GeGeGe no Kitarō (SFC)

Pub: Bandai | Dev: Bec | 2.5.93
Pub: Bandai | Dev: Bec | 2.5.93

Another in a long line of Japanese anime/manga turned Super Famicom video game adaptation, GeGeGe no Kitarō is one of the strangest SNES games you could ever encounter. It’s a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up platformer. Originally known as Kitarō of the Graveyard, the manga series made its debut in 1960, with an anime series following in 1968. The focus is on the last survivor of the Ghost Tribe, Kitarō, as he faces off with various ghouls and goblins of Japanese mythology. Created by Shigeru Mizuki, GeGeGe no Kitarō has a long and storied history spanning five decades, over 400 anime episodes and even two live action movie adaptations.

A strange cast if I ever saw one
A strange cast if I ever saw one
Kitarō's reincarnated father. Yep, you read right
Kitarō’s reincarnated father. Yep, you read right

Meet Medama-oyaji, translated literally as Eyeball Father. ‘Nuff said.

Oh those Japanese... some zany ones I tells ya
Oh those Japanese… some zany ones I tells ya

THE STORY GOES…

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Hey, don't slander Shigeru Mizuki's good name!
Hey, don’t slander Shigeru Mizuki’s good name!
On second thought... I kid I kid!
On second thought… I kid!
Oh noes!
Oh noes! DEATH NOTE

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Kitarō has the ability to fire bullets from his hair. Of course, to make it even more bizarre, who does the firing but none other than his Eyeball Father! Unfortunately, bullets don’t travel the full length of the screen. Be prepared to meet many unusual abominations along your journey.

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Kitarō has a shield to block projectiles with as well as three special weapons he can call upon. However, these special skills can only be used once you’ve killed a ghost creature and captured its soul. The more souls swiped, the more special moves you rack up.

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One special move is a cane like whip that is short and rather useless. Another is a sandal-based attack that goes across the bottom of the screen and back. The third is the BFG of the game. Multiple electric blasts are emitted from Kitarō’s body. It’s best saved for the bosses thanks to the high damage it inflicts.

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There are 19 levels, which may sound like a lot until you factor in just how insanely short each stage is. Deal with a few regular bad guys (some can be rather tough) and then it’s off to tackle the guardian boss. Some levels have as little as two (!) enemies before the boss fight. What the hell! I’ve never played a game as odd as this; the construction of the levels is a little baffling to say the least.

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Some bosses include a witch with the power to change you into small random objects, a vampire in the form of a giant bat accompanied by a legion of bats and what’s a horror themed video game without Frankenstein represented in some form or fashion?

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Also boss is a gigantic dragon who has 10 heads, but you face only one at a time. The dragon dwells in a dark cave set against a waterfall which makes for a lovely visual.

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Don’t let the game’s Saturday morning cartoon look fool ya — even though there’s no blood anywhere to be found, GeGeGe no Kitarō has some unexpectedly vicious moments. One boss splits in half after being slain. Another one uses her razor-sharp claws to impale an innocent bystander through the heart! That definitely took me by surprise.

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It’s a shame then how unfair the game can be at times. Certain levels have these tiny ass platforms… and if that weren’t annoying enough, spirits hound your ass like white on rice. As you can imagine, thanks to the ridiculously small ledges, you’ll likely fall to your death if touched. Also, you’ll make leaps of faith where you can’t even see the platform on the right until you jump. Only then does the screen scroll forward. In a game already as difficult as this one is, that’s just plain wrong.

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On the upside, the monsters are gruesome and highly memorable. The boss from the first level for instance is something you might see in Hayao Miyazaki’s work (Spirited Away). The graphics are excellent and invoke the feeling of watching Saturday morning cartoons. And the music has a nice oriental flare and gets rather creepy from time to time.

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Another positive aspect is that it has a pretty cool 2-player mode. The second player controls a character who has a fireball similar to Sagat’s that travels the full length of the screen. With Kitarō blocking and the second player spamming fireballs, the game takes on new life. There are pictures and some Japanese text to advance the story after each level is beaten.

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“Chip? Monterey? Gadget? Zipper?!”

“Hey bud! Wrong tree house, wrong show!”

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This very first villain requires several hits to kill and zips around like a mad flea.

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Then this lady appears from behind the tree. Don’t get seduced…

[Reminds me of my ex -Ed.]
[Reminds me of my ex -Ed.]
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Hey he looks pretty friendly. Let’s chat him up. What could go wrong?

“Hey buddy! Yeah, you over there. You want a breath mint? I got grape — “

"I GOT ORANGE, TOO!!"
“I GOT ORANGE, TOO!!”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Not surprisingly, GameFan gave this game some high marks while Super Play wasn’t as generous. GameFan gave it scores of 78, 79, 88 and 93%. Super Play rated it 61%.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I lean more toward Super Play than GameFan when it comes to this game. I wanted to like GeGeGe no Kitarō a lot — it’s quirky, macabre and downright deliciously devilish. Perfect to play during the Halloween season. But the difficulty and the unnecessary cheapness of the game really hurts it. It’s much more tolerable and enjoyable, however, when playing with a buddy. You’re not missing much if you skip this one, but it’s a decent add to your horror gaming collection if you so desire.

GeGeGeNo23

Shōnen Ashibe (SFC)

Pub: Takara | Dev: Nova Games | 12.22.92
Pub: Takara | Dev: Nova Games | 12.22.92

Shōnen Ashibe is yet another Japanese comic turned TV series turned Super Famicom exclusive. Masterminded by Morishita Yumi, the comic was published in Weekly Young Jump from 1988 to 1994. It became a TV series in 1991 and the Super Famicom game was released just days before Christmas of 1992. The story centers around Ashibe, a 1st grade boy, and his wacky pet harbor seal, Goma-chan. Yup, that’s about as Japanese as Japanese gets. And only the Japanese, eh? Nonetheless, Shōnen Ashibe is unabashedly adorable and full of sunshine and rainbows.

