C_So!

C-SO!

                          Who’s the real bully?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

C sos, Shee shos, by the Cee Cstore? Close!

C_So! is a stranger-than-usual SG-1000 game that involves a young child punishing bullies by death of seesaw. Your job is to lure the bullies onto the seesaw, then jump on the opposite end to either fling them upwards or stomp them with your small child stompin’ shoes. Slay all the bullies and collect every item in the level to progress to the next one, while also avoiding killer balloons that float rampantly around. The balloons have no purpose beyond extra points, and while you can’t kill them via seesaw, often they will inexplicably fly across the screen and burst against the wall of the level. I’ve tried to figure out the balloons’ unreasonable actions, and their reason for being – perhaps because the game stars children and balloons could be considered scary to some kids… I guess? They don’t seem to have much purpose other than to loiter and annoy, but hey, extra bonus points for popping them all; bonus points were cool once.

 

C_So! (Japan)001

                   The sprites look so moldable, like putty.

 

I am usually among the first to embrace weirdy games like C_So!. Getting revenge on bullies via playground equipment? Quick, shove the controller in my hand! But despite C_So!‘s novel premise, the game itself never plays quite right. First and foremost: the levels are not assembled well at all. There’s trampolines and long jumps and long falls and warping doors and mile-high ladders and items in odd locations, and clusters of seesaws in a chunk of the level, and no seesaws in other parts of the level. Indeed the levels look as though the game designers vomited a bunch of random in-game elements onto a black screen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, C_So! has a level editor. Place your seesaws in the middle of nothing! Color your bullies purple! (not sure why the bullies have a variety of different colors. I think their color might relate to their movement patterns, but I’m not sure). While I’m usually right crap with level editors, I could make better levels than the ones found in the game themselves. Perhaps that’s the point of these crappily designed levels, to make players feel smarter than they are with the level editor? I wouldn’t put it past a game as strange as this.

 

C_So! (Japan)000

                                     Not my playground.

 

I got to the third level of C_So! multiple times before I see-ed my last saw. I’m sure I could have gotten past it eventually, but frankly, the game felt like work. Bullies rarely go where you want them to go, and you’re on a time limit so you have to follow them around and hope they make their way to a seesaw. Then you have to make sure they walk onto the seesaw at the correct angle, which means you wait for them to walk to the edge of the seesaw before jumping backwards and flinging them upwards. Launching bullies is totally doable, and I got better at it with time, but I never really enjoyed myself. And games, above all else, are about enjoying yourself. Sorry C_So!, I don’t think you and I will ever C eye to eye.

D

Bomb Jack

Bomb_Jack

Hey yo, it’s just anotha… bomb jack? (thanks to gamesdbase.com for the cover)

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Tehkan (port by Sega)

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Is Jack the most boring name for a superhero ever? Well, it’s slightly better than Ant-Man, but not by much. Thankfully, Jack’s ability to defuse bombs is nothing short of phenomenal. Also, he can jump as good or better than Mario. You heard it here first, kids.

In Bomb Jack, you play as Jack (is he a demon in tights or just a really ugly superhero? Who can say!) and your goal is to defuse bombs at several worldwide tourist sites. The Sphinx, the Great Pyramids, the Acropolis and many more will be blown to the realm of the Ancients unless Jack can defuse all the bombs in time. “Defusing” involves nothing more than collecting/jumping through them, and while the bombs are scattered all around the screen, Jack’s superhero leaps will easily allow him to collect them in the highest places. Also, the bombs themselves will never go off, even though certain ones look closer to detonation. No, the real threat comes in the form of numerous unknown creatures (I have no idea what these things are – bats? Crustaceans? Beings from civilizations past?). They generate out of nothing and try to stop Jack from defusing the bombs. Jack can’t attack these creatures, even though he’s a superhero and all superheroes should have an attack of some sort. However, if he collects enough bombs, an @ symbol will appear and bob around the screen. Grab dat @ and all of the creatures will turn into blobs. At this point, Jack can collect the creatures for extra points or leave them be and finish collecting the bombs.

 

Bomb Jack (Japan)000

The Acropolis doesn’t deserve a gummy bear rampage.

 

The best way to play through Bomb Jack is by collecting the proper amount of bombs for the @ symbol to drop. Once the @ symbol drops, grab it, then fly through the remainder of the level and pick up the rest of the bombs. All the enemies will be powerless to stop your bomb grabbing. Of course, this strategy becomes less doable as the level layouts grow more complex and puzzle-like, but it will certainly get you through the first dozen stages.

