In their top 100 Saturn games, Retro Sanctuary, like the previous 20 games, is not exactly brimming with quality. Apart from the excellent Rayman, the 10 games from number 80 to number 71 are mostly sports games that are both graphically and mechanically dated these days. To be fair, some of these games are really good in their genre but were never actually released outside of Japan. This is probably going to be a running theme in my Saturn reviews, where I am realizing many of the Saturn's best games were actually never localized.
Also, it should be noted that Enemy Zero, despite all its faults, is at least a historically important landmark for the console and games in general.
This was the first Strike game released in 5th generation console, and it basically transported the same gameplay of past games like Desert Strike in the SNES with some graphical updates. If you liked those past games, then you know what to expect here. It's some seriously difficult gameplay where there is little to no room for error. Basically, you're controlling a helicopter that is a one machine army, responsible for various missions within increasingly difficult games.
While the game controls well, I have never felt like I had full control over the action, with bullets randomly hitting their targets with little to no reliability. It creates situations where with exactly the same moves in the exact same conditions, you get wildly different results.
Something that became more of a focus in the game is the story, where FMVs set up a B-Movie plot that sets up the action. It adds a layer of objectives that are beyond the single-line quests and may hold your interest.
There is no way that Rayman doesn't deserve to be higher up in the list. This is a game that dared to look back at the past and improve upon it rather than chase the latest fads. As such, it features some excellent 2D graphics and animation. It just beautifully animates, comparing to classic 40's cartoons in flattering ways.
It also helps that the platforming is mostly solid, with a satisfying difficulty curve (outside of unfair boss situations), and a lot of variety to the gameplay. True, it is held back from being a true great by its slow paced gameplay and lack of platforming edge.
However, that doesn't keep it from being the best 2D platformer I played in the system so far. With its excellent atmospheric soundtrack and gorgeous graphics, Rayman proves that iteration can often contribute to the best results, especially when considering the agelessness of this 1995 game.
78- Manx TT Super Bike (1997):
There is not much to say here other than note that Manx TT Super Bike is a very faithful conversion of a good arcade game. That in itself explains why this is a game limited in content to such a noticeable degree. With only one model for bikes (with different colors for different stats), and two racing tracks (of which there are 2 mirror versions), this is as barebones a game can get.
Gameplay is solid, but not engaging in any special way. Choosing the manual transmission is more engaging for the player, but does not change the fact that this is such a limited racing game with only a solid gameplay engine as its saving grace. It's worth noting that Tantalus Media are still doing quality ports to this day; if given quality games to work with.
77- DecAthlete/Athlete Kings (1996):
Can a game with a two button control scheme be a great game? The answer is yes, but DecAthlete is not such a game. As one of the rare sports games that exclusively feature Athletics games (sprinting, jumping, throwing), it is not exactly covering an interesting field. There is just so much exciting in javelin throwing or hurdle jumping.
The game can basically be played with two buttons, where you mash and hold for maximum performance. It is appreciated that the game features eight different looking athletes and several games, but when the gameplay is this shallow, I struggle to understand the reason anyone would have enjoyed this game back when it was first released, nevermind now.
76- Die Hard Arcade/Dynamite Deka (1997):
Admittedly, I am not the best person to evaluate Beat 'em Up games, but I can say that Die Hard Arcade did not change my mind regarding the genre and its limitations. Based on the action movie, this game manages to convey some of its comedic charms. That's the extent of my praise.
Opting to use polygonal graphics, this looks much worse than the revered Beat 'em Ups of the 16bit generation, and it controls worst as well. Directing your attack is an expression on futility, as you shuffle vertically to try and be in the same plane as your enemies. Overall, this is another arcade port that fails to provide further justification to play it than improving your score.
75- Guardian Force (1998):
The Sega Saturn is known for its Shmups, but that is not due to the major success of any Western release of any particular game. In fact, very few noteworthy Shumps were ported to the west, and most, like Guardian Force here, has never left Japan. That's going to be a recurring theme for the Saturn, where Western fans needed to import and translate games to get the best of the system.
On to the game itself. It's a classic scrolling shoot em up with excellent sprite graphics and challenging gameplay. It does not go into the bullet-hell level of difficulty though, so it is more manageable to novices in the genre. What separates this from the pack is that you actually control a tank-ship with a rotating turret; meaning you can shoot in eight directions.
The game cleverly uses that gameplay twist and designs the game level to change scrolling directions. As such, you may start scrolling horizontally and then move diagonally or vertically as the stage unfolds. According to fans of the genre, it is among the Saturn's best, but its subdued graphics and music keep it from being legendary in any way.
74- Bubble Symphony (1997):
This is basically the true follow-up to the Bubble Bobble classic of the arcade, and its another game never released outside of Japan on the Saturn. For those who know nothing about the series, it's basically a series of single-screen levels where a cute dinosaur must defeat enemies by spewing bubbles from its mouth. The mechanics are pretty simple, but the increasing level of difficulty in each level forces the player to be extremely intimate with the physics of the character and their bubbles.
Personally, I played bootlegged copies of many games in the series, so much that each entry is interchangeable from the next. Apart from the visual and small control updates, this is as good as a game as any of them. One thing that is super annoying is the VERY LIMITED soundtrack, which features one annoying looping track that might just turn you insane.
73- Sim City 2000 (1995):
As with many PC strategy ports at the time, Sim City 2000 managed to look better, but control significantly worse than the source material. Simply put, strategy and simulation games are built from the ground up with keyboard and mouse control schemes. That has never been successfully translated into console experiences.
This port is not an exception.
Of all the games in this list, Enemy Zero is by far the most ambitious. Inspired by movies like Alien, the game started is a conscious effort to move gaming into cinematically driven experiences, and as such contains as much FMV scenes as these 10 games combined. That's not necessarily a qualifier for the game's quality though. Divided into two parts, a first-person action game, and a first-person adventure investigation, not everything clicks together.
Let's start with the action parts, in which you traverse ship haunted by invisible monsters. This part controls surprisingly well, and the central hook, in which you rely on sound beeps to estimate the position of your invisible foe, actually works. It is in the painfully slow adventure parts where the game starts falling apart.
In short, every action feels like it needs minutes to conclude, and that results in a back and forth that is slow and tedious to an unacceptable degree. True, the game may be a landmark release for the Saturn, but it is not a pleasure to go through today.
71- Gungriffon (1996):
FPS games were not the Saturn's strong suit, and yet original games like Gungriffon managed to impress every now and then. In a purely technical point of view, this is a game that looks much better than it has any right to. Yet, all the control issues inherent in FPS games with only a traditional D-pad as an option, are most surely there.
Still, other than that issue, this is a competent FPS that is a testament to original content developed for a system's capabilities rather than the terrible FPS port jobs that were just too damn common at that time.
This report is a consolidated review of the top 100 list by Retro Sanctuary. It features the reviews I made for the list but also has a brief paragraph about each game in the list that I didn't review. For games without an official review, the opinions I express are purely based on some little playing time and general research about the game and its reception at the time.