Category Archives: Dreamcast Reviews

Ghost Blade Review

Ghost Blade ReviewGhost Blade (Available exclusively on the SEGA Dreamcast)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
Publisher: Hucast Games
Developer: Hucast Games
Release Date: September 27th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB doesn’t rate independent releases, but I can tell you right now this would get an E for everyone rating as it’s a 2D sprite-based shoot ‘em up, that doesn’t feature any harmful violence except the explosion of thousands of tiny ships.

Plays Like: Ghost Blade is a vertical shooter that pits you against a massive onslaught of enemy ships. Dodge all the bullets you can, and destroy everything that moves. Simple as that. Ghost Blade shares a lot in common with other shooters such as DoDonPachi and Mushihimesama, although is nowhere near as difficult. As a matter of fact, this game is directly aimed to introducing new players to the genre.

Review Basis: Completed the game on Novice and Normal modes.

In 2001 SEGA officially discontinued the Dreamcast in North America, it’s now 2015 and the platform continues to see new releases thanks to the efforts of independent game developers all over the world. Ghost Blade is another in a long line of indie releases that shows the dedication and love the community has for the Dreamcast. Many of the Dreamcast games that get released today are shoot ‘em ups that aim at pleasing fans of the early 90’s, and this release is no different. That being said, it’s not without its controversy too.

Ghost Blade was announced back in April 2013, with pre-orders opening for a limited to 300 (eventually raised to 500) copies of a Collector’s Edition. After that, the game saw one delay after another, and eventually its Caravan mode was completely scrapped before the game was eventually released in September 2015. Sadly those that did pre-order the Collector’s Edition still haven’t had their version of the game released, as only the regular and limited editions (contains the game’s musical soundtrack) are currently in stock. What we’re left with is a five-stage two-player shmup that was delayed by over two years. So as I said, lots of controversy. Controversy aside, let’s see how the game holds up.

Ghost Blade 1The Great:

If you enjoy shooters, you’re going to really enjoy this one. You begin by selecting one of three female pilots, each who controls a different ship. Your mission is to destroy a rogue AI that is out wreaking havoc on everything. Each ship has a different firing system in-place, as well as movement speed. There’s the classic spread shot, a wide shot with a missile-combo, and finally the all-powerful straight laser shot. You also have access to a screen-clearing bomb. The weapon system is rather unique. If you press the A button to shoot, you end up earning stage stars which boost your score, however if you use a focus attack, the X button, all of your firepower is streamed into a forward attack, which also slows your ship down, and that nets you tech orbs. These orbs fill a meter that, once full, grants you another stage-clearing bomb. So it’s nice how you juggle between the two modes of fire, which becomes even more important once you factor in the point system, which I’ll tackle in just a few.

Ghost Blade 2The Good:

  • Novice mode is a complete cake-walk, especially if you use the focus fire and continuously get new bombs. As an added bonus in this mode, if you happen to be touched by an enemy, you automatically deploy a screen-clearing bomb instead of blowing up. If you run out of bombs, that’s when you lose a life. I really thought this was a great way of introducing new players to the genre. Even those who have never played a shooter before should have little trouble clearing the game on Novice mode.
  • Normal mode doesn’t automatically release a bomb, but I still found it fairly simple to navigate the game within a few hours of practice. This isn’t a hard shmup, and that’s ok, because it plays very well. If you’re here for difficulty, this won’t be the shooter for you.

  • The point system is based a combo chain system. The more enemy kills you string together, the higher your combo. If you die, it reverts back to zero, so you really don’t want to do that. This isn’t a game where your main goal is to finish it, as honestly you can do that in under half-an-hour. Instead this is a game that requires you to play it over and over again to chase that ever illusive high score.

Ghost Blade 4+ I hope you enjoy kick-ass music, because you’re going to get it. Rafael Dyll who composed the music for other recently released Dreamcast games such as Last Hope, Gunlord, amongst others, is back to give this game a rip-roaring soundtrack that will stay with you long after you finish the game. I would highly recommend you check out the Limited Edition, because it comes with the game’s soundtrack on a separate disc. There were only 1,000 of these printed, so be sure to act fast before they’re all gone.

  • Graphically the game shines in VGA-mode, although there is a lot of slowdown when too much is going on. There are also times where you really have to pay attention to differentiate between enemy bullets and orbs and stars flying towards your ship. It isn’t too bad after a short period of time, but all of these sprites make the Dreamcast come to a grinding halt, especially if you shoot out a bomb while all of this is happening on-screen. Backgrounds are varied, and detailed, and overall the game looks quite sharp, and runs well for the most part. I should also mention Ghost Blade supports a TATE mode, where you can play on a vertical monitor for the optimal experience.
  • As you’d expect the game supports the VMU, where little icons are displayed, as well as the arcade stick. This is extremely important for those of us that like to relive the glory days of the arcades in our homes.

  • The packaging is classic retro goodness. If you’ve purchased any other games from Hucast you know what to expect. You get a DVD case, which fits nicely with Hucast’s other offerings like DUX and Redux: Dark Matters. You also get a full color instruction manual, and in the case of the Limited Edition, you get a fantastic pressed audio CD featuring the game’s soundtrack. Speaking of pressed discs, the game disc itself is also professionally pressed.

  • Ghost Blade 3The So-So:

    +/- A training mode, two-player co-op mode, and the five-stage campaign is all she wrote for Ghost Blade. While it’s fun chasing high scores, I can see people wanting a little more after a few days with the game. Unless people want to partake in a high score tournament, I just don’t see this being in one’s Dreamcast for months to come.

    Ghost Blade 5The Lowdown:

    Ghost Blade is a brand new Dreamcast game released in 2015, you have automatically get brownie points just for that. Sure there was some controversy surrounding the release of the game, and yes some might say the game can be a little light on content, but it remains a truly enjoyable shooter to play, and that’s key here. New fans to the genre would do well in checking this one out as it makes for a great introduction. I can’t wait to see what Hucast has in-store for Redux 2.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Neo XYX Review

    NeoNeo XYX (Available on Dreamcast, and Neo Geo MVS)
    ESRB Rating: NA
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Publisher: NG:Dev Team
    Developer: NG:Dev Team
    Release Date: February 17th, 2014

    Parent Talk: I’d say this is a game that would easily appeal to all ages, although the pilot of your craft does yell out some rather mature dialogue every now and then.  Most people won’t even notice what is written, but that’s about the only mature elements Neo XYX has to offer.  The rest is sprite-based death from above!

    Plays Like: At its core Neo XYX is actually a really simple shoot ‘em up.  There are no power-ups, just your standard shot and bombs.  The rest is dodging trillions of pink bullets, and trying to collect as many medals as possible in order to boost your score.  The one unique gameplay element is that your ship moves at a far quicker pace than most shmups, and so there’s an additional action button which slows your ship down.  It takes some getting used to, but using it properly is the difference between reaching the next stage or dying right there and then.

    Review Basis: Managed to make it to stage five, but I need quite a bit more practice if I’m to complete all six stages.  These games are designed for you to revisit them over and over again in order to not only get a higher score, but also to memorize each and every enemy pattern.

