Monday, October 31, 2022

Pump Up the (NBA) Jam

NBA Jam and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition for the Sega Genesis
Sega CD Summer has launched! This is the eleventh entry in the Sega Tote Series

Video games and sports are just one of those perfect combinations, like peanut butter and jelly or chocolate and peanut butter. They just go together.

Video games let us do things we're incapable of, like flying spaceships, blasting aliens, and dunking all the way from half court. NBA Jam excelled at the latter, of course.

The arcade hit came to the Sega Genesis in March 1994. It plays a minor role in Sega CD Summer, mentioned as one of the few sports games Tommy's friends would enthusiastically play with him. Tommy also comments on his love for the Indiana Pacers, a team featuring NBA all-timer Reggie Miller and the solid-in-real-life-but-kind-of-useless-in-the-game Derrick McKey. 

From the book:
As much as my friends and I liked giving each other crap, we were always supportive. Andy and Kyle didn’t have much interest in sports, but they didn’t mind it when I talked about the baseball team or wanted to play NHL ’94 or Madden. They drew the line at most baseball video games, and the only basketball game they could stand was NBA Jam.

Heck, Kyle even owned a copy of NBA Jam. The two-on-two, officially licensed basketball game was pure arcade craziness, with over-the-top dunks and players. I always played as the Indiana Pacers so I could rain three-pointers with the legendary Reggie Miller, while Derrick McKey brought surprisingly little to the table. While he could dunk okay, he was slow and couldn’t shoot. Also, his defensive rating was poor. The Tournament Edition added Rik Smits, who was also slow and couldn’t shoot. His Dunkin’ Dutchman power was completely misrepresented in the rankings, but he could block shots. I always stuck with Reggie Miller and Rik Smits—at least TE gave me the option of benching McKey.
NBA Jam was a certifiable phenomenon in the mid-90s, right up there with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in terms of gaming hype and hours logged. Because of the over-the-top gameplay and presentation ("BOOMSHAKALAKA!"; "He's on fire!"; "Rejected!"; "Is it the shoes?"), the game got that all-important crossover appeal that expanded the gaming audience beyond sports fans.

The game is simple, really, just two-on-two basketball featuring officially licensed NBA teams and players. Most basketball rules get tossed out the window, and the team with the most points at the end wins, obviously. An exuberant announcer and crowd reactions give each game great atmosphere. It's probably best known for jaw-dropping, turbo-enhanced dunks that have players going high into the air, windmilling or sometimes spinning as they throw one down.

The game had some wicked rubber-banding AI that always kept things close in CPU games, dropping your field goal percentage and upping the computer's success rate to keep things "interesting."

I almost always played as the Pacers, but there were some other fun duos, including Sean Elliott and David Robinson on the Spurs; Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning on the Hornets; Karl Malone and John Stockton on the Jazz; and Vernon Maxwell and Hakeem Olajuwon on the Rockets. I'll even begrudgingly throw in John Starks and Patrick Ewing on the Knicks, just because it gave me much satisfaction to beat them with Reggie Miller.

It's worth mentioning that, thanks to the complexities of licensing, the home ports lacked Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan. While some early Genesis/SNES versions had Charles Barkley, he was later replaced with Dan Majerle thanks to a deal with Accolade for Barkley: Shut Up and Jam, a venture I'm sure was worthwhile for everyone (eyeroll). 

NBA Jam also had several cheat codes and secret characters. You could play in Big Head Mode, for example, or throw one down as Al Gore or Bill Clinton, respectively the vice president and president at the time.

A year after the original Jam hit home consoles, NBA Jam: Tournament Edition arrived. It featured the same fast gameplay, secrets, and atmosphere. The game had expanded rosters and you could do substitutions between quarters. I liked the optional addition of "hotspots," different areas of the court that would light up and reward you with higher point values if you hit a shot.

The Sega CD and Game Gear also received ports of NBA Jam. The Sega CD version, as you'd expect, featured CD-quality music, a few roster updates, and FMV sequences at halftime. Players had to contend with long load times, however, and the graphics weren't much of an upgrade from the Genesis version. 

The Game Gear port tried hard, as Game Gear ports often did, and although it's graphically and aurally inferior, it's possible to have some fun with it.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Mall Madness Memories

Sega CD Summer is out now!

Malls still exist today, but they just aren't what they used to be.

I live on the south side of Indianapolis, and the closest one to us is the Greenwood Park Mall. Over the years, it's undergone renovations and additions in an effort to attract more customers. It seems like stores open and close all the time.

It's just not the same mall experience I had as a kid.

Richmond, Indiana, never had the greatest mall in the world. My mother always laughed at the "mall directory" because you could see all the stores from one end to the other from the entrance. Still, I liked going there. 

You had Waldenbooks, which was the bookstore where I bought the bulk of my books and video game magazines. There was just something great about asking the bookstore to hold a novel for you and then picking it up after it was released. I loved browsing through the big wall of magazines there and finding some issue of GamePro or Electronic Gaming Monthly with a cool cover. I also got the occasional sports magazine there.

My favorite section, of course, featured science fiction and fantasy books. To be honest, my "science fiction and fantasy" reading was pretty much limited to Star Wars and Star Trek books. I rarely left Waldenbooks without a paperback of some sort. Most of my Star Trek books were paperbacks while I had several hardcovers in the Star Wars series. Favorites included the Timothy Zahn Heir to the Empire trilogy and Steve Perry's Shadows of the Empire. None of those books "count" in the current Star Wars canon, of course.

Chapter 9 of Sega CD Summer dramatizes a trip to the mall, with Tommy visiting Electronics Boutique with his mother. I thought the store was incredible, packed with almost every game and system I could imagine. Electronics Boutique also featured PC games and components; it's the first place I can ever recall seeing a CD-ROM drive.

Games were arranged on wire shelves with the price marked on a placard below. If you wanted one, you took the case up to the register and paid for your game; the employee then retrieved a copy from a locked drawer. It was similar to the Target/Kmart/Sears purchasing process in which games were kept in locked cabinets. KB Toys, on the other hand, used a "ticket" system in which you pulled the ticket for the game you wanted and took it up to the counter.

Ah, yes. KB Games. Like most everything else in the mall, the products were overpriced and the store was kind of cramped. However, you could find things at KB that were hard to come by at Target or Kmart--you'd just pay a little more for them. For the most part, I was content with the selection of G.I. Joes at Target, but every once in a while, KB Toys would have that special figure I was looking for.

