Sega’s console agnostic strategy is obviously selling them a lot of games and in turn, enabling them to rake in revenue that would otherwise only be achieved from their defunct Dreamcast system. They have a lot of good titles to offer. Games like Shenmue had very little exposure being a Dreamcast only title. Furthermore, titles from first party developers on the NFL, NHL, NBA and tennis remained the crème de la crème when ported over to other platforms; even dethroning the much vaunted EA franchises.
So it comes to no surprise, the extra revenue has allowed Sega to meet a new objective: introduce their games to all platforms, including mobile and handheld devices. I admit, I was the first one to line up to see Sega’s initial forays into mobile gaming. Sadly, I lamented, they weren’t treating either Palm or Pocket PC platforms seriously until I received word of two game packs coming out from Sega.
This pack, called the Leisure Pack, is more game-ish than the other one. There’s no storyline, no complex character development, advancements, enhancements, or anything. These are games traditionally known as timewasters. Unlike other developers, Sega had gotten Synovial to port Game Gear titles over to the Pocket PC. This was actually included with iPAQs, although it was marked rather anonymously as an add-on on the software installation CDs. Needless to say, I don’t think it became a raving success, despite the fact that some figureheads, like Sonic, actually made it on to the Pocket PC screen.
In its presentation, Sega Mobile appears to use the same Game Gear emulating engine Synovial gave them earlier, except you get fewer configurable options (namely to do with performance) unless you buy the title. For example, the original emulator had options to play at 50%, 100% or full screen modes. The Leisure Pack locks you to a total of three games in whatever screen size it wants to.
The most recognizable title is probably Columns. It’s a no thrill Tetris clone, although it’s slightly (and only slightly) more sophisticated than Tetris because it allows you shift colored blocks around so instead of a purple yellow green combination, you can have yellow purple green, or arrange it however you wish to fit your existing playing area. The goal is the same. You have to match the same colored blocks together. Columns lets you do this diagonally as well. Overall, I can see why Sega might have released this on the Game Gear. Anyone who has touched the original monochrome Game Boy will remember that Tetris arguably became one of the best selling titles of all time.
Not all of the games here were developed or published by Sega. Slider is a puzzle game taken from Infogrames. It’s a cute game, featuring a (quoting the marketing literature) “strange-looking creature” who moves around to light up tiles. It’s a grid-like puzzle title and while it’s fun and has 99 levels, the controls for this game are sticky. You might be moving across tiles and all of a sudden want to change directions only to find the on-screen persona ran off a cliff by accident.
The last of the trio is Super Golf. There are already plenty of heavyweight golf titles for the Pocket PC. There are still more golf titles to come, including Hexacto’s recently announced conversion of the venerable Links franchise. Super Golf is more like an arcade golf game. Think Hot Shots for the Playstation or Outlaw Golf for the Xbox or even Mario for the old N64. Instead of the typical golf view, you play from a top-down perspective.
The problem with this game pack is really in the visuals. I’m assuming they are still using the Synovial emulator engine but the games have hardly been touched up for the Pocket PC hardware. I just recently glanced at Rayman Ultimate; a game converted from a PSX base and it looks phenomenally sharp on the Pocket PC. The graphics for this Leisure Pack are pixilated and rough. Particularly disconcerting is the Super Golf game, where the terrain is a far cry from the 3D and photo-realistic ones of modern golf titles, including modern PDA golf titles. And while it had some of the fun character-driven aspects of Hot Shots or Outlaw, it really wasn’t zany enough to hold my interest. As for Columns and Slider, the graphical deficiency wasn’t as bad due to their relative simplicity but if you’re running a heavy load on the PDA, be prepared to hear some interesting (off-beat) synthesizer scores.
Ultimately, the Leisure Pack failed to really impress me. Sporting dated graphics, Sega’s mobile division has done nothing to enhance the looks, much less the gameplay. I’m reminded of Konami’s arcade touchups to old titles like Frogger or Rush’n’Attack on the Game Boy Advance. Those games were reframed and redone to look good on the Game Boy Advance. In addition, someone even weeded through ancient arcade code to fit in multiplayer capabilities on games more than a decade old. That, in my mind, is commitment par excellence to remaking your old franchises.
At $9.99 US, the Leisure Pack is almost a steal compared to other compilations but you’re bound to find more impressive timewasters elsewhere. Games like Tetris, for example, are a dime a dozen, including some good freeware alternatives. And while Slider is charming, puzzle games receive the most developer patronage of all genres, so you’re definitely not in shortage of good ones for PDAs.
[08/10] Program Size
[09/15] Learning Curve