    For the past decade NG:Dev Team has been keeping not only the Neo Geo MVS alive, but the Dreamcast as well.  Each of their four games (Last Hope, Fast Strikers, Gunlord, and Neo XYX) began life as a Neo Geo game, and then shortly afterwards made their way to the Dreamcast.  These games are designed from the ground up to be challenging, and offer countless hours of arcade fun.  With their latest release they’ve continued that tradition.  If you long for the days of old, Neo XYX is sure to bring a smile to your face.

    Neo3The Great:

    This no-nonsense shmup is extremely simple, and yet for whatever reason works so bloody well.  There are no power-ups, no special gimmicks, just your ship, your bombs, and your will to survive.  There is one unique twist, which some could call a gimmick, which is that your craft moves much faster than most shmups.  This means it’s extremely easy to get out of tight spots, but almost impossible to slowly weave in and out of enemy fire.  Thus, the slowdown button.  This slows the ship’s speed down tremendously and allows you to more easily dodge incoming bullets.  Only by using both speeds will you be able to make it out alive, and even then there are no guarantees.

    Neo1The Good:

    + There are also bomb fragments you can collect, which eventually reward another bomb, and believe me, you want as many bombs as you can get.

    + Medal chain system works very well.  As you defeat enemies they drop medals, continue to collect them and watch your score soar.

    + Your ship’s hit zone is incredibly small, which takes some getting used to because even if a bullet hits your ship’s wing you don’t die.  It has to hit the little bluish circular center of the plane in order for you to be killed.  This gives you some breathing room in tight spots, but it by no means makes the game easy.

    + Incredibly challenging.  At no point does the game feel cheap.  If I had to say whether or not this was a traditional shmup or a bullet hell, I’d say this one leans much more heavily towards bullet hell than traditional.  Each of the game’s six levels gets progressively tougher than the last, and by the time you hit stage five there will be pink bullets virtually everywhere.  Good luck!

    + Fantastic sprite work and amazing soundtrack and sound effects.  The sprites are nice and large with a good amount of detail to them, and the backgrounds look great.  The game runs at 60fps and is compatible with the Dreamcast’s VGA mode.  The soundtrack is one of the best parts of the game, as we’ve come to expect from NG:Dev Team.  This game looks professionally made, and that’s the biggest compliment I can give an independent studio.

    + Multiple gameplay settings, from horizontal, to vertical to even lying on the floor style.  Yes, some people actually do that.  I play in vertical mode as it was originally intended, and you should to!  It’s still nice to have the option to switch things up if the mood strikes.

    + Great quality in the packaging and instruction manual.  Yes that’s a good thing, because how many games today give you a ten page, fully-colored manual?  Yeah, virtually none.

    Neo4The Bad:

    – Occasional sprite-tearing.   You can see it in the video review, where the ship’s sprite is torn away, or when a bomb is cast and doesn’t display properly.  This doesn’t happen very often, but is noticeable when it does.

    Neo5The Lowdown:

    NG:Dev Team strikes again, with another fantastic shooter that Dreamcast and Neo Geo fans shouldn’t miss out on.  The MVS release sold out instantly so you’ll either have to wait for a reprint, or hit up eBay and pay exaggeratedly high prices.  The Dreamcast version is still available through NG:Dev Team’s website and the asking price is 34€ for the regular edition and 49€ for the collector’s edition, which includes the game’s killer soundtrack.  If you’re an old-school arcade shmup fan this is one you really don’t want to miss.  It’s fantastic!

    Final Score: 8.8/10

    Redux: Dark Matters Review

    ReduxRedux: Dark Matters (Available exclusively on SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
    Publisher: Hucast
    Developer: KTX Software & René Hellwig
    Release Date: January 27th, 2014

    Parent Talk: Given Redux is an indie release, it was not submitted to the ESRB, and therefore has no official rating.  It’s a spaceship shooter, which is bright and colorful, features no blood or other violence except for countless explosions.  Technically that’s violence, but seriously these are the types of games I grew up with, and children shouldn’t find anything here damaging.  They might find it incredibly hard though, because it is.

    Plays Like: Given this is a remake of DUX it plays pretty much the same.  There’s a charge shot, a standard shot, the ability to absorb enemy bullets, and depending on the difficulty you select, an R-Type-like power pod.  Dodge billions of enemy bullets, and destroy everything in your path.  ‘Simple’ as that.

    Review Basis: Hucast was nice enough to send me a review copy, and I managed to get to the fifth stage, and will return to try and finish the game, but I’ve seen more than enough to review the game.

    Redux: Dark Matters is a Kickstarter success story.  It managed to score a whopping $53,121 dollars, and is a complete remake of DUX, which I happened to have reviewed last year.  While the core gameplay mechanics remain largely the same, the graphics have been completely overhauled, an entirely new stage has been added, and a second, and much more difficult ship has been added.

    Redux1The Great:

    The soundtrack is utterly fantastic.  Being composed by Andre Neuman, with creative input from Turrican and R-Type composer Chris Huelsbeck, you really have to hear the full soundtrack in all its glory to truly appreciate how amazing it is.  I highly, highly recommend you pick up the soundtrack along with the game because this is one OST you’re going to want to have on your mobile device for sure.

    Redux2The Good:

    + Same excellent gameplay as DUX 1.5, yet new at the same time.  You’ve got access to a charge shot, the typical standard shot, directional missiles, the ability to soak enemy bullets, and the power pod.  Sounds familiar right?  It should as this is all from DUX.  The new feature here is that the soak ability no longer just sucks in enemy shots.  Now a targeting reticule appears on all enemy ships within a certain distance of your ship.  Pressing the R-button will then repel the bullets back to the enemies.  It makes everything old feel new again.

    + There’s also an entirely new ship to play as, which ditches the power pod, making the game far tougher as a result.  Instead of the power pod you’re given a spread-like blaster which makes clearing the stages a fraction easier, but dodging incoming bullets virtually impossible.  It makes the game feel distinctly different than playing on Normal with the standard ship.

    + Dark Matters is extremely tough, but never feels cheap.  The slow-paced nature of the game always makes you feel like you can get out of any situation, so when you die, you know you did something wrong.  This challenge is what keeps you coming back for more.

    Redux3The So-So:

    +/- I loved the revamped graphics, new backgrounds, and higher level of detail, but there’s a bizarre blur effect that makes everything appear much more pixelated than DUX 1.5.  It’s not too distracting once you get into the game, but it’s bizarre that the sharpness and contrast appear to have been affected by the upgraded graphics.

    +/- As with DUX it can be a little hard to make out power-ups and enemy bullets once the action really gets intense.  Keep in mind you’re dodging not only enemy bullets, but spaceships, and often the very stage itself.  Sometimes it becomes a bit too overwhelming and can make seeing exactly where you have to go more of a challenge than it should be.

    The Bad:

    – I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t add some sort of splash screen intro in order to explain the story.  Any silly arcade-like storyline would have sufficed.

    Redux4The Lowdown:

    Redux: Dark Matters is an extremely enjoyable shmup.  It has a couple of shortcomings, especially with the new blur effect on the graphics, but the core gameplay is very fun.  It’s challenging without being cheap, the two difficulty settings/ships are unique enough to make the game feel almost like two distinct games, and it’s fun enough to keep you coming back for more.  If you have the chance, I certainly recommend you check out Redux. 