Five of the games pictured above came from the Sears bargain bin
KB also had a decent bargain bin for video games when it was clearing stock. A couple of games I remember buying from there include Zero Tolerance, a first-person shooter that was actually decent for a console shooter of the era, and Cosmic Spacehead, a game that wasn't worth the $15 I paid for it.

The champion of discount games, however, was Sears. The electronics section there was small, but Sears usually had discounted Sega CD games. I bought FIFA and NHL '94 there for cheap, along with Links: The Challenge of Golf. I believe AH-3 Thunderstrike and The Software Toolworks Star Wars Chess also came from Sears!

For the most part, Sears, JCPenney, and their ilk are irrelevant these days. But for those of us who grew up in the '80s and '90s, the mall was a magical place to hang out with friends, spend some time at the arcade, and do some clothes shopping. That's because the mall had everything all in one place. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Major League Breaking Ball

The Major League Breaking Balls (both of them) modeled by the "real" Terry Guggenbiller
The Major League Breaking Ball makes a couple appearances in Sega CD Summer

It's a training tool my father, the "real" Terry Guggenbiller, believes he bought from Baseball Digest when my brother was 12 and I was 8. That would make these Major League Breaking Balls about 34 years old!

During a recent trip back home, I asked my dad if he still had the balls. They were sitting in a bucket inside the back of his RAV4 with some baseball gloves and a bucket full of actual baseballs. I decided it would be fun to get a few pictures of the balls, which we used from about 1988 through the end of my high school baseball career in 1999.

We were struck by the visual similarity in the big chips between both balls! I think they're made of hard plastic, although they have a kind of ceramic feel to them. He definitely got his money's worth out of these bizarre training tools.

This gives you a look at the MLBB, which is about three-quarters of a real baseball with a flat side
What's the purpose of the Major League Breaking Ball? It allows pitchers to simulate a pro-level breaking pitch in batting practice, giving the batter a look at a sweeping curveball you'd see in higher levels of baseball.

Dad, an excellent BP arm who could throw with some zip, never thought he had a very good curveball. The absurd-looking training tool allowed him to throw an incredible one. He conceded he would aim for my head and hope the pitch did what it was supposed to do. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the thing was amazing, resulting in a sweeping pitch that looked like it would maybe go behind you before ending up in the middle of the plate. 

He mixed the breaking balls in with regular baseballs during batting practice and didn't tip his hand so my brother and I would learn to adjust to breaking pitches.

Another look at the breaking balls
The Major League Breaking Ball isn't essential to the book or its plot; it's simply something Terry Guggenbiller uses during batting practice, much as my father did when I was a young baseball player. I thought it would be fun to show people the strange baseballs, which came in a red box and featured the endorsements of Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan.

Because the internet is forever and remembers everything, you can still find the odd Major League Breaking Ball for sale on eBay. One listing has it for $39.95 with the original box and instruction sheet.

This is the side of the original box featuring Jim Rice. The photo comes from the eBay listing referenced above.
A different eBay listing has the Major League Breaking Ball for $8.99 sans the box and instructions. While that listing said the ball has some minor scuffs, it's in much better condition than the two currently residing in Williamsburg, Indiana, which have been chipped as a result of mighty swings from Tommy Guggenbiller and Craig the Baseball Prodigy.

While I'm on the subject of curveballs, I may as well vouch for the authenticity of a scene from Sega CD Summer in which Tommy gets plunked not once but twice by a "curveball" thrown by his beloved baseball coach, Swearin' Sammy Reed.

Though the names in that story have been changed, it is 100% true. In this case, I was Tommy Guggenbiller and Swearin' Sammy was the late, great Mike Ryan, my youth baseball coach for many seasons in Williamsburg. Too bad the coaches didn't have the Major League Breaking Ball to save their players from bruised hips--and themselves from bruised egos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Sega CD's (Mostly) FMV Fails

Sega CD Summer is out now!

For the most part, it seemed like Sega CD games fell into one of two categories: enhanced Sega Genesis ports or full-motion video (FMV) games. The Genesis ports typically had additions like CD-quality music and video clips plus, you know, loading times. FMV games featured grainy, poorly compressed video clips loosely centered around a plot.

Companies touted FMV as the future of video games, and video clips featured prominently in advertisements for the Sega CD and its various games. A lot of console gamers didn't have high-end PCs with CD-ROM drives, so video definitely provided a novel look and experience.

It was easy to get swept up in the hype.

Since I am, however, talking about video games, the gaming part is kind of important. This is where most FMV games fell short. Interactivity was extremely limited and most of the games played in a linear manner. They suffered from a severe lack of replay value. Many of the games featured hammy overacting and looked extremely cheap.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of FMV games for the Sega CD. It includes some truly infamous titles! I did write about a couple that weren't so bad. I should add that when I talk about FMV games, I mean games in which the FMV was the point. You could include Sewer Shark on this list while I feel like Rebel Assault had enough game variety to separate it from the pack. The console also had several games, like its version of Jurassic Park, that featured video clips but weren't necessarily FMV games.

Here we go... 

Make My Video series. Universally considered the worst "games" on the Sega CD, these early titles had you "editing" video clips to make a music video for different musical artists. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Kris Kross, and INXS all licensed their likenesses and music to this garbage. A different title developed by the same company, Digital Pictures, featured C+C Music Factory. It was also an abomination. 

Here's the Marky Mark version. See if you can actually figure out what's going on here:

Night Trap. This was the bane of video gaming for a while, a title so "controversial" that Congress held hearings on video game violence! Mortal Kombat was also at the center of hearings in which U.S. lawmakers grilled companies about the content of the games kids were playing. Night Trap looks so hokey and innocuous now that it's hard to believe people were Very Concerned about some knockoff, shlocky B-movie-inspired game. It lives in infamy and does possess a certain charm to it. In recent years, it's been re-released on modern consoles with an updated interface and improved video quality. It's a Digital Pictures game. It was released for the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X hybrid as well.

Corpse Killer. Corpse Killer debuted on the Sega CD thanks to our friends from Digital Pictures. It's essentially a shooter in which players kill zombies in a tropical island setting. Like Night Trap, it has a campy charm to it and received an upgraded re-release for modern consoles. It later came out on the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X platform. The opening scene is, well, something.

Prize Fighter. This worked OK as a kind of Punch-Out-inspired FMV game. The black-and-white presentation gives it a quasi-Raging Bull feel, although the acting doesn't stack up in any way. The video looks decent as the old-school presentation actually hides the Genesis' paltry color palette. I rented this once and don't remember it that well. The game involved a lot of pattern recognition and timing--basically a series of quick-time events. You can finish it in under an hour and the replay value is virtually non-existent. Digital Pictures developed it.

