Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings where I find the best of the maligned and forgotten.
It's been a while, but I'm returning to the much maligned Sega Saturn to spotlight some great exclusive games. I've already outlined some awesome platformers and RPGs that make investing in Sega's fifth-generation console a good move. However, there is an aspect to the Saturn that I'm surprised doesn't get more attention from gamers. That aspect is the fact that the Saturn is one of the most import-friendly consoles of the era.
The Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 required modding the system's physical components to allow Japanese cartridges to fit in the cartridge slot. The Playstation required having an expert solder a chip onto the motherboard to override the region lock-out (which tended to burn out the system quickly). The Saturn, however, only requires plugging an Action Replay into the memory expansion slot (as shown above) to release the region lock. This easily allows an American Saturn to play games from anywhere in the world (though PAL games tend to have minor glitches in the conversion to NTSC).
As not even a third of the Saturn's games got American releases, imports become very appealing for Saturn collectors. Naturally, some Japanese games are nearly impossible to play for those who don't know the language. However, the Saturn has a number of outstanding shooters that are perfectly playable for non-Japanese speakers. Here are five great ones to get you started.
Cotton Boomerang is an enhanced version of Cotton 2. The best word to describe this side-scrolling shooter is "adorable." The eight anime characters available are all cute, and they all have their own attacks, providing incentive to try them all. The action is challenging without reaching the near-impossible levels of Radiant Silvergun. I'm pleasantly reminded of the DeathSmiles games on the Xbox 360, and that's always a great thing.
Though the other three Gungriffon games had American releases, the second was exclusive to the Japanese Saturn. This first-person mech game was one of the best looking Saturn games I'd ever seen. The Saturn was never known for its polygon-pushing prowess, but this one pulled out all the stops. It moves as fast as the MechAssault games and is just as fun. Though Japanese text shows up more here than in the other games I'm featuring, it doesn't detract from the gameplay at all.
'Night Striker S'
Taito had produced some awesome shooters, particularly the Darius games, and Night Stalker is a cool change of pace for them. This shooter puts you in an armed hover-car, playing a lot like the classic Space Harrier games. Funnily enough, even though this one never got an American release, it is completely in English. There are several games like that; in fact, I have a few in my own collection. Even though Night Stalker was also released on the Sega CD and Playstation, the import-friendly nature of the Saturn makes its port the best choice for American players.
'Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus'
One of the most fondly remembered games on the 8-bit Nintendo was LifeForce, a scrolling shooter from the same guys behind Gradius. Unbeknownst to players back then, LifeForce was part of a shooter series called Salamander, and the Saturn got a collection of the three games that made up the Salamander series. These are impressive '80s shooters with a bunch of power-ups that are still fun to play as long as you can handle the ridiculous difficulty. Sorry, Vic Viper doesn't know the Konami Code.
'Soukyugurentai' (AKA 'Terra Diver')
Shooters aren't usually notable for their artistry, but Soukyugurentai (also known as Terra Diver) needs to be considered an exception to that. The visuals fuse 2D and 3D in brilliant fashion while keeping the action fast. The shooting is easy to pick up and unbelievably addicting. It also has some awesome music, so good that the soundtrack ended up in my house's collection. Considering that this was published by EA, I'm astonished this one never got an American release.
I know there are more Saturn imports to check out. Do you have any suggestions? Let me know, and game on!