    Final Score: 8.3/10

    Crazy Taxi Review

    Crazy Taxi ReviewCrazy Taxi (Available on Dreamcast, GameCube, and PlayStation 2)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Arcade Racing
    Publisher: SEGA
    Developer: SEGA-AM3
    Dreamcast Release Date: January 24th, 2000\
    PlayStation 2 Release Date: May 14th, 2001
    GameCube Release Date: November 18th, 2001

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Crazy Taxi T for teen because of animated violence and strong language. Honestly I’d let my kids play this one if only because it’s so cartoony and over the top. You have nothing to fear here.

    Plays Like: Select your driver, pick-up a fare and get them to their destination as quickly as possible. Swerve in and out of on-coming traffic, drive underwater, do whatever it takes to save as much time as possible and you just might rake up enough points to become a CT legend.

    Review Basis: While I used to play Crazy Taxi for hours on end back in 2000, for this retro review I simply played it for a few hours to remember all the key features. Sadly I didn’t have the time to invest in order to really highlight the advanced features for the video review.

    Crazy Tax is the perfect example to show why SEGA was such a groundbreaking arcade maker. They were always able to take a relatively simple idea, in this case driving, and run wild with it. This is why there are legions of House of the Dead fans, why Virtua Fighter 2 was the top selling Saturn game of all time, and why every single Dreamcast owner should have a copy of Crazy Taxi in their collection. This game was not only one of the smash hits that helped define the Dreamcast itself, but SEGA as a whole.

    The Great:

    Here’s the concept, you drive around an open city picking up fares, once you have one your objective is to drive them to their destination as quickly as possible. That’s it, that’s all. Sounds simple does it? Well, it is. It’s also some of the most fun you can possibly have with a modern videogame. There’s no story, there’s no long open-ended adventure. No, this is about pure arcade action. You see you can get your fares to their destinations any way you want, be it driving under water, through oncoming traffic, anything you can think of. In fact the more daring you are, and the quicker you get your clients to their desired location, the more money you earn and the greater your time bonus is. This is arcade driving at its absolute best.

    Crazy Taxi1The Good:

    + Not only do you have your standard arcade-style gameplay mode, which forces you to constantly pick up new fares in order to keep time on your clock, but there are three, five, and ten minute alternatives which offer a somewhat more relaxed experience.

    + One of my favorite additions to this home version is the Dreamcast City, an entirely new city added for players to experience on top of the Arcade City. While not as refined as the Arcade City, it offers players something new, and remains a blast to play through.

    + Crazy Box mode allows players to learn the ropes, and master some of the more advanced techniques such as drifting. Think of this mode as a mission-based objective mode. It starts off easy enough, but increases in difficulty rather quickly.

    + While it features a simple concept, mastering the game takes dozens upon dozens of hours. You can perform a Crazy Dash, Drift, Back Dash, Back Drift, Stop, and much, much more. This is all done through the simple manipulation of the gas, brake, drive and reverse gear. It still boggles my mind just how complex you can get with Crazy Taxi if you invest enough time with it.

    + Outside of gameplay, the graphics hold up quite well. While the Arcade City is much more refined than the Dreamcast City, both look very nice and detailed. Sure everything might appear just a tad boxy by today’s standards, but they do the job just the same. There is some framerate drops every now and then, but for the most part the game is silky smooth rocking out 60 frames-per-second. Pop-in isn’t usually a problem, except for one major location in the new Dreamcast City.

    + The soundtrack features such excellent alternative rock artists such as Bad Religion and The Offspring, and for whatever reason fits the tone of the game perfectly.

    Crazy Taxi2The Bad:

    – While the soundtrack rocks, the same can’t be said for the voice acting. Most pedestrians say the same few lines over and over again. It gets old fast, but thankfully the music is blaring so loudly that you can barely hear what anyone is saying.

    – The on-screen directional arrow, which highlights where you should be heading takes a little getting used to. In the Arcade City it tells you which direction you should head, as in should you make a left or right turn to get to your destination, but in the Dreamcast City it only points to your overall objective. This means you can’t follow the arrow the same between the two cities and that can be extremely jarring.

    Crazy Taxi3The Lowdown:

    SEGA might not be dead, but they’re no longer the same company in my eyes. Crazy Taxi shows them at their absolute best. They took such a ridiculously simple concept and created something so addictive and fun that 13 years after its release you can still lose yourself to it. That’s a true gaming classic, and while there are have been countless ports to other platforms, its original home is on the Dreamcast. You absolutely must buy this game if you own a Dreamcast, and if you don’t, buy it for whatever console you do have. It’s almost illegal how much fun Crazy Taxi is.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Guilty Gear X Review

    Guilty Gear X ReviewGuilty Gear X (Available on SEGA Dreamcast, and PlayStation 2)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: Sammy Corporation
    Developer: ARC System Works
    Dreamcast Release Date: December 14th, 2000 (Japan-only)
    PlayStation 2 Release Date: October 2nd, 2001 (North America)

    Parent Talk: While the Japanese version obviously wasn’t rated by the ESRB, the PS2 version was and it earned a T for teen rating because of animated blood and violence. As I’ve said in the past, all 2D fighters feature violence and a lot of them feature animated blood as well. There’s nothing too over the top though. Mortal Kombat this isn’t.

    Plays Like: This one-on-one, four-button fighter is very easy to pick up and play. It features only the bare-bones gameplay modes you’d expect from an arcade fighter. It’s button-masher friendly, yet advanced enough that skilled players will easily find a lot to sink their teeth into.

    Review Basis: Played the PlayStation 2 version quite a lot when it hit the scene in 2001, but this was the first time I had experienced the Dreamcast version. I played through the arcade mode, and tried a few local multiplayer matches.

    Fighting games are the Dreamcast’s bread and butter. They’re the one genre that the system excelled at. It’s pretty obvious too, as there are tons of classic fighters on the system that are still being played today. The problem is that Dreamcast owners want to get the very best out of their system, and as such tend to use the VGA adapter to bump the resolution to a glorious 640×480 progressive, or 480p. Why is that a problem, well mainly because Capcom’s fighters, while VGA compatible, look extremely pixelated while in VGA mode because their native resolution is so much lower than what is actually being displayed. Guilty Gear X changed all of that, because it was designed with 480p in mind, and as a result was the very best looking 2D videogame ever created at the time of its release. ARC System Works showed Capcom up, and no one saw that coming.

    The Great:

    The graphics were, and still are the biggest highlight of Guilty Gear X. People don’t realize just how huge of a leap forward this game was when it came out. With an equipped-VGA adapter the colors were crisper, sharper, and more stunning than any other 2D game. Animation, rain, and even small details like leaves blowing in the wind were a real sight to behold. Fast forward 13 years and the game remains impressive, and holds up better than any other 2D Dreamcast fighter while using the VGA adapter. The sense of style is also fantastic. The only downside is when characters are too far from one another and the background scales back. This causes some minor distortion, but it can be excused because of how well everything else turned out.

    GGX1The Good:

    + Simple to get into fighting mechanics. With only four-buttons (Punch, Kick, Slash, and Heavy Slash) new players to the genre won’t have any problems getting right into the thick of things. Cycling through combos is much easier than in most other fighters, allowing players to appear better at the game than they really are. Air juggling is also heavily featured thanks to the simple combo strings. There are also super moves which require the use of the tension gauge, and even an instant death move that can be pretty tricky to actually land. More advanced techniques include aerial attacks that work similar to that of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 where you can get some major air and continue or begin an impressive combo. There’s also a robust cancel system in place once you get used to the overall mechanics.

    + The move sets are somewhat limited compared to other fighters out there, but that allows you to easily memorize all your favorite characters’ moves. This also encourages players to experiment with some of the more advanced techniques.

    + Great cast of unique characters. Every character feels completely different than the last.

    + The rocking soundtrack is one of those love it or hate it things. I’m in the camp that thinks it rocks, literally.

    GGX2The So-So:

    +/- Limited gameplay modes. If you’re expecting more than just your typical arcade, versus, training, and survival modes, you might be disappointed. There is a fun Recording mode which allows you to save some of your best moves to the VMU, although its use is fairly limited.

    +/- About the only real downfall, if you can all it that, is that Guilty Gear X doesn’t try to do anything particularly new. It plays it fairly safe, and doesn’t really try to do too many new things.

    GGX4The Lowdown:

    Guilty Gear X will forever be remembered for its incredible graphics, tight gameplay, and rocking soundtrack. Sure it’s not the most technical fighter ever released, but it’s still very fun to play, and in my book that counts for a lot. If you’re looking for a fighter you can easily pick up, both the Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 versions are excellent choices.

    Final Score: 8/10

    Vampire Chronicle for Matching Service Review

    Vampire ChronicleVampire Chronicle for Matching Service (Available exclusively on SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Capcom
    Release Date: August 10th, 2000

    Parent Talk: The ESRB didn’t rate Vampire Chronicle as the game was released exclusively in Japan. It also doesn’t feature a CERO rating, because the rating board only went into effect sometime in 2002-2003. If you’ve ever played any of the original Street Fighter II games, you know what to expect in terms of animated violence, suggestive themes, and some animated blood. While this game is technically aimed at an older demograph it really isn’t very damaging at all. It was heavily featured in the arcade scene back in the mid-90s, and most people who played it where ten and above. It’s Street Fighter II meets the classic monsters of Hollywood. You can expect to play as a character that look like Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, and even little red riding hood.

    Plays Like: The original game in the series, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (Vampire in Japan), was a Street Fighter II clone, except with lush visuals and really unique character models and arenas. The gameplay was virtually identical to that of Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Its sequel, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (Vampire Hunter in Japan) mixed things up a bit by introducing Enhanced Special (ES) moves and Extra Special moves (EX), which were all based your use of the Special meter. While the special meter was featured in the first game, the sequel changed how it was used. For Darkstalkers 3 (Vampire Savior in Japan) the core gameplay from Night Warriors remained intact, but new characters were added and the way rounds were handled was changed. Sadly Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Savior 2 never made it outside Japan, although both games only tweaked some of the moves from Vampire Savior, and adjusted the roster.

    Review Basis: I played this game quite a bit back in the day. For this review I simply played enough to refresh my memory, and had a blast doing so.

    The Darkstalkers series has never been too popular on this side of the world. For whatever reason Capcom’s other fighting franchise has always been king. Over in Japan though the Vampire series, as it’s known there, became quite popular towards the end of the Street Fighter II craze. The first game in the series hit right after Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Vampire featured some of the most incredible character designs of the time. While still running on the CPS II arcade board, the game looked noticeably better than Street Fighter II. It would go on to spawn four official sequels in Japanese arcades, and while only three of the five games would ever make their way to North America, this Dreamcast compilation title sadly missed the boat. At one point it was the most sought after Dreamcast import, fetching upwards of $150 on eBay and other sites because of how rare it was. Only 5,000 discs were ever pressed, and the only way to purchase the game was directly through SEGA. So how has it held up, and is it worth trying to hunt down today? The short answer is it’s held up supremely well and hell yes it’s worth hunting down.

    Vampire Chronicle5The Great:

    One of the best compilation titles ever released. Vampire Chronicle isn’t your typical compilation title though. You don’t just select the game you want to play and away you go, no some real thought was put into this game. Instead what you do is select which Game Mode you want to use. Your options are Vampire, Vampire Hunter, and Vampire Savior.

    For those that known nothing of the series, Vampire features a special meter which you can fill up to perform unique or enhanced special attacks. The meter constantly drains itself forcing you to keep on the offensive. Once filled you only have a short period of time to perform your special attack. There were two basic types of attacks, a unique special move, and a slightly enhanced version of your regular special moves.

    Vampire Hunter changes things up by allowing you to stock the special meter. That means you decide when you want to use your special moves. It also introduced what were called ES (Enhanced Special) moves, which you do by performing your character’s regular special moves, but using two punch or kick buttons instead of the one. This would eat up some of the special meter though. The other big addition was the EX or Extra Special moves, which would require a unique button input to pull off and were extremely animated and fun to watch.

    Vampire Savior followed Vampire Hunter’s system except made some modifications to the way rounds were handled. Instead of having a winning pose, and a round change when one character’s health was depleted, the game essentially continues to play out through one giant round. It’s an interesting mechanic because the winning player retains their health from the previous “round.”

    After you’ve selected your play style it’s off to the character selection screen where you can choose one of 18 possible characters. From there you have the option to select your speed between normal and turbo. After that another choice opens up, which is to decide which character type you wish to play as from Vampire, Hunter, Savior, and Savior 2. Long story short, each of these types limits your character’s available combos and special moves to whatever they were in the respective game you select. In other words if you select Vampire, your character is only going to have access to the moves they had in that game.

    Add all of this together, plus much, much more which I haven’t discussed and you have yourself a fantastic compilation game that is just as fun today as it was when it hit the Dreamcast in 2000. The fact that so many options are available is what really sets this game apart. It might sound complicated, but once you actually play it for yourself you can easily figure out which systems work for you.

    Vampire Chronicle1The Good:

    + All 18 characters are available regardless of which mode you select. That means you can experience a character that was introduced much later on as if they were actually in the first game. It makes for a truly unique experience.

    + All the various modes allow players to experience the game as they wish. New players might want to play with very few mechanics to worry about, so they can easily start with the Vampire mode and work their way up. More advanced fighting game fans will clearly want to keep it locked to the Savior mode.

    + For its age the game looks fantastic via a VGA-cable. Sure it doesn’t look quite as smooth as some of the NAOMI-based Dreamcast games, but for a CPS II game it has never looked as lush and fluid on a console before. Every single frame of animation is present, and the character designs and stages look utterly fantastic. If you’re going to experience one Darkstalkers game on a retro platform, this is the one to get.

    + The audio is equally impressive featuring every soundtrack from each of the arcade games. What’s not to love about that?

    Vampire Chronicle3The So-So:

    +/- Old-school modes may throw some modern gamers for a loop. Featuring only an arcade and practice mode, where the moves aren’t even displayed, might be a little underwhelming for many. The thing is that’s how videogames were made back then. The versus mode is built into the arcade mode, and the online portion of the game has long been taken offline. If you have a group of buddies over though, this is truly all you need.

    Vampire Chronicle2The Lowdown:

    If you don’t feel like hunting down the Dreamcast version, there is a port called Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower for the PSP, although the load times were exceptionally bad compared to the non-existent ones on the Dreamcast version. For the asking price of about $40 to $80 I feel it’s well worth it. This is the very best Darkstalkers game ever made, and it’s one of the very best compilation titles of all time. The fact you can mix and match different gameplay styles, move-sets, and characters between all three core games is awesome.