While the level backdrops themselves don’t change that often (by the time you reach level six or seven, you’ll have seen The Sphinx a couple times), the levels themselves potentially go on forever and with slightly more complex layouts. Each level consists of a pre-rendered historical backdrop and platforms in the foreground which Jack can use to access the bombs or weave his way through, puzzle style, to collect the bombs. The higher the level, the more ferocious these level layouts are. Imagine Tetris pieces set up around the bombs, and you’ll get the idea.

 

Bomb Jack (Japan)001

They’re not bombs! They’re really old cherries with explosive properties.

 

Bomb Jack ultimately succeeds because of the game’s flawless controls. Jack can jump to the very top of the screen if you want him to – hold Button I or II down for as long as it takes and watch him soar like Superman. Once Jack’s on top of the world, press either Button down again and he’ll glide slowly downwards. These actions feel as smooth and instinctual as jumping in the original Super Mario Bros. Not only does the arcade version of Bomb Jack precede Super Mario Bros by a year, Jack’s jumping, flying, and gliding abilities recall some of Mario’s later endeavors. Long before Mario donned a Tanooki suit or a cape, Jack – of all characters – laid down the roots of character-based flight in a video game.

 

Bomb Jack (Japan)002

                    I dare say Jack has his swagger back.

 

Bomb Jack isn’t the deepest arcade game, no matter who you ask. But I’ll be jiggered if the little horned creature didn’t win my heart with his pure arcade action. The Jack series continued with Mighty Bomb Jack on the NES, a not-so-impressive attempt at an early platformer. While not a terrible game by any means, Mighty Bomb Jack seeks to be unique, but ultimately feels like another early NES platformer with a genre identity crisis (see also: Goonies II, Milon’s Secret Castle). Bomb Jack‘s focus is simple and true, and its this assuredness (and beautiful controls) that make the game… dy-no-mite!

 

B+

Hang-On II

HangOnII

Insane motorcycle battles sponsored by the rich bold flavor of Marlboro. Ride the cancer.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Racing/Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Even gamers familiar with Sega’s influential Hang-On series have probably never heard of Hang-On II. Besides being a Japanese SG-1000-only release, this supposed sequel is actually just a port of the original arcade Hang-On, and thus, not a sequel in the slightest. So why did Sega attach the “II” on the front of the title, confusing any and all future game historians? Hardcore Gaming 101’s SilverStarRipper speculates in his all-encompassing Hang-On post that perhaps Sega didn’t want to confuse Japanese consumers with the brand new (in ’85) Mark III version. My shrewder take: perhaps Sega wanted to entice consumers to buy their soon-to-be-extinct SG-1000 console in order to play the console-only “sequel” to Hang-On. Hang-On was, after all, a popular, groundbreaking game at the time, and a sequel would only arouse further interest. Maybe? Only Sega knows, and realistically, our theories are likely much more interesting than the actual explanation.

Hang-On was a revelation in the arcades. It was the first arcade game to utilize full-body movement in order to control the game. Instead of using a joystick and buttons to control the on-screen motorcycle and its speed, you rode atop a full-blown motorcycle cabinet and used a handlebar to shift gears, accelerate, and brake. When a tight turn approached, you leaned into the direction you wanted to go, just as you would on a real motorcycle. The cabinet worked flawlessly, and the game itself was a blast too. Later examples of the full-body-experience arcade genre focused more on outrageous cabinets than making sure the game was worth your four or five quarters. Hang-On was the type of game that played so well, you didn’t need a fake motorbike to enjoy yourself.

 

Hang-On II (Japan)001

               Riding through the Spearmint Meadows.

 

Of course, Hang-On was popular enough that Sega wanted to make it available for their home consoles as soon as possible. Both the Master System and the SG-1000 received ports of the game in 1985, the same year it was released in arcades. The Master System version (of which I’ll discuss more in-depth in a future review) isn’t as graphically detailed as the arcade, but it does a good job of playing like its arcade big brother. As for the SG-1000 version… well, it doesn’t take a Sega Fun-gineer to realize that Hang-On would have to be severely compromised if it was to be ported to Sega’s oldest console. While I’m not going to outright lie to my audience and say Hang-On II looks good (don’t be fooled by the pretty screenshots – by SG-1000 standards, it looks just ok), I’m surprised at how well Sega was able to recreate the overall Hang-On experience.

As in Hang-On, Hang-On II has you racing across five distinct stages in order to beat the time. You receive sixty seconds per stage, an amount that refills when you complete the stage. Twists and turns abound, as do other motorcyclists who seem hellbent on making you crash. They’ll usually sidle up next to you as you pass them or refuse to move out of your way if you come up behind them. Thankfully, the controls are pitch-perfect for avoiding them, even when they seem to smother every inch of the highway. Driving and switching gears via the joystick is incredibly intuitive, as is accelerating and braking with Buttons I and II, respectively. The controls are so good, in fact, that if you crash into anything, it’s almost always your fault. The experience of taking turns at 280 km/hr while riding the brake and narrowly avoiding another biker is a thrilling experience that has no replication on the SG-1000.

 

Hang-On II (Japan)002

                          How Monument Was My Valley

 

Once you finish the five stages, the next course repeats the same five stages again, this time with more obstacles and turns. There are three difficulty levels on the main menu, and while I played them all, I didn’t see much of a difference between them. All are equally challenging, particularly in the number of opposing bikers that are placed on the course at any given time. Interestingly, the first stage is always the hardest. If you crash even once during this stage, chances are, you won’t make it to the next stage before running out of time. In the following four stages, however, I crashed a couple different times per stage and always made it to the next stage without fail.

 

BikeHandle2

                   The Bike Handle – vroom vroom!

 

Hang-On II also received its very own peripheral: Sega’s Bike Handle BH-400. Now, even though the Handle was designed for Hang-On II, one can use it for racing games up through the Mega Drive days, which is pretty forward-thinking and generous of Sega; Road Rash, here we come, eh? As you can see from the picture above, the controller is seated on a red base, which mimics the color of the original arcade motorcycle. I haven’t given the controller a hang-on myself, so I can’t say for certain how well it works. Do the handlebars look petite to anyone else, though? My hands would certainly dwarf the bars, and I consider myself to have very small dude hands. Also, the shifter on the left side: perfect for countries that are used to that configuration, like Japan and Britain; not so easy, perhaps, for us in the U.S.A. The Bike Handle certainly looks retro cool (those motorcycle gauge stickers!), but if you’re gonna import it, be forewarned, it was not designed for American audiences.

 

Hang-On II (Japan)003

No sleep ’til whatever city this might be. Brooklyn, perhaps.

 

Hang-On II is the best version of Hang-On the SG-1000 could have received. While the graphics lack the eye-bursting color and detail of the arcade and Master System versions, the SG-1000 makes up for that with surprisingly decent scrolling and top-notch controls. Sega may have started to move on to the Mark III by the time of Hang-On II‘s release, but kudos to them for putting the time and effort into a decent port for the few oft-neglected SG-1000 owners out there.

 

B

Champion Ice Hockey

Champion Ice Hockey

I’m not sure what happened to #10, but that is quite the expression.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Champion Ice Hockey does indeed bring the sport of ice hockey to the SG-1000, just as Champion Baseball, Boxing, Wrestling, Soccer, Golf and so forth brought their respective sports. As anyone who’s read my reviews of these other sports games can attest, the Champion series bears no signature of quality. Outside of Boxing, none of the games are playable for more than a few minutes, and for a number of reasons including, but not limited to: poor physics, unresponsive controls, broken mechanics, and… well, that’s enough. I’d like to think that these games’ weaknesses are as much due to hardware limitations, rather than Sega’s poor development skills. Champion Ice Hockey doesn’t break Sega’s streak of mediocre sports titles, but it is one of the better games in the series. Unfortunately, this says more about the Champion Sports line than it does about Ice Hockey‘s own quality.

Forget about team names, stats, any of that simulation stuff. You choose your difficulty level (Amateur, Semi-Pro, and Pro), then head to the ice for 3-on-3 puck-slappin’ action. A cursor – easily maneuvered with the joystick – highlights whichever player you’re in control of, while Button I shoots and Button II passes. Drive the puck past the goalie and score points, while avoiding the violent outbursts of the opposing team. It’s ice hockey, alright.

 

Champion Ice Hockey (Japan)001

                                 Go, hockey players, go!

 

The controls are awkward until you get the hang of them. Making your players move in any direction is like forcing a semi-truck to make a narrow U-turn: doable with practice and time, but you’ll hate doing it, even if you get used to it. Even when the players have momentum, they can slide all over the ice, as if the skates on their feet have zero grip. Of course, I attribute their slippery movements to the ice, but said slipperiness could just as easily be poor controls masked as “realistic” controls.

Other than learning Champion Ice Hockey‘s quirks, there is no strategy you could employ to help you win – other than understanding that the game likes to take things slow. Getting touched by the opposing side will result in you being ‘knocked out’ for a couple seconds, unable to move. There’s also a brief pause in the game every single time before you shoot your puck, as if the game doesn’t immediately understand which button you pressed. The slow-moving players, the pause before hitting the puck, being stunned on the ice: it’s like Sega was determined to add value to Champion Ice Hockey by making the game last as long as possible.

 

Champion Ice Hockey (Japan)000

        Ghost players are always the most aggressive.

