For the second week in a row we’ve got a huge, major release as our top game of the week. It doesn’t look like it’s really going to slow down much for the rest of the year so you better buckle up and get ready for the ride. Which Q4 game will you love and live for? Which wouldn’t stand inside your love, and die for? Which game at the end of the year will be the one you love?
Bayonetta 3 (Switch) – Releases Oct. 28th
Developed by: Platinum Games
Published by: Nintendo
Nearly five years after it was announced at the 2017 Video Game Awards, Bayonetta 3 is finally here and there’re absolutely no controversy surrounding it at all! Just kidding, there’s MAJOR controversy surrounding the game, sparked by a series of incendiary videos posted on Twitter by the games former lead voice actress, Hellena Taylor. In the videos, Taylor claimed that she was offered a meager $4,000 to reprise her role as Bayonetta, a sum she found to be far too low. She insisted that fans boycott the game and instead donate money to charity, and if you go on Twitter you’ll find people who did just that and found it necessary to tell everyone about it. Later, a report came out that Platinum Games offered Taylor a minimum of $15k to reprise her role , with the potential to reach $20k. The source of this information claims Taylor countered with a six figure sum and wanted to receive back end residuals, something Platinum had no interest in doing. Taylor claimed the source was lying but, just a few days later, did say that she was offered $10k and then another $5,000 when she sent a letter to Platinum’s vice president, Hideki Kamiya, imploring him to intervene. Taylor still felt unsatisfied and, after almost a year, was asked one more time to return and record a few short lines for $4,000, which is the amount she says she discussed in her videos. Man, what the hell is going on. It’s such a dark mark on what should be a time of celebration for the Bayonetta series. Immediately people took sides in this situation, having knee jerk reactions to one side of the story, one that omitted facts. I can’t believe we live in a world where we must constantly choose sides on things, and god forbid you choose the wrong one, or the side that your political affiliation supports. Despite the ugliness of it all, the one hope is that the video game industry starts to value voice actors more and pays them what they’re worth, just don’t obfuscate the facts in your favor, it never looks good.
Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 25th
Developed by: TaleWorlds Entertainment
Published by: TaleWorlds Entertainment
After over two years in early access, the strategy/RPG Mount & Blade II is ready to be called a full release. Great, wonderful, perfect, what a great business model video games have adopted.
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark (PC/PS4/Switch) – Releases Oct. 25th
Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
Published by: NIS America
Hey, feel like getting the shit scared out of you? Yeah, you will literally dump out on the couch while you play this, it’s that fucking scary..
Sega Genesis Mini 2 – Releases Oct. 27th
Retro game collectors rejoice, 60 classic Sega Genesis and Sega CD games are coming to you in a handsome, mini replica of the 90’s collest, sickest, raddest console. Enjoy classics like Herzog Zwei, Sonic 3D Blast, ToeJam & Earl 2, and a bunch of other games that I can’t remember.
SIGNALIS (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 27th
Developed by: rose-engine
Published by: Humble Games/PLAYISM
“A classic survival horror experience set in a dystopian future where humanity has uncovered a dark secret. Unravel a cosmic mystery, escape terrifying creatures, and scavenge an off-world government facility as Elster, a technician Replika searching for her lost dreams.“
Star Ocean: The Divine Force (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 27th
Developed by: Square Enix/tri-Ace
Published by: Square Enix
Damn, Square Enix, slow down, you’ve got another RPG for us to play?
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 28th
Developed by: Infinity Ward
Published by: Activision
Can’t wait to #squadup with my boyz.
Ports and Re-releases:
Sackboy: A Big Adventure (PC) – Releases Oct. 27th
I’m sure somebody with a PC is super excited for this. Is it you?
Resident Evil Village: Gold Edition/RE:Verse/Winters Expansion (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch – Cloud Version/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 28th
My eyes hurt, I just spent, like, 16 hours writing about GTA: Vice City and the Sega CD. Yeah, I write these out of order, can you believe it? It’s crazy, these words are younger than the words you’ll read below, mind blowing. Oh, yeah, Resident Evil: Village is getting a bunch of new content and is coming to Switch.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origins – Wanderer of the Rift (PC/PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 26th
I like this game, do you?
I like the 80’s, do you?
- Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum (PC/PS4/Switch/Xbox One) – Releases Oct. 25th
- Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 25th
- Victoria 3 (PC) – Releases Oct. 25th
- Arkanoid – Eternal Battle (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 19th
- Paradigm Paradox (Switch) – Releases Oct. 27th
- Saturnalia (PC – Epic Store Exclusive/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 27th
- Ace Angler: Fishing Spirits (Switch) – Releases Oct. 28th
- Charon’s Staircase (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox One/Series X|S) – Releases Oct. 28th
Notable Releases from 10, 20, and 30 years ago:
Assassin’s Creed III (PS3/Xbox 360) – Released Oct. 30th, 2012: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Cloud Atlas – Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, and Hugo Weaving
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Basement – Colourmeinkindness
*Click here to listen to the album*
With the story of Ezio Auditore de Firenze concluded in the events of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, the team at Ubisoft Montreal were finally ready to move the series into its next numbered entry, Assassin’s Creed III. The fifth game in the series, but third protagonist, AC: III takes players out of the European continent and puts them in 18th century Colonial America. As with the previous Assassin’s Creed games, players spend a portion of their game playing as Desmond Miles, a modern day Assassin who uses a machine called the animus to relive the memories of his ancestors. In AC: III, Desmond first inhabits the body of a man named Haytham Kenway, a British nobleman who is also a high ranking Templar, the sworn enemy of the Assassins. Haytham is sent to the American colonies to establish the Templars on the North American continent and, while there, he falls in love with a local native woman from the Mohawk tribe. They have a son who is called Ratonhnhaké:ton by the Mohawk people, and Conner by his father and just about anyone who isn’t a Mohawk native.
Told over a period of roughly 20 years, players take over as Connor once they learn that their village was destroyed in a fire by the Templars. He is taken in by the Assassins and vows revenge. Like previous titles, the plot of the game intertwines with real life events, and in AC: III players will find themselves taking part in the American Revolution. It was a refreshing change of pace, moving out of cramped European cities and venturing into the wilderness of the American north east, as well as two early colonies, Boston and New York City. AC: III was also the first video game to prominently feature the Mohawk people and their customs. Ubisoft Montreal met with experts on Mohawk culture to make sure they were as accurate and restful as they possibly could.
Development on Assassin’s Creed III began in 2010 just after the release of AC: II. There was some confusion among players and critics about the game, as Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was the follow up to part 2, but not considered the third game in the series, but instead a continuation of part 2. Ubisoft further stated that when AC: III was ready it would arrive with a new protagonist in a new setting. Initially, Assassin’s Creed was to be a trilogy of games, ending with Desmond and Lucy escaping Earth in a spaceship after it was destroyed by a solar flare. They were going to find a new planet and start life over again in an Adam & Eve situation, however the success of AC: II prompted the team to put a pin in this idea, instead fleshing out the story of Ezio even further while also reimagining the ending of AC: III. Despite the change in ending, this would conclude Desmond’s story.
The game was first announced as existing in February of 2012, which was soon followed by several leaks about the game and its setting, including one from a Best Buy employee who shared promotional images with website Kotaku. It wasn’t long after the leaks that Ubisoft confirmed that AC: III took place during the American Revolution and featured extensive wilderness exploration, including the ability to hunt animals. Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption released in the middle of AC: III’s development and the team at Ubisoft was surprised to see that their game also featured wilderness exploration and animal hunting. According to Ubisoft, this began, not really a rivalry, but in their minds they started to see the two companies going in a similar direction with open world gameplay, just done from two different mindsets. I guess Ubisoft’s mindset is “release 5 mediocre games a year” while Rockstar’s was “release a really great game every 5 years”.
When Assassin’s Creed III finally hit store shelves it was a big hit with both critics and players. AC: III was highly praised for its narrative, setting, gameplay, and scale (the map is massive). A sub-game that had players controlling naval vessels as they waged combat with other ships was noted as a particularly high moment for the game. In fact, these naval missions were so popular that Ubisoft centered their next entry, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, entirely around this mechanic. Despite the praise, and TWO perfect scores from G4 and GameRevolution, critics did find issues with a few items. Each Assassin’s Creed game typically employs a few new maneuvers for players to learn, but the ones for AC: III seemed to fall flat and felt unfinished. The missions felt a bit uninspired and far too scripted, leaving little room for improvisation. The game was often found to have some pretty bad pacing issues with long stretches of time between exciting moments of combat. To round out the complaints, critics and players just didn’t seem to gel with Connor as a character. Perhaps it was due to Ezio being such a well developed and likable character, that Connor’s dour demeanor and lack of personality just didn’t cut it. There wasn’t a lot of growth for the character and he was, ultimately, forgettable.