Supreme Warrior. Digital Pictures also blessed us with this "gem" inspired by martial arts movies of the '70s. From what I understand, the controls here made the game very difficult to time things up to block attacks. Some reviewers at the time of release appreciated the game's kung fu-movie inspired production design and acting. A playthrough takes a little over an hour. Like Prize Fighter, replayability is limited. It appeared on the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X combo.

Slam City with Scottie Pippen. According to various online sources, Scottie Pippen performed the theme song on this basketball-themed turkey. Players take on various ballers one-on-one with Pippen serving as the "boss" battle at the end. The video actually looks pretty good for the platform, although several reviewers found the game extremely difficult. This was another triple threat, also appearing on the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X platform. The only other game featured on the three-system combo not mentioned here was Fahrenheit

Dragon's Lair/Space Ace. These two were originally LaserDisc-based arcade games, with Space Ace releasing months after the extremely popular Dragon's Lair. The games featured great animation, although they just don't look at that great on the Sega CD thanks to the limited color palette. In a way, these games wrote the book for pulling off FMV games with limited replay value and quick-time events that have you following onscreen cursors to progress. They did feature some stellar death animations, however!

Road Avenger. Called Road Blaster in Japan, this was retitled Road Avenger for the Sega CD release. Essentially an interactive animated action movie, this received high praise at the time of its release and makes a lot of "best of" lists for the Sega CD. Colorful graphics and a good soundtrack help it stand out among other offerings on the platform. While it follows a lot of the same concepts as other games on this list, players feel like they're in control of things. The game has nine stages and replay value is somewhat limited. However, it helps that Road Avenger is fun to play. This was a Data East game.

Tomcat Alley. I rented this one a couple of times and had fun with it. Among the FMV games, it boasted somewhat better video quality. Essentially a Top Gun ripoff, Tomcat Alley has you taking control of a fighter jet and going on different missions. Mission variety was good, the video filled the whole screen (not usually the case!), and the acting hit the right tone. It is honestly one of the better, if not the best, FMV games on the Sega CD.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Rental Store Memories

Digital games and movies have really spoiled us. They've made things easier, but they've also taken away the simple joy of going to the video store.

Okay, video stores weren't great. The candy was stale. The movie you really wanted was never in stock. Things were overpriced. They charged late fees. They weren't kind if you didn't rewind, socking you with an additional fee.

But there was something about going to the video store and picking out a game or movie. Sometimes it was a real gamble. Maybe you found a hidden gem. Maybe you rented Shaq Fu (my sincere condolences).

Sega CD Summer has a passing mention of a video store. When I was growing up, we had a place called Video Towne. After that, it became Dave's Video. Was there a Pick-a-Flick? I think there may have been. Blockbuster eventually invaded Richmond. 

We also had Hastings, which only recently went under (**checks notes, discovers that the store closed in 2016 and realizes time has no meaning**). Family Video held on longer than most; we had one near our home on Indy's southeast side that closed after the pandemic.

I rented my fair share of Sega Genesis games from area stores. Here are a few I remember.

Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, and Urban Strike. These were fantastic 16-bit action games from Electronic Arts with simple but addictive gameplay. You piloted an aircraft and received mission objectives of varying difficulty and complexity. I remember a cutscene from one of the games (Jungle Strike?) in which you got chewed out for "redecorating the White House, Beirut-style." You'd get this if you, um, blew up the White House.

Flashback: The Quest of Identity. This game looked phenomenal, especially for a kid who didn't have a PC capable of playing games (we had a 286 before we got a Compaq Presario with a CD-ROM drive and a Pentium processor in the mid-90s). I just really couldn't believe what I was seeing on the screen. The gameplay, however, never quite clicked with me. I rented the game at least twice but didn't get very far. I should probably revisit it.

Wimbledon Championship Tennis. One of my best high school buds was an excellent tennis player (I was not). We had a pretty good time with Pete Sampras Tennis, a game with extra controller ports built into the cartridge! But I'm supposed to be writing about the Wimbledon game from Sega Sports. I remember it being a lot of fun. While it had the Wimbledon license, I don't think it featured any real players.

Dick Vitale's Awesome Baby College Hoops. You either love or hate Dick Vitale, the boisterous college basketball commentator. The SNES made Sega sports fans jealous with NCAA Basketball, and Genesis fans got this game instead. It's not officially licensed, but I remember my brother and I having a good time with it. The game featured a rotating court, which was something you didn't see much on the console. Dickie V chimed it with some of his signature Vitale-isms (PTPer, Phi Slamma Jamma, etc.). I vaguely remember being able to edit the rosters although the game didn't save them. I could be thinking of another game.

Ecco the Dolphin. This one was kind of like Flashback in that I thought it was cool and rented it a couple times without ever getting very far into the game. Honestly, I just liked swimming around and doing flips out of the water. The game has a chill vibe to start things off, but I understand it gets really hard and somewhat thematically dark as you progress through it. I will stick with the soothing first level, thank you very much.

Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing/Greatest Heavyweights. I'm not a big boxing fan, but these were some pretty terrific (and advanced for their time) boxing games for the Genesis. Holyfield featured some incredible graphics for the time and a neat career mode. When you landed a punch, it really felt like you connected. Greatest Heavyweights had essentially the same game engine and mechanics, although it was slightly faster with a roster featuring some of the sweet science's best, like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Rocky Marciano, and more. Definitely worth playing.

Justice League Task Force. Mullet Superman is a playable character in this very obvious "Hey, Street Fighter II is popular, so let's do it with superheroes!" game. You select from a paltry roster of DC heroes, including Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Green Arrow. I remember the game being kind of clunky with not much to do after the story mode. A solid "meh" on this one.

Pit-Fighter. I remember Pit-Fighter being the first game I saw featuring digitized sprites in a fighting game. It looked pretty cool. Mortal Kombat would do it better shortly after Pit-Fighter's debut. This started out as an arcade game and received a few home ports. While the Genesis version was firmly in the "OK" category, the Super Nintendo port was a complete joke. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Brilliance of Clara's Pizza King

While Sega CD Summer is a celebration of video games, baseball, and small-town life, it's also got a soft spot for Clara's Pizza King.

Every kid has their favorite place to eat. A steakhouse. An ice cream shop. A burger joint.

For this kid, that place was (and, well, still is) Clara's Pizza King in Richmond, Indiana.

How much do I love Clara's? The place gets a whole chapter in the book involving Tommy Guggenbiller and his older brother, Craig the Baseball Prodigy.