 

And speaking of long-lasting, the hockey games themselves. Each game has three periods of twenty minutes each, which might not sound like a lot, until you try to skate your way through a full sixty-minute game. Most of that time will be spent maneuvering your slow, slippery players in the direction you want them to move. All the while you’ll be thinking about Blades of Steel or Ice Hockey or some other better hockey game you could be playing because it’s not 1985 anymore and you have options.

 

D+

H.E.R.O.

Hero

Enrique Iglesias was not consulted on the making of this game.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Activision (port by Sega)

GENRE: Arcade/Action

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Because naming a game Hero would be considered boring and a waste of everyone’s time, Activision named their game H.E.R.O. cause that’s what good companies do when they’re trying to get people intrigued. Everyone’s like, “Hmm, what does H.E.R.O. stand for? I bet it means something awesome and related to the game. Like, the main guy is a hero, but he’s also a H.E.R.O., ya know?” Then you find out the hero’s name is Roderick Hero who’s on a H.E.R.O. – Helicopter Rescue Emergency Operation – then Xzibit is summoned because you said “hero” a certain number of times in a row. All part of Activision’s diabolical plan.

In H.E.R.O., you guide Mr. Hero down an about-to-burst volcano to rescue miners. The miners are trapped in the center of the volcano, which takes some time to reach, don’tcha know. Before you get to them, you work your way through a number of adult situations: bats, moths, snakes, lava, both vertically dribbling and in horizontal pools. These situations are totes doable because Roderick is equipped with a jetpack, (only in the SG-1000 version, which I guess should technically be called J.E.R.O.), a laser gun, and a certain amount of dynamite, depending on the level. The dynamite should be used for walls only, and- hey, don’t stand so close to it unless you want to die. The laser gun is for the wee enemies who would have been killed by the encroaching lava anyway, so no harm, no foul.

 

H.E.R.O2

“Grab onto my flaming hot jetpack and I’ll fly you to safety, troubled miner!”

 

The first five levels are so easy, you’ll question why Activision bothered producing this bizarre concept into a full-fledged game. Once H.E.R.O. hits stage six, though, this hero business gets raw and the whole rescue operation may as well be soundtracked by Nine Inch Nails’ “The Downward Spiral” (cause Roderick Hero’s going down in the volcano physically and in his spirit emotionally, plus yo dawg, I heard he likes to get down). Because your progression moves you constantly downwards and the screens don’t scroll to provide you a glimpse of what’s on the following screen, you will never see danger in time to avoid it. Fall down a hole and land in lava or atop a floating bat, and woops, you’re dead! But you should have known to swerve just a hair to the right in order to avoid the enemy cause you’re a hero and good heroes are psychic, yeah? And the hit detection, Lord have mercy. Sometimes a dynamite blast kills you, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve died by “touching” lava in the game, despite the fact that my main character sprite was nowhere near the lava. Finally, the jetpack, which only works when you’re jamming ‘Up’ and Button II together. Surely, pressing ‘Up’ twice would have been more helpful than having a necessary item only operate when it feels like it?

 

H.E.R.O

That’s lava, by the way. And yeah, Roderick’s walking on air, even though the jetpack isn’t on.

 

By level 12 or so, H.E.R.O.‘s straightforward boring levels become mini-labyrinths, full of branching pathways and wrong turns. As you make your way through these areas, you see a power bar that you’ve never noticed before at the bottom of the screen. It’s constantly decreasing and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Run out of power, run out of life. Is this a bad thing? Nah, it just means you’ll have to blaze through the volcano faster than Snoop Dogg through a spliff.

H.E.R.O. plays well enough if you’re willing to give it a chance, but Xzibit help me, I didn’t care for the game at all. Even as the levels expanded and H.E.R.O. turned from a fast-paced arcade game into a slightly non-linear platformer, the game feels one-note. Falling down chasms time and time again is necessary to the idea of venturing downwards into a volcano, but it’s not like you’re falling to complete creative objectives or distinct puzzles. Kill a moth, fall down, blow up a wall, fall down, and so the ballet of heroism goes. Plus, the flaws: poor hit detection, cheap deaths, obnoxious trial-and-error gameplay that’s tacked on to extend the length of the game. Roderick Hero might be a hero from H.E.R.O, but he’s not my hero. Truth, dawg.