At the end of the year, AC: III found itself listed among the best games of the year and was nominated in six categories at the Spike VGAs, including “Game of the Year”, “Best 360 Game”, “Best PS3 Game”, “Best Action/Adventure Game”, “Best Graphics”, and “Character of the Year”, losing all of them to The Walking Dead, Halo 4, Journey, Dishonored, Halo 4 (again), and Claptrap from Borderlands 2. AC: III would be honored by the DICE Awards nominated for “Adventure Game of the Year” and “Outstanding Sound Design”, winning the award for “Outstanding Animation”. Sales wise, AC: III was the highest selling game of the entire franchise eclipsing previous winner AC: Brotherhood and absolutely annihilating the sales numbers for AC: Revelations.
One final note, in the years following the release of the first Assassin’s Creed, players and critics had been asking Ubisoft to introduce a female Assassin that they could play the game as. When it was revealed that the protagonist of AC: III was male, yet again, there was some pushback. Ubisoft countered this with the notion that having a female protagonist in the American Revolution setting wouldn’t have gelled as nicely as a male protagonist and didn’t quite fit the story they were trying to tell. Most people thought that would be the end of it, but not so. Developed in conjunction with AC: III a spin-off title, called Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was also released on the same day as AC: III and it featured, get this, a female protagonist.
Set in 18th century French Louisiana, concurrently with the events of AC: III, players follow the story of Aveline de Grandpré as she attempts to stop a Templar plot. The game was billed as a PlayStation Vita exclusive and took advantage of that device’s touch controls to give players a unique experience. While it told its own stand alone story, AC: Liberation does have Aveline interact with Connor when she is dispatched to New York City to take down a high ranking Templar. Critically, the game was kind of a bust, being seen as inferior to its console counterpart. Being made for a handheld device gave the game a bit of a pick up & play vibe, not leaving a lot of room for grand storytelling. An HD remaster would arrive later on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, followed by a remaster on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.
Of course we all know that the Assassin’s Creed franchise has continued to pump out new entries at a frenzied pace, slowing down a bit over the last five years, but still fairly close to an annualized series. As I mentioned earlier, the game would be followed by AC IV: Black Flag, the last game in the series to feature a number in the title, with all subsequent games just having a sub title. Contemporary analysis of Assassin’s Creed III and its spin-off Liberation has put both of them at the bottom of the list when compared to the other games in the series, making this a low point for the entire franchise. Whatever, Connor is indifferent to it all.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2) – Released Oct. 29th, 2002: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: Jackass: The Movie – Starring Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Ryan Dunn, Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Dave England, and Ehren McGhehey
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Christina Aguilera – Stripped
*Click here to listen to the album*
2001’s Grand Theft Auto III was a sharp turning point for the video game industry. In its wake, multiple games were either released or greenlit simply due to their intense violence, open world nature, or a combination of both. The developers of GTA III, Rockstar Games, was so confident in their game that they immediately began work on a follow-up title before Grand Theft Auto III was even released. Initially the idea was to create a kind of expansion pack to GTA II, adding in new vehicles, new weapons, and new missions. However, once the team started to come up with new ideas the scope expanded and the idea of putting out a brand new, full game title began to look like the right choice.
After settling on a location and time frame, this new entry was given the name Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Set in the year 1986, GTA: Vice City puts players into the role of mobster Tommy Vercetti, a made man in the Forelli crime family who has just been released from prison after serving a 15 year sentence for murder. Once out, Tommy is tasked with going down to Vice City (modeled after the U.S. city of Miami) to help the Forelli family expand their drug trade south. Tommy meets up with a crooked lawyer named Ken Rosenberg and is taken to a meet up where he will deliver cash for drugs. However, the deal goes sideways when the group is ambushed by unknown assailants. Ditching the money AND the drugs, Tommy and Ken barely escape with their lives. Unmoved by Tommy’s bad luck, the head of the family, Sonny Forelli, demands that Tommy get the money back, get the drugs he was supposed to buy, and then wipe out the people who botched the deal.
While Grand Theft Auto III had players take on the role of an unnamed silent protagonist (referred to as “Fido” before canonically renamed Claude), Vice City’s protagonist was anything BUT silent. Tommy Vercetti is a smart ass with a major temper, played brilliantly by the late actor Ray Liotta. Where Claude was calm and collected, Tommy was brash and arrogant, the “anti-Claude” if you will. This was also reflected in the game’s setting, with Liberty City’s drab, concrete jungle replaced with Vice City’s vibrant, tropical paradise. While the core gameplay remained the same, Vice City upped the realism and immersion by incorporating new elements to the game. Tommy could enter certain buildings and explore them, he could change his clothes, he could purchase new safe house locations as well as properties that would earn him cash AND unlock side missions.
