I got sick like a wet dog in the past week and had a fever that made me dizzy if I lifted my head. Fortunately, pills and water helped to kick it back into my chest and sinuses, so instead of feeling like it’s twenty below, I just hack and sneeze a lot which I suppose is better. One good thing that this gave me time to do was to catch up with a few older games. In this case, Shadowrun for both the Genesis and the SNES. Yes, I am a little behind the times.
After playing through both, I’ve broken down what I thought both did best…and worst…into a sort of mini review below. It might not be state of the art stuff, but both titles were a lot of fun and are probably the closest that fans of the PnP material will have to an authentic Shadowrun experience on the console. So here we go, chummers, the straight up paydata.
Both titles made me thankful that console RPGs have improved on areas that we take for granted nowadays, such as the interface. Picking powers and cycling through weapons using the GUI given to you on the Genesis version began to grate on my nerves near the end. How many buttons does it take to pick a magic power in Shadowrun on the Genesis? Probably as many as it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop.
But that doesn’t mean that the SNES version was all pristine perfect, either, with its cluttered inventory and a GUI that was some kind of adventure game/action shooter hybrid that felt like the long lost prototype of what went into Mass Effect, only top down 2D isometric and that it could be a pain to work with if you’re pixel hunting stuff onscreen to interact with.
You’d also guess that the game would let you simply use items, like the phone, if you picked it with the Big Hand cursor, but no. You have to go into your inventory, find your credstick, and then use it on the phone. Sure, it makes sense to do so, but your character should already know this by heart and do it for you automatically. It just seems like busy work. You can’t hack the phone with your cyberdeck, nor can you open it up to salvage some circuits or rip it off the wall to see what happens, so why the long drawn out? To sell stuff, shopkeepers won’t give you the option until you “give” them the item in question. Wouldn’t it have been more convenient to have that option in the dialogue menu without having to leave it just to perform one other action?
The SNES version also requires you to have a notebook next to you since its idea of keeping topics and information available to the player consists of a list of words that might not mean anything to you several hours later. If you come back to this game at a much later date after having played a large chunk of it, good luck in trying to figure out just where exactly you had left off and who you had talked to last. The Genesis version isn’t as bad as it has something of a notebook containing tips on where to go next, but it’s idea of “tips” are simply to recount what you have to do next. One task I was asked to do was to get the scale of a feathered dragon…and that’s it. No “I understand it frequents Starbucks” or any other kind of hint as to where to start looking.
Both games actually suffer a lot from ambiguity issues like this, where you are told to do something yet are given pretty much nothing on where or how you should go about doing whatever it is you are expected to. Again, today’s RPGs actually make things a lot easier on players and help to save trees by keeping track of such things in the game itself, something I found myself thankful for.
Interface Winner: Genesis
Neither game was impossible to finish as long as you could work through their quirks. Of the two, I thought the Genesis version was the most challenging one in terms of combat since it was very possible to start the game, get into a fight a minute into it, and die. In fact, the Genesis version is filled with a lot of death, some of it thanks to cheap enemies that can kill you in an instant and the uber grind that it sticks you with in earning credit since you can’t check into the local chop shop and sell an extra kidney for cash.
The SNES version was a little more forgiving in the combat department, but later in the game, it got ridiculously obnoxious with the number of hitmen that would spring out of hidden alcoves on the street, the lawn, office windows, the bathroom…seriously, you fight what is pretty much a third world army for most of the game as they find creative ways in which to try and shoot you. AND NO ONE CARES. You could get into a firefight at a tenement building and the NPCs will dance, talk, and pretty much behave like there’s nothing to worry about. That, and the weapons that you use tend to be pretty lame all around. Even if you equip yourself with a hand cannon that does decent damage, don’t expect it to be like Harry’s .357 Magnum all the time. It’s as if there was a hidden glass ceiling on how much max damage you could inflict on enemies no matter how high the price tag was on your weapon.
Sorry, SNES. Even with the occasional cheapness of the Genesis version’s combat, it at least felt like it belonged in the game without making you wonder where Lone Star was all the time.
Combat Winner: Genesis
As far as how “Shadowrun” either title felt, I thought that the Genesis version did a better job in delivering the details. Get jacked up with too many cyber implants, and watch your magic suffer. You can find fixers who will give you jobs around Seattle to earn fast cash, buy weapons, magic fetishes, run afoul of the law, help or hinder strangers, and improve your stats by earning karma. Jobs varied from delivering a package to a bar next door, to infiltrating a corporate office while avoiding security to find the one safe that might have the package you’re looking for, or the room with the executive who wants to defect. The higher the risks, the bigger the payday.
Although the detailed magic system was a nice touch, it felt extremely cumbersome and I dreaded having to go in and switch to a spell because of that reason. Still, as you can see in the pic below, there was a lot to get involved in improving your character with an almost Elder Scrolls-like approach to development. Want a killer mage? Deadly gunner? Sweet Decker? Combination of all three? The Genesis version made it happen.
