If asked to name a Super Nintendo game starring an anthropomorphic bobcat, chances are that most retro gamers would cite Bubsy. Well, Bubsy ain’t the only bobcat in town! Bonkers D. Bobcat is his name and preventing crime (in his own bumbling way) is his game. Developed by the almighty Capcom, who had an impressive track record with Disney licenses, surely we were in good hands. Surely, right? Right…
THE DISNEY AFTERNOON
Growing up in the early to mid ’90s was awesome. The Disney Afternoon ruled the airwaves on weekdays from 3 to 5 PM. With classic shows such as Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles, Aladdin and Goof Troop just to name a small handful, the Disney Afternoon was a huge part of many childhoods. Bonkers was one of the lesser known entries; the Disney Afternoon was clearly on the decline by the time Bonkers made its debut. 61 episodes ran from February 28, 1993 to February 23, 1994.
THE STORY GOES…
Behold: Magic Lamp, Sorcerer’s Hat and Mermaid’s Voice!
Never trust a ghost with a mallet my dad always used to say.
Lightning strikes and thunder rumbles… and of course, the prized treasures go missing! Meanwhile, somewhere in the city…
Pretty standard platforming 101 stuff here. You start out in the mansion and then have a choice between the studio, downtown and ocean liner stages. I recommend that order because the ocean liner level is the hardest. My favorite is the downtown one because there’s a lot to do there, such as dashing through glass barriers. After beating all 4 levels, it’s off to fight the Collector.
After beating the Collector, you face off with the final boss. Pops Clock, like the rest of the game, is easy and it’s over in less than half an hour. Yeah, one can beat Bonkers in less than 30 minutes. This game is crazy short.
GAME OVER MAN?!
Capcom has created some of the most memorable continue screens in gaming history. Who could ever forget Final Fight with the dynamite? Bonkers has a good one, too. Laugh at his jokes and continue. But don’t laugh and suffer the dire consequences. It’s a small touch but a nice one nonetheless.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Bonkers received fairly solid reviews in the press back in the fall of 1994. EGM gave it ratings of 7, 7, 7, 7 and 6. Super Play rated it 74%. However, many who have played it tend to agree that it’s easily Capcom’s weakest effort on the Super Nintendo. Not that it’s a bad game mind you. Just that nothing about it stands out in particular. A perfectly decent and serviceable platformer, then, but nothing more.
I never rented Bonkers back in the day but do recall seeing previews in EGM and GameFan. It wasn’t one of those SNES games I was clamoring to play, but a small part of me was naturally curious about it. Although I wasn’t a fan of the cartoon show, I am a big fan of platformers (even the simple ones). So when I finally played Bonkers more than 15 years after it was released, I was hoping to perhaps find an underrated, overlooked hidden gem. You don’t hear much about Bonkers in the SNES community. It rarely gets brought up in the discussion of good games, bad games or even games you might have missed. It’s just sort of… forgotten, a little bit. So I was somewhat excited to fire this game up for the first time back in 2011. Besides, coming from the almighty Capcom during their heyday, I expected at the very least a very solid platformer. Unfortunately, maybe Capcom’s C-staff was left in charge; Bonkers just feels a bit half-arsed. Graphics are decent enough, though not up to Capcom standards. The same can be said for the sound and gameplay. I expect more coming from Capcom, and I expect more from a Super Nintendo game that came out in late 1994.
But to the game’s credit, it’s not like it disgraces Capcom or the SNES in the least. Details like slipping deeper into a Jell-O dessert the longer you stand on it show a flash of charm and that classic Capcom know how. But then the negatives come into play and overpower the few moments of quasi-brilliance. Such minuses include a dash feature which is a bit cumbersome to use, the game’s difficulty being laughably easy and the game being far too short. Not to mention there are dozens of SNES action games that does what Bonkers tried to do a whole lot better. After going through this game, I see why it rarely gets mentioned. It’s not good enough to be lumped into the overlooked, underrated or hidden gem category, yet it’s nowhere bad enough to be in the same group as say, an Ultraman or Pit Fighter. So its fate, then, is somewhere roughly right in the middle of the pack. Along with arguably about 100 other SNES games that are largely playable and even decent, but are ultimately forgettable.
Today (January 1, 2019) marks 20 years since Nintendo published a Super Famicom game by the name of Power Lode Runner. It was released only in Japan as a “Nintendo Power” cartridge, where players could download various games on said accessory. Thus, you won’t find an official cartridge of Power Lode Runner on the internet. Power Lode Runner is an update on the classic Lode Runner formula.
Developed in 1983 by Douglas E. Smith, Lode Runner went on to become a smash success. Released in countless versions and on way too many platforms to name, Lode Runner is a classic action puzzle game with a simple premise that grows increasingly complex. Therein lies its brilliance!
*CUE MOVIE TRAILER VOICE GUY*
[Here we go again… *whips out big check* -Ed.]
IT IS AN ISLAND SATE WITH DANGER AND TRAPS…
ER… THAT’S PRETTY MUCH ALL I GOT THIS WEEK.
*loud rumbling in the background, couple F-bombs and gunshots later*
Ahem, well I guess we won’t be hearing from Movie Trailer Voice Guy again. At any rate, Power Lode Runner is a curiosity and an oddity indeed. Released on New Year’s Day 1999 (happy 20th anniversary), this version of Lode Runner is a bit more modernized though it plays much the same as ones before it. “B” digs a hole in the ground to your left while “A” digs a hole to your right. Trap a bad guy and safely walk over their head. Collect the items necessary to unlock the next level. Control a blue rabbit-like animal, named Muguru-kun, and go through all manner of themes. There are 3 different worlds you can select from the very beginning, with themes changing every 5 levels. Let’s take a look at some of the worlds.
I love the art style here. Muguru-kun is adorable and has a unique look that screams “leading mascot potential.” Kinda makes me long for a platformer starring him!
To your bottom left is the map (which can be switched off) and to your bottom right is the item count (in yellow) required before being able to leave that stage. Touch the logs encased in the bubble there, leaving you with 3 left to collect.
I appreciate games with sensible mechanics which allow the player to be efficient. There’s no need to climb down a tree, not when you can slide off at a moment’s notice. Grab your second item. 2 down, 2 to go!
Those are the BAD guys?! Why yes. In this theme, those rather innocent looking monkeys are the source of danger. Each theme, which alters every 5 levels, is home to its own unique enemies.
Applying some good ol’ Lode Runner know how will make quick work of them.
You’ll spot a giant teddy bear head throughout each level. That marks the stage’s exit point. After collecting all the items needed, stand by the giant teddy bear face and it’ll swallow you whole, taking you to the next stage. Cute, yet slightly disturbing. Let’s look at some other levels from this first world.
Spotting Teddy does squat if you haven’t collected all of the items necessary. In such cases, it’s time to backtrack to find those missing pieces.
Bad guys can throw various objects at you. You’re momentarily stunned if hit, but thankfully it doesn’t mean automatic death.
Evading enemies left and right, weaving through them and going from point A to point B is quite satisfying. You can really get in the zone and develop a great rhythm that makes Power Lode Runner a really fun game to play.
It does, doesn’t it? Makes one yearn for an actual platformer game starring the ever lovable Muguru-kun. There’s a sense of adventure and stealth that gets the ol’ heart pumping.
Power Lode Runner is just a simple and enjoyable action puzzle affair. It celebrates 20 years today, and although you can’t get it officially on cartridge, there are of course various ways to still play it. And that I recommend you do, especially if these old school action puzzle games appeal to you. And if you like this game, I also suggest checking out another 1999 Super Famicom hit in the form of Power Soukoban (another modern spin on a classic formula). I slightly prefer Power Lode Runner over Lode Runner Twin. Power Lode Runner has Lode Runner Twin beat on visuals, sound and gameplay. The level design and enemy roster is also better as it oozes with more creativity and charm. Of course, you can’t go wrong with either.
PS- Happy 2019 to everyone out there! Speaking of anniversaries, can you believe RVGFanatic will turn 12 years old in less than a week from now? Insanity. Here’s to more SNES goodness in 2019
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns was made on a budget of 80 million and grossed a whopping 267 million worldwide. It garnered the 3rd highest gross for movies in North America in 1992 at 162.8 million. #2 was Home Alone 2: Lost in New York at 173.5 million and the kingpin that year was Aladdin, which grossed a staggering 217.3 million. In terms of worldwide dominance, Batman Returns ranked 6th overall in 1992.
Being a proven property and coming off a massive hit, it was inevitable that video game adaptations would soon follow. Back in 1992, two mega titans were battling it out for 16-bit supremacy: the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. Malibu developed the Genesis game while Konami handled the Super Nintendo end. Both games were quite different, and consensus says that SNES owners won out with the (far) superior version. But of course, your mileage may vary.
It’s fitting that I’m writing this late on Christmas evening. I just spent the bulk of the day hanging out with family and playing games on the Switch with my cousin, David. We enjoyed bouts of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Shock Troopers. Anyway, I say fitting because Batman Returns has a very festive atmosphere. Well, at least as festive as Gotham City can get. The SNES game follows suit and is quite faithful to its source material. Playing Batman Returns this time of the year is very fitting, indeed. What a shame, then, that it’s only 1-player. But I suppose it wouldn’t make sense to throw Robin in there since he wasn’t in the 1992 film.
THE STORY GOES…
Horrified by the disfigurement of their son, Oswald Cobblepot’s parents tossed Oswald and his carriage into the Gotham River.
The carriage floated down the storm drain and ended up in Arctic World, part of the old Gotham Zoo. There he was rescued by four Emperor penguins, and they quickly forged a bond…
The denizens of Gotham City have reported spotting a strange looking man prowling around. Almost more like a creature of the night…
It is, of course, none other than Oswald Cobblepot. Now known as The Penguin, he wishes to rule Gotham’s criminal underworld.
Selina Kyle was once a quiet secretary working under the thumb of Max Shreck, a very powerful businessman. That was before she transformed into the Catwoman!
The Penguin has special plans for Gotham City, but Batman has other ideas. Something has to give one way or another…
The action starts out hot in Gotham Plaza where the Red Triangle Circus Gang launches an unsuspecting attack on the city’s Christmas festival.
Batman’s brutality knows no bounds. You can slam bad guys against the wall or even through glass windows! You can even throw a bad guy into his buddy, taking out both at once.
There’s a small variety of different clowns to beat up. One of them is the bazooka clown, whose missiles can actually harm their own. I love it when video games allow bad guys to accidentally hurt each other. It makes it feel a little more realistic and definitely a lot more enjoyable.
The game does a good job of matching the gritty feel and somber mood of the movie. Back in the early ’90s, more often than not it seemed, movie-to-game adaptations didn’t have the best track record. But Batman Returns on the SNES did not fall victim to that.
Even the cutscenes have this grittiness to them that perfectly replicates the seediness of Gotham City.
The visuals were striking, especially for April 1993. Sprites are huge and clutter the screen. I love the little touches sprinkled in here and there as well, like those giant statues for instance. Just like the ones from the film!
Batman Returns has certain sections that force you into a single plane. These segments limit your ability to move around and avoid enemy attacks. It is a bit infuriating and certainly not as fun as the free roaming sections of the game. In this scene, you’ll have to attack with your trusty Batarang projectiles. These sections feel a bit stiff, sluggish and stilted.
Thankfully, we soon get back to the regular beat ‘em up bits. This is one of my favorite parts of the game. Snow litters the street as innocent chubby children scurry away to safety. Crazy clowns abound. Dark alleys around. Good stuff!
At the end of this level you come to a towering bloke reading the paper. Every evil operation needs some muscle. Welcome to the muscle. It won’t be long before he rips the paper to shreds and then rips your own damn head right off!
