The long balmy summer days have long since faded into the cold grasp of winter, but for those who participated at the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, part of their hearts will always celebrate perpetual summer. This is less an article than an essay on everything that makes the Mega Drive Championships awesome. So, make sure to pop the kettle on and get the dog to walk the family, this is the 15-year celebration of 16-bit gaming homage.
On 31st July 2016, at the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, the faithful assembled to mark 15-years of Mega Drive Championshippery. The long history of the competitions have seen many twists and turns, but those who arrived to pay homage to the original Mega Drive Championship contested waaaaaay back in 2001, witnessed a new sun rise on the 16-bit competitions that have survived both predictability and then apathy, as they picked up their controllers on this new dawn...
The cry of the tournaments was heard far and wide and old rivals assembled alongside new foes. The 1st Mega Drive Championship was a small league contested by just 3 people on 3 games; Golden Axe, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and World Cup Italia '90. The 2016 Mega Drive Championship took place at the National Videogame Arcade and was the 26th Tournament to be contested in England, but this time, in spite of very much celebrating the past through an array of games which had long been staples in the preceding 25 competitions, the 2016 Mega Drive Championship served to evolve from this past and offer new challenges and a new format. The 1st to 25th tournaments had all been league events, at times split into 2 divisions. This time around the tiered structure of previous competitions was abolished and competitors fought as equals across 10 awesome titles with differing fiendish winning conditions for each game; 1-player speedruns, 2-player versus, 3-player groups, with points from each round accumulating into an overall leaderboard... The challenge was the most intense to date. To fend off your opponents to grasp the most points, ascend to the summit and be anointed Mega Drive Champion.
ROUND ONE - SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2: SPEEDRUN (MYSTIC CAVE ZONE 1)
The first round of the Mega Drive Championship was announced, as Sonic the Hedgehog 2. "For fuck's sake" declared the The Plumb, who is not famed for his love for the classic and awesome Sonic the Hedgehog series... Since the The Plumb has won a grand total of zero Mega Drive Championships and, in the previous style of competition, was reprieved from relegation on three occasions by the Tournament Administrators, it remains uncertain what his claim to fame actually is. Sonic the Hedgehog's claim to fame is much more obvious, having been Sega's mascot since he burst into videogame history in 1991, with the aptly named Sonic the Hedgehog. The sequel, creatively titled Sonic the Hedgehog 2, saw Sonic sprint through 12 different zones, smashing boxes and badnik's en route to his final encounter with Doctor Robotnik in the crazed scientist's evil spaceship, the Death Egg... to the best of our knowledge, The Plumb has never duelled any mad scientists in space... although his band may have just discovered the title to their next album.
Historically, over 15-years ago, Doc Shakib challenged Mr Smith to an official "race" on Sonic 2 to determine which of them was the best player. It was from this suggestion that the entire concept of Mega Drive Championshippery evolved. Ironically, at the 1st Mega Drive Championship, Mr Smith thrashed Doc Shakib 8-0, scoring perfect victories in Emerald Hill, Casino Night, Mystic Cave and the Special Stage and, with a greater sense of irony, this will always remain the Sonic 2 high-score, as all four levels were never used again. This high-score was not to be threatened this time around as the players faced a speed run across the Mystic Cave Zone. The Mystic Cave seemed like the perfect challenge for the competitors, with a decent array of obstacles and traps over a tricky but striaght forward terrain, with certain death for the weaker players, after the cumbersome Casino Night and Hill Tops but before the more lengthy and challenging Oil Ocean and Metropolis zones - both far too trecherous for a speedrun.
First up was veteran Earl Holbrook, who has a decade of Mega Drive Championships under his belt, his initial appearance in Division Two was at the 14th Tournament in 2005. For all his years of experience, Earl Holbrook proceeded to die and recorded an unimpressive DNF (did not finish) on the score sheet. The first time was set by European Mega Drive Championship legend and key founder of the German series of competitions that ran from 2009 - 2014, Marshall Sponsel, with a solid, but not breath-taking, 1:19. Count Willet and Meena Newsum tied on 1:15, but the first score of note came from newcomer Jay Townsend who crossed the line in an impressive 46 seconds. Next up on stage came an unhappy The Plumb who stubbornly ran into the first pit of spikes and waited there to die. King Richard then picked up the controller and started an impressive dash towards the finish, however, he was unable to pull off the drawbridge shortcut and, as a result, finished behind Jay Townsend, albeit with a highly respectable 58 seconds. Big Al recorded a further 1:15, before Don Derek edged ahead into third place with 1:11. Goatman's timely death finished off the first round and 4-pts were awarded to Jay Townsend, 2-pts to King Richard and 1-pt to Don Derek...
However, there were three people tied on 1:15, a tiebreak was required to determine who would score the final 1-pt. Big Al, Count Willett and Meena Newsum entered into the Mystic Cave Zone 2... ... ... ... First up was Count Willett who fell into the infamous pit of doom/death/spikes and proceeded to record a DNF. Second was Meena Newsum who also took a tumble into the pit of death. Third, Big Al, who only had to stay alive to secure the point! After tumbling down into the lower route and, narrowly avoiding getting crushed, Big Al approached the infamous hole that had claimed the lives of his adversaries. In an epic moment of tournament history he leapt towards the vine, Sonic caught hold, the way in front was opened and then excitement started to build again, as the onlookers realised Big Al would have to face the boss. Taking things cautiously, he carefully battled Robotnik, knowing survival was all that was required. With the boss defeated Big Al lept a top the cage and realised the cute things to complete the level, his time an extremely underwhelming and somewhat pathetic 2:59... "that was tighter than first place" newcomer, Jay Townsend declared. It was indeed; we moved onto Round Two.