In my family, Clara's is iconic. Pizza King is kind of an Indiana thing, really. We don't have a signature pizza style like Chicago or New York (as I write this, Pizza Hut continues to make Detroit-style pizza a thing), but Hoosiers have Pizza King.

And Richmond has Clara's.

This box means quality
The place is amazing. It has a double-decker bus where you can sit with your family and eat. You order with a telephone connected directly to your booth. It feels like the place hasn't changed a bit from my heyday in the '90s, and for a place like Clara's, that's a good thing. 

My family spent many birthdays and end-of-the-school-year celebrations at Clara's. I have an uncle who lives in Tennessee and drops by the place every time he visits. 

Pizza King is famous for thin crust pizza cut into squares. When the "real" Craig the Baseball Prodigy and the "real" Tommy Guggenbiller (my brother and I, respectively) were in our middle school/high school/college days, we'd split a 16" pepperoni pizza with BBQ sauce and an order of breadsticks with two cheeses. 

We can't do that anymore (and probably shouldn't anyway). In the book, the fictional brothers order the exact same thing. Pick a side, find the "pizza equator," and chow down until it's all gone.

Many fans will tell you to get the Royal Feast. That's Pizza King's signature "everything but the kitchen sink" pizza, but I'm a simple man with simple tastes who doesn't understand why anyone would put a topping other than pepperoni on their pizza. Pizza King uses diced pepperoni.

While Pizza King definitely has a good pizza sauce, you should just forget it exists. Order the BBQ sauce. There are few better foods in this world than a Clara's pepperoni pizza with BBQ sauce. Just thinking about it gives me a Pavlovian response.

If you're going to a pizza place, order the pizza. Don't be like my dad and order the Beef Boat. Also, if you do order the Beef Boat, please don't call it the "Beef Barge."

You can check out Pizza King's menu here. There are also some non-Indiana locations operating under the Sir Pizza name.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition and Mortal Kombat

Sega CD Summer has launched! This is the tenth entry in the Sega Tote Series

The '90s were a time of rivalries. You had Sega vs. Nintendo (and thus Sonic vs. Mario). Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks (and Spike Lee by extension). Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion and Ken vs. Ryu (rivalries within the same game).

And, of course, we had Street Fighter II vs. Mortal Kombat.

The two fighting game franchises are inseparable, and their impact is still felt in video games to this day. I'm not sure I preferred one over the other because they're both very different games in style and execution.

Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition for the Sega Genesis

The Sega Genesis got Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, an admirable port of the arcade hit on Sega's already aging hardware. All the characters were there, the music wasn't bad, and the game played great. It didn't look as colorful or sound as good as the SNES version, however, and the awkward method of using the start button to switch between punch and kick definitely wasn't ideal. 

The Street Fighter II port did give us the six-button Genesis controller, which may be its greatest contribution to the console. I think it's one of the finest controllers ever made.

Mortal Kombat came out on the Genesis just a couple weeks before Street Fighter II hit store shelves. Sega fans had to wait a while to play as Ryu, Guile, Chun-Li, and company, as the Super Nintendo got a Street Fighter II port in December 1992.

"Mortal Monday" fell on September 13, 1993 to mark the release of four home versions of Mortal Kombat (Genesis, Game Gear, SNES, Game Boy). You probably know the story by now: the Genesis port featured the violence and blood from the arcade version while the Super Nintendo version lacked blood and sanitized the fatalities. The SNES port looked truer to the arcade port and had better music. However, the controls were a bit slippery and the game just didn't feel quite as much like the arcade as the Genesis version.

The MK situation was a major win for Sega, which outsold the censored Super Nintendo version because the Genesis version included the blood and gore via a simple cheat code (the Game Gear version also had a cheat code for blood). It cemented Sega's sleek black console as the "cooler" one as gamers hammered Nintendo for its Mortal Kombat approach.

By the time Mortal Kombat II came around, Nintendo had learned its lesson. While both ports are good, the Super Nintendo version is generally regarded as more arcade-accurate, blood included (and no code needed).

I owned Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition but not Mortal Kombat for my Genesis (I bought the six-button controller as well). I did have the Game Gear version of MK; it was obviously inferior to its 16-bit counterparts (and lacked Kano) but was a decent effort considering the hardware.

Again, I really didn't have a favorite between the two franchises. Street Fighter II is probably the better fighter from a technique standpoint while Mortal Kombat will always be splashier. Like many silly rivalries over brands and products, it's okay to like them both.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Earthworm Jim on the Sega Genesis

The cover of Earthworm Jim for the Sega Genesis
To be perfectly honest, a blog post about Earthworm Jim doesn't really fit in this round of Sega CD Summer posts. I don't mention the game in the book and Tommy doesn't even play it.

That's probably a major oversight on my part. After all, nothing screams 1990s quite like an action platformer featuring an earthworm with a plasma gun and a super suit.

It's hard to forget just how big the game was when it came out for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo in October 1994. The animation looked great and the levels were absolutely bonkers. I will never forget going through the "What the Heck?" level, which is a Hell analogue complete with lawyers, bankers, elevator music, Evil the Cat, and a murderous snowman.

Earthworm Jim is a pretty tough game, and I'm sad to say I didn't make it too far past "Snot a Problem." I never played the sequel nor did I ever come across the enhanced Sega CD version in the bargain bin at Sears.

So, why am I writing about Earthworm Jim? That's a good question and one I'm not sure I can answer precisely. I have a lot of good memories of the game; I really dug the "What the Heck?" level and didn't mind replaying it over and over again. Something about the dancing Evil the Cat and the elevator music, interspersed with parts of "Night on Bald Mountain," just made me laugh.

I mean, this is a game in which you can launch a cow! Compete in an intergalactic race with banjo music! Use an earthworm as a rope!

It just had so many weird and quirky things and such absurd humor. I just don't think there was much like it out there at the time--I know I hadn't played much like it before. 

Earthworm Jim was ahead of its time. The game spawned a cartoon, toys, and comics. The series struggled, however, to make the leap to newer consoles, with Earthworm Jim 3D regarded as an abysmal entry that really derailed things.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Sewer Shark on the Sega CD

Sega CD Summer has launched! This is the eighth entry in the Sega Tote Series

"The guy you're replacing--he had that same tough-guy smirk on his face that you do. Till he hit the wall. They're out there now blotting him up with Handi Wipes!"

Thus began your journey on Sewer Shark.

Deep down, I hoped getting a Sega CD would be a transformational experience that would extend the life of my beloved Sega Genesis.

