I really like my Sega Saturn. I was a young man just out of my teens when this console was released here in Canada, and I was living on my own and dirt poor, so I didn’t buy one. But I always wanted one, and nine years after it came out, I got one.
I went and bought a few “lots” of games too, so I ended up with a decent collection. The Saturn caught a lot of heat for its architecture, which had something like 17 fucking chips to program for and was thus a programmers nightmare. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But it really did have 2 CPUs and 6 other chips to consider. And Sega hadn’t really learned yet how to make things easy for their game developers.
Besides, by this time, after tripping all over themselves with the Sega CD and the absolute debacle that was the 32X, Sega appeared to be hellbent on failure at all costs. “Don’t stop us now, we’re snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!”
Comparisons to Sony’s PlayStation are inevitable when talking about the Saturn, so let’s address some of them. The PS1 is actually the reason that the Saturn had an extra processor crammed into it midway through development. Most programmers were at a loss when it came to unlocking the Saturn’s power, and even though the Saturn could be considered the technically more capable system in some ways, by far most PlayStation games provide the more impressive experience. This is pretty sad, but it’s fully the fault of Sega for not having the proper foresight. See the Dreamcast for how they got all of this stuff right for their next console.
But to me back in 1995, this was all unknown stuff. All I saw was the commercials, and all I knew was that I wanted to get into some more video game playing since my Commodore 64 had been dead for quite some time. You have to admit – jumping from Commodore 64 games to Sega Saturn games would have been pretty damn impressive. When I did go to ebay in 2004 for a Saturn, not only did I manage to get a sweet light gun, but I also got a driving controller called the Arcade Racer.
YEAAAAH!!!! I talked a little bit about steering wheel controllers when I reviewed ColecoVision games. Well, this is the first and only one of this type of controller I’ve ever used. Many people swear by these things, and insist that it’s the only real way to enjoy a racing video game.
And I tried, I really tried. I played my collection of Saturn racing games exclusively with this controller for the longest time, and I gave it more of a chance than anyone should have. But in the end, I abandoned it. I don’t think I’ll ever use this particular controller for this particular system again.
This really is too bad, because the Arcade Racer is an analog controller. If you’ve played a lot of racers and noted the difference in steering between analog joystick and direction pad control, then you will know what I’m talking about. Analog control is much better. Have a slight turn coming? Just give the stick a slight push with your thumb and you will ease around the corner no problem. With a D-pad this is handled much less gracefully. Hold right or left and time your press right. Press it again maybe if you need to turn more. Press too long and you over-steer. Analog control just fits racing games better.
So I really wanted to get a “feel” for this steering wheel controller. But it’s way too sensitive. Using it for racing games sends the car flying all over the road unless you barely move the thing. And where’s the fun in that? To use this controller effectively you have to keep it almost still, and give it only the slightest nudge around turns, making sure to quickly let it come back to center as soon as you can. So it might as well be a digital controller.
Speaking of digital controllers, the original Saturn controller has been considered by some to be the best game controller ever designed.
My freakishly long fingers strongly disagree. For some racers I can use the very nice analog controller that Sega packed in with their awesome game “NiGHTS into Dreams…“.
This one fits my hands better. Two out of the three games I’ll review can be played with this one.
Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition (1995)
Because Sega botched the release of the Saturn by surprise releasing it early, thus fucking over their third party game developers and their hardware distributors (note: this is a bad idea), many of the first batch of North American games had a rushed and unfinished feel to them.
The original “Daytona USA” was one of these games. Sega later released a great little racer called “Sega Rally Championship” that was ported from the arcade, and “Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition” was later built upon that game engine.
If you’ve read my review of Sega’s Virtua Racing for the 32X, or if you’ve played that game, then you will know what to expect with the structure of this game. But don’t expect to see primitively-rendered polygons here. This game is lush and beautiful, and since it was programmed by Sega, it makes the Saturn work at full tilt.
These aren’t my screenshots, by the way. They’re from GameFAQs.com. I don’t have any method of getting screenshots from my Saturn/TV setup to my computer. If someone wants to buy me a digital recorder, feel free.
Before you start playing, you have the chance to do some configuratin’. You can choose the way the car handles, and this ranges from slow to normal to quick. Your selection here should depend on whether or not you’re using an analog controller. It also depends on your driving style, so it’s nice to have the option to change it.
