Kenseiden

KenseidenJP

Angry and vengeful! Full of venge! Rarrgh!

 

KenseidenUS

For one brief moment, I preferred Western Master System box art.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Action

RELEASE DATE: 06/02/88 – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US, EU)

 

I wanted to bathe in Kenseiden‘s hot springs. The game has a luxurious art style, a setting in feudal Japan, and an anxious kineticism akin to Ninja Gaiden or Sega’s own Shinobi. Sounds like a rewarding soak to me. But every time I dipped my toe into the so-called “healing” waters, I got scalded by a giant skeleton be-boppin’ across my face. Or a spider knocking me backwards into a chasm. Or some nightmarish Japanese evil that’s apparently invulnerable to my sacred sword. Those ancient waters might seem entrancing, but rest assured, Kenseiden is brutal, ruthless, and will leave you with third-degree burns.

 

Kenseiden (UE) [!]000

Runnin’ on rooftops is what good samurais do.

 

You play as Hayato, a samurai tasked with taking down the Six Warlocks of 16th century Japan. Each of the warlocks carries in its claws a secret scroll. Once retrieved, these scrolls give Hayato a new attack, which is great because the poor young warrior’s initial attacks are limited. While standing, he can slash horizontally or if he’s kneeling he can slice upwards, but that’s it. The special attacks allow you to attack from overhead (great for boss battles), attack from the back and the front at the same time, and whip your sword around like a bloody pinwheel of death, among other helpful techniques. These attacks lighten poor Hayato’s load, but alas, none of the scrolls extend the length of his sword. The sword’s reach is not quite Zelda II short, but also not as long or effective as Ninja Gaiden II. Many of the enemies float, bounce around, hover – basically, they don’t stand in front of your sword, waiting for you to hit them. Thus, there’s a slight learning curve for deducing the best techniques to slice ground-based enemies versus airborne enemies.

 

Kenseiden (UE) [!]001

The blood moon! So that‘s why Japan turned into a gothic nightmare.

 

Each level comprises a province of Japan, with the setting being underground caverns, rotting pagodas, or bamboo-thickened forests. The gameplay is standard action platforming: enemies of various difficulty grades appear, Hayato slashes them (and/or gets knocked backwards), then continues until the end of the level. What’s distinct about Kenseiden is the map screen. After you beat level two, you’re allowed to pick from two different directions on the map screen, giving you the option to skip levels. Optional levels are a nice feature, particularly in games as difficult as this one. In Kenseiden‘s case, they’re a trick. Skipping levels means you’ll skip areas that provide you with special items or weapons. When you get further into the game and tackle future areas or bosses without these items, you may as well start the game over. There are two training dojos in particular that are among the hardest optional areas I’ve ever found in a game. If you complete the training, you’ll gain extra defense and attack power. Absolutely worth it – as long as you understand in advance that you’ll be biting your Master System controller in half persevering through them.

 

Kenseiden (UE) [!]002

“These old bones just can’t take lava like they used to.”

 

If the Master System had been popular in the States, I imagine Kenseiden‘s difficulty would have been the talk of the school yard. Take Hayato, an unwieldy character in standard 16th century samurai garb. He’s beautifully drawn and animated, like a watercolor, but his large sprite makes him too easy to hit. Once he gets hit, he stumbles backwards like a drunken master fresh out of booze. Enemies of all shapes and sizes appear without warning, making enemy placement memorization key to not getting hit a thousand times as you progress. Hayato’s life bar is sizable, but if you get caught in a loop between enemies, it will drain without fail. And the warlocks! Curse them! They take forever to kill, even with additional attack power. There are cheat codes to select levels and to continue after you lose your three lives. Until your techniques are as skilled as a 16th century samurai’s, use the codes liberally.

 

Kenseiden (UE) [!]003

That spear floor’s gotta be custom. No self-respecting pagoda builder would have installed those willy nilly.

 

Like a bitter sake’ that burns a hole through your esophagus, I appreciated Kenseiden more than I enjoyed it. In an era where every Japanese game seemed to be dumbed down for American consumption, Sega’s “don’t give a damn” lack of Westernization – the level names being kept in kanji on the map screen, the scroll techniques’ Japanese names, heck, even the game’s title – is fantastic. The moody, oppressive atmosphere is likewise unmatched. I can’t recall playing a game as dark and cheerless as Kenseiden in a long time and certainly not on the Master System. The beautiful graphics, the freaky enemy designs, the fact that you’re playing as a freakin’ samurai. I should be lavishing kisses upon Kenseiden‘s sweaty brow, but I just couldn’t get past the clunkiness of Hayato and his coulda been awesome swordplay. Hardcore action platforming fans i.e. masochists of the highest order have much to get excited about here. I just wanted a lukewarm bath and a nap.

 

C+

Tensai Bakabon

TensaiBakabon

Hijinx and mirth for all!