    Final Score: 9/10

    Resident Evil: Code Veronica Review

    RE CVResident Evil: Code Veronica (Available on Dreamcast, GameCube, and PlayStation 2)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Survival Horror
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Capcom
    Dreamcast Version Release Date: February 29th, 2000
    PlayStation 2 Version Release Date: August 21st, 2001
    GameCube Version Release Date: December 3rd, 2003

    ESRB Rating: The ESRB rates Resident Evil: Code Veronica M for mature because of animated violence and blood and gore. As per every entry in the RE series, you can expect tons of zombies, lots of blood, and some truly disturbing scenes. Keep young players very far away from this one.

    Plays Like: Code Veronica plays exactly like the Resident Evil trilogy on the original PlayStation. The infamous tank controls are here in their full glory, as are all the classic gameplay mechanics you either love or hate.

    Review Basis: For this retro-review I played the original Dreamcast version. If you’re curious how the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions hold up, they’re more or less exactly the same except they feature additional bonus content.

    Capcom and SEGA had a great thing going back in the mid-to-late 90s. The SEGA Saturn was a huge success in Japan, and Capcom was making a mint off their arcade-perfect ports of classic titles like X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, and Street Fighter Zero 3. It wasn’t too surprising that Capcom announced a brand new and ‘exclusive’ Resident Evil game for SEGA’s upcoming at-the-time Dreamcast hardware. Industry analysts considered this a huge coup for SEGA and it was marketed as the next evolution of the Resident Evil series. Sadly we all know how this story ends. SEGA would exit the hardware business, Code Veronica would be ported to the PS2 where it would go on to sell well over two million units, whereas the Dreamcast original sold just over a million. Eventually there would even be a GameCube port, and just recently Capcom released an HD re-release for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This review is going to look at the version that started it all.

    The Great:

    The atmosphere still shines through. Code Veronica was the first entry in the Resident Evil series to go “full 3D”. Instead of using pre-rendered backgrounds, everything here is textured polygons, and remarkably the game still looks impressive some 13 years after its original release. It’s a little known fact that SEGA actually helped Capcom make the game a reality on the Dreamcast by aiding in the technical side of development. Resident Evil: Code Veronica remains a moody, atmospheric and chilling videogame that everyone should experience at least once.

    From the fog and fire effects, to the intricate details in the buildings and environments, everything feels much more alive than the original RE trilogy on the PS1. Character animations and zombie designs also look superb for such an old game. Coming off the original PlayStation, this was an incredible sight to see, and even today the visual presentation holds up perfectly.

    RE CV1The Good:

    + Cheap scares never get old. Having not played Code Veronica in a decade I was surprised just how many times the game made me jump. Sure the scares are all reactive, this isn’t a game that gets in your head and terrorizes you, but the fact I genuinely jumped proves the age-old mechanic continues to work well.

    + The introduction of somewhat logical puzzles. While emblems remains, there are a lot of puzzles that actually make some sort of sense like the obstacle-based puzzles, where you need to move blocks or use a crane to move objects out of the way so you can access a new area. Compared to what came before, this was leagues better.

    + Core gameplay remains exactly the same as the original trilogy. Players solve puzzles, battle the undead, all while trying to escape from a research facility on some remote island. A wide array of weapons are available for players to use, weapon boxes that magically transport your gear to other locations are back, as are the first-aid spray and medical herbs. This is the RE you know and love, but slightly evolved thanks to the power of the Dreamcast.

    + The outstanding audio the series is known for returns. From classical pieces of music to the eery sounds of footsteps somewhere off in the distance, Code Veronica was masterfully crafted and it shows. It does a superb job of creating tension or building players nerves up when they have to traverse a dark and foggy area.

    + This game features one of the more interesting tales in the Resident Evil series, and while it’s goofy, and illogical most of the time, it’s remains enjoyable throughout. Claire Redfield is looking for her brother Chris, and along the way she gets incarcerated, finds out about the history of the T-virus, and eventually her big brother storms in to the rescue.

    RE CV2The So-So:

    +/- Love ’em or hate ’em Code Veronica uses the infamous tank controls. This means that at no point in the game do you ever feel like you’re 100% in control. I started with the original RE and worked my way through the series, so for me I have no problems with them at all, but I’m sure more of you will despise the controls than like them.

    +/- Much more freedom has been offered to the camera system thanks to the removal of pre-rendered backgrounds. The camera as a whole is much more dynamic than ever before. That said, fixed camera angles are still the name of the game here, and as such often times it can be hard to see exactly what is attacking you depending on where you happen to be standing at the time.

    The Bad:

    – Laughably bad voice acting. Steve in particular sounds complete uninspired. Even as a character he never did anything but annoy me.

    RE CV3The Lowdown:

    Resident Evil: Code Veronica was a big deal back in 2000, and it remains a really fun survival horror game in 2013. Sure the tank controls might grate on your nerves, and the cheap scares will be old once you’ve experienced them for the first time, but it’s the type of game that you’ll want to return to in years to come just to re-experience everything all over again. I was extremely impressed by just how much fun I had with the game, and it sort of made me sad to think how far off the beaten path Capcom has taken the series today. If you’re looking for something frighting to play this Halloween, Resident Evil: Code Veronica is certainly a game worth digging out your Dreamcast for.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Sword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage Review

    Sword of the BerserkSword of the Berserk: Guts’ Rage (Available exclusively on SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Eidos Interactive
    Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations
    Release Date: February 29th, 2000

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Sword of the Berserk M for mature because of animated blood and gore and animated violence. Enemies can be decapitated, cut in half, and more. Clearly this isn’t for younger players.

    Plays Like: Sword of the Berserk reminds me of an old-school hack and slash arcade game. The type of game where you just run around linear environments killing everything in your path until you eventually reach a boss. The only difference here is that it’s a solo affair and there are more cutscenes than there are gameplay stages.

    Review Basis: Finished the game in under five hours, and doubt I’ll be returning any time soon.

    When Sword of the Berserk first came out way back in February 2000 it was during a time when action games as a whole were going through a period of change. We already had the incredible Metal Gear Solid, and were only a year away from the first Devil May Cry on the PlayStation 2. Action games were trying to become more mainstream than ever by introducing more and more mechanics and complex gameplay. This is one of the main reasons why reviewers the world over fell in love with Berserk’s simple mindless action. All you do is go from one area to the next killing off wave after wave of mindless enemies. Fast forward to 2013 (the year of this review’s publishing), and that mindless action isn’t quite as impressive as it was way back when. That’s not to say there aren’t some redeeming qualities to be had here, just that action games as a whole have evolved so much that going back to an arcade-style beat ’em up of sorts is much easier said than done.

    The Good:

    + Interesting storyline. Based off the Kentauro Miura’s Berserk manga, Sword of the Berserk is about one man’s journey during the Middle Ages in Europe. Strange plants have started infecting the people and for some reason you’re the only one strong enough to put an end to the madness. There’s much more to the story than just that, but it’s enough to get you going.

    + Enemy deaths can be extremely brutal, from being impaled, sliced in half, and more. It fits the theme perfectly and it’s clear the developer didn’t hold anything back. Oh and the North American version of the game has 30% more blood!

    + Multi-branched levels. During certain scenes a quick-time event will play out, and if you fail to press the button fast enough instead of dying you actually continue on a different path than had you pressed the button quickly enough to continue the scene. This adds some replay to the game.