You can also set the game’s difficulty in two ways. The first is to choose from Normal or Grand Prix or Endurance modes. The second is to choose from Easy or Normal or Hard difficulty. This game also has a time compare feature that will flash your time difference between laps on the screen as you complete them. I think this is annoying, so I like the option to turn it off. There’s also a setting called “Section lap”. I’m out of the loop as to what that does. I think it’s time compare on a smaller scale – so more frequently annoying for me.
The music can also be adjusted in volume or turned off, which is a feature I love. The Daytona USA series has some great, classic game music. I’m glad for it. I like to do my racing without music.
Options for the controller depend on which one you have plugged into the Saturn. If you have the steering wheel plugged in, well, you’ll be awkwardly pressing a button on the edge of the right side of that wheel to accelerate for the whole race. If you have a standard D-pad controller plugged in, you get five choices of button layout, but the B button is accelerate for all of them. If you’re lucky enough to own and have the analog controller plugged in, four of those four choices feature the right trigger as accelerate and the left trigger as brake. The fifth choice features B to accelerate.
That right trigger to accelerate layout became a standard for racing games on the Dreamcast, and it’s very comfortable to play that way for extended periods of time. Along with the PlayStation method of right-analog-stick acceleration, it’s a great way to eliminate button fatigue in a racing game.
There are three modes of gameplay available in “Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition”: Arcade, Time Attack and 2 Player. Again, these are much like they were in Virtua Racing. If you’ve found a winning formula, why fuck with it?
Five different tracks (or courses, but I like typing tracks better because it’s shorter… come to think of it, digressions like this do nothing to truncate the typing and only serve to add more to my typing, so not only am I back where I started, but I might just as well have typed out “courses” to begin with. Bloody hell!) that are all artistically rendered and beautiful.
32-bit games and the early polygon-rendered look gets a bad rap these days because a lot of people think it looks ugly. I can see where they’re coming from in some games. There are definitely games that were done sloppily, or where too much was attempted for too limited resolution and clarity.
But I happen to love the blocky pixelated look for my games, so I don’t mind these early 32-bit games at all – as long as they are done well. But I can think of a few where I can’t actually see what’s going on. This game is done right, and it looks better than most of the games you could find for the Saturn or even the PlayStation.
You get to choose from eight different cars (there’s one more unlockable) and they each have different attributes as far as grip, acceleration and speed are concerned. This is now pretty standard for racing games of this era, and it’s a great feature to be able to choose a car to suit your driving style. You can also choose to drive manual or automatic transmission.
In Arcade mode, you get counted in during a “rolling start”. I’m no fan of this and I wish it could be turned off. But once you’re driving, the game is great fun.
You have eight laps to race, and the competition is intense. There is constant radio chatter from your crew that includes lines like “Go easy on the car!” and “You’re burning up the tires” and “Are you alright?” if you make one of the more over-the-top looking rollovers.
After each lap, some informative text will flash up on the screen, but to me this just gets in the way and is very annoying. It’s hard to see where you’re going when stylized, jumbo lettering is in your way.
Crashing into the walls or other vehicles will alter the appearance of your car and make it look all bent and stuff. I don’t know if this affects the way your car handles, though. From what I could tell, it doesn’t.
Luckily for you, there is a pitstop just before each lap finishes, and your dedicated pit crew works magic that can straighten out even the mangled frame of your car in only a few seconds!
The timer in the top center of the screen counts down, and if you don’t finish your lap in the alloted time, you will retire and it’s game over. You have to keep finishing with a decent time to keep advancing in this mode.
In Time Attack mode, the point is to race against the clock and try to better your score. You don’t have to put up with the rolling start in this mode. Conversely, if you like that sort of thing, you must pine for the rolling start in this mode.
You can choose to race a set number of laps in this mode, or drive for as long as you like. This is a good way to get familiar with the tracks and with the handling.
Aside from being very nice to look at, the graphics in this game are impressive for another reason. This game runs at a higher resolution than most Saturn games. I’m not judging this by these screenshots, which like I said aren’t mine. These screenshots are widescreen for some reason, and I don’t know how they were obtained.
I can tell that this game runs in a higher resolution than your average Saturn game because I have a crappy TV. My television doesn’t quite center the display from certain consoles properly. There is a bit of a gap on the left edge of my screen. Not only that but some of my consoles have their vertical dimensions stretched on my TV so that things have a “tall” appearance. I think this is because my TV is shitty at displaying the consoles’ native 320×240 display resolution.
