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Feature: Hands-On With 16-bit RPG Pier Solar

Posted by Damien McFerran

We check out the Mega Drive epic which could be making its way to Wii U soon

WaterMelon's 16-bit RPG Pier Solar is proof that old gaming hardware can enjoy a fresh existence years or even decades after its original production lifespan. What began as a homebrew project in 2004 has turned into a indie gaming success story; Pier Solar has had multiple print runs, and we recently got our hands on the coveted "WaterMelon's Reprint Edition", largely due to the excitement of learning that the developer is bringing the game to HD consoles via a Kickstarter campaign, which, if successful, could also herald a Wii U release.

For those of you that weren't aware, Pier Solar is effectively a brand new RPG for the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in the US) console. It follows the exploits of botanist Hoston, who sets out on a quest to find a cure for his father's terminal sickness. He's joined on this noble venture by his best friends Alina and Edessot, and must traverse dungeons, battle monsters in turn-based combat and chat with legions of non-player characters. In short, it's exactly the kind of game you'd have snapped up almost without hesitation back in the 16-bit era, and can sit proudly alongside the likes of Secret of Mana and Phantasy Star IV.

Of course, creating a modern game for an old system means you have the benefit of technological advancement. Pier Solar is the biggest 16-bit RPG ever made, boasting 64MEG of memory - around five times the capacity of your average Mega Drive cartridge. This cavernous storage has allowed WaterMelon to craft one of the most visually stunning Mega Drive games yet seen; locations are highly detailed, sprites are bursting with character and the various anime-style cut-scenes really enliven the experience. Thankfully, the developer has ensured that the polished visuals are more than matched by deep and involving gameplay; the turn-based combat sticks to the template laid down during the 16-bit era, so don't expect anything radical here. Even so, the system works effectively, and again reinforces the feeling that you're playing an RPG that was made during the golden era of the '90s, rather than in the present day. That's a massive compliment to the talent of WaterMelon's small but dedicated team.

As great as the game is, there's a legitimate danger that you'll get waylaid by the incredible quality of the game's packaging. While many other small-scale developers might choose to release their games as cheaply as possible, WaterMelon has spared no expense in bringing Pier Solar to market. Although previous print runs were sold in cardboard cases, this most recent edition comes in an authentic plastic clam-shell box, just like original Mega Drive games from back in the day. As well as a gorgeous inlay and full-colour manual (something that wasn't even common back in the '90s), you get a glossy poster and a set of stickers. The entire package is encased inside a transparent plastic presentation case, which is embossed with the WaterMelon logo and is sure to protect your investment for years to come. In short, it's the kind of package that makes us genuinely sad that physical distribution is slowly but surely being replaced by digital downloads; sometimes, the external trappings of a game - like the manual, cover artwork and even cartridge label design - play a large part of its appeal.

It's wonderful that a game like Pier Solar can find an audience in today's market, and the HD Kickstarter campaign - which, at the time of writing, still has two weeks to go and is a mere $19K short of its $139K total - will ensure that WaterMelon's amazing achievement is enjoyed by an entirely new generation of players. We're incredibly excited that the developer is considering a Wii U release as well, because this is one game that should hold serious appeal for Nintendo players raised on the classic 16-bit RPGs of yesteryear.

From the web

Game Screenshots

User Comments (23)



Ristar42 said:

For me, the best way to play Megadrive games remains on an actual Megadrive (as long as its running at 60Hz!). Still have all my original carts from the early 90s, and others I've collected over the years, this looks cool.



ouroborous said:

i seriously wanna play this but i seriously do not wanna have to play it on my nomad, the thing was shaky even when it was new, not to mention the screen quality is HORRIBLE by today's standards and seems to have also not held up well regardless of that. i guess a WiiU download would work but it seems like it would be perfectly at home on the 3DS.



zipmon said:

I love that people do stuff like this! What a beautiful looking release, I hope it does end up coming to the Wii U!



Knux said:

I don't know why, but I want that proposed Dreamcast version so bad...



Zombie_Barioth said:

Ristar42 said:

For me, the best way to play Megadrive games remains on an actual Megadrive (as long as its running at 60Hz!).

To me the best way to play a game is as close to the original platform as possible. Too bad Pier Solar is $300 on Amazon.



Damo said:

@ouroborous I got my Nomad modded recently to replace the old screen with a newer version. It's a massive improvement.



retro_player_22 said:

I know this is a great indie RPG but damn why is it so expensive? It's not even an official commercial game and seller are selling this game with jack up prices in the hundreds like it was Earthbound or something.



Starwolf_UK said:

@retro_player_22 Only a few print runs were made. There must be a few thousand copies made at most so it is much more scarce than Earthbound (first party SNES games must have had at least 100,000 units made).

But the fact you see a $300 price indicates the demand isn't there for that price level as any bargain price will be snapped up instantly. Auction sites are a better indicator of current value than someones trophy cabinet on Amazon.

I seem to remember it being about $50 from the official website (I don't know how difficult it is to get print runs made etc and there is the time in distributing them as well which is why they probably don't want to keep making them). In a way the digital version should be welcomed for fixing the price for those that want to play rather than collect, but I'm unsure how greatly it will be changed and if it'll lose its character or not.



JaredJ said:

I have the first run that came with a disc that you put in the Sega CD to get CD quality music. This game is awesome!



MakeMyBiscuit said:

I am so happy I picked up another Sega Genesis, Sega CD. I just recently got this game after hearing about the possible HD release on this site. I love it! The quality of the packaging is amazing and the game itself is a total love letter to the 16 bit RPGs of yesteryear.

The HD version will no doubt be amazing but there is something special about having an actual physical cart playable in my Sega Genesis that pushes the system to the max. There is also the fact that Watermelon is the only company to ever use the "Enhanced CD" for some INCREDIBLE music. The fact they can get the cd to work with the cart is amazing in itself. Don't get me wrong, WM knows how to make the Genesis sound chip sing but the music from the Enhanced CD is just beautiful. Must be heard to be believed.

To me this game is more than just a game but a collector's item that screams quality through and through. Totally worth it! They are even working on a new Streets of Rage type brawler for the Sega Genesis and it already sounds amazing.

With this new resurgence of retro gamers, hopefully there will be enough demand for them to make a new Sega 32X game in the future. I would love to see what these guys could do on the 32X or maybe 32X CD:)



JamieO said:

I am not just lucky to get the chance to write for Nintendo Life, but I have also been visiting the site as reader for years and it is retro coverage like this that made me buzz off this site in the first place.

This feature is as charming as the idea of having a brand new game on an old, 'put out to pasture' console. Reading this reminds me of how I get excited when NG:DEV.TEAM release a new game on Dreamcast, it is magical that developers like WaterMelon breathe fresh life into our favourite antique consoles.

I love the paragraph about how WaterMelon were able to take advantage of advancements in the megabit storage capacity of a 16-bit game cartridge, which as retro gamers know so well, should not be confused with a megabyte. I was never good at maths, but gaming taught me to always remember that there are eight megabits in every one megabyte.

@Damo and @MakeMyBiscuit are spot-on when they highlight how an elegantly presented CIB (Cartridge, Instructions, Box) physical release adds to the enjoyment of investing in a game like Pier Solar.

The photographs are the icing on the cake, a delightful feature by Nlife’s retro gaming connoisseur, Mr McFerran.

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