ROUND TWO - SUPER STREET FIGHTER 2: ELIMINATION
The second round of the Tournament was the epic Super Street Fighter 2. The basic moves are the same for each character; fast attack (punch or kick), medium attack and heavy attack. A plethora of fast assaults might land frequently, but would not impact your opponents' health bar as much as a well timed C-button attack. Add to this most offensive moves can leave a player vulnerable to be countered with a defensive manoeuvre and the depths of the Super Street Fighter round suddenly become apparent. This is without getting to each character's unique abilities; Dhalsim's stretchy arms, Chun-Li and Vega's speed and ability to double jump off the back of the screen, Balrog being unable to kick but compensating with some devastatingly strong punches. Only the best will survive and, with the elimination mode employed, each member gets one opportunity with each character per round and nobody has two best Street Fighter characters (except those who are good as Ken/Ryu and even there, there are some subtle differences).
Super Street Fighter 2 had its first Mega Drive Championship outing at the 8th Tournament, in which the highlight was an awesome duel between two tournament titans Mr Smith and Lord Dilks; Lord Dilks, as Bison, securing a convincing win the first round, Mr Smith, as Vega, coming back and narrowly claiming the second. Into the third round, with both health bars close to red, the pair jumped and attacked together, both landed a hit, both characters fell backwards, Double KO? Final Round? No, Mr Smith's Vega somersaulted in the air and landed on his feet - victory was his! Although it had taken until the 8th Tournament to come along, Super Street Fighter 2 was an instant success and by the 12th Tournament it had even obtained its own competition, eventually becoming part of the Golden Leaf Super Cup, which was replaced by "the Challenge" at the 18th Championship.
Shortly after Street Fighter starting forging its name in tournament circles, another integral part of the Mega Drive Championship story was beginning his journey; Lieutenant Gareth had first picked up his controller at the 10th Tournament and, although ducked out following the 11th Tournament Knockout, returned on a permanent basis at the 14th Championship for seven consecutive tournaments. Lieutenant Gareth was a strong competitor during this period; usually playing in the top division, but never amounting to more than mid-table, he was a constant menace to his challengers with the ability to beat anybody when on form. The last time Lieutenant Gareth had participated actively in competitive Mega Drive game play, was at the 23rd Tournament went he took part in the Division Two campaign and finished second behind his long-running rival, Professor King. Super Street Fighter 2 was not a title Lieutenant Gareth had shrouded himself with glory on in previous competitions and of the 10 competitive games he had won just 2. Non-the-less, he picked up his controller and prepared to face his first round foe, the Goatman. This was not the first time Lieutenant Gareth and Goatman had battled each other once before, this was at the 23rd Tournament, on Columns, and Lieutenant Gareth had won. On Super Street Fighter 2 it was Lieutenant Gareth who triumphed over his opponent with a 3-1 victory and advanced to play Earl Holbrook.
Earl Holbrook and Lieutenant Gareth have a long and rather surprising tournament rivalry. The pair first locked horns at the 14th Mega Drive Championship in division two, in which they played each other 3-times. All the victories went to Lieutenant Gareth and he found himself promoted, winning the lower league, while Earl Holbrook finished second from bottom. They would not play again until a chance encounter in the 16th Tournament Knockout, where, on NBA Jam, Lieutenant Gareth once again ran out the winner. Earl Holbrook's promotion at the 17th Championship, ironically, came at the same time Lieutenant Gareth was relegated and the pair would not play again until Lieutenant Gareth returned to the top flight at the 19th Tournament, where Earl Holbrook scored his first victory against his rival on (ironically) Super Street Fighter 2. At the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, Earl Holbrook could not repeat this victory and it was Lieutenant Gareth who comfortably booked his place in the semi-final. With the strongest left in contention, Lieutenant Gareth found himself up against newcomer Count Willett. Count Willett had long admired the tournament from afar, however, the celebration of 15-years of Mega Drive Championshippery that was the 2016 Tournament managed to jolt him to make the trek from Aberdeen to Nottingham and pick up his controller in competitive 16-bit action. Count Willett sucessfully booked his place in the final of this tie against Mystic Cave superstar Jay Townsend, who beat his German adversary, King Richard.
So, head-to-head with each player permitted 5 characters, all done with the eyes of the other members watching and, ironically, criticising the two finalists selection - even though their own choices had seen them eliminated. However, of all the characters in the game, this epic Super Street Fighter 2 duel, showpiece of competitive 16-bit gaming, a game that had a very realistic chance of ascending to legendary status, this clash of titans, descended into a Cammy Vs Guile button bash. Both players eliminated a character before Jay Townsend found form and beat Count Willet's next three characters. While Cammy and Guile are hardly the most inspiring, it was Jay Townsend's mastering of Guile's below average array of moves; hold back/down for 2-seconds before forward/up and punch/kick that saw him victorious in the second round. A pleasant and competent performance, however, the earth remained unshattered. Jay Townsend headed the leaderboard with a maximum 8-points from 8.