What scenes of spiraling madness await beyond this? Play it and see for yourself…
“I AM BRUCE WAYNE!!”
Back in the summer of 2011, I organized a volunteering event with some friends of mine. We were going to feed the homeless and wash their feet. It was a humbling experience that I’ll never forget. The first man whose feet I washed told me right off the bat, pardon the pun, that his name is Bruce Wayne. Furthermore, he claimed to be THEBatman. Naturally, I thought he was joking, possibly even crazy. As I washed his feet, “Bruce” shared childhood stories of his father with me. He worked 29 years in the truck driving business and spoke fondly of his dreams growing up. Didn’t take long for me to realize that he was actually quite normal but had a few bad breaks in life. At the end he thanked me for the foot washing and started to leave.
Suddenly he stopped and turned back to me. He reached in his pocket, fishing for something. Then he showed me his identification card. SON OF A BITCH. Sure enough, there it was, clear as day. Name: BRUCE WAYNE. He wasn’t lying, he really was Bruce Wayne. He flashed me a little grin and I returned the gesture as we nodded before he walked out. Later I spoke with the coordinator and she explained to me that Bruce is a regular and how his Batman persona is his own personal way of coping with being homeless. Wow. It’s deeper than just “Oh, this dude’s a crazy homeless guy.” The experience reminded me not to judge a book by its cover and to walk a mile in someone’s shoes — or wash their feet — before you decide what their story is.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Batman Returns fared well with the critics. EGM’s Martin Alessi rated it 85% while Howard Grossman scored it at 86%. GameFan gave it ratings of 84, 85, 92 and a whopping 97%. Super Play, notorious for giving beat ‘em ups a hard time, rated it 87%. Batman Returns owns the distinct honor of being the highest rated SNES beat ‘em up in Super Play history. The SNES version of Batman Returns has a favorable reception with fans as gamers often rave about Batman Returns as being one of the better beat ‘em ups in the SNES library. By most accounts it was yet another Konami smash hit. Talk about having the Midas touch!
I have to be honest, I’m not too crazy about Batman Returns. I know most people rave about it like it’s something epic but I just didn’t quite click with this one as I was hoping to. I think it’s a good game but not a great one, which most people seem to think it is. By no means am I saying my opinion is right and theirs is wrong. That would be silly. I’m simply saying that for me, Batman Returns is a case of diminishing returns. It starts off with a bang. You’re in the seedy streets of Gotham, kicking clown butt at every turn and throwing them through windows, even bashing their heads together. It’s all very satisfying indeed.
But then come the single plane sections which are a lot more restrictive and I feel are just not very fun. I even detected a slight bit of input lag, but maybe that’s just me. The platforming felt a bit clunky, too. The Mode-7 Batmobile stage, although it looks great in a still screenshot, is more of a chore to play than it is a good time. Some of the boss battles, especially Catwoman and The Penguin, felt very unfair. I took a lot of seemingly mandatory hits I just couldn’t avoid (particularly with The Penguin in his Mary Poppins form). I don’t mind a hard challenge but unavoidable hits is just plain annoying and spoils the overall experience a bit.
I wanted to like Batman Returns so much, and in certain parts I really do. Namely any part that was free roaming and allowed me to just beat up clowns in the good old fashioned beat ‘em up way. Not a fan of the cheap boss fights, Batmobile, platforming or single plane sections as they really detracted from the overall package for me. I can see why many rave about this game — it packs a punch visually, sounds great and is very faithful to its source material. But I just can’t give it an enthusiastic thumbs up; it contains a few too many warts and niggles for me to overlook. At the end of the day it’s still a quality Konami product and a solid example of a movie-to-game adaptation done right. But there’s a reason why — although many do like it a lot — Batman Returns isn’t quite in the same pantheon as some of Konami’s previous SNES classics.
Graphics: 9 Sound: 9 Gameplay: 7 Longevity: 6
Batman: I’m tired of clowning around!
Clown: Really, you? You’re one to talk, Mister! Look, if you returned in 1992, then how, pray tell, OH HOW did you begin in 2005?! What are you, some sort of magician?! Penn and Teller? David Copperfield? Can’t make up your bloody mind, can ya! You’re the one who needs to stop clownin’ round! Just WHO ARE YOU EH!?!
Batman: You need serious help. Here, let me give you a hand…
Many fond memories come to mind when I think of Christmas. So much so that I even wrote a special article dedicated to just that. There are certain things that I’ll always associate Christmas with, for better or for worse. For me, Clay Fighter will always be linked with Christmas. Released 25 years ago (damn where does the time go), this Street Fighter II parody is but a minuscule footnote in the annals of SNES lore. But to me, Clay Fighter represents something beyond that, even if the final product isn’t all that good. It represents a time of true innocence, a time of allegiances and a time of change. Not to mention learning how to navigate expectations and disappointments even in the smallest of ways. Indeed, Clay Fighter was one of my childhood games. As such, I’ll never forget it. Especially whenever Christmas comes rolling around…
ONCE UPON A TIME…
It was the summer of 1993. 2D fighting games were all the rage, and seemingly everyone and their brother were getting in on it. From Kaneko to Konami, everyone wanted a piece of the pie. It was the fighting game era, and 1-on-1 brawlers was a booming business. One idyllic summer day in ’93, my mom took me to the local grocery store. As per usual, I browsed the VHS rental section while my mom bought food. I remember seeing cheesy horror movies like Leprechaun (oh Jennifer Anniston…) and Critters 4 (oh Angela Bassett) before making my way to the magazine section. It was there that I picked up a GamePro issue and first laid eyes on Clay Fighter. It was love at first sight.
There was just something special about growing up in the late ’80s to early-mid ’90s. From cheesy horror movies (with badass memorable box art) to hundreds of fun 8 and 16-bit video games, it was the perfect time to be a gamer who loved horror movies to boot. I miss those halcyon days where my mom would drop me off at a store and I would just spend a good 30 to 45 minutes browsing the various boxes and back covers of horror movies and the latest video games. Truly a special time in our lives (for those lucky enough to have lived it).
But I digress. As the months went on, the Clay Fighter hype train gained more steam. Gaming magazines previewed the hell out of it, and the comedic aspects of the game really appealed to a 10 year old kid. It promised to be WACKY!, WEIRD!and WILD!I mean, what more could you want?
The fighters had their own unique charm.
Not only was it a parody of Street Fighter II but it was also a parody of many other things such as Elvis, The Blob and The Headless Horseman among others. Clay Fighter was Parody City.
The unique claymation graphics made it stand out in a crowded genre. I couldn’t help but be drawn to its unique look, even if the aesthetics were a bit sloppy. Hey, it was 1993 and I was 10. Clay Fighter looked super cool in my book back then!
And then came the ads. And boy, were there a TON of ads. Clay Fighter had one of the most robust and memorable ad campaigns in 16-bit history.
One of my fondest memories came in the Fall of 1993 when I stayed home from school due to being sick. I remember just hanging out in my room, playing a demo song on a Casio keyboard a relative recently gifted me and gawking at that Clay Fighter ad above and flipping through the preview. There’s nothing like looking at a few blurry screenshots and letting your imagination run wild. The possibilities were endless and more often than not, your imagination made the game way better than the actual end product. Still, it was all part of the fun of gaming back in those days.
Filled with puns galore, I couldn’t help but love it.
THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT NEVER WAS
December 1993. One fateful evening my cousin called me asking what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t hesitate to tell her all about Clay Fighter. By the end of the phone call I was assured that Clay Fighter would be mine come Christmas morning. Alas, for whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be. My cousin got me something else (I can’t even recall what she got me). My Clay Fighter dream went up in smoke. POOF.
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 1993
Noting my abundantly obvious disappointment the night prior, my old man decided to take me to The Wherehouse to rent Clay Fighter as a consolation prize. I wanted to buy it instead, but I happily settled on renting it. I remember running to the game section, seeing the box on the shelf and taking it down from its resting place nestled up top. I admired the front cover and couldn’t get enough of how cool I thought it looked. Bad Mr. Frosty coming right at ‘chu as Tiny stretches poor Taffy (oh the irony). It fit in perfectly with the times we were living in… that whole attitude era of the early-mid ’90s.
I then flipped it over where I must have stood there for 5 minutes reading over the back cover and being completely convinced that Clay Fighter would only be a tier below Street Fighter II, in terms of gameplay.
I love how 16 MEGS was considered a big deal back in 1993. I miss when meg count was a thing and people got hyped partially because a game contained a certain amount of megs. There was something charming to that. Even though we knew game quality wasn’t based on a game’s given meg count, it always served as fun playground chatter with your friends. It brings back memories of the Neo Geo and their fighting games containing 100+ MEGS, as well as the 16-bit console war. Wait, Super Street Fighter II on the SNES only has 32 MEGS while the Genesis copy boasts 40 MEGS?! Good times.
I got a kick too out of the humongous 1 OR 2 PLAYERS graphic. It just added a certain pizzazz to the back of the box and it’s been burned into my memory bank. I can still see that giant logo in my mind to this day. The whole package just hit all the right notes. I handed the game off to my dad who then walked to the counter to make the magic happen. I was only a 5 minute car ride away from finally experiencing Clay Fighter.
On the ride home I admired the beautiful color instruction manual. The artwork was pretty banging, and I studied that little booklet for all it was worth. That was part of the fun of renting video games back in the ’90s: combing over the instruction manual on the way home.
I remember being a little worried when I got to the character bios. They looked great and I loved the detailed description of their special moves but one thing greatly bothered me. At a glance, it seemed as though you had to press all three punch buttons to do projectile-based attacks. I thought to myself “Please don’t let this be” and “Damn what a terrible decision if so.” Thankfully, it turned out not to be the case. The colored buttons there simply depict either of those buttons would suffice.
After popping the game in for the very first time, it took me less than 5 minutes to realize Clay Fighter was a bit of a dud. A dud in the sense that it came nowhere NEAR my level of expectation. It wasn’t unplayable, but it wasn’t very good. I remember thinking thank God I didn’t waste one of my few precious video game buys on this. Thankfully I rented it instead and picked out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters to buy the following week. COWABUNGA!
The lit bomb acting as a timer was creative. I liked that it wasn’t just another typical countdown from 99 seconds as was the case for most fighting games back then.
Once a mild mannered snowman, this devious spawn of winter lives for the icy cold of the far north. The good manners of snowmen no longer mean anything to Bad Mr. Frosty. He believes in the cold of winter and little else. He lives to see an eternal winter, where the snow never melts; and enjoys sharing his keen weather sense with all those around him.
This malleable clay fighter really goes for the clay. Once a simple glob of salt water taffy, he has been transformed into a mean spirited ball of solid sugar. Emerging from the sugary goo which spawned him, Taffy took an oath, “The Circus will be mine, and every clay fighter will require new fillings when I get there.” Taffy’s stretchable body allows him to make long range attacks. These moves can surprise opponents who believe they are out of his reach.
The buffest of the clay fighters, Tiny works out whenever he isn’t pounding the clay out of the other players. A member of the WCWA (World Clay Wrestling Association), he truly loves to wrestle and fight. He is not very bright, so he relies on his massive strength to win. He is proud of his physique and will smash anyone who laughs at him.
Once the meteor was done mutating the clay fighters into their present forms, there were bucket fulls of radioactive clay left over. Not wanting to be thrown away like common garbage, the clay rolled itself into one elastic mass. The ball of clay developed intelligence quite quickly and named itself Blob. Studying goojitsu, Blob has become a force to be reckoned with among the clay fighters.
