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MODE and Saturn: What to Play First?

MODE and Saturn: What to Play First?

Posted by Kris Randazzo on Sep 3rd 2020

Deciding which games to play first with MODE

The upcoming release of TerraOnion’s MODE for Sega Saturn and Dreamcast here at Stone Age Gamer has certainly put those platforms on my mind a lot of late. On one hand, I’m afraid that once I get the things installed in my consoles I’ll be drowning in choice and unable to decide what to play, which is sometimes what happens to me when I turn on my EverDrive N8 or FXPAK. On the other hand, maybe this is a prime opportunity for some more directed gameplay.

I’m thinking I might try to do a little curating before MODE invades my home. There are tons of Saturn games I haven’t spent much time with over the years that I'd love to, but for whatever reason whenever I turn on my Saturn I just wind up playing NiGHTS for a few minutes or blowing through a couple stages of Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei.

Head for Saturn

I feel like having my library accessible to me without the inherent stress of taking my Saturn discs out of their boxes will help me actually spend time exploring more of what the platform has to offer. Since Saturn stuff has shot up in value so much over the years, I have this weird bug stuck in my head that I need to be super extra careful with my games, and that often prevents me from taking the time to actually play them. I know it’s ridiculous, but so am I.

So my plan right now is to hit 5 games at a time once MODE hits. I want to start with Saturn because Dreamcast, while also an amazing system, is a little easier for me to decide what games to play on.

The Saturn’s library really is insane. When it came out, I was such a die hard Nintendo goon that I never really gave the platform the time of day. Working at FuncoLand changed a lot of that for me, and I eventually wound up with a very nice Saturn collection on my hands. As a result, deciding on the first 5 games to load up into MODE was really tough. I went with a mix of different genres, and looking at the set I’ve come up with makes me very excited. Let’s dive in.

Burning Rangers

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played the first level of this game. Okay, maybe I can. It’s probably somewhere around 7 or 8, and each time I do, it’s with the intent of playing the rest of it when I’m done. There’s always been something else to get in the way though, including the fact that my Saturn’s internal battery is now shot and saving any sort of in game progress would involve me getting that fixed. But since my plan is to send my console in to have MODE installed (because I’m way too much of a chicken to actually do the install myself) I hope to have a fully functioning Saturn with the ability to save when all is said and done.

Back to Burning Rangers, man this is such a cool game. It’s very anime, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when it’s anime fire fighting squad with jetpacks and stuff! How great is that?

While this era of gaming has always rubbed me the wrong way, Burning Rangers isn’t a terribly unattractive game. In fact, it’s not all that difficult to look at all, which is really saying something for this generation.

I’ve never been very good at this game either, which is something else I hope to remedy by really sitting down and putting the time into learning how to play it right. I’m sure there’s a completely bananas storyline to follow with all sorts of melodrama to enjoy, and I remember thinking the voice acting was some pretty quality stuff at the time, but it’s been years so I don’t know what to realistically expect.

This was the first game that came to mind when I thought of which Saturn games I want to finally really play. It exemplifies the unique appeal of the platform for me, and it’s going to be a great place to start. Hopefully it’s as good a time as I think it is.

X-Men vs. Street Fighter

When this game hit Saturn I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had played it in arcades a couple of times and my mind was sufficiently blown. I loved the art direction in X-Men: Children of the Atom, and when they applied it to Street Fighter in the original Alpha I was hooked. Then they mashed the two of them together (and added Gambit, my favorite X-Man at the time) and it was like they made a game specifically for me.

So when I went to my friend Mike’s house one day and he had an arcade perfect version playing on his Saturn, I needed to know more.

The reason I hadn’t heard of this particular home port before was because I had a tendency to ignore the import market at the time, and this was indeed a Japanese Saturn game. It used this wacky 4MB cartridge that you had to plug in to make the game run, which made actually playing it a bit complex on our American Saturn consoles.

Since none of us had our systems modded for import play back then, we used a special cartridge that allowed our systems to play import games. For a regular game, you’d just plug this thing in and let the games load like normal, but thanks to X-Men vs. Street Fighter requiring the use of the additional 4MB cart, loading the game up involved a bit of trickery.

First, you’d have to put the disc in without closing the lid and insert the import cartridge thingy. Then once it registered the cart, you’d close the lid and wait for it to be ready to actually load up the game. Once you pressed the button to make it load, you’d have a brief window where the screen went black to take out the import cart and insert the 4MB one in its place. The timing was kind of tricky and if you messed it up you’d have to start all over again. I eventually got it down to a science, but it took a while and even then I would sometimes mess up.