I think this game outputs in 640×480 resolution because I don’t see that gap on the left, and things don’t have that “tall” look. I could be talking out my ass here, but this might be one of the reasons why this game looks so good.
There are also neat little graphical touches, like when you plough into a series of road pylons and they scatter all over the track. They will be in exactly the same spot the next time you drive around.
And of course the sounds are spot-on realistic. We’re in the age of CD audio for these reviews now, so I’ll only mention sound if it’s been fucked up or if it’s outstanding in some other way.
The tracks get progressively more challenging in order. There is one more track to unlock, and I haven’t done that yet.
This brings up a point about “unlockables” in games. I’m not a fan of this concept. I do see the idea behind it – to provide an incentive to finish the game, or to hit certain milestones.
But for me, games are purely a form of escapism. I don’t want to have to work very hard past what the gameplay already offers. And besides, I bought the game, so I want to be able to have everything I paid for unlocked and ready for me to enjoy. This is another reason I stop buying consoles and games after the sixth generation.
Back to the game. This track shown in particular is hard. You have to learn how to use that analog steering in conjunction with braking control to be able to have a chance at driving this track properly.
Oh, by the way, that’s not a statue of Jebediah Springfield up ahead. It’s Jeffry from Virtua Fighter.
Anyway, that kind of difficulty – the kind that must be mastered – is what makes a racing game great. If this was just brutally hard with no hope of ever getting better, I wouldn’t ever give it a second look.
If you want to see why analog steering control makes a racing game shine, then take a look at this game. I’ve played this game with the analog controller and with the D-pad controller. There’s just no comparison.
The fine-grain control the analog stick allows you makes the experience of playing an order of magnitude more realistic. Instead of tapping left left left left, right right right, left left left left left left with your thumb all the time, you can almost let yourself forget that you’re holding a joystick at all.
Slight turns require only a slight push. Harder turns require you to move the stick all the way. It’s true that the Saturn analog controller isn’t the best analog stick out there, but it’s much better than using a D-Pad.
And don’t forget, this game can be played with the Arcade Racer steering wheel controller too. I’m no fan of that controller, but lots of folks are. You can get them for a decent price on ebay, so if you like that kind of steering method, go nuts.
All in all, this is a fantastic racing game. If you own a Saturn, you need to play it because it’s one of the system’s premiere titles.
I believe it’s rather common too. Nine years ago when I bought my Saturn and my game lots, I ended up with three copies of this game. I suppose I could wear two of them as earrings or something while I play.
If you’re into racers, definitely check it out. Sega made some of the best racers out there during the 80s and 90s, and this counts as one of them.
If you’re looking to play this on an emulator, good luck. The Saturn is one of the hardest consoles to emulate, thanks to the jumble of processors inside it. SSF is reportedly the best Saturn emulator out there, but since I don’t have a computer that will run any version of DirectX higher than version 9, I can’t verify this. That’s also why I have to resort to using someone else’s screenshots.
Impact Racing (1996)
A racing game with a twist, and yes you guessed it. That twist is combat.
I wasn’t expecting much from this game, especially when I saw that the developers hailed from far off Dublin.
But I was soon impressed. Not only is it one of the best-looking Saturn games I’ve played, but it’s awesome fun too. These screenshots are from Satakore.com.
There’s some decent techno music playing through the intro and setup screens, and during the game itself. You can silence this if you so choose. Other options include three difficulty settings, and the ability to fully customize the controller configuration.
Sadly, the analog controller does not work at all in this game. But you can use the right shoulder button on the standard Saturn controller to accelerate, and that’s good enough for me.
Oddly enough, this game has no brake function, but it does have six different weapons. The laser is your main weapon, and you start out with just that. The laser overheats when you use it too much, so you can’t just drive and blast your way through. Other weapons can be picked up via power-ups that appear on the road.
You can eventually have missiles, heatseekers, mines, smartbombs and a firewall at your disposal. Needless to say, so can your opponents.
You can switch the view while you’re driving, which is now standard for all racing games. I won’t mention it unless it’s absent or otherwise special or fucked-up.
Before you start, you can choose one of five different cars. Each of these has different attributes (speed, acceleration, grip and armor) to consider, and choosing one will sign you up with a different organization. There’s a storyline behind this, but I’m not really interested in that. I just like all the drivin’ and the shootin’ and the smashin’.
You also get to enter your “name”, which is only three letters. I really wonder why this is so restricted in so many games. What if I’m Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzenvonangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenwanderersteerdemenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternartigraumaufdersuchenachdiesternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonverstandigmenschlichkeitkonntefortplanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurchtvorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior and I want to make sure everybody knows I got the high score? You can’t fit that into 3 letter spaces.
When you start each race, or more properly “mission”, you get a set amount of cars to destroy. This is more challenging than it sounds considering that you start out with some basic lasers and nothing else. The trick is to learn how to use those lasers and learn how to smash into enemies with your own car.
Your armor will deplete as you keep ramming cars, but there are power-ups that can restore it for you. The game moves at a very fast pace though, so being able to get these power-ups is also mighty challenging.
But the steering control is phenomenal. Even with the D-Pad, it’s a great racer to play.
Each mission has a timer, and if you don’t make it to the checkpoint in time, it’s game over. There’s an Irish accented countdown that goes “5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”, and all the voices in this game are quaintly Irish. Of course, if there are any Irish gamers reading this review, they’re all getting mad at me and blabbering on about how everyone else is the one with the accent.
There are also hourglass power-ups that will give you extra time on a track, and some of these are absolutely necessary to hit. They seem to come only at the last moment, and only just out of your car’s reach. Some power-ups are mystery power-ups, and you only find out their effect after you collect them. And sometimes these are bad, like the ones that flash bright colours into the camera, making it hard to see. Or the one that reverses directional control, making it hard to steer.
The on-screen display is informative and complete. It’s very easy to see at a glance what’s going on with your car and with the track. I would have preferred if some of this could have been shrunk down, because sometimes it blocks out some of the stunning graphics.
The frame rate is high and it is constant. This is another game that obviously uses the Saturn to its full potential. The only problem is that sometimes there is some “tearing” of the polygons, particularly (and most unfortunately) around the road and the car. those things disappear from the screen sometimes on some levels, though it’s only for a fraction of a second.
After a successful race with the kill quota met, you will receive upgrades to your weapons. You will also get points for each kill, time left, and energy left for that race.
And between races, there are bonus stages, where you must kill a handful of cars in a short amount of time. Doing so will give you lots and lots of power-ups to get, if you can control your car properly to drive through them.
After each bonus stage, you get a chance to save your game. One advantage that the Saturn has over the PlayStation is that built-in RAM for gamesaves.
This is another extremely fun racing game that I found hard to stop playing. Even with some elements of racers that I don’t care for, like a rolling start in some levels and no support for the analog controller, this is one I play a lot on my Saturn.
If you like vehicular combat games, or if you just want to see how beautiful and fast a racing game on the Saturn can look, then pick this one up.
Sega Touring Car Championship (1997)
This here, in my estimation, is the finest racing game you can play on the Sega Saturn. Screenshots are again from Satakore.com, and they’re from the Japanese version of the game. European box art, Japanese screenshots, North American review. What a mess!
When the game first loads, it will ask you to confirm some time, location and nationality settings. It takes the time and date from your Saturn’s system settings, so if this is up to date and you have a working battery in your Saturn, the date will be around now-ish.
My Saturn’s battery happens to be dead right now, and I haven’t gotten a replacement yet, so the first time I loaded this game, I’d pressed through the Saturn date setting screen at January 1, 1994. I was shown a screen that looked like this:
Christmas Eve 1997 is long past, and I guessed this had something to do with the Saturn’s NetLink peripheral.
Since I’m not one to travel back in time and hook up 28.8 kbit/s modems and such, I thought “nifty” and forgot about it. But I’ll come back to this “Global Net Event” later in this review.
The game is split into two modes – Saturn Side and Arcade Side. Saturn Side is split into Championship, Time Attack and VS Race.
And if you’re looking for options and settings, you got ’em. You can go into the standard game options shown above, which lets you adjust game difficulty between four levels, change from two through five laps, turn boost on or off, turn damage on or off, and turn time compare on or off.
You can also configure the controller between a number of presets or fully customized to your selections. As you can see, the analog controller is supported, and with full customization available you can have control any way you want it. Not only that, but if you are using the analog controller or the Arcade Racer, you can even adjust and calibrate the range of motion that the steering, acceleration and brake controls will have.