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Adventure

RELEASE DATE: 06/02/88 – (JP)

 

“Tensai Bakabon” is an anime/manga that stars a family who could be the Japanese equivalent of “The Simpsons.” You have Bakabon, a young scamp who enjoys getting into all manner of hijinx with his father, Bakabon’s Papa (actual name). As with “The Simpsons” and Bart, “Tensai Bakabon”‘s original focus was on Bakabon’s misadventures. After Bakabon’s Papa – an insane angry buffoon – grew in popularity, however, the focus of the series turned to him, just like “The Simpsons” did with Homer. Then there’s Hajime-chan, Bakabon’s genius younger brother standing in for Lisa and Bakabon’s Mama, the ever loving, supportive mother in charge of the crazy clan in place of Marge (my analogy doesn’t play out with Maggie, unfortunately). With “The Simpsons” based on creator Matt Groening’s own family and “Tensei Bakabon” debuting in the late ’60s and never making its way out of Japan, it’s doubtful there’s a connection between the two. Still, given the decades-long popularity of both shows, it’s clear that audiences around the world relate to dysfunctional family portraits.

 

Tensai Bakabon (J) [!]000

Papa-san is almost always angry.

 

In Tensai Bakabon, you play as Bakabon’s Papa, and you’re tasked with finding Hajime-chan, who’s gone missing somewhere in the town. The town itself is nothing more than a few buildings, some freaky looking characters, and a surprisingly intricate sewer system, but you’ll still need to use what little skills Papa has to find the elusive Hajime-chan.

 

Tensai Bakabon (J) [!]002

Don’t tell Mama what Papa’s doing in this rundown apartment building.

 

Tensai Bakabon is an adventure game, which means most of the gameplay takes place in your interactions with the townsfolk. Papa has three actions: talk, hit, and use items. Talking often leads to hitting or vice versa. Either way, you’ll be beating up a lot of people/creatures to get priceless information regarding Hajime-chan. As with many adventure games, most of what you are supposed to do will not make sense. Example: when you’re at the bar, drink whiskey to get into a fight with the bartender, and get your drunk butt thrown out. Then walk back into the bar, drink a beer, and the bartender will inform you that to get to the sewer system, you must jump on the manhole cover three times for them to open. The game likely assumes that you will want to get Papa drunk on the three types of liquor the bartender offers, if only for kicks. But who would assume that the only way to get information is to get kicked out of the bar first, then go back in and drink some more? Scenario writers for adventure games and Japanese children with lots of time on their hands, that’s who.

 

Tensai Bakabon (J) [!]001

Welcome to… the sewers?

 

I should mention that Tensai Bakabon is only in Japanese. There’s no translation available for it on the Internet, and the only way I knew what I was doing was thanks to GameFAQs user Ice Queen Zero’s FAQ for the game. Without the latter, I would still be wandering around the town aimlessly, getting into fights with the bartender and little else.

 

Tensai Bakabon (J) [!]003

The bartender must have spiked Papa-san’s sake.

 

Language barrier aside, Tensai Bakabon is an amusing oddity brought to life by the over-the-top characters and the game’s own freewheeling style. I don’t understand much of what Papa is saying (or anyone else, for that matter), but I love how emotional he gets over what I assume are insignificant trivialities. Other characters, like the always-cool bartender, the scraggly cats, and the town bully, bring charm and personality to the town. Tensai Bakabon breaks free of adventure game boundaries, as well. The aforementioned sewers bring in platforming elements. Later when Papa learns that Hajime-chan crashed a UFO in outer space, he jumps into another UFO to rescue Hajime, and the game turns into a shoot-em-up. I really can’t say whether any of these strange occurrences would appear in the anime/manga, but they kept me entertained for the duration, which is more than I can say about games that I actually understand. Tanoshi katta desu, Sega to Tensai Bakabon.

 

B-

Solomon no Kagi: Oujo Rihita no Namida (Solomon’s Key)

SolomonNoKagi

Stop showing off, Dana.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Salio

DEVELOPER: Tecmo (port by Salio)

GENRE: Puzzle/Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 04/17/88

 

Solomon no Kagi: Oujo Rihita no Namida translates to Solomon’s Key: Princess Rihita’s Tears. Such a sad subtitle. I’d like to think the captive Princess Rihita is crying on the behalf of those who’ve ventured into the game’s fifty maddening rooms. Solomon’s Key – which has been released for the arcade, the NES, PC, and about a half-dozen other platforms – is one of the most devious puzzle platformers of the last thirty years and will likely make you leak some ocular fluid of your own. I still agree with this quote from my NES review*: “At its best, completing a challenging level will make you feel like you’ve climbed the gaming version of Everest. But when you replay the same level fifty-plus times with no solution in sight, ripping one’s chest hair and copious mourning are the only reasonable courses of action. Play with caution.” If not for yourself, then for Princess Rihita and her poor red eyes.

 

Solomon no Kagi - Oujo Rihita no Namida (J) [!]002

More like Shenanigans Key! C’mon brahs, who’s with me?

 

You play as a wizard, Dana, and you’re tasked with sealing the book known as “Solomon’s Key” and restoring peace and hope to the universe. You do this by stepping into a forbidden realm known as the “Constellation Space,” a set of fifty rooms that have special items to collect, puzzles to overcome, and enemies to destroy. Once Dana grabs the key in each room, the exit will open and he’ll move on to the next.

 

Solomon no Kagi - Oujo Rihita no Namida (J) [!]000

If hemorrhoid commercials existed in the 15th century.

 

Unlike some of history’s most powerful wizards – Gandalf, Merlin, Sir Alec Guinness – Dana can only create and destroy blocks with his wand, nothing else. Thankfully, this power is exactly what he needs to make his way through the Constellation Space and find Solomon’s Key. Blocks can be used to build stairs, create barriers, trap enemies. Simultaneously, blocks can be destroyed to release enemies, create a path through barriers, and, er, dismantle stairs. Blocks will be your one friend on this hard, cruel journey. I should clarify: Dana does have other abilities besides block-building/destroying. He can jump, hobble along, and if he finds and collects fire pots, shoot a fireball out of his wand to destroy an enemy. All in all, though, he’s not among Hogwarts Best and Brightest.

 

Solomon no Kagi - Oujo Rihita no Namida (J) [!]003

The blocks are actually rock hard novelty-sized saltines.

 

But land sakes, is Solomon no Kagi hard. You see these screenshots? They’re from level seven or before (I couldn’t get past level seven because my mind does not work that way). The game might have fifty levels, but it really wants to give you a brain-busting right off the bat. The levels would be more doable methinks, if not for the time limit. In levels where you need to ponder for a minute, you can’t. You don’t have a minute. Figure out which blocks go where now, you big wizard baby. To be fair, if you spend your measly three Danas and get a game over, you can continue from the level that was giving you trouble. But if you continue, you lose your items, your high score, your self-esteem, and brother, those are hard to get back.

 

Solomon no Kagi - Oujo Rihita no Namida (J) [!]001

This is as terrifying as it looks.

 

Solomon no Kagi is a heroic ball-buster of a challenge, but it is fair. When I fail to build a block in the proper space or move away from an enemy barreling down on me, this is my fault, not the game’s. The game’s stealthy secrets – like the items that won’t appear unless you build and destroy a block on a specific space – and multiple endings that vary depending on how many hidden rooms you find add replay value to a game that already gives you fifty-plus levels to begin with. Solomon no Kagi won’t force everyone into willful submission, but for those eager to embrace pain and pleasure in equal portions, Princess Rihita’s tears will more than satisfy.

 

B+

*I prefer the NES version over the Master System version, if only for the slightly more responsive controls. Assigning jump to ‘Up’ on the D-pad is always a terrible idea, regardless of console, but in the Master System version, Dana sticks a little when jumping. Since Solomon no Kagi often requires precise movement and timing, any sticking can potentially lead to unwarranted death.

Hoshi wo Sagashite… (Searching for the Stars / The Story of Mio)

HoshiWoSagashite

Surprisingly not based off an anime/manga.

 

Hoshi wo Sagasite..7

Can we put him back in the egg?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Adventure

RELEASE DATE: 04/02/88

 

Hoshi wo Sagashite… is the first adventure game I’ve ever played without a source of conflict. There is no mystery to unravel like in Deja Vu, nor is there a sense of urgency to explore as with Shadowgate. The game feels like an episode of a Nickelodeon cartoon like “Rocko’s Modern Life” where you’re more interested in the weird character shenanigans than the plot. I’m not sorry I played through Hoshi wo to completion, but by the end, I wondered what had been accomplished.

 

Hoshi wo Sagasite..

The girls are all smiles – even if you’re acting like a jerk.

 

You play as Roy, a goofy space pilot/bewildered boyfriend to Lila. After one of his long trips to galaxies unknown, Roy stops off at an egg dealer (?!) to buy a pink egg for Lila as a present. When Lila sees it, she remarks that it looks like a Mio egg. Through careful detective work at your local library, you find that the Mio is a cute alien species long thought to be extinct. After a brief journey to the zoo on Planet Alphus to find more Mio information (including a stopover at a local bar for a drinking contest), Lila’s egg hatches, and sure enough, it’s a Mio, baby. From this plot point, you travel to different planets and uncover more information about Mios from the planet’s funky residents, before eventually finding the Mios’s habitat.

 

Hoshi wo Sagasite...2

Not sure having a drink in the seedy Panda District is the way to go, Roy…

 

Since this is an adventure game, the only interaction you have with people, items or your surrounding environments is through your action menu. If you’ve played an adventure game before, none of the options will intimidate you. ‘Move,’ ‘Look, ‘Talk,’ ‘Take,’ ‘Item,’ and ‘Hit’ are your main actions here (though ‘Hit’ is more for your amusement than anything else). You’re given one screen at a time to interact with, usually with a couple different people to ‘talk’ to and some random items to ‘look’ at. Talking is the key to finding more information, and you’ll often have to talk to a person more than once about the same topics to progress the story further. Basically, Hoshi wo is standard adventure game fare, just easier than most. You won’t be tricked into venturing onto the wrong planet nor will you get eaten alive by angry human-hating Mios. Considering the lax difficulty and the conflict-free story, it wouldn’t surprise me if the game was marketed towards young’uns.

 

Hoshi wo Sagasite..6

Speak for yourself, Roy.