Some people own dogs or cats. Not this fool
Some people own dogs or cats. Not this fool
Life is never boring with a pet seal hanging around
Life is never boring with a pet seal hanging around

That SEALS it, I'm getting a pet seal [... -Ed.]
That SEALS it, I’m getting a pet seal [You’re fired -Ed.]
Ashibe

Shōnen Ashibe is a cute platformer where you guide Goma-chan through many levels featuring classic themes such as forest, cave, haunted house, etc. In a manner befitting of the source material, Goma-chan can’t hurt enemies. Jumping over them is his only defense. Enemies range from humans (little brat boys and girls) to animals (bats, polar and teddy bears to name a few).

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Your goal is to locate 8 items in each level. The item is connected to the level theme (i.e. stars for ice world, squids for water, etc.)

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Once 8 are collected, head for the exit. If hit, one apple (or whatever it may be) squirts away, waiting to be reclaimed (not unlike Sonic the Hedgehog). The seal also whimpers “Eeeek!” The only way to lose is by being squeezed into submission by one of the bratty kids or if the timer reaches 0. The animals can’t kill you even if you have 0 items when they touch you. This was aimed at small children, obviously.

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Some items are hidden while others are out in the wide open. You can smash walls with your head to potentially reveal hidden items. There are only two buttons: one makes Goma-chan jump and the other makes him perform a head butt. The gameplay is very basic — it was geared toward younger children — but it’s done in a respectable manner, all things considered.

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There are some cool set pieces, like this giant hippopotamus machine. Releasing basketballs from its mouth, your task is to head butt them back into the hippo’s mouth. Doing this is much harder than it looks, especially as the timer runs down and the pressure mounts. Each good basket grants you an apple. The hippo machine holds 4 apples; the other 4 are scattered throughout the level.

Reminds me a bit of this from Earthworm Jim 2
Reminds me a bit of this from Earthworm Jim 2

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Pick your level from this overhead map. Backtrack if you wish. Along the way some folks provide information, others will share a 16 character password and some even challenge you to mini games. The boy is an unplayable character, and that’s just as fine. Who wants to be a little 1st grader when you can be a cuddly seal?

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Shōnen Ashibe has some nice details but nothing we haven’t seen before. Reappearing blocks, moving platforms and so forth. One really nice detail is the haunted house theme where you can see lightning flash outside the windows.

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There’s definitely a me too feeling throughout the game but hey, if you can’t get enough of these games you’ll be right at home. Controlling a seal has its advantages, too. For example, Goma-chan can cling on edges which is quite cool.

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My favorite theme is the ice world. The ice levels are extremely slippery, more so than most other platformers I can recall. The poor fella just slides around like a mofo as soon as you pick up any sort of momentum.

Reppin' the Northern Lights!
Reppin’ the Northern Lights!
DoReMi Fantasy did it better
DoReMi Fantasy did it better

It sure did but DoReMi Fantasy also came out exactly 3 years and 3 months later (December 22, 1992 —> March 22, 1996). One has to account for such a huge technological gap :P

Nothing beats the real deal though!
Nothing beats the real deal though!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Super Play, who erroneously referred to it as Syo the Seal, gave Shōnen Ashibe a very respectable 79% rating. It remains a fairly obscure game to this day, but those who have played it have shared similar sentiments. It’s certainly not bad and has its moments here and there.

SyoTSSP

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Not shabby — surprisingly somewhat solid even — yet nothing worth writing home about. The graphics are nice; they’re simple yet colorful and charming in that Japanese sort of way. The music isn’t bad though it gets sugary sweet in spots to the point it can quickly become a bit annoying. All in all, Shōnen Ashibe is a great choice for kids. Older players probably won’t dig it as much, but you might find yourself a bit surprised at how well it plays if given the chance.

That darn Goma-chan... he's just too stinkin' cute!
That darn Goma-chan… he’s just too stinkin’ cute!

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Miracle Girls (SFC)

Pub: Takara | Dev: Now Production | 10.22.93
Pub: Takara | Dev: Now Production | 10.22.93

Miracle Girls is based on the Japanese manga by Nami Akimoto, which made its debut on July 6, 1991. It was later translated into a 51 episode anime series from January 8 to December 24, 1993. Along the way, there was even a video game adaptation, made exclusively for the Super Famicom.

MGManga

MGAnime

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Select either Tomomi and Mikage Matsunaga (twin girls with supernatural powers) and traverse platforming stages with mini games thrown in for good measure. You begin with 3 hearts and up to 5 can be stored by collecting fruit. The levels are so colorful you just may go blind.

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Miracle Girls is a very simple game. There are only 2 buttons at play: jumping and throwing candy. As you might have deduced from the visuals and source material, this is very kid friendly. Instead of killing enemies, you throw candy as bait, which then allows you to safely evade bad guys who are busy getting diabetes. They chomp for roughly 5 seconds and can’t harm you in this altered state. Otherwise, touching them deducts a heart.

Animals cant resist sweets. FACT
Fact: animals can’t resist sweets
Cute animations abound
Cute animations abound

While they’re busy chewing, you can stand on their heads to collect otherwise unreachable items and power-ups.

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There is a dreamlike atmosphere to Miracle Girls that sort of hearkens one back to the days of Capcom’s Little Nemo: The Dream Master.

One of the coolest box art covers of my youth
One of the coolest box art covers of my youth

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Besides the bright colorful graphics, one thing that stood out was the aid of your twin. She’ll pop up from time to time to provide some helpful tips.

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Your twin sister will help guide you through perilous sections. Her speech is in Japanese but thankfully there’s only two voices and you’ll quickly be able to differentiate the two. One indicates orange while the other denotes white. Before long you’ll learn two Japanese words! Whichever color she yaps is the flower color you want to hop on. The other will drop, sending you to an early grave if you’re unlucky enough to be standing on it.

Cue Van Halens JUMP
Cue Van Halen’s JUMP

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There are also mini-games scattered throughout, as well as a mini-game mode on its own and a 2-player mini-game mode. After the first level you play water tag with a bumblebee. The overhead action looks somewhat similar to Super Bomberman. My advice is to hit him ONCE and then RUN LIKE HELL. After firing your water gun, you’ll need to recharge before shooting again. Thankfully, you’re not left completely vulnerable as there’s an umbrella cover defense that lasts for half a second. Use it wisely!

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Bubbles begin to roam the field halfway through. If contact with said bubbles is made, that person will lose 1 point off their score (whether human or computer controlled). It helps to keep players honest by limiting one’s ability to “babysit” and wait things out. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Mikage says until next time, good nigh!
Mikage says “Good night…”

Miracle Girls isn’t too shabby; it’s certainly playable if not enjoyable. However, it may be way too cute for its own good. I can see how the source material may instantly remove it from playing contention for certain gaming connoisseurs. However, if you can look past its extremely cute exterior, there lies a decent platforming game underneath. Just don’t expect anything too fancy or mind blowing and chances are you’ll have a decent time with this one.

Power Lode Runner (SFC)

Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Atelier Double | 1.1.99
Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Atelier Double | January 1, 1999

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.

THE CLASSIC

35 years old and counting!
35 years old and counting!

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!

Gotta love those old school gaming ads
Gotta love those old school gaming ads
Japan always did it crazier and wackier
Lode Runner was big everywhere, including Japan
From NES to Sega Saturn, so many variations exist
From NES to Sega Saturn, so many variations exist
Classic stuff
Classic stuff
Lode Runner Legacy is the latest variation
Lode Runner Legacy (2017) is the latest variation

*CUE MOVIE TRAILER VOICE GUY*

[Here we go again… *whips out big check* -Ed.]

IT IS AN ISLAND SATE WITH DANGER AND TRAPS…

PowLodRun

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.

WORLD ONE

The world shots look great!
The world shots look great!

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!

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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.

Youll do plenty of climbing
You’ll do plenty of climbing
Small touches make it fun to play
Small touches make it fun to play

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!

Quit monkeying around
Quit monkeying around

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.

Monkey See, Monkey Die
Monkey See, Monkey Die

Applying some good ol’ Lode Runner know how will make quick work of them.

There's sneaky contestant #3
There’s sneaky contestant #3
Rope underneath? Fall down
Rope underneath? Fall down
Good way to evade bad guys
It works well to evade bad guys
A lone monkey tries to thwart ya
A lone monkey tries to thwart ya
I'm walking on sunshine whoa oh And don't it feel good HEY!
“I’m walking on sunshine whoa oh!
And don’t it feel good HEY!”
Last one!
Last one!
Home sweet home
Home sweet home

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.

Sometimes it's easy like such
Sometimes it’s easy like such
This part is really fun to navigate
This part is really fun to navigate
Look out for barbaric beavers
Look out for barbaric beavers
A little spooky here, sans Teddy
Dang, only 2 out of 7 items

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.

"So... you come here often?" "Yeah, great place to hang out."
“So… you come here often?”
“Yeah, great place to hang out.”
Metal parts are unbreakable
Metal parts are unbreakable
Incoming!
Incoming!

Bad guys can throw various objects at you. You’re momentarily stunned if hit, but thankfully it doesn’t mean automatic death.

"Ninety-eight... niiiinety-niiiine..."
“Ninety-eight… niiiinety-niiiine…”
Try to catch me, Donkey Kong!
Try to catch me, Donkey Kong!

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.

WORLD TWO

So freakin' gorgeous
So freakin’ gorgeous
Cover up, it's flu season!
Cover up, it’s flu season!
"I'M TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!"
“I’M TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!”

WORLD THREE

Evokes so much adventure
Evokes such a grand adventure

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.

Look out for crabs and ghosts
Look out for crabs and… ghosts?!
Muguru-kun is a trained professional. Kids, do NOT try this at home
Muguru-kun is a trained pro.
Kids, do NOT try this at home

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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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 :)

Lode Runner Twin (SFC)

Pub  Dev: TE Soft | July 29, 1994
Pub & Dev: TE Soft | July 29, 1994

Lode Runner was first developed in 1983 by Douglas E. Smith. It was released on many platforms, such as the Apple II and Commodore 64. More than a decade later, the Super Famicom received its own variation in the form of Lode Runner Twin.

*CUE MOVIE TRAILER VOICE GUY*

ENTER A UNIQUE WORLD...
ENTER A UNIQUE WORLD…

WHERE LIVES WILL CHANGE AND A NATION WILL CRY… or something.

*End Movie Trailer Voice Guy*

[Wait a second, how much does he cost us anyway? -Ed.]

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Lode Runner, to some of us retro gamers, is like an old trusty friend. You may not call this friend every week or even every month. But whenever you do, you pick up right where you left off. Thanks to T&E Soft, Super Nintendo players have a version to call their own. And while the mechanics are similar to classic formula, the look and atmosphere is distinctly different.

A map helps you sift through
A map helps you to sift through
Turn off map for a tougher challenge
Turn it off for a harder challenge

HEY THAT’S NOT JACK PERIL!

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Indeed it’s not. Say bye to Jack Peril (from Lode Runner Returns) and hello to Justy and Liberty, two chaps that look like they stepped right out of an anime. Lode Runner Twin has a story mode (complete with password), free play and a couple 2 player split screen modes.

CANDY MAN

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Collect all the candy wrappers. Only then will a ladder magically appear to whisk you to the next level.

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Bad guys quickly attempt to gang up on you, but you can cave in floors where applicable and walk safely over their head(s).

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Gone are the cannibalistic monks from previous Lode Runner games. In their place are trident wielding little imps. The game has a very cute look.

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Our hero gracefully glides his way to safety, leaving the devilish lackeys in the dust.

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There’s something very satisfying about gliding through the ropes.

Last piece of candy!
Last piece of candy!
Whats that oily drop there?
What’s that oily drop there?
Ah, its another bad guy
Ah, it’s another bad guy
SUCKA!
SUCKER!

You might have gotten rid of that one, but notice his buddies quickly gaining ground. A magic sound effect rings out after you’ve collected the last piece of candy. A ladder appears, which will take you to the next level. Of course, the bad guys will give chase to the very bitter end.

TRICKING THEM

YOU WONT TAKE ME ALIVE!
YOU WON’T TAKE ME ALIVE!
Drop and hell follow accordingly
Drop and he’ll follow accordingly

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As soon as you land, make your way toward the ladder and slide across the rope. You’re home free! It’s easy but moments like this make the game fun to play and satisfying.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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I love retro games. It’s the spirit of the age you know, the zeitgeist — looking forwards by looking back. Or something like that. Heck, maybe I’m just an old codger. I remember when games were rationed, you know. But in all seriousness, I enjoyed Lode Runner Twin for what it was. If you can overlook the annoying music, what you have here is a nice variation of a classic game. If you like this, be sure to check out Power Lode Runner too. And as a final fun aside, Super Play ran a review for Lode Runner Twin back in the ’90s. They rated it 55%, which I feel is a pretty harsh rating. It’s not the best game ever, but it’s certainly fun and has its moments.

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Kamen Rider (SFC)

Pub: Bandai | Dev: Sun L | November 1993
Pub: Bandai | Dev: Sun L | 11.12.93

Premiering on April 3, 1971, Kamen Rider (translated as Masked Rider) was a smash hit TV show in Japan. An insect-like superhero who rides on a motorcycle and beats up bad guys was a winning recipe. Over 20 years later, Kamen Rider was released only on the Super Famicom where you clean up the streets of early ’70s Japan in this fun and cheesy beat ‘em up.

LEVEL ONE

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As you make your way through the levels, the boss’ health meter at the bottom slowly increases. So don’t mess around and beat up the lackeys as fast as you can.

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The garish blokes are tougher than their less colorful brethren.

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Enter the abandoned warehouse. Hmmm, it’s awfully quiet in here. TOO QUIET…

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PEARL HARBOR! But even their nefarious schemes are no match for your fleet-footed prowess. Use the pit to send their sorry asses to an early grave.

A sticky adversary [Oh you -Ed.]
A sticky adversary [Oh you -Ed.]
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In classic beat ‘em up fashion, the boss is joined by a legion of low tier lackeys.

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The bosses even resemble their real life cheesy rubber suits! Nice. When things get hot and heavy, press “X” to become the mighty Kamen Rider.

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Kamen Rider is a superior fighter and he has a separate health bar as well.

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Of course, being the Super Nintendo/Famicom, Mode 7 madness ensues.

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A cutscene depicting the demise of the assailant is shown to reward your successful effort.

LEVEL TWO

Showoff...
Showoff…
Taking out a pair of Luchadors :P
Taking out a pair of Luchadors :P
Mr. Veggie is a mid-boss of sorts
Mr. Veggie is a mid-boss of sorts
Cue the token truck trope
Cue the token truck trope
Enter this fancy building complex
Enter this fancy building complex
SAYONARA, BITCH :)
SAYONARA, BITCH :)

LEVEL THREE

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This stage is home to waste dumps and the like, lending the game a gloomy rundown atmosphere. It really places you in early ’70s Japan. In fact, it somehow reminds me a lot of Godzilla vs. Hedorah (AKA The Smog Monster), which coincidentally enough also came out in 1971. There is a very bleak feel to that film and to this particular level. Battle your way through the outskirts of town before culminating in a rooftop tangle.

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Bad guys come out of the woodwork from the staircase. Somewhere in the background a part of me can feel Godzilla and Hedorah battling it out :P

No need to mention the flying Godzilla scene...
No need to mention the flying Godzilla scene…
Love the atmosphere of this level
Love the atmosphere of this level
He got cancer lurking in that water
They’ll try to ambush your ass
"I'M NOT WORTHY!"
“I’M NOT WORTHY!”
"SIKE! GOTCHA!"
“SIKE! GOTCHA!”

LEVEL FOUR

What brings you to Japan, Venom?
What brings ya to Japan, Venom?

Similar to the legendary GOLDEN AXE series, gaping holes can be used to your advantage.

An extra from Godzilla vs. Hedorah
An extra from Godzilla vs. Hedorah
"SAVE THE EARTH!"
“SAVE THE EARTH!”
But who's gonna save your ass?
But who’s gonna save your ass?
"SAVE THE EARTH! SAVE THE EARTH!"
“SAVE THE EARTH! SAVE THE EARTH!”
Such a crazy and bonkers Godzilla entry
Such a crazy and bonkers Godzilla entry
The sea has cobalt, it's full of mercury. Too many fumes in our oxygen. All the smog now is choking you and me...
“The sea has cobalt, it’s full of mercury.
Too many fumes in our oxygen.
All the smog now is choking you and me…”
Trippy good shit
Trippy good shit
[Um, getting back to Kamen Rider, then -Ed.]
[Um, getting back to Kamen Rider, then -Ed.]

