The Game Gear Directory: (Sh-Si)

Watch out for the Shaq attack!

Shaq Fu (1995)

It's a legendary kusoge on 16-bit systems, but I have to admit that elements of this Game Gear port are genuinely impressive. The sprites don't look great in stills (check out Shaq's face, amazing), but in motion they work, and animate significantly better than pretty much any other Game Gear fighting game I've had the misfortune of playing (Fatal Fury excepted). Executing moves seems to be reasonably achieveable, though your inputs sometimes feel like they get eaten by the game trying to keep up with its own visuals. There's some sprite flicker but mostly it looks pretty good. Unfortunately I would struggle to suggest that it plays particularly well at all, but it's definitely a cut above the Mortal Kombat/Primal Rage level of effort. Even on Easy mode I struggled against every opponent I tried on the interesting and adorable Story Mode map, but there may be nuance I'm just not familiar with. Not good, but deserving of recognition because it's clear that they tried. **

Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya (1994)

Ooh, this is a bit good. An impressive game in the vein of Fire Emblem, and I'm sure a lot of people are now mad at me for making that comparison because Shining Force has some lineage elsewhere, or something, but I'm afraid I can only cover these games based on my own experience and also it is exactly the same as Fire Emblem so piss off. You take control of a bunch of characters and move around grids fighting monsters, you know how it is. I'm no expert with this genre, but I was taken aback by how polished and playable Sword of Hajya still is. In fact, the only thing that really shows its age is the screen resolution; the music is great and the visuals are really impressive both in cinemas and gameplay. There's a lot of yapping, yes, but the story is well-told and written, with a clarity and comprehension I wasn't expecting. As I said, I'm no expert on strategy RPGs, but based on the few hours I spent with this one it'd be pretty difficult to argue that it wasn't something of a triumph for the Game Gear and easily one of its best games. Beautiful. *****

Shinobi 2: The Silent Fury (1992)

The focus here has shifted from action to exploration, and while it's still a hugely enjoyable game, I didn't think Shinobi 2 lived up to its predecessor. Levels feel a little like afterthoughts, with the returning multiple playable ninjas required in order to revisit them to search for hidden crystals. If you enjoy that kind of gameplay - combing a stage for collectables when you may not yet have the means to access them yet - then this is a very solid, very well-made example of such. Me, though? I want my Shinobi to be a linear action game, not Banjo-Kazooie. Once again it looks fantastic, of course - the parallax on the Canyon stage is frankly astonishing - but overall I find the package just a smidge less satisfying than the first Shinobi game for the Gear. Not enough that I won't give it four stars, though; you should absolutely play this. Just play the OG first. ****

Side Pocket (1994)

A breezy, enjoyable little pool sim that's let down only by being staggeringly easy to clear in its basic 9-Ball mode; I mean this in no way to brag but I cleared the table first time on my first attempt thanks to the unbelievably generous hit detection that makes it feel like the balls are somehow magnetised to the pockets. Thankfully the game has more to offer with multiplayer and a trick shot mode which offers a succession of increasingly insane circumstances in which you must pocket one or more balls without smashing the Fabergé eggs that are littered all over the table for some ungodly reason. Presentation is strong, though the flickering on the "guide" you use to aim your shots can sometimes be a little overbearing. Overall, though, don't give Side Pocket the side-eye. Eh? Eh!? ****

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants (1992)

Bart vs. the Space Mutants is a tough one for me to review. On the one hand, this game is a confusing, esoteric slice of sheer confusion with terrible controls and some utterly arcane solutions required to finish it. One the other, it's a surprisingly creative, clever gamee that's full to the brim with fun secrets and cool (if garish) visuals, and puzzles to solve that require outside-the-box thinking. I love Space Mutants, but I'm fully prepared to accept that may be because I grew up playing it on the Master System, and this Game Gear port is an accomplished take on what for me was an 8-bit classic. It fits the Game Gear screen well and lacks sprite flicker or slowdown, and hasn't been compromised for content in any way I could perceive. Still, the control problems persist; bafflingly, Button 1 is both jump and run, and utilising items requires some awkward scrabbling. But I contend that there remains an imaginative and original game here and one that is worth your perseverance. ****

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World (1993)

Wow, this is horrible. What an unusual game, and not in the way that makes Space Mutants compelling. It starts with a tedious scramble-clamber all over the rigging of a docked ship, with items and enemies seemingly placed at random, then it has you skateboarding across the Great Wall of China avoiding dragons (!?) and dubiously caricatured citizens. It's perfectly playable here, but getting through doorways requires a precision that the game's unusual perspective doesn't offer. Failing that you can play a sliding puzzle, but who wants to do that? I took on the boss, at this point; seemingly an ancestor of Mr Burns. I threw projectiles at him and it was completely unclear if I was doing any damage. After minutes of this I decided the game wasn't fun enough to look up solutions and I dropped it. Time is money, my friends. Additionally, Bart vs. the World may have the worst music I've heard in a game yet - a ten second loop that repeats over and over and over forever. Avoid at all costs. *

The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man (1993)

While this game was poorly received at launch, I rather enjoyed my time with it, while recognising it is heavily flawed. Graphically it's a little messy and the controls feel stiff, but it all comes together rather well for me. Sensibly, they abstracted the game's combat; if you're pressing the attack button repeatedly as an enemy approaches, you'll start doing some comic book style kicks and punches and spins and timing ceases to be necessary. In this regard the game elevates itself somewhat over its clumsiness and begins to feel rather like you are Bart Simpson playing the superhero. Yes, I think I'm analysing this game more than anyone ever analysed it before. But yeah, I like it. I think it's fun to play. There are bizarre choices, such as falling out of the bonus rooms throwing you back to a checkpoint; you'll end up simply finding safe ground and standing still until the clock winds down. I think it's more than the sum of its parts, though, and even the criticised level design seems rather decent and interesting to me. Maybe I'm totally crazy, or maybe everyone else simply had a cow whereas I, at the suggestion of Bart Simpson, did not. ***

(Next: Sl-Sol)