Toxic Crusaders (1992) Developed by: TOSE Published by: Bandai Released in: NA
A game based on a short lived kid’s cartoon based on a cult classic R-rated horror film. This isn’t the first time such a bizarre phenom has been covered on this blog, and it won’t be the last, either. The trend of watering down of adult franchises for the consumption of snot nosed kids ran rampant in the wild era of the 80s and early 90s, though none of them were particularly successful. Someone must’ve just been having a giggle.
Toxic Crusaders is allegedly a beat ’em up starring Tromaville’s own Toxie, a toxeriffic dude who loves the environment, because you weren’t legally allowed to be a cartoon character in the 1990’s if you didn’t, and his mom, I guess. I’ve never seen the cartoon, but I’m willing to bet this squeaky clean characterization doesn’t carry over from the R-rated flicks.
As Toxie, you’re equipped with nothing but your trusty mop and your fists to save your girlfriend. If you get hit even once, you lose your mop and are left to fend for yourself with your sludgy bare hands. If the stars align just right and you happen to be blessed enough to upgrade your mop along the way, a hit will revert your weapon back a step, rendering it useless again.
Aesthetically, it’s nothing special. The first two levels open with strong, pleasing colour palettes, but only get worse as the game goes on. This is an NES title that features some good parallax scrolling though, so that’s something nice I can say about it. The music falls under the same camp of middling mediocrity as the graphics, with some songs ranging from the acceptable to the downright tedious. Your hit points feel as though they drain quicker than the cartoon’s cancellation, and you’re given three lives and a simple password system, which essentially acts as infinite continues, alleviating the game’s difficulty by a lot, and further meaning you have no real reason to give up on trying to trudge through this sludge pile of a game. Unless you have common sense, which seems like it’s something I lack.
Everything about Toxic Crusaders is perfectly serviceable. Despite that, I hope you can feel the scowl on my face through my words. So what, pray tell, left me feeling so bitter on Crusaders? The game’s biggest sin is being boring as shit. It’s mind numbingly repetitive, even for a game of this kind – there are no combos, kicks, crouch attacks or alternate attacks of any kind besides “mop” and “punch”. There are only two types of enemies in the game up until the last stage, and those two enemies are actually just the same generic grunts as each other, but with different weapons. Trudging through the dull as dishwater levels is an extreme test of patience, even though they’re technically not that long. Every time I stumbled my way through another wave of the same enemies I had killed a thousand times, I hoped with all of my cold little heart that the next would be the last. The levels all feel the same, and do little to mix up the formula (bar for a sub-level where you have to slog through an underwater section that was about as fun as doing long division). There’s also a a level that has you careening down a highway on a skateboard, and it SOMEHOW manages to feel the exact same as the previous ones. Just remembering it is enough to make me want to yell.
Angry reviewing is far from my style, but I feel like there are few good things to say about Toxic Crusaders. I can’t see it making anyone’s top 10 NES games list – hell, not even a top 100. I know logically that Toxic Crusaders isn’t the worst game the NES has to offer by a long shot, but I hated every second of its bland ass. Most everything about it is disgustingly average, and playing it past a certain point made my skin crawl with the itch of desperation to break out of tedium. There wasn’t a single thing I found satisfying about the experience; not even finishing the thing! You’d be better off playing with a vat of toxic ooze than playing this waste of time.
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Sumo Fighter (1993) ・ 相撲ファイター 東海道場所 (1991) Developed by: KID Published by: I’Max (JP), DTMC (NA) Released in: JP, NA
There are dozens upon dozens of video games based around sumo wrestling that never saw the light of day in the west. Understandably so; the sport is just one of those Japanese cultural things that the western hemisphere never caught the bug for. Sumo Fighter, however, somehow managed to slip through the cracks and land itself a North American release as it’s an action platformer as opposed to a traditional sports game. Maybe they were banking on kids confusing the main character for E. Honda, and the game as a whole as some kind of Street Fighter spinoff? We’ll never know.
It’s a pretty good one, too. The titular sumo fighter in question, an Edo period wrestler named Bontaro Heiseiyama, has to save a princess, because of course he does. He does so by throwing hands with anyone and anything stupid enough to cross his path. Where most games of this ilk would give the player a simple choice between a punch or a kick and leave it at that, Bontaro’s got an impressive arsenal of moves under his loincloth. Slapping, a magic projectile slap, judo throwing enemies off screen, headbutting and ground pounding make for a surprisingly cool variety of ways to dispatch baddies. The game feels more like a beat ’em up than a platformer most of the time, which feels unique for the Game Boy’s endless library of cut and dry platformers.
