was a class-A belly flop. Amazingly, Herman got up immediately. But even more mind blowing was what took place next…

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As the runners rounded past me on 3rd base I saw something I’d never forget.

Herman retrieved the baseball and stopped dead in his tracks. Jojo from left field screamed “THROW IT HOME THROW IT HOME!” The commotion caused the runners to actually stop running to see what the hell was going on.

Then, it happened.

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Instead of throwing the ball toward home plate, Herman turned around and let out an animalistic cry as he threw the ball as far as he could into center field. I tracked the ball as it sailed high in the blue sky. A sky so blue that afternoon that it hurt my eyes just squinting at it. Herman stormed off the field in a fit of blind rage, leaving everyone speechless. Not to mention the ball 300 feet away from all of us. It was one of those moments that spoke for itself. A moment none of us would ever forget.

Once again, the Bulldogs lost. But this was more than a mere loss; this was a total meltdown. Made me glad there was only one game left in the season.

THE FINAL GAME

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We were a pathetic 1 and 6. The worst team in the tourney by a country mile. Although the season was a wash, we all agreed we had to try and salvage what we could. Ending the season with a win would ease the pain. No one on my team had talked to Herman since game 7’s ugly incident. None of us knew where his head was at. Speculation ran rampant. Until Herman finally shattered the silence.

In the dugout prior to the final game of the season, Herman issued a heartfelt apology. Said he lost his cool in the heat of the moment. We understood. We also knew we were now playing for a little thing called PRIDE. The Bulldogs, win or lose, were going to go down swinging… together.

We played loose, we laughed, we rallied
We played loose, we laughed, we rallied

Jojo started the wave at some point in the dugout. It was a great time. And believe it or not, the Bulldogs won the final game of the regular season. We started and finished the season with a win. In-between? Lots of devastating losses but they only served as an invaluable lesson: how to lose gracefully and bounce back from adversity. Baseball taught us far more than what we could have learned in the classroom. For that reason alone, and ever since that fateful day, I have always loved the game of baseball.

I can’t remember which four teams advanced to the playoffs or who even won it all in the championship game. But what I do remember is that the Bulldogs finished an unimpressive 2 and 6, but underneath that horrible record, lied a team that truly felt like winners in the end.

FIELD OF DREAMS

My favorite film of all time
My favorite film of all time

June 2001. I’d just graduated from high school and spent that summer working at Blockbuster Video with my good friend Eddie and the “high school slut.” Interesting times they were. See Memories of Renting for more on those halcyon days.

One night I was closing up and made my usual last minute DVD run. As an employee I received 5 free rentals a week, and never failed to take advantage of such luxuries.

As I scanned the aisles for my late evening entertainment, Field of Dreams caught my eye. I had heard over the years what an awesome movie it was but I had yet to see it. Memories of the epic 5th grade baseball tournament came rushing back to me. Kevin Costner seemed to wink at me from the DVD box. Looks like a date, good sir.

Soundtrack was absolutely stellar, and haunting
Off to the races!

With stunning cinematography and a stellar soundtrack that absolutely haunts and mesmerizes, Field of Dreams easily became my #1 favorite film of all time. More than just a baseball movie, it’s actually about life, second chances and father-son relationships. There’s also a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. Everyone was perfectly cast. It’s just a damn near perfect movie.

No film gives me more goosebumps than this one
No film gives me more goosebumps than this one
One of my favorite shots in cinematic history
One of my favorite shots in cinematic history

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One early evening out in the stalks of Iowa, simple farmer and family man Ray Kinsella hears “The Voice” for the first time. This spooky voice simply tells him “IF YOU BUILD IT, HE WILL COME.” Ray is understandably disturbed, and begins a wild journey to get to the bottom of things. Was this a mere hallucination, a simple prank or… something of the supernatural sort?

And so begins a magical yarn of adventure
And so begins a magical yarn of adventure

Ray decides to pursue the Voice’s wish, tears down a good portion of his live crops and builds a baseball field smack dab in the middle of his farm. The locals think Ray has finally gone over the deep end. Only his incredibly loving and supportive wife, Annie Kinsella, stood behind him. But even then, she had her moments of struggle. Who goes and builds a baseball field in the middle of their farm!? Nutcases, that’s who, and now her husband, Ray Kinsella. But was Ray a looney, or was he on to something here…

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No doubt the field was gorgeous, and a hell of a sight with the corn swaying in the wind in the outfield. But as the seasons passed, nobody came as the Voice promised that it would. Ray and Annie grow impatient, and restless, as they saw their income from the crops dwindle due to the baseball field eating up their real estate. Times were starting to grow lean, and the looming danger of the bank foreclosing became an ever increasing burden on the Kinsellas.

FoDBaseballEx27

And then it happened. One cold night, Ray looked out his bedroom window and spotted a haunting figure standing in the middle of his baseball field. It appeared to be an old timey ball player from 1919. But this was 70 years later, 1989. What in the world is going on here??

FoDBaseballEx7

The ghastly visitor turned out to be Shoeless Joe Jackson, who played for the Chicago White Sox back in the early 1900s. Long dead, Ray realized there truly were supernatural forces at play here. Ray Liotta absolutely shined as Shoeless Joe, stealing every scene he was in.

FoDBaseballEx18

The Kinsellas couldn’t believe it. The baseball field that was eating into their precious earnings, was finally serving a purpose. What that purpose was, they had no idea. But after their encounter with the night phantom, they knew they had to keep the baseball field erected to see what cosmic forces may yet occur.

FoDBaseballEx15

It wasn’t long until Ray received a second message from the Voice: “EASE HIS PAIN.” Of course, the Voice doesn’t offer explanations or clarifications. This sets in motion the next beat of the film, as Ray researches whose pain it was he had to ease. This leads the Kinsellas to a PTA meeting discussing the merits of censorship and book banning.

As an aside, the pictures above and below were taken at a Field of Dreams screening this past June. It was the film’s 30th anniversary. I had the honor of seeing it for the very first time on the big screen :)

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Over the course of the PTA meeting, Ray realizes whose pain he had to ease. Terence Mann, a great author of his time, who is now a recluse. Fun fact, W.P. Kinsella based this character in his book Shoeless Joe off real life author, J.D. Salinger. Another fun fact: Ray Kinsella is the name of a character from a short story J.D. Salinger wrote entitled A Young Girl In 1941 With No Waist At All. There was also a character named Richard Kinsella that appeared in The Catcher in the Rye.