The radioactive clay meteor has given this middle aged circus freak delusions of grandeur. Once a respected member of the circus, his great arrogance has turned the rest of the world against him. Believing that he is the king of rock and roll, he croons to the masses from his porcelain throne; sickening many and scarring the rest. Taking time off from his busy movie career, he has joined in the fight to control the circus. When not doing battle he focuses much of his time on his hair. To him there is nothing cooler than his groovy doo.
Every circus has its share of ghost stories; the lion handler who didn’t train his cats enough, or the clown who never came out of the little car. The coming of the clay meteor brought one of these haunts back from the ethereal plane and gave him substance. The circus ghost, Ickybod Clay, has come to rule the circus for those who are halfway between our world and the next. While existing in our world, Ickybod Clay is able to tap the ethereal plane for power.
From the far north, this Viking woman has earned the title of Valkyrie from her people. She is looking for another arena in which to compete and is planning to take control of the circus. With her Viking heritage has come special powers from the gods. Thor and Odin have granted her abilities no other clay fighter could even hope of mastering. Many of these abilities are to offset her one vice; eating. She lives to eat, and often has a hard time breaking away from a clay salad sandwich.
A previous employee of the circus, Bonker was caught sleeping under the Big Top when the meteor landed. Once a friendly clown, Bonker has become as hard as clay. His other motto is to keep them laughing as he pounds them into the ground. This has turned many of his old clown tricks into dangerous attacks. What may have been hilarious to a 4 year old now brings other clay fighters to their knees.
January 26, 2006. I just recently got back into all things Super Nintendo. On that fateful Thursday night I decided to revisit the town I grew up in. It marked 10 years since I moved from my childhood home. 10 years. I wanted to swing by the old crib and also check out the Game Crazy hub inside my childhood Hollywood Video, which still stood at the time. Being less than two weeks into my SNES resurrection and having a wish list of over 200 games meant there was a good chance I was going to find at least one game to add to my ever growing collection.
Early 2006 was a good time to get back into the SNES scene. Prices had yet to explode and real life stores like Game Crazy (a chain tucked inside Hollywood Video locations) actually carried a decent selection of SNES games. So many times as a kid my dad took me to this very Hollywood Video location and I would spend hours browsing the SNES and horror section. There was nothing like admiring the art work on the front covers and reading the description on the back of the boxes. It’s a shame that kids of today will never know what that feeling is like.
That evening I bought Art of Fighting, Mortal Kombat II, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 and got Clay Fighter for free. These games represent the crux of my SNES comeback to a tee; two games I liked playing as a kid and two I always wanted to play but never did. But now I could. Such is the beauty of the hobby. In a lot of ways, retro gaming is the closest thing to a time machine.
Clay Fighter came free because Game Crazy used to run a Buy 2 Get 1 Free promotion for retro games. Early 2006 was a glorious time to be buying SNES games. I beat the nostalgic train by several years and was able to scoop up all these old titles for bargain basement prices. Great times they were
How fitting it was to get Clay Fighter free on the day of my 10 year anniversary since I moved from my childhood home. With another bag full of old childhood favorites and curiosities, I made a beeline toward my old house. There was no way I was ending this 10 year reunion trip without seeing my old house live in the flesh.
Exiting the premises of Hollywood Video around 6:30, my hometown had been devoured by darkness. As I drove back to my old neighborhood where I grew up, I took full inventory of all the sights, sounds and smells that assaulted my senses. I remember those roads. That old street corner. The little hill where my brother, our friends and I used to play tag and flag football. The smell of the crisp cool night air. The soothing sounds of the grass and leaves swaying gently in the calm of a quiet January evening. It was a little slice of paradise.
At last I spotted my house. Memories came flooding back like a tidal wave crashing over me. It was an ordinary house, like any other house in America, in a suburban neighborhood just like any other. But it was home. My home. Or at least, it once was, anyhow. Somewhere in the depths of my heart though, it will always be to some degree. I turned off the engine and radio. I sat there for a quiet minute, admiring my house from across the street in the dead still of the night. Has it really been 10 bloody years?! Gawd DAMN.
I ended up going inside and talking with the lady who now lives there. Crazy shit. It was one of those serendipitous moments. After 10 minutes of being back in my childhood home, I slipped back in my car. I took a quick glance at my new SNES games resting on the passenger seat, turned down the windows, cranked up the radio and put the pedal to the metal. It was one of the best drives of my life.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Clay Fighter earned good to great reviews. It’s one of those weird games that got rated really high at its time of release but such glowing praises have since been rescinded over time. EGM scored it 8, 8, 7 and 7. GameFan gave it ratings of 97, 92, 90and 90%. Super Play rated it 85% (very high by their strict standards). The reviews at the time cemented in my mind even more that Clay Fighter must have been can’t miss. Sadly, if only that were the case.
They mocked Capcom with the HYPER tagline and refusal to number up this pseudo sequel. Nice!
Clay Fighter 2 however was a legitimate sequel featuring a slew of brand new characters (although sadly they did away with many of the original fighters). I like how it played off the title T2: Judgment Day. Even though C2: Judgment Clay was several years late to truly capitalize on this marketing ploy, you gotta give them credit for creativity.
Can’t believe it’s been 25 years since I was obsessed with Clay Fighter. From studying the magazine previews to asking my cousin to buy it for me, I certainly have quite the storied history with this game. There’s a ton of nostalgia but when it comes down to it, it’s all about how well a game plays. And I’m sad to say Clay Fighter does not play very well. The characters are way too big for their own good, the physics feel off and the characters have a strange weight to them. It’s kind of hard to explain but it’s one of those things that you immediately recognize the second you play it. In a nutshell, Clay Fighter tries to get by on flash and style, but underneath the fancy coats of paint, there just isn’t much substance. It’s very much a product of its time. There are so many better fighting games you can play on the SNES instead. This one is strictly for collectors and those with nostalgic memories.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unplayable. Some enjoyment can be had but it’s very lightweight and even if you approach it with the proper mindset, its novelty act grows old fast and you’re left with a mediocre fighting game, at best. Clay Fighter just doesn’t scratch my fighting game itch. Play one of the Street Fighter games or SNK brawlers instead. That said, there will always be a place in my gaming heart for Clay Fighter. It just takes me back to a place and space where a one page colorful ad with a few rinky dink screenshots could blow your mind. Where seeds of hope are harvested and then later realized, or crushed, by reality through renting, borrowing or blind buying. It was all part of the magic back then. So here’s a toast to Clay Fighter, who did more with its 15 minutes of fame than most other average games. Happy Taffy 25 years!
Street Fighter II, with its revolutionary gameplay and intense competitiveness, launched the fighting game boom of the early 1990s. It was to no one’s surprise, then, that this movement would follow suit on the SNES with everyone and their dog cranking out fighting games left and right. Enter Ranma ½: Hard Battle, which was released in North America on the Super Nintendo 25 years ago this month. Unlike many other SNES fighters, Ranma ½ wasn’t based off an arcade game. Based off a famous anime and manga series, I remember Ranma ½ being something of a big deal in my gaming group 25 years ago. It was the first “really Japanese” SNES game I can recall that made it stateside mostly unaltered. That alone blew our minds back in November 1993 — an era that saw many Japanese games westernized for the worse. But that alone doesn’t guarantee a quality product if the gameplay is less than solid. It does, however, at the very least make for a memorable effort.
THE STORY GOES…
MEET THE FIGHTERS
I have some fond memories of playing this game with my gaming crew back in the day. Therefore, I was super excited to revisit it 10 years ago in 2008. It had been a good 15 years since I last played this game. I forgot a lot of things about it during that time. For example, jump is set to the button X by default rather than simply pressing up (as it is in most fighting games). Thankfully, you can change the buttons in the option menu to make jump the up button. Secondly, the controls are a bit awkward. In order to perform special moves, one must hold down a button and then press the d-pad in the proper motion. That just feels clunky and unnatural. And it certainly makes for a bit of an unpleasant fighting game experience. The fighters are also a strange bunch and may not be very appealing unless you’re a huge fan of the property.
Each character gets their own plot to explain why they’re fighting.
It’s neat how the game is offbeat by virtue of the source material itself being quirky. For example, some of the fighters couldn’t care less about being the best in the world. They just want to wiggle out of taking their exams!
For its time, Ranma ½: Hard Battle sports some bright and colorful graphics. It looks best in screenshots. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere as impressive in motion as the animation is a little on the lacking side.
My gaming crew and I liked this game quite a bit when we rented it 25 years ago in the fall of 1993. We played the hell out of it that weekend. I remember thinking that it was a fun silly little fighting game that didn’t take itself seriously (at all).
We sure did. It featured some pretty cool looking special moves for its time and was a nice break from Street Fighter II, or so we thought as kids.
Unfortunately, I realized after revisiting the game that it was better off left in the past. It’s significantly hampered by an awkward control scheme (holding attack buttons and then pressing the D-Pad is no way for a fighting game to be), and a lack of real intricate strategy (only two attack buttons and a lack of special moves are on hand). I was majorly disappointed after revisiting it years later as an adult. I guess some fond childhood memories are merely a product of the time coupled with the innocence of being a kid who doesn’t know any better!
The best Ranma fighting game on SNES is the Super Famicom exclusive, Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen. It is way better than the previous two editions, with a fun combo system, super special moves and even a tag team mode.
It’s pretty plodding and slow, however. But if you can look past its flaws, it’s actually a decent little fighting game.
But for those playing this game here’s a big tip to maximize your pleasure. Change the shoulder buttons to be a power attack. That way you can strike with one special move (i.e. Y + B) while unleashing R + Back then Forward. It’s making the best of a flawed control scheme. Also, if you want to battle the computer in 2 player or Team mode, simply hold R + L and select with Y. This slightly increases replay value as the 2 player mode allows you to use different characters and pick different backgrounds as you wish. Team mode is 5 vs. 5, non-elimination style.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
EGM gave it very respectable scores of 7, 7, 8, 8 and 8. GameFan gave the import version ratings of 84, 84, 84 and 89% in their February 1993 issue. GameFan later scored the North American version in their December 1993 issue with marks of 65, 75, 78 and 80%. Super Play rated it 71%. I think many SNES owners got some enjoyment out of this title 25 years ago, but it has aged rather poorly ever since.
One of the great things about video games is the ability to revisit old childhood favorites. Sometimes they play just as well as you remember them. Other times, you wonder what in the blue hell you were thinking as a kid. Before I revisited this game, I recalled to myself how much fun my gaming group and I had with it back in 1993. The bright, colorful graphics. The unique character roster. The groovy special moves. But after revisiting the game I was left wondering what we were smoking as kids. I guess part of the charm of being a kid is sometimes you just don’t know any better. And that you were resourceful enough to fill in the gaps where needed and make the most out of any situation.
It’s a shame any time your memories of a game doesn’t live up to the actual quality of the game. I’m not trying to insinuate that Ranma ½: Hard Battle is a stinker. More like strictly average. And, with so many good games available on the SNES, it’s not worth your while to play Ranma ½: Hard Battle. Awkward control scheme and a lack of special moves makes it a cumbersome fighting game that, license aside, is better left in the past. The character balance is very poor; some fighters are at a major handicap. I can’t recommend this game, not even for huge fans of the manga or anime. Again, if it’s a Ranma ½ fighting game you want on your SNES then make sure it’s Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen. Ranma ½: Hard Battle is ho-hum and ultimately forgettable. It’s a shame but that’s the thing about revisiting old childhood favorites. Some hold up remarkably well while others simply sink. Ranma ½: Hard Battle is not a stinker, just a sinker. Sometimes, it really is best to leave the memories alone.
They’re creepy and they’re kooky.
Mysterious and spooky.
They’re all together ooky.
The Addams Family.