 

D

Championship Lode Runner

Championship Lode Runner

The part of “Lode Runner” will be played by Walter Koenig.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Broderbund (port by Sega)

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Remember Lode Runner? Stick man with questionable agenda collects all the gold sacks in each level while being pursued by other stick men. Not quite a puzzle game, not quite an arcade game, something in between. People with moderate intelligence (like me) could beat the game with enough time, effort, and patience. Not so with the followup. You’re gonna need the mind of a champion to even get past the first couple levels of Championship Lode Runner, let alone the entire fifty-level game. Like, eat a box of Wheaties a day, understand the entirety of quantum physics, and “Hey look, I found Bobby Fischer!” type-of champion. I’ve come to terms that I’m not smart enough to complete the game past level two. And you know what? My grandma is Mensa-level smart and she’s only reached level fifteen. No joke, my grandma owns a copy of Championship Lode Runner and has been playing it off and on for about twenty years, since I was a kid. This game does not front on its definition of “champion.”

In level two, for example, the game has the Lode Runner and an evil stick man falling adjacent to each other as the level begins. The Lode Runner is placed slightly above the stick man because as they fall, the Lode Runner will need to run atop the stick man’s head back and forth in order to collect four precariously placed pieces of gold. Fail to do this right the first time and you need to re-start the level. But that’s only the first part of the level. Many of the levels need to be analyzed and thought through before you even start. Unlike the original Lode Runner, there is no margin for error here, no multiple ways to collecting every gold bag. Play like a champion or get out, basically.

 

Championship Lode Runner (Japan)001

But hey, the level’s in the shape of a turtle, so I can’t complain too much.

 

Unforgiving difficulty aside, Championship Lode Runner does make a couple much-needed improvements upon the original. For starters, you can abort any level at any time. This does take a life from you, but you have five lives and you receive a password upon the completion of each level, so lives are pretty expendable. The game wants you to use passwords. When you power on Championship Lode Runner for the first time and select ‘Play’ on the menu screen, the password entry is the first thing that pops up, not the first level. Write them down, memorize them, tattoo them on your forehead. Passwords forever. The game also has five different speed settings that you can change anytime throughout each level. Since one of my complaints about the last game was its overwhelming speed, the ability to shift between Speedy Gonzales and Eeyore-levels of movement pleases me.

 

Championship Lode Runner (Japan)000

                                   Hey, how’s it goin’?

 

Even with the crazy hard challenge, Championship Lode Runner is a better game than its predecessor thanks to its improved features. Speed selection, the ability to restart levels, and ample passwords: all these things should have been in the original, but weren’t. Kaloo, kalay, here they are in a game I can’t play (or can barely play, if I’m being generous). But it’s not Championship Lode Runner‘s fault that I don’t have the mental muscle to devote to its challenging levels. It’s a top-notch puzzle title, for sure, just not one for the faint of brain.

 

B

Soukoban / Shove It!…The Warehouse Game

Soukoban

Translation: “Overalls and box-pushing are two of my favorite things!”

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Thinking Rabbit (port by Sega)

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Bolting down moving platforms in Rock n’ Bolt. Traveling down thirty floors in an elevator in Elevator Action. Moving boxes around confined corridors in Soukoban. Thrilling concepts for video games? Nay. But all three games share a curiously addictive nature that belies one’s initial impressions.

In Soukoban, you play as a construction worker who has to push boxes to a certain location in a warehouse. This sounds simple, but from the first stage onwards, Soukoban commands you solve its strict, unforgiving puzzles in a very particular way. Since you can only interact with the boxes through pushing them (no pulling or lifting), each move must be carefully considered prior to execution. The boxes are usually clustered near each other, sometimes placed in layers. You’ll often have to push boxes in directions that don’t initially make sense in order to “free” other boxes. If you accidentally push a box into a direction or placement from where it can’t be recovered, you’ll have to restart the level all over again. Never have the words “trial and error” so readily applied to a game.

 

Soukoban (Japan)002

            Don’t hate the foreman, hate the boxes.

 

So why would anyone play such a brutal box-pushing simulator on the SG-1000? Well, like any puzzle game worth its salt, Soukoban teaches as much as it punishes. After a couple levels of screaming “What do you want from me?!”, you’ll begin to pick up on the game’s idiosyncrasies and push boxes in the direction the game wants you to. You’ll still fail – will you ever! – but success will not appear as elusive the further you progress. And when you inevitably start over, you can select any of the hundred levels to start from on the main menu screen. Even Sega knows Soukoban is hard as sin.

 

Soukoban (Japan)003

        Forgive me, foreman, for clearly I have pissed you off.

 

In addition to pushing boxes around meticulously crafted levels, Soukoban has a level editor. The editor has all the necessary features – walls, boxes, places to put the boxes – but Soukoban is so restrictive by nature that, unless your mind naturally thinks like the developers, you won’t be making reasonable levels without insane amounts of practice. And when you make a level that’s creative and clever and you want to show your friends, you’re not able to save. Lest you forget, you’re playing on the SG-1000, and as Gollum would say, “What’s a battery backup, precious?”