ROUND THREE - VIRTUA RACING: FASTEST LAP (BAY BRIDGE)
At the time of its release, Virtua Racing pushed technology so far to the limit that the special SVP had to be designed for this title... in 2016, there was a general bewilderment that a game with just 3-tracks and limited options cost £60 (at a time when pound sterling was a viable and valuable currency) it was retorted that this was £59 too much. Indeed, Virtua Racing has aged extremely poorly and receives a significant amount of jovial criticism from the tournament faithful, however, unusually for a Mega Drive game, it is far from universally loathed and, surprisingly, is often well received by competitors. "Polygons the size of gorillas", "like driving a skip around on ice", "why the fuck do they start at different speeds when we're both holding the B-button down", "there are four camera angles, two are useless and one looks like Micro Machines", "what the fuck just happened?" and "puts the PS3 to shame" are just a handful of comments attributed to Virtua Racing over the years of competitive 16-bit gaming.
Virtua Racing shook the tournaments to their very foundation upon its introduction at the 7th Mega Drive Championship. Early competitions had been dominated by the intensely fierce Lord Dilks and Mr Smith rivalry, indeed, between them the pair had won all of the proceeding 6 championships. However, Virtua Racing, arguably changed this, as both of the "two titans", as they were then known, were vastly inferior to Doc Shakib, who had finished in 3rd at 5 of the proceeding 6 competitions. Virtua Racing was drawn at the 7th Tournament, alongside Sonic 2, Pete Sampras Tennis and the unpredictable NHLPA '93, this title was arguably the catalyst that broke the Lord Dilks-Mr Smith duopoly, one that would not be broken again until the 16th Tournament, when it gave Doc Shakib the advantage required to win the 7th Mega Drive Championship. Doc Shakib with 12 wins from 14 was also ranked the best player on this title, however, in spite of the dubious honour of being the only player present at the previous 25 domestic tournaments and 4 international events, Doc Shakib missed his first Mega Drive Championship in 15-years and was not present to strut his stuff on Virtua Racing! Fireman Sam, who had famously travelled to Portugal to represent Team England in 2009 and finished 2nd at the 20th and 21st Mega Drive Championship, possessed 3 wins from 4 was the next highest ranked player, but he too was not present. Captain Maltby was ranked next winning 5 of 8, he had represented England at the 2007 and 2010 Mega Drive Championships and had finished 2nd at the 17th Tournament, was notably absent. Indeed, Earl Holbrook was ranked the highest of the former members in 8th, with 1 win in 3.
In previous tournaments, members had duelled head-to-head, with 2-points awarded to the player that made it around the track fastest. Now all contestants were paired off and not directly challenged by the competitor beside them as each person raced around the 5-lap Bay Bridge (medium) track, with their fastest individual lap placed on a leaderboard. As Pablo Mortez and King Richard took to the console, the question was asked as to whether the manual shift was permissible. The response was a candid "if you think you are good enough", while the manual shift does allow for faster speeds overall, an error in failing to move gears causes slow-down. "Using a manual really well is witchcraft" Jay Townsend declared. This brief debate aside, every player used automatic gear shifts anyway. Of the first pair, Pablo Mortez recorded 48.14 seconds, while King Richard set the pace with 40.18. Neither of the second pair, Goatman and Lieutenant Gareth, threatened the fastest time with 43.76 the best they could muster. Marshall Sponsel was up next, with Count Willett, and while the Scot/Canadian put a disappointing 46.96 on the board, the German roared into second place with a respectable 41.66. Current tournament leader, Jay Townsend, was up next and managed to record a convincing 41.78 while every other player following failed to do anything remotely impressive, until Don Derek, in the final pair, snuck into fourth place with 42:84 and earn himself a point. While Jay Townsend still retained his position at the top of the leaderboard, King Richard had also scored points in every game. With King Richard winning the third round, Jay's command of the leaderboard was narrowed to just 2-points. Beneath them, the rest of the pack seemed very distant, squabbling between themselves for the scraps that fell from Jay and Richard's banquet table... Count Willett, Don Derek and Marshall Sponsel (third to fifth respectively) combined were still 1-point short of King Richard's individual total!
ROUND FOUR - MEGA BOMBERMAN: GROUP BATTLE
Mega Bomberman is an awesome combination of video game components. Not quite smart enough to be a puzzle game, albeit with puzzle elements, too much random action to be a strategy - although good tactics are certainly required. Mega Bomberman is a fast-action, reflex testing dart around a maze. Mega Bomberman is generally viewed positively by the faithful. In spite of this, the game was only tentatively introduced to the competitions at the 19th Tournament, as a Knockout title and, even then, it has been touch and go as to whether Mega Bomberman or Cosmic Spacehead was given a debut. The trial was a resounding success and the game was included in all competitions at the 20th Tournament. Somehow, and this statistic came as something of a surprise, The Plumb is the best ranked member from former English Mega Drive Championships... even more astounding is that he is undefeated with an impressive 6 wins from 6 competitive games! While Mega Bomberman has been a popular title since its introduction in the English Championships, it has really been on the European arena where it achieved its fame.. The first fixture of the Anglo-Irish Mega Drive Tournament, the first ever known international 16-bit competition, was on Mega Bomberman when Team Ireland travelled to face Team England, each team consisted of 5 of the brightest, diligent, handsome, heroic, valiant men their countries had to offer and it was the unknown quantity of Irishman V for Valentine who took on 6-times English Champion Mr Smith and although this battle went true to the form book, Team Ireland would end up victorious on that great and noble day (of which many songs have still yet to be written). While 2-player fights were all well and good, Mega Bomberman defined itself as an epic multi-player challenge. In 2007, 4-players engaged in a 2 Vs 2 team game; in 2008 and 2009 – 3 individuals from 3 national teams did battle. The final European Mega Drive Championship, in 2010, saw 4 individuals from 4 nations enter the arena and attempt to blow their opponents to hell. Indeed, it could be said that multi-player games help expand the complexity of the Europeans Championships, as their number increased in both number and scope with each tournament.