LEVEL FIVE

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This amusement park is anything but! At least it provides plenty of cool set pieces though, like this roller coaster track.

"C'mon Haru, quit horsing around!"
“C’mon Haru, quit horsing around!”
Oooh, how macabre
Oooh, how macabre
Oh get a room you two!
Oh get a room you two!

More levels await beyond this. Play the game to discover the rest on your own.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Temptations to modernize this old franchise wouldn’t have been shocking, but Sun L. (makers of Mega Man Soccer) wisely and respectfully opted for an authentic early 70’s Japan setting. It’s nice to see a game remain so faithful to its source material. The setting really grew on me as I played the game. It’s depressing, gloomy and there’s just something so desolated about the whole thing that beckons for a superhero to save the day…

I found a love for me Darling just dive right in And follow my lead Well I found a girl beautiful and sweet I never knew you were the someone waiting for me 'Cause we were just kids when we fell in love
I found a love for me…
Darling just dive right in
And follow my lead

What began as lukewarm impressions quickly developed into something of an affection, even if said affection veers toward the guilty pleasure plane. The levels are divided into segments and a solid pace is maintained throughout. Best of all, a friend can join you to help sweep up the streets. Kamen Rider won’t challenge for a top 10 slot on any SNES beat ‘em up list, but it is a good old fashioned example of the genre akin to those from the halcyon days. And one you’re likely to enjoy if you dig old Japanese rubber suited monster madness.

Sengoku (SFC)

Pub & Dev: Data East | September 19, 1993
Pub & Dev: Data East | September ’93

Sengoku was released in arcades on February 12, 1991. A Super Nintendo home port was scheduled to come out in early 1994, but it was canned and never saw the light of day in North America. It did, however, grace the Super Famicom. Although watered down, it’s still fairly fun (especially with a buddy by your side). After all, any game that allows you to briefly assume the form and spirit of a ninja, samurai or even a lethal canine can’t be too bad.

It just wasn't meant to be
It just wasn’t meant to be

The North American version must have been completed or at the very least very close to being finished, as a review turned up in the pages of EGM (issue #56, March 1994).

SengokuBox

As a kid I recall anticipating any arcade port that came out to the SNES. It was naturally understood and accepted back then — gosh, a quarter of a century ago now — that such home ports on the SNES were never going to fully match the arcade original. But that the really good ones would capture the essence of such games. It was a fun time to be a kid growing up on arcade games and the SNES. The luxury of playing a lesser version at home was a really big deal back in those days, and it was still fun to play the arcade originals whenever you were at the arcade. I was sad when Sengoku was scraped. Then, years later (2006 to be precise), I came back into the SNES scene and discovered that a Super Famicom version had made its way to Japan. I quickly tracked down a copy and ended up enjoying it, even if it was a watered down version. Like I said, it was standard operating procedure. I didn’t personally care that it wasn’t arcade-perfect. I knew I liked it and that was all that mattered to me.

SengoRVG

Select between Bill or Dan. I prefer Dan because I find him to be a more effective fighter. Here he is, decked out in glorious early ’90s fashion from head to toe, kicking a bunch of Foot Soldier ass.

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You know what I particularly love about beat ‘em ups? Those Andore-like enemies. You know, those towering titans that are several tiers below that of a boss, but they’re also several tiers above the cannon fodder. Sengoku has a good Andore representation. I love how big and bizarre these lumbering ogre-like creatures are. These hulking menaces are tougher than the rest, but by nabbing various orbs you can take the shape of a samurai to help even up the odds!

Or become a badass ninja!
Or become a badass ninja!
Or Okami :P
Or Okami :P
Shades of Altered Beast
Shades of Altered Beast :)
The same level from the arcade original
The same level from the arcade original
Arcade original obviously looks a lot better
Arcade original obviously looks a lot better
He ain't no Old Yeller
He ain’t no Old Yeller

Sengoku shifts from regular looking stages that you would find in any beat ‘em up to strange astral stages, where it feels like you’re in some unworldly dimension. It helps to break up the monotony a bit and gives the game a rather unique feel.

Arcade version
Arcade version
Arcade again
Arcade again
And again
And again
Yet again
Yet again

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The SNES version tried hard but obviously does not hold a candle, graphically, to the original.

Unique location for a boss fight
Unique location for a boss fight
Arcade version
Arcade version
Hay, look, random bonus stage
Hay, look, random bonus stage :P

SengoRVG13

The ninja form is swift and super efficient when upgraded to the ultimate form, where he can fling 3 Shurikens at once.

SengoRVG14

Not to be completely outdone, the dog form can toss out smaller versions of himself. Nice.

Of course, the samurai ain't bad either
Of course, the samurai ain’t bad
A little blood would have been nice
A little blood woulda been nice
OK lemme rephrase... RED blood
OK lemme rephrase… RED blood
Gotta have token female enemies
Gotta have token female enemies
This power-up rocks. HADOKEN!
This power up rocks. HADOKEN!

SengoRVG20

Your journey will take you through a decent amount of various locales, including this deadly sewer. Where are the gawd damn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when you need ‘em, eh?!

Not even the subway is safe! [Oh, Jared proved that years ago -Ed.]
Not even the subway is safe!
[Oh Jared proved that years ago -Ed.]. Wow. OUCH.

Arcade shot
Arcade shot

SengoRVG22

As mentioned earlier, you’ll also travel to very strange otherworldly realms. It feels like a hazy dream or nightmare…

Arcade original was a little more twisted
Arcade original was a little more twisted
OK pal, you acting real sketchy
OK pal, you acting real sketchy…
Like a nightmare after Taco Bell
I love the sinister atmosphere!

Sengoku excels in setting an uneasy tone. You always get this sense in the air that something isn’t quite right. Take this bridge scene for instance. The wolf-like creature it turns into looks like something out of a twisted children’s fairy tale you read at the library when you were 7.