 

Shove It!

                               Sponsored by Deftones!

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: DreamWorks

DEVELOPER: Thinking Rabbit (port by NCS)

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 01/30/1990 (JP), 1990 (US)

 

Our journey with Soukoban doesn’t end with the SG-1000 version, however. The Genesis/Mega Drive also received a version of Soukoban in 1990. In America, the game was called Shove It!… The Warehouse Game, while in Japan it was known as Shijou Saidai no Soukoban. The former is certainly a more apt title (hey! You are just shoving boxes in a warehouse!) than Shijou Saidai no Soukoban, even if it was pieced together by an early 90s focus group.

Rest assured, Shove It is pure Soukoban through and through: boxes need pushing and you’re the schmo hired to push ‘em proper. The game is structured a bit differently from the SG-1000 version, though. Instead of a hundred levels back to back, Shove It gives one stage at a time, with ten rooms per stage. A “room” is just a level with a different name, and while you can complete the ten rooms in any order you choose, the next stage is only opened after all ten rooms have been completed. Since there are sixteen stages, ten rooms per stage, that makes for 160 levels. After you beat a stage, you’re given a password. Sega didn’t program this port, so there’s none of that “Start anywhere you like” generosity here.

 

Shove It! - The Warehouse Game (U) [!]000

                          Box-shoving in raging color.

 

While you still can’t pull boxes backwards, Shove It gives the option to take one move back, which is surprisingly helpful. You can also open a menu during the game that allows you to perform one of several options: ‘Reset’ begins the level over again, ‘Trace Mode ‘ re-traces your steps prior to the last step before pulling up the menu, and ‘Go’ opens the room selection screen. Shove It also has an edit mode, which is plagued by the same inability to save as the SG-1000 version. I’m sure battery backups made cartridges more expensive, but these edit modes are a tease without some way to save your levels. Unless you have a bulky VHS camcorder at the ready to film your inspired creation, they’ll be gone forever.

Soukoban‘s presence on the SG-1000 in 1985 seems natural, but Shove It feels antiquated for 1990, and particularly on the Genesis. Shove It graphically improves upon its SG-1000 predecessor (as well it should), but it doesn’t build upon soukoban’s minimalist foundation. There’s no power-ups, no special flourishes to take advantage of the new hardware or to give those who played prior versions of soukoban a reason to return. While Shove It is perfectly playable, the game feels like a missed opportunity to expand the limited boundaries of soukoban for a new console generation.

 

Soukoban (Game Gear)

That sideways cap is the least of this chipper fellow’s problems.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: RiverhillSoft

DEVELOPER: RiverhillSoft

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 12/15/1990

 

The box-pushing craze continues with Soukoban on the Sega Game Gear. Handhelds and Soukoban feel like a somewhat natural fit, particularly handhelds with color (sorry Boxxle). Like Shove It, Soukoban only gives you access to ten rooms at a time, but it does give you a password option after you beat every room. Also, while the walking/pushing speed of the construction worker feels appropriate in each level, he has five different walking speed levels you can cycle through by pressing ‘Start.’ There are three hundred whopping rooms in this go-round, which amounts to approximately 100,000 AA batteries or more, depending on your ability to push boxes in the right direction the first time. Unfortunately, the larger the room layout, the more the camera zooms out from the on-screen action, making the boxes and the construction worker abnormally small at times. Now, I understand why the developers did this: it’s slightly less incovenient to shrink the on-screen sprites than to add an unbearable amount of scrolling to a couple hundred levels. Still, since Soukoban is already forced to work with the small, blurry Game Gear screen, making the game even smaller and harder to see does not seem like the answer, especially for players with impaired vision.

 

Soukoban (Japan)005

                        Even enlarged, this feels small.

 

Well, shove my boxes if I didn’t enjoy the SG-1000 version of Soukoban the best. The Game Gear version’s portability and overabundance of levels makes it a must for soukoban fans on the go, but you’ll need a magnifying glass or a young child’s perfect vision to stumble through the more complex levels. The Genesis version looks the best of the three, but the game should have brought some innovation to traditional soukoban mechanics. The SG-1000 version is basic, sure, but its steel-eyed focus is what makes it feel superior over its brethren. SG-1000 Soukoban is puzzle-solving-by-box-pushing distilled to its purest form, and that ain’t not bad.

 

B+ – (SG-1000)

B- – (Genesis)

B- – (Game Gear)

Elevator Action

Elevator Action

Archie knocks out Mr. Weatherbee for the last time.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Taito (port by Sega)

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Elevator ACTION! ACTION!… action? I don’t know about that. Three “actions!” in a row is perfect for monster truck rallies and NASCAR mishaps, but there’s only so much one can hype riding a series of elevators down thirty stories.