The enemies in question come in quite interesting variety, as well. Edo-period farmers, ninjas, and crazy looking yokai of various shapes and sizes are satisfying to stomp on as Bon-chan. Sumo Fighter’s backgrounds are nicely detailed, especially for 1991 Game Boy, and the music’s not too bad, either. The aesthetics are distinctly Japanese in a way that would have been pointedly scrubbed from other games of its time, but have been surprisingly left in-tact for Sumo Fighter. The game also features a Zelda II-styled levelling up system; through it, you can improve your slap strength, ground pound strength, and health bar to stand a fair chance at fighting the game’s tricky bosses.
Speaking of, let’s talk about those. The only real negative the game has, in my opinion, are the boss battles. During normal gameplay the hit detection feels completely fine, but when it comes to the end of level fights, the hitboxes on the bigger characters feel downright incorrect. The bosses also have a tendency to drain your health alarmingly fast if you get snagged on them the wrong way, thanks to the game’s especially short period of invincibility after getting hit; something that never once felt like a problem in side scrolling segments.
All the same, something that looked like it would be dead simple turned out to be quite the interesting romp with a surprising amount of depth. It’s by no means a perfect game, but what’s on show is enjoyable. Sumo Fighter is worth a look for any Game Boy enthusiasts or beat ’em up fans looking for something obscure to sink their teeth into. If I had to rate it, I’d give a solid 7.5; not quite a hidden gem, but absolutely a diamond in the rough. Here’s where I’d put a sumo pun encouraging you to check out the game, if I knew anything at all about sumo. It’s cool, so give it a try!
Taboo: The Sixth Sense (1989) Developed by: Rare Published by: Tradewest Released in: NA
The big selling point of the NES game Taboo: The Sixth Sense was that it was not, in fact, a game at all. One of the oddest ducks in the NES library by a mile, Taboo is a tarot reading simulator made for and marketed to adults. Specifically, it was meant to be whipped out at parties when the kids were asleep, or for teenagers to squeal about the state of their crushes amongst a group of like-minded friends. Indeed, sloshed adults and giggling schoolgirls alike could get a glimpse into their futures with the use of this cartridge! An awkwardly written out glimpse, mind you, but a glimpse all the same.
The game uses an adlibs style of slotting short, pre-determined answers to the viewer. This is done with zero regard for grammar, however, so the template of “(blank) (blank) is (blank) (blank)” could result in the garbled, near unintelligible mess that is the “near future influencing you soon is unable to adapt to new project” prediction I just got. For the love of God, should I sell my stocks or not, Taboo?! I need a tarot reading to decipher this tarot reading!
You input your name, DOB, and gender. You type in the question you want the game to answer. You push A, read through your very accurate tarot reading, and in a three minute span, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. The music is fittingly whimsical/eerie and the animations and artwork can be visually interesting, but there’s zero reason to look at Taboo more than once.
It’s also home to one of the only instances – if not the only instance – of nudity in an officially licensed NES game, appearing in the form of a few tarot cards. I know that the 80’s were a different time, and finding titillating content wasn’t as easy as it is in the digital age, but I’m not sure I would’ve paid $50 1980’s US dollars to look at some pixelated boobs. Maybe $20-30, but definitely not $50.
The only other section is, when your reading is finished, the game asks for what state you live in to generate a handful of lottery numbers for you. It includes Canadian provinces, a rarity which is mildly interesting for a Canuck like me, but…I’m struggling here, guys. I feel like I just dropped my queue cards. There’s really nothing to say about Taboo. You can’t even “beat” it, technically, because there’s no game. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s tough to talk about.
Uhh, Taboo allegedly shipped with a black silk bag to store the cartridge in, but I’ve sniffed around for evidence and can’t find a single photo of such a thing, so I don’t know how true that is. It does look like it comes with a mysterious black slip cover, one missing the red “Nintendo” branding cartridges would often come with, but is it made of silk? I don’t know, but that’s something. And the manual’s kind of weird and cryptic? That’s something else!
Taboo is a fascinating footnote in the NES’s history though, and an early attempt to make video games for adults. An early official attempt, I should say; the NES is home to more than a few so-called “erotic” games that Nintendo had no part in and are also not the least bit sexy.