In 2008, Marshall Sponsel and King Richard, along with Tobias Berg, travelled to the UK to represent Germany at that years European Mega Drive Championship. The team fought hard, but it was the final game of Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition, when Portugal's Dario Pelixo defeated Tobias and claimed the title for the Portuguese, at the expense of Team Germany. The two German Mega contestants at the 2016 Mega Drive Championship were certainly no strangers to Mega Bomberman and the pride of drunken Mega Bomberman was discussed at length in the aftermath of the 2008 Tournament (along with some lusty renditions of "I'm a Lumberjack" in a local tavern) and the dangers of endless games through mutual suicides. Indeed, Germany once hosted its own set of proud 16-bit competitions, with a total of seven occurring to date, in which
Mega Bomberman was a frequent fixture. King Richard had entered the Mega Bomberman round at both the 2nd and 6th Deutsche Mega Drive Meisterschaft and, on both occasions, was the beaten finalist. Although at the European level, Germany had not exactly covered themselves in glory on Mega Bomberman. Marshall Sponsel had been their representative in 2008 and 2009 and finished last. King Richard took his turn in 2010 and finished joint-second out of four.
In the 2016 Mega Drive Championships, the 2 (presumed sober) Germans competitors went head-to-head in the semi-finals... with Meena Newsum making up the third head. Marshall Sponsel convincingly beat his countryman, with Meena Newsum mainly there for the ambiance. Count Willett comfortably booked his place in the final, defeating Lieutenant Gareth and Big Al in all 3 of their games. Jay Townsend also reached the final 3, with Don Derek perhaps being the shock defeat in the semi-finals, with no wins whatsoever. The battle for 4th place and that elusive 1-point, was actually far more intense and passionate than the grand-final; where Jay Townsend slaughtered Marshall Sponsel and Count Willett so convincingly, that a tiebreak was required to determine second place - neither player able to record a single win against the dominant Mr Townsend. Ultimately, Count Willett won the 1-game tiebreak and added 2-points to his tally. King Richard, Lieutenant Gareth and Pablo Mortez slogged it out for 4th in one of the most incredible, tense and exciting games ever produced in 15-years of Mega Drive Championshippery. With King Richard on 2 wins, Lieutenant Gareth on 2 wins and Pablo Mortez on 1 win; with time running short, Lieutenant Gareth got blown up, would King Richard now claim the win and the points? Would Pablo Mortez get the win and bring the score line to a 3-way tie leaving a winner-takes-all final round? Within the tight confides of the under 1-minute play area, it was Pablo Mortez who found himself caught in the wake of a bomb blast. The winner was King Richard who gained a point, Lieutenant Gareth and Pable Mortez scored nothing, but all 3 men gave an incredible account of themselves! Jay Townsend extended his lead at the top of the table, with a remarkable 13-points from a possible 16, and we moved onto the next title.
ROUND FIVE - WORLD CUP ITALIA '90: KNOCKOUT
The Benevolent and Loving Tournament Administrators had come in for some criticism for the inclusion of World Cup Italia '90; mainly because the game lasts too long and is shitty and nobody has ever enjoyed playing this game... ever. However, in 2001, 3 young men had decided to hold a Mega Drive Tournament which (for some entirely unknown reason) included World Cup Italia '90. This was the first ever fixture back in the cold winter of 2001 and it is doubtless this game brought any warmth to the contestants. Irrespective, World Cup Italia '90 was the first tournament fixture and in a tournament paying homage to 15-years of Mega Drive Championshippery, this title could not sit on the sidelines...
Throughout its long tournament history World Cup Italia '90 has stood as one of the most reviled games within the competitions. Aside from a couple of notable highlights, such as Mr Smith and Lord Dilks' awesome 2-2 draw at the 3rd Tournament, Lord Dilks achiving the all time tournament high score of 44-0, Tobias Berg's defeat of Lord Dilks at the 2008 European Mega Drive Championship and the 23rd Championship Challenge, World Cup Italia '90 has been around forever and contributed extremely little (even less if you are not Lord Dilks). It is fair to say that the highlight of World Cup Italia '90's time in the tournaments was between the 7th and 11th tournaments when it was in the game pool, but was never randomly selected to be used, giving long-suffering players a 4 tournament break from this abject tosh. Long and loathed, however, a traditional title upon which the first ever Mega Drive Championship game was played, the situation clearly presented a dilemma. However, instead of tedious time consuming tosh, so awful it likely constitutes a type of torture, the winning conditions were shortened significantly and suddenly there was an increase in tempo and a overwhelming passion, which could so easily have rivalled the actual World Cup in 1990. Players were randomly paired and the first to score 3-goals qualified. If the game got to half-time, the player with the most goals qualified. If the score was level at half-time then the next goal won and, finally, if the players reached full-time with the score still level and no golden goal scored, they would be forced to endure the horrible World Cup Italia '90 penalty shootout mode.