Elevator Action casts you as Agent 17, an unknown secret agent on the prowl for sensitive documents in dimly lit office buildings. You start at the thirtieth floor of each building and ride elevators to the ground floor, searching for red doors and protecting yourself from enemy agents. While the building is predominantly filled with blue doors on each floor, red doors hold the documents you need to collect. Enter a red door and leave it to collect the document you need – simple as that. Enemy agents will appear frequently, sometimes in clusters of two or three. Shoot them or kick them in the face to make them disappear (or squash them with the elevator, the most hilarious and therefore best option). Mind the enemy agents bullets, though, particularly as you ride down the elevator. Sometimes the agents will see you coming up or down on the elevator and shoot in advance. Bullets are red, narrow, and hard to see, so if you even think they might be shooting, jump to prevent death. Light bulbs can be shot down, as well – both to disable enemies (assuming the bulb lands on them) and to darken the area.

 

Elevator Action (Japan)000

                    Never act without an elevator in sight.

 

The building’s layout becomes more difficult to traverse the further down you travel. From floors 30 to 20, hit down and ride the elevator like a boss, unless a red door on the side hastens you to pull over. Levels 20-1 switch up the layout with multiple elevators, already darkened hallways, walled-off portions and, of course, extra agents emerging from every which way. Once you gather up all the documents, make it to the ground floor, get in your Agency approved sports car, and fly, baby, fly to the next building. Each building’s layout remains more or less the same, but the red doors are always in different areas and the enemy agents are craftier.

Elevator Action was a surprisingly successful arcade game in 1983. I say “surprisingly,” because while I personally find the game addictive, I’m not sure I understand why. The game isn’t suspenseful or moody, despite the secret agent window dressing. Going into a few red rooms while dodging enemy agents isn’t the most thrilling objective, either. Yet there’s something about scaling down thirty floors of a building using slow-moving elevators that feels so right. Elevator Action is, in my opinion, the type of arcade oddity that could have only been made in 1983, yet it remains highly playable today.

 

Elevator Action (Japan)002

 Inside the red room, you’ll find a dancing dwarf and Laura Palmer.      

 

I’ve played the NES port of Elevator Action and found it solid, but this SG-1000 version is slightly higher quality all-around. Agent 17 moves faster, jumps higher, and shoots quicker than his counterpart on the NES. Alas, the price for these features is poor graphics. Both Agent 17 and the enemy agents look like poorly constructed Crash Test Dummies wearing full-blown pajama suits. Still, I’d gladly take inferior graphics over choppiness and slowdown any day. Besides, the SG-1000 port faithfully renders the elevator hopping and document stealing of the original arcade game. That’s really all you can ask for.

B

Rock n’ Bolt

Rock 'n Bolt

At least he’s got tunes to distract him from certain death.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Activision (port by Sega)

GENRE: Puzzle

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

Were construction worker-themed puzzle games all the jam back in the mid-80s? Nintendo had Wrecking Crew, and Activision had Rock N’ Bolt. Now, two games might not sound like a lot, even for a sub-sub-genre of gaming (perhaps there were more, these are the only two I’m aware of). But can anyone truthfully say they expected hard-hat wearing, cortex-wringing action in a video game at any time, let alone two separate games released within a year of each other (Wrecking Crew burst onto the Famicom in June of ’85, while Sega ported Rock n’ Bolt to the SG-1000 sometime the same year)? Wrecking Crew‘s bizarre personality – Eggplant Men! Robotic Foreman! Walking Wrenches – makes it the better of the two games, but Rock n’ Bolt‘s quiet charm isn’t to be denied.

You play as a generic construction worker and your job is to bolt down moving platforms within a certain time limit. All the platforms move in set patterns at different speeds. To reach platforms on the far end of the level, you’ll often need to ride a platform to the back end of the “job site,” bolt the platforms down at an appropriate location (one where you’re not stuck out in the middle of black space), then move forwards back to the starting point. In other words, it’s almost always better for you to bolt backwards to forwards. If you do happen to bolt a platform in the wrong location, unscrew the bolt and the platform will begin to move again.

 

Rock n' Bolt (Japan)000

        “Tom Sawyer” plays softly in the background.

 

In the odd-numbered levels – 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. – you can bolt the platforms in any direction you desire, as long as you’re able to get back to the level’s starting point. In the even-numbered levels – 2, 4, 6, 8 – however, you’re given a map on the bottom right hand corner of the screen that shows you specific areas where the platforms need to be bolted down. Failure to bolt the platforms in the location indicated on the map will result in red screws instead of yellow screws (red means bad, yellow means hooray).