Love love LOVE this book
Love love LOVE this book
So stoked when I ran across it in a book store!
So stoked when I ran across it in a book store!

This leads Ray to make a cross country trek to track down the reclusive Terence Mann. Shenanigans and hi-jinx ensues, including a classic scene where Ray uses his finger to poke his jacket pocket to stand in as a gun in an attempt to persuade Mann to leave the fine comforts of his sanctuary.

"GO THE DISTANCE"
“GO THE DISTANCE”

After “kidnapping” Terence Mann, played by the impeccable James Earl Jones, Ray Kinsella takes him to a ball game. The setup for this is classic, classic stuff. Costner and Jones shine in their roles, and their back-and-forth banter is both charming and wildly entertaining. Once situated at Fenway Park, Ray hears his next message from the Voice: “GO THE DISTANCE.” But what in the hell does that mean, go where and how far?

FoDBaseballEx29

Thankfully, the Voice offered a little more insight this time as a special message is displayed over the giant screen that only Ray Kinsella can see. Apparently, the Voice was talking about an old ball player by the name of Archibald Graham, or Moonlight Graham as he was known in his day. Moonlight Graham was a real life ball player who played only one game in the Majors, but had 0 at-bats. It is certainly a unique and fascinating story of almost achieving one’s dreams but not quite. After jotting down the information on his scorecard, Ray asks Mann if he heard or saw anything. Mann says no, and Ray apologizes. “I’m sorry, I guess you didn’t have to be here.” Confused and relieved yet disappointed, the two leave the game early.

FoDVW2

As they sit in Ray’s Volkswagen van, Terence Man asks Ray Kinsella, “What’s it you’re not telling me?” Ray replies, “I’ve already taken up too much of your time.” Mann stares quizzically at Ray for a moment before exiting the vehicle. Closing the door behind him and draping his jacket and arms over the side, Mann spits out some reflective prose. “I wish I had your passion, Ray. Misdirected though it might be, it is still a passion. I used to feel that way about things but…” His voice trails off as he ponders his current life state and how he got to be the way he got to be. Then it hits him.

“You got another message, didn’t you?”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

“I already think you’re crazy. What did it say?”

Mulling over whether to tell him the truth or not, Ray decides to tell a white lie. “It said the man’s done enough. Leave him alone.”

And thus, the two fellows shake hands and Ray pulls his Volkswagen van away from the curb and into that cold Boston night…

"MOONLIGHT GRAHAM!" Instant goosebumps
“MOONLIGHT GRAHAM!” Instant goosebumps

Ray is stunned when he finds Terence Mann blocking his path. Even more stunned to hear Mann utter the name “MOONLIGHT GRAHAM.” Looking at Mann bewildered, Ray shouts “YOU SAW IT!!!” This turns Field of Dreams into a road trip movie. They’re heading to Minnesota to find Moonlight Graham. Good stuff.

FoDBaseballEx19

Mann heads to Iowa alongside Ray Kinsella, and there he encounters the field of dreams for himself. He is instantly transformed from a social recluse to a grinning 10 year old boy as he watches his heroes of yesteryear play an evening game of baseball.

Mann can't believe his eyes
Mann can’t believe his eyes

FoDBaseballEx17

Who could ever forget the classic climax where James Earl Jones launches into a soliloquy like only he can. Pontificating on the importance of baseball and how it’s been a marker for American history throughout the ages, you can’t help but feel drawn to his passion and convictions. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, in that very moment you suddenly are. And that’s the true mark of a magical movie.

"PEOPLE WILL COME, RAY. OHHH, PEOPLE WILL COME."
“PEOPLE WILL COME, RAY. OHHH, PEOPLE WILL COME.”

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The ending, where Ray is reunited with his father (who’s long passed), never fails to tug at the strings of my heart. “Hey dad… want to have a catch?” has got to be cinema’s most emotional 7 words ever spoken. Truly the stuff that reduces grown men to crocodile tears.

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“Is this Heaven?”

“No, it’s Iowa.”

But then Ray glances back to his house, spotting his wife and daughter hanging out on the porch having a grand old time. He ponders the question again. Maybe this IS Heaven after all…

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Ray and his dad have a game of catch late into the night as the camera pans overhead and we see thousands of cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic coming to the ballpark.

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PAYING TRIBUTE

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In college I minored in Theatre Arts and for my Final, I had to perform a monologue. Naturally, I selected James Earl Jones’ baseball speech from Field of Dreams. Had a blast reenacting it and putting my own spin on it. Fun times.

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COMING IN 2020!

Not a hoax or prank... it's truly happening!
Not a hoax or prank… it’s happening!

Announced earlier today (August 8, 2019), Major League Baseball announced that the Yankees and White Sox will play an actual regular season game at the famous Field of Dreams ballpark in Iowa. This monumental event will take place on August 13, 2020. I wish I could go but tickets will be limited and through the roof. I’ll definitely have a front row seat in my living room, though, and will be plenty satisfied with that!

"Aaron Judge... COMES TO IOWA." Not the same effect as Shoeless Joe but I'll take it
“Aaron Judge… COMES TO IOWA.”
Not the same effect as Shoeless Joe but I’ll take it

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Looking back on my times spent with the sport of baseball, I cherish all the great memories it has given me along with all the great lessons it’s taught me. Summer is quickly coming to an end as Major League Baseball hurtles its way to the Fall Classic. The game may not be as popular today as it was when I was a kid growing up, but I hope the kids playing baseball today take away from the game as much as I did 25 years ago.

Even got a poster of the film :P
Even got a poster of the film :P
Long live baseball and dreams
Long live baseball and long live dreams

Adventures in Book Shopping

Adventures in Babysitting Book Shopping! AKA How I Finally Got Back Into Reading
Adventures in Babysitting Book Shopping!
AKA… How I FINALLY Got Back Into Reading

For the past handful of years, my New Years resolutions have always been to lose 10-20 pounds and read more again. The weight goal sees varying degrees of success, but the reading one for some reason has always managed to elude me. Until recently. For the first time in over 20 years, I’ve read 20 books already this year. It was hard to stop once I got the ball rolling. It explains the lack of updates on RVGFanatic this past summer. Usually the summer season is when I crank out material like crazy. Not so this summer. Because this was the summer I got back into books and more importantly, back into reading. How’s how it all came to be, for the morbidly curious…

It's also a book! How fitting, eh? :P
Was also made into a movie novelization. Fitting :P

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

LibraryNight

One of the many highlights of my youth was all the library trips I took with my mom, dad and my childhood best friend, Nelson. We visited the library it felt every Friday afternoon after school. Although I loved playing video games on the weekend, I loved reading as well. I always looked forward to the end of the school week so I could raid the local library and pick up a new stack of books to devour. It was a memorable and innocent time.