It took a few minutes of Sewer Shark to disabuse me of that notion.

The game was everywhere in the early '90s and became the pack-in game for the Model 2 of the Sega CD. Sega used it in a lot of its advertisements for the add-on.

At that point, pack-in games hadn't let me down. My NES came with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, which is a classic. My Genesis came with Sonic the Hedgehog. And while I didn't have a Super Nintendo, Super Mario World is a fantastic game.

The pack-in version of Sewer Shark and its manual

I was under the impression that pack-in games were good.

Why would a company ship a crappy game with your expensive new system?

Sewer Shark was a standalone title for the console. It sold well, however, so Sega decided to ship it with later versions of the Sega CD. The grainy and pixelated mess is an on-rails shooter with poorly compressed video and branching paths. You move a cursor around the screen and shoot things.

I really didn't care for it.

Was it really that different from Rebel Assault? The answer to that is "probably not." However, Rebel Assault had more variety and some of the levels weren't quite as "on rails" as Sewer Shark. Plus, we're talking about Star Wars and not some B-movie produced exclusively for video game consoles--John Williams' music and Ben Burtt's sound effects elevate everything Star Wars-related.

Side note: Star Wars special effects guru John Dykstra directed Sewer Shark, which was published for the Sega CD by Sony Imagesoft. The luminaries at Digital Pictures developed the game.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Press Start on Sega CD Summer

Launch day is here, and it's time to press start on Sega CD Summer! The book is live and available on several digital platforms. The paperback version is available exclusively on Amazon.

Live near the Indianapolis area and want a signed copy? Willing to pay just a little bit more for shipping for a mailed copy? Hit me up on the contact form and we'll figure something out.

Ebook version

Paperback version

I've spent the last few weeks introducing you to characters and writing about some of the book's influences inside and outside of video games. Those posts will keep running for another couple weeks. 

You can get caught up here:

And, of course, you can catch the book trailer below:

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Movies of Sega CD Summer

Tommy Guggenbiller lives in a world filled with pop culture. He's obsessed with several geeky pursuits and goes frequently to the movies with his father, lover of cinema and popcorn.

Throughout Sega CD Summer, Tommy mentions several movies released during the summer of 1994. Some he'll see and comment on; others he'll reflect upon in retrospect.

I have fond memories of the movies of 1994, something reflected in Tommy's perception. What follows is a non-comprehensive list of some of the movies mentioned in the book. I'm sure I missed one or two. 

The Shadow. This already made the list of 5 Superhero Movies I Shouldn't Like But Do Anyway. Tommy goes to see this one with his dad, who describes it as "weird." I think that's pretty on point. Hollywood hadn't gotten anywhere near perfecting the superhero formula and The Shadow was part of the "capitalize on Batman 1989" wave of movies. I love Alec Baldwin in this movie. I love the Shadow's outfit. I even like the bad guy.

But the tone is off, teetering between goofy, self-referential, and serious. The movie never quite decides what it wants to be. I found Penelope Ann Miller's character supremely annoying. I still watch the movie every couple years. It's pretty hilarious how it starts off with Alec Baldwin's character as a Seinfeldian "White Poet Warlord" in an opium den.

I had the novelization as well, as does Tommy in the book. The Phantom tread similar ground in 1996. However, I feel like that movie nailed a consistent, pulpy tone and find it superior to The Shadow.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. As an adolescent in the 1990s, I couldn't escape Jim Carrey. In order to survive middle and high school, you had to know something about Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, or Dumb and Dumber. Carrey crushed the box office that year with three mega-hits.

Ace Ventura, the first of the three, came out in February and became a surprise hit. Carrey's doofy character was extremely quotable and the movie had some goofball charm and just enough "edginess" (I use that word very, very loosely) to score with the immature middle school/high school crowd.

There are so many quotable lines from this one and the very presence of Dan Marino lends the affair some additional lunacy (he really should stick to Isotoner glove commercials). The big twist was never especially graceful, and it comes off as particularly mean-spirited in 2022.

Still, for a 12-year-old like Tommy Guggenbiller, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is that forbidden movie he's dying to see only because he knows his mom hates it.

Speed. Good action movies hold up years after their original release, and Speed still thrills. It boasts a stellar cast and some impressive set pieces. Does the logic hold up? Could the bus really make "the jump?" Probably not.

All I know is Dennis Hopper looked like he was having the time of his life, we get a superb game of cat-and-mouse, and it's the first thing I remember seeing Jeff Daniels in (it made Dumb and Dumber all the more surprising).

The movie has a pretty lean runtime (under two hours with credits) and never overstays its welcome. Modern action movies could learn a thing or two from its economical storytelling.

Tommy goes to see this one with his dad.

Tombstone and Wyatt Earp. As Tommy notes in the book, Tombstone is actually a late 1993 release. A terrific western starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, they really don't get much better in the modern western oeuvre. It also has a wonderful supporting cast: Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, and Stephen Lang. 

You even get appearances from Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, and Thomas Hayden Church. Russell and Kilmer make the movie, though, and it features tons of quotable dialogue.

Tommy recalls seeing this at the theater with his dad and also rents the home video version.

Wyatt Earp actually came out in 1994. It hits many of the same story beats as Tombstone, although Earp is going for a broader overview of the main character's life. It's overly long in that '90s Costnerian way. Dennis Quaid does his best as Doc Holliday, but he's no Val Kilmer because no one is. Kevin Costner is fine in the main role, but he's no Kurt Russell because no one is.

Tommy complains about having to sit through Wyatt Earp because it can't touch Tombstone. I hope he enjoyed some popcorn.

Maverick. Did you know googling for Maverick just brings up a bunch of Top Gun stuff now? It wasn't that way about a year ago. It is now!

Anyway, this 1994 gem directed by Richard Donner features Mel Gibson (charming, '90s era Mel Gibson before The Troubles), Jodie Foster, and James Garner. I find it highly entertaining with some great double-crosses and plenty of sarcastic humor. It has some great cameos, too, with fun villain turns from Alfred Molina and James Coburn.

I grew up on country music, and this movie featured a pair of songs from Clint Black ("A Good Run of Bad Luck") and Tracy Lawrence ("Renegades, Rebels, and Rogues"). 

It won't tickle everyone's fancy, but it's a fun deconstruction of some western tropes (watch for an incredible turn from Graham Greene as Chief Joseph) filled with some good action, lots of conniving swindlers, and a good sense of humor.

Clear and Present Danger. The events of Sega CD Summer take place before the release of this Harrison Ford action movie based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name. I remember Patriot Games being the first real "action thriller" I was allowed to watch; that ending scene with the nightvision goggles was pretty intense at the time.

