PUBLISHER: Micronet (JP), Konami (US?)
RELEASE DATE: 11/25/90 – (JP), 04/91 – (US)
Let me see if I understand this correctly. A charming Mega Drive title like Rainbow Islands Extra is never ported outside of Japan, presumably because American gamers only want “mature” arcade titles on the Genesis. But weird crap like Junction, with its emphasis on stoned armadillos and stunningly hard ball puzzles, makes it to our shores just fine? An injustice of minimal proportions.
In Junction, each level contains an isometric field of tracked sliding tiles and a ball that moves automatically among them. In order to keep the ball on the tracked tiles, you slide the tiles around to provide a continuous path. When the ball has eliminated the bridged tracks that run along the border of the puzzle field, the level is complete. While most of the tiles have some sort of tracking that allows the ball to roll on them, some tiles are completely smooth. If the ball hits one of these smooth tiles, it disappears and you have to start over. For added flavor, there are also gold tiles which can’t be moved.
Junction starts off difficult before working its way up to impossible. Guiding the ball to the bridged tracks along the border of the puzzle field isn’t even about trial-and-error. You only have seconds to figure out where you need to slide the tiles before the ball makes its way to them. Basically, if you don’t know which tiles need sliding right as the level starts, you’re screwed. The ball moves slowly across the tiles, but it seems fast when you’re trying to figure out which tile to slide next. There’s also an unforgiving time limit, enemies you can’t avoid, and when you pause the game, the puzzle field blacks out so you can’t figure out a path and “cheat.” I’ve played thousands of games in my life, and I have never played a more unforgiving puzzle game than Junction.
Junction has fifty levels, and there’s only three ways to get through them all: be a Mensa-level superstar, practice really hard for years on end, or be lucky and hope that the game’s items get you through. Look out for a large ‘P’ which will slow your ball down, a pause button that slows enemy movements, and a clock which increases your remaining time. Jeers to the fast-forward item, which makes your ball move faster.
In addition to items, you’re able to speed up your ball by pressing ‘B,’ and slow it down by pressing ‘A.’ Unfortunately, your slowdown ability has a limited number of uses. Once it’s gone, it never returns. Not in the next level, not in ten levels down the line. Never.
To Micronet’s credit, the options menu does allow you to make Junction easier, however slightly. You can switch the difficulty to Easy, which extends the time limit and eliminates any enemies. You can also increase your lives from three to eight, and pick any of the fifty levels to start from. In lieu of a password feature, which Junction doesn’t have, the latter is a necessity. You don’t actually have to beat all fifty levels to see Junction‘s ending, but you do have to acquire a certain amount of points before you beat the fiftieth level. Only the dankest of armadillos will survive.
You can always tell when a company doesn’t know how to market a game. Other than that rated ‘H’ nonsense, Junction‘s American box art doesn’t provide any glimpse into the game, and the following ad straight up lies to us.
Yes, I understand ads are designed to make something appear more alluring than it actually is, and in that sense, they lie all the time. Still, “action game masterpiece?” I forgive the incorrect use of the word “masterpiece,” but unless you consider strenuous brain exercise the equivalent of Steven Seagal kicking a dude off a building, there’s no way Junction could be considered action. For shame, Micronet.
Maybe Taito was being fiscally responsible in their decision to not port Rainbow Islands Extra to the Genesis. That said, there’s no way Micronet and Konami sold more than five copies of Junction. Overly difficult puzzles and obscure marketing that make the game sound more exciting than it really is, all but destined it for FuncoLand bargain bins everywhere.
RELEASE DATE: 02/24/91 – (JP), 12/91 – (US)
Junction is a better fit on the Game Gear. The isometric view featured on the Genesis version has been replaced with a top-down view that makes the game slightly easier. And, as we all know, puzzle games are just a nicer fit on portable systems. You didn’t purchase a Genesis for $149.99 to play a puzzle game at home, unless you’re a rich grandma with nothing but time.
Even with a top-down view, Junction is still stinkin’ hard. Again, the options menu is a Godsend, as it allows you to change the difficulty to Easy and raise the amount of lives from 3 to 8. A must! One feature not present in the Genesis version is a bonus game that appears after every tenth stage. In the game, you stop three armadillos that spin continuously around. If they face you when they stop, you win a free life!
Junction with toned down difficulty and added portability is a definite improvement over the Genesis version. I’m still not a fan of the game, but at least the Game Gear version is playable, and perhaps for the right person, enjoyable.