Exclusives, or games that are only available on a particular console or by a particular hardware developer, are the primary reason to own one console over another when a choice must be made. What games can you play on console X that you cannot play on console Y and vice versa? That’s the key question that must be answered and for an early adopter of a particular system, the answer is a bit fuzzy. For the most part, multi-platform games are generally of the same quality, no matter what console they’re on. Sure, maybe the controls or graphics or music is slightly different, or you could be playing Aladdin and just have a completely different game on the Genesis and SNES, but that’s not typical. The truth is, you bought a Nintendo console for the Mario and Zelda games, not because you thought the SNES version of Mortal Kombat was superior to the Genesis. Besides the obvious franchise choices (Mario, Sonic, Zelda, etc.), there are a lot of other amazing exclusives that require a little digging or research to sort out. 2 of the 3 games in this post, Astal and Shining the Holy Ark, are Sega Saturn exclusives while the other title, Mansion of Hidden Souls was only available on Sega consoles (Saturn, Sega CD).
Astal is side scrolling, 2D platformer with a unique hand drawn look that really stands out from the rest in the polygon era. Released only a few months after the Saturn’s 1995 launch, Sega’s Astal is fun and challenging title worth owning. Astal is a powerfully strong young man, the “son” of a Goddess who was created to protect his sister, Leda, who’s been kidnapped. Astal has flowing red locks and is accompanied on his adventure by a bird, which can be used to help Astal in both 1 and 2 player modes and ultimately becomes an important character in the game’s plot. Astal has a small variety of attacks including picking up and throwing his enemies, punching the ground to stun his enemies, and using his powerful lungs to literally blow them away. Astal can also use his environments (boulders, trees) to throw at enemies. Astal enjoys yelling and you’ll hear him do this quite often during the game to somewhat comedic effect. The game looks good, similar to a playable cartoon but Astal in essence is just really just a well designed platformer.
On the other hand, Mansion of Hidden Souls is a completely different game than Astal. It is more of a point and click puzzle adventure title with a horror/supernatural theme. Mansion of Hidden Souls utilizes FMV scenes combined with 3D environments that you maneuver around in a first person perspective. Generally, the plot is that you and your sister are outside playing when she chases after a butterfly that leads her into the titular mansion. You enter the mansion in an attempt to find your lost sister while solving puzzles and speaking to a number of ghosts that take the form of butterflies (not exactly the most frightening premise). The game requires a lot of patience as you spend most of your time wandering around the mansion looking for items, clues and speaking to the disembodied heads of the butterfly ghosts. Mansion of Hidden Souls isn’t nearly creepy, scary or fun enough to hold your attention for too long unless you’re a fan of the genre.
Shining the Holy Ark is another entry in the long running “Shining” series, which made its first appearance on the Genesis in 1991 with Shining in the Darkness. That original entry is the one that Shining the Holy Ark most closely resembles in terms of gameplay. Both are first person dungeon crawler RPGs that utilize a turn based battle format with menus to allow you to make your turn choices. Shining the Holy Ark (1996) is one of three Shining games available on the Saturn in North America despite the short life span of the console, with Shining Wisdom (1995) and Shining Force III (1997) as the two others. I’ve owned Shining the Holy Ark since the I bought my Saturn many years ago but as with a lot of RPGs since I’ve been a full time job wage earner with a wife and two kids, playing through it has taken a back seat. The little bit I’ve played of Shining the Holy Ark has been impressive and I do look forward to playing it all the way through at some point. I guess I just need to take an early retirement so I can finally enjoy all of my RPG back-log, Shining the Holy Ark whole heartedly included.
Currently in my collection:
Astal – game, manual, case B+
Mansion of Hidden Souls – game, manual, case C+
Shining the Holy Ark – game, manual, case