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Nelly and I ate up the Goosebumps series. We were absolutely in love with R.L. Stine’s monthly tomes of terror. Actually, they weren’t that big in size or scary, but as kids we couldn’t get enough.

To this day the covers remains embedded in my soul
To this day the covers remain embedded in my soul

We read some of R.L. Stine’s more grown up work as we entered junior high in the fall of 1995. Maybe some of his work hasn’t held up too well over the years but they were definitely a sign of the times. Damn good times they were.

Seeing them on a shelf always made me grin
Seeing them on a shelf always made me grin

But along the way, at some point in high school probably, I stopped reading for pleasure. Any reading I did was because I had to. Whether it was because I had to write a book report in an English Lit. class or a college professor assigned some reading for homework, suddenly reading became something of a chore more than a reward. It was a means to an end. And it would remain that way for many years… until this past year…

GOODWILL HUNTING

And no, I don't mean the movie :P
And no, I don’t mean the movie :P

The seed was planted on January 13, 2019. My girlfriend and I went out to order some Chinese food for lunch. After being told there would be a 10-15 minute wait, I suggested that we hit up the Goodwill just next door to pass the time. As we walked over I shared with her that the last time I went to a Goodwill was way back in 2012. And how I found some rare Sega Saturn games for cheap which I couldn’t resist but flip on eBay for a nice little profit. I rarely did that during my game buying career, but an extra $150 or however much I was bound to rake in was difficult to resist on that cold December evening of 2012. So it was with that little trip down memory lane that I entered Goodwill with a glimmer of hope that maybe lightning would strike twice. Little did I know, it was that innocent little visit that would spur my book fervor into motion.

Got the book for $2 and the Ernest DVD for $1.49
Ernest Scared Stupid is perfect for Halloween :D

As we were flipping through the DVD and book section (there were no video games on hand that day), I caught glimpse of What To Expect The First Year. It was in very good condition and at only $2 I felt it would make for a tremendous resource one day. Then I spotted an Ernest Triple Feature boasting the critically acclaimed (or not) Ernest Goes To Camp, Ernest Scared Stupid and Ernest Goes To Jail. At 50 cents a movie, I couldn’t pass up on that. The clerk at the counter grinned when he rung me up, saying, “You can read up on babies while watching Ernest do his thing.” My girlfriend and I both laughed and that was that. If only I had known what a snowball effect this would have…

Bunnicula

About a month later we found ourselves back at Goodwill browsing the book shelves. On that fateful day found a copy of Bunnicula. Suddenly mauled by a tidal wave of memories, I felt like I was 8 years old again. I remember seeing Bunnicula a lot as a kid, but I can’t recall any story details. Nostalgia bit me and the $1 price tag made it an easy slam dunk. Pandora’s Box was unleashed, and there was no stopping it. I suddenly began to long for all the books I read during my childhood that I wanted to read again, or to read those I had missed out on. In many ways, it was eerily similar to my SNES resurgence from early 2006. I swooped up SNES games left and right 13 years ago in 2006, and now 13 years later I was buying books by the boatload…

My girlfriend checking out the goods. Major props to her for putting up with my book fever
My girlfriend checking out the goods at a Goodwill.
Much <3 to her for putting up with my book fervor!

As I quickly discovered, Goodwill can be a gold mine for book hunting. Quality and quantity vary of course from location to location, but man have I been lucky. The Goodwill stores that I hit up always knock it out of the park. The books are usually in great condition and go for $1.99 a pop. I’ll never forget the first time my girlfriend and I ran across an unbelievable selection of books at a Goodwill. It’s rare for me to not walk away with at least an arm full of books!

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

Saturday, April 13, 2019. Stepping out of my car, I could feel something funny. No, not that Taco Bell burrito I had moments earlier. It was something else. I felt it in my bones. Something big was inside that Goodwill. I double checked to make sure my car was locked. Satisfied that it indeed was, I marched to the entrance like a man possessed.

Books. LOTS of books
Books. LOTS of books

As I stood there in awe and reverence, my mind did cartwheels and fist pumps as my eyes caught sight of something very near and dear to my heart… I could see them from the corner of my eyes… this was going to be a haul for the ages…

Fuck yeah
Fuck yeah

I felt like the lucky millionth customer who just won a shopping spree. The shelves boasted a bunch of R.L. Stine’s teen thrillers. I hadn’t seen those books stacked up like that in 25 years, not since I last saw them in 1994 at B. Dalton and Walden Books*. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were all in very good to great condition, $1.99 a pop and ripe for the taking. I was in book Heaven! It was like righting a childhood wrong; I always wanted to read more of Stine’s teen thrillers but I only read a small handful. This was a second chance!

*My favorite bookstore as a kid back in the early-mid '90s
*My favorite bookstore as a kid back in the ’90s
Even more!
Even more!

Freaking out on the inside, for a moment it felt as if time had stood still. I could see sounds, smell colors. A swirling sensation wrapped around me as I found myself instantly transported back to B. Dalton or Walden Books some 25+ years ago. Today’s find was one for the ages. I stole a glance around the store to see if time did in fact freeze. A few ladies down the aisle were shopping for clothes while a boy and girl ran down another aisle laughing and joking. Snapping out of my trance, I calmly began to place the books into the shopping cart by the handful.

Still more...
Still more…

I could tell the books were donated by the same person. And that he or she kept them in great condition. The only R.L. Stine teen thrillers already in my library were The Babysitter I-III, Silent Night 1 and 2, and I Saw You That Night! So most of Stine’s offerings sitting before me were taken off the shelf and judiciously plopped into the shopping cart.

Love the feeling of finding a book you really want
Love the feeling of finding a book you really want

Back in 1995 my dad took me to the library on a Friday night and I borrowed a book called Hit and Run. I got home that night and started reading the book. I stayed up late to finish it in one sitting. I remember being absolutely hooked and enthralled by it. There’s nothing like being wrapped up in a good book. Nearly 25 years later and here it was, live in the flesh. The thrill of book hunting!

Just a "few" books....
Just a “few” books…

I bought 52 teen thrillers that day, 51 of which penned by R.L. Stine. At $1.99 a pop, it ran me a total of $103.48. An insane amount to spend on books, I know, but to get most of Stine’s older work in one fell swoop felt like a chance encounter. One not to squander or pass on. Especially in the condition they were in. I could make 1,000 more Goodwill trips and probably would never run into something this good ever again.

