The Sega Saturn – Emulate or Locate?

Which games are worth tracking down the original retro copies and which are best to simply download? aka The downside of a weekly content schedule with a full-time job, tiredness and definitely not a delay tactic to catch up on review content.

It’s no secret that I love the Sega Saturn. Once upon a time I had saved up every penny I had to buy a 3rd hand Master System 2 and had begged and pleaded for a Mega Drive 2 (which we finally got 2nd hand in a lovely yellow Future Zone branded box) I even started buying Official Sega Saturn magazine before I owned the console just to see what the latest games were going to be. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Dixons when my dad asked which of two consoles on show were worth buying  I couldn’t say Sega Saturn and rattle of a list of reasons fast enough. It probably helped the store was showing Sega Rally at the time on the Saturn and Jumping Flash! on the PlayStation. If he had seen Gran Turismo that would have been that. The fact that the console came with a 2nd controller, Sega Ages Vol1, Sonic Jam, Tunnel B1, Sega Rally and Manx TT Super Bike meant it probably appeared a great deal instead of an early sign of a failing system.

With that trip down memory lane out of the way, What is the current state of the curved black box? Emulation is pretty much the way to go but you’ll need to do a little tinkering to get anything working well. It takes balancing isos, bios and options to get anything to work and you’ll hit a few walls with bad dumps and clunky menus. Prices for a complete physical console have stayed about the same for years now and a decent modded Saturn will still set you back around £200. The problem with buying a console though is that the lasers aren’t great and the great games have skyrocketed in price. That being said, Emulation walk-throughs are still a thing and the skill that goes into making the software is always improving. It’s about time we had a look at what games are worth tracking down and what’s worth the download?

Physical Copy – Sonic Jam

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There’s almost no point in emulating Sonic Jam these days. The collection of Sonic 1, 2, 3 and Knuckles with a really fun 3D mini-game is great if you have a CRT or HDMI setup to pass through but otherwise you should really just emulate a Mega Drive and enjoy the classics. If you do have a Saturn though, you are in for a treat. There are issues that modern emulation of these games fix (swapping between them quickly for one) but few nail that feeling of clicking a game in Sonic and Knuckles while still listening to the fantastic music. It helps that the bonkers collection of animations and adverts are still fascinating to watch to this day and there’s a lot to be had on the cheap from this.

Emulation – Astra Superstars

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Astra Superstars still sells for £180 and given its Japanese only release your chance of actually playing this game in its original form is incredibly slim. It is worth tracking down an ISO and having a go for yourself though. There really isn’t any other game like this out there. A floating 2D fighter with original bizarre original characters and a flare for the extreme that very few current fighting games would even attempt. The closest experience is Psychic Force (or 2012) but that doesn’t help you prepare for Dam Reversals, Star Ranks and the madness you’ll experience. You can always get the arcade board if your fancy high level tinkering but the Saturn port is more than enough.

Emulation – The Shining Force 3 Trilogy (Fan translated)

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Shining Force 3 is still one of the best SRPGs you can get. A fantastic story, well crafted characters and a turn based grid combat system that feels very much like Fire Emblem. A hybrid style of sprite-work and fancy 3D graphics throughout the experience. The story was originally designed to be a trilogy with the war between nations having multiple layers and each game telling a different perspective of the story. Unfortunately only the first game was translated officially but fans saved the day and made a translation patch for all of the discs (check that out here) The first game is still worth a go and has a really satisfying ending (if you want to leave it there) but with emulating the game you get a lot more content and it’s the only way you’re going to be able to enjoy most of it. That is assuming SEGA never does anything with this gem…

XBLA / Xbox 360 (Or Xbox One with Backwards Compatibility) –
Guardian Heroes / Radiant Silvergun / Nights Into Dreams