 

Hoshi wo Sagashite has amusing dialogue, fascinating minor characters (the gruff guardian of the West Woods, the money-hungry old lady at the park, and the drunk zoo janitor were my favorites), and one super cute creature design in the Mios, but little else. I wondered if I was supposed to care about anything that was happening, since there were no real plot points that needed to be resolved. SPOILER: The Mios are an endangered species, but the so-called “antagonist” behind their endangerment is so oblivious and happy-go-lucky that it’s hard to hate the guy. Hoshi wo is also super short. I beat it in about thirty minutes, not including the time I stopped to reheat my coffee. The short length makes sense, though. I wasn’t fighting some monstrous evil or even trying to save the Mio species. I was just a naive young space pilot trying to impress his girlfriend with a pink egg. The moral of Hoshi wo Sagashite: stay far, far away from shady egg-dealers, and life as you know it will continue on unabated.

 

C+

 

Hoshi wo Sagasite..4

The happiest antagonist in the world.

Blade Eagle 3-D

BladeEagleJP

“Let’s blow this game up and go home.”

 

BladeEagleUS

Take that!… sand?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 03/26/88 – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US, EU)

 

“Stay young, go dancing,” sang Ben Gibbard. Good advice. I would add, “Stay young, don’t wear 3D glasses.” Blade Eagle 3-D is the latest in a series of headaches I’ve been forced to endure at the hands of Sega’s 3D technology. While the game itself attempts to be a serviceable shoot-em-up, the mechanic to switch between the background and foreground to show the effects of the 3D serves the technology more than the player.

 

Blade Eagle 3D (UE) [!]004

Clearly, Blade Eagle was developed for Illuminati purposes.

 

What does one want or expect from a game called Blade Eagle 3-D? Perhaps a game where you control a robotic eagle fighting for truth, justice, and the right to rip faces. Ah, but Blade Eagle does not take its title so literally. The game is yet another in Sega’s long line of space-bang-bang sizzlers – Astro Warrior, Zaxxon 3D, Strategic Defense Initiative, and so forth. There is a surprisingly in-depth story for Blade Eagle, but my eyes literally crossed as I was reading it. Allow me to summarize for you so as to keep your eyes intact. As a fighter ship cruising the galaxy, you make your way across three planets: Triton, Proxima, and Mira. Each planet has three levels, Outer Space, Planet’s Surface, and Inside the Arvian’s Fortress. The Outer Space levels all look the same: you’re in space surrounded by enemy spacecraft and space fixtures of evil intent. The other two types – Planet Surface and Fortress – have backgrounds that imply that Triton is a water planet, Proxima is a lava planet, and Mira is an… outer space planet? Lots of stars and potential space dust there; can’t win ’em all, I guess. The point is, the game’s levels are bland and non-descript, especially when compared to Sega’s fantastic Power Strike. You’ve seen Blade Eagle 3-D before in far superior forms.

 

Blade Eagle 3D (UE) [!]000

The bosses go down quickly. A few hits and they’re toast.

 

Blade Eagle‘s one distinct mechanic – the ability to switch between background and foreground – is poorly utilized, to be polite. In the Outer Space levels, if your plane is in the foreground, you’re able to cruise by whole rows of enemies and their projectiles. This increases your self-esteem and makes you believe, foolishly, that you’ve outsmarted the game. Later surface and fortress levels, however, have enemies in the background that can kill you in the foreground and background. Now, this is nothing new. Xevious did this all the way back in ’82, but the game provided a healthy balance between background and foreground enemies. Also, you could kill every enemy in Xevious. Not so with Blade Eagle. In level three, I switched to the background to destroy these particularly annoying ground-centered starfish-looking enemies, and discovered that I couldn’t kill them in the background or foreground. There’s a brief lag as you switch between perspectives that allows the enemy to kill you. Whether you’re in the background or foreground, you’re bombarded by enemies and slowdown and 3D that looks cool at first – like most 3D – but quickly causes so many migraines.

 

Blade Eagle 3D (UE) [!]005

Water brains are by far the slimiest brains you’ll ever shoot out of the sky.

 

There are power-ups to aid your quest against migraines. Equip up to two shadow ships for thrice the shooting power. Later levels have bosses that, once beaten, automatically level up your weapon to double shot, laser beams, and even particle beams. I would expect power-ups like these in any shooter, let alone a 3-D shooter designed to take advantage of Sega’s uncomfortable headgear. The power-ups help you get by until you die and they disappear and you’re left cold, weak, and alone in space.

 

Blade Eagle 3D (UE) [!]003

Blade Eagle 3-D a.k.a. “I’m not entirely sure what’s happening here.”

 

Blade Eagle 3-D is the last 3D game I’ll have to endure for awhile, and may I say with all sincerity, thank the great good Lord above. I don’t know how many more of Sega’s experiments I can endure without throwing in the towel. The worst part is, Blade Eagle 3-D doesn’t even have promise as a 2D shooter. The plane-switching mechanic, in 3D or without, ruins the game. Take away the mechanic and the shmup is extra-unordinary. The game just can’t win. “Life is sweet in the belly of the beast,” sang Ben Gibbard. Speak for yourself, Ben.

 

D

Argos no Juujiken (Rygar)

ArgosNoJuujiken

Shameful silver.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Salio

DEVELOPER: Tecmo (port by Salio)

GENRE: Arcade platformer

RELEASE DATE: 03/25/88 – (JP)

 

Argos no Juujiken translates to “Cross-Sword of Argos,” but Western gamers will know Argos better by its Christian name, Rygar. But hold on a darn tootin’. I’m not talking about the beloved action/adventure Rygar for NES. I’m talking about the original arcade game, the straightforward put-one-hoof-in-front-of-the-other platformer that hardly anyone’s played. Tecmo’s NES platformer added RPG elements like experience and magic, and by doing so, they accidentally created the definitive version of Rygar. The Master System got a more-or-less straight port of arcade Rygar by a mysterious developer named Salio, ’cause why devote effort to a system that’s failing anyway? As per usual, pity the poor Master System.

