Since the site has recently received quite a few lines from Saturn owners bragging about our devotion to Sega’s console, I’ve decided to add my two cents. Saturn is my favorite system because it allows me to surf the net while watching “Politically Incorrect”, it allows me to play Sega’s best arcade titles in the comfort of my own flat (my neighbor’s british), and it features a less-cluttered schedule of releases than the madness that is the PSX’s. The Nintendo 64 is cool and some of its games are indeed superior to Saturn’s best, but there just aren’t enough of them. The PSX is the undisputed leader of the consoles right now, and regardless of how they achieved the status (throw ’em money) we serious gamers can’t stick our head in the sand and ignore their exclusives: “Wild Arms”, “Tobal # 1” and “Rage Racer” are just three out of dozens.

But we enjoy our Saturn releases and have achieved a sense of community that has developed out of our need to share with the world the injustice we perceive has taken place with the Saturn. This puppy should be doing twice as good as it currently is, and that most gamers in the world have turned their back on Sega’s planet has left us a little befuddled. Do Americans really crave the thrill of turning their PSX’s upside down to play games? Is brown suddenly the color of choice for Generation X gamers? (I know, I know…low blow!). That is a question we’ll answer when the time comes to cross that bridge.

It is within this negative buzz, ironically, that Saturn gamers are about to experience one of the best gaming years Sega has provided its supporters in quite some time. If you’re into imports, titles like “Bio Hazard” and “Sakura Wars” (and others of equal pedigree) get released on a regular and timely basis. And even if we in the U.S. don’t get as many titles as Japan, there are so many good games coming in the next few months that some of us with limited funds are going to have a tough time shuffling and reselling some old titles in order to get the funds needed to experience these goodies.

Which brings us to my personal Saturn collection. I currently have thirteen American Saturn titles and an import (“Sword & Sorcery”), which is a record for yours truly. In the past I had as many as nine Saturn games, but had to part with some of them in order to get newer titles (same with my eight PSX CD’s and seven N64 carts). The fact that I have these many Saturn games I can’t bring myself to unload shows (a) how unappealing to yours truly most of the games released since 1995 were, and (b) how many more games are beginning to become “must-have” because they’re either too damn cool or because you can’t get more than a few measly bucks for them (“50 cents for ‘V.F.2′? I’ll pass!”).

I’d like to share my selections with you so we can see just how much our taste in Saturn gaming differ. And since we all know the games and just how good/bad they are, I’ll rate them using the artwork in the boxes as the criteria (as an homage to the article featured in last month’s “Next Generation” magazine). There are some bitching games out there that feature hideous covers that may turn-off potential buyers: “Guardian Heroes”, “V.R. Golf 96” and “Blazing Heroes” come to mind. Other games deserve the cover they receive; with that in mind I nominate Data East’s “Creature Shock” as the Saturn game with the worst artwork in the cover box, ever! (yes, even worst than the perennial “Astal”).

So here they are, my thirteen biased selections of Saturn titles (note the absence of RPG’s and Eidos’ “Tomb Raider”, which are cool games but have limited replay value and are worth some dough toward future releases) in alphabetical order:

-“Bust-A-Move 2: Arcade Edition” (Acclaim): such an addictive and enjoyable puzzle game, with some of the most beloved and fondly remembered characters from the days of 8-bit gaming, multicolored dinos Bub and Bob. But Acclaim had to put as the cover of the game shots of a guy with eye-opening devices to proclaim the game’s addictiveness, rather than Taito’s many drawings and/or artwork featuring the game’s stars. This is exhibit A in the case against American companies screwing Japanese artwork when bringing the game to the States (but we should be thankful that Acclaim brought the game in the first place). OVERALL: C-

-“D” (Acclaim): the cult-hit from Japanese-developer Warp is a short but intense FMV puzzler with creepy atmosphere to spare and a memorable heroine, Laura, the Amiga-rendered and expressionless blonde student. The U.S. cover is an improvement over the Japanese close-up of Laura’s eyes, featuring the face of a young woman crying black tears inside the letter of the tile. Even the back of the jacket features some impressive statues and stairs, loosely based on the medieval locations of the game. Eerie and cold, just like the material demands. OVERALL: B+

-“Fighters Megamix” (Sega): the martial-arts universe of “Virtua Fighter” collides with the brawling mayhem from “Fighting Vipers”, and other Sega characters from other games drop by for a fight or two. The cover features each game’s main character, Bahn and Akira, about to engage in an earthquake-like clash of the titans. If you follow Sega then the artwork does justice to the game’s explosive mix of fighting styles that aren’t normally compatible. Those not familiar with the Sega universe (casual gamers, parents, Senator Lieberman, etc.) can use the visual cue of these two young men engaging in fight as a cue to look at the back of the box and find more about the title, including the large number of characters. OVERALL: A-