While there’s no hard evidence out there that Rare was intentionally trying to make something that would cause a stink with religious groups (which would likely translate to sales), I can only assume that’s the case. It feels as though Taboo was almost tailor-made to drum up controversy in the Satanic Panic era of the 1980’s. Full of religious, devil-centric imagery, nudity, and “NOT FOR KIDS” warnings plastered all over the box and manual, it’s all too coincidental to be anything else. If Dungeons and Dragons was too extreme for concerned parents of the time, there’s no way in hell tarot would get a free pass. As it stands, however, the only people angry about Taboo’s existence are people who paid full price for it when it was brand new. You could likely get a proper deck of tarot cards from the questionable catalogues they’d tuck away in the back of comic books for a cool $5 back then.
At a total runtime of three minutes, I’d say Taboo could be worth a quick glance if you’re interested in oddities or tarot, but that’s about all you’ll get from it.
Nobunaga’s Ambition ・ 信長の野望・全国版 (1989) Developed by: KOEI Published by: KOEI Released in: NA, JP
KOEI is a company that had quite a presence on the NES. Masters of strategy games and pioneers of the genre as a whole, they had 9 in total on the North American console alone. They were wildly popular in Japan (unsurprisingly), and they must have turned a tidy little profit in the West to bother to translate all of those niche, text heavy games for the US market.
When it came to the challenge of beating every single NES game, I was somewhat dreading tackling KOEI’s oeuvre. These were big, complicated games that would likely take up massive chunks of my time. When I first took a peek at the instruction manual for Nobunaga’s Ambition, my eyes glazed over in a way that took me back to high school classes I didn’t want to be attending; it read like a text book, and that only frightened me further. I figured that I would either hate every moment of these tactical games, or get totally addicted to them.
As it happens, I became terribly, terribly hooked on Nobunaga’s Ambition.
Based on the real life Japanese historical figure Oda Nobunaga who, to keep things stupidly simple, tried and failed to conquer the entirety of Japan in the 16th century, the game chronicles his fictitious ascent to the emperor’s throne. He’s since gone onto become a prominent figure in Japanese culture overall, appearing in historical dramas and in videogames alike. These days, he’s often genderbent to be a girl with big weapons of war at her disposal, which is how you know he was an important guy.
Though Nobunaga’s the one on the front cover and in the title, you can play as 49 other daimyo (Japanese feudal lords, all of which are also based on real life historical figures) and have one of them become the very best emperor, like no one ever was. How does one go about doing such a thing in feudal Japan? With money and war mongering, of course!
You build up your town by investing gold into the city, the rice fields, and spreading the wealth amongst your peasants so you can reap the rewards every Fall. Nobunaga’s Ambition is a game that requires a lot of micromanaging; in addition to ensuring that your citizens are happy so they don’t revolt against you, you must also make sure your armies are up to par in case of attacks by other daimyo, and plan your own means of attack alongside it. That topknot holds a heavy burden inside of it.
Your lord can also die of old age if the game goes on for too long, so you also have to manage your time effectively to have enough to unite Japan before you become too decrepit to do so.
There are two main means of obtaining other fiefs: one is the straightforward means – attack your neighbours, beat their asses, and take whatever land they have to their name by force. The other means is much more sneaky and strategic; bidding on fiefs that lack a general. Sometimes generals not related to you will kill each other or die at random, and if one of your fiefs is adjacent to the empty one, you get the chance to bid on it with gold and make it your own. While this rarely happens on its own (in multiple playthroughs, a neighbouring fief only opened up without my direct meddling once), you can directly influence the life and death of fellow daimyo by being a sneaky little shit.
Using discreet ninja services, you can hire an assassin to try and kill the daimyo of neighbouring fiefs, or to plant seeds of unrest in the peasant people of that village, and hope that being frustrated by the class system will be enough to make Joe Everyman-kun rise up against their local daimyo and do your dirty work for you. If successful, it’s yours with little effort! Just like in real life, there are few things more satisfying than successfully getting rid of your irritating neighbours. These underhanded tactics were my preferred method of taking out my rivals in Nobunaga’s Ambition, and I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but I loved every second of it.
Even if you’re trying to be slick and do things the sneaky way, a war will crop up in your neck of the woods eventually. Battles are a bit cumbersome, and unless you’re extremely well prepared or tactically minded, it often feels like a losing battle before you’ve even begun the game. The computer will wreck your shit if it feels like it can, and if your daimyo dies, it’s game over! I would say that the battling is probably the weakest point of the game for me, though it’s a necessity, seeing as it’s based around actual historical warlords. Which is fair enough, really.
Graphically, the game is quite sparse. Each of the 50 daimyo have their own character portrait, and a lot of the actions you take are accompanied by an interesting little animation. Other than that, though, there’s menus and a world map and that’s about all you ever see. While I got used to it quite quickly, I’d imagine that people who may be interested in this game will be turned off by the complete and total lack of anything to look at while you play it.
Thanks to ol’ Oda-chan, I’ve realised that I’m probably going to become a diehard KOEI fan by the time I complete the NES library challenge, and am planning to stagger out when I play the rest of their NES games as little treats when I need them the most (ie when I’m on a “shit game” streak”).
While Nobunaga’s Ambition is a game I couldn’t stop playing, it won’t be for everyone. You spend most of your time playing staring at a menu full of numbers, keeping track of numbers, and carefully planning out when and where to strike based on numbers. I, personally, ate it up with a spoon and asked for more. I LOVED it, and this has definitely become one of my favourite NES games so far…at least until I play Nobunaga’s Ambition II.
Remote Control (1989) Developed by: Riedel Software Productions, Inc. Published by: Hi Tech Expressions Released in: NA
Man, MTV in its early days sure was CRRRRRRAZY. The channel’s influence on pop culture as a whole, especially in the eighties, can’t be understated; popularising the idea of a music video and building an empire around that, MTV was on top of the world. Did you know that in the channel’s early days, MTV would have occasional blank screens between music videos while a (likely underpaid) employee scrambled to insert the next VHS tape into the broadcasting VCR in real time? I just thought that was neat.
As it happens, Remote Control was their first foray into TV that wasn’t directly related to music, years before the populace outside of New Jersey would ever know what a “guido” was. Though there was plenty of music trivia to be found on it, the focus was on old school TV trivia. Old school even for the time, I might add; Remote Control is 99% about reruns of TV from the 60’s and 70’s.
Much like the TV show it’s based off of, Remote Control is a quiz game. Get asked a question, pick the right answer out of three options, bada bing bada boom. If you’re not well-versed on Happy Days, Bewitched or M.A.S.H, Remote Control might not be the game for you. I never had much of an interest in 99% of the shows that had trivia sections dedicated to them, but luckily, a lot of the questions were to do with pieces of TV iconography that have become general pop culture knowledge over the years. Likewise, the game dresses up dry science and math questions with people who were prominent pop culture icons of the time, likely as a way to dress up the fact that there are only so many questions one can be asked about Gilligan’s Island before they want to break down in tears.
The game’s presentation is a mixed bag. It’s hard not to love the RADICAL, CUTTING EDGE set pieces that scream late 80’s/early 90’s, as well as the MTV branding that is so quintessential with that time frame. The art on the human characters hits a bizarre uncanny valley for me, however; one one hand, I think it looks terrible, and the way it jerks around in stilted frames is unsettling. But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve actually seen these people loitering around the frozen section of my local supermarket, so would that make it good? I’ll leave it up to your own judgment.
Like the MTV Generation it would nurture over the coming years, Remote Control is full of sharp, sarcastic humour that only dudes and dudettes with major ‘tude would find funny. The game’s host has some pretty funny one-liners peppered inbetween questions, but he’ll start repeating the same few in the same 15 minute run of the game, so there’s even less reason to play Remote Control more than once. Though I enjoyed the mood Remote Control was going for, there’s really no reason to ever play it more than once, unless you were stuck with this cartridge as a kid, or you know a LOT about Gilligan’s Island and want to flex that muscle.
If you have even a basic knowledge of retro TV, Remote Control is an especially easy clear for the NES, with one playthrough clocking in at no time at all. But unless you’re an 80’s kid looking for a hit of nostalgia or a connoisseur of that decade, you may as well let Remote Control stay off the air.
Silkworm (1990) Developed by: Tecmo Published by: American Sammy Released in: NA
A conversion of the successful arcade game of the same name, Silkworm puts you into the sweaty helmet of a helicopter pilot (or somebody who’s, like, really good at driving a jeep if you’re player two). The game’s plot is the tried and true sci-fi trope of “supercomputer developed to help save the world becomes sentient and goes rogue because humans suck I guess.” The nasty bucket of bolts has gone and re-programmed all of humanity’s military weaponry to attack us instead of help us! And it’ll only stop if people treat it like a God! AND PROM’S TOMORROW!!!
Silkworm. The game is a shoot-’em-up, which is personally one of my favourite genres to play, so I was pretty excited to blast my way through waves upon waves of evil helicopters. If you manage to upgrade your helicopter all the way, you have default rapid-fire and get to keep the upgrades until your game is over, which is a generous reward for a game of this type. The action is just the right speed; it’s fluid and fast-paced but not so much so that it’s hard to parse what’s going on, which was the prime offense of the last game I played. In short, it plays great.