When it came to vehicles, Rockstar added two major additions, motorcycles and helicopters. While GTA III featured the impossible to fly Dodo airplane, Vice City’s helicopters were relatively simple to control and were a major must have if you wanted to collect all of the hidden packages. Motorcycles were the most exciting addition, to me at least, as they allowed you to quickly zip through traffic and pedestrians while you tried to outrun the cops or catch up to one of your targets during a mission. The major downside to the motorcycles was that it crashes were a lot more devastating, causing you to fly off the bike, several feet from your vehicle, and maybe even lead to death.
Keeping on the topic of driving, while GTA III had a decent soundtrack for its handful of radio stations, the songs weren’t really that well known, with most being original compositions. In Vice City, the music and radio stations were vastly improved, with a slew of the greatest hits of the 1980’s, as well as fully scripted DJ’s that were as unique as any other character in the game. There were over 9 hours of music in GTA: Vice City, with 113 songs and commercials on 9 different radio stations. Each station was themed around a particular genre of music, 80’s rock & metal, 80’s hip-hop, 80’s pop music, 80’s adult contemporary, 80’s new wave, 80’s R&B, a Spanish-language station that played Latin jazz & mambo, as well as two talk radio stations. The soundtrack itself was so dense and eclectic that it was sold as a deluxe edition soundtrack that featured not only the songs from each station but also a handful of the commercials as well as exclusive voice recordings of the DJ’s from each station. The music of GTA: Vice City is one of the most important aspects of the game, in my opinion, and perfectly encapsulates the tone of the game, as evidenced by the game’s marketing leaning heavily on the song “I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls.
Aside from the 1980’s music playing a major factor in setting the tone of GTA: Vice City, the team at Rockstar were highly influenced by the films Carlito’s Way and Scarface, with Tommy’s story almost mirroring that of Tony Montana, but no other piece of 1980’s pop culture influenced the game than the television series Miami Vice. The coolness that show exuded was recaptured in the art direction, tone, and story of the game, with the bright, neon colors being a direct result of their use in Miami Vice. The game even featured one of the lead actors from that show, Philip Michael Thomas, playing the role of Tommy’s right hand man (and eventual rival), Lance Vance.
The release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was seen as one of the biggest of the year, with Rockstar spending over $5 million dollars on developing and promoting the game. When it released on Oct. 29th, 2002, it received unanimous, overwhelming praise. With a Metacritic score of 95/100 it was the best rated PS2 game of 2002 and the 5th best rated PS2 game of all time. Just as critics were blown away by the scope and realism of GTA III, they were even more impressed by how much Rockstar was able to do with Vice City. Every change was met with approval, the setting, the era, the protagonist, the new vehicles, the music, the sound, it was all better and further pushed the envelope of realism. The mission design and story were greatly improved over GTA III, according to critics, with players feeling more invested in the story. Missions felt like they actually moved the story line instead of being another “go here, kill that” mission that littered GTA III. There were some criticisms, mostly aimed at the Vice City’s combat, which hadn’t been improved much, if at all, from GTA III, as well as minor squabbles with the controls, the camera, and technical issues/bugs.
When it came time for the year end accolades, Vice City cleaned up, earning the title of “Best PS2” game from Entertainment Weekly, IGN, GameSpot and The Golden Joystick Awards, where it was also named “Ultimate Game of the Year”, basically, best game. The game also received numerous “Best Sound” and “Best Music” awards from a plethora of outlets. Despite all the accolades, Vice City failed to win “Game of the Year” from the two biggest awards shows, The DICE Awards and the Spike VGA’s, losing to Battlefield 1942 and, am I reading that right, Madden NFL 2004, okay. The only VGA is did win that year was for Ray Liotta’s performance as Tommy Vercetti, beating his “co-star” Jenna Jameson who was nominated for her role as Candy Suxxx.