-“Fighting Vipers” (Sega): the one that got lost in the wake up “Virtua Fighter 2″‘s success at the arcades, this title got a new lease on life when the Saturn port showed gamers just how much they missed when they previously ignored it. Bahn towers over all the other characters with a menacing profile, and each of the other seven characters wear their weirdness with pride and effectiveness. You can tell just how strong a woman Jane is by her pose, or what a disgusting presence the sight of Sanman is. Only drawback is the obviously-doctored screenshots in the back of the box, with camera angles I have yet to see duplicated in the actual game. An acquired taste! OVERALL: B

-“Manx T.T. Super Bike” (Sega): the AM3 motorcycle racing game comes to Saturn via third-party U.K. developer Tantalus (a division of Psygnosis), with adequate visuals and music that mimic the arcade and playability compromised not an iota. This is probably the only game I’ve ever purchased on impulse after seeing the cover and the screenshots: they’re hot, baby! The picture of the biker riding his fiery machine of death is cool, and tells more about the game with a single picture than the not-so-cool screenshots on the back of the box. OVERALL: A

-“NiGHTS Into Dreams” (Sega): I’ll spare you the details, since we all know that this Yuji Naka game defies description. The box features a profile of “NiGHTS” flying through the tower of Twin Seeds city, and although it isn’t really a shot that would sell the game to those who didn’t know about it from other sources, it’s probably as close a visual representation of the game as it is possible when you consider the source material. OVERALL: B

-“PowerSlave” (PIE): the greeting card Lobotomy software gave Saturn owners. A 3D shooter that does “Doom” one better with clever level-design and a kick-ass engine that made the folks at Probe/G.T. Interactive blush with embarrassment. You wouldn’t know that from the cover, though, which is a drawing (in the same style as the game’s stills-only intro) featuring the hero coming out of the piranha-infested water, sword-in-hand, ready to battle the red spiders and fire-throwing demons from the Egyptian world we find ourselves in. The screen-shots on the back of the box redeem the cover somewhat, but it’s obvious the money was spent on the game and not on the packaging. Looks like a second-rate knock-off from the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie posters. OVERALL: C+

-“Sega Rally Championship” (Sega): the best driving game for the Saturn is still on top, and the cover’s silver-tint (one of only two in the whole Saturn catalogue) easily calls attention to the profiles of the two road vehicles the game will provide the player. Simple, uncluttered, elegant; but that’s probably because the game’s reputation stood as the invisible selling point. OVERALL: A-

-“Sonic 3D Blast” (Sega): the Genesis-based title gets a 32-bit facelift in the visual and musical departments, but at its chore the game is a mechanical and routine Sonic game brought in at the last minute to cash on the blue one’s reputation during the Christmas season. The box, just like the game, is an explosion of deep colors and bright child-like shapes; the cover, featuring a profile of Sonic sprinting upward with his world in the background, is cool enough to have as a wall-cover at work (which I do). Mediocre game, cool box (Sonic’s da man!). OVERALL: A

-“Virtua Cop” (Sega): the game that revitalized the light-gun shooter genre with sensitive-region polygon characters straight out of Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”. The cover features Michael “Rage” Hardy and James “Smarty” Cools, striking a pose as they aim at two different directions in the “virtua city”, which resemble structures rejected fom the 3DO shooter “Star Fighter”. Looks really dated, but that’s probably just me. OVERALL: C+

-“Virtua Cop 2” (Sega): Janet Marshall joins “Rage” and “Smarty” as the three try to put an end to EVL, Inc. crime syndicate’s terror spree by tracking the last three bosses that escaped from the sequel. This is a cover, ladies and gentleman! The three heroes look tough and ready to take one for the good of the city (although the blondie guy has his profile kind-of obscured by the pose); their resource are guns, and they do look ravishingly…red? OVERALL: A-

-“Virtua Fighter Kids” (Sega): the kiddie version of the arcade blockbuster is actually tougher and more option-packed than “Virtua Fighter 2”, and its cover features each of the fighters in their shrunken-down alter ego’s. Some (Pai, Kage and Jackie) look better than others (Wolf and Jackie look kinda gay…not that there’s anything wrong with that). At least the cover distracts from the screenshots in the back, which look fuzzy and low-res (and that’s not what the in-game graphics look like). A strong B title gets a cover of an equal caliber. OVERALL: B

-“Virtua fighter 2” (Sega): the silver-tint is cool, and so are the three well-selected and good-looking (doctored?) screenshots on the back of the box. But Sega’s undisputed champion of the fighting genre (yes, better than “Megamix”) deserves a better cover with more anime-like intensity in the drawing. By featuring SGI lifeless models of only four characters, this game misses the mark and becomes a great title covered with artwork that doesn’t come anywhere near expressing what the game stands for: martial arts mastery. OVERALL: C-

Of course we’re looking forward to trimming down this line-up (I think “Sega Rally” and “Fighting Vipers” are on my endangered list), and using the dough to get us some tasty Sega releases like “Sonic Jam” and “Quake”. I just hope that Acclaim releases Studio 3DO’s “BattleSport” before the flood of the fourth quarter…because the game’s cover captures the intensity of one-on-one “Cybersled”-like tank combat pretty accurately. UPS? Hello?