My favourite part of Silkworm was the background graphics. Every one was wonderfully detailed, and I found myself looking forward to seeing what the next level held in store for me. In terms of the rest of the graphics, spritework isn’t terribly interesting, as 99% of the enemies consist of other bright green helicopters and tanks out to get you. Boss enemies in Silkworm are a letdown; they’re all just big vehicles that move and shoot in the same basic patterns as one another, with increased firepower each level. The only interesting boss design was the final one, but even then, he too was just a big, chunky sprite that eased himself from the left side of the screen to the right and back again, and shot a lot of missiles while he did so.
Silkworm’s biggest weakness for me was its length. I always make a habit of reading the manual before diving into the game, and the one for Silkworm told me that the game was seven rounds long. I was still in good form and having fun by the time I hit that alleged final round, and had nothing but positive thoughts about it in my mind as I made my way through it.
Then there was another level. So I thought to myself, “there’s a secret final level they wanted to surprise the player with for the final showdown? That’s cool!” Still having fun, I beat that one, too…and then there was yet another level. Despite my newly developed trust issues, I’m not begrudging the manual for lying, but rather the game itself for overstaying its welcome. It felt like the inclusion of a ninth level was just one too many and left me feeling a bit tired and bored, which is a shame, really. The cutscenes that bookended the last two levels were fun though, and kept me wondering what was going to happen next, so it wasn’t a total wash.
Despite it’s slightly tedious length, I’d still easily call Silkworm above average. It’s one that I had a lot of fun with, and you could certainly do worse for NES shoot-em-ups, but it won’t be one I replay anytime soon. If you’re a shmup fan or really love the aesthetic of military combat, I’d highly recommend it. Just strap yourself in for the long haul, because those last two levels are brutal, and you only get two continues, with three lives per continue. Good luck buster!
Spy Hunter (1987) Developed by: Sunsoft Published by: Sunsoft Released in: NA
You like cars? What about cars that can go at mach 5 down the freeway? Okay, now how do you feel about cars that go mach 5 down the freeway and also shoot lasers? If you’re jumping out of your seat and cheering (like I know you are), I’ve got just the game for you: Spy Hunter.
Spy Hunter is a NES port of the arcade classic, done by the good folks at Sunsoft. I’m not sure if the title is meant to imply that you’re a badass contract killer who hunts down spies for a living, or if you’re the titular spy that’s being hunted. The designer of the original arcade Spy Hunter was heavily inspired by the music of James Bond while designing the game, so with that in mind, you’re probably meant to be a spy.
The gameplay is simple: you’re a car, and other cars want you dead for reasons unexplained. You also turn into a boat sometimes, but only if you’re really lucky. You get timed powerups every now and then, but it’s mostly you and your laser-car against the world.
It’s really difficult. I wasn’t entirely joking when I said that Spy Hunter zips along at the speed of sound; the screen moves at a blisteringly fast pace. The arcade original looks much more manageable in terms of speed, so someone over at Sunsoft must have made the conscious decision to make the NES port run like its got somewhere to be. There are obstacles aplenty in your way, and you die in one hit (unless you have a precious 1-UP stocked, which are difficult to come by). It’s a game that asks for a lot of concentration, memorization, and pattern recognition from the player, and if you’re not up to the task, you may as well hand in your spy license now rather than embarrass your sorry self in front of Q later. There’s also no Pause button, so go pee and ensure your nose doesn’t need scratching before settling in for a night on the couch with Spy Hunter. There’s no getting off this crazy highway once you start ’til you’re dead, which is a pretty good metaphor for life, probably. I don’t know.
Spy Hunter’s one-hit one-life no-continues arcade design philosophy makes sense for the arcade original, but it makes the home port a bit of a drag to play. I personally didn’t enjoy my time with it all that much thanks to how blazingly fast and unforgiving it was; clearing it, however, was satisfying.
If you like difficult games or car games that are too fast for my pea brain to handle, I can wholeheartedly point you in the direction of Spy Hunter. Just put on your best spy pants before you hunt spies. Or get hunted by spies. Whichever it was supposed to be.
Puss ‘n Boots: Pero’s Great Adventure (1990) Developed by: Shouei System Published by: Electro Brain Released in: NA
Puss ‘n Boots is a game starring a cute, chubby rendition of the classic character named Pero. What’s interesting about this particular incarnation of the kitty is that Pero is the mascot of Toei Animation; a world renowned Japanese animation studio that’s worked on hundreds of anime series including Dragon Ball, One Piece, and just about any popular 80’s Western cartoon you can think of. But don’t get too excited, they’ve worked on plenty of stinkers, too; find me someone who unironically enjoys Turbo Teen and win a prize!
So, with a library of varying quality under their belts, how does a game based around their iconic mascot fare?
Interestingly, this game starring a character that’s synonymous with Japanese anime was never released in Japan. It re-uses a lot of assets from the Famicom only title “Puss ‘n Boots: Around The World In 80 Days (1986)” but is decidedly not the same game.
Puss in Boots left his iconic sword at home or something, because in this game, Pero’s packing heat. Indeed, your main method of attack is a goddamn gun for some reason. He also has an absolutely massive, absolutely useless boomerang and an unlimited supply of bombs, which work great against the few boss characters there are. Each level is very loosely based around a real-life location, and consists of walking to the right and not dying, as is platforming tradition.
Puss ‘n Boots feels like a game that was made with very young children in mind (likely the 4 to 7 crowd) because it has absolutely no difficulty curve whatsoever. Just about anybody of any skill level could beat this game in an hour at the absolute most, thanks in part to the generous amount of continues you’re given. I think even I could have beat this game as a kid, and that’s saying something.
Mashing the attack button and walking to the right is a sure-fire way to beat most of the stages, save for the last one, which is one of those “teleporting door” mazes that are so endemic in video games. You know, the kind where you go through one door, only to end up in a new hazard-filled room with six doors in it, and only one of them leads to the next area? I hate those types of puzzles in games so goddamn much, I feel like I’m falling down a well when I so much as think about them. Luckily the one in Puss ‘n Boots isn’t too difficult to figure out, so I walked away from this game with minimal injury to myself and my surroundings. Thank god!
Overall, Puss ‘n Boots is one of the easiest NES games I’ve beat to date. Even though it’s stupid easy and simple, I still enjoyed it. It’s nice to shut your brain off and work your way through something that requires next to no thought sometimes. If you’re interested in cute mascot platformers, or having a quick game clear under your belt, Puss ‘n Boots is the cat’s meow. If I tried to put my cat in boots, I’d lose a hand. Hm.
Arcana • カードマスター リムサリアの封印 Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System Developed by: HAL Laboratory Released in: JP, NA Length: 8~12 hours Difficulty: 7.5/10
HAL Laboratory took time out of their busy schedule of developing Kirby and Mother games to make a quirky little RPG for the Super Nintendo: 1992’s Arcana.
You play as Rooks, a boy who is the last survivor of a race of “Card Masters”; people who can draw magic powers out of magic cards most magically. In case the title wasn’t a dead giveaway, Arcana’s entire aesthetic is themed around cards. The stylistic choice is one of the game’s absolute highlights; everything from NPCs to monsters to treasure chests you find along the way are depicted as cards to be flipped over or torn in half when defeated. It’s an interesting touch, and definitely one that helps Arcana differentiate itself from the gaggle of JRPGs the Super Nintendo saw pass through its doors.
The gameplay consists of slow first-person dungeon crawling and traditional turned based JRPG fare for the battles. Most early games in the dungeon crawling genre rely on the plucky player to draw up their own maps on paper to avoid getting hopelessly lost (or to Google decades old MSPaint renditions if you’re not one for authenticity), but Arcana makes exploring its labyrinths a damn sight more palatable by the fact that this 1992 game features honest to god auto-mapping! Shock and awe! It’s wonderfully convenient to be able to stop and re-calibrate yourself in the middle of that dungeon you’ve been toiling your way through for the last 3 hours without feeling the need to restart from the beginning.
With that said, I wouldn’t say this is exactly the title to use as your introduction dungeon crawling games, because it’s tough as a leathery boot… thanks to one design choice. For reasons I’ll never understand, it’s annoyingly customary in many an RPG to have it so if the protagonist dies in battle, it’s an automatic game over; obnoxious, but commonplace enough to not be surprising. Arcana, though? Arcana took that trope and thoroughly emasculated it, because if any of your characters die, your ass gets thrown back to the title screen faster than you can say “go fish.” There are no save points outside of towns either, just as an extra kick in the teeth to make whoever plays it feel even more hopeless upon losing.
However, I’m of the opinion that the consequence of death being so unforgiving is a plus in the game’s favour. That combined with having limited ways to heal yourself helps add a pulse pounding sense of urgency to battles, and puts an emphasis on how well you can manage your resources and keep yourself alive before having to turn tail and head back into town for a restock of supplies.