Released roughly half a year after the Super Nintendo launched in North America, players take control of patriarch Gomez as he madly searches for his missing family members throughout the mansion’s innumerous nooks and crannies. It’s blatantly clear early on that Ocean drew much inspiration from Super Mario World. But hey, if you’re going to copy someone, you might as well copy the best. But that doesn’t automatically equate to a great game. Let’s see if The Addams Family warrants a visit this Halloween.
SAVE YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS
It’s enough to drive Gomez bonkers, the poor sap. Rest In Peace, Raúl Juliá.
Thankfully, at least you don’t have to find Thing. In fact, Thing even aids you by providing little tips and clues throughout your quest. Talk about giving you a hand… [SMH -Ed.]
CHOOSE YOUR PATH
A: Game Room
B: Portrait Gallery
D: Music Room
E: Old Tree
G: Front Door
H: Pugsley’s Den
One of the nice things about this game is that it’s non-linear, unlike many other SNES platformers. Players have the choice of picking their battles by choosing any door at any time. The only initially inaccessible door is the Music Room. That’s where Morticia is held captive and she must be rescued last. Other than that, it’s your choice. Behind each door and world awaits a boss. Defeating a boss either grants you an extra heart or releases a family member. Good luck!
Beginning the game outside the Addams’ residence, you’re free to either enter inside or patrol these ghastly grounds.
Yep, The Addams Family is yet another hop ‘n bop on the SNES. Not that that’s a bad thing you see, especially if you enjoy a good old platformer as much as I do.
Power-ups are scattered about, such as the Fezi-copter. Be sure to grab them as they will aid you in your quest.
It’s a rather difficult game but you’re given plenty of 1UPs.
To say this game has some, ahem, striking similarities to Super Mario World would be quite an understatement.
Hey, that’s just like the flower power attack in the Mario games…
I prefer the sword over the golf ball. What it lacks in range the sword makes up for in consistency. The golf ball sometimes doesn’t come out as fast as I would like it to, but the sword always delivers and never misses a beat. Power-ups also allow you to take an extra hit without losing a heart, which can prove to be invaluable.
Although you can tackle the game in any order, you really ought to clear this stage first.
DYK: In other versions of this game, the bird will actually try to shit on Gomez. No joke. But of course, Nintendo of America wouldn’t have it so bird pooping was sadly censored. Bummer.
It’s a HEART BONANZA, but you only get one. What a tease.
This is easily one of the most generous early game secrets in gaming history. You know a game’s tough as nails when they supply you with 30 1UPs from jump street.
At the end of this hell hole lies an extra heart. To make sure you don’t get it, this world is filled with insane jumps that require the utmost precision and skill (along with some luck). And should you manage to make it all the way to the end, deadly centipedes await your arrival with bated breath.
Maybe heading off to the Conservatory so quickly wasn’t the best idea, eh? So let’s try the Kitchen instead. This room is appropriately titled Penguin Problems.
The controls are a touch slippery enough on their own. Combine that now with ice and well, you know the rest.
This secret room can only be accessed by sliding through. This game encourages you to goof around as you never know where or when you might unlock a hidden room stocked full of goodies.
The boss of this stage is the cleverly named Snowman. He may seem hard at first but he’s quite easy after you figure out his pattern. ProTip: you can bounce off the snowballs. Defeating the Snowman will earn you an extra heart.
Now we enter the Portrait Gallery where Uncle Fester is held captive by the evil witch.
Those knights are tough. They toss their swords around like vicious boomerangs.
This part is pretty brutal. First, you have to rush since the power-up lasts for roughly 15 seconds. On top of that, you must contend with some evil tight spaces. There’s very little room for error here.
Nothing beats spotting an exit after a particularly hard bit. Whew!
Look, it’s a bookworm. Geddit? A worm. On a book. Alright, I’ll see myself out.
The train rumbles along as deadly floating spikes force you to either duck or jump.
This is a unique boss fight in that you must team up with your brother to attack the evil witch. Pretty cool stuff.
After rescuing your brother Fester, the old bloke urges you to go rescue your wife. Gee thanks. Didn’t think of that one, buddy!
Only after rescuing all family members can you then save your wife, Morticia. Other than that, the game allows you to pick whichever path you wish. Find the best one! By the way, couldn’t big Lurch break the wall there instead of playing the piano? C’mon fella!
PASSWORD GOOF-UP, OOF!
CONTROL THAT TEMPER OF YOURS…
I’ve played some hard games over the decades and I don’t mind a challenge. But it really irks me when a game is overly difficult due to its control, which I feel is sadly the case here. The control could use some work; it’s a bit too loose for my taste. Gomez slips and slides a bit too much which can often lead to cheap hits and early deaths. Some sections require you to jump at the very last second. Failure to do so results in Gomez’s head bumping the platform above him. This could lead to you falling into a pit. Now thankfully falling into a pit doesn’t equal automatic death (it takes off just one energy bar). They had mercy there, but some of those pixel perfect jumps are just flat out annoying.
If you really need help, these Game Genie codes are handy.
The Addams Family has a fair smattering of supporters who often cites its non-linear approach and stiff challenge as the game’s highlights. EGM gave it scores of 7, 7, 6 and 5. Super Play rated it 82%. The Addams Family has a pretty good reputation, especially when talking about license video games. Keep in mind that license games were often more miss than hit back in the early ’90s, and this game managed to rise above the muck.
Having read quite a few glowing reports on The Addams Family over the years, I was pretty excited when I booted it up for the first time back in 2011. I was expecting a very competent and well balanced platforming adventure. In the end, it was something of a mixed bag for me. I’m just not that big a fan of games where you have to wrestle with the control almost as much as you do with the enemies themselves. For all the cool little moments the game presents, the sloppy control left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. If only Ocean had tightened up that aspect, The Addams Family could have been a nice little gem. Of course, your mileage may vary. There are many supporters of this game, but I just couldn’t get into it as much as I was hoping to. But it’s very clear Ocean put forth a good effort that just lacked a little polish.
Yet as much as the control irked me, I enjoyed the rest of the game for the most part. It’s extremely satisfying to knock off the latest boss and earn an extra heart or rescue yet another family member. The last world sports the best graphics in the game. Boss battles are fairly interesting and you could tell Ocean put some thought into this one, rather than it being an afterthought. The final boss is a bit of a joke though, but getting to him is certainly no laughing matter. Thankfully passwords are available along with many lives. One can certainly work through the control issues with a bit of practice and persistence. There is definitely a decent game here, but I’d only recommend it to hardcore platforming fiends. If the idea of lengthy levels, taxing difficulty, freedom to roam around and random secrets galore appeal to you then there’s a solid chance you’ll dig this game. Oh and double everything I said of course if the idea of playing as Gomez gets you all wet with anticipation. Hey, I don’t judge. So yeah, decent game but could have been better. It’s a fun but frustrating Super Mario World clone starring The Addams Family. You could do a whole lot worse than that. Happy Halloween!
When I got back into all things Super Nintendo in early 2006, one of the reasons was the desire to play longstanding childhood curiosities that I never rented. Among those 100+ curiosities was an odd little action title by the name of First Samurai. Coming out in the summer of 1993, it largely flew under the radar. But I’ll never forget seeing it previewed in an EGM issue in early ’93. Its dark and dreary screenshots left a mark on me, and I always wondered if it was as decent as my imagination had made it out to be. First Samurai originated on the Amiga in 1991 and it earned some rave reviews. In fact, Amiga Power rated it 91%. The success of their action platformer inspired little known developer Vivid Image (who also made Street Racer) to convert First Samurai to the 16-bit powerhouse SNES. Kemco picked up its publishing rights and we’re off the races, right? Not quite. The summer of 1993 saw a GLUT of Super Nintendo games being released, and First Samurai didn’t carry with it much press or clout. As such, it quickly faded from memory. But not mine. When I got back into the SNES in early 2006, First Samurai was actually the 7th game I played, and I had a choice of over 50 games to pick from. It was one of those strange childhood games I just had to finally play. So, is it any good, or does it deserve to stay obscured in the shadows? Let us endeavor to find out.
BUT FIRST, A HISTORY LESSON
EGM issue #43 (February 1993) was one for the ages. It featured a badass 59-page preview of upcoming SNES games, and I devoured every bit of it as a 9 year old kid. Many of the game previews had me intrigued, but one in particular really caught my eye: FIRST SAMURAI. Most SNES games at the time were bright and bold but First Samurai was different. It was dark and foreboding… the kind of game perfect to play leading up to Halloween. Indeed, there’s a reason why I put First Samurai on my list of SNES games to play during Halloween season.
LATE NIGHT WRASSLIN’ AND GAMES
There’s something special, for me at least, about watching a live special wrestling event late in the evening (or early in the morning, depending on your view). These special shows don’t happen often and you can feel the excitement welling up as the show nears. But you’ve got some time to kill leading up to it. And I find a perfect time killer is finally playing a childhood curiosity that I have been wondering about for over 20 years. I have fond memories of playing Harley’s Humongous Adventure for the first time as I was waiting for WWE Beast in the East (emanating from Japan) to come on at 2:30 AM.
History has a funny way of repeating itself. This past Saturday morning, I found myself staying up late to catch the first hour of WWE Super Show-Down. Around 1 I decided to revisit First Samurai. Now I had played it briefly back in early 2006, but I never sat down with it thoroughly. With October now here, I wanted to review it as part of my Halloween lineup. It brought back fond memories of Beast in the East and playing Harley’s Humongous Adventure beforehand.
Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all, I suppose. Nonetheless, I still had a good time revisiting First Samurai. It is indeed like a mash-up of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. Now it’s not nearly as awesome as that sounds, but you can see traces of both classic games implemented throughout First Samurai. Not too shabby.
The exploration aspects of First Samurai help to differentiate it a bit from the packed crowd of action platformers on the SNES. The above shot is a good idea of what a typical level looks like. You’ll run around killing tons of demons and monsters while hunting down key artifacts and Mystic Runes. All under the veil of a quasi-Asian demonic underworld. Come on, how bad can that truly be, eh?
In a way, you have to admire the interpretation Vivid Image went with. Sure, he’s not nearly as cool as Haohmaru. He’s not as flashy or aesthetically pleasing. Instead, he’s a grizzled vet full of scars. You can tell he’s been through some shit. And I mean homeboy HAS BEEN THROUGH SOME SHIT. Just look at that kisser and try to tell me that’s someone to mess with. He will FUCK YOUR SHIT UP.
THE STORY GOES…
Immediately, the young Samurai falls to the Demon’s magic.
Overwhelmed, the Demon King escapes to the future.
Hellbent on slaying the Demon King, the Samurai, with his Sensei’s magic sword, hunts the Demon King through all of time and space.
Difficulty-wise, First Samurai can be tricky and tough at times. There are only 5 stages but they fluctuate in difficulty. Passwords are nonexistent but thankfully there is a level select cheat code that allows you to skip previously beaten levels if you wish not to play through the whole thing again.
At the Options screen:
1-2: Hold L + R + X + A and press right
2-1: Hold L + R + X + A and press down
2-2: Hold L + R + X + A and press left
3-1: Hold L + R + X + A and press up
Witness the slowest stage title crawl in 16-bit history. I could almost make and eat a sandwich in the time it takes for the words “STAGE 1″ to appear.
Welcome to the ravaged battlefield. The year is 1730 and your hunt for the Demon King begins in a foul land that’s been corrupted by evil and disease. I like how each stage opens with the Wizard Mage floating eerily around the screen (which you can speed up with the press of a button). It’s accompanied fittingly so by a creepy sound effect that haunts my ears to this day. It really sets the somber mood proper, making this an ideal candidate to play during Halloween season. After the samurai finishes meditating, the Sensei’s magic sword comes flying to our hero. I love when games allow you to hop on trees. It’s the small stuff, y’kno?