 

Rock n' Bolt (Japan)002

It takes a special kind of man to bolt all these down in a timely manner.

 

I made it to level seven before I grew overwhelmed with the amount of moving platforms and the lack of time with which to bolt them (kudos, though, to the SG-1000 for handling a plethora of objects moving in all directions). Because the time limit is so short – usually no more than a minute and thirty seconds, depending on the size of the level – later levels need to have perfect run-throughs in order to be completed. If you want to see how far you can get without any pressure, pick the Free Play mode. In Free Play, the burden of time no longer eats away at you; as if you exist in some Communist fairyland where time is infinite and work is done for work’s sake, not for a paycheck. Of course, playing without a time limit nullifies the challenge of the game, but it makes for good practice. Rock n’ Bolt isn’t a classic, but at times it locks you into a meditative groove that’s all its own. Few SG-1000 games can say as much.

 

B-

Bank Panic

Bank Panic

     There’ll be zero panic on my watch, pardner!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sanritsu (port by Sega)

GENRE: Shooter

RELEASE DATE: 1985 (SG-1000 MyCard); 1987 (Master System, Sega Card)

 

Being a banker during the Old West must have been one of the worst professions imaginable. You knew you were going to get robbed and shot at some point during your career, it was just a matter of when and how often.

Imagine working at an Old West bank like the kind found in Bank Panic, then: twelve doors, all rotating with drunken hustle and bustle. At any moment, a gentle cowboy or cowgirl could come in and deposit their hard-earned money sacks. Or a robber could kick the door in, shoot you, and steal said money sacks out of your dusty, bleeding hands. Or a child with a stack of hats (?) could show up unexpectedly, begging you to shoot the hats out of his hand for money. In the Old West, anything was possible.

 

Bank Panic (Japan)000

The thing on the left is indeed a child, and he is holding a crazy amount of green hats

 

As the badass bank sheriff (read: security guard with a sparkly badge), you are asked to secure money deposits from all twelve doors before moving on to the next level. You have a gun to protect yourself from robbers and to shoot the hats away from the child (shooting all the hats before the door shuts nets you a money deposit). Later levels will also add bombs on the doors that you shoot (!) in order to prevent them from exploding (?!). The upper portion of the screen will show you which of the twelve doors have already received a money deposit (signified by a dollar sign in a box) and whether people are standing and waiting at the door (signified by a red line in front of the door). Thankfully, you can only focus on three of the twelve doors at a time. Pressing ‘Up’ shoots the left-hand door, Button I shoots the middle door, and Button II shoots the right hand door. When a civilian comes with money to deposit, you don’t have to press any buttons, the money will deposit on its own. When a robber comes, shoot him before he shoots you. Sometimes a civilian will appear at the door, look around nervously, then quickly be replaced by a robber. When this happens, wait for the robber to appear before shooting, always. Otherwise, you’ll shoot the civilian and be run out of town on a rail (that’s how it works, right?). After you’ve accumulated money from each door, Bank Panic continues until you’ve shot too many civilians or run out of time or gotten shot enough to warrant old-time disability i.e. an early death. A charmed life, to be sure.

 

Bank Panic (Japan)001

Oh, how the townspeople roared when you captured all twelve money sacks before your time ran dry.

 

Bank Panic is intense and nerve-wracking and the type of shooting game that Hogan’s Alley should have been. It can also be very frustrating, depending on the version you’re playing. In the SG-1000 version, all three bank doors must be closed before you can move the cursor around to the other doors. Because of this “closed door” law, your time can and will run out on later levels when you’re trying to move to doors that have no deposits and robbers/civilians keep coming to the same three doors. When you are finally able to progress, scrolling to the other doors is SG-1000 standard slow and choppy, further eating away at your time. Don’t get me wrong: Bank Panic is still a hoot and/or a holler, but the game’s inability to progress quickly hinders it at times.

 

Bank Panic

May I interest you in Bank Panic for the Master System?

 

Bank Panic (Card)

Perhaps this Sega Card is more to your liking?

 

The Master System version is the best version if you’re looking to ease into Bank Panic. The system’s upgraded hardware makes for silky-smooth scrolling, and the bank doors don’t take nearly as long to open and close. Bank patrons – both good and bad – don’t emerge at the doors as frequently either, which forces you to move around the bank looking for the doors where people are located. Despite being a shooter, the game is unfortunately not Light Phaser compatible. Overall, though, the Master System Bank Panic has a natural flow that enables you to succeed beyond the jankier (but still enjoyable) SG-1000 version.

 

B- (SG-1000)

B+ (Master System)

 

Bank Panic (E) [!]000

This screen means that you allowed panic to overtake you. For shame.