Of course, while critics and players in the video game world were going crazy for Vice City, the game, like its predecessor, courted a ton of controversy. There were concerned watchdog groups that scorned the game for its extreme violence and the effects it was having on children. The Haitian community in Florida strongly condemned the game for what they saw as a racist interpretation of their people, prompting an apology from Rockstar. However, the company was also quick to point out that the game features a multitude of violent people & gangs, not just Haitians, and that all of the game’s violence should be taken in the context of Vice City’s story. This wasn’t enough, though, even going so far as to have NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg threatening to take legal action against Rockstar. This prompted another apology as well as the removal of offensive statements made in the game from future releases.
The most troubling and controversial thing to happen in the wake of Vice City’s release was the murder of three Alabama police officers by a branded GTA “super fan” named Devin Moore. After being booked in a Fayette, Alabama police station for suspected auto theft, Moore lunged for an officers gun, killing him. Moore then walked out of the room and down a hallway where he shot and killed another officer who was heading towards the sounds of the gun shots. Finally, after walking past a 9-11 dispatch office, Moore shot a third officer who was taking calls that night. He then stole a police car and attempted to escape, but was eventually caught & arrested. The story caught the attention of a Florida lawyer named Jack Thompson who had, for years been trying to sue the video game industry out of existence because of their penchant for violence.
Thompson quickly painted a picture of a smart, likeable young man, who respected the law and was all set to join the Air Force. However, he was also obsessed with GTA: Vice City, a “murder simulator” as Thompson would often refer to it as, which warped his mind into thinking that it was okay to kill cops and steal cars. A lawsuit was brought against Sony, Rockstar, Take-Two Interactive, GameStop, and Walmart, to the tune of $600 million dollars. The lawyers for Sony told a different story, one about Moore being the victim of years of child abuse from his father. By 2005, nearly two years after the murders, Thompson would be barred from practicing law in Alabama due to his constant misleading statements and fabrications of the truth. Thompson was removed from the case but it was basically dead in the water after that. By 2009, Take-Two Interactive was granted summary judgement, with the case finally being dropped in 2010. Devin Moore was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection, with the judge banning Grand Theft Auto: Vice City from being used as any kind of evidence.
The last bit of controversy ties into a very relevant, hot topic today, the payment of voice actors in video games and their treatment by the developers. It was noted by the game’s director, Navid Khonsari, that Ray Liotta was fairly difficult to work with, citing that Liotta was often in a very dark mood. Liotta spoke about the difficulties of voice acting for the game and the challenges it presented, particularly in how to “live” in the character. He said that it was hard to really embody Tommy Vercetti because there was nothing there to grab onto. Rockstar did film some of Liotta’s sessions in front of a blue screen so that they could put him into the game world and give him a rough idea about how the scenes would play out. Overall, Liotta seemed to dislike his time working on the game and complained that he was severely underpaid for his performance.
By the end of the PS2’s life cycle in 2008, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has sold over 17.5 million copies worldwide, making it the fourth best selling PS2 game of all time. The series has, of course, continued to thrive, with the latest entry, Grand Theft Auto V continuing to generate insane amounts of money in its nearly ten years on the market. Vice City would eventually be ported to the PC and the Xbox, would be released on mobile devices for its ten year anniversary, and then getting an HD remaster in 2021 on the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. Love it or hate, the Grand Theft Auto series is as inextricably tied to video games as Mario and Sonic are. The developers at Rockstar pioneered many of the things we see in video games today and they continue to push the boundaries of both technology and taste.
Sega CD – Released Oct. 15th, 1992: Wiki Link
Notable Film Release: A River Runs Through It – Starring Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt, Brenda Blethyn, and Emily Lloyd
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Notable Album Release: Insane Clown Posse – Carnival of Carnage
*Click here to listen to album*
Despite a commanding lead over the Super Nintendo and TurboGrafx-16 in North America and Europe, the Genesis (or Mega Drive) was floundering in Japan. Not only were they losing the 16-bit war, they were starting to lose ground on the next generation of hardware. NEC, makers of the TurboGrafx had released a CD-ROM system in Japan to great fanfare, while rivals Nintendo were in negotiations with Sony to produce a CD-ROM based peripheral to the Super NES. Not only those two, Commodore also released a CD based home console called CDTV, and Philips released their CD-i console as well. Sega knew they had to do something to compete, and decided to create their own CD-ROM based system.
Over in the PC world, CD-ROM drives were becoming more and more common, replacing the traditional floppy disks that people used to install programs. The amount of space afforded to an optical disc was far greater than what a floppy could store, and provided new games with sharper, more colorful visuals with the ability to show full motion video, as well as upgrade their music to take advantage of the CD’s digital capabilities. It was a bold, new frontier and the home console manufacturers wanted in on it. With so many competitors already dipping their toe into the CD waters, it would have been seen as irresponsible for Sega to not do something. Well, maybe they shouldn’t have.