There are four cars to choose from, but more are unlockable. I’m going to leave this PDF here in case that link ever goes away. You can customize these cars and save your changes to them. Adjustments can be made to handling, tires, front and rear suspension, and brakes. The setup screen for these has handy diagrams which show what these changes do to the car’s handling. This is very helpful for all of us non-gearhead drivers who don’t actually drive cars in real life, and can’t tell a spark plug from a differential.*
*I can tell a spark plug from a differential actually.
Before you start the race, you get to choose your car. The four standard cars are the Alpha Romeo 155V6Ti, the AMG Mercedes C-Class, the Opel Calibra V6, and the Toyota Supra. If you’ve customized one of these, it will appear as a “Tuned” option under one of these four.
You must qualify for position before you race.
Qualifying is just you and the timer, but don’t dawdle.
Looks like the guy who took these screenshots did about as good as I would have. 8th place! After qualifying, you can also change the music or switch it off entirely. But be quick about it. One bad thing about this game is something I loathe about video games: timed menu screens. Why… the… fuck?
You get a rolling start into these races too, which seemed to be all the rage on Saturn racers. I don’t care for it, but it’s better than timed menus.
And here, as in Daytona USA, you must be quick about things. You have a timer in this mode that counts down, and if you don’t finish the lap in time, you will retire and it’s game over.
With a game like this, it’s a must to do some of the Time Attack racing first for practice. It’s also helpful to do some customizing to your car after you’ve driven for a while. Learning the controls is one thing, but being able to fine tune the way your machine responds when you take a corner in just the right way with just the right amount of a turn and just a squeeze of the brake is an awesome feeling.
If you have damage turned on, you will need to visit the pit crew to change your tires and straighten out your body every now and then.
For as masterfully as this game handles and as complete as the customization options for the controls are, the graphics are a little bit lacking in some spots.
It’s evident that trade-offs were made. The draw distance in this game is superb. It’s rare to see much “pop-up”, where buildings and other surroundings suddenly appear where there was nothing on the horizon moments before. I had to look hard for such instances, and if you play this game normally with your eyes on the road, you won’t notice it at all.
But the frame rate is low as a result. And frankly, this isn’t a very pretty game in some spots. The Toyota Supra is my favourite car to race because it handles to my tastes, but also because it’s the least ugliest when driving in 3rd person view.
Time Attack is just like it is in Daytona USA and Virtua Racing. You can race five laps or free run, but this game also introduces to these reviews the concept of the “ghost car”.
I couldn’t find a screenshot of it, but if you’ve played a modern racer, you’ve probably seen the feature. It’s a form of time compare. Once you’ve completed a lap, when you cross the same point in the track again, you will see your car on the screen trace its previous path, only that other car you see will be a “ghost” version of you.
When you drive with such a feature on, you can see if you’re falling behind where you were lap-by-lap, and you have immediate incentive to better yourself and keep up.
I find features like that to be gimmicky and useless. I turn them off if I can.
One of the benefits of the Time Attack mode is that you can really fine tune your car this way, and see which adjustments work with your driving style.
You can get to know the more complex and difficult tracks better this way too. Now what about the Arcade Side? From what I could tell, it’s exactly like Championship mode in the Saturn side, except you don’t have access to any tuned cars.
And now speaking of tracks…
If you have your Saturn’s system date set after 8:00 pm December 24th, 1997, then you can use the following method to unlock three extra tracks:
In the Saturn Side select Options and press X, Y, Z, X, Y, Z, Y, X. You’ll hear an engine rev to confirm the code. Highlight Global Net Event from the Saturn Side menu and enter these codes to race the events:
1st Event – X+Start
2nd Event – Y+Start
3rd Event – Z+Start
Neat! It’s Christmas! And it’s snowing too!
Honestly, if I hadn’t hunted down someone else’s screenshots and seen these winter night driving scenes, I would not have investigated this Global Net Event any further.
Turns out your Saturn doesn’t need to be online for these to work, and it doesn’t need to be Christmas Eve 1997 to access these tracks.
Well, this gives me even more reason to play this game lots and lots and lots more. This one is already one of the best racers I’ve played, and this neat little hidden feature just ratcheted it up a notch in my book. Despite the shortcomings of timed menus, low frame rate and some downright ugly graphics in some places, everything else about this game shines brilliantly. This is prime racing fun, so pick it up next time you’re at the used game shop or snooping around ebay.