Something else of note is that the translation of this game is, to be nice about it, one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my whole ass life. The dialogue is rife with bizarre sentences that don’t make a lick of sense, which makes the story and character interactions pretty tough to figure out. Doing a bit of digging, I found that the JP game was released on March 27th of 1992, and the English version sometime in May of the same year. Bear in mind that this was long, long before the days of simultaneous releases of games in other languages and regions being common practice; up until the mid-to-late 2000’s, you were lucky if you only had to wait a year to play the hottest new game from Japan. So I can only surmise the poor people who were tasked with localising the thing had a grand total of five minutes to fine-tune a sprawling Japanese script into something somewhat legible for the North American audience.
Thanks to the rushed translation, I can’t really make heads or tails of the game’s story segments, but there’s not much to miss out on, either. There’s an evil empress who is very evil, I can assure you, and she needs to be defeated for some reason. That’s where you come in. That’s about all there is to it. Not every RPG has to have a plot that rivals Lord of the Rings. Sometimes you just wanna hit stuff with a sword without thinking too hard about it, and that’s okay.
All in all, Arcana is an interesting shuffle of good and bad, of interesting concepts and unrefined choices all thrown into one bubbling pot and given a big ol’ stir. Despite being rough around the edges, I still enjoyed it a surprising amount; it was nice to just relax and mindlessly plug away at some dungeons to keep myself entertained for an hour or so a day. While it might not be a total royal flush, it sure is one of a kind.
I’ve always been a glass half full-type of person. It’s just in my nature to be positive, regardless of how bleak something may seem. Even the most rotten of clouds have silver linings; similarly, every bad game has something good about it. Since making this blog, every review I’ve posted has been one where I didn’t hate the game in question, because I didn’t find any reason to – the most “negative” venture thus far being Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but even that wasn’t offensive to me and landed itself a 5/10.
Prior to committing to beating the NES library, I had finished 70 NTSC NES and 18 import games over the years. In my time dabbling in the console, I’ve run into some real piles of poo. Games that, to even think back on them, fills me with a sense of dread that only a badly composed mess of an 8-bit tune can instill in a person. While these won’t be getting full-blown write-ups since I’ve finished them in the past and hated every moment of it, I thought it’d be fun to do some bite-sized reviews on NES games I couldn’t stand, and be a little nasty for a change. A little shady. A little rude, perhaps. Ooh.
3. RoboCop (1988, Data East)
One would think that a video game adaptation of RoboCop would slap. He’s a robot. He’s got a gun. There are bad guys to shoot. Done deal, right?
HA HA! No.
RoboCop on NES is an exercise in pain tolerance. As the titular future of law enforcement, or a schlubby guy traipsing around Detroit in a store-bought Halloween costume of him at least. You trudge through six levels at a snail’s pace, punching bad guys and trying to beat the grueling time limit.
Did you catch what was wrong with that sentence? Maybe there was a lot screwy about it, but there was one cardinal sin in there. Punching bad guys as a character who’s iconography is rarely seen without a gun? Indeed, in this waste of time, RoboCop only uses his gun sometimes. Whenever the mood takes him, I guess. Often times a level will start you off being able to use the gun for a few moments, only for RoboCop to casually tuck it up his robo-anus for safe keeping, and continue slogging on with nothing but his fists. Sometimes the inverse is true as well, with the stupid tin can feeling the itch to whip out his weapon when you’re just outside the bosses lair (meaning you had you work your way through a whole painful level, gun-less). What gives?
The manual claims that, when you’re forced to punch the hell out of things, “you can defeat the enemy you’re facing only by duking it out with him – none of your weapons have any effect on him.” I understand the logistics behind being punched by a death robot probably making a bad dude spit out his spine on impact, but a future robo-gun that’s the exact same in-game strength would be just as effective, no? Though the gun is preferable thanks to its long range, when you actually get a chance to use the thing, it controls like crap. Because of course it does.
On top of having two useless weapons at his disposal, Mr. Roboto is one of the flimsiest game characters of all time. Despite having a health bar that looks pretty sizable, he dies so easily it’s not even funny. He’d lose health if someone looked at him funny from across the street. RoboCop is six levels full of suck, and beating it was a chore. Just watch the movie instead.
2. Donkey Kong Jr. Math (1985, Nintendo)
Math ain’t fun. Even when you try to dress it up with baby gorillas. Next.