Despite the success of the Genesis in North America based on the bold marketing strategies from Sega of America, Sega of Japan seemed to have issues with their Western colleagues. While Sega of Japan quietly began working on the Sega CD in 1988, they wouldn’t inform Sega of America about this until 1991. Even then, the team in Japan refused to send the American team a working Sega CD unit, instead shipping them a dummy console that could not function. In an interview with Michael Latham, one of the producers at Sega of America, they believed that the Japanese team was worried about what the American team would try to do to the console, as well as having fears that they would somehow let the details of console be leaked to the media.
Unbeknownst to Sega of Japan employees, the American team was able to find a BIOS file and install it on the dummy console; they didn’t like what they found. The Sega CD appeared to be made on the cheap, with a very low, consumer grade audio CD drive installed, not a more powerful CD-ROM drive as was expected. Not only that, but the system would literally catch on fire due to this drive. It seems that all of the RAM and CPU power was too fast for the audio CD drive to handle and, unable to keep up, it would work itself into a frenzy, generating heat and causing fires to begin. Eventually, Sega was able to fix these issues, though how they did it is a mystery as I can’t seem to find any info on it anywhere.
For the first version of the Sega CD, players would set their Genesis on top of the new device, connecting the two in a tower formation, with a front loading, motorized disc tray. The original price of the console was $299.99, about $634.99 in 2022. This model would sell over 200k units, with a second unit releasing the next year to coincide with the updated Genesis that also hit markets that year. This new Sega CD console had players slide their Genesis in a sideways fashion and, in a cost cutting measure, the motorized disc tray was removed in favor of a stationary, top loading tray, dropping the price to $229.99, about $484.99 in 2022. The original version of the Sega CD came bundled with Sega Classics 4-in-1, a compilation disc that included the Genesis games Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Columns, and Golden Axe. It was also bundled with two proper Sega CD games, the point & click FMV title Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, the shoot ’em up Sol-Feace, and a karaoke disc sampler, as the Sega CD could be used as a karaoke machine. When the second version came out, the system was only bundled with a single game, the best selling FMV shooter Sewer Shark.
As we were starting to see on the PC, CD-ROM based games began to heavily incorporate FMV (full motion video) into their games. Unlike titles like Mortal Kombat where you had digitized sprites of real people, an FMV game featured actual filmed video with players able to watch the game play out like a movie. It appeared to be the video game industries goal to get on the level of film and television and they apparently thought that putting a film in a video game was the way to go. Many, if not all, of the titles on the Sega CD over its lifespan included some kind of FMV sequence or animated film. While this might have seemed cool, it typically led to awkward gameplay.
Alright, lets talk about the launch titles for the Sega CD. I was able to play most of them through emulation…I mean, on my legally purchased Sega CD discs, though some wouldn’t boot up properly, apologies for this oversight, I’ll fire whoever caused this blunder. For these launch titles, and really for the entire life of the Sega CD, you can categorize their games into two columns; “Traditional Home Console Games” and “Non-Traditional Home Console Games”. Part of the reason the Sega CD didn’t seem to do so well was because of this strange dichotomy, not to mention that Sega seemed to be incredibly stingy with handing out development kits to third party developers (perhaps a reaction to the kinda/sorta unauthorized games made for the Genesis by EA and others).
Let’s talk “Traditional” first. Perhaps the most traditional, and best launch title, on the Sega CD is Sol-Feace. This horizontal SHMUP was first released in 1990 for the Sharp X68000 PC for the Japanese market before making its way to the Sega CD. Critics really enjoyed the game, praising Sega for bundling it with the console and, in a backhanded compliment to the system, noted that it was pretty much the only reason for the Sega CD to exist. Next we have Black Hole Assault, a fighting game with giant robots. This was the sequel to the Genesis title Heavy Nova and, while it has some decent visuals and sound, the game is clunky and not very fun to play.
The only platformer in the Sega CD launch library was Chuck Rock from Core Design, eventual creators of Tomb Raider. After releasing on the Genesis, SNES, and Game Gear, Chuck Rock bounced its way onto the Sega CD, looking just like its “last-gen” counterparts. Our final “traditional” game was the Sega Classics 4-in-1 collection which was, basically, a compilation of four popular Genesis games. While this seemed like a nice value, most Genesis owners likely owned these already. Sega also didn’t add anything to these games to make them stand out from their Genesis counterparts, aside from having the music be digitized.
