Sorry for the lack of updates lately, but things have been a bit game crazy busy on my end. But that’s really no excuse because a world crisis didn’t stop Eliot Ballade and Dogs Bower from trying to save the world in Sega’s Blue Stinger in 1999. In keeping with this month’s Dreamcast theme for its 15th anniversary, let’s reminisce about a game that some thought was okay to others who thought it a hot mess.
Blue Stinger was one of the Dreamcast’s launch titles on September 9th, an action adventure developed by Climax Graphics and released by ACtivision as one of the first games to hit North America for Sega’s new console. The lineup included plenty of sports oriented games, a few fighters, action shooters, but when it came to adventure, Blue Stinger was pretty much it (seeing no RPGs on tap for launch just hurt).
If Climax Graphics’ name reminds you a bit of another company — Climax Entertainment (Landstalker, Dark Savior) — you wouldn’t be wrong. CG was started by Climax Entertainment in 1998 and Blue Stinger’s producer, Shinya Nishigaki, eventually became the owner and president of the new development house.
Blue Stinger’s story kicks off with a giant earthquake in the Yucatan Peninsula sometime in 2000 A.D. sinking most of the northern coast into a curved depression that curiously follows the outline of the crater marking the place where the dinosaur-killing meteor hit 65 million years ago. Rising above the center of this watery ruin is an island which scientists have dubbed “Dinosaur Island” where a research facility and small city are built. Seventeen years pass since the event as scientists continue working to uncover its secrets.
Our hero, Eliot, is a member of ESER (Emergency Sea Evacuation and Rescue) who happens to be fishing along with his friend Billy just off the coast of the island. Suddenly, a strange meteor crashes down into the center of the island and traps everything within a giant, impenetrable field. Half of Eliot’s boat is on the side of the field facing the island while poor Billy is frozen in a kind of stasis since only part of him was caught by it. A strange, tiny blue ball of glowy light floats from the island and to the boat where Eliot is unconscious. It takes the form of the angel-like Nephilim good luck charm that Billy’s frozen hand is holding onto and eventually acts as Eliot’s mysterious guide to the island where he discovers survivors and…something else. A lot of something else, as in monsters.
It seems that whatever is on the island has mutated and created terrors that Eliot and Dogs have to battle through in order to find the truth behind what is happening. But far from being a horror game — this was more like an action adventure with monsters to blow up and some groan-worthy voice acting to accompany every spoken line.
My memories of the game were that it had some great ideas, an interesting setting, and the seeds of what could have been a fantastic mystery tied to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, that didn’t last very long once I had to deal with the third-person chase camera that the game uses, a camera that hates tiny spaces. Particularly any that has walls since the camera tends to ride up into an overhead view that can completely screw up whatever you’re trying to get a look at — and there were quite a few areas in the game that involve running through corridors and rooms.
Reportedly, this camera was actually better on the whole over the Japanese one. Blue Stinger (and the Dreamcast) released earlier that year in Japan and the camera view took the form of a series of fixed camera views that triggered on entering certain areas showing our heroes dramatic angles promoting a lot of atmosphere at the cost of being relatively useful.
Because players couldn’t exactly control the angles of the cameras themselves, certain areas or dangers could be obscured by the effect. The new camera, revamped for the North American release, solved a lot of those issues but created a few new ones, namely, in corridors and closed spaces if you wanted to move around. The “manual” control still limited how much you could control it so most of the game was spent in chase-camera view and dreading whenever you had to move near walls or inside closed spaces.
Once they met up with Dogs Bower, players could also switch between Eliot and his new friend. Both had their advantages and disadvantages. For one, Dogs, being the gruff 43-year old veteran sailor that he is, can take a bit more damage and wield a number of extreme weapons like a giant, metal spiked club. Eliot, on the other hand, is the only one that can carry both a “long-range” and “short-range” weapon at the same time. He’s also quick on his feet so he can out of the way of danger while Dogs can defend himself from direct attack.
Players also had to deal with heat and cold (a body temp gauge would appear showing how much time they have before their health starts to fall). Eliot has a lung meter for when he swims showing how much air he has left, or an air tank meter to show how much of that is left. There are also side-missions in the game that players can opt to follow up on for new weapons or additional items.
Money found throughout the game allows the player to buy food (for heals) and weapons from vending machines found all over the island courtesy of the Kimra Corporation who built the biotech facility and the surrounding city. The game is also big on puzzles — expect to do a lot of running around — to find all the key cards and area access routes that are needed to plunge deeper into the facility and the island. Saves are handled at specific points and not all of them are in the best places which can make some boss fights a bit frustrating if you die and need to work your way back from one of those.
For its time, Blue Stinger was a great looking game with a lot of detail making Dinosaur Island’s vast environs jump out from the screen along with the monsters, many of which resembled spindly limbs growing out of what used to be human beings. Those, and others, were the result of the work by Academy Award winner, Robert Short (E.T: the Extra-Terrestrial, Firefox, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), who was brought on to give the creatures of the game that added Hollywood punch. Add in a sweeping soundtrack by Toshihiko Sahashi whose experience included work on anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Full Metal Panic!, and Hunter x Hunter, and Blue Stinger could have been an awesome launch title.
But that camera…that camera. The only thing I remember about that camera was how bad it could be, even after it had been “revamped”, and how much of a liability it could become in a fight. The problems with it just bled into everything making the actual gameplay somewhat more frustrating than it should have been.
The story is also a mixed bag no thanks to the melted cheese poured over many of the lines spoken by the characters or the bizarre turns taken to create the actual threat lurking at the heart of Dinosaur Island. It seems that millions of years ago, the meteor that crashed and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs wasn’t really a meteor — it was an egg for a creature that absorbed the energies of whatever planet it landed on and it had been slowly doing that since it came down. The blue light is some kind of spirit that is supposed to stop it, and in the end, it does with the help of Eliot and Dogs while the cinematic ending hints that this has been part of a cycle that goes beyond Earth.
Blue Stinger was never ported to anything else outside of the Dreamcast keeping it an exclusive on the system, though it can be found relatively cheaply on auction sites such as Ebay. All one would need at that point is a Dreamcast.
I was surprised years later to see Blue Stinger derided as one of the worst Dreamcast games around the ‘net. Sure, it had its issues and the story wasn’t the greatest, but at the time, it showed off the potential of what the Dreamcast could technically pull off and it wasn’t quite as bad as some other games I’ve played. This wasn’t Jaws on the NES.
That it was the only game for action adventure fans at launch didn’t stick rose colored lenses over my eyes, either — by that time, the market was split between it, Sony, and Nintendo so there were a lot of ways for players to scratch their gaming itch. At the same time, I hoped that later titles would be much better. The Dreamcast was just getting its own party started and as it continued moving along, that’s exactly what it would try to bring to the table.
As for Climax Graphics, they went on to develop and release another game, Illbleed, in 2001 as one of the last games for the Dreamcast. They had also changed their name to Crazy Games and went on to assist Hitmaker on Maze of the King in the arcade. But as for Nishigaki, he continued to hold hope that Crazy Games would continue even after the Dreamcast had ended its run, closing the doors, even a month before his death in 2004 at the age of 42. But both of his games continue to live on, stirring controversy, exciting retrogamers curious to experience for themselves what Blue Stinger was all about, and keeping the flame of the Dreamcast alive even now.