Plenty of mid bosses, too
Plenty of mid bosses, too
Arcade comparison
Arcade comparison

SengoRVG26Some bosses are demonic and ghastly.

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While others are the traditional big and beefy kind.

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He reminds me slightly of Salamander from The Combatribes.

Good ol' Sally
Good ol’ Sally
Other bosses are simply monsters
Hmm, where have I seen ya…
Shades of Serpentor, anyone?
Shades of Serpentor, anyone?
From the classic G.I. Joe
From the classic G.I. Joe franchise
#Childhood, #Nostalgia, #GOJOE
#Childhood, #Nostalgia, #GOJOE
Cool oriental designs abound
Cool oriental designs abound
Shame they don't spring to life
Shame they don’t spring to life

CLOSING THOUGHTS

SengoRVG32

The graphics are below average and the sound is weak to boot, but the saving grace is Sengoku is fairly fun (despite being a watered down port) to play if you throw expectations out the window. It’s just a mindless beat ‘em up with some neat power ups, bizarre bad guys and a moody atmosphere that combines both oriental and the occult. If that sounds like a good time to you, then be sure to give Sengoku a shot.

SenNeoGeo11

Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen (SFC)

Pub: Shogakukan | Dev: Atelier Double | April 28, 1994
Pub: Shogakukan | Dev: Atelier Double | April 1994

There were three Ranma ½ fighting games on the SNES. The first one was embarrassingly repackaged as Street Combat. The second one, Ranma ½ Hard Battle, was released in North America 25 years ago and received mixed reviews. The last of the trilogy, Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen, was scheduled to come out stateside but was canned due to poor sales of its predecessor. It’s a shame since Chougi Ranbu Hen is easily the best of the trilogy. It plays a bit like an old SNK fighting game. The lack of speed takes some getting used to but unlike Hard Battle which features an awkward control scheme, Chougi Ranbu Hen is much more traditional with special moves performed in Street Fighter II fashion. Not only does that make for a more enjoyable experience but Chougi Ranbu Hen also features a rare tag team mode. Very few SNES fighting games can claim that!

It just wasn't meant to be...
It just wasn’t meant to be…
Thanks to the poor sales of its predecessor
Thanks to the poor sales of its predecessor

MEET THE FIGHTERS

Ranma2-1

Ranma2-2

Ranma2-3

Ranma2-4

Ranma2-5

Ranma2-6

SUPER MOVES

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By pressing the “L” button at any point during the battle, your character will perform a rather long taunting animation. If you can successfully pull this off without getting hit, you will activate your super power. Your moves will inflict more damage and you can even perform a super desperation move.

Ranma2-13

Ranma2-14

Ranma2-12

Ranma2-11

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

A code to be the boss in a fighting game. How original
A code to be the boss in a fighting game. How original

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

Ranma2-15

Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen received mostly positive reviews from those who have played it. Consensus has it that it’s easily the best of the SNES trilogy. Super Play rated it 79%. It’s often considered as one of the best fighting games found exclusively on the Super Famicom, ranking right up there with the likes of Godzilla: Kaijuu Daikessen, Gundam Wing: Endless Duel and SD Hiryu no Ken. Personally, I like those three brawlers a lot more than Chougi Ranbu Hen. Nevertheless, it definitely belongs in the conversation.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Ranma2-8

If you like old school fighters, don’t mind a slower paced fighting game and you’re a Ranma ½ fan, then I recommend this game. If those parameters aren’t suited for you, however, then this game won’t sway you the other way. It’s a perfectly decent fighting game that represents the brand well. Control is smooth and combos are easy to execute (something the previous two Ranma games lacked). The tag team mode adds some extra novelty and there are other cool little options. Examples include four color choices for each fighter, the ability to select stages and play the computer even in the VS. mode (and not just the story mode). However, it is disappointingly slow with no speed option available. If only it played a little faster, I would have enjoyed this game far more. But all in all, Ranma ½: Chougi Ranbu Hen is solid fighting fare, and is easily the best of the Ranma ½ trilogy.

Ranma2-9

SD Hiryu no Ken (SFC)

If only the game were as badass as the box art...
If only it were as badass as the box art…

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

I'll never forget this glorious preview
I’ll never forget this glorious preview

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.

The text got me hyped
The text got me hyped
But it was the pictures that stole my heart. Good times
But it was the pictures that stole my heart. Good times
EGM really sold it well. It looked like a can't miss game
EGM really sold it well. It looked like a can’t miss game

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.

What a tease...
What a tease…
It was also called SD Dragon's Fist at one point
It was also called SD Dragon’s Fist at one point

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

JGSLog3

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 couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it
I ended up buying a crap load. Final damage: $362!
I ended up buying a crap load. Final damage: $362!

JGSLog4

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.

So freaking worth it :)
So freaking worth it :)

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 bought so much they even linked my site on their site!
Look at the lower bottom right hand corner ;)

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?

SDHiryuKSDHiryuK1

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK2SSF2CharSD

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK3SDHiryuK3b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK4SDHiryuK4b

 

 

 

 

 

Suzaku is the main villain of the game. His background is the same as the character you are using.

SDHiryuK5SDHiryuK5b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK6SDHiryuK6b

 

 

 

 

 

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!

SDHiryuK7SDHiryuK7b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK8SDHiryuK8b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK9SDHiryuK9b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK10SDHiryuK10b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK11SDHiryuK11b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK12SDHiryuK12b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK13SDHiryuK13b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK14SDHiryuK14b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK15SDHiryuK15b

 

 

 

 

 

Syoryu is faster than a bullet and combines traditional martial arts with Lucha Libre. Rey Mysterio would be proud!

