The Game Gear Directory: (Odds & Ends)

The (real) final instalment of the GG Directory, as the last few Western games get their reviews

5 in 1 Funpak (1994)

A workmanlike compilation of classic meatspace games, 5 in 1 Funpak is serviceable in every sense of the word, with two-player capability for the included activities, which are: Backgammon, Checkers, Reversi, Chess and something I've never heard of called Yacht, which seems to be some kind of dice game. I checked out all the others and they get the job done. They're fast-paced and have a very functional, responsive control scheme. Visually everything you'll need to pay attention to is very clear cut, and all the information you'll need to play is always available on screen at all times. It's difficult to rate a game like this because while I personally have no interest in it, I can't deny that it's an impressive cartridge. It won't "wow" you, but it'll certainly help you while away the hours. ***

CJ Elephant Fugitive (1994)

This feels like the microcomputer port that it so clearly is, and as a result I find it impossible not to like while noting that it's not really the sort of thing I can unreservedly recommend. It's an incredibly simple elephant-based platformer in which you jump, float with an umbrella (Elephant heavy! But float? NOW LAUGH) and shoot snot from your trunk at enemies (Yuck). Progress often requires you to locate the kinds of hidden passage that most games would hide 1-Ups behind. It's not always totally clear what is and isn't a useable platform. It's a game that punishes impatience, throwing enemies into your path as you slowly descend to inevitable damage or death if you don't check your corners, so to speak. With hand on heavy heart, I can safely say that CJ Elephant Fugitive isn't really up to much, being an incredibly basic and unoriginal game that really doesn't make up for its shortfalls with level design that would please most gamers. But with the background I have, I can't help but enjoy myself when I play it. And it's my Directory so I'm giving it three stars. Ner ner. ***

Ernie Els Golf (1994)

Who the Els is this chancer? Doesn't matter, but I briefly got excited when the Codemasters logo showed. My excitement then turned to a fairly deep-rooted shock that this Game Gear game has loading times between holes, even before strokes. There are plenty of modes and the gameplay is enjoyable if quite artifical - sort that slice out, lads - but it's all rather spoiled by all the waiting around you have to do. I suppose that's just to make it more similar to the actual real-life golfing experience, standing around talking total crap with people you hate, wondering how you even got there. Oh, if you're reading this, mate, would love to go next week. Pitch and putt? **

Gear Works (1993)

Gear Works? I flippin' wish! Nah, this one is resolutely in the "not for me" pile, and I have to confess that I gave up on it rather early. It's a puzzle game about fitting gears together so they rotate properly, and it's rather fiddly to say the least. You've got to use a sort of peg board space to ensure your contraption ultimately works, and in doing so you're beset by weird little monsters that you can smack down with a gear or by switching over to a fucking gun, which is jarring as heck in a cart like this. I don't know, you might enjoy it more! I found it a very slow experience, all the way down to the utterly interminable start screens before you get into it. This is a good fit for the Game Gear in terms of being a single-screen, WYSIWYG sort of business, but I just found it boring. I still don't know what the bombs or oil do, but I can't imagine that their gameplay applications are so interesting that they'd realistically elevate the experience. Again, though, you may get more out of this than I did, as it seems to do what it's doing rather well. It's just... I don't care about cogs, mate. **

The GG Shinobi (1991)

Proper feelings of joy flooded through me when I played this game. I knew it was good, because I've played it through before, mouth agape at its sheer quality. But this time around I liked it even better, figuring out some more of the game's little nuanced and how you can apply them to utilise superior tactics depending on the situation. Thing is, I think this might be the best Shinobi game, and that's a weird thing to say considering how important Master System Shinobi was to me as a kid, how much I adore Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, and how bloomin' brilliant Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master obviously is. What marks this handheld title out is the way you can choose which stage to tackle, in order to rescue one of your colour-coded ninja friends from each location. Once you've saved them they're added to your playable roster, and each ninja has a different weapon and ability to take advantage of. The graphics are clean and crisp, the level design is varied and wonderful. Is it absolutely perfect? No, as there are a few occasions where enemies will fire at you from both off-screen and above, which is not especially fair. But it's not a game about fairness, and the player agency in picking a level to tackle means that it gets away with this by virtue of incorporating that frustrating experience into a cartridge far more than the sum of its parts. Everyone with a Game Gear should own this. *****

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. ****

Sonic Drift 2 (1995)

Colour me shocked. I was absolutely taken aback by how much I enjoyed this. I'd sampled Sonic Drift 2 before as part of one of the ten trillion Sonic compilations on Gamecube, but I'd always dismissed it compared to the likes of Tails Adventure. And I was wrong to do so, because Sonic Drift 2 is actually a bit of a banger. And I don't mean in the sense of a crap car, I mean it's very good indeed. The visuals are absolutely outstanding; bright, colourful and clear despite being miniscule even on the Game Gear screen. While the top half of the view is taken up with an overview of your current track, it doesn't feel intrusive because you absolutely need to use it to plan your corners. And the cornering feels great, with a high skill ceiling and a superior sense of speed. It's bloody hard, too - even the earliest races will have you sweating. There's a Super Mario Kart vibe to it all as you chuck weapons at one another with a tap on Up, and the variety of settings and modes will keep you entertained. I never, ever expected to give this one full marks, but having gained the context of the Game Gear's actual library, I don't see how I could not. *****

Striker (1995)

Another attempt to clone Sensible Soccer, but completely lacking its flair and breeziness, Striker is just another faceless footy game in the seemingly neverending torrent of them on Game Gear. Some nice crowd noise can't mask the utterly moronic AI of your teammates, who will congregate by the opposition's goal and never once do anything even remotely threatening to be somewhat useful. Meanwhile, the "enemy" AI will simply steamroll you, never missing a shot or losing possession once they have it. Am I whinging? Yes, a bit, but it's an unbelievably irritating game to play and I would rather throw on almost any other footy title. That said, it does have a surplus of teams, cups and such. There's some love poured into it for sure. But it's not enough, and it's not worth any more words. **

Yogi Bear in Yogi Bear's Gold Rush (1994)

I'm cheating slightly here, because this game was never actually released. It was intended for late '94 but for some reason got pulled. It's out there, though, in both monochrome Game Boy and dumped ROM form for Game Gear, and - without mincing words - it's quite sincerely one of my favourite games on the system. It's an incredibly simplistic platform game that sees you switching between Yogi and Boo-Boo to take advantage of their respective strengths, making your way through secret-packed levels collecting pic-a-nic baskets. And it's a joy, from start to finish, because it's been designed by fun people who like fun. Yes, it's from the creators of Alfred Chicken, you do not want to get me started on that. But at any rate, for Christ's sake play this, if you like platformers. *****

Note: These entries have been copied to the relevant previous instalments of the Game Gear Directory

(Next: Wrapping Up)