Thursday, 26 April 2018

Sports Jam (Dreamcast)

You'd think, even as late as 2001, something with the mainstream appeal of a sports game would still be guaranteed to get a worldwide release on the Dreamcast, but Sports Jam oddly never made it to european shores. Though if you look at it another way, it makes more sense: like the PS Vita is now, by 2001, the Dreamcast was a niche console, and most people still buying games for it were arcade nerds and anime fans, and with the arcade scene in the K at least being so poor, they would have had no prior knowledge of this game, nor would they be naturally inclined to give a sports game a chance. And from the other side of it, Sports Jam is such an oddity of a sports game, that would have put off a lot of mainstream players anyway.

What it is is a variant on a format as old as time: it's a Track and Field-type game, in which you play various short events, trying to get the fastest time or the highest score. The game's big hook, though, is that rather than the traditional athletic events, you're instead playing various minigames based on isolated aspects of sports that would ordinarily have their own videogames. For example, there's two American football games, one where you're running and bashing down sandbags to score a touchdown, and another that relies on perfect timing to kick a field goal. There's also games representing aspects of tennis, golf, basketball, bicycle racing, soccer, baseball and ice hockey.

There's a few different modes to pick from: DC Original and Arcade are both pretty much the same: you play four events, each picked as you go. The difficulty of the events depends on how late in the game you're playing them, and this is a real bit of strategy you should pay attention to: some games are easy enough whenever you play them, some are near-impossible on later levels, but incredibly simple early on. There's also a mode called Your Original, in which you play all twelve events, choosing their order before you play. It seems like a strange omission to me that there's no mode in which you play a single event, or even a practice mode, but it's no big deal, I guess.

Whether you like this game pretty much lies entirely on how much you like multi-event sports games. If you don't at all, it's probably not going to do anything to change your mind. But if you do, then it's an excellent example of one, with varied and fun events, as well as the kind of lavish presentation and production values you'd expect from a SEGA arcade game of this era. Like I said earlier, though, its not a surprise that it fell through the gaps and got forgotten.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Curiosities Vol. 14 - SEGA Saturn Sample Program Ver. 1.00

So, this interesting piece of history was recently found and released by someone over at the forums. It is as the title suggests: a sample program for the Saturn that shows various different graphical tricks it can do. It starts with a menu featuring items such as "Scroll Sample", "Sprite Sample", and so on, and most of them have several options inside them.

First up is Scroll Sample, which lets you see various kinds of scrolling, obviously. You can have a bunch of random garbage scrolling across the screen, numerous blocks of letters scrolling around in layers, a kind of distorted blob moving over a picture of sonic and tails, and so on. The most interesting part of this menu is the option that has a seemingly infinite field of textured cubes floating in a heavenly white background.

Next there's Sprite Sample, which as a little more interactivity. In here, there are options that let you spin various simple shapes around, you can move an Opa Opa sprite around to see how the Saturn handles shadows, you can distort and warp an enemy sprite from Fantasy Zone, and you can spin and rotate a little polygon gem thing. Oh, and look at some spinning cubes demonstrating different kinds of shading the Saturn can do, too.

Window Sample is probably the least interesting menu, as it just lets you see sprites moving inside transparent windows, so we'll move straight on to Game Sample, which is a simple little 2D shooting game where you avoid bullets and shoot red triangles and sonic sprites for points. Nothing spectacular, obviously, but it is a thing that exists, at least. It's just a sample, showing that the Saturn can indeed keep track of things and allow players to control objects and generally all the bare minimum things expected of a games console.

Finally, there's the enigmatically named 2/14 Demo (which is presumably a demo, made on the fourteenth of February). This shows a cube thing with SEGA-related animated textures on each side, floating above a magic carpet, with mountains in the background. It's all very ~aesthetic~.

Obviously, something like this isn't going to provide more than a few minutes of entertainment for anyone, but of course that was never its purpose. It is interesting to see these kinds of primordial test programs from consoles' development cycles, though. Even though they're only a couple of decades old, there's something about them that feels immeasurably ancient and secret. Sorry if this is a bit of a lacklustre post, but I've been slightly unwell recently and I just didn't want to go too long without posting. I'm mostly better now, though, so there'll be a proper post in a few days.