Looming over the samurai is a huge dilapidated statue. You feel a chill in the air as you push forward toward the beastly growls. You’ll come across a Warp Lantern (these allow you to warp to different parts of the level provided that you’ve activated one of the magic pots) as well as your very first Mystic Rune. You must collect all 5 Mystic Runes on each stage before you can fight the boss.
Monsters of various sizes greet you at nearly every step of the way. Looks like someone’s a fan of the Alien films. Early on, the game provides you with helpful messages. But this goes away after the first stage and it all becomes intuition afterwards. Pretty cool.
Speaking of cool, it’s possible to strike down enemy projectiles with a well-timed swipe of your Sensei’s Katana.
Whenever you collect treasure or gobble up food, you’ll hear “HALLELUJAH!” Bizarre but so damn satisfying. This game has some crazy sound samples and it’s all part of the cheesy charm.
Summon the Wizard Mage to help clear the path by collecting Magic Bells. I marked out the first time I saw this. The crack of lightning in the background, along with the whipping rain and thunder sound effects, really makes this super atmospheric. I mean, it’s no Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past rain but gawd damn, seeing this in the dead of the night with all the lights turned off was pretty damn neat.
Samurai’s ability to scale and climb walls reminds me of Ninja Gaiden II a bit. Grab the Mystic Rune lying there as well as the axe sub-weapon. It lets you attack from a safe distance just like the Castlevania games. First Samurai has some neat tricks up its sleeve!
Whenever you lose your first life bar, the sword goes away and your force bar regenerates some of your life bar, but your force bar goes to zero. Kill enemies to collect force energy. After your force bar reaches 70%, the sword returns to you. So the only way to die is to lose BOTH your life and force bar. Enemies respawn too, so it gives you a chance at farming. That is, if the respawning enemies don’t outright kill ya!
Summoning the Wizard Mage reveals the path. But first you must have a Magic Bell. Sometimes they’re hidden in tricky places…
Nothing’s better than seeing a double whammy. In this case, a Warp Lantern and a Mystic Rune. But beware of the fire breathing dragon statues. First Samurai also features option helpers, similar to Gradius III, in the form of spinning shurikens.
Where’s the rain, you ask? See, here’s the quirky (and cool) thing about First Samurai. The effects in which the Wizard Mage clears your path is never the same. It’s always fun to see what tricks he will perform next!
Similar to Castlevania, food can sometimes be tucked away in obscure hidden places. Always experiment! A mutant frog blocks your path. No need to summon the Wizard Mage, it’s time to slice and dice. Hope you like frog legs!
Scattered throughout the stages are magic pots. They basically serve as save points but you’ll need to first activate them by way of meditation. And in First Samurai, meditating means kneeling for 2 seconds. Activating a magic pot does eat up some of your force bar, so keep that in mind. But should you die, being whisked to the closest point before a boss battle is a lifesaver. I wouldn’t activate every single magic pot on a stage, but definitely do so if you feel death knocking on your door. Trust me, you don’t want to start back at the beginning of a level.
Remember, you cannot fight the boss until you’ve procured the 5 Mystic Runes AND come to the appropriate boss area. Later stages switch it up where the boss battle isn’t always at the right of the level. This gives the game more of an exploratory feel than most other SNES action platformers.
Everyone needs a pet for companionship and in the case of the Demon King, assassin-related purposes. Meet Akai-Ryu and Aoyi-Ryu, AKA the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon. The Demon King’s dragon twin pets voraciously defend the Mountain Realm in his absence.
Beware, the red one spits out 3 slower shots while the blue one emits multiple fireballs at a much faster clip.
Sometimes, namely whenever you’re out of force energy, you’re… er… forced to fight with just your bare fists and feet! It’s not ideal especially against the bosses but this samurai is one tough son of a bitch that refuses to go down without fighting to the very bitter end. When the dust settles, you’re oddly elongated as you teleport to the next stage.
Wizard Mage transports you onto the time travel express train. You stand awestruck at the wondrous train and its magical ability to travel through time. Suddenly a warning from the Wizard Mage pierces the samurai’s mind. “I’ve discovered that the Demon King built this device and one other to aid him in his time travels. Seize control of the time train from his minions to help lock the Demon King in his future domain!”
Chrome Dome has traveled through time apparently to make an unexpected cameo. Hmm, makes you wonder if Hamato Yoshi (Splinter) ever trained with the First Samurai.
Wizard Mage to the rescue once again. This time you get a gnarly purple effect.
Somewhere E. Honda is rolling over in his grave. I really like this level. The fast zooming space background lends itself well to the time traveling aspect. There are tons of roofs you can break open to jump down below or out of. Eventually you head to the front of the train but there’s nothing there. Hmm, where could that 5th and final Mystic Rune be? Expect there to be a bit of this when you play First Samurai.
Wizard Mage’s having way too much fun with his job.
Originally released in 1991, it seems like this second boss (Obakeh) was inspired, at least in part, by the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day — the legendary summer blockbuster of ’91.
Finally, after two levels, we officially arrive at Stage 2. There goes that creepy Wizard Mage bastard again. With the destruction of the time train, our hero finds himself in the decaying hulk of a monstrous city. In the year 1999 the Demon King’s hordes descended upon the metropolis, and without the Master Sensei to defend it, the city fell. Now lawless chaos reigns and you must fight again to restore order and free mankind from the Demon King’s evil grasp.
Welcome to Tokyo in the year 1999. Back in 1993, I’m sure ’99 felt like eons away. Now, as I write this review in the year 2018, 1999 was almost 20 years ago. Yikes. This is another pretty cool stage. I like the aesthetics here with the yellow buildings and breakable windows. Hell, you can even crack open the manholes to enter an underground passage full of deranged demons.
Question: why does every video game that features Tokyo always depicts Tokyo at night? Answer: no matter what, it always has a great atmosphere.
Wouldn’t have the same effect if this were held in the daytime instead. But at night? OOOOH, AHHHH.
Sometimes a demon will try to ambush you following your act of vandalism. Other times, you’ll find food hidden away. It’s fun to shatter the windows and see what you get.
ProTip: Blast Laura Branigan’s Self Control while playing this stage.
Heading underground doesn’t prove any less safe as hordes of creatures appear in full force. And, pray tell, why are there floating jellyfish out of water? Who knows, this game is an acid trip!
Seriously, First Samurai reminds me of one of those trippy horror action Hong Kong flicks that I watched during my childhood in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s just bizarre and nightmarish. Perfect for Halloween, indeed.
Wizard Mage, did you go on to become Zordon?
Walking around barefoot with all those shards of glass can’t be good. Love that Japanese Pagoda which lights up intermittently. Lovely stuff.
Summon the boss Gyakusatsu by offering up the 5 Mystic Runes. Ooze drips from this disgusting, octopus-tentacled creature of the Netherworld. Slightly reminiscent of Medusa from Castlevania, it’s unsettling how it heaves demon heads at you and crawls in and out of the walls. Creepy…
Remember how the time train was only one of the Demon King’s two devices that can span the eons? This next level, the time elevator, is the second. When your mystic blade disables the central guidance computer, the final battle will be at hand. I like climbing the chains and breaking the boxes open to find goodies.
Vengeance awaits. You now find yourself in the Demon Palace. The year is 2245. You can almost taste his blood on your blade.
Breakable nooks and crannies, containing invaluable goodies, are scattered throughout the Demon Palace. It’s really tough sledding here without your sword — his limbs are too damn short!
Zordon, I mean, Wizard Mage comes through again.
Twisted and demented, this is the perfect level to play on a cold dark October night.
Always nice seeing Magic Bells and Mystic Runes for the taking!
Security is pretty tight in Hell, I see. But nothing will stop me from hearing that glorious “HALLELUJAH!” voice sample.
Wizard Mage, you never cease to make me smile.
Graphically, for the most part First Samurai isn’t anything special. But once in a while, whether it’s a pleasant rain effect or this flashing scene, First Samurai surprises you.
Beware, the Tengu demon is on the loose and very lethal. Try keeping a safe distance and throwing knives at it.
With horror, the First Samurai remembers the Demon King’s hideous visage. Now, he must face the evil king alone…
THE FIRST FIRST SAMURAI
As previously stated, First Samurai originated on the Amiga in 1991.
In 1994, a sequel was released called Second Samurai (naturally). It appeared on the Amiga and Sega Mega Drive (the name of the Sega Genesis in regions outside of North America). I find it interesting that it never came out in North America or on the SNES for that matter. Then again, I always thought it odd that the Genesis never received First Samurai. Perhaps Vivid Image was trying to make up for it with Second Samurai. Whatever the case may be, the sequel is even more obscure than its predecessor.
Second Samurai incorporates the same time travel theme. This time our hero travels back in time to the prehistoric era. Yup, he’s still on a quest to defeat the Demon King.
It features a 2 player co-op mode and Sega-16.com writer Sebastian Sponsel rated it a solid 7out of 10, calling it the best Amiga port he’s ever played on the Genesis.
If there is an obstacle you cannot seem to get past, try using a Magic Bell to summon the Wizard Mage. Perhaps he will help you. Keep in mind that you must be in the precise spot to call upon his spirit, or else nothing will happen. Also make sure you have a Magic Bell. If you don’t, better go find one!
Keep your force meter high at all times by defeating many smaller demons. They respawn so farm if you need to. Remember, you only die if both your life and force meters are fully depleted.
Sometimes walls, floors and ceilings are weak. Try to break them with fist, foot or steel to open a blocked passage or find a hidden item.
Once you have collected all 5 Mystic Runes, look for the boss’ lair to summon a Demon Overlord to battle. Their lair is not always located at the far end of a stage, so some exploring may be necessary. Never call to battle the Demon King or any of his Demon Overlords without the great Katana in hand. Whenever you lose your sword, the First Samurai screams out loud, “OH NO, MY SWORD!” It’s rather comical, but charming in its own unique way.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Super Play, notorious for their harsh grading, was actually pretty impressed by First Samurai. Unfortunately, First Samurai didn’t receive much press in North America. Neither EGM or GameFan reviewed the game and as such, it was doomed to fly under the radar. Super Play rated it a solid 80%.
I’m not as high on this game as Super Play was. I do like it, and in some ways, I like it a lot. But that’s the sentimental me talking. Technically, it falls a little short. But more on that in a bit. Let’s cover the positives first. There’s no denying that First Samurai is a unique game in the massive SNES catalog. There really aren’t too many games like it. The atmosphere is refreshingly dreary and foreboding as opposed to the majority of SNES games that are “cute” and colorful. First Samurai is particularly fun to play around Halloween season. Its quasi-Asian motif and ghoulish enemies help to make it stand out in a packed crowd, despite the game not being as competent as one might hope.
The samurai’s ability to climb pillars and such is reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden II. And dueling with dastardly demons hearkens one back to Castlevania. Our hero can also jump very high and control is generally very good. I also like all the little tricks the game presents: Magic Bells to summon sorcery, Warp Lanterns that transport you to a certain section of the level, Mystic Runes that must be collected before fighting the boss, finding the boss lair itself, sub-weapons that allow you to attack from a safer distance and the unique usage of the life and force meter. First Samurai has a slight exploratory feel to it that not every SNES action platformer has. This definitely helps to increase the game’s appeal. Unfortunately, the gameplay has its share of flaws. While he can jump high, jumps are floaty. But the biggest flaw in my opinion is his pathetic sword swipe. It doesn’t nearly cut the swath you would hope or imagine, and this does lead to a lot of unnecessary damage. It’s a similar flaw to Lagoon, but at least in Lagoon there are tricks to work around this flaw. Not really the case in First Samurai. Besides, he’s supposed to be a badass samurai! But maybe because he’s the first of his kind, he’s still learning how to hone and perfect his craft.