The new rules saw World Cup Italia '90 transformed and players even commented that they enjoyed playing this (although we will not name which ones for fear of an action against us in liable) and, unlike some veteran tournament titles that have no place in this new order of Mega Drive Championshippery, World Cup Italia '90 could well have saved itself from the chop. Those who hated the game found themselves quickly dispatched with all the score lines recorded at 3-0 until the semi-finals. The final four consisted of two Englishman and two Germans; The Plumb beat King Richard 3-0 to book his place in the final. Jay Townsend put up more resistance than King Richard, but still found himself at the wrong end of a 3-1 score. The best tie was saved until the final, where sports, sports game enthusiast and Englishman, The Plumb, faced off against German opponent, Marshall Sponsel. Of course, England and Germany are no strangers at football and The Plumb was probably hoping the game didn't end with a penalty shootout. Fortunately, the game didn't last that long, however, so close were to competitors that the game went into the second-half and the next goal would win the round... in spite of the 2-2 score line the German player seemed to have a tiny bit more against his English rival... although the German contingent at the 2016 Tournament would likely observe this is always the way in football. The Plumb had done enough to keep himself in the round, however, he could not prevent his opponent from waltzing through his defence and slamming home the golden goal. Falling to the floor; The Plumb was defeated. Marshall Sponsel basked in victory and applause. From obscurity in the very early rounds, Marshall Sponsel was now climbing up the leaderboard, securing points in the last 3 rounds, although he trailed Jay Townsend by 7-points, he had risen from nowhere to 3rd place. With half of the tournament now concluded, there were still a maximum of 20-points available... anything could happen!
STANDINGS - AFTER 5 ROUNDS
ROUND SIX - MEAN BEAN MACHINE: HEAD-TO-HEAD
Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, which has as much to do with the evil and sinister Dr Robotnik as the Baseball's World Series has anything to do with the world. No evil scheming, no creating machines to crush certain blue hedgehogs or even anything remotely awesome, instead you are attempting to stack similar colours of "beans" together. The point of this endeavour is uncertain, however, in a celebration of 15-years of Mega Drive Championship, Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine had the strange distinction of being the only game having never been used in the proceeding 25 competitions.
So, what the hell was this game doing here? In the eyes of the Tournament Administrators, this puzzle game was included as the spiritual sequel to Columns, which had been used at the Mega Drive Championships since the 15th. Columns, however, had one big flaw for the new era of competitions and it was one that the Administrators had known for years, but that the members had yet to figure out... Columns is not random and the flash column can be removed swiftly by following an efficient sequence. For 11 tournaments, Columns had produced some tight and tense affairs with members battling not to get their screen filled, but in the new era of tournaments, it would render the entire round obsolete if just one member knew the rapid way of removing the flashing jewel! Mean Bean Machine, also has inter-player interaction, with the ability to drop clear beans upon your opponents screen. It was determined that the puzzle element would be a welcome different pace from the other types of tournament games and, to that end, this title was successful.
So, with no history, previous records or player performance to comment upon, the results were as follows: The highlight of the early rounds saw first place Jay Townsend defeat second placed King Richard, which would doubtless increase his chance of extending his lead. The semi-finals saw the difficulty increased to the hard mode and a motley foursome assembled; Lieutenant Gareth was defeated by Pablo Mortez, Marshall Sponsel beat Jay Townsend leaving a final round where Pablo Mortez claimed victory and his first points of the competition. Marshall Sponsel's 2-points moved him away from the chasing pack and into joint second. Jay Townsend still headed the table, his 1-point from this round brining his grand total to 15. Overall a quiet yet rewarding round.
ROUND SEVEN - BALL JACKS: KNOCKOUT
"It takes the back and forth shitness of Pete Sampras Tennis and makes it sexy by using balls and spiders... or crabs rather" stated Don Derek at the 23rd Tournament. A contrasting view, and one perhaps shared by more Mega Drive athletes, comes from The Plumb who eloquently described Ball Jacks as a "fucking wank game". Ball Jacks almost didn't make it into the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, however, an 11th-hour decision from the Tournament Administrators put Ball Jacks in the frame... mainly because with less than 20 overall members, it was felt another game could be slotted in and, for some unknown reason, Ball Jacks was chosen. As King Richard tactfully observed: "I never thought I would spend an afternoon watching Englishmen fondle their balls". Ball Jacks made its Mega Drive Championship debut at the 11th Championship in the Tournament Knockout. The original knockout competition allowed games to be trailed competitively and, if they were good enough, admitted to the league game pool. Somehow, Lord Dilks's 2-0 victory in the semi-final of the 11th Tournament Knockout, against Professor Mizutani, was enough to secure this as a permanent league fixture. It was stated, at the time, that concentration and accuracy were key components to mastering the game, however, this belies the small issue that nobody really knows what they are doing and players end up thrashing the control pad haphazardedly.
