Salutations one and all!
Welcome to our very first edition of our feature, Rings of Saturn! Here’s a little bit about me, should you care to know it.
My name is Mike and I’m from Stockport in Merry Old Great Britain. It’s a large town just outside of Manchester. Been a gamer since the early 90’s and I’m going to be one of the reviewers on this fine site.
I will be reviewing contemporary stuff but I also thought I’d do some Retro Features now and then as I love classic gaming. My first console, all those years ago, was a Super Nintendo, but I’ve collected a fair few along the way since then. Back in the day though, the old SNES was the only gaming platform I had at my disposal for almost half the 90’s.
I came pretty late to the PlayStation party. It wasn’t until October 1998 that I finally got my grubby mitts on one and the system only had about 18 months of relevance left at that point. The funny thing was that originally I hadn’t even wanted a PlayStation. The gaming machine that I had hand-picked to succeed my Super Nintendo was a very different one indeed. Yes, in the cool winter months of 1997, I had decided that I wanted a SEGA Saturn, and that is what this feature will be looking at over the coming weeks. The reason I had picked the Saturn as my new console of choice back in those optimistic youthful days was twofold.
Firstly, I’d recently played one that summer. One of my mothers friends lived in Middlesbrough (a town in the North East of England) and her son had a Saturn with SEGA Rally. I spent most of an afternoon playing that game into the ground and left the house enchanted with the SEGA machine. Secondly, Virtua Fighting had made it’s way to English Arcades and it’s combination of 3D graphics and (for the time) revolutionary fight physics had blown my tiny little mind. Yup, I wanted a SEGA Saturn, and to the top of my Christmas list it went.
Ah, Christmas 1997, what a depressing one that was. I stupidly had placed all my eggs in the Saturn basket, and low and behold I didn’t get one, thus meaning the gifts I did get were a crushing disappointment by comparison. Looking back on it now with adult eyes, it wasn’t the disaster that 10-year-old me though it to be, but I was just an idiot child at the time and reacted as such.
Ultimately, my parents didn’t like the idea of spending a sizable sum on another gaming machine for me, when they were already of the opinion that I played my SNES too much. They had even gone so far as to deliberately lock my SNES away in the attic one summer as they didn’t want me playing it throughout the summer holidays. In fairness to them, they had made their stance on the matter of gaming quite clear and I should have seen it coming. The matter was worsened for me even further due to the fact that two children who lived near to me had wanted a PlayStation for Christmas and had got one. I used to go to their house daily as their mother looked after us before and after school until my mum returned from work. Thusly, I was hit with a double whammy of not getting what I wanted but also having to deal with another set of kids of who had on a daily basis. I didn’t react well. In fact, I’d say I reacted appallingly.
As a general rule, I didn’t tend to nag my parents for things as a child. I broke that rule in 1998. I now wanted a PlayStation, mainly because no one else I knew had a Saturn and thus I felt it would be better to go for the system that everyone else had (Because then I could borrow games from them). So I nagged, and nagged, and nagged and nagged. It was a little toe rag basically. As luck would have it, SONY reduced the price of the PlayStation in late 98, meaning it was now more affordable and my parents eventually relented and bought me one. And thusly, I forgot all about the SEGA Saturn. It became a victim of childhood hubris. However, it lingered at the back of my mind for the remainder of my childhood and into adulthood. Recently, I saw one online and thought about purchasing it, but eventually chose not to.
However, the thought of buying a Saturn still lingered. Not soon after deciding I wasn’t going to get one, I passed by a shop in Stockport called “Retro, Reload”. It’s a store that sells retro games and consoles, and would you know it, they had a SEGA Saturn for sale with three games for £35. Reasoning that I’d probably never see an offer as good as that again (£35? A mere 7 Bison Dollars? What a steal!), I went away to mull over whether I should get one. I went to YouTube to look at videos relating to the Saturn. I’d recommend to anyone reading this to visit Adam Koralik’s YouTube page. He gives very detailed reviews of retro consoles and I found his Saturn one very helpful in my decision on whether to pick one up.
Eventually, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the Saturn from the store. I’ve been purchasing games for it from Amazon and eBay since then and have started to build a sizable game library for it.
In the coming series of articles, which I’m entitling “Rings of Saturn”, I’ll be looking at some of the more well-known games for the system that I’ve been able to acquire, while also looking at the system itself.
Feel free to mention games that you’d like me to take a look at in the comments section or send over an email to me. Just bare in mind that some of the games on the system are both very rare and very expensive, so there will be some that I might not be able to look at.
Anyway, time for me to quit my jibber jabber and introduce you to my friend PAIN! Or start with the first two games I’ve played, either works I guess. Seeing as it was SEGA Rally that first made me fall in love with the Saturn those 18 years ago, it’s only right that we start with that game.
I actually picked this one up from the same store I bought the actual console from. SEGA Rally Championship was a very popular arcade game that SEGA chose to port to its home console. The PAL version of the game was released to the Saturn in December 1995.
SEGA Rally is one of those games that I didn’t really get a chance to play that much in the arcade in the 90’s and it’s not a game that you tend to see about too often in the few arcades remaining in the UK. The SEGA racing game that you tend to see more often in the arcades is Daytona USA. Daytona also enjoyed it’s own PAL console release in July 1995.
In fact, I last played Daytona USA in a service station as recently as a year ago, so when I saw that it was also available in the store where I bought the Saturn console, I decided to pick it up as well as SEGA Rally so I could see how they compared.