The SNES version tended to gloss over a lot of the statistics associated with the PnP version by streamlining a lot of the finer points which made it easier to get into and manage, but also felt a little lacking as you couldn’t find fixers to perform side jobs to earn cash through or really get a taste of what Shadowrunning could have been like to the degree that the Genesis had. There wasn’t a whole lot to look at for the screen depicting your character’s strengths and skills and he was generally developed as an all-in-one character with a lot of leeway given to magic. For example, if you cyber up with dermal implants and wired reflexes, you can still cast spells like a streetwise shaman straight out from Salish-Shidhe.
One thing that the Genesis version did not do as well as the SNES was with its economy. The economy on the Genesis version is mad crazy for a console translation of the PnP. It’s as if the designers wanted to drag out the grinding with the prices that it stuck with from the PnP version of the game. It’s one thing to stick to the material, but quite another when you want to also make it less frustrating for players. At least the SNES version had balanced its goods versus your estimated cash level well which meant I was able to buy stuff and keep up with the Joneses as the challenge increased.
The Genesis version won’t cut you any slack. Need a fetish? I hope you have at least 10K on your ‘stick to get in the door. Buy a better deck? You might as well sell an organ.
On the Genesis, prices for a lot of the best equipment did not scale with your assumed point of progress in the game…meaning that the gulf between the haves and the have nots were well represented by many of the stores. To get a decent deck might set you back 20K. The top of the line model is 220K. Given that some of the most lucrative jobs are ‘net runs that can get you at least 6K but require top notch skills and software (which can cost up to an additional 30K+), and you’ll be grinding jobs until you get sick of Shadowrunning. When you get that uber deck, you might not care anymore since there’s really not a whole lot else to blow your cash on.
But as crazy as its economics are, most of the other details make up for the grind that most players will need to go through on the Genesis giving it a wide edge over the SNES version. The Genesis simply feels that it has a lot more Shadowrunning options than the SNES version does.
Shadowrunners prefer: Genesis
One thing that both titles did terrible on was in how cyberspace was treated. Granted, that’s a tall order to try and replicate what the PnP had described as a virtual reality, but Neuromancer had done a half decent job at doing the same thing on PCs and made it exciting at the same time. Instead, you had two vastly different approaches to cyberspace with either game.
The SNES version was the worst one. It was a top down view with blocks of squares and you basically had to move your icon from square to square without running into IC or successfully blowing up a block to clear it. It was like Microsoft had taken over the Matrix and remade the ‘net with Minesweeper so that it would be able to run on anything.
The Genesis version was slightly better, but it was incredibly ambiguous. When you jack in, you’ll first set up what software you want on your deck and then you’ll see the back of your avatar as he “flies” down a grid towards a giant floating icon either to do battle with or deceive your way past it. One of the skills you could improve on was Computers which affected how well you fought on the ‘net and your success against nodes and IC. Unfortunately, no matter how high I would push the skill, my avatar would always get clobbered by the defenses lying in wait. I had jacked my skills high enough that no one else that I could hire in the game could match anything that I had, and still, I was getting my electronic butt handed to me by low level IC. Needles to say, I avoided this part of the game almost for the entire run. Fortunately, you never need to really get into this part of the experience to reach the end.
Even though I avoided the ‘net on the Genesis version later in the game because of the diminishing returns that it was giving me for as much nuyen and karma that I was investing into this part of my character, at least it tried to represent the ‘net instead and made it an option.
Better ‘net…by far: Genesis
Now we come to the nitty gritty of any RPG: the story.
The SNES version was a lot more challenging in terms of story development since it often left you hanging without a hint as to where to head off to next, or would bury an obscure clue somewhere in a conversation you had with an NPC several hours ago. Equipment and combat were far more balanced than with the Genesis version in terms of accessibility and ease of play, but I also thought that the story on Sega’s box was also well told, but not quite as epic. I could see both fitting into the Shadowrun universe as one of many shadowruns that happen without anyone the wiser which was great. You might not rub elbows with Dunkelzahn (the Genesis version takes place in 2053, the SNES version in 2050, years before the First Wyrm bit the big one), but you’ll still get a good taste of the night life.
In the end, though, I thought that the SNES version delivered a better one than the Genesis version. The Genesis version may have had the system down pat and the feel of a Shadowrun, but the SNES had a bigger plot with plenty of NPCs and unique places to visit.
Story Awesomeness: SNES
So what is it, chummer?
If only the gameplay from the Genesis’ version was merged in with some of the streamlined GUI decisions and fitted into the huge plot that the SNES did well with, old school Shadowrun could have been a stronger classic than it already is. Despite the grief either title had given me, I thoroughly enjoyed both, especially the fact that they were relatively open ended. The Genesis version came close to being an open-world version of the PnP series. Even the music was great, and you can tell that the devs wanted their version to be the start of a series.
Final Winner: Genesis
As fun as both are, the SNES version did leave me with something that only made making it to the end of either one something of a bittersweet victory:
And I was just starting to get better.