Mystic Defender
By Dillon Pritchard Monday, 12 Mar 2007

Well, it’s a new year, and that means retro gaming. You see, every year I dig through my game collection and resurrect a game from my youth. This month I chose to pick up a title that was around before the Sega Genesis really got popular: Mystic Defender.

Mystic Defender follows the story of Joe Yamato, a lone warrior set to the task of rescuing princess Alexandra from the evil clutches of sorcerer Zareth. By kidnapping Alexandra, Zareth hopes to resurrect his dark master, Zao. How delightfully unique. Thankfully, games like this don’t require much plot, and Mystic Defender is no exception.

The reason for that is, what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in gameplay. Think of R-Type’s weapon charge system fused with Ninja Gaiden’s gameplay. That’s Mystic Defender. Joe’s default weapon, something called Psycho magic, is not unlike Mega Man X’s X-buster, for those familiar with that series. (And if you’re not…go play it.) A single button push produces one shot; a half charged shot is slightly larger; a fully charged shot produces three large, circulating balls of energy. At your disposal are three other weapons that you pick up as you progress—Flame magic, a flamethrower type weapon; Sonic magic, which shoots out energy balls in six directions; and the devastating Thunder Dragon magic, which destroys everything on screen. Powerups for the latter can be found throughout the game, and can only be used once per each pickup (whereas the first two remain permanently in your inventory). You will also encounter two other items to be picked up: a blue symbol which restores one life block, and a red symbol which reduces weapon charge time.

There are three difficulty levels, and as far as I can tell, the only difference is the amount of credits given. Enemy numbers and patterns appear to be unchanged no matter what difficulty level you choose, which is probably a good thing. I mentioned Ninja Gaiden earlier—not just because of the similar gameplay, but also because I can say with confidence that this game is one of the toughest platformers I’ve ever played. Not that it’s outright difficult—just tough to master. There are many unexpected challenges along the way, and a good knowledge of the game (or an ungodly reaction time) is necessary to proceed all the way through. And about that reaction time, well, let’s just say that the fact that you can’t walk and shoot at the same time is more than a little aggravating. I guess using magic requires you to stand absolutely still.

Graphics are excellent for a game of this age, on par with arcade games of the time (In fact, it is based off the arcade game of the same title). Backgrounds are nicely detailed, and sprites feature fluid transitions and attention to the minute, in most cases. The enemies are unique, and for some of them, I’d even go so far as to say frightening. Another plus is that unlike some games of the genre, it’s not difficult to tell what’s going on. I do have to admit that the graphics lack the polish of later Genesis games, but that’s acceptable.

What really stood out to me was the game’s soundtrack. Every one of the tunes are nicely composed, and add to the unique atmosphere of each stage. Arpeggios, sweet harmonies, delay tactics, and use of the Yamaha sound chip’s stereo capabilities abound. It can, however, get quite repetitive. Speaking of sound, the sound effects are well done, too. My only complaint in that department is that some of the effects are a tad harsh. Not only does the sound of your weapon charging get annoying, it also uses up one of the channels that otherwise would be used for music.

With nostalgia attached, I’d say that this is one of the better Genesis platformers out there, despite its age. Although, I have to admit, if you’ve never played this game before and decide to pick it up today, you might be a little let down. One of my friends not familiar with the game concluded that it must be a game for hardcore Genesis fans only, and I’m almost inclined to agree. The game is relatively long and difficult. My ten-year-old brother found it boring. Even so, if you enjoy similar games, such as the old-school Castlevania games and the aforementioned Ninja Gaiden, you’re likely to enjoy Mystic Defender. Is it worth Buying? Emulate first, especially since the game is hard to come by these days. But it’s definitely worth a play.