A look back at Smilebit’s Gunvalkyrie – an underappreciated SEGA classic

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In the West, SEGA’s Smilebit has become synonymous with the Jet Set Radio games, and for good reason. Like Sonic The Hedgehog to the Genesis and NiGHTS into Dreams to the Saturn, the original Jet Set Radio became one of the Dreamcast’s defining games, showcasing unique graphics and reinventing a video game genre. As SEGA left the hardware market in 2001, internal developers announced which consoles they would favor and Smilebit fittingly ended up with Microsoft’s Xbox.

I say “fittingly” because it only made sense that a developer known for pushing the graphical envelope would choose the Xbox, given Smilebit members’ propensities for expansive worlds in past titles like Team Andromeda’s Panzer Dragoon Saga and the first Jet Set Radio. While Jet Set Radio tried to conceal the fact that the game actually consisted of several small areas linked by clever tricks allowing the Dreamcast to load the next area as the player skated to the another section of the map, on the Xbox Smilebit could truly create expansive and detailed worlds. Utilizing the Xbox’s power, Smilebit did just that with Jet Set Radio Future, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and Gunvalkyrie.

Developer Retrospective: The wonderfully unique games of SEGA’s Smilebit

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SEGA’s development team Smilebit existed in the public eye for only four short years, yet in that time they managed to create one of the company’s most unique franchises, revived a classic Saturn franchise, contributed to a long running series of popular Japanese sports titles, and managed to create a few new franchises that have gone on to become true hidden gems. It’s fitting that we follow Team Andromeda Month with Smilebit, as Smilebit was actually the bringing together of the SEGA AM6’s Team Aquila, Team Andromeda, and G9 Team (though some staff ended up moving to United Game Artists). This mix of talent lead to Smilebit being primarily tasked with the Let’s Make series of sports titles, franchises that were largely confined to Japan. Utilizing former Team Andromeda staff, the team spearheaded the latest (and thus far last) Panzer Dragoon game. But what really made Smilebit unique were their new franchises including the Jet Set Radio games, Gunvalkyrie, and Hundred Swords.

All month long we’ll be celebrating Smilebit’s eclectic mix of games, celebrating the classics, the lesser known titles, and the ones that never left Japan. Ready to look back? Let’s go!

5 SEGA Games Only on XBOX

Before I kick off  “The Weekly Five”, I want to say that my thoughts and support go out to our friends in Japan and other countries who were affected by the recent natural disasters. While they might be half a world away, there are still ways to help. Seek out charities or check out relief organizations like the Red Cross to donate. Every little bit helps.

When it came time for me to transition from the sixth to the seventh and current generation of consoles, I made up a list of pluses and minuses. PS3 offered blu-ray, 360 offered a strong achievement and avatar system. PS3 lacked PS2 backwards compatibility (with one exception), 360 lacked Yakuza. In the end, the 360 won out, mainly due to price but also due to the fact that the console could play a number of original XBOX games. I gained shelf space AND could still play JSRF and Panzer Dragoon Orta. Despite this, some XBOX exclusives were left in the dust when it came to 360 backwards compatibility, either due to technical reasons or lack of interest on Microsoft’s part. Today we’re looking at five of the SEGA games only found and only playable on the original XBOX. These cannot be played on a 360, thus excluding Panzer Dragoon Orta and JSRF. You dig?