Clear and Present Danger is the sequel, one of what I can only describe as a strange Jack Ryan "cinematic universe" in which Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford played the same guy, Ben Affleck later stepped into the role in an unrelated movie, and Chris Pine tried a reboot of his own. Then Jim from The Office put his own spin on Jack Ryan thanks to Amazon.

I still remember seeing this one in the theater, which means Tommy also probably saw it in the theater with his dad. I later read the book, which bore little resemblance to the movie. I enjoy Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, although I understand Clancy did not. Willem Dafoe is terrific as Clark and Donald Moffat really gets to spout off some memorable presidential dialogue.

Other supporting characters include the great Henry Czerny ("You don't have one of these, do you, Jack?") as the smarmy Ritter, Joaquin de Almeida as Felix Cortez ("The machine is still on, Moira"), and Miguel Sandoval as Ernesto Escobedo, the, um "cartel leader with a heart of gold, kind of." Anytime I saw Sandoval in another movie like, say Jurassic Park, I would be like, "Hey, it's Ernesto Escobedo!" He also turned up in "The Little Jerry" episode of Seinfeld.

Star Trek: Generations. Tommy visits a Star Trek exhibit in Muncie, Indiana, during the course of the book. The conceit there is that the exhibit is part of the promotional push for Star Trek: Generations

The 1994 release teamed up Captain Picard with Captain Kirk, and while that should be exciting, it fell kind of flat. Don't get me wrong, seeing Patrick Stewart and William Shatner together totally worked and the two had great chemistry. It's just that I wish they were in a better Star Trek movie with a better plot and a better villain.

Generations isn't a disaster; it's just not peak movie Trek

Other notable movies. Really, 1994 had plenty of good movies, some of which Tommy mentions and others he doesn't. The Lion King, Forrest Gump, True Lies, and Angels in the Outfield were all released that year, although Tommy doesn't pay much attention to them.

The Lion King is one of Disney's finest and one of the centerpieces of the Disney Renaissance. Forrest Gump won lots of awards and made a lots of money. True Lies is James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of their respective powers. And Angels in the Outfield was a heartfelt sports movie--the kind we seldom see these days.

Major League II came out in 1994, and while it wasn't Major League, it gave us Jack Parkman and that wonderful movie trailer for Black Hammer, White Lightning ("Mine fell the hardest." "Mine are the deadest."). The Crow also hit theaters that year. Highly regarded at the time, some people really got into it. I wasn't one of them. 

We were also "blessed" with Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, a movie that made sure to squeeze the absolute last drop of blood out of Police Academy's desiccated corpse, and Wagons East!, notable for being John Candy's penultimate role (while he died during filming this turkey, Canadian Bacon actually came out in 1995). Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption would help restore some of 1994's cinematic dignity.

It probably bears worth mentioning that we got a pair of video game movies in 1994. A terrible Double Dragon movie hit the big screen followed by Street Fighter. I know some people consider the latter to be one of those "so good it's bad" movies, but I kind of think it's just bad, despite Raul Julia's tour de force performance. Like it? No problem. It just didn't hit with me, even ironically.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Sega CD Summer and G.I. Joe

Sega CD Summer is out!

I didn't expect G.I. Joe to play a very big role in Sega CD Summer

It just kind of happened.

By 1994, the action figure line was on life support, waning in popularity as other toys like Power Rangers captured the hearts and minds of America's kids.

The Joes were an essential piece of my childhood through the early '90s, part of a triple bill that included video games and Star Wars

As the book developed, filled with little scraps of things I liked when I was a kid, Duke and company ended up getting more than a few mentions. G.I. Joe Face Camouflage. Eco-Warriors. D.E.F. Lobotomaxx. Fatal Fluffies. That awful purple-and-yellow version of Dr. Mindbender. 

The decline of G.I. Joe coincided with the resurgence of Star Wars. My interests moved beyond the military-themed action figures and fully embraced lightsabers and the Millennium Falcon.

By 1994, the Joes just didn't have much left in the tank. The line had gotten too far away from its military roots. Even some of their more science-fictiony stuff still fit the world, but things simply got too dumb in the last years of the original line.

While Tiger Force and Python Patrol were clearly ways to reuse old molds and make something "new," constant reissues of existing characters plagued the line's later years. Ninjas took over with Ninja Force and then Shadow Ninjas. Star Brigade launched the Joes into space while...well...Mega Marines also existed.

For Tommy, the slow decline of the Joe line mirrors his slow ascension toward young adulthood. 

I have a feeling adult Tommy would dig the Classified Series Alley Viper


Thursday, October 13, 2022

Silpheed and AH-3 Thunderstrike

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the seventh entry in the Sega Tote Series

My personal Sega CD collection wasn't as large as Tommy's (whose grew to 20 games, he reflects in the book's final chapter). I had eleven of them.

Silpheed and AH-3 Thunderstrike were among them. Silpheed was a Christmas gift. I'm not great at shooters, but I thought this was pretty cool. AH-3 Thunderstrike (called Thunderhawk outside of North America, apparently) may have been the best Sega CD game I owned. Given that I actually liked Rebel Assault, that may not mean much to you.

The case for Silpheed on the Sega CD

Putting in Silpheed was remarkable. I can still remember the opening cinematic and how cool it was that the game featured real voiceover and radio chatter. 

The game looked phenomenal for its time, with polygonal ships over pre-rendered backgrounds. The background is essentially a video clip that your starfighter is flying over. When I first got the system, I didn't realize that and didn't care. Now, if you know the trick, maybe it looks less impressive. I still think it looks good.

Hardcore fans of shooters probably won't find much to recommend from the game because it's a pretty routine shooter with some OK weapon upgrades and enemies. I say it's a solid game overall that may not do anything particularly groundbreaking but manages to look good, sound good, and play competently. 

Is that a ringing endorsement? For a platform that struggled with "competent games" at times, you bet it is.

The case of AH-3 Thunderstrike for the Sega CD

I snagged AH-3 Thunderstrike from the bargain bin at Sears, which almost always seemed to have Sega CD games on clearance (most of their other games were way, way overpriced). 

I definitely got my money's worth.

Developed by Core Design and published by JVC for the Sega CD, Thunderstrike reminded me of a 3D version of one of the games from EA's Strike series. A briefing with voiceover preceded each mission to go over the terrain and map out the objectives.

Once the level started, you had a good deal of freedom to move around the map and blow stuff up. The weapons were satisfying to use, explosions looked good and felt even better, and the music soundtrack absolutely rocked. 