Moving on to the “non-traditional” games, the Sega CD’s potential as an “interactive movie” player was forefront on a lot of developers minds, particularly in North America. Sega would go into a partnership with Digital Pictures, made up of former Hasbro employees who were tasked with making games for a potential VHS console to be made by Hasbro. This would eventually fall apart and the team would leave Hasbro to form their own studio. With the coming CD-ROM craze, Digital Pictures began to court these different hardware manufacturers, eventually leading to a long a fruitful relationship with Sega.
Digital Pictures came out hard on launch day, releasing four titles. We’ll talk about their two most popular ones, Night Trap and Sewer Shark, in a little bit. First we have to talk about the Make My Video titles. Digital Pictures would release three titles in this series by the end of 1992, with only two ready at launch, one for the band INXS and another for rapper Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg); the third title would feature the rap group Kris Kross (jump, jump!). Make My Video is, to put it bluntly, not a video game. Due to the audio CD component of the Sega CD, there was a big push by the music industry to try and get their foot in the door and become part of the home console market. For Make My Video, players would be “treated” to FMV sequences where a group of actors would give you a very basic plot to participate in. They were not very well written or acted.
For the INXS game, players find themselves in a busy bar where two women in their 20’s play pool. They lament that all of the guys in the bar are lame, from a nerd to some dude bro jocks, hoping that one of them can make a kick-ass video. In the Marky Mark game, players find themselves following a roughly 13 year old boy and his older teenage sister as he tries to make himself look cool to her, or something. The boy must make a video either with his sister’s friends, his “cool” friends (featuring Seth Green), or a boxer, for some reason. In both games, players are challenged with taking either an INXS or Marky Mark song and creating their own music videos for them. Once a character and song are selected the player is transported to an editing suite where they hear the song play and watch its official video. Players are then given multiple effects they can use to alter the image, such as making it monochrome, pixelating it even more than it already is, reversing the image, and so on. For the visuals, players can either keep the original video images or cut to two other video feeds that play an assortment of public domain films and stock footage.
Once the player finishes editing they see another cutscene featuring whatever character(s) they selected and then get to watch their creation. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of scoring system or grade, just a follow-up scene where the player is told a canned “good job” phrase. Then, that’s it, you’ve played the “game”. From a technical and curiosity standpoint, Make My Video is a fascinating time capsule of the early 1990’s, particularly of the teenage and early 20’s sub-cultures. It’s also unlike anything anyone had seen in home console video games before, at least in North America, so I give it credit there. However, there’s not a whole lot here to sink your teeth into. Both titles are incredibly shallow and can be incredibly draining as you watch a single song played two times in a row. I didn’t hate these, but I didn’t love them.
Our next “non-traditional” launch title, ICOM Simulation’s Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, has a lot in common with PC point & click adventures. While this type of game was common on the PC, you almost never saw them appear on home consoles, for good reason. While a PC game has the ability to use keyboard commands or a mouse & cursor to initiate actions, home consoles relied on handheld controllers for all inputs. This made Sherlock Holmes a chore to play on the Sega CD. While critics were impressed with the new FMV sequences filmed for the Sega CD, they found them a bit tedious and poorly acted. All in all, most critics agreed that this version wasn’t as good as previous ports. I guess it’s a good thing people didn’t have to pay for it. Funny enough, Sherlock Holmes is available today on modern mobile devices in full HD if you’re curious.
Like Sherlock Holmes, the game Cobra Command came from an already established genre, the interactive movie laserdisc arcade game, these titles hadn’t really made it to home consoles due to their, well, need for an optical laser. Originally released in arcades in 1984, Cobra Command is a fully animated film done in a 1980’s anime style, with players controlling a helicopter as it shoots down enemy aircraft. The game mixed real-time shooting and QTE’s, giving it a slight difference when compared to titles like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. For the Sega CD version, not much was changed in term of gameplay. The animated film was severely compressed, making the images pixelated and devoid of much detail. The game’s overlay was also adjusted, though not by much. Critics were lukewarm on the game.