1. Fist of the North Star (Toei, 1987)
Whether you’re talking about games, movies/series, books, or even music, hardcore enthusiasts of any type of media all go through the exact same process. You find that one thing that gets you hooked into the medium, and you ravenously ingest all of the “most recommended” pieces of media pertaining to that thing. Once you’ve get through that list, you start to do a deeper dive of “hidden gems” that aren’t as readily talked about as the big dogs. You soon reach a point where the run-of-the-mill vanilla stuff just doesn’t do it for you anymore. Where does the seasoned nerd turn to?
Things start to get freaky-deaky from here. Diving deep into the weird, the terribly niche, the rarely talked about. You dive headfirst into whatever the hell you can find that vaguely pertains to your interest, often coming away from it disappointed or un-titillated; but hey, you’re willing to try anything once.
I reached that point with the NES around the time I finished ~50 games. The most popular titles had long since been finished, and the “hidden gems” list was running a bit thin. So, dipping my toes into the choppy waters of emulation, I sniffed out the latest GoodNES download and got to clicking around on random ROMs. Mostly my luck was pretty good, stumbling across good/middling ones one after the other. But this one…
This one hit different. And not in a complimentary way. I hate this game.
I was surprised to see that a largely unedited anime tie-in game had been released for the North American NES. Nobody knew what the hell these crazy cartoons were in the 80’s, and yet, Kenshiro was staring back at me! Or a faceless pixelated equivalent of him, at least. And so, curiosity piqued, I started playing Fist of the North Star.
Big mistake. HUGE.
At first, it feels like a standard beat-em-up. Mindless cronies throw themselves at you, one after another, and Kenshiro casually swats at them like they’re nothing but flies. Punches make the bad guy’s heads explode, complete with an admittedly really good sound effect that sounds like the enemies are choking on their own blood before their heads EXPLODE. Kicks, on the other hand, humorously send them flying off of the screen at Mach 5. For the first little while, this game seems like it’s going to be good fun. I hate this game, though, so don’t forget that.
Then you keep going. And you keep going. And you keep going. Even though the average, obligatory “way too short Youtube playthrough that makes you feel like a jackass who sucks at games” of FoTNS is only 15 minutes long, it manages to drag on for lifetimes if you’re a normal human being, and not a video making super gaming robot. It’s repetitive as hell, too; there aren’t any special moves to spice things up, or exciting boss battles to work your way toward, or good music to spur you on. It’s all shit. Even the goofy enemy death sound effect grates on your nerves after you’ve died for the 837th time, forcing you to hear it over and over again (until you switch to kicks, that is). There is a way to upgrade your tiny Kenshiro through the use of stars, which grants extra moves and other boons, but who gives a shit? I don’t remember if you keep your power-ups when you die or not. I’m not about to play it again to remind myself. I hate this game.
The later levels are disgustingly hard, too. Because of course they are. Here’s something fun that happened to me: when I beat the game a few years ago, I didn’t even get to see the shit ending, because the game glitched and showed me scrambled text scrolling up the screen until it froze. Which was undoubtedly more interesting than the real ending, to be fair, but it was a hot load of garbage all the same.
Playing it feels so pointless. I know one could make the argument that all video games are pointless, but “one” is a wuss who hates fun and probably whittles away their time on this god forsaken earth pestering people way out of their league on dating sites to lower their standards, or prattling on about 1970’s German train track structures, or something equally as yawn inducing. So don’t listen to whoever the hell “one” is.
Unless one is talking about Fist of the North Star on the NES, in which case they are absolutely, irrevocably, 100% right. It’s a horrible, horrible waste of time and I wish it had never been released. Truly, I feel for anyone who was unfortunate enough to have this shit as a little kid back in the day. The governments of countries that allowed this waste of space to be sold in stores should issue a formal apology to anyone who’s ever had to endure it.
Fist of the North Star makes me wish a muscle-bound meathead would burst through my wall and punch all of my pressure points, making my head explode and killing me instantly. I hate this game. I really, really hate this game. Like, a lot, you guys.
Having to remember Fist of the North Star on NES has taken me to a dark place I don’t wanna be in so I’m just gonna bounce and sleep or kiss my wife or something. Don’t play these games, even if you’re curious. Donkey Kong Jr. Math isn’t that bad to be honest, I was just dunking on it because I don’t like edutainment games. But don’t look at the other two. They’re not worth the effort of even tracking down a ROM. For real. Plant a tree! Read a book! do anything else! Don’t be like me! Play something fun instead! I warned youuuuu!!