Whatever the case may be, his disappointing sword swiping almost single handedly removes First Samurai from “hidden gem” contention. His upward swipes are fine, and striking at a downward angle isn’t too shabby either. But my God, his normal sword swinging, the one which you’ll do most of, leaves a lot to be desired. Worse yet, it makes the game far more difficult than it should have been if this simple mechanic wasn’t botched in the first place. I will say this, though. I do enjoy how his sword looks more like a light saber. Now if only he swung it like how Luke Skywalker did…
But there’s enough to like and appreciate about this game. The graphics, while nothing spectacular, remind me fondly of an 8-bit NES game from 1990. Even though the character sprites are a bit squabby and somewhat aesthetically unpleasing, there’s an odd charm to the visuals of the game (even though they’re not great by any stretch of the imagination). Some of the color schemes used stick out in my mind for some reason, like the level that depicts Tokyo in the year 1999. The sound effects are muffled but you gotta love the “HALLELUJAH!” and “OH NO, MY SWORD!” speech samples. Music is pretty decent as well. Just too bad the rest of the sound effects are on the lower end of quality. The game presents a pretty tough challenge but like I said, that’s mainly due to the hero’s lack of attacking range. But First Samurai can be fun despite it all. And it really does personify the very meaning of “guilty pleasure.” So in the end, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or play this, but it’s definitely got a place on my Halloween game list. And because of my history with it, First Samurai will always, oddly, occupy a space within my gaming heart.
There are a ton of action platformers on the SNES, and there are a lot of licensed games. Some you wholeheartedly expect like Alien³, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. But some licenses were rather unexpected and downright bizarre. Enter The Incredible Crash Dummies. EGM agreed, “awarding” it with the title of “Strangest License” in 1992. But never judge a game by its cover or title, right? After all, some of those games actually turn out to be pretty decent, such as Cool Spot. Do The Incredible Crash Dummies pass the test or do they simply crash and burn?
Believe it or not, I actually had a vested interest in the Crash Dummies. Not only was I a fan of its action figure lineup, but the game legitimately had me intrigued. I remember seeing it at The Wherehouse 25 years ago. My older brother made all the renting choices back then but I asked him would it be OK if I rented Crash Dummies provided his choice title wasn’t there? Surprisingly, he said yes. As fate would have it, his game of choice was rented out and I brought home The Incredible Crash Dummies that afternoon. It was pretty underwhelming to say the least but I recently fired it up to give it a second chance 25 years later. Was it just as bad as I remember it being? But first…
A public service announcement campaign was launched in the mid ’80s to advocate the usage of seat belts to potentially prevent fatalities in car crashes. Using crash test dummies as a model, we were inundated with commercials of said dummies crashing through walls, barriers and objects throughout the mid to late ’80s. In early 1991, the world was introduced to Larry and Vince. They were the OG’s of the Crash Dummies lineup that would soon follow.
In late 1991, Larry and Vince were replaced by Slick and Spin. Throughout 1992, we were introduced to a myriad of other friends and foes. A toy lineup was launched by Tyco and its unique novelty found a niche in the toy market.
Notice that the packaging above went from Vince & Larry to The Incredible. Of course, with a brand new lineup of toys hitting toy shelves in 1992, Tyco had to bring some evil doers to the fold. Because every cartoon series or toy lineup has to have its own version of Shredder, Skeletor or Mumm-Ra.
The quirky gimmick of the Crash Dummies was what drew me in as a kid back in 1992. The figures often had two buttons you could press. The top one sent their arms flying out and the bottom one, their legs. It fit in perfectly with the Crash Dummies PSA campaign and it was just a lot of fun making them implode at will.
The Crash Dummies lineup was an oddly memorable relic from days gone by. The packaging made it stand out on the shelf: its snazzy neon colors immediately drew my eyes in each and every single time. God I miss the early ’90s.
CONFESSIONS OF A DUMMY
We all stole something as kids, right? Be it a Snickers bar, a small action figure or even just some gummy worms from the local grocery store in those clear containers you could open and close at will, I like to think in a weird way it’s almost like some sort of rite of passage. Of course, stealing in any capacity is wrong. But kids mess up and learn from their mistakes. I was no different. For me, it was Crash Dummy Spin. One look at him and I had to have him. Unfortunately for me, my mom wasn’t having it that day… so I took matters into my own hands. Literally.
Remember Pay Less way back in the ’90s? No, not the shoe store (which still stands today) but rather Pay Less Drug Store. It was similar to CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid. My mom used to take me there all the time. One day in 1992, after my mom refused to buy me Spin because I already had enough toys according to her, I fell victim to the voice of temptation. I ripped the package open and put Spin in my pocket. I remember my heart was racing a mile a minute as my mom and I walked out of Pay Less that fateful day. I kept hearing the alarm ringing in my head and seeing police officers escorting me off to the backseat of a police car. But alas, as I crossed the threshold of death, with my teeth gritted and Spin securely lodged in my pocket, I breathed a sigh of relief when all was calm and quiet. However, my conscience took over when I was suddenly washed with regret and a guilty conscience. I took Spin out of my pocket and showed my mom my sordid act of defiance and delinquency. I’ll never forget the mortified expression she had frozen on her face that day. It was like I had shattered a piece of my innocence. But I also remember her being proud of me because she knew I could have easily gone on lying. Instead, I recognized the errors of my way and quickly corrected it.
Together, my mom and I trudged back into Pay Less to inform the cashier about what I had done. I remember expecting to be banned from Pay Less for life, but the clerk was amazingly understanding. He was firm about how what I did was very wrong, but he too was proud I did the right thing in the end. My mom apologized profusely and all was forgiven. I did some extra chores at home and about a month later, my mom took me back to Pay Less and this time we paid for Spin. It’s one of those childhood lessons and memories that has always stuck with me.
CONFESSIONS OF A DUMMY PART II
The Incredible Crash Dummies made their presence known in toy aisles around the nation in 1992. That same year Tyco released Crack Ups — giant 20 inch plush action buddies of Spin and Slick that had detachable limbs held on by Velcro. They sold for $19.99 and I wanted one so bad. My mom eventually caved in, but sadly for me, Spin was sold out. I didn’t want to take my chances that my mom would change her mind, so I ended up settling for Slick.
It reminded me a lot of Chucky from the Good Guys. Child’s Play is an iconic horror film from the late ’80s, and I remember wanting a Good Guy. The Crack Ups were the closest thing to it.
It was a brilliant idea. And it fitted the Crash Dummies gimmick to a tee. A match made in Heaven, as it were.
Once Slick got home, my brother and I went to town on the poor thing. We ripped off his head, arms and legs like savages. We performed every conceivable wrestling move in the book on poor old Slick. And each time, we would patch him back up and send him through the ringer again. After the 100th time, you might think we would have grown tired. Nope. We continued bashing the snot out of him until my mom decided to return Slick the following week. She was growing concerned that we were too violent. I’m sure she wasn’t the only mom who returned a Crack Up.
Fast forward a year. I was at KB Toys on December 23, 1993, when I spotted Spin in the clearance aisle. Marked down to a remarkably low price of just $9.99, I begged my mom to buy it. A year had passed since she witnessed our violent antics on Spin’s pal, Slick. I guess she knew it would make a perfect cheap Christmas gift so she caved in.
On the ride home I remember clutching that big neon box and just staring at my new buddy, Spin. It was weird but I felt an odd connection to the plush action buddy. Maybe it was my Pay Less trial with Spin a year prior or maybe it was because I sort of saw him as my imaginary fake pet, but once I got home and took Spin out of the box, the last thing I wanted to do was give it Jake the Snake’s DDT. Instead, I sort of adopted it as my own. The thing and I quickly bonded, and miraculously, my older brother was able to respect my wishes not to “hurt it.” Although he did whenever he was pissed off!
It happened on the one weekend he came over when I forgot to hide Spin. Once he spotted Spin in my room, I knew it was over. My friends took turns abusing Spin while I helplessly watched on. I knew if I asked them to stop that I would reveal myself as a freak. So I stood by wincing as they passed poor Spin around.
We all have weird childhood stories. Spin was definitely one of mine. I remember thinking how cool it would be if he could walk and talk. Ah, to be an innocent kid again.
As you can see, my history with the Crash Dummies goes way back. Because of that, the SNES game by the same name had me intrigued 25 years ago. It turns 25 years old this month, so I figured now is a good time to revisit it and review it. Sadly, not every story has a happy ending…
THE STORY GOES…
Remember the legendary cutscenes of Ninja Gaiden? Yeah, no one ever credited Crash Dummies for raising the bar. Nevertheless, we find out Junkman must be stopped before he figures out the secret.
Dummies Slick and Spin try to reassure the good doctor.
Junkman comes barreling through!
SPLAT!goes the dummies as Junkman confronts and captures Dr. Zub.
Expect your fair share of puns and cheesy humor.
Literally, he needs a hand. Good one.
Incredible Crash Dummies at least does a good job of explaining why it’s a 1 player game and not 2 players. I guess one has to give it credit for that at least. I always knew Spin was the smarter one of the two. Yeah sure, have fun getting killed, Slick!
Dreaded LJN logo appears. Yikes. LJN was infamous for their “bad” games back in the day. But they only published it. The developer was actually Gray Matter, who made B.O.B. previously. That was a pretty good game. I wish I could say the same for Crash Dummies…
Madness… Mode 7 madness! So this game is pretty tough. These two cheat codes help. Invincibility and infinite ammo: L, R, B, L, R, A, L, R, A at the title screen. Level select: L, R, B, L, R, A, L, R, X.
Platformers plagued by slippery and loose control is never a good thing.
Typical scene in Crash Dummies. “Oh, this is an easy jump.”NOT.
Enemies come flying at you fast. If you do manage to escape the initial onslaught, watch out for the flying debris that can nick you all the same. This is partially what makes this game so damn tough. Each time you’re hit, you lose a limb.
Losing limbs can lead to hopping around on one foot or even bouncing around on just your torso. This adds a bit of black humor to the game which is amusing at least for the first 10 minutes or so before the novelty wears off.
Previously, I had reviewed Plok. Plok is another game where you can lose all your limbs and be forced to bounce around on your torso. Plok came out a month before The Incredible Crash Dummies and both games just celebrated 25 years. But it’s amazing to see the difference in quality between the two. Plok is one of the better platformers on the SNES whereas Crash Dummies is rightfully forgotten and relegated to the scrap heap, pieces and all.
Screwdrivers replace the last limb you lost. Wrenches add three to your wrench count which serves as your projectile weapon. You can also bounce on enemies’ heads to kill them but I wouldn’t trust the game’s hit detection if I were you.
Beware of cars crashing from high above.
WHEW!! Cutting it close there, pal. Hit the spring to be taken to the next stage.
Springs also send Slick flying from Point A to Point B.
Hazards abound such as electric pits and crashing light bulbs.
Sliding underneath saves you from losing a limb. Speaking of which, seeing a screwdriver hanging around while you’re on your torso is such a relief.
Throwing wrenches at enemies is the safest route, although wrenches can grow scarce, so use them wisely. No lawn bowling, eh? More like “GIT OFF MAH LAWN!”
Edward Scissorhands flashback, anyone? The first boss rides a giant whisk machine. Yeah, it’s about as strange as the license itself.
Avoiding obstacles by jumping over them is the name of the game here.
Another “groundbreaking” cinematic cutscene plays out.
