One of the earliest SNES games released in North America, Ultraman owns the distinction of being the first 1-on-1 fighting game on the Super Nintendo. If you were around any game rental store back in late 1991, chances are you too came across a boxed copy of Ultraman: Towards The Future. To its credit, the box art is pretty snazzy, blasting your senses with its frenetic energy and seemingly hi-octane larger than life action. Back in those days, the box art was often your first impression of a game, and Ultraman certainly made a nice splash in that regard. Flipping to the back of the box revealed promising screenshots of a fighting game with monsters. What could go wrong, right? Sadly, as it turns out, much.
If you were a monster and video game lover like me in those days, then the box art of Ultraman and the description on the back undoubtedly had you sold. Taking the box to the counter, you handed it over to the clerk as you watched your old man plunk down the dollar ninety nine. You felt like the luckiest kid in the universe — Street Fighter II with monsters!? Is this real life? I would soon come to find out that mentioning Ultraman and Street Fighter II in the same breath was the gravest of sins…
Some kids grew up with greats such as Cal Ripken Jr., John Elway or Michael Jordan as their idol. I, on the other hand, grew up on the 24-inch pythons of the immortal Hulk Hogan and the fire spewing, train chomping big guy himself, Godzilla. Thanks to my dad, Uncle Jimmy, some local mom and pop rental shops and the infamous Godzilla POWER HOUR, I rarely missed any of the big guy’s adventures. If someone was decked out in a rubber suit stomping around miniature cities, chances were I was probably there with a grin plastered across my kisser as cheesy as the monster movies of my youth itself.
While I loved all monsters small and big, my absolute favorite was without a doubt GODZILLA. Remember all those old box covers for the Godzilla movies? Most of them are seared into my retina, with Godzilla 1985 in particular sticking out. Who could ever forget that classic yellow golden border or the menacing up close money shot of Godzilla (complete with fangs and all) leering over Tokyo. A blurb by Joel Siegel “THE BEST GODZILLA IN 30 YEARS… HYSTERICAL FUN.” Good times.
One Saturday night in 1989, my parents took me to this fancy mall. Being 20 minutes away from home and a little farther out than our neighborhood mall, this mall was less frequented and thus carried with it an extra air of mystique. It was like that exotic mall that truly had all the good shit. I can recall the excitement welling up in the pit of my stomach as my dad wrestled to find a parking spot on that hectic Saturday night. I still remember bypassing the escalator and running up the stairs to make my way to the inviting neon purple glow of the classic SAM GOODY logo. The sign seemed so huge as a kid — it looked like it stretched on for miles and miles.
It’s funny how as kids the simplest pleasures brought us such great satisfaction. For me, going to Sam Goody back in the late ’80s was one of those simple joys, especially at this particular mall that felt larger than life. I wasted no time making a beeline toward the SCI-FI section. I scoured over the Godzilla movies to see if there were any I had missed. Due to this mall having a certain mystique, in my head as a kid I rationalized that maybe it might carry exclusive Godzilla movies. Ahh, the innocence of being six or so!
After my disappointment of not seeing any new Godzilla films, I was ready to leave when I saw it… GAMERA VS. GAOS. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the distinctive VS. on the side of the box. I knew those two magical letters could only mean one thing: MONSTER MOVIE MADNESS!
I could hardly contain my excitement as I plucked out the VHS box to examine its glorious front and back cover. It was my first exposure to Gamera. Even at my young age I could tell Gamera was clearly a Godzilla ripoff, but it was the thrill of discovering something brand new in a genre you hold near and dear to your heart. I shoved the tape in my dad’s face. My old man whipped out the ol’ credit card and like so many times before, he made the magic happen. The rest of the evening I walked around the mall with my mom, dad and brother happily clutching the SAM GOODY bag, occasionally glancing inside to admire that cheesy yet glorious Gamera vs. Gaos box art.
What can I say? I loved giant monster movies. Fast forward to 1992 where I would meet my latest daikaiju addiction…
ULTRAMAN: TOWARDS THE USA
January 1992. I was 8 years old and woke up every Saturday morning around 7 to catch all the latest cartoons. One Saturday I caught the first episode of Ultraman: Towards The Future. I didn’t know who Ultraman was at the time. But I knew the show featured giant monsters and that was good enough for me. I remember watching Ultraman fighting a nasty alien creature (Gudis) with limbs that would make Dhalsim green with envy. Best of all, his brain was on top of his head!
