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Retro Recon – The Sega Saturn, Part I
As the non-esteemed creator of the wildly unpopular The Save Files video series, it always amazes me that I get a lot of requests. Most of these, I can eventually fulfill – the series is based on my memories, and I’ve played a LOT of video games over the years. But there are some games and systems I simply can’t do an episode of The Save Files on – if I’ve never played them, I can’t possibly have any memories of them. This bothers me, because these games and systems still had an impact on gaming in at least some small way, and that’s worth exploring, even if they didn’t have any impact on me at all.
And then yesterday, while I perused my locally-owned retro game store, I spied a Sega Saturn system available for purchase. I’ve wanted to get one for a while, as it’s one of the few major consoles I’ve never owned, but I always put it off. But this time I said “the hell with it” and plunked down the cash to pick one up and bought a few games as well. And as I was driving home, I realized that exploring retro games I have no memories of could have just as much value as the nostalgia of those games I already know and love (or hate).
And so begins a new article series, Retro Recon, gathering intel on games and systems I know nothing about. And I may do some Let’s Play videos of these games and systems in the future, but for now, we’re going to take a look at the Sega Saturn.
Right away you know this thing isn’t messing around. This sleek little black box sits on my coffee table, expectantly waiting for me to finish my dinner and start hooking it up. There’s some momentary confusion when the AV connector port appears to have ten holes, while the actual plug only has three prongs. But I shrug and plug it in anyway. Sometimes you’ve just got to be happy you can even get your prong in the hole. Yes, I went there.
Next to the AV port is a port mysteriously labeled “Communication Connector”. I erroneously wonder if the Saturn was capable of internet connection before realizing that that presumption is preposterous – the Saturn came out in 1995, and while the internet was around back then, game systems didn’t start connecting to the internet until the next console generation. But a trip to wikipedia and SegaRetro.org reveals that there was indeed a modem available for the silly thing. I try to imagine connecting to AOL through a Sega Saturn’s 28.8 modem and my parietal lobe starts to melt.
There’s also a door on the other side, so I unlatch it and peer inside. There’s a good amount of space, and a long thin connector on the other end, so one wonders if it was meant for a small graphics card or extra RAM, but again Wikipedia provides enlightenment; you could insert an MPEG adapter in there, and your Saturn would then have the ability to play Video CD’s, the precursor to DVD’s.
Extra RAM could be attached to the cartridge slot in the top of the console, which is confusing, as upon seeing it, I thought it was intended to provide backwards compatibility for Sega Genesis games. But while that might be a no-brainer today (Isn’t that right, Microsoft and Sony? Oh, wait), apparently starting the Saturn off with a large selection of available Genesis games never occurred to Sega. Instead, the cartridge slot is meant for extra RAM or ROM cartridges for certain games.
The controller is also a wee bit perplexing. That D-pad looks like it’s going to be trouble – why didn’t they just go with the standard cross shape that worked so well for the Genesis? But as it turns out, I’ve bought the first model Saturn, which naturally came with a first model controller. Apparently Sega was experimenting with D-pad shapes, and when the baboons they were testing them on took turns shitting all over the controllers, Sega thought that was somehow a sign of approval.
Fortunately, Sega realized their error and would later make a controller with a more conventional cross-shaped D-pad, as well as a “3D Pad” which would feature an analog stick in addition to a D-pad. I made a mental note – I need to get my hands on one of those.
I plug everything in, and start up the system without the disc in it at first – I want to see what it’ll do. First it asks me for the date and time, and I obediently set them. Then the Sega Saturn logo appears, and then we’re onboard what seems to be a future stereo flying through space. I mess around with the buttons and settings for a bit – not sure what the hell CD-G channels are supposed to be set to, but I leave it as default, just in case.
But enough about the system! Let’s take a look at those games I bought with the system; Die Hard Trilogy, Shellshock, NHL All-Star Hockey, and Virtual Hydlide. Yes, these were the most interesting options available to me – whether this means my local retro game store’s selection is pathetic is for you to decide.