When it comes to handheld gaming, Sega's venerable Game Gear was overshadowed by the highly popular Game Boy, causing its life to get cut short. However, those who have stuck with the Game Gear from beginning to end can tell you that the Game Gear was a mighty handheld overall and put up a great fight. Considering how much support Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive had in Japan, it may surprise some people when I say that the Game Gear, ironically enough, had more support from the Japanese than the Master System, the Genesis/Mega Drive, the 32X and even Sega Genesis' CD add-on too. The Game Gear has quite a number of interesting Japan-only releases and was heavily supported and revered in Japan, and we intend to cover as many of those titles as possible in great detail...and so we have another game today, Kaitou Saint Tail.
Kaitou Saint Tail is a peculiar game because it is based on a franchise that is both widely accepted, yet the games themselves (mentioned later on) have little to no documentation. Kaitou Saint Tails' roots stem from a popular manga which later became a popular anime during the mid nineties. The game revolves around a fourteen year old girl named Meimi Haneoka who's a mild mannered youth who attends a Catholic school by day (St. Paulia's Private School), but by night, she's a mysterious gal who typically undergoes a "Sailor Moon-esque" transformation and goes by the name of Saint Tail (St. Tail for short). Being much like the Japanese female equivalent of Robin Hood, she delights herself by stealing gems and precious artifacts from wrong doers. While she is not wicked herself, St. Tail is pursued by a young man known as Daiki Asuka Jr. (who is called Asuka Jr. most of the time), who wishes to capture St. Tail and find out her true identity, though he also has a thing for St. Tail too. Meimi is aided by her friend, Seira Mimori, who is a nun in training at Meimi's school. Seira often relays information to Meimi to help her recover stolen items from the criminals.
Megumi Tachikawa is the one who created Kaitou Saint Tail and she is loved by fans for her other works like Dream Saga and Mink. As stated by others, Kaitou Saint Tail is a fantasy romance manga that falls under the category of "mahou shoujo" mangas, or a manga with a magical girl as the protagonist. Tachikawa states that Kaitou Saint Tail was inspired by Lupin the 3rd, Cat's Eye, and Magical Emi. Tachikawa made her manga debut in 1992 with 16-sai no Tiara and it is said that the manga was nominated for the "New Face" manga award. Nowadays, you can visit Tachikawa's site (click this) to see what she is currently up to.
Naturally, Sega made a big deal about the franchise at the time, going so far as to make special machines in its honor (you gotta love Sega and all of their wasteful spending...they were gutsy) and developing a game for both Game Gear and Sega Saturn. They made one oversight though...they released these titles at inopportune moments, and both fell into obscurity. On one hand, you have the Sega Saturn title, which was rushed and didn't take advantage of the Saturn hardware nor did it particularly do the franchise justice. On the other hand, you have the Game Gear title, released in fairly low quantities and released during the Game Gear's final days (not to mention it's also quite rushed). While both games were made around the zenith of the manga and anime's popularity, both games didn't do a particularly smashing job when it came to showcasing the franchise in a truly positive way.
I'm no marketing wizard, but low quantities plus a subpar product don't typically yield good results in the gaming world, though I can think of at least a few that perhaps defy logic. KST would have needed the popularity of Dragon Ball Z just to stay afloat (regardless of the dozens of average/subpar video games based on DBZ), but while popular, KST was never nearly as popular as DBZ. It's sad to think so, but undeniably true.
Before people think that I'm completely discrediting this game's merits, let me point out some of the redeeming qualities and faults of this game. At the very least, KST was dubbed a Kid's Gear title, so casual and more mature gamers know to crank down their expectations a few notches before even buying the game. The story is just a sample scenario of what St. Tail would do in her anime escapades and is as straight to the point and paint-by-numbers as possible. Your goal is basically to collect five crystals that are scattered across the land and defeat Asuka Jr. at every turn, for he tries to thwart your efforts. When you're done...heh, well, I won't spoil it here, but let me say that you shouldn't expect much.
One nice thing about this game is that the presentation is more or less top-notch. The handful of cutscenes presented throughout the game are amongst the best on Game Gear and the graphics as a whole are very bright and colorful, though the field graphics are a little lackluster, but you won't be spending too much time there anyway. The select few audio tracks within the game are also fairly decent in their composition, with the title theme clearly having the greatest composition of all the tunes in the game in my fair opinion. It's also nice that the game has a few novelty voice clips, including one of St. Tails favorite phrases "It's showtime!". The voice clips sound decent coming from a handheld from the nineties...but they don't sound very good at all beyond that simple prospect and definitely not by today's standards.
In general, KST's gameplay is comprised of a small collection of mini-games, kinda like that odd Kingyo Chuuihou! Tobidase! Game Gakuen that was published by Jaleco for the Super Famicom, though KST isn't quite as good as the aforementioned title, but it's a bit more understandable since this is a portable game. There are three modes you can choose from, "Story Mode", "1P Mini-game", and "2P Mini-game" (Versus Mode). The single player and versus modes have you playing one of six mini-games. These games consist of flying on balloons from start to finish, finding out what's wrong in a picture, piecing together a puzzle, cracking open a safe with swift control pad combinations, matching together slides of characters to gain points, and playing a falling block puzzler.
All the mini-games are fun enough, but the falling block puzzler is ace and the only one worth going into detail about. It's a combination of Columns and Puyo Puyo in its design. You can only move blocks in the same fashion that you would move a Columns jewel (three items that can be shifted from top, middle or bottom), but you can pair four together in the same fashion as Puyo Puyo (so long as the matching items are touching, no diagonal chains). That was the best mini-game in my eyes and would have served this game a lot better if it was just a full length standalone title, instead of just a mini-game added with a small collection of other mini-games.
In the Story Mode, you basically do the same thing you do in the other modes, except you are on a mission and placed on a small field avoiding guards and defeating Asuka Jr. in your travels as well. You can defend yourself if you've grabbed a card on the field and you have lives, though getting past the guards is extremely easy and the story mode is a little pointless in its entirety. Every time you use a card, you break into a animated cutscene where St. Tail performs magic, though it seemed a little forced (no doubt to draw in more popularity from the anime) and I stopped doing it after the seventh time or so. Saint Tail doesn't possess real magic, but she does stage tricks that she learned from watching her father, who is a great magician. When you reach your target destination, you play a mini-game...win and you get one of five crystals...lose and, well, just play again. There are no consequences to think about.
This game can be completed in roughly thirty minutes or possibly less and besides the whole Kids Gear label, it's very obvious that the game is for a younger audience. It's an adequate time waster IF you can find it for cheap, but due to its scarcity, this game is often considered for only the most hardcore of game collectors. On that note, this may not be something you'd give to a youngster for that very same reason. Still, this title is a little too lightweight for its own good and a blatant attempt to cash in on a popular franchise with as little effort (Nice anime cutscenes aside) as possible...this wouldn't be the first game to do so and it certainly won't be the last. Kaitou Saint Tail is a charming little title with a few fun mini-games, but it's obvious that there could have been a whole lot more to this game than what there was. For one of the last games on the Game Gear, you'd expect a little more, but it's at least not a horrible game.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -