As you may have noticed, Sega took a pretty interesting tack in the early years of the Mega Drive by making the majority of games in-house. This isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary in itself; most consoles at the time were supported exclusively by first party games at launch, and Nintendo’s dominance and the Master System’s wet flop of a reception in the home islands probably left many third-parties reluctant to hook up with Sega. However, the company took a novel approach to their first-party games by taking on licenses and games that were not Sega originals. Mostly this amounted to a long list of anime branded games that were stripped of their license in internal waters, but probably the most curious example is the fact that Sega themselves ported some of Capcom’s arcade hits to the Mega Drive. Until the release of Super Street Fighter II Championship Edition in 1993, Capcom apparently licensed out their arcade games for Sega to recreate for the Genesis. For the most part, this worked out pretty well: besides a lack of background fidelity in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, the game was essentially arcade perfect. Unfortunately, some games from the arrangement – such as today’s entry Forgotten Worlds – are almost aggressive in their half-heartedness.
That isn’t to say that Forgotten Worlds is a bad game (it’s really quite clever) or that this is a technically incompetent port. The fact that the game runs with incredibly little slowdown is a feat in itself. However, the graphics, sound, and game itself take massive losses in their conversion. The original arcade game was stunning, even by the standards of the very capable CPS1 arcade board it called home. The game is absolutely gorgeous in a way that still holds up today, and the entire game is just dripping with detail, as if the game were planned as a vector for Capcom’s arcade designers to get ideas out that wouldn’t work in any other game, a theory certainly supported by the fact that it is a horizontal (mostly) scrolling shooter with an analog knob to aim the player’s fire. The ability to fire in a full 360 degrees makes the game a frantic dash across the screen to combat giant mobs of lizard-men, Anubis cyborgs, or whatever else Capcom’s fevered brains could come up with. Alas, many of these details are lost in the Mega Drive home conversion, as this extremely belligerent man proves with the somewhat more faithful PC Engine version. (Warning: He uses some rough language, in addition to having venom towards the Sega Genesis that most people would reserve for things like, say, bigotry)
Perhaps the dust dragon boss in the first video is the best example of the corners cut to get Forgotten Worlds in at under 4 megabits. In the arcade version, it is a giant monster that takes up over half the screen, already torn open by previous battles. You get the hint that you are supposed to tear open it’s carapace and fire lasers into it’s still beating heart. You can also fire at the dragon’s head and neck, tearing those open in a surprisingly grisly affair for 1988. Meanwhile, the dragon is swatting at you with his tail and claws, trying to breath fire on you while his ribs tear through his flesh and attempt to impale you. It’s an amazing set-piece from a design standpoint, and certainly one that coerced its share of quarters from players. However, the Genesis dust dragon is nothing if not wounded. It still takes up a huge share of the screen, but is completely stationary, except for the choppy rise and fall of equally static ribs. There’s no visual indicator that you need to find the creature’s heart (or that he is ever taking damage), and his defenses are reduced to weakly breathing fire at one point on the screen and occasionally spawning a flying lizardman. Another incredible cut from the arcade version is the fact that level five simply repeats level four, rather than another level in the same setting like the arcade version. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the level has branching paths, but it’s still a blatant cut to an already very short game.
But I’m not here to complain about games, I’m here to celebrate the weirdness of a semi-forgotten era in games, and Forgotten Worlds certainly delivers on that front. The Mega Drive is very well suited for the game simply because of one revolution it had over the competition – it moved one of the four buttons on its controller to the right hand side, replacing a largely superfluous select button on most consoles with an extra action button. As to why every system until the Super Nintendo was content with four face buttons, I really couldn’t tell you. I can only assume it was a testament to the strength of the Japanese electronics bubble that games over there could just be released with proprietary controllers if needed. The fact that the PC-Engine port came with a three button controller for proper aiming is a testament to how Sega subtly redefined how games are played. Even without the arcade graphics and saddled with a frankly awful remix of the soundtrack, Forgotten Worlds is still a weird, wonderful mess.
Set in a future where dust dragons have aptly turned the entire world into dust, Forgotten Worlds is an incredibly manic affair. Beyond the 360 degree firing arc of your weapon (and the fact that enemies come from every side of the screen accordingly), nearly every enemy drops zenny, Capcom’s in-house currency that would later ascend to an extremely modest immortality by replacing gold in the Mega Man Legends and Breath of Fire games. These zenny can be used in shops at the beginning of each level to purchase better weapons, health, hints, and a dress for Slyphie the Shopkeeper, who has become somewhat beloved within Capcom, judging by the cameos she’s made in other games over the years (The dress does nothing except increase your score at the end of the game, but sometimes it’s just nice to splurge on incidental NPCs). Each level is book-ended by hilariously macho dialog and poses from the player characters (voiced in the arcade version) and after you slay the god of war at the end of the third stage, the game takes bizarre tangents into pyramids and some sort of cherry blossom heaven. Even without their arcade flourish, the bosses are all huge and engaging and most importantly fun. It’s not a difficult game, though since there are no continues in single player, it’s clearly meant to be played with a friend. The game is relatively short (I completed it with a few restarts in roughly an hour, and I am awful at these sorts of games) but incredibly fun and still impressive, even gimped. My only assumption is that the developers had a relatively small window of development and that the demand for a home version of Forgotten Worlds wasn’t that big. Still, you can (and I most certainly will) do a lot worse as far as shooters on the young Mega Drive go.