SDHiryuK16SDHiryuK16b

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHiryuK17SDHiryuK17b

 

 

 

 

 

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?

COOL FEATURES

SDHirEx1SDHiryuK18

 

 

 

 

 

Rather than always blocking, pressing R allows you to briefly side step and avoid potential attacks. Good stuff.

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SDHiryuK19cSDHiryuK19d

 

 

 

 

 

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!

MISCELLANEOUS

SDHirEx11SDHirEx12

 

 

 

 

 

OUCH… that’s gonna leave a mark.

SDHirEx17SDHirEx7

 

 

 

 

 

Dashing backwards can help you avoid getting punctured by Quaker’s vicious scythe. Tetsuo, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky.

SDHirEx8SDHirEx18

 

 

 

 

 

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.

SDHirEx9SDHirEx10

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters and muscle-bound maniacs battling feisty females? Sounds like another taping of Lucha Undergound!

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Endless barrage of fireballs await.

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Alongside belly flops both big and small!

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There’s something classic and pure about seeing that Fight label flash across the screen right before two combatants duel to the death.

SDHirEx20SDHirEx19

 

 

 

 

 

Special moves definitely look cool, but the control isn’t the best.

SDHirCTSDHirEx6

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously, marvel at how badass they are! Such a shame about the unresponsive control, then…

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Roseman thinks he’s so cool, but he’s about to get lit up right under Big Ben!

Gawd damn I'm so cool...
GAWD DAMN I’M SO COOL
That's one hell of a neat party trick, bro
That’s one hell of a party trick, bro

SAY WHAT NOW?!

Was Sega inspired by Tetsuo?
Was Sega inspired by Tetsuo?
Toru Kurosawa from Last Bronx. Hmmm
Toru Kurosawa from Last Bronx. Hmmm
Its even got the bridge...
It’s even got the bridge…
Ah, bless the 90s
Ah, bless the ’90s
Kurosawa and Tetsuo could be brothers at the very least
Kurosawa and Tetsuo could be brothers at the very least

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 :P

Or maybe that’s just his reaction to never receiving any royalty checks from Last Bronx.

FUCK indeed
FUCK indeed

CLOSING THOUGHTS

SDHirCT

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.

Oh, what could have been
Oh, what could have been

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.

Despite the flaws, there's still something cool about it
Despite the flaws, there’s still something cool about it

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.

GIF BONUS

THE ULLLLLLLLL-TIMATE WARRIOR! -Vince McMahon
THE ULLLLLLL-TIMATE WARRIOR! -Vince McMahon
I want a donut THIS big
I said… I want a donut THIS big
Someone notify PETA
Someone notify PETA
A shocking disappointment
A shocking disappointment this game is :(

Iron Commando (SFC)

What could have been...
What could have been…

I acquired Iron Commando (cartridge only) on October 11, 2006 for just $19.50. Today is lucky Friday the 13th, July 2018. And there’s a copy of this game complete in box going for $1,000 on eBay. Good God almighty. Holy crap am I glad I got back into the Super Nintendo when I did. I remember seeing screenshots of Iron Commando back in 2006 and thinking to myself, “This looks like it could be one of the real unheralded hidden gems of the SNES library.” Back in 2006, very few people were talking about Iron Commando. It was truly obscure then, whereas now it’s much more well known in the SNES community. I wrote a quick review of this game back in late 2006 and did my part to help spread the word. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed with it. 12 years later and I still feel the same way. It’s a great looking game that had tons of potential but the end product just doesn’t execute like I had hoped. Hey, you win some, you lose some. I’m just glad my curiosity was cured in 2006 and for less than $20 too.

WHERE’S MY TOKEN FEMALE?

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There are only two characters to pick from: Jack or Chang Li (no relation to Chun-Li). Most beat ‘em ups from the era had at least three choices. Sure, the token female is overly done but there’s a reason for it: to offer variety and more options. So right away we’re off to a less than ideal start but I disregarded my initial disappointment about the lack of a third hero. I just had a good feeling the gameplay was going to make up for it. Boy, was I off. On the bright side, two players can play simultaneously.

THE CITY

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The first level opens up with a gnarly quote. It’s cheesy as hell but I loved it. Quotes occasionally appear at the bottom throughout this first level. It lends a B-Movie feel to the game but only appears in this stage, for better or worse. Iron Commando offers a myriad of weapons: 9mm pistols, rifles, machine guns, knives, baseball bats — I’m shocked there wasn’t a chainsaw as well!

That's what I call a double play
That’s what I call a double play

Game looks badass, no? It looks like a lost treasure — how did this NOT make North America? But then you sadly realize that even the lowliest enemies take forever to kill, and weapons BARELY do any damage at all! It’s as if the game is unfinished or still in its testing phase. It shouldn’t take me an endless barrage of hits to beat a common thug with a baseball bat. That just renders the baseball bat useless. If the damage ratio was fixed, Iron Commando would be infinitely better.

Don't text and drive, kids...
Don’t text and drive, kids…

This has to be a first in beat ‘em up history: the first boss being a truck.

THE ROAD

IrCom4

Welcome to the first of several auto scrolling stages. Two things are required for this stage to properly enjoy it…

1. Blasting Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf

2. Constant maniacal laughter

Trust me on this one, especially #2.

That'll teach them
That’ll teach them
Or maybe not
Or maybe not
I love the classic red flashing
I love the classic red flashing
Takes me back to my NES days
Takes me back to my NES days
It reminds me of Cadillacs and DInosaurs
It reminds me of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

THE FOREST

Rejects from Sunset Riders
Rejects from SUNSET RIDERS
Love this game!
Love this game!

THE WAREHOUSE

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Yeah, killing dogs (even if they’re rabid ones) with a baseball bat would never have cleared Nintendo of America. They would probably turn those canines into mutant rats. Wolfenstein 3D knows.