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Fighting Vipers and Daytona USA were ported to the Xbox as well but only Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Nights are really worth playing. Guardian Heroes is a fantastic Beat ’em up RPG hybrid with great combos and a way to clean up the pixels and give the sprite-work a smoother appearance. Radiant Silvergun is a stand out bullet hell game that I loved playing over and over again on the 360 despite never being any good at it (for me that’s the sign that a bullet hell game is worth playing) A brilliant mix of pixel and 3D that really nails the fast paced madness of the Saturn. Nights Into Dreams was ported to PC so you can work a bit of magic to make it look better on there but the simplicity of turning on a console and playing can’t be undervalued. It’s super fun to play Nights with a good analogue stick and the gameplay and designs of the nightmares have aged well. 3 great games that really are fantastically easy to play on an Xbox one.

Physical Copy – Sonic R / Manx TT Super Bike

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“CAN YOU FEEL THE SUNSHINE? DOES IT BRIGHTEN UP YOUR DAY? DON’T YOU FEEL LIKE SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED TO RUN AWAY?”
Say what you will about Sonic R as a game, the soundtrack is so overwhelmingly ridiculous and brilliant it’s hard not to recommend it alone in every way possible. Almost every Saturn disc has a warning stating that putting them in a Stereo could damage the audio equipment (and if you don’t skip the ear piercing data track it could blow a speaker) but you can easily rip that fantastic music to MP3 with any PC these days and it’s still worth it. With Manx TT Super Bike you not only get a fantastic home port of the arcade hit but also a brilliantly fast beat midi sounding soundtrack. Guitar riffs that really have stood the test of time really well and a short but sweet album that is a great experience. Well, as long as you skip the sheep riding track.

Emulation – Panzer Dragoon Saga

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I always used to joke that I could have paid for a month of university fees if I’d bought Panzer Dragoon Saga originally instead of borrowing it from a friend and then sold it on eBay years after. Now I look at the price and I could buy a car. There’s a good reason why this game is so expensive though. A luxurious action JRPG hybrid that came on 4 discs and was the Saturn’s shining diamond. There has never been another JRPG that has really nailed the feeling of riding a dragon, active turn based combat and exploration like this. There have been games that just about come close to the feeling of flying but nothing for the originality, the story or the amazing soundtrack. If Panzer Dragoon Saga had been released now it would have the same fans as Nier Automata. It’s just a shame that the game is lost to the ages and the only way to play is now via emulation which I highly recommend you try.

Physical Copy – Virtua Fighter 2

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Virtua Fighter 2 is often overlooked by Saturn collectors and it can be found cheap without too much looking as it was one of the most popular games on the system and with good reason. With fast controls, sharp graphics and a great combo system this fighting game is absolutely fantastic. The huge difference between this version and the arcade original is that the Saturn would learn from you the more you played. What this meant in theory was the game would steadily rise to meet your level of challenge. In reality what it meant was when you went back to the game for a quick go it would easily read your moveset and kick your arse over and over until you either reset the learning or brush up your skills all over again. A brilliant title and still holds up nicely.

Anyway you can – Burning Rangers

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House of the Dead was a fun rail shooter, Virtual On was a great arcade experience, Sega Rally was a brilliant arcade port, Street Fighter ran brilliantly on the Saturn and Clockwork Knight, D, Die Hard Arcade, DragonForce, Enemy Zero, Grandia, Last Bronx, Shining the Holy Ark are all unique Saturn games that were lost on that console, slowly ported over the ages in various forms or just left to the archives. The most frustrating to be left behind was Sonic Team’s Burning Rangers. There’s a reason that almost all original Saturn owners have played Burning Rangers at least once. It was a technically impressive and uniquely different experience. Running around shooting fires, turning them into crystals and saving people. A button on the controller provided instant feedback on position and objectives which was unseen at the time and the final bosses were colourful blends of style and oddness. Not only did it have brilliant voice acting throughout but the soundtrack is still to this day superb. This game could really use a remaster but it would take a lot of work and it’s just too niche to pitch these days. If you do take a step back take a moment to remember the hardware it came out on. Full of 90s anime tropes and funky as hell.


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