 

Argos no Juujiken (J) [!]005

The title screen holds great promise. That’s not funny: that’s the truth.

 

You play as Rygar, wielder of the Disk-Armor, otherwise known as a heavy shield on a long piece of rope. Rygar walks from left to right in what appears to be a series of ancient Grecian caverns, smacking down gargoyles, meatball cyclops, chameleons, and other possibly innocent bystanders. His hits are deadly, always: one hit from the Disk-Armor and enemies explode into the dark of the caverns. But Rygar is just as vulnerable as those he attacks. One hit will cause him to die as well.

 

Argos no Juujiken (J) [!]004

You’ll be seeing Rygar float off to the beyond hundreds of times.

 

And thus, with one-hit kills and a difficulty as unforgiving as Rygar himself, Argos no Juujiken is unfair – as most arcade platformers in the 80s were. The difference between Argos and other platformers is that, generally speaking, one could get better at the latter with time, patience, and quarters upon quarters. I’m not sure that’s possible with Argos. The enemies deployed are belligerent and numerous, and they appear at random.

 

Argos no Juujiken (J) [!]000

Three ancient Grecian pizza rolls head Rygar’s way.

 

Yes, randomly generated enemies are as annoying as they sound. Imagine in Ninja Gaiden II if the obnoxious birds showed up wherever they felt like: the moment you started level 1 – but not all the time – or while you were fighting a boss – but not all the time. Not only that, but the birds appeared two or three at a time, depending on the game’s whims. Thankfully, this does not happen: Ninja Gaiden II clings to reason with firm enemy placement. This doesn’t make Ninja Gaiden II easier, but it does make the game beatable with time. In Argos, you have no such luxury. The one luxury you do have – unlimited continues – feels like an acknowledgement that, yes, the game is too hard, but we didn’t know how to balance the difficulty, so please accept these unlimited continues as our peace offering. No dice, Salio.

 

Argos no Juujiken (J) [!]001

The minotaur’s here to sass up proceedings!

 

Thanks to the unlimited continues, Argos no Juujiken is not unbeatable, but the road is long and fraught with piles of Rygar corpses. There are five power-ups that can be found in floating holders across each level, but a couple of them don’t seem to do anything other than possibly expand the size of your Disk-Armor’s; “possibly,” because I couldn’t tell what they actually did. One extends the length of the Disk-Armor, while another increases your jumping ability. These power-ups are nice and all, but once you die, they disappear, making them more or less worthless.

 

Argos no Juujiken (J) [!]002

They’re just tongues, Rygar. Psh, what a baby…

 

Playing Argos no Juujiken is akin to voluntarily walking on miles of broken glass. Walk quickly and you might push through the pain, but you’ll end up with two bloody nubs for feet. Walk slowly and the pain will be more severe, but your feet – nay, your soul – might still be intact by the end of the ordeal. I don’t demand quick progression from my action games, but it would be nice to feel as though I’m playing a hero, instead of a weak fool that happens to have a strong weapon. Thanks to the randomized clusters of enemies, going slow is the only way to go. Try to beat the game in a timely fashion i.e. not one step at a time, and Argos sends out more enemies to slow your progress. That ’80s movie was right: the gods must be crazy.

 

Argos no Juujiken (J) [!]003

In this portion of stage 2, enemies drop from the top, roll up from the bottom, and come through the middle. There is literally no escape.

 

Yeah, Argos is stupid hard for no reason, but here’s the larger issue: Rygar for the NES had already been out for a year by the time Argos was released. A year was more than enough time for Salio to take notice of Tecmo’s improvements and adjust their port accordingly. But no. Argos no Juujiken makes poor Rygar suffer the fate of a thousand deaths just to get through his monotonous adventure. Pity Rygar’s unavoidable fate. Pity the mysterious Salio, who only made Argos and a port of Solomon’s Key before vanishing into a game dev. abyss. And pity the Master System’s few faithful Japanese fans, whose loyalty to Sega’s console was often rewarded with mediocre region-specific games like Argos. You held on to the bitter end and were rewarded with dust, but hey, at least Phantasy Star was fun, right?

 

C-

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars

AlexKiddJP

Mouth agape for good reason.

 

AlexKiddUS

These things should not be.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 03/10/88 – (JP)

                                             1988 – (US, EU)

 

Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars might be the direct sequel to Alex Kidd in Miracle World, but it doesn’t play like the latter’s descendant. Miracle World is calm, methodical, and solves most of its battles with rock-paper-scissor matches. Lost Stars is impetuous, freewheeling, and will destroy anything in its path if it has to. This probably has to do with Lost Stars originally being an arcade game before being ported to the Master System. Whatever emphasis was put on careful exploration in Miracle World has been excised in favor of getting to the end of the level as quickly as possible. And that’s ok. If Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) and Zelda II taught us nothing else, it’s that developers have a right to do whatever they want with sequels, players’ expectations be damned.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]000

The Kidd’s been working out since Miracle World. Look at those taut buns.