GoodwillHunting11

Back at my girlfriend’s place, I sprawled the books out to take a photo. I have no idea how long it’ll take me to read them all. Honestly, I’ll probably end up reading only the ones I really want, and not get around to the others. So why still buy them all? Part of it is to set up one hell of a library for any future children I may have one day. If I ever have kids, one thing’s for sure, they’re going to develop a love for literature.

GoodwillHunting18

On Saturday, May 4, 2019, my girlfriend was working but had a chance to swing by a Goodwill for a minute. She snapped this photo and texted it to me. I zoomed in and gasped. I found a childhood book, The Time of the Witch by Mary Downing Hahn, that I always wanted to read but never ever ran across. I remember reading a preview of it once in a book when I was young and being intrigued ever since. You know, those blurbs you would find on the back pages of a book. A fan of Hahn’s writing, she wrote many scary books for kids over the years. So to see it at last blew my mind.

By zooming in I was somehow able to make it out
By zooming in I was somehow able to make it out

I frantically texted my girlfriend back, telling her to please pick up The Time of the Witch (and The Jellyfish Season also by Mary Downing Hahn). I showed her where on the picture and she was left stunned. “How in the HELL were you able to make that out?! Alright baby, you got it.” What a saint :D

Jellyfish Season not horror but I like Hahn's writing. Plus I'm a sucker for a good book set in the summer time
Jellyfish Season not horror but I like Hahn’s writing.
Plus I’m a sucker for a good book set in the summer

We met up at a pizza parlor on her lunch break and she handed me the books. It was the first time I ever saw The Time of the Witch. I was ecstatic. When you’re building a library, any wanted book found is worthy of a (mental) fist pump.

GoodwillHunting20

I always get a kick out of reading the back of books, much like I do the back of video game boxes. There’s something cool about it that takes you back to the days of reading the back of VHS boxes at your local rental store!

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOPS

I love going to local book shops to find new gems
I love going to local book shops to find new gems

Beyond Goodwill, I’ve found plenty of nice finds at local bookshops. Support them! They’re good for the community and you might run into some really good stuff.

Found a bunch of the classic Wizard of Oz books!
Found a bunch of the classic Wizard of Oz books!
Off the shelf and into my bag :D
Off the shelf and into my bag :D

I read the first Wizard of Oz book as a kid, and absolutely adored it, but I never read the other 13 books in the series. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to doing.

This could easily occupy me for an hour
This could easily occupy me for an hour
Love finding a book that's been on my want list
Love finding a book that’s been on my want list

SCORE! At last I found a copy of Curtains by R.L. Stine. This was one of those books that haunted me during my childhood due to the intensity and creepiness of the art cover.

Would be so cool to have this as a blown up poster :P
Unnerving…
Field of Dreams!
Field of Dreams! Er, I mean Shoeless Joe!

My favorite film of all time is Field of Dreams. It’s just a fun, uplifting and magical movie. The soundtrack is absolutely spine-tingling. Years later I discovered it was adapted from a novel called Shoeless Joe. I remember borrowing a copy from the library in 1999 and reading it. I enjoyed it and have always wanted to reread it. 20 years later, I finally have that chance :)

DUN DUN... DUN DUN... DUN DUN DUN DUN!
DUN DUN… DUN DUN… DUN DUN DUN DUN!

Speaking of novels made into movies, Jaws by Peter Benchley was on my want list from the beginning of 2019. 7 months later I finally ran across a mint copy at a local bookstore. I loved how the white spine and crazy shark art on the spine made it stand out in the crowd. For this one I might have actually done a legit fist pump… no shame! It’s an interesting read for sure, but the movie is definitely better. Still, it’s nice to see where the movie was inspired from.

GoodwillHunting27

I’m such a sucker for the old Point Horror teen books with their cool art covers. It just takes you back to an innocent time where all the rage were thrillers and horror stories. Diane Hoh and Eve Bunting had some good ones.

I've spent hours and hundreds of dollars here...
I’ve spent hours and hundreds of dollars here…

On the hunt for more childhood books and ones I never got around to reading, I found one of my absolute favorites on this trip. Remember the author Robert Kimmel Smith? He penned such books as The War With Grandpa, Jelly Belly and Chocolate Fever.

GoodwillHunting22

But it was Mostly Michael that stuck with me over the years. I had to get the original edition I read from my childhood, and there it was in very good condition. It was my first time seeing it since my youth years, and it gave me a jolt of nostalgia that tickled my toes. It’s about a boy who receives a diary journal for his birthday. At first he thinks it’s a crock, but he writes in it and through his entries you get to experience what he goes through. I remember being captivated by it as a kid and the ending was very touching I recall. Can’t wait to read it again.

I love how one cover is darker than the other
I love how one cover is darker than the other

For the most part, I’m not a fan of today’s kids books in terms of art covers and such. There was something magical about a classic Dell Yearling book cover that I absolutely can’t get enough of. Apple Paperbacks are also good as well as Avon Camelot, but Dell Yearling takes the cake for me. And no author in my opinion represented Dell Yearling better than Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

They dont make em like how they used to
They don’t make ‘em like how they used to

Zilpha Keatley Snyder penned some really interesting books. Her style is unique and charming. I never read her books as a kid but boy do I wish I had.

Give me this, a lazy summer afternoon and Im good
Give me this, a lazy summer evening and I’m good
Youre never too old to enjoy a good kids book
You’re never too old to enjoy a good kids book
Talk about a haunting cover full of intrigue and mystery
Talk about a haunting cover full of intrigue and mystery
Dat vintage Doritos bag tho!
DAT VINTAGE DORITOS BAG THO
Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one of the best in the game
Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one of the best in the game
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was also a great author
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was also a great author

Naylor’s Witch series was one I missed out on as a kid. I wish I didn’t. I mean, just look at that cover! It’s creepy and unsettling. This is the stuff you don’t see anymore. Nothing beats a classic Dell Yearling novel. The Witch Herself is the 3rd book in a 6 part series.

The artwork made it even more special
The artwork made it even more special
That feeling when you find a long lost classic
That feeling when you find a long lost classic

The first in the Witch series, Witch’s Sister, eluded me for months. Sure I could have bought a more recent edition, but those lack soul and character. I waited it out, and when I spotted the original edition of Witch’s Sister sitting on the shelf, I did cartwheels internally.