The fact of the matter was, If I wanted to play this game, it was going to require a lot more effort than I usually like to put into my gaming, but boy was it ever worth it.

I haven’t touched the Saturn version of this game, or really any version of this game in a very, very long time. I put a ton of time into it back in the day though, so I’m very excited to jump back in. The prospect of being able to play this one without having to do all that wacky cart swapping makes me very happy. Regardless of how much better Capcom’s vs. titles got from here, X-Men vs. Street Fighter has always felt really good to play, and it’s just the kind of distraction that will hit the spot these days.

Panzer Dragoon Saga

X-Men vs. Street Fighter probably won’t keep me busy for very long. A couple of hours tops. So on the FAR opposite side of that spectrum comes Panzer Dragoon Saga, a game I bought way back in 1998 and never put more than a half hour into. Because I’m a jackass.

I think 1998 was when I actually got my Saturn at FuncoLand. We were phasing out carrying the units, so I jumped on the opportunity to grab a couple consoles and a boatload of games I was interested in at some very reasonable prices. I was a young Assistant Manager living at home with my parents, not going to college, with no bills to pay, making more money than I knew what to do with. Blowing a bunch of cash on a Saturn seemed like a good idea at the time.

I fell in love with Panzer Dragoon when the Saturn launched. I fell way harder for Panzer Dragoon II: Zwei when I played it at a friend’s house years later because holy crow is that game amazing. When Saga came out, playing a 4 CD Panzer Dragoon RPG seemed like the best of all possible ideas, but I never actually got into it, which I regret.

This game’s mythology is so cool, and the feeling I get when I watch the opening cinematic is a very specific flavor of nostalgia. It reminds me of watching old anime like Vampire Hunter D or something. Not that the presentation is all that similar, but the sort of low fi sound gives me the same general vibe.

The little I’ve played of this game I’ve loved, though I always felt like I was in way over my head. They were clearly teaching me what to do, but none of it was sticking. I can’t help but feel that if I were to really try to get my head wrapped around the game today that I’d be able to get the hang of it and appreciate why so many people hold this one in such high regard.

Astal

There are several 2D action platformers I want to dive into on Saturn. I’ve always wanted to mess with the Bug games, and Clockwork Knight is supposed to be pretty cool too. The whole 2.5D thing that was happening during the 32/64 bit era was such an underutilized gameplay style, and really that’s what I wanted more of back then. 3D games are cool, but I wanted to see what these platforms could do for 2D games, and one of the most intriguing examples of that for me has always been Astal.

I don’t know much about this game. I got my copy pretty recently actually, and I’ve never actually played it. I bought it with the intention of finding time to spend with the thing, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, and that’s something I’m looking forward to fixing with MODE.

The look and sound of this game is such a perfect encapsulation of the kinds of games I wanted to see with the advent of the CD-ROM!

Like many people my age, I remember when CD-ROM technology came around and seeing stuff like the Philips CD-i infomercial on Sunday mornings made me very excited for the future of my hobby. But the focus for most developers was on making actual 3D games, so 2D platformers of any variety were few and far between.

Astal looks awesome, and even though I’ve read some mixed reviews on it, I think I’m going to like it. Its anime cutscenes, gorgeous sprite work, and very 90s soundtrack are undeniably appealing.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

It’s been way too long since I’ve played Symphony of the Night through to conclusion. I keep meaning to go back to it, but after the Castlevania Anniversary Collection released on Switch, I kept crossing my fingers that Konami would actually put SotN on Switch at some point too, and I'd just play it there. After all, all the games that followed up SotN’s style were on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. Having the game that really kicked off the Castlevania’s contribution to the Metroidvania moniker on a Nintendo platform after all these years (especially considering stuff like Final Fantasy VII and Night Trap which supposedly would never make it to Nintendo’s consoles is on Switch now) just makes too much sense.

But MODE affords me the opportunity to play Symphony in a way that I never have before, on Sega Saturn!

Symphony was the reason I bought a PlayStation, and it’s still one of my favorite games of all time. The Saturn version has always eluded me though, and I’m positively itching to finally play it myself.

I’ve seen the comparison videos and I know the game isn’t perfect. It’s got all sorts of technical issues with slowdown and many of the game’s memorable visual effects aren’t up to their PlayStation counterpart’s standards, but it also has some unique items, areas, enemies, and you can play as Maria. An opportunity to play one of my favorites in a new way, even if it’s an inferior one, is something I can’t pass up.

So that’s where I want to start with MODE, but there’s clearly so very much more to get through. What about you? What are the first games you’ll boot up on your MODE?