    + When Guts has received a certain amount of damage he enters Berserk mode. This allows Guts to perform twice the damage on unsuspecting enemies. There’s also a pretty cool graphical effect that kicks in while in this mode.

    + Prize Box unlocks certain goodies as you complete the game on the three available difficulty settings. You can unlock things such as a stage select, mini-games, artwork, movies, and more.

    + Graphics still look good. Stone walls, rivers, and most importantly the sword all look the as they should. There’s a nice mix of enemy designs and environments, and Guts’ animations are pretty impressive for a game released before the dawn of the PlayStation 2. Some stages do look a little barren, and enemies don’t feature the same level of animations as Guts, but for the most part they’re not bad.

    + The soundtrack is fairly generic, but the sounds effects are great. The sound of the sword hitting walls and slicing up enemies sound raunchy, just as it should. The voice acting is surprisingly better than I thought it would be. It’s clear some effort went into this. I mean Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles voices Puk, what’s not to like about that? Certainly some actors do a better job than others, but as a whole it’s impressive for the time.

    + There’s a character named Balzac. Any game that is intelligent enough to name a character that so closely matches ball sack, gets a point in my book.

    Sword of the Berserk3The So-So:

    +/- If you get surrounded, blocking enemy attacks will prove pointless. Instead you need to slide or jump away, or use one of your grenades to help clear a path. I found the blocking mechanic as a whole to be a little slow and unresponsive.

    +/- Very simple gameplay. You have two basic sword attacks that can be strung together to perform simple combos. You can also perform jump attacks, block, and sheath your sword and take hold of a crossbow for ranged attacks, or use your fists of fury. There are a few other items you can make use of, but for the most part your trusty sword is all you need. There’s also a slide move that’s particularly useful when you find yourself surrounded by enemies.

    Sword of the Berserk2The Bad:

    – The camera angles can be horrendous, especially when in close quarters. It’s not uncommon to have four of five enemies in front of you that you didn’t even know were there until you got hit by the arrows they were lobbing your way.

    – The lack of a map system makes finding exactly where to go a chore. Often times I would run around in circles until I accidentally found where I was supposed to go. Either a map, or an on-screen indicator pointing in the general area would have helped as certain areas have non-stop respawning enemies.

    – For every minute of gameplay there are ten minutes of cutscenes, and no this is not an exaggeration. There is one point in the game where you can put the controller down for almost 30 minutes. Yikes!

    – Guts’ sword bounces off walls and other surfaces just as it would in real life. Why is this bad, because this isn’t real-life, this is a videogame and while trying to put together a combo you continuously find yourself interrupted because the giant sword accidentally hit the wall instead of an enemy. While you can switch to your fists, where’s the fun in that when you’re carrying such a massive blade?

    – Weird checkpoint/save system. Instead of saving like you would in another action game, you actually have to make it past a ‘stage’ for the game to automatically save. Failure to reach said location means you have to restart from the what could potentially be 40 minutes earlier. It gets annoying when you only want to play for a short period of time.

    The Ugly:

    Once you get to a certain point in the game it’s actually possible to completely skip almost all the enemy encounters and just race towards the next section of the level. Sure there are areas you will be forced to play through, but it’s pretty amazing to see just how much of the game you can skip.

    Sword of the Berserk1The Lowdown:

    Sword of the Berserk is a very basic action game that feels extremely dated in 2013. The poor camera system, the annoying bounce your blade has whenever it hits a wall, and the non-stop cutscenes make for an experience that might just be better off left in your memory. If you can overlook all these things, and are in the mood for a simple arcade-like action game, then perhaps Sword of the Berserk will offer you a couple of hours of fun. Just don’t expect too much overall.

    Final Score: 4.5/10

    Mars Matrix Review

    Mars MatrixMars Matrix (Available exclusively on the SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Shmup
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Takumi Corporation
    Release Date: April 30th, 2001

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Mars Matrix E for everyone and lists animated violence in the warning box. Like all arcade shmups (shoot ’em ups) of the time, the action is 2D sprite-based with a mix of 3D polygons, so you’re going to see lots and lots of ships exploding…mainly yours. This is the type of game I loved when I was younger, classics like Gradius and Life Force were just as violent as Mars Matrix and I turned out just fine…depending on who talk to.

    Plays Like: Mars Matrix is a vertical scrolling shoot ’em up that takes no prisoners. It’s a simple to learn, impossible to master shooter. Make no mistake about it, if you’re new to the genre DO NOT start here. This game will literally destroy you. Gameplay is simple, you have one of two projectiles you can shoot, you don’t explode when smashing into enemy ships, and you can level up your craft by collecting experience cubes. Finally there’s an absorption barrier you can use if the GHB (Gravity Hole Bomb) gauge is full, which protects you for a short period of time, and can also be used to detonate a powerful screen-clearing bomb.

    Review Basis: While I’d love to say I finished the game, that would be a flat-out lie. This is an early bullet hell shmup, meaning there are literally hundreds if not thousands of bullets on the screen at any given time. Like most shooters in the sub-genre, the first level is manageable, but by level two the game hand’s you your ass. If by some miracle you make it to level three, the difficulty only increases from there. I managed to make it to the fourth boss on four stars, which is the default difficulty level. Like I do with most of these retro reviews, I only played for a short period of time to reflect on a classic gem from the past. That said, I have every intention of finish all six stages.

    Sometimes your mind plays tricks on you. I thought I had played Mars Matrix before, but apparently I was wrong. Steven sent me the game to review and I ended up playing it for about four hours straight after just wanting to try it out and capture a little footage for my video review. That’s always an excellent sign when a game does that to you. I was stunned by the game’s overall difficulty. Make no mistake about it, this is a shooter for fans of the genre or veterans; newbies look elsewhere. Even on easy you won’t make it very far. Since I have quite a bit of experience with shmups I stuck to the four-star difficulty, and got destroyed time and time again, loving every minute of it. I will be looking for a copy on eBay once I return the game to Steven as I really want to dig deeper into the game.

    The Great:

    Excellent combat system. Here’s the rundown, you can select two different ships or Mosquitos as they’re called here. The red one has normal speed, but a wideblaster or spread-shot weapon. The blue Mosquito is faster, but has a laser shot that only shoots in a straight line. Regardless of the ship you’re using, you can fire a regular shot, rapid fire, or the piercing cannon. The piercing cannon is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal, but requires you get up close and personal with enemies, not always a great idea, although if your ship comes in contact with an enemy it doesn’t mean instant-death like virtually all other shmups out there. Finally there’s the Gravity Hole Bomb (GHB) gauge which slowly fills over time. Once maxed out you can activate an absorption barrier that will both absorb and reflect incoming enemy fire. If you hold down the button until the gauge is completely empty you can release a gravity hole bomb which clears the screen. It might sound like you’ve got enough behind you to stand a chance, but you’re outnumbered about a hundred-billion to one.

    Mars Matrix1The Good:

    + Combo/evolving system. Destroyed enemies typically drop gold Experience Cubes. These cubes not only gives you experience, but act as a combo multiplier. The quicker you collect Experience Cubes, the more your score will increase, but so will your craft’s level. It’s possible to raise your level to eight, and in doing so your standard regular shot will also increase in power, which perfectly ties the two systems together.