You dont see shit like this today!
You just don’t see shit like this today!
My reaction spotting Witchs Sister on the shelf
My reaction spotting Witch’s Sister on the shelf
Reaching out to secure it immediately
Reaching out to secure it immediately
EVERYTHINGS AWESOME!!
EVERYTHING’S AWESOME!!
Speaking of witches, this was a spooky boxset
Speaking of witches, this was a spooky box set

I missed out on these books as a kid, but they look great for some Halloween reading :)

Gorgeous art
Gorgeous art
The stuff nightmares are made of
The stuff nightmares are made of
What a cover! Love that vintage COKE bottle
What a cover! Love that vintage COLA bottle
Is it October yet? :)
Is it October yet? :)
Speaking of boxsets...
Speaking of box sets…

The Henry Reed series by Keith Robertson is another great one I was able to hunt down and highly recommend.

Classic books featuring that classic Dell Yearling design
Classic books featuring that classic Dell Yearling design
Fun wholesome reads
Fun wholesome reads
Remember Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series?
Remember Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series?
Or how about John Bellairs' books?
Or how about John Bellairs’ crazy imaginative books?
This is the book the Jack Black movie was based on
This is the book the Jack Black movie was based on
Perfect for some October reading :)
Perfect for some October reading :)
Irresistibly atmospheric!
Irresistibly atmospheric!
So many good books and not enough time
So many good books and not enough time
Coming across my favorite book of all time :D
Ran across one of my favorite books of all time :D
So much sentimental value on top of a great story
So much sentimental value on top of a great story

Before moving towns in the 7th grade, my best friend Nelson gave me a book called The Bullies and Me by Harriet Savitz. It was about a boy who moved towns, got bullied and had to figure out a way of making sense in his own world. It felt like art imitating life, although I didn’t get bullied in my new town thank goodness. Still, the message of the story resonated deeply with me. I even wrote a review for it on Amazon way back in the year 2000.

Damn right
Damn right

GOING TO READING THE MOVIES

I'm a sucker for movie novelizations...
I’m a sucker for movie novelizations…

The best part of a book hunting trip is going into the store with a mental list of some books you want but knowing the odds aren’t great that you’ll find it since they’re of the older variety… and then finding it! On this particular jaunt, I walked in thinking how nice it would be if I could find the movie novelization for Gremlins 2: The New Batch by David Bischoff. I remember seeing it on the shelf all the time as a kid in the early ’90s, but never getting a chance to read it as I was too young at the time. After making my rounds in the young adult section, I almost went to pay for the books when a funny feeling said to check the Sci-Fi section. Imagine my surprise when I unearthed a mint copy of Gremlins 2! What can I say, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a book you’ve long wanted in the wild.

One of my favorite art covers of all time
Yet another cool art cover. Green title really pops!
Can't wait to read the Back to the Future trilogy
Can’t wait to read the Back to the Future trilogy
Alan Dean Foster you madman you
Alan Dean Foster you madman you

Fun story: the night my girlfriend came home following my purchase of Clash of the Titans (the original 1981 version not the 2010 remake), we watched the movie. It turned out that her grandfather used to love watching it and she would watch it along with him. I hadn’t seen the movie in over 25 years and I thought it held up surprisingly well. Now I gotta read the book :P

Some say it's even better than the movie...
Some say it’s even better than the movie…

Alan Dean Foster has been a busy man. He’s penned many books and many movie novelizations. His finest work, according to many, is the original Alien. Some go as far as to claim it’s the best movie novelization ever crafted. Read it for yourself and decide!

The feeling when your mailbox is stuffed with books
That feel when your mailbox is stuffed with books

This was the big one. There are only 6 books in the history of mankind I can think of that are bursting with enough machismo to be able to fill my mailbox like that. Let’s rip ‘er open to see which 6 they are…

That's a whole lot of testosterone
That’s a whole lot of testosterone
A thing of beauty if I ever did see one. My oh my
Arnold and Sly… does it get any better?!?
Badass
Badass to the nth degree
The coolest back cover in the history, period
The coolest back cover to a book ever created
A missed opportunity to show the T-1000 :(
A missed opportunity to show the T-1000 :(
RoboCop Returns is currently in the making
RoboCop Returns is currently in the making
Can't wait for Rambo Last Blood in theaters soon!
Can’t wait for Rambo: Last Blood in theaters 9.20.19
September 20, 2019 to be precise. Should be good
Before John Wick we had John Rambo

Check out the trailer here if you've missed it
[Damn right we did -Ed.]
I truly am a sucker for movie novelizations. Some are bad but the good ones add details in a way a movie can never quite hit. Similar to video game adaptations of blockbuster movies, it’s fun to suss out the diamonds in the rough.

FUN NOTES AND MORE

Stories can entertain, or enlighten, or both. Powerful!
Stories can entertain, or enlighten, or both!

BooksEx18

One fun perk of buying old used books is you never know what you might find inside. Sometimes you might find the author’s signature, other times a friendly letter left tucked inside or even alternative endings. It’s all part of the fun!

BooksEx17

An alternative ending to Judy Blume's Forever...
An alternative ending to Judy Blume’s Forever…
The most wholesome cutest note you'll ever read
Insanely wholesome and adorable

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I almost lost it when I saw this in Stranger Things 3!
I almost lost it when I saw this in Stranger Things 3

This past summer has seen a resurrection for my love of books and reading. For years my goal would always be to read more but inevitably I would never carve out the time.  This year alone I’ve already read 20 books. Admittedly, I’ve gone a little book crazy. My girlfriend will surely attest to that. My book resurgence is very similar to how I got back into the SNES in 2006. There are many parallels. I remember getting back into the fandom and the feeling of excitement that would course through my veins knowing that any swap meet (or book store) would assuredly mean coming home with several goods. Part of me is honoring the past by rereading old childhood favorites, but another part of me is honoring the future and what might come. I’m building a massive library for my future kids. They’ll never run out of literature to read and if public libraries do ever go the way of the dinosaur, at least my kids will have a safe haven. And certainly, libraries these days don’t carry the old classics. There will be plenty of Apple Paperbacks, Avon Camelot and Dell Yearling books for my kids to enjoy! I know it’s impossible to read every single book in my library but that’s just it. A library is meant to present one with many different choices at any given time depending on your current mood.

