Life

Games: Shenmue I & II rerelease the ideal way to see what all the fuss was about

Shenmue 1 & II – both blockbusters offer a seamless blend of action, adventure and fisticuffs
Neil McGreevy

Shenmue I & II (PS4)

By: Sega

"TO BE this good takes ages," chirped Sega's 90s jingle, and they weren't whistling Dixie. While the clouds may have been gathering for the House of Sonic's console business by the decade’s end, Sega pumped out hit after hit for their much-loved but little-bought Dreamcast.

From Virtua Tennis and Jet Set Radio to Crazy Taxi, the company's last roll of the dice served up software with Nintendo levels of quality control – and none more so than the legendary Shenmue. Released as a last hurrah for the Dreamcast in 1999, Shenmue single-handedly created the open-world genre. Without Shenmue, there would be no Grand Theft Auto.

Following young martial artist Ryo Hazuki on a chop-socky quest to avenge his father’s death, both blockbusters offer a seamless blend of action, adventure and fisticuffs. Actively living in Yokosuka, you’ll experience day turning to night and hundreds of locals going about their business. Public transport runs to schedule, businesses have real-time opening hours and you’ll even have to keep down a day job driving forklifts at the docks.

There are dozens of mini-games peppered throughout, from racing to busting heads in underground fight clubs, while capsule toy machines will sate the appetite of Japanophiles.

It’s also a supremely silly game, with so-bad-it’s-good voice acting and the fact you can ignore your father’s killers for a day spent pumping yen into its Hang-On and Space Harrier arcades. The only drawback, by modern standards, is the combat. His name is Ryo and he dances on men’s faces, though limited moves and samey battles won’t much raise the pulse.

Of course, Shenmue’s freedom to wander about your day-to-day is a staple nowadays, but 19 years ago it was truly groundbreaking stuff, while the saga continued in the superior Hong Kong-set sequel. And now you can party like it's 1999 with this warts n’ all HD rerelease of two cult classics that stand the test of time (set in 1980s Japan, they were retro in the first place).

Don’t go in expecting Yakuza Kiwami levels of airbrushing – these are essentially the same games that spun in your beloved Dreamcast, bumped up to higher resolutions for modern tellies. Visually, you can play in either the original 4:3 format, letterbox or high-res and switch between the original Japanese audio or its amateur night English dub.

The most expensive game made in its day, this is the ideal way to see what all the fuss was about – not to mention a final chance to board the hype train ahead of next August’s crowdfunded Shenmue 3.

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