Spend summer inside with these 8-bit and 16-bit sagas

Jul 14, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Shadowrun (1990, Sega Genesis)

While the SNES version is a fine game, the Sega Genesis version of the popular cyberpunk RPG is the one that you want. The post-apocalyptic soundtrack rendered through the console’s famous Yamaha YM2612 6-channel sound chip will chill you to the spine as you interrogate scumbags in dilapidated nightclubs while trying to solve the mystery of your brother’s murder. Along the way you’ll team up (for a price) with samurais (fighters), deckers (hackers), and shamans (magic users), and, most importantly, you’ll die. A lot. Whether you’re doing a courier Shadowrun for some lame-ass Johnson or hacking into the mainframe of the sinister Ares Corporation to steal data for sale on the black-market, you will become enraged by how easy it is to die.

There is a debug mode cheat for the game: At the title screen, press A, B, B, A, C, A, B. Start the game and go to “Save/Load Game.” However, should you use it, you’ll only cheat yourself.

This one can be a little pricy online so if you go the emulation route (Which is illegal. Shame on you.), you MUST NOT cheat with save states.

PRO TIP: The reset button is your friend. Use it whenever you die to reload your game data because, with each death, this game takes your money and you’ll fail your current Shadowrun and in so doing, incur the wrath of a heartless Johnson.

Vice Project: Doom (1991, NES)

Just look at the colored-pencil North American box art for this oft-forgotten masterpiece. It just doesn’t get any better than this. This game has it all. Side-scrolling action stages in which you use a laser whip (a laser whip!), driving stages, and first-person shooting stages a la Operation Wolf. Unlike some other ambitious multi-genre games of the era (I’m looking at you Bayou Billy! You shoeless river trash!), Vice Project Doom does it all well.

Clad in a blousy suede jacket and tight jeans, your character uncovers a conspiracy of unknown origin. The game’s story, told through Ninja Gaiden inspired cut-scenes that are never overlong or intrusive, will keep you riveted to your ivory-stained futon.

The game’s music, composed by Kiyoshi Yokoyama (Astyanax) will rock that can of Tecate from your hand and onto that pile of soiled towels in the corner.

PRO TIP: The last boss is a real pain. Don’t give up and use those grenades. If you’re really stuck, track down the May 1991 issues of Nintendo Power (Volume 24): p. 8-19.

The Immortal (1990, Sega Genesis)

Straight from the sicko who brought us Marble Madness, most gamers remember this curse-inducing gem by its Nintendo Entertainment System iteration. However, the Sega Genesis version is the superior experience. Sure the Genesis version has improved graphics and sound, but the most startling difference is the new death animations with added gore. One of Sega’s unspoken marketing tools during the console wars was their “open gore policy.” While Nintendo strove to make all-ages games with great results, Sega was unafraid to allow Immortal designer Will Harvey to present his unadulterated vision. You will eviscerate, decapitate, and halve goblins with your sword and staff and your character will in turn, be turned into a cloud of red mist before you can tell what’s happening.

Don’t let the title fool you. You are not immortal. This game is fit only for masochists of the lowest order. We’re getting pissed just thinking about this game, but that’s not a bad thing. The seemingly insurmountable challenge is as rewarding as it is cryptic. The Immortal’s trial-and-error mechanics may drive you to an online walkthrough. You must practice restraint. Should you complete this game without cheating you’re a goddamn Highlander as far as we’re concerned. It’s a kind of magic.

Also, this little honey can be found dirt cheap online and in your favorite retro game stores.

PRO TIP: Don’t smash your Sega Genesis controller while playing the Immortal. It may seem like the right thing to do at the time, but remember the name brand SEGA controllers isn’t cheap. Aside from that you’re on your own. Sorry, but we can’t put ourselves through this again. Never again!

Drakkhen (1991, SNES)

So you’re going to drop $60 plus on Elder Scrolls: Online? Were you aware that there’s an open-world RPG experience waiting just around the corner for about $1? “How can a game priced so low be good?” you ask. Well, that depends on your definition of good.

Drakkhen is features some of the most unique and ambitious graphics, sound design, and gameplay the SNES has to offer. Just listen to that slidin’ synth bass during the character creation screen. Does Elder Scrolls have giant dog heads that shoot lasers from their eyes? No. It does not.

A pioneer in the 3-D RPG playing field, Drakkhen is all about that atmosphere. We defy you to crawl through the bowels of the first castle without getting the creeps. The only atmosphere you’ll experience from Elder Scrolls is that of a Bethesda focus group. Pop this sucker in and before you know it the sun will go down and you’ll have no choice but to order a pizza and play until the sun rises again.

PRO TIP: The stars sure are pretty tonight. Look out! Lasers!

The Uninvited (1991)
Déjà Vu (1990)

These games are what point-and-click adventures are all about. Originally released for the Macintosh in 1980s as part of Apple’s MacVenture series, the games were ported to the NES in the early 1990s, featuring color graphics and some of the eeriest tunes ever to grace the console.

In The Uninvited, you’ll scour a haunted mansion for a missing sibling. Ghosts will rip your face off every three minutes or so until you find your bearings. Instead of showing the grizzly defacement you are treated to a brief sentence or two describing your grisly fate. Leaving the details of your demise up to the player’s imagination.

In Déjà Vu you play as an old queen dressed like Dick Tracy traipsing through every hard-boiled private eye cliché known to the Western world. You’ll also have your many deaths adroitly described by the games programmers just like The Uninvited. Also, it’s one of the few games of the era in which you use actual detective skills to solve a mystery.

Shadowgate seems to be the most popular Mindscape adventure, with last year’s PC remake a modest success, however, we prefer these two games. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia. We can remember riding bikes to the video store and picking these up for slumber party entertainment. Or perhaps it’s that these games are still genuinely creepy.

PRO TIP: For you younger gamers, please don’t use an online walkthrough. The charm of these two gems is their reliance on dropping you in the middle of nowhere without any indication of what you’re supposed to do. With a walkthrough each game will last about five minutes.

Note: Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata died July 11 at the age of 55. A true video game innovator, Iwata’s credits include Super Smash Brothers, Kirby’s Adventure and Balloon Fight. Those are all well-known masterpieces unfit for a listicle of this caliber. As a tribute, please consider playing some of the lesser known titles brought to life in part by Mr. Iwata’s touch, such as The Adventures of Lolo and Air Fortress (1989, NES).