Sega was already playing a bit of catch-up when the Master System was released in 1986 so they felt they needed to offer a similar gaming experience to what Nintendo was already offering in order to compete. Need a Super Mario Bros clone? Alex Kidd is your man-boy. Need a light gun and a Duck Hunt-esque game? Hello light phaser and Safari Hunt! Need a robotic operating buddy to manipulate blocks and discs that controls action on the screen?Sorry, that’s a no-go. Sega was smart enough to know that Nintendo had some pretty nifty tricks up their sleeves but R.O.B. wasn’t one of them.
Sega’s light phaser is a sweet futuristic looking black gun used for a handful of light phaser games on the Master System. It came bundled with the Master System’s first console iteration along with the Hang On/Safari Hunt double cartridge. Hang On is a fun arcade port where you ride a motorcycle down roadways that utilize the Sega super-scaler technique that provides the illusion of 3D speed and increased frame rate. Like OutRun or Rad Racer for the NES, the goal is to make it to the end of the race against other cyclists by gaining more time through reaching various checkpoints. You can tell this is one of the earliest Master System games as it has a very basic 8-bit appearance that early to mid 80s games tended to have. It’s fun but shallow.
Now as for the two light gun games I have in my collection, I am wowed! Safari Hunt was meant to be a Duck Hunt clone but Sega took their learnings from that early Nintendo offering and gave their version of the game a graphic upgrade with more depth. First of all, there are 3 different scenes that the game rotates through instead of the same boring scene over and over that you get in Duck Hunt. Secondly, there are multiple types of animals to shoot on each screen and this offers you a bit of strategy. You start each screen with a fixed amount of ammo and a point total that you must exceed in order to advance. The different animal targets are worth varying points depending on their difficulty or size. For example, the bears in the forest level require 5 shots to kill but they are worth more points than the littler animals. You have to weigh the risk of using up 5 bullets just to hopefully kill 1 bear vs. shooting at the smaller, easier animal targets and hope you get enough of them. In the later levels, the animals come fast and furious and your shots need to be more precise in order to actually hit your targets. This comes as a bit of a surprise when you first play as you go from hitting everything you see to all of the sudden missing time and time again even if you haven’t done anything differently. I guess this was Sega’s way to increase the challenge quickly. Give me Safari Hunt over Duck Hunt any day of the week if nostalgia is completely removed from the equation.
Gangster Town is a really fun Hogan’s Alley type game where you are a member of the FBI taking out prohibition era gangsters. The game excels at offering both variety and great gameplay. Just in scene 1 alone you follow behind a car shooting at gangsters who are trying to shoot at you in return from the car windows all the while shooting down bombs dropped on you from an old biplane. Another level puts you on a city street where you must shoot at gangsters coming from the sides, sewers and building windows while also avoiding the occasional pedestrian. Later, the game will take you into a saloon, a nightclub and on a dock, all with similar gameplay to the city street level. Just when you thought this game already had a lot of variety, there are bonus stages and in one you have to shoot the bricks away from walls until you find a key. You start the game with a certain number of hearts and your difficulty level is based on how well you did in the opening practice round. If all of your hearts are depleted during a level, then your game is over. I love how Gangster Town looks as well as plays. The graphics are stellar and the details are fabulous. Each gangster you shoot turns into a transparent angel that floats up into the sky. You can also shoot your environment such as the tires on the escape car, bottles in the saloon, the hats off the heads of the gangsters during an indirect hit, and even little mice that scurry across the floor. Gangster Town is the best light phaser/gun game I’ve played on either the NES or the Master System. It’s just that fun.
Currently in my collection:
Hang On/Safari Hunt – game, manual, case
Hang On: B-
Safari Hunt: B+
Gangster Town – game, manual, case A