 

The story: after saving Aries, the Miracle World, Alex learns that the twelve stars in the Aries constellation have been stolen by Ziggarat, an evil being of great power (probably – the manual is quite vague as to who or what Ziggarat is). Your goal is to rescue the twelve miracle balls, release the stars back into the sky, and defeat Ziggarat forever.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]007

Thing from “The Addams Family” stops by to lend a hand.

 

To find the miracle balls, you’ll have to go through each of the game’s seven worlds twice. This might seem like needless repetition, but thankfully, the levels are colorful, entertaining, and a bit bonkers. There’s the Toy Realm, where vengeful toys hunger for Alex’s royal blood (he’s a prince, lest we forget), a Machine World populated by robots and ducks, the World of Make Believe where you won’t believe that there’s a naked mohawked enemy shooting skulls out of his butt, a Water World with enemies that are Totally Not Bloopers, a Monster World where you zip line into a dinosaur’s mouth, a Giant’s Body ruled by rolling doll heads and green gas clouds, and finally, the Shrine of Ziggurat, which takes place in the shriveled nethers of space.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]004

The best screenshot I’ve ever taken.

 

Precise jumps are vital to beating the game, particularly since Alex always starts each level without a weapon (his fist must be too bruised from all the punching and rock-paper-scissoring he did in Miracle World). The slippery controls from Miracle World have been refined to perfection. Alex jumps almost as well as his hero, Mario, with any error in jumps resulting from poor timing on your part, not the game’s. Later during the level, Alex gains Shots to fire from ‘S’ power-ups that descend from the sky. The shots have a limited number, though, and they only take out the smaller enemies; anything larger than the Shot itself won’t be scathed. Thus, proper jumping is still the most crucial aspect to Alex’s survival.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]005

Quite the koi customer (I am so sorry).

 

Alex’s life meter/time limit – ripped straight from Sega/Westone’s Wonder Boy – requires constant progression. The meter reduces little by little as you go through the stage, and if you get hit once by any enemy, two bars are taken away. Throughout each level, ‘SC’ (stands for ‘seconds’) power-ups will replenish bits of your meter, but as with all of the power-ups, they descend from the sky at random intervals. If you run out of life/time, you’ll die and start from the beginning of the stage.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]006

Totally Not Bloopers

 

Unless you’re new to platformers, death won’t happen very often. Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars is a surprisingly easy game. ‘Surprising,’ because Sega typically doesn’t make easy games, either on the Master System or the arcade. Lost Stars isn’t without challenge, per say – thanks to Alex’s generous frame, running into enemies is guaranteed a handful of times in most levels – but it cancels out any difficulty with abundant power-ups and unlimited continues. Even in the harder second playthrough, the game provides you with just enough Shots and extra health to get you through.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]009

Just in case you don’t know who you’re up against, there’s a neon sign spelling it out for you!

 

The Lost Stars has Japanese weirdness coursing through its veins, more so than any of the Kidd’s previous outings. Every time Alex dies, he shrieks like he’s being run through a wood chipper. The more you hear him scream, though, the funnier it becomes. Perhaps I’m just sick, but I think that was Sega’s intent. “I jumped into a spike bed/Just to hear Alex cry” to paraphrase Johnny Cash. Enemies range from little toy cars to the aforementioned naked skull-blasting punk to open-mouthed dogs that attack you with letters that spell “BOWWOW.” After you beat the game and free the stars from the miracle balls, the Statue of Liberty appears in space, as if to congratulate you on a job well done. Then there’s Ziggarat (misspelled at times in the manual as ‘Jiggarat’…), a ball of flame that shoots out smaller balls at you. You can’t kill him (or any boss for that matter), but you can kill his flaming ball children and walk right past him to the end.

 

Alex Kidd - The Lost Stars (UE) [!]010

America’s finally conquered space, I see.

 

I acknowledge that Miracle World is the better of the two proper Alex Kidd adventures I’ve explored thus far. The game was like nothing else in its day. With the different vehicles, collectible power-ups, and RPS battles, Miracle World was a singular creation, a platformer that felt like a true adventure and not just mere running from left to right. And yet, Miracle World also plays like Sega taking tentative steps into a genre it’s not fully comfortable with. Alex Kidd controls like he is cautious and unsure of himself, even though the game he finds himself in remains meticulously crafted. Lost Stars by contrast is a pure arcade platformer built on the backs of pure arcade platformers that came before – Wonder Boy, Super Mario Bros, etc. The game doesn’t care about breaking ground, it just wants to be fast and fun and oh-so-strange. So it is, and that’s enough for me.

 

B+

Sega Does Podcast, Episode 24: Happy Birthday, Mr. Website

 

After much inactivity on my part this week due to life shenanigans and site re-launches, we have a gift from Sam: Episode 24 is here!

 

This episode gives props to such games as Gangster Town while decrying others like Missile Defense 3-D and Ghostbusters. We also talk about the first anniversary of Sega Does and play 20 questions to uncover the name of Sam’s latest arcade purchase. It is, as we say in America, a hoot and a holler.

 

Download here and subscribe to us on iTunes. Let us rule your eardrums in every way!