Ultraman, like Gamera, was no Godzilla but I cheered on Ultraman nonetheless. There were 13 episodes in all — the last one airing more than 25 years ago on March 28, 1992. I never missed an episode and loved the camp value.
Ah… the memories (of what wasn’t). Dreamworks Toys released an Ultraman lineup in the spring of ’92 to go along with the US TV series. The figures were around 10 inches tall. Kerwin, my brother’s best friend at the time, asked me what I wanted for my 9th birthday. I told him I wanted Majaba. Kerwin assuredly told me, “You got it, Steve-O.”
Fast forward to the summer of 1992. Right off the bat I knew something was off when the wrapped present with Kerwin’s name on the tag was about 5 inches tall. I opened his gift and out came Launchpad McQuack. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Darkwing Duck and Launchpad’s a cool cat but he ain’t Majaba! Way to get a guy’s hopes up, eh? Nonetheless, in the end I was grateful for his generosity. After all, he was my brother’s friend. He wasn’t obligated to get me jack. Speaking of Kerwin, after my family moved in 1996 my brother lost touch with him. He managed to track him down around 2003 where we found out that Kerwin was in Las Vegas trying to earn his DJ stripes. Big guy, wherever you are out there, I hope you are in good health and peace of mind. Even if you got me Launchpad McQuack instead of Majaba as you promised me, you big fat bastard
In the late ’80s and early ’90s my brother Kevin and I frequented a little mom and pop shop named Evergreen Video. Oh how I loved that place. I can still hear the little chime that rung each time you entered the hallowed halls of Evergreen Video. The smell of the oakwood shelves permeates to this day. As documented in Memories of Renting, Tom was the source that corrupted us. One day in early 1992 my dad and I made our traditional Saturday afternoon trek to rent the latest video game. Tom recently bought some SNES games to keep up with the changing of the guard. At that time we didn’t have the internet and I had yet to follow gaming magazines religiously. So imagine my shock and excitement when I saw Ultraman! I’ll never forget how it came with a HUGE blown up 8×11 black and white photocopied manual as opposed to the original booklet. I guess Tom was protective of his instruction manuals!
FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2008
On this night (now nearly 10 years ago, damn) my cousin Vivian threw me a graduation dinner with the family. We ate at this Chinese restaurant that coincidentally just happened to be a couple stores down from where Evergreen Video once stood proudly. I hadn’t been to that area in eons. On my drive to the restaurant, I couldn’t help but reminisce about all the fond memories of my dad taking me there every Saturday to rent the latest NES game. The wave of memories came flooding back as I pulled into that parking lot. It was my first time being back in that plaza in a good decade or so. I decided to pay a quick visit to the defunct remains of Evergreen Video before heading inside the restaurant. It was sad standing there and seeing the place devoid of any sort of life. Tom’s friendly smile behind the register counter was long gone. As I stared through the glass door like a frozen statue, I couldn’t help but wonder where was Tom and his family — were they OK? Were they continuing to live the American Dream? My conscious stream of thought was shattered when my phone rang.
“Steve! Where are you? Only you would be late to your own party!” Vivian joked.
“I’m right outside. Be there in half a minute…”
After a scrumptious dinner celebrating my graduation from grad school, we found ourselves hanging out in the parking lot. It was good to see all of them again. Billy, Vivian’s crazy husband, enthusiastically shared his latest cash cow scheme with my brother and me as we made our way to our cars. Never change, Billy. My cousins invited me to movie night but I told them I’ll catch them in a few. First, I had some unfinished business to take care of: I wanted one final glimpse at my dear old friend. There was now only a glimmer of sunlight striking the top of all the stores’ windows in this plaza. It was surreal and felt like a scene right out of a Hollywood movie. I stole one last peek in the empty store where Evergreen Video once stood. Turning my back to the store, I stood there for a minute to take in the cool night air, reflecting and also thinking about the future.
It was a very raw and exciting time in my life. I was 24 years old, I just earned my teaching credential and I was this close to realizing my dream of having my very own classroom of students to teach and positively impact. As the final shards of sunlight pierced the storefront, I decided that was enough pontification for one night. I placed my childhood memories back in the box, texted my cousins that I was on my way and fired up my old 1992 Honda Accord.
BLOODY GOOD TIMES… LITERALLY
THE STORY GOES…
Ultraman is fairly accurate to its source material. That’s good. Unfortunately, the gameplay is very stiff and limited. But hey, minor kudos for replicating the look, eh?
