Anthony Frisina’s Gaming Pick Ups

A new month and a new batch of vintage goodness come this way. From the Sega Genesis to the Playstation 2, retro games are as important and as valid of an art form as classic cinema. With a multitude of retro systems to choose from, and with a library as expansive as ever, it is now easier than ever to find one’s favorite title from gaming past. Whether complete in the box or just a loose cartridge, the adulation one receives from inserting their cartridge into an old television set and taking a trip down memory lane is inexplicable. Rarely, is a retro gaming enthusiast ever out of new material to purchase and discuss, as the community itself has many different avenues to choose from. There is nothing that explains the emotions a gamer feels when discovering a hidden gem on a system that one missed out on as a child or unearthing a great piece of exposition from an RPG during the great 16-bit era of the 90s. A craft onto itself, here is a list of recent gaming pickups found either online or in retro shops. 

Last Battle (Sega Genesis, 1989)

A recent complete in box treasure item, Last Battle is the Western adaptation of the famous Japanese anime Fist of the North Star. Few may know this little tidbit but as the American release of the manga, but it serves the series well with its brand of over the top violence and dystopian setting. Players assume the role of martial artist Aazarak(Kenshiro in Japan) in his quest to stop the empire in their conquest of the new world. The game features branching pathways, six basic skill set attacks, and multiple sublevels that add an extreme amount of depth to this action beat em up’. A true exclusive in every sense of the word, Last Battle is designed by the legendary Yasushi Yamaguchi, known for working on some of the consoles greatest works including Sonic CD. One key aspect of this game that does deserve much criticism is the dumbed down violence that takes away the gore from the Japanese release and replaces it with a more subdued animated approach to violence. Disheartening truly when one considers the hyper-violent overtones of its manga origins. 

Gradius 3 (Super Nintendo, 1991)

A side-scrolling masterpiece that utilized the SNES’ mode 7 graphical design to its fullest, Gradius 3 is a fantastic entry in this long-standing shooter. With a total of 10 hectic levels that house free-floating power-ups and bonuses throughout, the game is known not only for its difficulty but also for its replayability. The star of this game is the ship itself, the Vic Viper Starfighter, and its journey into the heart of the 
Bacterion Empire following the events of its two predecessors. Unlike its forebears, however, there is no continuation feature which in turns ramps up the difficulty exponentially. If a player loses all their lives on the first run, then the game is over. This is by far one of the most complex side-scrolling shooters on the SNES, and it introduced an edit mode during action sequences that allow players to mix n’ match their weapons in many unique ways. Astounding when one realizes this title is over twenty-five years old. 

Grandia 2 (Playstation 2, 2002)

While not as well received as its Sega Dreamcast counterpart, Grandia 2 is a phenomenal JRPG on the Playstation 2. The game houses one of the most unique battle systems for its time while doing away with the rigidity of turn-based combat for a more flexible limited range of movement during action sequences. The story itself is as an epic in scope as its dungeon layouts, as players embark on a quest as the dogged mercenary Ryudo and his hawk companion as they must stop the evil goddess Valmar. The game boasts six playable party members along with a plethora of NPC’s that serve to ease Ryudo’s epic journey. Grandia 2 also houses some complex spell casting, weapon customization, and branching paths that alter the gameplay in interesting ways. 

Target Earth (Sega Genesis, 1990)

Another Japanese adaptation on the Sega Genesis, Target Earth is a futuristic action shooter that takes place in the year 2201. The game tells the story of Earth’s last remaining defense force as they must defend the planet against an invading cyborg army from the farthest reaches of unknown space. The protagonist is a tough military mech pilot namedRex, whose wit and tenacity is evoked by the title’s well-written science fiction dialogue. Dreamworks Publishers are the company that is responsible for bringing this game to North America and thankfully so. The game bolsters some stellar action sequences across the 8 futuristic landscapes Rex must traverse. Along the way, the protagonist may choose from a total of 14 weapons, each achieved by completing each level with a certain score. The music is top notch, and the cut scenes are as grandiose as the plot with some notable adjustments to the North American release. The romantic relationship between Rex and Leanna loses its focal point in the American adaptation, which may sway how one perceives the exposition of this game’s plot. Regardless, Target Earth is a superb science fiction epic and a great exclusive on the Sega Genesis.

Brave Fencer Musashi (Playstation 1, 1998)

An action adventure exclusive on Sony’s first entry into the home console market, players here assume the role of the titular character in his quest to avenge the destruction of his village by the evil Thirstquencher Empire. Director Yoichi Yoshimoto incorporated a day and night system into the product which has an immense effect on the enemies and NPC’s that litter the game’s overworld. Players must pay attention to Musashi’s health and stamina meter as it slowly declines as nightfall ascends the world. Certain demons only come out at night and can make it difficult to explore the world’s map in the midst of twilight. All this extends the game a sense of depth and reality that rendered Musashi’s adventure a nuanced experience. Developer Square invested a lot of time in exploring the mythology of Japanese folklore and embedding its rich culture into the landscape of the game. Rather than the steampunk induced environments of Square’s other franchises, Brave Fencer Musashi places players right in the middle of an ancient Japanese landscape is full of mythical scrolls and samurai warriors like the title character’s nemesis Kojiro. The gameplay itself has a multitude of mini-games that alter the direction of the plot. Furthermore, the title character can choose between two main swords that can be upgraded to varying degrees of skills that grant Musashi new abilities. Such variation is a welcomed addition to a game that is much different from the rest of Square’s JRPG cannon up to that point.  A wonderful romp through a long forgotten world, Brave Fencer Musashi is a unique experience and one that symbolizes everything that made the 32-bit era a landmark in gaming history. 

Earthworm Jim 2 (Sega Saturn, 1996)

A redefined port of the Genesis version, Earthworm Jim 2 on the Saturn features some new character sprites, cut scenes, animation cells, and an overall graphical upgrade. Artist Nick Bruty extended his work on this port, with Screaming Pink Inc overtaking the production duties for the Saturn adaptation. Nothing is missed in this version, and the 32-bit graphical style shines on Sega’s successor to the Genesis. A platformer that defined the 90’s and symbolizes the amalgamation of the video game and cartoon mediums, Earthworm Jim is the perfect fit for the Sega Saturn. While the majority of the game utilizes the common run n’ gun formula inherent to the genre, there are some shifts in platforming styles between levels. For instance, Jim can use his “pocket rocket” to traverse a stage in a speedo isometric shooting sequence that changes up the gameplay on this Saturn port. Such nuances in this adaptation make the Saturn version a novel experience and one worth revisiting if you already played the Genesis or the Snes versions. 

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About Anthony Frisina 45 Articles
Anthony Frisina is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College with a BA in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Anthony went on to attend Brooklyn College's Film Academy and Writer's workshop program, achieving an interdisciplinary degree in Screenwriting and Film theory in the Fine Arts. Transforming his love for classic American cinema, Anthony went on to adapt a number of his own works into different mediums, including his well-received Western novel The Regulator. Anthony likes to spend his free time writing articles for magazines and periodicals that cover a wide range of topics, from science fiction to popular culture. As a screenwriter, Anthony has had his screenplays featured at numerous spec script writing competitions across the country where he one day hopes to write the next great American film.

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