There’s definitely a comical touch of dark humor backing this game. Spin shouts “NO! NO! LOOK BOTH WAYS!” but to no avail.
They’ll never learn, will they?
Construction site is the, er, site of the next stage. Jump over cement critters.
Beware of rusty spikes. Whew, a much needed screwdriver!
Encounter all manner of strange creatures. Later on you’ll be able to inflate yourself into a floating balloon of sorts, but avoid the buzz saws!
DID YOU KNOW?
The Super Famicom version, for some reason, was released nearly a year later. While it came out in North America in October of 1993, it didn’t arrive in Japan until September 30, 1994. By then, the Crash Dummies were pretty much dead in terms of toy presence, so it’s a mystery why this came out in Japan so late. But did you know the artist for the Crash Dummies box, Marc Ericksen, had his fingerprints on over 90 video game art covers?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
The Incredible Crash Dummies did not fare well with the critics of the time. EGM gave it a 4 and Super Play rated it 41%. They both agreed that there was some potential but the finicky control ruined whatever small chance the game had at being decent.
I remember being pretty disappointed in Crash Dummies 25 years ago when I rented it in October of 1993. Fast forward 25 years later, I popped the game back in my SNES hoping that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I might be able to appreciate something about it that I couldn’t as a kid back then. Nope. It’s pretty close to being a dud. It’s not unplayable and it’s certainly not one of the worst games on the SNES. But it’s well below par and only a hardcore Crash Dummies fan will find ANY sort of value from this game.
The graphics are poor and aren’t pleasant to look at. The sound is equally as unpleasing. There are a few moments of gameplay where you start to get in a bit of a rhythm and for a split second you’re able to enjoy yourself a little bit. But then enemies come flying out of nowhere that you can barely avoid. It’s just not fun having to memorize where enemies come zooming in or having to throw your wrench way before they appear on screen. That’s poor design, period. Thankfully, there is a level select code since there is no password option. There’s also an invincibility and infinite ammo code if you just want to dick around and see the game all the way through. These two cheats help to increase the game’s longevity a little bit but really, this game is only for nostalgic hardcore fans of the Crash Dummies franchise. And even then, you’re sure to be disappointed.
The Incredible Crash Dummies has its fleeting moments, but the novelty quickly wears off, the loose control is too much to overcome and the level design is forgettable. All in all, you have a subpar licensed effort that should be avoided unless you’re a collector.
PLOK! (henceforth referred to simply as Plok) is the epitome of the early-mid ’90s. Developed by Software Creations (John and Ste Pickford designed the concept), Plok was a colorful mascot platformer that followed the “attitude” set forth by the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog. Back in 1993, side scrolling platformers starring a mascot with ‘tude was all the rage, and the Pickford brothers were not about to be left out in the cold. The 16-bit age brought with it hopes of new IPs that would flourish and launch brand new tentpole franchises that would satiate both gamers and those who made them. Plok was another in a long line of such. Did it manage to rise above the muck? For the most part, yes. But sadly, despite its good press and mechanics, Plok never quite caught on. Such is the life and fate of video games, eh?
25 YEARS AGO…
Like so many SNES games that eluded me back in the ’90s, Plok was one of those games I saw sitting pretty on the shelf every Saturday while out renting games with my old man. As readers of Memories of Renting may recall, my older brother made all the executive decisions when it came to renting. And sadly, Plok was never high on his want list. So it became one of countless SNES games I always wanted to play back in the day but never did.
I would always grab the box off the shelf, admire the front cover and then flip it over to the back. It was full of attitude and bright yellow text — exactly the sort of stuff that would attract any 10 year old boy.
One of the greatest things about gaming back in the ’90s was picking up the latest gaming magazine and reading it front to back. Some of those old previews and reviews are burned into my soul. Plok had great press and it looked so good on paper.
Of course, part of the appeal was the weird name and design. PLOK was just too fun to say as a 10 year old kid. Magazines took advantage of this “pun” and found clever ways to incorporate it. It was cheesy but that only added to the quirky charm of the character and game.
Gaming ads were also part of the fun of anticipating a brand new title back in 1993. While this particular ad wasn’t memorable or special, the comic strips were!
There was just something so damn cool about the Plok ads that still resonate with me 25 years later. Yes, that lovable strange little critter turned 25 earlier this month! In a day and age where so many of our 16-bit favorites are celebrating 25 year anniversaries, it’s sad that this one flew under the radar. Though, I suppose that’s only fitting.
THE STORY GOES…
WHAT THE PLOK!?
Rayman, originally released in September of 1995 (2 years after Plok), is another character that fires his fist. But Rayman has gone on to enjoy a rather notable franchise with his latest hit being the critically acclaimed Rayman Legends. Oh what could have been. Plok Legends, perhaps? Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Sorry, Plok! [Take your unwanted sympathy and go PLOK yourself -Plok]
Plok can even turn himself into a buzzsaw or collect presents to reveal a mystery power suit! It’s slightly reminiscent of Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse, but the big difference is the power suits in Plok are temporary.
I wish you could switch back and forth but reducing their usage time does make it feel a thousand times more powerful and precious when you do get one.
GOOD OLD DAYS…
PLOK THIS AND PLOK THAT!
There’s a hint of Tequila Song mixed in with a harmonica here that makes the opening title screen a very cool and memorable one.
Leaving his homeland of Akrillic, Plok hops on a raft to make the sojourn to Cotton Island. Maybe whoever took his flag took it there. Only one way to find out!
Picturesque and made entirely of soft fabrics, Cotton Island is famous throughout Poly-Esta for its gorgeous sunsets. Plok has some cool moves. For example, holding down while on a slope allows him to slide. Fire his limbs to take care of the pesky Shprouts.
Beware of wild rolling logs! They come at you fast and furious. His regular jump barely clears the hurdle.
Somersault to safety. It allows you to catch way more air. On the downside, you can’t attack in this state but it’s great for leaping over enemies and obstacles. Each stage ends with a flagpole. OK, so much for talking trash about Super Mario Odyssey copying Plok…
Recurring gag in the form of anything but his flag being raised! It’s good for a grin. Plok is filled with bits of humor.
Touching that icon turns our little hero into an indestructible spinning ball of steel, whizzing across the islands of Poly-Esta at breakneck speeds for a few short seconds. Anything caught in his path is turned into Shish Kebab.
Occasionally, you’ll see presents laying around. These bad boys turn our hero into a really bad boy.
Hiding in little nooks and crannies can be a lifesaver. Just make sure you don’t press down here or else Plok will slide off! Although there’s no way to preview what lies ahead by scrolling the screen up or down, the collectible shells indicate where you can safely jump and land. Brilliant.
Speaking of brilliant, Plok utilizes an energy bar system. Magic fruit can be found throughout the game and recovers four health bars. However, if you strike them once or twice, they grow bigger and refill your health even more. Just make sure you don’t get too greedy or else they will pop, leaving you with nothing! I love it when a game puts a slight twist on something otherwise so routine and basic.
Speaking of slight twist, this… er, OK this is pretty standard stuff. Still, I always love seeing arrows composed of collectible items pointing in the direction one should go. And hey, instead of blocks they used a rope… yeah… that’s all I got.
Colorful and zany, Plok is like a Saturday morning cartoon (or an acid trip) come to life. Watch out for Rockyfella who disguises itself as a landmark but quickly pops out of the ground with vitriol.
Formerly failed acrobats, Milton and Marshall Bobbins now roam the islands of Poly-Esta as thugs for hire. The Bobbins Brothers are rumored to be working under the Flea Queen. Some people say there used to be a third brother, Irving, who left the act many years ago due to “creative differences.”
Tougher than a $2 steak (shout out to Good Old JR Jim Ross), the Bobbins Bros (now there’s a real tag team wrestling name) are brutal. Usually platformers ease you in with an easy first boss fight. Not so here. Good luck!
Surprise, surprise. Plok’s flag is nowhere to be found on Cotton Island so he heads back home to Akrillic. Here a quirky new gimmick presents itself. Hit targets with your limbs. After doing so, your limb gets attached to a hanger nearby. Retrieve it if you can before moving on because you’re going to need all the limbs you can get. This gimmick, as you can imagine, sets up some interesting scenarios where you have to use your brain as much as your brawn.
Another new gimmick comes in the form of fleas. Each level now has a set number of fleas you must kill before you can exit the stage. Some fleas are out hopping about, but most are in eggs that will soon hatch. Be sure to dispatch of them quick! You can also collect hornets which can attack and kill enemies, but they’re pretty dumb. Still, just another wrinkle to Plok!
Although Plok looks like a “kiddy game,” do not be fooled. It is one HARD son of a bitch. It’s a shame there’s no password system, because this is a prime example of a game sorely in need of one.
Whatever you do, be sure to hang on to all your limbs. Your health is based on an energy bar, not how many limbs you have… BUT the more limbs you leave behind the harder it will be to defend yourself and ultimately survive.
ADE DUE DAMBALLA
Scratching your head wondering what’s going on? That’s typical after the first 10 minutes with this game and constantly dying. Plok is no walk in the park. To make life easier, there’s a Child’s Play option that reduces the speed and health of enemies. You won’t get to play some of the harder levels on this mode though, but at least you’ll get to see most levels you otherwise might not on Normal.
Normal mode doesn’t allow you to destroy logs and other rolling obstacles. Your limbs will sail through them harmlessly and hopelessly. Child’s Play, however, does allow you to clear the path for an easier adventure.
WHAT’S THE PASSWORD? … AH SHIT
Unfortunately, there’s no password system in Plok. But maybe there’s some sort of level select cheat? Nope, sorry. There is, however, a cheat that will take you to the 6th stage. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing. Jump in the water on the first stage and then hit the magic fruit three times.
Boarding his helicopter, it’s a race to the finish. Spiky obstacles block the path but it’s easy enough. Still, what a shame to have so many levels and no password system in place.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Plok was well received by the critics of the time. EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 8 and 7. Super Play rated it 90%. Super Play was notorious for being harsh with their review scores, particularly on “me too” platformers. The fact that they doled out a massive 90% to Plok speaks volumes.
Plok is also generally beloved within retro gaming circles. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel for decades. But so far, no más. Still, with the Nintendo Switch and so many old IPs coming back to life over the past couple years, never say never. Hey, one can dream!
The fall of 1993 was a fun time to be a 10 year old kid. Both 16-bit systems were going strong and you had platformers and fighting games coming out left and right. As a fan of both genres, this pleased me to no end and made scouring the glossy pages of EGM and GameFan a monthly religion. I’ll never forget all the colorful previews of Plok and seeing the box at my local rental stores. Those giant orange yellow letters P-L-O-K always seemed to call out to me… but alas… my older brother called the shots 25 years ago and it was never meant to be. Years and years later, I assembled a massive SNES collection and began playing through them one at a time. For some reason, although Plok was always near the top of my to-play list, I always had the urge to play something else. Whether it was B.O.B. or Harley’s Humongous Adventure, Plok sat there patiently waiting. Once again, its big bold letters called out to me. I could always see it in the corner of my eye… and in the case of the picture above, literally. Finally, it was earlier this month that it hit me. Plok turned 25 PLOKKIN’ years old. It shot right up to the top of my queue. After finally playing it at long last, I can honestly say it turned out to be almost exactly as I imagined it being a quarter of a century ago…
Plok incorporates a lot of quirky little gimmicks. From donning power suits inspired from famous movies to manning vehicles of mass destruction, there’s always something zany to do. Small wrinkles are peppered in throughout the game to keep it feeling fresh. Whether you’re increasing the power of a health refill before consuming it, launching hornets at enemies, turning into an indestructible spinning ball of steel or collecting your various limbs off a hanger, Plok never has a dull moment. And whatever you do, avoid going torso only at any point. Poor Plok will bounce helplessly about if you lose all his limbs and he’s stripped down to the nitty-gritty. It may be comical at first to see the Plokster bouncing around only on his torso until you realize it’s a golden ticket to an early grave.