Thunderstrike was one of the few games that truly brought out the best of the Sega CD. The graphics were good, the sound great, and the gameplay top notch. If more developers treated the platform with such care, maybe we would've been spared all the slapped-together Genesis ports and seemingly endless amounts of full-motion video games that plagued the system.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Meet the Characters: Christy Matthewson, Marty Hoover, and Jimmy Effin' Jefferson

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the final entry in my Meet the Characters Series

I'll round out my look at the different characters of Sega CD Summer with three from the supporting cast. Each plays an important role in the novel, even if they don't necessarily get a whole lot of "screen" time.

Christy Matthewson is featured the most of the three. She shares a few scenes with Tommy. A talented athlete, Christy has a cannon for an arm and is the fastest player on the team. She hits for average and power as well and has no trouble keeping up with the boys. She plays shortstop, the most challenging position in the infield, and also pitches.

As Tommy is twelve years old and approaching adolescence, he's developed a little bit of a crush on Christy. It's strange for him because they've spent years together playing baseball and occasionally hanging out. He tries to navigate these strange waters during the summer.

Christy herself is intelligent and quick-witted. While no real romantic subplot exists in the book, her relationship with Tommy is about as close as things come. She's fond of calling him "Clopper" because of his unorthodox (and loud) running style.

Late in the book--right before the all-important baseball tournament--something happens to Christy that forces a lineup change, providing yet another obstacle for Tommy and his team, Williamsburg Red.

Marty Hoover is another of Tommy's teammates. He primarily plays third base, although he mans shortstop when Christy pitches. A good kid who tries hard, Marty can never do enough to please Swearin' Sammy Reed.

Seriously, Marty could go five-for-five with four home runs and nine RBIs, and Swearin' Sammy would bring up the one at-bat in which he didn't go yard. There's just something about Marty, through no fault of his own, that rubs the coach the wrong way.

It doesn't help that Marty consistently fails to get in front of groundballs during practices, something that drives Swearin' Sammy absolutely insane. He insists Hoover is named after a vacuum cleaner (he is not) and trots out one of his favorite baseball axioms: "You're ten times bigger than that ball! That ball can't hurt you!"

The final player I'll introduce you to is Jimmy Jefferson.

When I played youth baseball, every player had to play at least an inning in the field and get one at-bat. It was that way from the Pee Wee level all the way up through Majors. And some players just weren't as talented as the others.

This didn't mean they shouldn't be allowed to play ball, of course, and that's why the rule existed. Coaches who failed to make sure all their players appeared in the game would be forced to forfeit.

Jimmy Jefferson, often called "Jimmy Effin' Jefferson" by Swearin' Sammy, was the last kid on the bench. He showed up at every practice, did all the drills, and worked as hard as anyone. It's just that he wasn't very good at anything. He had a noodle arm and poor hand-eye coordination, making him a liability in the field and at the plate.

Coaches usually tried to hide Jimmy in right field. Because most hitters were right-handed and tended to pull the ball to left field, putting him in right reduced his chances of having to make a play. You also hoped he didn't have to step up to the plate at a key moment because he would probably strike out.

The thing that's great about players like Jimmy Effin' Jefferson is that sometimes they surprise you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

NHL '94 on the Sega CD

NHL '94 on the Sega CD
Sega CD Summer is out! This is the sixth entry in the Sega Tote Series

Sega CD games were often just Sega Genesis ports with "enhancements" like video clips and better music. There weren't many cases in which developers used the system to its full potential.

NHL '94 certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel. Effectively, it's the Genesis version of the game with some video clips, better sound, smoother animations, and voiceover intros from Ron Barr from EA Sports. 

It had a rockin' opening.

A lot of gamers of a certain age have fond memories of NHL '94, and for good reason. The game is incredibly fast and fun. The controls are spot on. It has great music and atmosphere. It's just a fun time, even for gamers who aren't hockey fans.

There are few things more satisfying than connecting on a one-timer, pushing one past the goalie, and hearing that siren go off.

Well, except for maybe the roar of the crowd after a check sent an opposing player over the boards.

This was, without a doubt, one of my favorite Sega CD games. My brother and I played this all the time, always using the St. Louis Blues to embarrass the CPU. Brett Hull's slapshot could kill a man.

People always talk about Jeremy Roenick in this game, and for good reason, but the Blues were our team of choice. I loved the organist's rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In," which played during faceoffs during home games.

While the gameplay was perfect, the game itself was not. NHL '94 didn't have a season mode. You could play individual games or the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's all you had. I'm actually surprised my brother and I didn't map out a full season of exhibition games, keep records and cumulative stats, and then end things with a run toward the Cup.

On the other hand, the game didn't have fighting as some of its NHLPA series predecessors did.

NHL '96 for the Sega Genesis

I eventually upgraded to NHL '96 a little later. This was another great hockey game, although it's not as iconic as its '94 counterpart. This version has fighting, which you can switch off. Other features lacking from its predecessor include a full season mode with saves via battery backup and the ability to create players.

Honestly, you really couldn't go wrong with much of anything EA Sports released during the 16-bit era in the mid-90s. The NBA Live series featured some fantastic gameplay, the Madden series had its share of iconic games, College Football USA '96 was incredible, and the Triple Play Baseball series had its moments.

They all played better on the Sega Genesis, of course.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Meet the Characters: Andy and Kyle

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the sixth entry in my Meet the Characters Series

A kid isn't complete without a couple best buds, and Tommy Guggenbiller has two great ones in Andy Estridge and Kyle Watley.

All three are nerds and live in the Williamsburg/Webster area in Wayne County. In the 1990s, "nerd" culture wasn't quite as widely accepted as it is today. At one point, Tommy calls their shared interests in things like video games and Star Wars a kind of "scarlet letter." 

Andy is probably the "edgiest" of the three, willing to take a few risks here and there. He's the kind of friend to somehow "acquire" a copy of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and hide it from his mother. Or play Mortal Kombat despite his mom's clear distaste in how the game delights in bloody violence.

Andy goes to church almost every Sunday at the behest of his mother, the loving but stern Mrs. Estridge. She's always interested in what he and his friends are doing, although she's never shy about voicing her disapproval and always reprimands Andy and company if she hears a swear word, an admonishment that typically results in Andy saying, "Sorry, Mom," and moving right along until the next time he mutters a forbidden word.

Probably the most skilled gamer of the three, Andy can hold his own in Contra: Hard Corps or Castlevania: Bloodlines and is virtually unbeatable at fighting games. At one point in the book, he has no trouble breezing through the Genesis version of Jurassic Park, a frustrating platformer with respawning enemies and imprecise controls.