Preserving a library for future generations
Preserving a library for future generations

As much as I love the hunt and thrill of finding books to add to my library, nothing beats getting wrapped up in a really good novel. The words start to jump off the pages, worlds and characters form almost tangible images in your mind and it’s imagination intertwining with literacy and art at its finest. Not every book is worthwhile or memorable, but it’s awesome when you read one that sweeps you away. It’s a great feeling. You find it hard to put the book down and you hate when it ends. Some stories definitely stay with us for the long haul. I hope this article inspires you, if you haven’t read much lately, to look for a book that strikes your fancy. Who knows, maybe you’ll start reading regularly again just as I have. And on a final note… look for a certain series of book reviews coming in October right here on RVGFanatic!

The boogeyman's coming to get cha... [Yeah, get cha wallet! The prices, my goodness... -Ed.]
The boogeyman’s coming to get cha…
[Yeah, get cha wallet! The prices, oh my goodness… -Ed.]

Buon Compleanno

Today is June 15, 2019. To me that means two things. 1. It’s about summer time (kiss my ass, school!) and 2. It’s my little cousin’s birthday. Well, he’s not so little anymore — he stands 6 feet tall and just turned 31. David, in a nutshell, has always sort of been the little brother I never had. Thus, this article is a tribute to my cousin, the little bro I never had. Cheers to you, David. And happy birthday, bro.

IN THE BEGINNING…

David and I grew up together. In the late ’80s, my uncle lived with me and the family. He married, his wife moved in and they had a baby in ’88. I remember June 15, 1988 pretty well, considering I was only four (and three quarters) at the time. It was a damp and blustery morning as I stood outside the garage door, watching my mom sweep the dry brown leaves off the driveway. And then my uncle’s car gently roared into the just swept driveway. My aunt clambered out and it was then that David and I first met. We bonded immediately, as though we were best friends in a past lifetime.

ADVENTURES IN TEETH BRUSHING

DavidTeeth

I’m so glad my uncle loved recording us as we grew up together in the late ’80s to early ’90s. It was thanks to my uncle’s penchant for documenting everything that I fondly recall all the wacky adventures David and I shared. One of my favorite memories was David’s love for sneaking out of his crib (with my aid of course) to brush his teeth for the hundredth time that same night. At two years old, he would reach out of the crib and beg for me to transport him to his very own version of Disney World. And with that patented jovial grin of his, how could I resist? He was such a delightful and cute little rascal.

DavidTeeth2

No one loved brushing teeth more than David, and I loved to watch him do it. Never before had I seen such showmanship! After he brushed, 5 minutes later in his crib he’d tug on my shirt to take him back. So under the cover of darkness, I’d smuggle him off to the bathroom for another show. There’s a home video floating out there somewhere where you can see me shoving David — with all of my seven-year-old strength — up on to the sink. He bumped his head against the mirror really hard as he fought to stand up on his wobbly legs. Instead of crying, he amusingly stared back at his two-year-old reflection and, with a gleeful laughter, jubilantly pounded the mirror with his palm. He was a bundle of joy.

FEARLESS

FoDBaseballEx

One of my favorite pastimes was playing backyard baseball against my brother. This moment was not captured on film by my uncle but damn do I remember it as though it happened yesterday. It was the summer of 1991. I was about 8, my brother was 10 and David was 3. Kevin was on the mound and he stared me down as I stood firmly in the batter’s box (AKA a patch of grass at one end of my backyard). Kevin went into his windup, lifted his leg and flung the tennis ball down broadway as hard as he could. I took a mighty cut and fouled the ball off into the thorn bushes. David was in the background fiddling around on his brand new Power Wheels. Like most brothers growing up, Kevin and I fought a shit ton as youngsters, physically and verbally. Instead of grabbing a stick and poking the tennis ball out of the thorn bush he screamed at me for hitting it there. Of course, as little brothers often do, I had to respond in kind. And my response was not kind! We were busy shoving and jostling. And in the middle of this commotion I felt a tap. Kevin and I turned around. We could not believe our eyes.

DavidTeeth4

David, with a grin oddly plastered across his angelic little face, held out the tennis ball to us. As if it were an offering. We gasped in horror when we saw the sickening multitude of thorns that had pricked his tiny arm. But judging by his ear-to-ear grin, you’d never think the pain that had to be surging through his little arm bugged him at all. I remember kissing him on the forehead and patting him on the back. What a great kid. My brother and I immediately dropped our quarrel and we spent the rest of that afternoon playing with David in complete and blissful harmony. David does it again!

I'll never forget the sight of his pricked arm. Insanity!
I’ll never forget the sight of his pricked arm. Insanity!

Then in the spring of ’92 my aunt became pregnant, and my uncle decided the time was perfect to move out and buy a place of their own. My childhood dream of growing up in a big household — blame it on Full House I suppose — was suddenly dashed. And life, well, life would never be the same.

ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTIONS

DavidTribute1

My cousin Vince, about 10 years my senior, was one of my idols growing up. I always looked up to Vince, and in many ways felt I should pass that down to David. I hoped to provide him with wonderful memories and experiences as he grew up — just like how Vince did for me all those years ago. So when David was around 10 in 1998, I suddenly had this knack for taking him on his first roller coaster ride. He told me he had never been on one due to his fear of heights and whatnot. But I assured him it was worth it… that it was sort of a childhood rite of passage. In the summer of ’98 it became my obsession to have him ride one. And finally, one scorching hot summer day, he finally said YES.

DavidTribute

I couldn’t believe my ears, as though David was speaking to me in tongues. David was confronting his fear! He was about to embark on his first ever roller coaster adventure. Looking back on it, it may sound kind of silly but at the time it truly felt like a landmark moment in his life. I had this weird fantasy where riding a roller coaster would expand David’s world and help him to fully realize his potential. For as exuberant and daring a toddler he was, as a child he grew to be rather reserved. Deep down I always believed he still had that expressive and jubilant side in him, and I was determined to bring it out at any cost.

Finally, the moment of reckoning descended upon us. Proudly marching up to that towering steel structure that loomed before us, David was rearing to shock the system and give the man the proverbial old middle finger. But just as quickly, from out of nowhere, his grandmother (God rest her soul) swooped in, grabbed him by the wrist and yelled “ARE YOU CRAZY?! NO YOU’RE NOT GETTING ON THAT!”

Although it happened only a foot away from me, I remember feeling like it took place a chasm apart. I was completely helpless to stop it, and I saw the gleam of courage in David’s eyes instantly give way to fear. Physically, he seemed to shrink before me. And despite my urging him to still carry on, he sadly shook his head at me and could only say, “Sorry Steve, I can’t do it…”

I was crushed. So close, yet so far. It’s one of those memories and vivid scenes that stay with you for a lifetime. But as terrible as I felt, I could only imagine how defeated David must have felt. And for that, my heart absolutely sank.