I went into playing both games expecting a similar experience as they have quite a bit in common. Both games are essentially just straight up arcade ports. There is a choice of three tracks in both games. You can have a race on Beginner, Intermediate or Expert level courses with the tracks getting more treacherous and insidious as the difficulty curve advances. SEGA Rally does have a multiplayer mode and time trial mode, which Daytona doesn’t. Daytona actually has an Arcade Mode and a separate Saturn Mode to choose from. Arcade Mode involves you racing against a timer and you are required to get to check points in order to keep the clock running. Saturn Mode does away with the clock and instead focuses more on challenging you to defeat your fellow racers.
SEGA Rally also uses the checkpoint system in both its Arcade and Championship Modes. As a general rule, I’ve never really been a fan of the checkpoint system in racing games and most straight to console racers these days tend to have done away with it. It remains now merely as a relic of arcade racing.
Graphically, both games are obviously not on par with what we expect these days, but viewed through 1995 eyes, both games look good for their time frame. I will say though that I feel that neither of the two games looks quite as good as their PlayStation rival Ridge Racer. That being said, Ridge Racer was a revolutionary game that changed the home console market forever, so perhaps both SEGA Rally and Daytona can be forgiven for lacking somewhat in comparison.
But how do both games play?
Both games give you the choice to choose between automatic and manual transmission for your car. If you choose the manual setting, buttons are provided for changing the gears. If you plump for automatic, you get a button to accelerate, one to brake and one that changes the camera angle. That’s it as far as buttons go. Again, these are both games designed for the arcade, so there’s little else that you really need button wise.
SEGA Rally has two camera angles where as Daytona has a luxurious three. Daytona gives you two views of the car, one near and one further away, and then one view from the bonnet. SEGA Rally gives you a driver’s seat view and a view of the car itself, however the camera is quite close to the car and the game would have probably benefited from a farther view-point such as Daytona has. Despite this though, I ultimately preferred the driving experience on offer in SEGA Rally to what I got in Daytona. SEGA Rally is not a game you can just jump into and be excellent right away. Some of the corners on the game are brutally difficult and you have to use the brake just right or you’ll go flying off in the wrong direction.
However, what I like about SEGA Rally is that it punishes you for being bad but then also rewards you for practice. The driving is quite instinctive and if you knuckle down and put the time in, you can get better at the game. Corners that were kicking my backside at first eventually became ones I could tackle with some actual efficiency.
It’s a driving challenge that is unforgiving yet also fair. I really enjoyed the experience of learning how to tackle the courses and I actually enjoyed the Time Trial Mode more than any of the others. I can’t explain the thrill of mastering a corner that was previously causing me all kinds of agony and shaving a whole 2 seconds off my lap time as consequence. SEGA Rally is genuinely an immersive experience and one that rewards you for hard work. Sadly, Daytona does not provide the same experience. Where as SEGA Rally is a difficult game that rewards you for concentration and hard graft, Daytona is a cheap game that seemingly allows you to succeed or fail merely on a whim. I was struggling with the intermediate course on SEGA Rally, one horrid zig zag turn in particular. Time and time again I crashed into the side barrier. But, after a number of attempts I was finally able to make the treacherous turn successfully. It took a mixture of braking, reduced acceleration and some keen handling, but I managed it eventually with practice.
Daytona is a game where braking doesn’t seem to cause anything other than your car to veer drunkenly across the racecourse. The game handles like you’re driving a hover car and if you somehow contrive to make it around a corner, it will be a result of luck over anything else. It doesn’t seem to matter how many different ways you approach Daytona, there doesn’t really seem to be anyway to master the driving at all. Where as SEGA Rally is an instinctive racing game that you can get to grips with over time Daytona is more like the racing equivalent of lucky dip. For this reason, I much preferred SEGA Rally overall.
On top of the driving experience, I found I enjoyed SEGA Rally’s selection of courses over Daytona’s. SEGA Rally’s opening course is an African desert, complete with Zebra’s watching from the adjacent grassland, and it is both atmospheric and beautiful to look at. Daytona’s Final Stage is also quite aesthetically pleasing, but the poor controls conspire to make traversing it a chore.
One thing I will say in favour of Daytona is that it has, for the time, very impressive car damage mechanics. In SEGA Rally, no matter how badly you crash, and there’ll be some humdingers when you first start playing, your car barely shows a dent. On Daytona, your vehicle can end up looking like a squeezed can of Soda by the time the race is over with.
In addition to that, Daytona USA does also have one of the catchiest theme tunes in “Let’s Go Away”. Seriously, listen to it if you don’t believe me, but I warn you that if you do you’ll be humming “Daaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyytttoooooonnnnaaaaaaaaaaa” for the rest of the week. That being said, this isn’t enough to make the game better than SEGA Rally in my opinion though. Plus, while we’re talking about great audio, nothing beats SEGA Rally’s game over song.
So to recap, SEGA Rally is still an excellent game and one I had a lot of fun playing. Daytona USA is a game that might be fun as a 15 minute distraction in an amusement arcade, but it’s not a game that translates well to the home gaming experience. SEGA Rally on the other hand, is a game that is still as enjoyable in your living room as it was in the arcade.
If you are giving any thought to picking up a Saturn, I would recommend you also pick up SEGA Rally but leave Daytona in the arcade.
Below I’ve attached a YouTube video of some game play from both titles and also a link to Adam Koralik’s excellent video on the SEGA Saturn
Thanks for reading; we really must do this again sometime!