Who's a good boy then?
Sometimes a Hidden Gem doesn't always mean the same thing. For a few people it stands for the very best of something on a console or computer, others see it as a game that nobody has heard about. The problem with both of those is that what's good for one person isn't always the same for another. What if you don't like the game everyone else seems to love? Is it still a 'Gem' then?
At RGG we see it a little bit different. Why can't Hidden Gem simply mean both of those statements above but mixed in with a game that has something genuinely cool about it? A unique origin story of the title? A one hit studio wonder?
This entry in RGG Remembers see's a Decepticon take a look at Man's best friend. Sega style... Obviously!
when JVC went all Mega-CD...
Ok so in Japan in the very early 1990's Sega were looking at the videogame industry and seeing where and how to push things forward from the 16-bit cartridge era. Several other companies like NEC were doing great things with compact discs however Sega had tons more franchises and arcade cabinets to get into homes so in order to maintain their 'cool' and forward thinking reputation it was decided that instead of a stand alone console an Add-On to the existing Sega Megadrive/Genesis was going to be the way forward. A way for them to stay relevant with what the Super Nintendo could do (Mode 7) but apply even more cool stuff to the mix. That Add-On would go on to be called the Mega-CD (Sega-CD in North America)
Now as we all know this project ended up being a sales disaster in every single region for numerous reasons, the first being that it confused the market completely, the second being that Sega Japan and Sega America were in huge inner turmoil at the time and each actually sabotaged the other, for example Sega America didn't even get proper dev units for the Mega-CD, they had to emulate the first batch of code on cobbled together tech because Sega Japan saw the project flop in their territory and simply didn't want America to make it work, they wanted it buried.
As well as this Add-On unit another company who were massive in the Far East, JVC also had a plan to put everything into one unit and whack popular extras on top in order to sell it to the Jap market. The console was called the 'WONDERMEGA' and it was basically awesome! A combined Mega-CD / Megadrive console this played everything on one box but at the same time also added numerous MIDI options to make it essentially a sound bank storage for keyboards (massively popular in Japan) and also a fully fledged Karaoke unit with custom software and voice muffler to make any song able to be used in say any home or bar. In Japan Karaoke has always been and remains to this day a huge cultural pastime.
As this quite frankly gorgeous unit was being developed JVC knew that in order to sell it to gamers they would need some kind of special game to make people buy this version and not the 2 separate Sega devices. They needed a killer exclusive pack-in game. At this time platformers were the number one game genre on the planet, don't get me wrong fighting games were massively popular however Mario and Sonic were proving that if you could get it right they would walk systems into homes. JVC reached out to several western companies in order to get help and one very special UK based developer answered the call...
CORE DESIGN who during the 1990's were one of the Amiga's biggest developers creating legendary titles like Chuck Rock, Heimdall, Rick Dangerous and of course would go on to release that little known game Tomb Raider were absolutely on fire in this period so after a pitch from them to JVC about a platform game with a mascot character the deal was struck and the rest as they say is history...
The game we are talking about today is called WONDER DOG, so named because it was designed to be a description of the central character, a dog, and the console it was made for, the WonderMega. It's one of those games that has a massively important role in a specific period of the games industry that absolutely nobody talks about, seriously if you don't believe me go check out it's wikipedia page where even there nobody seems to give a damn... Well pardon my French but screw that noise, not on my watch!!!
As mentioned Wonder Dog created by Core Design for the Japanese launch of a unique console from JVC was a manufactured mascot platform game from start to finish. Completely designed to both sell the concept of CD based gaming and the characteristics of it's title lead character this was sort of like getting a game from McDonalds made by Treasure (hey, hold on, they did do that right... lol) Now the power of the CD format allowed Core to tell the story in animation of how an Alien Dog lands on planet Earth in a massive 'bone' shaped spaceship ( I know right? Genius!) How he finds a new friend and how it's all taken away from him. Like Earthworm Jim he grabs a trusty powered space suit and sets off to save his new friend and the planet K-9 (seriously... Pun work like this should get a medal)
The enemies of the game are a combination of bad humans but mostly creatures from the evil 'Pit bullies' army. It's all superbly tied in under the whole canine theme and works a treat story wise. The graphics are clearly CORE DESIGN through and through and look so much like 'Chuck Rock' meets 'Wolfchild' which are both Core Design games that it's untrue. To be fair it actually looks like an Amiga 500 game with it's detailed backdrops, scrolling techniques and animation. Wonder Dog actually ended up being released on said Amiga 500 in 1993 as part of a deal with JVC that saw them distributing Wolfchild on the Mega-CD.
With large sprites, deep backdrops and above all else some incredible music Wonder Dog turned out to be a very good game indeed, some magazines of the time seemed to take offence to it's manufactured origins as a product for order but for those who were able to see past that what was often decided was that this was a solid 8/10 type of game. It has all the marks of a classic Core Design title with graphical nods to games like 'Rolo To The Rescue' and 'James Pond 3 Operation Starfish' and even without JVC asking for it my initial thoughts are that we would still have seen this on Amiga platforms, this was a game that HAD to be made at some point, it's so 1990's it's ridiculous.
Unfortunately the WonderMega unit and the entire Sega-CD / Mega-CD project was a short lived sales disaster however just because people didn't buy it doesn't mean it was a bad console. Wonder Dog along with more than 20 other games I could easily name meant that Sega gaming on the CD format was a blast, this is absolutely recommended by me and is without doubt one of the the real hidden gems of the format. Most people either don't know about it or see the box and think... Kids game... WRONG!!!!
The PAL copy you see to the right of this text, complete with spine card is my personal copy. It's been with me for more than 20 years now and was released when JVC decided to release it without the console in Europe and North America. The WonderMega may have died way before it's time but the whole project gave us at least one great thing we could all enjoy. Sometimes greatness really can come from failure.
Turns out every dog does indeed have it's day... I love this game! I hope some of you do/will too. Why not take it for a 'Walk' yourself and see why so many retro fans have a soft spot for the hound that could!