DAVID’S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE

DavidTribute2

Relinquishing the dream of the cold steel wonder that is the roller coaster, I looked to another form of cheap American thrill… the haunted house. Yet another childhood rite of passage, one of my fondest childhood memories was Halloween night of 1995. That was the night my cousins took me to my first real haunted house and I never looked back. The sights, the sounds, the smells, ahhh. I wanted David to have that experience for himself.

Michael Myers almost attacked me that night!
Michael Myers almost got me that night!

Similar to the roller coaster, David rejected my various invites. 1998 was a no go. But in 1999 he accepted. But first he wanted to trick or treat around the block. Fair enough, I thought to myself. So I took him and his sister trick or treating. David and his sister ran from house to house like thieves in the night. In a way they were! Free candy! Wearing masks! Why, in my day they didn’t hand out candy; oh heck no, rather, it was rationed paper clips! [Oh stop it -Ed.]

If only David saw those steps in the darkness...
If only David saw those steps in the darkness…

Near the end of that fateful evening, on one of the final houses on our tour, David didn’t make out the steps in the darkness and fell. I heard the sickening sound of bare knees scraping concrete. And that is a match concrete will always win. I took David and his sister home, and sadly he never left the house again that night. I was so disappointed. It was just like the roller coaster from the year prior. So close, yet so far. But there’s always next year, right?

But time was quickly running out. I was 12 when I went to the haunted house in ’95. There’s something to be said about going to a haunted house when you’re THAT young. When you’re easily impressed by halfway decent setups that replicated the horrors of a house. When you think about it, 12 is really the last year of childhood, is it not? Well, in 2000, David was 12. This was the year. The last year. It was now or never. Do or die.

DavidTribute6b

October 31, 2000. David and I finally went to that haunted house. I was glad David was able to experience it just in the nick of time before hitting his teenage years. And I know it’s über dorky but for many years following Halloween 2000 I proudly carried the ticket around in my wallet wherever I went. It was a symbol, to me, for breaking through.

Oh snap, remember Gyro's?
Oh snap, remember Gyro’s?
Good times
Good times

A SHOCKING BOMBSHELL

Say whaaaaa...
Say whaaaaa…

Summer 2004. My cousins on Vince’s side from time to time held family get togethers on Saturdays, and this was one of those jam-packed occasions. Their huge two story house was the perfect place for family reunions and gatherings. As previously stated, I admired Vince growing up. And I’ve always strove to be a great cousin and example for David, like how Vince was to me. So I guess you could say it was pretty fitting anytime that Vince, David and I found ourselves under the same roof. It actually didn’t happen as often as one might think since David’s family wasn’t super close with Vince’s family, and David was a homebody who deeply valued his peace and privacy. But in a stroke of luck, David decided to come out to the party on this fateful day, and that was where he dropped a bombshell on little ol’ me.

DavidTribute8b

Everyone was hanging out downstairs or playing pool in the backyard. David and I were chilling upstairs in the den. We were playing foosball and just kind of hanging out when he looked at me and said something I would never forget.

“… I got a D in math this past semester.”

All my life I’ve looked at David as the little brother I never had. And his bold gesture, despite the negative context, made me feel SO proud. He rarely opened up like that to anybody. At that moment I knew, without a shadow of a doubt and for the first time ever, that he saw me as the older brother HE never had. My family has never been the strongest in terms of keeping an open line of communication as I think many of us don’t feel comfortable sharing details. So for David to share that with me on that day… it blew me away. I, of course, reassured him that it was OK and that life is about learning from our mistakes. We had a really good and deep conversation before joining the rest of the fam downstairs. It was one of those bonding conversations you never forget.

A SLICE OF COLLEGE LIFE

NightHouse

It was the spring of 2005. There was a big event going on at my University one night. Everyone was welcomed to join the fray in the Student Union. It was a rally night to discuss various topics in the Asian community such as issues related to drugs, sex, sexual identity, you know, that kind of gig. I asked David to join me. Surprisingly, he was game. So 30 minutes before the event began at 7 PM, I drove to his place to pick him up.

DavidTribute9

The event was packed with roughly 60 to 75 college students from every imaginable walk of life. I glanced over at David as we found our seats. I was ecstatic that he decided to come along and step out of his comfort zone. I wanted to expose him to a slice of college life. He was probably the only high school kid there that night.

Following a brief introduction by the MC and a speech by the presenter, the floor was opened up to the people for thoughts and questions. The MC asked if anyone would like to respond to the speech. Glancing around the room, and then looking over at David who sat there with an odd grin on his face, I decided to stand up. As I stood up from my seat I could see David looking up at me in a state of semi shock. I’d never really told him about my public speaking background before. No doubt the #1 reason I decided to speak that evening was to show David you can do anything when you believe in yourself.

Staring out at a sea of humanity...
Staring out at a sea of humanity…

The walk from my seat to the front of the lecture hall felt long as hell. I think a few students coughed as I made my way up there. I shook the MC’s hand and then turned to face the audience. Man was it packed. Tugging on my blue Michael Jordan skullcap, I began my spiel.

“You know, in our Asian culture it’s not easy being homosexual. *pause* Not that I am… and not that there’s anything wrong with being homosexual.”

The room filled with laughter. I saw David cracking up. I think in some way he understood I was doing this for him. His expression was one that read, “That’s my cousin up there.” [Or maybe “I don’t know him, I swear, I don’t!” -Ed.]

On a side note, I had a point to my speech. The usage of comic relief in the intro was to lighten up the mood for a second. I certainly wouldn’t do it in a room full of college professors. It’s all about reading your audience!

However, the thrill of the night came later on. We broke into small groups to talk about our experiences and thoughts on these various issues in the Asian community. We sat in a circle and went around. When it got to be David’s turn, he shared his two cents. This high school kid was talking with a group of college students like he belonged. I was so proud of the guy. I remember just beaming at him like a proud older brother.

When the meeting concluded, David and I talked and joked all the way back to the parking garage. It was a cold and starry night. Just absolutely serene. I was thrilled that I was able to provide David with a small taste of what was to come in his future, being that he was now almost 17. Any sort of preparation, no matter how small, is big. Plus he got to see his crazy ol’ cousin in action as a bonus :D

Driving David home on the freeway that night, music blaring, I think I did Vince proud.

