Thursday, November 5, 2020

Beyond Oasis (GEN) Retro Review

We move on from one Zelda-like game to another, though this one is much, much older and far, far less recent. It's the Ancient-developed, Sega-published Beyond Oasis, and that means it's Retro Review time, everyone! Here is the SPC review of Beyond Oasis for the Sega Genesis.

A game whose quality is no mirage

If you were a child of the early 1990s who enjoyed video games, you most likely were either in the Sega camp or the Nintendo camp. While most are well aware of the nasty console wars of the era, ironically, the two consoles, the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, complemented each other well. Generally, each console marveled in genres and games that the other didn't, or at least didn't do as well. While the Super Nintendo arguably was more proficient with platformers and RPGs, the case could easily be made that the Sega Genesis did better with fighters and sports games. Either way, it was worth owning both consoles, but as any '90s kid can tell you (including me), owning both consoles wasn't usually in the cards.

So, while the Super Nintendo had myriad RPGs and action-adventure games under its crown, the Genesis did not really have as many to boast about. Yes, there was the occasional Phantasy Star, but other than that, not much else. With The Legend of Zelda and its then-recent mega hit A Link to the Past being the new hotness, Sega saw a need to come up with its own answer to Nintendo's action-adventure title. Sega's answer was none other than Beyond Oasis, a game not too unlike Zelda. Launching near the end of 1994, Beyond Oasis gave Genesis owners Sega's own take on the now all-too-familiar formula. 

The beginning plot of Beyond Oasis reveals itself in a gorgeous partially animated opening scene. In the distant past, two warriors, one wielding a gold armlet while the other wore a silver armlet, battled one another in a war for the ages. This war brought chaos and destruction across the land of Oasis until victory was achieved. The armlets mysteriously vanished after the fact. That is until one day, on an expedition on an island, Prince Ali (not to be confused with a more famous, Disney-oriented Prince Ali) uncovers a gold armlet buried in the sand. Now, Prince Ali must use the gold armlet to put a stop to a new evil that has entered the picture--one wielding the silver armlet once more to cause havoc and ultimately rule the land of Oasis and the world itself.

Immediately Beyond Oasis dazzles with its opening scene.

Beyond Oasis no doubt gives off heavy Zelda vibes (you'll have to pardon me if I constantly compare and contrast the two games/series), and that's for the simple reason that it pretty much is a Zelda game with some Secret of Mana stylings thrown into the mix for good measure. You play in a top-down perspective, travel across an overworld, venture inside dungeons, solve puzzles, battle bosses, rinse and repeat. It's all rather enjoyable.

Combat in Beyond Oasis sees Prince Ali initiate a series of thrusts and strikes with his starting weapon, a dagger. However, you routinely come across new weapons to add to your arsenal, but funnily enough, not unlike a certain recent Zelda game, these weapons have a finite number of uses before they deteriorate and break. Different weapons have different attack power and number of times they can be used before going bye-bye. There are close-range weapons like daggers and swords, but also weapons like crossbows and bombs that work well at having Prince Ali keeps his distance from more dangerous enemies while delivering a decent dose of damage.

When you have a prized artifact like the Gold Armlet on you,
bad guys are bound to notice and take an invested interest in you!

Prince Ali has plenty of oomph behind his attacks, even able to perform multiple hits one right after another in an almost beat-em-up-like combo. The impact of each attack is nice enough, but at the same time, combat feels a bit off in the sense that it can hard to line up attacks in general. Additionally, Prince Ali can crouch to attack low-lying enemies, which also suffers from an inability to routinely line up and attack your intended target. Make no mistake, though, when Beyond Oasis's combat works, it's fun, but when it doesn't, I just prefer to use a long-ranged weapon or else see myself lose precious health from stumbling around to hit a foe.

Here's a dagger in your eye!

The aforementioned gold armlet that Prince Ali wears isn't just a plot device; it's also used to acquire and use special magic that he can use to summon one of four elemental Spirits that he gains through his adventure. These Spirits are summoned by throwing a magical sphere at various elemental objects, such as chucking a sphere at a campfire to spawn Efreet, the Fire Spirit, or throwing a sphere at a body of water to summon Dytto, the Water Spirit. Summoned Spirits stay on screen as long as Prince Ali's magic meter has some juice in it. Each Spirit has three moves it can use, some depleting his magic more than others. Dytto is especially useful in the early game because that Spirit has a healing ability. This is great when Ali runs out of consumable food to otherwise heal himself.

Spirit Efreet is on fire, both in a literal sense and a butt-kicking sense.

Spirits are used not just for combat but as the main means to solve puzzles. There's of course your simple puzzle solutions, such as using the Water Spirit to douse a wall of fire that impedes your progress, but there eventually becomes more challenging brain busters to decipher and unravel. The dungeons hold the most puzzles in the game, but there are plenty of overworld puzzles to solve as well.

Unlike A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, Beyond Oasis's overworld and map are not square-based. Instead, they're more like an Ys game with screens/areas/rooms of varying sizes and shapes. This can make it difficult to detect what parts of the screen can be exited from, particularly in outdoor areas. Multiple times I'd comb the edge of the screen, thinking I'd be able to pass through to the next screen, only to be denied. 

Furthermore, regarding traversal of the world in Beyond Oasis, I found this rather tedious at times. Backtracking, especially if you want to return to past areas to collect missed goodies like treasures such as special orbs and rare weapons, is quite hard to do. You don't really have any means to fast travel in Oasis, making it a pain in the butt to get around, unfortunately. A lot of my extra play time with Beyond Oasis came from extensive and rather dull doubling back to areas I had already been in just to reach where I wanted to finally be. 

You know the saying, "The bigger they are, the harder Prince Ali falls!"

Beyond Oasis looks exceptionally nice visually. The large sprites are detailed and have nice animations to them. The environments are colorful and even more detailed than the already impressive sprite-work. The music is less of a stellar note, and that might be blasphemy considering the great Yuzo Koshiro was the composer behind Beyond Oasis's soundtrack. However, it's more the soundfont used than anything else with some of the brass-heavy themes--which Beyond Oasis is full of--sounding like boisterous flatulence than anything heroic and enjoyable to listen to. (Sorry, not sorry.) 

Most weapons other than Prince Ali's initial dagger and late-game weapons
have a set durability to them and will break after a limited amount of uses.

As a Zelda-like mixed with some Secret of Mana goodness, Beyond Oasis does its job well enough to be worthy enough of being within earshot of the Zelda series. By no means is this Ancient-developed, Sega-published action-adventure one that surpasses something like A Link to the Past due to its unrefined, clumsy combat and extensive and unenjoyable backtracking, but Beyond Oasis does manage to bring enough to the table to make it a recommended game to play. From the gorgeous visuals to the clever use of Spirits for battles and puzzles, Beyond Oasis may not be timeless, but it is quite the epic adventure regardless.

[SPC Says: B-]

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