For one week every summer, Andy attends an out-of-town church camp. He doesn't care for the music, the activities, or the forced fellowship. He does, however, enjoy the food. The smallest in stature among the three friends, he's a crafty, scrappy kid who doesn't take kindly to anyone who would poke fun at Tommy or Kyle.

Kyle, the glasses-wearing, geekiest member of the trio, is normally quiet and reserved. Don't be fooled, though, because the heart of a fighter beats within him. The second-most talented gamer among the three friends, Kyle's analytical approach to fighting games can frustrate even Andy, who must really work to beat him.

Fiercely loyal to his buddies, he takes particular exception to how Ryan Davis treats them and often criticizes Tommy for looking past some of his former friend's worst tendencies. Not the most creative of the three, he often lets Andy and Kyle influence him. The good news: they never steer him wrong.

He is a savant at Doom, besting much older players in the burgeoning online PC gaming scene. Lightning-fast reflexes and an analytical playstyle allow him to quickly diagnose a foe's approach and formulate the best way to take them down.

Like Andy, he is a math whiz.

Kyle is well read and extremely polite. He shows little aggression in real life, although he can become highly agitated when someone belittles his friends. A hard worker and dedicated Star Wars fan, Kyle's devotion to Andy and Kyle is absolutely unbreakable.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Jurassic Park in Sega CD Summer

The cover for Jurassic Park on the Sega CD
Sega CD Summer is out! This is the fifth entry in the Sega Tote Series

The Sega Genesis version of Jurassic Park features prominently in Chapter 17 of Sega CD Summer. Tommy's friend Andy breezes his way through the 16-bit platformer.

I didn't have the Genesis version of the game, although I rented it a couple times. I thought the graphics were good and the cutscenes set the mood. You could play as Dr. Grant or a raptor, which was neat. The gameplay, however, was frustrating with respawning dinosaur enemies, ineffective weapons, and unclear goals within levels. Still, Jurassic Park was a big enough deal to feature prominently in the book.

One of Mr. Glad's pranks involves the movie and sets up a significant misadventure for Tommy and company. The characters make several JP references. The movie came out in 1993; the events of Sega CD Summer take place in 1994, when Jurassic Park was still top of mind. It was not, of course, a movie franchise at that point. There was no The Lost World: Jurassic Park or Camp Cretaceous or Jurassic World.

The video game landscape was significantly different in those days. Due to licensing deals or studio resources, the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo often ended up with entirely different games based on the same IP. Such was the case with Jurassic Park; while the Genesis got a platformer with digitized graphics, the Super Nintendo got a top-down adventure game that looked more cartoonish and played completely differently.

For the Sega CD, a version that does not feature in the book despite its Sega CD Summer title, Jurassic Park was more of a point-and-click adventure game, sort of a mixture between a LucasArts adventure game and something like Myst. You know the type of game: there's a door that needs a keycard but you have to find the keycard somewhere before you can open the door.

The game involved a lot of walking and exploration. My favorite part involved informational kiosks around the park that featured paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, who provided brief video segments about the different types of dinosaurs at the park. 

As a kid, the velociraptors really did freak me out. I never finished the game and didn't make it to the raptor cave. I did accidentally discover the "Node Jumper," a mode that let you watch all the videos or jump to any of the different levels. 

All in all, the 16-bit Jurassic Park games weren't terrific. It's actually surprising that the Sega CD version wasn't just the Genesis version with video clips and a CD-quality soundtrack, since that's what usually happened.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Meet the Characters: Mrs. Poole and Archnemesis Ryan Davis

Sega CD Summer is out! This is the fifth entry in my Meet the Characters Series

While Mr. James Glad is definitely an antagonist, he possesses little of the malice of Mrs. Poole and Archnemesis Ryan Davis, the banes of Tommy Guggenbiller's existence.

While Mr. Glad delights in weaseling his way out of tipping Tommy, Mrs. Loretta Poole lives for giving the poor paperboy the shaft. Although wealthy, she frequently skips out on her bill and is notoriously hard to catch during collection weeks. Let's just say it's no coincidence she's unavailable when the bill comes due.

She puts a "no soliciting" sign on her fence to discourage Tommy from dropping by. She makes him wait in the sweltering heat while she "goes to get her checkbook" and never comes back to the door. And she absolutely refuses to remember that "worthless" Benny Simmons is no longer the paperboy after Tommy takes over the route.

A tip from Mrs. Poole? Forget it.

She spends much of her time doting on her fearsome little Chihuahua, Mr. Barkerson. A ten-pound, shorthaired ball of aggression, Mr. Barkerson somehow has even more disdain for people than his master. He snarls and growls at anyone not named Mrs. Poole, although there was that one time he briefly let Tommy pet him.

Mrs. Poole's penchant for torturing Tommy isn't personal; she's not nice to anyone except Mr. Barkerson. 

It's an entirely different story for Ryan Davis, Tommy's ex-best friend. Tommy and Ryan spent a lot of their childhood together. They played video games all the time, went to each other's birthday parties, and starred on the same baseball team. 

For reasons unknown to Tommy, they had a falling out after ending up in different classrooms. Ryan became fast friends with Jeremy Radford, the new kid in town, and dropped Tommy faster than third-period French.

A fierce video game rivalry developed between the two, with Tommy choosing the Sega Genesis and Ryan going all-in on the Super Nintendo. Ryan's inflated sense of self-importance extended to Nintendo's 16-bit console, which he promoted with a reverence bordering on fanaticism (to be fair, Tommy loved his Genesis just as much).

Ryan made Tommy's life miserable, lording over him with SNES games like Street Fighter II and the Super Star Wars series. He took every opportunity to tell his former friend how great the Super Nintendo was and made it his mission in life to poke fun at Tommy's other friends, Kyle and Andy.

On the baseball field, Ryan is one of Wayne County's most talented players, boasting the area's best fastball and a powerful bat. During the events of Sega CD Summer, he ends up on a rival baseball team and serves as the book's main antagonist and Tommy's unconquerable adversary.

Basically, he's just a big jerk in that way burgeoning adolescents can be.

Perhaps Ryan became obsessed with becoming one of the popular kids in school and glommed onto Jeremy Radford. Perhaps his inflated opinion of himself led him down a narcissistic path. Perhaps his unvoiced insecurities turned him into a bully. 

Or perhaps he always was one.

Either way, he is Tommy's M. Bison or Shao Khan--the final boss to defeat before claiming ultimate victory.