Historically, Lieutenant Gareth was the highest ranked member (second overall) competing at the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, with five wins from five competitive games. Earl Holbrook was ranked third overall with ten wins from sixteen and Don Derek was ranked fourth with three wins from four. On paper, some of the historical Ball Jacks big guns were here for the showdown, however, in the leaderboard currently, none of these three men were setting the tournament on fire. Don Derek could claim the most glory from the trio having been crowned Mega Drive Champion at the 22nd Tournament (and the only former Champion competing in the 2016 event) and representing Team England at the 2010 European Mega Drive Championship, but 6-years on, Don Derek was a long way down the leaderboard. Both he and Lieutenant Gareth had an underwhelming 2-points each (13 behind leader Jay Townsend with 16 left to play for) while Earl Holbrook had an uninspiring total of 0-points, so he was required to win the final four rounds and have Jay Townsend score no further points... highly unlikely. Don Derek, Earl Holbrook and Lieutenant Gareth, some of the bigger names of yesteryear, so far struggling against more capable opposition in the new arena of Mega Drive Championshippery.
Round One saw Don Derek, Earl Holbrook and Lieutenant Gareth advance with convincing wins against the Goatman, Pablo Mortez and Jay Townsend (so far so good for Earl Holbrook's unlikely title hopes). Jay's elimination at the first hurdle opened the door for his German title rival, King Richard, to capitalise and close the 6-point gap between them - Marshall Sponsel having been beaten by the The Plumb in the first round. King Richard, however, was unable to beat Earl Holbrook and his valiant effort merely resulted in Earl Holbrook qualifying for the Semi-Finals with 2 games to 1. The other top ranked players on Ball Jacks, Lieutenant Gareth and Don Derek also made it through to the final four with The Plumb completing the line-up. The Semi-Final was a best of 5 games and it was with a semblance of surprise that Don Derek beat Lieutenant Gareth 3-1. The much longer, more drawn out and, frankly, far more tedious encounter, was The Plumb and Earl Holbrook slogging out 5 round for the The Plumb to claim the deciding victory and book his place in the final with a 3-2 win. In order to hurry up matters, the final round was a best of 3 and not 5 event and, in spite of everybody fed up of this game (indeed the name Ball Jacks on the fixture sheet had, by this point, been amended to read "Crabby McShit") Don Derek scored the 2-0 victory and 4-points. This game had no impact upon the title race and was horrible.
ROUND EIGHT - GOLDEN AXE 2: 1-PLAYER DUEL
The classic arcade hack 'n' slash that took one of three legendary heroes to the castle, fighting the foes of Death Adder, until they met Death Adder and attempted to retrieve the Golden Axe from his possession and restore peace to the land... only for the Golden Axe to get lost again and find its way into the hands of Dark Guld. I am sure the instruction manual gives an implausible storyline as to the staggering incompetence of the governance of a king unable to keep his hands on the most powerful weapon in his kingdom, however, the only thing I can remember off hand are the two storylines from Sonic the Comic; the first saw the evil wizard Blackspell attempt to resurrect Dark Guld and ultimately the two ended up sharing a body and Dark Guld punched Blackspell in the face and everything was kind of awesome. The second story sees the introduction of Gilius Thunderhead's sister and Ax Battler getting hypnotised by a snake and wandering around like a bit of a pillock. This is, of course, completely irrelevant to anything.
Golden Axe has been around since the 1st Mega Drive Championship, albeit the original game was used until the sequel replaced it in the following tournament, indeed, Golden Axe 3 has even shown its face as the Challenge game at the 20th Championship, where the 3 heroes of old have been replaced with a maverick group that includes a Pumaman, some big brute, a great bird as well as a man and a woman who are not Ax Battler or Tyris Flair. Golden Axe has given some of the greatest and most passionate ties from as far back as 2001 and the 1st tournament, when Doc Shakib defeated Mr Smith in a extremely passionate 1-0 affair, before arguably the most memorable Mega Drive Championship moment was held in a 15 minute slog-fest of Lord Dilks and Doc Shakib at the 4th Tournament where, with the health bars both at 1, Lord Dilks' final blow with the sword secured him the title. The high score of 10-0 was achieved at the 10th Mega Drive Championship where Mr Smith destroyed his opponent, the long forgotten rising star of that era in Tournament history, Sir Jackaman. The sequel game plays virtually identically to the original, with slightly tighter controls and more useful back-attacks. For the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, the 2-player duel was abandoned and, instead, players would face the hordes of Dark Guld's minions in the 1-player duel. Yet bringing Golden Axe into the new age of tournament was easily the biggest mistake of the day...
First up was Pablo Mortez. Pablo had a number of Mega Drive Championships under his belt, however, it is fair to say he has been fairly discreet within the league table. His highest previous league position had been 4th in division 2 at the 23rd tournament and the closest thing he has to a claim to fame was reaching the Knockout Semi-Finals at the same tournament, where he was defeated by Professor King on Eternal Champions and while he had shocked all at the 2016 Mega Drive Championship by winning the Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine round, these were the only points he had scored in the competition and he was positioned in joint fifth on the leaderboard. In spite of this, Pablo managed to reach Round 10 of the Golden Axe 1-player battle where, against two giant stagmen things with massive maces, he met his end. Indeed, Round 10 became the benchmark and every single player who battled on Golden Axe made it this far; Goatman, title chasing King Richard (who stated he was awful at this game and demonstrated this), Meena Newsum and Lieutenant Gareth all fell at this stage, however, it was a protracted way of watching some mediocre game play. Slow controls and tempo, weak enemies in the earlier stages, dragged this game out to the point where all the fun was lost between an endless button mash. While the 2-player mode makes up for this with the countdown method of scoring, the excitement doesn't kick in until the health bar draws close to depleted. This game was made all the more irrelevant when Marshall Sponsel, the second player to pick up his controller, successfully cleared all 15 rounds in an extremely impressive display of Mega Drive mastery.
