Being a Nintendo fan often has its perks. (I wouldn't know, personally, but I won't go into that here.) You've probably heard of the Legend of Zelda series, and you're probably aware that Nintendo's given its fans a variety of solid installments in the series. Sega fans must be out of luck, right? Not so. You see, between Sega and various third parties, there are a healthy selection of Zelda-style games for various Sega consoles. Not all of them offer the same level of depth as Nintendo's offerings, but there are plenty of solid experiences to be had. One of these experiences is Beyond Oasis for Sega Genesis.
This game's a bit of an enigma. If you go into it blindly, expecting a Zelda-like experience, then you very well may find yourself feeling severely disappointed. This game isn't trying to be a Zelda clone. Rather, it's an excellent alternative that offers a different approach to the overall game play package. Rather than focusing on adventuring and gradually increasing your offensive capabilities, Beyond Oasis opts to make you a complete freak right from the start, enabling you to unleash devastating combos and special moves right from the start, keeping collectible items confined to items that allow you to restore health or magic more quickly, among other things. That's right: You kick serious ass right out of the gate. That isn't to say that there aren't new abilities to be had. I'll touch on those later.
In Beyond Oasis, you play as Ali, a prince who is tasked with destroying an ancient evil after he discovers Gold Armlet, one of two magical armlets that grant powerful abilities to whomever wields them. Gold Armlet is more than just a plot device, as it opens up some very cool game play possibilities as you progress, as well as some interesting puzzles.
It's suitable that you play as a character named Ali, because this game could very well be passed off as a game based on Disney's Aladdin in some capacities. It has a similar graphical style, and it's beautifully animated, as well. The graphics definitely utilize Genesis' limited color palette to its fullest. Everything's bright, colorful and full of life. Even caves and swamps have a certain charm to them from a graphical standpoint, despite generally being unexciting areas in many other games. The game runs at a smooth frame rate. Granted, it doesn't push Genesis in ways that other games have, as it's definitely short on special effects. What it lacks in distortion, rotation and scaling effects, however, it makes up for with well-animated sprites.
The only real negative aspect of the graphics is the game's emphasis on using palette-swaps and passing them off as new enemies. Still, boss graphics are generally impressive enough to negate this particular gripe, so it's nothing that really detracts from the graphical experience, in my opinion.
Music & Sound (8/10)
Beyond Oasis' audio is stunning, although not perfect. The music and ambience used in most areas is good, albeit somewhat forgettable. Boss music, on the other hand, tends to stand out, as it's dark and forboding. The sound effects really steal the show, though. Yes, the voice samples are a bit scratchy, but this is Genesis we're talking about. And they're still rock-solid. The various sounds that accompany Ali's weapon attacks are better than the sounds that accompany the action in most other Genesis games, and they generally sound radically different from anything else that you'd ever hear in a video game. Magical abilities (again, more on those in a bit) are accompanied by similarly interesting sound effects, although a few of them do somehow manage to fall a bit flat.
You'll also hear a lot of sounds that weren't often conveyed in games around the time at which Beyond Oasis was originally released. You'll hear Ali's footsteps as he runs, and heavily-armored guards make their presence known with heavy, intimidating clanking sounds as they approach. Between Ali's voice effects and enemies' death screams (one of which sounds admittedly like Pee-Wee Herman), you've got a pretty well-rounded audio package. Interestingly, though, it isn't just the sounds, themselves, that're so impressive. The game uses positional stereo sound, so footsteps or crackling flames glide from speaker to speaker. Really, I realize that stereo sound isn't necessarily anything to be excited about in this day and age, but this game really manages to impress me with its use of stereo sound, even now.
Controls & Game Play (8/10)
No, it's not terribly deep, but what you'll experience of Beyond Oasis is definitely solid. It's also very accessible. You've got a button for crouching and jumping, a button for attacking with conventional weapons and a button for magical attacks (or summons). Yes, you can use a six-button controller, but it simply allows you to more quickly access certain menus. Nothing special there. Now, you're probably wondering whose bright idea it was to combine crouching and jumping into a single button, but it actually works pretty well. It also makes a bit of sense when you consider the fact that you'd need to crouch a bit in order to perform a jump. Not that such a concept should get in the way of good controls, but - really - it makes sense. To crouch, you simply hold the C button. To jump, you release the C button. Yes, this does take a bit of getting used to, but it works well enough that it generally doesn't hamper your progress or jumping accuracy.
