Battle of the Backlog Episode 2: I’ll Get You Next Time, Gadget!

Not my pile of shame, but not far off.

Not my pile of shame, but not far off.

One man, Harry Nezumi — some say brave, others foolish — stands against his backlog. With but five months between now and a move some 9,000 kms from home, does he have what it takes to complete all the outstanding games in his collection? Follow his quest, his Sisyphean toil, here on Sega Addicts as he tackles one hundred and seven games over twenty weeks. The journey will not be easy, the day grows dark and the hour late. Yet there is hope. With the campaign entering its second week, can Marshal Harry repeat last week’s successes? Click below to find out.

Completed Titles: Virtua Racing (Sat); Virtua Fighter Remix (Sat); Capcom Fighting Jam (PS2); King of Fighters ’95 (PS2/Sat); Sega Extreme Sports (DC); Sega Touring Car (Sat).
Failures: Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City (360).

Even Napoleon lost battles and, today, a mere two weeks in, I must concede my first defeat. Sure, I ploughed through so many arcade games I thought my fingers were going to fall off, but Operation Raccoon City did not get finished this week. Fear not, it’s only a tactical withdrawal and I will head back into the fray. I had far more success with the other six titles I chose to play, though their lack of quality was clearly evident. In truth, Sega Extreme Sports surprised me with its poverty whilst neither King of the Fighters ’95 or Capcom Fighting Jam were the anticipated horror show. Sega Touring Car, I’m afraid to say, was exactly as expected. In its defence, though it shot for the stars and never made it off the launchpad, its bold dreams are at least laudable. No such assessment can be made of Sega Extreme Sports. Amongst it all was Virtua Racing, a title equally blessed and cursed. Blessed, by how good a game the arcade original was, and how much effort went into its single player mode; cursed, by the shoddy port Time Warner Interactive gave us. The highlights this week were only relative — the game of the week was effectively chosen by default — and I am sorely looking forward to playing some better games soon.

Game of the Week: Virtua Racing (Sat).
Nightmare of the Week: Sega Extreme Sports (DC).

Six Victories! (Capcom Fighting Jam not pictured)

Six Victories! (Capcom Fighting Jam not pictured)

Sega Touring Car (Sat) — Everything is in place for a good, though not classic, racing game. The impression of speed, as with other Model 2 racing conversions, is wonderful and the car models are up to standard, though not quite as good as Sega Rally’s. Pop-in is visible, but barely so, and certainly nowhere near as egregious as Daytona USA’s. Even the sound is suitably fast paced with far more variety than ManxTT’s two godforsaken repetitive tracks. All the ingredients are there, but play this back-to-back with Sega Rally, and challenge a layman to pick which title came earlier in the Saturn’s life and they would never believe the truth. ‘Of course it’s Touring Car’, they’ll say; ‘It’s barely controllable!’, they’ll qualify. The digital controls are numb while the 3D pad sensitivity is like that of an over-caffeinated cat on an electric fence. Perhaps, with a racing wheel and a lot of patience, some gameplay substance that matches the presentation’s style can be found. Because somewhere, underneath it all, there’s an actual racing game trying to get out. 2/5

Virtua Fighter Remix (Sat) — Virtua Fighter’s saving grace was its gameplay, genuine arcade accuracy in the areas that count can cover a multitude of sins. Remix seeks to right the not-so-important wrongs, which somehow seemed major when compared to the competition on the Playstation. The gameplay remains rock-solid and faithful to the arcade experience, but now texture mapping and high poly models have been added to a glitch free experience. It is undoubtedly the best version of the original Virtua Fighter on home console and the pointless, though pleasing, addition of the CG Portraits just adds value to the package (and was, I hasten to add, genuinely impressive at the time). To think what might have been were this the launch title. 3/5

Capcom Fighting Jam (PS2) — This is a design curiosity in every way. The beautiful backgrounds clash with the comparatively low-res sprites, serving as a metaphor for how ill-fitting some aspects of this title seem to be. It’s a Capcom mash-up fighter which emphasizes, like Marvel vs Capcom, speed and flamboyance ahead of technical aspects. Yet, in combining not just characters but game mechanics, Capcom Fighting Jam hands a bizarre advantage to the Street Fighter III characters. They keep their parry skills and, consequently, the frontal assault is viable to them in a way it is not for the rest of the roster. Imagine how game breaking it would be if half of all Street Fighter IV characters suddenly could not perform a focus attack. That is Capcom Fighting Jam. It is an entertaining game and an interesting concept, with some obscure members of the Capcom pantheon being given some time in the spotlight, but the balance issues, which are clear even at low levels, really stop this from being anything more than a curio to Capcom fans. 3/5

Virtua Racing (Sat) — It’s hard to make a bad Virtua Racing game, the fundamentals are so strong, and this is by no means a bad game, but it could have been so much more. The extra tracks and cars are very welcome and, when combined with the excellent career mode (called ‘Grand Prix’) really extend longevity for what would otherwise be no more than 10 minutes of entertainment. Nevertheless, Virtua Fighter: Remix neatly underlines how poor a port this is many respects. Both came out in 1995, both are based upon Sega’s Model 1 technology (notably less powerful than the Saturn itself), yet Virtua Racing looks more like the original, unreconstructed, launch-era Virtua Fighter. The clinical lines of early-3D games look superb when handled correctly — the Sega Ages 2500 release of this title is a great example — yet here we have low-res, low-poly fuzziness. This is in spite of the arcade-accurate absence of texture mapping. All told Saturn Virtua Racing’s greatest achievement is making the 32X look good; quite the feat. This should have been the definitive home version, combining arcade thrills with a comparatively involved single-player mode. Some 22 years later, we’re still waiting. 3/5

Sega Extreme Sports (DC) — This is undoubtedly a bastard child of its time. The somewhat laughable real world ‘X-Games’ and the success of the Tony Hawks skating games carry the blame for this tail-coat riding rubbish. That it takes place to the kind of ‘funky’ (jacket quote) music only available in the late-’90s with characters who look like rejects from a Sum41 audition only adds insult to injury. Graphically it’s nothing special, with bizarre texture-warping occurring throughout really hinting at the lack of care the title received. However, biggest let down is the variety, the game trumpets its inclusion of six sports, yet five of them are variations on racing and less mechanically distinct than the sailing and flight sections in Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. It is dull, unimaginative fare and seeks to follow in all areas rather than lead. Longevity is a serious issue with few courses, little mechanical depth and low difficulty. There is nothing that makes this game stand out and, sadder yet, is that it never made any attempt to do so. It aimed for average and came up short and is barely a shadow in comparison to the then four-year-old Athlete Kings. 2/5

King of Fighters ’95 (Sat/PS2) — As the year in the title would suggest, it’s evolution rather than revolution for King of the Fighters. This iteration improves upon the original in every way. The difficulty curve is far smoother, the graphics have improved with a lot of animation (necessitating one of only two ROM carts produced for the Saturn), there are some wonderfully alive backgrounds and more options for team customization. It’s still, undoubtedly, a far more rigid and slower paced game than the Capcom titles of the era and it’s not hard to see why SNK played second-fiddle here in terms of mindshare and arcade revenue. Nevertheless, this is where the King of the Fighters series starts in terms of gameplay and entertainment. 3/5

Next Time, on Battle of the Backlog...

Next Time, on Battle of the Backlog…