The graphics are amazing. It’s colorful and full of vibrant life. The music was handled by the legendary Tim Follin, so you know that’s on point, too. The only real complaint I have is the lack of a password system and how the game can be insanely difficult. The control is responsive for the most part, but it does seem to suffer slightly from the occasional pixel perfect jump. There are some frustrating leaps of faith too that don’t always have collectible shells to show you the way. It’s still a very good platformer, but it’s not quite in that upper echelon.
The list of 16-bit mascot platformers that challenged Mario for the crown but failed to live up to expectations is long and well detailed over the past 25 years. Bubsy is the poster child for that but there were many others. Plok managed to do what only a select handful could. Not only did it rise above the ranks of mediocrity but it’s a legitimately good game. It’s no Super Mario World but hey, what really is? Happy 25th anniversary, Plok, and here’s wishful thinking for a long overdue sequel.
Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen wasn’t the only SNES fighting game I was curious about for over 12 years. EGM ran a tantalizing preview for a cool looking fighting game in early 1994 that immediately caught my eye. First appearing in EGM issue #55 (February 1994), SD Golden Fighter was slated for a North American release and I could not wait to rent and play it. Several months later (September 1994), EGM would preview it once more (issue #62). Rebranded as Galactic Defenders, I figured we would get it well in time for the holidays and that it was only a matter of a few short weeks before Galactic Defenders would hit the shelves of KB Toys and Software Etc. Sadly, the North American release was cancelled for whatever reason. Probably because Culture Brain figured it wouldn’t sell too well in the end. But thankfully the game did come out in Japan under the name of SD Hiryu no Ken.
A 12 YEAR ODYSSEY
As a 10 year old boy who ate up any and every fighting game that came out back then, I could not wait to get my hands on SD Golden Fighter. I remember thinking that it looked like an arcade game! And feeling that it was probably going to be a lot better than most other SNES fighting games.
But as I said, sadly, the North American release wasn’t meant to be. There was even supposedly a box already designed for it, too.
The game of many names. It seemed like Culture Brain couldn’t make up its mind. Hell, it even changed from 10 MEGS to 12. In the end, it only came out in Japan as SD Hiryu no Ken.
LABOR DAY WEEKEND 2006
It was an innocent early Saturday morning just like any other. I remember going to GameFAQs (Classic Gaming forum) to see if anyone had responded to my question in a topic called “Saturn Collection 7″ regarding what everyone’s plans were for Labor Day weekend. It was there that I found someone raving about JapanGameStock.com. They were saying how JGS was having a special on Super Famicom games (Buy 3 Get 1 Free). I immediately visited JGS and what I discovered that night was a gold mine. A lot of the obscure Super Famicom exclusive titles I wanted were on there, including SD Hiryu no Ken! Once I saw the cartridge label, I had a hunch it was SD Golden Fighter AKA SD Dragon’s Fist AKA Galactic Defender(s). After checking AllGame.com (R.I.P.), it was confirmed! At last my 12+ year childhood curiosity was going to be quelled.
I ended up adding a few more games to the order on September 9, pushing my grand total to $362.16. Because JGS didn’t take PayPal back in 2006, I had to buy one of those pink international money orders. God, I think it’s been 12 years since I last purchased a money order. I bought so many of the green US money orders back in the early-mid 2000s for my Saturn game buying.
Fun fact: Once I bought these games during that fateful Labor Day weekend, I felt the timing was right to start my “Obscure Super Famicom Impressions” topic which I posted at several gaming forums. Prior to buying the games, I didn’t want to write about games I didn’t yet own out of fear of driving up prices. So once I knew I had secured a massive lot of them, I felt at ease to begin my topic having peace of mind knowing that I already own the games. My topic went on to become a cult hit within the retro gaming community. Keep in mind that late 2006 was before highlighting “hidden gems” and obscure Japanese games on YouTube, blogs and the like became all the rage. I’m not claiming to be the first one to ever do it, but I did become known as the guy who champions lesser known video games. My topic ran from September to December 2006 and eventually gave way to the birth of RVGFanatic in January of 2007. Without JapanGameStock’s help, there’s a chance RVGFanatic might never have existed. Nearly 12 years later and here we are. Crazy eh?
I ended up buying so many games from them in late 2006 and early 2007 that when they discovered I started my own site to highlight obscure Super Famicom imports among other things, JapanGameStock linked RVGFanatic. It is still linked to this day. What an honor. Thanks JGS!
DOES SD HIRYU NO KEN DELIVER?
Choose from four different playing modes: Story, VS., Tournament and Practice. An options screen allows you to reconfigure the buttons, select your computer difficulty level and as was typical of that era, there’s a speed option with a cheat code that allows you to crank it up to a level 3.
Boasting an impressive roster of 15 warriors, SD Hiryu no Ken held the distinct honor of having the most selectable fighters in a Super Nintendo fighting game. All for a week anyhow. SD Hiryu no Ken was released in Japan on July 17, 1994, while Super Street Fighter II came out on July 25, 1994, and featured 16 fighters. Still, SD Hiryu no Ken certainly gives you a lot of options, especially at a time when 10 or 12 fighters was the norm. It’s got a good mix too of karate masters, badass rebels, muscle-bound maniacs and mutant monsters.
Ryuhi’s stage takes place on a beautiful cliff overlooking a rock formation that resembles a howling wolf. Ryuhi is a balanced fighter and the main character of SD Hiryu no Ken.
Suzaku is the main villain of the game. His background is the same as the character you are using.
Believe it or not, Hayato has better star ratings than the main character. In addition to having a sweet rising uppercut (more of a palm strike really), his stage reminds me a lot of the grassy and stormy background in Australia from Street Fighter Alpha 2, sans the impressive lightning of course.
Roseman is lacking in power, toughness and throwing ability but he makes up for it with really good speed. Plus, he just flat out looks super cool. Not to mention his background features the famous Big Ben tower. Win!
Jenifer has Daddy issues you say? I say you’re the one with Daddy issues! After all, you’ll have to contend with Daddy, Jenifer’s big bad pet manticore. Things start to get a little bizarre with this character here, but that only adds to the game’s appeal.
Mainohonda, I mean, Mainohana, is a grand sumo champion who is surprisingly well balanced and has more stars to his name than the main fighter. He likes to conduct his battles out in a wooded area where he meditates before and after each match. After all, you can accomplish amazing feats when you train your mind, body and soul to be one with nature.
Looking and fighting like your typical Yakuza, Tetsuo has “badass” written all over him. It’s a shame, then, that he only has a star rating of 9, the lowest total in the entire game. Oh well, at least he looks the part. That and his background is awesome. I love how you can see the sun just peeking out over the land, which most assuredly is somewhere on the wrong side of town.
Fighting games are notorious for featuring at least one fighter who is the residential “freak.” E. Quaker fits that job description to a tee. A serpentine mummy of sorts, Quaker looks to claim the crown as his very own.
Wiler’s mighty fist has secured him many wins in the past, and he hopes to continue that tradition in this tournament. A military warrior, Wiler prefers duking it out under the harsh elements of the Amazon. The rain makes for a cool atmospheric effect.
Shrouded in mystery, RAIMA is a fighting robot and one of the fastest combatants in the tourney. The lab where his fights are held is rumored to be the same place in which he was constructed.
What’s a fighting game without a lovely backdrop overlooking a pretty city at night? Min Min, a Chinese female fighter with kick-based attacks, likes to pummel overly cocky punks when she’s not busy sampling the latest trendy restaurant or taking in the night life.
Looking more like he belongs in the Primal Rage universe, Uruka is a hulking and feral freak. I’m a sucker for a quirky fighting game roster and SD Hiryu no Ken definitely has exactly just that. His background is admittedly a bit dull, but I dig the flamingos.
Syoryu is faster than a bullet and combines traditional martial arts with Lucha Libre. Rey Mysterio would be proud!
Reserved outside of battle, Yuuka turns into a savage once the bell rings. A master of Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, Yuuka likes to create whirlwinds to toss her foes.
Powers, surprisingly, owns the highest total star rating. Clocking in at an impressive 17 total stars, he is the strongest, toughest and best thrower in the game. Talk about a Hulk Hogan-esque push! The Ultimate Warrior, anyone?
Rather than always blocking, pressing R allows you to briefly side step and avoid potential attacks. Good stuff.
Pressing forward and R when close to an opponent allows you to go around them and strike them from behind. Both of these features add extra depth to the game and definitely puts a new twist on an old formula. Really keeps you on your toes!
OUCH… that’s gonna leave a mark.
Dashing backwards can help you avoid getting punctured by Quaker’s vicious scythe. Tetsuo, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky.
Dashing forward is also possible. See the different costume colors for Wiler there? You can actually select from 8 (!) different colors for each fighter. I always loved it when fighting games from that era had that as an option.
Monsters and muscle-bound maniacs battling feisty females? Sounds like another taping of Lucha Undergound!
Endless barrage of fireballs await.
Alongside belly flops both big and small!
There’s something classic and pure about seeing that Fight label flash across the screen right before two combatants duel to the death.
Special moves definitely look cool, but the control isn’t the best.
Seriously, marvel at how badass they are! Such a shame about the unresponsive control, then…
Roseman thinks he’s so cool, but he’s about to get lit up right under Big Ben!
SAY WHAT NOW?!
Sega AM3 most likely wasn’t inspired by Tetsuo, but the similarities are fun to note nonetheless. Speaking of fun, Tetsuo has the greatest death cry in fighting game history. Whenever he loses a round, he actually yells “FUCK FUCK fuck!” Don’t believe me? Watch the clip below and tell me you don’t hear him dropping the F-Bomb three consecutive times
Or maybe that’s just his reaction to never receiving any royalty checks from Last Bronx.
12 years is a long time to be curious about a video game you saw in passing as a kid. I couldn’t wait to finally play this game after a dozen long years wondering if it was as good as my 10 year old self imagined. Sadly, SD Hiryu no Ken goes down for me as a massive disappointment. It looks great, sure, but not as much when you see it in motion. The frames of animation are a bit lacking and choppy. This is a big no no for a fighting game. Worse yet, the control is leaning toward the unresponsive side, with simple commands such as D, DF, F being way harder than it ought to be. This really spoils the experience.
Sure, the game has got a ton of cool looking special moves, but what good are they if you can’t accurately rely on producing them on a whim? The jumping also feels clunky and the sound effects are lacking in oomph and impact. On paper, it looks like an excellent quirky fighting game. But somewhere in the developmental process, something went awry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not unplayable. And there are some fans who stand by this game adamantly. The 15 characters are varied and unique. The art style is also very appealing. But it just doesn’t play very well and that’s something I can’t overlook. It does play better on the higher speeds but even then, I can’t help but feel this was a major disappointment. I wanted so badly to put it on my top 50 favorite Super Famicom games list but truth be told, it just isn’t that good. If I had to rate it, I would probably give it a 6.0 or a 6.5. Maybe a 7.0 if I’m feeling super generous. By my account, this game should have been an easy 8.5 at the very least. Very disappointing, indeed.
Still, something keeps me crawling back to it every once in a blue moon. A disappointment, sure, but also something of a guilty pleasure. With some tweaking and polish, SD Hiryu no Ken could have been one of the best fighting games on the SNES, especially when talking specifically about home grown fighters exclusive to the Super Nintendo. Alas, much like the canned North American release, it just wasn’t meant to be.