Crouching is vital to game play, as you'll often find yourself having to pass under bridges or gateways that're impossible to bypass while standing. Furthermore, enemies such as snakes are unaffected by standing attacks, so you'll need to resort to crouching attacks to take down such pests. Jumping is very well-done, despite the game's top-down perspective. Thankfully, this game's developers didin't go with an isometric viewpoint, as those games are generally riddled with problems when it comes to jumping accuracy. In Beyond Oasis, you don't need to worry about watching your shadow in order to judge your jumping distance and position. That isn't to say that the game doesn't put a lot of emphasis on depth, though, as its dungeons tend to use areas of varying heights to make progression more difficult. This progress isn't hampered by jumping, however, so don't worry about that.
Weapon attacks are bound to the B button. As I mentioned before, you can utilize various combos and special moves right off the bat, and they vary based on what type of weapon you're using. You use a dagger by default, but you'll find various swords, bows and bombs to give you more offensive options. Interestingly, most weapons break after striking enemies a certain number of times, so it's not as though you can carelessly spam weapon attacks and expect to get away with it. The game does give you opportunities to earn "infinite" weapons that never break, but it doesn't make acquiring them easy by any stretch of the imagination. This is where the game gets interesting, as it throws a variety of very inventive trials your way, whether it be ridiculous platforming challenges or racing one of your summons around a race track. Yeah, that's right: You race one of your summons around a race track. Very interesting, to say the least. And stressful.
Anyway, your weapon-based attacks can be further augmented by running, which you can do by double-tapping the direction that you'd like to move in. Interestingly, these running attacks can also be performed simply by double-tapping a direction and immediately pressing B, but it's nice that the developers saw fit to turn these attacks into the default method of attack while running. It encourages you to run through areas, rather than walking, as you're not diminishing your attack capabilities one bit by running. This isn't something that you can say for a lot of other games.
Magic is probably the most interesting part of the game. At the start of the game, you're able to shoot a seemingly useless ball of light out of Gold Armlet by pressing the A button. You soon find that you can open magically-sealed shrine doors with it (awesome sound effect, for the record), allowing you to track down various elementals and employ their skills in your quest. Each elemental has unique abilities (both offensive and defensive) and some unique quirks, all in the name of balance. Bow allows you to break gates, but he doesn't move on his own, forcing you to "call" him as you progress. Dytto can heal, as well as unleash various water-based attacks. Efreet generally just kicks total ass, flying right up to enemies and punching them until they're dead (as well as using fire-based attacks). Shade absorbs damage for you and also allows you to reach otherwise unreachable areas by giving Ali a grappling capability not unlike that of the hookshot from the Zelda games. The A button also determines how each elemental will behave. Simply single-tapping the button will perform one spell, whereas double-tapping or holding (then releasing) the button will do other things. Very simple.
The most interesting aspect of the elementals is how you summon them. While you can earn summoning items, the primary means of summoning any given elemental is to find some sort of enemy or something else in the surrounding area that you can summon them from. Bow can be summoned from plants, Dytto can be summoned from fountains and other water sources, Efreet can be summoned from torches, and Shade can be summoned from crystals. However, you won't always find these items lying around, so you need to improvise. Dytto, for instance, can be summoned from gel enemies, whereas Efreet can be summoned from explosions, even those from your own bombs! Shade can be summoned from reflective surfaces, so the armor of your enemies does nicely. Really, it's a very cool summoning system that I think should be used more often in games. (It's actually a crying shame that this game and its Saturn "sequel" were the only games in the series.)
The game's inventory system is very simple, albeit very limited in that you can't store many items. This isn't a big deal, as - again - item collection really isn't the game's focus. Most of what you'll acquire comes in the form of healing items or summoning items. I like this approach, though, as the healing items are kept very simple. The item icons are also large and recognizable, making it them very intuitive to use.
Replay Value (6/10)
Your mileage will vary here. Really, it's not as though there isn't plenty to do here, but the game's just too short. You'll find no shortage of challenges, though, given the aforementioned trials and whatnot that you'll undergo. The game just doesn't have enough depth to warrant playing it again and again, day after day. It's a shame, too, because this is typical of games with really interesting game play mechanics, especially in terms of magic systems. (Light Crusader, anyone?) Still, the game has enough to offer to entice you to play it again, just not immediately.
Overall, Beyond Oasis is a very solid game. Just don't go into it expecting something exactly like Zelda. If you're more interested in action than in collecting things, then this would probably be a great game for you to pick up.