 

As per usual, leave all remarks, asides, garbled propaganda, and songs of hope in the comments sections below. And hey, thanks for listening!

Power Strike / Aleste

PowerStrikeJP

Aleste, oh yes, I stays fresh.

 

PowerStrikeUS

Color’s for chumps.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Compile (port by Sega)

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 02/29/88 – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US, EU)

 

Sega didn’t release Power Strike to the general public. The game was only available to purchase through mail-order from Sega’s own Master System-themed newsletter (props to reader sean697 for the link). The fact that Sega released any mail-order only games came as news to me when I began researching Power Strike. Even more curious is that Power Strike seems to be the only mail-order game Sega released in America (I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I couldn’t find any). This makes the game quite rare, and also, an anomalous curio. Sega decided to release Power Strike, but only in a limited run connected to a newsletter that not every Master System fan would receive. The whole gamble would never work today – games are too expensive to make, for starters – and considering the Master System’s small American fan base, such a move seems risky.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]000

The first level seems calm to me now.

 

After playing the game for a couple hours straight, however, I understand why Sega went the quiet route. Power Strike is the hardest 8-bit shoot-em-up I’ve ever played, period (yes, even harder than the previous champion, Sega’s Spy Hunter-homage, Action Fighter). Once I put the controller down, my eyes were crossed from staring at a screen that was consistently littered with enemies. My fingers ached from jamming down both 1 and 2 buttons repeatedly. I don’t know how many times I died. Hundreds, probably. I loved every abusive moment, because shoot-em-ups – when crafted properly – are one of my favorite genres. I have to admit, though, that I’m surprised Sega bothered to bring over the game at all. More than most early shmups, Power Strike requires quick reaction time, zen-filled stretches of concentration, and a foundation built on patience. Only winners who don’t use drugs need apply.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]001

Brought to you by pith and vigor.

 

Power Strike starts off much like any 8-bit shoot-em-up. You play as a ship who must POWER STRIKE down other ships of equal or greater strength. You have two attacks, a primary and a secondary weapon. The primary weapon is weak, but can be upgraded from one-shot to two-shots to three-shots by collecting P-capsules that dangle from the underbelly of tiny enemy ships. Thankfully, if you die and lose your primary weapon upgrades, the P-capsule-carrying ships are never far away. Not so with the secondary weapons, helpfully labeled with the numbers 1-8. Should you lose a life, your secondary weapon dies with you and must be collected again. Each secondary attack is unique to its specific number. For example, #4 is a shield that swirls continuously around your jet, while #7 is a large circle that extends in front of the jet, destroying anything it touches. These secondary attacks have a limited time that they can be used, but the time will only decrease as long as you keep using them. Once the time limit has depleted, your secondary attack reverts back to your initial weak one-orbed blast attack. To succeed in Power Strike, you must be willing to use both primary and secondary weapon at all times, while bouncing from one secondary weapon to the next based on availability. The first level is generous with the secondary weapon placement, but from level two on, take what you can get and be thankful.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]002

Later levels invoke phrases like, “What is happening?” and “Please God, no more…”

 

What distinguishes Power Strike from other shoot-em-ups are the subtleties that become apparent the more you play. For example, in each level, secondary weapons are either shot and collected from the ground or dangling from a ship that flies down towards the player. You shoot the weapons to release them from either the ship or the ground, but once you do so, they float quickly towards the top of the screen. One’s initial reaction in any shoot-em-up is to release the power-ups as soon as you see them, collect them, and keep firing, but this is the wrong move in Power Strike. Shoot as soon as the numbers appear, and they will fly off the screen, no questions asked. In order to collect the power-ups without fail, position yourself near them, time your shots in time with the speed of the screen, pray, and collect, hopefully without death. It should go without saying that this becomes increasingly difficult the harder the game gets.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]003

“You again?! I thought I killed you two screenshots ago!”

 

Another intriguing detail: while the enemies are not that interesting to look at, their patterns and the increasing speed with which they emerge on-screen prove fascinating. Unlike other shoot-em-ups I’ve played, Power Strike never substitutes enemies from previous levels for newer, more difficult enemies. Instead, it places older and newer enemies directly atop each other in what I’ve dubbed the “slowdown stew.” Like most shmups, certain enemies have more difficult patterns than others, but it’s imperative that you focus on the ones that spit out the most bullets (I’d like to describe the enemies in more detail, but their names, as dictated by the Power Strike manual don’t lend themselves to easy description – basically, all the enemies either look like small science-fiction-y ships or metallic bugs). The jerks that emerge from the bottom of the screen, but don’t shoot any bullets? They’re quiet and sneaky. Shoot them quickly. The cretins that come down from the left and right-hand side of the screen and spray bullets in every direction? Better believe that’s a paddlin’. Shoot to kill. The more bullet-happy the enemy, the quicker you should take them out. Doing this doesn’t make Power Strike easier, but it does lighten the load and it gives you focus in a potentially overwhelming game.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]004

Let’s hope this intern pilot knows what he’s doing…

 

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you that Power Strike is not this shooter’s true moniker. The game was originally known as Aleste and is the first entry in a console-spanning shmup enterprise developed by Compile. I haven’t played any of the other Aleste games so I can’t tell you whether they are as amazing and/or gnarly as this one, but I have played Compile’s predecessor, Zanac, for the NES. Zanac heavily inspired Aleste, particularly with the inclusion of eight secondary weapons. Zanac may not look as sharp as its successor, but its adaptive difficulty was ground-breaking (for some reason, this adaptive play didn’t come over to Aleste – perhaps someone out in Sega land knows why?). The point is, Compile makes good shooters, even when they re-name them because they’re afraid of an American game-playing audience’s response to slight feminine titles. We should celebrate this now defunct developer’s legacy by playing their works with joy and gratitude.