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From the dingy dock to the interior of a creepy flickering warehouse you go. It’s a well done effect that you really didn’t see many SNES games utilizing. Notice the SLIVER of daylight in the bottom left hand corner there. Nice.

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Didn’t Big Tom’s mom teach him not to play with knives in the dark? Tsk tsk.

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This is a cool boss fight thanks to the light that flickers in and out. It takes me back to all those haunted house attractions I went to as a kid… and ahem, as an adult… :P

THE TEMPLE

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Enemies often crowd you; Iron Commando suffers from cheap mandatory damage syndrome. It’s quite annoying and drags down the experience. It’s pretty cool that sometimes there are four enemies on screen (most SNES beat ‘em ups keep it to three max at a time) but this actually works against Iron Commando since the enemies are really tough and hit you way too much. You almost have to play this game with a friend if you want to enjoy it.

Snakes on a pl -- ground
Snakes on a pl — ground

Unmercifully cheap and annoying, you’ll hate snakes even more than the Medusa Heads in Castlevania. Yes, these slithering serpents are THAT bad.

Yes, those spikes are moving...
Yes, those spikes are moving…

Better kill him before the spiked wall impales you!

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If the spiked wall or the boss doesn’t kill you, the spikes on the far right might!

THE BEACH

Bring your sunscreen and knife
Bring your sandals and knife

A fun little DID YOU KNOW fact: these guys were all extras for Michael Jackson’s epic music video BEAT IT.

Beat it, beat it! No one wants to be defeated!
Beat it, beat it! No one wants to be defeated!

THE MINE

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Yet another auto scrolling section strikes. It’s definitely a “little” more violent than the minecart ride in Donkey Kong Country

THE CAMP

Animal lovers, look away
Animal lovers, look away
Kinda reminds me of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
Kinda reminds me of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

Between the variety of violent weapons you can use and the cheesy quotes that pop up, Iron Commando might be the closest thing on the SNES to Capcom’s 1993 brawler, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. It’s a shame though that Iron Commando is nowhere as good and that Capcom never gave us a home port of that title.

His name is even Jack too!
His name is even Jack, too!
Some of the enemies even look alike
Some of the enemies even look alike…

THE JEEP

Like sitting, er, standing ducks
Like sitting, er, standing ducks

THE ROBOT

Quite a dramatic entrance
Quite a dramatic entrance
Eat your heart out, Konami
Eat your heart out, Konami

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You’ll not only have to worry about Mr. Roboto but regular enemies as well. Killing them will allow you to gain access to their weapons. But beware of the robot’s laser beams and giant frisky hands. This fight lasts forever on account of poor damage ratio. That’s a shame because it ruins the whole moment, which starts out really cool but whittles down your excitement as the fight drags on and on and on…

A SECOND LEASE ON LIFE

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Iron Commando was released on February 10, 1995, in Japan in limited quantities. It is one of the harder to find Super Famicom games. Apparently, it was also leaked out in the European market. But in mid 2017, a company by the name of Piko Interactive re-released Arcade Zone’s brawler so that it might find a bigger audience.

It actually came packed with Legend
Piko also re-released Legend

Legend was Arcade Zone’s other SNES beat ‘em up, but that game saw an actual SNES release back in April of 1994. So why did Piko re-release a game that actually had an official North American release? Because of the Iron Commando tie-in, the re-release is also (naturally) much cheaper than what original copies of Legend run for today and why the hell not. I’m thankful I already own both games, though. If I didn’t, I might have gone the Piko route. Original copies fetch way too much these days.

Pretty cool packaging to boot
Pretty cool packaging to boot

It’s always nice to see anything SNES-related getting relaunched in some aspect. Even though I already own all the games I’ve ever wanted, it’s always nice to see my dear old friend in the headlines once again, even if it isn’t front page news.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Man, meet ups getting shady..."
“Man, meet ups getting shady…”

On the surface, Iron Commando looks the part. If you see it in still shots you can’t help but think to yourself, “Man this game looks good!” It also makes one hopeful that it will play just like the glorious beat ‘em ups of yore. Unfortunately, Iron Commando only looks the part. It fails to play the part as well, which is infinitely more important than looking the part. The pros are obvious. The sprites are huge and look great. The overall look and aesthetic of the game pulls you in — it looks just like an arcade brawler from 1993 that you would play with your pals right after scarfing down some piping hot pepperoni pizza. It’s visually very distinctive and the weapon choice is undeniably badass. No other beat ‘em up on the SNES has as many tools of destruction. From Louisville Sluggers to sawed off shotguns, Iron Commando is drowning in an ocean of violent solutions.

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But here comes the ever so dreaded BUT part. Even on Easy, the game is insanely (and unnecessarily) difficult. You suffer countless unavoidable hits as enemies surround and flank you. It makes it really difficult to get into any sort of enjoyable flow when bad guys are bouncing you around like a pinball. The damage distribution is another glaring issue. Doing a 3-hit combo barely ticks their health. What gives? This dragged the whole experience down for me as punches and throws seem to have minimal impact. Initially, I thought to myself, “Ah don’t worry. The weapons will surely even up the odds.” Wrong. Weapon damage ratio isn’t much better. This is both ludicrous and inexcusable. If, however, you can look past these warts, Iron Commando can be a decent good time in brief bursts. With unique graphics and a B-Movie feel, the 2 player mode at least offers some thrills and spills. Still, one can’t help but feel this game massively misses the mark. What should have been an awesome beat ‘em up for the ages and a brawler lionized by a legion of fans is instead reduced to being, at best, an infamous case of “it’s not too bad, BUT…”

Iron Commando no relation to Captain Commando
Iron Commando no relation to Captain Commando