    + Heavy emphasis on strategy. While it might not appear as such at first, you can actually project where enemy fire will reflect while using the GHB system. Not only that, but you don’t always have to use the full meter and deploy a bomb. Instead you can simply reflect shots back towards enemies and let go of the button. This way the meter fills up quicker.

    + Lots of replay value. Not only will it take you a long time just to finish the Arcade Mode, but then there’s the Elite Mode, which replaces enemy positions. There’s also a Score Challenge Mode which challenges you to continuously beat your previous high score.

    + One of my favorite features of the game is the store. Everything you do in the game nets you points, and all these points are tallied together and converted to cash. While the prices might seem ridiculously high at first, you quickly realize after an hour of playing that they’re just right. Not only can you unlock the art gallery, which is awesome, but also gameplay features like additional credits (continues), strategies (actual video tutorials showing a perfect play-through of the level), and much, much more. This extends the replay value astronomically.

    + Audio visual presentation holds up surprisingly well even some 12 years after the game’s release. I played this with my VGA-to-HDMI upscaler and the game looked great. Sprites popped from the screen, there were lots of fancy special effects thrown in for good measure, and only minimal slow-down, and slight pixelation here and there. Overall, it’s one highly detailed shmup. The audio is also rocking, with great techno music and strong sound effects.

    The So-So:

    +/- While not really falling in a good or bad category, Mars Matrix is a one-credit scorer. What does that mean, it means that once you’ve used up all your lives your high-score will be registered. It is replaced the second you hit the continue or credit button. The continues basically let you progress just a bit further and practice, but for the high scores to count, you need to go back to the beginning and try all over again.

    Mars Matrix2The Lowdown:

    Most people will find Mars Matrix way too hard, but therein lies its charm. It forces you to keep playing in order to unlock more continues from the store. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. The store adds new gameplay tweaks, there’s the Elite Mode to tackle, and much, much more. For a game released at the tail end of the Dreamcast’s life, it holds up supremely well. If you enjoy shmups, and are just starting to collect for the Dreamcast, this is one you need to have in your collection. It’s fantastic fun that will keep you coming back for more.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Sturmwind Review

    Sturmwind ReviewSturmwind (Available exclusively on SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Shoot ’em up
    Publisher: redspotgames
    Developer: Duranik
    Release Date: April 23rd, 2013

    Parent Talk: As an indie release Sturmwind has not been submitted to the ESRB or any other rating board. It features lots of explosions, and some highly unique and creative enemy and boss designs that the very young might find scary, but anyone over 10 should easily be able to enjoy everything Sturmwind has to offer.

    Plays Like: Sturmwind is mostly a horizontal shoot ’em up (shmup), however there are sections where vertical scrolling takes place. Core gameplay reminds me of Radiant Silvergun in that you already have all your weapons right from the get-go. The main difference is that weapons can be powered up, and act as your health meter. There are 16 levels spread across seven worlds, 20 unique bosses, and hundreds of enemies. In every way, shape and form this feels like a AAA release from Irem, Treasure, or another popular shmup developer.

    Review Basis: Duranik was kind enough to send us a review copy. I played it on and off for about six days until I beat it on easy, now working my way through normal.

    Sturmwind began its life as Native for the Atari Jaguar CD, way back in 1997. From there it switched names, platforms, and was delayed many times. Usually that’s a sign that things aren’t going to turn out so well, but in this case it was mainly because Duranik demanded the best quality possible prior to release. The end result of all those years of development is without a doubt the very best indie game I have ever played. This is an outstanding effort and just goes to show that if you have devotion and believe in something strong enough, anything is possible. Don’t bother reading this review, just go out and pick Sturmwind up right now.

    Sturmwind5The Great:

    AAA quality through and through. There’s no real way of saying it, the video review speaks for itself. This is a game that looks outstanding, as if it’s pushing the Dreamcast to its very limits. There are literally dozens upon dozens of special effects going on at any given time. There are also interactive backgrounds, multi-layered stages, tons of enemies on-screen at once and a rock solid frame-rate. The game warns you when a background comes alive so you don’t accidentally ram into it, and enemy bullets are always clear. If you die, it’s your fault, not the game’s. There’s even a full-motion video introduction! You simply don’t expect to see this level of polish in an indie release like this, no matter how long it may have been in development. This is one game that begs to be played in 480p with a VGA adapter. If you can upscale the image to 720p or 1080p even better. It looks incredible.

    Sturmwind4The Good:

    + Wonderful gameplay. The system is extremely simple, and works perfectly. At the start of the game you have access to all three different weapons, LightBlitz (L), NordWest (N), and Rudel (R). You can switch between the weapons on the fly, and it’s required as each one has its strengths and weaknesses against different situations. When a weapon container drops , you can fire at it to cycle between an additional 1,000 points, L, N, or R power-ups. Power-ups take on the form of a drone, and players can collect two per weapon. Weapons can also be fired behind your craft, and so can the drones. A good strategy is to have the two drones fire behind the ship and your main weapon fire in front, but you can mix and match as you see fit. There’s also a charge shot, and bombs, which wipe out everything on the screen.

    + Weapons act as your health meter. Even if you max out all your weapons, as soon as you get hit whatever weapon you had equipped is destroyed. You also have to be careful when using the charge shot because if you hold it too long it will overheat and explode, causing you to lose said weapon. Lose all three weapons and you lose a life. Thankfully you can fix your broken weapon by finding the corresponding power-up from a weapon container.

    + Strategy and switching. Not only do you have to constantly be switching your weapons for strategic gameplay, like using the LightBlitz underwater because it’s the strongest there, but you have to be mindful of which power-up you grab. Let’s say a weapon container drops and you fire it until it switches to N, but your craft is still using LightBlitz, if you don’t switch to NordWest you will have wasted the power-up. It takes some serious getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the system adds an entirely unique layer of strategy and quick thinking to the game.

    + Wave bonuses are addicting. Shoot every single enemy of a particular wave and you’re awarded a ‘Wave Bonus,’ which you actually see on the screen. If you can shoot all the letters quickly enough before they disappear you’re awarded a star, which acts as a multiplier. Get good enough at the game and you can achieve some pretty incredible high scores.

    + Two distinct gameplay modes, Normal and Arcade. Normal mode features all 16 levels and your progress is saved once you finish a level. This also unlocks a level-select, which is great for newbies as they can continuously replay whatever stage is giving them problems. The Arcade mode features six levels but progress doesn’t save, and there are no continues. This mode is about as hardcore as it gets.

    + Great variety.  Most levels work as you’d imagine, where you fly from left to right destroying everything you see, but every now and then things are mixed up and an entire level will be nothing more than a giant boss fight.  Some levels add horizontal scrolling, and more.

    + Modern touches like achievements really held round out the package. Most of the achievements will keep you coming back for months to come because of how challenging they are.

    + Online leaderboards. While Sturmwind doesn’t support the broadband adapter unfortunately, it does give you an alpha numeric code which can be entered on Duranik’s website where you can compare your scores with the rest of the world. It’s a really nice touch.

    + Incredible amount of content. Unless you’re a shmup guru this game will keep you busy for weeks on end. From the two different modes, three difficulty levels, to the sheer size of the game, there’s always something to do. There’s also the achievements, and global leaderboards that are always teasing you try again tomorrow.