Forfeits were a bane in the early competitions, and the penalty for doing so has increased over time. The first game surrendered was when Captain Maltby refused to play Mr Smith on World Cup Italia '90 at the Fifth Mega Drive Championship. This was followed by the 6th Championship, a tournament so blighted with forfeits that almost half of all the fixtures were skipped over without a single button being pressed. Initially, a forfeit was recorded as a defeat to the forfeiter by the maximum possible score. It was soon decided to include a penalty so the defeat was the maximum score plus fifty percent, with hypotheticals made up for games with no clear maximum. For the next 11 competitions, not a single league game was surrendered prior to its beginning, however, when at the 19th Championship, a couple of players chose to leave the tournament early and not bother with their remaining fixtures (granted the tournament was taking place midweek and had rumbled on towards midnight) it was decided that not only would a tournament never take place midweek again, but also that a forfeiter would lose by the maximum score and be deducted 1-point. This rule has never been amended and remains one of the few the Tournament Administrators actually bother to enforce. Prior to this competition it was decided that not entering a round did not constitute a forfeit, however, members who surrendered a fixture mid-round would forfeit the game and, so, when Don Derek and The Plumb decided not to contest the tiebreak, they were duly docked 1-point each.
In spite of the Golden Axe 2 round being long and dull, it is perhaps worth once again highlighting the display of fortitude shown by Marshall Sponsel in clearing all 15 rounds. He was deservedly awarded 4-points and this push him ahead of King Richard and into second place. Marshall Sponel closed in on current leader Jay Townsend, who, himself, could only manage 2-points. Count Willett and Earl Holbrook earned a point each, while Don Derek and The Plumb were docked 1-point each. This jiggled around the middle of the leaderboard and put Count Willett into joint 4th place with Don Derek, however, with 5-points they were completely out of the title hunt. King Richard held 3rd place and would require a maximum of 8-points from the final 8, with Jay Townsend scoring none, in order to claim the title of Mega Drive Champion. Jay Townsend's form had thus far been patchy at best in the second half of the competition, King Richard had performed even worse, however, if there were a form player it was Marshall Sponsel who had amassed 6-points from the last 3 games. With 2 games to go, he now breathed down Jay Townsend neck, who had scored half as many points over the same number of games. 4-points separated the top 2; 8-points were left to play for.
ROUND NINE - MICRO MACHINES MILITARY: GROUP ELIMINATION
While Virtua Racing had been used in the third round, Micro Machines: Military offered a different style of racing challenge. The top-down aspect of the game was very different from the first person angle of Virtua. Also, Micro Machines made no attempt to push technology to its limit and instead focused on being a fun 16-bit title. The Micro Machines series have been a long part of the Mega Drive Championships, Micro Machines 2 joined the division 2 roster at the 9th Tournament and was easily the most enjoyable of the four titles used in the lower league at that tournament, in an event that saw a heavy sports/racing theme. When the 2 leagues were amalgamated at the 11th Championship, Micro Machines endured, with Micro Machines '96 continuing for the elite players. Micro Machines '96 quickly became a tournament highlight and when the 14th Championship saw a 2-division emerge again Micro Machines '96 was used in both tiers. Not until the 20th Mega Drive Championship was there further tinkering, with Micro Machines: Military being used in division 1 and Micro Machines '96 in division 2. It was thought the addition of weapons in the Micro Machines arena made for a more skilful and challenging encounter. For the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, Micro Machines was used in the purest of ways; 3-player group battles. This had been used in previous European Mega Drive Tournaments and once at the 23rd Mega Drive Championship (after a small error meant there were 9-players instead of 8 in a Knockout competition!) The array of tracks, traps and turns, as well as a cocktail of cars keep this game highly varied and, as such, it remains one of the more popular titles the Mega Drive has to offer.
As ever with 16-bit competitions, by now the entire damn thing was starting to drag, especially after the erroneous inclusion of Golden Axe 2 and Ball Jacks. Micro Machines: Military returned the competition to a more frantic enjoyment, especially now that it was late in the day and member looked contemplatively at the standings, wondering where they would finish in the final reckoning. With 8-points to play for, Jay Townsend headed the leaderboard, 4-points above second place Marshall Sponsel and 8-points above King Richard. Nobody else was in contention for the Championship and the remaining members had so few points at this stage, any sort of performance would see them rise up the standings, although unlike English football's Premier League, nobody cares who finishes 4th in English Mega Drive.