Beating a monster for good is somewhat cumbersome. To do so, their energy bar must signal “finish” AND you must blast them with a Level 4 power shot. And because they can recover health, make sure they’re really “finished” before firing your L4 shot. Nothing’s worse than seeing them recuperate a smidgen of their health right as you fire your L4 beam — d’oh!
L1 sends forth the basic KNUCKLE SHOOTER. You also have the option of firing off four consecutive L1 shots if you’re at level L4.
L2 fires the moderately improved ARROW BEAM. You can emit two of these beams at L4 if you wish or one at L3 and then one L1. At least you get choices, right?
L3’s MAGNUM SHOOTER does quite a number but you’re so close to L4… why waste it in one single shot? I tend to use L3 the least.
L4’s BURNING PLASMA is Ultraman’s ticket home. “HADOKEN!”
MEET THE MONSTERS
Gudis is an evil space virus determined to destroy and consume every life form in the universe. Once infected with the Gudis virus, the victim is unable to control itself and becomes part of Gudis’ plan. The power of Gudis continues to grow and multiply as it assimilates other creatures into itself. Stop the vile monster before it reaches the city!
Bogun is a gruesome genetic mutation. With a horrific head at each end of its sluglike body, Bogun defends itself and attacks you using its strong antenna. Unfortunately, Bogun has already infiltrated the city. Hurry up and exercise damage control!
Degola is originally a God of the Australian Aborigines. In full force, Degola appears as a whirlwind, destroying everything in its path. This whirlwind, however, is merely to disguise the Gudis infected creature within. Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: it’s a force to be reckon with that must be terminated pronto.
Barrangas, emphasis on the last three letters, can emit a toxic gas from its hideous body. I dig the quiet peaceful looking city backdrop. What a shame it’s actually anything but peaceful!
Look who’s back and uglier, stronger and deadlier than before! Super Gudis is a wormlike creature that slithers alarmingly quick. Make sure you leave his bloody carcass scattered in pieces across this miserable war torn land!
Zebokon is usually a lethargic lumbering monster who lives in the depths of the forest. But after being infected with the Gudis virus, Zebokon has gone mad and is now attacking anything that moves. He has one hell of a battering ram to boot. Dark and ominous thunder clouds decorate this atmospheric backdrop.
Majaba, a giant pesticide-mutated grasshopper, is very quick and jumps really friggin’ high. Its razor-sharp claws will tear apart any metal known to mankind.
Kamacuras (AKA Gimantis) was one of the lesser monsters from Toho’s kaiju cannon. Majaba definitely takes some form of inspiration from Kamacuras.
Kodalar scared me as a kid. He even defeated Ultraman in the TV series finale and is the only monster able to claim that. Tough son of a bitch!
Kilazee comes from the darkest corner of the galaxy. He’s no King Ghidorah, but he is Ultraman’s final test.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Ultraman: Towards The Future was critically panned. In fact, some even dubbed it Ultraman: Towards The Trash Bin. As bad as it is, it wouldn’t quite make my top 10 worst SNES games list. There’s a handful of crappy SNES games out there that are even more unplayable than Ultraman.
Ultraman captures the look of the TV series well and had the potential to be decent. Unfortunately, the execution was terribly flawed. You can only use Ultraman, there’s no two player mode, the moveset is limited and compounding that error is the stiff control. Ultraman moves around like he just crapped his pants. Where’s the agile karate kicking warrior as seen on the cover, eh? Sure, some monsters require small strategic changes but due to the limited amount of moves at your disposal that strategy is extremely marginal. Visually, the game fares a bit better. Though the graphics didn’t wow anyone even back in 1991, it’s got a certain rubber monster charm to it. The sprites could be bigger though, and the lack of animation is quite disappointing. On the plus side, the cheesy monster roars fit right in and some of the tunes are even a bit catchy. But it’s not a good sign when a game’s high point is the box art…
In spite of all its warts, there’s something oddly charming about Ultraman. I guess first generation SNES games have a certain charm to them. Of course, things were a lot different back then. My dad rented the game for $1.99, my brother invited all the kids on our block to our house and we played it like it was the last video game on Earth. If nothing else, I’ll always cherish those memories of a more innocent time in my young life. Ultraman was a victim of lazy programming but I’m proud it’s part of my SNES library due to the history I have with the game. It’s there purely for the nostalgia of a simpler time. Oh, and that badass cover art.