REVIEW: Beggar Prince - Sega Genesis Game
We live in good times for homebrew videogame developers. Enthusiasts of the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Odyssey 2 and other classic systems have learned to program new games, and many have spent long nights recreating the look and feel of original cartridges and packaging of their console favorites. "Beggar Prince" is the first homebrew releases to come out on an authentic cartridge for the 16 bit Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), and the first game to be commercially released for that platform in nearly 10 years.
"Beggar Prince" started life as an exclusively Chinese release back in 1996. Flash forward a few years to see American Brandon Cobb and his Super Fighter Team group begin a year-long process of translating and fixing bugs in the game's code leading up to the cartridge's release in May 2006. Super Fighter Team went to impressive lengths to recreate the vibe of a genuine Genesis release. The cartridge, box, and manual all have the look and feel of a game that might have been released by a games publisher back in the 16-bit heyday. Feeling ten years younger, I was ready to plug the game into my Genesis and get started.
The background unfolds through scrolling text and animation telling the story of a Prince who leaves his castle to sample the world of the commonfolk. Deciding to return to regal life, the palace guards refuse to admit the prince - and the plotting Cat Minister (meow?) puts plans into motion to seize the kingdom. As the game begins you play the prince meandering the environs of the kingdom, encountering townsfolk and gaining valuable clues that will hopefully lead to snatching power back from the sly claws of the Cat Minister.
I was a little ambivalent when first playing the game, as I have never been much of an role playing game fan. The concept is intriguing, but all of the associated paperwork usually makes me dizzy. "Beggar Prince" approaches the RPG with an easy-to-understand interface, and a simple system for battles. Even as a novice, I was able to quickly get into the game, exploring and fighting without being too worried about hitpoints, how to best arrange my inventory and so on.
The graphics are as nice as any you'd expect from a Genesis release. This game was originally published late in the consoles life, and there were already many good looking techniques for animating characters, building large bitmapped environments, good music and the like. More than just a quickie fan interpretation, this translation of Beggar Prince is very good (ever get to a critical point in a game, only to struggle with mis-translated text?) thanks to the work done by Super Fighter Team. They were even able to sneak in a few contemporary references (including the Zero Wing flashback inducing "all you elders are belong to cats").
Without playing through the entire 4 meg (you read that right... Beggar Prince is a gigantic 32 megabit game!) world, I can't really comment on the intricacies of every facet of gameplay. I spent a few enjoyable hours testing the game, and I'm looking forward to getting back to my Genesis to further the Prince's quest. I'm impressed that the overall package is so authentic, though next time I'd ask for some more basic explanations (perhaps a page devoted to RPG "noobs"?) of the inner workings of the RPG system for those of us who aren't versed in that gaming genre.
I hope that this release is just the first of many homebrew releases for the Genesis. "Beggar Prince" is a good model for other gamers to follow when releasing their games. This game is polished, professional, with little to differentiate it from any commercial release of the day - which is probably why Super Fighter Team have sold several hundred copies.
There are still a limited number of "Beggar Prince" cartridges left from the total run of 900. Combine this with a $5 Mega-Drive from the thrift store, and you've got a great gift for the gamer who thinks he has everything.