Jay Townsend was drawn against King Richard in the qualifying round, with a single point enough to clinch Jay Townsend the Mega Drive Championship. However, Jay was unable to secure the title in this round as King Richard breezed by him. The semi-finals were 3-way events in which the first group saw King Richard defeat Count Willett and The Plumb. Earl Holbrook was ranked the highest of the members competing at the 2016 Mega Drive Championship, with 3 wins from 5 games and he booked his place in the final with a win over Marshall Sponsel and Don Derek, denting Marshall Sponsel’s title hopes – with 4th place and 1-point the best he could now achieve. In what was arguably the weakest of the semi-finals, Lieutenant Gareth secured his place in the final at the expense of Big Al and Meena Newsum. King Richard needed victory in the final 3-player battle to keep his title hopes alive and this he achieved, ahead of Lieutenant Gareth, who added a further 2-points to his tally and Earl Holbrook. Marshal Sponsel also did his part to keep his title hopes alive, beating Big Al and Count Willett to the final point and narrow the gap between himself and Jay Townsend to just 3-points…. Everything would be decided in the final round of the competition; Streets of Rage 3.
ROUND TEN - STREETS OF RAGE 3: KNOCKOUT
Streets of Rage 3 is a gritty game that can be played beautifully and the pinnacle of the Streets of Rage series, which, owing to its scarsity, often finds itself overshadowed by the previous incarnation. Unlike Street Fighter 2, the players get the opportunity to scroll the fight up and down the screen. Unlike Streets of Rage 2, the levels themselves have various traps that sap the players health. The 1-player game is a tough one to crack, even on the normal difficulty setting, with considerably more interactive level design and a more fluid method of fighting than its predecessor games. Free flowing fighting in Streets of Rage 3 is a wonderful, almost poetic thing. A decade of professional Mega Drive Championshippery, however, has seen Streets of Rage 3 descend from a unique playing experience with some brutal, yet beautiful, duels to a special move slog, in which competitors resort to talentless whacking of the A button in an attempt to win the game... nobody has yet to find a counter attack to this tactic and, therefore, the 2016 Mega Drive Championship was probably the farewell of a title that has travelled with us since the 14th Tournament. But it certainly wasn't always this way!
Streets of Rage 2 had been added to the Division 2 and Knockout game pools at the 9th Tournament and it returned following the league re-expansion at the 14th Championship. It had been thought that the highly popular Streets of Rage 2 should also be included in Division 1 as well, however, upon testing Streets of Rage 3, it was felt the sequel game contained a much more skilful layout than the second game of the series and so was added to the Division 1 roster, where had remained a staple of top-level exclusivity ever since. Streets of Rage 3 was the fixture for tournament legend, Mr Smith's final league game and he tasted defeat in the construction site at the hands of Lieutenant Gareth. Meanwhile, Captain Maltby's shock 2-1 victory over Doc Shakib, just two tournaments later, nearly consigned the latter to relegation. However, the highlight of Streets of Rage 3 had to be when bitter rivals Professor King and Earl Holbrook went head-to-head at the 19th Tournament in a tie in which the loser would be relegated. In the third round of a finely balanced game, in trap room 4, Axel and Blaze went head-to-head, but it was Earl Holbrook who got the final blow and condemned his rival to the drop... a couple of seconds later, the trap hit Earl Holbrook, killing his character too. A desperate Professor King enquired whether this had any impact on the result - it did not!
In the present day, Streets of Rage 3 marked the finale of the 2016 Mega Drive Championship. Although the travesty that was Golden Axe 2 still rumbled on alongside the early rounds, by the time that was concluded, Jay Townsend topped the leaderboard by 3-points ahead of Marshall Sponsel who had clawed his way back into contention, having been 6-points behind following Round 7. King Richard, behind by 4-points, was drawn against Jay in the first round knowing that only dispatching Jay and winning this round would secure him the title. In the gloomy disco level they fought and only a win would keep King Richard's title hopes alive... if he could go on and win the entire Round. It was not to be, beneath the strobe lighting of the dark disco, King Richard was beaten, his fighter and aspirations of glory defeated. Jay would beat Count Willett on the more treacherous Construction Site before heading into a semi-final against the only other competitor with title aspirations; Marshall Sponsel. The semi-finals took place in the subway where dangerous mechanical trains ran along the tracks, severley sapping the health of any player foolish enough not to notice the track quake at the approaching engine. Like King Richard in Round 1, Marshall Sponsel needed to defeat Jay and claim the maximum 4-points, however, like King Richard before him, Marshall Sponsel found himself defeated, his title hopes dashed, and Jay Townsend reached the final and would be crowned the Mega Drive Champion.
The final game of an epic tournament saw an unlikely Earl Holbrook face the Champion-elect, Jay Townsened, in the Morning Forest. The result was irrelevant to the overall outcome of the competition, however, it had been an incredible journey, lasting over 5-hours. The celebration of 15-years of Mega Drive Championshippery had seen the tournaments arrive at a new beginning. The new venue and the new competition format were all invaluable in the coming together and revelling in the finest 16-bit gaming had ever produced, however, the true story of the day was arguably the dominance of the new competitors. Earl Holbrook's defeat to Jay Townsend in the final round saw the new guard firmly establish their dominance over the old one. The highest ranking members to have battled in a previous English Tournament scored just 5-points; Don Derek, Earl Holbrook and Lieutenant Gareth making up the middle of the leaderboard. Yet they were all a massive 8-points behind 3rd placed King Richard and 16 behind the Champion Jay Townsend... but Jay Townsend was the Mega Drive Champion! He defied his opponents and at his first attempt claimed the Tournament Trophy. For a decade the trophy has been passed from Champion to Champion and now it was Jay's turn to hold it and applause rang out in honour of his achievement. A legend had been born. Then we all went home.