I’ve been doing some exploration into the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive catalog after having played through the Valis games and Gley Lancer. The Genesis isn’t what I’d call one of my blind spots, but I’m not as familiar with it as Nintendo’s early consoles.
As it turns out, the depths of its library are pretty murky. I had not heard of 1993’s Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter. In fact, if I had heard of it, I probably wouldn’t have been interested in playing it. And that would have been a shame. I would never know what an interesting game it is. On the other hand, my pride would still be intact.
Mazin Saga is the story of… Hold on, I think I missed something here. Okay, so there’s a text crawl that says that in the unimaginably distant future of 1999, humanity lost a war. We got attacked by “Godkaiser Hell,” and in the process of trying to fight their forces off, we kind of destroyed the environment. The survivors hid underground, and it’s looking pretty bad for them, but a person named Dr. Kabuto (Dr. Helmet?) has created Mazinger Z to save them all.
Because, you know, creating weapons really worked out favorably for us before.
Wait a minute. This sounds extremely familiar. Apparently, Mazin Saga is based on a manga that is a mash-up of the Devilman and Mazinger Z series. Er, maybe? Researching this is just confusing me more.
In any case, the Mazin Saga game is sort of a tokusatsu-style setup. You initially fight as a normal-sized dude through belt-scrolling beat-’em-up sections, but at the end of each level, you fight a boss as a giant-sized dude.
The brawler levels are a bit routine. There’s a good variety of enemies, but Mazinger doesn’t have much in the way of special moves. There are various ways you can swing your sword, but because enemies are so aggressive and they recover from hits so quickly, most of your effort is spent trying to keep them at a range. There’s also your typical special attack that hits everything around your character. It damages you to prevent the possibility of just spamming it, but the damage you take is based on how many hits you land, and it can stack up to some absolutely ludicrous levels. I never really used it.
Nonetheless, the brawling isn’t bad. It’s just, as I said, routine.
However, Mazin Saga comes to life during its boss battles, and I don’t just mean the tokusatsu-style giant ones. There are multiple instances of slapping a foot, an evil statue, and other indescribable monsters.
For how routine the basic gameplay is, the big boss fights have a lot going for them. They’re not on the level of, say, Street Fighter 2, but they’re challenging games that require reading your opponent’s movements carefully and reacting at the right time. You still don’t have very many different attacks, and they seem rather interchangeable, but it’s a pretty fun time.
It’s made even better by the great-looking backgrounds. Mazin Saga is a pretty impressive-looking game to begin with. While the sprites are on the smaller side, the animations are top-notch. The small characters also make it so you get a good view of the backgrounds, and they’re all varied and great-looking. There was always something interesting to take in with every scene.
The downside is that it’s harder than a 5-year-old fruitcake. This is mostly because of my personal bugbear: limited continues. By default, you have three lives, and three continues. But starting with the third level, Mazin Saga begins throwing some unfair variations at you while the bosses start overpowering you more and more.
There are only five levels, but I only got through the third level by finding a way to cheese the last boss. On the fourth level, I could make it to the final boss there, but I just couldn’t overcome it. After a few trips through, I just gave up… for now.
The biggest issue with the limited continues is that most of the levels aren’t very interesting to replay. The bosses are reliable fun, but there are only so many times that you can take in a breathtaking background while swatting enemies in the foreground before it starts to wear. It’s not a very replay-friendly game, so the fact that it forces you to do so anyway doesn’t help its case.
So, the last level remains a bit of a mystery to me. That’s a lie. I just looked it up. The fifth level concludes with a boss fight (I could have guessed that), and then you’re put through a rush against all the previously defeated bosses. Then, after that, there’s an ultimate last boss. Wow, I really didn’t stand a chance. Even if I got past Buster Claws, I’d have to fight him again a bit later. And then what? I’d have to be able to ride that through more bosses to victory.
Not sure that’s happening.
Mazin Saga is one of those titles that would probably benefit from a modern re-release that adds save states and rewinding. I don’t think it’s impossible to beat as is, but it’s not just a matter of simple repetition as something like Contra is. No, winning here requires figuring out effective strategies against the bosses, which is something that is hurt by something like limited continues.
As it is, Mazin Saga is more interesting from an aesthetic standpoint. Its animations have a great deal of fluidity, and its backgrounds have tremendous variation. Even its gameplay is decent enough. But whoever decided on that continue limit is as evil as Godkaiser Hell itself.