    + While I already talked about the graphics and overall presentation, the audio can’t be left out. The soundtrack is excellent and features a wide assortment of Compact Disc Digital Audio (CCDA) tracks. I had to add in as it’s a selling feature. Most tracks are techno and synth, which is expected for a game like this, but regardless the audio is extremely well done.

    + SD card adapter compatible. Sturmwind is the first commercially available Dreamcast game to make use of the Chinese-created SD card adapter. Players can save their high scores, replays, and even add-ons for the game. This is a feature I’ll have to try out at some point in the future, as I currently do not own the adapter.

    + Like all indie releases on the Dreamcast Sturmwind is region free, meaning you can play it on any Dreamcast regardless of where you happen to live.

    Sturmwind3The So-So:

    +/- When there are dozens of enemies on the screen at once, and explosions going on everywhere it can be somewhat difficult to see if you’re about to smash into a wall. It’s a very minor gripe that plagues even the best shmups.

    The Bad:

    – Oh how I wish there was a two-player co-op mode. This game deserves to be played with a friend.

    The Ugly:

    My voice after screaming at the TV for not being able to magically push my ship out of harm’s way.

    Sturmwind2The Lowdown:

    The Dreamcast was home to some excellent shmups like Ikaruga, Under Defeat, Gigawing, and many others, but there’s just something special about Sturmwind that raises the bar so high. I’m not ashamed to say this, but Sturmwind has become my absolute favorite shooter on the system, and I don’t care what you have to do, you need to play this game. It’s not only one of the best Dreamcast games ever made, it’s the best indie game I’ve ever played, and hands-down the best shmup released this year, and even one of my top games of 2013. Go buy this game, nuff said!

    Final Score: 9.4/10

    DUX 1.5 Review

    DUXDUX 1.5 (Available exclusively on the SEGA Dreamcast)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Shoot ’em Up
    Publisher: Hucast
    Developer KTX Software / Hucast
    Release Date: April 22nd, 2013

    Parent Talk: As DUX is an indie release it has not been officially rated by the ESRB, but that’s where I come in. This is a horizontal spaceship shoot ’em up. It features no blood, gore, strong language, or suggestive themes. Basically all it has is animated violence in the sense of blowing up millions of enemy ships in glorious 2D. If the ESRB were to rate DUX it would garner an E for everyone rating.

    Plays Like: DUX draws its inspiration from the legendary R-Type, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You pilot a small spaceship and destroy everything in your path, while traversing dangerous terrain. You make use of a protective Power Pod that’s attached to the front of your ship, and not only absorbs enemy bullets, but can also be shot out in front of the craft to destroy enemies. It’s pure arcade fun.

    Review Basis: Hucast was super cool and sent us a review copy. I’d love to say I was able to finish the game, but if I had to wait to for that I’d never get the review out. I made it to stage five of six, so I’m almost there. These games require weeks of devotion in order to finish, and by the time this review goes up odds are I’ll be working my way through the final stage.

    Note: I have never played through the original version of DUX so this revised version is my introduction to the series. Hucast recently had a successful Kickstarter for Redux: Dark Matters, which is a complete overhaul and remake of DUX and will be available on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam. Hucast is even making 1,000 copies exclusively for the Kickstarter backers.

    Whoever says the Dreamcast is dead clearly doesn’t pay any attention to the home-brew/indie scene. While the sun may have set on SEGA’s final console sometime in the early 2000s, the amount of quality games that continue to hit the platform to this very day is nothing short of incredible. Released back in April, DUX 1.5 is a revised version of DUX, which was originally released on the Dreamcast back in 2009. This version fixes a lot of bugs that were in the original and adds new features, such as customizable control, and rebalanced gameplay to make the game more playable and less frustrating.

    DUX2The Great:

    Fantastic gameplay. It’s so easy to make a me-too shooter, but Hucast did a fantastic job of combining classical elements and putting them to great use. The protective Power Pod floats in front of your ship and can be used to absorb bullets, or fired to destroy enemies. There’s a powerful charge shot that works like Mega Man’s Mega Buster, and missiles which can be shot in front or above and below your ship, all helping to clear out the swarms of attacking ships. Add in some excellent power-ups and you have yourself a fantastic shoot ’em up that will keep you busy for weeks.

    DUX1The Good:

    + Bullet absorption is key to surviving the onslaught. So long as you have your Power Pod in front of you and absorbing bullets, you can build up a special absorption meter which allows you to activate bullet soaking, whereby all the bullets around your ship are absorbed. Activating this depletes the absorption meter so you have be strategic on when to use it.

    + Instant respawns greatly helps new players ease into the game. Instead of having to traverse large areas over and over again, when you die you instantly reappear where where you were.

    + A challenge without being ridiculous. The first level is a complete breeze, and acts as a sort of introduction so players can get used to the different gameplay mechanics. Don’t expect hand-holding though as the second stage ramps up the difficulty considerably, and by the time you hit the third level your lives are going to deplete faster than the absorption meter. It’s never overly frustrating though, and that’s the way I love my shoot ’em ups.

    + A long journey. Scores only tally when all your lives and continues are used. That’s rather original, and I really like it because instead of having a three minute game, you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something, even when you completely suck.

    + Customizable controls may seem like a no-brainer, but they weren’t in the original version. While this may not be a problem for those using the controller, it’s very important for anyone playing with the arcade stick, which DUX proudly supports.

    + Graphics are fantastic, and with VGA support you can get native 480p on your monitor. While the game runs at a 4:3 resolution, I have had tremendous success upscaling that 480p signal to 720p and 1080p. The level-design is excellent, there are six completely original and awesome looking bosses, and over 30 unique enemies. It might not sound like much, but for an indie release this feels like a professional shooter.

    + While the sound effects are fairly standard, the music is amazing. Hucast included Redux: Dark Matters’ four CD soundtrack as a bonus, and I’ve been listening to it on my iPhone almost every day since it arrived. Yes, it really is that good. Andre Neumann and Marco Groß both deserve to be commended for an outstanding effort.  While not all of those tracks are featured in this version of the game, the arrangement is fantastic.

    + Region free. Buy the game and you can play it anywhere in the world on any Dreamcast.

    DUX4The So-So:

    +/- While the game has been improved over the original, I still found it tough to differentiate between what I should be avoiding, and what could completely destroy me in the environment. Bullets are very easy to see, but sometimes there are objects in the environment that you’re supposed to avoid, and others you can fly right through. It can be a little difficult to see until you get used to the various stages.

    DUX3The Bad:

    – Menu presentation is a little bland. A white screen with some text is about all you’re going to get.

    The Ugly:

    Jarrod trying to make it past the fifth stage. It’s scary!

    DUX5The Lowdown:

    Coming in at €32.95 (~$45 USD) DUX 1.5 is a fantastic game that any Dreamcast owner should pick up. It’s available from Hucast.com, and I’m a firm believer in supporting developers that do work out of passion. If someone is making a game for a system that has been defunct for over a decade, I’d call that passion. I’m also very pleased that Redux: Dark Matters will be coming out on XLA, PSN, and Steam so everyone can enjoy a variation of this excellent game, and for an extremely low price. While some might scoff at the asking price of DUX 1.5, considering the amount of work and the quality product you’re getting, I honestly feel the price is not only justified, but fair. If you enjoy shoot ’em ups, this is one you can sit back and enjoy without ripping your hair out. It comes extremely highly recommended for anyone still playing SEGA’s final entry in the console market.

    Final Score: 8.5/10