Review by ImperialScrolls
Growing up, I always assumed that the Genesis was Sega's first console. It was the only one I had been aware of, plus its very name suggested a debut of sorts. My mind was blown years later when, in an attempt to play the first Phantasy Star game, I discovered an 8-bit Sega console: the Sega Master System. My mind was doubly blown when, as an adult with disposable income and a game collecting habit, I discovered yet another ancient Sega system known as the SG-1000. The SG-1000 is indeed Sega's first piece of home console hardware. It had the unfortunate luck of being released in Japan on the exact same day as Nintendo's legendary Famicom. While the Famicom achieved even further success with its NES variant, the SG-1000 saw only a limited release and faded quietly, quickly superseded by the Master System. It never even made it to the shores of North America. Though the SG-1000 helped usher in the third generation of gaming consoles, it feels very much like a second gen system, with its joystick controller and hardware specifications that greatly resemble those of the ColecoVision. Unsurprisingly, a huge portion of the SG-1000 library consists of Sega arcade ports, including the system's launch title: Borderline.
Borderline is an "action" title that, to use the game's own terminology, consists of a single looping "round" which is then broken down into a series of segments. First comes a vertically-scrolling "driving" section that's vaguely reminiscent of Bump 'n' Jump, but with more of an emphasis on combat. Enemies fly out of the walls that line both sides of the screen. The selection here is a little disappointing: the only thing to shoot down are these plain white triangular "missiles." Pressing either joystick button executes an attack: the player's jeep emits bullets from the left or right side of its hood. The shot types alternate, which is something to consider while aiming, though good old-fashioned button-mashing usually does the trick regardless. There's a fuel meter that acts as a de facto timer; shooting red gas tanks will replenish it. The scrolling is a bit choppy, and pulling back on the joystick will slow things down. Surprisingly, it is possible to shoot left and right by holding the joystick in one of those directions while shooting. This maneuver is essentially required to hit the fuel tanks, and tricky to pull off without also careening headlong into a wall.
Following the driving segment comes a series of "digging" sections. Dig Dug is the obvious comparison here, though in the arcades Borderline actually predates Namco's classic monster-popper. These single-screen challenges adhere to more standard action game controls: no screen scrolling and top-down four-direction movement. The "dirt" provides cover from enemy fire, as only the player's jeep is capable of digging. There are also rigid unmovable walls to contend with. The goal throughout the trio of digging segments is to destroy the enemy "reactors" which are guarded by tanks. The tanks aren't especially fearsome. Slow and lumbering, their incoming shots can also be taken out by the player's bullets. It's a testament to the uneven difficultly that characterizes Borderline: while the driving segments can be daunting, mainly owing to the controls, the digging segments take almost no effort to complete.
The game looks acceptable (and yes, incredibly similar to what was on the ColecoVision in North America), but the massive monochrome chunks of brick and soil leave something to be desired. A musical ditty plays throughout, which is competent enough if not especially memorable. Sega was really fighting an uphill battle here. Nintendo launched their Famicom with arcade royalty in the form of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior. Meanwhile, Borderline made little splash in the arcades and this port isn't enough to make anyone a believer. Had the difficultly been smoothed out and the controls tightened we'd perhaps have a winner on our hands. Instead, this stands mostly as an intriguing piece of history rather than a compelling play. And given the rarity (and accompanying prices) of SG-1000 cartridges, Borderline is best left to the most dedicated Sega devotees.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Borderline (JP, 12/31/83)
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