For our last two games we’re going with the most popular launch title as well as its most notorious, Sewer Shark and Night Trap. In Digital Pictures’ Sewer Shark, players take on the role of a rookie pilot who has joined the “Sewer Jockeys”. Their mission is to keep the sewers safe so that the rich and powerful who live above in Solar City can maintain a peaceful and carefree lifestyle. Players are told that if they do good enough they can earn the right to live in Solar City, though most of them die almost instantly. You are met by two characters, your co-pilot Ghost, and another Sewer Jockey named Falco. The story is a typical dystopian tale where it turns out the people in Solar City are, SURPRISE, the bad guys! Over the course of the game, players start to realize that there is no way to make it to Solar City by being a Sewer Jockey, and takes matters into their own hands to escape the underground. As far as gameplay, this is basically an on rails shooter, however, players must also navigate the maze-like sewer system, going through various tunnels when directed by an on screen prompt. If the players misses too many tunnels they will eventually crash into a wall and die. Sewer Shark is just okay, I much prefer Sol-Feace for my shooting, but players in 1992 gobbled it up, making it one of the best selling Sega CD games of all time.
Finally, let’s talk about Digital Pictures’ Night Trap. Like other early 90’s titles like Doom, Lethal Enforcers, and Mortal Kombat, Night Trap is notorious for its violence. What sets Night Trap apart from those other games, however, is its use of real actors. Initially, Night Trap didn’t court a lot of controversy, being seen by critics as another ill-fated attempt to marry FMV and video games. Before going further, let’s talk about the gameplay. Night Trap has players taking on the role of a S.C.A.T. agent, Sega Control Attack Team. After getting reports of missing girls at a secluded mansion, one SCAT agent goes undercover as a teenager where she will attend a slumber party being held at the mansion. Through the use of hidden cameras placed around the mansion, players must save the girls from being killed by hideous vampire-like creatures called Augers. This is done by pressing a button on the controller at the right time, essentially making Night Trap a QTE game.
Critics seemed to agree that the gameplay was uninspired, making playing it fairly boring. However, they praised the campy nature of the FMV sequences and the cheesy effects employed by the studio. Night Trap could have, and should have, gone on to be another forgettable FMV video game, but due to the actions of U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl, the game gained a massive reputation, both good and bad. In December of 1993, the Senators began a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, pulling in various video game executives and developers to answer for what the government perceived as content that was harmful to children. Lieberman himself seemed to acknowledge that Night Trap, with its infamous game over video in which a woman in lingerie is attacked by two vampires was supposed to be a satire of the Dracula themes and could appreciate what the developers were doing, he was concerned that parents were not aware of the content.
I won’t get too much further into it, we’ll discuss it in next year’s “Notable Events” column, but to wrap it up, the push by the government to potentially censor video games, and single out Night Trap as one of the most vile video games on the market made sales skyrocket. This also worked out in Sega’s favor as it fit right into their branding as the “cool & edgy” alternative to Nintendo’s “safe & clean” reputation. Night Trap recently had a minor resurgence in interest when a 25th anniversary edition was released on PS4 and PC in 2017. The game would later be ported to the Nintendo Switch, an ironic turn of events as in those 1993 congressional hearings, Nintendo’s then President, Howard Lincoln, said that Night Trap would never appear on a Nintendo system. Guess you were wrong, Howard.
I honestly can’t believe how much I’ve just written about the Sega CD and its launch titles. This feels like more than I did for Xbox and even the Super Nintendo. Perhaps the reason is because the Sega CD was mostly a failure, commercially & critically. There’s a rareness to it that makes the whole system feel like a footnote in gaming history, but it really did predict the future of video games, particularly in software distribution. I mentioned earlier that Nintendo had partnered with Sony to develop a CD drive for the SNES, well that deal fell through, making Sony furious. To get back at Nintendo, Sony vowed to create their own disc-based video game console and blow Nintendo out of the water, and they did with 1995’s PlayStation, solidifying optical discs as the main means of video game distribution for the next 27 years (and counting). Sega would try to answer with the Saturn, their fourth console of the 90’s (Game Gear, Sega CD, and 32X), all of which failed spectacularly and led to Sega’s eventual downfall.
The types of games that the Sega CD put out were unlike anything else on the home video game market. Yeah, the CD-i and TurboGrafx-16 also had some of the same titles, but the CD-i was somehow worse than the Sega CD and TurboGrafx had more traditional genre games. The Sega CD was wholly unique and, in an alternate universe, was probably a success. However, in the real world, it just wasn’t. Too many strange games, sub-par graphics, and poor third party support doomed the console, with Sega pulling the plug on the device in January of 1996, after only about three years in the North American market. Nowadays, you can pick up a Sega CD on eBay for about $200, roughly $95 in 1992, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
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