 

Power Strike (UE) [!]006

Pretty sure you don’t want to see this while flying across an uncharted jungle.

 

I could go on. Power Strike‘s levels feel as long as Vietnam tours. The bosses are hellish without significant upgrades to both primary and secondary weapons (later levels have several bosses, back-to-back). Die once in the middle of a level and you may as well reset the game. The likelihood of survival with your initial primary and secondary weapon is nothing, unless your shooting game is aces. You might have a good run with one life, but the second a stray bullet destroys your ship and you start from scratch, your lives will whittle down to nubbins. Yes, Power Strike is enough to make a grown man cry. Just remember: there’s no shame if you’re into that sort of thing. Grab a Kleenax box and get to it.

 

A-

Space Harrier 3-D

SpaceHarrier3DJP

Man, if the future is filled with giant eyeball overlords, count me out.

 

SpaceHarrier3DUS

‘Sega Barf Bag’ also required.

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 02/29/88 – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US, EU)

 

Games are not your friends. They are, at best, neutral allies in the war against reality, and/or mere physical products with zero cognitive faculties whatsoever. Space Harrier 3-D is other. It is neither Switzerland nor mere product: it is your sworn enemy. It has seen the human race and what we are capable of and declared, “No. Mankind must feel pain.” While the game is ostensibly the console-only sequel to one of Sega’s most renowned arcade games of the 1980s, it is, in fact, a choppy brain melt of the highest order. Its attack is twofold: physically, it seeks to prematurely blind you with flashes of distorted imagery, and mentally, it makes you question your taste for gaming in the first place.

 

SpaceHarrier3D2Moby

You are Space Harrier 3-D‘s sworn enemy.*

 

You might think I’m joking or over-exaggerating. No. Space Harrier 3-D is a pile. I say that as someone who thought the first Master System game was average. The concept of Space Harrier – running/flying forward while shooting creepy enemies in a surreal pseudo 3-D zone of fantasy – I got nothin’ against. But after two Space Harrier releases in a short time span, it’s clear to me that the Master System can not handle this series.

 

Space Harrier 3D (UE) [!]-01

“Ah, there’s George Lucas. He’ll set me free from this nightmare.”

 

As a sequel, Space Harrier 3-D is comparable to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” an incomprehensible mess that makes the first entry worse by comparison. Graphically, the game is like trying to view the original 3DS from an angle with the 3D turned up full blast. The framerate is atrocious. This is one of the slowest games I’ve ever played, and it is a rail shooter at that. Rail shooters are designed to play fast. Whether you’re playing a 2D horizontal/vertical shoot-em-up or a whatever-the-crap kind of 2-D/3-D shooter Space Harrier is supposed to be, shooters should equal fast-paced gameplay. Everything is slow in this game, but strangely, enemies come at you faster than you can process. Your poor dumpy Space Harrier has to work hard to catch up at all times. I’ll admit, the original Space Harrier looked chunky and played slow on the Master System, but at least the game had a kind of momentum. Space Harrier 3-D makes the original look like Sonic the Hedgehog.

 

Space Harrier 3D (UE) [!]-02

That boss has quite the choppy ba-donk.

 

Now, perhaps you’re saying, what about the 3D effect? Perhaps all could be forgiven if the 3D was transcendent. No. The 3D glasses do not make Space Harrier 3-D a better game. Why? Because the three-dimensional effects do not fix the beleaguered framerate. In fact, if you’ve played faster 3-D games than this – Missile Defense 3-D, Zaxxon 3-D, hell, even Maze Hunter 3-D – the slow movements will be all the more jarring. Even if you play in 2D with the optional code, Space Harrier 3-D doesn’t speed up whatsoever.

 

SpaceHarrier3DMoby

Wake and bake for the Harrier, all day, every day, wooooooo*

 

If you wanted to take a more optimistic view than I, you could say that the slow framerate allows you to appreciate the 3-D effects more; that Space Harrier 3-D is less about gunning creatures and avoiding towers and buildings as quickly as you possibly can, and rather about enjoying the neat-o effects. Certainly the game’s difficulty seems to have been toned down from the original, so that’s a fair point. You might also say that enforcing true 3-D upon the Space Harrier series was the logical next step for a game that attempted to emulate three-dimensions with the Super Scaler arcade technology. Interesting. Alas, your optimistic viewpoints can not sway me. For I have already decided that, as Space Harrier 3-D hated me first, I now hate it. I can’t see it as anything other than a game of pure malevolence, a mistake that cast itself out of Sega’s loving bosom and into the pits of hell, before being sold to innocent, unsuspecting children.

 

F

 

*cheers and thanks to MobyGames for the screenshots