It was a great night for all
It was a great night for all

AMERICA’S NATIONAL PASTIME

FoDBaseball

Later that summer in July of 2005 I took David to his first baseball game. It went to extra innings and ended with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 10th. We had a blast at the park rooting on the home team. It was another item checked off David’s list. It was simple, it was fun and he couldn’t have watched a better more exciting game. We went home on a high :)

CELEBRATING AMERICA

DavidTribute11

4th of July, 2006. I took David to one of my favorite spots to watch fireworks. It’s on a hill in the eastern side of town. At sunset the view is pretty damn gorgeous. We had a blast just talking, catching up, admiring the fireworks and celebrating America’s 230th birthday.

Check out these crazy weird photos I took that night:

O_o
O_o
:P
:P

THE RISE OF DAVID

Rise of the Silver Surfer. Hey, it's a guilty pleasure OK?
Rise of the Silver Surfer is a guilty pleasure

June 15, 2007 (the date this article was originally written) marked David’s 19th birthday. It was also the opening day for Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. We caught the first film on opening weekend back in 2005. It was me, David and our cousin Mike out to celebrate David’s last year before hitting his 20’s.

Remember Marvel '91 trading card series? Classic!
Remember Marvel ’91 trading card series? Classic!
What a bad ass time to be a kid!
What a bad ass time to be a kid!

When we arrived at the theater it was completely jam packed! I couldn’t help but notice cute girls around David’s age were all over the place. Given the film, no shocker there. David was sitting on the edge of a row, Mike in the mid — oh look, here’s a pic to make your life (and mine!) easier.

But imagine the seats looking MUCH nicer
But imagine the seats looking MUCH nicer

The girl sitting in the row in front of us, about 5 minutes before the trailers, turned around to look back at me.

“Hey, are you saving that seat there for a friend?” she pointed to the empty seat that separated me and the cute girl.

“Nope.”

“Is it cool if you move over? My two friends are coming soon and we’re out of seats in this row here.”

No problem, I told her. OH NO PROBLEM AT ALL! David, Mike and I moved over one seat. So now the cute girl and I were sitting next to each other. I can’t say that it hurt my feelings.

And then… as I sunk into my chair and chatted with Mike and David, the two friends the girl had mentioned walked into the theater and made their way to our row.

These two ladies, as fate would have it, were the type to turn heads. I looked over at David as one of them sat down beside him and I could sense him doing mental cartwheels. Ah indeed, what a stroke of luck for my fine feathered friend.

I felt so happy for David. Dude was GOOD!
Good times

Right before the house lights dimmed for the trailers, I caught a glimpse of a sly little grin crossing David’s face. As the first preview roared over the screen and speakers, I laughed to myself, poking Mike. I gave him the look. He, too, knew what was going on with David. He discreetly glanced over at David in the darkness and then back to me, returning the “I gotcha” gesture.

What David probably dreamed of doing :P
What David probably dreamed of doing :P
dd
:D

After the movie I took David and Mike to a nearby Italian restaurant. David insisted on going to Taco Bell or Wendy’s. I told David that I love those places as much as anyone but those are no places to eat on a birthday. This Italian restaurant was far from hoity-toity upper class, but at least it had some class.

Once seated, I noticed a waitress who looked vaguely familiar. She was serving an old couple the table over. Hmmm, where have I seen her before?

This restaurant, being family oriented, had each table adorned by white drawing paper you could write and color on. A set of crayons were sprawled between the salt ‘n pepper. I took a green crayon and wrote on the sheet “Happy 30th Birthday David!”

Zoom in on mobile and you can see my messy scribble
Zoom in on mobile and you can see my messy scribble

It was an in-joke between the three of us. We often joked that David, although turning 19 at the time, always acted like someone much older than his age. David and Mike laughed when they saw my message on the dining table paper.

When our waitress came over to field our orders, she pointed to the crayon scribbling and asked “Whose birthday is it?” I pointed to David, who made meek eye contact with this attractive Filipino lass probably in her mid 20’s.

“Well, happy birthday, David,” she said warmly. He said a quick thank you. “I’ll be back with your drinks in a minute. If you need anything else, let me know.”

And then the waitress from the other table walked by. I saw her face and it hit me. She looked at me funny, too.

“Tiff?!”

“Oh my God, Steve??”

Tiffany was an old family friend I’d spent more than a few Saturday nights with, back in ’99 and 2000 along with another family friend, Tim. Back then, our parents met at Tim’s house once or twice a month for dancing and drinking. The parents partied downstairs while we did our thing upstairs. Tim and I both openly shared a crush on Tiff. Some nights she was closer to him, other nights closer to me (not physically close but emotionally). It was a friendly rivalry between he and I (we were really good friends). All in all it was good harmless 16 year old fun.

In fact, that hill I took David to on 4th of July, 2006, was the same hill in which Tim, Tiff and I spent our 4th of July back in 2000, just months before I took David to his first ever haunted house. Crazy how things connect…

Anyhow, Mike and David looked on in a mixture of confusion and wonder as Tiff and I quickly played catch-up. What a freaking small world! We hadn’t seen each other since the summer of 2000 when the parents quietly disbanded their Saturday night dance and drink-athons. Our impromptu reunion ended when she had to go back to waiting tables. We hugged and wished each other well. And that was that.

So now Mike, David and I were eating and talking. Just enjoying life. And then our waitress came over, along with another attractive female co-worker, holding a surprise small fudge cake. David’s expression said it all.

“We’re going to sing you happy birthday but in… Italian!” they ceremoniously declared.

  • Buon compleanno a te
    Buon compleanno a te
    Buon compleanno a David
    Buon compleanno a teeeeeeeeeeee

As they sang, I noted the way they starred merrily into David’s eyes as though he were the most handsome young man they had ever laid eyes on. I NEVER saw David look any prouder in the 19 years that I had known him than at that very moment in time. He sat up, chin held up high and he was beaming from ear to ear. I sat there and admired the moment. It’s an image that’s been embedded in my soul.

The rest of the day David was like a new man. I ribbed him about his two new girlfriends. He laughed and had this spark in his eyes as he went along with the joke — it made me so happy seeing him be so happy :)

And, to this day, it’s a joke we still occasionally joke about.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

MemoirsCave

In early 2015 I gave David a copy of Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman, written by my buddy, Rob Strangman. I contributed 5 guest stories to Rob’s epic book of video game memories from yesteryear, and I felt the time was right to finally share with David about the existence of RVGFanatic, and the article I had written about him way back in 2007. He was touched.

DavidNote

To my cousin, David, AKA the little bro I never had, thanks for being my cousin brother. May you always reach for the stars and be who you’re meant to be. Love ya, bro.

PS- Your ass still owes me a roller coaster ride ;)